Posts Tagged ‘Vietnam war’

One November’s Dead: The American War Dead Disappear into the Darkness

December 8, 2010

by Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch.com, Dec 7, 2010

America’s heroes?  Not so much.  Not anymore.  Not when they’re dead, anyway.

Remember as the invasion of Iraq was about to begin, when the Bush administration decided to seriously enforce a Pentagon ban, in existence since the first Gulf War, on media coverage and images of the American dead arriving home at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware?  In fact, the Bush-era ban did more than that.  As the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank wrote then, it “ended the public dissemination of such images by banning news coverage and photography of dead soldiers’ homecomings on all military bases.”

For those whose lives were formed in the crucible of the Vietnam years, including the civilian and military leadership of the Bush era, the dead, whether ours or the enemy’s, were seen as a potential minefield when it came to antiwar opposition or simply the loss of public support in the opinion polls.  Admittedly, many of the so-called lessons of the Vietnam War were often based on half-truths or pure mythology, but they were no less powerful or influential for that.

Continues >>

Kolko: 35 Years Since the Fall of Saigon

May 4, 2010

Why the U.S. Still Doesn’t Get the Message

By Gabriel Kolko, Counterpunch, May 3, 2010

The United States’ wars have always been very expensive and capital-intensive, fought with the most modern weapons available and assuming a modern, concentrated enemy such as the Soviet Union. The ever-growing Pentagon budget is virtually the only issue both Republicans and Democrats agree upon. But there are major economic and social liabilities in increasingly expensive, protracted wars, and these—as in the case of Vietnam—eventually proved decisive.

The U.S. wars since 1950 have been against decentralized enemies in situations without clearly defined fronts, as exist in conventional wars. Faced with high firepower, in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, even Iraq, America’s adversaries disperse — they fight from caves, behind jungle foliage, etc.,– using cheap, relatively primitive military technology against the most advanced U.S. artillery, tanks, helicopters, and air power. In the end, its adversaries’ patience and ingenuity, and willingness to make sacrifices, succeed in winning wars, not battles. Its enemies never stand and fight on U.S. terms, offering targets. The war in Vietnam was very protracted and expensive, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are also prolonged—and increasingly a political liability to the party in power in Washington. This has repeatedly illustrated the limits of American power, and the Korean war established the first precedent.

When the Korean war ended, the U.S. leaders swore they would never fight another land war in Asia. The Korean war was fought to a draw, basically a defeat for U.S. objectives to reunite the country. Vietnam proved yet again that the U.S. could not win a land war—and it failed entirely there, at least in the military sense. Their ultimate success was due to the confusion of the Vietnamese Communists themselves, not the success of the Saigon regime or American arms. The U.S. has always been vulnerable militarily precisely because its enemies have been primarily poor and compelled the adapt to the limits of their power.

After its defeat in Vietnam in 1975 the U.S. leaders once again resolved yet again never to fight a land war without massive military power from the inception of a conflict and the support of the American people — which gradually eroded during the Vietnam war. The Weinberger doctrine in 1984 enshrined this principle. The U.S. has won wars against small, relatively weak enemies, as in Nicaragua, but in both Iraq and Afghanistan it has made the mistakes of the Korea and Vietnam wars all over again. It still wishes to be the “indispensable power,” to quote former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, but it cannot win the victories it covets. Like a drunken person, it no longer controls itself, its environments, or makes its actions conform to its perceptions. It is therefore a danger both to itself and the world.

Gabriel Kolko is the leading historian of modern warfare. He is the author of the classic Century of War: Politics, Conflicts and Society Since 1914, Another Century of War? and The Age of War: the US Confronts the World and After Socialism. He has also written the best history of the Vietnam War, Anatomy of a War: Vietnam, the US and the Modern Historical Experience. His latest book is World in Crisis.

Cynthia McKinney to President Obama: Turn Away From War

November 16, 2009

Open Letter From the Peace Movement to President Obama on His Upcoming Decision Regarding the Afghan War

By Cynthia McKinney, Information Clearing House, Nov. 15, 2009

Dear Mr. President:

According to press reports, you intend to decide between November 7 and November 11 whether or not to send tens of thousands of American soldiers to Afghanistan. We are writing in advance of that decision to add our voice to those of Sen. Feingold, many House Democrats, and of a clear majority of Americans in urging you not to escalate this war, but rather to announce an immediate cease-fire followed by a withdrawal of all US troops in the fastest way consistent with the safety of our forces. We urge you to end the policy of using Predator drones to assassinate Pakistani civilians on the territory of their own country, in defiance of all concepts of international law. We also call upon you to cease all covert CIA and Pentagon operations in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran.

No vital American interest is at stake in Afghanistan. Former Marine and State Department official Matthew Hoh is right: the US and NATO forces in Afghanistan have come to be viewed as invaders and occupiers, and the resistance they encounter has nothing to do with international terrorism. This war is futile, and now doomed to failure. There is no military solution to the problems that beset Afghanistan. Afghanistan and the rest of this tragically war-torn region need a Marshall Plan of peaceful economic development, through which some of the 15 million unemployed workers in our own country could find productive jobs. We have no confidence in the advice being given to you by military leaders like Gen. McChrystal, who has been implicated in torture in Iraq.

We supported your candidacy because we viewed you as the best chance for ending the wars of the Bush era. We applauded your rejection of the rhetoric of fear and division that was the stock in trade of Bush and Cheney. We are alarmed by the way that rhetoric has crept into your public pronouncements since your August address in Phoenix. Your decision on Afghanistan will represent the decisive turning point of your presidency. If you turn away from war, you will provide a profile in courage that will solidify your support and open up a new perspective for progressive reforms in our country. You will honor the spirit of John F. Kennedy, who was searching for an exit strategy from the Vietnam war. If you opt for a wider war, the resulting heavy casualties will destroy confidence in your leadership among your own most devoted advocates. Hundreds of billions of dollars will be poured down a rat hole, and will no longer be available for any reform and renovation of American society, which will increasingly fall behind the economic strength of other countries. Your domestic agenda will be halted, in the same way your predecessor Lyndon B. Johnson was crippled by the Vietnam war. Escalation of the Afghan war, in short, would be an act of political suicide for you, and of national suicide for our country.

We are keenly aware of the difficulties and animosities you face, and we have long done everything possible to give your administration the benefit of the doubt, even in the face of repeated disappointments. But we now approach the moment of truth: will you be a great progressive president, or will you prove too weak to turn away from the bankrupt policies institutionalized and entrenched under Bush and Cheney. Therefore, we want you to know our attitude before you decide on the proposed Afghan escalation. If you choose to escalate, we will oppose this policy with all the energy we possess. We will act to mobilize the largest possible anti-war demonstration in Washington DC and other cities before the end of 2009, and continuously thereafter. We will support anti-war candidates of any party in the 2010 elections. If you are still waging the Afghan war in 2011, we will be forced to seriously consider backing an explicitly anti-war primary candidate to challenge you during the Democratic primaries.

We therefore respectfully urge you to act in the spirit of your 2008 campaign – the spirit of hope and change, neither of which can survive the continuation or expansion of the hopeless Afghan war.

Cynthia McKinney, DIGNITY

CNN Poll: Will Afghanistan turn into another Vietnam?

October 20, 2009
CNN, October 19th, 2009 12:34 PM ET

From

Will Afghanistan turn into another Vietnam?

Will Afghanistan turn into another Vietnam?

WASHINGTON (CNN) – A slight majority of Americans think that the war in Afghanistan is turning into another Vietnam, according to a new national poll which also indicates that nearly six in 10 oppose sending more U.S. troops to the conflict.

Fifty-two percent of people questioned in a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Monday say the eight year long conflict has turned into a situation like the U.S. faced in the Vietnam War, with 46 percent disagreeing.

According to the poll, 59 percent of people questioned opposed sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan with 39 percent in favor. Of the 59 percent opposed, 28 percent want Washington to withdraw all U.S troops, 21 percent are calling for a partial American pullout, and 8 percent say the number of troops should remain the same.

“Has Afghanistan turned into Barack Obama’s Vietnam? Most Americans think so, and that may be one reason why they oppose sending more U.S. troops to that country,” says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. “Older Americans are most likely to see parallels between Afghanistan and Vietnam – possibly because they remember the Vietnam War, rather than reading about it in textbooks.”
President Barack Obama and his top military, national security and foreign policy advisers are conducting an intensive strategic review of the U.S. military presence in the war-torn country. The president is weighing a suggestion by the top American military commander in Afghanistan to increase force levels by as many as 40,000 troops.

More than two-thirds of people polled say it’s unlikely Afghanistan will have stable government in the next few years. And that was before Monday’s release of a United Nations report alleging widespread fraud in the recent Afghanistan elections. According to the survey, around two-thirds also feel that its unlikely that without American assistance, the Afghan military and police will be able to keep their country safe and secure or prevent terrorists from using Afghanistan as a base of operations for planning attacks against the U.S.

The poll indicates that six in 10 Americans feel it’s necessary to keep U.S. forces in Afghanistan in order to prevent terrorist attacks on the United States. And a similar number say the conflict in Afghanistan is part of the war against terrorism which began with the 9/11 attacks in 2001.

“That’s probably the reason why Afghanistan is still more popular than the war in Iraq,” Say Holland. “Many Americans make the connection between 9/11 and Afghanistan, and the public recognizes that there is little chance that the Afghan government can deal with terrorists on its own.”

The CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll was conducted Friday through Sunday, with 1,038 adult Americans questioned by telephone.

The survey’s sampling error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Stanley I. Kutler: Obama’s Afghanistan Dilemma

October 5, 2009

History News Network

Source: TruthDig.com (10-1-09)

[Stanley Kutler is the author of “The Wars of Watergate” and other writings.]

During his presidential campaign, Barack Obama repeatedly called for expanding the war in Afghanistan. Be careful what you wish for.

The bells of Afghanistan echo the Vietnam War. Like then, we have a powerful military establishment linked to civilian foreign and defense intellectuals clamoring for an expansive military adventure to protect us from an onrushing enemy. The pressure on President Barack Obama to substantially increase troop levels in Afghanistan is enhanced by a high-powered, hardly subtle campaign.

Continues >>

A Lesson From Vietnam for Obama’s War in Afghanistan

July 19, 2009

by Joe Galloway, Antiwar.com, July 18, 2009

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It was half a century ago, on the night of July 8, 1959, that the first two American soldiers to die in the Vietnam War were slain when guerrillas surrounded and shot up a small mess hall where half a dozen advisers were watching a movie after dinner.

Master Sgt. Chester Ovnand of Copperas Cove, Texas, and Maj. Dale Buis of Imperial Beach, Calif., would become the first two names chiseled on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial — the first of 58,261 Americans who died in Vietnam during the next 16 years.

The deaths of Ovnand and Buis went largely unnoticed at the time, simply a small beginning of what would become a huge national tragedy.

Presidents from Harry Truman to Dwight Eisenhower to John F. Kennedy to Lyndon B. Johnson to Richard M. Nixon to Gerald R. Ford made decisions — some small and incremental, some large and disastrous — in building us so costly and tragic a war.

The national security handmaidens of those presidents, especially those who served Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Ford, were supposedly the best and brightest that Harvard and Yale and Princeton could contribute.

Presidents right up to today’s like to surround themselves with such self-assured and certain men, men whose eagerness to find war the answer to most problems often grows in direct proportion to their lack of experience in uniform or combat.

This small history lesson can be read as a cautionary tale to President Barack Obama’s team as they oversee an excruciating slow-motion end of one war, Iraq, and a pell-mell rush to wade ever deeper into another one in the mountains and deserts of remote and tribal Afghanistan.

The story grows out of a battle in the very beginning of the American takeover of the war in South Vietnam in the fall of 1965 when a defense secretary, Robert S. McNamara, counted the bodies and the beans and offered his president two directly opposing options.

In the wake of the Ia Drang Valley battles of November 1965 — the first major collision between an experimental airmobile division of the U.S. Army and regular soldiers in division strength from the People’s Army of North Vietnam — President Johnson ordered McNamara to rush to Vietnam and assess what had happened and what was going to happen.

Up till then, just more than 1,000 Americans, mostly advisers and pilots, had been killed in Vietnam since Ovnand and Buis. Then, in just five days 234 more Americans had been killed and hundreds wounded in the Ia Drang. There weren’t even enough military coffins in the country to handle the dead.

McNamara took briefings from Gen. William Westmoreland, the top U.S. commander in Vietnam, and from Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge and assorted spy chiefs and diplomats. Then he flew to An Khe in the Central Highlands and was briefed on the Ia Drang battles by then Lt. Col. Hal Moore, who had commanded on the ground in Landing Zone XRAY in the Ia Drang.

On the plane home to Washington, McNamara dictated a Top Secret/Eyes Only memo to President Johnson dated Nov. 30, 1965. In that report he stated that the enemy had not only met but had exceeded our escalation of the war and we had reached a decision point. In his view there were two options:

–Option One: We could arrange whatever diplomatic cover we could arrange and pull out of South Vietnam.

–Option Two: We could give Gen. Westmoreland the 200,000 more U.S. troops he was asking for, in which case by early 1967 we would have more than 500,000 Americans on the ground and they would be dying at the rate of 1,000 a month. (He was wrong; the death toll would reach more than 3,000 a month at the height of the war). “All we can possibly achieve (by this) is a military stalemate at a much higher level of violence,” McNamara wrote.

On Dec. 15, 1965, the president assembled what he called the “wise men” for a brainstorming session on Vietnam. He entered the Cabinet room holding McNamara’s memo. He shook it at McNamara and asked: “Bob, you mean to tell me no matter what I do I can’t win in Vietnam?” McNamara nodded yes; that was precisely what he meant.

The wise men sat in session for two days. Participants say there was no real discussion of McNamara’s Option One — it would have sent the wrong message to our Cold War allies — and at the end there was a unanimous vote in favor of Option Two — escalating and continuing a war that our leaders now knew we could not win.

Remember. This was 1965, 10 years before the last helicopter lifted off that roof in Saigon. It’s a hell of a lot easier to get sucked into a war or jump feet first into a war than it is to get out of a war.

There’s no question that President Obama inherited these two wars, Iraq and Afghanistan, from the Bush/Cheney administration. But the buildup in Afghanistan and the change in strategy belong to Obama and his version of the best and brightest.

The new administration has dictated an escalation from 30,000 U.S. troops to more than 60,000, and even before most of them have actually arrived commanders on the ground are already back asking for more, and why not? When you are a hammer everything around you looks like a nail.

Some smart veterans of both Iraq and Afghanistan, on the ground now or just back, say that at this rate we will inevitably lose the war in Afghanistan; that the situation on the ground now is far worse than Iraq was at its lowest point in 2006 and early 2007. They talk of a costly effort both in lives and national treasure that will stretch out past the Obama administration and maybe the two administrations after that.

President Obama needs to call in the “wise men and women” for a fish-or-cut-bait meeting on his two ongoing wars. Let’s hope that this time around, there’s an absence of the arrogance and certainty of previous generations of advisers.

Let’s hope that they choose to speed up the withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq and get out before the Iraqi people and leaders order us to leave.

Let’s hope, too, that they weigh very carefully all the costs of another decade or two of war in Afghanistan.

Failing that, they should at the very least begin an immediate drive to increase the number of available beds in military and Veterans Administration hospitals, and expand Arlington National Cemetery and the national military cemeteries nationwide.

(C) 2009 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

Obama must call off this folly before Afghanistan becomes his Vietnam

June 28, 2009

Senseless slaughter and anti-western hysteria are all America and Britain’s billions have paid for in a counterproductive war

Simon Jenkins | guardian.co.uk, Thursday 28 June 2009 22.00 BST

If good intentions ever paved a road to hell, they are doing so in Afghanistan. History rarely declares when folly turns to ­disaster, but it does so now. Barack Obama and his amanuensis, Gordon Brown, are uncannily repeating the route taken by American leaders in Vietnam from 1963 to 1975. Galbraith once said that the best thing about the Great Depression was that it warned against another. Does the same apply to Vietnam?

Vietnam began with Kennedy’s noble 1963 intervention, to keep the communist menace at bay and thus make the world safe for democracy. That is what George Bush and Tony Blair said of ­terrorism and Afghanistan. Vietnam escalated as the Diem regime in Saigon failed to contain Vietcong aggression and was deposed with American ­collusion. By 1965, despite Congress scepticism, American advisers, then planes, then ground forces were deployed. Allies were begged to join but few agreed – and not Britain.

The presence of Americans on Asian soil turned a local insurgency into a regional crusade. Foreign aid rallied to the Vietcong cause to resist what was seen as a neo-imperialist invasion. The hard-pressed Americans resorted to ever more extensive bombing, deep inside neighbouring countries, despite ­evidence that it was ineffective and politically counterproductive.

No amount of superior firepower could quell a peasant army that came and went by night and could terrorise or merge into the local population. Tales of American atrocities rolled in each month. The army counted success not in territory held but in enemy dead. A desperate attempt to “train and equip” a new Vietnamese army made it as corrupt as it was unreliable. Billions of dollars were wasted. A treaty with the Vietcong in 1973 did little to hide the humiliation of eventual defeat.

Every one of these steps is being re-enacted in Afghanistan. Every sane observer, even serving generals and diplomats, admit that “we are not winning” and show no sign of doing so. The head of the British army, Sir Richard Dannatt, remarked recently on the “mistakes” of Iraq as metaphor for Afghanistan. He has been supported by warnings from his officers on the ground.

Last year’s denial of reinforcements to Helmand is an open secret. Ever since the then defence secretary, John Reid, issued his 2006 “London diktats”, described in a recent British Army Review as “casual, naive and a comprehensive failure”, intelligence warnings of Taliban strength have been ignored. The army proceeded with a policy of disrupting the opium trade, neglecting hearts and minds and using US air power against “blind” targets. All have proved potent weapons in the Taliban armoury.

Generals are entitled to plead for more resources and yet claim that ­victory is just round the corner, even when they know it is not. They must lead men into battle. A heavier guilt lies with liberal apologists for this war on both sides of the Atlantic who continue to invent excuses for its failure and offer glib preconditions for victory.

A classic is a long editorial in ­Monday’s New York Times, congratulating Barack Obama on “sending more troops to the fight” but claiming that there were still not enough. In addition there were too many corrupt politicians, too many drugs, too many weapons in the wrong hands, too small a local army, too few police and not enough “trainers”. The place was damnably unlike Connecticut.

Strategy, declared the sages of Manhattan, should be “to confront the Taliban head on”, as if this had not been tried before. Afghanistan needed “a functioning army and national police that can hold back the insurgents”. The way to achieve victory was for the Pentagon, already spending a stupefying $60bn in Afghanistan, to spend a further $20bn – increasing the size of the Afghan army from 90,000 to 250,000. This was because ordinary Afghans “must begin to trust their own government”.

These lines might have been written in 1972 by General Westmoreland in his Saigon bunker. The New York Times has clearly never seen the Afghan army, or police, in action. Eight years of training costing $15bn have been near useless, when men simply decline to fight except to defend their homes. Any Afghan pundit will attest that training a Pashtun to fight a Pashtun is a waste of money, while training a Tajik to the same end is a waste of time. Since the Pentagon ­originally armed and trained the Taliban to fight the Soviets, this must be the first war where it has trained both sides.

Neither the Pentagon nor the British Ministry of Defence will win Afghanistan through firepower. The strategy of “hearts and minds plus” cannot be realistic, turning Afghanistan into a vast and indefinite barracks with hundreds of thousands of western soldiers sitting atop a colonial Babel of administrators and professionals. It will never be secure. It offers Afghanistan a promise only of relentless war, one that Afghans outside Kabul know that warlords, drug cartels and Taliban sympathisers are winning.

The 2001 policy of invading, ­capturing Osama bin Laden and ­ridding the region of terrorist bases has been tested to destruction and failed. ­Strategy is reduced to the senseless slaughter of hundreds of young western soldiers and thousands of Afghans. Troops are being sent out because Labour ministers lack the guts to admit that Blair’s bid to quell the Islamist menace by force of arms was crazy. They parrot the line that they are making “the streets of London safe”, but they know they are doing the opposite.

Vietnam destroyed two presidents, Johnson and Nixon, and ­destroyed the global confidence of a ­generation of young Americans. ­Afghanistan – ­obscenely dubbed the “good war” – could do the same. There will soon be 68,000 American troops in that country, making a mockery of Donald Rumsfeld’s 2001 tactic of hit and run, which at least had the virtue of coherence.

This is set fair to be a war of awful proportions, cockpit for the feared clash of civilisations. Each new foreign ­battalion taps more cash for the Taliban from the Gulf. Each new massacre from the air recruits more youths from the madrasas. The sheer counterproductivity of the war has been devastatingly analysed by David Kilcullen, adviser to Obama’s key general – David Petraeus – no less.

Obama is trapped by past policy ­mistakes as were Kennedy and Johnson, cheered by an offstage chorus crying, “if only” and “not enough” and “just one more surge”. He and Petraeus have to find a means and a language to ­disengage from Afghanistan, to allow the anti-western hysteria of the Muslim world – which the west has done so much to foster – now to cool. It is hard to imagine a greater tragedy than for the most exciting American president in a generation to be led by a senseless intervention into a repeat of America’s greatest postwar debacle.

As for British politicians, they seek a proxy for their negligence in Afghanistan by staging a show trial of their ­negligence in Iraq. Why do they fiddle while Helmand burns? Might they at least ask how they can spend £40bn a year on defence yet watch a mere 8,000 troops on their one active front having to be rescued by Americans?

The March of Folly, Continued

May 22, 2009

Norman Solomon  | The Huffington Post, May 22, 2009

To understand what’s up with President Obama as he escalates the war in Afghanistan, there may be no better place to look than a book published 25 years ago. The March of Folly, by historian Barbara Tuchman, is a chilling assessment of how very smart people in power can do very stupid things — how a war effort, ordered from on high, goes from tic to repetition compulsion to obsession — and how we, with undue deference and lethal restraint, pay our respects to the dominant moral torpor to such an extent that mass slaughter becomes normalized in our names.

What happens among policymakers is a “process of self-hypnosis,” Tuchman writes. After recounting examples from the Trojan War to the British moves against rebellious American colonists, she devotes the closing chapters of The March of Folly to the long arc of the U.S. war in Vietnam. The parallels with the current escalation of the war in Afghanistan are more than uncanny; they speak of deeply rooted patterns.

With clarity facing backward, President Obama can make many wise comments about international affairs while proceeding with actual policies largely unfettered by the wisdom. From the outset of U.S. involvement in Vietnam, Tuchman observes, vital lessons were “stated” but “not learned.”

As with John Kennedy — another young president whose administration “came into office equipped with brain power” and “more pragmatism than ideology” — Obama’s policy adrenalin is now surging to engorge something called counterinsurgency.

“Although the doctrine emphasized political measures, counterinsurgency in practice was military,” Tuchman writes, an observation that applies all too well to the emerging Obama enthusiasm for counterinsurgency. And “counterinsurgency in operation did not live up to the high-minded zeal of the theory. All the talk was of ‘winning the allegiance’ of the people to their government, but a government for which allegiance had to be won by outsiders was not a good gamble.”

Now, as during the escalation of the Vietnam War — despite all the front-paged articles and news bulletins emphasizing line items for civic aid from Washington — the spending for U.S. warfare in Afghanistan is overwhelmingly military.

Perhaps overeager to assume that the context of bombing campaigns ordered by President Obama is humanitarian purpose, many Americans of antiwar inclinations have yet to come to terms with central realities of the war effort — for instance, the destructive trajectory of the budgeting for the war, which spends 10 dollars toward destruction for every dollar spent on humanitarian programs.

From the top of the current administration — as the U.S. troop deployments in Afghanistan continue to rise along with the American air-strike rates — there is consistent messaging about the need to “stay the course,” even while bypassing such tainted phrases.

The dynamic that Tuchman describes as operative in the first years of the 1960s, while the Vietnam War gained momentum, is no less relevant today: “For the ruler it is easier, once he has entered a policy box, to stay inside. For the lesser official it is better, for the sake of his position, not to make waves, not to press evidence that the chief will find painful to accept. Psychologists call the process of screening out discordant information ‘cognitive dissonance,’ an academic disguise for ‘Don’t confuse me with the facts.'” Along the way, cognitive dissonance “causes alternatives to be ‘deselected since even thinking about them entails conflicts.'”

Such a psycho-political process inside the White House has no use for the report from the Congressional Progressive Caucus that came out of the caucus’s six-part forum on Capitol Hill this spring, “Afghanistan: A Road Map for Progress.”

Souped up and devouring fuel, the war train cannot slow down for the Progressive Caucus report’s recommendation that “an 80-20 ratio (political-military) should be the formula for funding our efforts in the region with oversight by a special inspector general to ensure compliance.” Or that “U.S. troop presence in the region must be oriented toward training and support roles for Afghan security forces and not for U.S.-led counterinsurgency efforts.”

Or that “the immediate cessation of drone attacks should be required.” Or that “all aid dollars should be required to have a majority percentage of dollars tied or guaranteed to local Afghan institutions and organizations, to ensure countrywide job mapping, assessment and workforce development process to directly benefit the Afghan people.”

The policymakers who are gunning the war train can’t be bothered with such ideas. After all, if the solution is — rhetoric aside — assumed to be largely military, why dilute the potency of the solution? Especially when, as we’re repeatedly made to understand, there’s so much at stake.

During the mid-1960s, while American troops poured into Vietnam, “enormity of the stakes was the new self-hypnosis,” Tuchman comments. She quotes the wisdom — conventional and self-evident — of New York Times military correspondent Hanson Baldwin, who wrote in 1966 that U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam would bring “political, psychological and military catastrophe,” signaling that the United States “had decided to abdicate as a great power.”

Many Americans are eager to think of our nation as supremely civilized even in warfare; the conceits of noble self-restraint have been trumpeted by many a president even while the Pentagon’s carnage apparatus kept spinning into overdrive. “Limited war is not nicer or kinder or more just than all-out war, as its proponents would have it,” Tuchman notes. “It kills with the same finality.”

For a president, with so much military power under his command, frustrations call for more of the same. The seductive allure of counterinsurgency is apt to heighten the appeal of “warnography” for the commander in chief; whatever the earlier resolve to maintain restraint, the ineffectiveness of more violence invites still more — in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

“The American mentality counted on superior might,” Tuchman commented, “but a tank cannot disperse wasps.” In Vietnam, the independent journalist Michael Herr wrote, the U.S. military’s violent capacities were awesome: “Our machine was devastating. And versatile. It could do everything but stop.”

And that is true, routinely, of a war-making administration.

The grim and ultimately unhinged process that Barbara Tuchman charts is in evidence with President Obama and his approach to the Afghan war: “In its first stage, mental standstill fixes the principles and boundaries governing a political problem. In the second stage, when dissonances and failing function begin to appear, the initial principles rigidify. This is the period when, if wisdom were operative, re-examination and re-thinking and a change of course are possible, but they are rare as rubies in a backyard. Rigidifying leads to increase of investment and the need to protect egos; policy founded upon error multiplies, never retreats. The greater the investment and the more involved in it the sponsor’s ego, the more unacceptable is disengagement.”

A week ago, one out of seven members of the House of Representatives voted against a supplemental appropriations bill providing $81.3 billion to the Pentagon, mainly for warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan. An opponent of the funding, Congressman John Conyers, pointed out that “the president has not challenged our most pervasive and dangerous national hubris: the foolhardy belief that we can erect the foundations of civil society through the judicious use of our many high-tech instruments of violence.”

Conyers continued: “That belief, promoted by the previous administration in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, assumes that the United States possesses the capacity and also has a duty to determine the fate of nations in the greater Middle East.

“I oppose this supplemental war funding bill because I believe that we are not bound by such a duty. In fact, I believe the policies of empire are counterproductive in our struggle against the forces of radical religious extremism. For example, U.S. strikes from unmanned Predator Drones and other aircraft produced 64 percent of all civilian deaths caused by the U.S., NATO and Afghan forces in 2008. Just this week, U.S. air strikes took another 100 lives, according to Afghan officials on the ground. If it is our goal to strengthen the average Afghan or Pakistani citizen and to weaken the radicals that threaten stability in the region, bombing villages is clearly counterproductive. For every family broken apart by an incident of ‘collateral damage,’ seeds of hate and enmity are sown against our nation. . . .

“Should we support this measure, we risk dooming our nation to a fate similar to Sisyphus and his boulder: to being trapped in a stalemate of unending frustration and misery, as our mistakes inevitably lead us to the same failed outcomes. Let us step back; let us remember the mistakes and heartbreak of our recent misadventures in the streets of Fallujah and Baghdad. If we honor the ties that bind us to one another, we cannot in good faith send our fellow citizens on this errand of folly. It is still not too late to turn away from this path.”

Norman Solomon is the author of a dozen books including “War Made Easy.”

America’s Imperial Wars: We Need to See the Horrors

April 11, 2009

By Dave Lindorff | Counterpunch, April 10 – 12, 2009

When I was a 17-year-old kid in my senior year of high school, I didn’t think much about Vietnam. It was 1967, the war was raging, but I didn’t personally know anyone who was over there, Tet hadn’t happened yet. If anything, the excitement of jungle warfare attracted my interest more than anything (I had a .22 cal rifle, and liked to go off in the woods and shoot at things, often, I’ll admit, imagining it was an armed enemy.)

But then I had to do a major project in my humanities program and I chose the Vietnam War. As I started researching this paper, which was supposed to be a multi-media presentation, I ran across a series of photos of civilian victims of American napalm bombing. These victims, often, were women and children—even babies.

The project opened my eyes to something that had never occurred to me: my country’s army was killing civilians. And it wasn’t just killing them. It was killing them, and maiming them, in ways that were almost unimaginable in their horror: napalm, phosphorus, anti-personnel bombs that threw out spinning flechettes that ripped through the flesh like tiny buzz saws. I learned that scientists like what I at the time wanted to become were actually working on projects to make these weapons even more lethal, for example trying to make napalm more sticky so it would burn longer on exposed flesh.

By the time I had finished my project, I had actively joined the anti-war movement, and later that year, when I turned 18 and had to register for the draft, I made the decision that no way was I going to allow myself to participate in that war.

A key reason my—and millions of other Americans’–eyes were opened to what the US was up to in Indochina was that the media at that time, at least by 1967, had begun to show Americans the reality of that war. I didn’t have to look too hard to find the photos of napalm victims, or to read about the true nature of the weapons that our forces were using.

Today, while the internet makes it possible to find similar information about the conflicts in the world in which the US is participating, either as primary combatant or as the chief provider of arms, as in Gaza, one actually has to make a concerted effort to look for them. The corporate media which provide the information that most Americans simply receive passively on the evening news or at breakfast over coffee carefully avoid showing us most of the graphic horror inflicted by our military machine.

We may read the cold fact that the US military, after initial denials, admits that its forces killed not four enemy combatants in an assault on a house in Afghanistan, but rather five civilians—including a man, a female teacher, a 10-year-old girl, a 15-year-old boy and a tiny baby.  But we don’t see pictures of their shattered bodies, no doubt shredded by the high-powered automatic rifles typically used by American forces.

We may read about wedding parties that are bombed by American forces—something that has happened with some frequency in both Iraq and Afghanistan– where the death toll is tallied in dozens, but we are, as a rule, not provided with photos that would likely show bodies torn apart by anti-personnel bombs—a favored weapon for such attacks on groups of supposed enemy “fighters.” (A giveaway that such weapons are being used is a typically high death count with only a few wounded.)

Obviously one reason for this is that the US military no longer gives US journalists, including photo journalists, free reign on the battlefield. Those who travel with troops are under the control of those troops and generally aren’t allowed to photograph the scenes of devastation, and sites of such “mishaps” are generally ruled off limits until the evidence has been cleared away.

But another reason is that the media themselves sanitize their pages and their broadcasts. It isn’t just American dead that we don’t get to see. It’s the civilian dead—at least if our guys do it.  We are not spared gruesome images following attacks on civilians by Iraqi insurgent groups, or by Taliban forces in Afghanistan. But we don’t get the same kind of photos when it’s our forces doing the slaughtering. Because often the photos and video images do exist—taken by foreign reporters who take the risk of going where the US military doesn’t want them.

No wonder that even today, most Americans oppose the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan not because of sympathy with the long-suffering peoples of those two lands, but because of the hardships faced by our own forces, and the financial cost of the two wars.

For some real information on the horror that is being perpetrated on one of the poorest countries in the world by the greatest military power the world has ever known, check out the excellent work by Professor Marc Herold at the University of New Hampshire (http://cursor.org/ and http://www.rawa.org/).

Dave Lindorff is a Philadelphia-based journalist and columnist. His latest book is “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006 and now available in paperback). He can be reached at dlindorff@mindspring.com

Tribute to Peter DeMott, an antiwar activist

April 2, 2009

Peter DeMottPeter DeMott

ON TUESDAY, March 17, antiwar and social justice activists in Ithaca, N.Y., gathered to watch the documentary film The Trial of the St. Patrick’s Four.

The film was screened to mark the sixth anniversary of an action of civil disobedience by four Ithaca Catholic Workers at an army recruiting center days before the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The gathering also served as a mournful tribute to one of the four activists who participated in the action, Peter DeMott, who died February 19 in a tragic accident.

To a room packed with 200 people, the documentary illustrated the nonviolent yet courageous ways that Peter DeMott confronted the U.S. war machine for over two decades. Peter’s commitment to opposing U.S. imperialism since his days in the Vietnam war has served as a source of inspiration to current Iraq Veterans Against the War members, as well as to community activists.

What you can do

To send condolences or donations to the DeMott-Grady family please contact: Ithaca Catholic Worker, 133 Sheffield Rd., Ithaca, NY 14850.

Peter’s relentless commitment and personal sacrifice left the audience committed to building the antiwar movement. Through the documentary, one gets a glimpse of the inspiring and conscientious person that he was, and how his political firmness led him to oppose not only one war in Iraq, but the whole for-profit system that is behind it.

Peter DeMott will be remembered as a gentle husband, father, brother, uncle, friend and a firm civil objector. His brave example will live on to inspire present and future antiwar activists.
Héctor Tarrido-Picart and Nevin Sabet, Ithaca, N.Y.


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