February 11, 2004

They Are the Damned

Here are two vicious Vietnam lies, courtesy of Mark Steyn:
The only relevant lesson from Vietnam is this: then, as now, it was not possible for the enemy to achieve military victory over the US; their only hope was that America would, in effect, defeat itself. And few men can claim as large a role in the loss of national will that led to that defeat as John Kerry. A brave man in Vietnam, he returned home to appear before Congress and not merely denounce the war but damn his "band of brothers" as a gang of rapists, torturers and murderers led by officers happy to license them to commit war crimes with impunity. He spent the Seventies playing Jane Fonda and he now wants to run as John Wayne.
The worst lie is not the despicable claim that Kerry "damn[ed] his 'band of brothers' as a gang of rapists, torturers and murderers." That lie is exposed here and here. [And for much more on this subject, see my later essay entitled, When the Demons Come.] Kerry wasn't talking about his own views -- he was reporting the testimony of over 150 honorably discharged Vietnam veterans:
"I would like to talk on behalf of all those veterans and say that several months ago in Detroit we had an investigation at which over 150 honorably discharged, and many very highly decorated, veterans testified to war crimes committed in Southeast Asia. These were not isolated incidents but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command. It is impossible to describe to you exactly what did happen in Detroit - the emotions in the room and the feelings of the men who were reliving their experiences in Vietnam. They relived the absolute horror of what this country, in a sense, made them do."

"They told stories that at times they had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country."
Whether the propagandists repeating this vicious, easily exposed lie are colossally ignorant or simply remarkably unskilled propagandists, you may decide.

But there is a lie that is even worse: the revived claim that "[t]he only relevant lesson from Vietnam" is that the enemy's "only hope was that America would, in effect, defeat itself" -- and that defeat is the direct result of a "loss of national will." The claim is not true now with regard to the "War on Terror," and it was not true then.

I've offered this excerpt before, from Barbara Tuchman's The March of Folly -- and because of the importance of this issue, here it is again:
Fulbright's vote on the Morse amendment signified an open break with Johnson. He felt betrayed by the move into active combat, contrary to Johnson's assurances, and was one day to confess that he regretted his role in the Tonkin Gulf Resolution more than anything else he had ever done. He now organized, in January-February 1966, in six days of televised hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the first serious public discussion at an official level of the American intervention in Vietnam. More than was appreciated at the time, basic issues emerged--alleged "commitment," national interest, disproportion of effort to interest and the nascent recognition of American self-betrayal. Secretary Rusk and General Taylor made the case for the Administration; Ambassador George Kennan, General James M. Gavin, Fulbright himself and several colleagues spoke for the dissent.

Secretary Rusk insisted as always that the United States had "a clear and direct commitment" to secure South Vietnam against "external attack" deriving from the SEATO Treaty and Eisenhower's letter to Diem, and that this imposed an "obligation" to intervene. With the inventive rhetoric characteristic of true believers, he asserted that "the integrity of our commitments is absolutely essential to the preservation of peace around the globe." When the supposed commitment was punctured by Senator Morse, who cited a recent denial by Eisenhower that he had "ever given a unilateral commitment to the government of South Vietnam," Rusk retreated to the position that the United States was "entitled" by the SEATO Treaty to intervene and that the commitment derived from policy statements by successive Presidents and from the appropriations voted by Congress itself. General Taylor acknowledged under questioning that insofar as the use of our combat ground forces was concerned, the commitment "took place of course only in the spring of 1965."

With regard to national interest, Taylor claimed that the United States had a "vital stake" in the war without defining what it was.
He said that Communist leaders, in their drive to conquer South Vietnam, expected to undermine the position of the United States in Asia and prove the efficacy of wars of national liberation, which it was incumbent on the United States to show were "doomed to failure." Senator Fulbright was moved to ask if the American Revolution was not a "war of national liberation."

General Gavin questioned whether Vietnam was worth the investment in view of all other American commitments abroad. He believed we were being "mesmerized" by the endeavor, and that the contemplated troop strength of half a million, reducing our capacity everywhere else, suggested that the Administration had lost all sense of proportion. South Vietnam was simply not that important.

The charge that public opposition to the war represented "weakness" and failure of will (today being revived by the revisionists of the 1980s) was briefly touched by General Taylor in describing the French public's repudiation of the war as demonstrating "weakness." Senator Morse replied that it would not be "too long before the American people repudiate our war in Southeast Asia," as the French had theirs, and when they did, would that be "weakness"?

In sober words Ambassador Kennan brought out the question of self-betrayal. Success in the war would be hollow even if achievable, he said, because of the harm being done by the spectacle of America inflicting "grievous damage on the lives of a poor and helpless people, particularly on a people of different race and color....This spectacle produces reactions among millions of people throughout the world profoundly detrimental to the image we would like them to hold of this country." More respect could be won by "a resolute and courageous liquidation of unsound positions" than by their stubborn pursuit. He quoted John Quincy Adams' dictum that wherever the standard of liberty was unfurled in the world, "there will be America's heart...but she goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy." Pursuing monsters meant endless wars in which "the fundamental maxim of [American] policy would insensibly change from liberty to force." No harder truth was spoken at the hearings.

For all their truths, the Fulbright hearings were not a prelude to action in the only way that could count, a vote against appropriations, so much as an intellectual exercise in examination of American policy. The issue of longest consequence, Executive war, was not formulated until after the hearings, in Fulbright's preface to a published version. Acquiescence in Executive war, he wrote, comes from the belief that the government possesses secret information that gives it special insight in determining policy. Not only was this questionable, but major policy decisions turn "not upon available facts but upon judgment," with which policy-makers are no better endowed than the intelligent citizen. Congress and citizens can judge "whether the massive deployment and destruction of their men and wealth seem to serve the overall interests as a nation."

Though he could bring out the major issues, Fulbright was a teacher, not a leader, unready himself to put his vote where it counted. When a month after the hearings the Senate authorized $4.8 billion in emergency funds for the war in Vietnam, the bill passed against only the two faithful negatives of Morse and Gruening. Fulbright voted with the majority.

The belief that government knows best was voiced just at this time by Governor Nelson Rockefeller, who said on resumption of the bombing, "We ought to all support the President. He is the man who has all the information and knowledge of what we are up against." This is a comforting assumption that relieves people from taking a stand. It is usually invalid, especially in foreign affairs. "Foreign policy decisions," concluded Gunnar Myrdal after two decades of study, "are in general much more influenced by irrational motives" than are domestic ones.
It is curious indeed that, in their constant efforts to denounce anyone who dares to suggest parallels between our current tactics in the "War on Terror" (including the Iraq invasion and occupation) and Vietnam, the war propagandists simply make those parallels clearer, and more precise.

The claim that it is only "weakness" and a "failure of will" that can lead to defeat should be seen for what it is: a dishonest and dangerous attempt to shift the focus, and the blame, away from our policies themselves and how they are implemented, and to put the blame -- and the responsibility for failure -- on anyone who dares to criticize or question those policies. It is a vicious and childish lie, for the simple reason that the people the war propagandists thus seek to blame are people who have no control whatsoever over what our policies are, or how they are carried out. How in the world can a military failure be the fault of someone sitting at home in the United States, or even demonstrating against the war, rather than the military itself, and the policies it is implementing?

It shouldn't be necessary to state such obvious truths, but in the corrupt intellectual atmosphere of the war debate, it unfortunately is. Once again, keep this in mind: "But there's always a purpose in nonsense. Don't bother to examine a folly—ask yourself only what it accomplishes." What this particular folly accomplishes is, first, the hawks' attempt to avoid all responsibility for the policies they adopted and that they themselves are carrying out. No one else is to blame for any failures they may experience, and it is a measure of their moral cowardice that they won't even accept responsibility for what they are doing.

But there is a second goal of this particular nonsense: the attempt to stifle and shut down all dissent, and all the voices which question our policies. In this way, the war propagandists hope to achieve a complete uniformity of opinion (despite any claims they may make to the contrary), and they simultaneously seek to avoid ever having to explain or defend their views.

What you are witnessing is psychological projection on a massive scale, across an entire culture: the guilt which the Vietnam hawks felt -- which they fully deserved, in view of the endless list of horrors that their decisions and actions unleashed, all for something which had nothing whatsoever to do with the defense of the United States -- was shifted to the Vietnam war protesters, and all the others who questioned our involvement there. And now the "War on Terror" hawks are trying to do the same thing. They deserve to feel profound and tremendous guilt -- for the lack of wisdom in their policies, for picking wars and occupations which do nothing to enhance our security, but only worsen it, for unleashing yet another train of horrors, to say nothing of the damage their actions are causing on the domestic front -- but following the example of cowardice from the Vietnam era, they once again try to shift their own earned guilt onto those who merely dissent from the official view.

It is quite remarkable when you think about it. The hawks are endlessly proud of the fact that the United States has the greatest military in the world. And the hawks constantly complain about the "weakness" and "lack of will" of those who question our government's actions, apparently forgetting that it is the hawks who control our government. What would it take to make these unhappy warriors content? A world where everyone agrees with them, and repeats all day long how wise and brave they are? It would appear so.

But in the meantime, it is amazing that despite the fact that we have the strongest armed forces known in all of history and that hawks control all the levers of power, somehow people armed only with placards, words and keyboards can threaten to destroy all that the hawks hope to achieve, at least according to the hawks themselves.

Perhaps what they genuinely desire is a return to censorship of the kind we had in World War I and World War II, when people were thrown in jail for reading the Bill of Rights in public. Thus do these particular hawks reveal their true lack of confidence, their moral cowardice, their refusal to accept responsibility for any of their actions, and the traitorous nature of their own souls.

They are the damned -- and in time, history will treat them accordingly.