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The Vietnam War and the Struggle For Truth June 22, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in History, Vietnam, War.
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Roger’s note: nearly 60,000 American soldiers and over a million (!!!) Vietnamese, including civilians, were killed in the Vietnam War, hundreds of thousands were wounded, much of Vietnam was destroyed — the notorious scorched earth policy — and untold thousands of American Vietnam veterans returned home to lives traumatized by what they saw and did, many choosing suicide as a way out.  That our war mongering president, himself with blood on his hands, is launching a project to whitewash the shameful Vietnam Holocaust is disgusting and criminal in itself.

(about the author)

opednews.com, June 22, 2012

 

Vietnam, a story of virtually unmitigated disasters that we have inflicted on ourselves and even more on others.

-Bernard Brodie, 1973

The Vietnamese won the Vietnam War by forcing the United States to abandon its intention to militarily sustain an artificially divided Vietnam. The history is clear: It was the United States, not the Vietnamese, who scotched the unifying elections agreed on for 1956 in the Geneva negotiations following the French rout at Dien Bien Phu. Why did the US undermine these elections? As Dwight Eisenhower said in his memoir, because everyone knew Ho Chi Minh was going to win in a landslide of the order of 80% of the population of Vietnam.

So much for Democracy.

“We can lose longer than you can win,” was how Ho described the Vietnamese strategy against the Americans. Later in the 1980s, a Vietnamese diplomat put it this way to Robert McNamara: “We knew you would leave because you could leave. We lived here; we couldn’t leave.”

The Vietnam War was finally over in 1975 when the North prevailed over the US proxy formulation known as South Vietnam, which then disappeared as a “nation,” as many thousands of our betrayed Vietnamese allies fled in small boats or were subjected to unpleasant internment camps and frontier development projects deep in the hostile jungles.

In a word, the Vietnam War was a debacle for everyone involved.

Now, we learn the United States government is planning a 13-year propaganda project to clean up the image of the Vietnam War in the minds of Americans. It’s called The Vietnam War Commemoration Project. President Obama officially launched the project on Memorial Day with a speech at the Vietnam Wall in Washington. The Project was established by Section 598 of the 604-page National Defense Authorization Act For Fiscal Year 2008. It budgets $5 million a year.


President Obama at The Wall by Unknown

“Some have called this war era a scar on our country,” Obama told the specially invited Vietnam veteran crowd at The Wall. “But here’s what I say. As any wound heals, the tissue around it becomes tougher, becomes stronger than before. And in this sense, finally, we might begin to see the true legacy of Vietnam. Because of Vietnam and our veterans, we now use American power smarter, we honor our military more, we take care of our veterans better. Because of the hard lessons of Vietnam, because of you, America is even stronger than before.”

Vietnam toughened us up, made us better human beings. I would submit the President is wrong on that score, that there are profound lessons we have failed to learn.

Phase One of the Commemoration Project goes through 2014 and “will focus on recruiting support and participation nationwide. There will inevitably be international, national, regional, state, and local events planned, but a focus will be on the hometown level, where the personal recognitions and thanks are most impactful. The target is to obtain 10,000 Commemorative Partners.” Phase Two, through 2017, will encourage these Partners to commit to two events a year. “The DoD Commemoration Office will develop and host a “Master Calendar’ to list all the events, reflecting tens of thousands of events across the nation, as we thank and honor our Vietnam veterans.” Phase Three, from 2017 to 2025, will focus on “sustainment” of the positive legacy established in Phases One and Two and will involve “targeted activities” as deemed necessary.

The planners of the Project decided the Vietnam War began in 1962, which makes 2012 the 50th Anniversary of the start of the war. Just that decision alone exhibits disingenuous calculation. Anyone who has read anything beyond a pop novelization of Rambo knows it’s impossible to understand US involvement in the Vietnam War unless one goes back at least to 1945 and the decision to succumb to Cold War hysteria and support the re-colonization of Vietnam by the French. When you understand how Ho Chi Minh’s Viet Minh soldiers fought side-by-side with US soldiers against the Japanese occupiers of Vietnam, when the Vichy French colonial garrisons were cowed by the Japanese, you begin to understand the profound betrayal at the root of the entire war.

The problem is that understanding is the last thing the Pentagon and the US Government want the American people to wrestle with. If President Obama’s launching language is any indication, the purpose of the Vietnam War Commemoration is to create a malleable and supportive populace for future military operations — especially under the new doctrine of focused killing with drones and special-ops units now being established around the world.

Everyone in Washington knows the post-World War Two behemoth United States faces an inevitable decline vis—vis former third world, colonial nations like China, India and Brazil. It’s also clear globalized actors like al Qaeda founded as a reaction against our international interventions are not static and will evolve with our changing tactics. The world is, thus, getting more and more frightening for Americans, especially those who insist on holding on to the good-old-days of Manifest Destiny and American Exceptionalism.

It has to do with an insistence on living in a glorious western colonial past, a bubble that’s part historical fact and part illusion and that entails ignoring what the Buddhists call the fundamental impermanence of life or what the Greek Heraclitus meant when he said, “You can’t step into the same river twice.” Today we might say: sh*t happens and things change. But for an imperialist, these are subversive thoughts. Just the mention the word “imperialism” and people turn into Sergeant Schultz: “I see nah-thing.”

In our schools and institutions it’s unfortunate American citizens are rarely taught to understand historical events like the Vietnam War. History is subversive, and our leaders have all become corporate panderers who want what every other pandering leader in history has ever wanted: a compliant populace waving the flag and not asking questions. Thus we have the Vietnam War Commemoration Project.

John Ford’s America

I’m a cineaste, a subversive-sounding French word for film buff. Nothing dramatizes all this quite as perfectly as two iconic John Ford movies, in which the director, a Navy reserve admiral, employs John Wayne as a key player in the patriotic task of burying Truth in American popular history. John Wayne, of course, was key to the imagery that got us into Vietnam. Wayne even co-directed and starred in the 1968 patriotic clunker The Green Berets. For those who question the relevance of classic film to American political meta-narrative, one need only mention Ronald Reagan who rose to power by confusing the two realms.

The two Ford movies are Fort Apache in 1947 and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance in 1962. The former is a cavalry and Indians story and the latter is a gunfighter and bad man story. Ford was an amazing director and both are excellent fiction films that reinforce Manifest Destiny and American cultural values — to the point of necessarily burying unpleasant truths and encouraging popular legends.

At the end of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, a newspaper editor learns that dude lawyer Jimmy Stewart really didn’t shoot the bad gunman Liberty Valance, played by Lee Marvin. The shooting of Valance in a western town at night made Stewart famous and got him elected a US senator. The editor learns that gunfighter John Wayne knew Valance would kill his tenderfoot pal Stewart, so Wayne had dry-gulched Valance with a rifle from a nearby alley.uestion is, will the editor spill the beans and destroy good-guy Stewart’s senatorial career. In what is now an iconic line, the editor says: “This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

Both the official and popular histories of the Vietnam War are rife with this kind of slippage. The emotional emphasis on anti-war activists “spitting” on soldiers and the emphasis on the heroics of individual soldiers in Vietnam are just two examples. In both cases, the larger, historical realities are buried in favor of popularly endorsed and highly publicized narratives on an individual and personal level. The fact anti-war activists were actually opposing LBJ, Robert McNamara, Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger and the cruel and insidious war they and the institutions they controlled were determined to escalate is lost in the cynical, patriotic focus on individual heroism.

 


The colonel’s debacle and a newly promoted Wayne promotes the legend by Unknown

Fort Apache is a perfect analogy for the Vietnam War. John Wayne is a cavalry captain in Apache country; he’s a good soldier who respects Cochise and his braves. At this point, along comes Henry Fonda as a tight-ass lieutenant colonel taking command of the garrison; he resents being sent with his teenage daughter Shirley Temple to this smelly armpit of the world — in this case, Ford’s favorite location, the incredibly austere Monument Valley in Utah.

Besides the grand-scale scenes of precise cavalry units advancing on horseback amongst the mesas and desert tabletops, there’s the usual John Ford cotillion dances with officers in formal uniforms and ladies in gowns that are simply preposterous for the frontier. And there’s the usual male camaraderie and buffoonery amongst the enlisted men centered on drinking to lighten things up. Plus a Romeo and Juliet romance between upper class Temple and the fresh West Point 2nd lieutenant son of grizzled Sergeant Major Ward Bond, a Civil War Medal Of Honor winner.

Fonda wants to reestablish military discipline at the fort and to regain the glory he once had as a general in the Civil War. (It seems rank was shuffled considerably once that conflagration was over.) He also wants to rip into the goddamned savages who caused him this ignoble assignment.

Fonda reluctantly allows Wayne to go with only a Spanish translator to talk with Cochise unarmed in his stronghold. (Cochise speaks Spanish but not English.) Wayne and Cochise get on smartly and agree that Cochise can resettle in his former lands. But Fonda has different plans. He dismisses Wayne’s agreement and orders the garrison to mount up to meet Cochise. To Wayne, it’s a loathsome betrayal.

The Apaches have the US cavalry outnumbered ten to one. But this doesn’t phase the madman Fonda. He orders the recalcitrant Wayne to guard the wagons and orders a frontal attack that takes his troops right into an Apache ambush that Wayne warned him was there.

Fonda is shot off his horse, and Wayne rides like the wind to save the wounded officer. But Fonda shoves him away and mounts Wayne’s horse to join his encircled men, now in a formation that resembles images of Custer’s Last Stand. Fonda apologizes to Bond, who makes a jovial crack about their future grandchildren. Then they’re all killed by the infuriated Apaches.

Cut to Wayne back behind the wagons, awaiting the advancing savages. A lone rider comes up and, as Wayne goes out unarmed to meet him, the rider angrily slams the garrison colors into the dirt at Wayne’s feet. Cochise has let his paleface amigo live for another day.

Then there’s a break and its some years later. Wayne is now a colonel, and he’s engaged with some reporters in his office. There’s a dignified, formal portrait of the Fonda character on the wall. The reporters all want to hear about the glory of Fonda’s now famous fatal charge. Wayne plays along and passes on the legend of the great man. Then he goes outside and leads his troops on a stirring march out of the compound. The end.

The fact the arrogance and incompetence of the Fonda character and his blatant betrayal of a negotiated agreement he had sent an officer out to obtain at significant risk had caused the loss of much of his garrison is simply swept under the rug. Truth is secondary to institutional integrity. Wayne has now realized on which side his bread is buttered and that his career is not about negotiating with savages. Geronimo was pointedly introduced earlier in the meeting with Cochise. To protect the women folk and advancing civilization on the frontier, Wayne now has the guerrilla Geronimo to clean up.

As well-wrought film art, one can see Fort Apache in two ways — as glorifying Manifest Destiny and the extermination of Native Americans or as explaining the process of how truth is the first casualty of war and, if we let it happen, a permanent casualty of permanent war.

The Truth Will Set Us Free

A friend of mine just gave me three boxes of books on the Vietnam War to add to my collection; and I’m always looking for more in thrift shops and used book stores. Chris Hedges says we’re becoming an illiterate culture attuned to spectacle. That may be true, but I’m not going to be one of Orwell’s proles in such an equation. The point is, we in the antiwar movement — especially those of us who are Vietnam veterans and still read — have a responsibility to make sure the national record is complete. Bernard Brodie was right in 1973 in his mature, analytic book War and Politics when he said Vietnam was “a story of virtually unmitigated disasters that we have inflicted on ourselves and even more on others.” Nothing has changed in the past 39 years, and a well-funded Pentagon propaganda campaign won’t affect that truth.

I’ll be the first to concede honor and bravery exist even in a lousy, unnecessary and cruel war like the one in Vietnam. But we cannot allow the rah-rah garbage that appears to be lined up for the well-funded Vietnam War Commemoration Project to prevail without a fight — even if that fight is asymmetrical and has to be fought in guerrilla mode with rhetorical jujitsu and even strains of Dada absurdity if necessary. The fact is, there are two sides to the Vietnam War, and the one that says the war was not necessary needs to be heard loud and clear and needs to be respected. Plus, it needs to be made clear to Americans that the Vietnamese endured vastly more pain and suffering than any of us did.

The poet W.D. Ehrhart was a young Marine infantryman in the war. He was wounded there. He returned to Vietnam in 1985 and wrote about his trip, about the good things and about meeting Mrs. Na who lost five sons to The American War. As he is led into her modest peasant home, she looks at him. “I have suffered so much misery,” she tells him, “and you did this to me.”

Ehrhart wants to flee the little house and vomit in the road. The incident reminds him of a poem he had written earlier called “Making the Children Behave.”

 

When they tell stories to their children
of the evil
that awaits misbehavior
is it me they conjure?

It takes great humanity and courage to get to a place like Ehrhart has reached. John Ford would not have understood the need to recognize the truths Ehrhart and other vets have tried to tell Americans, though many Americans like Platoon director Oliver Stone certainly do. The Pentagon and the US government do not want to encourage such difficult truths when they need young soldiers for future wars that may, like Vietnam and Iraq, turn out to be tragic debacles.

In another poem, Ehrhart poignantly addresses the human problem of sending young men to fight delusional and unnecessary wars. It’s called “Guerrilla War.”

It’s practically impossible
to tell civilians
from the Vietcong.

Nobody wears uniforms.

They all talk
the same language,
(and you couldn’t understand them
even if they didn’t).

They tape grenades
inside their clothes,
and carry satchel charges
in their market baskets.

Even their women fight,
and young boys,
and girls.

It’s practically impossible
to tell civilians
from the Viet Cong.

After awhile,
you quit trying.

Robert McNamara and Smedley Butler July 13, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in History, Vietnam, War.
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Published on Monday, July 13, 2009 by CommonDreams.org by Tom Gallagher
There’s been a lot of ink spilled in the past week over how we ought to think about the late Robert McNamara. (And yes, real ink, not just virtual – even the remaining real newspapers were in on it.) Does the fact that he came to realize that the Vietnam War (“McNamara’s War” to some) was wrong even as he continued to pursue it as Lyndon Johnson’s Defense Secretary make him a better or a worse person? And what of his willingness to say it publicly – but only three decades later? There may be a more useful way to think about him, however. And it involves considering him not in conjunction with, say, Henry Kissinger, who followed a course similar to his but apparently without hesitation, but more in terms of General Smedley Butler, someone who did learn from his experience.

Butler, of course, achieved far greater clarity than the ever-hedging McNamara did. Butler’s story is fairly well known: four years after a military career that included service in Cuba, China, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Mexico, Haiti, and France, he wrote a book called “War is a Racket.” He gave speeches in which he would say things like, “during that period, I spent most of my time being a high class muscle- man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.”

Whether any of this later-in-life understanding made Butler a better or worse person I do not know. What I do know, though, is that what Butler was willing to say and write was extremely helpful to more than one generation of antiwar activists: “Hey, you don’t have to take my word for it. Listen to this guy, he should know.”

Likewise, I suggest to no one that they should get over their antipathy to Robert McNamara if that is what they feel – the evil that he and Kissinger and the rest did will long outlive them. And anyone who no longer hates the criminals should certainly remain outraged at their crimes. But let us take something of value out of McNamara’s life.

When we encounter potential military recruits looking to serve in one of the nation’s seemingly always available wars but not looking too closely at exactly what it is we’re fighting for because they assume our leaders wouldn’t lead them astray on matters of life and death, let’s tell them about Robert McNamara. If the man in charge of one of our wars could later write that what the US did at the time was “wrong, terribly wrong,” don’t we all owe it to ourselves to take a closer look at where those in power are leading us today?

And when it comes to questioning the conduct of modern war, it’s hard to beat McNamara’s comments in Errol Morris’ documentary film “The Fog of War”: “We burned to death 100,000 Japanese civilians in Tokyo — men, women and children,” he told Morris. “[General Curtis] LeMay said, ‘If we’d lost the war, we’d all have been prosecuted as war criminals.’ And I think he’s right. He — and I’d say I — were behaving as war criminals.” And that was World War II he was talking about – the “good war.” Words to keep in mind the next time one of our drones accidently bombs a wedding.

A remark of McNamara’s made during a C-SPAN discussion of his 1995 memoir, “Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam,” is a good reminder of just how infuriating he could be, right to the end. In regard to Vietnam, he told his interviewer, “We were fighting — and we didn’t realize it — a civil war. Now, true, obviously there were Soviet and Chinese influence and support and no question that the communists were trying to control South Vietnam, but it was basically a civil war.”

Well, if McNamara didn’t know it was a civil war, it wasn’t because tens of thousands of the war’s opponents hadn’t said so or because President Eisenhower hadn’t publicly acknowledged that Ho Chi Minh would have been elected president of Vietnam in a fair election.

But even if McNamara may never have been a man to be taken entirely at his word, what he went on to say on C-SPAN that day might just have some value today as the US plunges deeper into an already nearly eight year old war in Afghanistan: “And one of the things we should learn is you can’t fight and win a civil war with outside troops, and particularly not when the political structure in a country is dissolved.”

 
Tom Gallagher is a San Francisco antiwar activist who initiated last November’s successful Proposition U calling upon the city’s congressional representatives to vote no further funding for the Iraq War.  He is a past member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives.  Contact him at TGTGTGTGTG@aol.com

Bill Moyers Journal: Missile Attacks on Pakistan February 3, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Pakistan, Uncategorized.
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MARILYN YOUNG: Yeah, but that’s, that’s you know, he’s read history. He should at least or he should have been very familiar with the Johnson administration. That’s exactly the trap that Johnson walked into. And it’s not necessary. I have this odd notion that the American public is actually, in the main, adult enough to listen and think and to respond to a president who says, I’m going to tell you what’s going on. For eight years there has been miasma, lies, deception, bizarre behavior. We’re going to change that and not just economically and not just domestically. But we’re really going to see what we’re doing everywhere. That means I did not approve a military move I was urged to approve because I want to know what I’m doing. And I’m sure my fellow citizens will join me in wishing to know what it is the United States is doing militarily before it does it.

See also:

http://rogerhollander.wordpress.com/2009/01/30/obama-continues-bush-policy-of-deadly-air-strikes-in-pakistan/?

 

http://rogerhollander.wordpress.com/2009/01/30/barack-obama-international-outlaw/?

Bill Moyers Journal, January 30, 2009

             

     
 

         
January 30, 2009

 

BILL MOYERS: Welcome to the JOURNAL.

Very often in the White House, the most momentous decisions are, at the time, the least dramatic, the least discussed. And they don’t make news, or history, until much later, when their consequences bubble to the surface downstream. There are observers who think that could prove to be the case with a decision made within hours of Barack Obama’s swearing in last week.

It started as a few lines in wire reports – a bit of buzz on the web – then a story here and there in the weekend papers. Unmanned American drones like this one, called Predators, honing in on villages in Pakistan, near the border with Afghanistan, striking like silent intruders in the night, against suspected terrorists.

Early accounts of casualties varied from a dozen to more than 20 dead and wounded. One Pakistani security official told THE WASHINGTON POST that perhaps ten insurgents had been killed, maybe even a high value target, a senior member of al Qaeda or the Taliban. Then the TIMES of London quoted locals who said “… three children lost their lives” when the missiles destroyed several homes.

Since last August, 38 suspected U.S. missile strikes have killed at least 132 people in Pakistan, where allegedly we are not at war.

In next door Afghanistan, the number is much higher. For seven years American and NATO forces have been chasing Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda and the Taliban, not only with Predator drones, but with guided missiles and bomber raids as well. According to the United Nations and the organization Human Rights Watch, aerial bombing has killed or wounded more than a thousand civilians, what the Pentagon calls, “collateral damage.”

The death of civilians has brought sharp criticism, including from some of our NATO allies and the president of Afghanistan. They believe the bombing is turning people in both Afghanistan and Pakistan against the West, actually undermining an effective campaign against terrorists.

The bombing of civilians from the sky is an old and questionable practice, argued over since the moment the military began to fly. It was deliberate strategy in World Wars I and II. American presidents approved it in Korea and extensively in Vietnam, again in the first Gulf War, then in Bosnia and Kosovo, and six years ago during the campaign of “shock and awe” over Iraq.

But what lifted those reports last weekend out of the routine is the simple fact that for the first time the air strikes occurred on President Obama’s watch. As he said during his campaign, and as Secretary of Defense Gates reaffirmed this week, Obama is escalating America’s military presence in Afghanistan. He may increase it to as many as 60,000 troops this year.

When I read the first story about the Predator strikes last weekend, I thought back to 1964, and another president.

LYNDON JOHNSON: My fellow Americans…

BILL MOYERS: After an encounter in the Gulf of Tonkin between American destroyers and North Vietnamese torpedo boats, President Lyndon Johnson ordered bombing raids over North Vietnam.

 

LYNDON JOHNSON: Air action is now in execution…

BILL MOYERS: LBJ said we want no wider war, but wider war is what we got, eleven years of it.

Now military analysts and historians, including my two guests are wondering aloud – could Afghanistan become “Obama’s war,” a quagmire that threatens to define his presidency, as Vietnam defined LBJ’s?

Marilyn Young is a professor of history at New York University. She’s published numerous books and essays on foreign policy, including THE VIETNAM WARS, 1945-1990, THE NEW AMERICAN EMPIRE and IRAQ AND THE LESSONS OF VIETNAM. She is the co-editor of a collection of essays to be released next month titled BOMBING CIVILIANS: A TWENTIETH-CENTURY HISTORY.

Pierre Sprey is a former Pentagon official, one of Defense Secretary Robert McNamara’s famous “whiz kids” who helped design and develop two of the military’s most successful airplanes, the F-16 Falcon Fighter and the A-10 Warthog Tankbuster. But in the late 1970s, with a handful of Pentagon and congressional insiders, Sprey helped found the military reform movement. They risked their careers taking issue with a defense bureaucracy spending more and more money for fewer and fewer, often ineffective weapons.

You will find an essay with his shared by-line in this new book, AMERICA’S DEFENSE MELTDOWN, published by the Center for Defense Information.

Welcome to both of you.

 MARILYN YOUNG: Thank you.

PIERRE SPREY: Thank you.

BILL MOYERS: Marilyn, what did you think last weekend when four days into the Obama administration we read those reports of the strikes in Pakistan?

MARILYN YOUNG: My heart sank. It absolutely sank. It had been very high. I had been, like I think the rest of the country, feeling immensely encouraged and inspired by this new administration and by the energy and vigor with which he began. And then comes this piece of old stuff on approach to a complicated question that in comes in the form of a bomb and a bomb in the most dangerous of all places. And, yeah, my heart sank, literally.

BILL MOYERS: Our military, Pierre, says it’s sure that it’s striking militants in Pakistan and Afghanistan. And that they’re not targeting civilians. Can they be sure? From your experience, can they be sure?

PIERRE SPREY: I’m sure that their purpose is to strike militants. I have no doubt of that whatsoever. But with the weapons they use and with the extremely flawed intelligence they have.

MARILYN YOUNG: Yes.

PIERRE SPREY: I’d be astonished if one in five people they kill or wound is in fact, a militant.

BILL MOYERS: What do you mean “flawed intelligence”?

PIERRE SPREY: You can’t tell with a camera or an infrared sensor or something whether somebody’s a Taliban. In the end, you’re relying on either, you know, some form of intercepted communications, which doesn’t point at a person. It just, you know, points at a radio or a cell phone or something like that. Or, most likely, you’re relying on some Afghani of unknown veracity and unknown motivation and who may, may very well be trying to settle a blood feud rather than give you good information.

BILL MOYERS: But don’t these drone planes and Predator missiles provide a commander-in-chief, a President of the United States, with enormous political convenience for being able to order military action without risking American lives?

MARILYN YOUNG: Yeah.

PIERRE SPREY: Yes.

MARILYN YOUNG: Yeah, it’s-

PIERRE SPREY: But-

MARILYN YOUNG: Simple. Yeah.

PIERRE SPREY: And-

MARILYN YOUNG: And then-

PIERRE SPREY: A very dangerous option because it’s so convenient and because at home it’s politically acceptable because our boys aren’t dying on the ground, it gets us into tremendous trouble, which, of course, in general is true of bombing.

BILL MOYERS: And your-

PIERRE SPREY: Bombing is always politically popular relative to sending infantry and killing our boys.

BILL MOYERS: Aren’t these drone planes and these Predator missiles effective? Don’t they get the bad guys, even though they might kill a few civilians?

PIERRE SPREY: Their importance is enormously exaggerated, as is their glamour. A Predator is a very large radio-controlled model airplane with a 48-foot wingspan and a snowmobile motor in the back. It only goes about 80 miles an hour. And it stays up for 10, 15 hours and carries a missile. And when they launch the missile, the missile is not pinpoint accurate. You know, if it’s a house, reasonably often it hits the house it’s aimed at. And when it does, it usually kills a bunch of other people around.

MARILYN YOUNG: And it’s true, you can aim at this table. But the question is who’s sitting at – well, they might want to aim at this table. But, you know, who’s sitting at the table? And you don’t know. Or actually you do want to hit Pierre but you don’t want to hit the two of us. Unfortunately, pieces of what hit him hit us. And we are severely injured or dead. But really Pierre is what you wanted and Pierre is what you got. And this is supposed to be a triumph. And it seems to me that it is a triumph in the most abstract sense. And if you are on the ground as one of these things come at you, the material meaning of being bombed becomes very clear. And that’s not ever discussed or taken into account.

BILL MOYERS: The material meaning?

MARILYN YOUNG: Yes. What it feels like to be bombed, not to be in the crosshairs going down but to be on the ground looking up. And the footage that we have in the sense we have of drones is of someone 10,000 miles away pushing a button and, wham, there it goes. But nobody’s sitting there on the ground looking at what happens after it goes up.

PIERRE SPREY: And what happens on the ground is for every one of those impacts you get five or ten times as many recruits for the Taliban as you’ve eliminated. The people that we’re trying to convince to become adherents to our cause have turned rigidly hostile to our cause in part because of bombing and in part because of, you know, other killing of civilians from ground forces. But we’re dealing with a society here, that’s based on honor, you know? The Pashtun are very ancient people.

BILL MOYERS: This is the tribe in the southern part of the-

PIERRE SPREY: Well, it’s not a tribe. It’s a nation. This is 40 million people spread across Afghanistan and Pakistan, you know, who don’t even recognize that border. It’s their land.

BILL MOYERS: Forty million?

PIERRE SPREY: There’s 40 million of them. That’s a nation, not a tribe. Within it are tribal groupings and so on. But they all speak the common language. And they all have a very similar, very rigid, in lots of ways very admirable code of honor much stronger than their adherence to Islam.

PIERRE SPREY: They have to resist, you know, being invaded, occupied, bombed, and killed. It’s a matter of honor. And they’re willing to die in unbelievable numbers to do that.

BILL MOYERS: Are you suggesting that these strikes could be contributed to the destabilization of Pakistan, one of our allies?

MARILYN YOUNG: It’s clear that they’re doing that. I mean, there never was before an organization called Taliban in Pakistan. This didn’t exist as an organization. It does now. It’s unclear to me as well the relationship between our punitive enemy, al Qaeda, and the Taliban. That’s unclear. And it’s, it’s very unclear what American policy will be with respect to either group. Mainly what’s unclear is what our goal is in Afghanistan. It’s really unclear.

BILL MOYERS: Well, we went there to get Osama bin Laden after 9/11 and to free Afghanistan from the brutal grip of the Taliban, religious extremists who were wrecking misery and creating a base there for al Qaeda, right? That was-

PIERRE SPREY: And we failed miserably on both missions, you know? al Qaeda’s obviously flourishing, undoubtedly stronger around the world than it was when we started this in 2001. And what did we liberate the country from? We certainly caused the Taliban to withdraw. We didn’t defeat them. They withdrew. And Afghanistan turned into a battleground for warring huge, extremely violent drug gangs. All these provincial governors, all these people we call warlords euphemistically are large-scale drug gangsters.

MARILYN YOUNG: Uh-huh.

PIERRE SPREY: And the country was ripped apart by them. And that’s why the Taliban is coming back.

BILL MOYERS: You saw the story in “The Washington Post” this week from Secretary of Defense Gates who says, you know, we’re not longer going to be involved with these gangsters you talk about, with a corrupt government of Karzai in Kabul. We’re going to concentrate instead on doing something about the mess you just described by waging a war that will ultimately defeat the insurgents. That was, in effect, his message. New strategy.

MARILYN YOUNG: Right.

BILL MOYERS: Involvement with the civilian government.

MARILYN YOUNG: And we’ll focus on the provinces. And there is also an implication from earlier stories that there will be an effort to buy off various warlords to try and import some of what was done in Iraq into Afghanistan. The problem is the focus remains a military solution to what all the other information I have says is a political problem. So I don’t care how you slice the military tactic, so long as your notion is that you can actually deal with this in a military way, you’re just going to march deeper and deeper into what Pete Seeger used to call the Big Muddy or I guess in Afghanistan it’s pretty dry. It would be some other expression. But the point is if you can’t figure out a political way to deal in Afghanistan then you can only compound the compound mess that Pierre talked about.

PIERRE SPREY: Yeah, the military approach is always and the conventional think tank approach and the General Petraeus approach is, first, we’ll establish security.

MARILYN YOUNG: Right. That’s-

PIERRE SPREY: And then we’ll fix the government.

MARILYN YOUNG: Right.

PIERRE SPREY: That doesn’t work. In fact, that’s already failed. And the more we try to fix the security situation, the more we will drive these people, particularly the Pashtun, into implacable opposition. And whether the military solution is more bombing from Predators or from F-16s or more special forces on the ground, you know, attacking villages and inadvertently killing lots of civilians, it doesn’t matter. As long as security comes first, the mission will fail because these people are sick and tired of a government that’s oppressing them and a foreigner who’s killing them.

BILL MOYERS: There was a photo the other day of a protest in Pakistan, a few days after a drone attacked. The banner reads, quote, “Bombing on tribes. Obama’s first gift to Pakistan.” Now, that’s part of the blowback, isn’t it?

PIERRE SPREY: That’s incredibly dangerous.

MARILYN YOUNG: Yeah.

PIERRE SPREY: I mean, I don’t think people in America have any sense of how dangerous that is. By bombing into those areas, those traditional Pashtun areas, that the Pakistani government long ago made a pact, you know, at the founding of the state of Pakistan to never invade those areas and to leave the Pashtun to govern themselves. And we are forcing the Pakistanis to break that pact, both on the ground with their army. And we’re breaking it by bombing the Pashtun in Pakistan. That is taking a weak and also rotten Pakistani government and crumbling it. That’s putting them on the horns of a dilemma that they don’t need. Why is that so dangerous to us? Because this is a nuclear armed country. And when they fall apart and fall into the hands of people like, people that are running Afghanistan, you could have a nuclear war with India, you know? I mean, we’re talking about not just blowback but we’re talking about catastrophe could result.

MARILYN YOUNG: You know, the thing that gets me, Obama appoints George Mitchell and he says what we’re going to do is listen. What we’re going to do is figure we’re just going to listen. And in his first press interview on that Arab TV network, which was a brilliant move I thought, he talked about respect. BARACK OBAMA [SOT]: We are ready to initiate a new partnership based on mutual respect and mutual interest.

MARILYN YOUNG: He used the word “respect” repeatedly. And it’s an excellent word to use and an important one. He, it’s not impossible to say we’re going to pause in Afghanistan and listen. We’re going to think about it. We’re going to figure it out. We’re not going to move militarily at this moment until we know what we’re doing.

BILL MOYERS: But suppose, Marilyn that somebody from the Pentagon came to the White House right after the inauguration and said, “You know, we’ve had this drone attack planned. And we’ve spotted these insurgents whom we think really are militants–“

MARILYN YOUNG: Right.

BILL MOYERS: “and killers in their own right. And we want to – we want you to approve this raid.” And suppose he had said no four days after the inauguration and that had been leaked. You know what would have happened on all of the right-wing talk radio shows in.

MARILYN YOUNG: Sure.

BILL MOYERS: And maybe “The Washington Post” and editorial page and others like that. He has no backbone, right? I mean, wasn’t he in a sense, trapped by this option?

MARILYN YOUNG: Yeah, but that’s, that’s you know, he’s read history. He should at least or he should have been very familiar with the Johnson administration. That’s exactly the trap that Johnson walked into. And it’s not necessary. I have this odd notion that the American public is actually, in the main, adult enough to listen and think and to respond to a president who says, I’m going to tell you what’s going on. For eight years there has been miasma, lies, deception, bizarre behavior. We’re going to change that and not just economically and not just domestically. But we’re really going to see what we’re doing everywhere. That means I did not approve a military move I was urged to approve because I want to know what I’m doing. And I’m sure my fellow citizens will join me in wishing to know what it is the United States is doing militarily before it does it.

PIERRE SPREY: I would applaud, I would have the utmost admiration.

MARILYN YOUNG: Yeah.

PIERRE SPREY: For any leader, even for a senator or congressman who had the guts to say exactly what you just said. But it’s not in the cards. And we knew it wasn’t in the cards when during the campaign Obama subscribed to the fact that we’re in a war on terror.

MARILYN YOUNG: Right.

PIERRE SPREY: This is not a war on terror. You know? And anybody who starts from the premise that it’s a war on terror is heading straight into disasters error.

MARILYN YOUNG: Yeah.

PIERRE SPREY: And he said-

BILL MOYERS: I don’t understand that because George W. Bush defined this as a war on terror. And I think Obama must be using the same invocation, you know?

PIERRE SPREY: Exactly.

BILL MOYERS: This is all part of the war on terror. He said it in his inaugural address.

PIERRE SPREY: Yes, he said that. I was appalled. You talk about our hearts sinking.

PIERRE SPREY: 9/11 was not an act of war.

BILL MOYERS: What was it?

PIERRE SPREY: It was a criminal act. It was a simple.

MARILYN YOUNG: Right.

PIERRE SPREY: Criminal act by a bunch of lunatic fanatic violent people who needed to be tracked down and apprehended and tried exactly as you would with any other lunatic violent person, like we do with our own domestic terrorists, like the guy who bombed the Oklahoma federal building.

BILL MOYERS: Federal building. Right.

PIERRE SPREY: You know? Exactly the same thing we did to him is what we should have launched on a huge basis, of course, on a huge international police basis and not called it.

MARILYN YOUNG: And there would have been totally international support.

PIERRE SPREY: It’s not a war.

MARILYN YOUNG: Right.

PIERRE SPREY: We, by calling it a war, we have glorified al Qaeda. We have glorified the cause of violent radical Islam. All that tiny minority have become heroes. And we made them heroes. We made their propaganda. We made their case for them.

BILL MOYERS: Let me read you an excerpt from the official White House statement on foreign policy under President Obama. Quote, “Obama and Biden will refocus American resources on the greatest threat to our security, the resurgence of al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. They will increase our troop levels in Afghanistan, press our allies in NATO to do the same, and dedicate more resources to revitalize Afghanistan’s economic development.” There you have a very clear statement of their intentions that we’re going to concentrate on the war. And in fact by the end of this year there’ll be 60,000, not 30,000 American troops in Afghanistan. And there’s no indication the strikes, the air strikes that are killing civilians are going to stop.

PIERRE SPREY: And the 60,000-

MARILYN YOUNG: No.

PIERRE SPREY: -will be useless.

MARILYN YOUNG: Yeah.

PIERRE SPREY: You know, the Russians at the peak of their invasion – who dealt with the Afghanis a good deal more brutally than we did – had over 150,000 and a trained a 250,000 man Afghan army. And they lost. 60,000 is a recipe for failure, defeat, and ultimately a disgraceful withdrawal by the United States. One way or another, no matter how nice a face we put on it, we’ll be kicked out of there just like we were kicked out of Vietnam.

BILL MOYERS: Speaking of Vietnam, and you’ve written so much about this, we have a conversation between President Johnson and, your old boss, Secretary of Defense McNamara about bombing. Take a look at this. ROBERT McNAMARA [SOT]: If we hurt them enough it isn’t so much that they don’t have more men as it is that they can’t get the men to fight because the men know that once they get assigned to that task their chances of living are small. And I, myself, believe that’s the only chance we have of winning this thing. And when they see they’re getting killed in such high rates in the South and they see that supplies are less likely to come down from the North, I think it will just hurt their morale a little bit more. And to me that’s the only way to win, because we’re not killing enough of them to make it impossible for the North to continue to fight. But we are killing enough to destroy the morale of those people down there if they think this is going to have to go on forever. PRESIDENT JOHNSON [SOT]: All right. Go ahead, Bob. ROBERT McNAMARA: Thanks.

BILL MOYERS: Now, Secretary McNamara and President Johnson were talking about a different kind of bombing from the drones in Afghanistan and Pakistan and a lot more of it. But do you see a historical parallel there?

PIERRE SPREY: Absolutely.

MARILYN YOUNG: Oh, yeah. I mean, the notion that you will break the will of the enemy, I – that’s such a depressing clip. I just can’t – I mean, it just sinks me right back into the moment when all that was going on. Winston Churchill is held up as a great hero because he defies German bombing and says we will fight them everywhere. They can’t break our will. And he is considered a great hero. McNamara is incapable of reading that same spirit back into his enemy. Instead, he assumes that he can bomb them into submission. And it’s the same notion now that you can scare them, break their will. And the drone, this precise thing, is maybe, in the minds of those who use it, even more scary because you don’t see us but we see you. And zap we gotcha. But it’s, again, an effort to deal with a political issue with force. And it doesn’t work.

BILL MOYERS: Pierre, as I said in the introduction, you helped develop a couple of very effective fighter planes. Is there a moral dimension to this use of drones that you didn’t see in a more conventional kind of weapon?

PIERRE SPREY: There’s a moral dimension to every kind of bombing that destroys civilians, particularly bombing that destroys more civilians than military people. You can’t avoid it. There’s nothing notable about the drones that changes that. And the moral dimension is very simple. And it dates back to the original theologian of bombing, Julio Doue, a rather fanatical Italian from World War I who first hypothesized, wrongly, that you could destroy an enemy’s morale, exactly what you said, and win victories without any ground armies if you simply bombed them enough. And secondly, that the bombers would always get through, that they would always defeat fighter opposition and antiaircraft opposition. Both propositions have been provided in history over and over and over again to be not only wrong but thumpingly wrong.

BILL MOYERS: Has civilian bombing ever been effective, Marilyn?

MARILYN YOUNG: I can’t think. Can you?

PIERRE SPREY: The answer is no.

MARILYN YOUNG: No.

PIERRE SPREY: Very simply, no.

BILL MOYERS: Here you say there are none.

MARILYN YOUNG: No. I don’t think ever.

PIERRE SPREY: And by the way-

MARILYN YOUNG: No.

PIERRE SPREY: You know? Churchill tried it. Churchill, by the way, after that brave stand to resist the Germans, turned around and, for politic reasons, just like our leaders, decided that it would be a great idea to simply area bomb Germany. What that means is to kill civilians. And they deliberately set out to kill German civilians on the same premise of Julio Doue that we would kind of kill them into submission. And it failed miserably.

BILL MOYERS: Does it seem to you that President Obama believes he can escape the outcome in Afghanistan that George W. Bush did not escape in Iraq?

MARILYN YOUNG: Right. I think he does think he can escape it. I think anybody would imagine coming into fresh into power would imagine he can make it happen better. If he didn’t believe that, he would not have said – he would not have signed off on the drone attack. So I think he thinks he can escape it. And by fiddling within the same set of tactics that the Bush administration did. And isn’t it any – there’s no new thinking going on.

PIERRE SPREY: See, that’s the problem.

MARILYN YOUNG: Yeah.

PIERRE SPREY: Is – he’s surrounded by people who tell him, you know, “Boss, you know, all we need is, like, 30,000 more people here to secure the nation. And we need to get rid of Karzai because he’s a problem. And we got a few more Band-aids here, and it’ll all be fine.” So-

BILL MOYERS: We couldn’t keep up with who we were getting rid of in Saigon, you know? I’m serious about that.

PIERRE SPREY: Exactly. And we’re-

MARILYN YOUNG: Right.

PIERRE SPREY: It’s – same thing’s going to happen when we get rid of Karzai because the people behind him are worse. And they will be worse. And Obama is going to be in exactly that situation, surrounded by a bunch of Robert McNamaras, except not so smart.

BILL MOYERS: So do you believe “The New York Times” was accurate the other day when it said Afghanistan could quickly come to define the Obama presidency?

MARILYN YOUNG: I hope not. I cannot tell you how much I hope not. I think – he’s got so much he wants to do. And he has so many good things he wants to do. And he starts out, you know, really marvelously, trying to do those good things. And if he is deflected, as Johnson was, that would be, well, it’s this sort of tragedies that America’s good at. It turns out to be as much a tragedy for the people we’re supposedly engaged with as it is for us.

PIERRE SPREY: I’m pessimistic on that. I’m more pessimistic than Marilyn.

MARILYN YOUNG: I’m, yeah.

PIERRE SPREY: I think he will be trapped in it. I think.

MARILYN YOUNG: I’m hopeful.

PIERRE SPREY: I mean, he’s already-

MARILYN YOUNG: I’m not, I knock wood a lot.

PIERRE SPREY: He’s already so committed through his campaign of reinforcing Afghanistan and continuing the path we’ve been on unless he finds an act of enormous political will and courage and a way of explaining it to the American people that, you know, we’ve engaged on a path that’s wrong and that’s not going to work. And I’m about to reverse course. That’s really hard to do.

MARILYN YOUNG: You know, it’s-

PIERRE SPREY: And if he doesn’t reverse course, it’s the same quicksand. It’s deeper and deeper, step by step.

MARILYN YOUNG: See, suppose that Osama bin Laden stayed where he was. Suppose he did. I mean, the acts of terror occur or they don’t occur and they’re deflected or they’re not deflected no matter where he’s living, right?

PIERRE SPREY: Yep.

MARILYN YOUNG: So the question of why we’re in Afghanistan looms very large indeed.

PIERRE SPREY: Absolutely.

MARILYN YOUNG: Since it doesn’t seem to relate in any way I can really name with precision American security.

BILL MOYERS: Two important books, “Bombing Civilians: A 20th Century History,” with Marilyn Young, and “America’s Defense Meltdown: Pentagon Reform for President Obama and the New Congress,” with an important chapter from Pierre Sprey. Thank you both for being with me on the Journal.

MARILYN YOUNG: Thank you, Bill.

PIERRE SPREY: Thank you, Bill.

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