Atelier No.2, article 19


Douglas Dowd :
© all rights reserved, January 2004

 U.S. WARS : When Will They Ever Learn?

 Introduction.  That question, many will recall, was a song of the Vietnam antiwar movement as it decried our historic zest for war.  What was thought had been learned from that war was called "the Vietnam syndrome" -- as though being against war were a social disease.  Its cure began in the 1970s and was effectively achieved during the Reagan years.

 Its starting-point was the "corporate counter-attack." (Du Boff) Its aim was to undo the socio-economic reforms from the 1930s into the 1960s.  But those who led and supported that campaign were not only against a lot -- peaceniks, unions, civil rights, high taxes on the rich and on corporate profits, governmental social security and health care, and all regulations -- they were also for a lot.

 The main corporations involved in the "counter-attack" were also among the top beneficiaries of the "military-industrial complex"  (Eisenhower's designation).  They (and many of their workers) wanted the U.S. public to unlearn about war, so that the dollars could continue to flow.  And continue to flow they surely did (and surely do):  Over $12 trillion in military expenditures and their cost-plus contracts, 1946-1999. (Economic Reports of the President)

 Even as World War II was ending, the U.S.had resumed the military interventions that began with our birth and have never ceased.  Here, some of the best-known since 1945:

 1) the financing and arming of the French in Vietnam.    1945-1954, followed soon after by our secret  military interventions in Vietnam made "legal" by the spurious "Tonkin Gulf Resolution" of August, 1964.(Kahin; Young)
 2) the financing and arming of Israel,1948-2004. (Oz)
 3) the Korean war, 1950-53. (Cumings; Matray)
 4) the CIA overthrow of democratically elected leaders such as Mossadegh in Iran, 1953 (Draper; Kinzer); of     Arbenz in Guatemala, 1954 (Jonas); of Lumumba in the Congo, 1961 (Hochschild); of Sukarno in Indonesia, 1965 (Blum); of Allende in Chile, 1973 (Powers; Uribe); the attempts to overthrow Castro before and after the Bay of Pigs, 1961 (Chang/Kornbuhl);
 5) the payment for and delivery of weapons to right wing    armies to undo or prevent democratic governments         through Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador (Bonner);
 6) the arming and financing of the Taliban in Afghanistan    to provoke the Soviet Union (late 1970s; Le Nouvel       Observateur ); plus a substantial number of known, suspected, and likely  events in the Caribbean, Latin on every continent.  (Blum)

 All wars have their special qualities, but all also have much in common.  Here the focus will be upon the meaning of both the differences and the similarities between U.S. and other nations' wars, especially as regards the fear and morale of our troops -- intended, in conclusion, to reveal the twisted nature of the war in Iraq, and what are likely to be its unintended and perverse consequences.

 Among wars' many common features most relevant for today are their generally dubious rationales, the influence of the involved nations' previous wars, the distortions by the adversaries of each other's character and their misguided beliefs concerning each other's weaknesses; and, especially for the U.S. since 1950, the unrealistic expectations for advanced military technologies.  Their interaction largely determines wars' domestic support and, of course, the morale of the frontline soldiers, as they undergo the swirling mix of boredom, confusion, fear, and demoralization of combat duty. All that will be discussed as we go on; I begin with a brief analysis of the striking divergence between the costs and benefits of 20th century wars to us, compared with others.

 The arithmetic of slaughter. An examination of our wars since 1917 (taken together with the other factors to be enumerated) strongly suggests that the Iraqi war will be unique in our military history; and that -- noting Korea and Vietnam -- although this is not the first time since World War II that we have "bitten off more than we can chew," this time it will be both more difficult to remain (as in Korea) or to leave (as with Vietnam), and with much more at stake at home and abroad no matter which we do.

 Of the many elements relevant to that judgment, the most important is perhaps the least obvious; namely, our very limited experience with war's suffering compared with almost other nations.  The only exception to that was the Civil War. Then more than six percent of our white male population were killed (600,000+) and at least twice that wounded.  A tragic but barely known fact is that so many fathers were killed that thousands of their widows felt impelled to "indenture" some of their children into de facto slavery.  (J. Brady)  Those horrors faded from memory long ago; nor have we had any such experience since.

 The dead and wounded from our 20th century wars as measured in absolute terms were of course substantial; but unlike other countries' experiences, relatively --  as a percentage of our population -- the casualties have always been minimal.  When compared with the enormous number of those of other nations harmed or devastated by war, few indeed are the individuals or families in the United States for whom a loved one has been severely injured or killed since 1865, even including the world wars.  First, U.S. losses; then others':
     World War I:  110,000 (half from combat) + 200,000 wounded, of a population of over 100 million.
     World War II, 400,000 dead + 670,000 million wounded. of  a population over 145 million.
     Korea and Vietnam, with about 200,000 dead altogether, and many more wounded (U.S. population, respectively,  about 150 million and 200 million for those wars).

 Those were terrible numbers for the killed and wounded and their families, but they were slight when compared with those of Europe in the two world wars.  The aggregated relevant European populations were three to four times that of the U.S. but their dead were at least 15 times ours in World War I and well over 100 times ours in World War II:

 In World War I, eight million European soldiers were killed and more than 15 million were wounded, plus the first significant numbers of civilian casualties; in World War II, 60 million Europeans were killed (28 million in the Soviet Union alone, mostly civilians) and countless more were wounded and geographically uprooted,  worsened by the substantial destruction of cities, farms, factories,and all transportation.  Then note that the Pacific war had its beginnings in the early 1930s, so that for the Chinese and Japanese and, later, the peoples of Southeast Asia, death and destruction were also great. (Frumkin)

 The tens of thousands of U.S. dead and wounded in the Korean and Vietnam wars were also relatively mild

 The combined populations of all of Korea, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam were less than half of ours, but at least three million Koreans and one million Chinese) died in that war, and another three million died in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia -- plus other millions wounded (or sickened by Agent Orange).  And, as in Europe, there was the destruction of agriculture, cities, and forests, and the residue of millions of lethal land-mines.

 None of that has occurred in the United States.  Apart from all else,then, the relevance of those numbers is that in the affected countries of Europe and of Asia, almost every family has suffered deep pain and losses from war; whereas, well under one percent of U.S. families knows that "war is "hell."

 Those numbers by themselves go far to explain why, as has been said, "the people of the United States have not learned to hate war enough." -- that plus our long-standing view that, because of the vast oceans separating us from Europe and Asia we are invulnerable.   As indeed we were, until modern technology narrowed those oceans and allowed Pearl Harbor and 9/11 to happen.  Both were tragedies, with a total death toll of 6,000.  While the rest of the world sympathized in both cases, those did not seem like large numbers to them.

 Now, and even though we have found ourselves to be vulnerable, we continue to lack a realistic view of war.  Fear of possible terrorist attacks here is of course high, but instead of increasing our opposition to war it has not only made it even more acceptable than earlier, but to go to war "premptively" has been all too easily accepted -- with, as usual, the enduring belief that, somehow, our extraordinary weaponry will prevail and renew our invulnverability -- at expected low casualties for us, and little concern for the very high casualties of others from our powerful weapons.  We have learned to call that "collateral damage."

 In sum, our war history has "spoiled us silly."  Vital to our perverse learning process were the numerous and almost effortless "little wars" we fought before 1917.  Other than making heroes out of "Indian remover" Andrew Jackson and others like him, the customary admiration and misinformation as to just what those heroes did and to whom would be seen as war crimes today.  Or should be.

 Wars 'R US.  From our beginnings as a nation, the respected historian W.A. Williams cites 150 mostly "little" and mostly undeclared wars.  Until Pearl Harbor, none of them could be seen as defensive.  We tracked down, pushed aside, rounded up, and/or killed all the "natives" or the soldiers of nations that stood in the way of our "manifest destiny" on this continent; that done, we began to flex our muscles abroad.  (Williams, 1980)

 Until the end of the 19th century, our population was widely-scattered, largely illiterate and uninformed, and only rarely involved in our national political life; before our 1898-99 aggressions into Cuba and the Philippines it had never been essential to provide the U.S. public with "a reason why" for our military adventures:  We were simply moving into what was "ours."

 The construction of such a rationale for Cuba was seen as necessary -- and, for him, profitable -- by W.R. Hearst.  So it was that, clumsily but effectively, he undertook his razzle-dazzle "yellow press" deceptions about "the sinking of the Maine."  For both patriotic and economic reasons support came easily -- especially from farmers hoping our geographic expansion would provide them with new markets.  (Williams, 1969)

 From Cuba to the Philippines was geographically but not politically a giant step.  We invaded and then "annexed" them in 1899 -- "in order to liberate the Filipinos from colonial rule" (as Bush II put it in 2003) -- and occupied them until after World War II.

 Having taken over almost all the islands between San Francisco and China, we then marched southward, slicing Panama out of Colombia and making Nicaragua and Guatemala safe for U.S. companies.  Those were major wars for the many thousands  killed in the process -- 2-300,000 Filipinos, alone; for the folks at home it was like rolling off a log.

 Those were the last of our small and easy wars.  To get us into our first big one, World War I, a quantum jump in sophistication was required.  The invention mothered by that necessity was public relations.   We have become so accustomed to being "spun" that it can seem to us that PR has always existed.  It has not; it was born in its present form in 1916, as our pacifist internationalist President Woodrow Wilson was running for re-election.

 World War I:  The end of innocence begins.  The war was two years' old when Wilson sought re-election.  With one hand he campaigned to keep us out of the war -- "It is a war with which we have nothing to do," he said; with his other hand he quietly hired Edward L. Bernays, the grandfather of PR and modern advertising (and the nephew of Sigmund Freud) to sell the war.  That was made easier by what had been a lagging economy since 1912, but that had been boosted by rising exports to the British and the French from the war's onset.

   In November of 1916, Wilson was duly re-elected.  Well before all the votes were counted Bernays had begun his first campaign.  He sent paid speakers around the country to civic clubs (Elks, Rotary, etc.), and provided the press with ample incentive and opportunity to learn its lines.  (Tye)  Home radio awaited the mid-1920s; TV awaited the 1950s.  The PR campaign meant providing the speakers and newspapers with endless news stories:  about German soldiers' sexual abuse of Belgian nuns, their machine-gunning of innocent civilians in French villages, and their forcing of children to serve as decoys on the front lines.  Then, when German subs did begin to sink U.S. ships carrying military provisions to the British, Uncle Sam easily slid into war.

 All in good cause:  When the U.S. declared war against Germany in April of 1917, Wilson proclaimed that sheer decency required the United States to do so (in his words) "In order to make the world safe for democracy."  Well, we "won the war" but, somehow, between that victory for democracy and World War II half a dozen nations had become totalitarian, which none had been before.  And, in case you have forgotten, World War II was proclaimed as "the war to end all wars."

 Millions were drafted in the States in 1917, but the war was sold well enough so that many eagerly lined up to enlist.  Ultimately of our five million new soldiers, two million went to France -- to prance through Paree shouting "Lafayette, we are here!" and other fun and games.  Until the spring of 1918.
 World War I was the nastiest ever (up to then).  It was marked by the massive use of mass killers:  murderous trench warfare, machine guns, tanks, poison gas, and aerial bombing.  Its most haunting memory for those who survived was having been trapped for weeks at a time in stinking corpse- and mud-filled trenches, as battle lines staggered back and forth a few yards every day, month after month, year after year.  (Fussell)

   Numbing fear, utter demoralization and insanity soon became the war's trademarks for those in the trenches -- whether for the Germans in All Quiet on the Western Front, the British in the poems of Wilfred Owen and Siegried Sassoon and, more recently, the trilogy of Pat Barker, or the front-line Yanks in the U.S.A. of Dos Passos.

 The fear, demoralization, wounds, death, and madness hit exponentially harder on the European soldiers than those from the U.S.A.  Although passionate nationalism may once have let the Europeans believe in the war, by the time the Yanks landed they had been killing each other for almost three years; both sides were worn to a frazzle.  Our troops, fresh and well-armed, were engaged in combat for a total of only eight months, beginning April of 1918 and ending in November, mostly in the relatively less lethal rolling offensives that brought the war to its end.

 The immediate postwar years in the United States were very different from those in Europe:  What was called "the prosperity decade" and "the jazz age" in the States -- terms applicable to much less than a majority of the population -- came to be prolonged processes of social and political upheaval throughout Europe:  revolution in Russia (during the war), counter-revolution in Italy; then, to one degree or another, jolting politics in virtually all of Europe and, as well, in China and Japan.  The world economy was precariously situated before 1914, and the war pushed it over the precipice and into the depths of a depression as unprecedented as the war itself. thence to an even worse war.  (Lewis)

 The war officially ended with the "armistice" of 1918.  It turned out to be just that, a cease-fire in Europe (accompanied by intermittent wars in Europe, Africa, Latin America. and Asia).  Until 1939 -- or, more usefully, until 1936:  for the Spanish Civil War, in its involvement to one degree or another all of the major powers, lifted the curtain to what became World War II.

 The good war.  The focus here is on the United States, so little attention will be given to the other nations involved -- except to keep in mind their massive war casualties, infra- structural destruction, and socio-political collapse.  Our relatively limited casualties have been noted; in all other respects, the consequences of the war for us were as positive for us as they were devastating for the Europeans.    Economically, politically, and socially, the war proved to be most strengthening for our economy and health-giving for our society in our entire history.  (Du Boff)  Now a recounting of the earlier-noted "relevant factors" of war itself.

 Except for World War II, my knowledge of the wars discussed here has been second-hand.  I was in the Air Force for four years, about three of them under combat conditions in New Guinea and the Philippines with the 309th Bomb Group and, on loan for several months for an invasion in New Britain by the Regimental Combat Team of the 112th Cavalry /!/ -- of which Norman Mailer was a rifleman /!!/, and whose Texan general in command boasted two Colt revolvers on his hips, each with a photo of a naked woman on the handle.  We had no horses.

 Although combat conditions in the Pacific war were notably different from those in Europe, what I observed directly and have learned indirectly persuades me that the fear and morale of the troops in the two theatres were more similar than different.

 The U.S. was attacked by the Japanese, so the public needed no "rationale" when we declared war against them.  (We did not declare war against the Germans; they did so against us.)  Althogh many voluteered, almost all who served in the war were drafted.  Whether in the Pacific or in Europe, it was virtually unnecessary to discuss "the character" of the enemy; with some accuracy, our enemies were seen by us as villainous and brutal -- as, with some accuracy, we too could be seen by them, with or without Hiroshima/Nagasaki;   the gist of all wars is to kill and maim in order to win, with "God on our side."

 The Pacific war stands out from among our other wars in certain significant and, at first glance, surprising ways as regards the key elements of fear and morale.  For at least two years after Pearl Harbor we were very much on the defensive; not only had we been attacked but, for the first time ever, our military strength was noticeably inferior:  the Japanese ruled on land and sea and in the air.  For those in combat, until early 1944 it was clear that we were losing the war. Rather than demoralization, that tended to stiffen spines and to neutralize even the deepest fears.

 The Pacific war was a process of "island hopping," from Guadalcanal up to Iwo Jima.  Through 1942 and 1943, much of that "hopping" was terribly costly to both sides with what in retrospect may be seen as the beginnings of a turning point in the bloody battle for Biak (Northern New Guinea) and the then realizable offensive in the Philippines.  Then and only then could the invasions of early 1945 -- Okinawa and Iwo Jima -- even be considered.

 The infantry fighting almost always began with a landing and continued in a jungle.  It was carried out in an atmosphere of high uncertainty and fear -- but, and unlike Vietnam and, even more, Iraq, those doing the fighting could identify the source and reasonably predict the timing of assaults  In my three years under those conditions I observed no significant demoralization, let alone, as in Vietnam, much desertion and "fragging" (the killing of one's officers).  There were indeed and understandably some who suffered mental breakdown (and were "Section 8-ed)  That was occasioned not by anger or indignation of having been betrayed bg a deceptive government but by the sheer horror of combat: in the Pacific, until late 1944 most of us, especially among the ground troops, were simply resigned to the probability that we would not survive that war.

 As always in the military, there was constant, wry, and inconsequential grumbling.  Already before the war began, GIs characterized that life as SNAFU:  situation normal, all fucked up.  By 1943, that had become TARFU:  things are really fucked up.  By 1945 it was FUBAR:  fucked up beyond all recognition.  As indeed it was.

 By late 1944, our military strength in both the Pacific and Europe was becoming quantitatively and qualitatively a distinct cut above anything the enemy might use -- even without the atomic bomb.  Attitudes then changed:  despair tended to disappear and hope began to rise:  sensibly.  But, because of the war's clear rationale, morale was only rarely an issue:  then it became just a matter of time and a little luck and we'd be home.  We have had no such war since then.

 The Cold War gets hot:  Korea and Indochina.  The rationale of "weapons of mass destruction" for our invasion of Iraq had its functional precedents in Korea and Vietnam.  Our pretense for landing in Korea was that the North Koreans, inspired by the Soviet Union, had invaded South Korea; that was portrayed as merely a first step.  Similarly, in Vietnam, the Viet Minh of the North and, subsequently, the NLF (National Liberation Front) of the South were described -- absurdly as will be seen -- as mere pawns of Communist China:  the United States had to stop the Communists then and there, or Korea would be followed by Japan; Vietnam -- where our secret involvement had begun even before Korea -- would be but the first of "dominoes" extending to the Mediterranean which, one after another, would be toppled by....  (Young)

 Korea.  On the long list of peoples whose societies have been devastated by invaders over the centuries, Korea stands very close to the top.  Since their ancient beginnings the Koreans have had the misfortune to be bounded by China on the mainland and to be a stone's throw from Japan by sea.  Both have viewed Korea's human and natural resources as exploitable objects.

 When the Pacific war ended in 1945 the Koreans were once more seen as exploitable objects, if for different reasons; the looming tension between the U.S. and the Soviet Union engineered the division of Korea into North and South:

 Japanese armies, according to the Soviet-American agreement, were disarmed north of the 38th parallel by Russia and south of the line by the United States.  Lengthy conferences failed to unify the nation, for neither the Soviets nor the Americans wanted to chance the possibility that a unified Korea would move into the opposing camp.  (Lafeber)

 As would happen later in Vietnam with the 17th parallel, the dividing line cut across and separated natural areas of geography, culture, and climate.  The foreseeable result was considerable confusion and conflict and, by the late 1940s, military incursions by Koreans from both sides, building up to civil war.  Each side repeatedly crossed the border to the other, with military intent. (Cumings, Matray; Stone)

 The rationale for U.S. armed intervention was the stated need to respond to an invasion from the north; however, the facts for preceding months had provided equal justification for both sides.  The Soviet Union and the United States, each in its own way, took steps to expand geographically, the former in Czechoslovakia, the U.S. in Korea; Czechoslovakia had been occupied by the Germans, Korea by the Japanese.  The respected Asian scholar Chalmers Johnson tells what happened:

 Both countries now underwent transformations into colonies of the victors of World War II.  At about the time of the Communist coup d'etat in Prague /1948/, right-wing forces in the southern half of divided Korea, then under control of the United States, were slaughtering at least 30,000 dissident peasants..., part of a process by which /Syngman Rhee's/ puppet regime in South Korea... consolidated its power; a government every bit as unpopular as Gotwald's Stalinist government in Czechoslovakia.  Gotwald and Rhee were prototypes of the faceless bureaucrats the Soviets and the Americans would use for the next forty years to govern their "captive nations...."

 A de facto civil war had begun already by 1948-49.  Had that civil war been fought out by the Koreans without foreign inter-vention, doubtless there would have been bloodshed and damage, but nothing approaching the great human. physical, and social damage of the Korean war, or the grave distortions of the lives of the peoples of both sides during and since the war.  Left to themselves, not least because their available weaponry was minimal, it is quite simply inconceivable that their civil war would have killed the many millions it did, let alone have destroyed the cities of the North, as did in our eliminative bombing of them.  And this says nothing of the prolonged fascist dictatorship of Rhee, the harsh dictatorship of the North, or the insanely armed border with its 37,000 U.S. troops.

 Ah! but wouldn't China and/or the Soviet Union have intervened militarily had the U.S. stayed out of the civil war?  It is extremely unlikely that the Soviet Union could have intervented militarily, given its postwar weakness and the distance involved.  And the Chinese did intervene, well after the war had begun, and after General MacArthur had issued statements about the desirability not only of bombing China, but of "nuking" it -- behavior which, it is pertinent to add, led not only to his being recalled by Truman but, in consequence of that, a significantly supported presidential campaign by MacArthur.  Now we'll never know; but we know what did happen, and it is unlikely that anything worse than that catastrophe, had they been left to themselves.

 What was the reaction to this war, by those who did the fighting, and at home?  The U.S. soldiers in Korea were almost entirely draftees and called-back reservists.  They suffered through it as though in a prolonged nightmare; nor was there noticeable domestic opposition from the war's beginning to its end.  The political momentum of World War II's patriotism, taken together with the Cold War and McCarthyism, assured that what little resistance there was would be easily vilified.  The jubilation at the end of "the war to end all wars" was easily displaced by amorphous fear.

  It is significant that the now ample literature showing the deceptive nature of the war's rationale and conduct did not even begin to appear -- except for one book -- until a quarter century after its end.  That one book was I.F. Stone's Hidden History of the Korean War, 1950-1951.  Because no U.S. publisher would handle it, it saw the light of day only when a new publishing house (Monthly Review Press) was expressly created for its publication.  What was more surprising was that -- belatedly, but slowly and surely -- a substantial opposition to Vietnam did arise even as the Cold War's virulence was still ascending; how and why that occurred (see below) is distinctly relevant to the war in Iraq.

 As remarked earlier, the Korean and Vietnam wars were the only wars the U.S. has ever lost -- even though, itself significant, our having lost them is not generally admitted for either war.   Of great interest, therefore, are the sharp contrasts not only in domestic support but, as well, in the morale and behavior U.S. troops in Korea with those in Vietnam -- despite that both wars were terrifying for the troops and that tens of thousands were killed in both.

 Many who read this will be familiar with the film/TV show "Mash."  There has not been and nor will there ever be any such whimsical portrayal of the Vietnam war or of the war in Iraq.  The troops in Korea were, to a significant degree, veterans of World War II.  That might well have led many of them to be bitter, but if so they were serving in a context where such feelings remained private:  the media in the early 50s, by comparison even with Vietnam (to say nothing of now) were effectively non-existent, as was any noticeable opposition at home.

 During Korea, few indeed, either in combat or at home, would dare think, let alone act, against the U.S. war.  World War II had led the people of the United States to believe that it was WE -- not the enduring resistance of the British and the Soviets and the maquis and the partigiani -- who had won that "good war"; now WE had to stand fast against two unutterably sinister nations.   Then, only then, could we, or anyone, live in a peaceful and democratic world:  the whole world was watching.   And this is what we did.

 Indochina:  Our reason(s) why.  U.S. involvements in Indochina started with Vietnam in 1945; before long their devastating effects took hold in Laos and Cambodia; they constitute one of the most sordid and deadly episodes of our history, a string of deceptions that became a thick rope.

 The deceptions began almost immediately after FDR died in April, 1945.  During the war the Viet Minh cooperated with our air-sea rescue operations (of which I was a part), through the OSS (predecessor of the CIA) in North Vietnam.  In connection with that relationship, FDR made an agreement with Ho Chi Minh that the U.S. would see to it that Vietnam would become independent after the war.  (Young)

 When FDR died and was replaced by Truman that agreement was rebuked and its opposite was born.  Even before World War II's end, the U.S. had begun its attempts to influence postwar developments in Europe.  In order to lessen the resistance from France, a bargain was driven:  the French would cooperate with us in Europe in return for our cooperating with them in Vietnam.  This is what our cooperation entailed:

 1. In December 1945, Dutch and Britisn soldiers recently freed from Japanese prisons, uniformed and armed by the U.S., were transported from Manila harbor to Haiphong in U.S. merchant ships to "hold the fort" until the French could arrive.  When the ships landed -- the Vietmanese not having been informed of their betrayal by the U.S. -- on the walls near the port were joyous signs saying "WELCOME ABE LINCOLN!"  (I was in Manila waiting to go home, and observed the ships' departure at the docks.)
 2)  Shortly after, 13 U.S. merchant ships loaded with French soldiers departed from Le Havre for Haiphong.
 3)  The U.S. effectively financed the French war and supplied France with much of its weaponry.  (Young)

 From 1946 into 1954, the French conducted all-out war against the Viet Minh, shelling from the sea, bombing from the air, fighting on the land, killing thousands of civilians.  To the amazement of all, the French were defeated by the Viet Minh and surrendered in 1954, at Dienbienphu.

 But this did not mean that Vietnam had won its independence.  Taking advantage of an international conference at Geneva, the U.S. arranged a division of the country in two (as in Korea). with promised national elections.  Knowing Ho Chi Minh would win, Ngo Dinh Diem -- "our man in Saigon" --
derailed the elections, us consenting.

 Thus it was that step by step, by hook and by crook, the U.S. moved away from FDR's agreement toward what had by the mid-1960s our infamous "quagmire."  All those involvements in Vietnam, from Manila in 1945 until our hasty departure in 1975 were "bipartisan," supported grudgingly or enthusiastically in the administrations of Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon and by all but a very few in Congress -- until much, much too late.  (Kahin)

 By 1960 it had become impossible to deny our involvement, so it became essential to find a rationale for it; as each rationale lost its credibility it became necessary to find another.  The reason given for allowing Diem to thwart the national election was that Ho Chi Minh's victory would place Vietnam under a Communist, Soviet-controlled, totalitarian government:  with Diem, on the other hand, Vietnam could and ultimately would become a democracy.

 Diem was assassinated in a military coup under circumstances generally accepted as having been at least permitted by the Kennedy administration.  From then on each of the many successive regimes, led by one general or another, became always more totalitarian, most obviously that of an open admirer of Adolph Hitler, General Ngyuen Cao Ky.  (Young)

 As our raison d'etre, "democracy" had thus become ludicrous; so, change the rationale:  We had to intervene with "advisors" to prevent Vietnam from being handed over by Ho Chi Minh to the Chinese Communists, with whom, it was argued, the North was allied.  The people of the United States did not know that rationale was equally ludicrous, but the people of Vietnam surely did:  China had been invading the northern regions of Vietnam for over a thousand years; the enmity between the Vietnamese and the Chinese was bottomless. (Young)
 Something much closer to the truth -- and wisely kept from the public -- was provided by a Defense Department document of 1965 (revealed in the Pentagon Papers (published in 1971 by the New York Times):

 U.S. aims:  70% -- To avoid humiliating US defeat (to our reputation as a guarantor).  20% -- To keep SVN {South Vietnam} and {then} adjacent territory from Chinese hands.  10% -- To permit the people of SVN to enjoy a better, freer way of life.

 Fighting a filthy war:  the troops and the tactics   When  Kennedy took office in 1960, there were more than 1,000 admitted U.S. military personnel in Vietnam; by the time of his death in 1963 we admitted to 16,000 (with some in Laos and Cambodia); from 1965 on, the yearly average was in excess of 500,000.  They first took the form of Green Berets, CIA agents (and their agents), and the U.S. Military Assistance Advisory Group (which had begun its work there in 1950, and whose name dropped  "advisory" in the early 1960s).

 We have had a penchant for using "little wars" as testing grounds for our endless stream of new weaponry -- what in other hands we term "weapons of mass destruction."  Indochina served that purpose, especially with chemical weapons -- best-know of which were Agents Green and Orange.  Both contain dioxin, a cancer-causing chemical.  "Weapon of mass destruction?":  From 1961 on, it was done from the air,  as was true of most of the bombing, napalm, and strafing:

 Planes sprayed the herbicides directly over at least 3,181 villages.  At least 2.1 million inhabitants -- and perhaps as many as 4.8 million -- would have been in the villages during the spraying operations in South Vietnam, whose total population,,, was less than 17 million.  Almost eighty disorders have been associated with exposure, including cancers of the lung and prostate.... ("Seeing red over Agent Orange:  U.S. understated use of dioxin during Vietnam..."  (San Francisco Chronicle, 4-21-03 /my emphasis/)

 Agent Orange was neither the first nor last of such weapons used against civilians, mostly in the South.  It is at least irritating to be "spun" in our daily news about this and that; it is vile to see how the U.S. spun the dropping of herbicides on over four million acres of South Vietnam.  Its stated intent was to "intimidate" peasants (children, men, and women) from cooperating with the Viet Cong in the South.  That operation was pursued for eight years, the first five of which were before our official entry.  As has become our habit, that was given an obscene name:  Operation RANCH HAND. (Young)

 In the same years, our "strategic hamlet" program began:  the bulldozing of innumerable villages suspected of being National Liberation Front (NLF) strongholds, the placing of the refugees into "houses" surrounded by barbed wire and guard towers.  If someone else had done that, the "houses" would have been, indeed were, called "concentration camps."

 All that is horrifying and, quite apart from its horrors, an instance of the strategic stupidity that informed -- and still informs -- U.S. treatment of civilians in our wars. In a recent story in the New York Times (12-29-03) -- "Ex-G.I.s tell of Vietnam Brutality") -- we learn that

 In 1967, an elite unit, a reconnaissance platoon in the 101st Airborne Division, went on a rampage described as "the longest series of atrocities in the Vietnam War." -- seven months {of} killing scores of unarmed civilians -- in some cases torturing and mutilating them -- in a spate of violence never revealed to the American public.... Women and children were intentionally blown up in underground bunkers.

 The NYT story goes on to quote retired Col. David Hackworth, who created the groups involved:

 Vietnam was an atrocity from the get-go.  It was that kind of war, a frontless war of great frustration.  It was out of hand very early.  There were hundreds of My Lais.  You got your card punched by the number of bodies you counted.

 The article concludes with a statement from Lt. Col. Kevin Curry, spokesman for the Army.  He said he had read all the information in the articles and compared it with the written record and did not intend to reopen the case:  "Absent any new or compelling evidence, there are no plans to reopen the case.  The case is more than 30 years old."  Oh.

 Seek to do what is almost impossible:  put yourself in the position of a U.S. soldier, drafted into a war you do not understand in a distant and mystifying society, having been raised to see your country as standing for all that is good, etc.  Then you find yourself with a one-year stretch in a "war" where you are observing or yourself killing not just soldiers, but children, women, and old people in their fields and villages -- with rifles, machine guns, napalm, grenades, torches -- and you know all too well of the torture and maiming that was common to that war.  In which you may have participated.

 No amount of imagining by those who did not serve in Vietnam could provide anything like a full understanding of their agony; but seeking seriously to think through the conditions just noted helps one to comprehend why so many of the troops in Vietnam became drug addicts, became demoralized and rebellious, even turned to "fragging" their officers as the war went on.  And it explains why so many of them, after they came home, organized their "Vietnam Veterans Against the War," and in their own demonstrations at military bases would often throw their medals over the fence in contemptuous rage.

 It has already become appropriate to see Iraq as another "quagmire," our armed forces mired down, as in Vietnam, in "a frontless war of great frustration."  In such circumstances the key elements determining the war's outcome become the interaction of the troops in combat with domestic support or opposition to the war.

 The U.S. troops in Vietnam were mostly draftees, drawn disproportionately from the worst-off quarters of the population:  poor and black.  Better-off young men, predominantly white college students, managed in one way or another -- including leaving the country in great numbers -- to avoid the draft; they and their families were the main support for the politically crucial draft resistance movement.
 By the time we left Vietnam, about 3.5 million G.I.s had  served one-year "hitches" there.  Almost from the moment of their arrival. most were caught up in endless and "nameless fear." Now, in Iraq, under superficially different but potentially even worse conditions, those on the ground are again possessed by those fears.  Vietnam was the first such war for us; setting aside Afghanistan, Iraq is the second.     As in all our post-World War II wars, in Vietnam we possessed what seemed to be unquestionable supremacy in every category of weaponry:  guns and grenades, artillery, tanks, and in all the craft and weaponry in the air and on the sea -- including the most delusory of all, nuclear weapons.  But for those doing the fighting, all that weaponry paled when set against their knowledge that they were never safe.  That nightmare is being played out once again, in Iraq, As will be seen later, it is but one of several other obstacles frustrating the will of the United States -- all of them arising from our persistent inability to comprehend why the peoples of such countries cannot see the United States as it sees itself:  as a benign liberator, interested only in the welfare of the occupied peoples' societies.

 What our troops did not possess was the secret weapon of the Vietnamese; our strategists never come close to comprehending the sources or the nature of the strengths of our created enemy.  Something under 60,000 U.S. soldiers died in Vietnam; millions of Vietnamese died.  Most of them were civilians, "just in the way," or just being taught a lesson.  We were simply unable to see what we might have done in similar circumstances, if we were occupied by a foreign power.
 That was the source of our defeat in Vietnam.  We never saw the Vietnamese as human beings, never understood or even tried to understand that almost all Vietnamese would hate and many would fight against our occupation.  As the war went on and on, we came to fear, despise, and see all Vietnamese as "gooks."  In Iraq, after less than a year, our soldiers have already found their derisive -- and much-resented -- term for the occupied Iraqis:  "haijis."  ("For G.I.s, Pride in War Efforts but Doubts About Iraq's Future."  NYT, 1-4-04)

 Understandably, our troops were demoralized in face of the ability of the enemy to supply itself by numberless carriers -- including even old women -- transporting supplies from North to South, through numberless deep tunnels.  Could we ever do such things?  Our troops were not trained to combat an enemy that might strike at any hour of the day or night, with antiquated -- or no -- weapons, nor to be on guard for deep pits with poisonous stakes as they marched.

Our mounting thousands of casualties after 1965 took on a nightmare quality; it not help, quite the opposite, that Vietnamese casualties were always great multiple of ours -- and they just kept coming.  Vietnam became the first U.S. war in which alcohol and heroin were tacitly accepted as part of the G.I.s "survival kit."  The heroin found its way to them through the ingenuity of the CIA; which, in the process also created a new geographic drug system:  "The Golden Triangle.".  The end justifies the means.  (McCoy)

 And it's 1, 2, 3, 4, we don't want your fugn war. The antiwar movement that had become prominent in the States by 1965 could not be kept secret from the troops in Vietnam; they knew of it before going to 'Nam and it was hard not to know of it once there:  Item:  "Good morning Vietnam!"  Both as regards the strong opposition at home and the troops' knowledge of it, there had never been a war anything like it. Until the early 1960s, the domestic opposition to the Vietnam war was slight and obscured, as with Korea.  Once our involvement became both substantial and known, that began to change at an always accelerating rate for mutually reinforcing reasons:  the stalemated war in Korea and the continuing occupation a decade after "peace" had made a serious dent in the government's credibility, the media, most especially TV, had become a part of everybody's lives, and, most importantly, the rising numbers of our troops and that they were being drafted.

 Already by 1963 there were increasingly widespread activities focusing attention on Vietnam, coinciding with the rising number of draftees.  That gave birth in 1964 to the "teach-in movement" on college campuses -- a representative from the government vs. an antiwar prof, with a moderator.  At first attendance was slight and pro-government; within a year the meetings were packed, and by 1965 the government had ceased to send a representative, for they always lost.  Those who had organized the teach-ins then began the organization of what became mass demonstrations against the war.

 And now the White House is at it again; and so must we be.

 Iraq.  However fraudulent the reasons given for previous wars, not even that for Vietnam could match the dizzying justifications for invading Iraq:  weapons of mass destructionk, Osama bin Laden, democracy, freedom -- anything and everything except regional strategy and oil

.  As each of those become casualties of truth, much of the U.S. public and most of the world moves toward skepticism and disgust.  Because, like Vietnam, this war is much-reported on the field of battle as well as at home, it is also undermines troop morale and feeds fears in ways and to degrees that are new because of what is new about this war.

 Understandably.  For the GIs in Iraq, endless confusion as to why they are there and for how long mixes with ongoing amd daily horrors.  For them, these are not matters of politics, but of life and death -- and of betrayal.  The betrayal of Iraq differs greatly from that felt in Korea and Vietnam.
 It seems years now since the disgracefully costumed Bush strode across that carrier's deck to tell us our mission had been accomplished; tell it to the marines, and the other G.I.s in Iraq:  surrounded 24/7 by people with whom they cannot communicate at all, whose strange clothing might conceal various lethal weapons; trying to work with and live beside people many of whom may well have feared and despised Hussein but now despise the U.S. occupation; facing people suffering greatly from U.S. errors of omission and commission as you. well-fed, heavily-armed, and grotesquely attired walk among them, weapon at the ready -- all that and worse for aims which might include realization of a western definition of freedom and democracy, but which surely includes oil and regional power.

 It makes one shudder to even think of having to be one of those GIs -- or one of those newly-free Iraqis.   The status of the troops in Iraq is of great importance in terms of their morale.  There are no draftees in Iraq, only volunteers of three types:  career soldiers, those who enlisted for long enouogh to get an education and training for a civilian job, and called-up reservists.  The reservists never expected to be "in harm's way" at all; the others expected a quick and easy win, with a maximum 3-5 month hitch in Iraq.

 In Vietnam it was a one-year ordeal for most; in Iraq all face being in Iraq for a year, then back home, then back to Iraq in a process that has no predictable end.  (Although the British Foreign Office in January, 2004 predicted five to seven years of "peaceful occuption."  Next step:  demoralization.

 Who wouldn't be demoralized?  Combat always produces emotional as well as physical damage, and governments always stretch to conceal rather than tell the truth about casualties; but this war is breaking new ground in every way.
 1.  Our military strength is incomparably superior to that of any in the world, in everything; the United States can prevail over any other power in a conventional and non-nuclear war (from which none would prevail).  But this war, like that in Vietnam -- and, probably, for those most likely -- is not the kind of war for which the United States is, or, given our history, ever could be prepared.

 2.  Few indeed of our armed forces expected to become casualties in Iraq; our easy victory was assumed from the start.  Even fewer, it may be assumed, expected anything like the always changing mix of deadly forces and tactics against the U.S. now common:  the 500 + U.S. casualties in the first nine months in Iraq already exceed our first three years in Vietnam.
 3.  This war was expected to be easier and shorter than its regional predecessor, the Gulf War:  Our troops would invade, be greeted, mop-up, and leave -- or, the thinking may well have gone, in the White House, stay, but on our own terms.  Not quite.

 4.  Fear is intrinsic to all combat; but the fear in Iraq is very different from that of the European and Pacific wars, even including Vietnam:  we have always known the who, usually the where, and often the when.  Now our troops in Iraq (among others) never know what to expect, or from whom. or when.  That kind of fear, "from out of nowhere," can easily become unbearable as, day after day, the attackers recede back into their "nowhere."

 5.  In contrast with the broad and, after Pearl Harbor, the unquestioned support for World War II, the justification for the war in Iraq was doubted by a sizeable minority in the States and a substantial majority among our normal allies abroad before the invasion.  After it, as usual, almost all "rallied 'round the flag."  As doubts inexorably spread and deepen. most perilously among the U.S. troops in or likely to be sent to Iraq, a growing number of politicians are likely to look for ways to be courageous.

 6.  Put all that and more together and the appropriate question is not why demoralization and suicides rise among U.S. troops, but how much more of the same -- or worse -- is to be expected?  And what could plausibly reverse such processes?

 They will not be reversed by ongoing spin, let alone shameful efforts such as the Pentagon's provision of hundreds of identical letters from G.I.s (October, 2003) supporting the war -- written by that same Pentagon.

 What all this portends for the future cannot be known.   "Quagmire" has ceased to be a four-letter word, and references to Vietnam are becoming always more numerous.  But Vietnam -- or more accurately, Indochina -- was a very different war.  It is unlikely that the U.S. will sustain the 60,000 deaths of Vietnam (or that Iraqis will match the millions lost in Indochina).

 In that current strategic thinking in the White House threatens to become what once was thought impossible, namely, to be more puerile even than that of Vietnam, the outcomes of our latest criminal lunacy could well be worse.  In more ways than one.  We were able to get out of Vietnam with "nothing lost save honour," tens of thousands dead, more than twice that wounded, and who knows how many with their lives turned into a chamber of horrors. The White House has to confront what seems to be emerging as a fact:  We can neither leave nor stay in Iraq without calamitous consequences at home and abroad, both stretching over a time period whose end one knows not.

 The arrogant are almost always ignorant; those in the White House belong to that majority.  We may assume they will not find the solution to the leave/stay conundrum; we may also assume that, left to themselves, they will seek to resolve one disaster by creating another and worse one -- ad infinitum, until, as Tom Lehrer put in his 1960s song, "we all go together when we go."

 One day in October, 1969, peaceful demonstrations all over the country resulted in an estimated 20 million of us standing somewhere in stated opposition to the war in Vietnam.  It was called Vietnam Moratorium Day, the result of the combined organizing work of the two main antiwar organizations, "The Moratorium" and "The Mobe."

 A few days later, Vice President Spiro Agnew described the organizers as an "effete corps of impudent snobs."  A year or two later, Nixon crazed by criticism, and although he was clearly on his way to an overwhelming re-election, hired thugs to find incriminating evidence against organizers, Democratic officials, anyone, anything to stop them.

 Subsequently we learned (from one who served at the highest level in the National Security Council) that Nixon was fully prepared to use nuclear weapons in Vietnam if defeat were the alternative.  (Ellsberg)

 From Nixon's "right-hand" man in the White House we also learned that the mass demonstrations against the war were the key factor in leading him to the stupidities of Watergate and the break-in of the office of Ellsberg's psychiatrist.  The consequences of those acts were the forced resignation of Spiro Agnew and, in the face of certain impeachment, the resignation of Nixon.

 As one of the teach-in-ers and a founder of "the Mobe," I know that nobody involved in those efforts ever did so in the hope or expectation of our activities, whether directly or achieved in such a roundabout manner.  But it was.

 It would not be sensible to expect such results from such efforts concerning Iraq; nor should our efforts depend upon such hopes.  Neither should we allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by what seems to be an omnipotent White House -- even though today an effective antiwar movement seems to face steeper mountain to climb than that of Vietnam.  There are many reasons to believe the opposite:

 1) The opposition to the war in Vietnam didn't gain momentum until we had been deeply involved for many years; the opposition for this war began before the war itself began.  Given the ongoing evolution of conditions on the ground in Iraq, the morale of the troops there is likely to disintegrate at the same time as the opposition to us in Iraq and the opposition by us here at home are rising.

 2)  The Cold War atmosphere accompanying Vietnam put those at risk who took part in any resistance, in terms of jobs, friendship, even personal safety and freedom; Ashworth's Patriot Act is a means to reproduce that atmosphere; the opposition to it has already been strong, even as it only begins to be put into place.

 3)  The antiwar demonstrations of the 1960s depended very much for their strength on draft resistance.  There is no draft now, but the antiwar demonstrations have nevertheless been dominated by young people -- a significantly encouraging sign of political awareness and concern going beyond that of the 1960s:  Then, young people were either seeking to avoid the army and/or were disillusioned; today, young people seem not to have many illusions about their society.

 The potential to stop this war and, in the process, to begin to move our society toward what it could and should be, is great.  Potential can become reality only through hard and persistent political effort.   It is more necessary today than it was in the 1960s; and it is at least as possible.

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