Banging Your Head Into WallsAuthor of this text: John Chuckman
We've all met them, people who stubbornly hurl themselves in the wrong
direction, stopping only when they violently collide with reality. It is a painful way to learn, but those afflicted with the disability seem unable to
learn in any other way.
way of learning characterizes much of America's effort at foreign policy since
World War II. I was forcefully reminded of this by a news story with its searing
memories of Vietnam.
now appears that part of the 101st Airborne Division, members of a so-called Tiger Force unit, dropped grenades into bunkers where women and
children hid and shot farmers without warning. They killed blind peasants and
old men. These events happened in 1967, comparatively early in the war and about a year before the well-documented mass murder by members of the United States
Army at the village of My Lai. No one knows how many innocent people the
Airborne slaughtered. One surviving member of the unit is quoted saying he
killed so many he lost count. Although investigations were conducted, they went
nowhere, and it only now that we learn of the horror.
full story of American savagery in Vietnam will perhaps never be told. We have
had other glimpses of it, as for example when former CIA Director William Colby,
responding to a titanic power struggle inside the CIA, revealed Project Phoenix, a secret program for the mass murder of civilian leaders regarded as sympathetic
to the enemy. There were the revelations about a number of individuals engaging
in barbarism, most notably, former Nebraska Senator and Medal of Honor winner
Bob Kerrey having been part of a butcher-civilians operation.
so-called Tail-Wind affair, whose discovery cost some very reputable journalists
their jobs, is now consigned to the ever-handy conspiracy bin, but intelligent
skeptics can hardly doubt that with all the other savageries of Vietnam, a secret operation to poison-gas American prisoners of war cooperating with the
enemy is totally plausible.
this day, thousands of American veterans attend meetings or counseling for
post-traumatic stress disorder, the bureaucratic term for minds deranged by the
horrors they saw or inflicted. War is always full of horror, but in the midst of
the brutality in Vietnam, it dawned on many that the war served no good purpose
and that most of its victims were civilians. The military draft sent a lot of
people to Vietnam who weren't suited to the business of serious killing. And
while the number of Americans killed was small for a long war, it still proved
too many for people enjoying ice cream and beer at ballgames.
years after Vietnam, Americans talked of the war's lessons, but just what
lessons were those? For a while, many believed the lessons might concern the
values of the Bill of Rights, words so often abused as hollow marketing slogans.
America's armed forces would never again be sent to kill and torture for
that was a hasty conclusion, as we see in Iraq. America perfected its technology
for killing and terrifying so that at least for a small county, it is able to
overwhelm fairly quickly. Relatively few American soldiers die, those that do
are professionals, and the whole thing is quickly over.
course, there is a deep and jagged pit along this smooth-sounding path to
military dominance, and it has to do with occupying and rebuilding a country,
how you assume responsibility for tens of millions of new dependants. No people
on earth today is less inclined or qualified for this task than Americans. You
only have to look at the individualistic, selfish, and impatient nature of
American society itself to understand why this should be so. The word dependant in America often is used as a term of abuse.
Richard Nixon's „madman theory" of the early 1970s. Nixon was trying
to pressure the North Vietnamese in Paris for a settlement, and he deliberately
spread the idea that he was a madman, quite capable of doing something
irrational, and that it would be better for everyone to reach a settlement
before he did so. The context that gave his suggestion force included his
shattering bombardment of civilians in North Vietnam and Cambodia, as well as
nightmarish programs like Project Phoenix, started under him.
set aside the fact that Nixon truly was something of a madman, for, apart from
his lifelong career of promoting divisiveness, intense hatreds, and suspicions,
who else but a genuine madman relishes being credited as one? In the end, Nixon
was outfoxed by the Vietnamese, and America lost a major war. A decade of
shameful destruction, vast resources consumed, rage, and riots were for nothing.
did not go unnoticed by the American establishment — the
Bushes, the Cheneys, the Rumsfelds, and all the other arrogant,
insatiably-rapacious people who've given you war in Iraq. Their major lesson
from Vietnam — apart
from the unreliability of conscripts, the need for tight news control, and the
need to improve the efficiency of killing with high-tech weapons — was
that threats not acted upon were useless. This lesson comes packaged with a new
release of the error-riddled Domino Theory: that a decisive demonstration of
power in the Middle East would serve to stabilize the area. The Democrats'
regrettable Wesley Clark, among others, has pontificated along these very lines.
in the armchair toying with other people's lives and countries you might think
is the fact that Nixon's threat was nuclear, but actually it is not lost. Bush
wants to develop and deploy a new generation of compact nuclear weapons, the
implication being that these somehow would be useable, as for such wholesome
crusade tasks as „bunker busting." Please recall, the main bunker
busted in the first Gulf War was the Al Firdos bunker in Baghdad packed with
over four hundred civilians who were roasted alive by two „smart bomb"
truly was a twentieth-century version of burning witches, the witches in that
case being communists rather than people who were either demented or senile as
in the witch-burnings of a few centuries ago. Powerful people in the 17th
century understood that witches were superstitious nonsense, but they used the
phenomenon to their own purposes. We've almost run out of communist witches, so
now the crusade has been redirected against evil spirits far less well defined,
that there is no such thing as genuine terrorists. Of course, there are.
Terrorism — from
the Sons of Liberty and the Klu Klux Klan to black street gangs and
camouflage-obsessed militia-nuts — is a rich part of American history. Please note that it has not been dealt with by
blowing up whole neighborhoods of innocent people.
communist-panic after World War II was promoted and manipulated by the America's
establishment, that ruthlessly ambitious segment of American society that does
not consist solely of Republicans. American liberals today often seem unaware
that Democrats like Robert Kennedy gladly played energetic and nasty roles. The
establishment sought the immense bounty of new military contracts, forced access
to other peoples' resources and markets, and the swaggering sense of exercising
vast power throughout the world. Note that the communist-panic began with the
precipitous decline in military spending after the world war and with the
opportunities for expansion represented by the sudden decline of former colonial
the end of the Cold War, there was a tendency for military expenditure to slide
in real terms. America's current terror-panic, manipulated and exploited
relentlessly by Bush, and always echoed by Sharon for his own dark purposes,
serves almost identical ends. The average American cannot even grasp the unholy
amounts of money now changing hands to almost no good purpose.
once described a scene in the wake of 9/11 where some Americans in a bar hooted
and pumped their arms at the television image of ships equipped with cruise
missiles, as though the ships or the missiles had the slightest relevance for
individuals bent on killing others through their own suicides. That televised
image comes pretty close to symbolizing Bush's entire policy on terror. He has
spent tens of billions of dollars, killed many thousands of innocent people, and
made many Americans feel intimidated in their own country, but he has done
little to end the threat of terrorism. He may even have increased its long-term
predates modern history, and it generally comes as a result of great and
oppressive injustice against a definable group of people. Short of ruthlessly
repressing the group of people from whose ranks terrorists are drawn — something
attempted many times, as, for example, by Cromwell in Ireland or Stalin in the
Soviet Union — violence
offers no effective solution.
Cromwellian repression fails over the long term, Ireland being a potent example.
An oppressor eventually tires of repression. It may well have been some such
dark thought that helped motivate Hitler in history's greatest bloodbath, the
invasion of the Soviet Union and the simultaneous start of the Holocaust (27
million and 6 million victims respectively). He demanded utter ruthlessness in
these vast murderous enterprises. The people whose wealth and resources he was
seizing, would not get the chance ever to become terrorists.
policy is partway along the path of repression, a virtual copy of Sharon's
policy in Palestine, but has Sharon ended terror? Does Sharon not almost weekly
become more violent and desperate, recognizing the futility of all he has done
prospects and opportunities are in some ways even more limited than Sharon's,
despite the immense and terrible power at his disposal. Although Al Qaeda was a relatively small organization — and
nothing has come to light that contradicts an early conclusion that Al Qaeda,
though dispersed and having some allies, was no bigger than a Chicago street
gang — Bush's
tactics have created waves of sympathizers and new enemies, likely even more
determined through their confrontation with such a bully. He is not opposed by a group of people confined to a tiny place like Palestine. Rather, he faces
opposition in many forms in many countries with mobility across continents. You
can't just bomb it all.
more verbal blunders Bush and his associates make (consider the idiotic
statements made recently by Lt. Gen. William Boykin, a man associated directly
with secret activities in places like Pakistan, to gatherings of American
Christian fundamentalists), the more Bush's efforts come to be viewed as broadly
anti-Islamic. The word blunder here is
only appropriate because such statements are errors in managing public affairs.
They are not blunders in a more basic sense: these nasty, narrow people do
believe what they are saying, and although that belief is not what launched
Bush's crusade, it undoubtedly motivates many along the way.
is one response of those with terrible grievances who lack effective
conventional means to fight for them, although if you listened to Bush you would
think there were mobs of natural-born terrorists out there, ready to kill for no
reason other than jealousy at America's great good fortune and beneficence. As
in the case of Northern Ireland, terror can only be ended by redressing the
grievances, and even then, great patience and tenacity are required.
general military action against terror is an insane concept, too destructive and
unfocused to have predictable results. You cannot fight beliefs or grievances
with armored divisions. You can only have vengeance that way, but vengeance can
hardly be called policy and is unworthy of a great power claiming high ideals.
example of Sharon's brutality just couldn't offer a clearer lesson. The
Palestinians have immense grievances that virtually the entire world recognizes
as legitimate. Assassinate all the leaders you please, bulldoze all the homes
and shops and orchards you can, bomb and shoot civilians time after time as
reprisals, the grievances not only remain, they are intensified. The ultimate
danger in a situation like this is that Sharon's frustration will drive him to
move beyond Cromwell.
so, too, Bush, but note that I use his name only as shorthand for that much
bigger thing, the pitiless greed and arrogance of a large segment of America.
« Society (Published: 07-11-2003 )
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Writes for independent news outlets, such as Democracy Now, Free Speech Radio, CounterPunch, and the American Rationalist; YellowTimes.org columnist, Canada.
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