It’s Trump coronation week. My wife and I were out with friends last night, sitting in a bar, watching a muted screen that featured Melania Trump giving her (plagiarized?) speech at the convention. A muted screen was perfect to focus on what really matters at this convention – the optics. The screen behind Melania was a fetching color of patriotic red. Shots of the audience showed a mostly clean-cut crowd of predominantly White people, politely applauding, sprinkled with occasional shouts (which happily I couldn’t hear).
As I watched the spectacle, I turned to my friend, another historian. We both waxed nostalgic for political conventions that featured real news rather than manufactured drama. For example, I vividly recall the Republican Convention of 1980, when it seemed for a fleeting moment former President Gerald R. Ford was joining Ronald Reagan on a “unity” ticket. (It was not to be, which is sad. Such a ticket may have saved us from the rise of the Bushes.) Nowadays, barring a major gaffe (plagiarism again?) or perhaps a violent protest, nothing much of consequence happens at these conventions.
Of course, readers of this blog know that I reject Trump, and all his works, and all his empty promises. But that doesn’t mean I won’t give the devil his due. Trump is a deceiver, a con man par excellence, and many Americans are desperate to believe the con.
An example from my local paper. A reader wrote: “Without Trump’s help, we’re all going down,” following that with “We are on the Titanic, and it is going down. Hillary is snug in a lifeboat. The rest of us are in steerage. I don’t care what his hair looks like; we need to be rescued.”
What can one say to that? As I recall, once it struck the iceberg, the Titanic was a doomed ship. Putting Trump at the helm would only help it to slip under the waves faster, perhaps a mercy for those fated to die, but certainly no salvation for ship, crew, and passengers. But if it sped up the Titanic movie and Leonardo DiCaprio’s death scene, that at least would have been a cinematic mercy.
In all seriousness, this reader’s letter moved me. Not for its logic, but for its desperation. Yes, for many people these are desperate times in America. They know the ship of state is sinking. They know they’re stuck in steerage. And they know they’re fated to suffer the consequences, even as Hillary Clinton and crew have ready escapes.
But, and it’s a big “but,” America: Putting a con man at the helm of a foundering ship is not exactly the wisest course of action.
There are alternatives to Captain Trump and Lifeboat Hillary. Seek them out. Get involved. Leonardo DiCaprio’s character found his way out of steerage. Yes, a bit of Hollywood fantasy, but remember the Unsinkable Molly Brown? She was real.
Give me the generosity of Molly Brown over the narcissism of Trump any day — or any year.
(Dedicated to Paul and Mo, my friends at the bar.)
37 thoughts on “Trump Triumphant?”
It’s almost as if these conventions are meant to be mind altering, like hallucinogens. They seem to be designed to induce altered states of consciousness conducive to fostering moral solidarity, even if it must be built on mud. After one day in Cleveland, they seem to have hit upon a near-perfect recipe that seems to resemble most every charismatic movement.
The repetitive emotional appeals, the suspension of critical thought, the heightened sense of “us vs. them,” the simplified, urgent blame directed towards a few selected scapegoats, the predetermined (and vague and impossible) solution as the one true way, the certainty that their leader can make them “safe again.”
There is inescapable, overwhelming danger, immunity to factual information, and the enticing lure of regression…like preverbal children appealing to the supreme father. And, as one PBS commentator mentioned on Monday night, there is the ominous lack of humor…(perhaps laughter could spark an individualized break in the consensus and space for spontaneous, authentic questions to arise).
It certainly looks like the beginnings of a cultic movement…but it probably only looks that way to outsiders…to the true-believers, it must look “greatagain,” and conveniently enough, that catchphrase can mean whatever they need it to mean to them, personally. They finally found the answer and a warm psychedelic ambrosia of mother’s-milk-salvation that trumps those pesky fact-finders.
Very interesting. Thank you.
I did something counterintuitive last night. I tried watching the RNC. But I got bored. So I surfed over to Amazon looking for a film to escape reality. Instead I found a classic satire on politics, “The Candidate,” starring Robert Redford.. And as I was watching this film, I found it ironic, it had more reality about our dysfunctional and corrupt political process than the RNC. And the RNC is supposed to be a real event in real time with real people. Which says a great deal about the health of the body politic in our country and mirrors our decline as a nation. The film was made in 1972. But I could have been made today. So the worm was turning in the apple back then. Though it seems to be new social phenomena, unreality in the campaigns for the Trumpster and Queen Hillary reflected the narrative in “The Candidate” which was made forty-six years ago. That’s almost half-a-century. So things have been going wrong in our politics quite a long time ago.
Which brings up an interesting question – well at least for me: Exactly what is reality today? Of course, the simple answer is reality is what you experience as a human being going about the business of your life. Duh. That seems an obvious conclusion.
But now we’ve all been pulled like Neo into a “The Matrix” by HD images of virtual reality. They’re on the wide-screen TVs, on computer screens and on those literary billions of smartphone screens throughout the world. We seem to be have lost contact with the reality in our lives. By that I mean reality defined as conscious, discerning and active agents in the narratives of our lives. And we pass this way through our lives until, unfortunately a real reality must be acknowledged, that screen goes black. Everything we discuss and argue about in politics or films any other field or topic seems to be predicated on a simulacrum of the simulation.
Jean Baudrillard, the French cultural theorist, repeatedly pointed this out during his career. He believed we live now in what he coined “a hyperreality, a hybrid of reality and virtual reality. I know. He’s French. And you know how they are. That was my reaction at first. But he has point that rings true to me. And when Neo in “The Matrix” hides his cash he made from an illegal transaction, he stashes his swag in a hollowed-out copy of Jean Baudrillard’s ” Simulacra and Simulation.” Being a French intellectual, after he saw the film, Baudrillard disavowed it as kitsch and he said it got everything wrong he wrote about in his book.
The baby boomers, and I plead guilty as charged having been born in 1946, were the first generation to experiment with their state of consciousness and alter their reality. This had never happened on such a large scale in the history of our country. So the next step was the revolution in mass communications predicted by Marshall McLuhan in the sixties. That has now come to pass and our world has become this hyperreality as we have extended consciousness in our age of the internet. You can alter your reality with a couple of tokes and trip out on those images as you watch hyperreality around you including the RNC.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Here in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, we get CNN International on local cable and so I had the opportunity to catch a litlle bit — all I could stomach, really — of the Republican party’s Titanic death scene: all portrayed by smug-looking white people with no discernable talent for acting, singing, or playing musical instruments. So I found myself frequently availing myself of the mute button, especially when former New York Mayor Rudy Giulliani started waving his arms, flapping his jaws, and doing his best imitation of the great white shark in “Jaws.”
Then a somewhat elderly white woman came on stage to berate You-Know-Her for “murdering” the lady’s son in Bengazi, Libya. When this ostensibly distraught lady cried out, accusingly: “She belongs in stripes,” I naturally thought of the movie by the same name startting Bill Murray as a U.S. Army troop in Europe “who wanted to keep the world safe for democracy … and meet girls.” Then I realized that the woman shooting off her mouth actually thought that prisoners today wear those black and white striped outfits that you see in those old 1940s film noir movies, and not the orange jumpsuits that our millions of incarcerated persons — at home and abroad — actually wear. So, I hit the mute button again and just watched the contorted lips and wrinkled face say nothing of any importance about anything that actually happened in Bengazi, Libya. I mean, this woman probably couldn’t locate the United States on a map of North America, let alone Bengazi, Libya, in North Africa. She probably doesn’t even know what century she inhabits, let alone anything about our prisons or jihadi-sponsoring “foreign policy” in places like Libya and Syria that resulted in her son’s death. I seriously doubt that she knows who he actually worked for or what he actually did. Probably a CIA flunky or contract mercenary who handed out too many looted weapons to the wrong mob of jihadi terrorists bound for Syria to overthrow the legitimate elected government of Bashar al Assad at the behest of President Barack Obama and his administration’s many minor minions, You-Know-Her included.
How unforunate for the mother that her son got killed, but lots of American mothers’ sons get killed carrying out American “foreign policy,” which Dr. Jill Stein of the Green Party accurately calls “a marketing strategy for the weapons industry.” The Republican party in Congress certainly has no problem with that, so I find it hard to get emotionally worked up about the deaths of persons who knowingly make their living — if one can call it that — doing needless, pointless, and ruinous imperial stuff like that. Anyway, the poor lady obviously didn’t know doodley squat about much of anything. She probably never even heard of Cindy Sheehan who could give her lessons: chapter and verse, about how to criticize stupid, bungling American presidents who murder uncounted numbers of mothers’ sons every day, just as both Donald Trump and You-Know-Her will happily do if elected President of the United States. But this woman’s willfull ignorance and random rage just makes her typical of the pathetic party and voters who think that The Donald actually wants to rescue them by hiring more illegal aliens to drive down their wages while further cutting taxes for billionaires like himself. Those things he could probably do, although a Clinton could just as easily and happily do them as well.
So I turned off the TV and went upstairs to my library/study to work on my forthcoming essay, provisionally entitled: “Still Kicking the Vietnam Syndrome,” or, as the Chinese Communists used to say about traditional Confucian notions of family, society, and government: “The centipede is dead but not stiff.”
the Republican party and their candidate have to the rest of the country. I could only manage a few minutes of viewing, myself, and I found the analysis offered by supposed experts dreadfully dull and pathetically uncritical.
LikeLiked by 1 person
I’m remembering this:
A French veteran in the Great War found employment building the Maginot Line defenses against the Hun. One imagines him thinking “Never Again.”
On hearing that the Line had been circumvented and that France had been invaded he retired to his bed and turned his face against the wall in shame and never rose again.
I think I know just how how felt.
“Still Kicking the Vietnam Syndrome” is a great title for your essay. I think you should keep it. For a long time I’ve felt that war has become just another addiction which this country just can’t seem to kick. I mean that. When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, the hawks started jonesing going through withdrawal. But thankfully, Papa Bush gave them a fix with the First Gulf War. But those two years in between must have been hell for them. Really. I felt so sorry for them: all dressed up in their uniform, armed to the teeth and nowhere to go. It must have been like not having a date to take on the night of the high school prom. A public humiliation because everyone could me you were alone. They must have felt, well, so needy and insecure. I bet they were at the point of forming recovery groups in the Pentagon based on the twelve steps like the program in AA. War has become just another fetishized commodity for the arms merchants. It should be traded on the Chicago futures exchange like corn, soybeans, wheat, etc. Sell short in peace, sell long in war. Of course, I’m over-simplifying but you get my drift.
Also I served in Vietnam. It was the first war in our history where drugs became the needed accessories along with an M-16, concussion and fragmentation grenades and pop-up flares. Speaking of pop-up flares, I loved scene in “Apocalypse Now” when Lance is running around the swift boat with his purple pop-up flares and engulfing the boat in purple clouds. That was a not too subtle reference to the Jimi Hendrix’s song “Purple Haze” which was the street slang for Owsley’s tabs of acid that came colored purple. I knew a guy from California who used to drop acid, so that scene in the film isn’t an urban legend. His girlfriend would send him two tabs that she hid in the sockets of the tape she sent to him. There were two protective rubber caps for the socket and each one held a tab. She put them in and then put the rubber caps back on. He tried to get me to drop acid. But hailing from Ohio, I was a bit conservative. I stuck to smoking dope that was dried and cured with a pinch of opium and drinking copious amounts of beer.. And I thought, of course, he was the addict among the space cadets, the nickname, for the heads I hung out with since we were in the Air Force. I stepped on the moon before Neil Armstrong did. But I’m being serious about tour essay.
I know this may sound just a bit cold, arrogant even a tad bit anti-social. But I felt nothing when those private contractors got greased in Benghazi. They took the gig because they were making big bucks to begin with, perhaps upwards of a $100,000, when you factor in the health care benefits and per diem. But I feel the same way about those hapless conspirators in that half-assed coup in Turkey. Some learn the easy way, and some learn the hard way. There’s an old limerick about betting on horse that conveys how I feel about war: “Rose are red / Violets are blue / Horses that lose / Turn into glue.” But I’m a card-carrying cynic when it comes to war. In fact, if I had died in Vietnam, it would have been what Oscar the Crouch used to say when I watched Sesame Street with the kids: “Too bad, so sad” when he popped out of his garbage can. But I made it. That’s the best war story there is.
But to be serious for a moment. Papa Bush proudly proclaimed after our blitzkreig victory in the First Gulf War that we have finally licked the Vietnam Syndrome. There we go with a word – “licked” -used by addicts in recovery. Of course, you never lick an addiction. You stay clean – in abstinence – because you will always be an addict in the mind. That’s how an addiction work on the human psyche. Even addicts know that. But Papa Bush threw the Vietnam Syndrome into the dustbin of history even though the First Gulf War was fought with classic military tactics using big troop movements and large formations of tanks like in North Africa in WW II. Vietnam was mostly fought using classic guerrilla tactics except for the Tet Offensive of 1968 and a few other battles such as Ia Drang, Dak To, Con Thien, Hamburger Hill, etc. But have Bush Papa and Son ever cared about accuracy in historical analogies? Have they ever actually read any history books? That would be the more appropriate rhetorical question.
One last thing. I started thinking about war as an addiction when I read William S. Burrough’s “Naked Lunch.” His paradigm of addiction can be used for war, the war mentality underlying the acting out of violence and just as importantly the need to control external reality which authoritarian personalities have that gravitate to the military. The Gentleman Junkie knew his stuff when it cam to addiction.
I wrote a piece on “Kicking the Vietnam Syndrome.” Here it is:
The Vietnam Syndrome refers to an alleged reluctance on the part of the United States to use military force after the disaster of the Vietnam War. In a recent article, Tom Engelhardt reminds us that President George H.W. Bush referred to the success of Desert Shield/Storm in 1990-91 (which evicted Iraq from Kuwait) as helping America to overcome its reluctance to fight wars (a laudable achievement, right?). In Bush’s words:
“It’s a proud day for America. And, by God, we’ve kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all.”
Indeed, let’s give thanks to God for overcoming our reluctance to engage in wars of choice thousands of miles from American shores. Wars that debilitate the U.S. even as they spread destruction among the peoples of foreign lands.
Let’s return to President Bush’s phrase and deconstruct it. “It’s a proud day for America.” Proud because the U.S. military, aided by coalition forces, defeated an Iraqi opponent that possessed a third-class military? To use a sports analogy, would the New England Patriots football team be “proud” of defeating a Division III college football team? “By God.” Does God really march solely with American troops? Did America win because its god is bigger than the Iraqi “idol” god, as Christian soldiers like General William Boykin have suggested in the past? “Kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all.” So it’s a good thing America has “kicked” its reluctance to engage in costly wars of intervention, not only in the immediate aftermath of Desert Storm, but for “all” time?
Following the example set by Engelhardt in his article, let’s play a game of role reversal here, and imagine Bush’s quotation coming from the mouths of others:
“It’s a proud day for Germany. And, by God, we’ve kicked the Hitler/Nazi syndrome once and for all.” Said by a newly unified Germany after invading Poland in 1991 to reclaim territory ceded in the aftermath of World War II.
“It’s a proud day for Russia. And, by God, we’ve kicked the Afghan War syndrome once and for all.” Said by Vladimir Putin after Russia’s invasion and conquest of Ukraine.
Now, imagine how U.S. leaders would respond to such statements. Would they not be denounced as bombastic? Propagandistic? Delusionary?
One might argue that Desert Storm was an international “police action” in response to Iraqi aggression. OK. How about America’s ongoing war in Afghanistan? The invasion of Iraq in 2003? The destabilization of Libya? An open-ended, and apparently never-ending, “global” war on terror?
The real “Vietnam Syndrome” was not a reluctance by the U.S. to use military force in the aftermath of that war. It was a reluctance to face the legacies and lessons of that war, a failure truly to learn from its violent excesses, a failure to say “no, never again” and to mean it.
By continuing to wage unwinnable wars in regions of marginal interest to the American people, the country is slowly succumbing to this syndrome. The cure is simple: put an end to these wars. Only then can an American president truly speak of taking pride in kicking the Vietnam syndrome once and for all.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Yeah, I basically agree with your understanding of the Vietnam Syndrome. But you left out an important point. In his dedication to “American Power and the New Mandarins,” his classic critique of the Vietnam War, Noam Chomsky states that his book is for the brave young man who refuse to serve in a criminal war. Criminal is the key word. We hung Nazi brass and officials after the conclusion of the Numerberg trails not for any strategic blunders. We hung them because they committed a crime against humanity with acts of aggression that were unwarranted by the circumstances. That’s crucial. I was only a medical corpsman in Vietnam, a non-combatant, but I did serve in what was clearly a criminal war. I judge myself as having failed my obligation as a citizen of this country. Even though I got an honorable discharge, I should have refused to served in the military. The protesters were right and I was wrong.
The fact that it was also obviously a strategic blunder is far from irrelevant. But when you bring in the immorality of the war, that holds pride of place to me above any strategic rationale which were fraudulent.
I have to live with myself. And in the autumn of my years, I want to see myself for who I am now but also who I was once. We were no better than Nazi Germany was during the Second World War.
One more point that you did not bring up which relates to the immorality of the war. We used Agent Orange in Vietnam. In September, 2010, the VA awarded me a service-related disability due to exposure during my tour of duty.
But around three million Vietnamese were also exposed to Agent Orange of which 150,000 children were born with crippling and hideous birth defects.The toxin passes through the DNA of the mother to the unborn fetus during pregnancy. And these Vietnamese will probably never get reparations from the U.S. At least Germany eventually made reparations to the surviving victims of the Holocaust. Again this trumps what was a strategic blunder because the deforesting of the triple-canopy jungle was done to make for free-fire zones around the perimeters of the bases and of course to deny the enemy a safe haven under which it could hide. It did little to alter the outcome of the war from a strategic point of view. But it was chemical warfare, another war crime.
I can live with having served in an unwinnable war even though I see my country still fighting the same kinds of wars. What I still feel shame about is I served in a criminal war and what we did to the Vietnamese people. I will take that to my grave. But that is just who I am now. I want to go justified into my house when I pass.
Thanks. I wrote about some of those issues here:
OK, thanks for the link.
OK, I read it. I agree with your post. I would like to add that Robert S. McNamara in “The Fog of War” estimated we killed three to three and a half million Vietnamese I read Caputo’s memoir a long time ago. It’s still one of the best ones with Herr’s “Dispatches” my favorite. I haven’t read “KIll Anything That Moves” yet, but just from the title and the reviews I read the the book corresponds to what the wounded grunts were always saying and that was to paraphrase.” Shoot first and ask questions later.” I was doing a dressing change on a wounded grunt early in my tour and he asked me, “Do you want to see my ears?” A grunt lying to right in the next bed started to laugh when he said it. He laughed even harder when he saw me looked at this other grunt’s ears. I said, “I can see your ears.” By now the other grunts was laughing so hard he was almost in tears. Of course, he was laughing at my reaction being a pogue in the rear with the gear. And he knew exactly what this grunt was talking about. Finally, this grunt leans over and opens a drawer on his night stand. He grabs a little burlap bag, turns around and opens it up. All I remember was my face getting hot. My cheeks were probably turning red with shame and of course embarrassment knowing I was the cheap entertainment for these two grunts. “he’s crazy!” the grunt said lying next to us. But laughing so hard as he said it. I quickly finished the dressing change, and I avoided both of those grunts as much as I could while they were on the ward. It was finally dawning on me the depths of the savagery in this war. Months later, I was talking about how naive I was back then to another grunt and told him what had happened. He didn’t laugh that grunt lying in the next bed. He just nodded and said, “Yeah, victory trinkets.” He said it as he was talking about the weather, “Yeah, it’s going to rain today.” But by then, I was past the six months point in my tour and I agreed with him and went on to my m=next chore. And also by then, I realized they had been so damaged by the war, they were living in another world. There but for the grace of God go I. I lucked out. I really don’t know what I would have done if I had been a grunt. Probably just what they did. Soldiers are the most mysterious victims of war. Especially if they make through with their appendages attached to their torso. To a civilian they look normal back in the world. Just your average, healthy and young male going about his life. I wonder how many of those grunts are alive. I’ve heard from other older veterans that more Vietnam veterans have died from suicide that the names etched in that black wall on the Mall. When I lived in the Washington D. C. area I visited it and looked up the the names of my friends in high school who came back in a box. But I didn’t cry. I did cry when I saw the third documentary in a trilogy made by John Huston on the Second World War. It was called “Let There Be Light.” It chronicled the treatment of severely shell shocked veterans in a VA hospital in Long Island after the war. The government has suppressed Huston’s trilogy since he made them. I think it was JImmy Carter who lifted the ban and allowed them to be shown to the public. But I remember sitting on the end of my bed watching it and crying like a baby. That was the first time I cried about the war. But thankfully, I was alone at the apartment. I was in grad school and the wife was at work and the kids were at the babysitters. I hate to cry about the war because the first time I was a litter bearer on a dustoff mission that has landed at the hospital, so many of the wounded grunts were crying openly. They were victims of friendly fire. Someone screwed up on our side, and lobbed in some short rounds on them. It was horrific. I kept on asking myself – I must have been in mild shock – “We’re these guys attacked by sharks?” But realizing how absurd such an observation was, I replied to myself, “George, you’re crazy, sharks swim in the sea!” But for some reason even now, how they openly wept still shocks me more than the graphic nature of their wounds. I thought about that time, when the 9/11 attacks happened there were these scenes of cops, who are supposedly to be the embodiment of machismo in our civilian culture, were crying. One I remember was so overwrought he was lying across the hood of a car hiding his face with his arms as he cried. I kept my mouth shut during those dark days out of respect to the victims of the attack. But to myself I said, “Well, here goes the bullshit war.” I knew even back then what would unfold in the pit of my stomach would equal the debacle in Vietnam. As you know, people want payback. But as the wounded grunts were always telling me, “Payback is a motherfucker.” Stein, a character in Joseph Conrad’s “Lord Jim” tells Jim that when a man is born he has fallen into a dream. Vietnam was an extended dream or at time nightmare. Even now in old age, It doesn’t seem real I actually went to Vietnam as a young man. And it seems strange when I am taking a shower to see all my appendages attached to my torso. That’s a bizarre realization. And I am still in relatively good health despite how I abused myself with drugs and alcohol. And I’ve had two bad car crashes after Vietnam. I should have died in each of them. Now I know I was trying to kill myself in a passive-aggressive way. I am blessed to be alive. For some reason, a higher power wants me to be alive. So now I do believe in divine intervention. I’m not religious but I subscribe to Pascal’s wager. I don’t know if there is life after death, but what have I got to lose by believing that there is? Statistically, I do have been dead long ago. Yet here I am writing this post to you. Later.
LikeLiked by 1 person
My thanks to everyone for contributing so many fine comments to this discussion.
I understand from CNN International that Donald Trump officially became “triumphant” last night in Cleveland, Ohio. Someone counted up the delegates and The Donald had more than the minimum required to secure his nomination. No surprise there. Then, I understand that his sons and daughters said some kind words about their dad, as if anyone would have expected them to say anything else. At least they didn’t overtly plagiarize Michelle Obama as Trump’s third trophy wife did on the first night of the feral festivities.
But I swear, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and that snarling convention mob made me realize exactly what George Orwell had in mind when he described the Two Minutes Hate in 1984.
At any rate, thus appraised of this underwhelming event, I turned from watching CNN International to reading about the recent failed coup in Turkey: or as the immigrant Russian engineer Dmitry Orlov called it, “a turkey of a coup.” The Islamist version of Keystone Cops in Constantinople. Much more interesting than anything to do with Donald Trump, his family, the Republican party, or what Americans think about this never-ending “election” thing that the ruling Corporate Oligarchy has staged for their “bread and circuses” (without the bread) entertainment.
Moving past all that raw-meat revelry, I wish to give special thanks to our friend, rewiredhogdog, who said (on July 20, 2016 at 6:53 AM):
“For a long time I’ve felt that war has become just another addiction which this country just can’t seem to kick.”
Here we come to the crux of the matter. The quotation I have singled out for emphasis and investigation: namely, “By God, we’ve kicked the Vietnam Syndrome once and for all,” does appear on the surface to deal with an addiction that one might possibly “kick,” or “eliminate.” However, the word “syndrome” means “a symptom or sign of a disease,” and we often hear people advise against treating the symptom and not the disease. Therefore, how can anyone speak meaningfully of kicking a symptom or a sign which would, in any event, leave the underlying disease, or addiction, untreated? Obviously, one cannot speak meaningfully about kicking symptoms or signs, but that impossibility did not stop former President Bush from thinking that he could. Thus, he either spoke without knowing what his words meant, or he did understand their meaning and deliberately chose to misstate and misuse them for his own political purposes. Personally, I suspect some combination of the two.
I wish to go on with this semantic analysis, because I think one can deconstruct the actual verbiage of the proclamation and learn much from its confused and maladroit phrasing. But I’ll stop here and take a breath. I’ll return to this topic in my next post which hopefully will explore additional aspects of wanton militarism versus informed and critical peacefulness. In particular, I want to analyze the difference between the “Munich Analogy” and the “Vietnam Syndrome.” Who uses which phrases? What do they mean by them? And why?
LikeLiked by 1 person
In doing research for my essay “Still Kicking The Vietnam Syndrome” I came upon this short synopsis, which I will post here, with comment of my own to follow later:
America and Vietnam: The Unending War
by George C. Herring, Foreign Affairs, Winter 1991/1992
“By God, we’ve kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all!” So said President George Bush in a euphoric victory statement at the end of the Gulf War, suggesting the extent to which Vietnam continued to prey on the American psyche more than fifteen years after the fall of Saigon. Indeed the Vietnam War was by far the most convulsive and traumatic of America’s three wars in Asia in the 50 years since Pearl Harbor. It set the U.S. economy on a downward spiral. It left America’s foreign policy at least temporarily in disarray, discrediting the postwar policy of containment and undermining the consensus that supported it. It divided the American people as no other event since their own Civil War a century earlier. It battered their collective soul.”
* Translation: “Vietnam Synrome” means “a discrediting of postwar American foreign policy of containment and an undermining of the [elite] consensus that supported it”: what professor Andrew Bacevich has called “the [still in effect] Washington Rules.”
“Such was the lingering impact of the Vietnam War that the Persian Gulf conflict appeared at times as much a struggle with its ghosts as with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. President Bush’s eulogy for the Vietnam syndrome may therefore be premature. Success in the Gulf War no doubt raised the nation’s confidence in its foreign policy leadership and its military leadership and its military institutions and weakened long-standing inhibitions against intervention abroad. Still it seems doubtful that military victory over a nation with a population less than one-third of Vietnam in a conflict fought under the most favorable circumstances could expunge deeply encrusted and still painful memories of an earlier and very different kind of war.”
** Translation: “Kicking the Vietnam Synrome” means “a presidential struggle with ghosts” [as in “elite” nightmares of public consciousness] in the vain hope that a “splendid little war” (in President Teddy Roosevelt’s words) against a hopelessly overmatched adversary in a can’t-lose situation “could expunge deeply encrusted and still painful memories of an earlier and very different kind of war ”
In fact, calling the Great Gulf Battle of 1991 a “war” probably stretches U.S. military hyperbole about as far as it can go without snapping apart at the seams. When your military can’t distinguish a battle from a war, then you really can’t expect much of any value from it at all.
LikeLiked by 1 person
I always took that phrase “Vietnam Syndrome” as a personal affront. In effect, it said to me and those who experienced what I did in Southeast Asia: “Fuck off with what you saw and did. Stop thinking that you can interfere with this Orwellian “perception management,” or “reality conrol” thing that we hothouse orchid elites have devised to induce narcoleptic amnesia in the taxpaying citizenry whom we intend to go on robbing and conscripting as long as it profits us to so so.”
Something like that. So, about eleven years ago, I sat down and tried to put my point of view into verse. I got a little inspiration when I remembered former President Bill Clinton saying: “When people feel uncertain, they’d rather have somebody that’s strong and wrong than somebody who’s weak and right.” I thought, “What kind of a moron would associate strength with error and weakness with truth?” Then came the answer: “Why, the same sort of moron that considers the wisdom learned from Vietnam as a symptom of a disease.” Then came:
Syndromes of Wisdom
“You must not invade Mother Russia,” it’s said
In the vast, bitter wintertime cold
Napoleon, though, thought he’d figured a way
So did Hitler, or so we are told.
“Do not get bogged down in an Asian land war,”
So they once taught cadets at West Point
Not that France or America listened, of course
Till their noses got wrenched out of joint
“Do not spit to windward,” the sailors will say
Or you’ll get the snot back in your face
Not that landlubbers heed these instructions so wise
Which accounts for their loss with no trace
“Do not use a puppet to run your affairs”
If you don’t know the nature of string
With two ends, you know, it can pull either way
As the bad puppet chorus will sing
As they train the young dogs not to shit where they live
And the cats not to pee on the rug
So America ought not to jump in the hole
That it has only recently dug
Latrines have their uses, but swimming ain’t one
Not unless you like stinking and slimed
So America ought not to dive in the ditch
Out of which it has only just climbed
We haven’t yet found our way out of this mess
Still, before any learning can start
All the ones who so brazenly lit the last fuse
Seem to fear that we might lose the art
They’ve gone back again to the tried and the trite
Seeking slogans to mask their retreat
In a panic that soon we won’t do this again
“Isolationist!” now they repeat
In the land of the blind rules a king with one eye
Whose perspective is greatly obscured
Like the fabulous realm of the learning impaired
Where the people know only one word
The sunken investments run deep, far, and wide
And to give them up now would be bad
Never mind all those kids with the lost legs and arms
We must not make the stockholders sad
The headstones grow grim in the grass ‘round their graves
As the rows of their ranks slowly fill
While the numbers and dates tell a story of lives
Ended short, not for good but for ill
What remains of their bodies lies buried away
While their souls through eternity fall
Leaving only their memories fading in friends
And their names on a black-granite wall
They bang the drum slowly; they play the horn sad
They preach and console and reprise
Their denials that youth really dies for the old
While the story the statesmen revise
Now furious fear flings more sand in the face
As the trial balloons litter the sky
Once again it’s a “syndrome” to think of the waste,
To remember, and understand why
What kind of a people would coin a cliché
Using “syndrome” to lie and appease
All to cover a wish to make wisdom passé
Just a symptom of one more disease?
Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright © 2005
Now, if I can just put those same sentiments into coherent prose….
Bravo, Mike, and thanks for that excerpt from George C. Herring’s essay in Foreign Affairs. ( BTW. Herring’s history of the Vietnam War is the assigned text in a class that is offered once a year during summer semester for a course on the war at Kent State University. I live in Stow, Ohio, which is about five miles away. ) I liked the historical continuity you noted in your thesis and established by going back to Teddy Roosevelt and that iconic quote of “a splendid little war” and how it relates to the mindset and rationale of the First Gulf War. You’re on to something here.
Thank you for your spot-on reference to various forms of addiction as a paradigm for understanding U.S. government policy, both foreign and domestic. For myself, I tend to go with the Nixon-era prophilaxis-for-the-proles : “Follow the money.” I don’t think that anybody in the U.S. political/military establishment seriously cares about anything else. TomDispatch has a good article on this entitled “The Pentagon’s Real $trategy: Keeping the Money Flowing”, by Andrew Cockburn (June 16, 2016). My favorite take-away quotations:
(1) “These days, lamenting the apparently aimless character of Washington’s military operations in the Greater Middle East has become conventional wisdom among administration critics of every sort. Senator John McCain thunders that “this president has no strategy to successfully reverse the tide of slaughter and mayhem” in that region. Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies bemoans the “lack of a viable and public strategy.” Andrew Bacevich suggests that “there is no strategy. None. Zilch.”
(2) “After 15 years of grinding war with no obvious end in sight, U.S. military operations certainly deserve such obloquy. But the pundit outrage may be misplaced. Focusing on Washington rather than on distant war zones, it becomes clear that the military establishment does indeed have a strategy, a highly successful one, which is to protect and enhance its own prosperity.
Given this focus, creating and maintaining an effective fighting force becomes a secondary consideration, reflecting a relative disinterest — remarkable to outsiders — in the actual business of war, as opposed to the business of raking in dollars for the Pentagon and its industrial and political partners.”
Things only look aimless, I would interject. But if you notice how the money always seems to flow upwards into corporate offshore bank accounts in Switzerland, London, or the Cayman Islands, then you can understand that somebody certainly knows what they want, how to get it, and where to put it. I never take at face value anything that an official of the U.S. government says about their purposes, policies, or plans. They wouldn’t keep failing so spectacularly and regularly unless it paid someone very handomely not to “succeed.” In other words, I suspect endemic, organized lying, or what I like to call Manufactured Mendacity and Managed Mystification. When the pickpocket in the crowd yells “Look up there!” I immediately grab for my wallet.
Follow the money.
LikeLiked by 1 person
My fellow Vietnam veteran, Daniel Ellsberg, gave an interview with the Real News Network in which he laid out the relevant lessons from Vietnam for President Obama back in 2009, right before the upper ranks of the U.S. military browbeat the new President into sending 40,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan (the minimum “war” fix the brass would accept). You know: another “surge,” which — every time I hear it — makes me think of blood draining rapidly from the frontal area of the brain so as to swell to erection a normally flacid penis while making the male mind go stupid. Anyway, see From Vietnam to Afghanistan: As President Obama decides what to do in Afghanistan he must learn the lessons of Vietnam – October 25, 2009.
Then we have another excellent article giving a much more detailed account of President George H. W. Bush’s phony “war to teach those dirty fucking hippies a lesson”: namely, Kicking the Vietnam Syndrome: U.S. Interventionism and the Victory of ‘Perception Management’, by Robert Parry, Global Research, December 29, 2014 and Consortium News 28 December 2014. The ugly truth of what American presidents and their generals will do to “teach” the American citizenry what they had better think about not butting into the U.S. government’s conduct of whatever it chooses to call “war.”
I clearly remember the infamous Gulf Battle of 1991, because I still worked in the Southern California aerospace industry at the time. Newspaper and television reports carried practically nothing but the military story. I clearly remember General H. Norman Schwartzkopf giving a briefing where he showed an Iraqi truck driver barely making it over a bridge before a U.S. bomber blew up the bridge. “There goes the luckiest man in Iraq,” the general joked. The briefing room dutifully broke out in the expected laughter. As well, I remember the same general publicly admonishing his air force not to keep squandering their ammunition by bombing and shooting anything and everything they could unload on. A real fish-in-the-barrel turkey shoot (if I may so combine illustrative metaphors). I also remember the general on television, standing in the desert of Iraq pointing at the open road to Baghdad, inquiring of his commander-in-chief whether or not he wished for the U.S. (and “coalition”) forces to just keep on going “all the way.” President George H. W. Bush declined to rush into the proffered trap since he had already “taught” — quickly and cheaply — his lesson to the American people. Or so he thought.
My own most memorable lesson from all this came from a lecture I heard the late novelist Kurt Vonnegut give one night at the University of California, Irvine. Television news footage of the day had shown traumatized Iraqi conscript soldiers straggling out of the desert, with their hands atop their heads, weeping, and surrendering to news teams or anyone else who looked like an American. Many of my fellow citizens found scenes like that infinitely amusing. Mr Vonnegut, though, began his lecture by referring to those scenes and saying to us: “We used to look like that.” He went on to describe being drafted into the U.S. Army in World War II and then, with barely any training at all, winding up in Europe at the wrong time, just as the German Army struck in a savage counter-attack now called “The Battle of the Bulge.” The newly arrived American Army conscripts quickly found themselves overrun and captured by the Germans who marched thousands of the bewildered and demoralized Americans — weeping and with their hands on their heads — to nearby Dresden where a few nights later, the British Air Force came over and firebombed the city, sucking the very air out of people’s lungs and killing practically everyone above ground. Mr Vonnegut survived because the Germans had put him and a few of his friends down in a slaughterhouse cellar. When no one came to look in on the little group of.Americans after three days, they forced their way out of the cellar. “It looked like the surface of the moon,” Mr Vonnegut told us, “except that the rubble still glowed red-to-white hot in places, three days after the bombing.”
Anyway, at the end of his lecture, Mr Vonnegut thanked us for attending; came out from behind the speaker’s podium; put his hands on top of his head; and silently bent his tall form into an attitude of utter, pathetic submission. I don’t know how many of us in the audience burst into tears at the heart-rending sight, but I know many of us did. You just couldn’t help it.
“We used to look like that.” And if we don’t stop recklessly taunting and provoking the Russians and Chinese, we will again.
LikeLiked by 2 people
I remember my shock and revulsion the first time I saw, and even worse, smelt a napalm victim. I had the same reaction the first time with a grunt who had a very nasty exit hole from a thru-and-thru gunshot wound, I almost threw up on him and I had to re-swallow the food I was digesting in my stomach. I think it’s called the gag response.I could see his rib cage, because I was holding him upright in back of him on the opposite side of the bed as the doctor who faces him did a dressing change. I avoided eating meat in Vietnam for about two weeks after that napalm victim then ate meat only until I was hungry. And since Cam Ranh Bay was Saudi Arabia with 1005 humidity, and I was avoiding meat , I lost about thirty pounds during my tour of duty. I looked great but I was a nervous wreck. And to this day, BBQ ribs are only eaten when I’m having a good day. But unless you’ve had these experiences, and most civilians haven’t which isn’t their fault since a volunteer armed forces replaced the draft, debates about the issues of war are political or intellectual in nature. Talking points essentially whether you’r a hawk or a dove.. And since images of violence, real or fictional, are now de rigueur in the age of the internet, most people are inured to the grim realities of war. It’s more like war pornography today..
First, thanks for highlighting my sentence from one of my comments and also calling me “our friend.” You bring up in a previous post to this one an interesting question: what is the historical relationship between two phrases, the Vietnam Syndrome, and the Munich analogy, or the appeasement at Munich as it is commonly referred to in the press. I have no answers at this time but I will give it some thought. But it’s a daunting task given how many times the appeasement at Munich has been used by politicians, columnists, pundits and policy wonks at think tanks. In fact, I wish I got a dollar every time the appeasement at Munich has been invoked in heated debates. It would supplement my income in retirement quite handsomely or at the least give me some mad money to spend. I’ll have to give it some thought.
I agree on your view about the military that war is a cash cow for it and the arms merchants. The Pentagon has essentially become over the last four or five decades the Pentagon, Inc. just another multinational corporation with a $700 spending budget ( but much higher, perhaps over one rillion, with off-the-books expenses in which they cook the book )that disregards the concept of the nation-state which is under siege by neoliberal globalization. A corporation owes its allegiance to the stockholders of a corporation: citizens owe theirs to the nation-state. Herein lies the political conflict and the widening chasm between these two estates and the interests which they represent.
Finally, you write :When the pickpocket in the crowd yells” Look up there!” I immediately grab from my wallet.” There’s a good chance said pickpocket is probably an addict trying to support an addiction from crime statistics. And when I read your sentence, I recall or perhaps free-associated a funny scene in Gus Van Sant’s classic independent film “Drugstore Cowboy.” Matt Dillion has returned to his home where he grew up to pick up his clothes from his mother. But when he knocks, his mother says something like just a minute. She runs over and grabs her purse and hides in a vanity display before he opens the door. She knows her son is an addict and she is tired of being robbed by him. Also, in the film, William S. Burroughs, the gentlemen junkie, makes a cameo as a defrocked and disgraced priest, also playing an addict, which isn’t much of a stretch in acting for Burroughs, who is living at the skid-row hotel in Portland where DIllion’s character is living. So again, our dialogue comes right back to the issue of addiction.
rewiredhogdog: I hope that you don’t mind me calling you “friend,” for — after reading many of your postings — I feel as though our paths almost crossed but didn’t. Depending on when you served in South Vietnam, the U.S. military was either ramping up or closing out its presence in that part of the country. For my part, I served in the “Vietnamization” program designed by President Richard Nixon and his Rasputin, Henry Kissinger. The French called that policy “yellowing the corpses,” since the basic idea involved getting the Vietnamese to fight and die for obscure U.S. foreign policy objectives (or just the usual venal infighting for power and money in Washington) so that Americans wouldn’t have to do the fighting and dying for their own government. Naturally, the Vietnamese had no interest whatsoever in cooperating with this policy, or with or me, a nobody enlisted Navy electrician who had arrived with orders to help “train” them in how to fight America’s ideological “war” against the idea of “Communism” as practiced in the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, or perhaps even the northern part of their own country. I certainly didn’t blame them. I didn’t even want to fight for that kind of nonsense.
By the way, as you probably know, the United States military pursues the same discredited and doomed policy today in Iraq and Afghanistan, only I call this version of it, “browning the bodies.” And Just as I used to call my own cadre of confused cannon fodder “The Fig Leaf Contingent,” so I call our present perplexed implimenters of policy “The Buy Time Brigade.” Same thing, different place, different U.S. administration. Keep stalling for time until the next U.S. president arrives so that the current one can skate out of office before the proverbial roof caves in and he (or she) can blame the collapse on his (or her) successor. “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result,” said Albert Einstein. Accordingly, the United States government, as presently configured and staffed, is clinically, certifiably insane. I mean that. Daniel Ellsberg says that “they’re not stupid, just clever people who have lost their minds.” Like I said, insane.
Anyway, back to South Vietnam. I arrived in July of 1970. With the drawdown of forces underway, the shrinking number of billets left me with nowhere to go. No one knew what to do with me. So I languished in a stinking, lice-infested transit barracks for a month until I got orders to the Vietnamese Naval Training Center at Cam Ranh Bay. The U.S. Navy had a small contingent of advisers there, quartered in this little, two-story concrete building that the French had built many years before. We seldom saw many Vietnamese to train. They had other business that didn’t concern us. Stuff like staying alive and making off with whatever thing of value — like U.S. supplied fans and refrigerators — that they could. I didn’t blame them for that, either.
But my government had sent me through a year of counter-insurgency and language training, so someone above me in the food chain must have thought that I could at least teach my electrician’s trade to Vietnamese sailors so that U.S. Navy personnel (like Lieutenant John Kerry) could get off the swift boats, off the rivers and canals, and back home to the wealth and political connectsions that would better advance their life prospects. At this late stage of the game, we had an increase in “ticket punching” among the officers as more and more of them came through for short three-to-six month tours — like John Kerry — getting “combat experience” stamped on their service records before getting their asses safely out of Vietnam and back to “the real Navy.” Those of us enlisted men left behind became outcasts of sorts, watching the officers come and go. Nobody really needed us, but because some of us at least spoke and read a little Vietnamese, we found occasional employment interfacing with the locals in various, ad hoc ways. Either that, or tanslating Vietnamese medal commendation documents for the officers. So I figured on staying for at least a full year’s tour.
I didn’t stay too long at Cam Ranh Bay. My really bad attitude concerning all things stupid and military (but I repeat myself) soon got me into trouble with my commanding officer. You see, the U.S. Army had a base nearby and the cooks asked us Navy electricians if we would wire their hootches (barracks) with electrical outlets for their fans and refrigerators. We had nothing better to do so we did the job for them and they responded in a way that they knew us sailors would appreciate. They drove a deuce-and-a-half (two-and-a-half ton truck) down to our little concrete building, dumped all sorts of food on us — like steaks, lobsters, pork chops, ribs, you name it — and then drove us back up to their base for a night of free drinks at the Enlisted Man’s Club. I don’t remember much from that night except ordering eight shots of Canadian Club wiskey at a time until our table had so many empty glasses on it that the waitresses had to beg us to let them have a few back for other customers. Then the Army cooks drove us back to our place where they dumped us so we could sleep it off.
Unfortunately for some of us, the next morning featured an awards ceremony for a Navy chief petty officer who had defused a bomb aboard a ship in the harbor. Our new commanding officer ordered us all into formation for the awarding of medals, something that career military lifers take very seriously. This didn’t work out well. As our commanding officer solemnly read out the details of the citation, a few of the guys silently broke ranks and ran upstairs to the second-floor head from whence the sound of their gagging and vomiting wafted down onto the ceremony below. I managed to stay in ranks, swaying back and forth, somehow managing to stay upright without puking, but I couldn’t manage to supress a little giggle at the absurdity of the whole situation. This sort of behavior really pissed off our new commanding officer so he restricted us all to quarters for two weeks, as if we had anywhere else to go. But things just kept going from bad to worse between us.
While restricted to my little room with nothing else to do, I decided to grow a beard and mustache. The Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, had promulgated a fleet-wide directive authorizing sailors to grow beards and mustaches to improve their morale. But when I got off restriction and my commanding officer saw my new mustache and beard, he expressed a dislike for my morale and ordered me to shave off the facial hair. Since I had about had it with him, his Navy, Vietnam, and all things stupid and military, I politely and respectfully declined his invitation to shave, reminding him that the CNO and his orders outrank anything or anyone else in the U.S. Navy.
So my commanding officer had me transferred to the most remote ATSB (Advanced Tactical Support Base) in South Vietnam: a place called “Solid Anchor,” basically a pile of sand on the banks of a muddy brown salt-water river, surrounded by nothing but defoliated, dead vegetation, about two kilometers from the southernmost tip of the country. As I later learned, Admiral Elmo Zumwalt himself had designed and authorized construction of Solid Anchor when he commanded all U.S. Navy forces in Vietnam, some time before his promotion to CNO. Thanks a lot Admiral Zumwalt. You taught me the meaning of irony.
So, I remained at Solid Anchor — known by the Vietnamese as Nam Can — from November of 1970 through the end of January 1972, a period of about fourteen months. Many of my fellow sailors had mustaches and/or beards, but I alone languished there as punishment for having a mustache and/or beard. This did nothing to ease my deepening antipathy towards all things stupid and military, to say the least; but people, especially prisoners, can adapt to anything, and as the days, weeks, and months went by, I slowly began to adjust to the meaninglessness and boredom that characterized my existence. In other words, I started to lose my mind. I didn’t recognize the problem for awhile, although other people began to notice alarming symptoms. Like one night during a monsoon deluge, when I got riotously drunk on beer and someone bet me five dollars that I wouldn’t take off my clothes, put on my steel helmet, march naked across the compound in the dark, and report for duty at the Comm Center where I worked as a translator/interpreter during the day. I won the five dollars.
Certain forms of behavior have consequences, even for rather indispensible persons such as I had become by that time. As the only American on the base who spoke and wrote some Vietnmaese, people gave me a lot of slack. Everyone knew I had been at that awful, dreary place for a long time, and would probably stay for a lot longer. People, for the most part, understood and gave me a wide birth, sort of like the American indians did with fellow tribesmen whom they considered “touched” in the head by something inexplicable.
But this latest stunt of mine could not go uncorrected, so I got word that my division officer wanted to see me. This time I got fully dressed in my unwashed, dingy green dungarees and went to see what would happen. I thought that, at worst (or best), the Navy would ship me out of Vietnam and back home. No such luck. My division officer told me, bluntly: “Look, you serve a real purpose here and we cannot easily replace you. But you’ve obviously got too much time on your hands. You need to get a hobby, something to occupy your mind. Otherwise, we will have no choice but to send you to a medical center for psychological evaluation.” That scared the living shit out of me. Nothing frightens a sailor more than those two words “psychological evaluation.” People go in for those, but they seldom come out. So I responded: “What kind of hobby could I possibly take up here?” The officer thought a moment and said: “Well, you’re a language guy, so why don’t you take a correspondence course in something like, say, Japanese.” I thought about that for a moment and said the only thing I could say: “Yes, sir.” So I started studying Japanese by mail and got to where I really liked the language. It served me well later in life and probably saved my sanity, too.
Pardon me for going on at such length with the biographical information, I only thought to provide it as background for responding to things you said about the smell of burnt flesh and shot-through bullet holes in people. I think I know what you mean. You see, as base interpreter/translator, I occasionally got called in to our little base infirmary — or “sick bay,” as we call such places in the Navy — to translate between the Vietnamese and U.S. medical personnel — like our doctor and his three corpsmen assistants — whenever necessary. On one occasion a bunch of Vietnamese decided to go fishing with hand grenades, which they would normally drop into the river to stun the fish, which would float to the surface where the Vietnamese would collect them for later cooking. Unfortunately, in this instance, someone mistakenly dropped a live grenade back into the box containing several others. The resulting explosion cleared the boat deck of about two dozen Vietnamese men, many more than the boat was designed to carry. I got to sick bay just as the wounded, dead, and dying started to arrive. The doctor and corpsmen had more than their two hands full and pressed me into service as a gopher, retrieving supplies, cleaning the floor, and helping to move bodies — both living and dead — out of the way so they could try and treat the few cases which had a chance of surviving. I think the medical people call this procedure “triage,” or something like that. Someone has to make an instant decision about who will live (possibly) and who will die (most likely). I started to get sick just looking at the unholy mess unfolding before my eyes.
To keep me busy and useful, the doctor asked me to find out the names of the villages from which these men came, since the Vietnamese wanted to be buried next to their ancestors. As I went from one man to another, I could see that some had already died or had gone into shock, with wide staring eyes that saw nothing. A few others remained conscious, however, and I could see that they understood the reason for my questions. It almost broke my heart to see the sudden flood of understanding sweep over their faces, as they realized that they didn’t have long to live. One man had a foot blown off halfway up the shin. A jagged bone stuck out from just below the knee and I found myself suddenly fascinated by the blue color of the exposed bone. Then I looked up and saw the doctor put both hands and arms into the split-open torso of one man, scooping out mud from the gaping wound. Then the doctor just shook his head and pushed the dying man to one side so that he could begin work upon another. Blood, mud, and bandages littered the cement floor and I slipped on them, going down onto my hands and knees, with my face suddenly pressed into the putrid waste. I had just started to vomit when I heard a calm, reasonable voice ask me: “Are you all right?” I looked up to see the doctor gazing down at me, all the while attending to another critically wounded patient. It sobered me up immediately to realize that this man had the time and awareness to spare a moment for me while he had so much more urgent concerns at hand, I felt ashamed of my weakness and got back up on my feet, determined to do whatever someone thought might be of service.
A few days later, I found myself riding escort for some body bags full of dead Vietnamese on a helicopter bound for the morgue at an Army base further north. I had known a few of those strange little men for only a fragmentary instant of time, but some of their faces and wide staring eyes haunt me to this day. I think that I have written all this as something of a tribute to their memory, such as remains in my mind after all these years. I don’t know if I acquitted myself as well as I could have in those days. I had enough trouble just staying sane. But I did what someone asked of me as best I could. How I wish I could bottle those awful sights, sounds, and smells, and present them as a gift to President Obama as he looks at his weekly kill list, or “disposition matrix,” ordering the murder of little brown men half a world away as he sits, untroubled in his Oval Office, surrounded by sycophants and ass-kissing courtiers, Lord of all the flies he surveys. Damn his eyes.
Isn’t it odd?, I told myself while reading your reply about your experiences in Vietnam. I was also stationed at Cam Ranh Bay ( 31 May 1967 – 31 May 1968) and worked at the 12th USAF Hospital on the main base which as you know was more of a small city. So I was in country eight moths before the Tet Offensive of 1968 when even the brass finally figured out that light at the end of the tunnel was unfortunately the headlight from another train barreling toward our train. I’ve had so many experiences as you had with those wounded Vietnamese civilians who decided to go fishing with hand grenades. Some of the wounded grunts were just as goofy as those Vietnamese were. War should always be the last – not the first option – on the table when it comes to using our military might to solve a crisis,whether real or perceived as such, in foreign policy. I learned that lesson spending the entire year except for a day off-duty witnessing the wreckage wrought by our fearless leaders back in the world smug and safe as bug inside the beltway bubble of Washington, D.C. If it wasn’t for smoking dope and drinking beer back at the hooch and of course off-duty at the beach, I would have gone over the deep end and have probably gotten a section 8, because I thought before I took up those two extracurricular activities I was having a slow-motion nervous breakdown. Once I had a joint in one hand and a beer in other, I told myself, “You know, you’re going to make.” And I did with a few near death experiences throw in between from time to time like body-surfing in a secluded cove with some other heads and I saw three hammerhead snarks come out of the dark blue and circling around us as we desperately tried to catch the next wave cresting by us and breaking to the shore. But even with those kind of experiences, I had it easy compared to the wounded grunts on the ward. My tour was a combination of “Catch-22” and “M*A*S*H” with brief moments of absolute terror like when we got hammered four times by mortars and rockets during Tet and then two weeks of unending casualties from the major battles during the offensive which were grisly and horrific. We got no days off for about two weeks and were so busy with the flood of patients, a lot of Vietnamese civilians from the Battle of Hue, that we ran out of clean sheets for the beds at one point. And we got a few casualties right from the field because the patients before Tet, they had usually gone through the triage process, been sorted and separated according to the severity of their injuries; they had been treated and’or been operated on by the doctors; and they were already wearing these blue cotton pajamas from the other hospitals up north in Eye ( slang for roman numeral I ) Corps near the DMZ. “Injun Territory,” was the slang grunts used for Eye Corps. And as one grunt said talking about the firefights, “You know, it’s like those old Hollywood westerns. You know? The ones we saw as kids? But there’s just one problem, man. Too many fuckin’ Injuns!” And he laughed hysterically at me and clapped his hands. That part of the tour was more like that cult horror film Saw. I went to a party once, drinking and the usual shoot-the-shit with the guys kind of thing. And one of the guys played a DVD of Saw. I had never saw it. A couple of minutes into the film, I made some kind of lame excuse and said to the guys I had to go. Had to meet someone or forgot to do an errand. I was starting to get sick and have a panic attack watching it. It reminded me too much of the patients during Tet at the hospital. I could go on and on about the horrific things I saw during that year.
But I have something else I want to tell you. Because I was stationed at Cam Ranh Bay which had been heavily sprayed with Agent Orange, the VA awarded me a service-related disability from my specific type of heart disease. There are also about twelve other specific diseases and/or illnesses that also qualifies a veteran stationed there. I get a check every month that supplements my Social Security check. You ought to check it out. You probably qualify. My counsel said I did as soon I stepped off the plane and my boots hit the ground at Cam Ranh Bay. All you need is your DD 214. So you might look into it.
And I really hate to tell you this. But it was President Obama who fought the VA and the politicians in Congress to get this bill passed and the benefits program on the books. For that I have to be grateful to him. The bill was tabled by Bush the Boy Emperor and just laid there in the White House during the last two years of his second term. But Obama came up to bat and hit it out of the ballpark for us aging Vietnam veterans. Around 150,000 Vietnam veterans qualified for exposure to Agent Orange of which at the time it got on the books in April, 2010, around 68,000 were still alive. It’s going to cost over the life expectancy of the remaining living veterans anywhere from $40 to $50 billion as the low end to upwards of $60 billion or perhaps even $70 billion as the high end. So check it out. You did the time for the crime. Now you can get a little payback.
Thanks for these honest and compelling comments. About a year ago, I wrote an article on how the U.S. is addicted to war. Here it is:
And I highly recommend this interview with Megan Stack, a journalist who covered the “war on terror” and who speaks eloquently about the emotional impact of war, including its addictive qualities:
OK, I’ll check it out and get back to you.
We read how U.S. prisoners taken during the Battle of the Bulge, were marched to nearby Dresden where they were firebombed by allied aircraft. How about posters use fewer words and more facts.
Kurt Vonnegut wrote a novel — Slaughterhouse Five — loosely based on his experiences at the Battle of the Bulge and as a POW in Dresden during the great fire bombing. If you have no knowledge of this historically documented atrocity — Dresden had no military significance whatsoever — then you should refrain from commenting. For someone who allegedly spent some time in the general vicininty of an Army-like uniform, you seem singularly unaware of what really happens in the actual wars that Americans have gone abroad to fight over the past many decades. You might want to do a little research on the subject. You might find it of interest. If you can handle more than a few words at a time, that is.
Walter, if you don’t want me to comment and just be myself when I digress, I wouldn’t be offended at all if you direct your criticism at me.. But this passive-aggressive routine and then acting at least to me as a little Big Brother, which seems ironic given it’s the internet, slightly pisses me off. Do you get my drift? You’re acting like an officer. This isn’t the military and we aren’t enlisted men. I know it’s your sand box, I can take my Tonka toys and play somewhere else. And I will not be offended in the least. But I just want to be free and freely express myself and my views and expressions. This isn’t exactly a graduate seminar in which you are the professor and i would have to suck up to you for a grade nor a website in which I am working as a journalist and actually getting paid for my words.
On second thought, I’ll take my Tonka toys somewhere else. It’s your sand box. Have fun.
It’s not Walter’s sand box. It’s mine. All I ask is that those who comment do so in a civil way.
Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse Five” is a classic. He was captured at the Bulge and found himself with other Allied POWs in Dresden during the bombing of that city in March of 1945. It was almost a miracle that he survived.
Walter doesn’t own this sandbox. Professor Bill Astore does. And until he says otherwise, you go right on posting as much and at as great a length as you wish. I, for one, appreciate stream of consciousness writing although I’ll never approach James Joyce in the skill of writing in that genre. If I wanted reductive, sound-byte military jargon I know where to find it, although I’ve already had more than enough to last me a lifetime. SNAFU and FUBAR. Parkinson’s Law and the Peter Principle. Fuck up and move up. Kiss up, kick down. Otherwise known as the U.S. military. If they knew what to do, they’d have done it already. If they could have, they would have; but they didn’t, so they can’t. Time’s up. Time to RIF the lot of them.
rewiredhogdog: Thanks for the heads up on the Agent Orange exposure thing. I heard about if from someone last year when my wife and I visited the U.S. for my 50th high school reunion. I’ve got my DD-214 and other service records and if I ever make it back to the U.S. again, I may visit the VA and see what to make of it, if anything. I had a heart attack several years ago, but the Taiwanese doctors fixed me up and the inexpensive Single Payer Health Insuance plan that we have here paid for just about everything. I can’t complain. Moving here saved my life, since I had no health insurance in the United States at the time of my illness and would have died had I remained in my home country. But in all honesty, I can’t say that exposure to Agent Orange caused my heart problems. Probably just too much bad food over too many years did the trick. If the VA can help some of the guys who really did suffer from Agent Orange exposure, then good for them and good for President Obama for getting the necessary legislation passed. Still, he has probably caused the deaths of many more middle eastern muslims than he has helped Vietnam Veterans. So good for our side, not so much good for theirs.
Switching back to our theme of addiction as the explanatory paradigm for U.S. corporate military policy: I noticed your reference to William S. Burroughs and his book Naked Lunch. Funny you should mention that because I ran across a copy in the airport bookstore on my way back to Taiwan from our trip last year to the United States. Most people don’t know this, but the rock-duo, Steely Dan, took their name from a reference in the book to a dildo that sadistic “doctors” employed to torture the fictional alter-ego of the author. Burroughs did something in that book that I’ve never seen done by another author. The reader starts out looking at the anti-hero protagonist objectively, from the outside, but at some undefined point in the story the perspective subtly changes until you suddenly realize that you’re inside the addict’s head looking out through a paranoid haze at the world of monsters circling around you. A tour de force, no doubt about it.
Your mention earlier on about addiction and its explanatory power really fascinated me, and so I started to think hard about it. I’ve got more to write on this subject, but I’ve got a few errands to run before I can sit down to do that. I’ll get back to you soon. Thanks for the inspiration.
I stand in defense of the American draftee – all enlisted men, as I recall – and over 90% of the WWII United States Army. These are facts, as is the record of greatly outnumbered 28th Infantry Division troops – many recent replacements – doing anything but marching off in tears with hands on their heads. What these men did is delaying the German attack toward Bastogne for more than 48-hours, thus allowing Army leaders time to get the 101st, and other units, into position. Read “Alamo in the Ardennes” to know the truth. Also know that Dresden is nowhere close.
Walt: I’ve read a lot about the Bulge. The Germans did take the Allies almost completely by surprise. Some “green” American units were there. Some did break (no surprise: they were hopelessly outclassed, put in a “quiet” sector to get their legs under them, but they never had the chance).
Kurt Vonnegut was in one of these Army divisions. He became a German POW. Memory fails me, but somehow he ended up with other POWs in Dresden, roughly 10-12 weeks later, when that city was bombed by the British and Americans. He survived that holocaust and wrote a book about it: “Slaughterhouse Five,” which was where the Germans put his group of POWs.
It’s no insult to the U.S. Army that some men were overrun and had to surrender in the opening stages of that battle. Again, they were taken by surprise and hopelessly outclassed by better armed, far more experienced, German units.
I was part of a recent attempt to correct an old injustice by having the 110th Infantry Regiment, 28th Infantry Division, awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for its performance during “The Bulge.” Alas, this attempt failed, as had previous. In interviewing a few of the still-surviving 110th soldiers, their thinking as to why they were denied was universal: to pay these members of a National Guard division their due, would detract from a favored regular division, the 101st.
Should you continue your reading, I recommend “Alamo in the Ardennes,” by McManus. It’s a story of American citizen soldiers.
Let me help you with your word aversion, Walter. Check it out:
“Twitter is an online social networking service that enables users to send and read short 140-character messages called “tweets”.
Sounds right up your alley, so to speak. Donald Trump uses it all the time. Perhaps you two could hook up and, you know, “Make America Grate Again,” in 140 words or less.
Oh, yes. And lest we forget about that whole Trump Triumph thing going down (and down and down) in Cleveland, check out the apparent Democratic Party line attempting to start World War III before You-Know-Her even gets her finger on the trigger. I kid you not, fellow Crimestoppers, check out the headlines from the Huffington Post by two idiots clearly in the bag for the Bawl and Pillory show. If the Democrats really want to beat Der Trumpenfuhrer this November, I would advise them to knock off this stupid shit right now. About the only thing on which The Donald and I agree has to do with his rational, sane approach to dealing with Russia. This insane demonizing of Vladimir Putin by the brain-dead Democrats will lead nowhere but to disaster. As the immigrant Russian engineer and blogger Dmitry Orlov reminds us: “Russia doesn’t start wars. Russia ends wars. And Americans need to know this above all else: if America starts a war with Russia, everyone in America will die.” The Russians know this. They don’t want it, but they will not run from it. Apparently the brain-dead Democrats don’t have a clue about this. The Donald may have an opening to reality here.
Anyway, for a true appreciation of rank imbecility, see:
The Real Winner At The GOP Convention Is Vladimir Putin. Russian influence on the Trump campaign is starting to have a real impact. by Akbar Shahid Ahmed and Ryan Grim, Huffington Post (7/19/2016)
And the front-page headlines leading to the bullshit article above:
AGENT ORANGE: TRUMP HANGS NATO OUT TO DRY
Won’t Promise To Back Allies Against Russian Invasion…
IT’S OFFICIAL: Clinton Is Running Against Vladimir Putin…
Remember When The GOP Wanted To Stand Up To Russia?
I hate to say it, but I think The Donald has stumbled upon a dangerous weakness in the Democratic party mindset. The American people really seem to have turned against this mindless, endless war for Neoliberal, Disaster Capitalism. And I really doubt that Americans want to lose New York and Chicago and Los Angeles over a missle base and a few troops in Latvia. Of course, the Republican party has no problem with this imperial war shit but should the cynical bastards choose to pretend like they don’t like war any longer, they could win a lot of votes that they wouldn’t otherwise. Trump may have an opening to reality here. Will he take the proffered gift and run with it? If he has any brains at all, he will.
Jeffrey Goldberg threw up the same shit for The Atlantic. With his black-and-white assurance that ‘Merica stands for freedom, international order, and all else good, just, great, and holy, Goldberg paints an opposite picture of Russia and the “imperial dreams” of a dark and despotic Putin.
Perhaps the sky will fall if Trump is elected. But it won’t be because Trump has a way of spilling some beans of truth out of his unencumbered mouth every now and again. Goldberg’s hysteria over the inkling of a suggestion that ‘Merican projection could ever in any way be deemed ever-so-slightly hypocritical is pathetic. The utter simplicity and imbecility of the sense of geopolitical “reality” he spouts with “moral” certitude is dangerous. But then, I guess he’s paid to be a weasel with his weasel words.
I just listened to a radio braadcast interview with Professor Stephen F. Cohen who discoursed upon several topics germane to relations between Russia and the United States. Of special note, I thought, was Cohen’s observation that President Obama wants desperately to leave office with something of a foreign policy legacy that doesn’t look like a complete disaster. Right now, says Professor Cohen:
“Obama has no public support in this country whatsoever. I don’t see many politicians, with possibly one exception, who support him. This is a President who, if he is resolved, he is alone. Reagan had some support in making an agreement with Gorbachev, but Obama is currently alone. And the question about Obama becomes: Is he resolute? He doesn’t like the look of his foreign policy legacy when he leaves office in a few months. It’s not good. It’s all bad. If he could mend relations with Russia and, moreover bind Mrs. Clinton if she’s the next President, who’s exceedingly hawkish on Russia, to that detente, I think that he’d [consider] that his legacy is better looking.”
This should prove exceedingly interesting, fellow Crimestoppers. I can’t wait to see President Obama out on the campaign trail, with one arm draped around You-Know-Her, telling their audience how much he supports her because she thinks just the way he does about mending fences and establishing cooperative relations with Russia. I can just see her face turn red and her jaws clench as Obama sticks the shiv right between her ribs, so to speak, with absolutely nothing that she can do about it short of publicly repudiating him, which she cannot possibly afford to do. Of course, big mouth Bubba Bill can always run off the reservation, as he frequently does, and get in a few digs at Obama so that You-Know-Her doesn’t have to do her own dirty work. But this would introduce complete chaos into the Democratic party campaign this fall.
Anyway, Obama could leave office in January of next yeat with WWIII cooking on the front burner if he doesn’t do something dramatic and fast before he becomes a complete and ineffectual lame duck — if he hasn’t waited too long already. I think he has. A sandbagging fence-sitter like him, who always wants to “look cool” and have it both ways without stepping out front to lead has waited until his subordinates started looking for their next job with the next administration. Now, most of his adminstration has deserted him, busy trying to impress You-Know-Her with their belligerent proclivites and Cold War 2. 0 attitudes. As the Chinese say: “May you live in interesting times”.
As for Der Trumpenfuhrer’s rabid base, they just want the “reality” television performer to tell the Washington D.C. “elites” (of both right-wing factions) what he told hapless applicants for employment on his TV show: “You’re fired!” Really, I don’t think that their hopes and desires go any higher or deeper than that. And that may prove enough, as Michael Moore said on the Bill Maher show recently.
Comments are closed.