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The American news media have a blind eye, a lack of perspective, when they report on many things, including the Boston marathon bombing, the current gun issues before Congress, the U.S. record of foreign military adventures and international relations. There are too many exceptions to American exceptionalism. So perhaps its takes a foreigner, like Australian journalist Bill Hoffman, to see things as they are and hold America accountable. Here’s an excerpt from an article he wrote today, forwarded by a friend who also sees the big picture:
“THE Boston bombing was despicable by any measure, but whether it was the act of external terrorism or internal malcontent it should have surprised nobody.
“The language particularly of the right of US politics has become so loose and unrestrained that its capacity to incite some to extreme actions should never be underestimated.
“Equally a nation that has waged continuous war and constantly been an occupier of foreign countries for the past decade can hardly expect to be immune to bite-back.
“If 1% of the coverage afforded yesterday’s blast had been given inside the United States to the impact on individual civilians of its own military activity there may be a greater appreciation of the potential consequences.
“The United States considers itself the world’s greatest democracy. By some measures that may be true.
“But the reality of its economic system renders many of its citizens powerless.
“Trapped in poverty, the poor gamble with their lives as foot soldiers for military adventurism promoted by the arms industry and energy companies, simply for the right to decent healthcare and education.
“The US spends $711 billion or 4.7% of its GDP on its military, more than $90 billion of which funds its presence in Afghanistan and other conflicts.
“That represents 41% of military spending globally.
“Yet 15% of the American population or 46.2 million people live in poverty, including 21.9% of those less than 18 years of age.
“Limited access to quality education coupled with exposure to media and politicians who show no restraint, in a nation where there is a constitutional right to own weapons with the capacity to wipe out 26 schoolchildren in the blink of an eye, creates a potent mix.
Nobody should be unconcerned about North Korea’s nuclear capacity or religious jihadists. But we should be no less troubled by Iran’s ambitions than by the hypocrisy that ignores the truth about Israel’s arsenal.”
With CNN reporting that President Obama has secretly arrived in Afghanistan to sign an agreement for some kind of continuation of forces beyond 2014, one can honestly question whether this generation will ever see an end to U.S. involvement in the conflict there.
The only acceptable “excuse” for America‘s continued presence might be as some sort of insurance policy to keep nuclear, radical Pakistan at bay, although why that can’t be accomplished without ground forces is a mystery to me.
My concern is not just about the continued exposure of U.S. troops to what amounts to civil war, in which the U.S. serves as a political mercenary force. My concern is that the massive economic cost of our continued presence will be even more destabilizing here at home than would our total departure from Afghanistan.
Our continued presence in Afghanistan is one more reason why the next generation of Americans will not get enough education or job opportunities, that is, unless they volunteer for military service or contract service to the military. Another generation will loyally go to war, while leaders will write books about their difficult choices, and the populace will wither because of the unfortunate choices those short-sighted, narrow-minded “leaders” have made on our behalf.
I’ve been sadly reminded twice this week of political refrains that echo extremes of reaction during the Vietnam era.
Conservative political leaders have reacted negatively to the “Occupy” movement, and what I’d characterize as the excessive “police state’ enforcement in ways that remind me of the “hippie bashing” that became widespread regarding those who openly organized to oppose the Vietnam War. Of course back then, it wasn’t just the Republicans who went too far in restricting First Amendment rights of protestors — Mayor Daly’s over-reaction to demonstrators during the Democratic National Convention in Chicago was one such disgusting example.
The other conservative comment I found so evocative was in the national security Republican debate last night, when one candidate criticized the idea that the U.S. should withdraw from the Afghanistan War, after 10 years, as a “cut and run” strategy. We heard that from the politicians in the late 60s, and the Vietnam war went on until 1975, with 55 thousand American deaths.
Is there no sense of history in our leadership? Is there any sense at all?
Yes, today is the 4th of July, but the event we are commemorating is Independence Day, which means a lot in reference to our freedom and democracy in the U.S. Doesn’t it bug you when others say, “Have a happy 4th.” Guess it’s too much trouble to remind people we’re celebrating our freedom.
2. Lots of media coverage out there of the impending end of the Shuttle Space program, as if that’s something we should celebrate, when the opposite is true. We learn a lot of practical things through the space program every day, including taking baby steps towards the possible future salvation of mankind, when we’ve worn this world out. Now, if we want to venture out there, we have to make a reservation with the Russians for a ride to the Space Station, which we’ve spent billions developing. We hear our scientists are now focused on “deep space,” which is good, but doesn’t that ring a little hollow when we remember what this nation accomplished when John Kennedy challenged us, almost 50 years ago, to put a man on the moon?
3. The news is reporting that the last draftee from the Vietnam War is retiring from the military after 32 years of service. This generation is relieved that the draft is gone, and that war is now left to professional volunteers. It still doesn’t occur to many that we might have moved these decade-long wars of the 21st century along a little faster if we all recognized we have a stake in what neurotic politicians and military/industrial bureaucrats drag us into. Of course, we’re about to go bankrupt as a nation because of Iraq and Afghanistan. Maybe that will get our attention.
4. All that said, it’s a nice day to enjoy family, the outdoors, good food, good friends and our freedom. Happy Independence Day, and may there be many more!
I recently wrote a memoir about my experiences during the Vietnam War, in the late 60s, and after thinking about President Obama’s speech last night on his strategy on getting out of Afghanistan, I realize again that we didn’t learn a thing from the Vietnam debacle. Cynical political calculations by Richard Nixon scuttled the Paris Peace talks in the fall of 1968, as revealed in recently released Presidential papers of then outgoing President Johnson (see Wikipedia under Vietnam War).
Candidate Nixon, with Henry Kissinger and Anna Chennault as messenger, told the South Vietnamese that they would get a better deal in the peace talks under a Republican administration than under the Democrats. Johnson found out, and wanted to expose Nixon as a traitor, but was advised that such an accusation could be socially destabilizing, so he didn’t. The result: Vietnam did not get settled under Democratic watch, and the U.S. proceeded to lose another 20,000 troops (plus a million Asians) before the Vietnam War was finally ended in 1975.
Lesson: Pulling just 33,000 U.S. troops by September, 2012, a month before the election, is another such cynical political calculation, designed to leave enough troops there (70,000) so that Afghanistan will not descend into chaos, as it likely will do, if the troops were mostly removed before the election, embarrassing the Obama administration with a lost war on its watch.
Sound like Vietnam 1968 all over again? The economic loss, and the loss in lives, will be the test.
Following is an except of an essay I’m writing on my experiences during the Vietnam War era:
“The confluence of my coming to adulthood, influenced by world affairs in the late 60s, and so much of my subsequent life, seem to all stem from events around that cataclysm which history now knows as the Vietnam War. Similar personal stories surely grow out of the current debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan, as they did from the Korean War, and other breakdowns of civilization through all of human history.
“As an adult touching old age, I now look at war as the most abominable form of wholesale natural selection, and I’m bitter that the politicians and counselors who commit us to our wars almost universally remain exempt from real personal consequences of their decisions, besides obligatory consolation of the bereaved and being the recipients of abusive rantings in the blogosphere. Instead, those “brave” leaders invariably commit a generation of excitable youth to be the proxies for their own complex, bruised egos, and plots to secure needed oil inventories and pressures to sustain the military/industrial complex. The young warriors lead the way with their own deaths and personal and family sacrifices, while the nation’s leadership continues to politic, govern, prosper and then move on to honored, gracefully reflective retirements, often discussing their “difficult” decisions in their memoirs and in endless book tours.”
A peaceful Memorial Day to all.
As the debate begins over what to do about our massive military presence in Afghanistan, in the wake of the death of Osama Bin Laden, and even Senate Foreign Relations committee chair Kerry questions what our goals now are in that country, I recalled the following excerpt from an essay I’ve recently written on my own Vietnam experience, as follows:
“Even back in those days of a military draft, most American men had managed, either through dumb luck, political connections or serial deferments, to dodge active military service. I had embraced my bad luck, as it were, and sought to make the most of it. In some ways I’d succeeded. In other ways, my own experience was a microcosm of the futility, the waste and the lies of war. America didn’t end the bloodshed in Vietnam until 1975, thanks in large part to the cynical political maneuverings of Nixon, Kissinger and Chennault before that seminal election in the fall of 1968. America had lost its first war. I was reminded of a quotation from Isaac Asimov I’d seen at the foundation museum in Gernika, Spain, site of Franco and Hitler’s carpet-bombing atrocity during the Spanish Civil War, “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.” My experience suggests that the gold bars I once worked so diligently to earn, and proudly wore, were largely worn in vain.”
Taking out Bin Laden is a milestone in recovering from 9/11. Now we should celebrate by accelerating getting out of Afghanistan, and continue doing so in Iraq — that would be the real “victory” for America. And by the way, have we learned our lesson? War is a very inefficient, self-destructive form of vengeance.
Here’s something to keep in mind as we mull over how and where to cut Federal spending.
I remember a quotation from Isaac Asimov I’d seen at the foundation museum in Gernika, Spain, site of Franco and Hitler’s carpet-bombing atrocity during the Spanish Civil War, “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.”
All the rumblings regarding intercession in Libya have me deeply concerned. Creating a so-called “no fly zone” strikes me as equivalent to a declaration of war. All this talk of coordination with our “allies” is reminiscent of our conversations at the beginning of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, and of course, it was the U.S. that was really out front and accountable for what happened. We can disapprove of internal issues in Libya, provide humanitarian support, act as diplomatic intermediaries, and exert influence over Libyan assets abroad. But militarily, if we don’t learn from our mistakes of the past years, and stay out of their country, we should just fold our own tent and disappear into the desert, along with the Roman legions.