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To die for an idea; it is unquestionably noble. But how much nobler it would be if men died for ideas that were true!

H. L. Mencken

You must view the movie, “The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers.” It is an Oscar-nominated 2009 documentary full of revelations on Vietnam, available on Netflix.

The film unveils and puts into perspective the series of political lies and misjudgments going back to Truman that resulted in the deaths of 2 million Vietnamese and 58,000 Americans, plus the as yet untold story of the collateral demise of two members of my own family. It is the tale of the daring illegal disclosure of the Top Secret Pentagon Papers that helped end the war. You’ll hear Nixon in his own words say things that should have put him on a guillotine.

I see more and more parallels to Afghanistan, and the sort of ingrown culture of lies and misjudgments that mislead and numb the vast majority of Americans to what WE are doing there, being paid for with YOUR MONEY and the LIVES of your friends and neighbors. As revealing documents and new perspectives come out on Afghanistan, now would be a good time to see this well done movie, or read the 2002 book on which it was based, and think about taking some contemporary political action on your own current observations and conclusions.

I served as a press officer in Vietnam, at the Department of Defense Information School and at the senior leadership organization in the military, The Army War College, and I didn’t know this much truth about Vietnam until I saw this film.

The Washington Post puts their finger on the issue today. Does the lack of civil engagement in our Iraq and Afghanistan wars (read professional military in place of a draft) signal a breakdown in military respect for civilian authority in the U.S.? Could be. The McChrystal mess may not be just a case of a public relations screw-up, but of a much deeper disease. In Vietnam, and I was there, there was a total breakdown in discipline of non-commissioned troops, but perhaps now the disease is reversed, with the professional officer corps, on an endless see-saw of combat assignments, feeling increasingly distanced from and cynical of civilian authority and wisdom.

If true, this is a dangerous development for our democracy. Just look at the headlines: we have great respect for those who have served and been injured and died, but little for those who sent them there. What’s next? Do we begin to trust and elect those in or of the military, and not our civilian leaders? Does the military elite begin to more openly display their disrespect for civilian authority, and begin to challenge it? Now is the time, I believe, for a return to citizen soldiers, and for those citizens who care about the country to demand peace.

I hate to give the Rolling Stone credit for anything, because I don’t relate to the publication, but as FAIR so correctly pointed out today, the McChrystal article was more a condemnation of the war strategy itself than of the recalcitrant General and his staff, and what FAIR characterizes as the mainstream “corporate media” failed to read, see and report that. Let’s hope the Congressional approval process for Petraeus brings that failed war strategy into the light of day.

Media Missing the McChrystal Point


“The media firestorm over the Rolling Stone profile (6/22/10) of General Stanley McChrystal mostly missed the real point of the article, which was a damning portrait of the U.S. war in Afghanistan.

“Much of the media coverage stressed the criticism and insults hurled by McChrystal and his staff at various administration figures. Some of these remarks were more substantive than others. A joke about Joe Biden (“Bite Me”) has been overblown; McChrystal and his staff seemed to be suggesting a list of possible gaffes the general might make following a speech.

“The real significance of the piece is in the criticism–voiced by soldiers in Afghanistan and military experts–of the war itself. “Even those who support McChrystal and his strategy of counterinsurgency know that whatever the general manages to accomplish in Afghanistan, it’s going to look more like Vietnam than Desert Storm,” wrote Rolling Stone’s Michael Hastings.”


Founded in 1968, and editorially grounded in the anti-war, music culture of the 60s and 70s, Rolling Stone magazine today succeeded in perhaps putting a big nail in the coffin of the war in Afghanistan. America’s most trusted man, Walter Cronkite, famously characterized the Vietnam war as a “stalemate” in 1968, putting a nail in that coffin, though it took 7 years more to end it. Let’s hope this one ends more quickly.

But funny thing, why did it take a feature story in a magazine, much less this flimsy magazine, to bring down a commanding general, and draw America’s attention to a war gone badly wrong? Because a reporter got a lucky break when a volcano left him holed up in Paris with McChrystal and his top team, and that team sort of bonded with the outsider, and trusted him to share their angst. Why didn’t Washington know what the McChrystal-ites were saying before the Rolling Stone published it? Why did it take a crummy, sensationalist music magazine to blow the top off? I suspect Washington knew well what the complaints of the McChrystal team were, but it was the light of day they feared. The public just couldn’t handle the truth; the troops just couldn’t handle the truth, the politicos quickly surmised.

Support for the war in Afghanistan is being held together with bailing wire, and is so fragile that a feature story by a freelancer in a magazine known as an anti-war rock’n-roll sheet could tip it over and bring down one of the country’s most respected military leaders. Who says Washington is not all about optics? The only rationale for staying in Afghanistan with the intensity we do is maintaining the optics of competence of the leadership that keeps us there. The Rolling Stone didn’t portray distorted optics, they spoke the truth. The truth that everyone except millions of our troops and citizens hadn’t yet seen. McChrystal had to go, to put those optics back together and restore the view through rose-colored glasses, a view of a strategic, well-planned and unified U.S. military mission in Afghanistan.

But the crummy magazine has done what the nation’s leading press and elected leadership can’t — they have exposed the chaos of our failed national strategy in Afghanistan.

May 2020

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