-- Daniel Ellsberg, Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and The Pentagon Papers
“Nixon had no readiness at all to see Saigon under a Vietcong flag after a ‘decent interval’ of two or three years -- or ever… And so it meant that the war would essentially never end. His campaign promise of ending the war was a hoax.”
On Friday, George W. Bush arrived in Vietnam with the intention of strengthening business ties with that nation and used his photo op to make one of the most jaw-dropping statements of his presidency regarding the subject of history. “History has a long march to it,” he banally proclaimed as we all yawned, recalling that his major at Yale, where he barely managed to maintain a 2.3 average, was history. Then came the clincher as Bush was asked if any lessons from Vietnam apply to the war in Iraq: “One lesson,” he babbled, “is that we tend to want there to be instant success in the world, and the task in Iraq is going to take awhile. It’s just going to take a long time for the ideology that is hopeful, and that is an ideology of freedom, to overcome an ideology of hate. We’ll succeed unless we quit.”
Oh really, the “lesson” of Vietnam is that we shouldn’t “quit”? There it is again, that Orwellian mindset that has pervaded this administration; war is peace, and evil is good. No one should be shocked that Bush has no sense of history, that he has never read anything beyond the Reader’s Digest version of it, and that he willfully ignores the genuine lessons of the Vietnam era, but every American should be outraged by this statement, but one of the myriad reasons the vast majority of Americans have allowed the most criminal administration in the history of this nation to continue unabated, with nary a peep of indignation, is that they themselves have so little knowledge of their history.
Listen further to Daniel Ellsberg: “What I was hearing was not just that the war was going to go on, indefinitely, but that it would get larger, eventually larger than it had ever been.” In his memoir, Secrets, we are shown incontrovertible evidence that what drove the former Rand Corporation economic analyst to hide top-secret, classified documents, which became the Pentagon Papers, in his brief case upon leaving the Defense Department every night and thereby risk serving decades in prison, was moral outrage over the appalling reality that the Nixon administration had no intention whatsoever of ending the Vietnam War, but in fact, was actively engaged in continuing it for as long as possible. Are we shocked that the Bush administration lied us into war? Almost all U.S. presidential administrations have lied into war, but never as blatantly as this one has.
As noted in my new book, U.S. HISTORY UNCENSORED: What Your High School Textbook Didn’t Tell You, in the early 1960s, a decade prior to Ellsberg’s employment at the Defense Department, Air Force Colonel, L. Fletcher Prouty worked in the Pentagon as chief of special operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Kennedy administration. His experience corroborates seamlessly with Ellsberg’s as Prouty observed that in the early days of the Vietnam conflict, the U.S. was not only financing the French against the North Vietnamese, but was also financing the North Vietnamese. Why? Because the military-industrial complex is amoral and doesn’t quibble over “sides” but how to most effectively bloat the profits of war. “War is the best business in town,” opines Prouty, echoing the words of the World War I hero, General Smedley Butler and his famous indictment that “War is a racket.” In my book I recount the story of an attempt by pro-fascist corporate capitalists in the 1930s to enlist Butler into leading a coup against Franklin Roosevelt in order to implement a fascist government. Pretending to go along with the coup, Butler later disclosed its details to Congress, but no action was taken against the coup plotters.
Lest my inbox become glutted with e-mails reminding me that Prouty was a Scientologist, I hasten to add that his religious beliefs pale by comparison with the documentation he provided us regarding the JFK assassination and the Pentagon’s Vietnam policies. My point is that we can pick an administration -- any administration, Democratic or Republican, since the end of World War II, and despite its rhetoric, it will upon investigation, reveal itself as subservient to the war machine, doing whatever it takes to feed that mechanism, either during the infinite wars it has fueled or in between them.
Moreover, another lesson of history that the Bush administration ignores is that asymmetric wars cannot be “won” but merely endured, and while that serves the strategy of infinite war, history is replete with examples of how it decimates a citizenry and its resources. Stan Goff, Ret. U.S. Army Special Forces, former West Point instructor, and author of Full Spectrum Disorder, describes asymmetric warfare as “When they retreat, pursue. When they attack, retreat. Match your strengths to their weakness.” A stunning example of asymmetric warfare is Hezbollah’s victory over the Israeli occupation forces in Lebanon in the summer of 2006. Asymmetric warfare is a gradual wearing down of the enemy and his resources and morale. Furthermore, Goff writes, “The U.S. inflicted a terrible empirical toll on Southeast Asia and ultimately lost the Vietnam War. The U.S. never grasped the political character of that war.” Nor did the U.S. grasp the will of traditional peoples to use non-conventional means to fight conventional wars. For example, even though the U.S. military had highly sophisticated weapons technology in the Vietnam War, hundreds of Vietnamese people were willing to rip up railroad tracks with their bare hands, dealing strategic blows to American forces as sectarian violence in Iraq, a textbook example of asymmetric warfare, is now doing.
Try as you may, Mr. President, you cannot “pretzelize” history to fit your political and war machine agenda. Distort it however you wish, it will have the last word. Goff said it best in his recent article, “Reflecting On Rumsfeld:
The United States is not suffering from some collective personality disorder called compassion fatigue. We are suffering from the most well-funded thought-control experiment in history, more sophisticated and deadly by many orders of magnitude than anything contrived by Kim Jong Il -- the latest bete noir of American public discourse, and we are suffering from the complicity of journalistic hacks like Judith Miller and the anodyne intellectual narcotics of policy think tanks.
It is our empathy that is under attack, because if it is aroused to a point where Iraqis or Afghans or even our own imperial soldiers become real people (and not a yellow-ribbon magnet), the jig is up.
So here is a simple reminder. This war is wanton cruelty in our name; there is no rationalization that can mitigate or excuse it; “we” will not win it and somehow transmogrify a swine into a swan ... and it is not over.
What Vietnam teaches us, Mr. President, is that war is the “health of the state” as described by World War I progressive Randolph Bourne, and as long as the American people allow you or any other president to lie us into wars, you will do so, perpetuating the Iraq War as long as possible -- as long as the Nixon administration attempted to perpetuate Vietnam: forever. And, in order to justify your crimes against the world and the American people, you and your military industrial complex must turn history into chopped liver.
Carolyn Baker, Ph.D. is author of U.S. HISTORY UNCENSORED: What Your High School Textbook! Didn’t Tell You which can be ordered at her website www.carolynbaker.org where she may also be contacted.