Friday, April 13, 2018

American Hypocrisy

-->
American Hypocrisy
P. Schultz

            Tonight, April 13, after he launched a missile attack on Syria, Trump addressed Russia and Iran in his speech as follows: “What kind of a nation wants to be associated with the mass murder of innocent men, women, and children?”

            Well, to answer his question, Trump might want to ask America’s allies because this is a nation that also has committed “mass murder of innocent men, women, and children.” He might also want to ask nations that have allied themselves with the Israelis, who also have committed “mass murder of innocent men, women, and children.”

            Here is one link that points to the hypocrisy that characterizes Trump’s thinking and that of many Americans. Read it and weep: https://consortiumnews.com/2018/03/22/how-many-millions-of-people-have-been-killed-in-americas-post-9-11-wars-part-one-iraq/.
Indeed. How many millions has the US killed since 9/11? Hard to say but it is several millions at least.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

1962: How American Government Works


1962: How American Government Works
P. Schultz

            The year is 1962, John F. Kennedy is president, Robert Strange McNamara is Secretary of Defense and they confront a war in Vietnam. Now, in the conventional understanding of how our government works, these men, and others, are trying to decide what would be the best course of action for the United States and to make that decision they – and others – are investigating, making assessments of “the facts” from which they can draw conclusions.

            Well, would that it were so. But it wasn’t. As the book by John M. Newman, JFK and Vietnam: Deception, Intrigue, and the Struggle for Power, makes clear, there were many involved in this decision who were willing to deceive, engage in intrigue in order to ensure that the United States would commit its soldiers to the war in Southeast Asia, and President Kennedy was apparently not among them. And this deception, this intrigue came to a head in 1962 at McNamara’s fifth SECDEF conference, which was, as Newman concludes, “a watershed event in more ways than one.”

            At that conference, with the approval and participation of General Harkins, who was the head of our effort in Vietnam, “The Secretary of Defense was purposely misled on nearly all of the crucial aspects of the war: the size of the enemy; the number and quality of enemy operations versus the number and quality of friendly operations; the territory controlled by the enemy versus the territory controlled by friendly forces; the number of desertions from South Vietnam’s armed forces; the success of the placement of U.S. intelligence advisors; and the problems with [South Vietnam’s] Self Defense Corps. The maps, the statistics, and briefings he was given led him to remark at a press conference after the meeting that ‘every quantitative measurement . . . shows that we are winning the war.’” [p. 255]

            And there is more. At an earlier SECDEF conference, there was ambiguity about the enemy’s “order of battle,” that is, about the number and disposition of the Viet Cong’s and North Vietnamese forces. Of course, the order of battle is probably the most crucial information to be had in a war as it establishes how many of the enemy there are, where they are, the weaponry they possess, their ability to resupply their troops, and their morale. So McNamara ordered that a special group be formed to come up with a definitive account of the enemy’s order of battle. Such a group was formed and they concluded after an intensive investigation that the strength of the enemy in numbers was 40,000 hard-core troops in the Viet Cong.

            Now, as this figure was considered far to high by the Air Force colonel, a Col. Winterbottom, who had given an earlier and much smaller estimate of the enemy’s strength, he told the men who had arrived at the 40,000 figure that they had to lower it. “As the middle of April [1962] neared, the order of battle team ‘had a figure which we were fairly firm on,’ Benedict [a team member] reports; ‘the local force battalions and recognizable guerrilla units were over 40,000.’ This figure simply ‘blew away’ Winterbottom. He ‘flat said that was unacceptable.’ To their amazement, Winterbottom ordered them to come up with a lower one.” [p. 242] But because most of the members of the order of battle of team were military, they felt that they had to obey Winterbottom’s orders. They then concocted a scheme by which they could lower the 40,000 number to 20,000 “confirmed” enemy, with another 10,000 being “probable,” and with another 5,000 being “possible.” But this number “was still unacceptable to Winterbottom, who was after a much lower number.” [243] And because two members of the order of battle team were a threat to Winterbottom, one who was a civilian and the other who worked in the Pentagon, Winterbottom had these two men taken “off the order the battle study and assigned other duties.” [243] The final number that was presented to McNamara was 16,305!

            In another little drama, just before McNamara arrived for his SECDEF conference in May 1962, a multi-colored map had been prepared to show the Secretary of Defense, red representing “VC in ascendancy,” blue representing “VC controlled areas,” yellow depicting “GVN ascendancy,” and white representing “neither VC or GVN control.” As Newman describes the event: “[General] Harkins apparently assumed that since he had cut the enemy hard-core forces to just over 15,000, the map would reflect this figure, and he never actually looked at it until the night before McNamara’s arrival. That evening he presided over a rehearsal of the briefing he would give to the Secretary the next morning. Harkins and his entourage entered the room and took their seats. ’Oh my God!’ Harkins blurted out, spotting the map. ‘We’re not showing that to McNamara!’ The map got ‘edited’ then and there. Winterbottom stripped off large portions of acetate depicting enemy areas, and replaced it with acetate depicting neutral or government areas. Allen [the civilian member of the team], who witnessed the entire event, recounts General Harkins directed while Winterbottom physically removed and changed ‘large chunks’ of the acetate overlays. In all, Harkins and Winterbottom removed about one-third of the ‘enemy-controlled’ areas, and converted about half the ‘neutral’ areas to ‘government’ control. [The falsified ‘measles map’ was declassified at the author’s request in 1988.]” [249]

            So, there you have it. A little peek into how our government operates, even at the highest levels. And with this peek you will understand why I use to tell students in my classes, “Don’t believe anything the government tells you, unless you have confirmation from other, independent sources.” And what was cost of these lies? At least 58,000 + American military deaths, hundreds of thousands of maimed and crippled Americans and Vietnamese, and millions of Vietnamese deaths. And no one was held responsible.

           

Monday, April 2, 2018

The Indecency of the Decent

-->
The Indecency of the Decent
P. Schultz

            Recently, as I was involved in an exchange of letters with an old friend, actually an old girl friend with whom I had not been in contact with for many years, I was reminded of a passage in Graham Greene’s The Quiet American. In that passage, the narrator, Thomas Fowler, is talking about Alden Pyle, the quiet American, who is in Vietnam in order to “save” that country from the Communists and has managed to commit an atrocity that he thinks will help his cause.

            And Fowler says of Pyle: “What’s the good? He’ll always be innocent, you can’t blame the innocent, they are always guiltless. All you can do is control them or eliminate them. Innocence is a kind of insanity.”

            I was reminded of this quote because my former girlfriend, who is Republican and a Trumpette, has claimed in her letters to me that what she wants is to recreate the “civility,” the “stability,” the “morality” that use to exist in the United States but that exists no longer. It dawned on me that she thought nothing of her desires, that is, she thought nothing could be more self-evident than restoring such things as they once existed. Certainly, she gave no thought to the harm she might do in pursuing and achieving her goals. After all, what could be controversial or dangerous about restoring civility, stability, and morality? She was convinced that her politics, like those of Trump and other right wingers, was harmless.

            But that got me to thinking and I wondered whether in fact her desire to restore decency to American society was as harmless as she assumed it was. And that would depend on whether the decency that she pined for had been harmless in its earlier manifestation. What did constitute decency when she and I were in high school and college in the 60s?

            Well, one aspect of that decency was a condemnation of homosexuality and homosexuals. Such condemnation was the decent thing to do then because it wasn’t enough to let gays and lesbians alone, let them be. Moreover, another aspect of that decency was condemnation of interracial romantic relationships and even interracial relationships of a non-romantic character. My mother, who allowed my brothers and I to play with the Weathers family, a black family, was criticized for that behavior, especially when Jimmy came to our house to play or we went to his house to play. That was the decent thing to do in those days and it was my mother who was, according to many, behaving indecently.

            You see, the problem with decency and the decent is that they depend on judgments rendered elsewhere, as it were, judgments that reflect the prejudices and hatreds of the broader society. In a racist society or a homophobic society, as society was in the 60s, decency requires that the decent be racist or homophobic. It is like when in Huckleberry Finn, Huck Finn decides that he will not turn Jim in even it means that he will burn in hell for his actions. In a racist society, racism is the decent thing to do, even that which is required by the gods or by god. But undeterred even though convinced of his own indecency, Huck will do the indecent thing even at the price of his eternal life.

            I knew a young man in the 60s who I suspect was gay. Without being required to do so, this young man enlisted in the armed forces, went to Vietnam where he died. I imagine in some sense that possibility didn’t look so bad given how indecently he would have had to live as a gay man in American society in those days. And if he had survived, who would dare question his “manhood?”Maybe, he thought, he could even reclaim "it" from his demons, proving he was a "real man."

            The decent people often, in fact very often behave indecently as Alden Pyle did – and many other Americans as well – in Greene’s Vietnam. But as Fowler noticed, “you can’t blame the innocent, they are always guiltless. All you can do is control them or eliminate them.” Because, after all, “innocence is a kind of insanity.” And like lepers, Fowler asserts elsewhere, the innocent ought to be required to wear bells so we know when they are present and we can protect ourselves from their madness. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

JFK and Vietnam: Blinded by the Light


JFK and Vietnam: Blinded by the Light
P. Schultz

            I am reading an interesting book, Death of a Generation: How the Assassinations of Diem and JFK Prolonged the Vietnam War, by Howard Jones.

            At one point, Jones asserts that “Lacking any understanding of these people, US observers attempted to explain their motives in terms that were meaningful to Westerners.” [p. 271] I believe what this means is that Westerners deal with political life – and perhaps life itself – as a series of problems, trying to solve each one with the application of expertise of one kind or another. So, for example, people in the US today conceive that there is “a gun problem,” just as in Vietnam when Kennedy was president there was “a Buddhist problem,” “an infiltration problem,” and/or “a corruption problem.”

            But as Jones intimates, it is questionable how much understanding this approach, this mindset promotes. And it seems to me that while it promotes what might be called “wide understanding,” it does not promote “deep understanding.” As a result, our politicians are left with a superficial understanding of the situations they confront.

            So, when the Buddhists rebelled in 1963 in Nam, JFK and his advisers were not aware of it’s meaning, of its depth or importance. As Jones puts it: “The Saigon event blindsided the Kennedy administration. ‘How could this have happened?’ the president stormed to Forrestal.” [p. 271] And “Years afterward [CIA agent] Trueheart made a revealing confession: ‘Nobody guessed the Buddhists had such an important role to play. We had zero knowledge of Buddhism.’” [271]

            This is as much to say that JFK and his advisers has no real knowledge of Vietnam. Whatever knowledge they possessed was superficial; it lacked the depth that would have allowed the administration to understand the Vietnamese and their society. The administration did have expertise of various kinds, political, economic, social, and military but this expertise only guaranteed that they saw widely, not that they saw deeply. And lacking such knowledge, JFK and his advisers did not know, could not know what “the Saigon event,” the Buddhist revolt, meant. They were even tempted to explain it with reference to drug use among the Buddhists, the influence of the Viet Cong on the Buddhists, or with such flaccid phrases as “religious fervor,” as if that explained anything. As one person pointed out, however, “Any threat to Buddhism, especially coming from a ‘non-Buddhist minority,’ could draw ‘a more personal and spontaneous response from the ordinary Vietnamese peasant than Viet Cong political propaganda.’” [278-79]

            Taking social and political phenomena as “problems” to be “solved” by the application of expertise blinds us to the context in which these phenomena occur. For example, to think that there is “a gun problem” in the US blinds us to an alternative view, viz., the US society is a violent society, that the American people are a violent people. To see a gun problem in the US is to see superficially, to confuse a symptom for a cause. It is like identifying drug dealing as our drug problem, thereby ignoring drug use, which is most often voluntary, as a deeper, more important phenomenon. By focusing on drug dealing and drug dealers, whose motives are clear to us, we don’t raise the more important issue: Why is drug use in the US so widespread? What is it about our society, about our way of being in the world that accounts for our use of illegal drugs?

            So, seeing superficially as JFK and his administration did, thereby failing to know what the Buddhist revolt meant, JFK and his administration found themselves drawn to assassinations, to killings, then to full-scale war to try to solve its “Vietnam problem.” Just as politicians, domestically, embraced making war on poverty, on crime, on drugs, and on terrorists to solve those problems. And not surprisingly these domestic wars have been as unsuccessful as was the US war in Vietnam. It turns out that, contrary to what our “realists” claim, power is never enough and power devoid of understanding is quite useless.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Time for Change? The Resignation of President Trump

-->
Time for Change? The Resignation of President Trump
P. Schultz

            Is now the time to make a significant, even radical change in how our constitutional order functions, viz., by forcing President Trump to resign?

            Sounds weird no? Of course it does and this is because the Constitution of 1787 established fixed terms of office for all the offices it created, supplemented by an impeachment process that could result in removal from office. So, we Americans are not accustomed to thinking of tenure in office as unfixed, as something that would reflect a less certain, a less established period of time. But perhaps it is time to change this scheme, to adopt the practice more common in parliamentary systems of less permanent, less secure tenures of office.

            One advantage of such a scheme, especially if done “informally,” that is, without actually amending the Constitution, would be to make government more responsive to changing circumstances. Another advantage would be to facilitate the removal of officials/politicians who demonstrate “ethical deficits,” such as abusing their power and position in inappropriate ways, whether their behavior was sexually or financially inappropriate. Moreover, such a change might help direct, focus, or contain the “rumor mongering” that has come to characterize our political “discourse” insofar as such behavior, to be legitimate, would need to be linked to a political objective.

            Further, although such a practice seems strange to us Americans, it shouldn’t. After all, LBJ was driven from the presidency in 1968 for his Vietnam policies when he decided not to seek re-election. And his successor, Richard Nixon, was driven from the presidency via the threat of impeachment, as a result of Watergate, his domestic spying, and his Vietnam policies. And some would argue that President George H.W. Bush was also denied or relinquished the presidency in 1992 by the threat of exposure of his subversion of President Carter in the 1980 presidential election when he, and others, made a deal with the Iranians not to release the hostages before that election. And, of course, there have been numerous Congresspersons who were forced from office before their tenure expired, ala’ Senator Al Franken of Minnesota just recently. There has even been an example of a Supreme Court Justice being forced to resign, viz., Abe Fortas.

            So, why not make this practice a legitimate part of our constitutional order? To do so doesn’t require any formal changes to the Constitution insofar as many of our changes to our constitutional order, and even some of the most important ones, have occurred “informally,” i.e., without benefit of formal amendments to that document. Constitutional doctrines and practices, like “separate but equal” and “freedom of expression,” were created informally, and the former, “separate but equal,” passed away in the same way. In other words, constitutional changes, even significant constitutional changes have occurred without benefit of constitutional amendments.

            So, why not now openly embrace a movement to force President Trump, because he is unfit to be president, to resign his office? That is, why not treat this practice as a legitimate exercise of political power in our constitutional order, one that is consistent with what we like to think of as a “republican” or “representative” form of government? Seems like a good idea to me.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

American Politics 101: Persons, Policies, and Paradigms


American Politics 101: Persons, Policies, or Paradigms
P. Schultz

            It dawned on me recently, when thinking about an email I got from a really good friend who I have known since high school, that there are different ways of thinking about American politics. The friend wrote that she had noticed that I didn’t care for Hillary Clinton and, more generally, didn’t care for anybody in the political arena these days. She concluded, rightly, “It is hard to see where that goes.”

            She was correct in her characterization of my opinion and in her question about where it left me or others, and it got me wondering just what it was I was doing. Am I just a cranky old man who doesn’t like anybody involved in politics these days? And, if so, where does such an attitude take or leave me? Hmm?

            Then I realized that while my friend was correct in her summation of my attitude towards those involved in our political processes these days, she missed the reason or reasons underlying that attitude. And to see the reason[s], it is necessary to see that it is possible to think about our politics in at least three different ways: In terms of persons, in terms of policies, or in terms of paradigms.

            If you focus on persons, as an awful lot of Americans do, then you will focus on, say, Trump versus Obama or Obama versus Bush. Who is the better person? Who made or is making a better president? Who is more or less trustful? And, more generally, why can’t we the people seem to elect the right people, those who will fix our allegedly broken political system?

            If you focus on policies, again as an awful lot of Americans do, then you will focus on liberal policies versus conservative policies. Under this view, government and politics is or should be all about making and implementing certain policies, namely, those that will serve the national interest or the common good.

            If you focus on paradigms, however, you are not so much interested in who gets elected or what policies get made as you are with the paradigm within which our political process plays out. For example, if you focus on the contention that we in the United States, in the pursuit of national greatness, have consented to the creation of a national security state resting on what Eisenhower called “the military-industrial complex,” then who gets elected or what policies they recommend or make is not of great importance because unless the paradigm is changed, the outcomes are going to be pretty much the same regardless of who is elected or what policies are made.

            For example, Trump supporters like to say that he is a proponent of “small government” and that his efforts to limit the reach of the national government through deregulation are evidence of this agenda. But insofar as these efforts take place within and don’t challenge the legitimacy of our national security state, it can only be said that, at most, Trump favors smaller, not small, government. Moreover, so long as the established paradigm goes unchallenged, Trump’s “smaller government” will still be a pervasively powerful national government, able when it deems it necessary to invade our privacy in almost anyway it wishes. The fact of deregulation, which is what Trump endorses, does not undermine in itself the legitimacy of regulation and, so, the next president will be able to reinstate regulations that Trump trashed.

            In fact, Trump’s own actions or proposed actions have illustrated this very phenomenon. He trashed a Democratic/Republican inspired regulation that allowed state governments to drug test certain categories of people who qualified for and received unemployment benefits, tests that previously had been illegal. However, now Trump is proposing that another such regulation be created, one that would be even broader, cover even more people, than the regulation he trashed. This is hardly a way to create “small” or even “smaller” government. And it puts the lie to Trump’s claim, more generally, that he is a proponent of “small” government. He isn’t and he could not be so long as he accepts the legitimacy and desirability of the national security state or the goal of “making America great again.” A great nation needs a great government and a great government will be, always and everywhere, a pervasively powerful government. To think otherwise is to be delusional.

            It is fairly easy to see that the first two ways of viewing our politics serve to preserve the status quo because unless the underlying paradigm of our politics is challenged and changed, it won’t matter so much who gets elected or what policies are enacted. They will, willy nilly, serve the status quo. And those like Trump, who likes to think he is challenging that status quo, will in fact merely serve to reinforce it.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Why Tump Cannot "Drain the Swamp"


Why Trump Cannot “Drain the Swamp”
P. Schultz

            President Trump labeled Washington, D.C. “a swamp” when he was running for president and he promised “to drain” it if elected. So far, “the Donald” has been anything but successful in “draining the swamp.” And there is a simple reason why: Because D.C. is not a swamp. It is a political artifact; so the only way to change it is to adopt a different kind of politics.

            “A political artifact, you say. What does that mean?”

            Well, as some of the Anti-Federalists foresaw, the ten mile square governmental district that was to be established after the proposed constitution was ratified reflected a kind of politics that would be inconsistent with a republican scheme of government. For the Anti-Federalists, a genuinely republican scheme of government was one that was a reflection of the people it governed, not a refinement as the Federalist wanted. For the Anti-Federalists, to be a republic meant to be representative and to be representative meant to be reflective; that is, a republican government should look like, even mirror the people.

            For the Anti-Federalists, the proposed constitution did not look to, was not calculated to create a government reflective of the people. It was meant to be a refinement of the people, meaning that there would be distance, both demographic and geographic, between the new government and the people. And the ten mile square district to be created would help maintain these distances. That district would be something like a refuge, a place set apart from the people and, hence, from the popular will. Life in that district would not resemble life outside it, which is recognized today when people speak about life “inside the beltway” and life outside it. It is also reflected by the fact that most Americans go to Washington as tourists, much as they go to foreign countries.

            Insofar as this is correct, then contrary to what Trump – and many others – think, “the swamp” that is D.C. can only be changed by adopting a more republican scheme of government or kind of politics. That is, we need to recover the understanding of a “republican government” as a government that reflects the people and their will, that seeks to follow, not refine, the popular will. How to do this? Besides jettisoning the thought that we the people need “visionary leaders,” term limits would help as would having presidents vacate the White House, thereby separating the president’s residence from his office, or his persona from his official status, like other modern executives. Trashing “Hail to the Chief” would also help.

            As has been argued here frequently, our problems, our issues, our defects are political problems, political issues, and political defects. They cannot be adequately dealt with except by changing our politics. Otherwise, as in attempts to “drain the swamp” that is said to be D.C., our politics will be “Promethean;” that is futile.