Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Vietnam Wars 1945-1990

Another discovery of a good book, [The Vietnam Wars, 1945-1990 by Marilyn B. Young] a good history of Vietnam that is not too detailed but enough so as to be educative. You can get it on Amazon used for under $2.00!!! One passage that I like:

"The French recognized the intimate connection between the Viet Minh and the population without bothering to contemplate its meaning. Rather, it was seen as a technical problem, to be dealt with tactically. Early in the war, an effort had been made to separate the people from the Viet Minh through the construction of thousands of forts that would keep the people in the Viet Minh out. [When this did not work] General Navarre...abandoned this static approach in favor of establishing a series of strong points, linked by highly mechanized mobile forces intended to seize the strategic initiative and 'mop up' the guerrillas. In some villages, mopping up meant arresting the entire male population between fourteen and sixty, and everywhere, a French observer wrote, the military 'had a record of pillage, violence, assassination, and of burning of the villages and the execution of the innocent.' In response, the Viet Minh turned their attention to ambushing the new mobile units, and at Dienbeinphu Giap directly engaged one of Navarre's 'hedgehog' forts by a feat of arms literally beyond the imaging of the French military.

"The meaning of Dienbienphu, Giap wrote on its fifth anniversary, was that it established a 'a great historic truth: a colonized and weak people once it has risen up and is united in the struggle and determined to fight for its independence and peace, has the full power to defeat the strong aggressive army of an imperialist country.' The French journalist Jules Roy, reflecting on the defeat many years later, understood. 'Apart from the French high commissioners who supported his government,...who indeed would dare to imagine that anybody could be expected to fight to enrich the big landlords and the provincial governors?...What kind of honor could be found in the ranks of H.M. Bao Dai's army, trained by the French and paid by the Americans?' Honor lay elsewhere, in a 'faith, which we had contemptuously dismissed as fanaticism, in which our military leaders refused to believe, and which had broken our battalions, our tanks and our planes.' An American aide to President Kennedy, however, after reading Giap's account of the battle, drew the ominously obtuse conclusion that 'in Southeast Asia today...there is not pervasive national spirit as we know it.'" [pp. 35-36]

Given this level of "analysis" it is little wonder that we were defeated in Vietnam. We, like the French, had no idea of who we were fighting and why our adversaries were fighting. We treated Vietnam as, by and large, "a technical problem, to be dealt with tactically." Of course, this is how we treat almost all our "problems" from education to drug use to terrorism and terrorists to Iraq and Afghanistan. We keep coming up short and wonder why. We are blinded by the light as it were.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Black Hearts

Black Hearts: One Platoon's Descent Into Madness in Iraq's Triangle of Death, is an excellent book by Jim Frederick. It describes with an honesty that is all too rare what it was like for soldiers in a part of Iraq after the American invasion, the dilemmas faced by these men and how and why some of them descended into what Frederick calls "madness." In particular, their madness led them to gang rape a 14 year old Iraqi girl and kill her family, father, mother, brother, and her to try to make the event look like it was undertaken by the insurgents. Here is one interesting passage:

"When the Americans invaded, the people in the neighborhood and throughout the region were optimistic. The U.S. bombing campaigns had ruined what little infrastructure there had been under Saddam, but the people were sure that the Americans wold bring not just peace and democracy but all of the electricity and water they would ever need, as well as new roads and sewer pipes. But soon, as they waited and waited, they realized...that was not going to happen - and that's when the trouble started. The area began to fall apart from neglect and violence....
"In the fall of 2005, the people of Yusufiyah started seeing a lot more Americans, but even this brought no relief. It was no exaggeration to say, in many locals' eyes, that the Americans were as bad as the insurgents. Not only did the locals not feel protected, they felt persecuted. The patrols the Americans ran were brutish. 'When they came to search a house, they would come without warning,' remarked Abu Muhammad. 'They would throw a flash-bang grenade by the door, storm in, scare the whole family.' The Americans would break things or even steal money and jewelry as they upended the house looking for evidence. They'd leer at the women, point guns at the men, shout at them in English. If the homeowners were lucky, after the soldiers had found nothing, they would get an insincere apology...."

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Insurgency Continues

Yes, the Republicans continue to battle "the insurgency." No, not in Iraq. Right here in the good, old US of A.

Senator Robert F. Bennett of Utah faces questions about whether he is "conservative enough" while running for re-election for a fourth term. He has drawn seven challengers and may not even be the Republican on the ballot and this despite the fact that he has been given consistently high ratings by the NRA, the US Chamber of Commerce, and the American Conservative Union.

Also, John McCain is facing a "consistently conservative" challenger and is threatened enough that he had to turn to Sarah Palin for support, or for hopes of support from Tea Party types. He seemed to need Sarah's imprimatur! Everyone knows by now that Palin and McCain did not jell - to say the least - during the presidential campaign. What to do? Grin and bear it, John, along with your wife, Cindy, who reportedly really did not care a whit for Palin or her clan. This might help McCain and it keeps Palin in the spotlight.

So the battle within of by the Republican Party with an insurgency continues. The party's "regulars" want to hold onto their power and privileges and, therefore, need to control or co-opt the Tea Partiers. The requirements of this battle will determine what the Republicans say and do, not a concern with the nation's well-being, to say nothing of a concern with the Democrats and defeating them. Hence, even if what they say and do leads to Democratic victories, like the recent victory on health care, the Republicans don't really mind - that is, so long as they preserve their power.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

More on Health Care Reform and the Republicans

There was a quick and harsh reaction to David Frum's argument that the Republicans had blown it by adamantly opposing Obama on health care reform, which seems to confirm my argument that the Republicans have little choice but to take such a stance in order to try to quell the insurrection, the insurgency of the Tea Party types. Representative Issa, from California, put Frum down because he was a staffer: "When you're a staffer, you're unaccountable...." Exactly! You are unaccountable to the Party and the prevailing Party hierarchy and, hence, your advice does not speak to our situation. In another situation this advice might be heeded but we need to protect our seats, our power, and that means, right now, trying to quell the Tea Party insurgency. If that means allowing Obama to prevail on health care reform, so be it. Or as another Congressperson put it: "'I will only incorporate your idea if you vote for the bill' tantamount to a bribe." Wow! Now that is some logic but it is a logic required by the situation. So the Republicans will maintain their defiance, perhaps even increase it, to please the Tea Party types and hold on to their power.

Politics is all about power, always has been and always will be. And the Republicans would just as soon allow Obama to pass legislation they, the Republicans, could have improved in order to maintain the status quo. Will it work? Ah, there is the rub. In a republic or a political order that always aspires to be a republic, outcomes are never certain. But as of now, the Republicans have little choice. Even John McCain, who once was a proponent of bipartisanship, is drawing lines in the sand. And, of course, he has to because he has a challenger from the Tea Party side of the aisle.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Obamacare: Thank You, Scott Brown

The New York Times on Sunday, March 21, ran an article purporting to explain how health care reform came back from the dead, so to speak. The article cited the proposed 40% increase in premiums by an insurance company in California and a letter from a woman in Ohio who had to choose between keeping her house or her health insurance. She chose the former. Now maybe these events changed things, maybe. But here is a better or at least another explanation.

The election of Scott Brown in Massachusetts' special election to fill the seat of the deceased Ted Kennedy did the trick. How so? Well, it is crucial to note that all politicians have at least two concerns, first, maintaining the political status quo which means continuing in office and maintaining the prevailing political alignments. Second, they are interested in getting some things done, advancing their agendas. Of course, as is only logical, the first is more important than the second. And as a result of Brown's election to the Senate this concern came into play for the Republicans with the result that Brown's election boxed them in with regard to health care reform.

It is important to recall that Brown was not propelled to office by virtue of Republican votes or influence. Rather, it was the votes of those like the Tea Partiers and their influence that led to his election. The Tea Partiers are not Republicans; they are an insurgency and, as such, threaten to upset the status quo, meaning voting even Republicans out of office and undermining the power of the Republican Party elites as those now exist. Hence, the insurgency had to be addressed. How to do that? Well, it required standing absolutely opposed to any health care reform worthy of a name and certainly against any such reform that looked consistent with what Obama and the Democrats wanted. In this way, the Tea Partiers, the insurgents, would be satisfied and, with luck, controlled, while not being ignored.

So, given the forces that elected Scott Brown to the US Senate, the Republicans could not budge on health care, could not compromise, and they became "the party of No," as Obama and Democrats put it. The Republicans became, for all practical purposes, obstructionists and little more. But obstructionism rarely works well in our political order - just ask Dennis Kucinich who tried to be an obstructionist on the Democratic side. Why is this the care? Long story. Made short it has to do with the character of "government," and the inherent notion that governments are suppose to be active.

But, bottom line, Obama perhaps saw this and moved to regain the "high ground" by presenting himself as willing to act, even to act in concert with the Republicans. But the Republicans could not meet him half way without undermining their support among the Tea Party types, i.e., the deeply disaffected from the "conservative" side of the aisle. The Republicans were between a rock and a hard place and, to preserve their power [the status quo within their party] they said "NO!" Because Obama does not have to worry about the Tea Party types - they will never vote for him or most of the Democrats - he does not have to worry about their insurgency and he can motivate his base by pointing out the illogic of the Republicans telling Democrats that if they pass health care reform they will be voted out of office in huge numbers. Why would the Republicans want to warn Democrats of their own impending doom? Doesn't make sense.

So, objectively as it were, after the election of Scott Brown, the political landscape favored Obama and reform. To his credit, Obama or someone with him noticed this and moved "forward," becoming "transparent" because it served their purposes and not because they were embracing "transparency" as a principle. Even Kucinich had to come along. Obama is no genius; he just read the tea leaves and acted accordingly. Good for him - and, I think, good for us.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Still More on Bloom

Entry 5: March 17, 2010
In the Chapter or section on “Relationships”, Bloom says the following about Hobbes and Locke: “Hobbes and Locke supposed that, although the political order would be constituted out of individuals, the subpolitical units would remain largely unaffected. Indeed, they counted on the family, as an intermediate between the individual and the state, partially to replace what was being lost in passionate attachment to the polity. The immediate and reliable love of one’s own property, wife and children can more effectively counterpoise purely individual selfishness than does the distant and abstract love country.” [p. 112]

This is, I believe, just unpersuasive and inaccurate. It is unpersuasive because it is almost inconceivable to me that thoughtful people who were looking to revamp the political order in fundamental and basic ways would think that what Bloom calls “the subpolitical units would remain largely unaffected.” How could this be? How human beings are politically is one crucial determinate of how they are “personally.” We the People are not the same people that we would be if we lived in a confederation rather than in a nation. For example, Robert E. Lee turned down the command of the Union forces because he was, first and foremost, a Virginian. This might seem quaint to us but it did not to Lee. The political arrangement as it existed then affected Lee’s very personality. I remain unconvinced that Hobbes and Locke were so superficial as to think that a fundamental realignment of the political would not affect “the subpolitical.” I mean, even Bloom calls it “the subpolitical.”

It is also inaccurate as one can see from reading Locke on marriage. For Locke, marriage is nothing more and nothing less than a “contract.” It is, for example, no longer viewed as a covenant. Hence, Locke posits that once a married couple has raised their children and liberated them after making them fit for the world, they can go their separate ways! So much for “love and marriage” or for the idea of marriage as a sacrament or covenant. Of course, Locke might have known already that once human beings embrace what we like to call “capitalism” today that marriage as traditionally understood would be an impediment to a full embrace of the “free market.” And if he did, then Locke did not see a contractual view of marriage as something which would undermine a civil society. Unlike present day “conservatives,” Locke did not romanticize the family or “family values.”

A few pages later, Bloom traces the divorce rate to just such changes in these subpolitical units and then adds: “None of this results from the sixties, or from the appeal to masculine vanity begun by advertisers in the fifties, for from any other superficial, pop-culture events. More than two hundred years ago Rousseau saw with alarm the seeds of the breakdown of the family in liberal society, and he dedicated much of his genius to trying to correct it.” [p. 115-16]

This is an enlightening passage for more than one reason. First, it is one of the few times that Bloom admits that the phenomena he is dealing with have roots that go much deeper than such contemporary phenomena as feminism, Marxism, black power, rock n’ roll, or any other such phenomena. Second, insofar as these phenomena are deeply rooted in the past then it is necessary to get beyond the snipping that all too easy when aimed at these more contemporary phenomena. But Bloom looks back to Rousseau which implies that the crucial changes lie in the distant past, e.g., in the thought of Hobbes and Locke and other distant political philosophers. But what if the crucial changes, at least for the United States, are not so distant, not so deeply buried, as it were? What if the crucial changes could be traced, say, to the ratification of the Constitution in 1787-1788? Ah, now there is a thought worth considering, perhaps. What if the Anti-Federalists were correct, that the ratification of the Constitution would undermine the basis of a genuine republicanism here in the United States and, therewith, undermine the moral fiber of the nation? Anyway, it seems worth thinking about, especially these days when there is so much dissatisfaction with our political system, enough that some states are trying to reclaim their sovereignty.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

More on Bloom

Thoughts on Bloom continued
March 13, 2010

Entry 4:
Bloom on music is, actually, quite humorous. Read this passage describing a 13 year old boy: “Picture a 13 year old boy sitting in the living room of his family home doing his math assignment while wearing his Walkman headphones or watching MTV. He enjoys the liberties hard won over the centuries by the alliance of philosophic genius and political heroism, consecrated by the blood of martyrs; he is provided with comfort and leisure by the most productive economy ever known to mankind; science has penetrated the secrets of nature in order to provide him with the marvelous, lifelike electronic sound and image reproduction he is enjoying. And in what does progress culminate? A pubescent child whose body throbs with orgasmic rhythms; whose feelings are made articulate in hymns of the joys of onanism or the killing of parents; whose ambition is to win fame and wealth in imitating the drag-queen who makes the music. In short, life is made into a nonstop, commercially prepackaged masturbational fantasy.” [pp. 74-75]

One cannot help but wonder whose fantasy this is….It just might be Bloom’s. But Bloom then goes on to link up rock music to Marxism, to wit: “Abstracting from the capitalist element in which it flourishes, [the left] regard it [rock] as a people’s art, coming from beneath the bourgeoisie’s layers of cultural repression. Its antinomianism and its longing for a world without constraint might seem to be the clarion of the proletarian revolution, and Marxists certainly do see that rock music dissolves the beliefs and morals necessary for liberal society and would approve of it for that alone.” [p. 77-78] I can only say, “WOW! What flights of imagination take hold in even the minds of those who are among the most intelligent people available.” It would seem that national security requires that we regulate rock n’ roll music as it makes us vulnerable to the Marxists! Again, “WOW” comes to mind.

This reminds of a story I heard from an old friend, may he rest in peace, who had attended the University of Rhode Island after emigrating here from Great Britain. He had to take a course in hygiene at URI – it was required of all students – and in that course a professor who said that if someone masturbated 20 times a week they would go blind. Seriously!! This is the kind of bullshit we were subjected to in those “good old days” Bloom seems to miss so much. Anyway, my friend said he almost burst laughing as he imagined a young man who had masturbated 19 times by the time Saturday rolled around trying not to masturbate until he got to Sunday for fear he would go blind!

Moreover, there is a much better, less simplistic and fear mongering take on rock n’ roll in an essay Eldridge Cleaver in his book, Soul On Ice, entitled “Convalescence.” In that essay, Cleaver links up rock n’ roll with the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. the Board of Education arguing that rock was doing what the Court’s decision was meant to do, integrate America society. As Cleaver put it in his essay, a great advantage of rock n’ roll, which is of course just the white man’s version of R & B, is that it taught whites to “shake their asses again.” As Cleaver notes, whites once had this ability but had lost it over time and needed to learn it again. That is, whites had to relearn that they were bodies as well as “minds,” which lesson would bring them closer to blacks, who represented the body rather than the mind. Cleaver also argued that this lesson would render whites healthy once again by rendering them whole.

Of course, Cleaver did not know that rock was actually part of a Marxist and masturbatory plot to overthrow the United States and even Western Civilization. But then there are all kinds of things we can learn from Bloom, even if many of these things would be worthy of a Walt Disney.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Bloom and TV

3d Entry: March 12, 2010

pp. 58-59: Bloom on Television
“Nietzsche said the newspaper had replaced the prayer in the life of the modern bourgeois, meaning that the busy, the cheap, the ephemeral, has usurped all that remained of the eternal in his daily life. Now television has replaced the newspaper. “

Now, this is a favorite whipping boy of those who feel that our souls are endangered in ways never present before. But how persuasive is this? When the prayer was the center of a life, were human beings so much better? This is really little more than a sophisticated version of the argument: “Well, two kids watched Beavis and Butthead and they burned down a house so these two kids did the same thing!” First: two out of how many? It is never said. And Bloom seems to think that when TV did not exist and everyone was reading books, all was fine with the world. But it wasn’t and, in part, because not everyone was reading books and even if they were all would not be fine. I mean when I was young, I attended mass all the time and priests said the mass in Latin. But they also were abusing young children and being protected by the church. Is that because the mass was said in Latin? I doubt it. It was because some priests were pedophiles and others, for whatever reasons, sought to protect these pedophiles. Every day, in elementary school, a passage from the Bible was read over the loud speaker. Did that make us better or touch our souls? No, because no one was listening! No one, to speak candidly, gave a shit because whatever was being read did not and could not touch us. But it made grownups feel better so it was done. No harm was done but no good was done either.

Bloom is continually falling into the trap of thinking there was, once upon a time, a golden time – long ago in the past or, for him, just before the 60s, when everything went to hell – for Bloom. This is comical, if you think about it. Before the 60s and advent of TV, rock n’ roll, drugs, the New Left, the Black Power movement, the feminist movement, the gay and lesbian coming out party, all was well in the United States. Children respected their parents, who in turn really cared for their children, related to them in healthy ways, and the schools were putting out philosophers right and left. Funny, though, I don’t remember my childhood that way at all. In fact, I would say that when I went to college – and this was before the 60s really became the 60s – people, students were pretty much like they are now. Most were there because, well, because someone thought it was a good idea. They might even had learned a thing or two while there. But it was a good time and that is what most remember about those years.

I mean would anyone want to resurrect the music of the 50s? The movies of the 50s? The race relations of the 50s? The male/female relations of the 50s? Just watch the TV show “Madmen” to answer these questions. And, you see, you can learn from TV.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Allan Bloom, "The Closing of the American Mind"

Although this book was published some time ago, I am now discussing it with two students, two of the best students at Assumption College, who have been reading it. They wanted a different perspective than they would get from other members of the Political Science Department who tend to think Bloom is the "cat's meow," as my folks use to say. So I thought I would post my musings here as they are relevant to politics in the United States even today. Which is why Bloom's book is a worthwhile unpersuasive as it ultimately is.

Thoughts on Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind
P. Schultz
Various Times

Entry March 10, 2010:

Page 42: Blooms says that when he was young he had a debate with a psychology professor at Cornell who said that his job was “to get rid of prejudices in his students.” For Bloom, this is comparable to ridding the world of a belief in Santa Claus! Wow, does Bloom really think that getting rid of some prejudices – e.g., that of American “exceptionalism” – is as easy as debunking the myth of Santa Claus? If so, it seems to me that Bloom could have profited from studying some psychology. Perhaps the psychology professor shared some of Bloom’s apparent delusion. Bloom then goes to say that it was his job to instill prejudices in his students, although he does not here state what these prejudices might be. So let’s consider some possibililities.

Perhaps Bloom would like to instill in his students some racial prejudices, such as the superiority of whites to blacks or vice versa. Or perhaps Bloom would like to instill in his students some anti-Semitism. Or perhaps – and this seems most likely to me – he wants to instill his students the prejudice that the American way of “democracy” – which he seems to take for granted and assert without argument – is “exceptional” and that we United Statesians are or at least were an “exceptional people.”

But then there are these sentences, which are to say the least quite remarkable: “Think of all we learn about the world from men’s belief in Santa Clauses, and all that we learn about the soul from those who believe in them. By contrast, merely methodological excision from the soul of the imagination that projects Gods and heroes onto the wall of the cave does not promote knowledge of the soul; it only lobotomizes it, cripples its powers.” [p. 42]

Now what do these sentences mean? Seriously. Leave aside the rather simplistic reference to Santa Claus as the illustration of “prejudice” that infects men’s souls. Although it is hard to leave that aside, as noted above. Can this prejudice really instruct us about the soul? Other prejudices are far more deeply embedded in our souls, such as the superiority of the American way of life – the conviction of which and the strength of which was demonstrated after 9/11 for all to see. It was there to see before 9/11 but not all could see it. It was less visible and even Bloom missed it.

But do these sentences mean that our most important beliefs are merely “prejudices”? And if they are, is the cultivation of such prejudices beneficial for the soul? If this is the case, then it would seem that it is not so much the truth that feeds the soul as it is prejudice. Could this be what Bloom thinks? It is at least a possibility.

2d Entry: March 10, 2010:

P. 26: Bloom on confronting his “relativistic” students: “If I pose routine questions designed to confute them and make them think, such as, ‘If you had been a British administrator in India, would you have let the natives under your governance burn the widow at the funeral of a man who had died,’ they either remain silent or reply that the British should never have been there in the first place.”

Both responses are interesting in ways Bloom doesn’t appreciate. Some of those not responding are tuned into Bloom’s game, his desire to “confute” them and they don’t want to play. Others, sympathetic to Bloom’s agenda, also don’t answer because that confirms their previously arrived at conclusion that their classmates are relativists! “Oh, look, those relativists can’t answer Bloom’s question. Well, they certainly can’t be trusted with defending Western Civilization!” But the British, apparently, could, even if it meant, as it did, colonizing other human beings without their consent!

The second answer though is really interesting because (a) it is not relativistic. It is passing judgment on Britain’s imperialism and condemning that phenomenon. This is hardly “relativistic.” Imperialism, even white, Western imperialism is unjust and perhaps inhuman. But apparently Bloom cannot see this or, rather, chooses to ignore it.

(b) It is correcting Bloom by saying, “Hey man, you are asking the wrong question. The more important question is not how British administrators should behave in their colonies but whether they should have colonies at all! And your question just obscures the more important question.” Indeed, it does. And this raises a further question: Just whom is Bloom’s enemy? Is the relativists or those who have different values than Bloom, who have a different understanding of justice, say, than Bloom? This needs clarification because insofar as it is the latter, Bloom cannot get away with dismissing those he is criticizing without confronting, head on, their arguments about justice. That this is probably the case is strengthened by Bloom’s argument on page 33, where he distinguishes between the civil rights movement “in its early days” and “the Black Power movement.” Bloom argues that the latter “had at its core the view that the Constitutional tradition was always corrupt and was constructed as a defense of slavery. Its demand was for black identity, not universal rights.”

Well, as a matter of logic, the last two are not diametrically opposed. In fact, in the thought of Malcolm X they fit together very well: “Yes, don’t forget I am a man,” Malcolm might be thought of as saying. “But also remember that I am a black man! And that means something in the United States that it does not mean in Muslim countries.” Hence, Malcolm abandoned his slave name, “Little” and went with “X” to illustrate that he did know his “real” name because of the injustice of slavery. This is, again, hardly relativistic.

Moreover, Lincoln was gave a speech, “On the Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions,” in which he said that the Constitution was defective, a thought Lincoln reiterated at Gettysburg when he called for “a new birth of freedom” because, apparently, the old one was defective or corrupt. So if Bloom wants to take on those who argued that the Constitution was corrupt from the outset, he has to take on Lincoln to say nothing of the Anti-Federalists.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Afghanistan and "Women"

This is a link to an article in the New York Times, Sunday, March 7, 2010 about what is being called the latest experiment by our military in Afghanistan. The plan is to send women Marines in with men Marines so the women can talk with Afghani women in order to gather "information." Of course, publicly, the emphasis is on information and not "intel" but stuff about the Taliban is more than welcome. Now it is worthwhile to think about this for a few minutes.

First: Can you imagine what would happen if someone, some politician, were to criticize this "experiment" as foolish? It would, in all probability, be interpreted as sexist, as an attack on using women to help "win hearts and minds."

Second: Try to imagine how bureaucrats will try to assess the success of this experiment. Of course, they have to do so quantitatively or by the numbers so they would count the number of "interactions" and the number of times these "interactions" were successful in gathering "usable intel." And, moreover, as this is an experiment conducted by the military and assessed by the military the resulting "progess reports" will find "progress." As noted before here, that is what "progress reports" are meant to show, "Progress!"

Third: Imagine the hubris involved in thinking that we can pluck a few women - or men for that matter - out of American culture and put them down in Afghanistan so that they can "relate" to the Afghani women after a few hours of "training." Do you need proof that we Americans think there is a "method" or "program" to solve every problem? Well, this is it. "Yeah, that should work. American women who don't even know the language of those to whom they speaking [well, not really as an interpreter is required] to say nothing of knowing absolutely nothing about the local situation are going to be able win over the confidence of these Afghani women, win their 'hearts and minds.' By the gods, do we really think that these women are so desperate, desperate housewives, so to speak, that they will flock to interact with these foreigners?" Doesn't seem likely, does it?

Now if you were going to have these women actually live, side by side, with the Afghani women for relatively long periods of time, that might work. "Might work..." But of course this is not the plan. Send in the troops, send in a few women with them, and the Afghanis will see we are really on their side! This is about as foolish as dropping food packages after you have bombed people to demonstrate that you are really their side! Yeah, that would work for me. Bomb my neighborhood and then drop food and I would rally to your side!! NOT SO MUCH.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Corson continued

[Before Corson, on the advice of a friend I am reading a book entitled "The Imperial Cruise" by James Bradley. It is an eye-opener about the US, during the presidency of Teddy Roosevelt, entering into the Pacific and Asia. Actually, the entry preceded Teddy somewhat, e.g., with the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in order to allow the Dole family and other whites to control the sugar industry in Hawaii. What is amazing is the racism that underlay our entry into Asia and especially our taking over of the Philippines in order to "civilize" the natives there because they were obviously unfit for self-government. Massacres and torture, including water boarding, were common to the US efforts to Americanize or civilize the Filipinos. Perhaps more on this later.]

What Corson knew was that the faith conventional types put in "methods" was misplaced. That is, it is an article of faith, deeply ingrained in us, a indelible part of our psyches, that there are methods that can be used to solve our "problems." For example, there was the theory of "modernization" which was all the rage in the 60s and 70s in academe and government, by which method we could be able to bring "3d world" countries into the "1st World." Of course, today there is a new method by which the world will be improved; it is called "globalization." This is the "new" method by which the benefits of commercialism will be spread throughout the world, even somewhat equally.

Of course, in Vietnam as in Afghanistan today, there were methods that would "work." There was "search and destroy" on the military side and "pacification" on the non-military side. These were the methods that would "work" and by which we would "conquer" and change Vietnam, for its own good of course. It is important to underscore the significance of such beliefs, of this common belief in the overpowering character of methods, so as to understand those persecuting the war as they understood themselves. They did not see themselves as engaging in inhuman activities because they were, in their own minds, just doing what "the method" required. This is why Robert Strange McNamara - his real full name - never could think of himself as a "war criminal" or even as an "imperialist." He was in his own mind merely a functionary who was following "the method" he had learned. He bore the Vietnamese no ill will and he functioned, in his own mind, without any malice aforethought.

What makes Corson's book so interesting is that he rejected this faith in "the method" or, more generally, in "methods." Corson knew that there was no method by which the US could "win hearts and minds." He knew that there was only one way to go and that was to be with the Vietnamese, that is, the ordinary Vietnamese, living with them, living like them, and even dying with them when necessary. One of his strokes of genius was to have his men learn to play a game that the Vietnamese played all the time, a game that sounds like a form of checkers. Now can you see a bureaucrat trying to "methodize" this activity? Can you see a bureaucrat trying to come up with a way to measure the success of such activity? It cannot be done. So the bureaucrats do what they can and that makes them the prisoners of their own delusions. They will count how many Vietnamese were "relocated" - read "forced to leave their homes and their fields of rice" - because this is something that can be "methodized" and counted. Bureaucrats will count the number of elections held and the number of voters because they can count those things. But they cannot measure in any realistic way the impact of playing an indigenous game on the Vietnamese. What Corson knew or learned in Vietnam is that a bureaucratic mindset is obfuscating, not enlightening, that it does not undermine but rather supports the delusions of those in power. It is often said - untruthfully by the way - that the Americans won all the battles in Vietnam but still lost the war. But this delusional, pure and simple. Obviously, the Americans were not "winning" the battles; they just thought they were "winning." Just as we think we have won in Marja, in Afghanistan, so too we thought we had "won" at Khe San and so many other places in Vietnam. As the Vietnamese commander says near the end of the movie, "We Were Soldiers Once": "The Americans will think they have won this battle and the war will go on longer but the outcome will be the same." Yes, it would and it did.