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.

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