Friday, April 2, 2010

An example of "intelligent government".

A passage from Marilyn Young's The Vietnam Wars illustrates how "intelligent" those who run our government can be! The passage also illustrates what happens when politics comes to be seen in tactical or managerial terms: Politics becomes banal. And this stuff is true!

"In an effort to harness the power of the word against the NLF charges that Diem was an American puppet, John Mecklin, the new head of the U.S. Information Service (USIS) in Saigon, announced a 'Name the Enemy Contest' to his Vietnamese staff in the spring of 1962....Mecklin offered a top prize of 3,500 piastres (U.S. $47) for a name that would 'describe the enemy in his true light, and will tend to turn the people against him.'...What was needed was something that would

'influence the Vietnamese people to regard the enemy in the most important (in your view) of the following ways: with contempt, as arrogant bullies, as foreign and/or Chinese puppets, as common criminals, with ridicule so the enemy loses face, with hatred, as traitors, as hypocrites, as crackpots or madmen, as children playing soldier, or as bloodthirsty murderers. Or perhaps the right answer is something that a Westerner would never think of? Maybe the term should be related to the way they dress...or the way they behave, or address each other, that can be made to look ridiculous or evil. Perhaps a colloquial peasant term implying disgust or ridicule? Or a term about the way they lecture everyone for hours and make villagers under their control learn silly songs and slogans.'" [p. 92]

"Rebranding" the enemy - that should work! Of course, what this ignores is the fact that people's impressions are linked to reality, to their experiences. For example, if the NLF was not seen as "the enemy" by "the Vietnamese people" - and the NLF was entirely Vietnamese - then this house of cards falls of its own weight or lack thereof. And this points to another delusion we Americans had, viz., that we spoke of some Vietnamese as invaders while we did not speak of ourselves in that way! So some Vietnamese had "invaded" their own country while we Americans, who were the foreigners in this scheme, had not "invaded!" This is the kind of "logic" that is unlikely to persuade anyone as it is so divorced from reality. But then we actually believed that South Vietnam was a nation and that we had created it in 1954, ignoring centuries of history and even the contemporary situation. Apparently, we thought that Ho Chi Minh was popular because he was "charismatic" or because he had good PR, not because he understood his country's situation and aspirations and he represented something real about the Vietnamese and Vietnam.

Again, I believe the same scenario, basically, is being played out in Afghanistan today. Afghanistan is the product of centuries of history and to think that we, as foreigners, well-armed foreigners, willing to kill even the innocent, can create a new "Afghanistan" is delusional. Or to put it more bluntly: It is madness, the kind of hubristic madness that explains our war in Vietnam. First the gods make crazy those they would destroy. Old saying....worth pondering.

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