War and The Politics of War
September 9, 2013
Below you will first read a quote from an article sent to me by a friend, the link to which is at the end of my comments in response to said quote. Enjoy.
"In his book He Came Preaching Peace, John Howard Yoder wonders why it is so hard for political leaders to admit mistakes, to confess they were wrong. He asks, for instance, if it was necessary to withdraw American soldiers from Vietnam in 1975, or from Beirut in 1983. "Why can it not be admitted that it was wrong to send them there in the first place? Why can the statesman not afford to advocate peace without saying it must be 'with honor'? Why must the willingness to end the war be dulled or perhaps even denied by the demand that we must still seem to have won it?" I think the answer to Yoder's perfectly sensible questions is quite simple: to acknowledge a policy or a strategy was mistaken is thought to betray the sacrifices made by those who as a result of the policy died."
This quote is from this excellent article that you sent. But it is only partly right, I think, because it is insufficiently political. Part, and I think a greater part, of the answer to these questions is that lost wars undermine political orders or, as I like to say, '"established orders," and those in power in the established orders cannot abide by that as it is the established order that gives them their sense of worth. Nazi Germany arose from defeat.
If Vietnam were "lost" and the cause admitted to be dishonorable, then the "peaceniks" and the "hippies," the Eugene McCarthy's and the George McGovern's, and other "subversives" would have been right and they could have claimed "the power." This is why LBJ and Nixon fought in Nam even though they knew they couldn't win there. They couldn't allow a "loss" there as they were concerned about losing power here. Both these men were quite capable of betrayal and even the betrayal of those who had already died, as well as those who would die, although they would use them to continue justifying the war. These dead are still being used today for the same purpose: protecting the established order. Men like LBJ and Nixon, et. al., are not moved by noble deaths; they are moved by fear, the fear of losing the established order and, hence, their own elevated social status, their fame, and, hence, their glorious immortality. [Think of how history would have been written about Hitler had the Germans won WWII. You get a glimmer of that by reading what people, well thought of people, were saying about the Nazis and Germany's "economic" recovery in the 30's.]
And I would argue that even Hedges' take on war is also insufficiently political in this sense, at least for those who authorize wars. These types are calculating how to preserve their own power and the power of their ilk. LBJ wanted Nixon to succeed him, I think, because he knew that Nixon, unlike Humphrey, his own vice president, knew how to use power and what it was for. He despised those in the peace movement as "whiners" and "egg heads" and so when he announced he would not seek re-election to seek peace, he put himself at the head of his own "peace movement" because he was sacrificing his own power for peace. No one in the other peace movement could make that claim as they were seeking power. He now looked like the "honorable" one. But he was merely calculating how best to prolong the war and, hence, the established order.
Thus, the purpose of his "peace movement" was to prolong the war long enough for Nixon to win the '68 election and then he, Nixon, would prolong the war even longer for the same reasons. And neither man cared how many more died, both Americans and Vietnamese, to preserve the established order. They spoke of these deaths as "noble" because it served their purposes to do so. And the explanation offered here makes these "leaders" like LBJ and Nixon seem honorable themselves when in fact they were not at all. They were guilty of criminal negligence, at least. But I would say they were guilty of more than that. McNamara, in his own way, came to see, to sense, what he had done or helped to do and he hated it. LBJ and Nixon knew what they were doing and took pride in their "virtu." [But then Machiavelli taught us this, didn't he?]