Shooting at the Moon: America’s Clandestine War
October 17, 2014
Here is my review of the book Shooting at the Moon: America’s Clandestine War in Laos, by Roger Warner, published recently on Amazon
By P. Schultz "An Anti-Federalist" (North Carolina)
This review is from: Shooting at the Moon: The Story of America's Clandestine War in Laos (Paperback)
This is a well-documented, factually comprehensive account of the secret war that was waged in Laos as the non-secret war in Vietnam went on. It is illuminating in a couple of ways. First, it makes it crystal clear that the Vietnam War was part of a broader war the United States was waging in Southeast Asia. Focusing on the Vietnam War, as we Americans tend to do, and for understandable reasons, blurs this fact and, with it, blurs the militaristic character of what has been labeled "the Cold War." Perhaps that war was "cold" in Europe, but it was "hot" in Southeast Asia. Secondly, the title comes from a tradition in Laos of people actually "shooting at the moon," during lunar eclipses, because they act as if a huge cosmic frog were eating the moon and they had to kill it or chase it off. This tradition strikes we more "civilized" Westerners as just foolish and inane. However, as Roger Warner shows and concludes, it wasn't only the Laotian who were "shooting at the moon" futilely, "but all along, it was Americans who had been shooting at the moon." [p. 381] Warner sees the futility of the American war in Laos clearly: "The multi tour veterans from the CIA and USAID...were not cynics. They did not deliberately attach themselves to a losing cause. They gave willingly of themselves, hoping the help the Laotians at the same time they helped their own country. The paradox was that even though they helped run the Laos war for their government, the outcome was the opposite of what they intended. Somehow, and they didn't know how, events slipped out of their grasp. In some mysterious way, as the war became institutionalized, the system they worked for betrayed them and turned the war inside out." [pp. 380-381]
But what Warner calls "mysterious" isn't so mysterious if one recognizes that bureaucracies cannot accomplish certain tasks, like changing "hearts and minds" and winning a counterinsurgency, at least not without paying an unacceptable price both monetarily and humanly. That is, as the bureaucratic project "progresses," the goal seems to retreat into the distance, and the people in charge must "double down," as it were, leading to ever greater "exercises of power," to ever more "terror" in order to try to gain control. So, as the Americans "institutionalized" the war, "doubled down" with more troops and more fire power, "events...slipped out of their grasp." And the American effort was as futile as the Laotian effort of "shooting at the moon."
Roger Warner has done us a service with his book, "Shooting at the Moon." It should be required reading at West Point, at the Naval Academy, the Air Force Academy, and especially at the White House. It won't be, of course; but it should be.