Vietnam and 9/11: The System Worked
This is about how the system worked regarding Vietnam or why our elites need not consider that war a failure.
While Vietnam is often written off as a failure, it may also be seen as an illustration of successful bureaucratic or governmental behavior. How so?
First, it is essential to recognize that bureaucracies, that governments are created for primarily for purposes of control. Control is the primary task of any bureaucracy or government. Hence, governments seek “the consent of the governed,” because when that consent is acquired from the governed, control is guaranteed. Elections work well in this regard as they are taken to be expressions of “the consent of the governed” and, when over, those elected are legitimately entitled to control the governed. In this sense, that the government managed the governed, that is, got their consent to wage in Vietnam was a success. This success was especially notable in that the government managed, successfully, to get the consent of the governed for a war that was, at best, distantly related to national security. For whatever reasons, our elites, our bureaucrats wanted to wage war in Vietnam, and they succeeded in doing so – with the consent of the governed.
Moreover, the government, the bureaucracy successfully navigated the conflicts that the war created, defeating the anti-war movement as evidenced by the elections of LBJ in 1964 and, especially, of Richard Nixon in 1968. One may argue with some plausibility that LBJ’s decision not to seek re-election in 1968 was part of his strategy to displace and, thereby, defeat the anti-war movement that was being led by New Left types, black power advocates, and other, allegedly “radical” groups. LBJ stepped aside to seek peace, he claimed, thereby displacing the other “peaceniks,” leaving the way clear for either Nixon or Humphrey, both supporters of the war, to prosecute the war further, which Nixon did, even while claiming to be on the way to “a peace with honor.”
One short-coming commentators have is their assumption that governments and bureaucracies are set up, devoted to avoiding war. But making war is one means, even being an excellent means, of asserting control, of managing the governed by means of manufacturing their consent. From the viewpoint of control, wars are, at the very least, “an attractive nuisance.” From the viewpoint of control, wars are rational, i.e., useful in guaranteeing the control of the governed. Hence, those who oppose wars are easily portrayed as “irrational,” as “idealistic dreamers,” even as “subversives.” War works for governments, for bureaucracies. As Randolph Bourne argued, “War is the health of the state.” Which helps explain why our elites were seduced in waging the Vietnam War and, of course, other wars. Once you understand that the primary purpose of government is control, and that war is an excellent means of achieving control, you don’t need to rely on theories about the war-making proclivities of capitalist nations, which is not to say those proclivities aren’t real.
For those opposed to the US’s proxy war in Ukraine, they would be well-disposed not to argue that the US’s involvement there is a failure. The problem is not that our government has failed in Ukraine; rather, the problem is that our government has acted, in its own reckoning, successfully there. As Ronald Reagan was wont to say, “Government isn’t the answer to our problems. Government is the problem.” Of course, Reagan didn’t govern as if he believed this as he was more than willing to make war; that is, he was more than willing to empower the government and see it as solving problems via war. That Reagan’s critique of government was merely smoke and mirrors is also evidenced by the fact that the national government was larger and more powerful when Reagan left office that it was when he entered the presidency.
Opposing war, either in Ukraine or elsewhere, requires opposing government or “the state.” Empowering government means, willy nilly, making war. Pacifists and pacifist types who embrace powerful governments, for whatever purposes, will never achieve the peace they seek.
To understand 9/11, then, what are called “conspiracy theories” aren’t necessary. Those theories – some of which seemed to me to be plausible – reflect the thought that our government, our bureaucracies were created not to make war but to prevent war. Because it is assumed that they were meant to prevent war and didn’t, then what happened on 9/11 needs to be explained and the search for responsible parties should be commenced. “The watchdogs didn’t bark,” as one book is entitled. Why not? Was this result of a deliberate muzzling of those watchdogs?
But there is no need to look for such a muzzling. The attacks succeeded merely because the government, our bureaucrats were acting in their normal fashion, thereby maintaining control, or so they thought. And those “running around with their hair on fire,” as was said about some people after the attacks, could easily be dismissed as irrational – as indeed they were. Whether the pursuit of control, behaving rationally would prevent attacks on the US homeland was not the key issue for bureaucrats. The key issue was maintaining control and that meant acting rationally, sensibly, calmly. It’s not that the watchdogs didn’t bark; they did. But they were ignored because it was rational to do so. Rationality is the linchpin of bureaucratic behavior. Thus, conspiracy theories aren’t needed to understand why the attacks of 9/11 succeeded. All that is needed is an understanding of ordinary, commonplace bureaucratic behavior.