Monday, July 3, 2023

US Savagery Described as Virtue


US Savagery Described as Virtue

Peter Schultz


            Here are some passages from the book Shadow Warrior, by Randell P. Woods, a biography of William Colby, long time official of the CIA, describing the Phoenix program and Colby’s justification of it. It was, of course, as assassination program which killed thousands of Vietnamese, not all of whom were communists, which Woods makes clear. Nonetheless, Woods presents the program and Colby as virtuous.  


            “Bill Colby was out of the CIA (ostensibly) and back in Vietnam as second in command of the largest and most successful counterinsurgency/pacification program in American history.” [245]


            “Separately, the counterterror squads [which were of course terror squads] now named Provincial Reconnaissance Units (PRUs)…would roam the countryside gathering information of the Viet Cong cadres and either turning or killing them….In some regions, the PRUs acted as effective – if brutal – adversaries of the Viet Cong; in others, they operated as the enforcement arm of corrupt province chiefs.” [251]


            “In Vietnam, as elsewhere, the CIA operated in a legal and moral world of its own making. The only controls were internal….By its own definition, the CIA operated outside of boxes, whether political, bureaucratic, legal, or moral; the only operations and schemes Bill Colby ever rejected were the ones he considered counter-productive of long-range policy goals. Like the soldier priests who came to Southeast Asia in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and embraced the world with all its flaws to win it for Christianity, Colby was willing to employ virtually any means to achieve the end of containing and then defeating the forces of international communism. His pragmatism, coupled with his political liberalism, impelled him to advocate openings to the left to create a vital non-communist center.” [251, emphasis added]


            Savagery described as “pragmatism,” and identified with Christianity and, implicitly, with the will of God as understood by Christians. The question recurs: What is virtue? Is it in fact, as Machiavelli put it regarding Hannibal, “inhuman cruelty?” Did this question escape the notice of the likes of Plato, Aristotle, or Thucydides?  

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