Thursday, December 14, 2023

Americans and the Political

Americans and the Political

Peter Schultz


            The Americans pursued two tracks in Vietnam, limited war and “winning hearts and minds.” The American mistake was assuming that winning the war would win hearts and minds. And the basis of this mistake was thinking that hearts and minds can be won or changed politically when hearts and minds can only be “won” or changed philosophically. Moreover, the political is not only immune to, but is even hostile to philosophy. Witness the fate of Socrates, who as a philosopher posed a real threat to Athens and Athenian “hearts and minds.”


            The political is the realm of war, and of the inhuman cruelty war creates. Therefore, mobilizing politically leads to war and oppressive, i.e., anti-philosophic politics. Insofar as changing hearts and minds can only be done philosophically, then mobilizing politically will never change hearts and minds. In fact, as Socrates’ fate indicates, the more likely result of mobilizing the political will be fortification of the prevailing hearts and minds. The more that Socrates proved to be attractive to the young, the more necessary it seemed to the Athenian establishment to fortify that establishment by condemning him.


            What the Americans didn’t realize in Nam – and don’t realize elsewhere – was that by mobilizing Vietnam politically via war and occupation, they were fortifying the very “hearts and minds” they wanted to change. In other words, because the Americans were ignorant of the character of the political, they were never going to succeed in Vietnam so long as they waged war there, no matter how much blood they shed doing so. Human sacrifices fortify but never change “hearts and minds.”

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