Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Why the lies, misstatements, half-truths, and downright disgust....

As I have said a number of times in my posts regarding Eddie Adams and General Loan, there is a lot I did not know about the Vietnam war.  There is a lot I still don't know.

However, through all of this research, through reading the declassified CIA and military documents, visiting websites and reading comments, looking at the reporting done at the time, reading the speeches written, and studying the journal articles written, a clearer pictures as to why the lies, misstatements, half-truths, and downright disgust, emerges.

Basically, it boils down to this:  There are some people who hold a logical fantasy as the truth regarding war.  That is, they believe that victory in a war is achievable if it were not "directed or constrained by political motives or concerns, nor limited by the practical constraints of time or space." (1

In other words, had the public been kept completely in the dark, had Nixon dropped bombs for one more week, had we pushed through across the border, had we used nukes, had we done and used everything in our power, we would have achieved victory in Vietnam.

That's a logical fantasy because it ignores all of the realities in play.  War takes money and effort.  That money and effort comes from somewhere does it not?  To allow the military to do whatever it takes to achieve victory assumes, naively, that victory can always be achieved.

And that assumption ignores the cost.  How many more lives are required to be taken to achieve victory?  As many as it takes?  What weapons should be used?  Anything and everything?  What will happen if victory is obtained?  It doesn't matter, aftermath is not the military's concern, is it not?

Now that may sound like I am being harsh on the military.  I am not.  I am simply pointing out a reality, their reality.  Their job is to move forward or keep the other guy from moving forward.  It is not nation building, or refugees, or bad blood, or destroyed infrastructure, cost in money, dead or wounded troops, or anything else.  It is simply to successfully complete their mission.

And therein lies the problem with Vietnam and any other war that does not involve an invading army.  It is not something that can be won.  At best, as Walter Cronkite said in his newscast that pissed so many off:
To say that we are closer to victory today is to believe, in the face of the evidence, the optimists who have been wrong in the past. To suggest we are on the edge of defeat is to yield to unreasonable pessimism. To say that we are mired in stalemate seems the only realistic, yet unsatisfactory, conclusion.
To say we could not have won is incorrect.  We could have, and those that served and those who believe in the concept of absolute war, know this as the truth.  And, once again, therein lies the problem with the Vietnam war.

If we could have won, why weren't we allowed to win?  Was it because of the press, the hippies, the defeatists, the weak-minded....  No, it wasn't, but yes it was!

Two academics, Peter Rollins and David Culbert have written an number of journal articles on how the press, especially TV, was responsible for changing the US attitude against the war.  Everyone has bias when they write.  As much as I try to be objective, it is possible, even without my knowledge (which sounds crazy cause' I'm the guy typing!) that what I write may fail to take in consideration those viewpoints and facts I am adamantly opposed to.

That being the case, lets look at from where Peter Rollins, a Vietnam vet, is writing from:

Oklahoma State University  News Service 10/20/80

One can reasonably understand what biases Peter Rollin's may have.  What he puts is, leaves out, positioning, context, all go into the making of his film.  It is a logical fantasy in play here, made that way by a certain reality.  He, as well as his brothers in arms, were denied not only overall victory, but were not given the full respect they felt deserved for the same sacrifice and duty other veterans were offered.  That's a reality.  That's what drives and motivates the need to show not just the truth, but a truth more reflective of a need to overcome these two losses.

Case in point.  Does it really matter if the VC entered into the embassy building itself or blew a hole in the wall and entered into the compound?  Does it matter that the pistol that was tossed up to the ambassador "just in time to shoot the VC coming up the stairs" took place in the stairs of the bungalow and not in the embassy?

In other words, had we been told that the VC entered only into the compound and that the ambassador was able to catch the pistol and shoot the VC in the bungalow, our opinion of what happened during Tet would have been different. Do those facts make their effort more...I don't know, deserving of respect?

It is true -  that had there been no press or cameras - we would have come away with a whole different opinion of Tet, as was pointed out by one of Rollin and Culbert's colleagues regarding their film:

Oklahoma State University  News Service 10/20/80
And what would have our opinion have been?  Would it have been one that ignored the realities we could see?  Would it have been one that resulted because we were kept in the dark?  Should our opinion have been left solely to what our government and the military wanted it to be?

The reason we have lies, misstatements, half-truths, and downright disgust.... is simply because the those who think in absolutes cannot except a reality that does not work in absolutes. So thy build and perpetuate myths as to why it did not work out their way.

Look at what Rollins is quoted as saying:

 Oklahoma State University  News Service 10/20/80
This assumes that we would be easily swayed by the "eye-for-an-eye" defense for the actions performed by General Loan.  That one must "fight fire with fire" so it's all okay.  Had we been told what General Loan said to the reporters (see post) during the broadcast, it would have made it "more complex" and less about "the drama implicit in the images - never mind the fact that the day before in all the newspapers Loan's "they killed many of my men" statement was reported.

Somehow had we been told and shown something different, the results would be different.  But this also brings forth the premise that had we not been told or shown, the results would have been different as well.  The inability to control the message is what these absolutists are reticent about.  But up until Tet, the absolutists did control the message, even Rollins understands that:

Oklahoma State University  News Service 10/20/80
So why the need for lies, misstatements, half-truths, and downright disgust.... if what we had been told up to that point was "pure propaganda?"  Shouldn't what we saw, heard and read, about Tet lead us to a more reasoned understanding about our involvement there?  It should, for how could it not.  The only problem is where it led us was away from where the absolutists wanted us to go.  This is what Robert Kennedy meant when he said:
The third illusion is that the unswerving pursuit of military victory, whatever its cost, is in the interest of either ourselves or the people of Vietnam. 
For the absolutists winning the war, whatever its cost, is a given, an absolute.  For the soldier, to have their effort used for anything other than pursuit of a victory, is unconscionable.  When Rollins says about Tet that "we won the battle, but lost the war" he is looking at it from both an absolutists and a soldier.  And here is the reality that some, like Robert Kennedy, understood after Tet.  There was not war to win:
This has not happened because our men are not brave or effective, because they are. It is because we have misconceived the nature of the war: It is because we have sought to resolve by military might a conflict whose issue depends upon the will and conviction of the South Vietnamese people. It is like sending a lion to halt an epidemic of jungle rot. 
The reasons, therefore, for these lies, misstatements, half-truths, and downright disgust.... are understandable. The reality, as Robert Kennedy was pointing out, does not sit well for those who think in absolutes and those who gave their effort, blood, limbs, minds, and lives fighting in a war that was misconceived.

I understand it.  That doesn't mean I condone it.  The truth may hurt, but it is still the truth.  But there is another ugly truth out there, and that is even with this understanding, there are still absolutist out there who believe we should do whatever it costs to win.

Next post: Kid Rock, Carl von Clausewitz, O'Brien, and General Loan




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