Thursday, April 26, 2012

Wars kill people. That is what makes them different from all other forms of human enterprise.

[Written last year]

You know where that title came from?  Colin Powell.  That's from his paper: U.S. Forces Challenges Ahead, 1992 in Foreign Affairs;  Vol. 71 Issue 5, p32-45, 14p.  What's in that paper is also referred to as the "Powell Doctrine."

You know what else he said in that paper:
We owe it to the men and women who go in harm's way to make sure that this is always the case and that their lives are not squandered for unclear purposes.
Look what John Kerry said in 1971:
...In our opinion, and from our experience, there is nothing in South Vietnam, nothing which could happen that realistically threatens the United States of America. And to attempt to justify the loss of one American life in Vietnam, Cambodia, or Laos by linking such loss to the preservation of freedom, which those misfits supposedly abuse, is to us the height of criminal hypocrisy, and it is that kind of hypocrisy which we feel has torn this country apart....
Look at what Robert Kennedy said in 1968:
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.
Why would we use the term "squandered" if that were not a possibility for the men and woman who are asked to serve?  Obviously Powell was speaking from some historical grounding.  If we are the greatest country in the world, surely we would never "squander" these lives.  Correct?

Look at what else Powell says:
When the political objective is important, clearly defined and understood, when the risks are acceptable, and when the use of force can be effectively combined with diplomatic and economic policies, then clear and unambiguous objectives must be given to the armed forces. These objectives must be firmly linked with the political objectives.
Decisive means and results are always to be preferred, even if they are not always possible. We should always be skeptical when so-called experts suggest that all a particular crisis calls for is a little surgical bombing or a limited attack. When the "surgery" is over and the desired result is not obtained, a new set of experts then comes forward with talk of just a little escalation--more bombs, more men and women, more force.
History has not been kind to this approach to war-making. In fact this approach has been tragic--both for the men and women who are called upon to implement it and for the nation. This is not to argue that the use of force is restricted to only those occasions where the victory of American arms will be resounding, swift and overwhelming. It is simply to argue that the use of force should be restricted to occasions where it can do some good and where the good will outweigh the loss of lives and other costs that will surely ensue. 
See that?  "A new set of experts then comes forward with talk of just a little escalation--more bombs, more men and women, more force."  Golly jeepers, doesn't that sound just like Vietnam?  And what about those absolutists who think we could have won if we dropped more bombs, kicked the press out, sent more troops, and used every tool and resource we had against the enemy.  Had we just had the will....

Here is what Powell says about war:
All wars are limited. As Carl von Clausewitz was careful to point out, there has never been a state of absolute war. Such a state would mean total annihilation. The Athenians at Melos, Attila the Hun, Tamerlane, the Romans salting the fields of the Carthaginians may have come close, but even their incredible ruthlessness gave way to pragmatism before a state of absolute war was achieved`
The Gulf War was a limited-objective war. If it had not been, we would be ruling Baghdad today--at unpardonable expense in terms of money, lives lost and ruined regional relationships. The Gulf War was also a limited-means war--we did not use every means at our disposal to eject the Iraqi Army from Kuwait. But we did use over-whelming force quickly and decisively. This, I believe, is why some have characterized that war as an "all-out" war. It was strictly speaking no such thing.
Vietnam was not addressed in a similar manner as was the Gulf War.  For that matter, neither was invading Iraq and Afghanistan at the turn of this century.  Without clear objectives military might means very little in obtaining an end point.  Had the US body count been more, we would have demanded we get out of those two places in a similar manner as Vietnam, I suspect.  As I write this, we are still in Afghanistan.

What Kennedy and Kerry understood was what Powell would come to articulate in 1992.  

Kennedy said:
The fifth illusion is that this war can be settled in our own way and in our own time on our own terms. Such a settlement is the privilege of the triumphant: of those who crush their enemies in battle or wear away their will to fight. 
Kerry said:
Therefore, I think it is ridiculous to assume we have to play this power game based on total warfare. I think there will be guerrilla wars and I think we must have a capability to fight those. And we may have to fight them somewhere based on legitimate threats, but we must learn, in this country, how to define those threats and that is what I would say to the question of world peace. I think it is bogus, totally artificial. There is no threat. The Communists are not about to take over our McDonald hamburger stands. 
Now look at what Powell says:
When a "fire" starts that might require committing armed forces, we need to evaluate the circumstances. Relevant questions include:
  • Is the political objective we seek to achieve important, clearly defined and understood?
  • Have all other nonviolent policy means failed?
  • Will military force achieve the objective?
  • At what cost?
  • Have the gains and risks been analyzed?
  • How might the situation that we seek to alter, once it is altered by force, develop further and what might be the consequences?
As an example of this logical process, we can examine the assertions of those who have asked why [first] President Bush did not order our forces on to Baghdad after we had driven the Iraqi army out of Kuwait. We must assume that the political objective of such an order would have been capturing Saddam Hussein. Even if Hussein had waited for us to enter Baghdad, and even if we had been able to capture him, what purpose would it have served?
And would serving that purpose have been worth the many more casualties that would have occurred? Would it have been worth the inevitable follow-up: major occupation forces in Iraq for years to come and a very expensive and complex American proconsulship in Baghdad? Fortunately for America, reasonable people at the time thought not. They still do.
In 1968, reasonable people like Cronkite, Kennedy, and Kerry looked at what we were doing through a logical and objective process and understood that total warfare was never going to be an option, that the political objective was not clearly defined or understood, which - as they saw it, made the risk for continued effort unacceptable.

Because we could not effectively combine military force with diplomatic and economic policies, clear and unambiguous objectives would never be given to the armed forces.  There became no war for the military to win unless we wanted to opt for total annihilation, which to this day, is an option some, like General Brady and Kid Rock, would have no qualms in ordering.

Now lets look at what General Powell told Rachel Maddow, April 1, 2009:
Decide what you are trying to achieve politically and if it can't be achieved through political and diplomatic and economic means, and you have to use military force, then make sure you know exactly what you're using the military force for and then apply it in a decisive manner.
Now, the means he's [Obama] applying to it—21,000 more troops, hundreds more civilians, a billion and a half dollars a year to Pakistan—is that enough? Is that decisive? I don't know the answer to that question because even the greatest of all strategists must take into account the presence of an enemy.
In Vietnam it appears we had met the enemy, and that enemy was Ky and Loan.  So when Kerry said:
We are asking Americans to think about that because how do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?
It's that word 'mistake' that causes all the bitterness.  Did over 55 thousand Americans die for a mistake?  Surely we cannot think that fathomable, that our government did not do them right.  At some point opinion changed enough to bring the war to a close.  It took people going against the notion of my country right or wrong.  It took people questioning their duty to fight and die for a situation that did not make sense.

And the reason it started to not make sense was because bit by bit the picture of what was happening there became clearer.  You can manipulate the words and background all you want, but sometimes when you look at a cigar, what you see is just a cigar regardless of what your mind may want to compare it to.

So did our defeat in Vietnam come from, as General Brady states:
"the elite in the courtrooms, the classroom, the cloakrooms and the newsrooms, from cowardly media-phobic politicians and irresponsible, dishonest media and professors from Berkeley to Harvard."
Or did these folks see it for what it was. Were they cowardly, dishonest, misleading, liars, and bastards for speaking out?  Did they have an obligation - a right - to question the expenditure of blood and treasure?  Does the public ever have a right to tell its government involved in war, stop?

General Powell thinks so:
"I have infinite faith in the American people's ability to sense when and where we should draw the line."
Two US Generals, two very different opinions.  I think I'll listen to the more reasoned one.


Saturday, April 7, 2012

How Famine Works...

Heard this while listening to Fresh Air's Terry Gross interview Jeffrey Gettleman, who was set to receive a George Polk Award for foreign reporting.

Odd, after all these years I never understood how famine actually works.  This is a cautionary tale on why a society must take care of its people and how a total "everyone for themselves" model will lead to those who have and those who will die.

From the show:
GETTLEMAN: Famines are about distribution. They're not about total capacity to feed people. In Mogadishu there was plenty of food when I was there, so I was eating chicken, beef, vegetables. I was eating fine. We'd go to the hospital, we witnessed these people who had run out of food and were marooned in the city without any resources, and then we would go back to the place we were staying and we would eat fine.
And other people were eating fine on the streets of Mogadishu. That was what was so striking to me of watching this man emerge from the hospital with the body of his child in his arms and he's walking past pyramids of oranges and stacks of bread and sacks of flour. And that's what happens in all these famines. It's the same thing.
GROSS: So is it money? Like, you had the money to buy food; this man with the dead child in his arms did not?
GETTLEMAN: It's mostly money. And it's also a distribution problem. If you have money you can get food just about anywhere, except for areas that are really cut off and have blockages in them, like what the Shabab are doing. But once you get to the city, yeah, if you had money you could buy food.
But these people have lost everything they own. They've lost their animals, they've lost their homes, they've used what little money they had just to get to Mogadishu. So yeah, they don't have any money to get any food. And at that point, you know, you need specialized food. These kids need, you know, they need medicine. They need IVs. They need to be hospitalized.
You can't just hand them a banana when they're in that state. You know, their systems have been so compromised. So you know, it's a multi-layered problem that starts where they came from - that they were living on the edge, probably very poor, malnourished to begin with. And then they were driven out of their area, put on the run without anything to sustain them.
And then they show up completely broke in a place where there's no social safety net, there's no government to help them, and they're cut off from their families, their support network. So who's going to help them? And on that scale. I mean when we were in Mogadishu last year during the famine, there were hundreds of thousands of people like this
So who's going to help them?

The free market?  The same free market that is selling the "pyramids of oranges and stacks of bread and sacks of flour?"  This is where a bit of understanding the dynamics comes in and the simple solutions that people think will work fall apart.

The guy selling the oranges and bread cannot feed them, he could - but he would need to cut some off or else face the same prospect.  So even if he takes one or two under charity, many more are still in need.

Those who cannot buy food cannot pull themselves up by their bootstraps.  They are there for reasons that may or may not have anything to do with past decisions they made.  Right now they need food, and without charity or money they will starve.

Should starvation be the only thing our government focuses on to "promote the general Welfare?"

How we, one of the richest societies ever, and we - the people - take care of each other is a reflection of our overall values and is what the Founders meant by "promote the general Welfare" as a necessary parameter of the constitution they set forth.

Does welfare - as we know it now - promote sloth?  Yeah, but dumping more and more responsibility to care for oneself on those with little money and support networks is just cruel.

I think there is a middle ground - not too much to hurt and not too much to hinder - that will help all.  Maybe that's what that Jesus dude meant when he said:
Verily I say unto you, Since you have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me.  Matthew 25:40
A few should not carry the whole burden for those who lack empathy or compassion, or for reasons known to them only, see some "brethren" as undeserving or not one in the same as them.

What did John Kerry say on April 22, 1971 that was false?

Lets be up front with this.  No one likes it when they are told that the reason they are fat is because they overeat.

The question regarding if that statement is true or false has nothing to do with it.  No one likes to be told something they don't want to hear.  And, if what they are told is false, well that's even worse.  You know, them's fight'n words!

The contention of the Swift Boat Vets for Truth is that:
"Vietnam veterans who had long resented his [John Kerry] false 1971 testimony that American troops routinely committed war crimes."
"Kerry's [testimony presented a] false portrait of American veterans as misfits, drug addicts and baby killers."
When you quote something, you can lose the context, that's why I provide the source.  It is possible that I have misconstrued SBV's statements, but in this case, I don't think so.

I have found a consistency in the absolutists portrayal of the press, Walter Cronkite, Robert Kennedy, and now John Kerry.  To call something false means it is not true.  To call something dishonest, means it is purposely false.  To call something misleading means that the author added or left out required facts.

Did John Kerry testify that "American troops routinely committed war crimes?"  Here is what he said on April 22, 1971 that relates to this charge by the Swift Boat Vets for Truth:
I would like to talk, representing all those veterans, and say that several months ago in Detroit, we had an investigation at which over 150 honorably discharged and many very highly decorated veterans testified to war crimes committed in Southeast Asia, not isolated incidents but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command....
They told the stories at times they had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war, and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country.
We call this investigation the "Winter Soldier Investigation." The term "Winter Soldier" is a play on words of Thomas Paine in 1776 when he spoke of the Sunshine Patriot and summertime soldiers who deserted at Valley Forge because the going was rough.
We who have come here to Washington have come here because we feel we have to be winter soldiers now. We could come back to this country; we could be quiet; we could hold our silence; we could not tell what went on in Vietnam, but we feel because of what threatens this country, the fact that the crimes threaten it, not reds, and not redcoats but the crimes which we are committing that threaten it, that we have to speak out. 
So, yes, John Kerry accused some of his fellow vets of war crimes in 1971.  Was this a false statement?

According to an August 6, 2006 Los Angeles Times article "Civilian Killings Went Unpunished."
The files are part of a once-secret archive, assembled by a Pentagon task force in the early 1970s, that shows that confirmed atrocities by U.S. forces in Vietnam were more extensive than was previously known.
The documents detail 320 alleged incidents that were substantiated by Army investigators — not including the most notorious U.S. atrocity, the 1968 My Lai massacre.
Though not a complete accounting of Vietnam war crimes, the archive is the largest such collection to surface to date. About 9,000 pages, it includes investigative files, sworn statements by witnesses and status reports for top military brass.
The records describe recurrent attacks on ordinary Vietnamese — families in their homes, farmers in rice paddies, teenagers out fishing. Hundreds of soldiers, in interviews with investigators and letters to commanders, described a violent minority who murdered, raped and tortured with impunity.
Abuses were not confined to a few rogue units, a Times review of the files found. They were uncovered in every Army division that operated in Vietnam.
Retired Brig. Gen. John H. Johns, a Vietnam veteran who served on the task force, says he once supported keeping the records secret but now believes they deserve wide attention in light of alleged attacks on civilians and abuse of prisoners in Iraq.
"We can't change current practices unless we acknowledge the past," says Johns, 78.
Digging through the LA Times website I find this official government letterhead document:

Other places for information and records are:
So it looks like John Kerry's statement on April 22, 1971 is not "false" as the Swift Boat Vets for Truth and the author of "To Set The Record Straight" claim.  Surprise, surprise! as Gomer Pyle, USMC, used to say.

Did John Kerry portray "American veterans as misfits, drug addicts and baby killers." Here is what he said on April 22, 1971 that relates to this charge by the Swift Boat Vets for Truth:
It is possible that "baby killer" is implied by these statements John Kerry made:
We rationalized destroying villages in order to save them. We saw America lose her sense of morality as she accepted very coolly a My Lai and refused to give up the image of American soldiers who hand out chocolate bars and chewing gum.
We learned the meaning of free fire zones, shooting anything that moves, and we watched while America placed a cheapness on the lives of orientals.
"Baby killer" or killing of babies was not used in the speech.  Kerry does use the term "misfit" - but it is not directed at the veteran:
"And to attempt to justify the loss of one American life in Vietnam, Cambodia, or Laos by linking such loss to the preservation of freedom, which those misfits supposedly abuse, is to us the height of criminal hypocrisy, and it is that kind of hypocrisy which we feel has torn this country apart.."
There were no comments, other than the acknowledgment of atrocities, implying that vets were "misfits" or "drug addicts."

The SBV's may not like the fact that John Kerry told us what the problems were in Vietnam.  Like he said:
"We could come back to this country; we could be quiet; we could hold our silence; we could not tell what went on in Vietnam, but we feel because of what threatens this country, the fact that the crimes threaten it, not reds, and not redcoats but the crimes which we are committing that threaten it, that we have to speak out."
Argue all you want about whether he should have kept quiet.  Debate on the merits of pulling back the curtain and telling us what really goes on.   But if you are going to claim you are "for truth" you need to, you know, actually be "for truth."  And another know that statement "the truth will set you free?"  That's what Retired Brig. Gen. John H. Johns, a Vietnam veteran, meant when he said in the LA Times:
"We can't change current practices unless we acknowledge the past,"


Does opposing the war, wound those who are not opposed to it?

These last few posts have centered on the question of a right to question why I am being demanded to perform a certain act.  And in asking, If I disagree with that reason, do I have a right to refuse without being called a "coward" or "bastard", or "horrible?"

To accept unequivocally what someone else views as right, when it is not right, nor just, makes me what?

That question is difficult to answer when the acceptance is fundamentally offering your blood for something.  I am pretty sure that most people would think it reasonable question why they were being asked to do something with that as its ultimate cost.  And as the cost rose the questions of why would become more and more relevant to making a decision.  So why is questioning one's duty in a war off-limits or taboo?

Heck I know the primary answer to that.  War takes bodies.  Lots and lots of bodies.  More bodies than will come from those who see the effort as something they actually want to do.  You can't go to war without troops and you can't have the troops you require if some question the purpose and refuse to participate.  So it has always been framed as; do your duty for your country.

Vietnam, however, exposed an ugly side of America and that duty.  That is, what we were doing there had more to do with other, less noble reasons, than what we had been told we were spending blood and treasure for.

When I asked the question:
Does my duty include shedding my blood so that Richard Nixon would not be the first president to lose a war, a relevant reason to do so?  
It gets even harder to answer when you ask the question:
Does my duty to shed my blood for my country's honor make it a relevant reason to do so?  
Still harder is to ask the question:
Is it my duty to do whatever it takes to provide honor and dignity to those who have fought and died before me in this effort?
That last one is what I have come to now understand may be the reason why some - I call them absolutists - are still bothered by those who dared to question our effort and specifically towards those who worked towards ending the war without a definitive "win."

Here, once again, is what General Brady said in his commentary that started me down this journey and these many blog posts:
The American soldier was never defeated on the battlefield in Vietnam; our defeat came from the elite in the courtrooms, the classroom, the cloakrooms and the newsrooms, from cowardly media-phobic politicians and irresponsible, dishonest media and professors from Berkeley to Harvard.
Now let's look at what the Swift Boat Vets have to say about John Kerry's 1971 speech to congress:
Sen. John Kerry's 2004 presidential bid became the catalyst for an unprecedented political movement by Vietnam veterans who had long resented his false 1971 testimony that American troops routinely committed war crimes.
During the Vietnam War, the original television networks and the leading liberal newspapers were near the peak of their formidable persuasive powers, able to dominate public opinion to an extent difficult to imagine today. In an age without cable news networks, conservative talk radio or the Internet, they were the only game in town. What these organizations chose to cover became news, and what they ignored did not. They used that power to instill Kerry's false portrait of American veterans as misfits, drug addicts and baby killers into the popular culture.
When John Kerry made his service in Vietnam the cornerstone of his presidential campaign during the 2004 election, the wounds he had inflicted on millions of Vietnam veterans were re-opened. Many could no longer be silent while a man who had repeated the propaganda of America's enemies rose to the position of Commander-in-Chief.
Now there was another ulterior motive to this, and that was to smear the guy some did not want for president.  But the criticism directed at him is nonetheless the same vitriol spewed out towards others who took the same tone.  And yes, I chose those words purposely because it pisses me off that some believe I have no right to question the cost in blood and treasure.

Here is what I take issue with:
In an age without cable news networks, conservative talk radio or the Internet, they were the only game in town. What these organizations chose to cover became news, and what they ignored did not.
What that statement postulates is this:  Had they controlled the message, public opinion would have been different and the outcome would have been different as well.  Okay...I'll buy that as a possibility.  Now let me ask four questions:
  1. Had the news of Tet and General Loan's execution of Nguyen Van Lem been reported by conservative reporters, would there have been a different story reported?
  2. Would the way conservative outlets have reported that news changed public opinion?
  3. If all the reporting was "liberal" and that reporting had "formidable persuasive powers" would replacing it with a "conservative" methodology generate the same "formidable persuasive powers" "to dominate public opinion?"
  4. Had the media and message been controlled and dominated by conservative media, and public opinion come to the same conclusion, would Walter Cronkite, Robert Kennedy, and John Kerry still be seen as pariahs by the right?
Basically, does manipulation of public opinion meet with approval if the end result is to my liking?  To assume that one side manipulated public opinion presenting a "false" impression also requires one to assume that the other side would manipulate public opinion by presenting what it deems as the truth.  That is, once again, had we shown the film of General Loan shooting Nguyen Van Lem and told the viewers, as Rollins contends:

Rollins: Television's Vietnam - The visual language of  Television News

What would have changed if we had been told the statement that was more than likely designed to convey a context more forgiving of the General? (see blog post).
"Many Americans have been killed these last few days and many of my best Vietnamese friends.  Now do you understand?  Buddha will understand."
 After all, we had been told what the General had said the day before in most major newspapers:
"They killed many Americans and many of our people."
How would that have changed the picture and made it "more complex?"  Well I think I may understand why folks like Rollins and Culbert think so.  Look at this statement from Rollins:
"No one noted at the time - and few noted later - that, at that very moment General Loan was shooting a single ununiformed soldier, North Vietnamese soldiers were systematically executing 2800 South Vietnamese civilian government and public school teachers outside the city of Hue."
Now look at Culbert's paper:

Culbert: Television's Visual Impact on Decision Making in the US, 1968

Now look at General Brady's San Antonio Express News article:
"And it was unlikely that the civilians would rise up for a party that massacred 3,000 innocent men, women, children and religious in Hue; some who were buried alive and clubbed to death to save ammunition. Who saw that in our media?"
Here is what I see.  Had the "conservative" side of the story been reported, that is, had we been told about the atrocities of the other side we would have concluded that they paled in comparison to what General Loan did.

If they killed 3000 citizens and we killed 2000, would that context change how we should view what we did?

Look at the context the New York Times did to try and blunt the force of the Eddie Adams photo:

NY Times Feb 2, 1968
Context was there.  It's just that people are a bit smarter than the absolutists, Culbert & Rollins, and the Swift Boat Vets against John Kerry think we are.  Look at how Culbert sees the Loan Execution affecting those that share a different view for our continued involvement in the war:

Culbert: Television's Visual Impact on Decision Making in the US, 1968
Really?  Is that what was shown to us?  Was what we saw manipulated so that it "purported to show the actual practice of justice?"  Was it "misleading" or did it show factually what it was - an actual execution, that in General Loan's view was not just necessary but demanded?
"I respect the Vietcong in uniform.  They are fighting men like me.  People know when they are wounded I take care of them.  I see they get to to the hospital.  But when they are not in uniform, they are criminals and the rule of war is death." (Harper's April  1972 article "Portrait of an Aging Despot" page 72)
Which begs the question: why were people: "looking for a reason to change their views on a matter of policy?"

Maybe the context was there all the time.  Maybe what was said, what we were told to believe, what we held as sacred and honorable, was not taking place.  Maybe all the "elite in the courtrooms, the classroom, the cloakrooms and the newsrooms, from cowardly media-phobic politicians and irresponsible, dishonest media and professors from Berkeley to Harvard" did was show us what we suspected, but hoped wasn't the case.

Which begs one more question: what would the "cable news networks, conservative talk radio or the Internet" have done differently?

Was the press "misleading" on the General Loan shooting?  Would the conservative press present it differently. or, recognizing its potential impact, suppress it?  Is the public better served seeing flag-draped coffins of soldiers killed in combat or should that be off limits?

Which brings me to the question posed in the title of this blog.  Did John Kerry inflict wounds on millions of vets because of what he said on April 22, 1971?  Culbert believes the General Loan footage and photograph were misleading.  General Brady contends that the media and and "professors from Berkeley to Harvard" were "dishonest."  The swift boat vets claim that what John Kerry said to Congress was a "false portrait of American veterans."

"Misleading", "dishonest", and "false".  Which taken together would seem to indicate that the truth has not been told.  I think I have presented enough information on what was actually said about General Loan and what the CIA and Jonson knew about the situation in Vietnam.  What I have not addressed is Swift Boat Vets for Truth's contention that John Kerry was a big fat liar on April 22, 1971.

Next post: What did John Kerry say on April 22, 1971 that was false?

Vacation over...again

Took a little bit of time off since my last post.  I'm going to finish up with a couple of drafts I started way back then.  The next two posts will be pending so as to keep things in a bit of an order.