Skip to content

Intellectual Honesty in Perilous Times

by on October 26, 2011

                Forty thousand in Libya, tens of thousands in South America, a million plus in Iraq, thousands upon thousands between Afghanistan, Yemen, and Pakistan, two million between Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, a million in East Timor, and on and on. These events are not classified under ‘military defense’ but military offense, interventionist foreign policy, policing the world, economic terrorism, and empire building. This piece is in response to the difficulty in judging the horrible events that occurred in My Lai during the Vietnam War after viewing some grotesque images and listening to testimony from the participants and witnesses.

                At first, I was ready to condemn the US soldiers who undoubtedly committed not just a war crime but if anything… a crime against humanity. Over 500 Vietnamese in one village were shot- women, children, men- all of whom were civilians (it was shortly found out later that the enemy that Charlie Company were pursuing were clear across the country). The images that were released to the press which are still available looked like a shoddy attempt at a post-Holocaust copycat. Revulsion and rage, if only 40yrs after the fact, came shooting through my veins as I saw what ‘we’ had done. Yet, a dear friend reminded me of the fact that many of the troops had lost friends, were constantly being blown to shit by mines- as one soldier put it, looking back- ‘we were fighting an enemy we couldn’t even see, couldn’t anticipate, couldn’t defend against.’ Vietnam still remains to this day the most heavily mined country in the world. Recalling this horrific testimony along with vivid recollections of fellow soldiers being decapitated on a daily basis forced me to put things into perspective…

                As of now, the suicide rate amongst US personnel serving in the Middle East is at an all time high (rarely reported in the mainstream media), we can easily recall the events at Gitmo where detainees (not terrorists, there haven’t been any charges filed mind you) were not just humiliated but tortured, and in almost all wars there are such events. Hell, after WWII, the British were using captured Nazi soldiers for forced labor so this isn’t a cultural phenomenon of any kind; yet perhaps a common denominator does exist- war.

                The Founding Fathers didn’t want tangling alliances, didn’t want a standing army, and wanted several levels of discussion before just rushing off to war. In the Constitution it discusses the government’s role in DEFENDING our country from foreign invaders. Yet, we don’t fight wars to defend ourselves anymore. We don’t overthrow democracies for the protection of our own citizens. We don’t carpet bomb third world indefensible countries because of a threat (direct/indirect) to America.  The effects of war seem to be pretty obvious- excluding sociopaths who successfully enlist.

                It is for this reason that war needs to be a form of defense, not offense or for some sort of idealistic ethnocentric form of empire building. To supply an example of this…one only need to look at 9/11- what was our reaction to that tragic event? We cried, screamed, questioned, searched for answers, build monuments, blasted our cars with bumper stickers and flags, boycotted the French and changed a few food names to suit the situation. Well, there is another 9/11 which is never discussed in history class or recalled on the news- the 9/11 in Chile. This 9/11 was the overthrow of the democratically elected leader Salvador Allende which brought in the military thug rule of Pinochet. Now, the CIA, being directed by Nixon and Kissinger carried out this attack; killing roughly 3000 people. Here is a country minding its own business with a democratically elected president who up to the point of the coup did nothing but pass some FDR like policies- mainly in agrarian reform. Well, the point of this is not to trivialize the events of the US 9/11, but to encourage a step back and realize that we have done similar things in other countries…more than once.  Now, we have done this same thing in Iran, Guatemala, Panama, Cuba, Iraq, Egypt, and many other countries. To think that we are always the benevolent ones and that it is the other countries that are filled with extremists, filled with radical warlike leaders, filled with dogmatic dreams of destruction….think again. Many people around the world are just like us…living in a country with shitty leaders.

                People don’t hate us because we let women drive cars, because we have McDonalds, or because we live in a Republic with many freedoms. The people who hate us hate us for what we have done to them. Sure, there is some who simply hate the one ‘on top,’ but this is the exception.

                For all you mainstream politicos who want to scream at me ‘oh, the blame America first argument!’- This is a silly fallacy barely worth addressing, but with a new cup of coffee in hand…I’ll humor the notion. I live in America; I am an American- plain and simple. Sure, I could scream and rant about the human rights abuses in China- what is that going to do? You and I will agree that China treats people pretty horrible and then go grab a beer. However, in this country, we get to vote (grimace), we get to talk to people here in this country that can also contribute to a change in the system. We have easier access to the local press, local officials, etc. China may treat its citizens poorly, but as an American I am going to address the country I am a part of. This is not to say of course that America is evil, horrible, always in the wrong at every turn- this is the argument used against criticizing America from a national perspective instead of just a bi-partisan perspective.

                In the end folks, we can look at the policies of this country from a global perspective and realize that there are consequences for our actions (the CIA has discussed the concept of ‘blowback’ numerous times- look it up) and it is not our ‘benevolence’ that creates the hatred.


From → Politics

  1. “consequences for our actions”
    Are there consequences for our lack of action?
    Recall Rwandan, were there consequences? Perhaps if we had tried to intervene in genocide, a soldier or aid worker may have gone off and raped and killed innocent people. It would appear we can be at fault either way. Edmund Burke said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

    As with my Country, I make decisions every day. And with the benefit of hindsight I can see I made poor and even bad decisions at times, some may have even been ill conceived. Who knows perhaps I’ve learned from this. Yet, I still refuse to condemn myself. I can find no benefit from doing so. I have never met a perfect individual, or group for that matter.

    History tells me over and over again that, “Man has fallen.” Like it or not Man as an individual or group will never be perfected on this planet. So while I note my own history and that of others, the present and future is where it’s at.

    So there.

    • ‘Are there consequences for our lack of action?’- of course there are always consequences for our lack of action, for inaction is still a choice and all choices bear consequences. However, our military is not in place to save everyone in the world from tyranny. Of course there can be some humanitarian missions- for example our military going around the world and offering free medical care to third world countries serves as an example. Yet, in the examples I listed- the option of ‘inaction’ may have served us much better than the course of action we took and it doesn’t take hindsight to understand this. I often use an economic term to describe the empire building of this country- which is ‘diseconomies of scale’ in which we spread ourselves too thin and lack the ability to function properly- this is what happened in Rome and what later occured, with qualifications, in the Soviet Union. What is the point of saving others when we can’t help ourselves. The Soviet Union had tons and tons of military weapons and a large military- did that save their economy? No, they overspent and the end the weapons quickly became artifacts. So, in the end, inaction may in fact offer a better solution than action. One must also point out that the ‘inaction’ in this context only applies to us. What about the people in the region? Are they not acting? Are they being so apathetic that it takes us to ‘show them the light’? With this application of ‘inaction,’ it further elucidates the idea that we must protect the world from itself at all times whether they want it or not.

      I enjoy Burke’s comment, however, I’d like to qualify that a bit. To what extent does this apply on a global scale? It seems that a certain level of relativism could be applied to this maxim. Those that attacked us on 9/11 would probably say that this quote applies to them as much as citizens of the US would say that the subsequent actions are equally applicable. This notion of ‘evil’ and ‘inaction’ are interesting but serve absolutely no purpose in the piece that I wrote. There was no ‘evil’ in Chile, Cuba, Iran, Panama, etc.

      This isn’t ‘hindsight’ in that the architects of the aforementioned events explicitly stated their reasons for doing such horrible things. Another wonderful example is when Britain was using India as more/less a tradiing post, Winston Churchill remarked on the savageness of the ‘locals’ and wondered why so many were hesitant to use chemical weapons on such uncivilized people…when Nixon began his carpet bombing of Cambodia and Laos, he stated ‘I want anything that kills on anything that flies…kill anything that lives..’ It doesn’t take hindsight to notice any problems in this. This notion of hindsight is yet another fallacy. Theorizing that it is ONLY in later years and with reflection that we can truly begin to understand barbarism is a fallacy.

      ‘Man has fallen’- even though I don’t susbscribe to archaic notions of the state of man. How is it that we have fallen? As far as I’m concerned, we were release from paradise to attempt to create our own. In the Garden of Eden, all was available, it was in fact a utopia…I’m sure boring enough to be tempted to eat a damn forbidden apple. But, man is not perfect- which makes little sense for we can’t even define what perfect is nor adequately envision what that would really mean.

      ‘The present and future is where it’s at’- the present is nothing but the reactions to the past, the future is nothing but the culmination of the actions of the present and as George Orwell famously put it in 1984:
      ‘Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.’
      History is cumulative so US history in the Middle East doesn’t start at 9/11, our problems in Iran doesn’t start in 79, our problems with Cuba doesn’t start in 59, our problems with Iraq didn’t start with his invasion of Kuwait, our problems with bin Laden didn’t start with 9/11, our problems in Latin America didn’t start with the nonsensical ‘Red Scare’ or with Pablo Escobar and on and on.
      So there

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: