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Impearls: War Debate 1

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Earthdate 2003-04-21

War Debate 1

I'm belatedly publishing an e-mail debate in two parts which a long-time friend of mine and I continued from what had been for some time a verbal conversation concerning the war.  Following is part 1 of our e-mail debate.  On Earthdate 2003-03-08, about a dozen days before outbreak of the war (Gulf War II), I replied to an e-mail from my friend, in which he wrote:

I heard an advertisement this morning for a special documentary movie on the Pentagon Papers, to air on the FX station on Sunday evening (not sure of what time).  Alan Alda is in it, I don't know if he plays Daniel Ellsberg.  It is particularly timely right now.  The Pentagon Papers — a series of documents given to the New York Times in 1973 (if I recall correctly) was about the Johnson Administration's increasing involvement in the Vietnam War.  They showed that there was a huge difference between what they knew internally, and what they were telling us.  Had they been more truthful then the public would have had an opportunity to understand the folly of that war far sooner, perhaps preventing a long tragedy.  Let us know if you want to see this, and if you get the FX station.  We can arrange a showing here if you would like.

Thanks for thinking of us.  Yes, I remember the Pentagon Papers case well, and am otherwise pretty aware of the level of deception that went on in the U.S. government and military during the Vietnam period.  Recent revelations from the release of transcripts of conversations by LBJ are even more damning, in fact, showing that the President didn't really believe the Vietnam War could be won, nor that he had the will to win it — then he sent in half a million troops.

Unfortunately, one of the commonest and most debilitating errors that many people make, however, in my view, is to get into the “tape loop” mode of thinking that, whatever happens, the same previously-experienced sequence of events is just repeating over and over again (thus the cliché that soldiers always fight the last war, not the present one).  Today, however, I think it is the demonstrators who are fighting the last — actually the third or fourth war back, at this point.

The crucial question, I believe, is not whether we're on the eve of another Vietnam War.  I think we're not, or at least that that's too simple a question.  The real uncertainty, in my view, is which war is it?  1965 — or 1939?  I believe the present situation has a closer analogy with the overall situation in 1939, on the cusp of the Second World War, than it does with 1965 and Vietnam.  While disheartening, if true this places the present antiwar demonstrators in the position of the “peace at any price” isolationists after Pearl Harbor.  I think it's safe to say history has shown that this viewpoint, at that particular moment in time, was very much mistaken.

Moreover, another “tape loop” aspect of the present antiwar movement is just the sort of intimation that timely release of the “Pentagon Papers” documentary you referred to is making — that the government is lying to us right and left, and it's just Vietnam all over again.

That's not my uptake on the current situation.  Just as each generation of parents seeks to not make the same mistakes (burned into their souls…) as their own folks, so I believe the present government is honestly trying not to deceive the public (as far as possible in war, anyway, where deception of the enemy is a vital tool).  I've heard Donald Rumsfeld's earnest statements that he and his generals will never lie to the public; they may not answer a question, but they won't lie (nor have I heard of him being caught in an outright lie from such a forum).  The plan to “embed” reporters throughout the military forces waiting to invade Iraq seems in line with such an “openness” policy.  It could be, in my possibly naive and optimistic viewpoint, that this war will be different.  (But certainly it's naive to believe that every war is Vietnam!)

So where is the present war going?  See this article for an analysis that I think is pretty close to the real estimation of things by George W. Bush and the U.S. government — and with which I suppose I largely agree.

There's another aspect of the antiwar movement that is more than troubling to me — the leadership are a bunch of Stalinists.  I mean that literally: the leaders of ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War & End Racism) are also leaders of the Workers World Party (WWP), a Stalinist organization whose fondest goal is the overthrow of liberal democracies throughout the world, especially the United States, and to replace the liberal-democratic capitalist state with something akin to North Korea.  I kid you not; megalomaniac dictator Kim Jong Il of North Korea is one of the WWP's heroes.  This ANSWER/WWP connection has been documented in a number of sources, for example this article by David Corn (hardly a rightist — he's actually Washington D.C. editor for the well-known leftist journal The Nation).

Attendees at antiwar festivities typically deny knowing — or caring — about ANSWER's Stalinist roots.  It's a little odd, however, that people find no moral taint in associating in festivals organized by Stalinists.  Would not attending events organized by Nazis carry some significant taint?  Beyond that, having organized the events gives ANSWER control of the agenda, control of the mike, and the message that thereupon gets conveyed to the media.  Why don't antiwar placards and speeches really ever mention any burden on Saddam Hussein to disarm, or even support for continued inspections?  It's because ANSWER (the WWP) supports Saddam.  It's not that they don't want war, they want Saddam to win!  In fact, best as I can make out, the WWP would like every tin-hat dictator in the world to get nuclear weapons, and use them to pave over the United States with glass.  This is no joke, and the situation, I believe, is that serious.

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