Little Children’s – and Our Military’s – Make Believe

Young-boy-wearing-clown-make-up-and-military-helmet-standing-on-stage-with-red-curtain-aiming-over-s

Dan White

Children are always playing make-believe, pretending that they are various wild animals in the jungle, or rocket-ship pilots, or things like that. Sometimes when they really get into the game, they go so far as to burglarize the master bedroom and put on mommy and daddy’s outfits and pretend that their parents clothes make them mommy and daddy for a day. It doesn’t, but the children playing the game, god bless them, instinctively know it. Our military is playing make-believe with our decade and a half long series of objective-less evil wars, and dammit, they don’t realize it. They aren’t as aware as little children about themselves, and we are all suffering from their lack of self-awareness that a five year old has.

Proof of this comes from yet another Important Guest Speaker from DC drug in by the Strauss Center for International Relations, the foreign affairs branch of the LBJ School of Government, for the edification of the students and whatever engaged part of the faculty and citizenry who wants to show up and listen. Jeff Eggers, former Navy SEAL, and until recently the White House Special Assistant to the President on National Security, and Special Advisor on Afghanistan, was the guest speaker, and his topic was of course our war in Afghanistan.

As is almost always the case, the student turnout was about 30, with slightly more, 40?, silver-hairs who are some UT faculty and some engaged citizens. As is always the case at these events, there was no news media presence save the student newspaper, which as bad as it has been for the past decade or two doesn’t really count as any sort of newspaper. It didn’t used to be so bad; but there is even less nothing in it than there is in the local shrunken Cox chain daily monopoly. With nobody there from the local newspaper or TV or radio stations, hell I guess the wars, and the people directing them, don’t count as news either.

That day was a rainout for me, so I showed up early and grabbed a seat in the building atrium and got out the book I was reading. Thirty pages later I looked up to see Robert Chesney, Director of the Strauss Center, walking in and taking a seat with someone who is obviously the guest speaker. Ex-career military, particularly combat arms, are easy enough to spot from their not being fat and out of shape like most males in their age cohort are, and from their erect carriage, their always starting off on their left foot, and from a more focused and intense air to them. All of these are permanent marks put on a person by years in the military.

Chesney and Eggers sat down to a quick takeout lunch and started talking, mostly shop about who was in and out in DC. Once they finished eating, I wandered over and introduced myself to Mr. Eggers. I explained to him that I was an Austin resident interested in foreign affairs, and that the LBJ School had me on a freezeout on account of their, present company in particular’s, not liking the hard questions I asked. I explained that I would greatly appreciate it if he showed the courtesy of picking me for a question.   Mr. Eggers replied that he never had any problems with hard questions, and that he’d certainly make sure that I got to ask my question.

The talk said nothing noteworthy. There were no insights to be gained from Mr. Eggers’ words about the war in Afghanistan and that’s probably true about anyone from inside the Beltway talking about the topic. If you read the newsweeklies, you already know what is going to be said. This is the level of subject expertise and discourse on most any big issue nowadays, and the wars are the biggest issue, bar none, there is. Even if our political system and news media say otherwise by both their generally ignoring them and the all-is-well-honestly tone that badly infects such little reportage they bother to give them.

Robert Chesney once again took up too much of the speaker’s time with his own podium grabbing beforehand. Once the talk was over, he grabbed the podium again, and ran the Q&A, mostly for the benefit of his fellow faculty, who were selected for questions whether they had their hands up or not. Nobody, particularly the students, asked a good question, mostly from deferential attitudes towards authority and their own lack of imagination. Probably like that at any graduate school of government nowadays. I wasn’t picked, big surprise there.

I walked up to Mr. Eggers afterwards. Told him that I enjoyed his talk, and appreciated his showing up here in Austin, but that he’d earned a solid Fail on this exercise, sorry. Eggers asked me what I meant? I replied: “Mr. Eggers, I talked to you beforehand and you personally assured me that I would be picked for a question. I wasn’t. You didn’t live up to your personal word. That itself is grounds for a fail. You let Mr. Chesney hog the microphone; we didn’t come here to listen to him; we came here to listen to you. You certainly should have known that, and acted on that. You didn’t. It was your event and you didn’t run it; you let someone less qualified run it for you and they did it badly. You got trained as an officer to evaluate situations and step up and act when things are not proceeding properly. You didn’t here. You fail; no two ways about it.

Eggers was a good sport about it, and said with a hint of a wry smile that sorry, but he was no longer an officer. I replied, coldly: “No, Mr. Eggers: once an officer, always an officer.” Spell of blank silence after that one. We talked a bit more, and I asked him what he was doing now that he was out of the White House. Eggers replied that he was going to start training young officers to keep them from making the same mistakes we’d made in our recent wars. “Well, Mr. Eggers, there’s a good lesson here today to impart to them, don’t you think?” Silence on that one too.

Maybe by now Mr. Eggers has stopped bleeding from those cuts. The fact is that all militaries have always, out of necessity and custom both, inculcated those habits of command, those whether we like them or not necessary human habits of command previously iterated, in its officer corps the same way they inculcate erect posture and left foot first. Situational awareness, evaluation of the situation, stepping up and making the necessary decisions, issuing the appropriate orders, and assuming responsibility for them once you do is called officering up, a close cousin to manning up. . You can’t officer for 20 years like Mr Eggers did in a real armed force without that getting as permanently ingrained into you as the head up shoulders back left foot first gets permanently ingrained into all from the drill field.

If these traits don’t get inculcated the officer corps has not been properly trained by the military it serves in and officers won’t do their job right, which by necessity means that the military can’t do its job right. Without these habits, without those properly trained officers, the military isn’t being a real armed force; they are some pretense of an armed force. They aren’t doing soldiering; they are doing some greater or lesser degree of passable or less imitation of it. They are playing an adult version of make-believe, with fancy uniforms and expensive toys, playing make-believe military in the same way children play at make believe adulthood by parading in their parents’ outfits.

Eggers is an average specimen of that. He got trained mostly to be a good bureaucratic player instead of an officer. Pretty much like anyone who goes to college gets trained to. Different skill sets there, of smoothness and politesse and sycophancy and buckpassing, than officering is. Law school is the best training for that sort of thing; just ask Mr. Chesney; he’ll tell you. Anybody wants to know why we have done so badly in our 15+ years of wars, well, here’s one good place to look for an explanation. We have a make-believe military that isn’t, and can’t, do the necessary hard job of war. But in fairness to the military, the fault isn’t entirely theirs. All the rest of us are playing make-believe too, playing make-believe that our military efforts abroad have an objective or rationale, that they are leading somewhere, that they are worth the candle. It isn’t just the military that needs to stop playing make-believe, its all the rest of us to, the entire of the political players and most all the voting populace. We all need to stop playing make-believe, even if we can’t grow up and become adults just yet. Children get spanked by mommy and daddy for messing things up in the master bedroom, and we will get an awful lot worse lesson from events in the future if we don’t.

19 thoughts on “Little Children’s – and Our Military’s – Make Believe

  1. Glad for the latest installment in The Adventures of Dan White in Awkward Question Land! Unfortunately the US Ruling Class is committed to continuing indefinitely the Global War on Islam. I use this characterization in deadly earnest. Someone please name a nation where US troops are killing people that isn’t predominantly Muslim. How else can we expect the Muslims of the world to perceive things? Create more resentment of the US and you guarantee an endless supply of enemies to keep the US Military Machine chugging along, fat and happy. What will it take to halt this self-perpetuating situation, given that the war is endorsed and conducted by both political parties? Perhaps the final collapse of the global financial house of cards will provide sufficient distraction? I grow ever more impatient as time passes.

  2. An interesting essay, and I wonder how many students would have show if there was still a draft. This aside, you are wrong to hold any military commander responsible for our ongoing military fiascoes. After all, commanders only respond to orders from civilians, and within the context of the U.S. principles of war. The first of these is “The Objective.” In our war on terror – or whatever we now call it – what objective did civil authority set for our military? Know this and you will know why we are in the mess we are in.

    • Thank you, Walter, for sharing with us the perspective of the whining, ass-covering officer caste. Oh, poor them. They keep getting orders to do the immoral, illegal, and impossible but they just can’t restrain themselves from accepting the directives anyway. Then they bitch and complain and blame everybody but themselves when they lose again to some Southeast Asian peasants in black pajamas or barely armed Afghan poppy farmers in the foothills of the Hindu Kush. To hear them tell the terrible tale: those military mosquitoes and termites of the world just won’t fight fair! The U.S. military would have “won,” they keep explaining, if only they had more stuff, more time, and … well … just more of everything. (More medals wouldn’t hurt, either). The U.S. military has more of everything — like thousands of nuclear warheads — than any military in the world has ever had, and still they never have enough. Oh, woe is them.

      The uniformed military — meaning the officers — can refuse to accept responsibility for any civilian orders with which they do not agree. In other words, they can resign if, for any reason, they feel unable or unwilling to do what their civilian authorities have asked of them. They can cease and desist from lobbying the civilian government for more than half the country’s budget. They can also quit demanding a role to play in America’s foreign policy, an area where they have proven spectacularly ignorant and incompetent since at least 1945. If every senior officer had resigned rather than carry out a war undeclared by the U.S. Congress — as specifically demanded by the U.S. Constitution these same officers swore and oath to defend — then the U.S. would not have fought and lost a single war since 1945. If the officers had simply and politely told their civilian superiors: “Sorry, sir. My oath to defend the Constitution prevents me from waging undeclared wars against nations that have never attacked or threatened to attack my country. Therefore, I cannot accept the responsibility. You will have my resignation on your desk in the morning.” See? Easy. If the U.S. military doesn’t want to fight and lose illegal, immoral, and impossible wars, the U.S. military can very easily refuse to indulge in them. But that would mean taking off those silly, medal-encrusted uniforms and getting a real job in the private sector. …

      At any rate, and in the real world, the U.S. military establishment will never resign in order to prevent a needless, ruinous war. For them, fighting is not a means to a political end. It is the end, itself. As George Orwell wrote in 1984: “All that is needed is that a war should exist.” For this reason, I consider the word-like noise, “war,” little more than a vapid, meaningless euphemism, at least as used by Americans. I prefer descriptive phrases like “Ordnance Expenditure Expedition,” “Target-Practice Training Op,” “Earn While You Learn Imperialism,” or “Commendation Accumulation Syndrome.” Anything to get the fighting started so that the officers can start losing and calling it “long” and then project their predictable failure generations into the future — “and beyond,” as they like to say these days. The U.S. military brass doesn’t even pretend to think that they can actually “end” anything. That would cut off the profit entitlement stream and suggest — horror of horrors — “demobilization,” which ought to have happened in 1945, but — to our ruination and impoverishment — didn’t.

      If the officer caste wants to fight someone, anyone; somewhere, anywhere; for whatever reason or no reason at all; then let them do it themselves. No need to conscript enlisted men and women for them to get killed or maimed for no earthly reason. Rich man’s war. Let the rich men “fight” it. They can probably do that — like former Secretary of State You-Know-Her — from a cellphone.

      • As a student of the literature of revolution, I can confirm that there really was a Communist International (I refer specifically to the 3rd, or COMINTERN), with the hope that the working classes of the “developed” nations would come to understand how they were exploited (one aspect of which was to be used as cannon fodder as imperial nations fought for control of the globe’s resources) and to fight against this. Unfortunately (from my perspective, obviously not from global Capitali$m’s), this was not to be. An attempted rising in Germany right after WW I went very badly–Trotsky later wrote that Hitler’s rise was punishment of the German workers for their failure. In just a few years, Lenin was gravely ill and being shot by assassins. Upon gaining control of the apparatus, Stalin ousted Trotsky from government and watered down COMINTERN militancy. (Bear with me, please, I’m approaching the main point.)

        Making sacrifices modern Americans can’t even relate to, the Soviet Union played a, if not THE, key role in defeating the Fascist Axis in Europe and was engaging Imperial Japan in the Far East. But the USSR was exhausted and great swaths lay in ruin, with estimated death toll running as high as 40,000,000. Yet right there and then, the leaders of the major Capitali$t powers, under US leadership, declared that the watered-down COMINTERN was the greatest menace to world peace and “democracy” ever discovered! Soon enough came Mr. Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech, made on US soil if memory serves. Et voila! An ENEMY had been flushed out of the dark corners where the insidious agents of this great International Communist Conspiracy did their dirty work. Preparation for WW II, in the realm of manufacturing activity, pulled the US out of the Great Depression. This is acknowledged by mainstream historians and economists. How to continue the “Good Times”? Manufacture a new, deadly ENEMY and brainwash the populace into accepting the new bogeyman. Thus, aggression against those who’d fought the Japanese invaders in Korea and Vietnam (making them de facto if not official allies of the US) was “justified” because those folks were just “puppets” of the USSR! And enough of the domestic audience (i.e. here in the US) bought into this theater that young men and women marched dutifully off to “defend our way of life, our values.” Well, there were exceptions, and I am proud to be in the minority who actively resisted. And they continue to march off to kill, and occasionally die or get maimed, but the new bogeyman is “Radical Islam.” And again, the great majority of the domestic audience buys into this. As the old song inquired, “When will they ever learn, When will they ever learn?”

    • To Mike and Greg’s points: Somehow the national security state must be reined in and downsized, and its mission/objective reduced to national DEFENSE. Related to this effort is the rejection of bogeyman politics. Just as there was no monolithic communist enemy (a foolish view that contributed greatly to the Vietnam disaster), so is there no monolithic Islamic enemy.

      But it seems our national security state is hankering after another forever war, this time against more than a billion Muslims.

      Two simple steps: downsize the “defense” establishment, and reject the demonizing of “enemies,” whether Communist or Muslim or whatever.

      As an aside, I came across a random newspaper article from after World War I in which American veterans were arguing that we must get the profit motive out of war-making. What was said roughly 80 years ago is even more true today.

  3. Walter … You are right on the draft since there would have been a citizen uprising against this perpetual war if citizens had ‘skin in the game” as with sons, daughters and husbands, et al

    In my opinion the other point you make is a bit more complex than holding the military commanders free from blame. There is a complex relationship between the military and our supposed representatives in the congress. The politicions have found it useful to use fear of “enemies” to get votes and the military has played along with them to get a militray budget that now constitures 52% of our national budget. It has now deteriorated to a symbiotic relationship between seff serving politicians of both parties and self serving military leadership in geting an enormous outsized budget for their games. Our educational system, infrastructure, health care, and other commons have suffered from this disasterous relationship between the military and the politiciians which has resulted not only in the failure of our military adventures but the destruction of our internal economy.

    • The failure of US military forces to “win” wars since 1960 is largely a result of the failure of US strategic planning and policies. Strategy, based on national interests, imperatives and objectives must lead and guide military strategy, spending and implementation. Without a coherent national strategy, the military will be given random, often non-essential and un-doable objectives. National strategy must form the basis for “defense” spending. The military should not be tasked with more wars than it is funded for. As it is now, the defense budget is more about industrial pork than warfighting necessities. As long as the US lacks a no-nonsense national strategy and military-industrial pork spending by Congress defines the defense budget, the military will lack the capability and indeed the incentives to define and implement meaningful and “winning” warfighting strategies, capabilities and combat operations. As traven says, military commanders are not free from blame, but they are required to follow civilian leadership orders and are subject to budget limitations and instructions from Congress.

      • LittleFish Minnow–Your comment seems to gloss over what is, for me and many contrarian minds, the major issue: the wars waged by USA since the end of WW II have been unjustified, illegal by international standards (despite the UN shamelessly providing a fig leaf on the Korean peninsula) and largely racist and genocidal. The problem is this thrice-accursed notion of “American exceptionalism.” Since “we” (I have opposed all these wars–“retroactively” in the case of Korea, due to my age–and refuse to lump myself in with “America,” thus the quotation marks around “we”) are the richest, most armed to the teeth, nation on the planet, “we” have the right to do whatever “we” damn well please. This disgusting, utterly immoral/amoral philosophy–if it even merits such a title–will be the undoing of this nation yet. And the sooner the better as far as I’m concerned!

    • traven.

      What is the strategic objective of our so called, “war on terror”? Were it defeating radical islam, we would bring all national power – military and otherwise – to bear on Saudi Arabia. No chance of that. A few mega speaking and lobbying fees, and our national elites head to the bank. Sick!

      • Walter. Right on!
        We would have won the so called “War on Terror” by now if Dubya hadn’t put his arm around his ” good buddy” Saudi Prince Bandar then head of Saudi Intelligence. After 9/11 he should have hustled Bandar to the nearest jail and held him until he detailed how the 15 Saudi’s managed to get the money to learn, in our country, to fly 747’s and navigatet to crash into buildings in distant cities.
        Saudi Arabia and the royal family’s love of Wahabism, the state religion, has poisoned the Moslem religion and destabilized the middle east and central Asia, and is well into Europe now. And Obama, Clinton, et al still bow down before the Saudi Kings. Yes it is “sick” and much worse. Our targets for ‘regime change’ ,which the neo-cons and neo-libs are so fond of, should be all of the backward beheading kingdoms in the Middle East.

  4. ‘LFM” A voice for reason. I wonder what that ” Strategy based on National interests ” that you mention might look like?

    We do have a “strategy ” today which has been accepted by both Democratic “neo-liberals” and Republican ” “neo-conservatives” involving military interventionism that has led us and the entire world into global chaos.

    LFM, can you give us a hint about your idea of a viable alternative to the ‘strategy” we have today.?

    Frankly, I think we have too many jerks, jerking us around with their “strategies” and maybe we should just start to rethink the size of our military so we don’t tempt any ‘jerks’ into a “strategy”. Then maybe Russia, China, the Moslem world, and any other ‘enemies’ we may imagine, could heave a sigh of relief that ‘Golem’ has retired and they can start solving their own problems for a change.

  5. It’s hard to improve on what Ike said 55 years ago about the disastrous potential of a military-industrial-Congressional complex and the perils of its misplaced power. Ike also noted that massive military spending is itself a danger to civilization.

    ironically, the country that is arguably the safest in the world, with two large oceans as borders and a long and safe frontier with peaceful Canada, is the one most committed to spending massive sums on weapons and the military in the name of “safety.”

    Yet true safety does not and will not come from weapons and a massive military. And true strength is not military strength.

    We need to downsize our military, withdraw from perpetual wars, and focus on defense, not imperialism. We need to do this because perpetual war will destroy our democracy (what little is left of it).

    The biggest fight is against the enemy within, against our own ambitions for control and power, and we are losing that fight.

    I might also add that a huge military that consumes enormous amount of fossil fuels is only contributing to another major danger facing us — global warming and environmental degradation.

    We need an entirely new mindset in America — a revolution in outlook — and it sure as hell isn’t coming from Trump or Hillary.

    • I fairly recently had the pleasure of seeing video excerpts of that Eisenhower speech. There was much more to it than the remark about “the complex,” including concerns about the environment. This raised Ike much higher in my esteem than ever before. The GOP in his day was nothing to cheer about for a progressive, but just look what became of it eight years after he left office. The party fell into Nixon’s orbit and it’s been straight downhill ever since. And the response of the Democrats? To move (sprinting at times, really) ever farther to the right on the political spectrum themselves. Am I drifting from the topic at hand? Not at all! The Military Machine will soon be at the beck and call of someone totally committed to continuing Business As Usual, and that means war, war and more war.

      • Ike would today be dismissed as an idealist and a leftist. That’s how far our politics has shifted to the right — and the Clintons are a big part of the reason why. They don’t care about principles — all they care about is winning.

  6. “War is too serious a matter to entrust to military men.” — Georges Clemenceau

    From Vietnam – a History, by Stanley Karnow:

    “[President Lyndon] Johnson subscribed to the adage that “wars are too serious to be entrusted to generals.” He knew, as he once put it, that armed forces “need battles and bombs and bullets in order to be heroic,” and that they would drag him into a military conflict if they could. But he also knew that Pentagon lobbyists, among the best in the business, could persuade conservatives in Congress to sabotage his social legislation unless he satisfied their demands. As he girded himself for the 1964 presidential campaign, he was especially sensitive to the jingoists who might brand him “soft on communism” were he to back away from the challenge in Vietnam. So, politician that he was, he assuaged the brass and the braid with promises he may never have intended to keep. At a White House reception on Christmas Eve 1963, for example, he told the Joint Chiefs of Staff: ‘Just let me get elected, and you can have your war.’”

    Fast forward to October 25, 2009 and an interview on the Real News Network with Vietnam veteran Daniel Ellsberg regarding newly-elected President Barack Obama’s problems facing demands from his military “experts” on how much — not if, but how much — to escalate the U.S. military’s already-seven-years-long quagmire involvement in Afghanistan:

    ELLSBERG: “… The Pentagon Papers showed basically what [President Lyndon] Johnson’s reasons were [for escalating a conflict he did not want], and I think the reasons for Obama would be the same: to keep the military, the top military, from resigning and going public with complaints that he has abandoned a winnable war, a war that the president doesn’t himself believe can be won, and yet he goes into what he foresees will be a bloody, long, escalating stalemate in order to prevent his military from making a political case to his public and to the Congress that he has been weak, unmanly, indecisive, weak on terrorism, and has endangered American troops and Americans. …”

    [QUESTION]: “But if he’s really afraid of that, then why not fire these guys before if this happens?”

    ELLSBERG: “He doesn’t feel he can fire them, actually, because like Johnson he appointed them, and he can count on Senators from his own party saying, like Dianne Feinstein right now, “You appointed these crackerjack people, you signed on to this policy, and now you’re changing your mind. Isn’t that flip-flopping? You’re not trusting military judgement.” Now, the president, I feel sure in this case, doesn’t trust the advice that he’s getting. That’s why he’s delaying as long as he is. And he’s right not to trust it. And the advice he’s getting from people like General Powell and John Kerry, both of whom have experience in Vietnam, is that he should not trust that advice, that it’s invalid. And nevertheless I think he will do what Johnson did: go against his own instincts as to what’s best for the country and do what’s best for him and his administration and his party in the short run, facing elections, which is to avoid a military revolt. We’re almost facing something like the threat of something like a coup, that the military will impose their authority against his in this case, and in order to do that, many Americans, many Afghans, will die in order to protect the president from that kind of blame.”

    Fast forward again, this time to January 2017 and the advent of another newly elected U.S. President, this time one who supposedly lived through America’s military debacle in Southeast Asia. But has You-Know-Her shown a single sign of having learned anything of value from that national and international disaster? Has she learned that You Can’t Do A Wrong Thing The Right Way, even though the military experts say that you can if only you give them more stuff, more time, and let them kill even more people? Has she learned that you win wars by ending them or by not starting them in the first place? Has she learned that you lose wars by starting, continuing, escalating and failing to end them? It does not appear that she has learned any of these things. A certifiable endless-war vulture who always wanted to play Commander-in-Brief, You-Know-Her has already painted herself into a corner by accusing her political opposition (if one can call Donald Trump any such thing) of “not listening to our military experts.” At least some of us know where listening to that gaggle of self-interested, ticket-punching careerists leads: namely, down the proverbial and actual drainpipe of history.

    “War is too serious a matter to entrust to military men,” which, in the United States, means that American political leaders will most assuredly trust precisely the wrong thing to precisely the wrong people who always claim that they can do it the right way — except they never do. If they knew what to do, they would have done it already. If they could have, they would have; but they didn’t, so they can’t. Time’s up. No more stuff.

    • Of course, around the time the US was starting the massive personnel escalations in Southeast Asia, You-Know-Her was a Young Republican at Wellesley College, leading the charge for Sen. Goldwater. Whether the perception matched the reality of what went on inside Goldwater’s head I cannot testify, but the perception was that he wouldn’t much hesitate to “win” in that theater of war by nuking the population there. No more people, no more pesky guerillas! It’s magic! The US is unable to defeat well-organized guerilla insurgencies any other way. Thus, the only glorious military victory “we” can claim since WW II is Reagan’s triumph over that dangerous, microscopic island of Grenada. Oh, puff yourselves up with pride over that, fellow Americans! The situation in Afghanistan is peculiar and I still haven’t totally figured it out. The troops of the USSR were unwelcome there (as have been all foreign invaders), defeated with help of US aid to Osama bin-Laden’s forces. But I’ve still never seen a satisfactory answer to the question of “Who are the Taliban?” Supposedly they “crossed over the border from Pakistan” originally. Were they Afghanis who’d been in exile during the Soviet attempted occupation? Or are they simply so closely related, tribally/ethnically, to the Afghanis that their presence was tolerated? Do they rule the local populace solely by terror or threat of terror? Information I have discovered relating to the accusations against ‘Bowe’ Bergdahl suggest that rural Afghanis have still not welcomed American personnel as “liberators.” The US considers everyone hostile unless they can prove otherwise; definite shades of Vietnam there. I imagine that the Afghanis may resent the presence of the Taliban, but PREFER them to the arrogant “infidel” invaders from halfway around the world. Yes, I think that’s plausible.

      • Greg: I recommend the entire interview with Daniel Ellsberg, From Vietnam to Afghanistan, because he lays out the key similarities between the two conflicts. Not every Vietnamese supported the National Liberation Front (or “Viet Cong” as the Americans called these guerrilla forces) but admired them for kicking the French out of Vietnam. Similarly, as you surmise at the end of your comments, many Afghans don’t support the Taliban, but admire and respect them for kicking the Russians — and in time, the Americans — out of Afghanistan. The Taliban, which word means “students,” come from the dominant Pashtun tribe in Afghanistan and they don’t recognize the line on a map — the Durand Line — that some British imperialists drew up as a demarcation “border” between Afghanistan and “Pakistan.” From Wikipedia:

        “The Durand Line (Pashto: د ډیورنډ کرښه‎) is the 2,430-kilometre (1,510 mi) international border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. It was established in 1893 between Sir Mortimer Durand, a British diplomat and civil servant of British India, and Abdur Rahman Khan, the Afghan Amir, to fix the limit of their respective spheres of influence and improve diplomatic relations and trade….”

        The Durand Line cuts through the Pashtun tribal areas and further south through the Balochistan region, politically dividing ethnic Pashtuns, as well as the Baloch and other ethnic groups, who live on both sides of the border. It demarcates Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan of northern and western Pakistan from the northeastern and southern provinces of Afghanistan. From a geopolitical and geostrategic perspective, it has been described as one of the most dangerous borders in the world. Although it is recognised internationally as the western border of Pakistan, it remains largely unrecognised in Afghanistan. According to Aimal Faizi, spokesman for the Afghan President, the Durand Line is “an issue of historical importance for Afghanistan. The Afghan people, not the government, can take a final decision on it.”

        Just like that “border” that some Europeans at Geneva drew across the center of Vietnam — as a “temporary” dividing line so that opposing military forces could be separated and the French foreign legion repatriated — the Vietnamese never recognized it as a border and considered their entire country as one nation, not “North” Vietnam and “South” Vietnam. Americans believed in that “North” and “South” nonsense and died by the tens of thousands before getting the message and going back home where they belonged. The U.S. didn’t recognize what the Vietnamese insisted on having, so the Vietnamese had to fight a second bloody war for national independence. Just so with the Taliban. They do not recognize parts of “Pakistan” as anything but an extension of their own rightful tribal lands, so they go wherever they wish regardless of Obama’s robot drones occasionally murdering some of them from time to time in “Western Pakistan,” or, “the rest of Afghanistan” as many Afghans see it.

        Bottom line: the Afghan Pashtuns will settle their borders and the form of their government, however they conceived of those things. The United States military will, hopefully soon, again tuck its tail proudly between its legs and advance towards the exits at Bagram Air Force from whence they will fly home to Fort Podunk, U.S.A. where they belong. I’ve even written their epitaph for them:

        Another Catastrophic Success

        With their tails tucked proudly ‘tween their legs
        Advancing towards the exit march the dregs
        Of empire, whose retreat this question begs:
        No promised omelet, just the broken eggs?

        Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright 2011

  7. I remember many years ago laughing my ass off at the news that U.S. Army General David Petraeus had rediscovered some of those old counter-insurgency manuals that we had to read before deploying to South Vietnam in the summer of 1970 as part of the Nixon-Kissinger Fig-Leaf Contingent. Our deployment had an operational name, as all such doomed expeditions do: in our case, “Vietnamization,” which the French called “Yellowing the Corpses.” We Americans, you see, would “live among” the Vietnamese peasantry and train them in how to kill their own countrymen so that their countrymen wouldn’t kill so many of us Americans for invading, occupying, and wrecking their country. Needless to say, the Vietnamese did not seem at all motivated to learn what we had come to teach them. So they mostly ignored us, if they could, or actively undermined our efforts, if they couldn’t. But General Dave didn’t actually understand the true dynamics at work in “counter-insurgency,” although Iraqis and Afghans today certainly understand what “Browning the Bodies” means. Thus, the Buy Time Brigade goes on “training” the unmotivated natives until the next general arrives to pick up his medals and punch his career ticket while the current president stalls for time until the next president arrives to begin kicking the can on down the road until the next …

    In other words, fellow Crimestoppers, we have — again and still — the usual:

    Mini Green Zone Outpost Diaspora

    Far from the Green Zone Castle
    In mini-Green-Zone forts
    Our scattered forces “mingle”
    With RPG retorts

    Then when the ambush happens
    The cavalry replies
    And rides off to the rescue
    With any handy guys

    It takes perhaps an hour
    Once timely news arrives
    Of dead and captured soldiers
    And lost Iraqi lives

    Somewhere we’ve got a mission
    That no one can explain
    It promises to triumph
    With just a bit more pain

    For sure, we hear, our “leaders”
    In uniform and not
    With yet more blood and billions
    Could plan an “ink stain” spot

    They work in bits and pieces
    A little here and there
    And see some hints of “progress”
    Just never any where

    They travel to the future
    And tell us what they’ve seen:
    That things, absent their fuck-ups,
    Would soon get really mean

    We need them to continue,
    They say of what they’ve done,
    Because if we stop losing
    The “bad guys” will have “won”

    The country’s off its rocker
    When talk like this persists
    While troop retention withers
    And no one new enlists

    Yet if they wreck the Army
    Perhaps some good will come
    For with no foreign legion
    They might not act so dumb

    It hurts to lose our soldiers
    But many profit, too
    So why give up the gravy
    Slurped by the greedy few?

    The country’s lost its marbles
    That such a thing should be
    As suits and brass commanding
    Naught but their perfidy

    We’ve learned of those “belief tanks”
    Where no one thinks of doubt
    And “scholars” scream for “going in”
    But not for getting out

    We’ve got the dumbest “leaders”
    Who ever walked the earth:
    Those lowered expectations
    Of less than zero worth

    So tell us of the “new” plan
    We cannot wait to hear
    The brilliant scheme you’ve cooked up:
    What next we have to fear

    Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright © 2007

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