Dan White, the author of this article is a confirmed and vocal “contrarian,” a breed we need ever more of in our country of “go along, get along” citizens.
This is why his article resonated with me. Several months ago I had an appointment at our local VA and found at the entrance was a display of baseball-style caps with identification of all the wars we have been in. For the hell of it, I bought two hats that fit my MOS. One said, “WW II VETERAN,” and the other, more colorful, one said “U.S.ARMY AIR CORPS”. My wife felt that they were sort of gauche.
In WW II, an egalitarian military composed of citizens, from all walks of life, fought, died, and won that war in less than four years. Today we have a “mercenary” military generally composed of an officer class of ambitious and “connected” young people, and the grunts who just need a job or were misled by government propaganda that they are saving our “freedom.” They have been in harm’s way for close to fifteen years and succeeded only in creating chaos and enemies wherever they operate. Today we are less safe than we were fifteen years ago. It is now more obvious that our “war on terror” is really an ambitious “imperialist war” to secure markets and resources for our corporate business sector.
After 9/11, the Bush administration sought to guarantee that our citizens would support our marginally legal military adventures in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, etc. by telling them that the “troops” were defending our freedom and should be thanked for their sacrifice by telling them “Thank you for your service,” when they saw a soldier. That rankled me considerably. What our military was doing was creating chaos in a part of the world that had nothing to do with “our” freedom. This was purely a “psy-war” propaganda move. A clever ploy to gain civilian support for meaningless perpetual wars on “terror.”
I’m fighting this PR ploy one-citizen-at-a-time by wearing my hat in public. When someone says, “Thank you for your service,” I reply:
No thanks are necessary. We did it because we had to. We were attacked by three well-armed nations with huge land, sea, and air forces, not groups and individuals lightly armed with knives, guns, and home-made explosives. We defeated these three nations in under four years and brought new forms of liberal governance to all three.
Now, after fifteen years of the phony ‘war on terror,’ our country is poorer. We have lost the respect of people around the world, and left vast sections of the world in chaos. I served because I had to and I believe we must oppose this perpetual war making and remake our democracy by winning back that respect as a nation of peace.
Since I live in a liberal city, many people will respond in agreement but the occasional person, who obviously was looking for a simple response, will just awkwardly slink away with a puzzled, “thank you.” Like Dan my hope is that people will rethink if they really want to thank someone for bringing chaos to our democracy and the world. – b. traven
Daniel N. White
What Bernard Fall Saw in Vietnam
Bernard Fall, the great French-American writer on the wars in Vietnam, wrote a piece in his Street Without Joy about his early days in Vietnam, during the French war there. Fall was in Cambodia doing interviews and research. Later that day he went with a pair of French officers that he just had interviewed to the local tennis club. He watched them in their spotless tennis whites play a full match of tennis.
Early on in their game, a Cambodian non-commissioned officer (NCO) came up to the court. The NCO attempted to get one of the officers to sign some papers he had. He got a brush-off — the French officers were busy with their game. The Cambodian NCO just went off to the sidelines, squatted on his haunches the way Cambodians do, full out in the tropical sun, and waited while the two French officers in their tennis whites batted the ball back and forth. Fall watched, with a feeling of dread coming over him, as the post bugler sounded Last Post. The colors were lowered, the Cambodian standing to attention while the French officers continued playing tennis. Fall wrote:
Something very warm welled up in me. I felt like running over to the little Cambodian who had fought for his whole life for my country, and apologizing for my countrymen here who didn’t care about him, and my countrymen in France who didn’t care about their countrymen fighting in Indochina…
Eventually, the game ended, the one officer went over to the NCO and signed the necessary document. The NCO saluted and wandered off. The French officers shouldered their racquets, called out to Fall to join them, and went off to the club for drinks. Fall summarized this experience:
And in one single blinding flash, I knew that we were going to lose the war.
What I Saw in Austin Texas
I had a moment like this recently in Austin TX. Not that I suddenly knew that we were going to lose our wars — I have known that all along. No, this moment was more. More than the realization about how completely useless the left is nowadays here in the US. The conventional political left, that is. And it is more than seeing how we have come to accept the new narrative of our world, our place in that world, and all the war-related-lies put out by the war party. My moment of clarity was about our future, and it is darker than just losing a war in Southeast Asia then, or in central Asia now.
A lefty event I caught back in September was put on by the local Catholic college, St. Edwards. Exactly 50 years ago, farmworkers in Texas struck for higher wages and marched from the Rio Grande valley, Texas’ prime agricultural region, to Austin to petition for redress against the gross wage and work insults they faced from so many of the reactionary Anglo landowners in the Valley. The United Farm Workers (UFW) fight in California had received national news attention. But this march was a major turning point in Texas society and politics. It is when the Latino sleeping giant first stirred.
The event was well promoted in all the lefty circles here in Austin. It had a good turnout that filled the floor of the St. Ed’s basketball gym. For once, the audience for a major lefty political event was not exclusively social security age Anglo. There was a good turnout of Latino Austin there. A good number of St. Ed’s ethnically diverse students also showed up, along with, for once (other than at the Bernie events), persons younger than 40.
This event happened to take place on Sunday, September 11. Consequently the left Catholic St. Ed’s promoters of the UFW event grafted on a Remember 9-11 intro before the main event. The organizer nattered on pointlessly* for a bit about the 9-11 tragedy. Then they hauled out a young Hispanic female AFD to natter on pointlessly some more on the subject. That ended with a call for us all to stand silently with our heads bowed for a full minute to remember all those killed on 9-11.
Far from being bowed, I saw red. Once more, 9-11 and the eternal kowtowing to everything Bush and the war party, brought along in its convenient wake, was being forced down all our throats. And here at a public event where it didn’t belong.
Piggybacking war propaganda on the memory of the struggles of poor-assed Mexicano farmworkers standing up and fighting for a fair shake is sick and vile.
The Silent Acceptance
I said this to all the persons sitting at my table, and told them that all this 9-11 commemoration garbage was nothing but more war-justifying-propaganda. It is more political narrative manipulation by them to keep the wars going. My table-mates were all on the younger side of the audience demographic—I recognized a couple of them from the Bernie campaign—and they listened sympathetically to me say this.
When I urged them to sit down and not take part in this nonsense – well, there I lost them. You could tell from their looking around the room that they were not going to unless everyone else was. There was not a single other table that did not already have everyone standing up and shuffling their feet. They all slowly got to their feet and played along. I stayed seated, and was the only person in the entire lefty audience to do so.
I talked to numerous attendees afterwards about this, and asked them if they could see that the 9-11 commemoration was war propaganda. Why did they let themselves be a part of it?
Nobody wanted to talk about it beyond saying that everyone else was doing it. The fact that everyone else was doing it was sufficient reason for them to do it; none were willing to stand up by sitting down.
I did not get any arguments from them about how the 9-11 nonsense this many years on was nothing but more war propaganda. But I had a terrible sinking suspicion that they, the leftmost Austinites there are, really did not believe it. They had internalized the media narrative of 9-11 America under attack: we must fight back against the threat, support our troops, etc., etc., etc., deeply enough to where it was now well-lodged in a reason-proof part of their psyches.
The terrible Bernard Fall moment for me there was not about the failure of the Left. It certainly was not about the Left’s grade-school infantilism of not wanting to look different in a group. Nor was it that the liberal class of Austin, Texas, has swallowed, hook, line, and sinker, the narrative of the war party for permanent war abroad. I have mostly known that about the left here in Austin for a while now. I rather doubt it is any different anywhere else in this country.
The Left is not going to do anything useful about ending the wars, not with the way they act and think here. So there is no domestic force on the horizon that would. Conservative America is almost entirely wedded to the war party. We are going to fight these wars as long as the war party wants to, and for them that is forever, but I have suspected all that for a while.
Our Very Dark Future
No, my Bernard Fall moment was knowing that our future is darker than we can imagine in this country. Bernard Fall knew in his moment that his France was going to lose in Vietnam. My revelation is that we will continue in our vile wars until a big enough outside force compels us to stop, and that can only be a catastrophe of economic failure greater than the Depression, or an environmental catastrophe such as a giant meteor hit, or our power-drunkenly stumbling into an even more vile and idiotic war involving nuclear weapons and tens of millions of deaths.
Those are the only forces big enough to stop the war party, and the first and last of these is fairly on the horizon. And one of them is coming. The darkness cometh, and I fear it.
* I am willing to take on any New Yorker who disagrees. Nearly a decade ago the Texas Book Festival had a panel of authors of books about 9-11. Four novelists, including Bret Easton Ellis, author of Less than Zero, and a non-fiction author who did the graphic novel account of 9-11. Mr. Ellis told how Norman Mailer had told him that 9-11 was such a big event that it could not or should not be written about for at least a decade. In the Q&A I set the bait by asking Mr. Ellis if he had then asked Mr. Mailer why then he did not wait about a millennium before writing The Naked and the Dead. Lot bigger event that, WWII, you know. Got a laugh out of them with that.
But then I asked them if any of them had taken a walk on the Capitol grounds — the event was being held at the Capitol building — and looked at the big monument on the grounds to Texas firefighters killed in the line of duty. None had, of course. I went on to explain to them that most of the plinth was blank, but one side was almost entirely filled by names of the Texas City VFD killed in the ’47 Texas City disaster. Every single member of the department was killed when the Grandcamp exploded, except for the dispatcher back in the offices. Empty casket funerals for all of them, because they were all blown to stray unidentifiable small pieces, mostly found later by birds and dogs and cats. You know, I said, I never have seen a single person wearing a Texas City VFD t-shirt wandering around showing solidarity with them and their sacrifice, and I would bet, you know, that within a week of the Texas City disaster there was not a single word any more on it in the New York Times, or in any other major media source.
Yet with 9-11 we here in the US, you in particular there in the NY media and literary world, keep coming back to it. Why is that? Texas City officially killed something over 700 people, and it is now generally acknowledged that 500 or so Mexicans were living in a ghetto next to the docks and they all got vaporized too, but nobody in Texas counted Mexicans back then so they didn’t make the official figures. Why does 9-11 get so much attention, attention by you? I specifically excluded the author of the nonfiction book—but aren’t all you unwittingly being a part of a propaganda narrative put out by the authorities for their own regrettable at best purposes? Do you see that, or do you disagree with my analysis?
Nobody on the panel wanted to touch that, but after a bit Mr. Ellis volunteered that Texas City was different, that it was a natural disaster. If Mr. Ellis speaks for the NY literary intelligentsia here, well, I am being kind to say that they really are all very dense to think that ships full of ammonium nitrate blowing up and in turn blowing up petrochemical refineries is a natural disaster like a hurricane or earthquake. But that’s the greatest possible extent of any kindness I have for anyone in the intelligentsia to be so blind and cowardly about their at-best semi-witting participation in war propaganda by harping on 9-11 the way they have and still do. Or anyone from NY doing that, too.
A tip of the hat is due to Colin Kaepernick, as his example encouraged me there at the event.
This post also appeared on the Dandelion Salad blog.