What are we up to here on DailyKos? I mean, I know what I'm up to. I'm doing the job that I gave myself, to promote dialog about citizenship and what I perceived as the necessity--for Democrats and anyone else concerned about human survival--to make a turn toward social democracy. I may not do a good job, or even an adequate job, but I'm doing my best given what I've got to work with.
And Barack Obama, Barack-the-Magnificient, he's here in spirit, and he sure knows what he's up to. If ever the President has been a true leader, those of us alive now are witness to this fact. He's more than an African-American, he's African and American(the cherry pie version, to boot). Just to ponder that conjunction is chilling--slavery and Liberia and Patrice Lumumba alone are worth ten thousand years of study and explication. So, from the contradictions and possibilities of his life and history, Barack-the-Magnificent is leading us.
But where are we going? Quo vadis? And, though we hardly recognize it, or if we do apparently don't like the recognition much, the answer to such a question depends on us. In a democracy, a leader's primary job is to rouse the people, the citizenry, to do their jobs and provide the direction from below that is the only hope for humankind. In order to be collectively responsible in such a fashion, one way or another we need to be willing and able to do a lot more, politically, than we've done so far, which is to be part of the process of getting Barack-the-Magnificent into office, surrounded by a cast, for the most part, of 'the usual suspects.'
Of course, participants can all articulate the standard explanation for their presence--which is in fact just to get more Democrats elected and so on. But I'd have to say that we owe ourselves more than this, if we're even to serve so limited a purpose in a conscious and defensible fashion. Specifically, we've got to pay attention to the details that are freely available, make sense of them, and then do something like a citizen's job in responding to them. After all, that's what a huge part of responsibility is: responding.
THE GENERAL POINT
In that vein, our new President made quite a speech the other day. I listened to it, and I've read it over two or three times so far. As noted, Barack-the-Magnificent seems to know exactly what he's up to. Back in November, I wrote a diary, "Of Rotten Apples," http://www.dailykos.com/... about the only part of then President-elect Obama's victory speech that gave me pause. Though the audience for this essay was paltry, it basically made a similar point as I make today, to wit that we need to attend more carefully to what appears in iconic texts that purport to represent the popular will.
Paying attention means being responsible for all of what one says, and it means being responsible for all of what others, who act in our names, have to offer as well. If a leader like Barack-the-Magnificent gives voice to something, and we remain silent or cheer him on, then we are accepting what he says. And we need to be responsible in this, to respond if we are truly citizens and democrats, unless we are in complete agreement.
Here is one of the 'worms in the apple' of his recent presentation:
[I]t has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things--some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.
For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.
For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.
For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn.
And even as I tip my hat to the beauty and simplicity here, and much of the ideation, I think to myself, "Khe Sanh?" "Tragic warriors" seems apt, maybe "valiant soldiers" if one has a celebratory bent in regard to the inevitable murder and mayhem of war, but our President contends that those who "fought and died" were essentially playing a heroic role, "carr(ying)us up the long, rugged path toward prosperity and freedom."
Whoa!! In our response to such statements, we have three choices: honesty, dishonesty, or ignorance. To believe, honestly, that the Marines and their Air Force cover and their Army rescuers at Khe Sanh have propelled us toward prosperity and freedom, we must find a way of viewing the Vietnam butchery in such a light as well. Of course, the barbarity and treachery of war always bursts with complexity and paradox. Any simple characterization of such monstrous humanity is inherently too simple.
But by way of contrast, a reasonable person might respond to the presence of Concord in President Obama's speech with the overly simple but supportable, "We had to fight for independence;" to the presence of Gettysburg with the overly simple but supportable, "We had to fight for the Union;" to the presence of Normandy with the overly simple but supportable, "We had to defeat the fascists." But Khe Sanh! Unless we choose ignorance or dishonesty in bridging the gap between 'freedom and prosperity' and Khe Sanh, the two standard tropes to account for our 'presence' in Vietnam--"We had to stop the Communists," or, "We had to fight for South Vietnamese self-determination"--are, at best, foolish bullshit. At worst, such thinking leads to some dark places indeed.
So, the only way that I see, honestly, to account for our Vietnam foray is like this: "We had to fight to mainain the maximum extent of the ruling class' imperial goals." And, in some sense, one might be able to hold that such a view has a connection with 'freedom and prosperity.' But honestly, I can't say that it has contributed to my freedom or my prosperity. And objectively, I can develop a potent argument that it hasn't contributed to the freedom or the prosperity of most Americans, let alone the freedom or prosperity of our six and half billion cousins all over the planet; except for those whose 'bread is buttered' by empire, that is.
And if we were a culture that chose honesty, instead of dishonesty or ignorance, I could conclude this essay with the paragraphs that will appear many paragraphs hence. This diary grew out of a realization of how profound the lack of understanding now is, at least on the part of folks who have commented on some of my comments, about the history and purpose of modern United States involvement in Southeast Asia. Therefore, prior to ending this diary, I'm making a brief detour into this missed history, the lack of understanding about which is a serious detriment to democratic potential, as the likes of Madison and Jefferson admirably testify.
SOUTHEAST ASIA, EMPIRE, AND THE IMPERIAL PRESENT
Here is the text with which some folks apparently took issue.
Our new President saluted the fallen heroes of Khe Sanh, who were soldiers and citizens who deserve our compassion, but who were also soldiers of the empire that practiced murder and mayhem in our name. The same imperial loggerheads unfold around the planet tonight.
In pertinent part, here was the response to this note, after we bickered a bit over the definition of murder.
You can disagree with the reason for fighting in Vietnam, but that war was hardly a war of empire. American politicians (John Foster Dulles for instance) were interested in backing up the French prior to US involvement in Vietnam. Surely that had nothing to do with Empire because the French would still have been there if our joint forces had prevailed.
These guys truly believed in the South East Asia Domino Theory. We now know that theory was incorrect but that is somewhat in hindsight. Call those politicians what you will, but a lot of them were worried about the Soviet Union taking over the world and THAT was what our military was fighting against in many places.
You also fail to address the point that a large number of nations were involved in Vietnam and not just us. Are you going to argue that they were all bought and paid for by the US?
Now, of course I am aware that not everyone agrees about the primarily imperial character of our wars in Southeast Asia. But I am also aware that an honest, non-ignorant view of the Vietnam conflict is impossible that follows the lines of the commenter. I set myself the task of demonstrating this, which is what ensues just below. Expanding the facts and analysis of this brief presentation would be as easy as pie, given a bit of time and effort, but what shows up will do to get the ball rolling, so to say.
That said, let's just do a little tour of the work of one of the folks whom the commenter mentioned: John Foster Dulles. While dozens of truly critical sources are available, Ronald Pruessen's book, John Foster Dulles: The Road To Power, and Townsend Hoopes', The Devil and John Foster Dulles are good for general background, along with Wikipedia, etc. Beginning with his role at the Versailles Peace Conference after 'the Great War,' as a partner at Sullivan and Cromwell, as an adviser to presidents, as a mover and shaker behind the Central Intelligence Act, and as Secretary of State, his entire career supported the protection of corporate wealth and the embodiment of that protection in the administrative apparatus--that is to say the military, the intelligence agencies, and the Department of State--of the United States of America.
After moving more or less full time into the upper reaches of the governing establishment, he did indeed espouse a virulent anti-communism as his primary perspective. But this was inseparable from his earlier, much more pragmatic commitments to United Fruit, to Citibank, and other corporate interests in Latin America, where he did a lot of his legal work, destroying unions, making sure the fix was in against any reform-politician, etc.
These legal moves are matters of fact, and to say that they stemmed from a fear of Russian dominance is nonsensical. In fact, a reasonable person would have a very difficult time accepting that any rational belief in Soviet takeover was real on the part of upper level government officials. At best, a very real fear of social democracy existed, as witness the destruction of elected regimes in Iran and elsewhere at Dulles' behest.
Anyone can point to words about communist aggression; I can provide reams of documentation about backing the moneybag interests that he worked for as a high priced corporate attorney. In regard to anyone who thinks that makes Vietnam a conflict that resulted from a fear of commie takeover, I'd have to say that the evidence in support of that position is rhetorical and ideological. That same evidence fits too, and therefore better, with a more analytical and material position, that a defense of a new form of empire was at the root of the war, after the old empire failed to hold its ground. For more reading about this, one might check out The Great Heroin Coup, which documents the U.S. involvement with the French as an imperial venture.
Among copious other sources, I'd also look at the work of Daniel Ellsberg for the CIA; The Pentagon Papers amply document that the 'red scare' was just one tactic to accomplish sacrosanct political goals opposing any independent Vietnam. Observers can try to go down the 'lions and tigers and reds, oh my!' road, but a lot of people won't buy it. 'It just don't add up, son,' as my grandpa used to say.
On the surface, I suppose, points like these have some validity. 'It was the French Empire, not ours, and besides the Commies were trying to take over.' Of course, such notions assume that geopolitics is essentially like a game of Risk--a game that lots of people probably enjoy, right?--and it completely ignores documentary, testimentary, and eyewitness evidence that suggest other predominant factors of self interest, but hey, who knows?
Maybe bald assertions about fearing Reds can stand against Chapters Two and Four of the aforementioned Pentagon Papers--passim, as the saying goes for those who care to examine the case. And again, supporting--half-heartedly and with our own interests and agenda, but still, somewhat--the French was a part of the story, albeit just a part.
The vast majority are unaware of Ho Chi Minh's repeated attempts to appeal to the U.S. He wrote Truman in 1946,
I wish to invite attention of your Excellency for strictly humanitarian reasons to following matter. Two million Vietnamese died of starvation during winter of 1944 and spring 1945 because of starvation policy of French... .Unless great world powers and international relief organizations bring us immediate assistance, we face imminent catastrophe.
As Howard Zinn points out in his A People's History of the United States, "Truman never responded."
But the U.S., financing 80% of the war effort in Indochina, beginning well before the formal inauguration of the Cold War in Autumn, 1946, and years before we "lost China," pursued such a 'selfless' policy not because our leaders were morons who just thought the French Foreign Legion romantic, but because they foresaw markets, labor, resources, and key commodities in the region that they wanted for our bankers and manufacturing companies and fuel outfits. To suggest that we were fighting for French imperial interests under these circumstances and in this fashion is, at best, hilarious nonsense.
But wait, there's more.
The most important region in the French empire was that of Indochina, which supplied sources of tin and rubber to the allied war effort. Vietnam, the largest, most populous part of Indochina, was already seething with nationalist sentiment, and the leaders of the Vietnamese independence movement seized on the Atlantic Charter to press their demands for self-determination. Yet the Roosevelt administration turned a deaf ear to those appeals. In late 1942, FDR assured the French that "it is thoroughly understood that French sovereignty will be reestablished as soon as possible... .
Even before the... war, some business leaders described their ultimate goals in blunt terms. Speaking to the Investment Bankers Association of New York in 1940, Virgil Jordan, president of the National Industrial Conference Board, used these words: "Whatever the outcome of the war, America has embarked on a career of imperialism, both in her world affairs and in every other aspect of her life." Carrying out "our imperial responsibilities"...meant advocacy of an American empire, based on dominance of the global economy, continu(ing)after the war.
We simply must notice here, that our leaders had more than just a tad of self interest, imperial purpose, that sort of thing, in being so magnanimous with the French while we let the Vietnamese starve. And this was, in significant part, occurring while our alliance with the Soviets was in high gear--we also wanted to sell them shit, after all. The quotation above is from Peter Irons most excellent monograph, War Powers: How the Imperial Presidency Hijacked the Constitution. Folks seriously ought to study this matter some, before trying to make a serious argument, but hey, that's just my advice.
Of course, some people just can't help themselves, they have to keep throwing up the commie bugaboo. To these, I'll have to explain something about chronology. The future cannot cause the past. The plans for empire date from at least--and many people, like Irons, would move this back a couple of decades or more--the late 1930's. 'The commie menace'--which never really existed in any substantial form, except to our imperial presence, but hey, we're all liberals here, right?--therefore didn't exist in any form when we got all of this started. That means, that to account for this matter of empire, we have to do a lot more than talk about the evils of communism, or in current parlance, the evils of the terrorist evildoers.
To anyone who would point out the multinational nature of the fight against the victorious North Vietnamese, I'd have to reply, "You're joking right?" Not just did we supply over 98% of the non-Vietnamese combat troops, endure the same proportion of casualties and expense, but just, like, it was our deal. It's like calling Operation Iraqi Liberation--oh, excuse me, I mean OIF, they changed the name for a less damning acronym--a 'multinational effort. Please.
Many 'liberals' note, charitably, that they do oppose imperialism in general, in Latin America say, "for the most part." Unfortunately, it's the same empire, led by the same folks, for the same purposes, in Vietnam, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and so on. Thanks all the same for deigning to accept a general disclaimer.
So I would repeat, "Our new President saluted the fallen heroes of Khe Sanh, who were soldiers and citizens who deserve our compassion, but who were also soldiers of the empire that practiced murder and mayhem in our name." Some of them, such as Lieutenant William Calley, were guilty of war crimes. All of them who saw combat participated in 'murder and mayhem.' That's what war is.
The question in all of this is not 'circumspection' but analysis. Were all members of the Wehrmacht guilty of war crimes? To assert such would be absurd; but unless one wants to advance a case that the nazi cause was a justifiable engagement of war powers, they were participants in unjust 'murder and mayhem' in the name of Germany and its people. A precise analogy is possible with the involvement of the United States in Southeast Asia, just as the same analogy, of war for imperial purpose, is applicable to our current wars.
This does not prove that the war was a fascist enterprise, though some might argue that. But they are all, since at least the 1950's, imperial enterprises, about controlling markets, resources, real estate, and trade. And, arguably, the United States' actions, in all of the 'there's' over there, have been unjust: just ask the people of the world; hell, a lot of Americans agree with me. As such, the soldiers there, though caught between a rock and a hard place, were doing the work of murder and mayhem in the name of freedom and democracy while actually representing the interests of the rich, the military, corporate contractors, and so on.
BY WAY OF CONCLUSION
So, in this context, of willful ignorance and a choice to believe naive analysis, I would insist, repeatedly, "we have gotten just what we deserve the past eight years." Moreover, our foreign policy will continue to be the source of carnage and mayhem so long as we fail to acknowledge this past and present commitment to imperial hegemony. Moreover, if we're stubborn in remaining clueless, and insistent in clinging to ignorance like an infant to its mother's breast, then the future is gloomy indeed.
Across this nation, citizens call for accountability and the indictment of the crooks and thugs who have robbed us blind and plundered the planet with a rapacious appetite for murder and mayhem. But how honest are these sentiments? How willingly would we apply the standards of justice to ourselves, who so often have acceded to the policies of pillage and carnage in the name of patriotism?
Once more, "Our new President saluted the fallen heroes of Khe Sanh, who were soldiers and citizens who deserve our compassion, but who were also soldiers of the empire that practiced murder and mayhem in our name. The same imperial loggerheads unfold around the planet today," and will keep doing so for the foreseeable future, until we get our act together and become clear hat only by opposing empire can we advance the interests of common humanity.
Barack Obama, somehow without immolation and with some measure of miraculous grace, has to 'lead' this ship of state. To what end? Until the citizens are willing to see that, without our covering Barack-the-Magnificent's 'grassroots' flank, policy will continue to assume the form of practicing the American creed of cupidity and capitalism, and insodoing will pursue what many of us continue to hold most sacred--that is to say the main chance and the easy killing, Barack Obama can only lead us into harbors in which we've dropped anchor before.
'What goes around comes around' is apt advice, no matter how unwelcome. If the United States of America cannot manage a social democratic turn, miraculous even to consider, then the plutocrats will yet have their way with Barack-the-Magnificent. And their agenda does not include include either democracy or Democratic politics, as they sit and scheme atop their cabal of capital and divide-and-conquer. In that light, as I began, so I'll end. What are we up to here?