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US Values, Moral Accommodation and Remembering Vietnam

A Popular Culture Essay

 
The past two days were a roller-coaster for me in the national struggle for meaning in the realm of war and peace. First, I was talking with a friend about his conscientious objector status specifically to the Vietnam War. This was early in the war, and he made it under the wire. Soon, draft boards realized they better stop giving CO status to those morally opposing a specific war, lest they encourage a groundswell of opposition among potential combatants that could undermine an unpopular war like the one the US government chose to unleash on the Vietnamese. The war really began in 1945 when President Truman betrayed our WWII ally, the Vietnamese, and supported re-colonization by the French.

Senator John McCain and documentary filmmaker Ken BurnsSenator John McCain and documentary filmmaker Ken Burns

Later that night, I was part of an hour-long group phone call of fellow Vietnam veterans and friends in an organization called Full Disclosure. The group works to counter the government’s well-funded 13-year propaganda project to clean up the image of the Vietnam War; it emphasizes individual heroism and passes out badges and plaques to veterans. Members of Full Disclosure are very concerned right now about the upcoming Ken Burns 10-week PBS documentary series on the Vietnam War. Trying to get any kind of influence with Burns or members of his team on how the war is to be represented to Americans in 2017 is an uphill struggle.

Following the Full Disclosure phone call, I watched Mel Gibson’s excruciating film Hacksaw Ridge, about a CO medic who refused to even touch a rifle and saved 75 men from certain death in a horrific battle on the island of Okinawa in May 1945. I find Mel Gibson to be a repugnant lout; but my CO friend told me the film was a must-see. The husband of a gay Vietnam veteran friend who was a Navy corpsman with a Marine infantry unit in Vietnam also told me the film was good and how it reminded him of his husband’s experiences in Vietnam. (My medic friend felt no need to personally sit through Gibson’s gore fest.) Like the protagonist of Hacksaw Ridge, my friend refused to carry a weapon and saved men with sucking chest wounds and mangled and bleeding legs. He had been assured by a Navy recruiter he would be sent to journalism school, but Navy leaders did not need young men to assemble facts and information on the war; they needed what is historically known as cannon fodder, specifically cannon fodder able to keep other men alive. As cannon fodder, my friend's sexual preference was irrelevant.

Mr. Heron

 
It’s really very simple,
How things are going to change.
 
We learn what we need to know by watching
How Mr. heron stands in the marsh.
 
He stands until the tide ebbs
To the point where a large fish
 
Leaps free
As if tossed up by the water
 
In a floppy arc.
And then Mr. Heron stirs
 
Like a business man
In a dark suit,
 
Lifting himself slowly on wings
That never hurry.
 
And then you turn to me and say,
He looks sad.
 
Yes, it is much sadder than beautiful
To watch him fly away.
 
 
--Gary Lindorff
 
garylindorff.wordpress.com

No US War on North Korea

An optimistic perspective on a scary crisis

 

North Korea is threatening to destroy the US with its thus far largely undeliverable and sometimes unexplodable nuclear weapons, while the US, after an embarrassing navigational "mishap" that saw it steaming in the opposite direction, has successfully dispatched the USS Carl Vinson carrier battle group to a position reportedly within "strike range" of North Korea (albeit actually still in the South China Sea near the Philippines, some 1200 miles distant from North Korea). Now President Trump is threatening a possible attack on that country if it won't halt its nuclear weapons program.

So is the Korean War, which never really ended, going to be reactivated, as scare stories are now warning?

While I often find myself the pessimist in these kinds of crises, given the penchant for US presidents to turn to war as a default foreign policy option, I'm guessing that won't happen in this case, and for the same reason I don't think we will see US troops confronting the determined ethnic Russian secessionists in eastern Ukraine.

It's clear that for years the imperialist policy of the US government, under both Republican and Democratic presidents, has been to create chaos in regions of the world from the Middle East to Africa and Latin America, the better to control uppity countries like Libya, Syria, Venezuela, Bolivia and Brazil, whose leaders try to buck or stand up to US dictates. But it's one thing to overthrow a government and decapitate its leadership in a place like Libya or Syria, where no powerful state is located nearby to defend that country. It's altogether another to take on a country that lies right on the border of another nuclear power, as does Ukraine and the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea.

There was nobody to come to Col. Gaddafi's aid when US-led NATO forces attacked his government, backing rebels seeking his overthrow, and left the country a chaotic mess, which it has remained now for six years. And until Russia stepped in, the same was true of US backing for Islamic rebels seeking to overthrow Syrian President Basher Al-Assad. Ukraine was something of an exception, with the US backing a coup in 2014 that ousted the country's elected pro-Russian president, installing in his place a pro-US regime, despite its bordering Russia. My sense is that US warmongers still thought Russia was a backwards mess in 2014, incapable of standing up and with a dysfunctional military. When Russia acted, though, and made it clear, with the annexation of Crimea and with material support of ethnic Russians in breakaway Lugansk and Donetsk, that it would brook no departure of Ukraine into NATO's fold, the US backed off, despite plenty of bluster from the Obama White House and its laughably inept Secretary of State John Kerry.

The USS Carl Vinson, somewhere in the Pacific...or the Indian OceanThe USS Carl Vinson, somewhere in the Pacific...or the Indian Ocean
 

I'm predicting that the same thing will happen in the case of North Korea (which borders both China and Russia). The Trump administration may threaten to attack, but the bottom line is that a US attack on North Korea, or even a so-called "surgical strike" on its nuclear weapons development facility or a special forces attack on its leader, Kim Jong-un, would be viewed by China's government as a mortal threat to their country's national security, just as Russia views any effort to turn Ukraine into a US puppet and NATO member as a mortal threat to itself.

Two Men Who Made Their Mark On History

Truth defenders

 

One man enhanced the legacy of a legend revered around the world.

Accomplishments of the other man include his involvement in a seminal court battle where the trial judge issued a pivotal ruling about racism that sparked enraged denials among authorities in that nation.

These two men made historic marks that had wide ranging impact in the countries that each adopted as their home.

While both of these men lived over 5,000-miles apart, they shared many similarities.

Both men experienced poisonous smacks from British colonial racism. Both men spent time in America. The civil rights/freedom struggles of African-Americans influenced both men. And, both men died recently, just days apart.

These two men are: Ngugi Githuka and Darcus Howe.
 
Ngugi Githuka talks with tourists outside Mandela House Museum. LBWPhotoNgugi Githuka talks with tourists outside Mandela House Museum. LBWPhoto

Historian Githuka often worked as a tour guide in Johannesburg, South Africa. Influential activist turned journalist Darcus Howe made his mark London, the capital of Great Britain.

Yo, Donald! Decapitating Heads of State is a Risky Business

Wackos in Washington

 

Back in the 18th century, there was an unwritten understanding in the conduct of warfare that one didn’t kill the generals in battle. This wasn’t about protecting the elite while the “grunts” of the day slaughtered each other. It was a matter of common sense: If you killed the general, there was no one in a position to order a withdrawal or to surrender, once it became clear that one side was winning. With no general in command, things could become chaotic, leading to more bloodshed than necessary.

In the US, ever since the brief presidency of Gerald Ford, and in the wake of the Senate’s Church Committee hearings into the nefarious activities of the CIA and other secret agencies during the Nixon administration and earlier -- particularly efforts to assassinate Cuban President Fidel Castro and some other national leaders -- it has been US policy not to kill heads of state. In fact, a Ford executive order, number 12333, signed by President Ford in the mid 1970s, specifically bans the killing of government leaders, however brutish.

If one wants to see an example of why this is a logical policy, just look at what happened during the Obama administration, when Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafy was murdered by his US-backed captors (with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s enthusiastic support), leaving Libya in a state of total chaos from which it has never really recovered.

Yet now there is talk by President Trump and his increasingly neoconservative- dominated National Security and Pentagon team of advisors of “taking out” North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un, even as an aircraft carrier attack group steams towards the Korean peninsula.

Trump's using a carrier battle group to 'take out' North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un could lead to unintended consequencesTrump's using a carrier battle group to 'take out' North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un could lead to unintended consequences
 

Getting rid of Ford Executive Order 12333 would be no difficult hurdle for President Trump, who has been “governing” the country through ill-though-out executive order issuance -- most of them written by his political strategist Stephen Bannon, since he assumed office Jan. 20. Bannon, now being sidelined by more traditional cold war neo-cons, may not be writing those orders for his boss now, but someone else could easily do it, erasing E.O 12333 with the stroke of a pen.

What would such a change mean?

Yet Another President Commits the Ultimate War Crime of Launching a War of Aggression

Here we go again:

 
NOTE: To find an anti-Syria War protest near you, go to: UNAC's Facebook page
 

President Donald Trump campaigned last year making the sensible argument that the US should no longer engage in a policy of regime change, and should attempt to have friendly relations with other countries like Russia and China. Yesterday he blew those ideas out of the water by launching 59 Tomahawk missiles at Syria's Shayrat airbase (reportedly killing nine civilians and injuring more) and by calling for the removal of Syria’s leader, Bashar al Assad.

The pretext for the US cruise missile blitz, an alleged attack on a rebel-held town called Khan Shiekhun in Idlib province, where some 70 people, including children, were reported to have died from illegal Sarin-gas bombs said to have been dropped by Syrian planes, has yet to be investigated by any independent observers. US aircraft also recently killed over 200 civilians, mostly women and children, in bombings in Mosul in Iraq.

Like many pretexts for war that have been used by the US to justify its illegal attacks on other nations over the years, dating back at least to the faked claim of a North Vietnamese attack on a US destroyer of the country’s coast in the Gulf of Tonkin which led to an all-out US war against the peoples of Indochina, and the fraudulent claim that Saddam Hussein was building “weapons of mass destruction” that led to the US invasion of Iraq, there are many questions about who really used Sarin gas at Khan Shiekhun, a city under the control of an Al-Qaeda rebel group. All information about the attack has come from sources there, where no Western reporters or independent investigators are allowed, and from the so-called “White Helmets” -- a supposedly humanitarian volunteer organization that calls for the overthrow of the Syrian government and that openly backs Al-Qaeda rebels. (Critics have noted that high-quality photos of the dead appear staged, with White Helmet rescuers shown not using any protective clothing or even gloves, even though residue of Sarin, a nerve gas, can kill or injure even those whose skin touches it.)

Syrian air base after an attack by 59 US Tomahawk cruise missiles ordered by President TrumpSyrias Shayrat air base in Homs Province after a massive attack by 59 US Tomahawk cruise missiles ordered by President Trump
 

We already know that the supposed Sarin gas attack on a neighborhood in Damascus, which nearly led to an all-out attack on Syria by the US under President Obama in 2013 -- a criminal war that was only prevented by Russia stepping in with a deal to supervise the removal and destruction of all of Syria’s stocks of chemical weapons -- was actually a “false flag” attack conducted by Syrian rebels using Sarin supplied from Turkey -- the same rebels who now control Khan Shiekhun. Unmentioned in US reports and government statements about the missile attack is the fact that the UN's Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) had already investigated and monitored the removal and the destruction of all Syria's chemical weapons by 2016, and had declared that such chemicals and weapons had all been eliminated or removed from the country under the terms of an agreement reached between the US, Russia and Syria.

Trump in No Hurry to Staff ‘Enemy of the People’ Offices

Hostility towards media or just administrative chaos?:

 

(This article was written on assignment for Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) and was published on March 21 at www.FAIR.org
 

The New York Times on March 12 reported that the Trump administration, for a variety of reasons, was filling the offices of administrative agencies at a glacial pace. From the Department of Agriculture to the Weather Service, over 2,000 mid-level political-appointee positions were still unfilled; the Times called it “the slowest transition in decades.”

One place that slowness has showed up clearly is in the staffing of what are variously called Public Affairs offices, Newsrooms or Media Offices of these government departments and agencies—the very offices that reporters in both Washington bureaus and in newsrooms around the country depend on to get routine information about what these departments and agencies are doing, or, in the case of more investigative assignments, to ask basic questions and set up interviews with key personnel...

Image of the 'Media Contacts' page of the Trump Administration Commerce Department on March 22 over two months into Trump's presidencyImage of the 'Media Contacts' page of the Trump Administration Commerce Department on March 22 over two months into Trump's presidency
 

For the rest of this article, please go to: FAIR.org

Lt. General McMaster’s Silver Star Was Essentially Earned for Target Practice

Resume inflation at the NSC

 

In the annals of human conflict, the Gulf War of 1991, when the US dispatched half a million troops and a huge armada of ships, planes and tanks into the desert south of Iraq and Kuwait and then crushed Iraqi forces in both those countries in a six-week blitz from Jan. 17-Feb. 28, surely has to rank as one of the most one-sided wars since Hitler’s Wehrmacht marched through Holland in four days in 1940.

That war, called Operation Desert Storm by the Pentagon, was really just a massive live-fire exercise for US forces, which suffered only 146 casualties, 35 of them in “friendly-fire” incidents and 111 to enemy fire. Iraqi losses were estimated at 35,000, most of them killed in US air strikes as they were trapped trying to retreat to Iraq up a Kuwaiti highway that became known as the “Highway of Death,” where fleeing Iraqi troops -- most of them hapless draftees -- were bombed and strafed mercilessly and nonstop as they sat trapped in an epic traffic jam caused by strategically destroyed vehicles along the route.

It was also the “war” in which President Trump’s new National Security Adviser pick, Lt. Gen. Herbert Raymond McMaster, “earned” his much touted Silver Star. Then a young captain in charge of a unit of nine Abrams battle tanks, he stumbled onto a dug-in group of some 80 Iraqi tanks which he then succeeded in completely destroying without losing a single one of his own tanks or men.

It sounds at first blush like something out of Gen. Erwin Rommel’s autobiography, but this “heroic action” on Gen. McMaster’s part was actually nothing more than a case of having much better equipment. The Abrams tanks he was leading were a couple of generations advanced over the antique Iraqi Russian-built T-62 and T-72 tanks and a few Chinese Type 69 tanks that he was confronting. For one thing, the Abrams tanks are constructed with depleted uranium armor -- especially on the front-facing part of the vehicle -- a dense metal which is virtually impenetrable to conventional Iraqi tank shells, rockets and RPGs. For another, the Abrams tanks were firing anti-tank shells that were also tipped with depleted uranium penetrators, which can puncture through normal tank armor as if it were cardboard, igniting the interiors and turning them into infernos, exploding the ordnance inside and incinerating a tank crew instantly. Furthermore, the significantly longer range of their primary cannons meant McMasters and his men could stand off in complete safety and fire at the Iraqi tanks, while the Iraqi tank shells all fell short of their targets, making the whole idea of a “battle” a joke.

McMaster’s tank action was later glorified with a name: the “Battle of 73 Easting,” and is featured in a number of books about the war, including one by novelist Tom Clancey. This is no surprise, given the limited number of actual firefights in the Gulf War that could remotely be characterized as combat, much less qualify as a “battle” worthy of immortalizing with a name. The war was really just a much larger version of the Reagan invasion of Grenada, where a US naval armada and swarming ground troops bravely battled a handful of Grenadian soldiers and a crew of Cuban airport construction workers while garnering a total of 7000 battle awards for their efforts.

 Capt. McMaster's vastly superior Abrams tanks were able to destroy Iraqi tanks at a distance, out of range of any Iraqi returning fire, makinTurkey shoot: Capt. McMaster's vastly superior Abrams tanks were able to destroy Iraqi tanks at a distance, out of range of any Iraqi returning fire
 

Three Years Since the Kitty Litter Disaster at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant

From WIPP with love

 

There is a place in the United States, almost half-a-mile underground, in a salt mine, where radioactive waste leftover from the production of tens of thousands of nuclear bombs was to be held separate from all contact with humanity for 10,000 years, equivalent to the entire history of civilization. This separation of civilization from the byproduct of its folly had lasted one-tenth of one percent of that immense time when on Valentine’s Day, three years ago, an explosion sent the deadly contamination back to the world of humans.

It shouldn’t have been a surprise because there were already two other failed geological repositories for nuclear waste, both in Germany and designed for civilian not military waste, that have also leaked within a short time of operation. But despite the signs of potential failure the United States in an leap of technological faith spent billions to hollow out a salt cavern in south eastern New Mexico, near the small town of Carlsbad, not far from the Texas border called the Waste Isolation pilot Plant or WIPP.

That faith wasn’t justified as events unfolded.

Supposedly safe for storage for 10,000 years, WIPP's nuke waste repository failed epically in just three yearsSupposedly safe for storage for 10,000 years, WIPP's nuke waste repository failed catastrophically in just three years
 

What happened on August 14, 2014 was that at least one of 683 barrels, about three feet tall and a little under two feet in diameter each and filled with plutonium contaminated waste burst into flames contaminating 8000 feet of tunnels and 22 workers who were either on the surface or arrived at the scene soon afterward.

The still unfinished clean up has cost taxpayers $2 billion since then.

On Killers and Bullshitters*

In search of Trumpian reality

 

* NOTE: The term bullshit is used here in the sense established by Harvard philosophy professor Harry Frankfurt in his little gem of a book titled On Bullshit, which opens with: "One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit."
 

We’re living in a very weird and convoluted moment in the annals of truth and bullshit. For some reason Americans saddled themselves with a rich and obnoxious reality TV star significantly unmoored from reality. A George W. Bush aide famously told a reporter: We’re an empire now and we make our own reality. Maybe it’s an axiom of our age: The wealthy and powerful have the right to make their own reality. As for the poor and the powerless, the same condition of being unmoored from reality is generally linked with what we call “mental illness,” which leads to marginalization, institutionalization or incarceration.

The same corrupt double standard works in the realm of violence. I‘ve been writing for decades about the killing our government has officially undertaken in places like Vietnam and Iraq and in smaller venues. I’ve always liked the bumper sticker that says: Kill One Person It’s Murder; Kill 100,000 It’s Foreign Policy. In my thinking, it isn’t a joke; it’s more like the Rules Of Engagement.

For me, the exemplary culprit in this equation is Henry Kissinger and the cold-blooded slaughter of millions of Vietnamese in a war that really makes no sense at all. (I challenge anyone to tell me what the Vietnamese ever did to us other than work as our ally against the Japanese in World War Two.) The most truthful narrative is that the Vietnamese were betrayed and attacked by the United States, one, to support French re-colonization after WWII, and, two, because US leaders felt compelled to dominate the wrecked post-WWII world. To recognize Vietnamese nationalism and the Vietnamese urge for freedom was too complicated for our fearful and reductive Cold War mindset. Rich and powerful, we ended up killing millions of Vietnamese in an ultimately failed effort to impose our reality -- although in the end the Vietnamese developed excellent capitalistic instincts.

President Trump and Bill O'Reilly before the Super Bowl talking about killers in the US governmentPresident Trump and Bill O'Reilly before the Super Bowl talking about killers in the US government
 

In a very weird turn of events, our new president seems to agree with the idea that killing is very American and that there are killers in our government. President Trump revealed this in an interview with his old pal Bill O’Reilly. The interview was appropriately run just before the Super Bowl, our culture’s pre-eminent gladiatorial extravaganza, an annual event of such masculine escapist power that it defines Bread & Circus for our media-addled, couch-potato age. Here's O'Reilly and Trump:

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Listen as Chuck, John, Dave and Linn Join Prairie Radical Mike Caddell of the Fightin' Cock Flyer on Radio Free Kansas

Here's the link to prairie radio radical Mike Caddell's Radio Free Kansas program, where you can hear the podcast of the whole group interview that was conducted on Saturday, May 8.

Also, listen to Dave Lindorff on Chris Cook's Gorilla Radio on CFEV Radio in Victoria, Canada.

Donate $50 to ThisCantBeHappening.net and get a free signed copy, postage paid, of Dave's classic tome The Case for Impeachment (St. Martin's Press, 2006). Just click on the cover image to go to the Paypal payment page, make your payment, and send a note to Dave calling his attention to the payment, and giving your mail address and the name you want the inscription addressed to.

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