Sergeant Salvatore Giunta will receive a Congressional Medal of Honor this week for bravery under fire in October 2007. At great risk, he assaulted a hill and rescued a gravely wounded comrade being dragged away by an insurgent. He will be the first living soldier to receive the medal since the war in Vietnam.
The man Giunta rescued did not survive, and the US forces eventually abandoned the Korengal Valley where the fighting took place. Giunta, 25, saw his actions this way:
“I ran to the front because that is where he (the wounded comrade) was. I didn’t try to be a hero and save anyone.”
As for the ten-year-old war in Afghanistan, he said, “I have sweat more, cried more, bled more in this country than in my own. These people won’t leave this valley. They have been here far before I could fathom an Afghanistan.”
Giunta’s generous modesty and the strong bond he has with his fellow soldiers is the classic stuff of war legend. He’s an archetypal national war hero from the mold of Gary Cooper playing Sergeant York of WWI fame.
Sergeant Giunta deserves to be honored – as do many young soldiers like him whose heroism under fire may go unknown or unrecognized beyond their unit.
Meanwhile, back “in the world” — as the home front was known to soldiers in Vietnam — politics in America continues along the tragic and absurd course it has been on for too long.
The timing of a public White House Medal of Honor awarding ceremony is good for the White House and the Pentagon as they are about to release their much-telegraphed December Assessment of the war in Afghanistan. No doubt the medal awarding is just coincidental.
The report is expected to say the usual: While there are serious problems with our military mission in Afghanistan, progress is being made. It is also clear now the President’s original date for withdrawal — July 2011 — is nothing but a fading public relations marker. The new date being floated is the end of 2014. Read that as: We don’t care what the polls say, we’re keeping troops in Afghanistan until we feel we can leave without too much embarrassment.
On the left, President Obama is increasingly seen as an appeasing force. He campaigned on the Afghan War to apparently secure his political manhood. He opened his Health Care struggle by giving away anything that might smack of a single-payer system before negotiations even began.
After doing this, he was slandered as a “socialist.” Most people I know wish he would do something to rightfully deserve that epithet – or accolade, depending on one’s politics.
Obama as the Manchurian Candidate
One of the more interesting attacks on President Obama has come from Indian immigrant Dinesh D’Souza, a right wing intellectual who has just written a book called The Roots Of Obama’s Rage and a Forbes article called “How Obama Thinks.”
For D’Souza, the secret to Obama’s so-called “rage” is the mission he presumably took from his father, Barack Obama Sr, a Kenyan economist who, during the intense period of African anti-colonial struggle, wrote a well-respected article in the East Africa Journal called “Problems Facing Our Socialism.”
Out of this information and the title to President Obama’s memoir, Dreams From My Father, D’Sousa has concocted a noxious brew of propaganda that plays on two things: America’s long tradition and deep history of anti-African racism and the current “neo-colonial” reality of our military mission around the world and, specifically, in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The D’Souza argument is as brilliant as it is insidious.
First off, like all good propaganda, it is largely true. Obama’s father did write things like, “Is it the African who owns this country? If he does, then why should he not control the economic means of growth in this country?” And although it’s an irrelevant fact, Obama Sr. apparently conformed to local custom and had several wives. He also may have had a drinking problem, leading to his death in a car crash in 1982, possibly caused by his drinking.
D’Souza also points out that, while at Columbia University, Obama attended a class by the Palestinian Edward Said, a popular, brilliant, erudite and cosmopolitan professor/writer. D’Souza tells us that Said said things like: “The United States has replaced the earlier great empires.” D’Souza points out the term for this view is neocolonialism, a term coined by the African leader Kwame Nkrumah in his book Neocolonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism.
“America is now the rogue elephant that subjugates and tramples the people of the world,” D’Souza writes in Forbes, mocking how he imagines Obama sees America. “For Obama, the solutions are simple. He must work to wring the neocolonialism out of America and the West. Obama Sr.’s hatred of the colonial system becomes Obama Jr.’s hatred. … Through a kind of sacramental rite at the family tomb, the father’s struggle becomes the son’s birthright.”
So Obama, the son of an insurgent African intellectual, is a Manchurian Candidate in the White House espousing the downfall of America, and we are now fighting the last battle in the long struggle for de-colonization — or something like that.
Glenn Beck featured D’Souza a few weeks ago on his program drawing charts on the blackboard of all the nefarious connections between Kenyan anti-colonial socialism and the current President.
Newt Gingrich was ecstatic over the notion that Obama might be “so outside our comprehension, that only if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior, can you begin to piece together [his actions].”
Add to this boiling cauldron of maliciousness the 12-year-old “Barry” Obama’s experiences with his Indonesian stepfather, whose family had literally contained insurgents during the Dutch colonial wars of the 1950s, and you realize D’Souza is actually onto something: This guy is different; his is an unusual back story for a President of the United States.
The trouble is D’Souza is not interested in truth or understanding; he’s interested in packaging all this information to uphold right-wing, militarist policies based on the myths and traditions of American exceptionalism.
What D’Sousa does is emphasize the fact that, while Barack Obama may be half-white, he is more directly “African” than most African Americans. Add to that his father’s involvement in the left-leaning anti-colonial struggle and the plot gets interesting.
Although the United States was created out of a classic anti-colonial struggle, D’Souza is talking about the anti-western struggle in Africa; he’s talking about dark, “black” people struggling against European “white” people.
But what D’Souza is not interested in is the fact any discussion of the third world struggle to throw off European colonialism naturally raises the specter of other classic anti-colonial struggles like Vietnam and, while we’re at it, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Last week presented an interesting moment in this kind of high-wire theater. Obama was in Jakarta, Indonesia, a country with the largest Muslim population in the world and where he had lived as a kid. For some reason, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ended up in New York and in New Orleans, where he made a speech. There was a testy exchange between the two in the papers.
As a kid, Netanyahu was raised and schooled in the upscale suburb of Elkins Park outside Philadelphia; he has many friends in the American right. The timing of the spat was almost too good to be coincidental. Post midterm election, here you had the American-raised Israeli prime minister speaking in the US in quite cocky language about settlement building in the West Bank and in Jerusalem, while the American President was touring in the world’s most populace Islamic nation where he had been raised and schooled (indoctrinated?) as a kid. From this Muslim platform, he was dressing down the Prime Minister of Israel.
In a bizarre way, especially if one swallowed all the right wing garbage, the white, suburban Netanyahu was more “American” than Obama.
Questions that need to be asked
President Obama has no one but himself to blame for the corner he has painted himself into. He has totally dismissed and abandoned the antiwar left, his so-called “base.” He has refused to take a tough, left-of-center FDR posture vis-a-vis the right. He seems to avoid conflict.
This puts him squarely into the tragic mold of Lyndon Johnson where honorable domestic reform ambitions are trumped and destroyed by the decision to sustain a controversial foreign war. Such wars, to include Iraq and Afghanistan, are sustained by the erroneous determination that they’re not in fact the “neocolonial” militarist adventures Barack Obama Sr., Kwame Nkrumah and Edward Said wrote about.
For my money and for my vote in this game called democracy, I would echo something said about Ronald Reagan as he began to receive criticism. “Let Reagan be Reagan.”
Whatever Dinesh D’Souza’s malicious intent may be, if his facts are correct, I’d turn his propaganda on its head and say, “Let Obama be Obama.” If he really is an American leader who has an experiential and familial insight into what it means to be on the receiving end of colonial or neocolonial oppression, occupation and invasion, then he should use that insight more forcefully in the bully pulpit he has the good fortune to own.
And we concerned American citizens should do as FDR famously told a lobbying group who wanted more progressive action from him:”You need to get out there and make me do it.”
Nothing would advance the United States’ future interests in the world more than a realistic re-evaluation of who we are in the world and who we have been in history. In this realm, everything is a dialectic. Neither the left nor the right has all the answers.
As Jon Stewart recently told Rachel Maddow, the struggle may be less right versus left than it is an issue of corruption and how corrupt forces distort our society and democracy. And, in the end, how to confront and beat back the forces of corruption.
Since all Americans are immigrants from somewhere, President Obama’s unique background could be a powerful place to start a serious dialogue about all this.
D’Souza and Gingrich are wrong: The problem isn’t President Obama’s secret plan to undermine America coached from his father’s grave — “the dreams of a Luo tribesman of the 1950s.”
The real problem is, while the right slams him on it, the fact is President Obama hasn’t done enough in the reformist, progressive realm. As Paul Krugman points out in The New York Times, progressive citizens who voted for Obama have come to realize “He could do uplift — but could he fight?” Krugman writes, “So far the answer has been no.”
If, as D’Souza and the right suggest, Obama is this internationalist American in spirit, now is the time to stop hiding it and use it to educate a population deluded with patriotic fantasies and myths of American exceptionalism.
Young men like Medal of Honor winner Sergeant Salvatore Giunta deserve more than medals. They deserve an open, direct and honest assessment of the war in Afghanistan and a realistic national discussion of how it fits into our history and whether it makes sense. And if it doesn’t, bring them home.
Men like Sergeant Giunta should also understand that questions about whether or not the war in Afghanistan is in the best interests of the people of the United States in no way diminish their actions.