Posts tagged Vietnam

War is not a weapon you can aim

. . . In June, I deployed several hundred American servicemembers to Iraq to assess how we can best support Iraqi security forces. Now that those teams have completed their work –- and Iraq has formed a government –- we will send an additional 475 servicemembers to Iraq. As I have said before, these American forces will not have a combat mission –- we will not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq. But they are needed to support Iraqi and Kurdish forces with training, intelligence and equipment. We’ll also support Iraq’s efforts to stand up National Guard Units to help Sunni communities secure their own freedom from ISIL’s control.

— Barack Obama, remarks on ISIL/ISIS and war on Syria and Iraq, 10 September 2014

This is a promise that is foolish to make. Maybe he’s right that the proxy wars on the ground and the U.S. war in the air won’t end up dragging U.S. forces deeper into a quagmire on the ground. But there is no way he can confidently promise this. War is not a weapon that you can aim, not even if you are President of the United States, and expect that you’ll hit exactly what you hoped to, with no complications or unexpected results. Modern wars are always conducted on the basis of classified information, secret strategic interests that are not disclosed to the public, half-accurate information and politically-filtered intelligence. They operate away from any possibility of informed consent by ordinary people, who don’t have access to the information government keeps secret, and indeed even away from the possibility of informed decisions by that government, which finds itself blundering through the fog of its own secrecy, errors, self-deception and political rationales. Wars develop a logic of their own and they always involve both deception of the public about the likely outcomes, and also consequences unintended or unforeseen even by their architects. It wouldn’t be the first time that U.S. military advisors got drawn into a land war in Asia. It wouldn’t even be the first time that U.S. build-up was really only a prelude to a wider war in Iraq.

Certainly, it has already proven a prelude to bringing the U.S. war power into a wider regional war.

The pacifist is roundly scolded for refusing to face the facts, and for retiring into his own world of sentimental desire. But is the realist, who refuses to challenge or to criticise facts, entitled to any more credit than that which comes from following the line of least resistance? The realist thinks he at least can control events by linking himself to the forces that are moving. Perhaps he can. But if it is a question of controlling war, it is difficult to see how the child on the back of a mad elephant is to be any more effective in stopping the beast than is the child who tries to stop him from the ground.

The ex-humanitarian, turned realist, sneers at the snobbish neutrality, colossal conceit, crooked thinking, dazed sensibilities, of those who are still unable to find any balm of consolation for this war. We manufacture consolations here in America while there are probably not a dozen men fighting in Europe who did not long ago give up every reason for their being there except that nobody knew how to get them away.

–Randolph Bourne, War and the Intellectuals ¶ 12
Seven Arts (June, 1917).

End all war, immediately, completely, and forever.

Disobey Day

A very happy MLK Monday to you all. I hear that there is some spectacle of pomp, power, ritualized violence, and safely quarantined content-less liberal admiration going on; which is too bad. Today should be a happy occasion. You can celebrate Disobey Day to-day by using your day off to celebrate the true legacy of the Freedom Movement, to forget the coronation ceremony, to break an unjust law, to tell an unpopular truth, or to disobey an illegitimate authority.

It seems to me that if the only way you can get official national hero types is by oversimplifying, lying, and thus eviscerating the substance of a world-changing life of work and body of thought, then official national hero types are worth less than nothing. What interest do they serve, and what are we supposed to need them for?

Certainly not the interest of honesty, or truth, and it seems to me that in these times those are coins far rarer — and therefore far more dear — than the pompous deliveries of the cosseted clique of power-tripping politicians and professional blowhards, who have convinced themselves that their collective in-jokes, shibboleths and taboos constitute the public life of a nation. I don’t give much of a damn, in the end, whether or not King gets ritualistically name-checked by men and women who were or would have been his mortal enemies to make stentorian speeches supposedly on his behalf. What I give a damn about is what the man, for all his many faults, actually cared about, fought for, and died for: the struggle of ordinary men and women for their own freedom, which meant their struggle to defy, resist, or simply bypass the consolidated violence of the belligerent power-mongers and the worse-than-useless moderate hand-wringers who made their living peddling excuses, apologetics, and the endless counsel of wait, wait.

This, not public-school pageants and official national hero types, is what the vast majority of us, who get no profit from the fortunes of the political-intellectual complex and its pantheon, need . . . .

–From Official national hero types, Rad Geek (7 April 2008)


You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. … One may well ask: How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others? The answer is found in the fact that there are two types of laws: There are just and there are unjust laws. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with Saint Augustine that an unjust law is no law at all.

–Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail (April 16, 1963)

And also:

As I have walked among the desperate, rejected, and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they ask — and rightly so — what about Vietnam? They ask if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government. . . .

. . . A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, This way of settling differences is not just. This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love.

–Martin Luther King Jr., Beyond Vietnam: A Time To Break Silence (April 4, 1967).

See also:

Governments wage wars against people, not against “regimes”

Here’s something from a recent go-around at the Bleeding Heart Libertarians blog between me and Ilya Somin. The topic of the post was actually May Day, and most of the discussion is rightly about that, but in one eddy of the conversation, Somin decided to say this:

If the wrongs of the US were on anything like the same scale as those of communist regimes, this would indeed be a good suggestion. In the real world, it’s obviously not – especially since many of the US’ “endless wars” actually were against brutal totalitarian regimes. . . .

Which is just really too much. I replied:

Shame how all those dead civilians kept getting in the way of the brutal totalitarian regimes the U.S. government was fighting wars against.

U.S. bomber wings show up over Tokyo, planning to firebomb a “brutal totalitarian regime,” and somehow instead they end up killing 100,000 men, women and children in a single night, who were not part of the regime and had no control over it. They show up over Hiroshima, and in Nagasaki, expecting to drop atomic bombs on a “brutal totalitarian regime,” and somehow instead they end up dropping them on cities of hundreds of thousands of people, wiping out about a quarter million civilians in the process over the course of just over 72 hours. Years later, the U.S. government comes to Viet Nam, intending to wage war against a brutal totalitarian regime, and somehow by the time they leave, the brutal totalitarian regime is still flourishing there, but 4,000,000 other Vietnamese no longer are. A man with less perspective might think that this sort of thing was a sign that the U.S. government, like every other government, doesn’t actually wage war against “regimes;” rather that it wages wars on countries and peoples who inevitably become the overwhelming majority of the victims of the war. Perhaps this was done in the hopes that by doing it, they might somehow get at the regime hiding behind those people in those countries. If so, then the question of justice here certainly turns on something more than just the quality of the ends for which these megamurdering means were deliberately chosen.

See also:

The Socialist Republic of Vietnam Vs. Striking Workers

    <p><a href="">Molly’sBlog 2010-10-21 16:54:00. <cite>Anarchoblogs in English</cite> (2010-10-22)</a>:</p><blockquote><q>INTERNATIONAL LABOUR VIETNAM:SUPPORT VIETNAMESE WORKER ACTIVISTS:It's just another day in another workers' paradise, and three workers are due to go on trial for organizing a strike. The "proletarian justice" they may face can mean up to 15 years in prison. Here's the story and appeal from the online labour solidarity...</q></blockquote>

In the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, three young labor leaders — Doan Huy Chuong, Nguyen Hoang Quoc Hung, and Do Thi Minh Hanh — have been jailed for 8 months, and are now facing as much as 15 years in prison face as much as 15 years in prison. The reason for this government prosecution and state violence against them is that they worked in an organised manner, distributed leaflets expressing discontent about working conditions and about the authorities, and helped organize a strike at the My Phong shoe factory.

Solidarity for the My Phong 3. Free all political prisoners!

Friday Lazy Linking

<li><a href="">A Choice of Scrooges. Roderick, <cite>Austro-Athenian Empire</cite> (2009-12-24)</a>. <q>Two rather different libertarian takes on Scrooge: Butler Shaffer’s and mine. (Mine’s from 1993, so it’s not quite as I would word it today, but ’twill serve.)</q> <em style="font-size: smaller">(Linked Thursday 2009-12-24.)</em></li>
<li><a href="">Libertarian PR Fail #…But Who’s Counting? cherylcline, <cite>der Blaustrumpf</cite> (2009-12-22)</a>. <q>For some reason this has really been a banner week for me in encountering casual anti-Asian racism.  I was very distressed to find this on Strike the Root, a website I contribute to.  This is Bob Wallace in “How to Win in Iraq and Afghanistan in One Easy Step”: I’ll...</q> <em style="font-size: smaller">(Linked Thursday 2009-12-24.)</em></li>
<li><a href="">ALLiance #4. Chris Lempa, <cite>ALLiance Journal</cite> (2009-12-11)</a>. <q>ALLiance 4 HTML coming soon. Download and read. print. fold. distribute. Like this? Share it... right now!</q> <em style="font-size: smaller">(Linked Friday 2009-12-25.)</em></li>