Thursday, April 10, 2008

On the 33rd Anniversary of the Fall of Saigon

This is a repost of an entry from last year. With the recent Congressional hearings on the situation in Iraq involving today's General Westmorland-General Petreaus-and today's Ambassador Bunker-Ambassador Crocker a look at a previous act of American hubris is in order.




As the current Bush Administration-directed quagmire continues in Iraq it is rather timely to look at the previously bout of American imperialist madness in Vietnam if only in order to demonstrate the similar mindsets, then and now, of the American political establishment and their hangers-on. This book, unintentionally I am sure, is a prima facie argument, against those who see Iraq (or saw Vietnam) as merely an erroneous policy of the American government that can be ‘fixed’ by a change to a more rational imperialist policy guided by a different elite. Undeniably there are many differences between the current war and the struggle in Vietnam. Not the least of which is that in Vietnam there was a Communist-led insurgency that leftists throughout the world could identify with and were duty-bound to support. No such situation exists in Iraq today where, seemingly, from the little we know about the murky politics of the parties there militant leftists can support individual anti-imperialist actions as they occur but stand away, way away from the religious sectarian struggle for different versions of a fundamentalist Islamic state that the various parties are apparently fighting for.

Stanley Karnow’s well-informed study of the long history of struggle in Vietnam against outsiders, near and far, is a more than adequate primer about the history and the political issues, from the American side at least, as they came to a head in Vietnam in the early 1960’s. This work was produced in conjunction with a Public Broadcasting System documentary in 1983 so that if one wants to take the time to get a better grasp of the situation as it unfolded the combination of the literary and visual presentations will make one an ‘armchair expert’ on the subject. A glossary of, by now, unfamiliar names of secondary players and chronology of events is helpful as are some very good photographs that lead into each chapter

This book is the work of a long time journalist who covered Southeast Asia from the 1950’s until at least the early 1980’s when he went back after the war was over and interviewed various survivors from both sides as well as key political players. Although over twenty years has passed since the book’s publication it appears to me that he has covered all the essential elements of the dispute as well as the wrangling, again mainly on the American side , of policy makers big and small. While everyone should look at more recent material that material appears to me to be essentially more specialized analysis of the general themes presented in Karnow’s book. Or are the inevitably self-serving memoirs by those, like former Secretary of War Robert McNamara, looking to refurbish their images for the historical record. Karnow’s book has the added virtue of having been written just long enough after the end of the war that memories, faulty as they are in any case, were still fresh but with enough time in between for some introspection.

The first part of Karnow’s book deals with the long history of the Vietnamese as a people in their various provincial enclaves, or as a national entity, to be independent of the many other powers in the region who wanted to subjugate them, particularly China. The book also pays detailed attention to the fight among the European colonial powers for dominance in the region culminating in the decisive victory for control by France in the 1800’s. That domination by a Western imperialist power, ultimately defeated by the same Communist and nationalist forces that were to defeat the Americans and their South Vietnamese allies, sets the stage for the huge role that the United States would come to play from the time of the French defeat in 1954 until their own defeat a couple of decades later. This section is important to read because the premises of the French about their adversary became, in almost cookie-cutter fashion, the same premises that drove American policy. And to similar ends.

The bulk of the book and the central story line, however, is a study of the hubris of American imperialist policy-makers in attempting to define their powers, prerogatives and interests in the post-World War II period. The sub-title of the book, which the current inhabitants of the Bush Administration obviously have not read and in any case would willfully misunderstand, is how not to subordinate primary interests to momentary secondary interests in the scramble to preserve the empire.

Apparently, common sense and simple rationality are in short supply when one goes inside the Washington Beltway. Taking into account the differences in personality among the three main villains of the piece- Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon- the similarities of response and need to defend some sense of honor, American honor, are amazingly similar, individual rhetoric aside. There thus can be little wonder the North Vietnamese went about their business of revolution and independence pretty much according to their plans and with little regard to ‘subtleties’ in American diplomacy. But, read the book and judge for yourselves. Do not be surprised if something feels awfully, awfully familiar.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

A Crockah Petreaus in the Morning- and the Afternoon too, Part II


Immediate Withdrawal of All U.S./Allied Troops from Iraq!

Well, I do not know about you, fellow readers, but I definitely got a sense of being in a time warp with yesterday's, April 8, 2008, Senate Committee hearings. While it did not have the drama of those of last fall it had the same old actors from central casting, General Petreaus and Ambassador Crockah, eh, Crocker. And the story they had to tell had a very familiar ring. When all is said and done the situation will be almost exactly the same as it was in January 2007 when both the military ‘surge’ strategy took off and the Democrats took over control of Congress on a note of high expectancy about ending the war. A little over six months later and we could have just as well turned on the tapes or read the transcripts from last fall’s hearings.

That said, there is not need to say much more here except this- this writer last year screamed, shouted and got himself into a lather when he stated that the troops would not be coming home before the Bush Administration expired its last breathe. Yesterday we got out faces rubbed in that harsh fact. Moreover, from the prospective of a new administration on January 20, 2009, of whatever stripe, it does not appear that, left to their timetables, that there will be troop withdrawal before 2010. I say start talking to your young children and your grandchildren about the nature of war because it looks like they may need to know something about it before American imperialism hightails it out of Iraq. In the meantime we fight, and fight hard, around the slogan- Immediate Unconditional Withdrawal Of All U.S./Allied Troops And Their Mercenaries From Iraq! Damn.

Monday, April 07, 2008

The Hour Of The Wolf


Howlin' Wolf, The London Sessions, 1971

One of my first exposures to the world of Chicago-style blues, after a steady diet of country-style Delta blues, was the Rolling Stones’ version of the Willie Dixon classic Little Red Rooster back in the early 1960’s. I thought that was a song to beat all songs and it had nothing to do its allegorical nature, you know, about sex. What, moreover, capped it for me the fact that it was originally banned in Boston- from the radio airwaves of the times. Naturally that made this teenager want to hear it even more.

All this is by way of saying-yes; the Stones did a great version of that song but if you really want it heard then you must go to the master- Howlin' Wolf. That big gravelly-voiced man who, in still pictures that I have seen of him as well as film seems to be inhaling the microphone, lets it all hang out as he struts his stuff on that number. In Do the Do, Little Red Rooster, Killing Floor and on and on the Wolf sweats, bleeds, sucks up the whiskey, has another one for good measure and gets down on his knees, sometimes literally, to belt out the blues.

In this two-disc set of Howlin' Wolf classics some of those Stones did exactly what I mentioned above-went to the source. Listen in to the dialogue when the Wolf tells these trained, experienced musicians how to do the do here on Little Red Rooster. And they are all ears. That says it all. Moreover, the musical excitement builds as song after song gets you in a true blues mood. This is all about sex, about whiskey, about hardworking weeks to get to fun-loving Saturday nights. Yes, the hour of the Wolf is just before the dawn. Get this masterwork. You will not regret it.

On the 40th Anniversary Year of the Vietnamese Tet Offensive And The 33rd Anniversary Day Of The Fall Of Ho Chi Minh City (Then Saigon)-TET- A Book Review

Click on the headline to link to a Wikipedia entry for the Tet Offensive of 1968.

Book Review

This Year Marks the 45th Anniversary of the Tet Offensive of 1968 and also this month marks the 38th Anniversary of the fall of Saigon in 1975. Two victories for our side.

TET!, Don Ordorfer, Putnam, New York, 1971

A new edition of this book was published in 2001 with, I believe, a new introduction by the author. I am using the old edition for my own political purposes. I will read the new introduction at some point and add comment at that time.

Recently I was listening to Talk of the Nation on National Public Radio and the subject concerned formation of political consciousness. One of the callers identified himself as an ardent 1960’s anti-Vietnam War protester and self-styled ‘hippie’ who in 1984 ‘got religion’ and saw the error of his ways. The formative point of this new found wisdom was a documentary on the Public Broadcast System (PBS) that indicated to him that the Tet Offensive of 1968 has not been a military victory for the North Vietnamese/South Vietnamese Liberation Front forces (hereafter NVA/NLF). Somehow along the way he had assumed, based, he said, on information from Walter Cronkite that it was a military victory. Well, this writer then as now, as we celebrate the 40th Anniversary of that event, can confirm for that caller that, indeed, Tet was not a NVA/NLF military victory. Here is the point, however, military victory or not, it was certainly a political victory for those NVA/NLF forces. In modern conditions, sometimes, political victories are more important that military ones. The book under review, whatever else it shortcomings might be, confirms this view.

Is this book the best one on the history of the Tet offensive? Probably not. However it has the virtue of having been written a short time after this major political event. Thus, although it is not the "first draft of history" it is close enough for our purposes. The drawback here is that it was written while the war was still going on so that the relationship between Tet 1968, Tet 1972 and then the final military victory in 1975 does not give the event its full impact in the overall scheme of NVA/NLF strategy and American/South Vietnamese counter-strategy.

The author hits all the high points of this decisive several month period from about the summer of 1967 when the NVA/NLF decided to make a major push against the South to Tet itself and its immediate aftermath. The author starts off his book with a description of the famous NLF raid on the American embassy, goes on to the discuss the strategic aims of the North Vietnamese and the American response to it, the personal saga of one Lyndon Baines Johnson, and the in-fighting in the old Cold war national security establishment about the proper American response and then the results and aftermath of the offensive.

Reading history with a purpose, in short, to learn some lessons is sometimes a chancy thing. Here that purpose can be encapsulated in the following few words- to draw the lessons of history of the Vietnam War in order to apply them to the opposition struggle against the Iraq war. Yes, the differences between Vietnam and Iraq, in the final analysis are probably greater than the similarities however the American hubris that led Lyndon Johnson to escalation in Vietnam and George W. Bush to occupation in Iraq is still in operation. In the end the author draws the conclusion that history will eventually draw on Tet 1968, and that today's American leaders seem to be willfully ignoring- in modern military warfare the political question is the question. From the NVA/NLF side that entailed heavy and dramatic losses but I would argue that their decision to probe American military and political resolve was essentially correct. Read on.