Vietnams lingering voice
By Kim Phillips-Fein
Dec. 11 Near the end of the Vietnam War, as the antiwar
movement roiled domestic politics and the Viet Cong showed no signs
of giving in, a group of black soldiers formed an underground society
named the Mau-Maus, in reference to a 19th-century uprising against
the British in Kenya. Other soldiers, at about the same time, put up
posters at Army bases reading, Dont Do What They Tell You,
Tell What They Do, and went on search-and-avoid missions
told where the enemy was, theyd march in the opposite direction.
In 1971, for the Fourth of July, soldiers at one base held a peace rally,
calling for immediate and total American troop withdrawal.
These were only a few signs of an army in revolt and a foreign policy
At home, Nixon composed his infamous list of political enemies, and
used federal agencies to harass them. The Plumbers, his
secret agents, broke into the office of Daniel Ellsbergs psychiatrist
to find documents that might be used to smear him after he released
the Pentagon Papers. Vietnam veterans threw away their medals in front
of the White House. Early in the morning before an antiwar demonstration
on the Washington Mall, Nixon wandered down without Secret Service men
in attendance, and gave a rambling speech to the college-age protesters,
telling them to travel and see the world.
Such stories of Vietnam-era unraveling and many more can
be found in Christian Appys Patriots: An Oral History of the
Vietnam War Remembered from All Sides. Appy has interviewed soldiers,
generals, North Vietnamese, South Vietnamese, antiwar protestors, politicians,
Cold Warriors, artists, poets, flight attendants, conscientious objectors,
draft dodgers and more. Juxtaposing the narratives of the men who planned
the war with those who fought in and against it, the deepest theme of
Appys book is the self-deception and moral blindness of American
leaders, and their inability to justify the war to American soldiers,
to the general public, even to themselves.
The Vietnam War, Appy suggests, was the first war fought by a major
global power against a Third World country after the decline of the
old European empires, in a world irrevocably shaped by the Cuban Revolution
and by nationalist movements in India and Africa, in which the desire
of one country to control the politics of another was no longer an adequate
justification for war. Whats more, many of the working-class and
black Americans who were drafted to fight in Vietnam were not persuaded
by the anti-communist arguments of the State and Defense Departments.
They did not see how the peasant country could possibly pose a threat
to the United States, and they certainly didnt find a people asking
to be liberated.
Patriots demonstrates that the anti-Communist theories of the
wars architects blinded them to the real nature of the war in
Vietnam, its horrific violence and the fact that it would not be winnable.
Paul Kattenberg, a Vietnam specialist in the 50s, tells of attending
a National Security Council meeting in 1963: What struck me more
than anything else was just the abysmal ignorance around the table of
the particular facts of Vietnam, their ignorance of the actual place.
They didnt know what they were talking about. It was robot thinking
about Vietnam and no distinctions were being made. James Thompson,
who served as an adviser to McGeorge Bundy in the early 60s, tells
of authorizing armed reconnaissance missions without knowing
what they were: Armed reconnaissance planes basically flew up
and down both halves of Vietnam and over Laos, taking pictures and shooting
at anything they wanted to. Many months later I realized I was authorizing
quite a bit of killing with no knowledge of what it was all about and
it staggered me.
Morton Halperin, a deputy assistant secretary of defense under Johnson,
refused even to have a map of Vietnam in his office until the Tet Offensive.
People would come in and theyd start to tell me something
about the Mekong Delta or the Ho Chi Minh Trail and they would say,
Wheres your map of Vietnam? Id say, Use
that map. Half of them couldnt find Vietnam on the world
map and the other half would say, Vietnam is too small on this
map to show you what I want to show you. I would look at them
and say, Thats the point!
Only planners possessed by illusions and contempt could have sought
to win the support of a people they were in the midst of bombing (the
overwhelming majority 75 percent of American bombs fell
on South Vietnam). The US military strategy sought to break the will
of the Vietnamese communists, not by seizing territory but by killing
as many people as possible. One adviser remembers Kissinger saying,
Every country, like every human being, has a breaking point, Vietnam
included. Yet while pursuing an inhumane strategy that could lead
all too easily to the massacre of noncombatants, the Americans were
supposed to be protecting the Vietnamese from the cruelties of Communism.
Almost every page in Appys book reveals a different contradiction
in US policy: Hospitals bombed instead of military installations; starvation
in the strategic hamlets that were supposed to be incubators of support
for the South Vietnamese government; battles waged along with supposed
Vietnamese allies who turned out to be double agents. In one particularly
dubious psychological-warfare operation, peasants were kidnapped and
taken to an outpost of a fake Northern resistance movement, named the
Sacred Sword of the Patriot League, where they were given propaganda
and food and sent back to their villages. The program was never shown
to have any positive results.
Many American soldiers found themselves incapable of tolerating the
wars inhumanity, and the army was collapsing by the wars
end. One journalist who lived in Vietnam in the early 70s says,
When I hear people say we could have won the war, I always think:
Where were you going to get the soldiers? Yet while the American
soldiers served one-year tours of duty, punctuated by rest-and-recuperation
debauchery, often spending time in rear-area bases with televisions,
slot machines, beer, hot showers and warm meals, the North Vietnamese
soldiers endured vast deprivation, living in the jungle for years on
end, with scant food, sickness, exhaustion and a death rate nearly 20
times that of the Americans. Why were they able to tolerate such conditions,
where American soldiers crumbled under much less?
Appy suggests that the basic difference was that North Vietnamese soldiers
understood themselves as fighting a political war against an occupying
North Vietnamese strategy, therefore, involved building support for
resistance to the Americans (and before them, the French) throughout
Vietnamese society. For example, Vo Nguyen Giap, a leader of the anti-colonial
struggle against the French and a general in the American War (as it
is called in Vietnam), remembers Ho Chi Minh telling him that as long
as they had the support of the peasantry, weaponry was unimportant.
Artists, entertainers, actors, singers and musicians traveled with the
North Vietnamese troops.
At the same time, the North Vietnamese military planners made a deep
effort (perhaps not always successful) to identify with Americas
revolutionary tradition, and to blame the planners of the war, not the
grunts. According to Appys sources, North Vietnamese soldiers
read American literature, carrying books by US authors among the few
items in their rucksacks. In short, the North Vietnamese army endured
because it sought to give its soldiers a sense of being participants
in a deep struggle against injustice, arbitrary power and violence.
It is impossible to read Patriots without thinking of the ongoing
war in Iraq. Despite obvious differences , no force in Iraq is comparable
to the Viet Cong and Saddam Hussein was no Ho Chi Min, there are deep
similarities in the American position. The war, after all, was supposed
to vanquish the Vietnam syndrome.
But can it? Once again the United States has entered a war on false
pretenses with little knowledge of the history, culture or even language
of the invaded country. American leaders now, as during the Vietnam
War, seek political support among a people they just bombed, seeking
to win the hearts and minds of Iraqis after killing 8,000
to 10,000 civilians. The soldiers, once more, are working-class men
and women, many of color, quite a few of whom seem already to harbor
grave doubts about the war they have been sent to fight.
The similarities may run deeper still. No matter what military superiority
the United States may possess, it is not so easy to win a war. The Vietnam
War was possible, in the end, because the people leading the United
States were motivated by a criminal, casual sense that the world was
theirs to rule. Yet as Patriots shows, they were mistaken. Ideology
and politics matter in fighting wars, and a war justified by lies is
unlikely to be a war that people will want to or prove able to
fight for long.
Source: In These Times
Anarchy in the Age of Dinosaurs
By the Curious George Brigade, Mosinee, WI, 2003, 154pp,
Review by John Brinker and Egg Syntax
For a few years, the CrimethInc. collective has been willfully monkeying
around with our assumptions about anarchism. Most recently, the CrimethInc.
mantle has been taken up by a collective calling itself the Curious George
Brigade. With Anarchy in the Age of Dinosaurs (AAD), the Brigade
romps on the jungle gym of anarchism with an innocence both inspiring
Big-hearted and rough-around-the-edges, AAD reads like a compilation
of late-night journal entries: inspired, rambling, and alternating between
profound and hokey. Its central metaphor is that anarchists small,
warm-blooded creatures are poised to inherit the Earth after the
inevitable fall of pleistocene capitalism. Are our values so natural and
good that they will effortlessly replace the old order? Perhaps some anarchists
share this conceit with other left-liberal ideologues.
The Curious George Brigade doesnt really believe in that old teleology,
though; they just like to toss ideas around. Past all the tangents and
feints, a shape begins to emerge. The real mission is never admitted but
implied everywhere: the book is a ragged and eloquent apology for lifestyle
The Brigadiers defend the idea that anarchism should be a philosophy of
living, rather than political ideology or organizational platform. This
idea is still provocative because it threatens to sever anarchisms
connection to the thread of Enlightenment thinking, away from the Berkmans
and Bakunins, away from the Paris Commune and the Spanish Civil war
away from historical touchstones.
The authors want to see modern anarchism join the flux of what they call
Folk Anarchy. Not a faction, splinter group, or rebellion against another
tendency, their magpie approach promotes anarchy as culture, as a lived
reality, from Peruvian shantytowns to nodes in the North American traveler
kid scene. Its a rhizomatic anarchy that pops up everywhere
in new guises, adapts to different cultural climates, and still retains
its essential character.
In a book filled with hip jargon, Folk Anarchy may be the one term from
AAD that we still might be discussing ten years from now. The authors
favorite trick is to unearth some dialectic embedded in modern anarchist
debate and then rhetorically transcend it by inventing some third category
that makes a compromise or reframes the argument. So, taking a cue from
Erich Fromm, they find a tension between duty and joy and supercede its
meaning. Instead of anarcho-purity, we should be practicing anarcho-pride,
and so on.
The worst thing that CrimethInc. has inherited from the anarchist writing
of the past 30 years is a love for the rhapsodic power of the word over
the ability to communicate. At its worst, <i>AAD</i> slides into early-1990s
fluff as in the chapter heading: Surfing the Fractal Waves of Revolution.
That kind of stuff isnít even printed on rave fliers anymore! Elsewhere,
they play the old CrimethInc. trick of misattributing and detourning quotes,
subverting the readers attempts to situate ideas in the framework
of Western philosophy. While their disrespect for intellectual property
is admirable, this practice can come off as flippantly avoiding attribution
Confounding our notions of what a book should be, AADs various chapters
sketch out ideas in a ëzine style. With its tentative quality, this
book is consistent with all the ideas that make CrimethInc. projects so
vital and challenging. AAD deals briefly with many of the hot topics in
anarchist circles today, like consensus decision-making and race in anarchism.
New areas of interest, like heroic communities mutiny, intentional
inefficiency, and the Third World city make brief appearances in AAD.
A section on the shantytown as a model for the anarchist city is both
inspiring and a little off base. The authors demonstrate why the shantytown
is the apotheosis of anarchist living: robust public space, ownership-by-use,
a functioning gift economy. Yet they simultaneously run the risk of over-romanticizing
and minimizing the crippling poverty, squalor, and political disempowerment
that many residents of these communities face.
The essay on inefficiency is, in some ways, the heart of AAD. For good
reasons, some will never accept the kind of challenge that the Curious
George Brigade mounts against bedrock Western values. But this essay is
in many ways the best recent distillation of the zero-work philosophy
as applied to collective organizing. While refraining from dogmatic prescriptions
or lists of banned tools and activities, the authors challenge us to imagine
new ways of valuing our time.
Like the Tin Man, North American anarchism seems at times to be missing
a crucial organ. Perhaps CrimethInc. is our Wizard, placing a softly beating
heart into all of our cold constructions. Who cares if the Wizard is bogus,
so long as his gifts have the desired effect? AAD is a book that
feels better than it thinks, but it looks you in the eye and dares you
to start up a conversation with it. And wed
be missing out if we turned down the offer.
Source: Fifth Estate
Global systems selling out indigenous
By Marty Logan
Geneva, Switzerland, Dec. 12 (IPS) In one part of the
northern Philippines, the naming of a child begins with a history lesson.
Two weeks after he or she is born, village elders gather to select a
name, a process that includes narrating the history of each family member,
explains Minnie Degawan of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance.
Sharing that knowledge is a way to place the burden of responsibility
for raising the child according to the qualities of his or her
namesake on both the childs parents and the entire village.
This is one example of how our community can speak knowledge,
says Degawan. And it is knowledge with responsibility, she asserts,
much different from the information that todays wired
citizens can passively take from the Internet and other information
and communications technologies (ICTs).
Today, that culture of knowledge and responsibility is threatened by
attempts to commodify symbols and other traditional knowledge (TK),
Degawan and other speakers told the Global Forum on Indigenous Peoples
and the Information Society at the World Summit on the Information Society,
which closed Friday in Geneva.
And the global copyright system designed to protect intellectual property
does not help indigenous peoples, they added.
Much of Inuit culture was historically protected by customary law, said
Violet Ford, a vice president of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, which
represents 155,000 Inuit people in Canada, Alaska, Greenland and Russia.
Now it is in the public domain, and governments
say it does not require protection, she added.
Symbols such as the Inuit kayak, amauti (traditional womens coat)
and Inukshuk (a pile of rocks used as a navigation marker) have been
copied and used to sell myriad products. The Inukshuk, for example,
now adorns the box of a product used to combat erectile dysfunction,
But while the copyright system does not accept the concept of a group
registering its traditional knowledge, more than 100 individuals and
companies in Canada alone have applied for a copyright on the Inukshuk,
Without protection, Inuit culture will continue to be sought after
as a commodity devalued and minimized.
Indigenous peoples have long called for nations to establish sui
generis, new and unique national systems to protect their traditional
knowledge, but have made little headway.
The bodies that regulate copyright, including the World Intellectual
Property Organization (WIPO), are suggesting other solutions, including
that indigenous peoples enter into contracts with those who wish to
use their cultural symbols and other knowledge.
Violet Ford says that path is full of obstacles, particularly because
many indigenous groups do not have much experience in contract law and
would be at a disadvantage in negotiations.
The current position of the Inuit is to work globally (to reform
the copyright system) via WIPO, she added.
A WIPO official says some indigenous groups have successfully completed
contracts that protect their traditional knowledge.
The point is to work out what elements of your culture are likely
to be misused, says Tony Taubman, head of WIPOs traditional
Often its the well-meaning academic researcher (who misuses
TK). They see this as information in the public domain and want to report
on it as an academic (exercise), he added in an interview.
Taubman says he recognizes that indigenous peoples are debating whether
they should work within the existing system of copyright protection
or insist on creating something unique, and that WIPO must do more to
reach out to them to try and resolve the issue, as long as they are
willing to cooperate.
Degawan is sure that she does not want to adhere to that system. For
one, it would crystallise her culture.
Knowledge is not something that you own but is something that
is developed over the ages, through practice you have to share
it because if you dont share it, it becomes static.
We need to inform the WIPO that what they have may be appropriate
for them à but it is not appropriate for my culture, Degawan
Of Senators and Framers
By John R. MacArthur
Dec. 5 -- The cramped gift shop on the Senate side of the US
Capitol sells only one book by a serving senatora slim, red volume
misleadingly titled The Senate of the Roman Republic. Misleading
because its author, US Sen. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, composed
it not as straightforward history but as a cautionary tale about the
death of the Roman republic, a story of self-inflicted decline intended
by Byrd to galvanize Americans into defending their constitutional treasures.
Byrds book (14 bound speeches) is urgently worth reading. But
if, at the end of his funeral oration for Roman self-government, the
interested citizen remains unmoved, unconvinced that the American republic
is threatened by incipient tyranny, he might be fortunate enough to
be persuaded in person by the 86-year-old Democrat in his spacious Capitol
office. Which is where I found Byrd in late October, fresh from another
in a yearlong series of utterly remarkable speeches denouncing the Bush
administrations invasion of Iraq and an ongoing policy based
largely on propaganda, hype and prevarication.
Addressing his colleagues on October 17, Byrd outdid himself rhetorically
and came as close to losing his temper as his deeply engrained
courtliness will permit. Railing against the $87 billion supplemental
appropriations bill for occupation and reconstruction in
Iraq, the dean of the Senate reprised the fairy tale, The Emperors
New Clothes, to illustrate how the country was marched into war
by a Praetorian guard of confidence men egged on by a presidents
vanity and how the con game persists.
We were frightened with visions of mushroom clouds, but they turned
out to be only vapors of the mind, Byrd thundered. We were
told that major combat was over, but 101 [over 400 as of Dec. 17] Americans
have died in combat since that proclamation from the deck of an aircraft
carrier by our very own emperor in his new clothes. Our emperor says
that we are not occupiers, yet we show no inclination to relinquish
the country of Iraq to its people.
Byrd has been speaking since September last year to a largely empty
chamber, ignored by his war-fevered Republican colleagues and most of
his sheep-like Democratic ones, as well as their handmaidens
in the media. But this time his scathing eloquence hit home, provoking
a rejoinder, at once nasty and ignorant, from Sen. Ted Stevens, Republican
chairman of the Appropriations Committee.
Think of the young men and women in Iraq
They get [your
speech] on C-SPAN, Stevens growled. Think of what they are
thinking when a senator says they are over there because of a falsehood,
because the president of United States lied.
Those who vote against
this bill will be voting against supporting our men and women in the
field. Unsurprisingly, Stevens expressed child-like faith in the
presidents fairy tale. Unsurprisingly, Byrd took umbrage at such
Let the record not stand with the senators words
that those who vote against this bill are voting against the troops,
Byrd replied. I defy that statement
and hurl it back into
the teeth of the senator from Alaska.
There are millions of people
there are many men and women in Iraq who believe that
we who vote against this bill today speak for them.
Yes, I voted
against sending troops into Iraq. Yes, I am one of the 23. And if I
had it to do over again, I would vote the same way again10 times,
10 times a hundred against this doctrine of preemptive strikes. Fie
on that doctrine! Fie on it!
This time the senior senator from West Virginia was one of 12 to vote
no. Two weeks later, on November. 3, when the final version of the appropriation
came to a voice vote, Byrds was the only audible dissent heard
in the Senate chamber. Classical to the end, he termed the bills
passage a pyrrhic victory for the administration.
A more sedate Byrd received me, but the anger still smoldered. The Senate
lost its way when it passed the war authorization bill on
October 11, 2002, in direct contravention of the intent of the forefathers.
S.J. Res. 46, as Byrd still refers to it, was unconstitutional because
it handed over Congress war-declaring power to the president,
who henceforth became war legislator and war commander. [This]
pernicious doctrine of preemption cannot be constitutional because the
framers thought it was wise to put the making of war and the declaring
of war in different hands, he said. Therefore, they put
the power to declare war
in the Congress, so that such a momentous
decision could not be by one man but by many. We placed the declaring
of war in the hands of one individual. Out of 275 million, one man was
to declare war.
The lives of untold thousands men and women were
placed in that one mans hands. The framers would have been really
disturbed if theyd have been here.
And they would have been horrified by the Senates decline as an
institution. The passage of S.J. Res. 46 represented more than
just intimidation and fear of reprisal at the polls, he said.
Senators had lost this quality of pride and dedication, to something
thats higher than politics, than Bush being elected and re-elected,
the higher goal of service to the nation, the recognition of the Senates
place [as] the bedrock of the constitutional system.
By contrast, Roman senators served without pay. They believed
that service to the state was of the highest order and they were
deeply proud to be Roman citizens. Todays US senators are no longer
grounded in the classics of Greek and Roman literature, or even the
Federalist Papers, and thus lack a deeper feel of what makes the
senator in the Senate.
Theyre very bright, well read as to current events,
Byrd said of the younger generation. And theyre quick on
their toes they come up with the 10-second sound bytes, whereas,
it takes me several minutes to say howdy. I try to think before I speak.
Along with reflection, civility has declined. When the unprepossessing
Byrd was sworn in to the more genteel Senate of 1959, there
was not so much the partisan bitterness, not so much the fighting, the
slash and burn that you find today. Those senators were here because
they wanted to be senators, not because they wanted to be president.
And they took more seriously the Senates constitutional responsibility
to debate (at length) and amend (at will) bills sent up from the House
of Representatives. Byrd was outraged that the war resolution passed,
not only with so little discussion but lacking a sunset provision that
would have forced Bush to return to Congress for re-authorization. Byrds
12-month sunset amendment garnered 31 votes: That was absolutely
amazing that senators, especially Democratic senators, would vote against
sun setting the provision. I think [they] were intimidated by the false
cry of being seen as unpatriotic.
Byrd understands the danger of open-ended war resolutions. Having been
mislead into voting for Lyndon Johnsons fraudulent Gulf of Tonkin
Resolution in 1964, he wasnt going to be fooled again. S.J. Res.
46 was even worse, he said, because the Tonkin Gulf authorization specified
Congress right to terminate military action.
In all this fawning deference to Bush, Byrd sees a kind of subliminal
hero worship or feeling that the White House and the occupant thereof
are clothed with the vestigial remnants of royalty. To Byrd, the
president is just another hired hand, like I am. Under the Constitution,
the Senate can send him packing, but the president cannot send
the senators packing.
Thats just what the tyrants Julius Caesar and Mark Antony did
to the Roman Senate. And if the fall of republican Rome is any guide,
then the American republic is in grave danger.
Its no coincidence that Byrds rhetorical tour de force on
Iraq bears a strong resemblance to the speeches of Cicero, who also
viewed himself as the principal defender of the Senate as institutional
bulwark against a military usurper. Eight days before Caesar crossed
the Rubicon, Antony, as tribune, vetoed a proposal to declare Caesar
a public enemy if he refused to disband his army. You rejected
all efforts to open negotiations with you about upholding the authority
of the House, Cicero wrote in the most famous of his Philippics
against Antony. Yet the matter at stake was nothing less than
your itch to plunge the whole country into anarchy and desolation.
You, Antony, were the man who provided the pretext for this most catastrophic
Vote to save your country, Byrd exhorted his colleagues
when he clashed with Stevens. No commander in chief brought me
here, and no commander in chief is going to send me home. My first and
last stand by which I live and by which I hope to die is this Constitution
of the United States.
Antony had Cicero murdered for his defiance. Byrd and his ilk are being
killed by silence.
John R. MacArthur is the publisher of Harpers Magazine and
author, most recently, of The Selling of Free Trade.
Source: In These Times