Israel is Not My Birthright

Israel is not my birthright via @Salon

A great article by a Jewish writer on the Israel/Palestine situation.  When you criticize Israel you are not being anti-semitic; You are criticizing a foreign country and their political position.  Don’t let anyone tell you differently. 

Tom Hayden on Iraq

This is a good piece over at Huffington Post by Tom Hayden about what is going on in Iraq now and why we need to stay out.  The predictions of those that took us there have now been proven wrong a billion times over.  There has been so much death and destruction for no reason.  It might be easy in hindsight to say that we simply got it wrong, but many of us knew Iraq was a mistake and didn’t think we should go into that country in the first place.  My parents were part of a peace march BEFORE the initial invasion.  

Often when people have racist or ignorant views in the past it is typical for someone to say that they shouldn’t be blamed because they were just holding views “of their time”.  However, when one looks deeper into history you will often see that many people knew better and that this argument doesn’t usually hold water.  Don’t let anyone tell you that we didn’t know better before we went into Iraq.  That was a war of choice, plain and simple.  

Military Leaders Warn Climate Change Will Cause Instability

The above article is from Huffington Post and it is about how Military leaders are acknowledging the threat that climate change poses to our national security.  The idea that climate change will cause instability around the world is nothing new, but this report is just one more reason that we need to get serious about this subject.  



The Folly of Man, Vol 2.

The following is a passage from L. Fletcher Prouty’s JFK: The CIA, Vietnam, and the Plot to Assassinate John F. Kennedy.  The jury is still out on if Prouty is a reliable source on many things.  However, I think he has great insight into why the Vietnam War was such a disaster.  I’ve seen enough things confirmed in other books.  The following is pretty long, but it is worth reading.  I do want to add that Prouty, in his book, admits that this story is an amalgamation of different things that he saw while in Vietnam. 

In an effort to try to cut this down a little bit I just want to add that the Rhade are a tribal group in Vietnam.  I also want to add that before this passage starts Prouty talks about how when Diem banished the French and the Chinese he also destroyed the local economy without instating something viable to take its place.  This story is another example of us invading a country without understanding the local culture.  Anyway, on with the show:

The padre, the young American, and the Vietnamese official returned many times.  After a while, the American was welcomed without the priest and often stayed for weeks.  He was interested in animal husbandry and agriculture.  He brought with him some poultry and a new breed of hog that he taught them to raise.  He carried with him new seeds and tried over and over to encourage the Rhade to plant them as he directed.  On countless occasions he would persuade the villagers to dig holes in the fields and to plant the seeds as he had learned to do at the university in Ames, Iowa. 

He never did understand the Rhade farmers and their primitive “slash and burn” farming.  And they never could explain to this young expert that the seeds could not grow in that heavy grassland of the open fields.  In any event, the American became a familiar figure, and his hard work and gifts of chickens, pigs, candy, and cigarettes were always welcome.  Then one day he came with the Magic Box. 

The padre, the American, and the Houng-ca sat in earnest discussion all that day.  The Magic Box rested on the hood of the jeep while several young men dug a hole in front of the patriarch’s hut.  They were unaccustomed to the American’s shovel, and work progressed slowly.  Meanwhile, the American felled a tree and cut out a section to be used on a post.  This post was put into the hole and the dirt replaced. 

Now a tall, sturdy, upright pedestal stood in the front of the chieftain’s hut.  To this, the American affixed a tin roof as shelter.  Then he removed the shiny jet-black Magic Box from the jeep and nailed it firmly to the post, about four feet above the ground, just the right height for the Houng-ca and above the prying hands of children. 

After the box was secured, the padre told the villagers all about the Magic Box and how it would work, about the wonders it would produce to save them from communism.  He told them that this box was a most miraculous radio and that it would speak to their brothers in Saigon.  It was, in their language, powerful medicine. 

At the same time, he warned that only the village patriarch could touch the box.  If anyone else did, the kindly government in Saigon would be most angry, and the village would be punished.  The padre told the villagers that whenever they were attacked, the patriarch should push the big red button on the box, and that was all. 

At this point in their Village Defense Orientation Program, the Viet soldier and the American interrupted the padre and ordered him to repeat that if the village was attacked by the Communist Vietcong from the forest – emphasizing the “Communist Vietcong” – the patriarch was to push the button.  To the Viet soldier and the American, the men in the forest were not starving and frightened refugees; they were the enemy. 

Because the elderly padre knew that these native people had never heard of the Vietcong, he explained that his friends called all bandits from the refugee camps in the forest “Vietcong” and that the Vietcong were to be greatly feared because they were the puppets of the National Liberation Front, who were the puppets of Hanoi, who were the puppets of the Chinese, who were the puppets of the Soviets, ad-infinitum. 

The padre explained that when the patriarch pushed that shiny red button on the Magic Box, the powerful gods of Saigon would unleash vengeful armies through the air, and the dreaded Vietcong would be blasted by bombs from airplanes and napalmed from helicopters.  And the village would be liberated and pacified.  He also told them that every village that had been selected by the Father of His Country in Saigon to receive the Magic Box would forever thereafter be furnished food, medicine, and special care. 

The Rhade would receive these “benefits” whether they wanted them or not.  For they knew only too well that the villages that had plenty of food and medicine and that were the special elect of Saigon were always the first targets for the starving bandits.  They knew enough to know that they would live in fear of the Magic Box and its munificence. 

Ever since the day when the padre had returned with the American, the village had received special medicine and food relief.  The “Extended Arms for Brotherhood” program of the new president in Saigon was the caring for these tribesmen.  Shortly after the first time this extra food had been delivered, the village had been visited by some young men from the camps in the woods.  They sat with the patriarch all day and quietly but firmly explained that they came from a refugee camp that was hidden in the hills and that was caring for thousands of homeless natives from the south who had been driven from their homes by the Diem backed police and hordes of northern invaders. 

These people had fled from their wasted homes.  They had been the enemies in every new region they came to, and now, terrorized and starving, sick and dying, they had had to turn to that last resort of mankind, banditry and pillage.  These countless refugees, in their own homeland, had fled the careless deprivations and brutal massacres of the benevolent forces of Saigon.  They wished to be peaceful, but they desperately needed food and medicine.  They demanded that the village share some of its plentiful goods with them.  This arrangement, although unappealing to the village, was accepted, and for a while it kept a fragile peace between the two worlds.  However, the refugee numbers swelled, and their demands became greater and greater.  It wasn’t long before the Saigon political observer and the padre reported to the American that they suspected that the patriarch was collaborating with the “enemy.”  This sharing of their meager goods with the refugees was called “the payment of tribute” by the Vietnamese.  The refugees had become the “enemy,” and the American’s word for “enemy” was Vietcong.  The political leader explained to the patriarch that collaboration with the Vietcong meant death for him and removal of the village people to the Citizens’ Retraining Camp or a “Strategic Hamlet,” as the Americans liked to call it.  No matter what their benefactors chose to call these displacement centers, they were prisons to the natives. 

The more or less peaceful demands of the refugees became adamant orders as their needs increased.  What had begun as a reluctant sharing of food became submission to force and banditry.  The ranks of the refugees swelled as the exodus from such areas as the no-man’s land of the once-prosperous and fertile Mekong Delta area of the Camau Peninsula turned into a vast and relentless human wave. 

A situation not unlike that of the Native American migrations westward took place.  Each tribe, displaced from its ancestral homeland by the white man, became marauders and attackers in the territory of the next Indian nation.  Thus it was tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of once-peaceful, docile, and reasonably well-to-do rice farmers became feared, terrorized bandits called the Vietcong. 

Arrogance in a Former Secretary of State

I have mentioned several times that I am reading the book The Brothers, a book about former Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and his brother Allen Dulles, who headed the CIA.  These brothers not only ratcheted up the Cold War, but created problems for America that we are still dealing with.  I know I have talked a lot about this book, but it is something every American should read.  Foster Dulles helped the military gain power in Pakistan.  The following passage, where Foster is interviewed by Walter Lippman, would be comical, if the ending wasn’t so tragic.  You cant make this stuff up!  Remember this is an interview with a sitting Secretary of State during the Eisenhower Administration:

“Look Walter,” Dulles told him, “I’ve got to get some real fighting men into the south of Asia.  The only Asians who can really fight are the Pakistanis.  That’s why we need them in the alliance.  We could never get along without the Gurkhas.”

“But Foster,” Lippman replied, “the Gurkhas aren’t Pakistanis.”

“Well, they may not be Pakistanis, but they’re Moslems.”

“No, I’m afraid they’re not Moslems, either.  They’re Hindus.”

“No matter!” Foster replied, and launched into a half-hour lecture about the dangers of Communism in Asia.

George W. Bush and John Bolten’s spiritual father has been found. 

We Supplied Ho Chi Minh With Weapons

I have read quite a lot of history, but I somehow wasn’t aware that we actually supplied Ho Chi Minh with weapons to fight the Japanese during World War II.  It seems like we constantly have a problem with supplying weapons to people that eventually become our enemy.  One only as to look at recent examples like Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein.  Ho Chi Minh really represents the double whammy because not only did we initially supply him with weapons, but in fighting him we also did something else which is quite common in our history:  Trying to overthrow a popular national leader for reasons that were bogus.   We claimed at the time that Ho Chi Minh was a puppet of the Soviet Union, but this was not the case.  The more I read about our history the more I realize that we not only have created many of our enemies, but as was the case in Iran in the 50’s, we also have often been on the wrong side of history.  We should probably stay out of other countries unless we really are clear eyed about what is going on.  If not, it always seems to come back and haunts.  I am worried that our current drone policy will create another in a long line of self created problems for this country.

Years of Living Dangerously

The link above is to the Showtime series Years of Living Dangerously.  You can watch the first episode of this series for free.  To anyone that wants to understand climate change better, is skeptical, or wants to be able to talk about it more intelligently with friends, I can’t recommend this enough.  It is highly accessible and it covers a wide range of topics associated with climate change.  The science is touched upon, but it is not a heavily scientific show in the sense that it is just data thrown at you.  It follows several celebrities as they travel to different regions of the world that are already facing problems that are caused by climate change.  The footage is astounding and the show is highly entertaining, despite being of a very serious nature. 

I know the idea of following around a few celebrities around could easily descend into farce, but in this show it is not the case. The celebrities aren’t so much driving the action as they are just familiar faces that are standing in for the audience on camera.  This is a sober production.

The show does deal with the ecological problems that are associated with climate change, but it also deals with the human issues as well.  We are already seeing crops die, wars being fought, and jobs being lost because of climate change.  These are not things taking place in the future, but are issues that are already starting to arise. 

I also liked the way that the show dealt with people of faith.  People like me are already onboard.  I would vote to curb emissions yesterday.  We need people that have beliefs that stand in the way to change their mind.  This show deals with the idea that science in no way challenges faith, at least not in the big picture.  At the end of the day we all share the same planet, and if we are going to inhabit it in a way similar to the way we grew up, we better find some common ground. 

Ukraine Not Rocky IV

After being on the road weekend I am playing catch up with the situation in the Ukraine.  I still don’t know enough to comment on it with a great deal of intelligence.  However, it seems clear to me that because of our invasion of Iraq, we don’t have a lot of moral standing when it comes to invading countries that are sovereign states.  While it is completely understandable to be outraged at Putin’s actions, we can’t pretend as if we have never done anything like that.  That doesn’t mean that two wrongs make a right, as the old saying goes.  It’s just that as we examine the situation and try to decide, as a people, what to do about it, if anything, we should ditch the moral superiority.  This is not Rocky IV, even if the media wants it to be.  I personally think Putin is a despicable character.  However I am sure the situation over there, as most situations, is one that is complex.  As we read the news we should try to parse the subtleties and learn the history of the region.  War is a heavy thing and we should do our homework before we make rash decisions about it.  

Vietnam, Ignorance of Culture, War Profiteering

I am going to try to explain a very complex subject in a very short amount of space.  While I was out this weekend I was reading about the Vietnam War.  I believe what I’m about to say has currency now with our recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Really though it has to do with a lot of the wars we have been involved in, especially going back to the Indian Wars of the 1800’s.  We basically don’t take the time to understand a culture, we project our own politics onto it often based on what is in the best interest of big money, and then we make a mess out of shit.

A great deal of daily life in leading up to the Vietnam War was based on village culture.  People lived on their ancestral homeland in small villages and lived off the land.  What goods they couldn’t produce they would trade for rice and other goods that they got farming.  The people that they traded with were largely Chinese merchants.  Because of the Communist ties of the Chinese, the Diem government, which we backed, kicked the Chinese out of Vietnam.  Suddenly peaceful villagers’ rice was left to rot as they had no one to trade it with.  Many of the Vietnamese traded for water, as the brackish water that they used for farming was undrinkable.  They did collect water from rain, but this was not a solution to everyday needs.  After awhile these villagers, many of which were in South Vietnam and had no relation to the North Vietnamese, again this was a village society where politics and justice was local, resorted to banditry to get what they needed.

On top of this you had the French leaving after they were defeated and a large part of the law and order of the country left with it.  This didn’t matter so much in and of itself it had not been combined with the expulsion of the Chinese merchants.

To make it all more complicated Diem was a Catholic.  Millions of Catholics from the North were coerced into coming down into the South of Vietnam, some would say through government propaganda and fear tactics that we supported.  Some estimate that 1,500,000 refugees came to South Vietnam during this time.  Many of these people were also from a village society and had never lived anywhere other than their ancestral land.  Many of these people had nowhere to go to earn a living.  Some were put in power by the Diem government because they were Catholics, and were now in positions of power over those that were non-Catholic.

So basically lawlessness erupted that had nothing to do with communism.  It had to do with economic reasons, a breakdown in law and order, and a mixing of different cultures.  That’s not to say that there weren’t problems derived form the communist North.  However, because we didn’t understand the culture and we viewed everything through a communist vs. capitalist lens at the time, this led to the early escalation of the war.  Often we ended up killing or supporting people that killed peasants that only wanted to live in peace and have some kind of economic stability.  One of the biggest problems of Vietnam was trying to figure out who the enemy was.  Even calling Vietnam a civil war is a bit simplistic.  There were all kinds of different factions fighting for different reasons, especially in the beginning.

You can see in more recent times that we didn’t fully understand the Sunni Shiite dynamic or the tribal culture of Afghanistan.  We also didn’t realize, at least I hope we didn’t, that we were empowering our future enemy when we helped the Mujaheddin, aka the Taliban, fight against the Soviets.

During the Indian Wars we couldn’t separate the peaceful Indians from the ones that waged war, so we often just killed everyone.  Even when we did try to make treaties, even on the small occasion that we were acting in good faith, we often didn’t have interpreters that were good to deal with the Indians.  Often our government agents would walk away from a treaty with a very different interpretation from what the Indians had signed off on.

I guess if you are going to go to war you should at least try to understand the dynamics of the country you are invading.  Otherwise you end up in a war without end, fighting people that are no threat to you or your country.  Shame on our leaders and pity on those poor bastards sent to fight.

Where does big money come into all of this?  Everyone with half a brain knows that our country has plenty of companies that benefit economically from warfare.  They were once called war profiteers and looked on poorly, now they are called job creators.  One can read a lot of right wing literature and know that people wanted to go into Iraq long before 911.  911 was just an excuse to go in and do what some members of our society always wanted to do.  Often we killed Indians just because they lived over gold.  When you combine ignorance of culture with economic interests to go to war, there is a good chance that there is a giant shit storm brewing up ahead, just around that next bend in the road.