Afghanistan-Vietnam-USA, 2021

By Tom Motko (August 23, 2021)

It’s been days of listening to pundits and politicians wringing their hands and doling out blame over the “loss” of Afghanistan to the corrupt Afghan elites we don’t like from the corrupt Afghan elites we do like.

George W. Bush lied to the American people in 2003 that the Taliban was defeated and the mission “accomplished”. He then proceeded to broaden the mission and suck our country into the same morass through which the Russians had waded from 1979-89 until defeated by the mujahideen. The Afghan mujahideen became the Taliban. That broadened mission and disastrous policy went on, in a largely bipartisan manner, through multiple US administrations. And, of course, memory being short, Donald Trump ordered withdrawal of all troops from Afghanistan by May, something his fascist colleagues now want to erase from history for their own political ends.

I remember the understandably great anger and angst that spread across the US in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the need to do something, to strike back, to find and kill whomever the enemy was. That mass shock gave Bush enough political space to invade a country without immediate mass resistance at home. However, driven out of Afghanistan by December, 2001, the people who’d orchestrated and authorized the 9/11 attacks were no longer there. We were.

The politics of the moment demanded “we” “do something”. There was the Taliban who had supported and sheltered Al Qaeda. Their excesses against the people of Afghanistan in order to keep their own tiny, elite class of males in power, made great propaganda in the West because it was true. Propaganda works best when it’s based on truth (or, at least, truisms and stereotypes). The Bush Administration connected with the so-called Northern Alliance, armed them, and launched a war against the Taliban. The Northern Alliance already had been resisting the Taliban for some years and controlled part of the country. Made up largely of minority ethnicities and some Pashtuns, oppressed and dominated by the Taliban, who were mainly of the dominant Pashtun ethnicity, the country’s largest group. In fairly short order, the Taliban was out and the Northern Alliance was in.

While repeatedly denying that the US was “nation building” there, the Bush administration proceeded to build a new nation out of the old Afghanistan. The idea, you see, was nothing new: We would simply impose an Afghan-adapted model of Western democracy and soon everyone would be dancing through the poppy fields in liberated ecstasy. We would keep the new regime in place by superior force of arms while training an army composed of newborn Afghan egalitarians. This would solidify the hold on power by a non-Taliban ruling elite who owed some allegiance to US regional interests. That didn’t mean the Taliban went away. It simply meant a long war of attrition was about to begin. This phase of that war of attrition is ending now.

Meanwhile, I’m sitting here thinking of the apparently unlearned lessons of our previous longest war in Viet Nam. For example, we unlearned that an almost certain way of making a people overcome otherwise profound sectarian differences is to INVADE THEIR COUNTRY.

Not only by its ill-advised invasion of Afghanistan but by remaining there after neutralizing the threat from Al Qaeda, the US ceded the propaganda war to the Taliban, allowing them to claim to be “freedom fighters” against invading foreigners and to convince many Afghans that the new leadership were merely corrupt puppets of the United States. That the new Afghan government held power in concert with foreign invaders further solidified the Taliban’s reach among the people just as the mujahideen had done during the Soviet invasion. It doesn’t even matter whether or not the new leaders actually are puppets. This whole scenario has been played out before albeit with a different cast and a different setting.

The late (2013) General Võ Nguyên Giáp, who defeated the French colonists and won the United States’ war against the Vietnamese people (while losing nearly every battle), viewed by many as one of the great military strategists of the 20th century, wrote the script. I read his user’s manual “People’s War, People’s Army” while still in high school and I’m sure it’s been on the reading list for the National War College for decades. The bottom line is that a foreign invader may conquer a country or a people by force of arms but ultimately cannot defeat an insurgent army that is rooted among the people. Between those Afghans who hated the foreign invaders for religious or political reasons and those who were frightened by the consequences for folks cast as “traitors” by the insurgents, the outcome of our inane, wasteful twenty-year war was almost predetermined. The only matter left unresolved was how long it might take.

There are many reasons why armed forces of 300,000 trained by the US for nearly twenty years, armed with modern weaponry and backed by modern air support, laid down their weapons, cringed, crawled, and scurried away before the advance of an insurgent force apparently less than a third of its size. The almost complete lack of resistance by the Afghan army suggests that the Afghan forces were heavily infiltrated and that many Afghan soldiers do not view the Taliban as their enemy but as their liberators. Again, Viet Nam comes to mind. Based on my own experience, I believe it’s more than likely that US military intelligence knew a significant number of Afghan security forces were loyal to the Taliban. Additionally, it’s almost certain that there were and have been underground Taliban sleeper cells in every village of any size and in many neighborhoods of the large cities. Those cells simply went about their usual daily lives as they fed intelligence to the fighters and waited to take over the functions of the local authorities when given the word. Based on reports as the Taliban sweep through the land, that’s exactly the case. It’s likely there has been a shadow government that never left the country networked throughout the provinces of Afghanistan.

Already, the discussion has turned to “who lost Afghanistan”. We can only answer that it’s impossible to lose what one did not have in the first place. The question should be, “What were we doing there to begin with?” It was a good thing that conditions were bettered for women and non-Pashtun minorities, at least in the cities, once the Taliban were overcome. But the Taliban had been in power for years and nary a word was said about those things by the US government or the mainstream press, other than the occasional, obligatory, half-hearted “human rights” statement. No. The invasion was more about US domestic political purposes than it was about the liberation of Afghan women or defeating Sharia Law (which never ceased having effect in occupied Afghanistan). The military contractors and the corporate profiteers will lie to you from their thrones of lucre piled high above the bottom line. The government will invoke 9/11 to trigger predictable responses in the people. The war was never really about Afghanistan at all.

Twenty years is a long time for a war to go on, especially a war that was based on spurious motives in the first place. Twenty years is a long time for an invading force to stay in a foreign land. Mistakes and crimes and excesses are bound to happen, discipline is bound to deteriorate, and when these things inevitably occur, resentment, anger, and resistance are likely to grow among the invaded people notwithstanding their other inclinations. Virtually every “mistake” by invading forces creates new resistance fighters. If the Afghan people have accepted the Taliban with little if any resistance, we have to ask ourselves if our government has had the slightest inkling of what’s been going on during the twenty years we thought we were running the place.

The original invasion of Afghanistan was an ill-conceived policy decision. What made it exponentially worse was maintaining various forms of the same policy over so many years by administrations of both major US political parties. This untenable policy engendered by the ruling elites of the US has jeopardized all of us and has accomplished… Well, current events show what’s been accomplished. It’s long past time to come home. The United States is not “the cops of the world” regardless of how much some interests would like that to be the case.

Besides, we apparently have our own Taliban to deal with right here in the good ol’ USA.

Please Do Not Thank Me For Viet Nam

By Tom Motko (March 30, 2020)

(For National Viet Nam Veterans’ Day 3/29)

Please do not thank me for Viet Nam.
Just welcome me home and let me finally rest.

Gratitude misplaced grants you no absolution.
Congratulate my survival and my brothers’
but atone for your country and its sins.
Do penance for the whores and the half bloods,
put flowers on the toddler’s graves and the burning Buddhists,
beg forgiveness of the poisoned waters and bloodied jungles,
and the ravished tribes, and the raped and beaten daughters,
and for Con Son Island, and the lost, wandering ancestors.
Bow your head for the chemical waste and the gored oxen,
the cluster bombs, free fire zones, and body counts.

But, please do not thank me for Viet Nam.
Just light a candle and let me finally sleep.


The Ultimate Lesson of Game of Thrones: “Hoping Our Rulers to Do the Right Thing is Madness”

By Paul Messersmith-Glavin (May 13, 2019)

We watched Game of Thrones last night, along with 17 million others. If you saw it, you know how devastating and demoralizing it was.

I immediately thought of the US role in Vietnam and Southeast Asia, or the US war on Iraq, or countless others. Lara made the point that the rubble dust and total destruction evoked the mass murder by Assad in Syria. We talked afterwards about how the episode illustrates the perception that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, and how people play out the roles assigned by institutional power despite, or because, of who they are before they inherit them. I think that’s important when looking at how those in power kill as banal routine: mass murder is par-for-the-course. It’s built into the fabric of the nation-state. Bush did it, Obama did it, Trump does it, Putin does it, and whoever follows Trump will do it too.

I have’t looked at the chatter today – and feel uninterested in it – but my friend and comrade Kieran Frazier Knutson summed up one of the most important insights to take from last’s night’s genocidal display. It’s this:

“Hoping our rulers will do the right thing is madness.”


Veterans Have Fought In Wars–And Fought Against Them

By Michael Messner (November 11, 2018)

File 20181105 74760 kqu38h.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
A member of Veterans for Peace marches during the annual Veterans Day parade in New York, Nov. 11, 2017.
AP/Andres Kudacki

Michael Messner, University of Southern California – Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

If President Donald Trump had his way, the nation would be celebrating the centennial of the World War I armistice on Nov. 11 with a massive military parade in Washington, D.C.

But that won’t be happening. When the Pentagon announced the president’s decision to cancel the parade, they blamed local politicians for driving up the cost of the proposed event.

There may have been other reasons.

Veterans were especially outspoken in their opposition. Retired generals and admirals feared such a demonstration would embarrass the U.S., placing the nation in the company of small-time authoritarian regimes that regularly parade their tanks and missiles as demonstrations of their military might. And some veterans’ organizations opposed the parade because they saw it as a celebration of militarism and war.

Veterans of past wars, as I document in my book “Guys Like Me: Five Wars, Five Veterans for Peace” have long been at the forefront of peace advocacy in the United States.

Trump was inspired to have a U.S. military parade after watching this French one in 2017.
AP/Carolyn Kaster

Politicians’ betrayal?

Over the past year, the advocacy group Veterans for Peace joined a coalition of 187 organizations that sought to “Stop the Military Parade; Reclaim Armistice Day.” There is a deep history to veterans’ peace advocacy.

As a young boy, I got my first hint of veterans’ aversion to war from my grandfather, a World War I Army veteran. Just the mention of Veterans Day could trigger a burst of anger that “the damned politicians” had betrayed veterans of “The Great War.”

In 1954 Armistice Day was renamed as Veterans Day. In previous years, citizens in the U.S. and around the world celebrated the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 not simply as the moment that war ended, but also as the dawning of a lasting peace.

“They told us it was ‘The War to End All Wars,’” my grandfather said to me. “And we believed that.”

The New York Tribune on Nov. 11, 1918.
Library of Congress

Veterans for peace

What my grandfather spoke about so forcefully was not an idle dream. In fact, a mass movement for peace had pressed the U.S. government, in 1928, to sign the Kellogg-Briand Pact, an international “Treaty for the Renunciation of War,” sponsored by the United States and France and subsequently signed by most of the nations of the world.

A State Department historian described the agreement this way: “In the final version of the pact, they agreed upon two clauses: the first outlawed war as an instrument of national policy and the second called upon signatories to settle their disputes by peaceful means.”

The pact did not end war, of course. Within a decade, another global war would erupt. But at the time, the pact articulated the sentiments of ordinary citizens, including World War I veterans and organizations like the Veterans of Foreign Wars, who during the late 1930s opposed U.S. entry into the deepening European conflicts.

In 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the law changing the name of the holiday to Veterans Day, to include veterans of World War II and Korea.

Eisenhower on June 1, 1954, signing the legislation that changed Armistice Day to Veterans Day.

For my grandfather, the name change symbolically punctuated the repudiation of the dream of lasting peace. Hope evaporated, replaced with the ugly reality that politicians would continue to find reasons to send American boys – “guys like me,” as he put it – to fight and die in wars.

World War I, like subsequent wars, incubated a generation of veterans committed to preventing such future horrors for their sons.

From working-class army combat veterans like my grandfather to retired generals like Smedley Butler – who wrote and delivered public speeches arguing that “war is a racket,” benefiting only the economic interests of ruling-class industrialists – World War I veterans spoke out to prevent future wars. And veterans of subsequent wars continue speaking out today.

There have been six U.S. presidents since my grandfather’s death in early 1981 – Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump – and each committed U.S. military forces to overt or covert wars around the world.

Most of these wars, large or small, have been met with opposition from veterans’ peace groups. In the 1960s and early 1970s, Vietnam Veterans Against the War was a powerful force in the popular opposition to the American war in Vietnam. And Veterans for Peace, along with About Face: Veterans Against the War remain outspoken against America’s militarism and participation in wars in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Were he alive today, I believe my grandfather would surely express indignation that American leaders continue to send the young to fight and die in wars throughout the world.

Still, I like to imagine my grandfather smiling had he lived to witness some of the activities that will take place this Nov. 11: Veterans for Peace joins other peace organizations in Washington, D.C. and in cities around the U.S. and the world, marching behind banners that read “Observe Armistice Day, Wage Peace!”The Conversation

Michael Messner, Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies, University of Southern California – Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Context to the Honduran Migrant March

By S. Brian Willson (October 23, 2018)

The massive forced flight of people from Honduras is not new; it is the legacy of US intervention in the country.

Since the 2009 US-backed and Hillary-supported coup in Honduras, the post-coup regime has perpetuated a system based on disregard for human rights, impunity, corruption, repression and the influence of organized crime groups in the government and in the economic power elite. Since the coup, we have seen the destruction of public education and health services through privatization. The imposition of mining, hydro-electric mega-projects and the concentration of land in agro-industry has plunged 66 percent of the Honduran population into poverty and extreme poverty. In the last 9 years, we have witnessed how the murder of Berta Cáceres and many other activists, indigenous leaders, lawyers, journalists, LGBTQ community members and students has triggered a humanitarian crisis. This crisis is reflected in the internal displacement and the unprecedented exodus of the Honduran people that has caught the public’s eye during recent days.

The fraudulent November 2017 elections, in which Juan Orlando Hernández – the incumbent president since questionable elections in 2013 – fraudulently refused to leave office despite losing the popular vote, and in violation of the Honduran constitution, sparked a national outrage confronted by an extremely violent government campaign with military and US-trained security forces to suppress the protests against the fraud, resulting in a number of people killed by government forces, more than a thousand arrested.


My Lai is the Essence of US American Foreign Policy

By S. Brian Willson (March 16, 2018)

March 16, 1968, My Lai Massacre, Viet Nam

Today, March 16, 2018, is the 50th painful anniversary of the US Army massacre that, in effect, represented the essence of US American policy of scorched earth from the air and on the ground in the US war. 504 completely unarmed Vietnamese were murdered in cold blood: 60 very elderly men, 182 women (of whom 17 were pregnant), and 173 children (with 56 being under one year of age). Not a single bullet was fired by the Vietnamese (they had no arms). Attrition – Murder more of them, as many as possible, call them enemy “VC”, even though the vast majority were mothers, children, and the elderly. A dead Vietnamese was a “dirty VC” ! Body counts. Body counts: The US measure of determining US success in a grotesque, barbaric, criminal invasion and occupation of an innocent people.

As you can see, we are a very enlightened people.

This model in the “Americas” was established by Eurocentric settlers acting as paramilitary as early as the 1600, conquering lands of North America from the Indigenous with virtual impunity. By 1776, Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence described the native residents as “merciless Indian Savages.” It is clear, however, from examining US history, who the most ruthless savages have been. In Viet Nam I discovered I was one of them.

The reason My Lai was not able to be ignored and hidden under the rug forever, is that US Army photographer Ron Haeberle documented the massacre, including the “ditch” scene in Viet Nam (see cover photo)



Ken Burns’ “Vietnam” Lacks Critical Consciousness

By S. Brian Willson (September 29, 2017)

I am interested in history, and recognize the importance of story telling as part of the process of understanding people’s history. But it is important as well to distinguish between the art of story telling, and the critical historical analysis of structural patterns and causes.

US policy in Viet Nam is well established in the historical record, and it is unambiguous. As Noam Chomsky has long concluded, the US intended “a conscious application of principles of imperial planning” immediately following Japan’s surrender in WWII, enabling re-establishment of French colonization.

And correspondingly, the record is clear that the Vietnamese intended to assert their independence even a few days BEFORE Japan’s announced surrender in August 1945, which had occupied Viet Nam during the war, after more than a century of French occupation.

So, the historian’s task is to frame the record from the evidence in which the interesting and important story telling occurs. In Viet Nam the historical record is very clear:

On June 22, 1945, six weeks after Germany’s surrender, and almost eight weeks before the increasingly expected Japanese surrender, President Truman issued a policy statement supporting France’s efforts at re-colonizing Viet Nam following Japanese surrender, in opposition to aspirations of self-determination.

On August 11, 1945, learning Japan was planning to announce surrender on August 15, the Vietnamese began preparation for retaking Hanoi from the still present Japanese, and by late August was re-seizing other areas of Viet Nam.

In late August, 1945, French General and head of the then Provisional Government of the French Republic, Charles de Gaulle, met with President Truman in Washington, DC, at which time discussion included a revived post-WWII France, including the future of its Viet Nam colony wherein US interests would be preserved in the future of a French Indochina.

August 29, 1945, the Vietnamese established their first national, provisional government.

August 30, 1945, long time Vietnamese leader of the Vietnamese independence movement, Ho Chi Minh, sent the first of eight letters to President Truman requesting support for Vietnamese independence. All letters went unanswered.

September 2, 1945, before 400,000 people in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh announced establishment of Viet Nam’s independence. Guest included several US OSS officers who had worked with Ho’s guerrillas at the end of WWII rescuing downed US air crew, while also providing the US intelligence on Japanese military activities.

By mid-September, President Truman was providing weapons to the revived French military inside Viet Nam. On September 22, the US-armed French attacked Saigon seizing it from the Vietnamese who had begun to re-claim areas throughout the country.

October-November 1945, Truman provided as many as a dozen US military troop ships transporting thousands of US-armed French and Foreign Legionnaires to assist France re-colonizing Viet Nam.

And this pattern of US criminal and immoral invasion, occupation, and destruction of Viet Nam to thwart genuine Vietnamese aspirations for the simple goal of self-determination, continued until April 30 1975.

So, I find Burns and Novick’s promotional comments for their PBS series, “The Vietnam War” – that they wanted a “fresh eyes” about the war, that there is “no single truth” about the war, that they wanted to “be strictly neutral” about the “civil” war – to be disingenuous. They frame the series as a war “begun in good faith by decent people out of fateful misunderstandings”, and that “we are all searching for some meaning in this terrible tragedy”.

This is ahistorical framing that sets up the viewing audience to overlook the silence of the great lie of the war – that it was needless in the first instance, and all the suffering and misery and mass murders were for naught except for one very clear cause – that of the intent of the US to thwart Vietnamese independence by any and all means necessary.

Thus, the grotesque immorality and criminality of the US, that began in the genocide of the Indigenous Americans masked by our divine predestination for being the good guys, continues. The shame is just too painful to acknowledge and honestly face.

Of course, the 18 hours of footage reveals historical, riveting graphic war footage, complemented by many interviews with Vietnamese and US persons. The viewing audience is provided with a variety of perspectives to discuss, and reflect upon about the long war. So, there is voluminous important history to provoke national conversation on the war.

But the critical question that is obsfuscated in the intriguing 18 hours of this momentous documentary has been omitted – the Lie that led to the greatest crime of the latter half of the 20th Century. We escape again into perpetual war, into silence.

In conclusion, I submit the PBS series is severely misnamed. Its honest title might be “The Vietnam War from many perspectives”, or something similar. But it is not about “The Vietnam War” – it is about the war from many perspectives, absent the historian’s analysis of the structural causes of the needless suffering due to the behavior of the US.
The critical “search for meaning in this terrible tragedy”, the search for “healing”, the desire to “inspire thinking and talking about Vietnam…in an entirely different way”, is again an opportunity lost.

It does inspire more needed conversation about the war, as it omits the critical framing that could potentially radically alter the US American consciousness – that our cultural consciousness has always been self righteously imperial, and has been accomplished with virtual impunity. We are not the good guys, and never have been. We are in perpetual war as we watch TV, as we shop, as the government bombs, and the war-makers make obscene profits.


The Grotesque Immorality of the US War Against Viet Nam, Laos, and Cambodia

By S. Brian Willson (September 10, 2017)

If the Burns-Novick 18 hour, 10 part PBS Series is to be an authentic revisiting the US War, then brutal honesty is necessary, which would certainly prevent such a pubic airing funded by US corporate monies.

As a Viet Nam veteran, I know the kinds of pain and suffering incurred by over three million US soldiers, marines, sailors, and airmen, more than 58,000 of whom paid the ultimate price whose names are on The Vietnam Wall in Washington, DC.

However, if there is any redemption to the US culture It is imperative to identify very concretely the pain and suffering we caused the Vietnamese, the Laotians, and the Cambodians – people who only wanted to be independent from foreign occupiers, whether Chinese, France, Japan, or the United States of America. It was not a civil war, as the US concocted it to preserve imperial interests in Asia. The footage and stories told by Burns and Novick will be entertaining as war stories usually are, even sickening sometimes, and even educational, but will not ask or pose the fundamental questions that are imperative for the US American public to understand the utter immorality and diabolical nature of the criminal US invasion, occupation, and destruction of civilian societies committed with malice aforethought. In effect, the documentary will distract from any serious questions to challenge the myths of the US culture and nation state that have been perpetuated since our origins.

As honorably, and in some cases heroically, our military served and fought in Southeast Asia, we were nonetheless serving as mercenary cannon fodder for reasons other than what we were told. When I came to understand the true nature of the war, I felt betrayed by my government, by my religion, by my schools, by my family – in effect by the total cultural conditioning into “American Exceptionalism,” which did a terrible disservice to my own humanity, and in fact a disservice to all of us.

I am staggered by the amount of firepower the US used, and the incredible death and destruction it caused on innocent people:
• Seventy-five percent of South Viet Nam was considered a free-fire zone (i.e., genocidal zones)
• Over 6 million Southeast Asians killed, in Viet Nam, Laos, and Cambodia
• Over 64,000 US and Allied soldiers killed
• Over 1,600 US soldiers, and 300,000 Vietnamese soldiers remain missing
• Thousands of amputees, paraplegics, blind, deaf, and other maimings created
• 13,000 of 21,000 of Vietnamese villages, or 62 percent, severely damaged or destroyed, mostly by bombing
• Nearly 950 churches and pagodas destroyed by bombing
• 350 hospitals and 1,500 maternity wards destroyed by bombing
• Nearly 3,000 high schools and universities destroyed by bombing
• Over 15,000 bridges destroyed by bombing
• 10 million cubic meters of dikes destroyed by bombing
• Over 3,700 US fixed-wing aircraft lost
• 36,125,000 US helicopter sorties during the war; over 10,000 helicopters were lost or severely damaged
• 26 million bomb craters created, the majority from B-52s (a B-52 bomb crater could be 20 feet deep, and 40 feet across)
• 39 million acres of land in Indochina (or 91 percent of the land area of South Viet Nam) were littered with fragments of bombs and shells, equivalent to 244,000 (160 acre) farms, or an area the size of all New England except Connecticut
• 21 million gallons (80 million liters) of extremely poisonous chemicals (herbicides) were applied in 20,000 chemical spraying missions between 1961 and 1970 in the most intensive use of chemical warfare in human history, with as many as 4.8 million Vietnamese living in nearly 3,200 villages directly sprayed by the chemicals
o 24 percent, or 16,100 square miles, of South Viet Nam was sprayed, an area larger than the states of Connecticut, Vermont, and Rhode Island combined, killing tropical forest, food crops, and inland forests
o Over 500,000 Vietnamese have died from chronic conditions related to chemical spraying with an estimated 650,000 still suffering from such conditions; 500,000 children have been born with Agent Orange-induced birth defects, now including third generation offspring
• Nearly 375,000 tons of fireballing napalm was dropped on villages
• Huge Rome Plows (made in Rome, Georgia), 20-ton earthmoving D7E Caterpillar tractors, fitted with a nearly 2.5-ton curved 11-foot wide attached blade protected by 14 additional tons of armor plate, scraped clean between 700,000 and 750,000 acres (1,200 square miles), an area equivalent to Rhode Island, leaving bare earth, rocks, and smashed trees
• As many as 36,000,000 total tons of ordnance expended from aerial and naval bombing, artillery, and ground combat firepower. On an average day US artillery expended 10,000 rounds costing $1 million per day; 150,000-300,000 tons of UXO remain scattered around Southeast Asia: 40,000 have been killed in Viet Nam since the end of the war in 1975, and nearly 70,000 injured; 20,000 Laotians have been killed or injured since the end of the war
• 13.7 billion gallons of fuel were consumed by US forces during the war
If there was space for all 6,000,000 names of Southeast Asian dead on the Vietnam Wall in Washington, DC, it would be over 9 sobering miles long, or nearly 100 times its current 493-foot length.


Trump Staff Changes Signal Growing Authoritarian Threat

By Alexander Reid Ross (July 28, 2017)

The evening after the Boy Scouts of America issued a public apology for Donald Trump’s behavior, his new communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, went on a profanity laced rampage against the chief of staff, Reince Priebus. Instead of disciplining Scaramuci, Trump accepted Priebus’s resignation, hiring up a general from the Southern Command to fill his place.

While Trump lectured a group of police officers on the need to assault suspects, news emerged that Scaramucci’s wife had filed for divorce.

Priebus, the former chairman of the RNC, was the main symbolic tether tying Trump to the GOP. Without that formality, the Trump Administration is little more than a syncretic configuration of cranks, esoteric fools, and military careerists.

This apparently spontaneous change at the highest levels of the government illustrates a transition away from conventional party politics and toward an authoritarian administration.

As the Trump Administration’s state security imperatives have shifted from white nationalists to antifascists, Trump’s rhetoric on immigration has grown shriller than ever. The House’s massive budget for the wall has been passed. As the most recent director of DHS, General Kelly is his flavor of the month.

One of the keys to authoritarianism is managing shifting power relations by playing underlings against one another with the ever present fear of being fired. Others include maintaining autonomous mass support through large rallies, constantly attacking opposition or independent media, inflaming ethnic or racial tensions through dehumanizing, violent rhetoric, sanctioning political and social violence through non-governmental groups, and securing impunity through the power of the official pardon.


Is a youth driven mass movement possible today?

By Mark Rudd (May 16, 2017)

My friend, Glenn Silber, a filmmaker in Santa Fe, is currently screening his 1979 gem, “The War at Home,” which tells the story of the anti-Vietnam War movement in Madison, WI, from 1963 to 1970.

I attended the opening showing on May 5, as well as an earlier screening at University of New Mexico, Valencia campus. If you’ve never experienced what a momentum-driven mass movement looks like, now’s your chance to see the thousands of young people take to the halls and streets. The movie has a powerful dramatic arc, since it ends with the bombing of a US Army research center and its aftermath. A naive viewer is exposed to the inner logic of movement participation, even up to violence.

The large majority of the audience at the opening were old people, veterans of the New Left like myself. A handful of younger people were there also. During the Q and A with Glenn after the showing, one of the latter, Cathy Garcia, a teacher and organizer with the new Santa Fe chapter of Democratic Socialists of America, asked two questions which got to the core of the problem of the value of this 50 year-old history. I’ll try to accurately capture her question : “Seeing this mass movement is all very well, but how did we get from that to the mess we have now? Was something important missing, like knowing how to create an intersectional movement?”

Glenn wasn’t able to address the questions, unfortunately. I have an answer to the first one, though: the mass movement helped end the war but we didn’t build it into something that could take power. Meanwhile, the far right had no problem with going for power, having started in the early sixties with Goldwater’s candidacy.

As to building an intersectional movement, that understanding emerged in the last decades and remains to be acted upon. A young friend explained the concept to me later than evening: “Identity politics has failed, so this is an attempt to unite as many people as possible recognizing the various different experiences.”

Cathy’s questions thoroughly shook my faith in the value of studying this ancient history. For me this is a big deal, since part of what I do is sell history, that of the New Left, the student anti-war movement, and the misbegotten Weather Underground. But if this history is seen by young people as a dead end (which in a way it was), and if the lessons are primarily negative–don’t do this again, maybe it’s best to just move on and not waste time with it. Speaking of time, the movie is 100 minutes long. It demands undivided attention. Will young people even sit through it without being coerced to do so (which I’m philosophically opposed to)?

Has the world changed so much in 50 years that images of well-to-do white kids at an elite state school wearing ties and jackets and full skirts as they picket with their anti-war signs, are like finding ancient hieroglyphics? Is all this stuff so pre-digital age that it belongs somewhere long time ago, like World War I felt to me growing up in the fifties?

There are so many reasons that such a mass movement has not and will not arise among students that I won’t even begin to list them. Though such an accounting might be useful in some other context. How the current momentum-driven mass movement will grow to include young people I don’t know. Millions voted for Bernie, but now another step–organizing–has to be taken.



The Global War At Our Doorstep

By Joseph Orosco (May 10, 2017)

A new report from the International Institute for Strategic Studies claims that Mexico is the second largest conflict zone behind Syria in 2016.  Some 50,000 people died in the Syrian conflict in 2016.  In Mexico, some 23,000 people were killed in one year as a result of drug cartel violence (that’s more than the conflicts deaths recorded in both Iraq and Afghanistan combined)  Its estimated that between 2007 and 2014, some 167,000 people died as a result of the Mexican drug wars.

Of course, the cartel violence is a transnational problem since most of the drug consumption happens in the United States.  The estimates are that almost half of all federally incarcerated prisoners are there as a result of the US war on drugs–that would be about 1.5 million people.  You can see the skyrocketing rates of incarceration since the US began target drugs in the 1970s:


It’s clear that when you look at the war on drugs from a transnational perspective, we are looking at a staggering waste of human life and potential.