Half measures will not do in keeping terrorists from Pakistani nukes…

May 8, 2009

As we face the prospect of a grave military threat from terrorists in Pakistan who might grab that unstable nation’s nukes, I ponder my attitude toward war.

(And I call them terrorists because that is their methodology. They use the name of Islam, but their method is terrorism as brutal as any ever used and they have made no bones about wanting to destroy our way of life in the Western world and us along with it.)

I have always looked toward the wars in our time with ambivalence. Basically I am anti-war. That is to say I don’t see war as just another foreign policy tool. At the same time I have thought that once the nation is engaged in a war it should do so with focus on an acceptable outcome. That would be winning versus stalemate.

Unfortunately during my lifetime we have had no wars that I can think of with an acceptable outcome. Korea took place when I was a small child. We did hold the red tide back or beat the red tide back, but at great cost. I think in history it is questioned as to whether we should have gotten involved. North Korea with the backing of Red China (remember? we used to call it that) and the Soviet Union overran South Korea, but we got involved under the auspices of the United Nations and beat them back to a stalemate and all these decades later must still contend with a belligerent communist North Korea who threatens us with ultimate creation of their own nuclear force. This is after the Soviet Union dissolved and although the old Red China is still communist in government, it has a primarily capitalist economy (that I think one day would result in communism dissolving). We wouldn’t let Gen. MacArthur chase the red devils all the way to the North Korean capital. I was still a child, as I said, but that was the start of our more cautious approach to war. Whereas in World War II we decided the way to resolve the issue was total victory, by the early 50s we had no stomach for that – quit while we are ahead (where we began is where we finished).

And then came Vietnam. Again, the red menace. The country was sold (at least there seemed to be support) at first when it was thought we would just throw a little weight around (yes I’m skipping over volumes of history) and be done with it. But the war dragged on. Casualties mounted. And we did not define what winning was, let alone resolve to go for total victory, which would have been to take over what was North Vietnam, the belligerent who eventually overran the south. Nearly 60,000 American dead and thousands gravely wounded, and for what? Today a unified Vietnam as China has a communist government and, though not on the scale of China, it has moved toward a capitalist economic system.

Saddam Hussein’s forces turned out to be a pushover in the first Gulf War, but once again our resolve was less than full fledged (at least by our leaders), and instead of total victory, overrunning the belligerent nation that started it all, Iraq, we held back. And eventually the first president Bush’s son became president and found a convenient excuse to finish what his daddy didn’t. Some say all the trouble the younger Bush had in Iraq is proof we would have been wrong to invade the first time. But that was then and this is now. All evidence is we certainly could have done the job the first time, but we would have needed the forces and the resolve.

There is evidence we might have gotten more cooperation this time around in our initial invasion had a large portion of the Iraqi population thought we had the resolve the get the job done. They correctly guessed we did not and acted accordingly.

We initially invaded Afghanistan supposedly to go after Osama bin Laden and his forces who took credit for the 9/11 attacks. There was widespread public support and world sympathy (help would be nice, but sympathy’s good too and I know we’ve had help, but only token help — again my apologies to the soldiers involved). But little Bush decided he wanted to make a stand in Iraq and we dithered in Afghanistan (with all due respect to the actual troops who did not run the war – I’m talking about the leadership).

Today we face the threat of Taliban and Al Qaeda getting their hands on nuclear weapons due to an unstable Pakistan, our nominal ally.

I continue to be ambivalent toward war. It shouldn’t be  just a tool in the bag of foreign relations. But the survival of all mankind depends upon keeping nukes out of the hands of terrorists.

Does Barack Obama have more resolve than his modern predecessors?

The fate of the world may depend upon the true answer to that question.


I actually was going to blog on a slightly different, but closely related subject. It had to do with the fact we don’t seem to get much actual war reporting. I checked out a library book entitled “The Blog of War” (a play on the phrase “the fog of war”), by Matthew Currier Burden, a former U.S. Army major. Nowadays soldiers tell their own stories in realtime (or near), blogging from the field. But unless you read those blogs you are not likely to know how things really are. It is not going to convince me politically whether a war is right or wrong by knowing how a participant feels, but he or she can provide me a sense of the real situation on the ground and the human aspect of the whole thing. That is something that has been missing, I think. And really the whole dynamic of the professional soldier (the all-volunteer military) vs. the drafted citizen soldier adds a whole new dimension to war for the United States, good and bad. When I finish reading the book I will have one more thing blog about, I’m sure. I had previously purchased another book with a kind of insider’s view of the war but at the time it seemed too much of a pro-warrior, my country right or wrong, inside baseball approach. But I’ll have to get back to it sometime, because it too had some actual battle accounts you just don’t get from the standard media. I think those who run the paid media feel that citizens just don’t have the patience or attention span for real stories and the business-oriented management thinks that they don’t sell. This is a long post script. I’ll quit now.

The socialization of America; a war loss…

October 14, 2008

(Copyright 2008)


By Tony Walther

I think our economy is fundamentally unsound and what we are doing now, the bailouts and what amounts to a partial nationalization or socialization of the economy by our government, will only act as a band-aid or a pill that at best will temporarily mask the symptoms of what ails us.

Admittedly I know little of economics, but like most of us, it has been so much in the news these past several weeks and in so much detail, I feel like after all these years I really do understand some of the fundamentals.

Before I go any further, I would suggest reading a piece by Harvard lecturer and economist and Libertarian Jeffrey Miron, now posted on CNN Politics.com. While I have never thoroughly bought into libertarianism, I think that they seem to be the only true conservatives (and they are liberal on social issues, although not government involvement in social issues).

Back to my thoughts: I will wander here, as I sometimes do. But last night while I was trying to read a novel, I had the TV on low and caught a portion of some finance commentators from Britain, I believe. They read an e-mail from someone who complained about the bailouts and also noted that he began his career as a gofer for some financial firm in 1969 at $129 (American) per week. “Now these guys come out of college and think they should start at $200,000 per year.”

Wandering still: I note that Barack Obama has the political guts or maybe savvy to concede in his stump speech that although a lot of our problems are caused by greed and malfeasance on Wall Street, there is also blame to those on Main Street, so to speak, who knew they were getting in over their heads and did it anyway. I think he is being honest there and is also trying to appeal to the centrists, much as I believe Bill Clinton often did. I recall that at one time during his presidency Clinton was referred to as a centrist or maybe even a slightly conservative or “new” Democrat.

Whatever, he supposedly balanced the budget and left office with a surplus. Actually I think that is a lot of accounting trickery that both the major parties engage in, such as when they propose new spending, then cut that proposed new spending slightly and claim they have reduced government spending. This charade is aided and abetted by the news media, which in some cases does not understand what is going on and in others just settles for it because to do otherwise takes too many paragraphs of explanation.

All that aside, Clinton was aided by a robust economy, the Dot Com bubble, as I recall, was a big part of it. But under Clinton the federal budget was balanced (in governmentspeak anyway) and Welfare reform was enacted, something you would have expected Republicans to do.

Bush came into office promising to keep taxes low (especially for folks who could most afford to pay them in the first place) and to loosen government control on free enterprise. He now prepares to leave office while presiding over the biggest socialization of government since Franklin Delano Roosevelt (maybe bigger).

It seems that a lot of the laissez faire free enterprise folks, to include George W., don’t have the courage of their convictions. To be sure, this bailout and nationalization stuff has caused a split in the GOP, which will in part to be blamed for John McCain losing the election, as he at this time seems destined to do. I still think he could win if the stock market were to stay up and gasoline prices kept falling, and if there were to be some attack on the nation or if as I read in another blog that the Bush Administration is able to announce that Osama Bin Laden has been caught. Now this does not make sense. But the voting record of the American electorate is often driven by fear and emotion. This time around it does seem,though, that folks – the Palin contingent aside – seem to be looking at things more thoughtfully and more people are taking part.

What I meant to say in this blog and did not get around to, is that our economy is fundamentally unsound because we (as a nation) have spent too much time consuming and not enough time making. When we get back to the making, which we are quite capable of doing, conditions will improve greatly, I feel. When we get back to investing in our own nation and not industry elsewhere and not in nation building in the Middle East, things will turn around.

Still wandering, but I fear that all of this government infusion into the economy is going to lead to wild inflation. I just heard an economic pundit on TV say that he thinks we are in danger of going into something worse than the Great Depression. We’ll have high unemployment but unlike the Great Depression, we’ll also have inflation.

Wouldn’t it have been better to let the investment banks and other banks fail and be replaced by new bankers who would operate like the bankers of old, prudently?

And finally, I want to jump to the subject of war. In all of this economic upheaval we have forgotten about the wars we are fighting.

Unlike Vietnam (something a couple of generations now have no memory of), there is no draft and the numbers of casualties and troops involved are much smaller (but no less important). But people are dying and being gravely wounded and none of us really know what for, beyond the jingoistic phrases of “fighting terror” or “fighting for freedom”, that have no thought behind them.

I want to mention this because I was thinking about a boyhood acquaintance that dates back to first through fifth grade. He had a stutter, and beyond that I can only describe him as the typical all-American boy. He probably did not do well in school (I don’t know. Our family moved after fifth grade). I recall going over to his house and a bunch of us kids playing on the slip and slide he had just got. I often think back to those kids because it was a time when we were all so happy, free and easy, with no responsibilities (at least I didn’t have any).

I had just got through entertaining my youngest daughter with my memories of that kid who stuttered (not about his stutter, just the fun) and went back into the house to go on the computer. Quite by chance I ran across his name. He died as a Marine in Vietnam from enemy fire.

None of us knew what that war was all about either, except something about fighting for the cause of freedom, and yet no one was freed, except from life on earth.


May 16, 2008
By Tony Walther
(copyright 2008)
Two magazines: National Geographic, October 1961, and The Economist, April 26-May 2, 2008 edition. Both have stories about Vietnam.
It was spelled as two words back in 1961, Viet Nam. At that time the nation had been partitioned into North Viet Nam, with communist rule, and South Viet Nam, with a pro-western government.
The story line in the National Geographic back in 1961 was about a beautiful nation, South Viet Nam, undergoing a modern transformation while fighting off a vicious communist insurgency in the countryside in which Viet Cong guerillas whacked off the heads of local villagers that did not go their way.
And the story in the recent issue of The Economist tells of a unified Vietnam that has become an economic miracle and powerhouse in Southeast Asia. It still has a communist government, there since they took over the south back in 1975 and made it into one nation, Vietnam. But as China, it has introduced western style free market reforms into its economy. Vietnam did that in the late 1980s, not long after the Chinese. The reason for the move in both countries was because the communist system was an economic disaster.
So the two magazines provide a kind of before and after view. But of course the real story is what happened in the middle.
Back in 1961, few Americans had ever heard of Viet Nam. They may have had some recognition that there was some place called Indo China (that’s what it was listed as on the old globe we had in our home when I was a kid).
Through the centuries, the Vietnamese had fought off the Chinese, and the French had colonized the area in the 19th Century, the Japanese occupied it during World War II, and the French came back after the war. They finally kicked out the French in 1954, after which the nation was divided in two.
President Eisenhower was the first on record as suggesting a domino theory in which he said that if we let South Viet Nam fall all the other nations in the region would fall to the communists too, like a row of dominoes. We sent military advisers there to help out the South Vietnamese.But really, not many people here in the USA thought much about it.
John Kennedy was elected president, partly on the grounds that he would strengthen our defenses against communist aggression. “We will fight any foe…” and so on.
After Kennedy’s assassination, his vice president, Lyndon Johnson, became president and was handed what he would later refer to as the Vietnam tar baby. You just couldn’t let the thing loose. “We can’t win this thing,” he told one of his cronies in a taped phone conversation. He then lamented that he would be damned if he pulled out of Vietnam and damned if he stayed. He apparently didn’t want to go through the who lost China thing, ala 1949.
What really got us involved, though, was the Gulf of Tonkin incident. And really that incident was a non-deadly form of 9/11, but the results were eerily similar, in that in both instances we were plunged into wars with seemingly little results and no end.
The Gulf of Tonkin incident was really two incidents, in both of which North Vietnamese ships allegedly fired upon our ships on the open seas. What really happened is up to interpretation. Some accounts now say we fired first and some say the second incident may have never really happened.
But our domino theory made us predisposed to find some pretext to act. So we did. There was debate at the time on whether we should get involved in a “land war in Southeast Asia.” We had a hard time beating the Japanese at that game. But we had the resources, a protection that geography then afforded us, and ultimately, we had the bomb.
The 9/11 attack was used as a pretext to go to war in the Middle East, something George W. Bush had been itching to do since he first became president. Nearly 3000 people were killed at the World Trade Center in New York, more than in the surprise Japanese attack on the U.S. at Pearl Harbor in 1941. And just as neocon policy wonks had anticipated, such an act by the Islamic terrorists, amounted to a new Pearl Harbor in the minds of many citizens.
While 9/11 was pulled off by Saudi Arabians (apparently not acting for their government) and led by Osama Bin Laden, who hid in Afghanistan, the Bush administration successfully morphed the whole thing into a dispute with Iraq. Bush simply called it all a “war on terror.” So we are now fighting in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and eyeing Iran.
The Tonkin incident was used as a pretext to go to all out war with communist aggression in South Viet Nam.
So for nearly a decade after that we fought a war we could not or would not win. Some sixty thousand dead American soldiers and thousands wounded, thousands maimed for life.
We had the lessons of the French before us who could not win a war against guerrillas who struck from the bushes, and often at night, and often unseen. They would hit and run and often couldn’t be found. When we tried to fight it like a conventional war and, say, take a hill, we’d secure it, no enemy after that, so we’d abandon it. It was not a war of territory (although we did also fight regular uniformed North Vietnamese forces in the south). We were trying to win the hearts and minds of people, many of whom did not even want our help or at least were afraid to be seen getting it. We ignored the lessons of the French, perhaps thinking America is invincible.
There was the famous quote from an American officer who said, “we had to burn the village to save it.”
And there was the My Lai Massacre in which American soldiers weary from getting hit in ambush from a virtually unseen enemy, apparently suffered from some type of mass hysteria and wiped out nearly a whole village, killing hundreds of old men, women, and babies. You don’t win the hearts and minds of people that way. The communist Viet Cong did things just as bad, and many times over. But in other instances they came to the rescue of villagers suffering from corrupt local leaders. The Vietnamese peasants also suffered from corruption of the south’s central government. The poor Vietnamese were caught in the crossfire (and doesn’t that sound something like Iraq?).
All through this, it was charged time and again that the South Vietnamese Army did not do their part in the fighting (sounds like Iraq), although, of course, their casualties were high too. They tended to let the U.S. stay out front. The U.S. decided early on in the war to take the lead, not trusting the job to the Vietnamese.
While we were trying to save South Viet Nam from communist tyranny, we wound up backing tyrannical and undemocratic leaders of that nation.
As the casualties mounted and the realization dawned on the majority of the public that we were not making headway there, public support (our nation was hotly divided throughout the war) waned. It all came to a head in the Tet Offensive of 1968 when the enemy proved it could hit us right in the heart of Saigon, the South Vietnamese capital. Sure they were beaten back. But they made their point.
It was downhill after that. Richard Nixon was elected U.S. president on the promise he had a secret plan to end the war. That secret was really that we would essentially surrender. In 1973, we gave up. In 1975, the communists overran the south and renamed Saigon Ho Chi Minh City, after the father of their revolution.
It was an ugly defeat for us. Desperate South Vietnamese who had cooperated with us hung onto the skids of helicopters as they lifted off the roof the American embassy, with the enemy at the gates.
For the next decade or so, it was hell for the Vietnamese, especially for those who had not been communists. There were re-education camps, deaths, and starvation, with the economic and human disaster the communist system brought.
But the communists adapted. The Vietnamese people adapted. Today they still have a communist government, but a nearly free market economy. And there is some sign that they could move toward democracy in the future.
So are there lessons here? Could there be some parallels to what is going on in the Middle East? Some of the factors are different and although it is said that those who ignore history are condemned to repeat it, it is also said, history never really repeats itself.
Now, John McCain predicts we can win the current war by 2013. We kept being assured by the government and the military that we were winning in Vietnam. There was “light at the end of the tunnel” (actually that was the headlamp of a freight train coming at us).
I don’t know. I just remember the refrain from that 60s folk song, “when will they ever learn?”