Quotulatiousness

September 14, 2017

Ken Burns and Lynn Novick: The Vietnam War Is the Key to Understanding America

Filed under: Asia, History, Media, Military, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Published on 13 Sep 2017

Nick Gillespie interviews Ken Burns and Lynn Novick about their new documentary series: The Vietnam War.

The Vietnam War led to more than 1.3 million deaths and it’s one of the most divisive, painful, and poorly understood episodes in American history.

Documentarians Ken Burns and Lynn Novick have spent the past decade making a film that aims to exhume the war’s buried history. Their 10-part series, which premieres on PBS next week, is a comprehensive look at the secrecy, disinformation, and spin surrounding Vietnam, and its lasting impact on two nations. The 18-hour film combines never-before-seen historical footage, with testimonies from nearly 80 witnesses, including soldiers on both sides of the conflict, leaders of the protest movement, and civilians from North and South Vietnam.

A two-time Academy Award winner, Burns is among the most celebrated documentary filmmakers of our time, best-known for the 1990 PBS miniseries The Civil War, which drew a television viewership of 40 million. He and Novick are longtime collaborators, and in 2011 she co-directed and produced Prohibition with Burns. In 2011, Reason’s Nick Gillespie interviewed Burns that film and the role of public television in underwriting his work.

With the release of The Vietnam War, Gillespie sat down with Burns and Novick to talk about the decade-long process of making their new film, and why understanding what happened in Vietnam is essential to interpreting American life today.

Produced by Todd Krainin. Cameras by Meredith Bragg, Mark McDaniel, and Krainin.

Full interview transcript available at http://bit.ly/2x0e5U4

July 18, 2017

The upcoming Ken Burns documentary on the Vietnam War

Filed under: Asia, History, Military, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Stephen Sherman discusses some of the things that may or may not be given appropriate treatment in the new PBS documentary series to air this fall, covering American involvement in the former French colonies:

Indochina in 1954. Map prepared for the US Military Acadamy’s military atlas series. (Via Wikimedia).

Ken Burns correctly identifies the Vietnam War as being the point at which our society split into two diametrically opposed camps. He is also correct in identifying a need for us to discuss this aspect of our history in a civil and reflective manner. The problem is that the radical political and cultural divisions of that war have created alternate perceptions of reality, if not alternate universes of discourse. The myths and propaganda of each side make rational discourse based on intellectual honesty and goodwill difficult or impossible. The smoothly impressive visual story Burns will undoubtedly deliver will likely increase that difficulty. He has done many popular works in the past, some of which have been seriously criticized for inaccuracies and significant omissions, but we welcome the chance of a balanced treatment of the full history of that conflict. We can only wait and watch closely when it goes public.

The term “Vietnam War” itself, although accepted in common parlance, would more accurately be called “The American Phase of the Second Indochina War” (1965 to 1973). The U.S. strategic objectives in Vietnam must also be accurately defined. There were two inter-related goals: 1) to counter the Soviet and Red Chinese strategy of fostering and supporting “Wars of National Liberation” (i.e., violent Communist takeovers) in third-world nations, and 2) to defend the government of the Republic of (South) Vietnam from the military aggression directed by its Communist neighbor, the Democratic Republic of (North) Vietnam.

Arguments offered by the so-called “anti-war” movement in the United States were predominantly derived from Communist propaganda. Most of them have been discredited by subsequent information, but they still influence the debate. They include the nonfactual claims that:

1) the war in South Vietnam was an indigenous civil war,

2) the U.S. effort in South Vietnam was a form of neo-colonialism, and

3) the real U.S. objective in South Vietnam was the economic exploitation of the region.

The antiwar movement was not at all monolithic. Supporters covered a wide range, from total pacifist Quakers at one end to passionate supporters of Communism at the other. There were many idealists in it who thought the war was unjust and our conduct of it objectionable, as well as students who were terrified of the draft, and some who just found it the cause of the day. But some of the primary figures leading the movement were not so much opposed to the war as they were in favor of Hanoi succeeding in the war it had started.

The key question is whether the U.S. opposition to Communism during the Cold War (1947 to 1989) was justifiable. The answer is that Communism (Marxism) on a national level is a utopian ideal that can function only with the enforcement of a police state (Leninism) or a genocidal criminal regime (Stalinism). It always requires an external enemy to justify the continuous hardships and repression of its population and always claims that its international duty is to spread Communism. When Ho Chi Minh established the Vietnam Communist Party in 1930, there was no intention of limiting its expansionist ambitions to Vietnam, and he subsequently changed the name to the Indochinese Communist Party at the request of the Comintern in Moscow.

From George L. MacGarrigle, The United States Army in Vietnam: Combat Operations, Taking the Offensive, October 1966-October 1967. Washington DC: Center of Military History, 1998. (Via Wikimedia)

May 28, 2017

Indochina – Cyprus – Puerto Rico I OUT OF THE TRENCHES

Filed under: Europe, France, History, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 27 May 2017

What do Indochina, Cyprus and Puerto Rico have in common? They are all featured in our newest episode of Out of The Trenches where Indy answers all your questions about World War 1.

May 3, 2017

“Poverty, to be scenic, should be rural”

Filed under: Americas, Economics, Liberty — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Daniel Hannan on the contrast between rural and urban poverty, and the attitudes of Westerners:

When I was growing up in Lima in the 1970s, Western visitors were astonished by the shantytowns, the barriadas, as they were known, that ringed that grimy city. Why, they asked, did people leave the countryside to live in these squalid slums? Why swap the pure air of the Andes for traffic fumes and sewage?

It was a very First World question. No Peruvian ever asked why people were quitting villages that lacked electricity and clean water. The barriadas may have been ugly, but they were humming with enterprise. They offered work, access to schools and clinics, a power supply. They were, for most of their denizens, transitional, a staging post between mountain squalor and something better.

In time, I came to realize that Western nose-wrinkling at developed countries was more esthetic than sympathetic. As the Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope put it, “Poverty, to be scenic, should be rural.”

Western attitudes haven’t advanced much since then. My kids’ geography homework is full of stories about evil Western corporations exploiting poor women in Vietnam or wherever. Now, you and I would not want to work in a Vietnamese sweatshop. But we have not spent our lives bending our backs in rice paddies.

Employees of foreign-owned companies in Vietnam earn 210 percent of the average wage. The readiness of that country to open itself to trade and investment has brought huge benefits to the Vietnamese, including those on the lowest incomes. Over 19 years, the West struggled to defeat totalitarian socialism in Vietnam, and failed. Three decades of trade have achieved what 60,000 American lives and over a trillion dollars in today’s prices in military spending failed to achieve: the end of Communism.

Developing countries which open their markets eliminate poverty more quickly than those which don’t. Compare Vietnam to Myanmar, or Colombia to Venezuela, or Bangladesh to Pakistan. A study of developing states since 1980 showed that those which had joined the global trading system enjoyed annual growth at an average of 5 percent, as against 1.5 percent for those which hadn’t.

March 28, 2017

A long history of US involvement in “regime change”

Filed under: Americas, History, Military, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In the latest Libertarian Enterprise, L. Neil Smith goes over just the “high points” of American interference in the domestic affairs of other nations:

It makes me sick to keep hearing the mostly Democratic assertion that Donald J. Trump is a candidate foisted on us poor, gullible Americans by the Russian government. This is largely a matter of psychological projection by the left, and of mind-boggling hypocrisy. Previous American governments (mostly Democratic) have a long, shameful history of removing foreign leaders they dislike, for one reason or another, and replacing them with more agreeable figures.

It’s hard to know quite where to begin, and absolutely impossible to be exhaustive. General Smedley Darlington Butler (1881- 1940), twice winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor, tells a long, bloody tale in his little book War Is A Racket, in which he demonstrates that the United States Marines were sent on gunboats to various places across our sad, scarred, and war-weary planet — notably to South and Central America — to protect the interests (with rifles and bayonets, if necessary) of corporations like the United Fruit Company. Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatamala have all suffered from this kind of interference. That’s why they’re called “banana republics”.

In 1953, the people of Iran had thrown the Shah off the throne and replaced him with an elected official by the name of Mosaddegh. British and American “intelligence” were alarmed. If the guy was a communist (he was not) he might cut off the supply of oil on which they had become dependent to enforce their will on the world, So they deposed him and set the Shah back on the throne, setting the scene for today’s unholy (and extremely dangerous) mess.

Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina was the dictator of the Dominican Republic (which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti) for many decades. He was thoroughly brutal and corrupt, but a time came when his government began to break up, threatening the “stability” of the Caribbean region. In 1961. he was assassinated spectacularly by riflemen in ambush. (Oddly, I recall his car body being blown off the frame by a bazooka.) Wikipedia teeters between blaming his dozens of political rivals and the CIA. At the time it happened, everybody I knew (I was growing up in the military — counter insurgency branch) took the latter theory for granted.

And in 1963, in the middle of the War in Vietnam, when a dictator named Diem failed to do America’s bidding, the kindly, humane, genteel, and oh-so-Democratic President John F. Kennedy had him assassinated and replaced.

April 20, 2015

QotD: Mezcal and other “downmarket” drinks

Filed under: Asia, Humour, Japan, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I think the nastiest drink I’ve ever drunk in my life was some stuff called mezcal in a Mexican market town. It’s made, I find, from the same aloe-like plant that gives us tequila, of which mezcal is a kind of downmarket version, if you can imagine such a thing. When I bought my bottle at the grocer’s it had a small packet tied to the neck. Inside was what looked like a shrimp in talcum powder. “What’s that?” I asked my American friend. “That’s the worm,” he said, “the best part. You can try it without.” I tried it without. My head filled with a taste of garage or repair shop — hot rubber and plastic, burnt oil and a whiff of hydrochloric-acid vapour from the charging engine. When I sold Mack the rest of the bottle he emptied in the pounded-up worm, recapped, shook, and poured himself a tumbler of greyish liquid with little pink shreds in it. Give me Tizer any day.

I haven’t yet sampled Ruou Tiet De, a North Vietnamese mixture of rice alcohol and goat’s blood, or Central Asian koumis, fermented from mare’s and camel’s milk. Sake, a sweetish rice beer from Japan, goes well with Japanese food, so if you happen to like eating raw fish and seaweed this is obviously your tipple. You drink it warm. I may say that when I heated some on the stove recently to check that it was as horrible as I remembered, it took all the deposit off the lining of the saucepan.

You needn’t go as far afield as that to find a drink offensive to any person of culture and discrimination, especially if mixes are on the agenda. In South Wales you’re likely to find them throwing down Guinness with Lucozade and Ribena, or Mackeson and orange squash — not in the more refined areas, true. In Scotland they put fizzy lemonade in their whisky. Yes, in respectable places in the Highlands there are quart bottles of the stuff on the bar alongside the Malvern water and the siphon. The objection is not that it’s vulgar, but that, of course, it kills the Scotch and tastes frightful.

Kingsley Amis, Everyday Drinking: The Distilled Kingsley Amis, 2008.

January 15, 2015

Nowadays it’s called “stolen valour” but back in the day it was “just plain bullshit”

Filed under: Military, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Tam indulges in a bit of reminiscing from before it had a fancified name like “stolen valour”:

Once upon a time I worked in a gun store whose owner had invented a rather colorful Vietnam-era military past for himself. It’s called “stolen valor” now, but back then it was still just plain bullsh!t. One of his favorite topics on which to hold forth was how awful the M-16 was, and how, when his unit had switched to the new rifle from the old M-14, he threatened to kill his sergeant and so he was allowed to keep his M-14. I managed to refrain from pointing out that when the Army switched from the 14 to the 16, he was too young to lift either one and, as a consequence, was barely old enough to have been drafted to help pack boxes for the inactivation of Tan Son Nhut.

[…]

Every time an AR-15 came in the shop, we’d get an earful about how he wanted to kill Eugene Stoner (who was three years in the grave already) and about all the times his unit had been ambushed and wiped out almost to a man and he had to (and I quote, here) “turn over the bodies of his boys and each and every one of them had a broken-open M-16 with a cleaning rod jammed down the barrel!” The travails of the XM16E1 as reported to the Ichord Subcommittee have taken deep root in American gun nut culture indeed when even semiliterate Bubbas can repeat them as though they were first-person happenings.

May 5, 2014

Dien Bien Phu and the end of French Indochina

Filed under: Asia, History, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 07:16

BBC News Magazine looks back 60 years to the end of French colonial government and the military defeat at Dien Bien Phu which made it inevitable:

Sixty years ago this week, French troops were defeated by Vietnamese forces at Dien Bien Phu. As historian Julian Jackson explains, it was a turning point in the history of both nations, and in the Cold War — and a battle where some in the US appear to have contemplated the use of nuclear weapons.

“Would you like two atomic bombs?” These are the words that a senior French diplomat remembered US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles asking the French Foreign Minister, Georges Bidault, in April 1954. The context of this extraordinary offer was the critical plight of the French army fighting the nationalist forces of Ho Chi Minh at Dien Bien Phu in the highlands of north-west Vietnam.

The battle of Dien Bien Phu is today overshadowed by the later involvement of the Americans in Vietnam in the 1960s. But for eight years between 1946 and 1954 the French had fought their own bloody war to hold on to their Empire in the Far East. After the seizure of power by the Communists in China in 1949, this colonial conflict had become a key battleground of the Cold War. The Chinese provided the Vietnamese with arms and supplies while most of the costs of the French war effort were borne by America. But it was French soldiers who were fighting and dying. By 1954, French forces in Indochina totalled over 55,000.

[…]

Saturday 3 April 1954 has gone down in American history as “the day we didn’t go to war”. On that day Dulles met Congressional leaders who were adamant they would not support any military intervention unless Britain was also involved. Eisenhower sent a letter to the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill warning of the consequences for the West if Dien Bien Phu fell. It was around this time, at a meeting in Paris, that Dulles supposedly made his astonishing offer to the French of tactical nuclear weapons.

In fact, Dulles was never authorised to make such an offer and there is no hard evidence that he did so. It seems possible that in the febrile atmosphere of those days the panic-stricken French may simply have misunderstood him. Or his words may have got lost in translation.

Dien Bien Phu map

“He didn’t really offer. He made a suggestion and asked a question. He uttered the two fatal words ‘nuclear bomb’,” Maurice Schumann, a former foreign minister, said before his death in 1998. “Bidault immediately reacted as if he didn’t take this offer seriously.”

According to Professor Fred Logevall of Cornell University, Dulles “at least talked in very general terms about the possibility, what did the French think about potentially using two or three tactical nuclear weapons against these enemy positions”.

Bidault declined, he says, “because he knew… that if this killed a lot of Viet Minh troops then it would also basically destroy the garrison itself”.

In the end, there was no American intervention of any kind, as the British refused to go along with it.

January 9, 2014

China asserts “police powers” over most of the South China Sea

Filed under: Asia, China, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:02

James R. Holmes on the change in China’s approach to the disputed South China Sea region:

Associated Press reporter Christopher Bodeen chooses his words well in a story on China’s latest bid to rule offshore waters. Beijing, he writes, is augmenting its “police powers” in the South China Sea. That’s legalese for enforcing domestic law within certain lines inscribed on the map, or in this case nautical chart.

The Hainan provincial legislature, that is, issued a directive last November requiring foreign fishermen to obtain permission before plying their trade within some two-thirds of the sea. Bill Gertz of the Washington Free Beacon supplies a map depicting the affected zone. It’s worth pointing out that the zone doesn’t span the entire waterspace within the nine-dashed line, where Beijing asserts “indisputable sovereignty.”

China imposes fishing curbs: New regulations imposed Jan. 1 limit all foreign vessels from fishing in a zone covering two-thirds of the South China Sea. Washington Free Beacon

China imposes fishing curbs: New regulations imposed Jan. 1 limit all foreign vessels from fishing in a zone covering two-thirds of the South China Sea. Washington Free Beacon

A few quick thoughts as this story develops. One, regional and extraregional observers shouldn’t be too shocked at this turn of events. China’s claims to the South China Sea reach back decades. The map bearing the nine-dashed line, for instance, predates the founding of the People’s Republic of China. It may go back a century. Nor are these idle fancies. Chinese forces pummeled a South Vietnamese flotilla in the Paracels in 1974. Sporadic encounters with neighboring maritime forces — sometime violent, more often not — have continued to this day. (See Shoal, Scarborough.) Only the pace has quickened.

Henry Kissinger notes that custodians and beneficiaries of the status quo find it hard to believe that revolutionaries really want what they say they want. Memo to Manila, Hanoi & Co.: Beijing really wants what it says it wants.

October 3, 2013

Postwar horror – the misery didn’t stop with VE day or VJ day

Filed under: Books, Europe, History, Japan, Media, Pacific — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:38

In the last couple of years, I’ve read several books about the aftermath of World War Two, including Tony Judt’s Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945, Ronald Spector’s In the Ruins of Empire: The Japanese Surrender and the Battle for Postwar Asia, and David Stafford’s Endgame, 1945: The Missing Final Chapter of World War II. When you concentrate on the combat side of war, you can easily miss the destructive side-effects of that combat and it’s hard to imagine how long it can take for a city or a region to recover from being a battlefield. What is even more interesting is the complex interplay of humanitarian, political and social pressures on the winning side, too often leading to actions that we would have called war crimes if they’d happened just days or weeks earlier. In the New York Times, Adam Hochschild looks at an interesting new book covering the immediate postwar period:

Ian Buruma’s lively new history, Year Zero, is about the various ways in which the aftermath of the Good War turned out badly for many people, and splendidly for some who didn’t deserve it. It is enriched by his knowledge of six languages, a sense of personal connection to the era (his Dutch father was a forced laborer in Berlin) and his understanding of this period from a book he wrote two decades ago that is still worth reading, The Wages of Guilt: Memories of War in Germany and Japan. His survey rambles over a wide expanse of ground, from sexual behavior (imagine millions of Allied occupation troops in a Germany where women outnumbered men by eight to five), to British and American soldiers unintentionally killing thousands of liberated concentration camp inmates by feeding them more than their shriveled intestinal tracts could handle, to the Allies’ blindness to how much of their cornucopia of food and supplies found its way into the hands of Italian, French and Japanese gangsters, restoring some of their prewar power.

Despite the lofty democratic aura of World War II, Buruma points out that the Allies spent much of the latter half of 1945 reviving colonialism. After Algerian Arabs began an uprising on V-E Day, demanding equal rights, some of the troops the French governor general called in to suppress them included an elite infantry regiment that had just taken part in the final assault on Germany. Rebellious towns and villages were bombed, or shelled by naval vessels; in two months of fighting as many as 30,000 Algerians may have been killed. Thousands were made to kneel before the French flag and beg forgiveness.

On the other side of the world, inhabitants of the Dutch East Indies demanded freedom just after the Japanese surrender. But the Dutch government answered with troops, aided by soldiers from Britain’s large Indian Army, British battleships and abundant American military supplies. Fighting continued for four years. And in Vietnam, where a crowd of more than 300,000 gathered to hear Ho Chi Minh declare independence from France, the story would of course eventually become even bloodier. In 1945 British troops were crucial to restoring the colonial order in Vietnam, with help from French Foreign Legion detachments. These included many German volunteers, recruited from P.O.W. camps, who had recently been fighting the Allies in Europe or North Africa.

Meanwhile, the victorious Allies were uprooting some 10 million ethnic Germans from parts of Eastern Europe, where they had lived for generations, and forcing them to move to a shrunken Germany, with perhaps a half-million or more dying in the process from hunger, exposure or attacks by vengeful neighbors. Buruma, like others before him, notes the paradox of the Allied armies carrying out something that echoed “Hitler’s project . . . of ethnic purity.”

October 21, 2012

Nick Gillespie: A libertarian appreciation for the late George McGovern

Filed under: History, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 11:22

George McGovern will, unfortunately, be best known to most people as the poor beggar who lost the 1972 election to Richard Nixon in a blowout. Nick Gillespie says there was much more to McGovern than just being on the wrong side of an electoral landslide:

McGovern’s early criticism of the Vietnam War (he first spoke against it as a newly elected Democratic senator from South Dakota in 1963) was out of step with a bipartisan Cold War consensus that smothered serious debate for too long.

Yet when you take a longer view of his career — especially after he got bounced from the Senate in 1980 during the Republican landslide he helped create — what emerges is a rare public figure whose policy positions shifted to an increasingly libertarian stance in response to a world that’s far more complicated than most politicians can ever allow.

Born in 1922 and raised during the Depression, McGovern eventually earned a doctorate in American history before becoming a politician. But it was as a private citizen he became an expert in the law of unintended consequences, which elected officials ignore routinely. He came to recognize that attempts to control the economic and lifestyle choices of Americans aren’t only destructive to cherished national ideals, but ineffective as well. That legacy is more relevant now than ever.

[. . .]

In a 1997 New York Times op-ed article, he emphasized that simply because some people abuse freedom of choice is no reason to reduce it. “Despite the death of my daughter,” he argued, “I still appreciate the differences between use and abuse.” He rightly worried that lifestyle freedom, like economic freedom, was everywhere under attack: “New attempts to regulate behavior are coming from both the right and the left, depending only on the cause. But there are those of us who don’t want the tyranny of the majority (or the outspoken minority) to stop us from leading our lives in ways that have little impact on others.”

McGovern believed that attempts to impose single-value standards were profoundly un-American and “that we cannot allow the micromanaging of each other’s lives.” But as governments at various levels expand their control of everything from health-care to mortgages to the consumption of soda pop and so much more, that’s exactly what’s happening.

August 5, 2012

A quixotic quest to rehabilitate the reputation of Richard Nixon

Filed under: History, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:07

President Richard Nixon’s reputation could hardly be any worse: he’s seen as the most evil president if not of all time, certainly of the 20th century. Conrad Black attempts to correct the record:

Forty years after Watergate, as the agreed demonology of that drama begins to unravel and the chief authors of it, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, struggle to keep the conventional wisdom about it intact as an article of righteous liberal faith, a factual review is timely. When Richard Nixon was inaugurated president in 1969, the United States had 550,000 draftees in Indochina with no plausible explanation or constitutionally legitimate reason for them to be there and 200 to 400 of them were coming back every week in body bags. President Lyndon Johnson had offered Ho Chi Minh deferred victory in his Manila proposal of October 1966: withdrawal of all foreign forces from South Vietnam. Ho could have taken the offer and returned six months after the Americans had left, saved his countrymen at least 500,000 combat dead, and lived to see a communist Saigon. He chose to not even give LBJ a decent interval for defeat and insisted on militarily humiliating the United States.

In January 1969, there were no U.S. relations with China, no arms control talks in progress with the U.S.S.R., no peace process in the Middle East, there were race or anti-war riots almost every week all over the United States, and the country had been shaken by the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy (both in their early 40s). LBJ could not go anywhere in the country without demonstrations, as students occupied universities and the whole country was in tumult.

Four years later, Nixon had withdrawn from Vietnam, preserving a non-communist South Vietnam, which had defeated the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong in April 1972 with no American ground support, though heavy air support. He had negotiated and signed the greatest arms control agreement in world history with the Soviet Union, founded the Environmental Protection Agency, ended school segregation and avoided the court-ordered, Democratic Party-approved nightmare of busing children all around metropolitan areas for racial balance, and there were no riots, demonstrations, assassinations or university occupations. He started the Middle East peace process, reduced the crime rate and ended conscription. For all of these reasons, he was re-elected by the greatest plurality in American history, 18 million votes, and a percentage of the vote (60.7) equalled only by Lyndon Johnson in 1964 and Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936. His term was rivalled only by Lincoln’s and FDR’s first and third terms as the most successful in U.S. history.

July 23, 2012

China’s latest ploy in the South China Sea

Filed under: China, Military, Pacific — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 12:29

To cement Chinese claims to the vast majority of the South China Sea, a garrison is being established in the Paracel Islands:

China’s powerful Central Military Commission has approved the formal establishment of a military garrison for the disputed South China Sea, state media said, in a move which could further boost tensions in already fractious region.

The Sansha garrison would be responsible for “national defence mobilisation … guarding the city and supporting local emergency rescue and disaster relief” and “carrying out military missions”, the Xinhua news agency said on Sunday.

China has a substantial military presence in the South China Sea and the move is a further assertion of its sovereignty claims after it last month upped the administrative status of the seas to the level of a city, which it calls Sansha.

Sansha city is based on what is known in English as Woody Island, part of the Paracel Islands also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan.

June 19, 2012

Robert Fulford: 1963-74 was a period where “everything connects in a web of deceit, paranoia and distorted ambition”

Filed under: Government, History, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:03

An interesting article by Robert Fulford in the National Post, discussing the time between the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the resignation of Richard Nixon. I was too young to pay any attention to politics in those days, and I only started being aware of how weird it was through reading Hunter S. Thompson’s political writings of the time — and I still think it’s a great encapsulation of the bottled insanity of the US political system of that era.

For 11 years, 1963 to 1974, tragedy and shame were the most persistent themes of American politics. That period has never been given a name, but after four decades it feels like a distinct unit in history. From the death of John Kennedy to the resignation of Richard Nixon, everything connects in a web of deceit, paranoia and distorted ambition.

[. . .]

Even after ultimate power fell into Johnson’s hands, it left him squirming in frustration and rage. He was triumphant for a brief moment, pushing through Congress laws that opened society to black Americans. But he felt surrounded by enemies. Although he asked Kennedy’s men to stay on, he never trusted them. When Malvolio leaves the stage he threatens, “I’ll be revenged on the whole pack of you.” That was how Johnson felt about Bobby Kennedy. Caro is especially good on the bitter 15-year struggle that consumed these two men, both smart but both hopelessly lacking in self-awareness.

Johnson’s second downfall, the swiftly increasing Vietnam war, was also America’s tragedy, a fruitless enterprise that cost many lives and wrecked American confidence in Washington. As Caro now says, “Everyone thinks distrust of government started under Nixon. That’s not true. It started under Johnson.” On Vietnam he lied so consistently that Americans ceased to believe anything he said. Journalists spoke euphemistically of his “credibility gap.” Trust in the political class never 
returned.

With Johnson so dishonoured that he couldn’t run for re-election in 1968, Nixon succeeded him. He brought with him a style darker and more paranoid even than Johnson’s. In covering up a break-in by his party’s operatives at the Watergate complex, he revealed that everything said about him by his worst enemies was true.

[. . .]

From beginning to end, Schlesinger despised Nixon. In 1962, when Nixon brought out his self-revealing memoir, Six Crises, demonstrating that his main interest in life was judging how others saw him, Schlesinger wrote in his diary “I do not see how his political career can survive this book.” Schlesinger, while he served power-mad leaders, didn’t understand them. He couldn’t imagine that just six years later, in 1968, Nixon’s furious ambition would make him president and then get him re-elected to a second term, the one he failed to complete because Watergate made him the first American president ever to resign in disgrace, a fate even worse than Johnson’s.

Schlesinger’s book provides an accompaniment to this heartbreaking era of shame. It never fails to remind us that, no matter what theories the historians construct, the course of history is usually shaped by a few frail, frightened and often deeply damaged human beings.

April 18, 2012

A guerilla war is fought in two primary theatres: in the field and in the media

Filed under: History, Media, Military, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:57

A survey of US experiences in guerilla fighting over the years at Strategy Page:

After a decade of fighting Islamic terrorists the U.S. Department of Defense finally realized, at the most senior levels, that the nature of, and progress in this war was being poorly presented to the national leadership and the public. Actually, from the very beginning, there was a reluctance to reveal the masses of data collected and how it was analyzed. Partly this was to prevent the enemy from realizing how much information on terrorist operations it possessed. But another reason was the fact that such a large mass of data could be interpreted many different ways, some of them unfavorable to the United States. Thus there was no “body count” or any other type of measure released by the Department of Defense. Internally, there were various metrics (measurements) presented to senior military and political leadership. The big problem was the use of aggregation (combining a lot of data together that should not have been combined). That was a problem that slowly became obvious over the last decade.

It’s now recognized that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (and elsewhere, like Yemen, Somalia, North Africa and so on) were all somewhat different and that context for each of them was crucial if you were going to analyze them. For example; al Qaeda is more of an idea than a centralized organization. Thus the al Qaeda found in each country, or part of a country, usually has different means and motivations. The war in Iraq was actually several separate wars going on at the same time, and occasionally interacting with other “wars” nearby. Same thing in Afghanistan and places like Somalia. Measuring progress is more accurate if you show the unique trends in all the different wars. Some of them ended early, some escalated and some are still in progress while others evolve into new kinds of conflicts. In other words, the military should use contextual assessment in reporting what is going on with guerilla conflict (or “irregular warfare” in general.)

[. . .]

When the United States first got involved with Vietnam in the late 1950s, there was good reason to believe American assistance would lead to the defeat of the communist guerilla movement in South Vietnam. That was because the communists had not been doing so well with their guerilla wars. In the previous two decades, there had been twelve communist insurgencies, and 75 percent of them had been defeated. These included Greek Civil War (1944-1949), Spanish Republican Insurgency (1944-1952), Iranian Communist Uprising (1945-1946), Philippine Huk War (1946-1954), Madagascan Nationalist Revolt (1947-1949), Korean Partisan War (1948-1953), Sarawak/Sabah “Confrontation” (1960-1966), Malayan Emergency (1948-1960), Kenyan Mau-Mau Rebellion (1952-1955). The communists won in the Cuban Revolution (1956-1958), the First Indochina War (1945-1954) and the Chinese Civil War (1945-1949). The communists went on to lose the guerilla phase of the Second Indochina War (1959-1970). Guerillas make great copy for journalists. You know, the little guy, fighting against impossible odds. What we tend to forget (and the record is quite clear, and easily available), is that these insurgent movements almost always get stamped out. That does not make good copy, and the dismal details of those defeats rarely make it into the mass media, or the popular consciousness.

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