By Dom Nozzi
I’m reading Daniel Ellsberg’s book “Secrets.” In it, he reports that in reading the history of our involvement in Vietnam since 1946 (the “Pentagon Papers”), he learned that all US presidents during the Vietnam War era (Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon) had been told by their military advisors that there was ZERO chance of defeating or stopping North Vietnam. Yet ALL presidents tragically decided to escalate the Vietnam War.
Ellsberg also learned that the US knew as early as the 1940s and 1950s that there was no “civil war” in Vietnam. It was a simple case of US aggression against Vietnam to stop communism. Ellsberg responded to my question a few weeks ago (a question asked via Skype after seeing the Ellsberg documentary at the University of Colorado here in Boulder) to say that Afghanistan is an identical outrage being committed, murderously and criminally, by the US.
Why are we not all in the streets rioting to demand an end to that sickening, shameful war? (In Secrets, Ellsberg concludes that it does no good whatsoever to “speak truth to power”, as doing so with each of those presidents – and now Obama – did not dissuade them from escalating in Vietnam — or now in Afghanistan.)
One is compelled to wonder, given the above, what is going on? WHY does the US seem to continuously have “forever” enemies? It was “communism” for a number of decades, and now it seems to be “terrorism” (also known as “The Drug War” or “Muslim extremists” or “Brutal Dictators”). Why does the US engage in endless wars – in particular, Vietnam and Afghanistan and Iraq – regardless of whether we have a Republican or Democrat as president? (including a president today who has won the Nobel Peace Prize…)
Why, in the face of crushing government debts and economic collapse, is the US ramping up spending to fight a hopeless, endless, murderous, counterproductive war in Afghanistan, despite the Obama administration being told by military intelligence that we cannot “win” there (whatever “winning” means). And an Obama administration that cannot even given a coherent reason about why we are fighting in Afghanistan.
There are only two possible explanations I can come up with for why Vietnam happened, why the US subsequently fought a number of additional small wars, why the US engaged in an arms race with the Soviets, and why we are seemingly going to be fighting in Afghanistan forever.
First, military spending for wars of aggression is now seen as an essential for the US economy. That the record high military spending the US continues to engage in is justified as “economic stimulus” (Obama gave the Pentagon their biggest budget in US history in the most recent allocation, despite HUGE US debt).
The only other possibility is, as Eisenhower warned, that the US government is being forced to do the bidding of the military/industrial complex. And that the military/industrial complex is so powerful (campaign contributions, jobs, etc.) that they compel the US to continuously create hysteria about our “enemies” that we must fight forever.
Terrorists. Communists. Drug Lords. Dictators possessing weapons of mass destruction.
The military contractors know that to continue receiving billions in public dollars, the US must always scare the nation into thinking we are in grave danger unless we militarize ourselves and violently attack our enemy-of-the-day with bombs, troops and napalm.
As George Carlin recently said, the US is quite mediocre when it comes to public education, public health, social services, crime, number of prisoners, manufacturing, etc., but we are very good in one thing: bombing others (or overall military strength).
I am convinced that JFK knew it was politically impossible to pull out the troops in Vietnam. Like Eisenhower, Johnson, and Nixon, he didn’t want to be seen as “losing Vietnam to the Reds.” I also believe that the military/industrial complex had (and still has) more power than the president. JFK probably got big campaign contributions from military contractors (as all presidents — including Obama — have gotten).
A huge obstacle to a president ending (or not starting) a war is that they are well aware of the fact that wars mean JOBS in a huge number of congressional districts. The American economy MUST fight wars as an economic strategy. Like GM, US wars are “too big to fail.” Presidents see forever wars as an absolutely essential way to avoid US economic depression.
Even if the president is “lame duck” (he cannot run for re-election due to term limits), Ellsberg points out that the president is always concerned about what his actions will do to the prospects of his party. If Obama (or Nixon or Johnson or JFK or Eisenhower) were to end a war, their Democratic (or Republican, as the case may be) Party candidates in the future would be hammered in future elections (“lost jobs” or “soft on fighting enemies”).
As a book I read recently points out (The New American Militarism), there is now a CONSENSUS that war-fighting is good for the US. Republicans AND Democrats both strongly agree. Only “extremists” like Dennis Kucinich are not part of the consensus.
We are like the Roman Empire just before they collapsed.