War and Hope, Part II

This is the continuation of the conversation from September and October 2005. There will be at least one more part to it. Again, I express my appreciation to those whose words are posted here.

Richard Jehn

I know very little about what happened in Indochina after the US withdrawal; have never even seen “The Killing Fields”, about the Cambodian situation which was by all accounts grim.

However, accepting the notion that interfering in the internal affairs of people we do not understand may bring about terrible events should only strengthen our attention to US foreign policy, which continues to be based on interference. I cannot quite conceive that, had US occupation forces stayed longer in Vietnam, the aftermath would have been less cataclysmic.

Mariann Wizard

Not saying we should not have withdrawn. The longer we were there, the worse we made it. We should have left at any moment and we all know we should never have gone in, and we should get the fuck out of Iraq as soon as possible because we are creating a civil war there that I think will be an even bigger bloodbath than Indochina, and this time, they can get to us as Mr. bin Laden has already demonstrated.

War is horrifying and terrible, and civil war is the worst. A brief reflection of our own civil war should tell us that.

By the bye, I would say our foreign policy is based on short term profits, period.

Pat Cuney

I don’t think you can blame Southeast Asian bloodshed after the war on the Vietnamese. I don’t think they were responsible for what happened in Laos and Cambodia. Please chime in if I have this wrong.

Have you all seen The Trials of Henry Kissinger? Now there is someone deserving of a great deal of blame for sabotaging peace talks in 1968, prolonging the Vietnam disaster as a deady air war and orchestrating a military coup in Chile in his spare time.

Alice Embree

As soon as the U.S. left Vietnam the Chinese attacked Vietnam’s northern border but the whole deal didn’t last very long. The U.S. backed slimeball Pol Pot. The Vietnamese entered Cambodia long enough to stop the bloodshed and then left, is what I understand.

A side note: the Chinese sided with the U.S. and super slimeball Jonas Savimbi in Angola just to irritate the Russians. So much for international communist solidarity and the domino theory.

Alan Pogue

“(British proconsul for Mesopotamia, Arnold) Wilson had firm ideas about how the area should be ruled. `Basra, Baghdad, and Mosul should be regarded as a single unit for administrative purposes and under effective British control.’ It never seems to have occurred to him that a single unit did not make much sense in other ways. In 1919 there was no Iraqi people; history, religion, geography pulled the people apart, not together. . . Putting together the three Ottoman provinces and expecting to create a nation was, in European terms, like hoping to have Bosnian Muslims, Croats, and Serbs make one country.” From “Paris 1919, Six Months that Changed the World” by Margaret MacMillan, 2001, page 397.

And we all know how that worked out.

Hence, Iraq was created by a backroom deal at Versailles between the British and French colonialists, both primarily interested in securing access to petroleum. I’m sure you’re surprised. Tito kept Yugoslavia together for awhile, and the Baath Party did the same for Iraq. But essentially, they were untenable states. George W., in his infinite historical wisdom, opened this Pandora’s box. Now the highly predictable civil war is on. It has wonderful potential to become a four cornered fight that engulfs the whole region with the US standing in the middle of the crossfire.

David Hamilton

— A side note: the Chinese sided with the U.S. and super slimeball Jonas Savimbi in Angola just to irritate the Russians. —

Aren’t the Chinese longer thinkers than that? Siding with the US against the Russian Bear (a traditional Chinese opponent) in third world “arenas” served a larger purpose for China, for which, I think, both “communism” and “capitalism” are merely useful structures of hegemony. Steve Russell’s earlier message in this same Digest comments on the Chinese loans to rebuild the Gulf coast:

— China? Our main competitor? Effectively controlling the worth of our currency and our standard of living? —

I believe they were already the largest foreign holder, by far, of US loans. TIME or NEWSWEEK one did an issue on China last spring; fairly freaky!.

And back to this issue of the aftermath of the US war in Indochina, the Chinese were there before us, and before the French (uh, hmmm, indoCHINA), I rather think they must view the entire area in somewhat the same way as the US (used to) regard Latin America; does that make sense?

Mariann Wizard

I can sympathize with David ‘s feelings . As an expat myself for almost 30 years, I can attest that there is indeed an emotional upside to life outside the belly of the beast.

I’m not that far outside – geographically, politically, or in any other sense – just 100 miles away in Canada. It’s no utopian alternative here. There are certainly many “better” aspects, but Canada, the US and to my knowledge every other “developed” nation are all operating under pretty much the same fundamental premises. Canada is something like the US might be if it were stripped of all that superpower testosterone – though a bit bluer, perhaps, than the US average. Faced with a tough problem, Canada usually strikes another royal commission to study the issue rather than calling in the cops (or sending out the troops).

At the end of the day, it all comes to pretty much the same thing. With no substantive change in course, the current Canadian (British, French, German… Chinese, for that matter) future doesn’t look to be all that different from the US future. The only difference is whether you go there in a Prius or a Humvee.

It’s understandable to be tired and demoralized after decades of struggling against all this – even to come to the point, as David says, “when you think your country’s defeat in a war would be a good thing.” But even if that’s an understandable feeling – to hell with it: eat your karma! – it doesn’t seem to me like a very desirable alternative.

Try as I might, I can’t conceive of any likely post-apocalypse scenario that is anything like the world I would want for my grandchildren – or any of the world’s grandchildren. As far as I can see, there is no better plan waiting in the wings, ready to take off running as soon as the Bush League crumbles.

So, what to do? From a personal perspective, flight might be a sane option – whether that means geographic flight to a more peaceful home site or mental flight to a higher karmic plane. But that’s not likely to be very helpful if we are concerned for the future of our children and grandchildren.

Is continuing our fight the only responsible alternative then? That does seem to me to be a vital part of it – but maybe only one part.

There was an interesting column in one of our local papers yesterday, which noted that the Vancouver peace group – promoting the demand that all Canadian forces be withdrawn from Afghanistan and Iraq – had been unable to recruit even one Afghan supporter from the substantial refugee population here. Afghan community leaders quoted in the column deplored US actions in Iraq, but insisted that Afghanistan’s situation was different. Abandoning the field to warring mullahs, they said, would not improve matters. Rwanda provides one sad illustration of such “benign” neglect.

It struck me that this was one more example of how we are so often very clear and outspoken about what we oppose, but frequently not very clear at all on exactly what the viable alternative is – and by “viable” I mean immediate and effective, not some more utopian vision.

In my view, this has been a failing of the left not only with respect to foreign policy but with many, many other issues as well. There is a pervasive feeling, I think, that what fundamentally needs to happen would likely have such a significant impact on our privileged circumstances that… well, it’s just not saleable, so why even attempt some big effort? I guess my response to that would be, because what we’ve been doing just ain’t working good enough.

Also, I’m not persuaded that it’s not saleable. Depending on what “it” is, and how you package it, it might be quite saleable. Hey! Just because you don’t like those capitalist marketing guys doesn’t mean you might not be able to learn a useful trick or two from them.

I think there is a third strategy – Fight, Flight and Light. (Maybe “illumination” would be more appropriate, but it doesn’t rhyme so well.) Light doesn’t mean you set aside the fight, just supplement it. Accentuate the positive. Give people some tangible alternatives. And devote as much energy to identifying and promoting those as we do to opposing the bad stuff.

I think there are a lot of positive alternatives out there. And those include large scale, industrial-strength alternatives, not just the hippie-dippie back to the land stuff (which has too often involved riding on the coattails of privilege, rather than supplanting it, and which, anyway, doesn’t have a lot of mass appeal).

The problem is not only that those alternatives are under-recognized. More importantly, virtually nobody as far as I can see is making a big effort to knit those isolated examples together into something that resembles a coherent illustration / vision of what our feasible alternative society might look like.

There was some talk at the reunion about Seniors for a Democratic Society. To do what? Conduct a replay of the (mostly male) grandstanding and inevitable spiral into factionalism? Maybe it’s time to modify the game plan.

I can anticipate objections. All those positive alternatives. How “revolutionary” are they really? Won’t you, after all, wind up doing things like promoting the Prius – things that may be marginally better but that actually are not much different? That doesn’t sound like a revolutionary light to me, sounds more like revolutionary lite.

And… maybe so, maybe not. Maybe some of those touted alternatives are just a way of slowing things down, and maybe they don’t in themselves provide the fundamental change of direction we need. But, even then, if you want to make a U-turn, isn’t it easier (and safer) when you’re traveling 30 mph than when you’re going 80?

Dennis Fitzgerald

Re: Dennis’ observation that the Afghan conflict and the Iraq conflict are not the same.

Well, yes.

I think the only principled way to oppose the Afghan incursion was to be a pacifist.

It was probably as necessary as war gets and (not insignificant to this recovering lawyer) legal.

Iraq was and is neither.

Re: the expat option. I seriously considered Australia right after I got out of the service, because I thought the Aussies involved in Vietnam were more in it for love of a good fight than any imperial ambitions.

I was pissed about the war and I was pissed about the pace of the civil rights movement and in despair that that civil rights would ever put in an appearance in Indian Country while the war was of course there in spades.

I didn’t really feel like going back where I came from and other options were not clear at the time, so I sent to the Australian consulate for an immigration packet. I learned that the government would buy me a plane ticket and guarantee a job because my skill (computers) was on their wanted list. The application, enclosed, required me to represent that I was Anglo-Saxon. I could tell that lie successfully, but it did not seem a sensible way to start a new life, so I blew that off.

Subsequently, I considered Mexico. Big community of expats in San Miguel de Allende.

Alcatraz happened. The Rag happened.

There was a fight right here. I was not alone all of a sudden.

So I’m gonna stay and go down with the ship and keep hollering about the goddam icebergs…

Steve Russell

Humor is good but we should all remember that identity politics always ends in undemocratic systems because all values other than group identity are suppressed, “You are either with us or the terrorists”. Within feminist thought Barbara Ehrenreich is inclusive but Andrea Dworkin is exclusive, for example. Ehrenreich is a socialist feminist and Dworkin is a feminist cult leader.

National distinctions are false and ultimately meaningless (I have a U.S. passport/fuzzy blanket). We are on one planet for the time being. We (humans, other animals and plants) will share the same fate no matter where we live. The only question, if one cares to address it, is how each of us can be most effective in saving the planet. The “where” will follow with the answer. There are certainly practical considerations (age, material resources, talents, outstanding warrants), but whether one is in the belly of the Beast or on the tail will not matter when the Beast jumps off the cliff. The Beast is not just American after all. The Beast is multinational, globalized and fluid. The Beast is even within each of us. There are many levels of generality/specificity to be addressed and one should be as clear as possible about which level is being addressed so as to get the needed answer and avoid meaningless argument. Logic, categorical thinking, is easy but good premises and existential thinking are hard to come by.

Alan Pogue

Not meaning to be a ditto-head, but I think Dennis’ point about devoting at least half the time to what we’d like to see is really on target. That conversation barely happens anymore. It was that conversation that attracted me to SDS in the beginning. It was that conversation that built community and sustained many of us for many years. I remember thinking in 1969 that “Bring the War Home” wasn’t a great organizing strategy on the part of the Weatherman. Instead, I came home (to Texas). Thankfully, for me, the women’s movement was gathering force and I could find a whole new conversation and broader (no pun intended) community. What I miss is that sense of movement – dare I call it insurgency – that was so exhilarating.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about SDS and the fact that it re-defined democracy for me. It wasn’t about voting every now and then for a “representative”. It was was about participating in the decisions that affect your life. It wasn’t about “virtual” democracy, but about taking action. That just blew me away. That, and the radical concept that issues were connected. I know a lot of people now who work away – issue by issue – but don’t feel that they have a way of being connected to other issues. And they want that. The other thing I sorely miss is the humor, the street theater. You can reach a lot of people with humor. Think about what Jerry Rubin did at HUAC. Everyone had been filing in – minding the Congressional decorum – serious, scared, whatever. Jerry Rubin showed up in a revolutionary war outfit making a mockery of it. It’s the same way that Jon Stewart does the “news.” He doesn’t have to be serious. He plays a Bush clip and raises his eyebrows and that says it all. The only time I saw him really serious was when they had him on Hardball and they wanted him to be a funny man and he wouldn’t play. He destroyed that show with his remarks.

OK, so this is just a really small thing about what works – Credit Unions. They work like a bank, but re-direct their “profits” or surpluses into expanding services. OK, they aren’t perfect, but you can tell they must be doing something right because banks hate them. So, what I want is credit unions with community boards, not banks. Well, that’s not all I want. How about subsidized child care and universal health care and emergency responses that work.

Alice Embree

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