Monday, August 30, 2004


Political Reflections

keeping in mind that all posts here are reflections of my opinion only, I offer this re-post from the PO forum:

Q: Is the Vietnam War a Legitimate Issue in the 2004 Presidential Election?

A: You know what? This was such a good question that, although I saw it bare minutes after it was posted, upon reading it, I got up, took a walk, went to the grocery store, bought groceries, brought them back, did the dishes and put on some water to prepare myself some lunch before I touched it...and even though my initial, gut-level response remains the same, I still have some trepidation in actually putting it into words and posting it. That's because I really feel that my thoughts on the matter are only about half-formed, and will probably undergo revision during the course of any discussion that ensues on this thread. I'm going to take this at face value, assume you want an honest response, and answer, first, straightforwardly, and second, in a more comprehensive fashion.

So, let's get the easier task out of the way now: No.

When I say that, both campaigns are at fault, because both have sunk to their lowest levels regarding precisely this issue. Not that dirty politics surprises me. In fact, I have a hard time saying the word politics without the modifier dirty in the first place. However, at face value, the Vietnam war, whatever it was about and whatever abuses occurred there, was firmly set in the context of the cold war...a situation in which the world was divided into two great superpowers that thought the best way forward was to amass incredible amounts of intensely destructive machinery to make certain they weren't bombed out of existence by the other. Unfortunately for the people of Vietnam, they were the most public (but not the most decimated) small and relatively impoverished nation to be used as a battle line in regards to the aggression that lie behind the policy of maintaining levels of 'mutually assured destruction.' One could even arguably say that the real war was fought in South America...only less people know about that. And, if you were to trace our current situation, as I tend to do, back to, say, policies surrounding the Iran-Contra affair of the mid 80's, you might even manage the case that today's difficulties do indeed trace back to the ideologies informing Vietnam. You could also cite a 'cultural war,' which is, in essence, more a matter of two Americas duking out some essential ideological differences that can most easily be traced back to the Vietnam war...though they in truth far predate that. Think Woodie Guthrie, Eugene V. Debs, hell even people like Henry Miller--and the list does go on. But, here's the sticker: although today's difficulties may find some of their primary causes in the Cold War, we are no longer in a Cold War environment. There's no 'other' to counter the massive machine in place in America--just a rag-tag bunch of ideologues that no nation wants to claim who have to resort to relatively small-scale tactics to fight what many of them regard as a legitimate menace to their way of life. That characterization of terrorist activity is meant in a value neutral sense, saying nothing of how I would judge their ideas (in fact, I judge pretty much anyone who asks people to kill for an idea fairly harshly. Dying for an idea is something else entirely, and I think most of us, if we genuinely believed our being killed would bring peace to the earth and freedom to those living in it, truly genuinely believed that, would do it...) --just commenting on the political, martial reality involved here, which is very different from confronting a massively armed super-power with enough missiles pointed at us to bomb us into the dust and then bomb the dust.

As regards the current campaign, what is being fought out with the whole Vietnam thing is, in fact, questions of character writ large. Trouble is, the whole issue is so irrelevant, and at the same time such an emotional hot-button in America, that it just makes both candidates look like shit. I will admit to a certain visceral glee in hearing Bush's spotty records being released, and a concomitant visceral anger at hearing the Swift Boat ads (yes, I've seen them, yes I know there are some troubling areas to Kerry's service, and yes, I think the SBVT ads are extremely misleading...this after having looked at multiple sources on the matter...)--but in all honesty, I do have to see those two reactions and understand the double-standard being used with them. That's okay, emotionally. Emotions are all about double standards. But when it comes to what we call the 'Issues,' which are sometimes accompanied by the words 'of substance,' I would characterize my emotional response to these ads as bollocks. Let's cut the shit and say that neither man served in a completely honorable way, but that neither was to be found, as I would probably have been had I been of age at that time, hunkered down somewhere in northern California, acting as a guinea pig for early tests on a prototype of prozac and claiming to have found the key to instant enlightenment (and how American is that concept?) and staging street theatre aimed at bringing others into my flock. What that means is that on a fundamental level, the whole debate is just foreign to me--as is the whole 'military man' mystique that predominates in American public life. As much as so characterizing myself might bespeak a 'lack of character' on my part, I would be thrilled pink to think that these two were actually discussing things like the viability or desirability of an international policy of pre-emptive war, the importance of balancing issues of security with issues of civil liberties, models for workable international co-operation to address the real and present challenges we face in 2004 (and not 1968), or even arcana like why taxing this or that part of the base will help the overall economy. That is, unfortunately, not going to happen, and for much the same reasons as drive the desire for something you can swallow that will lead to enlightenment without effort, or some machine that will magically dispose of only evil men. We're willingly enough led, if those who would lead us can only keep us from thinking that what lies ahead of us requires genuine effort on our part, as citizens. And the whole bloody debate over Vietnam is an attempt to do precisely that. I mean, from my perspective, if I base my decision on the Vietnam issue, the choice boils down to who I trust more, a rich kid whose grandfather was not entirely unfriendly to the Nationalist Socialist regime and whose father who was on his way to becoming head of the CIA, who used those connections to get a cushy stateside assignment, or the rich kid who went to Vietnam for a total of 4 months, may or may not have enjoyed a career entirely distinguished by valor in those circumstances, then came back and protested against it (taking some decidedly half-hearted steps in the process of so doing), then brokered the whole thing into a lifelong career as a politician? I know my answer, but I also know it is very much a matter of choosing the less bad alternative.

To me, this dredging up of the old Vietnam stuff actually speaks directly to why humans get so involved in these larger fights, and in that sense, it is illustrative of what's going on in both wars: it is a question of history's interpretability, and it is an extension of the United States' attempt to conduct a self-evaluation in the absence of any clearly identifiable 'other' upon which to project the worst characteristics of our nation. With that interpretability comes the question of when history stops: does it end at Vietnam? Why not then trace it back to the origins of the Cold War, to the endgame being played during WWII, and bring Bush's grandfather and his support for a regime that could have been stopped much earlier if it had not enjoyed at least tacit support on the part of many American politicians and corporations? What was Kerry's grandfather doing at that time? For that matter, that's what caused Israel to ever become an issue, is it not? So it is back to WWII. And of course, it really isn't that much of a stretch to say the whole thing is based on matters of belief--if we take the Soviet's officially athiest line, combined with the question of Israel and Middle East unrest with Muslims, it really isn't that much of a stretch to go careening into the 12th century and finding that the real source of the problems lie there...need I go on? It only sounds absurd. Don't forget that many citizens in the Yugoslavian conflict justified those policies and those wars on precisely these sorts of arguments--resentments that go back well over 8 centuries--and in the Middle East, they are often fueled by even older resentments--straight back to Abraham, I believe.

For me, this is all immaterial. Abraham would be one of those guys you see on the street corner with a cardboard box set out for change if he showed up today...he wouldn't know what to do with the world in the 21st century. And we need to stop seeing through those eyes. The entire sytem is working under some assumptions that are simply not viable given the conditions we face, and the fact that not only do those running for president think pointing to one's actions in a hotly debated war that was waged over 30 years ago, but also that those voters to whom they are appealing find anything of real substance in such posturing, is a pretty clear signal that we aren't thinking like we should be. Not just the leaders--the people as well. WE need to lead. Not them. Because as long as such tactics work, they'll use them.

It's a non-issue, on both sides. It only looks like an issue because it riles up every damned one of the people they're talking to. And I'd fault them for that, but the fact is, all the evidence seems to suggest that this actually sways the voters.

I'll stop there, before I go on to tell you why we're all doomed anyway. Heh.

Nice post, PG.... glad to see it here.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?