Sunday, March 24, 2013


Some may wonder how I can still be a Democrat even though I remain opposed to many Obama policies (mostly his foreign policies), and even though I scoff at the liberal-ish pundits now offering apologies/rationalizations for their former support of Dubya's war. A comment here sums up my feelings...
At least the Democrats have the decency to apologize! When will a Republican apologize for being catastrophically, unforgivably wrong?
To me, an admission of fault beats pigheaded arrogance every day of the week.

You may feel differently. I doubt that relatives of those killed in the "shock and awe" attacks are much impressed by any American's show of contrition.

The main article at the other end of that link is one of those everyone's-talking-about-it pieces, from Ross Douthat of the NYT. I find his main contention laughable. He speaks of the collapse of Dubya's second term agenda (and by "agenda," he mostly refers to Bush's stabs at Social Security privatization):
This collapse, and the Republican Party’s failure to recover from it, enabled the Democrats to not only seize the center but push it leftward, and advance far bolder proposals than either Al Gore or John Kerry had dared to offer.
"Far bolder"?

Then why is Obama poised to give in on Social Security reform? Why are all Democrats grudgingly coming to accept chained CPI, something they never would have tolerated while Bush was president? Why, for that matter, are Dems tolerating a foreign policy which continues the Dubya approach, minus the more costly excesses of neo-con adventurism?

Douthat's general thesis is that the failure of the Iraq war laid the foundation for a new era of social liberalism. IEDs in Baghdad gave us gay marriage.
As The American Conservative’s Dan McCarthy noted in a shrewd essay, the Vietnam War helped entrench a narrative in which liberal social movements were associated with defeat in Indochina — and this association didn’t have to be perfectly fair to be politically and culturally potent.

In a similar way, even though Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney weren’t culture warriors or evangelical Christians, in the popular imagination their legacy of incompetence has become a reason to reject social conservatism as well. Just as the post-Vietnam Democrats came to be regarded as incompetent, wimpy and dangerously radical all at once, since 2004 the Bush administration’s blunders — the missing W.M.D., the botched occupation — have been woven into a larger story about Youth and Science and Reason and Diversity triumphing over Old White Male Faith-Based Cluelessness.
I don't buy this. For the most part, social movements have followed their own stop-start, back-forth trajectory over the past century-or-so. Throughout the 1970s, Vietnam tainted conservatism, not liberalism. For many years afterward, most Americans told pollsters that the war was a tragic mistake. Even Reagan did not dare to bring up the topic (much).

Most readers of this blog will probably agree with my contention that, over the past thirty-odd years, the primary obstacle to social progress has been fundamentalist Christianity. Was the rise of fundamentalism in America related to the Vietnam War?

A damned difficult question, that...!

Although many factors contributed to that rise, I'm inclined to point, first and foremost, to the failure of the counterculture of the 1960s -- a counterculture which was, to a great degree, a byproduct of the anti-war movement. The Vietnam debacle taught us that balding, greying white guys didn't have the answers that they pretended to have. But as the hippie era gave way to the tawdry disco-and-cocaine scene, we learned that the kids didn't have any answers either. We learned that the new generation was just as screwed up as the previous one. Maybe moreso.

Thus, many younger Americans turned to reactionary Jesusism -- to virginity pledges and Promise Keepers and DOMA and all of that. But many others continued to press for change.

So the story of social change in America is hardly a simple one. As I said: It's a stop/start, back/forth thing. Has been that way for a good long while.

Added note: Re-reading the above, I want to add to my point about America's collective memory of the Vietnam era. We can use Jane Fonda, and what she symbolizes, as an example.

As many now forget, lots of veterans supported Fonda after her trip to Hanoi. Many soldiers and former soldiers didn't hate her -- they hated Nixon and LBJ and McNamara and Westmoreland. They hated what was then called The Establishment. They did not hate Barbarella -- hell, they had her poster on their walls. (I recall that poster very well!)

Fonda continued to be popular, albeit controversial, throughout the 1970s. A growing number of reactionaries screeched and yowled whenever her name was mentioned, but the screechers and yowlers were never so numerous as to injure her career. Her movies did well: Coming Home, 9 to 5, On Golden Pond, Julia, The China Syndrome.

Reactionary Fonda-hate didn't become nigh-universal until 1990 or so. That's when she became unbankable. Everyone in the country suddenly decided that she was That Treasonous Woman We All Must Despise.

Oddly enough, at the same time, Donald Sutherland experienced a career renaissance. He was frequently cast in big movies as the Wise Old Bird. The entire country elected to forget that Sutherland had accompanied Fonda on that trip to Hanoi, and that he said and did pretty much the same things. If anything, his youthful anti-war activism had been more aggressive.  

Perhaps this story tells us something about our changing attitudes toward the Vietnam War. Or perhaps it tells us something about our attitudes toward women.
I remember the country's attitude toward Vietnam differently. Certainly it changed over time, but starting from support from a majority for a considerable amount of time.

Even once dissent spilled over to street demonstrations, there was a reactionary backlash to the war protest movement among average Americans, thinking the movement mainly consisted of dirty stinking hippies at best, subversives at worse.

The average American reaction to Kent State has been perhaps airbrushed from history, but it was ugly, with many supporting shooting them.

The judgment of the country in 1972 (the first federal election I voted in) was 2 states plus DC for 'come home again, America' (i.e., anti-war) McGovern, and 48 states for Nixon. That was quite late in the years of that war, which ended c. '74. Nixon had substantially reduced even the youth opposition to the war by instituting the lottery, which eliminated about 2/3rds of each 18 year old cohort from risk of the draft.

The Democratic Party then reformed its nomination process, to include the superdelegates (office holders and party grandees), whose job it was to veto any foolish peacenik candidates in the future favored by their electorate lest the party suffer such a wipeout at the federal level again. (Those same power players had attempted to block McGovern from the nomination by denying him the CA delegates, but they lacked the power as of the pre-reform '72 election.)

It became common Republican wisdom that Carter failed in his re-election bid by not having a war of his own. W said he had heard this point in high level party discussions. Reagan made sure to have some minor military strikes (Grenada, Libya), to the considerable jingoistic applause of the majority of the public.


The entire country elected to forget that Sutherland had accompanied Fonda on that trip to Hanoi, and that he said and did pretty much the same things. If anything, his youthful anti-war activism had been more aggressive.

Perhaps this story tells us something about our changing attitudes toward the Vietnam War. Or perhaps it tells us something about our attitudes toward women.

Or, alternatively, it might be because Sutherland was (and is) Canadian and Canada was officially "non-belligerent" in the war. Or, it might be that Sutherland was smart enough not to be filmed pretending to man a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun and laughing about taking shots at American aircraft.

One could despise the war and still not approve of pretending to take shots at American pilots. I was opposed to the war and took a few lumps on Moratorium Day (in a high school in the Deep South) to prove it, but I thought it was a disgusting spectacle - still do, in fact, although I always figured it was more due to youthful stupidity than anything else (and I think reviling a septuagenarian for youthful indiscretions is silly). Yes, I know she was in her 30s when the incident occurred, but some people are slow learners.

My favorite antiwar comment came from Jane's smarter (and more talented) little brother, Peter, when he observed that his father had taught him that you shouldn't shoot anything you didn't intend to eat.
I don't think I agree that fundamentalist Christianity has been a big retarder of social progress. It is, after all, an almost wholly American phenomenon, and similar retardation has occured in the rest of the West. The only real big differences are things like healthcare, which are more economic that social.

The position of women has certainly changed, though. In the SNCC it was, famously, prone. Now OWS has a policy of only allowing speeches by those without privilege, which is to say that rich white women are fine, poor men are too privileged and need to let someone else talk.

I also disagree as to the influence of the counter culture. Personally I think the opposition to the counter culture has been much more influential. Attempts to hijack, and such. Like FDR ecoming powerful and everyone forgetting the harder leftists he premepted and suverted. So people don't think of the real peace activists, like even Martin Luther King denouncing America as the largest purveyor of violence in the world, people rememer flower children, hippies, LSD users, feminists, Transcendental Meditationists and all those others who dissipated and diverted energies that could have been directed against the war powers of the state. Obviously Timothy Leary was in with the CIA, supposedly so was Owsley, if memory serves, who helped popularise LSD (argualy more so that Leary), and Gloria Steinem started off with the CIA too, as an agent provocateur.
Frankly, I think VVAW turned the tide in public opinion-- it's to argue with people who were there.

Fun with Jane: the next time someone starts ragging on Hanoi Jane remind him/her that Jane was a lot closer to the action than Skippy Bush ever got.
A British fan of Donald Sutherland asks what did it mean to be anti the war in Vietnam if a person did NOT support shooting down US bomber planes? Better they weren't there, and that the young men piloting them were doing something harmless instead. But, given that they WERE there...

We are not talking about carrying out a My Lai against US civilians, but defensive action against aerial massacres. If such defensive action is not justified, what is?

And before anyone asks, I am not motivated by any great support for the Stalinist Vietcong. I would say exactly the same about anti-aircraft emplacements in South London, where my family watched the Luftwaffe bombs drop in the early 1940s, and exactly the same about defensive action against British bomber planes over Dresden. In both cases, it was justified to shoot the fucking planes down, and I do not understand the 'anti-war' position that says otherwise.
Propertius - would it have been better had she done it without being filmed? Are you making an "easier to win people over" argument? Surely you don't think stopping the US war effort in Southeast Asia was an issue for US citizens only?
There was far less opposition to Gulf War 2 in 1991 in the US and Britain than there was to the Vietnam war in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and I recall one friend who had fought committedly against the Vietnam War, and who certainly hadn't sold out in terms of her commitment to social struggle, having no criticism whatsoever of the official British demonisation of Radovan Karadjic in Bosnia, which was used as part of the pro-war propaganda around the same time as Gulf War 2.

But, wasn't there still some 'Vietnam syndrome' left in the early 1990s? Someone told me there were lots of demonstrations against GW2 even in out-of-the-way US towns where little of a similar kind had happened for years.

Am I wrong that 911 in 2001 killed 'Vietnam syndrome'? Had it already disappeared by that time? I realise of course that it had declined.

Maybe someone could do a simple analysis of the number of occurrences of the word 'Vietnam' in major US newspapers every year since 1960. I reckon it fell off a cliff between 2001 and 2002.
Obama's domestic polices are worse than his foreign policies. He may wind up being the worst president in American history if he decides to continue to destroy public education, the New Deal, and other cherished Democratic Party ideals.

You're certainly from the perspective of an American living stateside - his employment/economic policies, his failure to stand up for the elderly and the disadvantaged, and his civil liberties abuses and complete contempt for the Bill of Rights are simply appalling.

A Pakistani or Afghan who has just seen his family get blown into red mist because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time might have a different point of view, though.

So, in principle, you'd have been okay with a British national being filmed by the newsreels manning the anti-aircraft installations in Dresden or Berlin? How would your family have reacted to such footage?
would it have been better had she done it without being filmed?

For her, it would certainly have been better ;-).

No, in an abstract sense it wouldn't...but she shouldn't have been surprised that pretending to fire on her own people might engender a negative reaction among a lot of the populace. It must have been a real nightmare for her agent ;-).

Lest we forget, Vietnam was mostly fought by draftees and nearly everyone had a friend or a relative who ended up there. Opposing the war didn't mean advocating for those who were trying to kill them (in self-defense or not).

One could oppose Vietnam without supporting the North Vietnamese, just as one could oppose Iraq without supporting Saddam and rushing to the aid of the Republican Guard.
Or perhaps it tells us about mass amnesia, Joe. I read some of these new-born pundit columns and realize that history is being made up on the fly. Too many so-called journalists seem to feel that if an event didn't happen while they were breathing in the world, then that event of series of news items can be reformulated to substantiate whatever point they're trying to make.

It would be funny if it weren't so sad. And dangerous.

Joe, if you believe Hilary Clinton would have apologized for voting for the war had it went well even though no WMDs were found, you are hard-core naeive.

And Obama's health care plan is a sellout to Big Pharma and Big Insurance. But if he apologizes for all the droning, I'll give him a rain check on this.

Nader third partyism vindicated on all fronts.

And so on.
b can look at Google Ngram Viewer to see how often words appeared in books each year up to 2008.

Pretty flat since the late 70s, except for a bump in the late 80s (Afghanistan maybe, the "Soviet Vietnam"?), and no visible effects from 9/11.
"So, in principle, you'd have been okay with a British national being filmed by the newsreels manning the anti-aircraft installations in Dresden or Berlin?"
That sounds as though it would involve a good action being presented in the (Nazi) media in such a way as to further a bad cause. Of course if someone's main aim was to help the bad cause, they would be being as manipulative as the controllers of the media. My scenario is not one involving people like those British idiots in Germany who joined things such as the pro-Nazi British Legion of St George. As far as I know, Jane Fonda wasn't like that.

For me the person's nationality is irrelevant. Aircraft flying on missions to massacre innocent people should be shot down. Loyalty should be to the working class, which has no country. It was right to shoot down US planes in Vietnam to prevent the massacre of Vietnamese people, and that should be realised by people who hold US passports the same as it should be by everyone else.

"How would your family have reacted to such footage?"
If it was interspersed with film supporting the Nazis, very negatively. Otherwise, probably positively, recognising the shared experience of being in a working class housing area being bombed from the air.

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