American Thinkers

What the Army in Kashmir Thinks …

Posted on April 18, 2018. Filed under: American Thinkers, Personalities, Searching for Success, Uncategorized |

This NYT Article by Phil Klay, a Marine Corps Vet, fully applies to the Indian Army in Kashmir and the NE – 
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“We’re at war while the Nation is at the Mall.”

I’m not sure when I first heard this in Iraq, but even back in 2007 it was already a well-worn phrase, the logical counterpart to George W. Bush’s arguing after the Sept. 11 attacks that we must not let the terrorists frighten us to the point “where people don’t shop.”

Marines had probably started saying it as early as 2002. “We’re at war while America is at the mall,” some lance corporal muttered to another as they shivered against the winds rushing down the valleys in the Hindu Kush. “We’re at war while America is at the mall,” some prematurely embittered lieutenant told his platoon sergeant as they drove up to Nasiriyah in a light armored vehicle.

Whatever the case, when I heard it, it sounded right. Just enough truth mixed with self-aggrandizement to appeal to a man in his early 20s. Back home was shopping malls and strip clubs.

Over here was death and violence and hope and despair. Back home was fast food and high-fructose corn syrup. Over here, we had bodies flooding the rivers of Iraq until people claimed it changed the taste of the fish. Back home they had aisles filled wall to wall with toothpaste, shaving cream, deodorant and body spray. Over here, sweating under the desert sun, we smelled terrible. We were at war, they were at the mall.

The old phrase popped back into my head recently while I was shopping for baby onesies on Long Island — specifically, in the discount section on the second floor of the Buy Buy Baby. Yes, I was at the mall, and America was still at war.

There’s something bizarre about being a veteran of a war that doesn’t end, in a country that doesn’t pay attention. At this point, I’ve been out of the military far longer than I was in, and the weight I place on the value of military life versus civilian life has shifted radically. On the one hand, I haven’t lost my certainty that Americans should be paying more attention to our wars and that our lack of attention truly does cost lives.

“We’ve claimed war-weariness, or ‘America First,’ and turned a blind eye to the slaughter of 500,000 people and suffering of millions more,” the former Marine Mackenzie Wolf pointed out in a March essay on America’s unconscionable lack of action in Syria up to that point.

On the other hand, I’m increasingly convinced that my youthful contempt for the civilians back home was not just misplaced, but obscene and, frankly, part of the problem.

After four United States soldiers assigned to the Army’s Third Special Forces Group were killed in an ambush in Niger, the American public had a lot of questions. Why were they in combat in Niger? What was their mission? How do you pronounce “Niger”?

Answering these questions would have required a complex, sustained discussion about how America projects force around the world, about expanding the use of Special Operations forces to 149 countries, and about whether we are providing those troops with well-thought-out missions and the resources to achieve them in the service of a sound and worthwhile national security strategy.

And since our troops were in Niger in a continuation of an Obama administration policy that began in 2013, it also would have meant discussing the way that administration ramped up “supervise, train and assist” missions in Africa, how it often tried to blur the line between advisory and combat missions to avoid public scrutiny, and how the Trump administration appears to have followed in those footsteps. It would have required, at a bare minimum, not using the deaths as material for neat, partisan parables.

Naturally, we didn’t have that conversation. Instead, a Democratic congresswoman who heard the president’s phone call to the widow of one of the fallen soldiers informed the news media that Mr. Trump had ineptly told the grieving woman that her husband “knew what he signed up for.”

Quickly, Americans shifted from a discussion of policy to a symbolic battle over which side, Democratic or Republican, wasn’t respecting soldiers enough. Had the president disrespected the troops with his comment? Had Democrats disrespected the troops by trying to use a condolence call for political leverage? Someone clearly had run afoul of an odd form of political correctness, “patriotic correctness.”

Since, as recent history has shown us, violating the rules of patriotic correctness is a far worse sin in the eyes of the American public than sending soldiers to die uselessly, the political battle became intense, and the White House was forced to respond. And since in a symbolic debate of this kind nothing is better than an old soldier, the retired Marine general and current chief of staff, John Kelly, was trotted out in an Oct. 19 news conference to defend the president.

He began powerfully enough, describing what happens to the bodies of soldiers killed overseas, and bringing up his own still painful memories of the loss of his son, who died in Afghanistan in 2010. He spoke with pride of the men and women in uniform.

But then, in an all too common move, he transitioned to expressing contempt for the civilian world. He complained that nothing seemed to be sacred in America anymore, not women, not religion, not even “the dignity of life.”

He told the audience that service members volunteer even though “there’s nothing in our country anymore that seems to suggest that selfless service to the nation is not only appropriate, but required.” He said veterans feel “a little bit sorry” for civilians who don’t know the joys of service.

To cap things off, he took questions only from reporters who knew families who had lost loved ones overseas. The rest of the journalists, and by extension the rest of the American public who don’t know any Gold Star families, were effectively told they had no place in the debate.

Such disdain for those who haven’t served and yet dare to have opinions about military matters is nothing new for Mr. Kelly. In a 2010 speech after the death of his son, Mr. Kelly improbably claimed that we were winning in Afghanistan, but that “you wouldn’t know it because successes go unreported” by members of the “‘know it all’ chattering class” who “always seem to know better, but have never themselves been in the arena.”

And he argued that to oppose the war, which our current secretary of defense last year testified to Congress we were not winning, meant “slighting our warriors and mocking their commitment to the nation.”

This is a common attitude among a significant faction of veterans. As one former member of the Special Forces put it in a social media post responding to the liberal outcry over the deaths in Niger, “We did what we did so that you can be free to naïvely judge us, complain about the manner in which we kept you safe” and “just all around live your worthless sponge lives.” 

His commentary, which was liked and shared thousands of times, is just a more embittered form of the sentiment I indulged in as a young lieutenant in Iraq.

It can be comforting to reverse the feelings of hopelessness and futility that come with fighting seemingly interminable, strategically dubious wars by enforcing a hierarchy of citizenship that puts the veteran and those close to him on top, and everyone else far, far below.

But John Kelly’s contempt for modern civilian life wasn’t a pep talk voiced in a Humvee traveling down an Iraqi highway, or at a veterans’ reunion in a local bar. He was speaking to the American people, with the authority of a retired general, on behalf of the president of the United States of America. And he was letting us know our place.

Those with questions about military policy are being put in their place more and more often these days. When reporters later asked the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, about some of Mr. Kelly’s claims, which had proved false, she said, “If you want to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general, I think that’s highly inappropriate.”

It was an echo of the way Sean Spicer tried to short-circuit debate about the death of a Navy SEAL in Yemen by claiming that anyone who questioned the success of the raid “owes an apology” to the fallen SEAL.

Serious discussion of foreign policy and the military’s role within it is often prohibited by this patriotic correctness. Yet, if I have authority to speak about our military policy it’s because I’m a citizen responsible for participating in self-governance, not because I belonged to a warrior caste.

If what I say deserves to be taken seriously, it’s because I’ve taken the time out of my worthless sponge life as a concerned American civilian to form a worthy opinion. Which means that although it is my patriotic duty to afford men like John Kelly respect for his service, and for the grief he has endured as the father of a son who died for our country, that is not where my responsibility as a citizen ends.

I must also assume that our military policy is of direct concern to me, personally. And if a military man tries to leverage the authority and respect he is afforded to voice contempt for a vast majority of Americans, if he tries to stifle their exercise of self-governance by telling them that to question the military strategy of our generals and our political leaders is a slight to our troops, it’s my patriotic duty to tell him to go pound sand.

If we don’t do this, we risk our country slipping further into the practice of a fraudulent form of American patriotism, where “soldiers” are sacred, the work of actual soldiering is ignored and the pageantry of military worship sucks energy away from the obligations of citizenship.

I understand why politicians and writers and institutions choose to employ the trope of veterans when it comes to arguing for their causes. Support for our military remains high at a time when respect for almost every other institution is perilously low, so pushing a military angle as a wedge makes a certain kind of sense. But our peacetime institutions are not justified by how they intermittently intersect with national security concerns — it’s the other way around.

Our military is justified only by the civic life and values it exists to defend. This is why George Washington, in his Farewell Orders to the Continental Army, told his troops to “carry with them into civil society the most conciliating dispositions” and “prove themselves not less virtuous and useful as citizens than they have been persevering and victorious as soldiers.”

Besides, let’s not pretend that living a civilian life — and living it well — isn’t hard. A friend of mine, an officer in the Army Reserves, told me that one of his greatest leadership challenges came not overseas, but when a deployment to Afghanistan got canceled and his men were called to the difficult and often tedious work of being husbands, fathers, members of a community.

My wife and I are raising two sons — the older one is 2 years old, the little one 6 months. And as we follow our national politics with occasional disgust, amusement, horror and hope, we regularly talk about the sort of qualities we want to impress upon our boys so they can be good citizens, and how we can help cultivate in them a sense of service, of gratitude for the blessings they have, and a desire to give back.

It’s a daunting responsibility. Right now, though, the day-to-day work of raising these kids doesn’t involve a lot of lofty rhetoric about service. It involves drool, diapers and doing the laundry. For me, it means being that most remarkable, and somehow most unremarkable of things — a dad.

Which is how I found myself that day, less a Marine veteran than a father, shopping with the other parents at Buy Buy Baby, recalling that old saying, “We’re at war while America is at the mall.” I wondered about the anonymous grunt poet who coined it. Whoever he was, there’s a good chance that even by the time I heard it, he’d already done his four years and gotten out.

Maybe he’d left the Corps, settled into civilian life. Maybe he was in school. Perhaps he was working as a schoolteacher, or as a much-derided civil servant in some corner of our government. Perhaps he found that work more satisfying, more hopeful and of more obvious benefit to his country than the work he’d done in our mismanaged wars.

Or perhaps, if he was as lucky as I have been, he was in some other mall doing exactly what I was — trying to figure out the difference between 6M and 3-6M baby onesies. If so, I wish him well.

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Trump, Cambridge ‘Analytica’ and FB …

Posted on March 27, 2018. Filed under: American Thinkers |

From ‘Mother Jones’ –  “The phenomenon Donald Trump”

The Cruz campaign was still in the process of unwinding when Cambridge, following the lead of its investors, the Mercers, offered its services to the Trump campaign.

As Nix courted the Trump campaign, he came up with an idea to boost the GOP nominee-in-waiting — one that was more in line with the political dirty tricks he and his colleagues would later discuss with Channel 4’s undercover reporter.

WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange had recently told a British TV station that he had come into possession of internal emails belonging to senior Clinton campaign officials — the result of a cyberattack later revealed to be the work of Russian hackers.

Nix reached out to Assange via his speaking agency, seeking a meeting. Nix reportedly hoped to get access to the emails and help Assange share them with the public — that is, he wanted to weaponize the information. According to both Nix and Assange, the WikiLeaks founder passed on his offer.

Nevertheless, by late June Nix had landed a contract with the Trump team. At first, a handful of Cambridge employees set up shop in San Antonio, where Parscale was running Trump’s digital operation out of his marketing firm’s offices. But Matt Oczkowski, Cambridge’s head of product, was eventually put in charge of the San Antonio office after Parscale relocated to campaign headquarters in Trump Tower.

What exactly Cambridge Analytica did for Trump remains murky, though in the days after the election, Nix’s firm blasted out one press release after another touting the “integral” and “pivotal” role it played in Trump’s shocking upset.

Nix later told Channel 4’s undercover reporter that Cambridge deserved much of the credit for Trump’s win. “We did all the research, all the data, all the analytics, all the targeting. We ran all the digital campaign, the television campaign, and our data informed all the strategy,” he said.

Another Cambridge executive suggested the firm had delivered Trump victories in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin — states crucial to his ultimate win. “When you think about the fact that Donald Trump lost the popular vote by 3 million votes but won the Electoral College vote, that’s down to the data and the research.”

Cambridge helped run an anti – Hillary Clinton online ad campaign for a Mercer-funded super-PAC that paid the company $1.2 million. The ads stated that Clinton “might be the first president to go to jail” and echoed conspiracy theories about her health.

But according to multiple Republican sources familiar with Cambridge’s work for Trump, the firm played at best a minor role in Trump’s victory. Parscale has said that $5 million of the $5.9 million the Trump campaign paid Cambridge was for a large TV ad buy.

During an interview with 60 Minutes last fall, Parscale dismissed the company’s psychographic methods: “I just don’t think it works.”

Trump’s secret strategy, he said, wasn’t secret at all: The campaign went all-in on Facebook, making full use of the platform’s advertising tools. “Donald Trump won,” Parscale said, “but I think Facebook was the method.”

Nix, however, seemed determined to capitalize on Trump’s victory. Cambridge opened a new office a few blocks from the White House, where Bannon would soon take on his new role as Trump’s chief political strategist. (Bannon retained his stake in the firm, valued between $1 million and $5 million, until April 2017, months after Trump took office.)

SCL, its UK-based affiliate, eventually relocated its global headquarters from London to Arlington, Virginia, and began chasing government work, quickly landing a $500,000 State Department contract to monitor the impact of foreign propaganda.

SCL briefly signed on Lt. General Michael Flynn as an adviser and later hired a former Flynn associate to run its DC office.

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Trump vs Stormy Daniels …

Posted on March 26, 2018. Filed under: American Thinkers, Personalities |

From The New Yorker –

A running gag in political journalism is that all the bombshells drop late on a Friday, by the time most reporters are done for the week and our public servants and institutions are expected to be done making news.

And sure enough, last week the Trump administration sent shockwaves through Washington with the late-Friday firing of Andrew McCabe, a former deputy of dismissed FBI director James Comey, mere days before he was set to enjoy what he calls his “long-planned, earned retirement.”

Planned or not, the upheaval that followed McCabe’s dismissal effectively buried what could soon become the most significant arbitration dispute in all of American history.

That same evening, Donald Trump — through Charles Harder, the lawyer best known for helping Peter Thiel put Gawker out of business — attached his name to a court filing that, for the first time, linked him to Stephanie Clifford – the woman, better known in the adult-film industry and now the world of politics as Stormy Daniels, was fighting for her right to be ungagged — to speak freely and publicly about an affair she had with Trump over a decade ago, while he and his third wife Melania were awaiting the birth of their son Barron.

But before Harder filed that document in federal court last week, Trump was nowhere to be seen. The White House had denied any sexual encounters ever happened, the president was uncharacteristically silent about Clifford on Twitter, and his other lawyer and perennial fixer, Michael Cohen, had repeatedly denied that his client had anything to do with her.

No more: “Mr. Trump intends to pursue his rights to the fullest extent permitted by law,” Harder wrote. By which he meant that Trump intended to seek enforcement of a non-disclosure agreement, to the tune of $20 million, that Cohen had made Clifford sign less than two weeks before the 2016 presidential election.

In exchange for her silence, Clifford accepted $130,000 from Cohen, who reportedly took out a home-equity loan to execute the payoff. Because who amongst us hasn’t done that at some point.

A cruel irony of this “hush agreement,” as Clifford put it in her own lawsuit seeking to free herself from it, is that it was signed on October 28, 2016 — the same day Comey, in a letter to Congress, may have cost Hillary Clinton the presidential election.

The volatility of that political moment lends credence to Clifford’s charge that Cohen, in concert with Trump and his campaign, “aggressively sought to silence Ms. Clifford as part of an effort to avoid her telling her truth, thus helping to ensure he won” the presidency, according to court papers her lawyer, Michael Avenatti, filed in a Los Angeles county court.

That opens up another front for the already legally beleaguered Trump: If there’s any truth to this coordination, and the Federal Election Commission substantiates it, the unreported hush money may have well violated campaign finance laws.

Cohen, for his part, has insisted that he just did this to help out a longtime client, benefactor, and friend. “People are mistaking this for a thing about the campaign,” Cohen told Vanity Fair this week. “What I did defensively for my personal client, and my friend, is what attorneys do for their high-profile clients. I would have done it in 2006. I would have done it in 2011. I truly care about him and the family — more than just as an employee and an attorney.”

But do friends really take out home-equity loans, create shell companies in Delaware, use fake names, and draw up legally dubious, if not wholly unenforceable, NDAs to force someone else’s silence? For all we know, Cohen could even lose his New York law license for engaging in such shady tactics.

The brilliance of Clifford’s legal and public-relations moves, including this Sunday’s long-awaited interview with Anderson Cooper on 60 Minutes, is that they outmaneuver Trump at every turn — which may explain his own reticence about the whole thing since the Wall Street Journal blew the lid off it in January.

In a wide-ranging article exploring the seven-year saga, there’s a fantastic quote attributed to Cohen, whom Clifford is accusing of breaching the hush agreement because he himself confirmed its existence to the press. “I didn’t fucking breach it!” Cohen is said to have yelled, according to the Journal, sounding every bit like any concerned friend would.

Clifford has got her share of friends, too. Men and women of good conscience are coming forward to her aid. In a crowdfunding page she set up to help offset her legal fees, nearly 9,000 people have pledged close to $286,000 to support her cause — what she deems a quest “to speak honestly and openly to the American people about my relationship with now President Donald Trump and the intimidation and tactics used against me.”

Perhaps to assuage concerned family men who may be worried her name may appear on their credit card statements, Clifford clarified that only the name of the crowdfunding site would appear: “There is no reference to Stormy Daniels or Stephanie Clifford.”

When all is said and done, Avenatti may even agree, if he hasn’t already, to do this pro bono. The media-friendly lawyer has become a celebrity of sorts since the scandal broke — late on Thursday, he teased his client’s upcoming cable appearance by tweeting out a mysterious image of a CD, as if to suggest that there’s documentary evidence of Trump’s tryst with Stormy.

“If a picture is worth a thousand words, how many words is this worth?????” Avenatti wrote on Trump’s favorite medium.

In a quick call with New York on Friday, Avenatti said Clifford’s 60 Minutes interview will help to dispel many misconceptions about the woman he represents. “I hope the American people will know a lot about my client,” he said. “How smart she is. How comfortable in her own skin she is. And how credible she is.”

Unable to bury the story any longer, Trump may even tune in himself.

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Viet Nam – the ‘Why’ …

Posted on March 17, 2018. Filed under: American Thinkers, Personalities |

Edwin O. Reischauer – By Paul M. Bourke –  The Man Who Knew too Much About Vietnam —- Paul M. Bourke was a Japan specialist with the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The article is based on a paper he wrote while studying for a master in international affairs at Columbia University.

Few Americans viewed the Vietnam War in hindsight at the time, even after several years of fighting. People worried about where it was headed and whether it could be won. Few people were asking, yet, how it happened. Except Edwin O. Reischauer.

Throughout 1967, Reischauer, a professor of East Asian studies at Harvard and a former American ambassador to Japan, offered a rare and alternative analysis of Vietnam, the United States and Asia that has stood the test of time. Reischauer’s congressional testimony in 1967 and subsequent book, “Beyond Vietnam: The United States and Asia,” were all the more remarkable for being able to point to warnings he had made himself in the 1950s, about American involvement in Indochina, which had become a reality by 1967.

Born in Japan to Presbyterian missionary parents in 1910, Reischauer lived there until he was 16, and spoke Japanese fluently. He earned a doctorate in Asian studies from Harvard, where he subsequently taught Far East history and languages. From 1942 to 1945, he served in military intelligence at the War Department, and after the war with the Office of Far Eastern Affairs at the State Department.

He eventually went back to teaching at Harvard, but President John Kennedy pulled him back into government service as his ambassador to Japan,  a job he held from 1961 to 1966 — a rare instance of placing an expert, rather than a political appointee, in a high-profile embassy.

While still at Harvard, Reischauer was openly critical of the Manichean dualism of communism versus the free world promoted fervently by Eisenhower’s Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles. In 1955, he published “Wanted: An Asian Policy,” in which he argued that the American stand against Communism in Korea could not be replicated across the rest of Asia. In fact, he wrote, the United States was already making the mistake of exporting that model to Southeast Asia, where it was supporting the French effort to reimpose colonial rule. “Indochina shows how absurdly wrong we are to battle Asian nationalism instead of aiding it,” he wrote. “The French failure to relinquish Indochina has put a heavy burden on the United States financially and could end by costing us dearly in lives.”

As ambassador, he also saw how America’s ill-conceived war in Vietnam was poisoning relations elsewhere in Asia, especially Japan. The Japanese public identified with the North Vietnamese as the subjects of American bombing and were concerned about Japan being drawn into a widening conflict between the United States and China.

Due in part to his increasing unwillingness to argue the case for America’s involvement in Vietnam to the Japanese, Reischauer resigned his post as ambassador in August 1966 and returned to Harvard, where he was free to express his misgivings about the Vietnam War in speeches and papers.

Reischauer was called to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in January 1967, just as its members were starting to voice their skepticism about the optimistic reports they received on Vietnam from the State Department and from the ambassador to South Vietnam, Ellsworth Bunker. Chaired by Senator J. William Fulbright, the committee was increasingly of the view that a negotiated settlement between North and South Vietnam, not an American military victory over North Vietnam, would be the most likely way for the country to end its military involvement.

As he was in “Wanted: An Asian Policy,” in his opening statement to the committee, the scholar and diplomat was unequivocal that the United States could and should have avoided getting bogged down in Vietnam. It should never have backed French attempts to reimpose colonial rule in Vietnam. It should never have assumed the French mantle in Vietnam after France was defeated by the Viet Minh in 1954. It should never have assumed that the political strategies used against Communism in Europe would work in developing countries in Asia.

“We have failed sometimes to understand the deeply rooted historic forces at work in Asia — anticolonialism, nationalism, the eagerness to wipe out past humiliations and the determination to advance rapidly without losing national identity,” Reischauer said, reading from his statement. This was a theme he developed more fully in his book “Beyond Vietnam,” restating his view that the United States had failed to harness Asian nationalism as the means of countering the Communists, who did harness nationalism to their ends in Vietnam and elsewhere in Asia.

Reischauer was not the only person in the political establishment making this point in 1967, but he was the only one who had been making it consistently for over a decade. It was a conclusion he had made in 1955, in “Wanted: An Asian Policy”: “Indochina is the classic case in which the Communists have utilized nationalism effectively against us.” It should have been the other way around. Looking back on the lessons of the Korean War and the danger signs he pointed to in 1955, Reischauer wrote in 1967: “Storm warnings might be up in Vietnam, but we were not prepared to recognize them. We continued to drift toward new catastrophes.”

Reischauer maintained that the United States should not be the agent of political, social or economic change in Asia but should provide economic support to those countries seeking self-determination and to develop themselves. As for the imposition of Communism across Asia by China or the Soviet Union, Reischauer did not see the project succeeding. He pointed to the Vietnamese as the people least likely to yield to the control of Communist China, with Vietnam’s long history of resisting Chinese domination likely to reassert itself if the Vietnamese nationalists won the war.

Surprisingly, Reischauer did not advocate a negotiated settlement or rapid withdrawal, at least not yet. The former was unrealistic; the latter would cause immense damage to American credibility. Having entered the fight and shaped it in its interest, America now had no choice but to see it through. In “Beyond Vietnam,” he argued that a negotiated settlement would be possible only if the Communists came to understand that the United States would stay the course in Vietnam. At the same time, the South Vietnamese government had to become better at serving the interests of its people. “It should be made clear that Saigon is in the process of achieving the very things for which some Viet Cong supporters feel they are fighting,” he suggested.

By early 1968, Reischauer had abandoned his belief that the United States should continue in Vietnam. Just before the Tet offensive, he joined with 10 other Harvard scholars in a telegram to President Lyndon Johnson urging that he enter into negotiations toward a settlement including the Vietcong. He also appeared again in front of Congress, before the House Asia and Pacific Affairs Subcommittee, in February 1968. In keeping with the views he expressed in 1955 and 1967, he told the subcommittee: “We have imagined ourselves as building a military dike against an on-rushing Communist wave. But there has been no wave. The real problem has proved to be the swampy economic and political terrain behind the dike we were attempting to raise. It was the local ground water that was undermining political structures. When this threatened to happen in Vietnam, the heavy machines we brought in to heighten the military dikes proved unmaneuverable in the swampy land and, by breaking through the thin crust of the bog, made it even less capable of maintaining the sagging political structure.”

Reischauer was about as far from the culture of the antiwar movement as one could get, and yet his scholarly and professional insights did much to complement the multitudes filling the streets. Senator Fulbright, among others, listened to him closely; in March 1968, he read a statement from Reischauer and other Harvard scholars arguing against escalation during the televised testimony of Secretary of State Dean Rusk.

Reischauer was the rare breed of academic, one who, when the moment called, brought his estimable intellect to bear on the most important issue of the day. It says much about the state of American politics at the time that, until it was too late, too few people listened.

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Viet Nam – An Execution Caught on Camera …

Posted on February 2, 2018. Filed under: American Thinkers, Eloquence, Personalities |

Eddie Adams’ iconic Vietnam War photo n What happened next.

Photo – journalist Eddie Adams captured one of the most famous images of the Vietnam War – the very instant of an execution during the chaos of the Tet Offensive. It would bring him a lifetime of glory – but as James Jeffrey writes, also of sorrow.

The snub-nosed pistol is already recoiling in the man’s outstretched arm as the prisoner’s face contorts from the force of a bullet entering his skull. To the left of the frame, a watching soldier seems to be grimacing in shock.

It’s hard to not feel the same repulsion, and guilt, with the knowledge one is looking at the precise moment of death. Ballistic experts say the picture – which became known as Saigon Execution – shows the microsecond the bullet entered the man’s head.

Eddie Adams’s photo of Brigadier General Nguyen Ngoc Loan shooting a Viet Cong prisoner is considered one of the most influential images of the Vietnam War.

At the time, the image was reprinted around the world and came to symbolize for many the brutality and anarchy of the war. It also galvanized growing sentiment in America about the futility of the fight – that the war was unwinnable.

“There’s something in the nature of a still image that deeply affects the viewer and stays with them,” says Ben Wright, associate director for communications at the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History.

The centre, based at the University of Texas at Austin, houses Adams’s archive of photos, documents and correspondence. “The film footage of the shooting, while ghastly, doesn’t evoke the same feelings of urgency and stark tragedy.”

But the photo did not – could not – fully explain the circumstances on the streets of Saigon on 1 February 1968, two days after the forces of the People’s Army of Vietnam and the Viet Cong launched the Tet Offensive. Dozens of South Vietnamese cities were caught by surprise.

Heavy street fighting had pitched Saigon into chaos when South Vietnamese military caught a suspected Viet Cong squad leader, Nguyen Van Lem, at the site of a mass grave of more than 30 civilians. Adams began taking photos as Lem was frogmarched through the streets to Loan’s jeep.

Loan stood beside Lem before pointing his pistol at the prisoner’s head. “I thought he was going to threaten or terrorise the guy,” Adams recalled afterwards, “so I just naturally raised my camera and took the picture.”

Lem was believed to have murdered the wife and six children of one of Loan’s colleagues. The general fired his pistol. “If you hesitate, if you didn’t do your duty, the men won’t follow you,” the general said about the suddenness of his actions.

Loan played a crucial role during the first 72 hours of the Tet Offensive, galvanising troops to prevent the fall of Saigon, according to Colonel Tullius Acampora, who worked for two years as the US Army’s liaison officer to Loan.

Adams said his immediate impression was that Loan was a “cold, callous killer”. But after travelling with him around the country he revised his assessment. “He is a product of modern Vietnam and his time,” Adams said in a dispatch from Vietnam.

By May the following year, the photo had won Adams a Pulitzer Prize for spot news photography.

But despite this crowning journalistic achievement and letters of congratulation from fellow Pulitzer winners, President Richard Nixon and even school children across America, the photo would come to haunt Adams.

“I was getting money for showing one man killing another,” Adams said at a later awards ceremony. “Two lives were destroyed, and I was getting paid for it. I was a hero.”

Adams and Loan stayed in touch, even becoming friends after the general fled South Vietnam at the end of the war for the United States. But upon Loan’s arrival, US Immigration and Nationalization Services wanted to deport him, a move influenced by the photo.

They approached Adams to testify against Loan, but Adams instead testified in his favour. Adams even appeared on television to explain the circumstances of the photograph.

Congress eventually lifted the deportation and Loan was allowed to stay, opening a restaurant in a Washington, DC suburb serving hamburgers, pizza and Vietnamese dishes. An old Washington Post newspaper article photo shows an older smiling Loan sitting at the restaurant counter.

But he was eventually forced into retirement when publicity about his past soured business. Adams recalled that on his last visit to the restaurant he found abusive graffiti about Loan scrawled in the toilet.

Hal Buell, Adams’ Photo Editor at the AP, says the Saigon Execution still holds sway 50 years later because the photo, “in one frame, symbolizes the full war’s brutality”.

“Like all icons, it summarises what has gone before, captures a current moment and, if we are smart enough, tells us something about the future brutality all wars promise.”

And Buell says the experience taught Adams about the limits of a single photograph telling a whole story.

“Eddie is quoted as saying that photography is a powerful weapon,” Buell says. “Photography by its nature is selective. It isolates a single moment, divorcing that moment from the moments before and after that possibly lead to adjusted meaning.”

Adams went on to an expansive photography career, winning more than 500 photojournalism awards and photographing high-profile figures including Ronald Reagan, Fidel Castro and Malcolm X. But despite all he achieved after Vietnam, the moment of his most famous photograph would always remain with Adams.

“Two people died in that Photograph,” Adams wrote following Loan’s death from cancer in 1998. “The general killed the Viet Cong; I killed the general with my camera.”

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With Words we Rule Men or like Trump we seek ‘Trouble’ …

Posted on October 3, 2017. Filed under: American Thinkers, Public Speaking |

In the Bible, reticence is a virtue. “Even fools are thought wise when they keep silent,” we are told in Proverbs 17:28. “With their mouths shut, they seem intelligent.”

An Americanized version of this saying, often misattributed to Abraham Lincoln or Mark Twain, is that it is better to remain silent and appear foolish than to speak and remove all doubt.

Or as Winston Churchill purportedly said, “We are masters of the unsaid words, but slaves of those we let slip out.”

Kori Schake, a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution who served in key policy roles at the White House, Pentagon and Foggy Bottom during George W. Bush’s presidency, explained why Trump’s “fire and fury” threat was so dangerous back in August. Her piece for the Atlantic is as relevant today as it was seven weeks ago. This is the key paragraph:

“In 1949, the United States withdrew its military forces from the Korean Peninsula. Secretary of State Dean Acheson then gave an important speech defining American national-security interests — which notably excluded Korea.

‘It’s not the drawing down of U.S. forces but rather Acheson’s speech that is commonly cited as the signal of American abandonment of South Korea. Words matter: Acheson didn’t cause the Korean war, but his words are remembered as the provocation.

‘Words especially matter between societies that poorly understand each other’s motivations and intentions, as do North Korea and the U.S. We can afford to be sloppy in our formulations among friends, where cultural similarity or exposure give context, but neither of those circumstances pertain with North Korea.”

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Viet Nam War – What Americans did Wrong …

Posted on September 22, 2017. Filed under: American Thinkers |

George C. Herring, an emeritus professor of history at the University of Kentucky, is the author of “America’s Longest War: The United States and Vietnam, 1950-1975.”

From the early stages of the Vietnam War, American officials insisted that winning the hearts and Minds (WHAM) of the South Vietnamese people was the key to victory.

But the Americans tasked with carrying out that strategy were ill equipped, linguistically and culturally, to make it work. And in the end, that deficit destroyed whatever good will might have existed on either side and doomed America’s foray into Vietnam to failure.

Bui Diem, South Vietnam’s ambassador to Washington from 1965 to 1972, once called the two countries “peoples quite apart.” And indeed, American and Vietnamese culture had little contact before 1950. Americans understanding of the country’s language, history, religious traditions, etiquette or politics was abysmal.

The cultural disjunction was exacerbated by a strategic one: While the two nations agreed on the fundamental goal of preserving an independent, non-Communist South Vietnam, the stakes of the war for each were grossly disproportionate. The United States sought merely to uphold its credibility – South Vietnam fought for its existence.

Theirs was a patron-client relationship. The United States, the world’s strongest country and still riding high off its victory in World War II, was confident in its power — and its virtue. It expected to lead and to be followed. In contrast, the South Vietnamese, citizens of a fragile state newly freed from colonial rule and threatened by internal insurgency and external invasion, recognized their desperate need for American help but they were also acutely sensitive to dominance by an outside power. They struggled to uphold their dignity and autonomy.

Between 1950 and 1965, America’s role in the region, while significant in terms of money and matériel, occupied a limited footprint in the lives of everyday Vietnamese. That changed between 1965 and 1967, when the Americanization of the war brought hundreds of thousands of troops and civilians into the country and put an American face on the increasingly widespread destruction wrought by both sides.

Bui Diem noted the absence of communication between the two peoples during the major escalation in 1965, the “un-self-conscious arrogance” of the Americans and the impotence of the South Vietnamese. “The Americans came in like bulldozers and the South Vietnamese followed their lead without a thought of dissent.”

After 1965, the United States took on the burden of defeating the enemy militarily. It declined to establish a combined command structure with the South Vietnamese – as it had in Korea. It relegated the Army of the Republic of Vietnam to pacification, a task many Vietnamese considered demeaning. Americanization of the war also produced among South Vietnamese a “takeover effect,” by letting the Americans fight the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese.

Tragically, American actions encouraged dependency in a nation whose independence it sought to sustain.

As the American presence swelled, tensions between the two peoples grew. Vietnamese resented the way their visitors looked down on them and imposed their ways on a presumably inferior people. They were annoyed by American impatience.

Some envied the opulent lifestyle of the Americans, with their enormous bases equipped with all the conveniences of home, including air conditioning, shopping centers and movie houses. Others protested that the troops acted “despicably” toward them, speeding their trucks and cars through traffic at life-threatening speeds.

Some claimed that America dispensed aid as though it were being “given to a beggar.”

Most of all, many South Vietnamese resented their dependence on their ally and its suffocating presence in their lives. Some labeled the “American occupation” a “demoralizing scourge.”

Vietnamese recognized that the Americans were not “colonialists,” the journalist Robert Shaplen observed, but he perceptively added, “there has evolved here a colonial ambience that can sometimes be worse than colonialism itself.”

In the bonanza atmosphere that followed Americanization, South Vietnam’s economy centered upon serving the needs of the new arrivals. Prostitution became a special problem. As the number of Americans in Saigon surged into the tens of thousands, the number of houses of ill repute expanded proportionally, provoking criticism in the United States and South Vietnam.

Senator J. William Fulbright of Arkansas fumed that Saigon had become an “American brothel.” South Vietnamese Catholics and President Nguyen Van Thieu were especially concerned about prostitution and pleaded with American officials to do something about the suffocating presence of so many troops.

The result was Operation Moose (Move Out of Saigon Expeditiously), implemented mostly during 1967. Thousands of G.I.s moved to base camps outside the city (where the prostitutes soon followed), some joking that they had been “Moosed.” Saigon was also declared off limits for R & R. The pace was sufficiently slow that the operation was unofficially tagged Goose (Get Out of Saigon Eventually).

The exodus left around 7,900 American soldiers in the city. Moose did not satisfy President Thieu and it provided no more than a partial solution to the prostitution problem. It also left Saigon more vulnerable to the urban attacks launched by the Viet Cong during the 1968 Tet offensive.

The American way of war also inflicted a huge toll on village life in South Vietnam. To limit its own casualties and cope with unfamiliar and often inhospitable terrain, the United States unleashed extraordinary firepower on the country it was trying to save. Areas of suspected enemy strength were bombed and shelled and burned with napalm, often with little consideration of its impact on civilians. Defoliants were used to deny the enemy food and cover, with horrific short- and long-term consequences for Vietnamese.

American firepower destroyed homes, villages and crops and alienated those whose hearts and minds were to be won. American commanders declared entire areas free-fire zones.

Troops would round up villagers, burn their hooches and relocate them from their ancestral lands into squalid refugee camps. The area would then be bombed and shelled.

During Operation Cedar Falls in 1967, Americans forcibly relocated some 6,000 civilians from the village of Ben Suc. Caught between the Viet Cong and the Americans, villagers who wanted only to be left alone became sullen or outright hostile. By early 1967, over 1.5 million refugees had drifted into urban slums, where they were susceptible to Viet Cong propaganda.

To be sure, many Americans developed close ties with Vietnamese. Many also committed acts of kindness such as providing medical care and food to people in need. Especially in the early years and in remote areas, American advisers formed attachments with Vietnamese soldiers and villagers. Thousands of troops married Vietnamese women.

Still, most Americans arrived in the country without knowledge of the land and the people. “My time in Vietnam is the memory of ignorance,” one soldier later wrote. Not knowing the language or culture, the Americans did not know what the people felt, or even at times how to tell friend from foe. “What we need is some kind of litmus paper than turns red when it’s near a Communist,” one officer half-jokingly told a journalist.

Relations with South Vietnamese soldiers were likewise strained. Unaware of the difficulties their counterparts labored under, American troops disparaged their fighting qualities. The newcomers expected the people they were defending to offer the sort of gratitude they believed their fathers had gained for liberating France in World War II. When instead they encountered indifference or even hostility, they grew resentful.

For many Americans, the South Vietnamese became an object of contempt, even hatred. “The people were treacherous,” one soldier later recalled. “They say ‘G.I. No. 1’ when we’re in the village, but at night the dirty little rats are V.C.” The ability of the villagers to step around mines and booby traps that killed and maimed Americans provoked suspicion of collusion — and anger.

Americans also brought with them deeply entrenched racist attitudes that prompted the use of slurs such as “gook” and “dink,” which they applied to enemy and friend alike.

Contempt could quickly change to a rage that might be turned on Vietnamese civilians. During the summer and fall of 1967, the notorious Tiger Force, an elite commando unit, was assigned to remove civilians from the Song Ve River Valley, suspected to be a source of rice for Viet Cong units. The very name of the mission, Operation Rawhide, suggested a cattle roundup, which had a dehumanizing effect.

When the civilians resisted, the Tigers vented their rage by burning their villages. Unhappy with the assignment and under constant fire from enemy snipers, the Americans declared the area a free-fire zone and shot anything that moved, resulting in the brutal killing of numerous civilians.

Nevertheless, the Tigers were assigned another, similar mission, to remove civilians from Quang Tin province. Early in the operation, they were caught in a deadly ambush and suffered heavy losses. After that, all restraints came off. Commanders abetted their vengeance by setting a body count goal of 327 kills (to match the number of the 327th Infantry Regiment, of which the Tigers were a part).

The Tigers proceeded to kill hundreds of civilians and compounded their crime by mutilating the bodies of victims, including old women and even babies. The carnage stopped only when the operation ended in November.

The actions of the Tiger Force were replicated with even more savage results at My Lai, in Quang Ngai province, in February 1968, where American soldiers killed hundreds of Vietnamese civilians. Such atrocities were not typical of American behavior, and even at My Lai there were soldiers who pushed back against their commanders’ orders to kill.

Nevertheless, the atrocious violence reflected attitudes toward Vietnamese that divided the two peoples and made the Vietnamese subservient to Americans. Given the frustrations and failures and mounting casualties of the American war effort, atrocities were perhaps only a matter of time.

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The BBC on TRUMP …

Posted on August 24, 2017. Filed under: American Thinkers, Personalities |

From Katty Kay, BBC –

There’s been some speculation recently that Donald Trump’s luck is finally running out and his support among Republicans is about to collapse. I don’t buy it.
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There is almost no indication in a slew of post-Charlottesville polls that President Trump’s supporters are on the verge of abandoning him.
Indeed, I was told by a Wisconsin-based reporter this week that his support among Republicans has increased there. That makes total sense to me.
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To understand why somewhere between 35-38% of Americans consistently approve of the job Mr Trump is doing, you need to reframe the way you look at his voters.
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It’s not what they are for that matters, it’s what they are against. So it’s not that a third of US voters are fervently on the side of Donald Trump – what’s more relevant is that they are adamantly on the opposing side of a culture war that’s been brewing here since the 1980s.
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Look at it like that and you can see why it doesn’t really matter what Mr Trump achieves or doesn’t achieve. He defies the normal metrics for success because his voters don’t so much support him for what he does as they adore him for what he’s against.
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Mr Trump is against the political establishment (the media, the Republican Party, political grandees like the Bushes and the Clintons) and change (which encompasses everything you had but fear you are losing) and he’s against the world (which has taken jobs and sent immigrants to take over America).
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You can trace the roots of this culture war back to Ronald Reagan’s moral majority. Historians may even go back to the civic explosions of the 1960s.
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If you believe America is engaged in a life-or-death battle over its identity, in which the past looks golden and the future looks, well, brown-ish, then Mr Trump sounds like he’s on your side.
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If you believe the forces driving that unwelcome change are the media and immigration, then Mr Trump’s Arizona speech is music to your ears. It explains why every long minute spent trashing the press makes perfect political sense.
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Conservatives in the American heartland have long believed, with some justification, that they can’t get a fair hearing in America’s mainstream press, which they see as overwhelmingly coastal and liberal. They believe the press has made it impossible for them to win elections.
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In a poll out today by Quinnipiac University, 80% of Republicans say they trust Mr Trump more than the media.
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No wonder his favourite enemy is the fake news. What this also means is that if Mr Trump continues to fail to rack up any major legislative achievements that would actually help his supporters, he, and they, have a built-in excuse.
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In fact I’m hearing about three different scapegoats. Jerry, I’ll call him that, is a mild-mannered African American in his early 70s from West Virginia. He grew up under segregation and it was to his family’s deep dismay that he voted for Mr Trump last year.
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He believes Mr Trump understands that America needs more discipline: no more young men walking round with their jeans halfway down their butts showing off their boxers, was how he described it to me. Jerry hankers for a time when young men dressed well, behaved well and didn’t answer back to their elders.
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When I asked him if he’d be disappointed if Mr Trump failed to live up to his campaign promises of healthcare reform, tax reform and making American manufacturing great again, Jerry was clear. Mr Trump, he said, would probably never achieve any of those things for three reasons – the media, the Russia investigation and the Republican Party.
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But he didn’t even really care – those are details, he said. What matters is that the president understands what America should be like. Mr Trump himself has understood this, viscerally, all along. He realised the power of tapping into cultural anger. Remember back in January 2016 during the campaign when he said: “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”
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He knew he had no limits.
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Today’s Quinnipiac poll isn’t good news for the president. By almost every metric, his overall support is ticking down. But on issues of trust, leadership, strength, values, he still has the support of a majority of Republicans. And his base is more solid still. I’m not saying Donald Trump will win again in 2020 but, given the complicated formula of American electoral maths, it’s certainly not impossible.
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He won by just tens of thousands of votes in three key states. If those votes are still there as he runs for a second term, what’s to say he can’t win again?

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The US – Much Maligned …

Posted on August 19, 2017. Filed under: American Thinkers |

Robert Fredrikberg writes –

British policy in the 19th century was that its navy should be as large as the next two combined.

Air power is the most important thing these days. The US Air Force is vastly larger than anyone else’s.

So you might ask, who has the second largest air force? The second largest air force in the world is the air force of the US Navy! The Navy’s air force is larger than any other country’s whole air force.
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And the US Army has a third air force on top of that. So, totally dominant, basically. And it could stand a little cutting and still be totally dominant.

A number of commentators have brought up other powers. It seems to me that they are missing the point. What other country could wage a several year long war on the other side of the planet? None.

There are only a few countries that could even send in helicopters to rescue a hostage on the other side of the planet – without help.

Of course the US doesn’t always win. Of course it’s wrong most times. That’s not really the point. And I’m not even necessarily saying the situation is good.

It’s just a fact.

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Something for Mankind …

Posted on August 9, 2017. Filed under: American Thinkers, Guide Posts, Personalities |

Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr was a jurist and Supreme Court Justice for 30 yrs. He is famous for his concise, pithy, prescient opinions and remains one of the most widely cited Supreme Court justices. He is the author of the phrase, “clear and present danger.” These extracts are from his thought

ATTITUDE is more important than heritage, than education, than money, than circumstances, than what people do or say; it is also more important than appearance, giftedness, or skill.

Carve every word before you let it fall. A word is not a crystal, transparent and unchanged; it is the skin of a living thought and may vary in color and content according to the circumstances and time in which it is used. Don’t be ‘consistent but be true.

Every event that a man would master must be mounted on the run, and no man ever caught the reins of a thought except as it galloped past him. Man’s mind, stretched by a new idea, never goes back to its original dimensions.

A moment’s insight is sometimes worth a life’s experience. A new and valid idea is stronger than an army. The greatest thing in this world is not so much where we are, but in what direction we are tending. The rule of joy and the law of duty seem to me all one.

Most of the things we do, we do for no better reason than that our fathers have done them or our neighbors do them, and the same is true of a larger part of what we think. People talk fundamentals and superlatives and then make some changes of detail.

To have doubted one’s own first principles is the mark of a civilized man. Truth is tough. It will not break, like a bubble, at the touch, nay, you may kick it about all day like a football, and it will be round and full at evening.

The only prize much cared for by the powerful is power. Yet nothing is so commonplace that it has not the wish to be remarkable.

Beware how you take away hope from any human being.

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