Category Archives: Military

Images, flags, burning desires, and Vietnam


Following up on our previous post about Donald Trump’s to criminalize and deport folks who burn flags as a means of protesting malignant policies of the American government, we are old enough to remember the Vietnam War, the American government’s failed effort to cement a regime in then-South Vietnam that would dance to a tune orchestrated in Washington.

At the start of World War II, Vietnam was part of the French colony of Indochina, and during the war, Japan invaded and seized control of the region, and a powerful guerilla movement spring up under Ho Chi Minh — who was provided with arms and advisors by the Allies.

Nine years after the war’s end, Vietnam was ruled by Emperor Bao Dai, who had grown increasingly unpopular, Ho’s forces, meanwhile had turned against the French, inflicting a disastrous and decisive defeat of a trapped French army at the battle of Dien Bien Phu on 7 May 1954.

As a result, the nation was partitioned at, with the north governed by Ho and his allies, and Bao Dai ruling in the South, with an election to be held in 1956 to decide on reunification and the leadership of a united Vietnam.

But with U.S. back, Ngô Ðình Diêm defeated Bao Dai in a 1954 election in the south, and the U.S. began pouring in military aid while cutting off the north from sorely needed access to resources.

That same year, as the Pentagon Papers noted, “President Eisenhower is widely quoted to the effect that in 1954 as many as 80% of the Vietnamese people would have voted for Ho Chi Minh, as the popular hero of their liberation, in an election against Bao Dai.”

Since neither the U.S. nor the South Vietnamese governed had signed the treaty calling for the elections, the vote was never held [talk about yer foreign interference in an election. . .].

The stage was thus set for war, and events in Vietnam were elevated into a major Cold War confrontation, with the Soviet Union backing Ho and the U.S. backing Diem.

The U.S. spent lavishly supporting Diem’s military, while Soviewt aid to the North was less extensive, although it did include the war’s decisive weapon, tjhe virtually indestructible AK-47 Kalashnikov assault rifle, a weapon more durable than any then used by the U.S., and still in use among guerilla forces around the world.

The North supported guerilla forces in the south, the famous Viet Cong, and they steadily eroded the Diem military.

Under John F. Kennedy, American military “advisers” were dispatched to the South, quickly assuming combat roles before becoming the dominant force supporting the Diem regime.

But Diem, a member of the country’s small Catholic community, was immensely unpopular among the country’s majority Buddhists, and the first and most dramatic instance of protest involving fire occurred on 11 June 1963, when in protest of Diem’s repression of the country’s Buddhists, a monk named Thích Quang Duc immolated himself at an intersection just a few short blocks from the Presidential Palace in Saigon.

Images of the act prompted a wave of outrage against Diem that swept around the world:

blog-fire-monk

As the war intensified, the draft began to loom larger in the lives of young American men, many of whom could see no valid reason for killing and being killed in a nation many had never heard of before the war flared into a raging conflagration.

One young man who received his draft notice announced he would not servem declaring:

“I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong. . .Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?”

A year later he would declare:

“My conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor hungry people in the mud for big powerful America. And shoot them for what? They never called me nigger, they never lynched me, they didn’t put no dogs on me, they didn’t rob me of my nationality, rape and kill my mother and father.”

And thus Muhammad Ali earned a federal prison sentence, emerging from behind bars to prove himself the greatest pugilist America has ever produced.

Organized protests began to arise [some of which we participated in], and on 15 October 1969, more than two million Americans marched against the war.

One emblematic action of protests throughout the Vietnam war was flag-burning, here illustrated by protesters demonstrating at the 20 January 1969 presidential inaugural of Richard M. Nixon:

blog-fire-flag

Needless to say, the flag-burnings outraged Republicans of the day.

But the most potent and iconic symbol of the war was the result of the American military’s use of fire bombs during the conflict, delivered sometimes by U.S. jets and, in this instance, by American-supplied South Vietnamese fighter-bombers.

It happened on 8 June 1972, when the village of Trang Bang was targeted with napalm bombs because of intelligence suggested that it harbored Viet Cong guerillas.

One of those burned by the napalm was a nine-year-old girl, Phan Thi Kim Phuc, and the image s of her flight from the devastation captured by Associated Press photographer Nick Ut burned their way into the American conscience, revealing the ruthless strategy employed by the United States to win at all costs:

blog-fire-vn

But a second photo, showing her grandmother carrying the seared corpse of one of her cousins is perhaps ever more devastating:

blog-fire-vn-2

Perhaps no one better captured the hypocrisy of criminalized flag-burning with the burning of human bodies by a detestable weapon of war that did esnl’s favorite alternative press cartoonist of the 1960’s, R. Cobb, in this brilliant 1967 graphic for the Los Angeles Free Press:

blog-fire-cobb

As for the legality of burning the American flag, here’s the bottom line from Texas v. Johnson, the 21 June 1989 Supreme Court ruling that is currently the law of the land:

If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.

We have not recognized an exception to this principle even where our flag has been involved.

But with Republicans in full control of the White House and national legislature and poised to gain control over the Supreme Court, we expect that Trump will get his wish, one way or another.

Finally, back to Vietnam

The Vietnam War taught the American government two important lessons.

First was an end to the draft.

While virtually unreported by the American media, the real reason Richard Nixon realized he had to end the war was the rebellion of U.S. troops along the Demilitarized Zone [DMZ] separating the two halves of Vietnam.

That’s what happens when you draft young men to fight for a cause for which they see no valid reason to sacrifice their own lives.

Ripping unwilling combatants away from their homes, families, and jobs is a sure-fire way to foster resentment and rebellion, nowhere better shown that in Daniel Zeiger’s brilliant 2005 documentary Sir! No Sir!, recorded here from a broadcast on BBC:

Sir! No Sir! A Film About The GI Movement Against The War In Vietnam

America turns to mercenaries, embedded reporters

Since Vietnam, America has fought its war with mercenaries, soldiers recruited often from the nation’s poorest regions, where youths facing bleak prospects at home are drawn to the military by promises of job training, education funds, and a position they are assured will imbue them with self-dignity and respect.

No more unwilling combatants; rather, a military filled with those who see no other alternative than lives filled with misery.

The second lesson the Vietnam war taught Americans military and political elites was that free-roving reporters could capture images and stories threatening to their interests by revealing powerful counter-narratives to the official line.

Hence the evolution of the embedded reporter, carefully contained and controlled.

And by criminalizing flag-burning, Donald Trump would deprive protest movements of one of their most powerful symbolic acts.

Navy’s new $4.4 billion destroyer breaks down


And in a most embarrassing way.

From MercoPress:

The most expensive destroyer ever built for the United States Navy has suffered an engineering problem in the Panama Canal and had to be towed to port. U.S. The 3rd Fleet spokesman Commander Ryan Perry says a vice admiral has directed the USS Zumwalt to remain at ex-Naval Station Rodman in Panama to address the issues. The ship was built at Bath Iron Works in Maine.

The 180 meters long warship has an angular shape to minimize its radar signature. It cost more than US$4.4 billion and was commissioned last month in Maryland. The guided missile destroyer, whose stealth capabilities give it a strikingly angular shape, needed to be towed Monday after suffering an “engineering casualty,” the U.S. Naval Institute’s news site reported.

The Zumwalt was en route from Baltimore, where she was commissioned Oct. 15, to San Diego.

Navy spokesman Perry said in a statement that “the timeline for repairs is being determined now.”

An unnamed defense official told USNI News that repairs to the Zumwalt could take up to 10 days.

So they spend billions to make it and it breaks down on its maiden voyage.

Wonder how much its toilet seats cost. . .

Trump’s not Adolf Hitler, says Noam Chomsky


While Adolj Hitler was a sincere, dedicated ideologue, Donald Trump is a thing-skinned megalomaniac, firing off tweets at 3 a.m. when anyone angers him, says Noam Chomsky in this extended interview with Al Jazeera.

And in some ways he’s worse: “The most predictable aspect of Trump is unpredictability. I think it’s dangerous, very dangerous.”

And in many ways, he says, it’s the Republican Party itself that’s the greatest threat to humanity’s future.

Topics covered include the failure of the news media to cover real issues, climate change, Barack Obama’s assassination program, NATO and threats to peace in Eastern Europe, and more

From Al Jazeera English’s UpFront:

Noam Chomsky on the new Trump era

And prepare for a new crusade against Islam


Turns out the Crusades aren’t just a dimly remembered historical era, the Hholy wars launched to seize control of the Middle East and wi the world for Christianity.

They’re very much alive in the minds of the President elect’s National Security Adviser, and he outlines them in a new book, The Field of Fight, penned with Michael Ledeen, a former member of Ted Cruz’s campaign team the man who helped sell the George W. Bush administration on the infamous “yellow cake” forgery used as justification for the invasion of Iraq and the ultimate rise of ISIS.

Ledeen was also the key intermediary in the infamous Iran/Contra Affair that lead to a sale of arms to Iran in return for the promise to free the American Embassy hostages taken after the fall of the corrupt Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, a scandal that would permanently tarnish the Reagan administration. And he wants “regime change” in [read war with] Iran.

Oh, and he’s also alleged to have been a key ally of Italy’s spy services in trying to discredit Bill Clinton during his presidency, and he’s a notorious ally of the zealots in Israel’s Likud Party and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

[For a dissection of this infamous neocon, see this brilliant Vanity Fair dissection by Craig Unger.]

In other words, if you want a hoax to justify a war, Ledeen’s your go-to guy.

On to the story, from the Washington Post:

The next world war is already here. It’s a religious war. And the United States is losing.

Such is the vision of Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, the retired Army three-star general who is set to become White House national security adviser after President-elect Trump takes the oath of office. Thus far, Flynn is best known for his fire-breathing speech at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland this summer. But six days before leading GOP delegates in a frenzy of “USA!” and “Lock her up!” chants, Flynn published a book detailing this new fight — in his telling, a multi-generational and civilizational conflict against radical Islam. “We’re in a world war,” he writes, “but very few Americans recognize it, and fewer still have any idea how to win it.”

>snip<

Though he calls for “destroying the jihadi armies,” Flynn is as focused on ideological warfare as he is on drone strikes or special operators. While Trump has said he’ll pursue a closer relationship with Russia and Vladi-mir Putin, in his book Flynn regards Moscow as part of a worldwide “enemy alliance” against the United States and concludes that the Russian president is an untrustworthy partner in the fight against the Islamic State.

Perhaps most revealing, Flynn seems quite comfortable with the prospect of a religious war. “This kind of war is not at all new. It created our world,” he writes, citing the Protestant Reformation. “The world badly needs an Islamic Reformation, and we should not be surprised if violence is involved. It’s normal.”

In the parlance of the day, one might say Trump’s national security adviser is normalizing holy wars.

Headline of the day: Get ready for the bloodshed


And the new AG is a guy who says the only thing wrong with the Ku Klux Klan is that those dudes are doin’ doobies under those pointy hoods.

From the New York Times:

  • National Security Positions Go to Hawkish Loyalists
  • President-elect Donald J. Trump tapped Senator Jeff Sessions as attorney general, Representative Mike Pompeo as C.I.A. director and Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn as national security adviser.
  • All three are regarded as outliers from conventional Republican thinking, shunned in various ways for viewpoints that were seen as unacceptable.

Austerity grabs hold in Egypt, the army’s called out


In January, 2011, a wave of massive demonstrations overthrew the government of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The revolution was greatly assisted by the American State Department, which had been busily furnishing secure digital communications devices to dissidents opposed to Middle Eastern and African governments the U.S. thought needed to go.

But when the Egyptian people elected as President Mohamed Morsi, the U.S. didn’t like it, he was ousted in a coup headed by a general, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, trained at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

But the combination of two revolutions and the ongoing shocks of the Great Recession sent Egypt spiraling ever deeper into debt.

Finally Sisi bit the bullet and applied to the International Monetary Fund for a bailout loan, and negotiations began.

The inevitable demand of the IMF: Austerity

The Economist, the magazine with the world’s richest readership, offers a neoliberal take on what happened next:

Back in August the IMF had offered the former general a $12bn lifeline, but it came with tough conditions attached. At long last he has fulfilled them, and the IMF money will soon start to flow.

So far Mr Sisi has attempted three difficult but necessary things, as demanded by the IMF. On November 3rd he allowed the Egyptian pound to float. It is now trading at a market rate of 18 or so to the dollar; previously it had been propped up at a crazily overvalued rate of about 8.8. However, it is still not clear whether this float is genuine. The pound could easily come under renewed pressure, and there is no guarantee that the government will not suspend the float and see the black market return. External credit-card transactions are still restricted, so the market is not free even now.

Similarly, the other two main IMF conditions have been fulfilled only up to a point. In August parliament passed a long-promised law introducing a value-added tax. It is subject to many exemptions; but it will still bring in badly needed revenue, and the rate is set to rise next year. The work of reducing government subsidies was also advanced last week, with increases of up to 50% in the local-currency price of petrol, after earlier rises in the price of electricity. But both are still well below their true market prices. And, lamentably, food subsidies have not been cut at all—despite their cost, complexity and vulnerability to fraud. Rather than subsidising the price of bread, the government would help more people if it simply handed out cash to poor Egyptians.

And now the loan is coming through

From United Press International:

The International Monetary Fund approved a $12 billion loan for Egypt, an effort to revive the country’s struggling economy by “restoring stability and confidence in the economy, and implementing structural reforms that will create jobs,” officials said.

The approval allows for the first installment of the three-year loan, $2.75 billion, to be immediately disbursed. The remainder of the loan will be phased in over the duration of the program, subject to five reviews, the IMF said.

“The Egyptian authorities have developed a homegrown economic program, which will be supported under the IMF’s Extended Fund Facility, to address longstanding challenges in the Egyptian economy,” Christine Lagarde, IMF managing director and chair, said.

IMF officials said political instability, regional security issues and the global economic slowdown have hobbled the Egyptian economy. Some of the issues that led to the country’s economic instability included high government deficit, public debt and weak job growth.

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Veterans played a key role in The Donald’s victory


While white males were solidly behind The Donald, one group may have handed him the win, military veterans.

Despite all the red flags waved to indicate his opposition to many issues that should’ve alarmed them, veterans wanted one thing Trump was certain to deliver on: His promise to blow up the system.

From the Center for Investigative Reporting:

Exit polls show veterans played a pivotal role in Trump’s surprise victory Tuesday night, with those who’d served in the military breaking for the New York billionaire by a nearly 2-to-1 margin, 61 to 34 percent.

Veterans make up about 10 percent of registered voters nationally, with large concentrations in the key swing states of Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

In interviews, many veterans said they weren’t sure what a Trump presidency would bring, but that they thought it was important to reject Hillary Clinton, who they said mishandled classified information and was unwilling to reform a broken health care system at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

>snip<

While military veterans have historically supported Republicans for president, Trump’s margin among vets was more than twice that of John McCain’s in 2008. In that election, McCain, a Vietnam veteran who spent five years in a North Vietnamese prison camp, bested Obama by 10 points among military veterans.

This was despite the fact that Trump avoided service in Vietnam with five draft deferments, lied about his position about the Iraq war, disparaged veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder as weak and mocked the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq.