by Pa RockWe live in a nation that always has to have an enemy - some menacing evil-doer like Hitler, Hirohito, Stalin, Krushchev, Castro, Ho Chi Minh, Saddam Hussein, Osama bin-Laden, and even the silly little Kim Jung-il. Having enemies gives us an excuse to pour trillions of dollars into an obscenely bloated defense budget and then turn around and deny basic services to our citizens because those dollars bust the budget. Having enemies lets us feed the war machine at the expense of the homeless, hungry, and downtrodden (some of whom are veterans of our current wars). Having enemies makes great business sense, if your business is war.
The same principle, of course, works for the domestic arms industry. The NRA, the highly effective lobbying arm of gun manufacturers, is all about scaring the bejezus out of ordinary folk with talk of liberals and Mexicans taking over. Enemies sell guns...and ammo!
I am reading a great book (a really great book!) called Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson. It is a fictionalized account of the CIA and military in Vietnam. In an early portion of the book an aging CIA operative is lamenting the fact that the "Japs" used to be our enemies and the Russians were our allies, and then the action moved to Korea. If Korea fell, the rest of the world would quickly turn communist. And finally we were in Vietnam with the same concern. By that time the Japanese were our allies, and Russia was an enemy - and half of Korea was our ally - and half wasn't. His point was that allegiances shift as time goes on, and today's enemy is tomorrow's ally.
Fast forward to today when I read on the cover of Stars and Stripes that we are shifting into a cooperative mode with Vietnam. Vietnam is becoming our ally. Our enemies are now a bunch of tribal chieftains and corrupt power brokers in the deserts of Iraq and the rugged mountains of Afghanistan.
Korea wore us down. Vietnam wore us down and finally wore us out. Afghanistan wore the Soviets out, and it does not appear to be any more promising for us today than it was for them twenty years ago.
But we've sold a hell of a lot of guns, and fighter jets, and war systems.
I'm reminded of Dwight Eisenhower on his last night as President telling us to "beware of the military-industrial complex."
I'm reminded of Dick Cheney, a "chicken-hawk" who got five or six draft deferments to stay out of Vietnam, then loudly pounded the war drums encouraging America's poor and minority youth to get in there and fight for their country - while directing billions of government dollars in no-bid war contracts to Halliburton, a company that he had once run and from which he was still receiving a handsome income.
I'm reminded of Donald Rumsfield, who as a young man was too white and well-connected to be bothered with Vietnam, yet as Secretary of Defense instituted policies like "Stop Loss" that sent thousands of young troops to the Middle East for multiple tours and kept them serving involuntarily beyond what should have been the end of their enlistments.
I am reminded of prissy George Bush who learned to fly fighter jets on the government's dime, but then could not be bothered with going to Vietnam to put that skill to use. In fact, poor George couldn't even remember where he was in 1972! Yet he had no problem in stirring up a hornet's nest in the Middle East and sending the children of others into the maw of hell to fight for his glory.
I'm reminded of Pogo who uttered those famous words: "We have met the enemy and he is us!"
I'm reminded of words that Pete Seeger put in a song over half a century ago: "When will we ever learn, when will we ever learn?"