Saturday, September 20, 2014


Well, I got my window shield so filled
With flags I couldn't see
So, I ran the car upside a curb
And right into a tree
By the time they got a doctor down
I was already dead
And I'll never understand why the man
Standing in the Pearly Gates said:

Your flag decal won't get you
Into Heaven any more
We're already overcrowded
From your dirty little war
Now Jesus don't like killin'
No matter what the reason's for
And your flag decal won't get you
Into Heaven any more…
- Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore, John Prine, 1971



That’s the bottom end of the scale, right? Vietnam.

The pinnacle of America’s military prowess, is, of course, World War II.

Sure. The Greatest Generation, that’s what they call themselves. The Great Ones. America kicked some serious ass in WWII.  By Jiminy, that’s how war should be, isn’t it? Glory. Heroism. For God and Country. Four, maybe five, years and whamo! enemies utterly destroyed and their countries rebuilt as allies, peace for everybody, and home to parades and cheering and a golden age of wealth and prosperity, right?


That’s what they tell us anyway.

But it’s been mostly downhill ever since.

And the low point? The antipode? That’s Vietnam, isn’t it?

That’s the one America doesn’t want to talk about. ‘Nam. Couldn’t win, couldn’t leave. Quagmire.

Vietnam. We’re always worried the next one will be Vietnam.

Nobody says, “hey, this one is going to be World War II all over again! Kickin’ ass and takin’ names! We roll through <insert name of Third World Country here> just like Patton chewing through Italy! Woohoo and hi-yo Silver! 

Nobody says that. No, it’s always going to be Vietnam again.

And right from the start, right from that first night of the invasion on March 19th, 2003, the Iraq War has been compared to Vietnam.

Mark my words, boy, we never learn, it’ll be another quagmire, another Vietnam!

I’m leery of any such comparison, just as I am when people compare every politician they don’t like to Hitler.

But certainly there are parallels, aren’t there?

There are obvious lessons to be learned by looking at Vietnam.

And less obvious lessons, including one really big one, the one staring us right in the face. The most important one.

We’ll come back to that.

The current popular version of history says that America got involved in Vietnam over a lie, an unprovoked attack on US forces that never actually happened, the so-called Gulf Of Tonkin Incident – which became the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which then became the Vietnam Conflict, which was eventually relabeled properly as The Vietnam War. Whether description of that supposed attack was a deliberate lie or just the fog of war combined with political opportunism, I can’t say. Just as I can’t say with any certainty that the men who sent me into Iraq were deliberate liars or just criminally misguided.

But as they say: those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.

Truer words were never spoken and nobody does that better than America.

The reality of the matter, if that word has any meaning here, is that we were involved in Indochina long, long before the Gulf of Tonkin. That’s why American ships were in the Gulf of Tonkin that night in the first place.  We were just looking for an excuse and if it wasn’t an attack by North Vietnamese patrol boats on US Navy destroyers, well, it would have been something else. Almost anything would do, political forces in the US were determined to have a war and they were going to get it, one way or the other.

You see, those men were terrified of communism.

They were certain that America and the rest of the so-called Free World were in imminent danger. They’d fought in World War II and they were fighting in Korea and they were facing the Red Scare at home and they were convinced, utterly convinced, that the communists were coming for them.

Americans were told to be afraid.

And so they were.

And so we went into Vietnam on the pretext of “the domino theory.” That is, America was told that they had to contain communism because if one country fell to the Red Menace, others would too, like dominos one after the other until the Russians and the Chinese came to kill us in our own houses.

"Burma, Thailand, India, Japan, the Philippines and obviously Laos and Cambodia are among those whose security would be threatened if the Red Tide of Communism overflowed into Vietnam."
US Senator John F. Kennedy addressing the American Friends of Vietnam, 1955

The Red Tide of Communism. That’s it, right there. That’s what they were worried about.

So certain were they of this domino effect, that the Eisenhower Administration actually considered dropping nuclear weapons on Vietnam and Cambodia – in the 1950s, long before American forces were on the ground there. 

Think about that for a minute.

Think about it in the context of the 1950s.

There was no internet in those days. TV and broadcast media were in their infancy, there was no satellite relays, no live streaming cable news from remote corners of the world. No Google Earth. No History Channel. Hell there weren’t even any Vietnamese restaurants in America. There were no Vietnamese Americans. No Laotians. No Hmong neighborhoods. Asians in the United States lived in Chinatown and most of white America didn’t even speak to black people let alone Asians.  America was barely a decade out of World War II. Vietnam? We’re talking about a former French colony in the jungles of Southeast Asia. Vietnam? Nobody went to Vietnam for spring break. Americans didn’t buy anything from Vietnam. We didn’t sell them anything worth noting. There were no Americans in Vietnam, not in any significant number.

99.9% of Americans had never heard of Vietnam and had no idea where on the globe it was – nor did they care.

And yet … Eisenhower was thinking about nuking them?

Imagine just how scared you have to be in order to find yourself considering that option.

The Vietnam War required us to emphasize the national interest rather than abstract principles. What President Nixon and I tried to do was unnatural. And that is why we didn't make it.
- Henry A. Kissinger

By the time the 1960s arrived, our full involvement was nearly inevitable.

And so we went into Vietnam.

It was supposed to be quick, they were just peasants with pointy sticks after all.  And we were Americans, Goddamnit, we had a modern military and nuclear weapons and Aircraft carriers. We’d train them to speak English, how to fight, and they’d beat back the commies.

And America would be safe again.

A police action and military advisors quickly turned into actual war and more than a decade of bloody combat. 

And we couldn’t get out.

We won every battle, but we couldn’t win the war.  We couldn’t get out. No matter how many we killed, no matter how high the body count, them, us, they just kept coming and we couldn’t get out.  We kept sending in more, more troops, more guns, more planes, more ships. Liberal president. Conservative president. Republicans. Democrats. It didn’t matter, we couldn’t get out. So we just kept throwing our children at them because we couldn’t think of anything better to do. Back home, the country tore itself apart. There were protests and riots and Watergate and bombings and mass murder and social upheaval and cults and counterculture and police brutality and military action against civilians.

And it just went on and on and on.

Every night the news was full of body counts and pictures of dead soldiers. The newspapers and magazines were filled with Pulitzer Prize winning pictures of burned and maimed children, atrocities, mass graves, burning villages, and bloody battlefields. Our streets were filled with hippies and ragged veterans, the airwave sang protest songs, and the VA waiting rooms were stuffed to bursting with shattered men.

And we couldn’t get out.

But we had to do it.

We had to.

Sure we did. We had to because if we didn’t, well, sir, the communists were certain to take over the world. If Vietnam fell, if Cambodia fell, then the Red Tide would flood all of Indochina and spill over into Asia, the Pacific, Europe, and then, inevitably, America.

By the time we did get out we’d been there for twenty years, from 1955 to 1975 and America had been changed nearly beyond recognition. But for some, it wasn’t enough, they were convinced we could still “win,” that we could remake Vietnam into America.  And they might have convinced us to go back, but public support for the conflict was long, long gone and so we finally left Vietnam once and for all.

Nobody really knows how many Vietnamese died. Most Americans don’t really care.

But 58,000 Americans died in that jungle.

Some of them are still dying.

For nothing.

The war didn’t make America any safer. The war didn’t make Vietnam any safer. The war didn’t end the slaughter. It didn’t stop communism.

Those 58,000 Americans died for nothing.

And here we are.

We’ve been at war, again, for a decade. More. We went into Iraq because they told us we had to, because they told us Iraq had attacked us – I know, I was there. We went into Iraq because we were told that if we didn’t fight them there, we’d have to fight them here. Loud voices back home had been shouting for war and if it wasn’t 911, it would have been something else. We just needed an excuse. In the years since, hundreds of thousands have died, nobody really knows exactly how many. Most Americans don’t care. And we can’t get out. Every night for the last fourteen years, since 911 our TV screens have been filled with the dead and dying, the burning villages, the horrors, the atrocities, the machines of war. And we can’t get out. Our country continues to cut at itself, our streets are filled with protests and riots, cults and militia grow like cancers, we hate and fear our government and our own neighbors. And we can’t get out. Conservative president. Liberal president. Republicans. Democrats. And we can’t get out. Our streets are full of ragged veterans, our VA waiting rooms are filled with shattered soldiers. And we can’t get out.

Vietnam, they say. Quagmire.

We thought it was over, we thought it was done. We thought, we thought, we’d done a better job this time. We won the battles, we won the war. We left Iraq on our own schedule, a schedule set by a republican and executed by a democrat. This time there were no pictures of overloaded helicopters lifting desperate Americans from the roof of our embassy as enemy troops smashed through the walls below. 

After ten long, brutal years – twenty really, and more – we thought it was finally over.

But now Iraq is falling apart, along with Syria.

See? The warhawks crow. Told ya! We should have stayed, we should have kept fighting! We should go back!

Last week, Fox News’ Eric Bolling openly declared that America needed to put fighting forces into Iraq and Syria to combat “terrorism.”

Fox’s Jonathan Hoenig agreed, “We have enemies, and they’re the ones who are declaring war on America and slicing journalists’ heads off.” Hoenig then explained that there were no more Japanese kamikazes or attacks from the Nazis because the United States wiped out both those threats in World War II.

“I honestly wonder if our current administration would have won World War II. I think we would have lost it.”

Why stop there?

If Obama was president during the Indian Wars, why we might have lost the Great Plains! America would be confined to a thin slice of North America east of the Appalachians. What if Obama was in charge during the Spanish American War? Who then would have freed Cuba to become communists? And what if Obama was in charge during the Civil War? Why we might still have secessionists and Tea Party racists waving Confederate flags … Okay, that’s a bad example, let’s just move on.

It’s not enough to address what’s actually happening, it’s not enough for a supposed news source to report the actual news, no, they have to imagine what might happen in some alternate universe. See, what if Obama went back in time and replaced Franklin Roosevelt as president? My God, can you imagine a liberal in charge during World War II? A liberal? Why Obama would have lost the whole damned thing and we’d have been fighting Nazis, goddamned Nazis, in the streets of America! Thank Holy Jesus, Roosevelt was a socialism-hatin’ small government conse… Okay, again, bad example, but I think I’ve made my point here.

We’ve got to go back. We need boots on the ground. Air strikes. Cruise missiles. Nuke ‘em from orbit!

If we don’t kill them over there, why, we’ll have to kill them over here!

And it all just sounds so familiar, doesn’t it? Like the steady beat of the drum or the click click click of dominos falling, one after the other.

“To destroy ISIL, you have to kill or capture their leaders, take back their territory, cut off the finances and destroy the capability to regenerate. This is a war we’re fighting not a counter terrorism operation. This president needs to rise to the occasion before we all get killed back here at home!
- Senator Lindsey Graham, R-SC

Oh no! Not back here at home! Not that!

Predictably, Graham went on to compare the Islamic State in Syria to the Nazis, because, well, Goddamned Nazis, you know.  We need boots on the ground Graham said, in Syria. We need to send the Army back to Iraq. Or else the dominos will fall, one by one, click click click, until Islam comes for America.

This,” Graham declared, “is ISIL versus mankind!”


ISIL versus Mankind no less.

Wow. All of Mankind. Just like the commies. Click click click.

The world’s bestest conservative, Ted Nugent, who himself managed to infamously avoid serving in Vietnam, declared that Americans would absolutely positively be fighting Islam in the streets of their hometowns, door to door and hand to hand, on September 11. That would be September 11th, two weeks ago. You remember, right? Big battle. Slaughter in the streets. How many of them did you have to kill?

Those who carry guns had better gun & ammo up no matter where you go, carrying at least 10 spare mags or 10 spare speedloaders because the allahpukes are confident they will once again methodically slaughter walking cowering whining cryin helpless sitting ducks capable of zero resistance. To gullible naive embarrassing ill prepared targets, there is still time to firepower up ASAP. Head for cover but retain an attentiveness in order to identify the evildoers and dbl tap center mass, then two to the head. Then take cover and prepare your next evasive escape, taking dwn known jihadists to the best of your ability, Aim small miss small center mass & headshots, This is going to be the real deal & absolutely survivable against these 4th world allahpuke zombies. STAND! Go heavy, Only a–holes are outgunned, Dont be outgunned or out ammo’d. Goodluck. Be safe, Shoot straight & OFTEN, Godspeed, killemall

Helpless sitting ducks. In the streets of America. This is going to be the real deal, folks. We’ve got to armor up! Seek cover, shoot for the head!

Except September 11 came and went …

… and somehow the streets weren’t filled with Islamic fighters. 

It wasn’t the real deal.

There were no zombies.

No Nazis.

Americans remained safe in their beds.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Aisle, Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) was cautiously satisfied with President Obama's plan. But then he went on to say that he strongly opposes any effort to use ground troops unless Congress authorized a war.

It’s not that he was willing to rule out war and invasion, he just wanted to have a hand in it this time.

"Every war I've been in Congress on has started out with advisers and no boots on the ground. And then..."

Every war I’ve been in Congress for? How many is that, exactly? And is it just me who finds that statement more than a little troubling, for a number of reasons?

Last Tuesday Rangel explained that if America did send troops back the Middle East, Congress would first have to declare war, and second … authorize a draft.

Advisors, then a declaration of war followed by boots on the ground.

And a draft.

Talk about Vietnam.

What’s next Charlie? We going to have Ted soil himself in public again, while we dig up the festering corpse of General Westmoreland to run the thing?


If there is one man, one member of Congress who should understand the folly of an endless, unwinnable war, it’s John McCain.

If there is one man, one member of the American government, one war hero, one leader, who should understand the value of prudence and caution, it’s John McCain.

If there is one veteran who should understand reluctance to throw our children into the fire without specific goals, without well thought out plans, and without a unity of the national will, it’s John McCain.

If there is one man, one man, who should understand Vietnam, goddamn but it should be John McCain.

“Kill ‘em!”

Kill ‘em!

That was John McCain’s response to Greta Van Susteren on Fox News last Tuesday when she asked what our strategy should be.

Kill  ‘em!

She asked him to maybe provide a little more expansion on his plan, kill ‘em:

“They’ve got to be destroyed! And you’ve got to have a goal, the president does, and we have to have a strategy to fit that goal and policies that will implement it. We have none of the above.”

That’s what John McCain learned from Vietnam. Kill ‘em!

McCain used his interview with Susteren to push for war in both Iraq and Syria. He declared that the threat requires the “full weight of American air power” and “some more boots and support on the ground.”

“All this didn’t have to happen. We could have left a force behind in Iraq that would have stabilized Iraq. And we are paying an incredible price for the president’s leading from behind, whether it be in Iraq, in Syria, in Libya, or a number of countries in the Middle East. We are seeing the chickens coming home to roost.”

We could have left a force behind in Iraq, so says John McCain.

We could have. The obvious implication being that President John McCain certainly would have left American combat forces in Iraq.

McCain conveniently failed to mention that that force would be either an occupying force or a force subject to Islamic law.

McCain also conveniently failed to mention that putting American combat forces on the ground in either Iraq or Syria would be an act of open war. 

And that war would be a preemptive one. 

You see, while the Islamic State may certainly be a threat to American interests, they have not attacked us.  They killed an American hostage, yes, but we generally don’t start wars over one person. Do we? Especially ones that travel of their own free will to meet the enemy. The Islamic State is fighting the Iraqi and Syrian governments – one of which is a corrupt and unreliable ally and one of which is a self-declared enemy of the United States – not us.

Last time I checked, preemptive wars are illegal, a violation of both international law and our own.

And John McCain, of all people, should know that. What McCain demands is illegal, it’s against our law, international law, Iraqi law, Syrian law, and the wishes of our allies in the region.  And yet, he’s a prominent figure in the party who keeps saying that Obama doesn’t adhere to the law. Riiiight.

Neither the Iraqi government or most especially the Syrian government wants American troops on their territory. Syria’s hatred of America is well known and unchanged – especially since we are openly supporting the rebels fighting against the Syrian government. And Iraq’s new prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, said on Wednesday that foreign troops on Iraqi soil are "out of the question."

So, if we were to put “boots on the ground” as John McCain demands, it will be as an invasion. 

For us to put combat forces into Iraq and Syria, “boots on the ground,” it will have to be a full up declared war. There are no bases for American forces there, no safe havens, no allies. We will return as invaders, we will have to either topple the legal governments of both countries or take them hostage at bayonet point and force our will upon them – all while fighting both their militaries and the Islamic State.

You’ll note John McCain failed to mention that as well.

McCain also didn’t bother to mention what happens when you let politicians and their contractor pals run a war for profit – like Vietnam.

Take the Institute for the Study of War as an example.

Institute for the Study of War. Sounds ponderously official, doesn’t it? The Institute describes itself as a non-partisan think-tank, but it’s run by a bunch of civilian staffers/military hangers-on – Whiz Kids, to use the Vietnam era vernacular – and various former Army officers and funded almost entirely by defense contractors such as Raytheon and General Dynamics. 

Non-partisan. You’ll forgive my skeptical expression, won’t you?

Not entirely surprising, the Institute for the Study of War typically proposes more war as a solution for war.

Last week the Institute’s founder, Dr. Kimberly Kagan and the Institute’s director of research, Jessica Lewis, a former Army intel officer (who is careful not to include her former rank in her bio and who was one of those folks who won themselves a bronze star or two for non-combat related action, hoorah!), penned an official looking report that makes a case for, well, war.

It’s called “A strategy to Defeat the Islamic State” and it’s freely available to the public on the think-tank's website.

It’s an interesting read. It makes some good points and outlines some useful objectives.

But the part I really enjoyed was the last paragraph of the executive summary:

Though this strategy contains a high risk of failure and the near-certainty of U.S. troop casualties, the outcomes of ISIS retaining control of the territory it has seized, an escalated sectarian war, more foreign fighters, and the largest al-Qaeda safe haven it has ever known outweigh those risks.

A high risk of failure.

Near certainty of US casualties.

Gotta do it though. Fight ‘em there, or we’ll have to fight ‘em here. Dominos, boys, dominos.

Goddamn, if that isn’t pure Whiz Kid I don’t know what is.  I went back to see if the Ghost of Robert McNamara was on the Institute’s board of directors.

Listen to me, when you let the defense industry tell you when to go to war, you’re never going to have not war. Ever.

And it appears McCain learned nothing from Vietnam.

As did we all.

See, we never talk about what happened after.

Oh certainly we learned a few things in the years since 1975. Support the troops, don’t blame them for the sins of our political leadership.  See that they are properly equipped – we don’t do that, but we know that we should.  Have a plan, a solid strategy with measurable goals – we don’t do that, but we know that we should.  Have a plan for after the war, for rebuilding the nation, for winning hearts and minds – we don’t do that, but we know that we should.  Take care of veterans when they come home – we don’t do that either, of course, but we know that we should.

But we missed the big one.

When we left Vietnam, well, to be blunt, the domino toppled.

We left our former allies to their fates, to the killing fields and the mass executions and the reeducation camps and the atrocities of civil war. We left them to collective farms and economic collapse.

We left them to the communists. 

And the communists won.

And yet – and yet – Burma (now Myanmar), Thailand, India, Japan, the Philippines, those dominos didn’t topple.

Myanmar is a brutal repressive regime today, but that has nothing to do with our departure from Vietnam.  There was already a repressive government in the Philippines, one propped up by the United States and made worse by the flood of American forces pouring through the whorehouses and tattoo parlors outside of Subic Bay and Clark Air Force base. Since that time, since America left, the Philippines has become an actual democracy. Though I doubt anybody would say the country is perfect, things are far better for Filipinos today than they were back then. Thailand continues on as it always has, ditto Japan. And India is rapidly becoming a superpower. 

In point of fact, it seems that the domino theory was about as accurate as Ted Nugent.

In the forty years since Vietnam, the dominos that fell were mostly communist.

The Soviet Union withered and died, bankrupted by a war ironically in the very same region and against the very same people John McCain would have us return to fighting.

After two decades, reform came to Vietnam. The old guard was peacefully replaced, the collective farms were privatized, Soviet style economics became free-market reforms.

And Vietnam today?

The communists still hold power, true. Vietnam is one of the few remaining nations with a single party socialist government, but even that is slowly fading away. Vietnam is a vibrant country, a ripe target for American investment and economic growth.

Vietnam is hardly a paradise. But it has become a peaceful nation and, predictably, an economic partner of the United States.

And the region is far more stable today for our lack of boots on the ground than it ever was as the pawns and proxies and colonies of the First World.

Fast forward 40 years and certainly we can not stand by and allow ISIS/ISIL to slaughter the innocents without protest. Morally we must do something, we must send aid, we must help our allies, no matter how unsavory. We must train and equip those willing to defend their own homes. Certainly, I don’t argue that.  If we are to call ourselves moral people, then we have a moral obligation.

Just as we have a moral obligation to rescue our people from the clutches of terrorists. Just as we have a moral obligation to hunt down and destroy those who would murder our people.

But boots on the ground? Invasion? War?


Certainly the fanatics of the Islamic State may one day come for us. That is certainly a possibility.

Or they may not.

Certainly the fanatics of the Islamic State may one day threaten other nations in the Middle East.

Or they may not.

Or, perhaps, like Vietnam, forty years from now these people will find peace and civilization if left to their own devices.

Will they? What are the odds? Is it likely? Maybe not, probably not, but it for damned sure isn’t going to happen in a state of continuous invasion.

This threat exists because war and conflict have destabilized the region.

More war won’t fix that.

Just as throwing more and more of our children into Vietnam didn’t bring peace or stability there.

Most certainly we should be concerned. We should be outraged and appalled at the brutality and the horror. Absolutely we should be. Absolutely we should acknowledge our role in this mess and provide what support we can to aid those caught in the middle. With caution. With prudence. With an understanding that real peace and stability can’t be imposed at the muzzle of a gun or dropped from a bomb bay or by shouting Kill ‘em!

Don’t get me wrong. I’m no pacifist – though I don’t care if you think I am.

I’m no Neville Chamberlain. I’m no isolationist. I spent my entire life in the military. I did my time in Iraq. But my oath was to defend the United States, not throw my life and the lives of the forces under my command away for political goals or because fearful men shake in terror at the thought of what might happen someday.

And that, right there, is the real lesson of Vietnam.


Yeah, my blood's so mad feels like coagulatin'
I'm sitting here just contemplatin'
I can't twist the truth, it knows no regulation
Handful of senators don't pass legislation
And marches alone can't bring integration
When human respect is disintegratin'
This whole crazy world is just too frustratin'

Think of all the hate there is in Red China
Then take a look around to Selma, Alabama
You may leave here for four days in space
But when you return, it's the same old place
The poundin' of the drums, the pride and disgrace
You can bury your dead, but don't leave a trace
Hate your next-door neighbor, but don't forget to say grace

And, tell me over and over and over and over again, my friend
You don't believe we're on the eve of destruction
No no, you don't believe we're on the eve of destruction
Barry McGuire, Eve of Destruction, 1965



    1. LMAO - and some writers have to plead for good proofing....just saying.

    2. You speak the words that come from my heart. I repost everything on my battalion FB page, Vietnam veterans of the 4/3. I look forward to your upcoming book.

    3. 9/11, not 911 (Unless that's what you mean.)

    4. Ha ha! In reading comments about edits on another of your posts I was thinking "with the seriousness of these topics are people really caring that much about a typo?"
      Well I don't and I've just discovered you and I love how honest and real you are. Wow, America is a truly effed up place. Thanks for the FACTS about that.

  2. Sorry - I had just refreshed the site and found a new post, so I read it - didn't notice the timestamp. *hangs head*

    1. No need to apologize. The post has only been up ten minutes and you aren't even in the first ten comments to send me corrections. Jesus, it's a little, I don't know, intense, how fast some of you respond to a new post.

      Don't get me wrong, I appreciate it, but you've all got to give me a couple of minutes. Please.

      And I apologize for snapping, it's just, well, damn.

    2. That's just too funny - I hadn't been to the site for over a week, but I remembered seeing your FB post that you were working on one, so I was going through my tabs and refreshed - what timing.

      In any case, the bottom part of my first comment stands. Thank you for another wonderful insight into life in America. Who elected us to being the world's domino guardian, anyway?

  3. Okay. Now. You may point out the typos now.

    Thank you for your patience.

    1. I don't give a rat's ass about the typos. I come here for unvarnished truth, and you never fail to deliver it. My deepest thanks, sir.

      Pete Moulton

    2. Not so much a typo Jim, but it was Clark Air Base in the Philippines, not Clark Air FORCE Base. In the U.S., they're called Air Force Bases, but in foreign countries, they're Air Bases.

    3. Wonderfully brilliant writing as always!! I am glad you are so tolerant of the typo finders - it's good experience for you. Because when you send your book to a publisher, you are going to get a professional nitpicker (aka, editor) who will make these guys seem like rank amateurs..... :)

  4. I check frequently for new posts. I never correct your grammar of spelling though. I figure you spend so much time honing your message and creating posts that resonate with truths and experience hard won from your chosen life that trivial flaws should be ignored.
    Besides there is always a Mrs. Grundy in every group to keep us all straight.
    Great post as always. (I'm full of envy.) :)

    1. I don't mind the help. Really, I'd much rather have you guys point out the errors and let me fix them rather than we all just pretend I don't make mistakes - because obviously I do and I'm self-confident enough to admit that without diminishment of my self-worth.

      And there usually are plenty of errors. I let Kerry's comment post so my comment would have context BUT IT WAS NOT DIRECTED AT KERRY IN PARTICULAR. Kerry was just one of several that I didn't post. And, again, I do sincerely appreciate the assist - otherwise I'd have to pay a proofreader. And I appreciate that most of you want to make my work better and read me close enough that you actually see errors. That's awesome and I thank you all for it.

      It's just that, sometimes, the comments about errors come in literally within seconds of posting, even if like today's post I haven't published anything in nearly two weeks. And it just weirds me out that some of you seem to be sitting at your computers refreshing over and over.

      I'm good. I know I am, you've all told me that enough times. And I believe you. And I do truly appreciate that devotion some of you show my work, but sometimes it seems to verge on a little fanatical and that worries me a bit. Nobody is that good, even me.

    2. Could someone tell me why they feel the need to point out your errors? It's fucking rude if you ask me.

    3. It's okay. I encourage it, I'd just like a chance to try and find them myself, first. If I was sensitive about it, I'd either do a better job of proofreading or I'd hire somebody to do it for me.

      As to rude, well, c'mon. I'm probably the rudest guy in the room.

    4. I usually check for a post once a day after you've gone a week without posting. Something told me it was time to check and it turned out you had just put it up.
      I figure that if I point out the errors you'll take even longer to edit and proofread making me wait even longer between posts. :)

    5. The proper response is Fig Jam (F I'm Good, Just Ask Me)

    6. This is a navy blog, you can say Fuck here.

    7. Is Fuck a navy term? I use it all the time, and was never in the service. My dad was a Seebea, perhaps that's where I get it. However I've never heard him swear. And he's heard me swear a couple times, and gotten quite upset over it.

      As for the column, perfect. Thank you.

    8. Fanatical?? Damn, it's like you can SEE through the screen, into our lives, into our thoughts, into the hidden corners of our closets where we secretly worship at our Stonekettle alters, praying for a new post!!

      You are good, Mr. W.

  5. I actually agree with Rangel: get Congress to declare war, reinstate the draft ... get some real accountability on the books. Naturally, the backlash will be huge, so therefore none of the chicken hawks in Congress will have the cojones to do this, thereby proving Rangel's broader point: Congress, and especially Republicans, are spineless hypocrites.
    War, bring it on!

  6. Charlie Rangel was being precise in his words; before being elected to Congress, he fought in Korea while serving with the Army.

    1. I didn't say he wasn't. And I suppose I must agree with him in principle.

      The decision to go to war should be that of the people, and since their will is (theoretically) expressed through Congress, then Congress should take legal responsibility for any such declaration. Each and every one of them should go on record, publicly, yes or no, and then live with the consequences.

      And while I understand his point vis a vis the draft, I vehemently disagree with conscription. If a war isn't worth fighting voluntarily, if a nation isn't worth defending by its citizens of their own free will, then it doesn't deserve to exist. No draft.

      And for the record, I served far longer than Charlie Rangel, his veteran status carries no more weight than my own. He wants to debate it, he's welcome to make his case here.

    2. Hello, first time posing here.

      I have no problems with making Congress declare war and instituting a draft (with no deferals other than medical, and then only approved by a DoD physician at a MEPS station). When the worthless oxygen thieves start seeing that they are accountable for sending other people's kids (and perhaps their own), or themselves (no deferment to being a politician, either) into the maw, perhaps we might get the spineless cretins to actually do something worthwhile.

    3. Velociraptor: And are you willing to head the line into the MEPS if your dream comes true? Or are you fortunately past reasonable draft age, so it wouldn't be your own _personal_ ass going into the line, just someone else's kid to serve as an object lesson?

      Do you have kids approaching draftable age? Do you have nieces or nephews hitting that point? Would you be glad to see them going off to get their brains blown out, even if you knew that Senator Phogbound's privileged little spawn were running the same risk?

    4. @ Don Hilliard:

      Iraq 2004-2005, 2006-2007 (WIA), Afghanistan 2009-2010. Might even get to go again given the way things seem to be going.

      See what happens when you assume?

      Given that I knew almost a dozen Soldiers who didn't make it home, and probably another 30 who were wounded, no, I wouldn't be happy to see Representative Asshat's son/daughter/nephew/niece get hurt or killed. But until Representative Asshat stares that possibility in the face, the United States will continue suffer the same defective, partisan, self-destructive and self-defeating policies. And that I cannot abide.

    5. Don, you probably owe Raptor an apology.

      As I said, I concur in principle with your position, Velociraptor, for exactly the reasons you stated. Unfortunately, however, you're engaged in wishful thinking. There isn't any way whatsoever that conscription would be fairly and evenly administered in the same country by the same people who gave us Citizens United. The simple truth of the matter is that the rich and the connected and the powerful's kids always get a way out, and it's not even difficult for them.

      Also, if history is any guide, you'll note that these amoral sons of bitches far too often have no problem sending their own children to die, so long as they convince themselves they're upholding tradition and honor or some such patriotic bullshit. McCain's a good example of this, given who his father was and given that he by his own admission had little aptitude for it.

      Again, don't get me wrong, I agree with you emotionally and I fully understand where you're coming from. As I've said previously, I'd like to see the whole goddamned bunch of Congress air dropped into the Swat Valley wearing nothing but a pair of Captain America underpants.

      They make it out alive, maybe I'll cut them some slack.

    6. All of congress? Just one pair of Captain America pants!

      Now that's a slew of images I wish could mentally un-imagine thanks!

    7. Agree that no future draft would be fair/ equitable, but at least more Americans would have some of their own personal skin in the battles here and abroad and the politicians would be,once again, getting an ear-full. As an aside, I remember a bunch of congress-critters helicoptering in to my arillery battery for a "closer look." My supply Sgt and I debated shooting them and taking their jungle boots and fatigues because we couldn't get them :) Westmoreland was there...along for the ride...another "perfumed pentagon pig" as Col Hackworth called them in his great book about Vietnam "About Face." Great job, Jim.

    8. Mr Wright - Maybe I do. And maybe I don't. I haven't served on active duty since 1993, but as an engineer in the US Merchant Marine my name - by my own choice - is on the Mariner Recall List. If we get ourselves into a war requiring skilled mariners to get the beans, bombs, bullets and black oil to where they need to go, I'm drafted. And DoD and MARAD will get to my name long before they ever start looking up Selective Service System cards.

      And I'll go. Perhaps not happily, given the various shitpiles my country has dived into in the last decade or more - but I'll go, because I gave my word.

      But I will do so by my own informed choice. (Merchant Mariner Recall is an entirely voluntary list: I swore the same oath as you did, as an Officer of the United States, and I do not take that lightly.)

      Like you, and like 'Raptor, I'd like to see the ball-swingin' Congressmen and civilians put their own flesh and blood on the line - but like you at least, I know that's not gonna happen.

      And so, I'm not going to cheer on the concept of a "universal" draft. Or any other draft, for that matter.

      If your country is not worth fighting for without conscription - it ain't worth much.

    9. Mr. Wright,

      I am well aware that the worthless political establishment that gave us Citizens United will also not countenance anything that allows themselves to be held accountable to the citizenry. The history of the Vietnam era shows plainly enough what happens when enough people get pissed off at shitty policy, and our leaders learned their lesson well. With the good (leaving Vietnam) came another result - the all-volunteer force (which was also good, as quality improved immeasurably). And this meant that the less people were affected by the shitcan policies of their 'leaders' (e.g. getting killed or maimed, being away from home for long periods), the more they got disengaged. "Hooo-ah, go get 'em boys! Wait, where's my Smartphone? I need to know what Britney and Paris are up to!"

      And so on.

      So it remains my belief that the only way you will see substantive change is when a great deal of people get pissed off at shitty policy. And one way to do that is some kind of compulsory service. When more people get uncomfortable or are inconvenienced by the shit they vote for, the more change you will see. Will it happen?

      Nope. For exactly the reasons you stated. I think George Carlin put it best:

      "When you have selfish, ignorant citizens, you're gonna have selfish, ignorant leaders." (Yes, there is much more to that quote).

    10. Velociraptor: It's perhaps one point on the data plot, but: my nephews have largely grown up in a lower-middle-class, right-wing shithole of a town in southern California.

      Something like a quarter of my older nephew's graduating class from high school are now serving in the US military, because it's one of the quickest ways to get OUT of that dead-end shithole. (In the late '70s-early '80s, it was known as the "economic draft": I first heard that term from a very close friend who joined about the same time Jim Wright did - and at that time, he was sharing an apartment in Phoenix, AZ piled three feet deep with garbage and cockroaches. He joined the US Air Force because they called him back first - he was also on the list for the US Navy and the Royal Canadian Air Force. (Dual citizen.))

      Things ain't that bad for my nephews, but the economic draft is still well in force.

      But more to the point: those kids in my nephew's class who signed up and got out? From what I've seen and from what I know, their parents cheered them on; maybe with some tears, given that graduation was in 2007 and you know what kind of shit we were embroiled in at the time.

      That sense of pride mixed with worry might indeed turn into revulsion if we went back to conscription, as it did once before, but again - how many conscripts would need to be killed and maimed before our country as a whole felt its gorge rise and cried "Enough!"?

      How many deaths do you think it would take? One rich man's kid for every twenty poor men's kids? One for thirty? One per hundred? One per thousand?

      Lyndon Johnson viewed the Vietnam-era draft - and its ugliest aspect, Project Hundred Thousand, the relaxation of mental, educational and criminal standards for draftees - as a chance for dead-end teenagers to make something better of themselves.

      The desk-bound Master Sergeants and the gung-ho E2s I served with 20 years ago were all for bringing back the draft and "restoring" the "unity" that it brought to our society (at least the male part, for about half a decade) post-Vietnam.

      And now I see arguments that are a mix of the two. I'll apologize in advance this time, but Bullshit plus Bullshit = Double Bullshit.

  7. Typo's shmypo's.... How come after I read this I can hear CCR's Fortunate Son playing in my head now?

  8. Your post makes me feel like crying. We have been easily goaded into being the world's policeman on steroids. The last president to have the balls to resist getting into a war was Eisenhower, who turned down deGaulle to go into Vietnam with the French. We, the USA, has been pushed into these civil wars by profiteers, opportunists, and cowards. I am sorry to be turning into an isolationist, that isn't good foreign policy either, but that's where the jolly gang of "kill 'em" boys and girls are pushing me. Thanks for the post. I always enjoy them.

    1. You're wrong about Eisenhower. Truman said no to Vietnam; Eisenhower sent in the first "advisers." He just waited until the French got chased out, and then, as Jim noted, succumbed to the anti-Communist hysteria instead of letting the Vietnamese decide their own fate.

  9. Another great post. Well thought out and well argued. Good work.

    I too normally let any tyops slide, but since you insist...

    Early on when you're talking about the Gulf of Tonkin, you mention USS Navy destroyers. This should probably just be US Navy destroyers.

  10. Powerful essay, sir. History bites us again.

    Miniscule typo: "What McCain demands is illegal, it’s again our law ..." => against.


    1. And I thought you were just channelling Yosemite Sam on that one!


  11. Your post makes me feel like crying. We, the USA, has been goaded into being the world's policeman on steroids for decades. It must stop. There are dominos but not the ones identified by the warmongers. Poverty, a twisted economy, ignorance, and I'm sure there are more are the dominos that fall because we go to war. We maim and kill our best, and what is left behind are profiteeers, opportunists, and cowards. (Well, McCain is the exception, he wasn't our best, and he was always trouble.) I don't want to be isolationist, since it is poor foreign policy, but that's where the jolly gang of "Kill 'em!" people, who are more than happy to put others in harms way, have thrown me.

    I like that the French are now going to call the ISIS the ‘Daesh cutthroats', it seems more appropriate and more targeted at the problem.

    Thank you for your post.

  12. Patricia a schaffhouserSeptember 20, 2014 at 8:08 PM

    My husband served in Viet Nam. He was drafted, wanted the summer off, so he enlisted in the Marines. His brother being a Marine probably also had some influence. He was there in 1969, came back and resumed his life. He was lucky, resilient, and pretty goal directed. He knew a lot of people who didn't come back, or who did, but not entirely having left too much of themselves there. He is appalled at the idea of yet another war, or a continuation of the last couple. He seldom talks of his service time, but talks of the thousands of Vietnamese who collaborated with US military and were left behind. Eventually we will leave the middle east region. It is going to be incredibly bad there for a very long time, but we won't fix it. It is not what we do.

  13. Well said! As always, you absolutely hit the head of the damn nail.

  14. Hi Jim - very good article - I 've been thinking the same thing for a while now about the killing of the journalists - since when do we ever go to war over the killing of several people. Many Americans have been killed or kidnapped and killed through history and we never went to war over them. I remember the time of Vietnam (mid 50's) - I've seen it all. You hit the nail on the head but nothing will change as long as the same people are in congress year after year. The war machine rolls on and most people don't even know their 401ks and retirement and pension plans support these same war mongers....vicious cycle. If people do some day realize as a collective that we need change, then things will change, but the powers to be keep people at bay with the divide and conquer strategy..all the hot buttons of politics...Your blog is good - but the powers to be do not listen and frankly do not care. They're not the ones who have to go in and do the fighting. That would be a novel idea wouldn't it. Oh and one thing about the article, this part, "you’re never going to have not war. Ever." Did you mean "you're never going to NOT have war, Ever" Peace bro!

  15. Typo patrol, no need to post...

    In the P beginning "Neither the Iraqi government or most especially the Syrian government..." ... And Iraq’s new prime minister,Haider al-Abadi,

    Need a space after the comma after minister.

    Question... do you prefer 911 instead of 9/11 or 9-11? I parse the former as nine one one, and the latter two as nine-eleven. Mind had to reread twice to get back on track.

    Awesome as always.

    1. Anonymous: I don't often reply directly like such, but I just had to ...

      On the subject of what I think of as the "involuntary grammar-nazi" crowd:
      I really do think that people who read "more" (really READ from a "younger" age - pick your own reference point), tend to just automatically "expect" correct grammar, because we've "grown up" reading "real books" (as opposed to mostly Interwebz posts of one variety or another), which, I suppose, had "real" editors, etc.in the mix. So, when we're reading along, and run into one of those "grammar potholes" the "reading stream" comes to an instant screeching halt (cue sound of vinyl record stylus dragged across a spinning disc), while we re-read to make sure we didn't misread something, or heaven forbid, misunderstand the author's intent.

      So, now I'll apologize if no one wanted to hear that; it's not exactly "on topic" but the mention of having to "reread ... get back on track" reminded me, and I'm behind schedule for "poking" this topic once a year or so ...

      Sort of back "on topic" - I think Jim's pretty much got it "proofread" by now - I didn't actually "screech/halt" anywhere - I mostly just slowed down a bit, to mentally retrieve names and/or proper context from the "Vietnam-era" remarks; I'm a little too young to have much in the way of ANY first-hand recollection of those days, much less "political nostalgia" ...

      ... Jim: Just ... Wow. As always! ... Thanks for letting us have a peek! ...

    2. the "reading stream" comes to an instant screeching halt
      Similar to walking through The Louvre and coming accross the Mona Lisa vandalised with a moustache. It seems to only be a problem with those who actually read rather than internally verbalise each word. To a reader, a collection of letters constitutes an idea not a sound. Hence their, there, they're etc result in that vinyl record recieving another jarring scratch.
      On topic, in Australia we went "All the way with LBJ" and it is only the last decade that has seen some recognition of the problems that faced, and still face many of the returned soldiers.

  16. This comment has been removed by the author.

  17. War correspondents are killed trying to bring news of distant conflicts to light. It's not unusual; it is an unfortunate part of the job. The US doesn't jump in with boots on the ground every times a journalist is killed somewhere in the world. Heck, we probably helped silence some of those journalists through our support of Latin American dictators in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. What we did in Iran in the 1950s didn't work out so well, either.

    Preventing ethnic genocide with a few well-placed bombs and food drops is much preferable to boots on the ground. The Middle East is a morass. We would do well to stay out of it, and let the different countries, societies, tribes and religious divisions determine their own futures and that of their children. What is happening, and has been happening in Syria for the last two or so years, is horrible and very sad. We should have intervened in Cambodia during the reign of terror of the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot. We did nothing and a quarter of the population died. We should have intervened sooner during the Bosnian genocide. We did not. The world should have intervened during the Rwandan genocide. It did not. I'm not certain if it is "not my problem" or "there is no advantage in it for us," or "let them kill each other," situation. Maybe we are just burnt out on civil wars and genocide. So, like domestic violence, what happens in your own home or country is a private matter, rather than a case of common battery, subject to intervention by the police and/ or the world.

    There has not been one decade of my life where the US has not been involved in a conflict directly or by proxy. I have come to the conclusion that some, perhaps many, humans like killing one another, and the stock market thinks there is more money to be made in war that in peace.

    Someone on NPR asked a great question today. "If we are so willing to go to war over two journalists, how much more resentment will we arouse with "collateral damage" and "double intent" - death of the old, women and children, who only want to survive the latest political upheaval - and are caught between guns aimed north and south, east and west?

    But, if we do not at least attempt stop genocide, what are we?


    1. The USA cannot claim to be a disinterested party in the region. It acts in its own interest, and its acts are seen that way. Ideally, this was what the UN was for. But all the major powers have done everything possible to keep the UN from doing that job.

      And air power alone does not work. It creates misery. But it does not win wars.

  18. I entered into a lengthy debate on this subject a couple of weeks ago.
    When our president starts off the "Let's get them" speech with "we can't win, but it will take a long time", we know we're in deep doodoo. Again.
    As someone who has a military background, can you tell my why our allies should have any faith in our efforts to "train the rebels". We've been attempting that for the last 10 years, and at the first sign of trouble, they're gone. How is this time going to be different?
    What would be the problem with paying Turkey (or some other local country) to do the training? Perhaps there is some cultural reason why our training methods do not seem to work there. I honestly do not know, but I can't imagine it not being worth a try.

  19. I wish I could remember where I saw the post some months ago. Author was saying that Neville Chamberlain never acted out of cowardice, but pragmatism. Britain (he said) was totally unprepared for immediate war, and knuckling under to Hitler bought them time to mobilize. Ah, here's the link:


  20. Jim, nice piece of writing. Vietnam is very personal to me. I lost a lot of friends and classmates in that one. One very small correction though is we didn't win every battle. The fall of Khe Sanh comes immediately to mind.

    1. Sometimes we lose the battles that we won. About 5 years ago I was talking to a psychologist who was counselling a group of Vietnam Vets. One of them, referring to the Battle of Long Tan, made the comment "my eyes saw a scene that only (a) god could understand. Thirtyfive years later he still could not come to grips with it.
      Jim, I have been a lurker here for a number of years, but like Tom, Vietnam is personal. I was fortunate that my birthday did not come up in the "lottery of death", but that of some of my friends did. Some came back, forever changed but still able to carry on, some did not come back and some came back forever broken,

    2. I had just returned to the states when my platoon was wiped out at Khe Sanh. I often wish I'd been there.

  21. "This threat exists because war and conflict have destabilized the region."


    1. "Mister I just overheard you talking through your drink, / How the Russians lie like rugs and they pushed us to the brink. / Now sit right here beside me, I've an old man's tale to tell / How Yanks and Reds were friends once, at the Elbe."—Fred Small, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9VIW3fVMC5w

    2. Common Christian beliefs, there has to be a devil, an Adversary. So our leaders keep telling us about adversaries. "If your leaders tell you the Kingdom of Heaven is in the sky, the birds will get there first; if they say the sea, the fish."—gnostic, attributed to JC. And I guess if they tell us Hell is here on earth, we go fight the devils.

    3. I think in many ways, Iraq has actually been worse than 'nam. Fewer American deaths to be sure, but many more enemies made. Vietnam was not the focus of a world religion. Lost or won, it was still part of the "Cold" War. Losing in Iraq led to the emergence of the Islamic State which hates us, wants to lead world Islam in opposition to the USA, and may get somewhere trying. Certainly there are many in the region with no reasons to love the USA.

    4. So what is left? Containment, bah! But that only works when the rest of the world stays put. Ain't gonna. Climate change, environmental disasters, shifting alliances, economic transformation… We have no idea how to contain this.

    How could the people who led us into Iraq have been so stupid?

    1. Not stupidity, greed and when you know someone else is paying the bill there's no risk to you.

  22. Two other comments. Kissinger and his lust for power prevented the US from getting out of Vietnam as much as any military contractor. Supposedly, we could have been out at the end of the Johnson administration, if the book, Price of Power, by Seymour Hersh is true.

    Your essay also reminded me of a John Prine song, "The Great Compromise,"

    Play Music
    "The Great Compromise"

    I knew a girl who was almost a lady
    She had a way with all the men in her life
    Every inch of her blossomed in beauty
    And she was born on the fourth of July
    Well she lived in an aluminum house trailer
    And she worked in a juke box saloon
    And she spent all the money I give her
    Just to see the old man in the moon

    I used to sleep at the foot of Old Glory
    And awake in the dawn's early light
    But much to my surprise
    When I opened my eyes
    I was a victim of the great compromise

    Well we'd go out on Saturday evenings
    To the drive-in on Route 41
    And it was there that I first suspected
    That she was doin' what she'd already done
    She said "Johnny won't you get me some popcorn"
    And she knew I had to walk pretty far
    And as soon as I passed through the moonlight
    She hopped into a foreign sports car


    Well you know I could have beat up that fellow
    But it was her that had hopped into his car
    Many times I'd fought to protect her
    But this time she was goin' too far
    Now some folks they call me a coward
    'Cause I left her at the drive-in that night
    But I'd druther have names thrown at me
    Than to fight for a thing that ain't right


    Now she writes all the fellows love letters
    Saying "Greetings, come and see me real soon"
    And they go and line up in the barroom
    And spend the night in that sick woman's room
    But sometimes I get awful lonesome
    And I wish she was my girl instead
    But she won't let me live with her
    And she makes me live in my head


  23. Tremendous job, Jim.... As always...... even with all the spelling and grammar errors, I got through it!!!! Bill Slover

  24. As always, thank you, Mr. Wright. I protested in the streets against Viet Nam, I protested against the second Iraq war (during the first we were in a flat in London. The building was full of Kuwaitis, many male, all of military age. It burned me that our troops were fighting and they were sitting it out in cushy digs in London town). If I have to, I will take to the streets again. I am getting too old for this. Those who are willing to serve in the military to defend us deserve better. -Martha

  25. The thing that has been disturbing me of late is how "America" has become "the Homeland". Defending the Homeland ... Just seems a strange turn of phrase.

    How about we follow the tactic of the French and call these people Daesh... Reduce their legitimacy as both Islamic and a State and stop being driven by fear, and perpetuating an us vs them mentality which can only radicalize more followers of Islam if they think America is fighting their State vs some unhinged terrorists using Islam as justification.

    Then, if America can stop acting as World Police for one goddam minute and realize that everywhere they interfere they create future problems because while there may be some very smart folks in the Military (thank god) they go where the bought and paid for politicians, lobbyists and think tanks tell them to go.

    Finally... Focus on the US - the Homeland - and secure the borders (at the border), declare a war on poverty, malnutrition, lack of education, dependence of foreign oil, and escalating healthcare costs... And then maybe kickstart a " made in America" strategy to stop the race to the bottom with crappy imported goods that cost both in trade balance and jobs... Lead by example, not by putting unnecessary boots on the ground to perpetuate the cycle...

    1. Spot on. I hate the term "Homeland". To me it just comes across militaristic and empirish (probably not a word :-) ). I often wonder what's so hard about saying here at home, or in the US.

  26. I came of age (and by that I mean, in this context, "draftable age") during the height of our Vietnam Adventure.
    I've had this horrible, squirming pain growing in the middle of my gut for a while now. For a guy who didn't live through that time, you've just done a hell of a job of articulating why, Jim.
    I'd say "thanks", but I can't quite muster that up.

  27. I've been watching Ken Burn's "The Roosevelts" documentary this past week and have been repeatedly brought to actual tears at how little we have learned from our past. Your post, as usual, is spot on. I have nothing to add, but Mr. Seeger thought some background music was warranted.

    Well, I'm not going to point any moral;
    I'll leave that for yourself
    Maybe you're still walking, you're still talking
    You'd like to keep your health.
    But every time I read the papers
    That old feeling comes on;
    We're -- waist deep in the Big Muddy
    And the big fool says to push on.

    Waist deep in the Big Muddy
    And the big fool says to push on.
    Waist deep in the Big Muddy
    And the big fool says to push on.
    Waist deep! Neck deep! Soon even a
    Tall man'll be over his head, we're
    Waist deep in the Big Muddy!
    And the big fool says to push on!

  28. I just finished watching "The Roosevelts" on PBS and heard more than one historian observe that FDR had the ability and patience to wait and allow the enemy to jump in with both feet before committing himself to a course of action. I have observed the same patience in President Obama.

  29. Thank you, once again, for saying what needs to be said, and doing it so well. As another Vietnam era child I'm still aware of the graphic dinner time news, which likely was the end of the war. Which is why there was no reporting on deaths or coffins coming home at the start of this mess in Iraq. I have noticed that the favorite term in the speeches lately has be "homeland", as in protecting the, defending the, etc.. That term was used a lot in WWII, by the other side.
    I appreciate your comment to support the troops. I have always done so, while being against all of the wars and police actions of my generation. I don't believe we have justifiably used the resources of the young lives who were drafted or volunteered.
    Now, even more than when I protested the VietNam war (not long before it ended), as I am a mom and cannot see taking the life of any other mother's child, I think we have to change our ways. If we can't figure it out we are doomed to never ending conflict. Saying that, I don't pray for peace, I pray for sanity.

  30. Jim, thanks for writing what I usually think. I will be 71 next Wednesday and don't have the time or inclination to spend my time posting stuff. I was a Viet vet, USN 1962 1966, spent the first 6 months of 1966 following the Coral Sea around Yankee station in an old DE, keeping the Viet Cong subs away, ( sarcasm). Then joined the USCG in 1971 and retired in 1997. I have cousins and old school mates who were grunts in Nam and the ones who talk much about it don't have much good to say. Anyway, thanks again for posting my thoughts so I don't have too. CWO4 USCG Ret.

  31. What about the 10% surtax or the extentionof universal service without exemption ????
    Time to put our personal blood and treasure where our mouths are.

  32. What a wonderful post!! I have read here before, but not commented. I am 61, and was in college when we finally got out of Vietnam. My 6th grade teacher was fired because he was against the war, and when we studied SE Asia, he made his feelings clear. I was 11, what did I know, but I haven't forgotten.
    A good friend's brother made it home, but then shot himself a few years' later. My friend found him.
    War never accomplishes anything positive except for the contractors, who never seem to lose people, but always make buckets of money. I wonder how McCain thinks we can invade again when we have no bases, no means of support for the 'boots on the ground,' and have not even been asked to help. Lord, I am so sick of him and the rest of the GOP, trying to use this to make Obama look weak if he refuses war, or like a fool if he caves and then we are left in another recession with dead kids coming home daily again. Do they never think of the greater good?

  33. As always, Mr. Wright, I thank you for the clarity of rational argument and the presentation of accurate historical analysis. In short: great essay!

    I have two, related observations - one I thought of this morning and one that comes from your history of advisors that turn into troops at war. First, al Queda and even more so, ISIL leaders have America's psychology figured out. Really doesn't take much smarts to do that since the US has become all about repeating ourselves in the stupid. ISIL knows what will get us back into their arena despite any war fatigue. (Same thing that Hamas uses to bait Israel, actually.)

    Outrage. Thus, the beheadings.

    We fell for it.

    And now we send "advisors". What's going to happen when the first "advisor" or three get kidnapped and we have serial beheading vids all over the internet? Soldier heroes this time. Some young kids, or older vets from Akron, Ohio and Podunc, TX?

    You think Lindsey Graham is creaming his camo-colored, Eagle-embossed war panties now? You know Election-PTSD McCain will traipse over to Iraq in his boots and give a war speech in support of BotG revenge.

    Al Quaeda and ISIL know that the Iraq war helped spread and strengthen radical Islam, even as it weakened existing powers against them, both Middle East and Western. They know the Russian empire fell due to over-expenditure on war, debt, and the spread of dissension from inevitable military excesses.

    Dragging us in was their goal.

    Pity us for becoming so predictable and weak.

    1. You have hit on Al Qaeda's strategy, not ISIL's. This is part of their split. Al Qaeda wants to bleed us dry like they did the Soviets. Tougher because of our reserve currency status which lets us keep printing money to fund the wars, but our resources are not endless. ISIL's leadership isn't ex-mujahideen, so they don't know. A standing army like ISIL's is easier to hit and defeat. Even if we battle them, some remnant will melt away and reconstitute somewhere else.

      They want to call themselves a state? I say "Let them try". Surrounded by unfriendlies, ruling over a patchwork of religious and ethnic constituencies who do not share their radical interpretation of Islam. Good Luck.

  34. You nailed it. The US (and the UK tagging along) need to stop pretending they are some sort of global policeman, and poking in other people's mess and making it worse. The US funded and equipped, and the UK trained, the Taliban when they were the Mujahedin and the enemy in Afghanistan were the Russians. We supported Saddam in Iraq when we were worried about Iran. The US has supported dictators against local opposition when that opposition was allied to the current bogeyman, and has supported terror groups when the regime they were attacking was allied to the bogeyman. There is nothing moral about most of this - it's all fear. Fear that someone else's ideology might actually win out, that the "American way" might not after all be the most attractive way of life, that if people, any people anywhere, were given options they would choose the "wrong" one. That current seems to run deep in the US - McCarthyism, homophobia, Islamophobia: all part of the same fear. It would be pathetic but harmless if it did not so often end up in oppression and violence.

  35. .

    Rock on ...

    Admire tremendously you well developed skills to use language to convey a thoughtful and nuanced analysis. Yes, I know you don't give a rats-a$$ of my opinions on your thoughts. Never the less, it is important to acknowledge the skillful way you bring into focus the complexities of the issues from people who do not live in the bubble of Washington/New York inbred power games. Thank you.

    (Given the depth and character of your writings over time, one is wondering, that just maybe, Stonekettle Station is being written by one of those new computer programs that can mimic people's writing. ...)

    Ema Nymton

    1. Nah, no computers; it's all Jim's eloquence and knowledge. Computers aren't that good yet. Look up the Turning Test.

  36. How do we fight back? There must be a better way to combat the constant FUD* being churned out to distract and manipulate popular opinion. Is there any way to deflect this intense national narcissism**, that keeps us believing that it's all about us? The susceptibility of the populace is the deeper issue; even if the CCM*** recovers from the damage caused by monopolization, another financial entity will simply step up, unless that changes. Thanks, once again, for an inciteful essay and a thoughtful discussion.

    *Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt
    ** natiolarcissism? Do we need a new word or does nationalism really cover it?
    *** Corporate Controlled Media

  37. To continue the theme, maybe the USA will start to come to its senses when we've had another Kent State. I admire your ability to get an idea across powerfully... and if you ever see me post a correction of grammar, syntax, or spelling, you will know my account has been hacked by a pretentious fool. - Roger Barton AIA

  38. Spot on Jim Wright. Read. Loved. Shared.

    Checked out the songs you listed at top and tail on youtube too. Powerful stuff.

    Just one question - reminds me of your old Syria dilemma piece back when it was Assad's use of chemical weapons that was ringing the war bells - what advice would you have and what, if you were POTUS, would you do?

    Are there any good options or are we dammed if we do & don't?

    Dammed if we stand by and let IS/IS-L go on their less than merry way and dammed if we intervene and try to stop them?

    Personally, I hope we can find another way or three but, I'll admit I'm really torn on what the right path is here, really don't see one.

  39. I once took a sociology course with a professor who was a Vietnam vet. This professor opined that most battles in Vietnam were considered wins by both sides because we had different definitions of victory. The Americans were 'victorious' when the enemy body count was high. The Vietnamese defined victory when a lot of equipment was captured/destroyed, thus costing the Americans lots of money.

    It seems to me that these definitions may hold true in the current conflicts. We are throwing a tremendous amount of money into wars, and leaving equipment behind. We count coup by the number of dead terrorists. The current 'enemy' uses an occasional American death to goad us into spending yet more money. By their definition, (and possibly mine), we have already lost this war. Our economy is thrashed, our culture is forever changed and we go on pouring money into wars that accelerate our economic and cultural devastation.

    Damn it... the omnipotent 'they' should be building hospitals and schools. We should be combating climate change and researching agricultural methods that don't pollute our rivers and strip our soil. We should be pouring money into research and space travel and education instead of war machines. If America wants to make the world a better place, we should lead by example and quit letting ignorance be the defining characteristic of our citizens.

    1. " . . . our culture is forever changed . . .". Exactly. In trying to defeat them, we became them. Ultimate insanity.

  40. Love it that you included the words to Eve of Destruction. It will always be in the top ten of my favorite songs. A small tidbit of trivia. It was written by 19 year old P.F. Sloan in, some say Aug. of 64, others say 65. When I hum it to myself, which I still do to this day, I always think, after all of these decades, nothing has changed. The words still ring true. The Eastern world, it is explodin', violence flairin', bullets loadin'.....

  41. Someone had made a suggestion once for you to enter a first post after publishing where folks could 'reply' with spelling and grammatical suggestions. That way subsequent comments could be free of the nits. You might even be able to just delete the post and replies so they are not around for eternity. Just a thought.

  42. "If there is one man, one member of Congress who should understand the folly of an endless, unwinnable war, it’s John McCain."

    Certainly, John McCain is a member of Congress.

    Fortunately, we have two members of the President's Cabinet who fought in the same war Mr. McCain fought in, and who happen to bring to bear a healthy scepticism about war itself: Mr. Kerry (Secretary of State) and Mr. Hagel (Secretary of Defense).

    Perhaps it is prudent to recall the three-letter-acronym President Eisenhower used to explain *why* we have wars: M.I.C.

  43. The thing that always got me about the "Domino Theory" was "If we don't fight them over there (Vietnam), we'll be fighting them on the beach at Long Beach." Yeah, Right!!

    I think it'd would be a good idea to bring back the draft. When I was young and subject to the draft I didn't think it was a good idea. But looking at the current military I think we need some people in the military that don't want to be there in order to help temper the military mindset. Even the lifers weren't as Gung Ho as most of those in the military are these days. When I was in in the late 60s most of the lifers just considered the military as a job, not a fucking crusade!!

  44. Thank you for this powerful message. Hopefully, it will find it's way to those that really need to hear it.

  45. "Politics is the entertainment branch of industry"

    ~ Frank Zappa

  46. Thank you for this, it speaks so much to how I feel. But, really, why do our leaders want us to fight when the natives won't? What will we gain? No ISIL here. Well we can prevent that if we want. How about we demand that before we do this again, we have to pay for it first. You know, like the SNAP program or the money for the unemployed? I'm sick of war. We don't need to waste the money or the soldiers. Someone please get Congress's attention. I'm writing the President, but he won't listen either. Looks like it's going to be more marches and losses, and bankruptcy. Funny how we always have the money to fight, but none for our citizens.

  47. Absolutely superb Mr. Wright, the best of your essays I have read, and given the quality of all the others, take that as the huge compliment intended.

    Since I was a (minor) participant in the (alleged) Tonkin Gulf (non) Incident, I think I can comment about that event. I wasn't there on the ships, but I was an enlisted member of the staff of the Admiral in command of those ships, and I worked in the Operations Office where most of the planning of the event happened, and it turned out I knew people who were aboard the ships, and heard their stories first-hand.

    Briefly, there was no event. The two ships were there to support a South Vietnamese commando raid on Hon Me Island (a piece of real estate that conveniently disappeared on the maps Americans ever saw at the time, but it really exists and it was then and is now internationally recognized as part of Vietnam, then a part of North Vietnam, a country with which we were not then at war). There were never any torpedo boats and there definitely were no torpedoes on the water, from the testimony of the Chief Sonarman on the Maddox (many things in the water sound like other things, a school of fish can sound like a submarine; nothing else sounds like a torpedo in the water).

    What did happen was that the two ships were under the impression they were under attack, and both came very close to sinking the other, but for the actions of lower-ranking personnel aboard each ship. I discovered (when I ran across him in a bar in Olongapo a month later) that a friend of mine who was a Fire Controlman aboard the Maddox had refused three times to obey the order to "open fire", telling his Captain that the only target out there in the dark was the Turner Joy. For this act of courage, he got a General Court Martial for failure to obey a direct order, and was reduced in rank and not allowed to re-enlist (as if he would have, after that). On the Turner Joy, the Assistant Gunnery Officer (who I later met at Cal when a professor we both knew was trying to crack the code of silence on the event), a Lieutenant (j.g.), who managed to convince his Captain the only thing out there was the Maddox, fortunately without having to go to the lengths my friend had. One can only shiver at the thought of what would have happened had neither man acted as he did and one of the ships had sunk the other.

    You might also find it interesting to know that the man responsible for allowing Daniel Ellsberg to sneak the Pentagon Papers out of the library at the RAND Corporation, so that the truth of Tonkin Gulf and all the other Vietnam lies would be told,. was former LCDR Richard H. "Dick" Best, Jr., the man who sank the Japanese carrier "Akagi" at the Battle of Midway and thus turned things around so the US won that battle. Dick became a friend of mine in his last ten years (he died in 2001, just after 9/11, an event he said was a karmic debt payment for 300 years of American bullshit), and he always maintained that he believed he had served his country better by turning a blind eye to Daniel Ellsberg's activities than he had over the Japanese fleet in 1942.

    The only things good I can think of about Vietnam are stories like these and the many others I heard as a member of the GI antiwar movement back then, of people who didn't forget the spirit of the oath they had taken to DEFEND THEIR COUNTRY, who didn't let themselves go down the path of moral failure, who said NO to the many opportunities they faced where crimes would be committed. To me, those people are the real heroes of the Vietnam war, not the ones decorated for Killing Commies For Christ.

  48. As long as we're quoting relevant song lyrics:
    "Hide your wives and daughters
    Hide the groceries too
    Great nations of Europe coming through." - Randy Newman, "The Great Nations of Europe" (and, yeah, that includes us)

  49. I wish I'd said it first, but it is indeed deja vu all over again. Thanks for the moment of sanity in a very crazy world.

  50. Thank you again.

  51. "Those 58,000 Americans died for nothing."

    It's a shame, but where I live, the only person who can get away with saying that out loud is someone with your military bona fides and ass-on-the-line cred. Conversely, with my shitty little non-combat DD214 and minimal service, I've had a couple opportunities over the years to block with my right and lead with my left when I say that. The point? Thank you. One helluva lot.

    Rob Belgeri

  52. One of your very best, Jim. Thank you.

  53. But war is just so damn profitable! The puppet masters continue to drive us there.


    1. I remember a slogan from the Vietnam War days (yes, I am of that vintage): "War is good business. Invest your son."

  54. Great article. I remember the horrors of Vietnam. The powers-that-be decided to stop showing the blood and guts on TV. So most Americans only now know of "sanitized" war.

    BTW, P.F. Sloan wrote "Eve of Destruction"

  55. I think one of the other lessons of Vietnam would be 'stand by your allies'.

    Whatever you might think of why the war started, it took years to build a fairly functional RVN military. By the 70's, they weren't all that bad at what they did, and fairly competently beat back the NVA , when they had adequate logistical and air support.

    Lack of confidence in US support has been heavily credited with the collapse of the country. Certainly, I'd expect it to be hard to get infantry to stand their ground if they don't have some reasonable expectation that resupply will happen before they run out of beans and bullets.

  56. “The real unforgivable acts are committed by calm men in beautiful green silk rooms, who deal death wholesale, by the shipload, without lust, without anger, or desire, or any redeeming emotion to excuse them but cold fear of some pretended future.

    But the crimes they hope to prevent in that future are imaginary. The ones they commit in the present - they are real.”
    ― LM Bujold, Shards of Honour

  57. “Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.”

  58. I'm 52 years old, and with the exception of NASA( going to the moon, space shuttle, Hubble telescope, Mars Rover) there is nothing that I can think of that makes me proud to be an American.

  59. Really well put. Really well. ( I speak as a veteran myself, former US Army officer and paratrooper ). You quote Charlie Rangel and then go on to say that McCain, if anyone, should know about war. Rangel is also a combat veteran, from the Korean War. He, like my Dad, would also know a bit about war.

  60. Perfect points!!!

    When will our leaders realize that there are millions of people in this world who HATE Americans. As we destroy one group another rises from theses ashes. This time, the group is also a threat to ruling Arab leaders, so maybe there will be support in destroying ISIL.

    Republican Party has often promoted war as a means to take Americans' focus off our domestic problems and it has usually worked.

    I grew up doing the Vietnam War and watched my WWII vet father's support of the war wither and die as my younger brother approached 18.

  61. I have more fear that republicans will take power in all 3 branches of our government than I do of isis.

  62. "And what if Obama was in charge during the Civil War? Why we might still have secessionists and Tea Party racists waving Confederate flags … Okay, that’s a bad example, let’s just move on."

    Oh, Lord. I don’t know whether to laugh at that line, or to cry. Either way, it sums up the world perfectly.

  63. John Henry Faulk told a story of his early childhood, growing up with his cousin, Billy, deep in East Texas.

    John Henry said that as nine-year-old make-believe Texas Rangers, they were the scourge of all bandits, robbers and desperadoes when they rode their trusty stick horses on the range between the kitchen door and the corn crib.

    One day John Henry's mother sent them out to investigate a commotion in the henhouse. They entered to find all the chickens were squawking and fluttering around and began to examine the nests. About half way through their investigation, as they peered into a nest, a black snake raised its head about six inches from their noses. John Henry remembers how all of their make-believe heroism fell away as the would-be Rangers crashed through the side of the henhouse.

    When John Henry's mother questioned them about the incident, she wondered how the two bravest lawmen in East Texas could be afraid of a harmless black snake, adding, “After all, everybody knows a black snake can't hurt nobody.”

    To which young Billy replied, as he rubbed his bruised head and backside, “Yes, Ma'am, but they sure can cause you to hurt yourself.”

    -- Molly Ivins

    1. Lord, I miss Molly Ivins. The world is a poorer and sadder place without her.

  64. Sorry to be cynical, but this isn't about ISIL, or Muslim extremism, or our safety. It is entirely about encircling and isolating Russia. Hear me out.

    Russia supplies 30% of Europe's natural gas. Without it, German industry would collapse and Europeans would freeze. Russia has Europe by the short hairs, which threatens US dominance in Europe. To mute this influence, the US has to lessen Europe’s dependency on Russian energy. Two tasks: interfere with Russian transport, and provide other suppliers.

    When the democratically elected pro-Russian president of Ukraine broke off talks with Europe a year ago on an economic pact because Russia offered a better deal, the CIA orchestrated a coup. Remember that Victoria Nuland phone call plotting the next president? Europe won’t like it. “Fuck Europe”, she said. Russia responded by taking over Crimea, locking in huge off-shore gas supplies, then fomenting an insurgency. The sanctions battle has resulted in Europe stockpiling gas while trying to bleed Russian energy companies dry, and hence the whole Russian economy, by restricting access to credit. Russia responded by diverting gas to China. Let’s hope it’s a mild winter. Scratch the Crimean supply.

    The other potential supply is the Saudi peninsula. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, U.A.E., all swimming in gas. What they need is a pipeline to Europe, but it would have to traverse Jordan, Iraq, and Syria to get to Turkey. Fat chance given that Syria is a staunch Russian ally and houses its western fleet. Iraq has fallen under the influence of Iran, another close Russian trading partner.

    So who joined our bombing runs last night? Our closest ally, Britain? Nope. The French, right? Nope. NATO partners like Poland, maybe Turkey. Wrong again. Here’s the list: Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar, Bahrain, the U.A.E.: everyone who would benefit from the pipeline.

    We can debate whether Russian needs to be isolated, but let’s not be na├»ve about why this war is being waged and whether it will have to be escalated.

  65. I was 11 when the Gulf of Tonkin occurred. As an AF brat I paid attention to LBJ's speech. I am tired of listening to a different version of that speech every few years. It is time to put the big stick away and try to get along.

  66. DoorOpener - I believe the word you are looking for at ** is jingoism.

  67. "and for want of the price of tea and a slice the old man died"

  68. Actually, even during WWII, General Stillwell got pretty much nowhere working with his Chinese Nationalist ally, speaking parenthetically.

  69. Thanks for another great piece, Jim.

  70. Another excellent read Jim.

    "The Vietnam War required us to emphasize the national interest rather than abstract principles."

    I think that my well be a big portion of the problem we continue to find ourselves in - for many politicians, national interest is indeed abstract.

    The feeling in my bones is bad Jim, very bad. Somehow our politicians equate war with policing and they're about as parallel as right angles. Somehow, our politicians have forgotten that in war, the warrior's objective is to outright destroy and conquer, while policing is to enforce the peace.

    Or are they conveniently confusing the two???

    The feeling we felt during the Vietnam era is not much different than that of today - fear and loathing in Las Vegas, as the moray eels engage in an orgy with the lizards and we're left with a giant room service bill.

  71. Just a minor quibble Jim, shouldn't antipode be more properly nadir? The antipode is the place on Earth directly opposite where you are: nadir is an astronomical term, the zenith is the point above your head, the nadir is the point in space opposite the zenith. The are similar, but I think nadir is more closely correct.


  72. I blew tea out of my nose on the first line, nailed as usual Chief.

  73. "But 58,000 Americans died in that jungle.

    Some of them are still dying.

    For nothing."

    Dow Chemical might disagree.

    But you are correct.


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