Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists
- US President George W. Bush, to Congress, 20 Sept 2001
It became necessary to destroy the town to save it
We had to destroy the town.
So we could save it.
That statement, often paraphrased as “we had to destroy the village in order to save it,” was attributed to an unnamed US major by AP war correspondent Peter Arnett following the US strategic bombing of Ben Tre, Vietnam, in 1968.
In the years since, the veracity of that unattributed quote has been frequently questioned, but what is not in dispute is that on February 7th, 1968 at the height of the war, the south Vietnamese town of Ben Tre was destroyed by heavy bombardment.
The logic behind the assault was that the village had been infiltrated by communist forces and the only way to root them out was to level the place.
Much of the village (a small city in actuality) was obliterated by bombs and napalm.
Hundreds of civilians were killed, thousands were wounded and maimed. Some of the destruction was inflicted by the occupying communist forces, but the vast majority was from American airstrikes and artillery.
In the grim aftermath, Arnett interviewed US military officers and questioned the necessity of the carnage:
“It became necessary to destroy the town to save it,” a U.S. major said Wednesday.
He was talking about the grim decision that allied commanders made when Viet Cong attackers overran most of this Mekong Delta city 45 miles southwest of Saigon. They decided that regardless of civilian casualties they must bomb and shell the once placid river city of 35,000 to rout the Viet Cong forces.
A day later, Arnett’s story appeared in newspapers around the world and that statement, verbatim or otherwise, became one of the most infamous military quotes in modern history and an enduring testament to the brutal absurdity that was the United States’ military and political strategy in Vietnam.
U.S. advisers said the heavy allied firepower hurled on the city to drive out the Viet Cong probably contributed largely to the deaths of at least 500 civilians and possibly 1,000. South Vietnamese officials say the enemy dead totaled 451. About 50 Vietnamese soldiers died, along with more than 20 Americans...Lt. Col James Dare of Chicago, commander of U.S. Advisory Team 93, said “we will never know for sure” the number of civilians who died…Maj. Chester L. Brown of Erie, Pa., spent hours over the city as an Air Force forward air controller directing helicopter and fighter-bomber attacks. “It is always a pity about the civilians,” he said.
That ridiculous moment, the obliteration of Ben Tre and the horror of what we had wrought, for the first time brought the absolute insanity of the Vietnam War into focus for many Americans – even those who had previously supported it out of ignorance, apathy, or kneejerk patriotism.
It was at that moment, February 8th, 1968, when for the first time many Americans began to question the absurd idea that we were somehow saving people by killing them.
The bombing of Ben Tre, what was supposed to be a decisive victory, became instead the foundation for defeat and a moment in history that many Americans would like to pretend never happened. Of course Ben Tre wasn’t the only reason Americans became disillusioned with Vietnam, but the battle was a significant turning point and public support for America’s military involvement in Southeast Asia, never high to begin with, rapidly declined from that point forward.
When the bombs fell on Ben Tre the United States had been engaged in active combat in Southeast Asia for better than six years and more than 30,000 Americans had died in the jungles and rice paddies – and uncounted hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese. The conflict had slopped over into the surrounding nations and it was tearing America itself apart at the seams. Faced with an unwinnable war abroad, widespread unrest at home, and a surprisingly strong anti-war challenge from within his own party, Lyndon Johnson declined to run for reelection and was stumping instead for his Vice President, Hubert Humphrey.
As President, Johnson decided that it was in the best interest of America to get the hell out of Vietnam.
And so, by presidential order, a month later, in March, 1968, the US ceased active bombing over parts of northern Vietnam and attempted to engage Hanoi in negotiation towards ending the conflict.
Both sides met on May 10th in Paris.
It took five months of intense wrangling to reach a point where both sides could even talk to each other. Jingoistic chest beating and bombast, accusations and outrages ruled the day. Both sides refused to recognize the legitimacy of the other. They argued bitterly over every aspect, no matter how minute or ridiculous up to and including the shape of the table where the negotiations were to be held.
But eventually the framework for a ceasefire was hammered out and by the end of 1968 with US Presidential elections looming, it looked like President Johnson had brokered an end to the conflict – one that would allow both North and South Vietnam to continue on as separate and distinct nations, much like North and South Korea.
Sadly however the tide of history often turns on the actions of a ruthless and selfish few.
A peaceful end to the war and a triumphant return of American troops would hand Johnson, and by extension Hubert Humphrey and the Democrats, an enormous political victory and most likely the election.
And how different would our world be today if that had been the case?
Instead, Republican presidential candidate and senator from California, Richard Nixon, faced with likely defeat in the coming election, ordered his liaison to the South Vietnam government, Anna Chennault, to sabotage the pending deal.
Johnson’s and Nixon’s records, made public 40 years after the events of 1968, show irrefutably that as a presidential candidate Nixon attempted to directly influence the outcome of the peace process. Additionally, Nixon’s interference was confirmed by FBI wiretaps which recorded, among other conversations, a call from Chennault to Nixon describing how she had informed the South Vietnamese ambassador, “Hold on. We’re gonna win.” Moreover, those same records reveal that Nixon had an ace in the hole, Johnson’s advisor to the peace talks, Henry Kissinger. Kissinger was feeding Nixon information on the talks and on the Johnson administration – though the exact degree of his duplicity is yet to be fully determined.
Kissinger, for obvious reasons, isn’t exactly forthcoming.
Nixon attempted to sabotage the peace process solely in order to further his own political ambitions.
He didn’t do it because he believed it was bad for America, or bad for the world, or even bad for Vietnam.
He did it because he was a selfish, criminal, partisan son of a bitch.
And even George Will, the famously conservative columnist and pundit, agrees that Nixon’s actions clearly violate the 1797 Logan Act and are tantamount to outright treason – as did members of Nixon’s own party at the time, such as Republican Senate Minority Leader, Everett Dirksen (off the record of course, in a phone call to Lyndon Johnson, as revealed by the opening of presidential and senate records 40 years later).
It is impossible to say if Nixon’s attempted sabotage was the ultimate reason South Vietnam pulled out of the peace agreement at the last second, but pull out they did.
Faced with the embarrassing failure of the peace talks, the democrats lost their lead in the polls and Richard Milhous Nixon narrowly won the White House in November of 1968.
And the war continued on for another seven terrible years.
In that seven years another 20,000 US troops died – bringing the total US dead to 58,220. No one knows how many Vietnamese died.
In that seven years more than 100,000 US troops were wounded. No one knows how many Vietnamese were wounded – and continued to be killed, maimed, and terribly injured for decades afterward by the unexploded ordnance and toxins left buried beneath the former battlefields.
In 1968 the Vietnam war cost the United States 2.3% of the GDP. The war cost Americans more than $686 billion (adjusted to FY2008 dollars, the most recent year of accounting available from the GAO per the annual CRS report to Congress, 2008. Back of the napkin figures indicate the cost at well over a trillion dollars when adjusted to 2015 rates, which would put it on an even footing with current conflicts), with the lion’s share of that total coming between 1968 (the height of the war) and 1975 (the official end of US involvement). As of 2013, the U.S. government pays more than $22 billion to Vietnam veterans and their families or their survivors in war related claims. That’s twenty-two billion dollars per year that American taxpayers are still forking over forty years later.
There is no way to even begin to measure the toll on Vietnam veterans, in mental illness, in lingering and persistent injury, in homelessness, in alcoholism, in drug use, in domestic violence, in suicide, in the lost potential and lost opportunity of an entire generation.
War, my shiny electronic friends, is goddamned costly – for a very, very long time – and in many, many ways beyond mere money.
America’s part in the war officially ended in 1972 and Nixon won himself a second term, due in large measure for bringing about the end of the conflict – which undercut a critical plank in his opponent George McGovern’s campaign. And now you know why Nixon was so concerned about what his opposition knew and why he was willing to do damned near anything to keep his actions a secret – up to and including resigning the White House to avoid the scrutiny and disclosure of impeachment proceedings.
In an example of simply staggering irony, in 1973 Henry Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating the Paris Peace Accords – the very same process he directly helped sabotage four years before.
Over the next two years the United States pulled out of Southeast Asia and left our erstwhile allies to their own devices, a process Nixon called “Vietnamization.”
In April of 1975 North Vietnamese forces and Vietcong entered Saigon and the war was finally over.
North and South Vietnam became the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
In the end, destroying the village accomplished nothing.
Forty relentless years of endless war since, four decades of increasingly partisan insanity, and it’s the second coming of the same old cavalry.
We had to destroy the village in order to save it.
Forty years on and today’s fanatically partisan sons of bitches are still willing to sabotage peace talks solely in order to further their own selfish political agendas.
Four decades of continuous war later, of the same failed strategy, and they still think freedom and liberty can be delivered in the belly of a B-52. This despite the blunt and abject lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention the terrible lesson of Vietnam itself.
Four decades later and these same people still prefer war to peace, violence to talk, ideology to pragmatism, insanity to reason.
We had to destroy the village in order to save it.
Only this time, the country they intend to destroy is the United States of America.
And they don’t care how many innocents are killed and maimed in the process, just so long as they get what they want, just so long as they win the White House and the country. They sincerely believe that they are the masters of the universe and the only true Americans. And because they have come to sincerely believe that the rest of us are either enemies or cannon fodder and therefore beneath consideration.
They’re not willing to share the world with anybody else or to compromise even if it means the total destruction of the very nation they claim to love.
Forty years ago, on May 15, 1969, Bloody Thursday, these same sons of bitches under the command of none other than Ronald Reagan were perfectly willing to turn shotguns on Americans they saw as not American enough and they’re perfectly willing to do the same today – as evidenced by their fanatical love of their personal arsenals which are amassed solely for use against their fellow Americans.
Four decades later and it’s still the same diseased strategy and the same cast of characters – and when you see Henry Kissinger and John McCain sitting heads together in the same room, you can goddamned well believe it.
I am, of course, ultimately talking about forty-seven US Senators, backed by their conservative masters, who attempted to sabotage the P5+1 talks with Iran and that country’s nuclear program solely, solely, in order to embarrass and insult Barack Obama.
These people are so blinded with partisan fanaticism that they actually believe Iran is a greater threat to Western civilization than a bitterly divided United States.
These fanatics are so utterly consumed by their madness, that they actually believe a preemptive war with Iran is not only a solution, but the only solution.
And they are determined to have that war come hell or high water.
Even if they have to tear America apart to get it.
“We cannot allow them to have a nuclear weapon, if that means military action, that’s what we’ll end up taking,”
That was Wisconsin Republican Senator Ron Johnson, a signatory to the now infamous letter, last Sunday on Fox News.
If that means military action, that’s what we’ll end up taking.
We haven’t lost enough of America’s future in the Middle East.
We haven’t bled enough.
It’s never enough for these sons of bitches.
People like Senator Johnson, they walk past those 58,220 names inscribed on the cold black granite of the Vietnam Memorial, they can see it, they can touch it, they argue over the endless appropriations for war and its terrible aftermath, trillions in blood and treasure, bills they can not afford to pay and that they have mortgaged our children’s future for, they have their noses rubbed in the futility and the utter criminal waste of it all every single goddamned day and it’s still not enough for these insane fuckers.
It will never be enough. Never.
Johnson bases his position not on the actual deal (which is still incomplete, by definition) but on various leaks and rumors – which, for modern Republicans is more than enough reason to declare war, Quod Erat Demonstrandum.
Johnson argued that the Administration should give up negotiations and instead impose “some severe sanctions” on Iran, specifically a policy similar to the one instituted by George W. Bush.
Johnson for some odd reason failed to mention that Iran has complied with the interim agreement which paved the way for the current round of talks – as verified by the US, among other reliable international sources – and its capability has remained static during the Obama Administration.
And even more disingenuously, Johnson failed to mention that despite the Bush Administration’s “severe sanctions,” Iran’s enrichment capability, specially its uranium enrichment centrifuges grew from 164 in 2003 to more than 19,000 during that same exact period.
Those sanctions did no more to stop Iran than they did Fidel Castro.
What Senator Johnson demands is nothing less than abandonment of a working diplomatic solution and a return to the very situation which allowed Iran to increase its nuclear capability by more than 11,500%.
Which will lead, inevitably to war.
Which is exactly what these Netanyahu puppets want.
When asked, twice, what he would recommend in place of the rumored P5+1 deal, Johnson could provide nothing. Instead he declared,
“If Israel believes it’s threatened and it takes military action, the United States has got to back our strong ally.”
Actually, Senator, no we don’t have to back Israel, should they decide to go to war.
But then again, I realize I’m pissing into the wind here since a significant fraction of American conservatives seem to believe that their loyalty is to Israel and not to their own goddamned (literally, I guess) country.
Ironically, these are the very same people who think the Pledge of Allegiance should be mandatory.
But then again, these are the same people who got themselves publicly schooled on the Constitution and the roles of the various branches of the US government by Iranians, so make of it what you will.
For Johnson, it’s war or nothing.
And Johnson isn’t the only Republican who can’t offer any alternative.
Matt Lauer asked Rand Paul how, as president, he would respond if a group of Senators undermined his hypothetical administration.
"I'm kinda one of the Senators who's in favor of negotiations with Iran, I want there to be a peaceful outcome. But I want to strengthen the president's hand. I want to strengthen his hand by saying, you know what, we've got a lot of hardliners, and we're going to have to get this agreement by Congress and by doing so maybe the president will negotiate a more appropriate deal..."
Incredibly, presidential hopeful Paul thinks that the letter to Iran’s leaders undercutting President Obama actually made the president look better. To Iranians (Which to be fair, it probably did. In comparison, I mean). And apparently, as president, Paul would be okay with democrats pulling a similar stunt.
In a city of goddamned things, Rand Paul is about the goddamnest thing I’ve seen yet.
Lauer, obviously boggled, asked incredulously,
"You really think by signing that letter you strengthen the president's hand?"
“Well I have also reiterated what the Constitution says, that the powers are separated, and when legislation is passed by Congress. Congress passed most of the sanctions, they can't be taken back without Congress passing new legislation. So I think this is a law no matter whether there is a letter, no matter whether the Corker Bill passes or not, I think the law is that the sanctions can only be removed by Congress and by reiterating that, we send a message that this has got to be a good deal.
Except, of course, the letter Paul signed says no such thing.
And again, you’ll note Paul offers no alternative to the current negotiations – he just wants a “better” deal, but he can’t define what that is.
In fact, none of the 47 Senators who signed Tom Cotton’s letter can produce a coherent counter to the current deal. Well, other than “bomb ‘em!” I mean.
Meanwhile, another shining example of the Republican Party, Arizona Republican Senator John McCain – a guy who considers himself an expert on foreign affairs and national security – admitted that he was in a hurry to get out of Washington ahead of an impending snowstorm and that he didn’t really read the letter before adding his John Hancock. What? Screw Obama? Sure, where do I sign?
“It was kind of a very rapid process. Everybody was looking forward to getting out of town because of the snowstorm. I think we probably should have had more discussion about it, given the blowback that there is.”
That’s right, they were sending a letter to Iran’s Government, maybe even in violation of US law and certainly in violation of long established diplomatic protocol, an action that might derail more than a decade of negotiations and could lead directly to war in the most unstable and strategic region of the world, a war that might be nuclear(!) and would no matter what have dire and immediate economic consequences worldwide, and “it was kind of a very rapid process” and maybe, you know, um, “we could probably should have had more discussion about it.”
Should have thought about it some more? Geez, I dunno, Senator, ya fucking think?
Just like Richard Nixon, these people are perfectly willing to risk the lives of millions in mindless pursuit of their own selfish goals. They are perfectly willing to destroy the village – and if they forget how, Henry Kissinger and John McCain can draw them a map. Unless it’s snowing, I guess.
And despite the feeble protests of the rest of the Republican Party, you’ll note not one of these partisan hacks has been censured by their fellows.
If there is anything that more abjectly demonstrates the intellectual and moral bankruptcy of the modern GOP than this idiotic stunt, I don’t know what it is – unless they actually do manage to start a nuclear war.
And just like Nixon, they’re either oblivious to or simply don’t care about the long term consequences of their actions.
And just like Vietnam what’s very likely to happen should they sabotage the P5+1 talks is that the United States’ role in the final deal, whatever it may be, will then become moot. Iran will go on to make a deal with China, Russia, and the European powers and we will have no say in the outcome.
What it boils down to is that Republicans want to dictate surrender terms to Iran, with or without an actual war, and nothing less.
Which isn’t surprising given that’s been their exact same approach to Obama for the last five years.
Cotton, Johnson, and their allies, these people are fanatics in the most extreme sense. They are more fanatical in point of fact than Iran’s Ayatollahs given that those hardline Islamists are at least willing to meet the Obama administration halfway.
This agreement, the one being negotiated by the P5+1 isn’t a deal between the United States and Iran.
It is vastly, vastly, more complicated than that.
If, if, a deal is struck, it will be the culmination of more than a decade of diplomacy and will be an agreement between China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, Germany, and Iran.
Now, take a minute, think – really think – about that. Think about what it took to hammer out a working agreement between communist China, Putin’s Russia, the US, the UK, France, Germany, and Iran.
The fact that there’s even the possibility of a workable deal of any kind is mind boggling.
And not only did republicans attempt nothing less than a Nixonesque sabotage of the deal to further their presidential ambitions, no, what these forty-seven short-sighted selfish sons of bitches have done is even worse. These fanatics have sent a message to not only our enemies, but our strongest allies and largest economic trading partners (and rivals) that any agreement with the US is not to be taken seriously and could, in fact, dissolve at any moment based on the unpredictable whims of American partisan politics – not to mention America’s increasing religious fanaticism and stated willingness to sacrifice our own children for Israel’s political goals.
At this point, there is absolutely no reason whatsoever for any nation, friend or foe, to trust the United States of America. Republicans have made it clear that when you deal with America, you’re not dealing with a country or a government but with whoever happens to answer the goddamned phone. You’d have to be crazy to enter into any agreement with us.
In point of fact, if you’re really worried about a nuclear armed rogue state, you don’t really have to go looking very far from home.
Iran’s best option at the moment is to strike a deal with China and Russia and go full on Castro.
Republicans have made it very clear that there’s no reason to strike a deal with us.
Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists
- US President George W. Bush, to Congress, 20 Sept 2001
Only a Sith deals in absolutes
- Obi Wan Kenobi to Anakin Skywalker, Star Wars Ep. III
I’ll end this with an open letter of my own:
To the United States Senate, Attention: Tom Cotton, David Perdue, Joni Ernst, James Inhofe, John Cornyn, Mitch McConnell, Marco Rubio, Roger Wicker, John Hoeven, Richard Shelby, Thom Tillis, Richard Burr, Steve Daines, Jeff Sessions, John Boozman, Cory Gardner, Shelley Moore Capito, Ron Johnson, Mark Kirk, James Lankford, Chuck Grassley, Roy Blunt, John Thune, Mike Enzi, Pat Toomey, Bill Cassidy, John Barrasso, Ted Cruz, Jim Risch, Mike Crapo, Deb Fischer, Ben Sasse, Orrin Hatch, Dean Heller, Pat Roberts, John McCain, Rand Paul, Rob Portman, Lindsey Graham, Mike Lee, Mike Rounds, and Dan Sullivan
Now might be a good time to rethink the road you’re on.
Your partisan fanaticism and your self-admitted ill-considered actions make the Iranian government seem sane, sympathetic, reasoned and moderate in comparison.
You have measurably damaged the reputation of the United States and risked open war, the lives of millions, and the world economy, solely to further your own selfish goals. You have placed partisanship and loyalty to party above your own country and the lives of your fellows.
At this point, whatever the final outcome of your actions, history will very likely remember you in the same light as your fellow Republican, Richard Nixon – and potentially far worse.
Were I you, I’d give that some very, very serious thought.
Your oath, the oath you swore with your right hand upraised before your God, was to the United States of America.
The Pledge of Allegiance you swear is to the American flag, not the Israeli one.
Your legal, moral, and sacred obligation is to the citizens of the United States of America first, ALL OF THEM NOT JUST THE ONES WHO VOTED FOR YOU, and second to all of our allies and partners – not just Israel. Your duty extends far, far beyond the small and selfish interests of your religion and/or your political party and it is long past time for you to remember that.
I won’t presume to say you should be ashamed of your recent actions, since many of you obviously lack the capacity, but I will say it is NOT necessary to destroy the village in order to save it – and your fellow Senator John McCain should know the moral bankruptcy of that particular strategy better than anyone. What will save our nation and our world, the only thing that will ultimately save civilization itself, is that we work together, all of us - and that’s something else Captain John McCain USN(ret) and the veterans among your number should know as well. Perhaps they could explain it to the rest of you.
Respect is earned, Senators.
For people and likewise for nations, respect is earned – or lost – by every action, by every word.
Now might be a good time to consider yours.
Chief Warrant Officer, United States Navy (ret)
Citizen of the United States of America
I initially misspelled Nixon’s middle name as “Millhouse.”
It wasn’t a typo or an autocorrect, it was entirely my fault. I’ve fixed the mistake in the title and in the text, however, because of the way my blogging software works the original title was converted into the underlying link code complete with the misspelling. The only way to fix that would be to delete the post and republish it as a new article – and lose all the comments and associated social media links, comments, and forwards in the process.
As such, it stays as it lays and I’ll just live with the shame. At this point, however, I figure there's not much I could do to embarrass myself more than Congress, so, you know, at least I have that going for me.
I’ll be sure to double check my work more carefully in the future. Thanks to all of you who pointed it out, I do appreciate it // Jim