Posts tagged ‘Burns and Novick’


Shooting in Las Vegas? Could this be domestic terrorism? They found at least 10 guns in the alleged shooter’s room. Can we connect the dots yet? But the Dotard in Charge (DIC) is showing his empathy and labeled this an act of evil so I already feel better. I can’t figure whether to outlaw outside gatherings or multi-story hotels. Then again could guns be the problem? Oh shut my mouth! Nevada has legalized silencers! Apparently what happens in Las Vegas does not stay there anymore.

Meanwhile things are still fairly desperate in many parts of Puerto Rico although the relief effort is beginning to crank up. Of course once again the DIC is telling us the response has just been amazing. “We have it under great control.” That was after someone finally explained to him where Puerto Rico was and that they were actually American citizens (I don’t know that, but the big water statement and other comments indicates he did not). So if you want to find leadership, this is not it. His enablers are showing how empathetic he is and I just want to laugh. Empathy is not water, food, power, medical support, or a dry place to sleep. “Hey, get out there and fix it yourselves!” Really, that is leadership? He should have been on top of this from day one. Speaking of one, that was the first hole of his golf course he was on yesterday expressing his sympathy. Right on top of it.

Then we have the North Korean snafu (situation normal, all fucked up). Rex, doesn’t need a staff, Tillerson tells us we are talking to the North Koreans through back channels, and the DIC tells Rex he is wasting his time talking to Rocket Man. Of course enter the enablers who try to spin this as great strategy, good cop/bad cop approach when we all know there is no grand strategy. I expect Rex to quit pretty soon.

Then there is the story that the DIC can only respond to and hear good news or he lashes out so that is all he hears. On the immigration issue he is only told what they cost us, not what they add so he does not have to deal with complex thoughts or get confused by complex issues which might counter his policy ideas. Stephen Miller is probably the architect of that approach. He has no real intellectual curiosity and has decided what he believes, so telling him different is a good way to be unemployed. Remember the crowd size at inauguration? I am a normal person and I like to hear good stuff about me, but I also want to hear the bad so I can fix it. That is how I stay married. The DIC just reinvents reality so there is nothing to fix.

There was the vote and violence in Catalonia.  WTF.  People do not have a right to vote?  Spain’s reaction just reinforced the need to separate.  Oh, I understand that a nation, like ours in the Civil War, may have to go to war in a secession, but they were participating in a non-binding vote. There is a problem there Huston and it is not solved by a police riot and brutality.  And while I am at it, why is the United States against the vote for and secession of the Kurds?  Vice President Bidden even proposed that solution to Iraq years ago.  Why do we not understand the need for freedom and independence from a state that has repressed them?  We are really good at being on the wrong side of an issue.

Finally, I have been reading some snarky reviews of Burns’ and Novick’s The Vietnam War. Snarky because they said we should not be too quick to draw lessons learned, and some complexities were too simplified. Hmm. I wonder if these people lived through it? There were all kinds of complexities and all kinds of contradictions, but the big lessons are fairly simple. Here they are if you missed them:

  1. War is an atrocity. Entering into a war can only be done when our very survival is at stake. The wanton loss of life is never justified and what it does to us can never be repaired. It damn well better be worth it. See #2.  Oh and it wasn’t here.  Neither was Iraq.
  2. We humans find out things about ourselves in war, our savagery, that we did not want to know and that is what damages us the most because we find we actually enjoy it. And to be effective at it, we devalue the lives of the enemy through racism and hate.  That reduces our humanity.
  3. Our government will lie to us for political ends, and transparency and a vigorous free press is necessary so we the people can decide if we want to pay the price for war, or if the reasons are made up.  See both Voetnam and Iraq.
  4. As noted above about the DIC, generals/leaders are on top of an organization that needs to feed them what they want to hear.  Real leaders dig deep to find the truth, report it, and act on it.  There are not many of them in the real world.
  5. Governments glorify war to get us to fight them.  Medals, hero-worship ceremonies, and the lie that most wars are about protecting freedom, democracy, and the Constitution are the ways they do it.  Sure there are real heroes and we should admire them.  But because you wear a uniform does not make you a hero.  The guy who stopped the killing at My Lai was the real hero.  Somehow he maintained his humanity.  The idea of the fog of war and that this is understandable (only Calley was convicted and then had his sentence reduced to nothing) is nonsense.  Maybe it is in the sense that we lose our humanity, but it should never be tolerated.  It is the best argument against war itself.

Those are fairly simple. There might be all kinds of lessons about how to fight a war, who should be our friends, tactics in the field, yada, yada, yada, but really, they are minor players to the big ones above.  So Monday morning and another WTF wakeup.

And Then Saigon Fell

It is the morning after and I feel wrung out. The last episode of “The Vietnam War” was last night. I was pulled in many different directions. Back when it actually happened I was training in B-52s, this time my mission was the destruction of the planet as you and I know it. One might wonder why after I completed my tour in RF-4Cs I did not just hang it up then, I was definitely not Air Force material and the B-52 quite frankly sucked. Well, I was coming back from South East Asia to my family in the States and I did not see any options.

I had been out of the country in the Far East for five years. I wonder how many in the military today have faced that same quandary? With the new training as a B-52 Radar Navigator (bombardier), I had to finish my new commitment to the AF after my training, but when I did, I pulled the plug in 1979. For the first time in my life, I was true to myself. But back to the point. When Saigon fell I was glued to the TV. But I was kind of numb. I had put it all away. It had been coming for a long time. I watched Cambodia and South Vietnam degrade from the air in combat reconnaissance missions flown in 1973/74. Then, afterwards, I did not think about it much. Ticking time bomb for many of us.

This time when I watched it again, I was not numb. I was a bit depressed and really, really saddened by the whole tragedy. In the end, we were just as incompetent as we had been throughout. I wanted to save all those Vietnamese refugees, stop the advance of the North Vietnamese, and of course that was nonsense. Yes I felt we betrayed them in the end, but the option was a never-ending war. It still amazes me that they have more or less forgiven us.  There is a lesson there.

I guess what sadden me the most is the absolute stupidity and futility of it all. Not just for us, but for the Vietnamese too. Even some of our former adversaries  questioned the cost in lives lost. And looking at Vietnam today, why did we do it? Why did so many people have to die for what? I guess that is the ultimate lesson if we are listening. I wonder if we are listening because so far I see no real discussion of the series or what lessons we should take away are.

Ken Burns tells us that the divisions that were created in that war live on today. I am not sure what he means and what those are. Yes, we are divided today, but those divisions are born out of ignorance, fake news, in a world where truth is considered relative, and blaming and simple-minded solutions to complex problems reign supreme.  Vietnam taught me that truth and reality hits you right in the face whether you want it to or not. And when you ignore it, the cost in human lives and our humanity are high. I would love to have a one-on-one with Mr. Burns to hear his lessons learned.  The series tried to achieve balance, but I don’t think the lessons are balanced.  Generally they tell us war is futile enterprise.

I sadly see the Iraq war as a repeat of the failure to learn the lessons of Vietnam. We destroyed the Taliban and al-Qaeda mostly from the air in Afghanistan after we were attacked and if we would have just finished it by getting Ben Laden and then gotten out, one could say we did learn something. But we invaded Iraq on a made up reason (sound familiar?), and then totally ignorant of the factions and political motivations of the country, tried to nation build, an island of democracy in the Middle East. It was Vietnam all over again. And it is still ongoing.

Oh and my lessons learned from Half Way Through the Vietnam War Thoughts? Well in Iraq our government lied to us, the generals who fought it were mostly clueless using the tactics of the last war, and the biggest lie of all is that we are fighting to protect the Constitution, freedom, democracy, and our country. The biggest assault on our Constitution, democracy, freedom, and our country is the person now holding the Oval Office and the people who elected him. A man who tries to explain to us patriotism and never served anyone but himself. A man who was a draft dodger and knows nothing of history. A man who has no understanding of our Constitution and its founding principles.

When you see real patriotism, dissent in the face of large opposition, like  defying the status quo to take a knee during the national anthem to point out some of our injustices to try to make us better, and you deride it, see it as a slap in the face and an attack on the flag, you know we have learned nothing and understand little.

So I guess that is where Burns and Novick left me. Have we learned anything? There are so many parallels to today from the stupidity and counter productivity of violent protests, to simple-minded thinking about what is possible in someone else’s country. But I fear that many will look at all our failures and just say if we were smarter, with better tactics, it could have been won. They have no idea to this day what that war was about.  And again the question is won what at what cost. When Vietnam fell, the wanton killing stopped, the country evolved, and it is their country to decide how it is to be run. They seem to be doing okay today.

There is one parallel here between what the Burns’ series The Civil War taught us and what the Vietnam war taught us as previous adversaries can now show the respect and even affection for each other. In the brutal conflict of war, bravery and the sacrifice to our fellow combatants forges a bond that goes beyond almost anything else. And maybe there is some closure there in forgiveness.

But still, I am left saddened, a little depressed, and feeling guilty about that war and my participation in it. It absorbed my life from 1964 until 1979 when I left the Air Force. All those lives, Vietnamese, Korean, Australian, Cambodian, Laotian, and American, for what, the next election? The Vietnam Memorial has always been a humbling and powerful reminder to me of the cost of human hubris. I cannot go there without shedding tears for my fellow Americans and what we lost. The artist, Maya Lin, who came up with the design, and those that picked it knew something about the lessons of that war.  It wasn’t without controversy. The memorial screams the lessons and cost of war, while honoring our dead.

Some of the best days of my life were flying in an RF-4C, having “slipped the surly bonds of earth“, being part of a tight-knit group who had a mission, and we served that mission faithfully. Maybe the lesson is that in all the tragedy of the loss and destruction of that war, the very best of what we can be came out more than the very worst. To enter into such an enterprise again must only be made by those who have suffered the costs before and know the terrible costs to come, not only in lives, but to our humanity.

So again I am going to put this away, maybe a little more settled this time thanks to Burns and Novick. I ordered the soundtrack to the series, because the music defined the times. I am going to make a compilation of the songs from it that were part of my experience. Then I am going to pick a warm evening, maybe this weekend, sit on my patio overlooking my vineyard and watch the sunset with a bottle a very nice wine, slowly drink the whole thing while I listen to the music that defined me and my emotions in that time, and maybe cry a little bit. We should grieve for our lost innocence, those we lost, and most importantly, forgive ourselves. Then we should learn what we can and move on.  That’s what I am going to do.

Halfway Through “The Vietnam War” Thoughts

Tough watching, but exactly as I remembered it. I actually think it is a masterpiece, especially telling the story from all sides, the protestors, the supporters, the South Vietnamese, and the North Vietnamese. It makes the point that there is one human condition and racism so necessary to killing in war is harder to achieve when you have empathy for your enemy. The one thing that comes through is the insanity of it, the wanton killing and massive death of civilians. Let us never forget the free fire zones or the “colateral damage” of napalm. When you cannot tell who your enemy is, it is time to get out.

Now I always laugh when I hear people talk about the lessons from Vietnam. They usually indicate that they didn’t learn anything. Here is what I learned*:

1.  Our government lies to us

2.  Generals (CEOs?) generally do not have a clue what is going on, because they hear what people think they want to hear.

I say that from much experience, but if you are watching “The Vietnam War”, it is clear that the government knew this was futile, but could find no way to walk away. If you bought their logic at the time, if we give up Vietnam, all of Indochina will fall (which I did not), they still knew it was futile and they were throwing lives away because they could not do the hard thing. It was hard to tell whether they were more afraid of a Communist Indochina, or that the voters would be pissed. My view was that it was easier to kill kids so the voters won’t be pissed (that is the Republican Party today on healthcare except this time it is the minority base and their donors).

I got that then as did many both in the military and in the protest movement although those for the war, like those today who support Donald Trump, were badly misinformed or ignorant of reality. It was clear to many of us that the war was unwinnable. I would make the arguments why, but Burns and Novick have done a great job of doing just that, and if I have to argue further, it is futile.  I guess if we killed everyone we could call that winning.  At any rate they lied to us and keep us in the dark about the extent of our involvement, the cost, and the futility of the cause (the corruption and incompetence in South Vietnam).

The second lesson was a lesson I learned early in my young career in the AF, generals hear what they want to hear, and people get promoted by telling them just that, what they want to hear. In Burns’ and Novick’s narrative it is clear that most of us on ground or actually doing the fighting/flying were well aware of the failure of our efforts, but the message never got carried up to the top, simply because they did not want to hear it and the war became the ticket to success.

I am wondering if Burns and Novick will tell the story of John Paul Vann that correspondent and author Neil Sheehan did in his book Bright and Shining Lie, about how someone who saw the failure of our tactics and the futility of the war got co-opted by his success as he moved up the chain. We will see next week. I used to have to fly with our squadron commander because he was a desk jockey in the pentagon and was at Udorn to punch his ticket for promotion. The man could not refuel the airplane (air to air) and I was there to get the gas. The war was a ticket puncher for advancement.

Now a present day example of both of these is how torture during the Bush administration was a failure of both principle and utility. In other words, it was against our basic values and it did not work. People will tell you anything you want to hear under torture and you have no idea the reliability of their information you do get. As the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Investigation on Torture found, it was counterproductive (turning more to al-Qaeda/ISIS), and the information was generally already available and gotten earlier and more effectively by other means.

So why did that not get up the chain? For both of the reasons above. The original information on WMD was obtained because that is what the V.P. wanted to hear and those below him figured that out and then they realized if you give the brass what they want to hear, you are the go to guy. So the information was culled to tell Cheney what he wanted to believe.

When the big wigs showed up to see how the war was going, it was dog and pony show time. It still is in many ways. We know from today’s politics that many people know what they want to believe and they ignore evidence to the contrary. So too our leaders, and they have to fight that and the fact that the system wants to feed them what they want to hear to “raise all ships”.  Me, I would always tell people what I thought and so would most of my contemporaries. Thus we were regulated to the background and when they did hear the truth, they were shocked, shocked, shocked. Then you must be some kind of radical.

There are so many parallels and lessons for us today in this story, but I think the one thing really important thing that has come through is the bravery of American kids who were in an impossible situation, and in most cases did amazing things that make you on one hand so very proud of them, and on the other, sick and angry that they were so misused. I was an adult and an officer and I knew what I was getting into. These were idealistic kids who made us very, very proud. It makes it all that much harder to visit the Wall and know the reality of that war and the way they were treated afterwards.

It will be interesting to see where we go next week, but so far the ride for me has been trying and yet familiar. Burns and Novick have got it right if anyone out there is listening. I haven’t heard any news coverage of this series or the lessons we might take from it for today’s issues and adding more troops in Afghanistan by the DIC (Dotard in Charge.)

Oh, and for those of you that just say if we could have changed our tactics, did more of the hearts and minds stuff, invaded Laos and Cambodia (we did illegally), bomb the North back to the stone age, we would have won that war, I simply ask you to define win. When every man woman and child is dead and you are the last man standing? There was no leadership in the South, just corruption. Like the Middle East, we are the invader and it really is their country and their destiny to decide, communist or not.

We are now getting into my territory as I went in the AF in 1968 and basically entered the pipeline to the war.  By then we knew it was a lost cause, but we still knew we had to go.  Insanity does not describe it. Burns and Novick will this week.

*There is one other lesson, but maybe I ought to save it till the end.  Oh well, here it is:  You can’t win other peoples war for them.  If they don’t have a good chance of winning it themselves you are throwing lives and treasury away.  And you said there were no parallels to Iraq and Afghanistan.  Ha!