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Get out of Dodge
Expanded from the 8-9-2009 Daily Sparks Tribune / Updated 8-21-2021
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The Obama administration has called Marshall Matt Dillon for advice on getting out of Dodge City. (Generation gap alert: Years before actor Matt Dillon was born in 1964, James Arness played Marshall Dillon in the ancient television series Gunsmoke, set in the Kansas town.)
Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Stanley Karnow has been approached by the Obama administration to consult on the similarities between our current Afghan firefight and our abortive excursion into the politics of Vietnam back when Gunsmoke was both a series and a war.
"President Barack Obama has doubled the size of the U.S. force to curb a burgeoning Taliban insurgency and bolster the Afghan government. He has tasked Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander, to conduct a strategic review of the fight against Taliban guerrillas and draft a detailed proposal for victory," the Associated Press reported.
I don't know if the Obama administration's latest consultant represents a sign of wisdom or desperation.
Afghanistan was rightly called the Soviet Union's Vietnam.
We supplied Stinger anti-aircraft missiles to Osama bin Laden and his buddies, who used them to nullify the advantage of Soviet helicopter gunships.
As with so many other invaders, the Russkies got out of Dodge and our pal Osama looked for other infidels to kill.
Karnow was chief correspondent on the 1983 PBS documentary series Vietnam: A television history. He also wrote a companion book, Vietnam: A History. (Viking Press, 1983). One of his sources was Richard Holbrooke, now Obama's special envoy to Afghanistan. Holbrooke and Gen. McChrystal called Karnow from Kabul on July 27.
On page 25 of his huge tome, Karnow notes that U.S. military planners downgraded counter-insurgency training after the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's surprise attack on Israel played to the prejudices of the establishment: prepare for the most recent war. They took it as a sign that World War II tank warfare on open terrain would be the wave of the future. Alas, the only sucker willing to fight on such terms was the late Saddam Hussein.
The aversion to counterinsurgency training which Karnow wrote about in 1983 apparently remains today, given our bloody experience on the sands of Araby.
So what parallels can we expect overt Afghan War opponent Karnow to draw between 'Nam and 'Stan? Herewith, my projection of picks to click.
DON'T OVERESTIMATE AIR POWER. Americans want a sanitized war where only brown people die. It takes boots on the ground to win a war, and that gets murderously messy.
DON'T INTERFERE IN LONGRUNNING TRIBAL WARS. So says my brother, a Vietnam combat infantry veteran. On page 549 of his book, Karnow quotes Holbrooke, who was sent to Vietnam as a young official. Holbrooke told of how the publicly upbeat Gen. William Westmoreland was in shock after the 1968 Tet offensive, "stunned that the Communists had been able to coordinate so many attacks in such secrecy."
Even warring tribes will coalesce against a common threat. As in Iraq and Aghanistan, they will fight the invader for a hundred years if necessary.
The subtitle of Karnow's book proved a bit erroneous. Undoubtedly part of the publisher's hype, it was termed "the first complete account of Vietnam at War." He indeed goes centuries back in time, but it was not until years after his book and TV series that the treasonous acts of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger came to light. President Lyndon Johnson had a deal to end the war in 1968, but Kissinger went to South Vietnam's puppet president Nguyen Van Thieu and convinced him to reject the deal, promising a better outcome if he'd wait until Nixon got elected. It prolonged our involvement until 1975.
DON'T DEPEND ON THE PUPPET SHOW. We had our puppet dictators in Vietnam as we do now in Afghanistan. President Karzai has rightly been called basically the mayor of Kabul, while the war lords and opium barons still control the countryside.
KEEP LOTS OF YOUR CITIZENS IN POVERTY AND DESPERATION. Otherwise, you won't have a steady flow of young recruits enlisting as their only ticket to the future. The new G.I. Bill will pay for the college education of what's left of you should you survive the service.
When will they ever learn?
Eternal reruns of toxic movies and PR spin
Sometimes I hate it when I'm right.
KEEP THE LOWER CLASSES FIGHTING EACH OTHER. Let whites take out their feelings of frustration and vague anger at blacks, browns, flagburners, immigrants, queers, health care reformers or whomever. If they keep their gaze down while fighting each other, they will not look up at the corporate profiteers pulling the strings.
PREPARE FOR THE GONZO FACTOR. Karnow wrote that Vietnam infantrymen were in combat "almost continually" for a year, whereas "U.S. Marine units, celebrated for their exploits against the Japanese in the Pacific campaign, fought for no longer than six or eight weeks during all of World War II." Karnow also notes that "the average age of the Vietnam soldier was 19, seven years younger than his father had been in WWII, which made him more vulnerable to the psychological strains of the struggle." (At p. 26)
While the average age for a soldier in Iraq or Afghanistan is about 30, that poor soul may well be in his fourth or fifth tour of duty. The mental trauma may cost this nation more than addressing physical ills in decades to come.
DON'T BRING BACK THE DRAFT. President Nixon ended forcible conscription to defuse domestic war protest. Vietnam brought the military into such disrepute that "much of the army's management (was left to) superannuated bureaucrats." Because of the new century's endless "war" against an abstraction called terrorism, recruiting standards have been bureaucratically cut back to a point where criminals are wearing uniforms.
CONTROL THE MEDIA. Walter Cronkite published government press releases for years before he became a critic of the war. No matter what military PR men put out, the power of TV film overwhelmed the Pentagon's papers. Dubya and Cheney solved the problem in a very clever way by "embedding" today's reporters with combat teams, making them psychologically part of the family and thus coloring their coverage.
That strategy is still working.
Only on the Internet can you view the true carnage of war, as U.S. media still publish sanitized, bloodless pictures. If I ran this newspaper, we'd be the only one in the country printing, as Uncle Walter used to say, the way it is.
KARNOW'S MAJOR LESSON: GET OUTTA DODGE. He spends a lot of his book on the lugubrious machinations of many learned men trying to extricate us from the bloody goo of war.
So if Holbrooke's only question to Karnow is "how do we exit Afghanistan?", that will be enough. If Karnow can come up with a viable answer and if Obama will listen.
Be well. Raise hell.
Andrew Barbano is a 40-year Nevadan, second vice-president of the Reno-Sparks NAACP, labor/consumer/civil rights advocate and editor of NevadaLabor.com. As always, his opinions are strictly his own. Reruns of his legislative session TV programs are cablecast Monday through Friday, 2-4:00 p.m. on Reno-Sparks-Washoe Charter digital channels 16 and 216 and high-definition channel 80-295, available on demand at Barbwire.TV. Check local listings for other Nevada cable systems. E-mail email@example.com. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks Tribune since 1988.
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Barlett, Donald L. and Steele, James B.; America: What Went Wrong? (1992); America: Who Really Pays the Taxes? (1994); America: Who Stole the Dream? (1996) ; Andrews & McMeel/Universal Press Syndicate.
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SEE ALSO: Lapham, Lewis H.; Tentacles of Rage: The Republican Propaganda Mill, A Brief History; Harper's Magazine cover article; September, 2004, page 32.
By one conservative estimate, the corporate right has spent about $3 billion over the past three decades manufacturing public opinion to suit big business goals. Lapham's number covered the early 1970's to the present day. Alex Carey noted that by 1948, anti- New Deal corporate propaganda expenditures had already reached $100 million per year, not adjusted for inflation, for advertising alone. (Carey, ibid; page 79)
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Copyright © 1982-2009, 2021 Andrew Barbano
Andrew Barbano is a 40-year Nevadan, editor of NevadaLabor.com and JoeNeal.org, former chair of the City of Reno's Citizens Cable Compliance Committee and serves as second vice-president, political action chair and webmaster of the Reno-Sparks NAACP. As always, his opinions are strictly his own. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
He hosts news and talk Monday through Friday, 2-4:00 p.m., at Barbwire.TV and Reno-Sparks-Washoe Charter digital cable channels 16 and 216, high-definition channel 80-295. Barbwire by Barbano premiered in the Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune on Aug. 12, 1988 and has originated in those parts ever since. Tempus fugit.
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