Thursday, March 28, 2013

A Young Girl's Guide to Wars and Drugs
I remember one Monday morning, back when I was young and the war on drugs was just a few years old. I was in a Canadian college classroom; my department head had just flown in that morning from a justice conference back east. I gave the class my opinion that the new war on drugs was a farce. “What a coincidence!” said my department head, explaining she had been sitting beside the Canadian police chief for Toronto, and the chief had told her the US drug war “is a farce.”

Back then I knew next-to-nothing about pharmacology, or criminology, but (a) I knew about the Vietnam War, and (b) I knew the Americans had forgotten their history. How, then, could they ever hope to not repeat their farce?

(Come to think of it, maybe "farce" is hardwired into the US government: For their latest war, the most senior official of—believe it or not—Homeland Security publicly said that some of the 9/11 killers had crossed over from Canada. Not so.)

A Young Girl’s Guide to Wars and Drugs
I am writing this for idealistic young Americans who are not afraid to be informed. It seems to me that information on two wars is being denied to young people, both about the war in the Republic of South Vietnam and about today’s war on drugs. Therefore, lacking any ability to compare and contrast, US citizens are doomed to repeat the same mistakes in both wars. And then, dare I say it? Doomed to be losers.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised at ignorance about the Vietnam War. During that conflict, while on paper Americans said, “We mustn’t break our word” and “We said we would support our ally” and, of course, “We must contain communism,” in reality there were other unwritten reasons. At the time the American people were feeling somewhat OK with losing their internal war on poverty, a war declared one day by congress but later dropped in order to free up funds for Vietnam; meanwhile, externally, in justifying Vietnam to themselves and others, they weren’t feeling OK, and they weren’t about to write down any real reason for keeping troops overseas. No representative to the United Nations was going to stand up in the UN forum and say, “We, the people of the United States, are staying in Vietnam because we don’t want to be losers” and then sit down to a stunned silence…

Today our egos are keeping us from asking whether the war on drugs should be ratcheted back to peace time, or, as a compromise, ratcheted down to a campaign against drugs. In the end it might be easier to flip flop into talking of decriminalizing or legalizing. It was to manage ego, because of Nam, that Terry Orlick invented New Games, co-operative games, such as by using a parachute in a circle. 

From ego, once they pulled their troops out, and shamefully denied their ally any ammunition re-supply, (After teaching them to waste ammo like Americans do) the American people went into shameful denial, not teaching the war in their schools. I’m serious: A classic “war,” with classic lessons to be learned, is just not being taught. It’s enough to make George Santayana weep. Never mind the drug war: Which aspects of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are a needless repeat of lessons that should have been already learned? Are we blindly re-inventing the wheel? Idealistic students, and the American people in general, don’t have the resources to offer any answer. We, their elders, have failed them.

I am reminded of how, after the Nazis lost their war, the young Germans weren’t being told a blessed thing by their parents, not even when they asked. It was not until the 1961, after many experiences of talking to eager students, that Hannah Vogt resorted to writing for young West Germans her history book, A Burden of Guilt. It sold out in a flash—Because older people snapped it up! They too wanted to know their history, being at last ready to lose their denial. (I wonder if copies were smuggled into East Germany?)

Of course, it’s hard to distinguish denial from ignorance, as I was recently reminded. They say “a word” to the wise is sufficient. Accordingly, I used few words when recently I commented about the drug war on a nice intellectual blog. Of course I realize computer blogs attract a level of reading closer to television and electronic devices than to books or newspapers, but still, this particular blog was about as intellectual as blogs can get, being the essay (journal) site of a Chicago Sun-Times movie-critic and writer, Roger Ebert. I used only a minimum of words to compare and contrast, as a “no-brainer,” the war in Nam and the war on drugs. Maybe I should have used a few more words than I did, as someone said, in a reply comment, that I “made no sense.” Denial or ignorance? I reasoned it out: Not only was the man who commented innocent about the Nam war, but, as incredible as it sounds, I think he was also ignorant about the “history” of his drug war. I hate to say it: If his neighbors are equally ignorant about “their” war, then they are all unfit to win “their” war. As Yoda would say, “there is no try”: If you don’t plan to win, you deserve to lose.

If you are a young US citizen reading this, then maybe you’ve heard the cold war term “Ugly American.” With that term in mind, if you seriously want to win any wars, at home or overseas, you would do well to consider two harsh scenarios. Scenario One: Many folks overseas and down in Latin America are sure you guys engage in imperialism. Rather than reflexively exclaim, “No we don’t!” why not find out? (Hint: It has been shown scientifically that "what makes a terrorist" is connected not to "poverty and despair" but to a lack of civil liberties, nevertheless, this month, March 2013, a top US official traveled to Egypt expressly to pressure the president take a big loan: He succeeded. The American failed to attach any foreign aide strings whatsoever: The Egyptian president is not expected to do anything about human rights, or democracy, or even to cut back on the killings of street protesters. Think about what this declares to the rest of the world.)

Scenario Two: Americans are notorious worldwide for being uneducated and uninformed. Even Canadians, who share the continent with you, sharing some understanding of you, find themselves making an effort to be indignant instead of furious. They resort to laughter as they share stories about Ugly Americans. Then they promptly forget the stories—because it’s hard to live with daily knowledge of incredible stupidity. I guess I forget too— I should have made allowances, in my blog comment, for a Yankee not knowing the history of his own no-longer-new war on drugs.

By the way, what helps me personally to be gentle about American innocence is a letter to Ann Landers, the newspaper advice columnist. Someone in Hawaii tearfully despaired at how her relatives on the mainland thought her family lived in straw huts. (This was before the re-boot of Hawaii Five-O.) If the folks in the US of A behave so unfortunately even to each other, I guess I can cut them a little slack.

Of course the war in Nam, and the war on drugs, are each as unique as any other wars, but still, there are certain basic principles, applying to both, that are common to any war in any healthy democracy.

If, hypothetically, you live in a non-democracy, then I guess your life is comfortable and your conscience is clear. While you are being taken care of by your rulers, any war belongs to “the government,” or to the emperor, to Darth Vader and his storm troopers. It’s his war, not “our” war. It’s “just not my responsibility.” That way, as a passive “peasant,” you don’t have to know “why” or even be able to find the war on a map. In contrast, the central quality of a “citizen,” as a character in a David Gerrold novel said, “is a willingness to be uncomfortable,” meaning: to make an effort. As we re-learned the hard way after the egregious errors of World War One, “War is too important to be left to the generals."

The model for a war by democracy, set by the ancient Greeks, is still true today. “A citizen’s duty is to be informed” and “The price of democracy is participation.” These are such ancient clichés, God knows, but only because they are true. We saw these time-tested principles being put into practice when the “greatest generation” had their war. Informed? They could all find Pearl Harbor on the map. Participate? Women rolled bandages and men hauled heavy scrap iron to recycle. Citizen oversight? A clear example was when General Patton, the general most feared by the Germans, and so valued by the pentagon, was caught slapping a soldier in a hospital. The citizens, regardless of what the generals thought, had Patton relegated to the rear until he had time to think over his lesson. Perhaps this was a mistake, but—as a philosopher said, “The people may not be the wisest, but they are the safest repositories of power.”

I suppose for younger Americans the eight years of the Bush administration, years when every “citizen” stayed on their couches while egregious errors were made, seem normal. For you, if you are under age thirty, this is your adult life. However, such apathy was not normal back when people my age were young. I am hoping the “couch-itus” of those eight (and more) years, years without oversight, when no one in the White House was fired or even reprimanded, will be a passing phase. When I was young, back during the cold war, Americans were as active as the old Greeks. I remember, about the time color TV came out, we even went so far as to say, “If you aren’t part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”

Lately I wonder: Maybe part of why the republicans so bizarrely hated Obama, not just after he created a track record, but even during his very first weeks in office, was because they were so very, very ashamed of staying on their couches during the Bush terms.

The worst example of republican (and citizen) apathy, to me, is regarding the supposedly important work of “nation building” and “teaching the Iraqis democracy.” When the first general in charge, as the dust was still settling from the invasion, planned a timetable of US withdrawal for six months after the invasion, he was overruled. Surprise: It was going to be very important to teach democracy… Which would require nation building. The scandal to me is how no one “blew the whistle” when, for the recruiting for this great effort, the loyal Americans with years of nation building experience in Asia, or with years of working in the grim wreckage of the former Yugoslavia, were always passed over in favor of young peach-fuzzed amateurs who happened to hold a republican party membership card. How could the folks who kept silent not feel a burning shame? I just don’t know.

What young people of today need to know about committing troops to Vietnam is that, as a result of previous wars, history’s cold equations were clear: It takes at least ten good regular soldiers for every insurgent in order to contain the insurgency. Furthermore, the guerrillas don’t have to win: They just have to keep not-losing. In the case of Nam, the pentagon’s cold equations were especially grim: The People’s Republic of North Vietnam could always sneak reinforcements to the fighters in the south in such numbers, given the cold ratio, as to neutralize any possible reinforcements by the US. As best I recall, the US public was never told about the math, and I don’t know if Washington was ever told, either—I’m serious.

Meanwhile, Mao Ze-Dong, (Tse-Tung) the guerilla leader who went on to rule as “Chairman Mao” of China, had announced (from my memory) something like, “The guerrilla hides in the friendly population like the fish swims in the friendly sea.” Clearly, the only chance for the US and the South Vietnamese to win was to “dry up the sea;” …by “winning the hearts and minds;” …by converting the undecided to democracy over communism.

You might think democracy has an unbeatable advantage. You might think converting people to communism is hard, especially if you consider the ridiculous efforts of American communists here at home who spouted words like “imperialist lackeys” and “running dogs,” those same Americans who said they despised the “bourgeoisie” and favored the “proletariat.” Over in Nam, though, the commies were more convincing. And over there the Americans were less convincing because, despite their motivation and skills (some even had degrees in communication) they had major trouble taking the Ugly out of the American. Not to mention their minor problem of having a reputation, overseas, for favoring imperialism over democracy. You might say democracy is a “no brainer,” and you might say being straight and clean from drugs is a “no brainer.” Not so.

What they tried in Nam was—no, let’s jump ahead to another war. During the 1960’s in North America there had been a lot of effort against drugs. People were scared. They didn’t know if drugs would turn folks into passive “lotus eaters.” Better not find out the hard way; better not let drugs get established in the civil ecology. By the 1980’s (When, according to my memory, no one in the US was saying “war on drugs”) Canada was still at peacetime level, as if drugs were unimportant enough to simply leave to the police chiefs.

At that time, in the US, under President Reagan, the American people “declared war on drugs.” In wartime, remember, it is OK to do things that would be “cruel and unusual” during peacetime. Maybe Reagan’s cruel act of replacing a sliding scale with “zero tolerance,” an act that “wasted” the remainder of the lives of so many confused young kids caught with just a single marijuana joint at the border, is cruel but acceptable, since cruelty happens in wartime. US prisons became crowded, then overcrowded, producing some really sad life-changing consequences, and maybe that’s OK too: You may have some collateral damage in return for victory, a victory harsh won but followed by sweet peacetime.

What they tried in America—for the drug war—was the President’s wife Nancy preaching, “Just say no to drugs!” TV commercials were made—something that had never been tried before. I heard that one involved a frying pan with an egg: “This is your brain on drugs.” As for “winning the hearts and minds” of uncommitted young Americans… I think young people who are unconverted won’t care solely what the police chiefs or a president’s wife think: They will want to know what “the public” thinks. I realize the stereotype of Americans as “loud, backslapping and eager to be popular” is false, but then again, I've seen a respected major US newspaper that editorializes by having what the majority thinks right up in the lead paragraphs of the front-page news stories. So… What did the majority think? Were they committed to winning?

Well, let’s think: They surely weren’t committed to their other war, the one on terror. As previously noted, “couches R us” was the word during President Bush. I remember a few years after 9/11, after the huge New York Police Department had become the world leader on understanding western home grown terrorism, there was a scandal: The F.B.I., “in wartime,” had seriously failed to share important information with the NYPD. It was as if the F.B.I. had been infiltrated by Al-Quaida sleeper cells. Call it a turf war…

It may well be the phrase “war on drugs” is a “harmless lie,” an attempt to get law enforcement to be motivated to diminish their turf wars, a phrase as “harmless” as saying “literally” when you mean “figuratively.” (You may have seen this month’s web T-shirt: Your misuse of “literally” is driving me figuratively insane) I would say wasting lives with zero tolerance is not harmless.

Then again, as the “greatest generation” knew full well, you cannot urge a man to leave his wife and kids, leaving his crops half-grown in the field to go and serve in war, not unless “everybody else” supports the war. Perhaps the phrase “war on drugs” is a lie, a hyperbole, calculated to get people to sacrifice their recreational drugs “like everybody else.” I would say lies are an unstable foundation for a democracy.

What they tried in Vietnam—God bless them. Over there it was no coincidence that a soldier “who got killed” was referred to as one “who got wasted” Cynical? The GIs on their scary patrols had good reason to be cynical about their efforts being wasted: They believed the so-called “citizens” back home were leaving the war to the generals… And they were right: The evidence is in any good history book. (My favorite is Backfire by Loren Baritz)

Meanwhile, it must have been hard for an idealistic Vietnamese boy of fighting age to be converted away from communism… hard to for him to believe the truth of, say, the Yankees in the embassy or the ones giving agricultural help, those Yanks who professed “Truth, justice and the American way…” Not when all the idealistic Vietnamese could see for themselves that proper Vietnamese girls were being turned into prostitutes, that decent Vietnamese boys were being turned into drug users and criminals, that the former pearl of the east, Saigon, because of US involvement, was now figuratively one big cesspool. This while the citizens back stateside either didn’t know or didn’t care.

Two good Americans, in their despair, wrote The Ugly American, a 1958 cold war best seller. Eugene Burdick and William Lederer have a character say the best advertisement for democracy was the Americans themselves—when they received visitors at home. But unfortunately, he continued, as soon as Americans crossed the international border they magically turned ugly, “loud and ostentatious.” By the way, sometimes I wonder about the most northerly of North Americans: the Canadians. If Canadians are so polite, well, maybe it’s not so much to their credit: Maybe it’s merely an application of what cold war secret agent Matt Helm, of Santa Fe, once said: No self respecting New Mexican wants to be caught sounding like a Texan.

Burdick and Lederer wrote that in Vietnam only a very few American civilians achieved credibility by going out to the farms and painstakingly getting to know the locals. All the rest would hang around in the capital, Saigon, associating with the rich elite. The guerillas, needless to say, were in the rural areas. And if left unimpeded, they would convert entire villages: Grandma would make the traps, Mama would set the traps, and the children, when not spying on Americans, could safely run and play around the traps. Observing how the kids never tripped any wires themselves became yet another cause for the patrolling GIs to feel cynicism.

There is an old cliché: How does a politician get votes? One by one by one. When you stay comfy in the capital, “among your own kind,” you miss a lot of ones…. And all this time, the villages, one by one, are adding up.

If only more Americans had walked up to native farmers, commented on the weather, pulled out their wallet of family photos, and with some even saying they too were farmers, back home in the USA. After establishing a dialogue of equals, they could then ask, “What would take to keep you, and all the guys in your village, from converting to communism?” Of course, the very definition of Ugly American is the locals cannot be your equals. Now imagine an affluent Nancy Reagan briefly opening the window of her air conditioned car to call over, “Hey, you in the straw hat! Just say no to communism!” As you may imagine, I don’t think much of the current US war.

To me it’s a “no-brainer:” If US citizens cared about “what would it take…” then, just as nation building in Vietnam involved many things, they would, in America, undertake many little bits of home grown nation building. 

Research with lab rats is pertinent. As everyone knew, rats always chose drugs instead of plain water… until researchers at Simon Fraser University found that "what it would take" was to jazz up the sterile cages with straw and things to play around.

Maybe at first citizens might need some soul searching to sharpen their ability to see things, pondering what to give up. (consumerism? racism?)
Theoretically, to be sure, they could generate the humility to make the effort, amidst earnest national dialogue, but… Suddenly that couch is looking better and better.

I am thinking of US citizens being so unfeeling, or uninformed, about the crime-fest of Saigon that was staining the rest of South Vietnam. It was a recruiting bonanza for the communists. Maybe the US is the new Saigon. Staining Mexico. The new recruiting, I guess, would be of Mexicans for murder and of Americans for apathy.

Today, after thinking of Mexico, I was thinking about a young American college girl. Perhaps she is wondering if her fellow Americans are all committed, or if, in reality, the respected businessman who is mouthing the words “There’s a war on drugs, young lady” is in fact going to his elegant boardroom and parties to do marijuana and cocaine. She can’t ask directly, granted, but she can see the reaction if she asks the businessman, “How do you feel about the thousands of widows in Mexico from drug violence?” She could expect the man’s reaction would differ depending on whether, to him, citizen-fashion, the war on drugs is owned as “our war,” or if instead he sees it as “their” war or “the government’s” or Darth Vader’s war. The girl would know: ...The payoff for feeling non-idealistic is you can feel detached. If “it’s just not my responsibility” then you feel no impulse to get off the couch.

I once found an old brown-paged book in a used bookstore, published right after the last world war, where the author warned that US slums were in danger of becoming ghettos like in Europe. Well. I guess “participation” and “being informed” could imply the question: What is the difference between a slum and a classic ghetto? Here’s another: Are drugs more common in the cities or in the rural areas? (In Canada it’s rural) Then it’s only one small step to asking, “What would it take for you and the other guys in your town to…”

I just mentioned Canada. Lest we forget, the Canadians have shown how a humble peacetime level of success can be sustained: Drug crimes are still being prosecuted at a peacetime level. Canadians are coping. Drug use is not decreasing—they are coping—but it’s not increasing, either.

In North America, many people know a helpful little story of someone managing to get off drugs. During Vietnam, as we wondered whether to pull out or not, there was a "helpful" book published documenting little victories called The Green Berets. The implicit question: Maybe we could still win, by trying harder? The book was both true and false. The victories were true, but also false because Americans did not have "the right stuff" to try harder—the nice little victories ignored the inner faults of Americans, and of middle class Vietnamese in Saigon: For tragic and petty reasons Vietnam was "an unwinnable war."

If today Americans don't have the "right stuff" to change, if I am right about this war being like Vietnam… if the war on drugs is “an unlearnable war” then I suggest you STOP thinking you will ever learn how to win.

And stop wasting lives. Start brainstorming how to get out of this war with honor.

God bless America.

Sean Crawford
Throwing snowballs in Canada,
Desperate for spring
March 2013

~As it happens, the South Vietnamese and the Americans, as Robert (Bobby) Kennedy wrote in the public domain before his assassination, did know (unofficially) "what it would take"to win the hearts and  minds—they just couldn't bring themselves to do it.

~If you are a social studies teacher, you may be forbidden to teach Vietnam directly, but maybe you can do an end run: Here’s a social studies class planner for The Ugly American.

~After publication, the acts of deception being exposed in that best seller did not cease. See my essay with footnotes about a Pulitzer Prize winning Vietnam correspondent, David Halberstam was a Harbinger, archived in September 2012.

~Chairman Mao said, "Don't punch with two hands." I don't know whatever possessed the republic to try to fight two wars at once, but for documentation of how once things were different, see my No War archived April 2014.

~I touch on Yankee imperialism in my post and footnote on Secretary of State John Kerry; and, for how imperialism spreads to the homeland (as Orwell found for Britain) see the next one on Michael Moore: both are posted in March 2016.

~As for hope that generation Z may in the fullness of time surpass my own generation, here is a hopeful blog posting by Penelope Trunk.
I hope young college kids will match their passionate innocence with a simmering forceful determination, along with a sense of humor, to get them through the rest of their lives.

~“ I don’t know if Washington was ever told, either” see War Without Windows by a young intelligence officer who was angry at how enemy troop strength was being hidden by senior “officers and gentlemen.”

As for re-inventing the wheel, and classic lessons not learned… according to the above, and Talking With Victor Charlie, (by a U.S. interpreter) the army language school was not producing enough linguists. You might want to ask your congressman to look into whether the army language school is still using the very same old limited number of classrooms from the 1960’s. If the richest army in the world is committed to teaching democracy in the near east, but won’t teach enough of it’s soldiers Arabic,  then you can expect a lot of cynicism among the Iraqis, not to mention among US historians and helpless GIs.

And beyond language school: As for those army night raids that terrified Iraqi families, and thereby encouraged them to favour the insurgency, just imagine if the U.S. people, such as Arabic-speaking housewives and young students of Islam, had been encouraged to go serve as translators.

~ Unfortunately, many potential U.S. recruits, or their relatives, are capable of reading this blog, and the various resources mentioned, and so forth. When the officer corps neglects to learn from history, or to prosecute the war with integrity, then they are shooting themselves in the foot. Tell that to your congressman. (Below is from my June 2011 essay Focus and Commitment)
Before me, from December 2005, is The Atlantic magazine with a 14-page cover story by national correspondent James Fallows about Iraq, called Why Iraq has No Army. 
As of 2005 the Americans don't have the commitment. As Fallows notes, "The pentagon's main weapons-building programs are the same now that they were five years ago, before the United States had suffered one attack and begun two wars. From the Pentagon's policy statements, and even more from its budgetary choices, one would never guess that insurgency was our military's main challenge..."(page 76)
~ “Americans experienced in nation-building were passed over,” see Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone by Rajiv Chandrasekaran, footnoted in my essay Humble and Iraq in November 2012. (Incidentally, speaking of being humble, I am humbly aware that, following this essay, my statistics software will show me that scarcely anyone is going into my archives to follow up on these footnotes)

~For the Bush years of staying on the “blankety-blank couch" as compared to traditional citizenship see my quotes of The Assassins Gate in my essay Citizenship After 9/11 archived in September 2012.

~Let me say it again,
“God bless America.”

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