"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Friday, January 19, 2024

Afraid To Live, Afraid To Die - America, A Nation Afraid Of Its Own Shadow

The aerial bombing of Houthi insurgents in the Red Sea is like picking off ducks in a shooting gallery, as are the surgical strikes against Iranian clients in Syria. No air defenses, easy, indefensible targets, in and out with no consequences and shouts of 'Victory!'.  This is the way it has been ever since Vietnam where the US got bogged down in an unwinnable war against an implacable enemy.  

The bombing of Haiphong Harbor and the North with millions of tons of ordnance was an attempt to blow the enemy to smithereens from 40,000' with no American casualties and an official announcement of 'disassembly'.  The enemy's capacity to wage war, said a US military spokesperson, has been seriously limited.

Of course it was nothing of the sort.  The North Vietnamese under the canny, brilliant leadership of General Giap and Ho Chi Minh, were more than prepared.  The war would be won in the the jungle, in hamlets, and in tunnels.  Combatants would be hidden and suddenly, like djinns, appear out of nowhere.  The psychological fear of death from unknown quarters was far worse than the battle itself, and slowly American morale, its fighting spirit, wound down to nothing. 

Vietnam was a land war no one wanted again. A fight against a now-you-see-'em-now-you-don't enemy which was indistinguishable from civilians - a population whose hearts and minds were the real target of the American war. In a remarkable show of naivete and idealism, United States strategists believed that villagers could and would support the American cause once they had learned about democracy, prosperity, and the rule of law. 

Again nothing could have been farther from the truth.  The villagers' hearts and minds had already been won through unmitigated intimidation.  Fealty, obedience, support of the Viet Cong was assured through terror, and one the very villages within American sights became hardened enemy camps. 

So the wars against Iraq were to be clean wars - in and out quickly with a decisive show of force and a humiliating barrage of fire.  Yet, to save civilian lives and the historical architectural legacy of Baghdad and more importantly to avoid unnecessary fighting with the Revolutionary Guard, George Bush I declared victory and went home, only to leave Saddam Hussein in power and the dirty work of getting rid of him to his son, George II. 

Under George II the statues of Hussein were toppled and the United States again claimed victory.  One only had to watch the newsreels of delirious Iraqis dancing around the beheaded statues of their leader to know that the war of hearts and minds had been won. 

Not so.  The United States, feeling that a military occupation was unnecessary and would send the wrong message to the people of Iraq, pulled out, leaving the country to radical guerilla insurgents.  No need to risk credibility and American lives, said Bush advisors. 

The same was ironically true in Afghanistan, a country which had never been colonized or defeated in war.  The Russians knew this well; and yet the US was convinced that it could defeat a ragtag, dope-smoking, poorly conditioned and poorly armed Taliban.  A war of gradual attrition would be fought, saving American lives and wearing down the enemy while strengthening a democratic regime in Kabul. 

Nonsense on both fronts.  The Taliban, like the Viet Cong were smart, savvy, and fiercely patriotic.  They had beaten the powerful Russians and would do so to the Americans.  The 'democratic' government in the capital was nothing of the sort and would soon conclude pacts with the Taliban to share in vast poppy wealth and remain in power. 


From Vietnam on, American military and foreign policy was risk aversion.  Gone were the days of D-Day, the heroic, bloody assault of amphibious troops at Normandy - troops that faced withering fire from German block houses, and died in numbers; yet pushed on past the Nazi emplacements through France and Germany to Berlin.  There was nothing held back.  

This was an existential war, only victory mattered, all lives would be sacrificed in the name of righteousness.  It was a just war to be fought absolutely.  The firebombing of Dresden and the A-bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were unequivocal statements of purpose and commitment. 

So where did this latter day risk-aversion come from?  Where did the notion that civilian populations were separate from the enemy? The Nazis would never have come to\power or remained without the complicity of 'ordinary' Germans.  Hamas would never have become the military force that it did, diverting billions in international foreign assistance to armaments and emplacements unless Gazans were behind them and the destruction of the Jews.  

Only Israel, in a truly existential fight, understands this. Hamas must be destroyed and the Gazans brought to their knees.  Union General Sherman marched through Georgia and South Carolina not only to destroy the enemy, but to teach a lesson to the South - you will never do this again. 

Risk aversion concerning American soldiers has also been the new rule of engagement. Despite the failure of top-down destruction in Vietnam and the incessant pounding of B-52s of the Ho Chi Minh trail, the war was to be won or lost in the jungle, and there American boys were dying in unacceptable numbers.  Body counts were increasing. 

Such risk-aversion is not only a military thing, but a civilian one. The reaction to COVID was a hysterical, fearful, scared one.  No one should die, we all are at risk said health officials echoing the same baseless advice they gave during the AIDS epidemic, sending everyone scattering, afraid of their own shadows. AIDS was the first epidemic not to be treated as one.  

Epidemiologists knew exactly where the epicenter of the disease was - San Francisco - and had identified the vector, gay men, but chose to ignore the data and generalize the disease and the fear.  Official response to COVID was no different  It soon became clear that most of those dying from the disease were old and infirm, yet no quarantining and lockdowns of these vectors was instituted.  It was once again, everyone's disease.  No one must die! 

Fear of dying is a new thing, a modern thing, a developed country thing. A few hundred years ago when the life expectancy was barely 35, people accepted early death as a given, and life was to be led with that in mind.  Tolstoy writes of the enthusiasm, even the joy of Russian soldiers amidst the cannonades of the French at Borodino.  If one were to die, better to die heroically than from the prick of a thorn.  

The longer life was extended, the more undeniable it became.  Death might be inevitable, but with purpose and determination it could held at bay longer and longer. In fact, death might become a thing of the past. 

Risk is being removed from our lives.  Playgrounds are now safe from see-saws, monkey bars, and slides.  Driving is regulated, cameras are everywhere, everyone must be protected from themselves as well as from others.  An ethos of watch-out has replaced one of can-do, devil-may-care optimism. 

Everything is conditional.  If the US really thinks that the Russian invasion of Ukraine was a clear and present danger to world peace and democracy, then American pilots in warplanes loaded with annihilating ordnance should fly over Russia.  If the US is really 'a good friend of Israel' then American pilots should be ready to drop their bombs in Lebanon against Hezbollah and take the fight to Iran if necessary. 

This is not simply a geopolitical calculation.  It is American timidity.  We talk the talk, but are fearful of walking the walk. 

Under progressive leadership the tendency to fear and timorousness has increased.  The world, they insist, is in grave danger. Americans more than ever are at risk of disease, incineration, civil unrest, intemperance, and hatred. 

A conservative electoral victory will help stem the tide and begin the slow process of erosion and begin the rebuilding of a proud, fearless America; but given the moral, psychological damage, it will take a long time.

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