One of my first political moments occurred during the Vietnam War’s Tet Offensive in January 1968. I was in high school at the time. What was shocking about the Tet Offensive was that up until that point, the North Vietnamese had been waging a guerrilla war that ultimately they would lose. With the Tet Offensive, the North Vietnamese mounted a coordinated series of attacks all through South Vietnam with 85,000 troops. The sentiment in the country, aided by the media, turned to believing we could not win this war.
I remember being in history class and debating the Vietnam War. When the class was asked by the teacher whether we thought we should pull out of Vietnam and bring our soldiers home, the verdict was basically unanimous. Except, of course, from me. I said something like “we have to trust the president and the military. They know a lot more than we know from the little bit of information we’re getting.” I seem to recall that I was resoundingly booed. The teacher tried to explain that it’s our duty to question the president which seemed silly to me at the time since how could we really have an opinion based on a very limited view of what was going on?
And then we went into Iraq with George H.W. Bush and I thought “I guess this is important and Kuwait, wherever that is, must be important. And Saudi Arabia seems like a really backward country but I know it’s important because of oil. I guess this must make sense.”
And then we had Gulf War II with George W. Bush and I thought “I guess this makes sense because Saddam Hussein can’t have a nuclear weapon.” It didn’t seem to have a lot to do with 9-11 but the president and the military must know a lot more than we civilians do.
And then we have Afghanistan which is a shithole first class and I had no idea why we were there. It had something to do with terrorist strongholds but we seemed to be getting in the middle of a civil war. But the president and the military must know better than me.
And then came Syria. Syria I never understood. We jumped yet again into a civil war because, as far as I could see, the Russians wanted to play there too. I assume there are good guys and bad guys but I’m not at all sure whose side we’re on. There were a whole lot of people getting killed so trying to put a lid on all that might be a good idea. After all, surely President Obama had a lot of good advisers and we must have had really good reasons.
And then along came Donald Trump who simply said that it was the responsibility of the countries in the region to manage the affairs of the region. And we’ll get involved only if it benefits us. And I thought “that’s the most clear and obvious thing I’ve heard. Why hasn’t anyone ever said that before?”
It’s because, as I’ve come to understand, I’ve been lied to since Vietnam. That was no reason for that war and Vietnam is doing quite well these days, thank you very much. George H.W. Bush stopped short of taking out Saddam Hussein leaving Iraq pretty much the way it was when the war started. The entire nuclear weapon thing was a fraud possibly perpetrated in part by Saddam himself as a troll that got out of hand. In any instance, that war accomplished nothing other than it did get Saddam dead which may have been more of a personal vendetta by G.W. over the attempt by Saddam to assassinate his father. Afghanistan had no hope from the start as the Soviet Union proved years before. Syria has no objective other than protecting the people we think are the good guys from the people Russia thinks are the good guys.
My conclusion is that I’ve been lied to from Vietnam through Syria and maybe those that use the term American Imperialism have a point.
I think it’s time to try President Trump’s way. At least it’s honest. We can’t continue to micromanage history hoping that if we bend history to what we believe is right in the short run, it will create a future that is nominally better than if we hadn’t tried.
There is a Taoist story of an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically.
“Maybe,” the farmer replied.
The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed.
“Maybe,” replied the old man.
The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy for what they called his “misfortune.”
“Maybe,” answered the farmer.
The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out.
“Maybe,” said the farmer.