Part I

The September 11th attacks took most Americans completely by surprise. They shouldn’t have. It’s been over 25 years since America’s defeat in Vietnam. America’s fifteen-year military involvement in Southeast Asia should be closely studied, because it speaks volumes on the recent worldwide upsurge in the use of military violence to solve political and economic problems. As we look back upon that war, we should be careful not to forget the incredible suffering heaped upon the people of that region, which lost over two million citizens, in a war for independence, which they fought first against France and finally against the United States. The war, which cost 55,000 Americans their lives, was not only a drain in the American economy and its ability to fully cultivate our human resources, but it also traumatized many of the people who served there, America’s national mind-set and the country’s international image. If the war had mainly been about body counts, clearly the United States would have won. But the people we fought are now the government of Vietnam. We left. They stayed. As with the war in Iraq, in Vietnam the United States decisively won the military components of the war, but pitifully lost the political and social aspects, including world opinion. Modern warfare, “asymmetrical war”, obviously has a significant military aspect, but the primary context is political. The most important goal is to win “the hearts and minds” of people.

Considering the fact that the United States dropped more bombs on Vietnam, a country the size of Ohio, than were dropped by all sides fighting in World War II combined, it’s a wonder there’s a Vietnam left to discuss. Today, as the U.S. government searches the planet for, and through its policies, creates new enemies, we should admit that most Americans underestimated the Vietnamese, in part, because they were of color, physically smaller, and poor. Foreign policy planners never fully took into consideration the strength of their culture and their historic inclination to fight foreign domination. The Cold Warriors never understood that the roots of the Vietnamese national liberation movement were in Vietnam and not the Soviet Union or China. Opposition to the American presence was not caused by Ho Chi Minh. Most of the foreign policy planners never figured that the Vietnamese would respond to the carpet-bombing of their homeland with a greater sense of national unity and commitment to not be overwhelmed. They responded in a way not unlike the British, when, during World War II, the Nazis incorrectly assumed that they could bomb Great Britain into submission. Prime Minister Winston Churchill came back with his, now famous, “Britain’s finest hour” speeches. The Nazi bombing actually served to unify and weld British public opinion. This should be of particular interest to today’s strategists, since the United States has embarked upon a strategy of aerial bombing of military and civilian targets in so-called “low intensity operations.” For decades, what’s now called “the war on terrorism” was conducted in secret and has often included, what the State Department likes to refer to as, extra-legal detention and interrogation, also known as kidnapping and torture, and target neutralization, also know as assassination and murder. Read former CIA Station Chief John Stockwell’s books, “In Search of Enemies” and “The Secret Wars of the CIA” for many of the gory details.

It’s remarkable that so many Americans, today, stand ready to repeat similarly horrific mistakes around the world. It’s as though they somehow slept through the last four decades. Some people have selective historical amnesia and have conveniently forgotten, while others are in denial about the millions of innocent civilians killed over the last forty years by brutal American-trained, directed and supplied right-wing governments death squads, and other assorted Contra/UNITA-like terrorists, in Latin America and the Caribbean or United States support of the criminal apartheid government and numerous mercenary and terrorist elements throughout much of Southern and Central Africa, or the CIA-sponsored overthrow of elected governments in such places as Guatemala, Chile, Nicaragua, Haiti, Congo and Iran, not to mention, guerillas, trained in Afghanistan and Pakistan to fight the Soviet army, who appear to be boomeranging against the United States government, its allies, and non-combatant civilians.

We continue to misread history and hopelessly look for military solutions to deep social, political and economic inequities. These un-redressed grievances, give rise to revolutionary movements. President John F. Kennedy stated, “Those who make peaceful revolutions impossible, make violent revolutions inevitable.” Revolutions, whether they be violent or nonviolent, are not caused by terrorists, spies, agents or as Bull Connor used to say, “outside agitators”, but by social realities such as rising consciousness and expectations, economic exploitation, corruption, poverty, torture, murder, the theft of national wealth by undemocratic foreign-backed elites, occupation, and the absence of self-determination. If we really want to dramatically reduce the presence of, if not end, so-called terrorism, we must sincerely address these circumstances. Peace is more than the absence of war; it suggests the presence of justice. If we truly want peace, we will heed the peoples’ cries for justice.

Part II

Virtually anyone, in the developing world, who openly challenges the local authoritarian government or America’s corporate greed driven foreign policy, is subject to being labeled a terrorist. But just because the United States government labels an individual, organization or nation terrorist, doesn’t make it so. President Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison for his heroic role in leading an armed, largely underground, guerilla movement, the African National Congress, which was organized to overthrow the white South African dictatorship and bring greater freedom to all South African workers. The ANC was on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations. Both the South African and United States governments, for years, called Mandela, a “Black nationalist terrorist” and “murderer”. He never was. He was, always, a Black revolutionary nationalist freedom fighter.

It would be good for all Americans to study the history of America’s foreign policy and learn its hard lessons. Lessons such as: no matter what the training of the soldiers or the attitude of the folks back home, a highly mechanized invading army is at a terrible, if not insurmountable, disadvantage against well trained, motivated guerillas, with a reasonable degree of support among people who perceive them not as terrorists, but as defenders of that which held dear.

Sooner or later the United States will realize, as did Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, Portugal, Japan, and others, that the era of gunboat diplomacy and colonialism is over. Commenting on the decline of the British Empire, James Baldwin said, “Once the sun never set on the British Empire. Now the sun can’t find it”. In order to maintain influence, the U.S.A. will change its foreign policies, sooner or later. But how many more will die between now and then? If the United States government is to stop looking hypocritical and instead become defenders of the democracy it proclaims, it must accept the idea that people in other countries have the right, just as Americans do, to choose their own national direction and leaders, whether the national security state approves of them or not. The United States of America does not have the right, wisdom or ability to run the world. There is no, “white man’s burden” or destiny that is manifest. When Martin Luther King, Jr. came out against America’s war in Vietnam and American foreign policy in general, most mainstream leaders and much of the general public were disappointed and or angry. But Dr. King was right and they were confused. There is similar disorientation and hesitance today and as a result, few leaders are prepared to speak out against the current plots and plans of America’s military/corporate elite.

Nevertheless, we must not allow ourselves to become apologists for a foreign policy that puts the profits of gigantic multi-national businesses before the interests of people. As we do more for ourselves, building our own institutions and coalitions with others, we must speak out.

On April 16, 1967, approximately a year before his assassination, from his father’s pulpit in Atlanta, Dr. King spoke in the tradition, saying:

“As long as machines, computers, profit motives, and property rights are
considered more important than people, the giant triple evils of racism, militarism, and economic exploitation are incapable of being conquered.”

“And don’t let anybody make you think that God chose America as his divine messianic force to be a sort of policeman for the whole world. God has a way of standing before the nations with judgment. And it seems that I can hear God saying to America, you’re too arrogant. And if you don’t change your ways, I will rise up and break the backbone of your power and place it in the hands of a nation that doesn’t even know my name. Be still, and know that I’m God.”

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