Friday, October 9, 2009

Encore for President Obama

"Search and destroy
photo by Mike Marcellino
South Vietnam, 1968
copyright 1995

Time for Department of Peace
By Mike Marcellino

Challenges Facing Americans
La partie trois

Tell me, why is it that President Obama, winner of the Nobel Prize for Peace, sounds more like a hawk than a dove.

Here is a quote from an AP story about the President’s reaction to winning the prize:

”…Obama acknowledged that, while accepting an award for peace, he was commander in chief of a country engaged in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  "We have to confront the world as we know it," he said.  He said he was working to end the war in Iraq and "to confront a ruthless adversary that directly threatens the American people and our allies" in Afghanistan.

I will admit, Mr. President, that you got that right, in that, our enemy, and I image you are talking about the Taliban, is ruthless, harsh and totally nasty in war (and they way in which they treat Afghans, especially females) who in their belief (no matter how misguided) get out of line. 

But, Mr. President, ask any soldier, friend or foe, what war is.  “War is hell,” the soldier will reply. 

I asked you to recall what soldiers have said about war, soldiers like Union General William Tecumseh Sherman in our Civil War.  To Southerners, Confederates if you will, brothers, soldiers and civilians alike, knew General Sherman for what he was – ruthless in war.  He was know for his “scorched earth” policy in burning Atlanta to the ground and then marching his army using a calculated scorched earth tactic leaving not a blade of grass or stalk of wheat standing, marching from Atlanta to the sea – Savannah, Georgia.  And, President Lincoln didn’t object to the general’s ruthless tactics waged against an already defeated enemy, in this case their fellow countrymen, and many literally brothers.  Here’s what General Sherman said about war:

“I am tired and sick of war. Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, for vengeance, for desolation. War is hell.”- William Tecumseh Sherman

As a United States Army veteran of the Vietnam War an since, I don’t know of a single combat veteran who does not respect the enemy, at least if the enemy was a good soldier, meaning and effective one, willing to kill or be killed.  In battle, soldiers don’t fight for a cause; they fight for their fellow soldiers, the fight to survive and to get the battle over with. 

I wonder, Mr. President, if you recall the scene in Apocalypse Now, the brilliant, dark, frightening soliloquy of Colonel Kurtz, an American Special Forces soldier, a hero, gone driven insane by the hell of war.  He spoke of the ruthlessness of the enemy, cutting off the arms of children after they had been inoculated by United States Army doctors.  If you haven’t seen Frances Ford Copula’s brilliant film, or don’t recall it, I suggest you watch it and ask your staffers to watch it too.  Many, perhaps most Americans find Apocalypse Now exaggerated.  Even I did for a while, but not after some reflection and talks with many veterans of fighting in Vietnam, as well as World War II, Korea, the Gulf wars, Iraq and Afghanistan.  I wrote about those wars as a newspaper reporter for more than a decade and learned even more working in veteran and military affairs for a congressman and mayor.  But I really learned that war is hell by being in Vietnam and talking with my fellow combat veteran friends over the years.  The men and women I talked with are all over the waterfront in politics, backgrounds and opinions, but they all agree that war is hell.

With that introduction, Mr. President, here is my second column about the war in Afghanistan:

Okie, dokie.  When I opened my soundless HP laptop this morning I was dumbfounded to discover President Obama had won the Nobel Prize for Peace.

Here's my take: The President talked the peace game during the campaign. Now he talks peace one day and war the next and gives serious consideration of escalating the war in Afghanistan. But, hand it to the Nobel Prize guys (hopefully girls too), they decided to give the American president a big nudge - the Nobel Prize for Peace, before he actually did anything in that regard. The reason - Their next chance to give him the prize is three years away, right in the heat of his campaign for reelection (Republicans and conservatives let alone right wing radicals are already tearing into him, i.e. some people putting out color posters with President Obama's picture with a Hitler-like mustache and another with the President hanging out with the Nazi dictator, mass murderer, and his henchmen). Well, all I can say is good luck President Obama, good luck Nobel Prize committee, good luck America, good luck Afghanistan, good luck Iraq, world, etc. Guess we just have to hold onto our tickets (aka, citizenships) and wait and see.

Okie dokie. My suggestion in the meantime to our President is” to ask one of your foreign policy advisors to read my commentary below then read or reread Fire in the Lake by Francis Fitzgerald about the fallacy and futility of the Vietnam War.  Many good books have been written about the Vietnam War but Fire in the Lake is the most insightful and documented in history. 

Fallicy in the Urban Dictionary, oddly, came up with the heading "Evangelical" and reference to the "American religion" tracing its origin to 33 AD. I'll give you the first fallicy listed: 1.the subjectivist fallicy: "I have faith" (translation: it's true because I believe it is).

In her book, Ms. Fitzgerald exposed how little we understood about Vietnam and the Vietnamese.  Yet we made up an excuse, The Gulf of Tonkin incident, and plowed ahead, ignoring history and opportunities to talk with our “enemy.”  We labeled it a war to stop communism, “the domino theory” in which Asian nations and others would one by one fall to communism.  How did we know that would happen?  The notion was just a political invention for an excuse to go to war in Southeast Asia.  In reality it was a war for power and control of resources. 

Even President Eisenhower in his farewell address warned us of the growing threat to the American democracy from within by the military industrial complex.  I would add political to his description of this “complex.”

“We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.” – Dwight David Eisenhower

But, while I am at it, here are two more quotes timely and important comments of President Eisenhower, America’s commanding general in World War II who led our nation and its allies in defeating Hitler and the Nazis, the Axis – the ruthless dictatorships of Germany, Japan and their allies.

“We will bankrupt ourselves in the vain search for absolute security. 

When people speak to you about a preventive war, you tell them to go and fight it. After my experience, I have come to hate war.”

Both quotes speak for themselves.  Too bad former President George Bush, the most recent, didn’t read the latter Eisenhower quote before staring the wars in the Middle East.  I wonder if he ever saw another brilliant film, Lawrence of Arabia. Actually, Mr. President that film should also be required viewing.  The first quote is, gee, just profound.  It also reminds me of worrying ourselves to death. 

But, do not get me wrong, Mr. President.  In no way am I suggesting that we just throw down our guns and go home.   Now that we have fueled the flames of war and created a good deal of chaos, we can’t just stop on a dime, not even Mercury. 

Mr. President, I have an idea, a way for you to follow up on winning the Nobel Prize for Peace.  Why don’t you create a Department of Peace?  Give it as much power and status as waging war and military solutions to the world’s problems.  In that new department, make sure you set up an agency for civic action. 

The only good thing I ever witnessed in the Vietnam War, besides the incredible courage and sacrifice of our troops, was the thankless and unheralded civic action work done by soldiers and civilians caring for the wounds of victims, many children, and helping Vietnamese build refugee towns as a place to live after both sides did a great job of destroying their homes and villages.  And today, sadly we’re doing pretty much the same thing more than three decades after the end of America’s longest war in Vietnam.

Finally, Mr. President, once all the hoopla of the Nobel Prize for Peace subsides, ask Congressman Dennis Kucinich about how to go about setting up the Department of Peace.  After all it is his idea.  Maybe Dennis should have won the Nobel Prize for Peace.   He also ran for president, but he didn’t win that either.

Mike Marcellino, a two-time national award winning newspaper reporter is now a freelance journalist, poet and performance artist with the band, Ensor in St. Augustine, Florida and New York City

Encore for President Obama, copyright by Mike Marcellino 2009