Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The surge in the Afghanistan War: And what then?

The war in Afghanistan:  a commentary 

by Mike Marcellino

A child is crying outside as I write this.
Don't know what to make of it, except I thought that a lot of children and other folks in the world are crying today.

How are you today?

I’m rather overwhelmed by thoughts of war, and have tomorrow night's radio show staring in the face.

Personally, I am rather ticked, thinking of reality of pouring 30,000 more US troops, plus 10,000 from other NATO countries into Afghanistan.
As I journalist I'm working on the story. I've found some very interesting facts and aspects that I think's been overlooked.

So here's my commentary prospect, off the cuff, riddled with past and recently acquired information stuffed into my Swiss cheese brain.

One simple question -

When, and it's only a question of when, U.S. and NATO forces pack their bags and leave Afghanistan?
And, what then?

Seems to boil down to what level of death and destruction the American people are willing to tolerate.

When the people, you know the “people,” the ones that actually fight America's wars. Call them “Joe six pack” if you like, reach their breaking point, they'll end the war, just like what they did with Vietnam. They'll end if and any politician who resists that tide will follow along or be swept away, out of office.

Like the TET offensive in Vietnam, all it will take to have a million people in DC is some terrible scenes on TV, like the ones on our screens during the 10 years of the nation's first television war and our longest war. Scenes like a dozen Viet Cong taking over the US Embassy in Saigon for a few minutes till they were wasted by U. S. troops, or and Afghan general on CNN shooting some Taliban guy point blank in the head with a 45, just like what happened in TET.

Remember there's nothing like the smell of napalm in the morning. It, it smells, “like victory” as that cool actor who's name always is missing, oh, Robert Du val. Now I know I'm on top of my game today. Anyway, the wars in Afghanistan and Vietnam reminds of instant replay, like on football.

How many people know, or even remember, that the Viet Cong, insurgents, our primary enemy in the Vietnam War, were wiped off the face of the earth during the TET offensive - a surprise attack by the combined forces of the VC and NVA (North Vietnamese Army), tens of thousands all across the country on the day of the cease fire for the Vietnamese New Year. Most all of the soldiers of the of South Vietnam (ARVN), the country we propped up for two decades or more, were at home bringing in the New Year. Can't image there was much to celebrate.

I wasn't on R & R surfing Bondi Beach that TET, I can tell you that. I was in a bunker at night out on the perimeter of a base camp at the tip of the Iron Triangle, a VC stronghold we never took, in charge of myself and two or three other GIs, because I had three stripes. Technically one stripe as I was a “specialist five” not a buck sergeant. I served in the United States Army as a combat correspondent and photojournalist for a year minus a seven day drop.

For the only time in a year, a call came in on the radio, soldiers affectionately called “a prick 29.” A voice I didn't know, someone in charge I guess, told me that 5,000 NVA regulars were headed for our base and I was on the perimeter. He said nothing more and I began to wonder if I could find the two wires and set the claymores off around the bunker. And wondered how well I could fire the l60 caliber light machine gun I'd never used.

Pounded by U. S. air strikes and artillery and the Big Red One, the First Infantry Division, the one Clint Eastwood was in, the North Vietnamese force overran the provincial capital instead. A lot of folks were killed, most of the civilians and I gave blood the next day in a hospital where an awfully pretty Philippine nurse I knew was a nurse.

America infantrymen, called “grunts,” artillerymen and jet fighter pilots kick the enemy's. And, all over South Vietnam our troops won every battle, decimating the entire Diet Cong, tens of thousands of “insurgents.” Funny, we never called them “insurgents” in Vietnam, that civil war.

We lost, though we won, perhaps one of America's most unequivocal military victories. And yet, we lost. The American people decided they had enough, enough of horror on their televisions, enough of death and destruction, enough of their sons and loved ones coming home in body bags.

Trouble is how many Americans actually know now what happened forty years ago in the rice paddies, mountains and jungles of South Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos? How many really knew what happened then? I know there's some today with short memories, or prefer to short memories. Reality may not fit into their political agenda or scheme to win riches like rice and oil, power and control.

Well, at least we don't have to deal with the “domino theory” where if South Vietnam would fall to the communists other countries in Southeast Asia and other sort of free countries all over the world would follow.

No, now we have a 21st Century version of the Crusades and of course, a lot of oil in South Asia and not to mention Iran and Israel and nukes. Is our thinking really that clouded?

Tonight President Obama appears to be following the course of LBJ, President Johnson, for those who may not recognize LBJ. Sadly, look what happened to that strong-willed Texan. He died a broken man, agonizing over the Vietnam War, what might have been, or was it the more than 58,000 dead Americans, hundreds of thousands with lifelong wounds with hundreds of thousands more wandering the streets of America, many eaten away with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Well, I have my own theory without dominoes.

What would happen if we rounded up all the Taliban leaders, and as many fighters as we could and kind of throw a big and talk, play some music? You laugh? That I know of as far back as the Civil War, and in the world wars enemies shared coffee over a fire, even sang Christmas carols together, at night too dark to fight. I'm not aware of U. S. troops in Vietnam getting together with the VC or NVA, however. A sign of the changing times. You'd have to ask our troops in Afghanistan about that, though we trained and supplied many of the insurgents, like the leader of the Taliban, to fight the Russians back in the 1980s. 

My plan would be to keep the dinner going until we found a way to stop the war dead, or agree to stop fighting, at least until we got together for dinner again.

Does that sound impossible? No more so than the likelihood of victory on our present course. And, I thought the American people had elected a new president because he had some new ideas, maybe some peaceful ones, of ways to end wars and stop staring them.

Does anyone really think the Afghan army and police will hold on to their country once we leave? Do you really think the army and police of a country where three quarters of the people, most living in villages can win the hearts and minds?

Do you really think we can succeed when the Russians failed? Mikhail Gorbachev, Soviet leader at the time of their war in Afghanistan, does think so and he was quoted as such a few days ago.

After the last of U. S. combat troops left South Vietnam in 1973, did the South Vietnamese government survive? No. In 1975, the South Vietnamese Army folded their tents in face of an offensive by the North Vietnamese Army. Soldiers and politicians were the first to run and most of the only ones to get aboard the last U. S. helicopter out. I can still picture the television footage of that last chopper with people clinging to the skids.

Even one of our friends in Afghanistan, a warlord general turned politician, recently said flatly that the presence of US and NATO forces actually diminishes the will of Afghans to fight against the Taliban.

Afghans think it is now the war of the United States and NATO. Well, it is, isn't it? The real point is it's no the Afghans' war any more. So, it's not really about the Afghan people then, is it?

Making matters worse, the Taliban and other insurgency forces are killing Afghan civilians as a terror tactic to defeat the U. S. and NATO. And, their strategy is working. People believe, and it's hard to argue the point, that the insurgents will stop killing them, or at least not as much, when U. S. and NATO leave.

Now there's a military matter I must include. To an extent our soldiers don't have to aggressively fight the insurgents. We need to bring security to the cities and villages. Now this isn't easy mind you, especially in house to house fighting. Remember, the scenes on television from battles in Baghdad and Fallujah in the Iraq War? That kind of fighting is bloody awful.

And then there is the main Taliban, insurgent strategy – bombs, roadside, everywhere. Enough said. Then, war is hell.

If their present, illegally elected democratic government falls, will the Afghan people live in some degree of oppression? Yes. But ask yourself, how are they living now?

We'd be better off sending in 40,000 plows, rather than troops.

What would the Taliban do if we just started rebuilding, doing good things? At least other than defending ourselves. We'd be the “good guys” wouldn't we. Or at least we'd look more them.

What would the Taliban do if we started to relate to them as human beings, though one's we don't like and disagree with, rather than monsters?

Remember the war in Afghanistan in the 1980s? Many of the same insurgents, including the current leader of the Taliban, Mullah Omar, who defeated the Soviet Union were our friends against the Russians. Sounds rather twisted, doesn't it? Omar, a really tough guy, lost an eye defeating the Soviet Army. Just for the record, he's already quoted as saying we can't win.

How would the Afghan people react to a different course, activating my theory, of course?

How would the world react to a peace offensive, something never done before?

How would the world react if we started marching to the drumbeats of Gandhi and King, the spirits of Jesus, Buddha and Muhammed?

Maybe then, we'd have God on our side.

What would the Taliban do then?

Would it be better or worse?

It looks like we'll never find out.

Copyright by Mike Marcellino 2009

"Asterisks after innocence"

"My Girls" Vietnam War, 1968
photo by Mike Marcellino
 Copyright 2009

Asterisks after innocence
by mike marcellino

in forgotten times
shot, struck down
nine eleven
seven eleven
fire balls
in the tallest towers
a thirty-eight stub nose
nine millimeter
in the corner store
asterisks after innocence.

in forgotten times
struck down
by Viet Cong
Audie Murphy -
Wha'd you say?
Hey hey,
Don't you know,
Barry Bonds
was once Willie Mays
asterisks after innocence.

Living in forgotten times
struck down
by armies
of good people -
Special Forces of The USA.
Shot, struck down
struck down
listening to
Asterisks after innocence
in forgotten times.

Copyright Mike Marcellino, 2008

Reflections on "Asterisks"

Perhaps it's the times - wars, collapse of our financial system and housing values, a deep recession.
Perhaps it's what a few people wrote in response to a column I wrote about the growing crisis of hunger in America.

Perhaps for both reasons, or no reason at all, I dug out a poetry song I wrote in early 2008, nearly two years ago. The piece was recorded by my first band, Split Peace, before my entry on Facebook and ReverbNation. I recorded and performed "Asterisks"  with Abe Olvido, a multimedia artist and sound innovator, in Cleveland.

This September, we formed a new folk band when, after a decade absence, I returned to a place I love, St. Augustine, Florida to visit an Army buddy, Tomas Texino, a musician and writer.  Working together, with Tomas, playing mandolin and guitar and composing the music, we recorded four songs, three new and one old, "Bondi beach."  Later, I traveled to visit music friends in Brooklyn, New York and there musician Randall Leddy joined with me, playing guitar and composing "Flatbush," about the West Indian neighborhood the Dutch founded in the 1500s.
Our new band is simply called Mike Marcellino and in nine weeks ranks in the top 10% of Folk Artists on ReverbNation's New York City, National and Global charts.

(The band's now has reached as high as #19 Top Folk Artists in New York City and is currently at #28. Our listeners come from virtually every state and many other countries, from England, Ireland and Australia to Germany, China, South Korea and Russia, among many others.)

Not sure what all this means, if anything, but I love to body surf and have learned to tolerate a wetsuit now that the Atlantic water's down to 65 degrees.

From time to time, I'll share past poetry songs and recordings, like "Asterisks," along with new ones.

"Asterisks" seems like such a long time ago, as so much has happened in the world since the late winter of 2008. I decided to post it here, now. Somehow the song seems more meaningful now than ever.

Postscript: Hard to image it's been nearly three years since I wrote this backstory about "Asterisk's after innocence."  It's a powerful song, even to the writer.  

A lot has happened in three years, but we've fallen on the New York City folk charts to #42.  But, as i think Iris Dement once said, "It's not a race."  Or maybe a lot of us said that. (I grew tired trying to keep up with the Internet world.)

I again offer this song to you as our children are so so important to our world.  We must love and care for them.  They should not go wanting and have a chance to be happy. 

If you'd like to listen to "Asterisks" go to the music box at the top of my blog here.  Let's us know what you think about it.  That would mean a lot, hearing from you all. - Mike