Like I said at the end of last episode, there were some broader Cold War issues that I wanted to talk about and some history that I wanted to churn through that didn’t quite fit into the framework of the longer shows. That’s because I want those longer ones to be narrowly focused on the French and the relevant US decision-making rather than a panoramic picture—otherwise they’d be six hours instead of three and we wouldn’t have gotten even as far as we are now.
Come next show, though, some of that decision-making on the US part is going to be inscrutable unless you’re already an expert on the period or unless you’re as anti-American as SFD appears to be and you don’t need to suss out the motives behind bad decisions coming from Washington. What this show is going to do is fill in those gaps in, hopefully, an hour, give or take.
So at the outset of the Cold War, which, if you’re being generous, began even before the end of the Second World War in Europe, there were two huge questions weighing on the minds of western policymakers, and on the minds of the men in London and Washington in particular. First: What is Communism? And second, what are we going to do about it?
With regard to Republican wrongdoing and the Trump Administration’s sustained attack on the civil service and the State Department in particular:
SFD Talk—Vietnam in the US Imagination Safe For Democracy
00:00 / 1:55:50
Hey folks, in lieu of notes this time, I’m going to give you the full outline that Rob and I were ostensibly working off in the show. Which should be enlightening, especially as we spend a lot of time talking about Syria instead of Vietnam.
Ernie, unfortunately, caught that bug that seems to be circling the globe (I’ve had it in Mexico, my sister’s had it in Rhode Island, Ernie’s got it in London) and couldn’t make it.
Self-explanatory, everybody plug their stuff.
Where We’re Coming From
For Rob and Ernie for the most part (given that I’m coming from a pretty outsider position, tackling a major project on the history of the war.
What’s our level of competence vis a vis Vietnam?
Very much related: What education have we received from ‘the system’ on the topic?
After any public/private educational opportunities, what are we looking at? Movies? Books? Ken Burns documentaries?
I give my little spiel here about why Vietnam’s the premature finale of SFD
Topics that I Want to Hit
Lying in Politics
I talked to Ernie a little bit about this the other day, but:
Vietnam was the epitome of the first cycle of public lying in foreign policy.
It starts with the Republicans using our ‘loss’ of China to get the Democrats out of power after Truman and rolls into the bad McCarthy years
It continues with JFK needing to be harder on the Reds than Nixon and thereby greatly inflating the importance of Vietnam (ie that nobody in government espoused the Domino Theory in private, only in public speeches)
And it culminates with JFK coming around to that we need to get out, US prestige be damned, right before he’s assassinated, with LBJ going whole hog afterwards, determined not to be the first US President to lose a war
And there go the secret bombings, the Tonkin Gulf incident, escalating the war on the DL, the total refusal to believe that the public might be smart enough to understand what’s going on and deciding to fucking prosecute an unjust, unpopular, unwise war because we thought that would somehow be easier than just owning up to that, Hey, Vietnam’s not that important after all
And then Nixon promising to end the war a full six years before he gets out
All of which is repeated to some extent in the run-up to Iraq/Afghanistan, with similarly disastrous results
The continuing consequences of which are playing out right now, literally right now, in Syria
The Idea of a “Lost War” and a Need to Reclaim Prestige
This one’s near self-explanatory too. Put your thoughts here:
Deification of the Soldiery
I mentioned this in the chat, in those little audio messages:
The anti-war reaction against returning soldiers seriously turns off the Nixononian Silent Majority types
And, really, it’s dumb on its face. Sure, Vietnam was the first war where American atrocities got play back in the US (the Korean War kicked off with us literally detonating a bridge under hundreds if not thousands of civilians trying to escape the North Korean onslaught, and the occupying American forces in Europe during WWII got up to their fair share of ugly business), but none of these guys, usually especially the ones who got up to really bad shit, wanted to be in Vietnam in the first place. They didn’t sign up for the war, and the USG did little if anything to prepare them or their commanders for the conditions they’d face over there.
The result being that after the war, we really start, as a country, to hammer home the ‘Support the Troops’ message.
It gets big play in the First Gulf War, but it would have to wait until the second to really kick into high gear.
By the time we invade Afghanistan/Iraq, the post-Vietnam attitude has totally permeated the populace and 9/11 leads us to double down on it.
So that by 2003 or so, anybody who gets into uniform is automatically a hero, regardless of what role they play or what it is they eventually do overseas.
And it’s the most insane time for this attitude to have ever prevailed in our history, because this is the least citizen-soldier military we’ve ever had.
Our modern army is the first fully volunteer, fully professional force in our history. These guys are much more like the guys defending the Khyber Pass for the British than the GIs who hit the beaches in Normandy.
You ask anybody why they support the troops, and they’ll tell you it’s that the troops are defending our freedoms, but more than at any previous point in our history, the troops are pretty much defending the far-flung outposts of an American Empire. These are the near-mercenary Tommies of the British 1880s, and while they might often show great heroism, signing up to kill poorer, browner people overseas is categorically not an act of automatic heroism.
Which all sounds whiny and esoteric, but is integral to the Neocon strategy of violent democratic activism overseas. The President can, under the current authorization of the War Powers Act and AUMFs, send anybody he wants anywhere he wants for basically any reason, as long as it’s got some tenuous connection to ‘terrorism’
And once the boys are over there, since they’re all heroes, and we all support them, the war they’re a part of is here to stay. Case in points: Iraq, Afghanistan.
We’re back to a mix of history and short shows, which means we’re back to quick intros on the smaller episodes. It looks like I’m finally going to pull together that shorts discussion with some of my old Peace Corps buddies this week, and if I don’t have Vietnam II out by Monday—I’m about fifty fifty on that, but I think it should be out in two weeks if not in one—I’ll have that up for you.
Big thanks to Jeff, the second PoliSci grad student to reach out to me and our newest supporter on Patreon. Share the shows folks. Share, share, share the shows.
Diminished US Power—A Conversation with Rob Morris Safe For Democracy
00:00 / 1:56:09
I’m getting back on track after my internet outage, and as promised, here’s a make-up of a sort for those last couple of weeks. This is the show that Rob and I recorded back in December, and which went up earlier this week as the December news show on Patreon.
As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, this is going to be the second-to-last news show, since I’ve got to just buckle down on the four or five plates I’ve got spinning already. The Patreon site will keep trucking, hopefully with some support, but from here on out, the only exclusive content will be whatever I can cook up that doesn’t fit into the normal podcast, rather than a regular thing.
I’ve been saying, for longer than it was exactly true, that everything’s bad and it’s only getting worse. The world’s come around to my point of view though, and at least in the US, almost a year out now from the inauguration, it certainly seems to be going that way. The President’s interviews, when anybody can work up the stomach to go read them, are getting less and less coherent all the time; the man’s tweets more unhinged; the Mueller investigation ever closer even as the Republican Congress shows itself totally unwilling to accept the results and Republicans in investigatory committees complicit in covering up wrongdoing. The country’s shaking itself apart up top, and while the reason those people are there might well be down to grand historical forces, the stuff they’re doing now that they’ve arrived is down to deeply broken humanities and very personal failures.
I think some of that’s down to education, and like all people who think a problem’s due to lack of schooling, I think it’s down to the right or wrong kind of education, and that’s what we’ll get to in this show.
It’s pretty straightforward on this one; October’s news show on Corruption just in time for December. Enjoy folks. Patreon people, appreciate the patience while I’m on my monthlong, sabbatical-type trip to see my folks in the US.
I don’t do a lot of heavy quotes in this one, but I do lean very heavily on my sources, so here’s something we’re more used to from the history shows.
The folks on Patreon have voted the news shows into wider circulation, so they’ll be coming out either regularly or when we have a blank Monday to fill. That should make it easier for anybody who wasn’t into listening on Patreon (and who really wants, no sarcasm, to leave their podcast app to hit play on an actual website) and, obviously, for everybody else, to hear them.
Today we’ve got what was September’s show, but have no fear: even if the news isn’t super fresh, the question it addresses is still up in the air and the essay that’s the real heart of the show is evergreen.
I’m not on hiatus this month as much as just trying to be up front about a possibly mixed ability to hit my release dates. But I’m taking my mic home with me, so we might get every week done anyway.
One last thing here that I didn’t think to mention in the intro but that I’ll work in at some point is that I’ve put together an Amazon wishlist. I hopefully won’t need to purchase any of these books (because hopefully I’ll track them down in a library), but Amazon makes it easy to put together and share a list. So, this is pretty much the full, ideal wrap-up to all the reading I’ve already done on Vietnam. It’s a fascinating set of books. And I’m still working out how to get my mitts on a bunch of period RAND Corp documents. I’ll keep the few interested posted.
Alright, enjoy the show guys (and as promised, here below, an easier explainer on comparative advantage).
Saving the State Department—A Conversation with Rob Morris Talk for Democracy
00:00 / 1:26:52
This show’s coming to you on a Tuesday just because of that new job I mentioned and because Thanksgiving happened on a Sunday this year in Mexico. What I’d like to talk to you about now, though, is what’s going to happen to SFD over the next month or so. No big or particularly bad news. It’s just that I’ll be travelling through most of the month of December, and I don’t want to commit to having a show for you every Monday. What will happen is Patreon subscribers will get a news show both for November and December, and I’ve got a few ideas for shorts that will probably get done next month, so it won’t be totally dry.
The good news is that once I’m home visiting my folks in the US, I’ll be able to lay hands on some texts I haven’t been able to get here in Mexico, including the 10,000 Day War, which is probably the most thorough history of the entire Vietnam conflict out there. I’ll be reading the whole month and with any luck we’ll be hearing about the French misadventures in Indochina by January.