Swans Commentary » swans.com June 4, 2007  



The Politicians Cannot Prevent An Unsatisfactory End


by Philip Greenspan





(Swans - June 4, 2007)  When you're a klutz, this is what you can expect! It took me over eight weeks to recuperate from a fall that fractured my right knee, my left hand, a rib and bruised my left knee. And in less than two weeks while hustling across a street, I tripped on a curb, banged my head into the façade of a store, fell on and fractured my right thigh, a finger on my left hand, and severely bruised a muscle in my right shoulder. My expectations for participating fully in several upcoming events may have been dashed. Two were of most concern.

Every month I show a film at the Fellowship of Reconciliation. The film scheduled for May 15 featured the notorious "Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation" (WHISC) formerly known as "The School of the Americas" and commonly referred to as the School of Assassins (SOA). In fifty-nine years this abomination trained over 60,000 Latin American military officers in counter-insurgency warfare. And who do you imagine are those insurgents that must be countered by military means? They are the poor hungry people and their allies in those countries -- the landless peasants, labor organizers, healthcare workers, religious leaders, students, human rights advocates -- who cry out for reform to improve their miserable existence.

Since 1990, Maryknoll priest Rev. Roy Bourgeois has been leading a campaign to close the school. An annual rally and march each November at the location of the school in Fort Benning, Georgia, brings out increasing numbers of vocal non-violent protesters (last year there were over twenty-two thousand). That dramatic event highlights the various campaign tactics that urge Congress to vote the school out of existence. Success was achieved in 2000 when Congress closed the School of Americas. But the following year the school's advocates, using a new name, as if it were a different school, were able to reopen it.

My wife Fran and a friend who participated in several SOA vigils and marches substituted for me by showing the film, answering questions, and conducting a discussion. If I had been able to attend I would have claimed during the discussion period that a new very promising tactic -- cutting off the supply of students -- may shut it down, irrespective of Congressional action, fairly soon.

In 2004, Bourgeois appealed on Venezuelan television, then met and urged President Hugo Chávez to stop sending its officers to the school. Chávez's affirmative response presaged a strategy that could close the school's doors permanently. That initial success in Venezuela was followed by the addition of Argentina, Bolivia, and Uruguay. Costa Rica, with no military, had sent its police. They will no longer go! The governments of Chile, Peru, and Ecuador have been approached and are considering similar responses.

The antiwar march and rally that took place at West Point while Vice President Dick Cheney addressed the graduating class was an event I would not miss. I was unable to march but I listened to the various speakers and greeted and schmoozed with many friends who showed up, some who had traveled long distances. The event drew a sizeable, imaginative, vibrant, active, and non-violent crowd. I had attended the protests the past two years. Although we were always outspoken on the grounds adjacent to the academy, the local folks were extremely friendly and welcoming to us. I believe that many within the military itself are in tune with us. They are now anxious to conclude the Iraq war and are opposed to an adventure in Iran.

West Point is the primary educational establishment of the United States Army and a symbol of the military mind. The U.S. currently spends more on its military than the rest of the world combined; and has far more sophisticated weapons than the rest of the world. But the most important factor in conducting a war -- far more important than superiority in money and weapons -- are the humans, the officers, men, and women who must do the fighting and the dying.

The situation confronting the country today is a replay of what occurred during the Vietnam era. Back then, the country was fed up with war and elected Nixon of the opposition party, who promised to end it. He had no such intention. His rhetoric did not match his actions. Not only did he continue the war but secretly extended it into Laos and Cambodia. To pacify the electorate he simulated peace talks with the enemy and gradually reduced the numbers of men on the front lines. With insufficient ground forces available heavy aerial bombing raids took over. Today's Democratic Party like Tricky Dick bamboozles the public with talk while their Congressional voting equates to more war. Their front-running presidential hopefuls have declared quite forcefully that they favor a hard line against Iran.

Why is this replay occurring? Didn't the politicians learn any lessons from the Vietnam debacle? Every politician at the national level, irrespective of party, office, or location, takes orders from the same hawkish power elite. Although each nominally represents a constituent group who elected him and whom he inundates with soft soap, he truly represents and advances the interests of that hawkish elite. And that hawkish elite is delighted -- yes, delighted -- with what the Bush administration has attempted. They certainly hoped for better results, but are satisfied with Bush's accomplishments on their behalf and are still sticking to this losing cause.

What then caused the intransigent politicians to give up on the lost cause in Vietnam? A massive mutiny by the GIs that so thoroughly stymied the military it could no longer do the job. This disgrace has been covered up ever since but the establishment is well aware of what happened. The Armed Forces Journal issue of June 7, 1971 contained an article, "The Collapse of the Armed Forces," by Col. Robert D. Heinl, Jr. that describes the unprecedented conduct of the troops. The initial sentences sum up the inconceivable situation that confronted the brass.

The morale, discipline and battleworthiness of the U.S. Armed Forces are, with a few salient exceptions, lower and worse than at anytime in this century and possibly in the history of the United States. By every conceivable indicator, our army that now remains in Vietnam is in a state approaching collapse, with individual units avoiding or having refused combat, murdering their officers and non commissioned officers, drug-ridden, and dispirited where not near mutinous.
(See http://www.chss.montclair.edu/english/furr/Vietnam/heinl.pdf)

For some time now symptoms of apprehension have emerged that worry the highest levels of the military. Back in November 2005, Representative John Murtha, a former marine officer, the chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, and a supporter of the armed forces holding close relationships with the top brass, was claiming that the Army was "broken, worn out" and "living hand to mouth." From time to time, news reports cropped up that disclosed how the military tried to maintain its fighting capability -- extending deployments, sizeable enlistment bonuses, lowered entry requirements for recruits, "stop-loss" to hold soldiers beyond the termination date of contract, recalling reserves, returning seriously wounded to combat, recalling older veterans whose service was completed years ago, etc.

Misgivings among officers, enlisted men, and retirees, were continually forthcoming. A new organization was formed whose title says it all "West Point Graduates Against the War." Several retired generals were outspoken in their opposition to the war and its civilian leadership. Almost 2000 active duty, reserve, and National Guard troops have signed a petition to Congress "Appeal for Redress" to end the war.

It's quite likely that career officers with similar concerns would withhold comment for fear of jeopardizing their careers, but some have become so disgruntled that they have chucked their careers or perhaps don't care! After West Point graduates had completed their five-year service commitment, 46 percent of the class of 2001 and 54 percent of the class of 2000 decided to quit, substantially above the 10 to 30 percent average.

Indications that the generals in the army might quit if called upon to attack Iran led the administration to replace a ground force commander, Gen. John Abizaid, with an admiral, William Fallon, deemed more in accord with the new Middle East strategy. The appointment implied more aggressive plans for dealing with Iran. Recent reports, however, reveal that Fallon is not as hawkish as expected and his circumspect implementation of orders has moved the administration to the negotiation table.

A major effect of a mutiny is that the manpower of the mutineers is lost. Officers rarely mutiny. But if they are so disgruntled that they resign their commissions the loss of their manpower is effectively the same as a mutiny. If they hang on reluctantly their lack of enthusiasm for the mission may affect its eventual outcome. The symptoms that are turning up are indications that the brass is not fervently behind this administration's war plans. It may not be too long before reality may seep through the seemingly impenetrable brains of the political establishment. It will then suddenly declare victory, sing the "Star Spangled Banner," lead triumphant parades for the booboisie, and pull out!


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Published June 4, 2007