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A Tale of Two Critics

Previewing the Burns/Novick PBS Vietnam documentary

 

In the run-up to the Burns/Novick documentary on the Vietnam War to air on PBS beginning the 17th of September, I’ve read two previews that likely define the opposing poles around which critical commentary will grade the film series:
 

“Why the Vietnam War is Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s Most Ambitious Project Yet,” by David Kamp, in the August 2017 issue of Vanity Fair.

“America’s Amnesia,” by Thomas A. Bass, in Vol. 2, No. 4 (August-October 2017) of the Mekong Revie.
 

As I read the tea leaves, the revived debate on Vietnam prompted by the documentary will essentially bypass the old nest of apologists among the surviving neo-cons and the highbrow sages of the National Review and Commentary, and pit forces from the neo-liberal camp, who see the “lessons of Vietnam” as repudiations of the U.S. policy of permanent war targeting international “bad guys” not down for American global hegemony, against the principled crowd of leftists and academics who cut their political teeth during the period of massive opposition to the Vietnam War. We may hear from the right, the diehard revanchists among the Viet Kieu, the rants of Rolling Thunder’s ersatz vets on their hogs, the idiocracy of Trump’s base, or even the Idiot-in-Chief, Trump himself. But their voices on this topic will be ignored as so much extraneous background noise. No one serious, you know, still supports the Vietnam War.

Given what he’s served up in Vanity Fair, I place David Kamp, if only in the utter Arendtian thoughtlessness he brings to the topic, among the temporizers. Kamp’s operative critical pose is ennui chic. He is bored by treatments of the Vietnam War he’s encountered that recycle the “tired tropes… of Hollywood,” and is refreshed in finding that auteurs Burns and Novick have “avoided” them. After all, Lynn Novick instructs the critic in an interview, ““There is no agreement among scholars, or Americans or Vietnamese, about what happened: the facts, let alone whose fault, let alone what we’re supposed to make of it.” Burns punctuates his partner’s hymn to ambiguity, telling Kamp he disdained to give voice in their epic to “avuncular, Monday-morning quarterbacking from historians and scholars who never set foot in Vietnam.”

US soldier uses a flame thrower to torch a Vietnamese peasant hutUS soldier uses a flame thrower to torch a Vietnamese peasant hut
 

There it is: throw out your Gibbon, unless the renowned author of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire managed to time travel in the Way-Back machine with Sherman and Mr. Peabody to personally interview the Visigoths as they sacked the Eternal City.

Guns and Religion in a Small Town on Memorial Day

An anti-war vet in Trumpland

      When the legend becomes fact, print the legend
                  - The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

I attended a "Salute to Veterans" this past Memorial Day in Waldoboro, Maine, organized by the town’s Historical Society at the headquarters of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and co-sponsored by the American Legion. For someone with my antiwar resume, albeit a veteran of a Vietnam combat unit, stepping over the threshold of a VFW Post can feel like crossing into hostile territory. I might exhibit a similar compunction about taking fermentation at certain blue color taverns in the Rust Belt, despite the fact that many of the regulars would pretty much look like me, white seniors with European roots – except maybe they voted for Trump and I didn’t. It’s not just politics; it’s a class thing. I spent my first eleven years in a working class subdivision while my dad, employed at a defense plant, “broke through the line” into management. We moved up and I went to college, then left my hometown in the dust.

The POW/MIA guest setting; and attendees at the Memorial Day event (Photos: Michael Uhl)The POW/MIA guest setting; and attendees at the Memorial Day event (Photos: Michael Uhl)

Most of those I sat among that afternoon in Waldoboro probably hadn’t been to college – an opportunity with far reaching class consequences - but they’d remained rooted in their communities. Being there, it was as if I’d been whisked back to some mothballed version of where I’d grown up in the fifties. All the musty forms and rituals were intact. The interior of the hall was a shrine to soldierly service. All manner of war and military memorabilia displayed on walls and tables. Mannequins outfitted full fig in uniforms of various epochs. Two rows of chairs faced the stars and stripes and the flags of all the services that stood tall across the front of the room. Stage-set on the left flank was an empty table with a single place setting and chair, the ubiquitous homage of the mainstream veteran service organizations to the MIAs.

One elderly lady saddled in beside me and sparkled brightly, “don’t worry, I won’t bite you.” Was she in the Ladies Auxiliary linked to one of the co-sponsors, I asked? She nodded yes without comment. The chair of the local Historical Society stepped to the podium, asked the body to stand, then summoned the Color Guard, having carried two flags to the rear, to proceed forward and return the standards to their stanchions. Two of the more senior men, costumed with bits and pieces of their old uniforms – both wore sergeant’s stripes – fairly dragged the heavy poles up the aisle. “It weighs a ton,” one of them grumbled under his breath, but loud enough to make his audience, including me, smile and nod in sympathy.

US Hegemony over Korean Peninsula Challenged by North Korea, and by New South Korean President

Washington can only delay, but not halt North Korea's self-defense advances

 

UPDATE: Massive weekly candlelight demonstrations that began last fall on Oct. 29 and that brought an incredible 2.3 million into the streets of central Seoul on Dec. 3 have been transforming South Korea's politics and society, pressuring the National Assembly to impeach and oust the corrupt President Park Geun-hye and now bringing about the election of a peace candidate from the Democratic Party of Korea (DPK), Moon Jae-in.

Moon’s election is a historic moment pregnant with new opportunities.

A human rights lawyer and former student activist, Moon is calling for an end to threats by the US against North Korea and for the adoption of a policy of friendship and peaceful negotiation with the north.

His biggest challenge though will be ending the subservient colonial-status that lies at the heart of the US-South Korea relationship, dating back to the US military occupation of South Korea that began in 1945 with the end of World War II.

Many Americans may know that the Korean War never really ended, and that rather, with the armies of China and the US and their respective North and South Korean “allies” having battled to a stalemate at roughly where the border was at the start of the war, an armistice was signed. What Americans don’t know is that since the Korean War began, ostensibly under the authority of a United Nations Security Council resolution, the US, under the facade of calling itself the “UN Command,” has continued to exercise full and unfettered control over the armed forces of the Republic of Korea.

This unprecedented situation even led a prominent US commander, the late Gen. Richard G. Stilwell, to call the relationship "the most remarkable concession of sovereignty in the entire world." Gen. Stilwell went on to note that relying upon a twisted interpretation of the UN resolution that authorized war against North Korea, the US has asserted that it has full authority, acting supposedly in South Korea’s interest, even to use nuclear weapons against the North.

An attempt was made by an earlier peace-advocating candidate from the DPK elected to the presidency to eliminate the U.N. Command but it was rejected on June 24 1994 because the US simply would not allow it. The Security Council, under US influence, merely "recommended" the creation of a unified command, specifying that "it be under the authority of the United States" -- a meaningless change in phraseology. Technically, in 1994 the South Korean government was granted control over its military during peace time, but the US would retain control over the country’s military during any time of conflict with the North. That situation is projected to remain in force into some unspecified time in the 2020s.

Thus, the US alone, 67 years after the start of the Korean War, still claims the authority to "decide on the continued existence or the dissolution of the United Nations Command."

This cancer, which leaves South Korea -- the seventh largest national economy in terms of GDP right behind the UK and one of Asia’s most modern countries -- as little more than a vassal state or colony of the US, needs to be excised. We will see how the new Moon administration grapples with it and how far the US will go to try and preserve this pathological relationship.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Test launch of USTHAAD missile defense system now installed in South Korea against the government's wishes (army.mil photo)Test launch of US THAAD missile defense system now installed in South Korea against the popular wishes -- and amid doubts that it would work anyway against a real missile attack. (Army.mil photo)
 

North Korea today is not the North Korea of 1994 when President Bill Clinton seriously considered a preemptive strike against the Yongbyon nuclear reactor. Back then North Korea did not possess any nuclear weapons.

Now North Korea possesses the knowledge of nuclear weapons technology and any US cyberattacks can only slow the process of weapons development but not stop it. Most likely the North’s ability to reconstitute nuclear weapons technology is there for good -- and it is proceeding with ICBM experiments too.

Commemorate This!

A piece of cake and a pin for your service

The VA in Maine recently partnered with the Pentagon to hold a “fiftieth anniversary observance of the Vietnam War.” I’d caught a brief notice about the event in the county weekly. Vietnam veterans would be recognized for their “valor and sacrifice,” and those in attendance would “receive a commemorative pin in recognition of their service.” Among the fifty states, Maine is 39th in size and 41st in population, or slightly larger than South Carolina, and slightly less populous than Hawaii. A disproportionately high number of Mainers served in the military. The Veterans Administration here has its largest campus at Togus near the state capital of Augusta, and the parking lot that morning was crammed with the dusty pickups and SUVs of Nam vets who’d driven in for this gathering from every backwater of our rural state.

Maine Governor Paul LePage and the Pentagon's commemoration project sealMaine Governor Paul LePage and the Pentagon's commemoration project seal

This is my health provider, so over the past few decades I’d been to Togus more times than I care to count. But until that morning, I’d never been aware of the two hundred seat theater behind a paneled wall in the corridor I pass through every time I come here. All those posters I’d seen on the walls about events I had no interest in, this was the venue where they held them. I walked in a half hour early and loitered in the aisle hoping to get a few guys to tell me bits of their stories; I looked for anyone wearing something – usually a ball cap – that said Vietnam. It’s a delicate business. I ask, Hey who’d you serve with?, and usually get back a few mumbled monosyllables in reply. My typical reflex to this brushoff is the unkind thought that perhaps their experiences in-country weren’t hairy enough to back up the tough war vet exterior they’re now projecting; but the formality of being an object of attention breeds caution in this population, and maybe they just want to get to their seats.

Three Years Since the Kitty Litter Disaster at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant

From WIPP with love

 

There is a place in the United States, almost half-a-mile underground, in a salt mine, where radioactive waste leftover from the production of tens of thousands of nuclear bombs was to be held separate from all contact with humanity for 10,000 years, equivalent to the entire history of civilization. This separation of civilization from the byproduct of its folly had lasted one-tenth of one percent of that immense time when on Valentine’s Day, three years ago, an explosion sent the deadly contamination back to the world of humans.

It shouldn’t have been a surprise because there were already two other failed geological repositories for nuclear waste, both in Germany and designed for civilian not military waste, that have also leaked within a short time of operation. But despite the signs of potential failure the United States in an leap of technological faith spent billions to hollow out a salt cavern in south eastern New Mexico, near the small town of Carlsbad, not far from the Texas border called the Waste Isolation pilot Plant or WIPP.

That faith wasn’t justified as events unfolded.

Supposedly safe for storage for 10,000 years, WIPP's nuke waste repository failed epically in just three yearsSupposedly safe for storage for 10,000 years, WIPP's nuke waste repository failed catastrophically in just three years
 

What happened on August 14, 2014 was that at least one of 683 barrels, about three feet tall and a little under two feet in diameter each and filled with plutonium contaminated waste burst into flames contaminating 8000 feet of tunnels and 22 workers who were either on the surface or arrived at the scene soon afterward.

The still unfinished clean up has cost taxpayers $2 billion since then.

With independent news organizations under attack, it’s time to support TCBH!

Dangerous times call for courageous truth-telling

Over the past few weeks since Trump’s election victory, a dangerous campaign has begun -- initiated by the Democratic Party leaders and Hillary Clinton campaign hacks who lost this election by corruptly denying the nomination to Bernie Sanders (who would have defeated Trump handily), and backed by Obama-appointed leaders in the CIA and other intel agencies. This campaign seeks to shift blame for Trump’s win from the Party establishment onto independent online news sites, which these corrupted losers claim (on the basis on no evidence) acted in support of an alleged vast Russian conspiracy to subvert the US election.

Thanks to corporate media -- itself also culpable for the Clinton nomination and the Trump victory -- happy to promote this same fraudulent conspiracy theory of “false news” and of an internet filled with news sites allegedly working hand-in-glove with Russian propagandists, we’ve now seen Congress pass, and President Obama sign into law (over the holiday weekend) a new Countering Disinformation and Propaganda Act. This act sets up a new commission tasked with ferreting out so-called “false news” and “propaganda sites,” which, acting as a revivified House Un-American Activities Committee, will precipitate a new McCarthy era once Trump and the Republicans take over Washington. The basis for this new McCarthyism will be a list published by an anonymous website, PropOrNot, elevated to authoritative status by the Washington Post -- a list that includes as alleged propaganda organs such important independent news organizations as TruthDig, Consortium News, Truthout, Counterpunch, Antiwar.com, etc.

While our site, ThisCantBeHappening!, was not on this list, one of our articles, published Sept. 29, and republished on Counterpunch, was cited as a justification for including Counterpunch on the enemies list or propaganda sites. The article’s “crime”: honestly reporting that the report released a day earlier by a Dutch agency investigating the 2013 shoot-down of a Malaysian jumbo jet was a biased probe that only looked at evidence provided by Ukrainian intelligence and military sources, rejecting evidence offered by Russia, and not even asking for US satellite imagery and NSA telecom and internet monitoring evidence. That article, by TCBH! founder Dave Lindorff, despite being based entirely upon the report itself and western news reports, was labeled “absurdly pro-Russian propaganda” by PropOrNot’s “analysts.”

These are clearly dangerous times we are heading into. Now more than ever, independent sources of honest news are going to be critically important. Please contribute whatever you can to support our work to keep providng you with that news.

To make a (non tax-deductible) donation of support please go to our home page and use the convenient Paypal button at the top right corner of the home page. Or if you prefer, send cash or a check made out to: David Lindorff/TCBH at PO Box 846, Ambler, PA 19002

And please, if your finances don't permit a donation, we understand. But you can also help by telling friends about our site, and by using the email button at the bottom of stories you find important to send them on to people who you think should read them, and who may not know about us yet.

Neocon Ex-General to Be Trump’s National Security Advisor

Flynn flam

 

President-elect Donald J. Trump has offered the post of nationalsecurity adviser to retired three-star Gen. Michael T. Flynn, aneoconservative war hawk with anti-muslim views.

The National Security Advisor is a president’s main foreign policy person and plays a key role as coordinator of implementing thepresident’s foreign policy decisions. Bearing that in mind, Gen. Flynn, seen as one of Trump’s closest and most trusted advisors, takes the view that the U.S. is in a global war, not just against Islamic jihadists but against Islam itself. It’s not really a religion, Flynn argues, but a dangerous political ideology. Flynn has called Islam a "cancer" and has said, "Fear of Muslims is rational." In April 2015 he told Fox News, “I've been at war with Islam, or a component of Islam, for the last decade.”

According to Dana Priest in the New Yorker, "The greatest accomplishment of Flynn’s military career was revolutionizing the way that the clandestine arm of the military, the Joint Special Operations Command, undertook the killing and capture of suspected terrorists and insurgents in war zones."

Trump's National Security Advisor pick, ex-Gen. Michael Flynn, carries on a trend of blood-thirsty security advisorsTrump's National Security Advisor pick, ex-Gen. Michael Flynn, carries on a trend of blood-thirsty security advisors
 

The position of National Security Advisor has been held in the past by among others Henry Kissinger, who was responsible for numerous war crimes and the death of millions under President Richard Nixon. Under President Ronald Reagan, National Security Advisor John Poindexter was convicted of lying to Congress about the Iran-Contra affair along with another Reagan National Security Advisor, Robert McFarlane, who later pleaded guilty to withholding information from Congress regarding arm sales to Iran and was spared being scarred by that conviction record only thanks to a pardon by President George H.W. Bush in 1992.

Gen. Flynn as Trump’s National Security Advisor will be a “critical gatekeeper for a president with little experience in military or foreign policy issues” according to the New York Times. Flynn, a registered Democrat, served as Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency under President Barack Obama but was reportedly fired for his ultra-right pro-war views aimed at Iran at a time when the Obama administration was negotiating a deal with that nation on shutting down its uranium enrichment program. Flynn is a bitter enemy of Iran and has advocated toppling Iran’s government as the only way toprevent that nation from becoming a major power in the Middle East.

Flynn argues that the U.S. shouldn’t be restrained by human rights,international law, rules of engagement, or other forms of “political correctness” but should ruthlessly fight this “existential enemy.”

Fidel's Death Brings Forth Great and Sad Memories

Fidel Castro: 1926-2016

¤ Fidel defied the monster and got away with it all these years, something cherished by billions in a hundred countries. He even brought a warmongering US president to his land, sporting his fine talk. For the first time, the perennial enemy pretends to be a friend hoping to stab Cuba in the back.
 

Gotcha!

Belted by Trump

 

Hampton -- Recently, while selecting the appropriate worn and muddy clothes for yard work, I chose a mostly-broken belt that a sensible person would have tossed long ago. To me, however, there was still a shred of usefulness in it so I kept it to occupy the lowest rung of my very short wardrobe ladder. The belt had problems; the holes for the various sizes became seriously enlarged after the first few uses making it barely functional and quite unattractive. As I cinched it, I felt something give, only to discover that one of the two screws that held the buckle to the belt tore through the cheap belt material rendering it now, even to me, totally useless. As I grumbled and inspected the problem, I noticed the brand name proudly displayed on the buckle: Donald J. Trump.

Trump belt bites the dust a week after purchase (photo by Elizabeth Lindorff)Trump belt bites the dust a week after purchase (photo by Elizabeth Lindorff)
 

Denmark: SOS Save Our Sovereignty

Scandinavia on the skids and the failure of social democracy

 

(This is the first of seven articles on the reality of Scandinavia’s “socialism”)
 

I first met Denmark’s last truly Social Democratic Prime Minister, Anker Joergensen in his state office, unannounced, in late 1980.

Grethe and I had just been married. We had met the year before in Los Angeles where I had been a “participatory journalist”, and activist for social/racial/gender equality and against the Vietnam War. I wanted to start a new life with Grethe in her peaceful, social democratic land.

I took odd jobs and did freelance writing for some Danish media, and for progressive media in the US and England. As such, I often walked from Grethe’s centrally located Copenhagen apartment to Christiansborg. The palace is the only building in the world that houses all government branches. The royal palace stood beside the seat of economic power, Denmark’s Stock Exchange (Boersen).

Sometimes I covered official politics from my “palace playground”, as my new wife quipped. The six-story building is a labyrinth of hard wooden stairs, long hallways and hundreds of offices. On my second trip inside, I ambled about unable to find the stairs that led directly to the balcony reserved for journalists covering the parliament. There were no guards and no signs on most doors. I stopped before a high door and turned the bronze polished handle. A small man sat behind a large desk. He turned about to look at me, a smile on his face. I flushed and spurted an apology for disturbing what I realized was the nation’s political leader.

“That’s quite alright. No problem,” replied the prime minister unperturbed. His face wrinkled cozily through a black-white mustache and goatee. Thinning black hair was brushed back revealing a partially bald scalp. No guards or assistants appeared as I quietly closed the big door.

Denmark's last real socialist prime minister, Anker JoergensonDenmark's last real social democratic prime minister, Anker Joergensen
 

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by Dr. Radut