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Value Judgments: Essays

Value Judgments: Essays

Ellen Goodman

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We ‘Support’ the Troops by Burdening Them More

Posted on Dec 2, 2009
U.S. Army / Spc. David J. Marshall

By T.L. Caswell

(Page 5)

*  *  *

Bad Judgment, Militarism and Hubris

The lives of Lt. William Calley and Capt. Peter Sinclair—one the villain, one the victim—both were ruined by the United States’ bad judgment, militarism, hubris and imperial leanings. Add to that list a twisted notion of exceptionalism, an idea that God has ordained us to teach the world how to live.

In short, the two men, along with thousands of their comrades, were done in by national policy. Both were sent to wars that were purely elective for the U.S. The reasons for fighting the conflicts lived mainly in the minds of politicians, not in the realm of need; there were alternatives to getting militarily involved, but these were ignored in favor of exercising force of arms.

The North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong did not invade Hawaii, California, Oregon, Washington or any other U.S. soil. Even the famous “Gulf of Tonkin Incident”—which opened the way for the U.S. to use military force in Southeast Asia without a declaration of war—turned out to be a half-baked justification built partly on fantasy. President Johnson said in commenting to his press secretary, Bill Moyers, about what happened between the U.S. Navy and the North Vietnamese boats in the Gulf of Tonkin, “For all I know, our Navy was shooting at whales out there.”

The nation would have been better off had it heeded boxer Muhammad Ali, who, when he refused to be drafted, said in 1966, “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong.” U.S. leaders, of course, did have a quarrel with them Viet Cong and them North Vietnamese, and that disagreement ended up killing nearly 60,000 Americans and contributing to the deaths of millions of Asians, civilian and military—none of whom were U.S. presidents, cabinet members, top-ranking civilian advisers or members of Congress.

In our national arrogance we put weapons in the hands of Americans and sent them abroad, where more than a few of them learned that all of those strange little people were enemies fit to be killed, even the old ones, even the females, even the children, including the babies.

This article is no apology for Calley, because none can be made for him. No doubt, murderous bigotry against anyone who looked like the enemy found fertile soil in the lieutenant. But his nation’s culpability cannot be discounted. We as a people trained him and armed him and sent him across the Pacific to do violence to an imagined enemy, and he carried out that charge with almost unimaginable enthusiasm. To be sure, we did not send him there with instructions to massacre the innocent; nor did his military training call for mowing down unarmed peasants. But we did create a situation in which body count was king—a situation conducive to indiscriminate killing. And our frustration over being unable to rout the enemy engendered ever more extreme military measures, on the ground and in the air.

There is no way of knowing how many “Little Calleys” there were in Vietnam, Americans who committed lesser atrocities against innocent Vietnamese. And few higher-ups who set policy and tone ever had to answer for misdeeds. Calley was caught and he went to jail, while superiors at various levels who egged him on toward the slaughter went free. If readers want to drew any parallels between this and the crimes at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, they are given free rein to do so.

None of this is meant to indict the GIs and officers who served honorably in Vietnam. Those of Calley’s ilk were a microscopic segment, and his deeds at My Lai found infamy because such actions were so far from the norm. Few American fighting men took lasting delight in seeing fellow human beings—battlefield enemy or not—blasted to bits or burned beyond recognition. Our national store of compassion is not a false myth. The percentage of our countrymen who would repeatedly shoot at and then kill an infant must be close to zero. But some would do so, and have done so, especially after themselves being wounded physically or psychologically.

William Calley and Peter Sinclair—the brute and the brutalized—both were victims of U.S. eagerness to settle affairs by duking it out with other countries: one man thrust into a situation that called out the beast within him, the other savaged by beastly experiences.

Brutes themselves are born in traumatic events. According to USA today, the Army’s 2008 study of PTSD found that “[s]oldiers in combat suffering emotional issues and who saw friends killed were twice as likely to abuse civilians by kicking or hitting them, or destroying their property. … Half of those soldiers admitted unethical conduct compared with a quarter of all other soldiers in combat.”

*  *  *

Presidential Speech: The Scent of Mendacity

President Obama is, I believe, personally a decent, moral man. But he is a politician, too, and he is not being straightforward with Americans. His speech at West Point on Tuesday carried the scent of mendacity—a whiff of wartime speeches by Johnson, Nixon and (dare I say it?) George W. Bush. To argue that we must conquer a nation to prevent a handful of Muslim extremists from hatching activities that could be plotted in any apartment in any country of the world pushes against the boundaries of common sense. When we finally subdue the bad guys in Afghanistan and make Pakistan secure, will aggrieved Islamic fanatics around the globe suddenly say, “Well, that’s that. …. Now we love the Yankees”?

Obama was quick to whip out the national security card. He said: “If I did not think that the security of the United States and the safety of the American people were at stake in Afghanistan, I would gladly order every single one of our troops home tomorrow. So no—I do not make this decision lightly. I make this decision because I am convinced that our security is at stake in Afghanistan and Pakistan.” One can almost hear echoes of presidential speeches from the 1960s and 1970s in which the word Vietnam fills in for Afghanistan and Pakistan. At least Obama did not tell us there was “light at the end of the tunnel,” a phrase that fell from the lips of more than one government official or military leader during the Vietnam era. And mercifully we did not hear a sentence that was popular among Vietnam hawks: “If we don’t fight them there we’ll be fighting them here.” But the old messages of “we will win if we stay the course” and “be afraid, be very afraid” were subtext.

Perhaps the reason Obama took such pains to assure us that Afghanistan is not another Vietnam was because of the pesky pile of evidence that that’s exactly what it is.

We will come out of Iraq and Afghanistan much as we came out of Vietnam, with nothing to show for it except huge bills and death lists and unknown numbers of U.S. combatants who were either turned into evildoers or wounded beyond healing in body or spirit. That’s what war produces. By subjecting participants to almost unthinkable horrors, it turns a small but disturbing percentage of them into something horrible or horribly pitiful: a Calley reviled and everlastingly racked with regret; a Sinclair deeply afflicted and then dying because of an accident with pills. All need our compassion and, when necessary, our forgiveness.

If a war is unavoidable—as was our struggle against the Axis powers in World War II—armed services personnel must be asked to pay whatever the price is for the survival of the nation. And they must bear whatever human consequences come. But the Iraq war was and is not necessary, and the Afghanistan war was and is not necessary. Pat Tillman should be on an NFL field today, not dead.

The Afghanistan surge announced Tuesday is a blow against American military men and women. Most will be worse for the experience if they are sent to a war that pits Afghans against Afghans, and Americans against whoever happens to hate them most at the moment. They deserve better from our leaders and from us. They deserve to be home.

T.L. Caswell is a former member of the Los Angeles Times editing staff and now edits and writes for Truthdig.


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By liecatcher, December 5, 2009 at 5:07 pm Link to this comment


Hey AuntBec:

Thanks for the correction.

I should have said he pushed America further into a
debtor’s abyss from which there is no escape. By
giving the head FED criminal, Bernanke, carte
blanche, to send $trillions to the CABAL in Europe,
with arrogance, impunity, and no accountability.
As well as $trillions more for the banksters bailouts who then used our money to screw Main Street even more.
And let’s not forget that Obama, like Calley, is just
following orders. The big difference is that when he
leaves office, he will be a multimillionaire &
responsible for more deaths than Calley. If we
counted the PTSD
victims & physically disabled as well as the record
number of suicides & destroyed families, his legacy
will be even more horrendous.
And finally,as far as signing up,I may be an “ignorant fool”, but I’m not crazy.

By AuntBec, December 4 at 3:30 pm #
Obama did not bankrupt this country (liecatcher), you
ignorant fool - it was bankrupted, fiscally and
morally, by the Texas Village Idiot and his henchmen
and women.  Where the hell were you these past eight
Supporting our troops in the U.S. is nothing more
than a stupid fucking ribbon or bumber sticker.  I
know, why don’t you sign up?

Report this
Paolo's avatar

By Paolo, December 5, 2009 at 7:46 am Link to this comment

Hello, leftists! Greetings from a longstanding libertarian!

Are you getting a clue yet that the Democrats and Republicans are just two sides of the same coin?

Are you having trouble distinguishing Obama’s foreign policy from Bush’s?

Welcome to the club!

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photoshock's avatar

By photoshock, December 5, 2009 at 5:52 am Link to this comment

Oh! And by the way, a close friend who’s only son, is being mobilized for the surge, the father of eight, is willingly going to Afghanistan.
How in the hell, does this president justify any more troops in a losing war? How does he explain to those children, that their father, who has already served more than his time, has to go halfway around the world to fight a war that is at best innocuous and at worst criminal?
No, President Obama will not be receiving my vote for the presidency next election cycle, and neither will the ‘stand up’ Democrats who have given their all for the cause. It is high time that a third party, a viable third party champion the cause of peace and prosperity for the little person in this world. Americans have for too long been complacent and willing to let the elite run the show, NO MORE!
We, the people cannot allow this miscarriage of justice to continue. We are faced with the real prospect of becoming another Russia, a country which fell into anarchy because the leaders felt that it was necessary to fight a losing war, with a country that historically and recently fought wars that they have won because they are unwinnable by the country trying to take over them.
Why, oh why, did the ‘progressive and peaceful’ president, one which campaigned on the promise of talking instead of fighting, choose to enter a conflict that cannot be won and will not be won, because they are backing a cabal of drug-running, corrupt, and scamming individuals?
President Obama, this is your only term! You will not be president another term. This I will guarantee, with all my heart and soul. YOU have broken every promise made during the campaign and are now known as a person of the elite, who cannot and will not stand up to the power brokers, not for the people who elected you president but the moneyed elite who stepped in afterwards and beguiled you with visions of power and prestige. Well you have neither, power nor prestige among the people who welcomed a true breath of fresh air, Sir you are no John F. Kennedy, and you will never be.

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By glider, December 5, 2009 at 4:00 am Link to this comment

Obama’s appointee Timmy Geitner is busy rationalizing and institutionalizing into law the 600 trillion dollar derivatives/market manipulation gambling casino for his bankster buddies.  Obama’s Goldman Sachs appointees are fixing absolutely f***ing nothing except for their continued ability to exploit the markets and cement there financial profiteering off the backs of the working class and the small investor.  Notice there is no serious study of the value of the wonderful “financial innovations” that Timmy lauds versus the too big to fail risk they entail.  They have payed off our populist “hero” Obama and are solidifying the whole ball of wax.  The proof will be that this bankster gambling casino will not diminish in size after Timmy’s faked regulatory “reform”.  The concept that our lobbyist ridden Congress could produce a loophole free regulatory structure that could contain these Banksters is nothing but laughable.  What is key is that you will not see the exploitive $600,000,000,000,000 casino decrease.  That is little Timmy’s job.  Let me know if want to place a “derivative” side bet on my contention.  I will bet that in 5 years this casino will either increase in size or blow up in everyone’s face.

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By berniem, December 4, 2009 at 4:06 pm Link to this comment

For those out there with any sense remember the cry from the 60s “HELL NO,WE WON’T go”. For the rest if the facts of history don’t convince you or you actually believe the crap coming from our “Leaders”, you know, “the best and brightest”, then go on and build the empire! But please don’t complain upon return that you were mislead or didn’t have a choice.

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By AuntBec, December 4, 2009 at 11:33 am Link to this comment

Hey Wayne, not only his he NOT hiding the caskets of our returning troops, he is actually going out to see them himself.  Something his little predecessor wouldn’t have done even if they held his mother hostage.

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By AuntBec, December 4, 2009 at 11:30 am Link to this comment

Obama did not bankrupt this country (liecatcher), you ignorant fool - it was bankrupted, fiscally and morally, by the Texas Village Idiot and his henchmen and women.  Where the hell were you these past eight years?
Supporting our troops in the U.S. is nothing more than a stupid fucking ribbon or bumber sticker.  I know, why don’t you sign up?

Report this

By Judy Johnson, December 4, 2009 at 8:06 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Soldier 1 and Soldier 2.  Hmmmm.  Why are they over there?  Maybe so we don’t have another massive attack by insane muslims? So their moms and dads, sisters and brothers won’t be blown up at Walmart?  We should send all those brave ACORN thugs over there.  Let those slugs see real men in action.  (But can they fight or are they just bullies?)

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By Bbethany7, December 4, 2009 at 8:02 am Link to this comment

9/11 was a false flag operation meant to get us
into these very profitable fiascos. The Israeli
lobby has also exerted enormous pressure.
It seems that every Chief Exec from Ford to
Carter, Reagan, both Bushes, Clinton, and now
44 are held hostage to the long-range schemes
of the military-industrial cabal and the shadowy
club of international power brokers who
hatched and direct this sad opera buffa.

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By liecatcher, December 4, 2009 at 1:15 am Link to this comment

Obama is Bush 3.

More dangerous because he is able to fool most of the

people all of the time, including professional writers

who should know better.

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By liecatcher, December 4, 2009 at 1:12 am Link to this comment

We ‘Support’ the Troops by Burdening Them More
Posted on Dec 2, 2009 By T.L. Caswell

Hey T.L. Caswell:
When you preface a paragraph with:

“Presidential Speech: The Scent of Mendacity ” and
then say:

“President Obama is, I believe, personally a decent,
moral man. But he is a politician, too, and he is not
being straightforward with Americans.”

You can’t have it both ways. Calling a man who has
bankrupted America & wasted countless lives, with no
end in sight, decent & moral makes you a person who
is expert at fecal vomiting.

Report this

By gerard, December 3, 2009 at 5:47 pm Link to this comment

9/11/01 three airplanes slammed into three buildings, 2 in New York and 1 in D.C.
An act of terror not much different from other strategic surprise attacks here and there, now and then.  Several thousand were killed; enormous piles of rubble remained smoking. 
  Within minutes, officials were calling for revenge – long before there was any time to consider what the best answer might be.  Only that primitive upsurge of rage – an eye for an eye – or more.
  So it was voted in by a lot of scared, angry people to send a vast army with vicious modern weaponry half way around the world to bomb the stony mountains of Afghanistan, without calculations of the dangers, the problems, the likely results, the possibilities of failure.  Just revenge. 
  After a period of more or less inconsequential
attacking here and there, killing mostly people who had no power to resist and no idea what was afficting them, the story line was changed.
  Iraq’s cruel, bragging, recalcitrant dictator had weapons of mass destruction – maybe, probably, oh yes, here’s “evidence”.  So it’s “Shock and Awe” against one of the most ancient of civilized cities bombed day and night, and the country’s infrastructure ravaged, till a weird, pathetic, dirty, unshaven villain was dragged from a hole in the ground and hanged. 
  But that was not enough.  The bombardments, the imprisonments, the tortures, the rage, the waste of lives and money continued for years. At last, when a partial “settlement” was made out of sheer loss of enthusiasm, the oil resources having been captured, the war was stopped by those who had started it and wanted to be finished with it without exactly losing it.
  The arena moved back to Afghanistan where poverty, corruption, clan warfare, domination of religious fundamentalism was still hollowing out a country that had been ravaged several times in the long past, and once recently, and had no ability to resist either interior mismanagement or exterior attack.  More waste of life and money.  More pain.
More destruction – this time with the vague notion of “nation building” in the minds of the attackers.  “Getting rid of” this and “changing” that, and “modernizing” it whether its wanted those changes or not, and at what cost?   
  Eight years later, the new American President-Who-Should-Know-Better is still ordering in tens of thousands more soldiers and trillions more weapons and supplies – in spite of continuing evidence of error and lack of success – not to say failure. More money is to be made, more territory is to be “secured.” 
  But still the same old death awaits thousands more innocents, young and old, and the same old smell of blood and money and insane brutality fouls the air both at home and abroad. 
  Still the mountains do not say “No!” and the valleys do not open up and swallow the invaders.
Still the dust rises – and settles – and all we can find to do is to sneeze and complain of our allergies.

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By Emu, December 3, 2009 at 5:45 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Looks like Mr. Obama is finally going to earn that Nobel Prize of his. In one of the more devious moves in recent presidential history, the big O has sent out nearly the entire US army to lamely wander the deserts in Afghanistan.

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By FRTothus, December 3, 2009 at 3:52 pm Link to this comment

“The point of public relations slogans like “Support our troops” is that they don’t mean anything… That’s the whole point of good propaganda. You want to create a slogan that nobody’s going to be against, and everybody’s going to be for. Nobody knows what it means, because it doesn’t mean anything. Its crucial value is that it diverts your attention from a question that does mean something: Do you support our policy? That’s the one you’re not allowed to talk about.”
(Noam Chomsky)

“To oppose the policies of a government does not mean you are against the country or the people that the government supposedly represents. Such opposition should be called what it really is: democracy, or democratic dissent, or having a critical perspective about what your leaders are doing. Either we have the right to democratic dissent and criticism of these policies or we all lie down and let the leader, the Fuhrer, do what is best, while we follow uncritically, and obey whatever he commands. That’s just what the Germans did with Hitler, and look where it got them.”
(Michael Parenti)

“[American leaders] are perhaps not so much immoral as they are amoral. It’s not that they take pleasure in causing so much death and suffering. It’s that they just don’t care ... the same that could be said about a sociopath. As long as the death and suffering advance the agenda of the empire, as long as the right people and the right corporations gain wealth and power and privilege and prestige, as long as the death and suffering aren’t happening to them or people close to them ... then they just don’t care about it happening to other people, including the American soldiers whom they throw into wars and who come home - the ones who make it back alive - with Agent Orange or Gulf War Syndrome eating away at their bodies. American leaders would not be in the positions they hold if they were bothered by such things.”
(William Blum)

“To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.”
(Theodore Roosevelt)

“It is the function of the CIA to keep the world unstable, and to propagandize and teach the American people to hate, so we will let the Establishment spend any amount of money on arms.”
(John Stockwell, former CIA official and author)

“The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them.”
(George Orwell)

“U.S. leaders commit war crimes as a matter of institutional necessity, as their imperial role calls for keeping subordinate peoples in their proper place and assuring a “favorable climate of investment” everywhere. They do this by using their economic power, but also ... by supporting Diem, Mobutu, Pinochet, Suharto, Savimbi, Marcos, Fujimori, Salinas, and scores of similar leaders. War crimes also come easily because U.S. Ieaders consider themselves to be the vehicles of a higher morality and truth and can operate in violation of law without cost. It is also immensely helpful that their mainstream media agree that their country is above the law and will support and rationalize each and every venture and the commission of war crimes.”
(Edward Herman, political economist and author)

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By bobbiemac, December 3, 2009 at 8:19 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

What about the WWII firebombing of Tokyo and other cities, in addition to the use of the atom bomb on Hiroshima & Nagasaki?..Actions taken against a nation isolated and utterly defeated…actions that were hailed as heroic by the people who ordered them including that famous progressive Harry Truman.
  If I were William Calley, I would apologize for nothing.

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By C.Curtis.Dillon, December 3, 2009 at 5:36 am Link to this comment

I can only add my small voice to Mr. Caswell’s excellent article.  My father was a victim of WW 2, not on the battle field but later, through suicide.  He had seen too much and was unable to reconcile his experiences with life back home.  The demons were too great.

Politicians are so cynical about those who carry the ultimate burden of their stupid decisions.  They only see strategic issues and necessary actions but the soldier on the ground sees the death and carnage first hand.  They carry the pain and mental anguish which can never be cured.

Obama has made the same mistake as his predecessors.  He has made a political decision instead of an intelligent one.  After all these meetings, he did exactly what he promised to do 18 months ago.  Facts never entered his calculations.  It was strictly about his ratings and re-election prospects.  It was Rahm whispering in his ear (just like Rove with Bush) “You don’t want to be seen as soft ... hit them hard!”  Of course, he will fail because, exactly like Vietnam, the enemy is not some external agent but a domestic insurrection against a foreign invader ... us.  If we put in more troops they will just recruit more warriors and the fighting will get worse.  In 18 months we will not be able to retreat ... and the generals will just request more soldiers.  That is their job, unfortunately.  They are warriors, trained to kill.

It will be interesting to see what happens in July of 2011.  I suspect there will be another “change in strategy” and more troops will be needed.  What will Obama do then?

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By Wayne, December 2, 2009 at 7:30 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I wonder if Obama will reverse Bush’s policy of hiding the caskets of permanently returning soldiers under cover of darkness. Somehow I have a feeling that this will be another policy he retains.

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By liecatcher, December 2, 2009 at 6:38 pm Link to this comment

Wars are a fascists best & fastest means to achieve
world domination. Wars are a win win for the Military
Industrial Conspiracy, Medical Insurance Pharmaceutical
Industrial Conspiracy, & the banksters who finance both
sides of every conflict. Outsourcing America’s
manufacturing & jobs yields high unemployment & easier
recruiting to provide fodder for the perpetual wars.

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