Another Bright Shining Lie

I’ve often written that Watergate was my formative political experience. I hereby amend that to primary formative political experience. Recent events have reminded me that the Vietnam War also shaped my worldview. It’s the ultimate cautionary tale: wars should only be fought in the national interest and should not be entered into lightly. That was the original sin of the Afghanistan War: we intervened in a hurry without thinking things through. The bill finally came due in 2021.

My family was divided during the Vietnam conflict. My father was a hawk. My mother was a dove. She wasn’t crazy about the hippie protestors as they offended her Scandinavian sense of order and decorum, but she still quietly supported the anti-warriors.

I recall a fierce argument between my parents over one of mom’s bridge playing buddies. Betty was a Quaker and a pacifist. She strenuously objected to all wars but once Richard Nixon, who was raised a Quaker, was president she became an anti-war activist because of his blatant hypocrisy.

My memory is hazy, but I recall that Betty and her fellow Friends staged a sit-in at a military installation somewhere in the Bay Area. They were arrested. Betty was the spokesperson for the group and appeared on the local news. My father thought this was a bridge too far and demanded that my mother bar Betty from their home. He argued that it would be bad for her real estate business to associate with a radical peacenik. Mom stood her ground and refused to go along. Her dovish hippie wannabe son was proud of her.

That brings me to the post title. Last night, Lawrence O’Donnell opened The Last Word with a segment comparing Vietnam and Afghanistan. He lamented that his dream guests, David Halberstam and Neil Sheehan were no longer alive. They wrote the best two books about the American misadventure in Vietnam. Sheehan’s book, A Bright Shining Lie inspired the title of this post. I only steal from the best.

A Bright Shining Lie told the story of American counter-insurgency guru John Paul Vann who was a true believer in the Vietnam mission. Vann loved the country and its people and became frustrated with the military brass who saw them as pieces to be moved around as if in a game of Risk. Hence the featured image.

The bright shining lie told to the American people during Vietnam was that the war was winnable and worth the sacrifice. The same lies were repeated by the Bush-Cheney administration and their supporters in the media about Afghanistan and Iraq. In the aftermath of 9/11, the Washington Post and New York Times became cheerleaders and apologists for Team Bush’s mendacious war effort. The past is prologue as both news organizations dusted off their pom-poms and went into action over the Afghanistan mishigas without, of course, mentioning their complicity in the initiation of our endless wars. Why ruin a sensational story with the facts?

The collapse of the Afghan government and army confirms the truth of a phrase attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson: “”Events are in the saddle and ride mankind.”

That’s truer now than in Emerson’s day. They didn’t have to deal with hot takes on the Tweeter Tube.

Watching some of the teevee coverage of Afghanistan gave me an aphorism of my own: Images can be deceptive.

We’ve all been horrified by the images of Afghans at the Kabul airport, which are reminiscent of the fall of Saigon. There’s a significant difference: North Vietnam took Saigon by force. The Taliban took Kabul without firing a shot. It was more like the fall of Havana in 1959.

Given the Taliban’s track record, there are genuine fears of a bloodbath, but it hasn’t happened yet. The Taliban cut deals with local leaders across the country and has taken power less violently than in 1996. Thus far they’re allowing the US military to control Kabul Airport, which will facilitate the evacuation of those who fear for their lives. Hopefully as many as possible will escape and come to America to face the wrath of Tucker Carlson and Stephen Miller.

None of the above is clear to the American people as the MSM has resumed their role as cheerleaders for the post 9/11 wars. During the Vietnam era, doves argued that we shouldn’t be the policemen of the world. In 2021, the MSM and hawks argue that we should, in effect, be the babysitters of the world. We have to stay until the Afghan baby is read a story, burped, diapered, and put to bed.

That’s another bright shining lie peddled by those who should know better. As President Biden said in his stirring and defiant speech:

The events we’re seeing now are sadly proof that no amount of military force would ever deliver a stable, united, secure Afghanistan as known in history as the graveyard of empires. What’s happening now could just as easily happened 5 years ago or 15 years in the future. We have to be honest, our mission in Afghanistan has taken many missteps, made many missteps over the past two decades. I’m now the fourth American President to preside over war in Afghanistan, two Democrats and two Republicans.

I will not pass this responsibility on to a fifth president. I will not mislead the American people by claiming that just a little more time in Afghanistan will make all the difference.

I was proud of Joe Biden yesterday. He was in the right and stood his ground much to the horror of the DC MSM. They expect Democrats to fold. It’s confirmation that the post-Reagan era of cowering is over.

After the speech, reporters wanted to ask about Afghans clinging to aircraft as if that should be basis for our policy. President Reagan sent Marines to Lebanon because of horrible images. President Clinton sent reinforcements to Somalia because of horrible images. Both missions failed. Our troops are not Risk game pieces to be moved around at a president’s whim. Whimsical deployments usually result in disaster, especially when we take sides in a civil war.

The MSM loves covering wars. The American people hate losing wars. I hate going to war unless it’s absolutely necessary. During the first Gulf War the military briefed reporters about bombing raids as if they were video games. It was another bright shining lie in the service of a war. I’m sick of it and sick of the MSM’s selfishness. Covering wars is good for their careers as is covering Trump. They should show some civic responsibility and stop thinking only of themselves.

Life is too short for human beings to be treated as Risk game pieces. I wish I could say that I thought that the bright shining lies will end, but I know better. As the saying goes, the first casualty of war is the truth. I do wish, however, that the MSM would burn its pro-war pom-poms and try covering the news instead of showing off for one another on the Tweeter Tube.

That concludes this sequel to The Inevitable Ending.

The last word goes to James Taylor:

8 thoughts on “Another Bright Shining Lie

  1. A couple of other things that went into the mix in the late 1960s and early 1970s were the publication of the Pentagon Papers and the burglary at the FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania. There, in the words of the government’s own bureaucrats, was proof positive that those elected and appointed to run the country lied to the people. No compunction, no discussion (except perhaps whether the lies were brazen enough), no conscience: Lying to the American people was official government policy. Folks like McCarthy and Goldwater weren’t aberrations, but exemplars.

    The scandal over these two haymakers to government credibility quickly morphed from “They’re lying to us!” to arguments over whether the people deserved or could handle the truth. For a brief moment, the Senate under Frank Church tried to grab the reins of the national security apparatus, but that effort was aborted when Ronald Reagan routed Jimmy Carter in the 1980 election in part by conniving with that same national security apparatus.

    It’s hard to remember now, but there was a time when citizens trusted what the government told us. There might be disagreements over this policy or that civil right, but people by and large thought they were dealing with the same set of facts.

    1. Neil Sheehan was the NYT’s point man on the Pentagon Papers. Ellsberg wanted to go to Daniel Schorr at CBS. Sheehan convinced him this was a print story.

  2. It was George CIA Bush who first sent the troops into Somalia, as the late BartCop used to say, “as a housewarming gift for Bill Clinton”.

  3. One of your bloggers turned me on your two-parter here and thanks for writing it.

    I find it interesting/disturbing that so many in the DC press corps seem to me much more angry at Biden over this than they ever were at Trump. It’s not great.

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