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.