In public addresses, President Obama assures the American people that the U.S. military command is greater than any other in the world. One must wonder if he is aware that the U.S. has not won a war since 1945, as historian Andrew Bacevich notes. Since the Vietnam War, policy makers and military commands responsible for U.S. interventions have not quite lived up to the president’s billing.
The costs of America’s wars have been enormous, in dead and injured American soldiers and wasted resources. The results, including the ignominious defeat in Vietnam, have left the U.S. and the world in worse shape. Wounded veterans from each of these extended wars have returned home, with many ending up homeless or suicidal.
A central question that has not been fully addressed either during the Vietnam War or in any war since is who is held responsible for these interventions, which often have high costs and destabilize regions?
Initially, several of the so-called “best and brightest,” including the late Robert McNamara, acknowledged that the Vietnam War should never have happened. Nonetheless, a fuller accounting and deeper understanding of the war awaits us, if we are to understand how it resulted in the massacre of more than three million Vietnamese, fifty-eight thousand Americans, and numerous allies on either side.
Among recent accounts, Nick Turse’s, “Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam,” occupies a special place. For the Vietnamese, the war was “an endless gauntlet of potential calamities,” according to Turse, with innocents ”killed for the sake of a bounty or shot in a garbage dump, forced into prostitution or gang-raped…run
down for sport on a roadway or locked away in jail to be tortured without the benefit of trial.” These crimes, the various essence of war, Turse adds, “went on all the time all over South Vietnam for years.”
Following the failed war in Vietnam, the U.S. briefly soft-pedaled its imperial pretensions. After 9/11, however, the Bush administration seemed to feel obligated to bomb somebody.
Pressured by Rumsfeld, Cheney, and unchallenged by U.S. media, the U.S. invaded Iraq, even though it was known there were no weapons of mass destruction and that no Iraqis were involved in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The Iraq intervention has cost taxpayers over $3 trillion.
Subsequently, President Obama repeated policies initiated by President Bush, including torture and strikes as by MQ-l Predator and MQ-9 Reaper drones that continue to terrorize innocent civilians in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Yemen with Hellfire and Stinger missiles and Viper Strike bombs. One report stated that the ratio of deaths
from the strikes over a three-year period was “50 civilians for every militant — a hit rate of two percent.”
In the recent past, the Senate and House of Representatives continue to fail us particularly on issues of foreign policy. So we learn after the fact about our country’s global surveillance, which alienates our friends abroad and undermines civil liberties at home.
At the moment, neither political party effectively challenges or addresses these serious issues.
None of this will change until an aroused public challenges lockstep Republicans and cautious Democrats to redirect policies that perpetuate chaos at home and abroad. Altering the situation requires persistent legislative, legal, educational, and nonviolent action by a significant number of people. Similarly, improving the state of the union means responding to and affirming the interests, not of the wealthy and powerful few, but of the overwhelming majority.
* * * * *
Michael True, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is emeritus professor, American Literature, Peace, Conflict, and Nonviolence Studies, Assumption College.