American Sahib

American Sahib by Eddie James Girdner (2016) 416 pp.

Available from Amazon.com.

This novel is largely autobiographical but contains a good deal of fiction. It is mostly about life in a Punjabi village in the late 1960s.

I wrote this book in 2015 and then put it aside for several years after publishing it. It was based upon my two years in Punjab, India (1968-1970).

I had forgotten somewhat how the narrative unfolds. So I read it again this summer to see what I would think of it.

If someone is looking for a patriotic book that only praises America, the Peace Corps, the US Government, then this is not the book. It pokes a lot of fun and criticism at the USA. And it does not spare India either. So one should read it with an open mind. If one does not have something to say, then why bother to write the book?

The book has not been sanitized by a corporatist publishing company to make it safe for a neoliberal global agenda.

The book has some love affairs. Not unusual. This often happens in life itself, so it should not be surprising to discover it between the pages of a novel. One might be surprised at how many people object to such things. So many Americans seem to have a puritanical bent of mind. Often hypocritically, however. Different strokes for different folks, I guess.

Reading the book after three years, I was rather surprised. I hoped that I could look at it somewhat more objectively. Quite frankly, I was surprised at how good it was. I just don’t know of very many books that describe life in Punjab as well as this one does. Prakash Tandon, of course, Punjabi Century and Beyond Punjab are great books. But a somewhat different genre.

I found the book to be such a revealing description of life in a remote village in Punjab and in the towns in those days. Now that was fifty years ago. Half a century of water under the bridge. The book is quite funny in many places. The book is not only literature, but a political and economic analysis of a developing country without all the academic jargon. British colonialism, Indian politics, and the USA in the global system. America as an imperialist hegemon. A good deal of political economy spills out of the pages. And what the locals think of America and Indian politics might be interesting.

The love scenes spice up the book somewhat, breaking the monotony of village life. The dichotomy between the city and the countryside is stark. Escape is necessary to keep one’s relative sanity.

The perspective of the left in India, the relevant communist analysis of society emerges. Comrades are in the street, some actual members of the Communist Party of India. The author finds their analysis honest and convincing. They are often hauled off to jail. Actually, I think the members of the US State Department could benefit by reading this book. They could certainly learn something. This would surely be their ruination, as a part of that outfit. Unfortunately.

The author cannot resist mentioning the stupid things one hears on VOA, the Voice of America. Actually, the voice of Dick Nixon in the late 1960s. One picked it up on shortwave radio, the twenty-five meter band in India. Dick, the US President, hates the Peace Corps and sets out to kill it. Or as much of it as he can. He almost did. The US Presidick, for the author.

It always amused me how US congressmen in Washington were afraid to send young Americans abroad, especially to developing countries. What were they so afraid of? Why, simply that they might learn something and bring their ideas back to America. The old mushroom syndrome once again. Keep the people in the dark and pile horse shit on them. That’s the way one grows mushrooms. Americans are mushrooms. No shit. But why insult mushrooms? They are useful.

I will not even mention Tiny Hands Trump. Things can always get worse.

There is a good deal of satire in the book. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it again.

It came to my mind that it would be incredibly instructive for students in a South Asian studies program in an American university to read. It is very informative in a simply way. But I don’t think that most American professors would have the courage to use it in their classes. The book steps on too many toes and is too unorthodox. Political correctness has ruined so much freedom in academia, it seems. The very place that it should not be ruined.

I am not saying that this is a great novel, as a novel. I do not claim to have any expertise to evaluate the book as a novel. But it is an interesting story. I think that it is a fun book. It is full of ideas. I just had some things that I wanted to say, and so I said them in the form of a novel. I would like to think that I have learned something living outside the USA for a third of a century. And all in so-called developing countries.

I guess that young Indians, especially Punjabis, might enjoy reading it. That is, if they knew about it. So many know English. The book is written in very simple language. It is also good just for entertainment. That is, if one has a critical and intellectual bent of mind.

It is not a bad book to have on one’s book shelf.

July 21, 2019. Akarca, Seferihisar, Turkey

Images of Punjab in the 1960s

US Empire at War

 

The US Empire at War: Some Thoughts About the Consequences

Eddie J. Girdner (Retired Professor)

(Published in Third Concept Journal, July 2019)

From all indications, the United States is preparing for a new war against Iran, using almost exactly the same script that was used to drum up a war against Iraq in 2002 and 2003. Perhaps the officials believe that people will not remember how the neo-conservatives in the George W. Bush Government lied the United States into that war. A new war is apparently being drummed up by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor, John Bolton. Thousands of additional US troops are being sent to the Middle East in June 2019.

It is said that President Donald Trump does not want a new war in the Middle East. But with Congressmen in Washington, such as Representative Tom Cotton and others, things may spin out of his control. It seems that nothing is easier for the USA than going to war. The country certainly has a lot of experience at it.

The United States of America has been continuously at war now for almost thirty years. Since the US invasion of Iraq in 1991 under George H.W. Bush, the father of George W. Bush the country has been at war. That is twenty-eight years.

So a person younger than thirty years old in the USA has never known their own country to be at peace. Of course, the USA was at war continuously from 1961 to 1975 in Vietnam. (Fourteen years)

Go back sixty years. Over that time period (1959 till 2019), the USA has been at war for at least forty-two years out of sixty. This does not count all the proxy wars that the USA carried out in Central America, as in Nicaragua and Grenada. Also Afghanistan, and other countries. Indeed, in many places all across the globe where the US Central Intelligence Agency destabilized governments.

This means that a person in the US who is sixty years old has only known eighteen years of peace in his or her lifetime.

There is no other country in the world that I can think of that has engaged in so much war over the last sixty years. If the US mission is to preserve the peace in the world, that is a hell of a way to do it.

Fighting for peace is like having sex for virginity, as we used to say in the sixties about the Vietnam war. It is still largely true.

But the USA will keep on keeping on waging war all over the world. I am confident of that. The officials in Washington will keep on drumming up needless wars as John Bolton and Mike Pompeo are now doing with Iran and Venezuela. So far US efforts in Venezuela have failed, which is good.

It seemed, at one point, that US President Donald Trump might end some of the continuous wars and bring some troops home, like he promised to do. But if he was serious about that, he has been defeated by the deep state that insists on keeping the wars going. Trump said that he would get US troops out of Syria a few months ago in 2019, but that did not happen.

The military industrial corporate complex wants war profits. They don’t need them, but they do want them. The roads, bridges, and other infrastructure in the US are falling into a state of collapse. But the US Government prefers to print money for wars, rather than putting money into fixing the roads and airports.

There are many other things besides war that the USA could have done over the last sixty years.

It was trillions of US dollars down the drain in Vietnam. Like Marx said, war is like dumping a portion of the national wealth into the sea. The US lost the war there. After 1975, Vietnam unified, tried socialism for a few years, then began shifting to the successful East Asian Model of state-guided capitalism. This model was followed by Japan, Taiwan, and then China after Deng Xioping moved toward state-guided capitalism. The Vietnamese saw that this model was successful, far more than the American liberal model. Chalmers Johnson on Japan and all that. US economists claimed that the model did not work, but this was wrong as Johnson pointed out in his writings. The model successfully developed the countries of East Asia. China became the great work house of the world with massive exports to the USA.

So all of that destruction and chaos, the killing of three million Vietnamese and sixty thousand American soldiers in Vietnam, many more wounded, many more suicides of veterans and so on, was completely unnecessary. Except, that is, for the making of war profits.

The war did contribute to the development of South Korea, just as the war in Korea in the early 1950s contributed to the development of Japan.

When it comes to the war in Iraq, hardly anybody now claims that this war was a good idea. That is, except for a few people like Bolton, Pompeo, Dick Cheney (thr former US Vice President) and so on.

And then there is the war in Afghanistan. Don’t even mention it. The Taliban were still winning, the last time I checked. But the war goes on now, after about eighteen years. It keeps pumping out war profits for the ruling class in the USA. The US Generals know that they whole thing is a farce, but they have to wait till they retire to tell what is really going on. What a waste on an international scale.

So, I will put it bluntly. It would have been difficult to devise foreign policies more destructive than those followed by the USA over the last sixty years. Destructive of both life in the USA and around the world. That is, if one wanted to have a peaceful world. It takes real talent!

But the guys in Washington are not about to let the world down! They can provide new wars. And, of course, every US president has to have his own war. If not, then they are seen as a failure. Remember Jimmy Carter. Poor guy. He never started a war anywhere. So he was sent back to grow peanuts on his farm in Plains, Georgia.

But he probably saved a lot of people from dying in useless wars.

There are many things that the USA could have done if the country had been a democracy that served the people instead of only the One Percent and US corporations.

The USA could have had a wonderful world-standard health care system that was available to the whole population, like most of the developed world has. Even Turkey has guaranteed health care for citizens at a very small cost.

The USA could have had a university system that was free and available to all, like Germany, Slovenia and many other countries. Now university graduates are saddled with debt and cannot find jobs. Some end up leaving the USA to teach in China. Salaries are much smaller in China, but they find themselves a lot better off than they would be in the USA.

The US could get rid of the crippling student debt of over one and a half trillion dollars in the USA. This would be a great help to young people trying to start their careers. Not a chance of it ever happening, however.

Surely, providing some benefits for the people was not out of reach for the USA. After all, dollars for the wars have been created out of thin air by the US Federal Reserve and just added to the US debt tab. The USA has not even pretended to pay for any of these multi-trillion dollar wars. The debt just generates more profits for the bankers.

Why not print a little money for social welfare? Not a chance of it ever happening, unfortunately.

The US didn’t have to pay for the wars because it had the world’s reserve country. It just shift the debt off onto other countries in inflated dollars.

So money was not the problem.

The USA could have built one of the best high-speed rail systems in the world, as France, Japan, China and some other countries have done. It would not be difficult. Much of the USA landmass is relatively flat. The technology exists for building tunnels through mountains. It is old technology. The Chinese or Japanese could have shown them how to do it. Even Turkey has high-speed trains.

Now much of the infrastructure in the USA is old and falling into a state of decay. But the US is not doing much to repair the systems, while spending massively on new wars.

People who do not fly in the USA are travelling on the old slow Amtrak trains. Actually, I love them. Personally, I love old, slow trains. But they do not get people anywhere fast. The US needs an alternative to airports and personal cars. People have to drive or fly everywhere to travel. Such travel is difficult for the elderly. High speed rail is the answer, but it would threaten the auto and airline industries.

The USA could have had a capitalist economic model that provided good jobs and benefits, like the European model of stakeholder capitalism that allows workers to share the profits. Not a chance of it happening, unfortunately. Wall Street corporate interests are too strong for that under stockholder capitalism.

The USA could have been a great place to live and a model for the whole world. Instead, the politicians in the USA just warn people to be careful or they might end up being just like Europe. Actually most people would love to be just like Europe, if they only had a clue about the benefits people enjoy in Europe!

In the event, the USA missed the boat over the last sixty years. That was the price of being the oligarchy that it is.

Today, the USA is losing the war. Not only in hearts and minds, but in real democracy and social welfare for its people. Just look at the many thousands of homeless young people living in tents in Los Angeles and other places in California. Official figures are way over one-hundred thousand just in California alone. Surely, the scenes of degradation one sees on the streets of Los Angeles is shameful for a country as rich as the USA.

It would be a shame for any country.

The lack of a national health care system in the United States is a national disgrace. One wonders how the officials believe that one can run a country without taking care of the health care needs of the people. It boggles the minds of those in most developed countries, such as Europe.

Again, politicians in the US warn Americans to be careful. They could end up being just like those in Europe. This would be funny if it was not so absurd.

Some Americans have started leaving the USA for a better life elsewhere and find that they are better off.

Some go to universities free in Europe, such as in Slovenia, Germany or France. Some young Americans find it easier to live well and pay off their student loans by teaching English and other subjects in China. So much for the so-called evils of communism!

Americans have started to retire abroad because their small social security checks give them a higher standard of living in Mexico and many other countries than they would have in the USA.

Wall Street and the corporate oligarchs in the USA, on the other hand, are mostly happy. Today, that is obviously the top priority.

The US Empire is not yet over, but on the down-side of history. Perhaps that is the bright spot on the horizon.

How many more imperialist wars will it take to finally bring down the American Global Empire? That is the historical question.

Eddie J. Girdner

June 18, 2019

 

St. John’s Church and South Park Street Cemetery (India Blog 24)

St. John’s Church and South Park Street Cemetery (India Blog 24)

6:00 Evening.

At 9:00 in the morning, I got a taxi to St. John’s Church. I told the driver: “Near Calcutta High Court” I thought it might help.

I guess it did. The guy knew where the high court was. He took me there, then stopped in front of it.

I said, “No, not the court, I want to go to the church. I think that he did not understand “church.” There was a young guy there who looked like a student. The driver asked him and he told him the way. The church was just a short distance farther.

I got to the church and made some pictures. There are several tombs around the church. They have inscriptions. One can see that many of the British died quite young here. That is, the ones who did not get rich and go back to England. Disease and malaria got a lot of people in the terrible climate.

Job Charnock, for example, is buried near the church.

I went inside the church and made some pictures. A few other foreigners on tours were also there.

I think that I was the only one that was there on their own. I like to take my own time. My own sweet time.

I am not rushing. I’ve been dragging my pecker through the crud for nearly three-quarters of a century. Three-quarters of a fucking century. And what a fucking one it has been when one looks at the history.

And the next one is likely to be worse from all indications at the present time! As far as I can tell.

Back to the church. The sword and the Bible! The twin pillars of Western Imperialism. That was the second half of the formula for imperial rule. Imperial plunder, to be more exact.

And it ain’t over yet, baby! Hoisting entire nations on the mighty petard of the US dollar by the big banks in New York City. In case that fails, just bomb the fuck out of them. When they refuse to take orders. The missionary business is rather old school today. They will be softened up with bombs.

It is a beautiful life. A beautiful world. If one is lucky enough to dodge the bombs. Those bombs that bring, of course, national security, political stability, and of course, peace.

That’s what we learn in international relations courses. So-called.

I took about 30 film pictures. More by cell phone.

When I departed the dearly beloved St. John’s church, I got a taxi to Park Street. This was truly amazing. When I asked the driver how much, he pointed to the taxi meter. My God! You mean those ancient things actually work? I had no idea that they did. Or that they were ever used. It said 30 rupees when we started and went up to 70 rupees at Park Street. The driver even pointed out things along the way, like “The Bengal Commandos.” A military outfit, presumably.

The traffic was one way on park street at the time, the wrong way, so he could not go to the cemetery at number 52.

I just gave him 100 rupees. Amazingly, the guy reached to give me back some change. I thought: “What kind of Calcuttan is this strange creature?”

I just said: “Its okay” and let him keep the change.

From there I had to walk east on Park Street. It was good that I did, because it was a good place for pictures with my cell phone. And a pleasant walk in an area quite a lot more upscale that Sudder Street. There were more upscale shops and restaurants, more like Connaught Place in Delhi.

I noticed signs up around the city. They said that the city of Calcutta was offering a 65 percent discount on paying traffic fines. Just pay 35 percent of the fine and get cleared. But there was a deadline of a month or so.

Obviously, no one is bothering to pay the fines. So they are settling for pennies on the dollar. Or rather paise on the rupee.

I walked past several people wrapped up in blankets along the sidewalk along the way. And several shoe-shine wallas. It was a good long walk.

I had just recognized that I had come to the cemetery wall when an older woman asked me: “Can I help you?”

I said, “I am going to the cemetery. It is here, I think.”

There are some people who genuinely want to help one. And I appreciated that.

I just came in front of the gate and went inside. They charge one fifty rupees if one has a camera. It seems silly, because just about everyone has a cell phone that will take pictures today.

The St. John’s Church fee was ten rupees. This was fifty. A big discount on salvation and sin, it seems, as Woody Guthrie remarked. But there is a more hefty charge for dying. There is a premium on dying. The fee for getting put out of one’s misery, perhaps. Possibly worth it.

So I paid up and went inside. It was amazing! The huge tombstones that they had put up there! Fruits of the Empire, I guess. But in the first row of monuments, I realized that there were piles of trash behind some of the big grave stones. I walked on and tried taking pictures with my Leica 35 mm lens. I needed my 28 mm lens, but had not brought it.

There were many old tombstones. They were very old and enormous. I mean, really big. Some of them go back to the 1700s (eighteenth century).

I put my last roll of Ilford black and white film into my Leica and hoped the pictures would come out good.

There were some people living in the cemetery. Not many. But I thought that it was a bad policy if they let squatters take over the place, while they are charging to see it as a sort of tourist attraction. I thought that if they could restore all those tombstones, how beautiful the place would be. But maybe, some would prefer the thick moss that had started growing on them, showing how old they really were.

I walked on around and made pictures of several of the huge stones. Toward the back of the cemetery, they are not as close together and it is easier to shoot pictures of them there.

I was about to finish my film, so used my cell phone for many of them.

When I was leaving, the guy at the gate asked me to sign the book. There is a place to make some comments.

I did sign it and put down my place of residence as Izmir, Turkey. I said that the cemetery was very interesting from a historical point of view. The British must have thought of themselves as small maharajas to put up those huge grave stones, monuments over their graves. I think they could do it because labour was cheap and plentiful, essentially free for them. And the profits from the East India Company in India were so enormous. I wanted to make a comment about the lack of maintenance, but decided to just leave it at that. It is too bad that the place cannot be restored as it is so rich in history.

I started to walk back and notices that now Park Street was one way in the opposite east direction. I managed to cross to the north side of the street, but not easily.

I wanted to look for a restaurant. At one point, there was a crossing with lights, but people were just going out into the traffic. They were taking a chance and the drivers seemed rather ready to challenge a pedestrian.

My goodness! I waited and crossed in a crowd of people, but even that was not very safe. Absolute madness!

I came across some book stalls on the side walk. I looked at the books. But I did not want to load myself down with more books. The one I had would do me for the trip.

At one book store they had a sign in the window that they changed dollars. So I went in and changed another one-hundred dollars. They told be that the Kwality Restaurant was just down the street. So I walked. Man! By this time, I was pretty tired from all that walking. I needed a rest and some refreshment.

I found the Kwality Restaurant and went inside. A very nice place. It looked very big inside, but only because one side was a mirror, the full length of the place. I sat down on some comfortable seats in a corner.

I ordered a type of malai kofta and nan. I was afraid that they would not have beer. And I was keenly in the market for one after all that walking. Man! I was relieved when the waiter said that they did. He brought a big beautiful bottle of cold Kingfisher Beer. I started sucking it down as I rested my tired feet.

The food came, and then I had a second one of those big beers. Man! That was great! The class of Indians in there was totally different. Middle class.

A group of eight was sitting next to my table. A sort of family affair. They may have been rather socially conservative. But I very much liked one attractive middle aged woman, around fifty, who was sitting over across from me. I don’t know. She was very attractive. Most women have been familied and fatted out. I drank the second beer more slowly watching the scene in the restaurant. I also enjoyed the tasty mango pickles, achar, with the food.

Man! I went out of that place a renewed man. Restored my faith in India. Well, that would be going a little too far. But it made me realize that I do like these types of experiences in India. The ones that are quality experiences.

That is not meant as a pun. And seeing some decent looking women, not all the peasants on the street who have recently come from the villages.

I took a taxi back toward Sudder Street. It was actually closer than I realized.

The driver could not go all the way and let me off at a very busy corner.

The traffic was absolute chaos. Absolute madness!

So I just stood in front of a shop on a corner for quite a long time taking shots of the street and people with my cell phone. I made about 325 pictures with my cell phone, just today.

I walked the rest of the way to Sudder Street. This street is driving me mad! Beggars calling out to you on the street. I said: “Oh, I have so many friends in Sudder Street. They just call out to you as you walk down the street. Of course, they are poor, but they have made begging into a profession. One can see how they are training up their children in the same way. Showing them just how to do it.

Actually, I met a guy on the sidewalk there who said that he was going to train some street kids not to be beggars. I told him that I hope that it is successful.

He asked me how I liked the city. I said that it is a great city. But a difficult city. I knew that before I came, but I had always wanted to visit the city.

Old School Photography (India Blog 22)

Old School Photography” (India Blog 22)

I was hungry. But I didn’t quite know the orientation of the place at the back of Hogg Market. Exactly where was I? I asked a young guy where Nizam’s restaurant was. He pointed. Told me to walk forward and then to the right. But I realized that the place looked different from yesterday. I found the restaurant, but it turned out to be a different Nizam’s. A copy of the first one, I guess.

I ordered one dish and two nans. It was paneer (cheese) in some kind of curried sauce. The food was quite tasty.

I still do not know my way around Hogg Market very well and get disoriented. Getting back through the market, I ended up going through that horrible meat market once again. Then I came across the young guy who had sold me the scarves. I was quite tired and ready to get back to the hotel.

But he invited me to come to his shop for a tea. So I agreed. It was not polite to turn him down.

It is Indian tea with milk and sugar already boiled in the tea, of course. So it is rather sweet and gooey. It really does not go well with me after drinking Turkish tea for years. The tea is served in one of those small clay cups. They are tiny and burn one’s fingers when filled to the brim.

I used to think those cups were more environmentally friendly. But seeing the piles of them swept up in the street behind my hotel, I am not sure.

I sat at his shop for tea, just at a counter, really.

A middle aged woman and her husband came to look at bed spreads and spreads for furniture. They are colourful and beautiful. No doubt about that. He kept showing them a large variety of them. A fantastic display. But when he gave them the price, the woman acted sour and refused at once. She didn’t even try to bargain for a deal. I think selling must sometimes be hard. But he must be doing okay. He had a huge stock of goods in his shop. Some of the silks are quite expensive, but beautiful.

It is probably easier to sell to foreigners, I suppose, who do not have a good idea of the prices.

After the tea, I got away because I felt like I needed a rest. But it was hard getting out of that market, crowded with shoppers. It was quite a long way to the front and the hawkers came after me like flies on fresh meat. They were very much on top of me. Man! I couldn’t get rid of them! And then there was a woman with her baby who tried to throw the powdered milk scam on me once again. I don’t know how many times these women came at me with that powdered milk scam. It must be the most overworked scams in that place for foreigners. They better think up some new ones. I am sure they will, too.

A kid was coming and grabbing my ass from behind. I wanted to scream! Man! These people will drive one Stark Raving Fucking Mad! Finally, I just said to this guy who I was moving past: “Just leave me the fuck alone!” Boy! But they pretend not to understand that!

Meanwhile, all the Indians are strolling through the market and enjoying themselves, enjoying their leisure. And these leeches are coming after the foreigners. I seemed like I was one of the few there.

I could have gone berserk. It wouldn’t have been the first time. And start shouting! I did it once in Budapest when the metro police women kept bugging me about my ticket. I started shouting and the two women with badges just ran away. I escaped out of the metro. I was not trying to ride free. But with their help, I learned how to go free in about three days. They thought they were still communists, when that era had already died.

I was trying to flee the scene at Hogg Market, to escape the tout-hogs, but I could not get up enough speed because of the crowd and confusion. They had set up many markets in the street outside of the buildings and there was a mass of people. All confusion, with motor scooters, motor cycles, cars, jeeps, big vehicles, bicycles, in those small roads. Some Indians have gotten rich and have big beautiful vehicles.

Finally, I made it out of there and walked to the hotel. I will take my chances with the mosquitoes, more than with those pests. There were hawkers there who wanted to change money as well.

Along that wide avenue yesterday, I saw a large group of attractive young girls or women standing in a group. I don’t know what they were doing with them right then, but it seemed that they were certainly made up as call girls. Getting ready to go somewhere. That seemed perfectly clear. I cannot be sure, but that was my hypothesis.

I guess that there are lots of ways to take down women and that is one of them. On the other hand, maybe it gives them a better life. It is an empirical question. I do not know the answer.

This morning, I met some New Zealanders at breakfast. The Australians are still here too. One of the New Zealanders sat down at my table at breakfast. I asked the past middle aged guy if he was on a tour. He said, no, unfortunately, he had to work. I asked if he was Australian. He said, no, New Zealand. I could tell that his accent was not quite like the Australians.

His company is doing some kind of manufacturing in India. We had a good conversation. I told him about my photography. When I told him I was using black and white film, he tried to put me down. He said: “That’s sort of old school, isn’t it? Is anyone still making black and white film?”

Yes, old school, and getting more popular as more people get tired of digital. Kodak went back to making film, along with Ilford in England.

Another guy from the group came and they talked shop. There was a Chinese guy who was part of the group too.

And I found out that they are building roads in Afghanistan too. Their big concern seemed to be “getting the prices right.” I wonder if it is American money that is funding it. Subcontracting out, I suppose. Sounds like it would be funded by the US war machine in Afghanistan.

Now there is something that one cannot object to!

Corporatist Rule for India? (India Blog 17)

Corporatist Rule for India? (India Blog 17)

Monday 10 December. 5:00 Morning. Kolkata (Calcutta)

There was a big argument going on in the street last night. One guy was just shouting to the top of his lungs for the longest time. It is a matter of live or die and I don’t think they have much to lose if they die. One sees these guys sleeping on the sidewalks in the daytime, wrapped up in some old rag of a blanket and it seems like they are just laying there and suffering. They are just living it out till they die literally on the spot and someone comes and picks up their body.

I saw one person, a man, wrapped up in a dirty blanket on the sidewalk just nearby the hotel yesterday. There were flies swarming around him. (Another call to prayer is going down now. They need more prayer.) Flies were sitting on that dirty blanket. I wondered if the guy was already dead. People usually walk in the road, anyway, not the sidewalk. There are so many obstructions. On the sidewalks, people just go around the wrapped-up bodies.

Well, people walk on the roads in Turkey too. I am very used to that.

Society is badly broken with that going on. Mother Teresa was just a sort of band-aid for the misery and poverty. I cannot say that what she was doing was not good and kind, but I can say that it is just a meliorative, a palliative that can do nothing to reach or address the root if the problem. Broken down society, broken down world.

At the same time, there is a lot of closeness in families, big families. Sometimes communalism emerges. And people try to put one in a box: Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, American, British, French, Bangladeshi. And sometimes there is hatred for what one seemingly is.

I get the idea that USA or American propaganda has worked here and I am embarrassed when guys (I have not talked to a single woman yet in this country in casual conversation), when people come out with big compliments about “America.” I don’t know if they are serious or just trying to please me.

I get the idea that they are much more favourable toward America than the Turks, who are just about one-hundred percent cynical, not believing anything that the USA puts out. Recent figures showed that the US image was the lowest in Turkey of any country in the world. Largely a result of the US screwing around in Iraq, Syria and Iran. Causing trouble everywhere.

I have to get a shower this morning before those Australians get up and use up all the hot water!

I noticed that the reviews of Calcutta that I have seen on Youtube never mention the huge mosque that is here. They usually talk about the two big Hindu temple complexes.

The Islamic sections of the city seem invisible to them.

Now the birds. I don’t know if they are crows, have suddenly come to life and are calling loudly. It is 5:21 in the morning.

I think that I saw one nice-looking dog in this city yesterday. And yesterday, there were two Dalmatians, hunting dogs, apparently, mean and ready to attack, at this hotel. The dogs on the street are miserable. There are a few cats. They too, are mostly miserable.

M.N. Roy, the Indian communist wrote about why Hindus hate cats. And wrote a book from the cat’s perspective. Autobiography of a Cat, I think. It is great. Very witty. He wrote it in an Indian prison, where he was kept for years by the British.

Strange thing is that I feel almost at home in this city.

People sometimes call out to one on the street, but it is best just to ignore them. Some women around the hotel are doing the milk powder scam. I just ignore them. That scam is overworked. There should be signs with a warning.

AVOID THE MILK POWDER SCAM WOMEN!

The last thing they want is milk powder!

And about the street vendors. I will say that they are trying to help themselves. They have found a way to survive and protect themselves by organizing and unionizing. That is far better than seeking charity. They survive through a very difficult struggle.

But when I look at the whole thing, my view has to be that only some sort of rule from the top could save such a society. Population growth must be controlled. Either left-wing, right-wing, Hindu fascist, or other nationalist ideology, maybe religious nationalism combined with Bharat, Indian nationalism.

Corporatist rule from the top. I am almost reduced to advocating it.

In Bengal, it could be Netijiism, from Subas Chandra Bose. Bengali nationalism, something that people could believe in and accept and impose strict discipline on society. There seems to be a complete lack of discipline in this society.

It might break down at some point, as in the Soviet Union, or in Turkey and Argentina, but it will have improved society and made things better for most people.

The historical model comes from Saint Simon in France. Science and engineering of society. Ataturk picked it up for Turkey. Stalin in the Soviet Union. A form of Jacobinism.

In Turkey, Tayyip Erdogan is the using the same model as Ataturk, as far as top-down rule is concerned. Jacobinism. Just different underlying ideas. It is top-down rule and the state can impose some discipline on society. I guess that India is the closest thing to anarchy in existence.

In India, the Nehru, Gandhi, Patel, model failed. A historical period of corporatist rule might have done wonders. Now, it may be too late. They missed the historical window of opportunity.

Zarang Restaurant Kolkata (India Blog 11)

 

Zarang Restaurant in Kolkata (India Blog 11)

The restaurant where I went to yesterday is in Lonely Planet (Zarang Restaurant). I had a conversation with a guy there. I don’t know if he is the owner or just the manager. I hope that I did not piss him off too much with my comments about Trump, and then some critical comments about Modi.

I hear the morning Izzan (call to prayer) starting from a nearby mosque. The time is 5:54 AM.

The guy thought that I might be supporting Trump. I told him that Trump is doing great damage to the United States. I said that it was a horrible development. He seemed to be astonished. He said: “Oh, but you are an American. Why would you say that?”

I said, “Well, in order to tell the truth.”

Actually, I mentioned quite a few things about the government. I told him that the US is not a democratic country but an oligarchy. It is ruled by the rich corporations. I told him that if you want to be a representative or a senator in Congress, you have to take millions of dollars from corporations to get elected.

I didn’t mention to this guy that I lived in Turkey. I have told some people, but sometimes I do not. When I tell them this, they are always surprised.

When the guy got around to asking me about Narendra Modi, I had criticized Modi for being a Hindu nationalist and communalist. Actually, I suspected that he might have the same sentiments. He said something about religion.

I didn’t want to start getting into talking about the caste system. So I just said, “Well, I agree with the analysis of B.R. Ambedkar. I think that he was right.”

I think that at that point, the guy sort of ended the conversation. He may be an Arun Shourie type guy who trashes B. R. Ambedkar. But I didn’t know.

For Ambedkar, Hinduism was the root of the problem of the caste system. To solve the problem of caste, one had to abolish Hinduism. Of course, that would be impossible in India. Tantamount to abolishing Indian society itself.

People really do seem to be quite naive.

He asked me if I thought the US would keep troops in Afghanistan and in Iraq. I said: “Sure, they will. One should understand that the US is a global empire. Countries have to take orders from the USA. Either that or get bombed.”

Then he asked me if Obama was better than Trump. I said that he is a nice guy, but he was lazy. He didn’t really do much while in office. I could have been more critical, but I left it at that.

The guy said: “Oh, but he got Osama bin Laden.” I said: “That was nonsense. Bin Laden was living in Abbatobad in Pakistan next to a Pakistan Army base. The Pakistan military was protecting him.

He knew that it was true, that the US created bin Laden. Earlier, bin Laden was working for the Americans. I said: “Sure. And they created Saddam Hussein too. The US supports these guys as long as they take orders from the USA. Then the US goes after them if they do not.”

Then I gave the example of Turkey: Tayyip Erdogan. I said: “The US was fine with him for some years after he became Prime Minister. But then, the US launched a coup against him in July 2016 and tried to kill him. It was a CIA operation, carried out with the Fethullah Gulen organization. But they failed. God saved him!” I added the last, being cynical. I also told him that I have written and published a book on the Iraq war.

USA and the New Middle East,” published in Delhi by Gyan Publishers in 2008. It found its way into many libraries across the Middle East, and also in several in the USA.

Wow! Sometimes the people that you talk to seem to be very naive. He asked me why the US would stay in Afghanistan. Good question. But the US is a global empire and being so, generates big profits for US capitalists. Afghanistan is rich with vast minerals. And then, there are the plans for pipelines for gas to South Asia.

The conversation got around to Kashoggi. I said: “Look, the Saudis murdering him was alright with Trump. It is all about money. If he invests in the USA, and buys weapons, Mohammed bin Salmon is great for Trump. It doesn’t matter if he murders a journalist from the USA.

I said that Trump only cares about money. He is just enriching the big corporations in the US. The US working class has been losing since the 1970s.

I said: “Why should I trust Donald Trump? He got his money from his father who was a big slumlord in New York City. He cheated the poor, the tenants and cheated the government out of taxes. That is all on record, of course. Donnie boy is the same.”

Well, there are some Americans who are so stupid as to say: “Oh, you shouldn’t criticize your own country while you are abroad.” Well, I can hardly think of anything more stupid than saying that!

When I criticized Modi for being a Hindu nationalist and communalist, he pointed to the young waiter there and said: “Well, look. He is a Moslem and he doesn’t have any problem.”

I said: “Sure, many Moslems would support him because they both have religious issues.” I didn’t want to talk about communalism.

Modi can use their votes, but they may not realize the thrust of his communalist Hindu ideology.

I do not know if he knew what I know about the history of Hindu fascism in India. The RSS (Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh) and so on. I couldn’t get into all of that.

When I start to talk to a person like that, I start to think that I really know too much, far more than is good for me. The guy probably regretted that he asked if he could talk to me. He didn’t expect to hear what he heard.

I later told him that we shouldn’t discuss politics. Maybe sports is better. But then, I didn’t know anything about Indian sports.

He agreed. Sports is a better topic.

I got the idea that criticizing US imperialism is fine for him. He also does not like what the US does. But he does not like criticism of Modi. Wow! This country, like Iran, is full of petty bourgeois shop keepers who are socially, politically, and religiously backward. That was my reflection.

The failure of Gandhi, Nehru, Patel, the socio-political construct. It generated a lot of hot air over the years, but never delivered for the masses. It has led to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Just like the liberal Obama failure led to Trump in the USA. Hasn’t it happened around the world? Brexit in England. The working class gave Brussels the finger. Up yours! That was the message. Now the ruling class in Britain cannot digest it. They are looking for another way to weasel out with another referendum or pro-European deal in the United Kingdom. Becoming a rat-fink as the Europeans did in the referendum in France, where they had a second vote. So much for British democracy. They just cannot stomach their defeat.

But now most of the Europeans are fed up with dealing with the British.

In late March, the remainers have yet to give up screwing over the people who voted to leave.

Well, this trip is more interesting to me when I can have some stimulating conversations like that. But I didn’t want to hurt the guy’s feelings. He was a nice person.

I am sure that there are many intellectuals at the university here. It is not so far from here. That’s the story this morning.

6:00 Morning. I have been hearing the sweepers doing the streets for some time. The army of bhangis. Slaves, essentially. Indentured labour, for sure.

After breakfast I am off for the long walk to the Howrah Bridge.

A River of Shit (India Blog 8)

A River of Shit (India Blog 8)

I guess that it must have been Punjab that ruined me.

After that two years, I could never really feel at home in the USA again. I just wanted to get the fuck out every time that I got a chance.

Somehow it gave me a feeling of freedom. Freedom from so-called American freedom.

Finally, I had had enough and left for good. That was in 1992. Some 27 years ago. I have never been sorry that I did for a single day. One of the best decisions I ever made in my entire lifetime.

It saved my ass.

Sometimes people ask me if I miss anything. I tell them that the only thing I miss is the poverty. It is true. In the USA, I was always short of money. Once I left, I have never felt poor again. Not since the day I left.

Life, liberty and poverty,” as one of my brilliant students wrote on his exam.

I also don’t have to feel guilty about contributing to the US imperialist war machine that has ripped up so much of the world. That has caused such a hell for so many people. Especially in the Middle East. The US makes trouble everywhere. Political security, my ass! The US destabilizes every place it hits, under the name of political stabilization. Once “stabilized,” American capital can come in and clean up in the country. Make a killing. Get the oil. Cheap labor in Vietnam. That’s the rest of the story that Americans never hear.

Global security, national security and so on.

If one just reads a little of Chomsky and one should understand it very well. But most Americans do not read that kind of thing.

I don’t know if they would understand it, the way they have been brainwashed by the system. So I cannot say how many would really get it. It is not easy to break down systematic ideological indoctrination. This is the especially true in the case of a country so religious. The religious factor is exceptionally strong in the United States of America. It can easily block rational thought.

That is another boon of living abroad. One largely escapes the constant brainwashing. Turn off the TV. Give your brain a break. Shoot the mother, like Edward Abbey did. Free yourself. Free yourself from that river of shit.

You won’t regret it.

Get off shit-face book.

Talk about the swamp in Washington? More like a cesspool, actually. The corporate media floods the country with a river of shit every single day. They call it the news cycle.

My book, USA and the New Middle East, would also be quite educational. If read. It is in some libraries in the USA and a lot of libraries in the Middle East and Europe.

All that work to write a book and no one reads it. Face-book will pretty much ensure that.

Back to Delhi.

When I got to the Regal building, I went into that restaurant in the old Bobbys corner. Pind Baluch Restaurant. At first, I thought it meant Baluch Village, but the waiter, from Utterkhand, said that Baluch just means “place.” Then I realized it must be a Punjabi restaurant, since they started playing Punjabi music.

I had chicken tika and nan. And a big Kingfisher beer. It was not as expensive as Kwality. A great restaurant! The food is better! I was hungry and the food was delicious.

After the meal, I told the guy at the door that I had known the place since it was a discotheque back in 1968, when I first came to India. It was a sports bar when I was there ten years ago in 2008. They were amazed that I knew that about the place and I don’t think either of these guys were even born at that time. It was the infamous Bobby’s. Unbelievable!

Well, I am off for Cal (Calcutta) tomorrow. Now Kolkata. I read that Jet Airways is strapped for cash and the company has not even paid their employees and pilots what they are owed. I don’t know what kind of outfit it is. Maybe it needs to merge with another airline. But the piece said that they were getting a cash infusion soon. They were asking the passengers for it the next day in the airport.

It was not good news to read before taking a flight on the airline.

This is the end of Delhi for this time. Three days, only, this time. That Chandni Chowk is the real India. That is it, undiluted.

I think that I had pulled the wool over my eyes about India. But I think that the scales have fallen now. No need to sugar coat it. The people in these cities, like Delhi, are struggling to survive and are being brutalized there in that mess. Only the very young women are sometimes very beautiful. There are some beauties, but what is their future?

Most will be hit with the tragedy of marriage.

The Truth About the USS Liberty

American Legion Joins VFW in Calling for Congressional Investigation of Israel’s Attack on USS Liberty.

Updated on December 29, 2018
USS Liberty, body bags.
USS Liberty, body bags.

Due to the persistence of surviving crew members and the continual emergence of new revelations, the national veteran’s group American Legion has passed Resolution 40 calling for Congress to “publicly, impartially, and thoroughly” investigate the attack by Israel on an American ship in 1967, in which 34 American sailors were killed and hundreds of others were wounded. The resolution comes despite a veil of government secrecy which keeps key documents on the attack classified more than 50 years later. [NSA USS Liberty documents]

The attack, which surviving crew members to a man say was deliberate, as well as a stellar list of high-ranking officials, has never been officially investigated outside of a Navy Court of Inquiry and an NSA probe. Surviving crew members were not allowed to testify to key points which did not fit the official conclusion that it was an accident.

For example, according to James Ennes who was Officer of the Deck that day, crew members were never allowed to give testimony witnessing an Israeli patrol boat’s methodical machine-gunning of the life boats, which supports the contention that the Israelis wanted no survivors.

The surviving crew continues to hold a memorial service in Washington DC each year on the date of the attack, and issues invitations to members of Congress to attend. To date, not one congress member has attended a service.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), the other major US veterans’ organization, passed a national resolution calling for a congressional investigation in 2003.

Although the American Legion leadership has fought hard over the years to prevent the Liberty survivors’ resolution from passing, the rank and file has overwhelmingly supported the veterans, and passed the resolution thunderously on a voice vote. The leadership had no choice but to introduce it into the record. Resolution 40 itself is a devastating document, reading in part:

WHEREAS, on June 8, 1967, while operating in support of the National Security Agency (NSA) in international waters, properly marked as to her identity and nationality, and in calm, clear weather in the eastern Mediterranean, the USS Liberty (AGTR-5) was the target of an unprovoked attack by Israeli military forces that killed 34 members of the Liberty’s crew and wounded 173; and,
….
WHEREAS, according to Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) information reports from June and October, 1967, sources in Tel Aviv reported: “Israel’s forces knew exactly what flag the [L]IBERTY was flying” and Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan “personally ordered the attack” on the Liberty over the objections of senior uniformed military personnel, one of whom characterized the attack as “pure murder”; and,

WHEREAS, Richard Helms (Director of Central Intelligence, 1966-1973), stated in a 1984 CIA interview: “…I don’t think there can be any doubt that the Israelis knew exactly what they were doing…”; and,

WHEREAS, Lieutenant General Marshall S. Carter, USA (ret.) (Director of the NSA, 1965-1969), recalled in a 1988 NSA interview that he stated at a Congressional hearing in 1967 that the attack on the Liberty “couldn’t be anything else but deliberate…and,

WHEREAS…Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Thomas H. Moorer, USN (ret.) said: “there is compelling evidence that Israel’s attack was a deliberate attempt to destroy an American ship and kill her entire crew” (Moorer was also the legal counsel for the official Navy investigation);

The American Legion Resolution 40 harnesses two of the most powerful non-corporate lobbies in America, US military veterans. The survivors are now asking military veterans to forward the resolution to their congressional representatives.

On the morning of June 8th, 1967, Israeli reconnaissance aircraft circled slowly around the Liberty, according to the sailors, for 9 hours, making 13 very close passes. The Liberty crew members recall the planes were close enough to wave at the pilots, who waved back. The ship was flying two American flags, including the Holiday Colors, a particularly large flag. The breeze was around 15 mph and the flags flew fully unfurled.

At around two in the afternoon, after the recon planes broke off, Israeli Mirage jets came roaring over the horizon and opened fire, for nearly two hours, with .30mm cannon, rockets, missiles, and napalm bombs. Then an Israeli Navy patrol boat arrived and launched torpedoes.

According to the timeline of If Americans Knew, a website run by survivors, at 12:15 and 12:45, Israeli recon aircraft again circled the ship. The timeline reads:

1215 & 1245: Israeli reconnaissance aircraft again circle Liberty.

1341: Israeli torpedo boats spot Liberty and call for an immediate air strike.

1358: Two unmarked delta-winged Mirage jets attack Liberty. After taking out gun mounts, they target ship’s antennae and bridge with heat-seeking missiles.

1405: Three unmarked Dassault Mystère IIIC jets attack with napalm and rockets. Ship tries to contact Sixth Fleet headquarters, but five of Liberty’s six shore circuits are jammed. Radio operator manages to send distress signal from Captain McGonagle: “Under attack by unidentified jet aircraft, require immediate assistance.” Attack lasts approximately 22 minutes, involving 30 to 35 sorties, killing nine men and wounding around 60. Israeli pilot reports to base: “Great, wonderful, she’s burning, she’s burning.”

1409: Captain Joe Tully of the USS Saratoga acknowledges call for help, dispatches four F-4 Phantom jets, and informs Liberty that help is on the way. Within minutes U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert MacNamara orders rescue jets to return: “Tell Sixth Fleet to get those aircraft back immediately.” Rear Admiral Geis relays message and tells them to re-launch jets in 90 minutes.

1424: Three French-built 62-ton Israeli motor torpedo boats approach Liberty in attack formation. Because the Israeli fighters had destroyed the American flag, Captain McGonagle orders the signalman to hoist the “holiday ensign,” the largest flag the ship has.

1435: Torpedo boats launch five German-made 19-inch torpedoes at Liberty. One torpedo strikes starboard directly into NSA area, accounting for 25 of the 34 men who would be killed. Torpedo boats then circle, machine-gunning the ship with armor-piercing projectiles for another 40 minutes.

1450: Commander of Sixth Fleet orders carriers USS America and USS Saratoga to send aircraft to defend Liberty.

History has charged LBJ with failing to assist the ship and ordering a cover-up. As to the reason for the attack, Admiral Thomas Moorer once speculated it was an Israeli attempt to draw the US into war with Egypt, which Israel was fighting at the time in the Six Day War. The apparent attempt to kill all hands and leave no witnesses is cited as support for this thesis. Indeed, sources say LBJ had already launched nuclear-tipped jets toward Cairo when word came that the Liberty had not sunk.

If true, it has also been speculated, the Liberty crew, by saving the ship, may have prevented World War III. Survivor Phil Tourney, in his talks recounting the damages from over 800 cannon rounds, rockets, missiles, napalm bombs, and torpedoes, has said that the ship not sinking is to him a “miracle.”

In 2007, the Chicago Tribune published an explosive exclusive, in which US officers who had seen presently classified NSA transcripts of radio transmissions that day disputed the accuracy of leaked transcripts published by the Jerusalem Post.

The Tribune reported:

“The transcript published by the Jerusalem Post bore scant resemblance to the one that in 1967 rolled off the teletype machine behind the sealed vault door at Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha, where Steve Forslund worked as an intelligence analyst for the 544th Air Reconnaissance Technical Wing, then the highest-level strategic planning office in the Air Force.

“The ground control station stated that the target was American and for the aircraft to confirm it,” Forslund recalled. “The aircraft did confirm the identity of the target as American, by the American flag.

“The ground control station ordered the aircraft to attack and sink the target and ensure they left no survivors.”

The Tribune reported the words of James Gotcher, who was then serving with the Air Force Security Service’s 6924th Security Squadron, an adjunct of the NSA. Gocher said:

“There is simply no way that [the Post transcript is] the same as what I saw,”

Even more damning are the recollections to the Tribune of Air Force Capt. Richard Block, who was commanding an intelligence wing of more than 100 analysts and cryptologists monitoring Middle Eastern communications.

“Some of the pilots did not want to attack,” Block said. “The pilots said, ‘This is an American ship. Do you still want us to attack?’

“And ground control came back and said, ‘Yes, follow orders.'”

Forslund, Gotcher, and Block agree that the Jerusalem Post transcript was not at all like what they remember reading.

During the attack, some Liberty crew fought fire and damage even while wounded. Less wounded cared for more gravely wounded. With Israeli 30mm cannon being made for tank killing, the rounds punched through the thin steel hull and butchered men deep inside the ship.

For the incredible drama of that day, in which one Medal of Honor was won and a rafter of other heroism decorations, the bare facts of the USS Liberty attack are little-known, with barriers and stumbling blocks placed in the paths of survivors at every turn. Even though the American Legion passed Resolution 40, in 2018 it denied booth space to Liberty survivors at their annual convention. James Ennes, the Officer of the Deck that day, has written a book which, although well received and with many orders, seems to have problems finding its way into major bookstores.

It is clear that the surviving veterans are not fading into the sunset quietly.

As the Chicago Tribune reporter reached out to survivors for telephone interviews he relates:

…decades later, many of the more than two dozen Liberty survivors located and interviewed by the Tribune cannot talk about the attack without shouting or weeping.

The epic struggle to be heard and avenge their shipmates, almost all young in their twenties when killed, by forcing Israel and the US government to admit it was not an accident, might recall the Dylan Thomas lines:

Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

David Halberstam on Vietnam

March 3, 2018

Reading David Halberstam, The Best and the Brightest, brought a lot of memories of that time in the l960s back to me. The book was published in 1971 and then again in 1992 with a new introduction. I have read quite a lot about Vietnam, but had never read this book. I saw a reference to it recently and wanted to read it.  

Clearly, if one wants to understand the Washington decision-making side of the war, I believe this is the best book to read. It is an impressive accomplishment. Halberstam had been reporting on the war for years. He made something like three-hundred interviews of those policy makers and others involved just for this book. I would love to use this book in a course on war and decision making or even a course in American government. But it is a long book and I am not sure if students would seriously read such a book today. Most of them probably would not. It takes some effort. But if they did, they would learn a lot more than they do from most courses.

Reading around a hundred pages a day, my eyes started to get tired. It brought back a hell of a lot of memories and fleshed out much of what I knew about the era. I found the book fascinating and hard to put down.

Personally, I was determined that I was not going to go to Vietnam and shoot peasants who were in rebellion against the feudal agrarian system that was still in place. I had always thought that they were right to revolt against their exploitation. The US was not just pursuing a failed policy. The US was on the wrong side in the war. The US should have supported Ho Chi Minh, in my view. Even a few policy makers in Washington realized this. That is also a fascinating fact.

I was the exact right age to be sent to Vietnam in 1963. But I wanted no part of it. I could never see any point in that war, except to make profits for the war corporations. And careers for the generals. I got a deferment to go to the university until I graduated in 1968. That was not fair to the guys who did not go to a university, but I took advantage of it.  After I graduated, the draft board was after me at once. Johnson still wanted more men in Vietnam.

The French had ruled the country for decades. Then after World War II, the British allowed for them return to the country. This was a historical mistake. The French fought the same kind of war as the US and lost. There was no way that I was going to be a part of that. Even if one did not believe that it was evil and immoral, totally unethical, it would be the height of folly and stupidity. I could see that, but what about those in Washington? Well, actually some of them could see it too, as Halberstam shows, but still, they could not keep from going to war and then they kept escalating the war wider and wider for years and years. They kept being sucked right down into the maelstrom. Even those who realized that it was complete folly went along. This was true of even Robert McNamara after 1966. It turned into a terrible disaster for both the US and Vietnam.

1966 was the year that the US actually lost the war. McNamara didn’t have a clue at that time. He was wrapped up in mountains of statistics. He was a corporate management guy coming from being the head of Ford in the 1950s. Technology should do the trick.

Most didn’t know the war was a lost cause for the US Empire until many years later, of course. Even nations cannot stop history. The war was political and historical. I would say that it was an event of historical necessity. Part of a larger historical dialectic. The country moved to communism until the l990s, but then in a dialectical process, moved to today’s capitalist system under the name of communism or socialism. It is almost a mirror image of what happened in China on a larger scale. Globalization is also part of the dialectic.

This does not mean, of course, that the revolution which the US was trying to prevent, was wiped out. The gains of the revolution were not all lost. They are enveloped in the development of the country today. When I was in Vietnam in 2006, I surprised that most young Vietnamese do not think much about the war today. Not the way Americans who grew up in the 1960s do.

Men (and women) make history. This is an old Marxist truism. George Plekhanov. But as the Marxists always argued, they do not make history in just any way they like. Machiavelli could have agreed. There is fortune, fortuna. The historical situation did not allow the Washington policy makers to make history in just any way they liked. Those in the White House were unlucky. The war practically killed President Lyndon Johnson. Maybe it did in a slow fashion.

For John Kennedy, then Lyndon Johnson, there was the l950s legacy of McCarthyism. They had to be anti-communist for political reasons. The Democratic Party had been accused of “losing China.” They could not afford to “lose Vietnam,” because of domestic politics. Somehow Americans could not see how such hubristic concepts revealed that the country was a global empire, believing that it owned countries and could “lose” them.

Vietnam never attacked the United States. The United States attacked Vietnam. The enterprise of the US Empire was to stop a revolution from happening in Vietnam. Counterinsurgency, in the jargon of official Washington and the US military. It was probably not possible, even if the US had sent twice as many men. Even a million or more, as the Joint Chiefs suggested at one time in 1967.

What is also interesting is that very few Americans see clearly that the US is still doing the same thing under a different name. David Petraeus and his counterterrorism models do the same thing as the US tried to do in Vietnam. Just a different terminology is being used. Afghanistan. Stopping a revolution. All the other wars. The so-called global war on terrorism. Just another version of an empire trying to stop history from unfolding. Stopping the undoing of colonial history. Now it is drones to stop the historical process. Politically, it still sells.

Trillions of dollars are printed and poured down the rat hole while killing many thousands of people and piling the debt on the increasingly impoverished population of the United States. Profits for arms corporations and banks, the corporate ruling class. Whether the US Empire will really collapse soon, as Johann Galtung has suggested, is a larger question. But global opinion largely has it correct. The greatest threat to global peace and security, and even life itself around the globe, is the United States of America.

I clearly remember those days in 1965 and 1966 when I was a student at the university. Every morning, the news in the papers just got worse and worse. More and more soldiers being sent to Vietnam. More coming home dead. It was coming to my time to graduate in 1967 and I was certain that I was going to be sent to Vietnam too, if I didn’t do something about it.

I would have loved to go to Vietnam, but not to shoot peasants.

Perhaps never before had people had such hope for those bright people in the White House. John Kennedy, Robert McNamera, McGeorge Bundy. The generals, Maxwell Turner, William Westmoreland in Vietnam. Kennedy started by sending “advisors.” Several thousand. By 1964 after Johnson had become president, pressure was being put on the White House to send combat troops. Once that began, it continued to all go down-hill. Or one can say up-hill from the perspective of those who wanted revolution in Vietnam. The US army eventually collapsed.   

This very significant book brings out many aspects of the United States that should help Americans understand the problems with American war culture and US imperialism today. The sickness of anti-communism from the McCarthy era. Racism. Ethnocentrism. The arrogance of Americans when they go abroad. The deep underlying gut-feeling in the US culture that Americans cannot learn anything from other people. That is, anything that would help them. Some sick notion that they somehow have the God-given right to rule over others. To rule the world.

One sees many parallels to today’s folly in Washington when reading this book. One realizes that not much was learned. Or if anything was learned, it has been forgotten. McMaster, in the White House at this time in 2018, wrote a revisionist book accusing the generals of not doing their duty in Vietnam. Of not “winning.” Still trying to erase history. This just gets more people killed.

The effect of the Vietnam War is not yet over. Americans still die of health effects such as exposure to agent orange. Vietnamese still die from this poison and dioxin. In the same way, much of the Middle East has now been polluted with depleted uranium weapons which will continue to kill people even after the wars end there.

But so far, there is no sign of them ending. It is likely there will not be as long as there is an American Empire.  

Whatever you do, read this book. It is the best way I know of to learn and understand how the US Government really works and how war policy is made. Unfortunately, it will not inspire confidence or make one happy. But it is a lesson worth learning.

March 3, 2018

Izmir, Turkey