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St. James Plaindealer - St. James, MN
  • “Events are in the saddle and ride mankind”

  • When I was a college student I had the great privilege of participating on a panel during a symposium where one of the participants was journalist David Halberstam.
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  • When I was a college student I had the great privilege of participating on a panel during a symposium where one of the participants was journalist David Halberstam.
    Halberstam was one of the greatest journalists of the 20th Century. He was the New York Times reporter in Vietnam in the early 60's and his reports on how badly the war was going during the Kennedy Administration prompted JFK to call the Times' editor and complain about Halberstam's reporting.
    Halberstam was in Vietnam from '62 to '64, which was before most Americans could probably find it on the map.
    In 1965 he wrote 'The Making of a Quagmire' just as the majority of Americans were beginning to be able to find Vietnam on a map. In 1972 he published a masterpiece of analysis on the Vietnam War 'The Best and the Brightest'.
    A premise of 'The Best and the Brightest' was that the Kennedy and Johnson Administration was packed with the most brilliant men of that era.
    Halberstam believed they blundered badly in Vietnam because through the deployment of American power, technology and through applying their superior intellects to Vietnam that they could control the events that ultimately, tragically spun out of control.
    When I was sitting with Halberstam he talked about Undersecretary of State George Ball, who summarized how we became trapped in a quagmire in Vietnam with a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Events are in the saddle and ride mankind." For me that was an 'ah ha' moment that's stuck with me for 40 years.
    Which brings us to Syria. We now have many politicians advocating regime change. They will support President Obama if he goes beyond missile strikes and develops a play to overthrow the murderous Dictator Assad. These are politicians who came of age during the Vietnam War and still think we can control events.
    Bashar al-Assad is an evil man. His regime probably did use nerve gas to murder perhaps more than a thousand people with more than 400 of them children.
    But to think we can start a military intervention, first with cruise missiles, and have that followed by an unknown series of events that would result in a good outcome is a view that has not learned anything from American history.
    I've come to believe that in the last 60 years I've witnessed an arc of quagmire across the length of Asia regarding America's military involvement.
    It started more than 60 years ago in Korea where we had to stop Communism. We fought to a draw and we are still there. One could debate whether that war was necessary. Communism has for the most part been assigned 'to the dustbin of history', but I will admit that I've got a nifty Samsung cell phone out of it.
    Page 2 of 2 - Vietnam was an absolute disaster for America and a generation of American youth. There are men and women still suffering from PTSD in this county and all across America. Now we have good relations with the winning side.
    Afghanistan - some objectives have been met. The evil bin Laden is dead. It is also now America's longest war with it being nearly 12 years on. I still see the American dead scroll across the screens of new shows. It looks like a quagmire to me.
    Iraq according to many experts and historians was the greatest foreign policy disaster in American history.
    Now Syria's on deck. With a military attack on that country by the United States the arc of quagmire will have reached all the way across Asia. Of course Syria might be different, but 60 plus years of American military involvement in Asia screams no.
    One of the most disappointing issues I have with my generation is that many in power have not learned the lessons of our own history.
    Too many of them are still drunk with their own brilliance and American power and technology.
    These leaders are deaf to the idea of the American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson who a century before America's Asian wars wrote, "Events are in the saddle and ride mankind."
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