Thursday, November 13, 2008

It Takes an Idiot to Make a Village

Me and Mr. Lenin, discussing our respective Idiots.

Back in the day (around 1905 to 1917), when everyone who was anyone was trying to dump Tsar Nicholas II of the Russian Empire as was, there was a general consensus that the best way to do so was to target the Tsar himself. The contrarian view, as frequently was his wont, came from Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, who dismissed the Tsar as wholly unimportant to seizing power. In fact, when compelled to actually talk about the Tsar, Lenin referred to him as "Idiot Romanov" (as opposed to the Royal cousins "Moron," "Stooge," and "Noodlebrain" Romanov I guess). I have always enjoyed that whatever is the opposite of a term of endearment, and have made liberal use of that slur, especially in regards to virtually the entire Bush Administration.

But now, the chief idiot, Idiot Bush, has come forward in a CNN interview, rending his garments is a series of mea culpas. Maestro, cue the line "Regrets--I've had a few..." from the Sid Vicious version of "My Way."

What does Idiot I mean President (no I don't) Bush regret? He regrets when he got all dressed up like GI Joe, sat in the back of an aeroplane (sic) that someone else flew, landed on the USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1, 2003 and declared that major combat operations in Iraq were over. No wait--my bad. He doesn't regret any of that. He feels bad that behind him, while he was mouthing that horse hockey, there was a banner that read "Mission Accomplished." "To some, it said, well, 'Bush thinks the was in Iraq is over,' when I didn't think that. It conveyed the wrong message," thus spake the Idiot.

Well . . . I guess. But I was one of the other "some" who said "Bush thinks the war in Iraq is over," when Bush said that major combat operations in Iraq were over, regardless of what banner was hanging behind him. Call me crazy.

The First Idiot, dressed up like GI Joe. I know this picture is a repeat, but it is too appropriate not to include.

Which is one of my largest sources of rage and frustration with this administration: the almost pathological denial of any sense of accountability or even history of its own actions. Apparently, President Bush is troubled by the fact that some banner behind his head may have give people the wrong impression ie that he meant what he was saying. Fine. But what was left unsaid among Bush's regrets was the series of lies his Press Secretary and assorted White House flacks spun about that banner, denying any connection between the banner and the White House--even claiming that the banner was the work of the sailors (I guess) of the Abraham Lincoln. I could respect Bush (yes, even Idiot Bush) had he said someone like "Yes, that whole photo opportunity, speech, and banner was a mistake--and an even bigger mistake was denying that I had anything to do with that banner. The American people would have to be morons to believe that the White House had nothing to do with that banner, and I am embarrassed to have been part of campaign that assumed the American people were morons."

But that note is just not on President Bush's trumpet.

But there's always hope. In the interview, President Bush did say that after he leaves the White House, he will return to Texas and write a book. "I want people to know what it was like to make some of the decisions I had to make. I've had one of those presidencies where I've had to make some tough calls, and I want people to know the truth about what it was like sitting in the Oval Office," he said.

Ms. Sophia Loren. Unfortunately, she has nothing to do with this note.

Uh huh. Well, President idiot, if you need some ideas about what you need to tell the truth about, I'd certainly love to help out. Just off the top of my head:

1. What about the 2000 South Carolina primary, where the Bush campaign told every GOP voter that Senator McCain had fathered a child with a black prostitute and that Cindy McCain was a junkie? Does that ever bother you?

2. How about the whole Joseph Bloom and Valerie Palme saga? Everything you said at every step of the way was a lie, from denying that you sent Ambassador Bloom to Niger, to the Ambassador's correct conclusion that Iraq had not been trying to import uranium, you still stuck to your assumption about Iraq's nuclear program--knowing it was wrong, and your administration engaged in a campaign to destroy Mr. Bloom and Ms. Palme by leaking Ms. Plame's status as a CIA agent--and then to this day your are still denying it.

3. Speaking of WMD and Iraq, how about the fact that prior to the invasion, Sadam Hussein's chief of intelligence had flipped as a CIA source, and given you good intelligence that Iraq was not engaged in WMD, did not have a nuclear nor biological weapons programs, and was not supporting terrorist organizations? And do you have any regrets, as Mr. Ron Suskind documents in his book "The Way of the World," your administration after the fact forged a letter from this Iraqi, falsely stating that Iraq was involved in a nuclear program and connected with al Qaida?

4. Or how about after your people finally admitted there were no WMDs in Iraq, Condeleeza Rice, Karen Hughes, and the usual gang of idiots were all over the media, claiming that your critics were trying to "re-write history" by claiming that the purpose of the Iraq invasion was BECAUSE of Iraq had been illegally producing WMDs? Do you regret that lie?

Ms. Marlene Dietrich. She does not appear in this note, but she has much more characterand deserves more respect than Karen Hughes.

5. Speaking of the truth, what about when Tony Snow said that the media had inflated the number of times you said "stay the course" regarding the absence of a coherent strategy in Iraq? Mr. Snow acknowledged you said it maybe seven or eight times--he was off about sixty times, I believe.

6.. Or how about prior to the 2004 election, all the times that VP "Darth" Cheney insisted that Iraq had engaged in a nuclear program, supported al Qaida, and had WMDs--and this was AFTER the 9/11 Commission had released their report, stating none of those assertions were true?

7. What about Condeleeza Rice trying to justify the pending Iraq invasion by saying "We don't want to have the smoking gun from Iraq come in the form of a mushroom cloud"?

8. And don't forget that chapter about what you did to the Department of Justice: The unprecedented firing of the US Attorneys for blatant political reasons; Monica Goodling illegally insisting on political criteria in DOJ hires; your stooges going behind the acting Attorney General to John Ashcroft's hospital bed, in a futile effort to get Mr. Ashcroft to sign off on an illegal domestic spying program;

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales--at least, so far as I can remember. . .

your friend Attorney General Alberto Gonzales screwing up everything he could touch, to the point I thought Senator Arlen Spector was going to kill the guy--and then, when Gonzales FINALLY stuck a fork in his ass and resigned, you had the temerity to claim that a "good man" had been "unfairly run out of office."

9. Remember when you gave L. Paul Bremmer the Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award that you can bestow? He headed the Coalition Provisional Authority or CPA (affectionately known as "Can't Produce Anything"). Now THERE was a winner. Under Mr. Bremmer, the CPA's first two orders were 1) dissolve the Iraqi army, and 2) prohibit the involvement of any former Bathist Party members in any government position. How'd that work out for you?
Ms. Janet Leigh. She also wants you to know the truth about what it's like to sit in the oval office.

And that's just while I'm sitting here. But I can't wait to read what you consider to be the "truth about what it was like sitting in the Oval Office," because the truth is you are a profound disgrace to the office where you sat, to the country you professed to represent, and to every principle you claim to hold.

Sunday, November 9, 2008


‘That is all a lie! Outwardly it’s true, but inwardly it’s a lie!’ shouted Dmitri Fyodorovich, trembling all over with rage.
-- Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

“Let me stop you right there, Mr. District Attorney. You’ve said quite enough about this man. As a matter of fact, you’ve said quite a bit about a lot of things, and frankly, I’m tired of listening to you. So now, I’m going to talk. And don’t interrupt me, because I’ve got something to say.

“Now, I’ve sat up here, high above the people for a long time…More years than I care to remember. An endless parade of humanity passes in front of me like a giant river; and sometimes, it’s hard to remember that each person is an individual, and deserves individual attention. And that’s because so many of the people who pass in front of me are—in the words of some of the more uncouth members of our courtroom clientel--they ain’t worth crossing the street to piss on if they were on fire.

“Sit down! Both of you lawyers. It’s my turn to talk now. Like I was telling you, if you think you have a jaded view of humanity, just try looking at humanity from up here. It is nothing less than amazing—amazing and terrible. But that’s my job: to judge. That’s what I do, day in day out, week in week out, year in, year out: judge people. When you’ve done it as long as I have, you get to be pretty good.

“My job is like panning for gold. No, it’s more like mining for diamonds. It’s my job to sort through tons and tons of plain garbage, through the very worst that our society has to offer, just hoping to find that diamond. Only it’s easier to find diamonds than to find what I’m looking for. It has to be. It certainly couldn’t be any harder. I imagine lots of people, when they first start mining for diamonds, they get discouraged. They don’t find anything, because a diamond on the outside looks just like any other worthless junk rock. So everyone misses it. Everyone, except for the miner—the one person who knows what’s inside that rock—the one person who can judge the difference between worthless rocks and diamonds. This Defendant we have here today, without doubt, he is one of the Diamonds.

“What did I tell you Mr. District Attorney? Do not interrupt me again! I said not another word. No! Alright, Mr. Bailiff…would you be kind enough to take this District Attorney over to the courtroom holding cell for me? Maybe he’ll learn to keep his mouth closed a little better when he’s in a room with the door shut. He prides himself in putting so many people behind bars, well, he just put one more in: his own fool self. And don’t think I don’t see you trying not to smile about that, Mr. Bailiff deputy sheriff. I tried not to smile too, but I just gave up. Well, that’s enough about him, that Mr. District Attorney. Let’s talk some more about this diamond I found here.

“It would be easy to just dismiss this Defendant as just another ‘bad guy.’ A lot of people have tried to do just that, and at first glance, it would seem understandable. Look at this indictment: ‘Count I – Murder by Abuse; Count II – Felony Murder; Count III – Non-Aggravated Murder; Count IV -- Manslaughter I; Count V – Criminally Negligent Homicide’…then there’s at least another half a dozen counts of aggravated assaults in the first degree, then a whole laundry list of drug charges and misdemeanor assaults, and then we finish up with another two pages of resisting arrests, disorderly conducts, and refusals to obey a police officer – if you’ll excuse the expression, just the kind of chickenshit charges that District Attorneys throw at people, just to make people look worse than they really are. You don’t have anything to say about that, huh Mr. District Attorney? Good. I’m glad. And believe me, you’re glad that I’m glad. Otherwise, you’d really be telling all your little friends how well you know our jail – both inside and out.

“But a Diamond, you can’t tell a Diamond how it looks on the outside. And this…this indictment….this is just the outside. We have to look at the inside. My father told me once that you can’t know someone, and I mean really know somebody, until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins. So let’s all just do some walking right here, right now. Look at this man’s life…what he has been through; what he has to put up with…then you’ll begin to see what I see. You will be able to see that diamond inside of all that ugliness.

“This man works at a job down at the Plant, the kind of job that no one should have to work. But he needs that job. Now, this has got to be an example of Divine Providence, because I just happen to know the Defendant’s foreman personally—and I can tell you he really is one of the biggest A-holes to walk God’s green earth. I can’t imagine what it’s like to have this foreman lord over you, boss you around, make up ridiculous tasks, just to force you to do them. And you have to take it, because that’s the only job you’ve got.

“So, this man here, our Diamond, he takes it, and takes it, and takes it…until finally, he’s free, if only for a little while, because his shift is finally over. Then he heads home, for his sanctuary--at least that’s what it’s supposed to be. When he gets home, does he get the hero’s welcome he deserves? No. He’s got a selfish, screeching harpy lashing into him as soon as he walks in the door. She needs more money for the kids. She needs more money for food. She needs more money for the bills. She needs more money for the apartment. Who the hell knows what she really needs more money for, but whatever it is, she thinks she needs it. But what she really means is she wants more money for her own self, because that’s all she can think of: her own damn self. This man can’t even sit his ass down, and have a beer before she’s all over him. She doesn’t, not for a second, appreciate what he has to go through to get his money—all she cares about is getting more of his money. No one deserves to be treated like that. But that’s what happens to this man. For almost a year, he lives like this. And what’s more, that’s not all what this man lives with.

“What can you do to protect yourself, when you’ve got all the pain in the world? I’m not excusing this behavior, mind you, I’m just saying I can understand it. The Defendant turned to the only solace he could find; he had to. He used drugs for the simple relief that they offered him. But drugs, while they ease one pain, they also come back and kick you with a whole ‘nother set of pain. I know you don’t know this, Mr. District Attorney, because you’ve had everything in life handed to you on a platter. You never had to struggle for anything, been denied anything, you’ve never been left wanting for nothing. So you can’t understand the hell that drugs put people though. All you can do is sit there, and blame people. Act like you are somehow better than them—all because you were born on third base, and now pretend like you hit a triple. Listen: addiction is a disease. Understand? A dis-EASE. The opposite of “ease.” And that’s science talking. You can’t control a dis-EASE, and it hurts worse than you could ever imagine. So just try for a minute and imagine the physical pain this man’s addictions pushed on him, then add the stresses of his job, and the pressures of his family. I’m telling you, no one could possibly live like that, and not explode.

“But this man took all that pressure, and took it for as long as he could. He lasted longer than anyone else, because he is made of the hardest substance in the world. But even the hardest substance in the world can only take so much. Again, I am not justifying this man’s behavior. I am only saying that I can appreciate it, because I cannot possibly imagine the daily hell that life had put this man through.

“Now, and only now, can we look at this indictment, and what happened on that day last week.

“Unfortunately, that day ended all too much like every other day that this Defendant had to face. Only worse. Per usual, that foreman rode him all day, and then had the nerve to still write him up for nothing. Big surprise there. After work, his co-workers, they all headed to the strip bar. But this man promised his wife he’d be home that evening. So he didn’t go. Even though if anyone deserved a night of truly fine dancing and prancing, it was him. Instead, he goes home, and straight into the jaws of a shrew. So while his head is cracking from the drugs, and he’s probably just lost his job--meaning he’s going to lose everything--he’s still trying to do the right thing, and explain everything to his wife. His wife; the one person who is supposed to be beside him, supporting him, be on his side; but all this so-called wife can do is screech at him about why he’s always fucking up. It’s now, at this moment, that the baby starts crying. I mean really crying.

“Of course the baby’s crying. That crack of a wife never, and I do mean never, did a damn thing anyway. Here’s the baby screaming about a damn dirty diaper or something, but instead of dealing with the baby like the bitch is supposed to, she just screams at this man louder, just to make sure he can hear her bitching him out over the baby’s screams. And forget about her getting him his dinner, like she’s supposed to be doing.

“Who could live like that? No one. Who deserves to live like that? Again, no one. The Defendant, he’s like living in the worst torture chamber in the world ever, his life is that bad.

“Again, I am not condoning this man’s behavior. I don’t need to: he’s already taking steps to make amends himself. I am saying though, that before you get back up on your high horse, Mr. District Attorney, just be sure that if you weren’t in the same situation, you wouldn’t do the exact same thing. That’s right, I am talking about kicking a six month old baby.

“Reading this indictment, you’d think this man killed half of a grade school and beat up the other half. He did no such thing. But the insane amount of pressure he was under—pressure that would have killed anyone else--bore down on him, and made him snap….snap to the point he took several steps to build up some momentum, pulled his foot back, and kicked a little baby square in the chest hard, sending the child through the air, hitting the far wall. And there is no denying that this child later died from those injuries.

“But if you were listening to the Defendant today, I mean really listening to him, this man who says that he’s found peace with Jesus, you’d know he’s speaking the truth. I get hundreds of people coming through this court almost every day, all claiming that they’re sorry. That they’re now with Jesus. That Jesus has forgiven them. That they pray to God every day. But I can see right through them; just a bunch of goddamned hypocrites and liars, that’s all they all are. Ignoring God and His message all their miserable lives, right up until the minute they get into trouble. That’s when they suddenly remember our Lord. Just like those people who waited until they were treading water before telling Noah how they knew Noah was right all along, so please open up that door on the ark. Uh huh. Biblical hypocrites, that’s what they are. I spot them all a mile away. So I know what I’m talking about when I tell you that this man is not one of them. That this man is different. That this man truly is that Pearl of Great Price.

“No matter how bad a person you are, Mr. Defendant sir, you cannot possible be worse than the murderer and thief who was on the cross next to Jesus. And when that thieving murder repented with his last breaths, our precious Lord and Savior said to him “Today, you shall be with me in Paradise.” I can’t send you to Paradise—as you know, that’s between you and Jesus. But what I can do, is take you down from the cross where you do not deserve to be crucified on, just like that murderer hanging next to Jesus. Mr. Defendant, I am right now dismissing this case, letting you find the help you need, because I know that I will not see you back here.

“Goddamn it! Sit down and shut up all of you, and I mean it! All of you shut up and stop talking. I’m not done here. Listen, all you people who don’t like what I’m doing here, I want you to remember the words of our Lord: “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” Okay now, everybody who is perfect, go ahead and tell me all about the mistake I’m making here. Well? A minute ago all you people had a lot to say, but suddenly now I don’t seem to be hearing anybody talking. Imagine that. And for all you people not saying anything, but looking at me all hard eyed and mean – honestly, what do you use your Bibles for? Pressing leaves? I’m assuming all you self-righteous people even go to church. I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt here (something, let me just say, that none of you are even willing to give me and this Diamond). So, were you just staring out the window when your pastor was trying to teach you the lesson of the shepherd who had a flock of sheep, and what that shepherd did when one of the sheep was lost? He left his flock, and searched and searched until he found the lost lamb. Well, that’s what I’m doing here – I’m finding one of our lost sheep, and bringing him back into the fold. So why are you all mad? Because he got lost so far? Is that it? Why isn’t that more reason to celebrate, to be joyful, that this man came back to us from so far away?

“All of you people, see into your own hearts, and just look at what’s there. The Defendant, this man here, he has been though hell itself, has repented. He has renounced his evil ways. Our mission is successful, and what do you want to do about it? You want me—and God--to punish this man anyway; punish him for nothing. Here’s something I want all of you to think about tonight, when you’re in bed, just before your head hits that pillow. I want you to think hard on this, what your reasons are here today. Think on what it means to not just talk like a Christian; I mean to really in your heart live a Christian life; a life of forgiveness. And I am talking especially to you, Mr. Mighty District Attorney. I hope for your sake, you were listening. Otherwise, you’re going to have some awfully hard questions to answer in your next life. But that’s between you and Jesus.

“And you, Mr. Public Defender. You were trying to keep the Defendant from telling me his story, keep him from explaining. You even went so far as to tell him that I ‘wouldn’t understand.’ It is bad enough that you insult my intelligence, but must you also insult my humanity, and publicly deny my compassion as well? You are supposed to be ‘defending’ the public. I have never seen a bigger Public ‘Pretender’ in all my years on the bench. Exactly how many other people, just as innocent as this man here, have you let be sent away, all because you were too afraid to just do your job? Don’t answer that. I just want to give you something to think about. At home, in your own bed, you just think about all those other people who are sleeping in jail beds, their lives ruined because of your unwillingness to really help the people who God has placed in your hands.

“Now, I know, and I fully expect that I am going to receive a great deal of grief about what I’m doing here. People are so quick to make judgments, and just not willing to look at the whole story. But that’s why I’m the Judge, not all you other people. When I’m afraid to stand up, and do what’s right, well, that’s the day that I no longer deserve to be sitting up here on high.

“Well, I guess I’m done here. I’ve said my piece. Something I always wanted to say, but never had the right case, the right opportunity to say it. No thanks to Mr. District Attorney and Mr. Public Defender. They were both conspiring together to keep me from saying this, and to send an innocent man—a good man--to prison. I wish I could say I was surprised. But like I said earlier, I’m a diamond miner here. Every day, I wade through the worst of humanity’s trash. But when I find one of these rare Diamonds, that’s when I know that what I do is really all worthwhile.

“Let me just step down here and shake your hand, Mr. Defendant sir. It’s not every day I get to meet a real live Bible hero, a real Prodigal Son, who has gone so far away, but has now come back. I thank the good Lord that he sent you into my courtroom. I’m honored to meet you here today sir. I really am.”


“Are you out of your mind?”
“You can’t tell the Judge that”
“Yes I can. I know this Judge. He’ll understand.”
“Understand what? That you were justified in kicking a baby to death?”
“No! No, I’m not saying that at all. You don’t understand.”
“Then explain it to me. What are you going to tell the Judge?”
“I’ll just tell him. I know he’ll know what I mean.”
“How can you know what this Judge knows?”
“I see in his eyes. He knows. He’ll understand”
“Listen. I’ve been in front of this Judge hundreds of times, and this is the first time you’ve ever seen him. So believe me when I tell you that this Judge a) doesn’t know anything and b) doesn’t understand anything.”
“See what I mean? There you are, first running me down, then running down the Judge. You’re not on my side. You’re just a…a Public Pretender!”
“Yeah, I know. That one just keeps getting funnier and funnier. Look, you’ve got at least four murder counts in your indictment, one of which is potentially a capital crime. That means the district attorney won’t rule out seeking the death penalty. Realistically, at best you’re looking at a natural life sentence, just maybe with a possibility of parole after serving twenty-five years—but only if everything goes perfect and you’re luckier than I can ever imagine. Look at me---I’m telling you, that’s your best-case scenario; anything else that could happen is worse. And I am talking about you wearing that big diaper, riding the gurney into the little room with one big window, after spending the next ten to fifteen years double bunked on death row. So this really isn’t the time or the place to screw around. Today’s court appearance is just to say ‘not guilty,’ and get another court date. That’s it, that’s all, nothing else. The Judge is not going to listen to your life story, and then decide to dismiss your case because…I don’t know…the baby had it coming.”
“Goddamn it! That’s not what I saying at all; ‘the baby had it coming’ bullshit. You know what? You just don’t listen. That’s your problem. You’ve never listened to what I’ve said, and you never will listen to me. You don’t listen to nobody. And you know what else? You’re fired, you worthless fuck. Get off of my case. I’m going out there and talking to that Judge by myself. I don’t care you don’t believe me, but that Judge, he’ll believe me. If he just listens, he’ll understand what really happened. Then it’s all going to be okay. No thanks to you or that damn smart mouth District Attorney.”
“Ok. Look. I’m sorry. Ok? I just got excited. You’re right. I apologize. Look: I’m not saying you’re wrong. Maybe after we both look at the evidence some more, maybe practice your allocution a few times so you can be comfortable with what exactly you want to say to the judge, then we can do what you want. Does that make sense to you?”
“’We’ my ass. This is me, my case, my life. It has nothing to do with you. If I listen to you, then I go down, you gonna do the time for me? Bullshit.”
“You’re right, you’re right. It’s your case. Your call. But today is just not the day to make that call. All we’re going to do today is set another court date. The end. Five minutes max. We’re at the start of a long process. Let’s just get through this morning, and then we can explore your options.”
“All I’m trying to do is explain to the Judge, and you won’t let me. You act like that’s the worst idea ever.”
“It’s certainly the worst idea I’ve heard in a long time.”
“Yeah well fuck you then. I’m going to do what I have to do. You’ll see. I have faith. I believe in Jesus, and He knows what’s in my heart. God knows what I’m going to tell the judge. Then you’ll see what happens. All I have to do is tell the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, like you’re supposed to. Then everything will be fine.”

Friday, November 7, 2008

Sarah Palin is SO Dumb . . .


Of course, this does raise a few questions about journalism and responsiblity to the public.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Heroes, Then & Now: The Twin Sagas of John McCain and William Ayers

There’s something strangely inconsistent about a nation and a press that will praise you when you say "Be non-violent toward [Selma, Alabama segregationist sheriff] Jim Clark," but will curse and damn you when you say, "Be non-violent toward little brown Vietnamese children."
--Martin Luther King, Jr. 'Why I am Opposed to the War in Vietnam"

The more important the rule, the greater is the likelihood that knowledge is based on avoided tests.
--American Sociologist Harold Garfinkel, “Studies in Ethnomethodology”

Thanks to the McCain-Palin campaign, Bill Ayers has more name recognition today as a former bomber, than he ever had back in the day when he actually was conspiring to plant bombs. Just why Mr. Ayers felt compelled to plant bombs forty years ago, however, is a question left unasked. Likewise, no one feels particularly compelled today to ask John McCain what exactly did the senior senator from Arizona do during the Vietnam War. The agreed upon consensus is that the former was a “terrorist,” while the latter was a “hero.” Everybody knows that.

Which I find troublesome, and not just because the kindler gentler race mobs that pass for Governor Palin’s political rallies also “know” that Senator Obama is the Manchurian Candidate Muslim prophesized in the Revelation of St. John as the communistic socialist Anti-Christ--after all, there’s no denying his people killed Christ.

So, why is William Ayers a “terrorist,” while Senator McCain a “war hero”? Unfortunately, even at first glance, the clear answer starts to blur. Bill Ayers and the loose confederation that made up Weather Underground were a self-anointed American wing of the Vietnamese National Liberation Front, or Vietcong. Consequently, they were on a mission from god (so to speak) to place raggedy, homemade bombs in “military targets,” to help discourage America from bombing Vietnam. So far so good: he's a terrorist.

But why was America in general, and John McCain in particular, bombing Vietnam?

Just what exactly makes Senator John McCain's combat experience "heroic"? How should--or even could--you explain how John McCain was 'fighting for his country' in Vietnam? Why isn’t Senator McCain a terrorist, not entirely dissimilar from the terrorists who bombed the World Trade Center Buildings and the Pentagon? And if there are no good answers to those questions, then why isn’t Bill Ayers a hero, for putting his life and liberty at risk, in a futile (if not silly) effort to stop an activity most of the world considered (both then and now) a crime against humanity?

The Vietnam War

These facts are not in dispute. During the Second World War, several Vietnamese nationalist groups formed the Viet Minh, under the nominal leadership of Ho Chi Minh, to fight Japanese occupation. After Japan was defeated, the Vietnamese expected they would be granted their independence, in recognition for their contributions to the Allied war effort. France, however, refused to give up its holdings in Indochina. The Viet Minh, having trained from fighting the Japanese, began fighting the French. In 1954, a peace conference was held in Geneva, involving France, Cambodia, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (what eventually became North Vietnam), Laos, the Peoples' Republic of China, State of Vietnam (South Vietnam), the Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom. The United States had been supporting France's efforts to preserve colonial rule, even aiding the newly created Vietnamese National Army to combat the Viet Minh. However, the United States refused to participate in or even recognize the Geneva peace conference.

On April 27 1954, the conference produced the Geneva Accords: Vietnam was nominally given its independence, and the country partitioned into northern and southern zones. The Accord also provided that Vietnam would be unified, following internationally supervised free elections in July 1956.

In 1955, elections (as such) were held in South Vietnam, with Emperor Bao Dai running on a platform to restore the monarchy, opposed by Ngo Dinh Diem, who vowed to create some unspecified form of republican government. Diem, though, did have a base of support in Vietnam's Catholic minority, as opposed to the Buddhist majority. Additionally, Diem had the backing of the Americans, as well as control over the existing governmental apparatus in the South (such as it was). Even though Diem would have been elected president under any semblance of a free election, he preferred to be 'elected' by 98.2% of the vote, including winning 133% of the registered voters in Saigon.

As the date for the July 1956 elections drew near, it was clear that Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh would win by a substantial margin in every part of Vietnam. Rather than face certain defeat, President Diem and his American backers withdrew from the elections, claiming that the Republic of Vietnam had not been part of the Accords, and therefore was not bound by them.

South Vietnam under the rule of President Diem and his extended family quickly devolved into a morass of incompetence and corruption. By December 1960, disparate South Vietnamese groups of communists, nationalists, and people generally opposed to President Diem formed the National Liberation Front (Vietcong), to fight the autocratic rule of the Diem family. Most of the fighting of the 'Vietnam War' prior to 1968 was between Southerners: the Vietcong versus the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN). That changed, however, following February and March of 1968, when the entire nation of South Vietnam exploded in combat during the Tet Offensive. In putting down the Tet Offensive, significant numbers of Vietcong soldiers and cadre were killed, leaving the Vietcong virtually destroyed as a fighting and political force. Only after Tet did the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) start sending large numbers of soldiers into South Vietnam to continue the war against escalating numbers of American troops and an increasingly ineffective ARVN. An excellent book on Tet and its aftermath is Ronald H. Spector's “After Tet, The Bloodiest Year in Vietnam” (Free Press, 1993).

With that background in mind, here are the circumstances of Senator McCain's combat experience. On October 26 1967, Senator McCain was flying his twenty-third bombing mission, bombing Hanoi. His plane was a A-4E Skyhawk, which carried 9,900 pounds of bombs and four missiles. His plane was shot down by a Vietnamese missile, and he was badly injured when he parachuted into Truc Bach Lake in Hanoi. He was pulled ashore, then badly beaten. Senator McCain was then placed in a POW camp, where he was badly treated, frequently tortured, and released five and a half years later, on March 14 1973. Almost two years later to the day, in April 1975, the South Vietnamese Government collapsed, with the debacle of US helicopters desperately airlifting refugees from the roof of the American embassy. Seventeen years of war had ended, and ended for less than nothing.

Had the United States honored the Geneva Accords, and allowed the July 1956 elections, Vietnam would have been united--but united under a system that would have had to recognize the pluralistic nature of its society. By 1975, much of the Vietcong as a governing body had been killed, and no opposition remained in the North. The totalitarian communist nightmare predicted by the west came true--but only after another generation of Vietnamese lost to war.

Senator McCain’s Sacrifice was of No Help to Vietnam . . .

How did Senator McCain’s war service benefit the Vietnamese people? And what were the American interests Senator McCain was fighting for in Southeast Asia?

There is no dispute that American military involvement in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia was nothing less than an unmitigated nightmare in the lives of those peoples. During America's involvement in Vietnam, North Vietnam was one of the world's poorest countries. Nevertheless, the world's most powerful nation dropped more bombs in tonnage on an area the size of New Jersey, than were dropped in the entire European theater during the Second World War. That level of bombardment does not even include the napalm, the Agent Orange and other defoliants, or the 'anti-personnel' weapons that were dropped. If you are interested in more information, I recommend “Hearts and Minds,” the 1974 documentary by Peter Davis. Specific to Senator McCain’s role, Senator McCain’s twenty-four bombing missions were aimed at civilian targets, because there were no targets in Hanoi that could be defined as “military.” From the perspective of radical Islamists and the third world (as well as the Americans selecting ‘military targets’ to bomb in Baghdad, Belgrade, and Afghanistan) the World Trade Center was a much clearer military target than anything 1967 Hanoi had to offer.

Nor can it be argued that Senator McCain was bombing North Vietnam to help preserve “democracy” in South Vietnam. Presidents Diem and Thieu, as well as the circus of incompetent Generals who seized and lost power in South Vietnam, did not even pretend to build any semblance of a representative democracy, or even a government that existed for any purpose other than to enrich the current ruling clique.

Therefore, Senator McCain's military service cannot be considered heroic, in the sense he was helping the Vietnamese people.

. . . Nor Did Senator McCain’s Service Support Any American Interest

So, if Senator McCain's bombing of Hanoi was not assisting the Vietnamese people, then what American interests were advanced by his service? The short answer is “none.” In 1967, the rationale for American involvement was to prevent Mao Zedong's China from establishing domination in southeast Asia. Ho Chi Minh and the North Vietnamese were seen by the West as puppets, under the complete direction of China. Even at the time, that view was ridiculous, and acceptable only to people wholly uninformed about the history of the Chinese and Vietnamese peoples. But from the perspective of 2008, the 'Mao's Puppet' rational is even more absurd. While China gave Vietnam military supplies during the long war with the French and the Americans, the two nations always had--at best--an uneasy relationship. When China and the Soviet Union began competing for power and influence in the Socialist world, Vietnam was always closer to Moscow than Beijing. Later, China actively supported the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, while the Khmer Rouge maintained an on-going border war with Vietnam. After Vietnam invaded Cambodia in late 1978, driving the Khmer Rouge out of the capital of Phnom Penh, China invaded Vietnam. The two nations fought a bloody, month long border war, after which both sides claimed victory—probably because there was ample evidence to show how both sides had lost.

So, to say that Senator McCain's service in Vietnam was 'heroic,' because he fighting against China's domination of Vietnam--the 1960s era rationale—that is simply wrong. Additionally, no one--not even in the 1960s--honestly considered the Viet Minh a military threat to America, so Senator McCain was not 'protecting' America from anything.

Certainly, Senator McCain's actions as a POW were admirable--particularly his refusal to be repatriated until all POWs were released. But to say that his actions in bombing Hanoi were 'fighting for his country' is (at best) a distortion of history. Senator McCain, as I would argue were all Vietnam Veterans, was lied to and badly used by his government. Both he and the Vietnamese people deserved better.

So—John McCain v. Bill Ayers: Who’s the Hero?

Not John McCain. But because I live in Oregon USA, not Bill Ayers either. By the close of the 1960s, a clear majority of the country had turned against the Vietnam War, led in no small part to the truly heroic eloquence of Martin Luther King Jr. As a nation, we should be embarrassed that every school child is inundated with Dr. King’s 1961 speech from the March on Washington (“I have a Dream”), much less so his final “Mountain Top” address in Memphis 1968 (“I See the Promised Land”), and his 1967 speech at Riverside Church on the Vietnam War (“A Time to Break the Silence”) is largely ignored. Dr. King lost almost all his supply of political capital when he publicly opposed the Vietnam War, the FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover seized that opportunity to escalate his private war against the civil rights leader.

But I have never lived in Hanoi. Or Hue. Or Khe Sanh. Or had my town torn up, and relocated to a prison camp called a "strategic hamlet." Or see my neighbors chopped into pieces from machine guns on a Bell Huey Helicopter or a Douglas AC-47. The now-obsolete technology on the latter could fire 300 rounds a minute, and the accompanying documentation bragged how it could "put a round in every square inch of football field in less than a minute." Would I feel the same way about the niceties of a republican democracy and non-violence on the other side of the planet, after Puff the Magic Dragon made a few passes down my block? Or seen a pregnant woman miscarry, after being poisoned by Agent Orange? Or a child with plastic shrapnel in his leg from an anti-personnel weapon--designed so that an x-ray will not locate the pieces under the skin? Michael Herr in "Dispatches" quotes a marine saying "Spooky understands." I am so fortunate in that I can choose not to understand. For my generation and those that followed, Phoenix is nothing more than a place where it gets too hot in the summer.