Monday, November 29, 2004

Vietnam Revisited

The following is a guest editorial written by my friend Mark, who is homeless and lives on the streets with his wife Sheri. Anyone who would like a more detailed introduction to Mark and Sheri can click here and here.

I think Mark's essay is important not merely because he opposes the war in Iraq, a subject upon which he and I happen to agree. Mark's writing reflects a view of the Vietnam and Iraq wars--and indeed, of the world in general--from the perspective of those who have been left behind in the global quest for wealth and dominance. He offers a "view from the side of the road," a perspective that is always welcome on this weblog.



Thirty years ago, the US got involved in a war in Vietnam, a small country in Southeast Asia. It was destined to be the first war the US would lose. Vietnam claimed roughly 68,000 American lives and would continue for 10 years. How many of us remember or even know why we fought that war? Our President was all over the news at the time, telling the people of America about a Communist threat in Vietnam; after all, didn’t they have the Soviet Union backing them? We were told over and over that if we didn’t stop the Communists in Vietnam, we would end up fighting them right here in America.

We lost the war in Vietnam, and the Soviet Union would eventually collapse of its own accord. Today, we even have a dialogue with Vietnam. I believe we should ask ourselves, “How real was the threat the Communists represented? Did our government, along with defense contractors and other private businesses, create a scare and waste 68,000 American lives for their own personal agenda?” The reason I bring all this up is that we now seem to be in a similar situation in Iraq. Are the similarities between Iraq and Vietnam real or imagined?

In 1991, George Bush Sr. launched “Operation Desert Storm,” which was supposed to be the liberation of Kuwait, the pretense being that if we let Saddam Hussein take over Kuwait, who would be next? After all, Iraq was accused of committing atrocities against its own people, and was said to be in possession of weapons of mass destruction. But how did the liberation of Kuwait in 1991 really benefit the US? The answer is found in companies such as Bechtel and other US corporations that received large contracts to rebuild what we destroyed while helping to “liberate” the Kuwaiti people. Is it coincidence that oil is Kuwait’s main export, and George Bush Sr. is an oilman?

Fast-forward 12 years. It’s now 2003, and we have George Bush Jr. as President, who (coincidentally) is also an oilman. Are we starting to see a connection here? Bush Jr. is now telling us that Saddam Hussein is a terrorist, that he has weapons of mass destruction and is a worldwide threat, and that it is the duty of the US to stop him now in Iraq so we don’t end up having to fight him on US soil. Is any of this starting to sound familiar?

Why haven’t we found any weapons of mass destruction yet? Also, like Vietnam, why are most of the attacks on American soldiers coming from the people we are supposedly fighting for? Obviously, there is something very wrong here that we have missed. We have for all intents and purposes destroyed the Iraqi infrastructure, and companies such as Bechtel and Halliburton, the company formerly headed by Dick Cheney, have $20 billion worth of contracts to rebuild what we destroyed. Already, Halliburton Co. has been found cheating the US—our own people! How will Iraq be able to repay $20 billion to the US? Iraq’s only resource is oil; a coincidence?

Our government would lead us to believe that the US wins all the way around. But what of all the American lives we are losing? Who is really going to benefit in the long run? Why do we let our government, at the cost of American lives and in the name of freedom, use us as pawns in their own personal board game, one that seems to be a combination of Risk and Monopoly?

On the whole, we Americans have become far too complacent in managing our country’s affairs. But the government is only part of the problem; we are the other side of the equation. We are so wrapped up in our lifestyles—our cars, clothes, toys—that we are reluctant to rock the boat, for fear of losing what we have. If we continue on this road, we will eventually lose everything, one civil right at a time. As Americans, we like to think of ourselves as intelligent and progressive. But are we? Intelligence requires logic and the ability to reason, yet most Americans accept the information they receive through the media as Gospel. It is said that magic is based upon illusion, that people generally believe what they see and hear. Knowing this, why wouldn’t the America people question what we are told by the media and the government, especially if it seems to defy logic?

We as a people need to wake up and see things for what they really are, and then we need to change them the only real way we are able: at the polls. We have the power to vote these criminals out of office. That’s what makes America great. So remember, “knowledge is power.” Do your homework and help America get back on track and back into the hands of the people, where it belongs.


Anonymous said...

I can't sign in because I don't have a blog meself, but I'm not "anonynous", I'm Johanna, & I'd like to say thanks for calling it like you see it. Indeed, the emperor has no clothes...& indeed, most of us seem to be afraid to try life on anything else but our own terms, hence, & I'll speak for just myself here, I avoid getting to the point where I have to share with anyone beyond my comfort level, or give to anyone beyond my comfort level, or really live beyond my comfort level. But I can see it out there, beckoning me to give it a try.

Sampson said...

Dear Jonanna,

Mark and Sheri came over tonight for showers and conversation; we spent half the night telling jokes. I read Mark your comment and he had this response:

"Thanks so much for writing; that's really cool. The most important part of dealing with 'comfort level' issues is seeeing what's out there, realizing that awareness is the first step. Don't try to do everything at once. There is some scary stuff out there, but also a lot of good things and good people. The most important part of awareness is knowing how to tell the difference."

Anonymous said...

Hi Mark & Sheri & Samson, Johanna again. Thanks for being willing to engage in dialog. Fire away. Bring it on. The last thing in the world I want is bland observations & tame reassurances. The path of authentic theosis is far from being bland or tame. Bring it on, brother, bring it on. I will never go where I really want to go being satisfied with polite pious platitudes. I know that. And being willing to move beyond the safe circle of relative inaction into deeper communion with what is really there for all of us to engage will require, for me, anyway, some help in the form of hashing it all out. And you're right, I don't have to do it all at once.
Samson, your story about meeting Mark & Sheri & subsequent adventures reminded me of something that my husband & I engaged in a while back, with a very wonderful man named Al Russo. Al died recently, & it all came home again...I could have done more, & not backed away.
Al was someone who you'd see hitchhiking out on the main road, looking for a ride between home & the nearest liquor store. If you dared to pick him up, what you found was a really intelligent, lovely human being, with a lively wit & irreverent humor. He was utterly charming...& sometimes totally three sheets to the wind & smelling pretty bad & just over the top. George, my husband, & I used to regularly stop & take Al wherever he wanted to go, & we would talk great long conversations with him about life & sometimes about why he drank so much. George is in AA, but he's not a prosyletizer at all, just human & practical about what it really takes to get through letting the alcohol go. So he never tried to talk Al into quitting, we just tried to understand why he wanted to be there, pickling himself on purpose, over & over again. And we'd go visit him at his apartment in low-income housing, & just hang out & listen & talk & be with him. A few times he'd been picked up by the police for being really drunk while hitch-hiking, they'd taken him off to the emergency room at the hospital, & Al had called George to bring him home. But he'd been in really rough shape, with DT's, & it had been on Sunday, with no booze available, so George would go to my studio, where he knew I had vodka for making glycerine soap with, & he'd take it back to Al just to get him through that really rough patch...
After quite a while of this we both found it harder & harder to keep picking up the pieces, because our wonderful friend really wanted to die, he had told us that he wanted to drink himself to death. So we gradually stopped picking him up, stopped visiting, stopped being involved. And that felt pretty shitty too, just knowing that we were letting him rot out there, on his own, just because we couldn't figure out a way to handle it better. And every once in a while we'd see him on the road, gradually looking more worn by the effects of all of this...until finally I read in the newspaper that he had died.
How lame is that?

Lola said...

I would just suggest that you check out some of the iraqi bloggers - such as Iraq the Model, Hammorabi, Mesopotamian and then think about whether we would have heard from these folks if the war had never happened. Also, read up on the oil-for-food scandal involving UN, Kofi Annan's son, and so forth - the amount that was embezzled stands at 21 billion dollars so far and climbing. There's a lot that aren't being covered except on blogs.

Sampson said...

First, I want to say thank you so much to Johanna for sharing the story about Al. I have no answers for the questions you are asking, but I honor your willingness to act lovingly even in the face of apparent absurdity.

I also want to thank Lola for her contribution. I do not disagree that there was much represssion in Iraq, an inhuman situation of injustice and brutality. What I disagree with is the implicit logic that there are only two options in the face of such a situation: war or the status quo. I thank an essential aspect of peacemaking as Jesus taught it to us is the recognition there are never only two options. The choice is not between war and more of the same, as our beloved president has at times suggested. I want a palette full of different hues with which to paint the world, not merely the black of violence and the white of passivity. The opposite of a black and white picture, its photographic negative, is still black and white; I want to see the world in color.

Anonymous said...

Johanna again.

Found this comment on a friend's blog about his painting. I think it adds something to what we are all talking about.

"I have wanted to paint that complexity, to show that the tragic can also be darkly humorous, to show that to know a person or an event fully we have to hold many notions, some of them contradictory, in the mind simultaneously, without judgment."

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Mark, for an insightful post. I wish Christians would educate themselves with the truth of this war. God, country, apple pie and Chevrolet continues to be the Chrisitan mantra, although quite possibly, the order is rearranged - God may only rank third or fouth. As for me, I voted my conscience and went for a third party candidate - Peroutka. Approximately 160,000 of voters thought the same way. It feels like spittin' in the wind, though. The entire two-party system (not to mention the government) needs to be dismantled and rebuilt according to the US Constitution.