UNDERNEWS

Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who has covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

May 21, 2009

AFGHANISTAN AND THE MARCH OF FOLLY

Norman Solomon, Counterpunch - To understand what's up with President Obama as he escalates the war in Afghanistan, there may be no better place to look than a book published 25 years ago. "The March of Folly," by historian Barbara Tuchman, is a chilling assessment of how very smart people in power can do very stupid things -- how a war effort, ordered from on high, goes from tic to repetition compulsion to obsession -- and how we, with undue deference and lethal restraint, pay our respects to the dominant moral torpor to such an extent that mass slaughter becomes normalized in our names.

What happens among policymakers is a "process of self-hypnosis," Tuchman writes. After recounting examples from the Trojan War to the British moves against rebellious American colonists, she devotes the closing chapters of "The March of Folly" to the long arc of the U.S. war in Vietnam. The parallels with the current escalation of the war in Afghanistan are more than uncanny; they speak of deeply rooted patterns. . .

The dynamic that Tuchman describes as operative in the first years of the 1960s, while the Vietnam War gained momentum, is no less relevant today: "For the ruler it is easier, once he has entered a policy box, to stay inside. For the lesser official it is better, for the sake of his position, not to make waves, not to press evidence that the chief will find painful to accept. Psychologists call the process of screening out discordant information 'cognitive dissonance,' an academic disguise for 'Don't confuse me with the facts.'" Along the way, cognitive dissonance "causes alternatives to be 'deselected since even thinking about them entails conflicts.'". . .

During the mid-1960s, while American troops poured into Vietnam, "enormity of the stakes was the new self-hypnosis," Tuchman comments. She quotes the wisdom -- conventional and self-evident -- of New York Times military correspondent Hanson Baldwin, who wrote in 1966 that U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam would bring "political, psychological and military catastrophe," signaling that the United States "had decided to abdicate as a great power."

Many Americans are eager to think of our nation as supremely civilized even in warfare; the conceits of noble self-restraint have been trumpeted by many a president even while the Pentagon's carnage apparatus kept spinning into overdrive. "Limited war is not nicer or kinder or more just than all-out war, as its proponents would have it," Tuchman notes. "It kills with the same finality.". . .

"The American mentality counted on superior might," Tuchman commented, "but a tank cannot disperse wasps." In Vietnam, the independent journalist Michael Herr wrote, the U.S. military's violent capacities were awesome: "Our machine was devastating. And versatile. It could do everything but stop."

1 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tuchman's observations apply equally to both sides in any conflict.

May 22, 2009 12:18 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home