Saturday, October 31, 2009

Military SF author David Drake on Afghanistan (sort of)

If you don't know who David Drake is, you don't read science fiction. He is a Vietnam vet (with the Blackhorse) whose experiences there caused him literally to recreate military science fiction based on his experiences there. He is the creator of Hammer's Slammers, which is [if its not an oxymoron] some of the most realistic combat writing about wars that never happened that you will ever find.

Recently I have been reading a Baen books reprint of some of Mark Geston's classic SF that has an introduction written a few years back by David Drake. Drake is making the point the he first encountered Geston's work on returning from Vietnam, which causes him to take a four paragraph detour into Vietnam as an American experience.

What strikes me about this piece is what would happen if you changed the names.

Vietnam = Afghanistan
Eisenhower = Bush
Lebanon = Iraq
JFK/LBJ = Obama
McNamara = Gates
Westmoreland = McChrystal

Here's the original; you make the changes yourself:

When I entered college in 1963, the Vietnam War was a squabble in a distant place. There'd been similar squabbles in my memory--rather a bad one in Lebanon, for example--but that had been with Eisenhower as President. Now our president was Kennedy and shortly Johnson; and perhaps more important their Secretary of Defense was Robert S. McNamara, a technocrat and a monster.

By the time I got my undergraduate degree in 1967, Vietnam was a storm that had broken over America and the world, shredding society and bodies. Tens of thousands of Americans had died, and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese.

That war was building without plan or purpose. Each previous failure was used as the reason for a further, greater effort; which would fail in turn, as by then everybody knew it would fail.

General Westmoreland announced light at the end of the tunnel, shortly before the tunnel collapsed on him in the form of the Tet Offensive. Politicians lied--to themselves, first, I believe, but to everyone else as well. And the war went on and would go on, and on. There was no end, and no hope.

What struck me most about this segment was

1) We have not yet withstood the Taliban's version of the Tet Offensive, which was ultimately North Vietnam's greatest military defeat and greatest political victory. We may not see one in that form because the Taliban insurgency is a somewhat different kind of opponent than North Vietnam. But I think it would be foolish to assume that if President Obama decides on a massive escalation of the Afghan War that we will not see some military response designed to kick in before the reinforcements arrive. It may actually have already started, but our media is far worse at war reporting today than it was in 1968. Strange, huh?

2) I think that the defense/industrial establishment learned more lessons from Vietnam than the anti-war movement did. What we see in Afghanistan, and how it is packaged for us in the corporate media is a result of those lessons learned, and intentionally keeps slaughter in that part of the world from becoming as visceral a part of the American consciousness as did Vietnam unwinding on the evening news in 1967-72. When people question why there is no strong anti-war movement today, I think the simple answer is that a strong anti-war movement depends on at least the silent support of a significant portion of our citizenry, which is achieved by constant access to the major media outlets. The new anti-war movement by and large doesn't understand that it was castrated before it began, and seems not to realize that media coverage of demonstrations is more important than the demonstrations themselves [a lesson, ironically, that Tea Partiers understand quite well. How times change.].

1 comment:

Miko said...

I'd say you're being a bit too harsh on the antiwar movement, although I agree that the pro-war establishment has learned quite a bit about how to force a war on people.

One of the main problems we face is indeed that the Obama-inspired apathy has gutted the movement. But even more importantly, politicians have learned that voters are irrelevant. Despite the intense hatred of Bush, he got a second term and it wasn't until McCain appeared on the scene that the public was ready to denounce Bush. And then they did so by electing Bush 3.0 (aka Obama) instead. The antiwar movement is probably using the old tactics just as effectively, if not more effectively, than we did during Vietnam. Likewise, it has strong public support even in the face of Obama's pro-war posturing. Unfortunately, the old tactics are even less effective now than they were then and the numbers don't matter. What the antiwar movement needs isn't better media coverage (although I'd take that too), but a flowering of consciousness into a more thorough and radical antistate movement.