Just Jake

Jake Highton is a journalism professor at the Reynolds School of Journalism, University of Nevada, Reno. He teaches media law, history of journalism and advanced reporting. Highton is the author of numerous books, including "Nevada Newspaper Days." He writes a weekly column for the Daily Sparks Tribune.

Location: United States

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Obama’s march of folly

Woodenheadness is the refusal to benefit from experience.
--Barbara Tuchman

Empires are blind and cannot see the follies that they themselves commit, to paraphrase Shakespeare. America is one of the blindest empires in history.

That’s why President Obama should read an important book written by Barbara Tuchman 25 years ago, “The March of Folly.” She characterized folly as “a perverse persistence in a policy demonstrably unworkable.”

Her specific target of folly was Vietnam, an unspeakable disaster. Death toll: 58,000 U.S. soldiers and 3 million Vietnamese. Moral toll: terrible erosion of America’s prestige and supposed superior values.

The Vietnam folly, directed by “the best and the brightest,” lasted 13 years.

Yet Obama has learned nothing from that sordid history. America is still bogged down in Iraq after seven years. It has cost the lives of 4,200 U.S. soldiers and untold thousands of Iraqis. It has cost taxpayers $750 billion, a frightful waste of money.

Obama promises an Iraqi pullout but with an ever vaguer deadline. The war is unwinnable. Bombings rock Iraq daily, killing people and demolishing businesses. Still America persists in its woodenheadedness.

America is also mired in Afghanistan, where empires go to die. Yet Obama launches a Bushian surge, pouring 20,000 more troops into the folly. Still unsatisfied, the Pentagon is urging a surge on a surge.

The history of Afghanistan and how it has dealt with invaders for centuries makes it clear that U.S. intervention is still another folly, another lost cause.

Obama argues that the war in Afghanistan is a necessity, that “those who attacked America on 9/11 are plotting to do so again…This is not only a war worth fighting, this is fundamental to the defense of our people.”

This sounds like the hysterical rantings of Dick Cheney and George Bush.

Death toll of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan: 800. War duration: eight years and a folly that could last another 42.
Now America is unleashing drones over Pakistan, bombing and killing innocent citizens. The march of folly never stops.
No wonder Ansar Abbasi, a Pakistani journalist, told Judith McHale, U.S. undersecretary of state: “You should know that we hate all Americans. From the bottom of our souls we hate you.”

I too would hate all Americans if were an Iraqi, Afghan or Pakistani. Even as an American, I am infuriated by the mere sight of newspaper pictures showing U.S. soldiers in those countries where they don’t belong.

Obama has proved himself to be just another shabby politician, dissipating the hope he generated during the presidential campaign. He has endorsed a warfare state: perpetual war, permanent war.

America has an empire of 800 bases throughout the globe. Is is now negotiating with Colombia to give it a 10-year lease on bases there.

Why, for God’s sake? It is hardly cynical to suggest an answer: a springboard to overthrow Venezuela’s Chávez, an “extremely dangerous leftist,” as was the U.S-engineered overthrow of socialist Allende in Chile.

The problem in Latin America is not Chavez and other leftist leaders. The problem is poverty, hunger and huge disparities between the Haves and Have Nots, something capitalistic America cannot understand.
But that capitalistic empire is a hungry maw. It is fostered by the irresistible military-industrial-political complex.

Suing book blurbers
“Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization,” by Nicholson Baker, Simon & Schuster, 2008, 474 pp.

Book-blurbing makes used-car salesmen look credible.

Here are some blurbs for the Baker book: “riveting and fascinating”… “impossible to put down”…“an extraordinary new book”… “a bombshell”… “engrossing”… “it may be one of the most important books you will ever read.”

All lies. The book is dull and full of longueurs. It is three times longer than necessary and overflows with trivia.

We get some good quotations and anecdotes by and about Churchill and Roosevelt, Hitler and Stalin, Oswald Mosley and Chamberlain, Gandhi and Nehru. But even those are seldom illuminating.

The book starts well with the effective refrain line about each incident: “It was Sept. 24, 1933”… “It was May 24, 1934.” But after a while the device gets wearisome. We learn more about World War II nonentities than we care to know.

Yes, there are a few gems like propaganda minister Goebbels admitting that he admired "Crystalizing Public Opinion,” a book by Edward Bernays, the P.T. Barnum of American PR. Or, the reactionary Churchill calling the great revolutionary Trotsky “a mere Jew.”

But the Baker opus overall is so tedious that the book blurbers should be sued for misrepresentation.


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