Sunday, October 26, 2008

Not A Quagmire, but A 'Victory'

Blogger's Note: I have spent a good portion of the day on two activities:

-- Sorting through ten years' worth of digital photos, journal entries, sundry memories and a heck of a lot of MP3s in an attempt to make an organized system out of a muddle. May I recommend that if you have a lot of stuff you've collected but haven't organized, give up now. It'll be easier.

-- Walking down the side of a canyon on a really twisted, hairpin curve road with a four-year-old who eagerly collected rocks he was going to throw in the river once we reached the bottom, only to trip over a root within 30 yards of the bank and fall flat on his rock collection, getting a fat lip.

In the meantime, I found time to finish The Day the Presses Stopped by David Rudenstine. I'm not much into legal thrillers -- John Grisham just leaves me cold -- but this one, being a true story, was more interesting. Most interesting, however, was Rudenstine's tracking of the philosophical follow-up that followed the publication of the Pentagon Papers in 1971. There were basically two camps concerning American involvement in Vietnam following the publication of this secret report: One believed that the American government made gradual steps into the war in order to make the country safe for democracy, only realizing how much of a "quagmire" Vietnam was after it was too late to disengage. Then there's the other camp, which believed the U.S. went in with eyes wide open, aware of the pitfalls but too concerned with the overriding need of "victory" to step back before it was too late. A brief quote from the book offers us food for thought as we think about the current war in Iraq and the desire there seems to be for "victory" without needlign too much about the means to that end:

"Gelb offered his own modified position: The essence of the debate over how and why the United States became involved in Vietnam was not over whether the "system worked" but over values -- why it was important not to lose in Vietnam. Gelb continued: 'Vietnam is what happened when our leaders calucalted essentially the imagined costs of losing, and not the real costs of winning. Vietnam is what happened when our values, international and domestic, were pushed to their logical extreme.' Presumably, Gelb was now claiming that whether the United States went into Vietnam aware or unaware of the costs of intervention was less important than comprehending the values that caused the intervention in the first place."

If we look at the current costs of "winning" versus "losing" in Iraq, we find the same equation as Gelb, one of the authors of the Pentagon Papers, outlined following their publication. To place all value and the costs in winning, one becomes blind to the fact that one has only imagined the costs of losing, when the cost of winning -- troop deaths, growing anti-US animosity, unstable governments still in Iraq and Afghanistan, souring relations with Pakistan, ongoing civilian deaths now at the hand of the US and its allies, rather than the proverbial "bad guys" -- has been all to high and all too real.

Just some late-night (or early morning) babbling. This book, however, was fascinating in painting a picture of a government so obsessed with winning that it did everything it could to win -- and ended up losing.

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