Saturday, June 12, 2010

AfghaniNam-- Were Students Neutered By Abolishing The Draft?


When you think about the iconic scenes in American history, a few that probably come to mind are Paul Revere's ride, the American insurgents at Lexington & Concord, George Washington crossing the Delaware, Mary Pickersgill stitching an American flag for Ft. McHenry, Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg-- dedicating our country, for the first time, "to the proposition that all men are created equal"-- FDR reassuring a nation freaked out by the Republican Depression in his first inaugural address that we had nothing to fear but fear itself, Americans landing on the moon... There are lots more, from Sherman's thrilling and triumphant March to the Sea to the Battle of Little Big Horn and our soldiers hoisting the flag over Iwo Jima to Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech. But one that that is fading into history, but which belong up there with the aforementioned, is the pictorial that describes the massacre at Kent State.

Rick Perlstein has one of the most moving-- if stubbornly unemotional-- descriptions of Kent State in his brilliant latest book, Nixonland, although I expect more people who know about the tragic incident know about it via CSN&Y. Here's an excerpt (from Nixonland, not "Ohio"):
On the Kent State campus there were bomb threats at fifteen-to-thirty-minute intervals. Eleven a.m. classes were cut short; the commotion outside was too great. The university radio station and intercoms announced, “All outdoor demonstrations and gatherings are banned by order of the governor. The National Guard has the power of arrest.” But when a class session let out on a major university campus, it looked all the world like a “gathering.” Only a fraction of students had heard the radio and intercom announcements anyway. University administrators could have told law enforcement that. But the governor had banned university administrators-- quislings-- from the operation’s planning.

Fifteen minutes to noon. Students made their way toward whatever it was they did on an ordinary
Monday. A general saw what looked to him like a mob. Three minutes later, someone rang the Victory Bell and started rousing rabble for a noon rally. A minute after that, a campus police officer shouted the riot act into a bullhorn. He was standing by the ROTC rubble; now the military’s staging area, its ashes a constant reminder of what these students were capable of. Hardly anyone could hear the announcement.

A jeep made its way across the common: another hail of rocks.

At 11:55 guardsmen were ordered to load and lock their weapons and prepare to disperse gas. Two
columns of troops moved out in a V, one directly east, another northeasterly. The eastbound company had to summit a steep hill south of Taylor Hall, a major campus building-- the kind of slope, on college campuses, useful for wintertime sledding on cafeteria trays. As they trudged, they dispensed tear gas from their M79 canister guns. The boldest demonstrators picked up the hot metal cans and threw them back. Under suffocating gas masks, their visibility limited, the guardsmen pressed forward, determined to push the students into retreat. The militants hustled beside Taylor Hall for cover. The soldiers were unaware that they had only about a hundred yards to go before they would run into a fence. The fence curled around to keep them from moving east or north; a gymnasium kept them from moving south. They were trapped, with nothing to do but turn around-- a retreat under fire, the most dangerous of military maneuvers. Sixty or seventy soldiers, trapped. What was it President Nixon had said about the “pitiful, helpless giant,” faced with “the forces of totalitarianism and anarchy”?

Lots of roofs: from which one would the sniping begin?

They were afraid they were out of tear gas. Radicals who thought their adversaries only armed with
blanks shrieked insults, threw rocks, waved strange flags. “Pigs off campus! Pigs off campus! Pigs off
campus!” The guardsmen couldn’t tell, but felt like they must have been surrounded. They looped around for their humiliating return journey.

Then, at 12:24 p.m., several guardsmen stopped, turned almost completely around, dropped to one knee, and took aim at a cluster of students far away in a parking lot beyond the fence.

Sixty-seven shots in thirteen seconds.

Thirteen students down, mostly bystanders.

One was paralyzed. Four were killed: Allison Krause, William Schroeder, Jeff Miller, and Sandra Lee
Scheuer, ages nineteen, nineteen, twenty, and twenty. The Associated Press’s dispatch went out. The Dow dropped 3 percent in two hours-- the most dramatic dip since John F. Kennedy’s assassination.

Two Students, Two Guardsmen Dead, the local paper reported. Those two students had it coming, much of Kent decided.

A respected lawyer told an Akron paper, “Frankly, if I’d been faced with the same situation and had a
submachine gun... there probably would have been 140 of them dead.” People expressed disappointment that the rabble-rousing professors-- the gurus-- had escaped: “The only mistake they made was not to shoot all the students and then start in on the faculty.”

When it was established that none of the four victims were guardsmen, citizens greeted each other by flashing four fingers in the air (“The score is four / And next time more”). The Kent paper printed pages of letters for weeks, a community purgation: “Hurray! I shout for God and Country, recourse to justice under law, fifes, drums, marshal music, parades, ice cream cones—America—support it or leave it.” “Why do they allow these so-called educated punks, who apparently know only how to spell four-lettered words, to run loose on our campuses tearing down and destroying that which good men spent years building up? ...Signed by one who was taught that ‘to educate a man in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society.’” “I extend appreciation and whole-hearted support of the Guard of every state for their fine efforts in protecting citizens like me and our property.” “When is the long-suffering silent majority going to rise up?”

It was the advance guard of a national mood. A Gallup poll found 58 percent blamed the Kent students for their own deaths. Only 11 percent blamed the National Guard.

A rumor spread in Kent that Jeff Miller, whose head was blown off, was such a dirty hippie that they
had to keep the ambulance door open on the way to the hospital for the smell. Another rumor was that five hundred Black Panthers were on their way from elsewhere in Ohio to lead a real riot; and that Allison Krause was “the campus whore” and found with hand grenades on her.

Many recalled the State of Ohio’s original intention for the land upon which Kent State was built: a
lunatic asylum. President White was flooded with letters saying it was his fault for letting Jerry Rubin speak on campus. Students started talking about the “Easy Rider syndrome,” after the Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda movie about hippies murdered by vigilantes. Townspeople picketed memorial services. “The Kent State Four!” they chanted. “Should have studied more!”

“Anyone who appears on the streets of a city like Kent with long hair, dirty clothes, or barefooted
deserves to be shot,” a Kent resident told a researcher.

“Have I your permission to quote that?”

“You sure do. It would have been better if the Guard had shot the whole lot of them that morning.”

“But you had three sons there.”

“If they didn’t do what the Guards told them, they should have been mowed down.”

It was the end of the American war against Vietnam. It was all over but the evacuation after that. It was iconic. But it ended that war of aggression and buried the idea of a draft but it didn't end the idea of wars of aggression in general, not by a long shot. American corporate interests still needed to externalize costs in order to internalize profits in the form of security for their business and that's just what the U.S. military has been reduced to. Yesterday I read an essay by Michael Cohen in the New Republic, All Silent on the Lefty Front, subtitled, "Why haven’t progressives mounted more of a challenge to the war in Afghanistan?" As I interview Democratic challengers-- let alone incumbents-- I've found myself asking that over and over and over. And for every Bill Hedrick or Regina Thomas or Doug Tudor who understands why the occupation of Afghanistan is as futile and immoral as the occupation of Vietnam was, we have dozens of candidates-- Democratic ones-- who feel Obama knows best. Cohen, a Senior Fellow at the American Security Project:
Earlier this month, the Pentagon released a 152-page report outlining the increasingly grim situation in Afghanistan. The paper highlighted the Afghan government (and its security services) lack of capability; the enduring challenge of endemic corruption and poor governance; and the Taliban insurgency’s ability to maintain influence-- often via intimidation-- across broad swaths of the country. These challenges have already undermined U.S. military operations in Marjah, and could threaten the upcoming summer offensive planned for Kandahar, the heart of the Taliban insurgency.

The entire U.S. mission in Afghanistan, which is predicated on extending the legitimacy of a flawed Afghan government, bringing good governance to the country’s most insecure regions, and degrading the Taliban insurgency militarily to smooth the path for political negotiations is becoming eerily reminiscent of the flawed American strategy in Vietnam four decades ago.

While no one can be sure how escalation in Afghanistan will turn out, the warning signs are blinking red. Yet the reaction from many of the president’s liberal and left-of-center supporters has been
acquiescence and even silence. The Pentagon report-- like much of the recent bad news out of Afghanistan-- caused barely a ripple on the left. It’s a familiar pattern. The American Prospect, along with Salon, has devoted enormous and laudable energy to covering civil liberties issues related to the U.S. war on terror, but has run only one major article on Afghanistan since Obama’s December speech at West Point... [W]hy are so many liberal voices muted? Why after so many liberals aggressively asserted themselves in criticizing the foreign policy conduct of the Bush administration-- and in particular the war in Iraq-- have they ignored the war in Afghanistan? Over the past several weeks I asked a number of prominent progressives why liberals have been so silent about the war in Afghanistan. Several themes emerged.

First, is the obvious information gap. There are fewer reporters in Afghanistan than in Iraq-- and little in the way of TV coverage. As a result, it is difficult to get a clear sense of what is happening on the ground and what is working and not working. It is for many liberal publications simply easier to write about the debate over health care reform or other domestic issues. Mark Schmitt, executive editor of the American Prospect told me that it is “tough to produce something well-informed on Afghanistan” because of financial constraints and the challenge in finding knowledgeable writers on the ground to do actual eporting.

Second, in contrast to the war in Iraq, liberals generally support the objectives of the war in Afghanistan-- and for a good part of the past seven years have been calling on the U.S. to devote more attention to the war there, rather than Iraq. They recall Afghanistan’s role in the planning of September 11 and are aware of the continued presence of al Qaeda in the region. And many fear that a precipitous withdrawal from Afghanistan would subject Afghans, and in particular Afghan women, to
a return of the human rights abuses that defined previous Taliban rule. That makes even those with serious misgivings about the Obama administration’s strategy more willing to give it the benefit of a

Third, is the hangover from Iraq. According to Michael W. Hanna, a fellow at the Century Foundation, progressives “have yet to come to grips with the dominant surge narrative, which suggests that it was
largely responsible for turning the tide in Iraq.” Hanna noted the factors that brought stability to Iraq were largely indigenous to Iraqi society and were only partially the result of President Bush’s decision to increase troop levels. But the misunderstood “success” of the surge has led many progressives to now “feel chastened about speaking out against Obama’s escalation in Afghanistan.” Many seem to
feel that if they were wrong about escalation in Iraq then, perhaps they are wrong about escalation in Afghanistan today.

Behind all these factors, however, are the familiar (and very tricky) questions that have bedeviled progressive foreign policy thinkers for years-- namely, how do you balance humanitarian aspirations with actual U.S. capabilities and interests, and how and when should the United States utilize military force? Liberals are discovering that it was relatively easy to criticize an unpopular, incompetent war in Iraq and a foreign policy agenda that promiscuously squandered U.S. power and goodwill. But finding a solution for Afghanistan or a national security strategy that moves the country away from the post 9/11 “war on terror” narrative is far more difficult.

In fact, the lack of good alternatives for Afghanistan seems to be a major stumbling block for progressives. Many told me that it was difficult to criticize the president’s strategy without a clear sense of what should be done differently. But for the left to argue that there are still no good alternatives on Afghanistan is an implicit indictment of their own failure to come up with one.

Members of left-leaning, DC-based think tanks and advocacy organizations have either tacitly supported the Afghanistan strategy or offered tactical suggestions to improve a policy that some
privately believe is irredeemable. These are the groups that should be providing the policy ammunition for liberals to speak more authoritatively on Afghanistan.

There are a few congressmembers who are speaking up-- basically the 30 or so Democrats who opposed Obama's supplemental war budget last June and a small handful of Republicans (very small). Barney Frank, as Chair of the House Financial Services Committee, has taken an interesting approach.
A panel commissioned by Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) is recommending nearly $1 trillion in cuts to the Pentagon’s budget during the next 10 years.

The Sustainable Defense Task Force, a commission of scholars from a broad ideological spectrum appointed by Frank, the House Financial Services Committee chairman, laid out actions the government could take that could save as much as $960 billion between 2011 and 2020.

...Frank on Friday warned that if he can’t convince Congress to act in the “general direction” of the task force recommendation, “then every other issue will suffer.” Not cutting the Pentagon's budget could lead to higher taxes and spending cuts detrimental to the environment, housing and highway construction.

The acceptance of the recommendations would depend on a “philosophical change" and a “redefinition of the strategy,” Frank said at press conference on Capitol Hill.

He said the creation of the deficit reduction commission offers the best opportunity for the reduction recommendations. Frank wants to convince his colleagues to write to the deficit reduction commission and warn that they would not approve any of the plans suggested by the commission unless reduction of military spending is included.

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At 9:18 AM, Anonymous Bil said...

Perhaps, and I would like to think a lot of parents who remembered being lied to back in those days would also be marching.

Thanks Howie, by the length of this one I was sure it was Keni's:)

My weekend music contri:
4 dead in Ohio

At 12:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great article.
Our military industrial complex gets rid of the troublesome students in our army, and uses highly paid mercenaries from impoverished backgrounds instead. Those are the Vietnam 'lessons' learned by our political masters.

Revisiting the 1960's and 70's, looking at the role of protest in ending the Vietnam war is a very worthwhile exercise.

Your article deals with a question I also grapple with.........where is today's protest movement?

One sources of info that helped me was the film, "Sir No Sir" which looks at the role of military personnel who refused to deploy, fight or follow orders.
That film makes the case that the breakdown of military command was a big big part of the decision to end the war, and also might explain the insane use of aerial bombing raids near the end of the war.

The controversial take on 60's protesters and rock n roll, by Dave McGowan in his Laurel Canyon series is about as much fun as a brown acid trip at Woodstock, but well worth considering.
He asserts that in the early 60's it was hard working farmers and middle America who opposed the Vietnam war. And that our MIC knew it and needed to change that. So they created an anti war movement that was sure to offend middle America by linking war opposition with hippies. The negative reaction to the original hippie movement galvanized a large segment of middle America to support the war (they originally opposed) simply because the hippies opposed it.

I was at two protests last weekend over the Israeli massacre of peace activists. Both were small and ignored or shunned by people on the streets. Apathy was in the air..........


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