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I'm Mike Pope. I live in the Seattle area. I've been a technical writer and editor for over 30 years. I'm interested in software, language, music, movies, books, motorcycles, travel, and ... well, lots of stuff.

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Just because technology makes it possible for us to work 10 times faster than we used to doesn't mean we should do it.

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Blog Statistics

Dates
First entry - 6/27/2003
Most recent entry - 12/9/2018

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Posts - 2537
Comments - 2589
Hits - 2,102,467

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Entries/day - 0.45
Comments/entry - 1.02
Hits/day - 372

Updated every 30 minutes. Last: 5:31 PM Pacific


  01:42 AM

Continuing with my folly-ful collection of citations out of Barbara Tuchman's The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam. (For background, read the intro post.)

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4
"Married to Failure" 1960-63

One thing was left out of account -- the other side. War is polarity. What if the other side failed to respond rationally to the coercive message? Appreciation of the human factor was not McNamara's strong point, and the possibility that humankind is not rational was too eccentric and disruptive to be programmed into his analysis. [288]

All the talk was of "winning the allegiance" of the people to their government, but a government for which allegiance had to be won by outsiders was not a good gamble. [289]

Asia presumes an obligation of citizens to obey their government; Western democracy regards government as representing the citizens. There was no meeting ground nor likely to be one. But because Vietnam was a barrier to Communism, the United States, impervious to the obvious, persisted in trying to make Diem's government live up to American expectations. The utility of "perseverance in absurdity," Edmund Burke once said, "is more than I could ever discern." [290]

[In 1962] American optimism swelled. Army and Embassy spokesmen issued positive pronouncements. The war was said to be "turning the corner." [...] Secretary McNamara, on an inspection trip in July, declared characteristically, "Every quantitative measurement we have shows we are winning this war." [...] At the ground level, colonels and non-coms and press reporters were more doubtful. [299-300]

Buried in Hilsman's intensively detailed report were many specific negatives, but no moves were made to adjust the information the investigators brought back. Adjustment is painful. 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." Cognitive dissonance is the tendency "to suppress, gloss over, to water down or 'waffle' issues which would produce conflict or 'psychological pain' within an organization." In the relations of subordinate to superior within the government, its object is the development of policies that upset no one. It assists the ruler in wishful thinking, defined as "an unconscious alteration in the estimate of probabilities." [303]

When asked privately how he would manage withdrawal without damage to American prestige, [Michael Forrestal] replied," Easy; put a government in there that would ask us to leave." [304]

American intelligence, which seems not to train its sights on popular feeling, had not foreseen the revolt. Two weeks before the outbreak, Secretary Rusk, deceived by the barrage of optimism from MACV, was led to speak of "steady movement" in South Vietnam "toward a constitutional system resting on popular consent" and the evidence of rising morale indicating that the people were "on their way to success." [305]

[In 1963] Field officers who had accompanied ARVN units into combat, and learned in bitterness that American training and weapons could not supply the will to fight, did their best to circumvent General Harkins' suppression of negative reports and gave their accounts of sorry performance at debriefings in the Pentagon. [...] Ap Bac bared the failings of ARVN, the inutility of the American program and the hollowness of Headquarters optimism, although no one was allowed to say so. [...] A Defense Department spokesman announced that "The corner has definitely been turned toward victory," and CINCPAC foresaw the "inevitable" defeat of the Viet-Cong. [307-308]

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