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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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We copy editors are the skeptics, the nay-sayers, the fault-finders. We look at a text expecting to find it defective and are seldom disappointed.

John McIntyre



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

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Updated every 30 minutes. Last: 6:01 PM Pacific


  01:43 AM

More cites from 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
Executive War 1964-68 (Part II)

The war was turning nasty with napalm-burned bodies, defoliated and devastated croplands, tortured prisoners and rising body counts. It was also becoming expensive, now costing $2 billion a month. [331]

In the American forces, short-term one-year tours of duty, intended to avoid discontent, prevented adaptation to the irregular jungle warfare, thereby increasing casualties since the rate was always highest in the early months of duty. Adaptation never matched circumstances. American fighting tactics were designed in terms of large troop formations making use of mobility, and in terms of industrial targets for the exercise of air power. Once in motion the American military machine could not readjust to a warfare in which these elements did not exist. The American mentality counted on superior might, but a tank cannot disperse wasps. [333]

Congress continued to vote obediently for appropriations because most members could not bring themselves to reject Administration policy when the alternative meant admission of American failure. Further, they were in large part willing captives of the giant identified by Eisenhower as the military-industrial complex. Defense contracts were its currency, manipulated by more than 300 lobbyists maintained by the Pentagon on the Hill. ... Criticism of military procurements made a Congressman vulnerable to the charge of undermining national security. [334]

In sober words Ambassador Kennan brought out the question of self-betrayal. Success in war would be hollow even if achievabl, he said, because of the harm being done by the spectacle of American inflicting "grievous damage on the lives of poor and helpless people, particularly on people of a different race and color ... This spectacle produces reactions among millions of people throughout the world profoundly detrimental to the image we would like them to hold of this country." More respect could be won by "a resolute and courageous liquidation of unsound positions" than by their stubborn pursuit. [335]

Acquiesence in Executive war, [Fulbright] wrote, comes from the belief that the government possesses secret information that gives it special insight in determining policy. Not only was this questionable, but major policy decisions turn "not upon available facts but upon judgement," with which policy-makers are no better endowed than the intelligent citizen. Congress and citizens can judge "whether the massive deployment and destruction of their men and wealth seem to serve their overall interests as a nation." [...] The belief that government knows best was voiced just at this time by Governor Nelson Rockefeller, who said on resumption of the bombing, "We ought all to support the President. He is the man who has all the information and knowledge of what we are up against." This is a comforting assumption that relieves people from taking a stand. It is usually invalid, especially in foreign affairs. "Foreign policy decisions," concluded Gunnar Myrdal after two decades of study, "are in general much more influenced by irrational motives" than are domestic ones. [336]

Elsewhere in government the sense of futility had spread, causing departures. Few resigned; most were eased out by skillful maneuvers of the President, who whatever his own misgivings did not welcome those of others, outspoken or even unspoken. [...] Without exception, all went quietly, silent Laocoons who did not voice, much less shout, their warnings or disagreements at the time. [338]

Everyone who could took advantage of the draft extension allowed during the pursuit of higher education, while the less advantages classes entered uniform. The inequitable draft, first sin of the Vietnam war on the home front, and intended to reduce cause for disaffection in the social sector, dug a cleavage in American society in addition to the cleavage in opinion. [339]

Johnson's ratings in the polls for handling of the war slid over into the negative and would never again regain a majority of support. Accounts of prisoners casually tossed from helicopters and other incidents of callous brutality showed Americans that their country too could be guilty of atrocity. Opprobrium abroad, the mistrust of our closest allies, Britain, Canada, and France, made themselves felt. [340]

The strongest prop until now, the most hardheaded of the team inherited from Kennedy, the major manager of the war, [McNamara] had lost faith in it and from then on McNamara lost his influence with the President. [...] Three months after the Stennis hearings, Johnson announced, without consulting the person in question, McNamara's nomination as president of the World Bank. The Secretary of Defense at his departure was discreet and well-behaved. [346]

The public, if accurately reflected by press comment, was readier than the Administration to let go in Southeast Asia, and readier to acknowledge, according to Time, "that victory in Vietnam -- or even a favorable settlement -- may simply be beyond the grasp of the world's greatest power." [352]

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