In a little movie from a few years ago called “The Princess Bride”, Vizzini, the Sicilian profiteer who kidnaps the young, beautiful Princess-to-be Buttercup in order to cause a war, is finally tracked down by the Dread Pirate Roberts, the masked Man in Black. Unknown to the blindfolded Princess, DPR is actually her long-lost boyfriend once, himself, captured by the original DPR, now there to rescue her. In a shell game that involved a glass of poisoned wine, Vizzini, in his pompous manner, explains to Roberts that “You fell victim to one of the classic blunders. The most famous is Never get involved in a land war in Asia.”
Many of us have been watching the 24-hour cable news war drumbeat. We are on the verge of a new “new improved war”? that appears to indeed be a major land war in Asia. Or two. This, despite the mission drift from the old new improved war against the evil ones?, a multiplicity of fronts, and the only real strategic question the decision as to whether to launch before or after the Super Bowl.
C-Span2 recently ran a feature on the Kennedy White House tapes from October and November, 1962, during the Cuba missile crisis. It was scarily close to the movie “Thirteen Days”, which, albeit dramatized, seemed to accurately portray the heated debate between Kennedy, McNamara, etc., and General Curtis LeMay, and other generals. Part of a 40-year look-back, the shows and articles about this crisis are, to say the least, horrendously timely. All tell the story of how the civilian leadership kept the military leadership under control. Odd that, today, the reverse seems to be true, the civilian chicken hawks out for blood.
Then, our country and the world stumbled to within a few hours of a war with the Soviet Union, when, thank God, the President’s measured approach to the crisis, coupled with some back channel luck, succeeded. The Soviets withdrew their missiles from Cuba in return for our reciprocal measure in Turkey. The south’s major cities, in one frightening war scenario quiz posed by Kennedy to a war tactician, on the tape, were assumed cooked as a result of a “limited” launch by Cuba of only 5-8 missiles, in response to our first attack.
I was a kid of 11 or so at the time in Georgia, the state after Florida closest to Cuba. I remember the “duck and cover” exercises, and the fears of my family and teachers. Of course, we did not know at the time, none of us, how close we came. What would have happened if this crisis had happened after LBJ made the tragic transition to the presidency, and Brezhnev replaced Krushchev, both changes coming within a short time of this showdown. God only knows.
Like LBJ’s Gulf of Tonkin resolution, the Commander-in-Chief has sweet-talked through, in the middle of the night this time, a hugely deceptive but more Constitutionally questionable Congressional green light. Let’s hope the UN resists more effectively than did most of the Democrats. Now that the U.S. has slogged into a half-dozen other fronts, can you say military and foreign relations quagmire?
Eisenhower’s classic parting criticism of the military-industrial complex, even ahead of the build-up in Vietnam, could not have imagined the links between the Pentagon and the corporate world. With Cheney’s former corporation, Halliburton, you have a direct business interest in both oil pipelines and war logistics. Bush’s Sr’s Carlye Group, a global finance power, with the Bin Ladens as investors, have been connected to similar concerns.
This new “new improved war “? has been sloganized and branded on Fox TV and other channels (the movie of the week is not far behind). And, since some media have been mighty accomplices of the White House, which introduced the “product” after Labor Day, maybe we should add whole portions of the media to Eisenhower’s definition.
Inconvenient voices have pointed out the hypocrisy of the White House covering up the North Korea WMD ? (weapons-of-mass destruction) status until after the Iraq war powers vote. They’ve noted the ugly fact that America seems to have habitually armed and empowered many of the axis-of-evil ? -ites, and other incongruent truisms.
Meanwhile, our nation and world is now in the “eye” of the economic “Perfect Storm” that I spoke of in an article published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette the summer of 2001. The downturn of basic industries and related trade deficits, the impact of volatile energy prices and the debt crunch on consumers and corporations are now well-documented factors in the recent recession that started with the dot-com collapse, extended by the recent corporate scandals and shocks of 9/11. The new economic global shocks and energy cost increases that are bound to accompany the new improved war ? may push the nation into a dreaded double-dip recession, or worse. Our nation has a very difficult road ahead on many fronts. The fall-out on increased poverty and long-term joblessness has already been deep and troubling. A global melt-down is not inconceivable here.
The hawks have to be stopped. We need to keep in mind the words of Kennedy, as we think of a future after this uncertain time. At the end of the crisis, Jack Kennedy addressed the nation and said, “What kind of a peace do we seek? I’m talking about a genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living. Not merely peace in our time, peace in all time. Our problems are man-made, therefore, they can be solved by man. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet, we all breath the same air, we all cherish our children’s future, and we are all mortal.”
The disgusting reality may be that there is no major stumbling block to this insane steamroller until hundreds of our boys and girls are shipped home in “patriot bags” ? to devastated loved ones, or until Europeans and others are finally shocked into a more united opposition, after unacceptable levels of senseless deaths on both sides, and the inevitable “collateral damage” that breaks out not just in the theatre of war but in many other places thought safe.
But before we invade Iraq, North Korea, support another coup attempt in Venezuela, or expand the existing war-on-terror ? in the Philippines, Columbia, Georgia (over there, not Atlanta), while continuing to safeguard Afghanistan and Pakistan, and who knows where else, let’s get a couple of things straight. The costs, fortunately, do not appear to be as potentially catastrophic as a crisis 40 years ago that threatened to envelop the whole world. The fact is, though, it could escalate into a conventional firestorm in scores of countries, for dozens of years.
The world is a very scary place now. I have been more fearful than I have been since the Vietnam days, when I marched in the streets, during another hostile time for dissenters. Then, I kept an eye on an escape route to Canada or the Bahamas for myself if drafted. Now, I have children.
If you are a young man or woman in the services or reserves, or thinking of joining, and before you sign up for Uncle W’s choice travel packages to visit the scenic caves of Afghanistan, the frozen mountains of North Korea, the oil fields of Venezuela, the poppy fields of Colombia, the sand dunes of Iraq, the minefields of Indonesia, the clear cuts of the Philippines or any one of several other scenic venues (dress is casualin today’s modern, cool, new improved army ?.and the entertainment will be a blast!)you may want to remember this little rhyme from Vizzini’s rascal accomplices in Princess, Inigo (the Spaniard) and Fezzik (the Giant), as they set sail, having captured the Princess…
Inigo: Fezzik, are there rocks ahead?
Fezzik: If there are, we’ll all be dead.
T.W. CROFT is the Director of the Heartland Labor Capital Network. The Network commissioned Working Capital: The Power of Labor’s Pensions, published by Cornell University Press. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org