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On January 15, 1973 Richard Nixon announced a halt to offensive operations by US forces in Vietnam. Twelve days later a peace agreement was signed in Paris between the United States, northern Vietnam, the US client regime in Saigon, and the Provisional Revolutionary Government (PRG) of southern Vietnam. This agreement called for an immediate ceasefire and called for the Vietnamese to negotiate a political settlement regarding the fate of southern Vietnam.
The January 15th agreement was the same as one that Saigon had refused to sign three months earlier. It was also not that different from the agreement proposed by the PRG in 1969. The three month period before the January 15th date saw some of the heaviest bombing of the entire conflict by the United States Air Force. I vividly recall listening to the news broadcasts on Armed Forces Radio and watching the German telecasts reporting the bombing. Cynically called Operation Linebacker II by the Nixon administration, it is estimated that this particular round of carpet bombing killed more than 1600 northern Vietnamese civilians, including over 200 at Hanoi’s Bach Mai hospital alone. I personally attended two protests in Frankfurt am Main against the so-called Christmas bombings. Similar protests occurred around the world.
The peace agreement did not stop the war. It did provide Nixon and Kissinger with a way to complete their policy of Vietnamization. US troops began to be withdrawn at a greater pace and southern Vietnamese troops (ARVN) began to replace the withdrawing forces. US forces were officially only serving as advisors. As any GI, sailor, or Marine who was stationed in Vietnam after the peace agreement was signed, the war did not end. However, any will to fight that remained southern Vietnamese forces was rapidly fading. Friends of mine told me stories of outright refusal of orders by entire units. Others told me that their bosses told them to “just stay out of sight and stay alive.” The official word was that no US combat soldiers remained in Vietnam after March 1973. The truth is that US soldiers and Marines continued to get shipped off to Vietnam and many of them were involved in combat situations. Reflecting the mood among US voters, Congress cut off all official aid to the Saigon government in 1974.
A young man I know recently joined the US Marines. While I do not know his actual reasoning, I assume (through conversations with his father and the young man), those reasons included a desire to prove his idea of manhood, a sense of patriotic duty, and a personal promise he made when his stepbrother was wounded in Afghanistan in 2006. Of course, his stepbrother was in the Marines himself for similar reasons. The dynamic is repeated around the world wherever an invasion force is required by the powers that be.
The world has been told repeatedly by military and political authorities that all US troops will be out of Afghanistan. Other foreign troops will also vacate the country. Yet, the young and new Marine I write of has been told he will most likely be in Afghanistan by the winter of 2014-2015. It seems unlikely he will be going there in a non-fighting role. He is, after all, infantry. The folly of the Great Game will continue to be visited on the people of those ravaged lands. Even if regular US troops are removed, thousands of Special Forces and Marines will continue to kick down doors in an elusive search for an enemy they risk creating every time a home is entered without invitation.
In Pakistan, which is the other officially recognized nation that the Pashtun people inhabit, the war crimes perpetrated by unmanned drones piloted by a uniformed human at a computer somewhere in the United States continue. We are both responsible for the tragedies and capable of demanding they end. Like the decade long armed occupation of Afghanistan, we in the West go about our business. Our defense budgets (which have little to do with defense and much to do with war and occupation), keep pace with the rate of profit in markets and bourses, while our economies stagnate for everyone else. The far right in many western nations, whether they parade under the banner of Greece’s Golden Dawn or the United States Tea Party, pretend to be populist and in favor of the rights of the individual property owner. In reality, their programs, like those of fascists in the past, are programs designed to enhance the economic and political power of a few corporations. In the West, these groups scapegoat non-whites and racial minorities. In other parts of the world, they take their rage out on religious and ethnic minorities. The result is the same.
Hundreds of people have been killed in sectarian violence over the past few months in Iraq. The carnage and its perpetrators involved are related to those who unleashed a similar bloodbath in the wake of the 2003 US invasion—a blood bath that reached gruesome proportions in terms of deaths and the nature of those deaths in 2006-2007. The primary difference between then and now is that the role played by Washington is less obvious or apparent. Make no mistake, though, some of the responsibility for the ongoing carnage can be placed on the men and women who engineered the invasion and occupation of that nation over the past decade. Like their cousins in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Iraqis continue to pay in blood and despair for the arrogance, hubris and wanton disregard for human life casually dismissed by those whose calculations perpetrated it.
Instead of justice for the victims of those calculations, the bureaucrats, generals, industrialists, and politicians responsible collect retirement checks, dividends and accolades from their countrymen. General Petraeus plays professor at a college in New York and, when protesters confront him with his deeds, the college closes down a student organizing center, prosecutes the protesting students and begins proceedings to ban any more protests on campus. Dick Cheney, perhaps the man most responsible for the butchery referred to above, has begun a speaking tour that includes not only his ravings justifying said butchery, but also further crazed speculation that “terrorists” were going to hijack his pacemaker and rig it to kill him. This paranoia is on par with that of Hamlet’s, yet it is without the Prince’s eloquence or majesty.
When Richard Nixon, one of history’s greatest mass murderers, finally left his temporal shell, opponents and friends, reporters and politicians; all came to sing his praises. He did not deserve any of them, yet the rulers always seem to circle their wagons in an attempt to maintain the myths they want us common folk to believe. I wonder what stories will be provided when Dick Cheney and those with whom he associated with pass on. My pen stands ready to rebuke them.
Ron Jacobs is the author of the just released novel All the Sinners, Saints. He is also the author of The Way the Wind Blew: a History of the Weather Underground and Short Order Frame Up and The Co-Conspirator’s Tale. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His third novel All the Sinners Saints is a companion to the previous two and is due out in April 2013. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.