“Three-year-old girl dies after being stabbed at Idaho birthday party”

Girl’s death comes two days after man invaded her party and attacked nine people with knife

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Source:  Associated Press

How sad is that?  I’m not sure how much coverage this story received in the US but it was all over the international media.  I fully expected the assailant to be another angry, xenophobic, hate-filled white guy but this time it was an African-American man, presumably batshit crazy.  Even though the victims are refugees from Syria, Iraq, and Ethiopia, the local police chief says the evidence does not suggest the knife attack was a hate crime.  

This reminds me a little of Linh Dinh’s spot-on 2010 article House Slave Syndrome, which he begins with this thought:  A recent article declares, “Tired of war, thousands of Iraqis want to go to U.S.”  What it fails to mention is who triggered all the bloodshed. Who made conditions in Iraq so intolerable that these people must flee?

In addition to Iraq, that is also the case with Syria.  They make their way to the US only to be murdered in cold-blood.  They had to flee their home countries to the source of their suffering, a place where they thought they could find peace and rebuild their lives only to experience more bloodshed, this time their own, at the hands of a deranged killer.  

Peace, MAA

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“International Students Are Key To Continued American Economic Leadership”

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Protestors gather to demonstrate against the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision to uphold President Trump’s travel ban against five Muslim nations on June 26, 2018 in Foley Square, New York City. (Photo by Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images)

The story has been told time and time again. As of two years ago, approximately half of U.S. private companies valued at $1 billion or more (so-called “unicorns”) had founders who came to the U.S. as international students.

Yes, it’s true and I agree 100% BUT my guess is that this and similar arguments fall on deaf ears among the current powers that be because ideologues generally don’t care about logic and facts.  The anti-immigrant, nativist crowd only cares about its narrowly-focused agenda, the long-term well-being of their country be damned.  

This is a sad reality that the author points out when he mentions the obvious:  …this Administration doesn’t seem to care. What’s really scary is that the worst is yet to come. The Administration’s recent actions have led to awful images of immigrant children in cages that have gone viral and global.  Before Trump was elected, I predicted that his administration would hasten the decline of the US, as did other much more astute observers of the US political scene.  (One important bit of silver lining in all of this – knock on wood – is that the US has yet to invade, occupy, or destroy any other country, aside from the bomb that is dropped every 12 minutes.)  

NAFSA:  Association of International Educators, which bills itself as “the world’s largest nonprofit association dedicated to international education and exchange, working to advance policies and practices that ensure a more interconnected, peaceful world today and for generations to come,” is fond of trotting out the old economic contribution argument.  In addition to all of the other myriad benefits, both tangible and intrinsic, international students contribute $37 billion to the US economy.  What’s not to like and support, right?  Most of those in the America First crowd simply don’t care.  International students are perceived by some as potential national security risks who will be able to steal economic and other secrets – to the strategic disadvantage of the US.  Yeah, right.  

It doesn’t matter that previous presidents, e.g., Barack Obama, and presidential candidates, including Donald Trump himself, have spoken out in favor of encouraging a certain percentage of international students to remain in the US for the long term and contribute to its economy and society.  (For example, Mitt Romney campaigned six years ago on stapling a green card to the diploma of every international students with a degree in math or one of the sciences.)  

Follow the link to read this 28 June 2018 Forbes article in its entirety.  The concluding paragraph should whet your appetite:

As we celebrate America’s birthday next week, this issue deserves our full attention, starting with all of us in higher education, and everyone who first came to this country as an international student (of which group I’m a proud member). President Trump has already trashed America’s moral leadership, ostensibly in the name of economic gain. But these developments – both rivals pushing ahead and a reckless disregard of the impact of an isolationist approach to immigration on American higher education and talent – demonstrate that he’s also intent on trashing America’s economic leadership.

The United States’ loss is a gain for Australia, Canada, the UK, and other countries, as I upload this post.  

Peace, MAA

Postscript:  Forget about US economic leadership.  The USA is, after all, a mortal nation among other nations, in the words of Anatol Lieven.  What about remaining economically competitive?  What about meeting the basic needs of all of its citizens?  Obviously, there’s more to all of this than economic growth.  Here’s what happens in a society in which three (3) people own more wealth than 50% of the population:  Almost half of US families can’t afford basics like rent and food (18.5.18)

“Vietnam needs to embrace its history fully”

Those-who-cannot-remember-the-past-are-condemned-to-repeat-it.

This well-known and often misquoted quote by George Santayana (1863-1952), a Spanish-US American philosopher, essayist, poet, and novelist who was born in Madrid and died in Rome, literally assumes there is something learned in the first place that has since been forgotten.  This is not the case with people who don’t learn the good, the bad, and the ugly of their country’s history, or any history, for that matter.  

Vũ Viết Tuân, a Vietnamese journalist, recently wrote an article entitled  Khoảng trống lịch sử that was subsequently translated into English with the more descriptive title Vietnam needs to embrace its history fully.  This is a simple yet profound lesson that many countries need to learn, including the United States.  (The first time I began to fill in the gaps of the top-down history I was taught as a child was when I read Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States as a high school student.)  

Any culture and civilization that ever existed on our land is a part of our historical legacy.  – Phan Huy Lê (1934-2018)

I should add that Mr. Tuân wrote this article in the context of the recent national high school graduation examination and the death of one of Viet Nam’s greatest historians, Professor Phan Huy Lê, who passed away on 23 June.  

As someone who studied, taught, and conducted research in Germany, I know there is plenty of convincing evidence that this country went to great lengths and was largely successful in overcoming its Nazi past in the spirit of Vergangenheitsbewältigung, which means the “struggle to overcome the [negatives of the] past” or “working through the past”.  Sadly, the US has yet to accomplish this goal only as it relates to the American War in Viet Nam, not to mention many other tragedies of US and world history starting with the annihilation of Native American tribes in the 17th century in colonial America.  

While ignorance may very well be bliss, it is not a recommended state of mind for anyone or any society that wishes to learn from its mistakes and not repeat them in the hope of creating a better future.  

Peace, MAA

“Reform Or Eliminate EB-5 Investors Visas Programme: Trump Administration To Congress”

More importantly, reforms are needed to protect against national security risks that allow foreign nationals to invest for the purpose of laundering money or conducting espionage against us.
L Francis Cissna, Director, USCIS

uscis_logo-white-backgroundThen why doesn’t Mr. Cissna and the department of which he is director investigate the alleged abuses about which he is so concerned and that are outlined in this 23 June 2018 Bloomberg/Quint article?  Money laundering is within the realm of possibility but part of their job and that of the law firms that process the applications is to prevent this from happening.  EB-5 spies?  You’ve got to be kidding me.  That’s on terrestrial par with his boss’s wacky proposal for a “Space Force.”  

The EB-5 program is a source of cheap money from outside of the US that is used for a variety of private sector construction projects, including hotels, condos, offices, senior citizens centers, student dormitories, etc.  (If you don’t know, or are not sure, what EB-5 is, click on the link to read a USCIS description – from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.)

The concept is simple:  non-US Americans of means who want permanent resident status for themselves and their unmarried children under the age of 21 invest $500,000 (in most cases) in an approved EB-5 project.  (Each investment should create at least 10 permanent full-time jobs.)  If their application is approved and the project is successful, the money is refunded with a very small amount of interest.  Most importantly, they receive provisional green cards.  

In the case of Viet Nam, which ranks a distant 2nd – after China – in the number EB-5 applications filed, most parents do it for their children.  It means they don’t have to worry about changes in US immigration policies and laws.  Their children, the majority of whom have studied in the US, can remain there for the long term, if they so desire, and work.  They have all the rights and responsibilities of US citizens except they can’t vote, which is hardly a deal breaker.  

The EB-5 program has been a bee in the bonnet of the anti-immigration crowd for a long time, including people like Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).  This whole scenario reminds me of Bill Maher’s 2017 sketch, New Rule:  What Would a Dick Do?, in which he “tells Republicans that they have to learn the difference between being a conservative and just being a dick.”  What would a dick do, in this instance?  Eliminate the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program, of course!  Those damn ferners are tryin’ to sneak into God’s country via its southern borders and the rich ones are buyin’ themselves Green Cards and citizenship with their millions of dollars.  Many of ’em are launderin’ money and hankerin’ to become spies, to boot.  God help US!  

Is this a program that essentially sells permanent resident status that can lead to citizenship?  Of course it is, in a byzantine sort of way, and it’s one that’s been in existence since 1990.  The EB-5 Immigrant Investor Visa Program, as it’s formally known, has allowed billions of dollars to finance thousands of construction projects to the benefit of the US economy.  What’s not to like? 

Two key differences between now and then are the current anti-immigration and nativist climate (think “Make America Great Again!” and “America First!”) and the anti-Chinese sentiment because, after all, official USA always has to have at least one or two national boogeymen and whipping boys.  (The other country official USA loves to hate is…  Russia and the USSR, before the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.)  

Bottom line:  If there are abuses, deal with them.  If there are problems, solve them.  Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.  And, please, for God’s sake, let’s dispense with the hysteria about “national security risks that allow foreign nationals to invest for the purpose of money laundering money or conducting espionage against us.”  

Peace, MAA

P.S.-Here are some related posts from earlier this year:  

Viet Nam Ranks Among Top 10 Foreign Residential Property Buyers in the US (9.1.18)

Viet Nam Ranks 5th in Emigration to the United States (7.1.18)

“Air quality: Vietnamese professor calls for power price increase over unsustainable GDP growth”

The United States, with its love of big cars, big houses and blasting air-conditioners, has contributed more than any other country to the atmospheric carbon dioxide that is scorching the planet.  Source:  The U.S. Is the Biggest Carbon Polluter in History. It Just Walked Away From the Paris Climate Deal, 1 June 2017, New York Times

The title of this post was the ominous title of a recent article in the Vietnamese media.  Below is the photo that accompanied the article.  Much of the air pollution Viet Nam in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) is caused by motorbikes.  Why not require that all motorbikes sold in Viet Nam be hybrid instead of using a traditional combustion engine?  What about hybrid cars, which are non-existent?

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Traffic in Hanoi. Photo: Tuoi Tre

40% of Viet Nam’s power is generated by hydropower plants.  While coal is projected to cover over half of all electricity production by 2030, the government is also targeting renewables such as solar and wind as a high priority.  Fortunately, it made the decision to move away from nuclear power.

The Pot Calling the Kettle Black?

Aside from these obvious points, I was struck by the broader political context of the comments made by this US-educated Vietnamese professor from Fulbright University Vietnam (FUV), essentially a US university.  His recommendation is precious, a case of the pot calling the kettle black.  Which country is the biggest carbon polluter in history?  You know who.  Which country walked away from the Paris (Climate) Agreement?  You know who.  Which country is among the biggest polluters in the world?  Ditto.   

The United States of America currently ranks 2nd with about 5,414 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year.  China is #1 but the difference between the two countries is that China is actually trying to do something about it and its contribution to global air pollution is recent, coinciding with its rapid economic development.  The US can’t seem to break the fossil fuel habit and its leadership is in denial about climate change. 

Anytime the US government is involved, or any government, for that matter, there has to be an agenda.  What’s the agenda here?  A colleague suggested the following tongue-in-cheek panel topic at a Vietnamese university: “What should the international community’s response be to a rogue nation that’s disproportionately responsible for the world’s pollution and has just pulled out of the Paris Agreement?”  Now THAT would make for one hell of a discussion.  (I wonder if FUV would consider hosting it, “he asks in a fleeting moment of fantasy.”)

Consider the source.  Always.  People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.  Or perhaps this is yet another case of “do as we say not as we do”? 

Peace, MAA

Lansdale’s Ghost

Below is a review of Max Boot’s book about Edward Lansdale by Thomas A. Bass that appeared in the May 2018 issue the Mekong Review.  In case you don’t know who Max Boot, check out this Wikipedia entry.  He is one of the resident US nationalists at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).  Bass describes the CFR and Boot as follows:  The CFR provides the nabobs who appear nightly on the evening news to discourse on how the Empire is faring in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere among the 177 countries where the United States currently has military forces in operation. The CFR might quibble over tactics or parse strategies in the Hindu Kush, but US wars are invariably good wars. When it comes to counterinsurgencies, wars among the people and winning the hearts and minds of restive natives in far-off lands, Boot is CFR’s cheerleader in residence.
Here is the original Gore Vidal quote in its entirety:  After 1976, I predict (being an optimist) that the word will have gone forth to friend and foe alike that the era of American bullshit is finished and that we will now try to create that society the world has been waiting two hundred years to see: an American civilization.  It appeared in A Special Supplement: The Meaning of Vietnam published in the 12 June 1975 issue of The New York Review of Books.  As much as I admire Gore Vidal and as much as I, too, am an optimist, I believe that history makes it crystal clear that the “era of American bullshit” continues unabated with too many people, both in the US and beyond, all too happy and willing to swallow it.
Subsequent administrations should have listened to President Eisenhower, who knew a thing or two about war, and said 1) “No military victory is possible in this theatre.”; and 2) President Ho Chi Minh would have received 80% of the popular vote had a national election been permitted to take place in 1956 under the terms of the Geneva Accords of 1954.  The US decided otherwise, making the 2nd Indochina War an inevitability.   
Peace, MAA

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Edward Lansdale in 1963. Photo: WikiCommons

The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam
Max Boot
Liveright: 2018
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The Vietnam War was a dog from day one. This was the scandal revealed by the Pentagon Papers, the forty-seven volumes documenting the lies and fakery that year after year racked up bodies like cordwood. More than 3 million Vietnamese were bombed, shelled, gassed, tortured and otherwise killed in a war that Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Ford should have ended the day it began, by acknowledging that the Vietnamese beat the French at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 and that colonialism in Asia was dead.

“The word will have gone forth to friend and foe alike that the era of American bullshit is finished,” said Gore Vidal.

Unfortunately, Vidal was wrong. Not even their defeat in Vietnam could keep the US military-industrial pundit class from longing for “a better war”, a winning war, a triumphal return to world dominance. The Vietnam War has produced the best of books and the worst of books, but, as time goes on, the latter are crowding out the former, and only the latter are read at West Point and other US military academies. “The vast majority of senior American military officers … are still refighting the Vietnam War to a far cheerier outcome through the books they read, the scholarship they publish, and (most disturbingly) the policies they continue to pursue,” wrote US Army Major Danny Sjursen in a 2018 posting to TomDispatch.com.

The revisionists refighting the war are divided into two camps, says Sjursen. The Clausewitzians — followers of the Prussian military theorist — believe that the United States should have invaded North Vietnam. The “hearts-and-minders” believe that the war should have been fought at the village level as a counterinsurgency. Leading Clausewitzians include Harry Summers, whose 1982 book On Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War “became an instant classic within the military”, says Sjursen. Summers argues that a namby-pamby emphasis on civil affairs prevented a knockout invasion of North Vietnam. The war was lost, he says, by “draft dodgers and war evaders who still struggle with their consciences”.

Opposing the Clausewitzians are the hearts-and-minders, who argue that the US lost the Vietnam War by failing to adopt a small-unit pacification strategy, with soldiers following Mao’s advice “to move amongst the people as a fish swims in the sea”. The leading advocate for this strategy is Lewis Sorley, who claimed in his book A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America’s Last Years in Vietnam that the United States had already won the war by the spring of 1970, before this victory was squandered by generals and civilians clamouring for a big-war strategy. Other proponents of counterinsurgency include generals David Petraeus and James Mattis, who co-authored the 2006 US Army field manual on counterinsurgency, before going on to command US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. (Caught sending mash notes to his mistress, Petraeus was later cashiered as CIA director, while Mattis currently serves as US Secretary of Defense.) The list of those arguing that the US should have emphasised counterinsurgency over conventional warfare includes Andrew Krepinevich (The Army and Vietnam), John Nagl (Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam) and Petraeus and Mattis, whose field manual, FM 3-24, became a bestseller after receiving a laudatory review in the New York Times.

“The danger presented by either school is clear enough in the twenty-first century,” says Sjursen. “Senior commanders, some now serving in key national security positions, fixated on Vietnam, have translated that conflict’s supposed lessons into what now passes for military strategy in Washington. The result has been an ever-expanding war on terror campaign waged ceaselessly from South Asia to West Africa, which has essentially turned out to be perpetual war based on the can-do belief that counterinsurgency and advise-and-assist missions should have worked in Vietnam and can work now.”

The latest addition to this bookshelf is a tome by Max Boot, The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam. The author is a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, New York’s major think tank for the military-industrial complex, where he writes popular military histories. What distinguishes this and Boot’s three previous books is that he has never met a US war he didn’t like. He beat the drums for invading Afghanistan. He beat the drums for invading Iraq and Syria. And now he’s beating the drums for refighting the Vietnam War, this time with a winning strategy. His nostalgia is telegraphed in the title of his book, where the “road” to avoiding military defeat in Vietnam, according to Boot, would have been more civil affairs, psychological operations (psy-ops), PR, pacification teams and other strategies developed by former advertising man and master CIA spook Edward Lansdale.

This approach to fighting wars was already being skewered by Harold Pinter in the speech he gave on winning the Nobel Prize for literature in 2005. The United States “has preferred what it has described as ‘low intensity conflict’,” said Pinter. “Low intensity conflict means that thousands of people die but slower than if you dropped a bomb on them in one fell swoop. It means that you infect the heart of the country, that you establish a malignant growth and watch the gangrene bloom. When the populace has been subdued — or beaten to death — the same thing — and your own friends, the military and the great corporations, sit comfortably in power, you go before the camera and say that democracy has prevailed.”

The communists in Vietnam were promising to break the stranglehold of the Chinese merchants who controlled the rice markets, the Catholic mandarins who controlled the government and the landlords who controlled the land. The US was promising democracy and freedom, while engineering stolen elections, herding peasants into concentration camps, defoliating the countryside and killing everything that moved in free-fire zones. Boot takes 700 pages to explain how a harmonica-playing adman from San Francisco could have flipped this equation into a winning war. His argument is no more convincing now than it was fifty years ago, when Daniel Ellsberg released the Pentagon Papers and exposed Lansdale as a CIA operative whose black ops and terror teams had suffered one failure after another.

Employed as a copywriter for Wells Fargo bank, Italian Swiss Colony wines and Levi Strauss blue jeans, Lansdale, at the age of thirty-five, in a fit of patriotic fervour following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, joined the Office of Strategic Services, precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency. After World War II, he began working undercover on agency assignments in Asia. Here he did an excellent job of defending landlords and other reactionary forces that had sided with the Japanese during the war. He helped suppress the Hukbalahap movement in the Philippines, which was fighting for land reform, by labelling them “communists” and financing the military forces that tracked them into the countryside and killed them. The peasant farmers who had fought the Japanese now had to fight the Americans.

It was here in the Philippines that Lansdale perfected his tradecraft. By skimming 5 per cent of the funds allotted for the post-World War II Marshall Plan, the CIA had given itself US$200 million a year for black ops (about US$2.5 billion in today’s money). Dipping liberally into these funds (one estimate says his initial budget was US$5 million), Lansdale financed paramilitary operations, bought elections, published newspapers, mounted propaganda campaigns and engaged in psy-ops that skated into war crimes. In one notorious instance, his men kidnapped a Huk guerrilla, pierced his neck with what looked like the bite marks of a vampire and hung him upside down in a tree to bleed to death. Both Lansdale and his biographer believe that this was an effective method for spooking Huks into throwing down their arms and returning to toil on the estates of their landlords.

It was also in the Philippines that Lansdale acquired the long-suffering mistress, Patrocinio Yapcinco Kelly, who had to wait twenty-seven years — until the death of the first Mrs Lansdale and the end of anti-miscegenation statutes in Virginia (invalidated by the Supreme Court in 1967) — before she could become the second Mrs Lansdale. Boot quotes at length from their love letters, which reveal “Pat” to be the kind of native informant that every anthropologist — not to mention PR pitchman — hopes to find when operating in a foreign culture.

Lansdale was given another Asian assignment when the CIA sent him to Vietnam, beginning with an exploratory mission in 1953 and then for another two-year stretch, starting in 1954. Again, he rallied the right into a neocolonial medley of landlords, Japanese collaborators, Legionnaires, Catholic mandarins and Chinese rice merchants, although even President Eisenhower admitted that communist leader Ho Chi Minh would easily have won election as president over a unified Vietnam, if such an election — as called for in the Geneva Accords — had been held. “No military victory is possible in this theatre,” Eisenhower wrote in his diary.

After the dissolution of French Indochina in 1954, Lansdale began creating a country called the Republic of Vietnam. He took Cochinchina, France’s former colony in the south, and installed Catholic mandarin Ngo Dinh Diem, first as prime minister and then as president. He bribed Diem’s opponents, financed his military, sabotaged Ho’s government in the north, encouraged close to a million Catholics to resettle in the south, drafted South Vietnam’s constitution and then sealed the deal with a “democratic” election that Diem stole with 98.2 per cent of the vote.

Lansdale was a master at surrounding himself with a fog of PR. He even managed to rewrite the script for the original Hollywood version of The Quiet American, turning Graham Greene’s bumbling CIA operative into a celluloid crusader. Our first glimpse into the real nature of Lansdale’s activities came in 1971, when Daniel Ellsberg released forty-three of the forty-seven volumes of the top-secret History of United States Decisionmaking on Vietnam, commonly known as the Pentagon Papers. Ellsberg was actually a former member of Lansdale’s team. Between stints at the RAND Corporation, a military think tank in California, Ellsberg had served as Lansdale’s assistant in Vietnam for a year and a half, beginning in the summer of 1965. (This was during Lansdale’s second tour of duty in Vietnam, from 1965 to 1967 — an unsuccessful mission that followed another failed assignment, to kill Fidel Castro.)

The Pentagon Papers include a document entitled “Lansdale Team’s Report on Covert Saigon Mission in 1954 and 1955”, which presents itself as “the condensed account of one year in the operation of a ‘cold war’ combat team”. Lansdale’s team “was to enter into Vietnam quietly and assist the Vietnamese, rather than the French, in unconventional warfare. The French were to be kept as friendly allies in the process, as far as possible. The broad mission for the team was to undertake paramilitary operations against the enemy and to wage political-psychological warfare.”

The report goes on to describe the covert acts of sabotage and terror that Lansdale launched against North Vietnam before his agents were evacuated from Hanoi in April 1954. The team “spent the last days of Hanoi in contaminating the oil supply of the bus company for a gradual wreckage of engines in the buses, in taking actions for delayed sabotage of the railroad (which required teamwork with a CIA special technical team in Japan who performed their part brilliantly), and in writing detailed notes of potential targets for future paramilitary operations”. These operations began the following year, when mercenaries trained in the Philippines were landed on the shores of North Vietnam. After most of these saboteurs had been arrested and put on trial in Hanoi, Lansdale turned to training the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, the force that the United States put up against the communists, before engaging 500,000 troops of its own.

Lansdale created a country, began funnelling millions and then billions of dollars into defending it, and laid the blueprint for pacification, psy-ops, black ops and all the other military campaigns that would kill Vietnamese by the millions and still not prevail. “South Vietnam, it can truly be said, was the creation of Edward Lansdale,” Neil Sheehan wrote in A Bright Shining Lie. For Sheehan this proved a tragic mistake, while for Boot it was a heroic struggle for truth, justice and the American way. Boot actually writes prose like this, without irony. When it comes to rounding up peasants and throwing them into concentration camps, we learn from him that “strategic hamlets” are a “tried-and-true pacification technique”. Sometimes his prose is so purple that it’s hard to understand. We learn, for example, that soon after Lansdale’s birth, in Detroit in 1908, the “child of the nascent American Century … would have imbibed, along with his Cream of Wheat and Grapenuts, a sense that American power was spreading to every corner of the globe like milk filling up a bowl of cereal”. Is Boot saying that US power is the mother’s milk of the world? Are other countries nothing more than flakes of cereal floating in this bowl of US benevolence?

While describing Lansdale as an expert in the “cutthroat business” of counterinsurgency, Boot also wants us to believe that the man “would preach ideals of brotherly love”. He calls Lansdale a master “of the art of propaganda that he would later practice in both its civilian guise of ‘advertising’ and its military version, ‘psychological war.’” Here Boot is actually skating close to the truth by describing psy-war as the military version of PR. He admires the realpolitik involved in black ops. For him and other members of the war party, the end justifies the means. It is not with distaste that he says the OSS, “like all intelligence agencies, existed to lie, cheat, and steal for its country”.

Lansdale had a “ruthless streak”, Boot admits, “even if it required murder for hire, but he was so eager to protect his image as an idealist that he was deeply reluctant to admit what he was up to, not least to himself”. The same might be said of Lansdale’s biographer, who has produced a schizophrenic narrative that tries to recommend black ops as a useful tool for winning hearts and minds. After claiming him as the “godfather of counterinsurgency”, Boot also credits Lansdale with the growth of US special forces, the philosophy of “soft power” and the rise of military contractors. One might add to this list the use of mercenary forces, secret armies, terror teams, assassination squads and other ways of waging war while pretending to be at peace.

Boot likes to compare his book to Sheehan’s master work, but the claim is bogus, particularly when one looks at their coverage of the same events. When writing about the battle of Ap Bac in 1963, for example, instead of relying on Sheehan’s first-hand observations and meticulous research, Boot quotes from a couple of neocon lightweights intent on burnishing the image of Ngo Dinh Diem. On the next page, he displays the same bad judgement by attacking journalists for their “sensationalistic media coverage” of the Buddhist crisis (as if monks burning themselves alive on the streets of Saigon was not “sensationalistic”). Boot invariably relies on second-rate sources, dubious interpretations and crowd-pleasing attacks on the press, which he holds responsible for losing the Vietnam War. He is a tub-thumper for the neocon trope that reporting the truth about US brutality and incompetence aids the enemy.

Lansdale was smart enough to know that his attempts at nation-building had run off the rails by the time Ngo Dinh Diem and his brother were assassinated in 1963. (Diem was “cut down in a blaze of bullets”, writes Boot, incorrectly. He was actually stabbed to death on the floor of an armoured personnel carrier with his hands tied behind his back.) Lansdale knew for sure that the game was up in 1968, after the Tet Offensive. The war would last for another seven years, but by this time the US had begun brutalising the Vietnamese population with large-scale operations and committing atrocities such as the My Lai massacre, when more than 500 women, children and other non-combatants were killed in a day-long blood-letting. “We lost the war at the Tet Offensive,” said Lansdale, because US soldiers, thinking every Vietnamese a potential terrorist, could no longer discriminate between friend and foe. “I don’t believe this is a government that can win the hearts and minds of the people,” he added, before leaving Vietnam in June 1968.

This is a Council on Foreign Relations book,” Boot writes in the opening line of his acknowledgments. He is referring to the outfit that pays him as a “senior fellow in national security studies”, but also to the kind of book this is. The CFR provides the nabobs who appear nightly on the evening news to discourse on how the Empire is faring in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere among the 177 countries where the United States currently has military forces in operation. The CFR might quibble over tactics or parse strategies in the Hindu Kush, but US wars are invariably good wars. When it comes to counterinsurgencies, wars among the people and winning the hearts and minds of restive natives in far-off lands, Boot is CFR’s cheerleader in residence.

Boot is a Russian Jew born in Moscow, whose parents immigrated to the US when he was seven. He grew up in sunny Los Angeles, where he teethed on the freedom-loving poppycock of Ronald Reagan.

“I am white. I am Jewish. I am an immigrant. I am a Russian American. But until recently I haven’t focused so much on those parts of my identity. I’ve always thought of myself simply as a normal, unhyphenated American,” Boot wrote in an article published in the Washington Post in September 2017, entitled “I came to this country forty-one years ago. Now I feel like I don’t belong here.”

“Not even Trump and his nativist attorney general, Jeff Sessions, have yet figured out a way to strip naturalized American citizens of their legal status,” Boot wrote in his article, before asking — like a lot of Vietnamese immigrants and refugees currently facing deportation — “What would I do now, at age forty-eight, if I were deported to a country that I have not seen in more than forty years and whose language I no longer speak?”

After his recent wake-up call, one wonders if Boot might start writing different kinds of books, less full of patriotic gore. In the meantime, his Lansdale tome is a battle cry from the past. It is a history of neither the Vietnam war nor Lansdale’s role in that debacle. It is a love letter from the happier days when flag-draped patriots and scoundrels ruled the roost, and no one had to worry about the chickens coming home.

Thomas A. Bass is the author of Vietnamerica, The Spy Who Loved Us and Censorship in Vietnam: Brave New World (reviewed here).

The Vietnamese Student Pivot to the Great White North

This was the original title of my latest University World News article.  Why?  Because overseas study is not a zero-sum game or a black & white issue but rather a complex and technicolor phenomenon with many different forces at work, including push and pull factors. 

While it’s true that growing numbers of Vietnamese student are choosing Canada as an overseas study destination for the reasons I mention in the article, the USA remains a top destination, along with Australia and the UK, among the English-speaking countries.  The top six (6) leading host countries for Vietnamese students are Japan, the USA, Australia, Canada, China, and the UK.

Click on the screenshot below or this link to read the article

Peace, MAA

vn students look at us and head north