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A Little History You Need to Know

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A Little History You Need to Know, by Ed Tubbs


In 1898, illustrator Frederick Remington, working for newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst, was stationed in Havana. Remington wired Hearst that he wanted to return, that everything was quiet. Hearst shot back: “Please, you furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war.”


Regardless that many might feign surprise, and others would truly be surprised, on a level that demonstrates we’ve got some homework to do, it is nonetheless illustrative to learn that a not horribly long ago Pew survey found that more than half of the American respondents weren’t able to identify the century in which the War of 1812 occurred. Approximately the same percentage could not name the combatants in the Spanish-American War.


I’m not running for any office, though I am running as hard as I can to inspire as many as I can to develop just the first inkling of an interest in history and the willingness to make of themselves genuine independent thinkers; even to the extent they question, if only for a moment, the details and general matters of religious faith, and dare to ask questions that truly critical thought demands be asked.


No politician will say this, but I will. The American electorate is pretty much a very uninformed and, hence, pretty stupid, electorate. The politicians always orate on the intelligence of the American voter. They’re lying through their teeth. Were they to even whisper the truth, not a one would be elected.


I’m thinking of Iraq as an icon of that utter ignorance and stupidity, and how just a tad knowledge of history would have provoked a slurry of heavy-grit questions that just might have avoided the debacle altogether. Recall how it was stated as unequivocal fact that, prior to 9/11, Saddam Hussein had teamed up with al Qaida, had facilitated the establishment of bin Laden backed terrorist training camps within Iraq, and was thus a co-conspirator in the awful deed that changed everything.


I leaped from the couch in nearly traumatic disbelief the first time I heard the absurdity. But American after American after American bought that line, to include the hook as well as the sinker. American after American after American continued to believe it, even after proof conclusive there had been no cooperative partnership between Saddam and bin Laden was laid on the table, even after the administration acknowledged there had never existed such a link. But at the time of the first postulation, I rhetorically screamed aloud, “W hen, in all recorded history, had one wholly ruthless and overtly paranoid ruler ever permitted a potential challenger for the seat of power to make camp in territories he controlled?”  (Disclosure: I didn’t actually scream that extended interrogatory. It did, however compose the thinking behind my bovine excreta epithet.)


No! It has never happened. Remember how King Herod was so apprehensive over the news of the birth of a baby that was only rumored might become king that he sent a patrol to learn the exact whereabouts of the kid — so he could eliminate the threat in its infancy. That the object of the venture was highly unique does not amend the fact the venture itself was and has been through all of history extremely typical.


Saddam Hussein, on nothing more than whispered guesses, and often not even on that, often on nothing more than the ruthless desire to preemptively make examples, had thousands tortured and murdered. Thus the allegation he would ever have knowingly permitted someone like bin Laden, or any of bin Laden’s operatives, within the borders of Iraq was at the outset absolutely, incredibly ludicrous.   


History, just the tiniest bit of it, and a down-and-dirty skeptical national inclination would have thrown that baby out with the bath water. Nonetheless, no, as dumb as the proposal was on its face, the Big Lie became truth sufficient, and millions of lives and onward to two to three trillion dollars will have been unceremoniously flushed down the toilet; not a life or limb or a dollar for any good reason.  


We had our butts kicked royal in Vietnam, and justifiably so. We puffed up our pride and marched in where we weren’t wanted, and had no right whatsoever thinking we ever had such a right.


In 1954, following the embarrassing loss by the French in the Siege of Dien Bien Phu, Ho Chi Minh negotiated a favorable cease-fire agreement at Geneva. The country, then known in the Western World as French Indochina, was divided at the 17ty Parallel into Ngo Dinh Diem’s South Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh’s North Vietnam. According to the Geneva Accords, in 1956 the country was to be united as one country, and an election was to be held that would determine who ruled the entirety of the nation.


An absolutely essential point to never, ever forget: at no time between 1954 and 1956 was there any question that the country wasn’t to be unified; an election would be determinative as to who ran it. But, in 1956, the Eisenhower Administration sacked the idea: there would be no elections! The world’s leading democracy, terrified that a communist would indeed gain the day, if the people were permitted to have any say in the matter, stood in firm opposition to the first hint of anything democratic, and instead backed a dictator.


General Maxwell Taylor later noted “First we didn’t know ourselves. We thought we were going into another Korean War, but this was a different country. Secondly, we didn’t know our South Vietnamese allies . . . And we knew less about North Vietnam. Who was Ho Chi Minh? Nobody really knew. So, until we know the enemy and know our allies and know ourselves, we’d better keep out of this kind of dirty business.”


More than 58,000 American lives and more than a million Vietnamese lives were criminally sacrificed on the alter of American hubris. We shoved our way into a business that was none of ours, to avoid communist rule of a country. And all of that later, what did we gain? A communist-run country that now manufactures parts for American corporations; something we could have had for free, if we had just bothered to study something about the area, and manage to mind our own business.


By the high price paid, Americans had an inalienable right to demand from that hard lesson, “Never again!”

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An "Old Army Vet" and liberal, qua liberal, with a passion for open inquiry in a neverending quest for truth unpoisoned by religious superstitions. Per Voltaire: "He who can lead you to believe an absurdity can lead you to commit an atrocity."
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