America's participation in the Vietnam War lasted for a decade or thereabouts. The extraordinary carnage and war crimes served no interest other than the power and profit of the military/security complex and the paranoia of the arbiters of US foreign policy.
No lesson learned, we have spent the entirety of the 21st century to date repeating the mistake. This time it is stateless Muslim terrorists who somehow were merged in official US propaganda into the governments of seven countries in the Middle East and North Africa. After 17 years of murdering women, children, and village elders, destroying the infrastructure of countries, and bombing weddings, funerals, children's soccer games, schools and hospitals, Washington has surpassed its criminal record in Vietnam.
The folly of the Vietnam War was not explicated for us until the war's aftermath. However, the folly of our 21st century crusade against evil was presented to us in monthly installments as the folly unfolded by Lewis Lapham's articles in Harper's and later in the Lapham Quarterly. These essays have been collected together in a book, Age of Folly: America Abandons Its Democracy (Verso, 2016).
Lapham is one of the remaining "men of letters" who date from a time when some Americans still existed who preferred the red pill to the blue pill. In the 21st century, awareness has been out of fashion, and there were few to learn from Lapham's demonstrations of our folly.
Lapham's book should be titled "Our Age of Folly." As I read Lapham, every age has been one of folly, and America has been abandoning its democracy from day one, if America ever had a democracy to abandon.
Few remember that the Iraq War, ongoing since 2003, was supposed to be a "cakewalk" that would last three weeks. The war would not be the multi-trillion dollar event it turned out to be. We were assured the war would cost only $70 billion and be paid for with Iraqi oil revenues. George W. Bush fired his White House economist, Lawrence Lindsey for saying that the war could cost $200 billion. The only beneficiaries of the war are the recipients of the profits of the military/security complex and the police state agencies that the "war on terror" was used to justify.
Lapham finds in Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney's announcement that the US was launching a "war of liberation to remove Saddam's regime from Iraq" the same hubris, arrogance, and hegemonic aspirations that caused ancient Athens to ruin itself in the Peloponnesian War. Reading Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War, Lapham reports, "was as if I were reading the front page of the New York Times or the Pentagon's Defense Planning Guidance."
Being a man of letters, Lapham can make words dance and bite, and many are bitten. Michael Ignatieff, "a brand-name foreign-policy intellectual recruited from the faculty of Harvard University," writes in behalf of Washington's exercise of America's imperial power "sententious and vacant prose, most of it indistinguishable from the ad copy for an Armani scarf or a Ferragamo shoe. Too much direct quotation from the professor's text might be mistaken for unkindness."
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