Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Some history to ponder

On March 29, 1973, the last U.S. soldiers left Vietnam. Almost 59,000 U.S soldiers had died; 2.6 million U.S.personnel had served in Vietnam by the time of the withdrawal. More than one million Vietnamese had died in the 17 year long war. The fighting didn't stop for another two years, at which point North Vietnamese forces overran the unpopular South Vietnamese government that the U.S. had propped up. The final fall of Saigon is the source of the famous photo of people trying to board helicopters from the U.S. embassy roof. But by then, our troops had been out for two years.

In those days, when the U.S. "left" one of its imperial experiments, it left. In Vietnam, this was because the other side "won". Ditto Laos and Cambodia.

These days we don't seem to ever get out. Having kicked the hornet's nest, we stay on but pretend the troops we leave in place aren't in combat. A Marine was killed in northern Iraq last week. In January, a U.S. soldier died in Marjah, Helmand province, Afghanistan -- an insignificant place which has suffered from U.S. attention off and on since 1946. Rajiv Chandrasekaran told that story.

ISIS is a plague on the planet. Any responsible government would be trying to eradicate it. The terror of terrorism makes us stupid and mean, as it is intended to. What we need is to be smart and brave. That's hard, but it is the only stance that is going to preserve healthy communities and states.

Oddly, the billionaire George Soros, himself a refugee from Nazi barbarism before he took up crashing currencies for profit, understands this as well as anyone.

Jihadi terrorist groups such as Islamic State and al-Qaida have discovered the achilles heel of our western societies: the fear of death. Through horrific attacks and macabre videos, the publicists of Isis magnify this fear, leading otherwise sensible people in hitherto open societies to abandon their reason.

... Science merely confirms what experience has long shown: when we are afraid for our lives, emotions take hold of our thoughts and actions, and we find it difficult to make rational judgments. Fear activates an older, more primitive part of the brain than that which formulates and sustains the abstract values and principles of open society.

The open society is thus always at risk from the threat posed by our response to fear. A generation that has inherited an open society from its parents will not understand what is required to maintain it until it has been tested and learns to keep fear from corrupting reason. Jihadi terrorism is only the latest example. The fear of nuclear war tested the last generation, and the fear of communism and fascism tested my generation.

... To remove the danger posed by jihadi terrorism, abstract arguments are not enough; we need a strategy for defeating it. ... one idea shines through crystal clear: it is an egregious mistake to do what the terrorists want us to do. ...

We can't fight ISIS by demonizing Muslims or shutting our borders to refugees. The challenge that confronts the generation that Feels the Bern is not only to take our communities back from the plutocrats, but also to demonstrate that it is possible to build a society where people of all colors and all faiths can work together for the common good. That's the true threat to the terrorists -- and also to the plutocrats.

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