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Once again, in the U.S. we reap what we sow.
March 23, 2002 10:15 AM   Subscribe

Once again, in the U.S. we reap what we sow. Now, I tend to be cynical when it comes to the activities of our government, but even I was shocked by the first two paragraphs of this article...
posted by troybob (65 comments total)

 
During that time of Soviet occupation, regional military leaders in Afghanistan helped the U.S. smuggle books into the country. They demanded that the primers contain anti-Soviet passages.
posted by MidasMulligan at 10:25 AM on March 23, 2002


What bothers you. propaganda? or propaganda under the guise of education.
posted by clavdivs at 10:25 AM on March 23, 2002


good eye midas, I was going to use an example of some Khmer texts which showed the black op fellers training Khmer Serei (sic sp) in killing the KR...when we technically supported the KR through The Kings alliance.
posted by clavdivs at 10:28 AM on March 23, 2002


s'all true folks
posted by Settle at 10:31 AM on March 23, 2002


They demanded that the primers contain anti-Soviet passages.

come on. do you really think the CIA was arguing against the anti-SOVIET passages?

was george bush the head of the CIA at this point? why do i feel like i live in a country that is very much a bull in a china shop? when was the last time you heard about blowback in sweden or new zealand?

thanks for the heads up today troybob.
posted by specialk420 at 10:39 AM on March 23, 2002


Shocked? Really?

That's history for you. Each great conflict lays the seeds for the next. The impossible terms of surrender imposed upon Germany at the end of WWI had much to do with the coming of WWII. The partnership with the Soviets in WWII fostered the cold war. The cold war laid the seeds for today's situations. (Gross oversimplifications, but hopefully the point is clear.)

It's naive to look at the present in a vacuum, neglecting to consider it in the context of the history upon which it is built. (Not that I'm accusing anyone here of doing that.)

Upon Preview - specialk420: See WWII as an example of European 'blowback.' If you want more, there are plenty, but they tend to come from less recent history.
posted by syzygy at 10:44 AM on March 23, 2002


come on. do you really think the CIA was arguing against the anti-SOVIET passages?

Of course not. Point is, neither were the Afghani rebels. They were insisting on it. The textbooks are actually an example of the Soviets reaping what they sowed. Very difficult to spin this as an example of some sort of US evil - as one must ignore that it happened in the middle of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and must ignore the atrocities the Soviets were responsible for (though both the article, and the intro post here manage to accomplish this rather dramatic distortion of the context). Also need to ignore that both then, and in the recent several months, the majority of the Afghan population seems to have welcomed the sort of aid the US delivered.

when was the last time you heard about blowback in sweden or new zealand?

When was the last time New Zealand removed a regime like to Taliban from power? When was the last time Sweden stopped a Soviet invasion?
posted by MidasMulligan at 10:54 AM on March 23, 2002


The literacy rate in Afghanistan may be as low as 13 percent. While it's pretty reckless to publish textbooks that teach readin', 'ritin', 'rithmetic, and revolution, what are the odds that the shock troops of the Taliban saw these books and could read them? Most news reports on the madrassas religious schools indicate that the only book they ever studied is the Koran. They spend the whole day practicing to read it aloud by memory.
posted by rcade at 11:18 AM on March 23, 2002


Midas, regardless of the context, do you really think it was a good idea for the US to provide text books for children promoting militant islamic beliefs? Anti-sovietism is one thing, but it's kind of disturbing that US tax dollars went to promoting fundamentalism. It's not as if the US in the 80's had no idea how dangerous radical islamic groups could be.

I know hindsight is 20/20 and all, but you'd think somebody would have the foresight to say, "Maybe we shouldn't help turn kids into psychopathic relgious zealots. Maybe that would be a bad thing..."
posted by Doug at 11:23 AM on March 23, 2002


What struck me was not necessarily the anti-Soviet message; as children in the U.S. we were indoctrinated to be anti-Soviet. What bothered me was that we participated so directly in indoctrinating children in an extremist religious position to create a resistance. I was shocked in the same sense that, say, the family of one of the 9/11 victims would be shocked to realize that the teaching of Islamic fundamentalist beliefs forming the basis of these terrorists attacks was in part conducted by our own government; that the attackers themselves may have been taught from these same textbooks.

'...some sort of US evil...'? I don't know. Did the US provide these textbooks in the humanitarian interest of Afghanistan, to help stop the Soviet atrocities, or was it in an effort to get others to fight to protect our own interests? Did we do anything to help out or help de-fuse the post-Soviet, jihad-hyped Afghanis, or did we just drop them like a hot potato when we got what we wanted?
posted by troybob at 11:44 AM on March 23, 2002


Shocked? Yup.

Bush is right when he says evil people and evil regimes have been planning or committing acts of mass destruction, murder, torture, genocide, fanaticism.

And Chomsky is also right to add these three words: with our support.

I know I'm dumb but I keep believing that somehow we're the good guys, and that somehow we're furthering the cause of progress. I think there's something wrong with the Palestinians who teach their kids jihad and terrorism. But what can we say about us, who teach other people's kids about jihad and terrorism? And then bomb the hell out of them to make them stop?

Hypocrisy, anyone?
posted by Turtle at 12:14 PM on March 23, 2002


grab em by their short and curlies, and their hearts and minds will follow. god bless the usa....land of the free, home of the brave. if u commie pinkos don't like it here, go to farkin sweden or something. bunch of pantywaists.
posted by billybob at 12:22 PM on March 23, 2002


Doug:

"Maybe we shouldn't help turn kids into psychopathic relgious zealots. Maybe that would be a bad thing..."

I think the choices at the time were communism and Islam. I highly doubt that preaching the "Good Book" in Afghanistan would have been tolerated. The books taught that they should stay true to Islam, that communism was a threat to Islam, and that they should fight against communism to save Islam. Now, replace Islam with Democracy and we did the same thing here in the US. We simply found a different button to push. Propaganda is propaganda.

troybob:

that the attackers themselves may have been taught from these same textbooks.

The attackers were mostly non-Afghan so I highly doubt they grew up on this. In fact, most were educated and middle class, with birthplaces like UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Yemen.


Did we do anything to help out or help de-fuse the post-Soviet, jihad-hyped Afghanis, or did we just drop them like a hot potato when we got what we wanted?


Well, you bring up a good point there because we did drop them like a hot potato. That's what we do. The funny part about all of that is that most of the people using terms like "blowback" and "reap what you sow" are the same political ideology that demanded immediate withdrawal from the region as soon as the Soviet threat had been neutralized. The same people who have those bumper stickers on their cars saying witty things like "In a perfect world, schools would have all the money they need and the military would have to hold bake sales to buy bombers" are the same ones who lash out that the CIA or ?? should have done a better job at protecting us. In other words, it's our selfish nature, as a country, to expect to have our cake and eat it too. We want stability but demand that we not meddle in the affairs of other countries. We want protection but refuse to adhere to preventative measures.
posted by billman at 12:22 PM on March 23, 2002


In case you're interested, the accompanying photo to this story, which shows a math textbook with pictures of knives, landmines and guns to teach simple arithmatic, can be seen here.
posted by crunchland at 12:24 PM on March 23, 2002


billman: Did those demanding immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan know the degree to which we put in place an unstable situation? Does our own stability require us to meddle in the affairs of other countries? If it does, would it be necessary for the CIA to conduct these activities without our consent or knowledge? Is it unreasonable to expect protection with such a highly funded 'Department of Defense,' or is the establishment of an 'Office of Homeland Security' an admission that the DoD never was really in the business of protecting Americans, just American 'interests'?
posted by troybob at 12:52 PM on March 23, 2002


Midas, regardless of the context, do you really think it was a good idea for the US to provide text books for children promoting militant islamic beliefs?

Actually, I do think this is questionable. I think the problem is that while it is nice to be ideologically pure sitting safely in a first world country, and easy to heap derision on the US from a safe distance in both space and time, the reality of acting in the middle-east is virtually always morally sloppy - the difficulty of many situations there almost never permits a comfortable answer. The ideal may be to deliver textbooks that only speak of love and peace and mystical beauty of Islam and all the world's religions, but the reality is that the rebels were smuggling textbooks (i.e., they risked their lives to get them in and distribute them) into a country occupied by the Soviet military - and the resistance itself was organized around a sort of Islamic nationalism. Textbooks or no, very few Afghani children - then or now - were able to read. The books likely had a small effect if any ... the larger picture is that large numbers of Afghanis were verbally teaching their children the same attitudes the books contained.

It is also necessary to remember why - that is was Soviet communists - i.e., atheists that forbid and attempted to eradicate religion - that were the occupying force. That during the occupation 5 million Afghanis, nearly a third of the population, became refugees; that nearly a million more were killed either in battles or massacres.

The way the Soviets involved children in the occupation wasn't to give them textbooks, no, it was to scatter brightly colored plastic toys around the countryside - that exploded when children picked them up.

Seen in the full context of the situation, somehow textbooks emphasizing the militant aspects of Islam - especially those whose distribution and use was sporadic at best - seems rather tame. Somehow seeing your sister's arm blown off by a toy, or a youth spent living in the hideousness of a refugee camp (from where, by the way, a lot of the Taliban ultimately came) seems a bit more likely to be the cause of a generation of violent Afghanis than a few US textbooks do.

That is the environment into which the US attempted to funnel aid and support. The likely reason both militancy and the Islamic religion were blended into textbooks - by the US, and desired by Afghan rebels - was that the nation was occupied, and religion was part of the identity - the rallying cry - of many of those who were resisting the occupation. It is not a few pictures in a textbook that turned kids into "psychopathic relgious zealots". It was their treatment by the psychopathic communist zealots that invaded their country.

The thing that disturbed me about that article, and the post introducing it, is how partial and utterly distorted a picture it paints of the context within which everything happened.

Hindsight is 20/20. It does allow one to reflect and learn. But it is also easy to take isolated events completely out of context, and attempt to use them to further some side of a current debate. Or, as in the case of this post ("Once again, in the U.S. we reap what we sow."), make it into today's MeFi bash-the-US-government post. But to do so is disingenuous at the very least, and intellectually dishonest to the max.
posted by MidasMulligan at 12:58 PM on March 23, 2002


But what can we say about us, who teach other people's kids about jihad and terrorism?

When the alternative was to have them be taught about Lenin and the workers' class struggle? We can say we did the right thing.

And then bomb the hell out of them to make them stop?

Because they changed the rules of the game many years later and turned against us? We can say we did the right thing.

Presentism is a pretty sad excuse for an ideology.
posted by aaron at 1:17 PM on March 23, 2002


Providing textbooks with a religious message is a violation of the Constitution because our government was using federal money to promote or establish a religion in Afghanistan.

This alone should give one pause when reading about these textbooks.


"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...."

http://www.au.org/myths.htm
posted by yertledaturtle at 1:19 PM on March 23, 2002


The Constitution applies to US citizens, not Afghani citizens.
posted by aaron at 1:23 PM on March 23, 2002


Just goes to show the damage you can do by getting kids to read just about anything! Let them drop out and drop acid...
posted by Postroad at 1:24 PM on March 23, 2002


Inexplicably Midas, you're making a cogent point here. Or at least I color it 'cogent' because I agree with it. But I must throw in one distinction: Nobody's shit don't not stink in this latest revelation to pass before the public. Regardless of any campaign to sway Afghani opinion and inculcate into Afghanistan's children a warrior's mentality, and that whether you even agree with the said campaign's ends or not, people, ordinary people, were played as though they were commodities, not humans. No matter which way you cut it, the fact that people were led down the garden path in interest of one distant nation's ideology is heartbreaking. These are children who apparently weren't privileged enough at birth, to be given a fair shake. And a country with millions of much more privileged kids, who went to planetariums, nature walks with the local library, had square dance days in PE, financed a meddling education policy that bred zealots instead of individual minds. Which last I checked was the true objective of having an education at all.
posted by crasspastor at 1:25 PM on March 23, 2002


Aaron,
The Constitution applies to the operation of our government whether it be in Afghanistan or in the U.S.A.

Our tax dollars are to be used in accordance with the Constitution PERIOD.
posted by yertledaturtle at 1:34 PM on March 23, 2002


midas: Speaking of toys (or food) for the children...

I've got no beef with the US government, just those parts of it that carry out actions without our consent or knowledge, fail to protect us when the consequences come back to bite us in the ass, and then pretend we were doing the right thing all along.

The evils of communism...always a comfortable fallback position, but US actions prove we're no saints in the world. Funny how in Afghanistan we called it a 'Soviet invasion', but in Vietnam it was 'American intervention.'
posted by troybob at 1:41 PM on March 23, 2002


troybob:


Did those demanding immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan know the degree to which we put in place an unstable situation?


Who knows? This was during the post-Vietnam era which included lots of f*cked-up foreign policy both on the liberal and conservative sides. I'm sure there were people howling into the wind at the time but most likely they were ignored on all sides.


Does our own stability require us to meddle in the affairs of other countries?


In a way, yes it does. We could simply become isolationists but last time we embarked on that course, WWII resulted and many thousands of people died because we sat on the sidelines until Japan brought the war to us. If we put Prozac into the world's drinking water, then we might be able to get along without having to meddle in the affairs of other countries but until that day, it's better to topple a Hitler early than wait until he has a massive army.

Now the problem you run into with that is that sometimes you have, let's say three choices. Choice one: An anti-American leader, a pro-American dictator, or a pro-American, pro-democracy leader with little or no support and lacking the strength to stay in power. Well, since you don't want the anti-American and the pro-democracy guy is likely to get his ass kicked and fall eventually anyway, you pick the dictator who can run the anti-American groups out and at least provide a stable government that you can deal with. Then 20 years later, he dies or is toppled and then everything that guy did for 20 years becomes a crime committed by the US.


If it does, would it be necessary for the CIA to conduct these activities without our consent or knowledge?


Depends. In some cases, you don't care if anybody knows (i.e. Afghanistan circa 2002). In other cases, it's a matter of national security. For instance, let's say that there's a power struggle going on within the Palistinian leadership and the guy most likely to win is 110% committed to killing every Israeli in the region. Would it be such a bad thing for our security, for the security of the region if that guy had a bowl of soup and had a heart attack in his sleep? Do you think it would be a good thing to advertise the fact that a CIA operative was responsible for the ingrediants of that soup?

Also it really depends on what you mean by "knowledge or consent". Just because the President doesn't ring you up and tell you what the CIA is up to doesn't mean that it was done without your knowledge or consent. As long as the CIA reports on its actions as is required under the law (i.e. to the President and to members of Congress who are specifically supposed to be in the loop) then by virtue of a representative democracy, you are being kept informed and your consent is being granted. If there's a problem within that reporting structure, we need to fix that reporting structure but under no circumstances will you ever see an effective intelligence agency that discloses to the general public everything it's doing while it's doing it.


Is it unreasonable to expect protection with such a highly funded 'Department of Defense,' or is the establishment of an 'Office of Homeland Security' an admission that the DoD never was really in the business of protecting Americans, just American 'interests'?


That's a difficult question because there are several assumptions implied in it that may or may not be true. The DoD is a military arm of the government. In terms of whether or not you can expect military protection from the DoD, I don't think recent events have had a significant impact. The US military is still the biggest kid on the block.

Terrorism is not a completely military act. It's a political act, an economic act, a criminal act, AND a military act. I think that the Office of Homeland Security simply is the acknowledgement that trying to fight acts of terrorism using responses tailored for criminal actions is not sufficient just as using only military responses is also not the most appropriate action.

Lastly, you can assume that the role of the US military was not to protect American citizens on US soil during "peacetime". That is very true. Unless there is war on US soil, the US military has some very strict limitations on what it can and cannot do and those limitations mostly have to do with protecting the citizens from the military. The CIA and the US military are supposed to be outward facing weapons that cannot be used on US citizens. The FBI, DEA, INS, and local law enforcement are supposed to protect the US citizens on US soil. In fact, even in disaster relief scenarios, the use of US military troops is highly discouraged which is why the National Guard (officially a state militia, not a federal militia) is usually called in rather than better equipped and better trained Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marine personnel. Again, this is why you see the National Guard at your local airport instead of Marines or Army soldiers. So, the answer is yes, the DoD protects US interests overseas and law enforcement protects US citizens at home.
posted by billman at 2:00 PM on March 23, 2002


yertledaturtle, while we might wish that were true, it simply isn't. The US government doesn't obtain search warrants when spying in other countries, for instance. In fact, I believe there was some controversy recently regarding whether or not constitutional rights applied to US citizens while abroad.

Midas, I really don't think this is US bashing. I think it's possible to point out that the US government may have made a mistake without "bashing" it. I'm a liberal, but contrary to popular belief, I don't want the US to crumble and fail. I don't think we're "evil." But we do make mistakes, and printing militant islamic text books for distribution in Afghanistan may have been one of them.

Billman, I don't really have a problem with the textbooks teaching Islam. As Midas points out, they wouldn't accept anything less. I have a problem with the books being militantly islamic, teaching children to count using tanks, illustrating headless soldiers, ect. I may be in the minority on the left thinking this, but I believe the religion of the terrorists played a big part in the attacks of 9/11. To see that maybe the US had a hand in fostering this religion, even if it was in a minor way, is disturbing.
posted by Doug at 2:15 PM on March 23, 2002


yertledaturtle:


The Constitution applies to the operation of our government whether it be in Afghanistan or in the U.S.A.


I think you're a little confused on this issue. The Constitution does not apply to actions the government takes outside the borders of the US. The only people the government is obligated to extend Constitutional rights to are US citizens. We choose to offer those rights in many cases, but it's not a Constitutional mandate.


"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...."


And Congress did not make a law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. Please provide the reference to the law which did so. No such law exists. We distributed propaganda in a foreign nation. We did not pass any laws which respect an establishment of religion, nor did we prohibit the free exercise thereof.

troybob:

Actually, I normally agree with the marketing friendly terms we use but I think in this case you might be mistaken.


Funny how in Afghanistan we called it a 'Soviet invasion', but in Vietnam it was 'American intervention.'


The Soviet Union did invade Afghanistan. In Vietnam, there was a democratic government that was being threatened by a communist neighbor.

crasspastor:


Regardless of any campaign to sway Afghani opinion and inculcate into Afghanistan's children a warrior's mentality, and that whether you even agree with the said campaign's ends or not, people, ordinary people, were played as though they were commodities, not humans.


Very true. In fact, so true, that it seems somewhat ironic that you don't see the fact that we are all played as commodities by our leaders whether those leaders be governments, businesses, religions, labor unions, etc. As much as we would like to think of ourselves as distinct individuals, with six billion people on this planet, chances are you're a pawn in somebody's chess game.
posted by billman at 2:22 PM on March 23, 2002


billman: Thanks for the thoughtful comments.

Yes, it's better to topple a Hitler early; however, if the oil companies like what the Hitler is doing, we'll probably hold back. As I recall, the scenario is more like this: in a choice between a pro-democracy leader/movement and a pro-American-interest dictator, we will support the dictator, help him cleanse the country of the pro-democracy movement (we'll help the effort by calling them communists and by ignoring accusations of torture and murder), give them a lot of money (a regime we can deal with); later, when the dictator and his friends make off with a fortune, the pro-democracy movement again starts to flourish, and the US declares another victory for democracy.

I think intervention is fine if the US could act on a consistent, humanitarian basis rather than purely on the basis of enhancing economic or political power. We have proven we cannot do this.

I understand your points regarding knowledge and consent; however, I think many operations like this are not secret in the interest of national security; they're secret because Americans, given the full story, would not support them.

Perhaps the problem with 'Department of Defense' is that it implies something to do with defense. Does the president ever say we need to increase the Defense budget to increase our protection of economic interests? No; he says we need to increase it to protect Americans. Since it's main goal is to conduct offense, perhaps a mere name change is the solution.

Gosh, did we not invade South Vietnam?
posted by troybob at 2:32 PM on March 23, 2002


>> But what can we say about us, who teach other
>> people's kids about jihad and terrorism?

> When the alternative was to have them be taught about
> Lenin and the workers' class struggle? We can say we
> did the right thing.


Wow, fundamentalist, militant Islam is preferable to communism? Domination by Iran/Pakistan/Saudi preferable to domination by Russia? "In God we trust" I guess. Or just more hypocrisy. We wanted to destroy the Soviet Union, and Afghanistan was just a means to that end.

Next you'll tell me we fought the Gulf War to protect freedom and democracy in the Arabian peninsula.

>> And then bomb the hell out of them to make them stop?

> Because they changed the rules of the game many years
> later and turned against us? We can say we did the right
> thing.

The rules of the game are the following: terrorism, islamo-fascism, etc. are OK when they're on our side. They're a deadly evil when they're against us. This makes sense, but let's not get too high and mighty about it.

> Presentism is a pretty sad excuse for an ideology.

"Presentism"?
posted by Turtle at 2:37 PM on March 23, 2002


you don't see the fact that we are all played as commodities by our leaders whether those leaders be governments

Who's to say I don't? One topic at a time, I usually try to stick to. Otherwise I get all confused. I was remarking on the article, eschewing a thread hijack I didn't include a soliloquy.
posted by crasspastor at 2:38 PM on March 23, 2002


thoughts on whether new US sponsored teaching materials - perhaps will feature new enemies (arabs, pakistanis, black turbaned taliban, etc...) and new "crude tool(s) that steeped a generation in violence" ??? will we be suprised if our government (US) sponsors much more of this sort of thing worldwide in the new world we live in and the "war on terrorism" ????
posted by specialk420 at 2:51 PM on March 23, 2002


aaron: As far as I know, no one all fired up with Lenin and the workers' class struggle ever so much as tried to fly jets into buildings in the heart of America's financial district (even though, y'know, that would have made more sense from an ideological perspective) or its capital.
posted by raysmj at 2:57 PM on March 23, 2002


The books may not have had much of an impact, and they're certainly less evil than planting toy-shaped bombs, but that doesn't mean it was right for us to provide them. I don't think it's moral, prudent, or wise for the US to be involved in the production of books that teach children violence.

I also have a problem with using the rationalization that the Constitution does not apply to people outside the US to justify commiting acts that go against the spirit of the Constitution. Even if that position is legally sound, it's not morally sound. Having the Consitution should mean that we believe those rights should apply to everyone, not just Americans, and we should act that way.

Perhaps the problem with 'Department of Defense' is that it implies something to do with defense....Since it's main goal is to conduct offense, perhaps a mere name change is the solution.

We could go back to the original (and more honest) Department of War.

Gosh, did we not invade South Vietnam?

No. We had advisors there starting in the late 1950s to help South Vietnam defend against the Viet Cong. We started Operation Rolling Thunder (bombing of North Vietnam) in February/March 1965, then sent the Marines into Danang to protect the airport.

PBS has a nice timeline.
posted by kirkaracha at 3:00 PM on March 23, 2002


Why don't you go research some current US social studies or history books, specialk420, and tell us if they do in fact contain anti-Arab propaganda. It would be a lot more productive than asking these USA-bashing rhetorical questions, wouldn't it ?????
posted by darukaru at 3:03 PM on March 23, 2002


troybob:

We have proven we cannot do this.

Actually, I think we have proven nothing but a tendency to act in our own economic self-interests. I don't disagree with what you say at the macro level but I do like to think that as we evolve we can become better and better at acting in an unselfish manner. One has to remember that it was less than 200 years ago when much of the geopolitical map was carved out based on colonization. It's almost funny to hear France, or Holland, or England, or Spain cry out about US foreign policy after spending several hundred years raping and pillaging the world. As crasspastor so eloquently put it "Nobody's shit don't not stink". At the end of the day, every country is going to look out for its own selfinterests. The trick is aligning your self interests with those of your neighbors so you can act in concert rather than at each other's throats.

they're secret because Americans, given the full story, would not support them.

And that is a bit tricky, isn't it? Americans are a fickle lot. Opinion polls swing wildly on many issues. Though this fact is sad, the average American, doesn't have the capacity to understand world politics. You've got college students who can't pick out Texas on a map of the US, yet we should rely on their opinion as to whether or not to implement a long term intelligence operation in a country they may or may not have heard of? As the years pass, many secret US intelligence operations are finally coming to light from WWII through the Cold War and it's a pretty safe bet that had we asked people's opinions on some of those operations at the time, people would have been against them. Many of those operations eventually proved to be successful and have been cited as reasons behind Allied successes in WWII or the eventual fall of the Soviet Union. For instance, during WWII, we had broken encryption used by the Germans yet we allowed troops to be ambushed instead of altering our plans and letting the Germans know we were reading their messages. Put to a vote of the American people, that would never be allowed (forgetting the fact that letting the American people vote on the issue would disclose the fact we were reading intercepted messages). Yet, being able to read those messages may have saved tens of thousands of lives by ending the war earlier.

Asking people's opinions on matters of intelligence strategy is like asking the crowd to vote on which play a football team should run. Again, as long as there is a chain of command and it is being properly followed and your elected representatives in the Executive and the Congress are informed and give consent, we should let them play their game instead of trying to second guess them.

'Department of Defense' is that it implies something to do with defense

It was originally called the Dept. of War but was later changed because us peace loving Americans didn't think we should have a War department during peacetime.

Gosh, did we not invade South Vietnam?

No. This is too slippery a slope to get into because I have a feeling that the thread might take an ugly turn but in the most simplistic sense, we went to S. Vietnam invited, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan and installed a government. I'm not trying to pass moral judgment since the US has done similar things in the past but there is difference between what we did in Vietnam and what the Soviets did in Afghanistan. The only similarity was the lack of focus, defined goals, and complete misjudgement of the level of enemy resistance.
posted by billman at 3:13 PM on March 23, 2002


In a way, yes it does. We could simply become isolationists but last time we embarked on that
course, WWII resulted and many thousands of people died because we sat on the sidelines until Japan brought the war to us.



WWII was not the resullt of US isolation. Many thousands of AMERICANS died because the policy of isolation ended. Japan brought the US into the war because the government of the US was actively picking a fight with Japan against the will of the American people. You have given a poor example.
posted by thirteen at 3:20 PM on March 23, 2002


"Presentism"?

Presentism is when one looks back upon and judges history using only the moral, political and social standards, and 20/20 hindsight, of the present day. For example, to say the US "created Osama and it's thus all the Americans' fault" merely because we funded the mujahadin, of which Osama happened to be one, back during their war with the Soviets, is presentism. We had no way whatsoever of knowing how events were going to play out ten years down in the line, not geopolitically or in Osama's own scrambled mind.

aaron: As far as I know, no one all fired up with Lenin and the workers' class struggle ever so much as tried to fly jets into buildings in the heart of America's financial district (even though, y'know, that would have made more sense from an ideological perspective) or its capital.

And your point is ... what, exactly? If we hadn't fought and won the Cold War, it's entirely possible, if not probable, that the Soviet Union and its myriad of Communist satellites - along with all its indoctrinated-from-childhood soldiers would have eventually flown many things a hell of a lot more dangerous into every city in the entire United States. Our actions at the time were correct. We did the right thing.
posted by aaron at 3:29 PM on March 23, 2002


aaron: While not looking to pick a fight, I can't help but see your "We had no way ... of knowing... " as a cop out from cause and effect. If you do something the consequences are (in this case) partly your responsibility. Ignorance of human nature is no excuse.
posted by jackiemcghee at 3:50 PM on March 23, 2002


aaron: Which you haven't at all proven. You couldn't have even done so during the Cold War. Not even the orginal argument for containment, George Kennan's X article in Foreign Affairs, makes such an over-the-top claim. His concern was that communism would spread as an ideology, not via the military. There is no evidence whatsoever that the Soviet Union wanted to take over the world militarily or through terrorism. And the czars were expansionist too, y'know. Surely you know that much.
posted by raysmj at 3:50 PM on March 23, 2002


Japan brought the US into the war because the government of the US was actively picking a fight with Japan against the will of the American people.

Could you provide some reference for that statement?
posted by billman at 4:01 PM on March 23, 2002


Might want to take a look at this book, aaron.
posted by raysmj at 4:05 PM on March 23, 2002


For instance, during WWII, we had broken encryption used by the Germans... [etc ad nauseam]

Which 'we' is that, billman? Been getting your history from the cinema?
posted by riviera at 4:48 PM on March 23, 2002


riviera: Actually I meant 'we' as in the Allies. As in Bletchley Park, the Enigma machines, etc.
posted by billman at 5:09 PM on March 23, 2002


I don't understand the mentality behind this pervasive neurosis that if America doesn't continually intervene a la Quantum Leap's Sam Beckett in other nations' affairs then there's a 98.2% chance that the entire world order will collapse and we'll either be enslaved by the Antichrist or end up as so many post-apocalyptic cinders. *takes deep breath* It's incredible how many people contributing to this thread feel confident in reducing major, indiscrete world events to products of one or two basic causes. (usually ones reaching back to some momentous US policy decision)
It's not that simple and the USA just isn't that important.
posted by RokkitNite at 5:16 PM on March 23, 2002


MidasMulligan: The way the Soviets involved children in the occupation wasn't to give them textbooks, no, it was to scatter brightly colored plastic toys around the countryside - that exploded when children picked them up.

Well that's the most outrageous thing I've read on this thread. As you can see from here the last thing to accuse the Communists of is not caring about educating the Afghanis - if anything they were too zealous in that respect. It is well-documented that one of the main reasons that traditional Afghanis objected to Communist rule is that the Soviets insisted on education and equality for women. And you can see from a proper timeline that the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan was not as random or universally unwelcome as you claim.

If you want to point out that the Soviets were authoritarian and undemocratic then fine, but don't carry on with the ludicrous idea that the mujahedeen and the Taliban were some kind of lesser evil that the US was right to support. That had nothing to do with what was best for Afghanistan and everything to do with the Cold War (which is now over, by the way). Telling lies about what the Soviets did in Afghanistan because you can't face the fact that the US government once did something wrong is pretty low; as you put it, disingenuous at the very least, and intellectually dishonest to the max.
posted by Gaz at 6:03 PM on March 23, 2002


RokkitNite: Yes! Go go go!
posted by bingo at 8:03 PM on March 23, 2002


I rock. :)
posted by RokkitNite at 8:29 PM on March 23, 2002


It's not that simple and the USA just isn't that important.

This is ridiculous, but hey, go for it RokkitNite. Prove your point. You threw your hat into the ring; the status quo and usual thinking is that the US is the world's leading hegemon and trend-setter. You disagree...enlighten the community.
posted by BlueTrain at 9:39 PM on March 23, 2002


George Kennan's X article in Foreign Affairs, makes such an over-the-top claim. His concern was that communism would spread as an ideology, not via the military.

I'm not sure the mode of infection is what's important here, it's the infection itself. Besides, by the time the X article was written, Kennan's views about the Soviet threat being purely ideological without a military component were already beginning to diverge strongly from those of most of the rest of the Truman Administration. Most consider his belief on this matter to have been proven incorrect by the Berlin blockade, to say nothing of the military actions in Eastern Europe over the next few decades.

There is no evidence whatsoever that the Soviet Union wanted to take over the world militarily or through terrorism.

See above.

And the czars were expansionist too, y'know. Surely you know that much.

Yes, and I would have been all for our counteracting them, as well, were they to ever prove a threat to our way of life. I will check out the book though, if my library has it. And I don't appreciate the snooty "Surely you know that much" one-liner.

I can't help but see your "We had no way ... of knowing... " as a cop out from cause and effect. If you do something the consequences are (in this case) partly your responsibility.

Jackie, there's a difference between direct cause and effect (A leads to B and we knew that it would definitely, or at least probably, happen all along) and chaos theory (we fight the Soviets by proxy in the 1980s and that indirectly causes a single man to go insane and decide we're the enemy over a decade later, a man who just happens to be rich enough to do something about his insane hatreds).
posted by aaron at 12:13 AM on March 24, 2002


Every situation is complicated, including this one. I tend to agree more with those who say this isn't really a big deal, but at the same time I wonder if those who I agree with do see this as a larger pattern of mistakes and lack of long-term vision in our foreign policy, which is something that stand out in high relief for me.
posted by chaz at 1:26 AM on March 24, 2002


Point of information, Midas - our (New Zealand) SAS is in Afghanistan now, and has been deployed there for some time...
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:51 AM on March 24, 2002


Let’s see, a whole generation is given sweet largesse
in the form of hatred, then the philanthropists are shocked when their good intentions turn against them.

Color me obtuse, I guess.
posted by raaka at 2:01 AM on March 24, 2002


aaron: You don't appreciate snootiness? How about writing intelligently, as you just did, rather than presume we all just *know* that the Soviets wanted to run suicide planes into American buildings of central economic and political importance, killing thousands of people therein?

How did the Berlin blockade prove your case at all, regardless? Precisely, I mean? Cold War politics were involved here, right, maybe even containment politics? And, no, I'm of course not saying those actions were acceptable. Oh, and Kennan warned about Soviet expasionism in Eastern Europe in the telegram from the Soviet Union to Truman admin. officials that inspired the X article in Foreign Affairs. He still didn't think a giant military buildup was necessary.

At any rate, saying that Kennan's article had practically no effect is the very definition of revisionist history.
posted by raysmj at 3:11 AM on March 24, 2002


Could you provide some reference for that statement?

There is a nice overview here.
Former Congresswoman Clare Boothe Luce found the right expression when she charged Roosevelt with having lied us into war. Even a sympathizer with Roosevelt's policies, Professor Thomas A. Bailey, in his book, The Man in the Street, admits the charge of deception, but tries to justify it on the following grounds:
Franklin Roosevelt repeatedly deceived the American people during the period before Pearl Harbor ... He was like the physician who must tell the patient lies for the patient's own good ... The country was overwhelmingly noninterventionist to the very day of Pearl Harbor, and an overt attempt to lead the people into war would have resulted in certain failure and an almost certain ousting of Roosevelt in 1940, with a complete defeat of his ultimate aims.
What follows are not the actions of an isolationist government.

15.The freezing of Japanese assets in the United States on July 25, 1941.

16.This step, which was followed by similar action on the part of Great Britain and the Netherlands East Indies, amounted to a commercial blockade of Japan. The warmaking potentialities of this decision had been recognized by Roosevelt himself shortly before it was taken. Addressing a delegation and explaining why oil exports to Japan had not been stopped previously, he said:
It was very essential, from our own selfish point of view of defense, to prevent a war from starting in the South Pacific. So our foreign policy was trying to stop a war from breaking out down there.... Now, if we cut the oil off, they [the Japanese] probably would have gone down to the Netherlands East Indies a year ago, and we would have had war.
17.When the Japanese Prime Minister, Prince Fumimaro Konoye, appealed for a personal meeting with Roosevelt to discuss an amicable settlement in the Pacific, this appeal was rejected, despite the strong favorable recommendations of the American ambassador to Japan, Joseph C. Grew.

18.Final step on the road to war in the Pacific was Secretary of State Hull's note to the Japanese government of November 26. Before sending this communication Hull had considered proposing a compromise formula which would have relaxed the blockade of Japan in return for Japanese withdrawal from southern Indochina and a limitation of Japanese forces in northern Indochina.

19.However, Hull dropped this idea under pressure from British and Chinese sources. He dispatched a veritable ultimatum on November 26, which demanded unconditional Japanese withdrawal from China and from Indochina and insisted that there should be "no support of any government in China other than the National government [Chiang Kai-shek]." Hull admitted that this note took Japanese-American relations out of the realm of diplomacy and placed them in the hands of the military authorities.

20.The negative Japanese reply to this note was delivered almost simultaneously with the attack on Pearl Harbor. There was a strange and as yet unexplained failure to prepare for this attack by giving General Short and Admiral Kimmel, commanders on the spot, a clear picture of the imminentdanger. As Secretary of War Stimson explained the American policy, it was to maneuver the Japanese into firing the first shot, and it may have been feared that openly precautionary and defensive moves on the part of Kimmel and Short would scare off the impending attack by the Japanese task force which was known to be on its way to some American outpost.
posted by thirteen at 7:03 AM on March 24, 2002


You may be interested in this other Washington Post article from November, which makes a big deal about the Taliban using the textbooks, without mentioning their origins:

Textbooks With a Subtext: 'Ahmed Has a Sword'

It looks very much as if the Post sat on this story for a while.

posted by Owen Boswarva at 7:48 AM on March 24, 2002


thirteen: Here are some counterpoints that show both sides of your points:

15.The freezing of Japanese assets in the United States on July 25, 1941. also speaks to point 16.

"The United States and Japan were still talking, with the Roosevelt Administration at least ostensibly trying to bargain with the Japanese, while objecting to the Japanese troops in China proper and Japan's claim to economic supremacy in China and East Asia's Pacific region. The Roosevelt Administration suggested a negotiated settlement between China and Japan that was "advantageous and acceptable" to both sides, including cooperation between China and Japan against "communist activities," and the Roosevelt administration suggested its recognition of Japan's hold on Manchuria and the Philippines becoming neutral.5 "

"Negotiations were damaged by Japan's move to Saigon on July 25 -- the Japanese having made another agreement with the French. The Japanese also mobilized a million of its reservists. It appeared to the Americans that Japan was choosing war. The Secretary of War, Henry L. Stimson, urged that all practical steps be taken to increase "defensive strength" in the Philippines. Roosevelt ordered the merging of American and Filipino troops into a single army, with MacArthur as its commander, and the U.S. froze all Japanese assets in the United States, closed the Panama Canal to Japanese shipping and forbade the export of oil, iron or rubber to Japan. And Britain and the Dutch in Indonesia declared similar embargoes. "

When the Japanese Prime Minister, Prince Fumimaro Konoye, appealed

"The attitude of Japan's government was expressed in a coded message that its Foreign Office sent its embassy in Germany. It complained that the empire had "to break asunder" the "ever-strengthening chain of encirclement" being woven around Japan. The Philippines, the message claimed, was "a pistol aimed at Japan's heart," and it spoke of Japan's need for military bases in Thailand and control over Thailand's rubber, tin and rice. 6 "

"On September 6, another Imperial Conference in Japan decided that if the United States did not become agreeable by the end of October, Japan would then set a date certain for commencing hostilities "against the United states, Britain and the Netherlands." In deference to Emperor Hirohito's continuing hopes for peace, talks with the United States would be allowed to continued."

As for points 18 and 19:

"On November 5, Japan's Imperial Conference set early December as the time for starting its war against the Americans, British and Dutch, with the proviso that the war could be called off if negotiations with the Americans were successful. "

". . . Roosevelt met with his war cabinet, including Stimson. Stimson suggested striking against the Japanese force moving southward without warning. Others preferred warning the Japanese that the U.S. would attack once the force crossed a certain line. Roosevelt agreed and suggested sending a message to Emperor Hirohito asking him to stop the drift toward war. Stimson opposed the idea, saying the one does not warn an emperor. Roosevelt agreed again."

And as for point 20, this one is so false, I think it draws into question every other point you've made:

"On November 27, Secretary of War, Stimson, was made aware of a large Japanese force sailing from Shanghai. Stimson suggested to Roosevelt that the War Department cable MacArthur telling him to be ready for an attack, and Roosevelt agreed. The message to MacArthur spoke of negotiations with the Japanese appearing to be "terminated to all practical purposes" and it went on to read:

HOSTILE ACTION POSSIBLE AT ANY MOMENT. . . IF HOSTILITIES CANNOT, REPEAT CANNOT, BE AVOIDED, THE UNITED STATES DESIRES THAT JAPAN COMMIT THE FIRST OVERT ACT. THIS POLICY SHOULD NOT, REPEAT NOT, BE CONSTRUED AS RESTRICTING YOU TO A COURSE OF ACTION THAT MIGHT JEOPARDIZE YOUR DEFENSE. 8

MacArthur asked for clarifications and reported that "everything is in readiness for the conduct of a successful defense." The next day the military command in Washington, in the person of General "Hap" Arnold sent orders to MacArthur and to Pearl Harbor that steps were to be taken "to protect your personnel against subversive propaganda, protect all activities against espionage, and protect against sabotage of your equipment, property and establishments." To this end, aircraft were to be moved together, wing tip to wing tip.9 "
posted by billman at 11:27 AM on March 24, 2002


It doesn't require a lot of hand wringing and equivocation to say flat out that training 5-year-olds to become suicidal holy warriors is immoral, whatever the context. Particularly if that context is a Cold War pissing match between Americans and Soviets and the only moral directive is to take the maximum piece of flesh out of the Soviet hide, even if it requires using adolescent proxies as cannon fodder. The politicians promoting that policy are criminals of the lowest form. And for those who claim that no one could have forseen the long term consequences of a policy of child abuse -- well, what more can I say.
posted by JackFlash at 12:28 PM on March 24, 2002


billman and thirteen, you both might want to read Day of Deceit which summarizes all the evidence that FDR tried to draw Japan into war. Disinfo has an interview with the author.
posted by euphorb at 12:55 PM on March 24, 2002


aaron: You don't appreciate snootiness? How about writing intelligently, as you just did, rather than presume we all just *know* that the Soviets wanted to run suicide planes into American buildings of central economic and political importance, killing thousands of people therein?

Actually, I was implying nuclear warheads (albeit at least some via bombers, perhaps). Nor did I write that we all just *knew* they would do such a thing. My exact words were, "it's entirely possible, if not probable," not "it's inevitable."

Nor did I say Kennan's article had practically no effect. I said his opinion on the question of political danger vs. military danger only was already being questioned within the Administration.
posted by aaron at 1:06 PM on March 24, 2002


aaron: You suggested that the Soviets were a greater physical danger in this dept. than Islamists or Al-Queda members of the present day, when there's virtually no reason to say this. A greater political danger, maybe, but in the long run. The Soviets were more than willing to wait. What was the use in killing us all? Maybe they thought the same thing of us, with our nuclear weapons, y'know?

You also wrote that Kennan's views were beginning to "diverge strongly from those of most of the rest of the Truman Administration" by the time of the Foreign Affairs article. Guess that's why Kennan was put in charge of the team that designed the Marshall Plan not long after the X article was published. (Marshall talked about the plan first in June 1947. Kennan's X article came out in July 1947, following the cable from the Soviet Union in 1946.) The rebuilding of Western Europe, and our efforts in Japan, did as much or more to keep Communism from spreading as an ideology than anything else we ever did during the post World War II era. That was non-military containment policy.
posted by raysmj at 1:20 PM on March 24, 2002


Oh, and whether a great physical danger equals a political danger is up to you to decide. Which is worse is a subjective thing regardless. Live free or die v. constantly facing an untimely and nasty death while you live free. Unless of course there's an intense crackdown on the "free" part from within.
posted by raysmj at 1:37 PM on March 24, 2002


It is sad that we are comparing this with methods used in other wars and losing sight of the fact that we are talking about systematic, pre-meditated abuse of children here. I am all for the war in Afghanistan. I have even justified unpremeditated civilian deaths in this forum. But whoever planned and executed this, has a very sick mind. There has to be something wrong with us collectively for us as individuals to lose our capacity to be disgusted by such blatant use/abuse of children as pawns in a war that they dont even have the ability to comprehend.
posted by justlooking at 6:06 PM on March 24, 2002


well said justlooking -

well said.
posted by specialk420 at 6:32 PM on March 24, 2002


Billman: You information is interesting, but it does nothing to show that the government at the time was choosing the isolationist path that the American people wanted. I believe it is generally accepted that FDR wanted to be in W.W.II badly, and the blockade of Japan was a guarantee of war. Isolationist nations do not blockade. I believe that point cements my argument.
posted by thirteen at 10:10 PM on March 24, 2002


thirteen: I would only argue that technically, it was not a blockade but an embargo. An embargo is not necessarily an act of war since nobody is obligated to trade with anybody else, while an blockade is an overt, aggresive act meant to prevent one country from engaging in something it has the right to do. For instance, it's illegal to sell almost anything to Libya but if Libya attacked the US most would call the act unprovoked. If however we sent warships to surround Libya and prevented others from entering Libyan waters or for Libyan ships to leave Libyan waters, then, that's a blockade and some sort of showdown is inevitable.

So perhaps we can agree to disagree on that point.

That, I would imagine, leaves open only the question of isolationism and it's role in WWII. I would argue that regardless of how you characterize the US / Japan relations immediately prior to conflict, it was the US refusal to engage in European affairs that lead to the eventual conflict with Japan. It was because of Germany's kicking-ass in Europe that Japan thought it could get away with snatching up former British, French and Dutch colonies (and possibly US colonies). As a result, Japan would have probably confined its expansionism to China which the Japan and the US had to that point been able to negotiate on with some degree of civility.
posted by billman at 10:31 PM on March 25, 2002


Billman: I respect your arguments, but I still find a lot of room to disagree. If you compare the actions of the US to those of the Swiss, you see who really wanted to stay out of the war. Our embargo directly affected the actions of other who were willing to trade with Japan, and without the embargo I don't think Japan would have attacked Pearl Harbor. The country wanted neutrality, and FDR did not live up to the trust placed in him.. I also disagree with your second point. I do not believe from what I have read that Japan really wanted a war with the US. They had plenty of war already going on, and only attacked because of our interference in their situation. The belief was that the country, being so firmly interested in staying out of the war, would back off would back down. Obviously wrong of them, and tragic for all of the families of Americans who died in an avoidable war.
posted by thirteen at 3:07 PM on March 27, 2002


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