Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Friday, 10 December 2010

The American Psyche


















The Wikileaks saga brings into stark relief the phenomenon of American self-image. There is a national conviction that any threat to national prestige must be quickly and ruthlessly eliminated.
 

This mindset has endured for so long, that it's obviously part of the American psyche.
 
I wasn't around at the time of Pearl harbour, but listening to the stories my father told, it appears that the blow to American prestige caused by the attack was a major factor in the US response.
 
Here's an extract from Roosevelt's Day of Infamy speech on December 7th 1941 -
 
It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time, the Japanese government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.
 
And
 
Always will we remember the character of the onslaught against us.
 
In other words, the fact that America was enormously embarrassed because they were caught unawares was as significant to Roosevelt as the losses of men and ships. He was well known for understanding his country's soul at critical moments.
 
George W Bush was not in the same league as Roosevelt when it came to leadership, but he was equally conscious of national embarrassment after 9/11. I'm sure we all remember well the Mission Accomplished banner on USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1, 2003.
 
In his speech he said -

In the images of falling statues, we have witnessed the arrival of a new era.


And
 
We have not forgotten the victims of September the 11th -- the last phone calls, the cold murder of children, the searches in the rubble. With those attacks, the terrorists and their supporters declared war on the United States. And war is what they got. (Applause.)
 
Paraphrasing, Bush was pushing the imagery (falling statues) and revenge (the victims).
 
The fact that the war had at least five more years to run and thousands of US soldiers would die in those five years was not foreseen, or apparently its likelihood even considered.

And now, we have an issue about embarrassment over sensitive material leaked (by Americans - it should be noted). The disproportionate response, including hysterical calls for the death penalty, and unsubstantiated claims that it will cost lives, demonstrates clearly the USA's glass jaw.
 
I have enormous personal respect for American values, especially as they pertain to free choice and individual rights, and I acknowledge their contribution to our security, particularly the history of the Pacific campaign during WW2.
 
Even during those tumultuous times, however, there were incidents which made clear that many Australians took strong exception to some uniquely American characteristics. During the 26th and 27th November 1942, one Australian was killed, and six wounded during street battles with American MPs in Brisbane. The digger killed was a Ted Webster who came from Milmerran and had enlisted in Toowoomba.

By all accounts, alcohol and boredom were factors, but there was an underlying tension between the allies, and its origin can be traced back to this same American characteristic of arrogance and hubris.
 
This is never as clearly illustrated as in the contemporary pic I've posted above. Can you imagine how the average Aussie digger of the time would have reacted to the aggressive pose demonstrated. It is obviously designed to intimidate - which may have worked with GIs. I'd suggest that a pose like that would be taken as a challenge by (say) a member of the 7th Division who were in Brisbane at the time.

No wonder there was a stoush or two.

There is a fundamental difference in the way Australians and Americans see themselves, and this is highlighted when they're in uniform. I well recall a number of incidents when I was in Vietnam in 1970.
 
We didn't have much to do with the Yanks, but there were times when we shared space and time. During R & R I travelled in a bus sitting next to a Yank GI in Bangkok. The journey lasted 20 minutes, so we had time to talk. I'm a petrol head (was then - still am now) and made some passing comment about "Yank tanks", which showed my disdain of large, overpriced, American automotive iron.

He took severe umbrage - to the point where I wondered if he was going to take a swing at me. When he settled down a bit, he gave me a ten-minute lecture on the history of Henry Ford, and how he had (amongst other things) invented the assembly line. All of which was true, of course, but the vehemence with which it was delivered was disproportionate.
 
One of my Aussie mates sitting behind me was still talking about this incident a week later when we flew back to the Dat. The lesson was simple, you never criticised any American institution or belief to a Yank. They simply couldn't abide it.
 
On another occasion, when a few mates and I were attempting to souvenir some stray bits of wood and corrugated iron from an abandoned pile of American junk at the Horseshoe, we were confronted by a sweaty and overweight Yank Staff Sergeant. This wouldn't have caused concern, except that he was waving an M16 around which had a magazine attached, which we assumed was loaded.
As we retreated with as much dignity was we could towards our own lines, I remember the remark - "bloody Yanks - why are they so up themselves?'
 
That same question seems relevant today. 

(Click on the title to find out more about the "Battle of Brisbane"). 
Photo courtesy of Ozatwar.

13 comments:

Richard Sharpe said...

What happens when you cut and paste your diatribe into word and do a "replace all" on certain words and edit the rest of the text to suit?

Lets have a look.

The Danish cartoons saga brings into stark relief the phenomenon of Arab self-image. There is a religious conviction that any threat to religious prestige must be quickly and ruthlessly eliminated.

This mindset has endured for so long, that it's obviously part of the Arabian psyche.

I wasn't around at the time of the creation of Israel, but listening to the stories my father told, it appears that the blow to Arabian prestige that caused was a major factor in the Arab response.

And now, we have an issue about embarrassment over a cartoon. The disproportionate response, including hysterical calls for the death penalty, and unsubstantiated claims that it will cost lives, demonstrates clearly the Arab's glass jaw.

I have enormous personal respect for Arabian values, especially as they pertain to the primacy of family, and I acknowledge their contribution to our society.

Even considering a long period of co-existence, however, there were incidents which made clear that many Australians took strong exception to some uniquely Arabian characteristics. On 4 December 2005, a group of volunteer surf lifesavers were assaulted by a group of young men of Middle Eastern appearance, with several other violent assaults occurring over the next week. These incidents were widely reported and commented on in Sydney media. An initially peaceful crowd gathered in the morning of 11 December 2005 and by midday, approximately 5,000 people gathered at Cronulla beach to protest against a recent spate of violence against locals.

By all accounts, alcohol and boredom were factors, but there was an underlying tension between the antagonists, and its origin can be traced back to this same Arabian characteristic of arrogance and hubris.

There is a fundamental difference in the way Australians and Arabians see themselves, and this is highlighted when they're in uniform. I well recall a number of incidents when I was in the UN last year.

Include now a number of anecdotal stories from my own personal experience of having lived in Islamic nations, as irrelevant as they may be to anything.

As we retreated with as much dignity was we could towards our own lines, I remember the remark - "bloody Arabs - why are they so up themselves?'

That same question seems relevant today.

How do you rationalise your rant within your own worldview? Is it OK to make generalisations about some groups but not others?

1735099 said...

My point is that we don't as Australians, take our nationalism very seriously. Nor do we promote it to the point where it becomes embedded in our cultural psyche and becomes a threat to our own security and that of our allies.
Another minor issue is that "Arabs" as you call them, are not a nationality, so your comparison is not completely valid. Nor have we ever been involved in coalitions embarking on military adventures on American soil, or provided institutional threats to US citizens.
On the other hand, the comparison between religious fundamentalism in the Arab world and in some sections of the Republican movement in the USA is probably valid. The Tea Party and Al Qaida deserve each other.
You could also have done a cut and paste with the Chinese, or perhaps the Japanese. Both would have highlighted the fact that one of the characteristics that sets Australians apart is our highly effective ICD*s.
* Inbuilt Crap Detectors.
I don't know about you, but I see that as a virtue.

Anonymous said...

My point is that we don't as Australians, take our nationalism very seriously.

That wasn’t your point; if it was you’d have said it. Your point was to paint all Americans as visceral creatures unable to act rationally in response to challenge. It is very interesting that you use the example of the Battle of Brisbane to enhance your argument in regard to American arrogance and hubris. That whole sorry saga is rather more an indictment on Australia than on our allies. Neither the immediate causes of that night’s particular nastiness, nor the underlying causes of the resentment that led to it, speak well to the character of the Australian soldiers in Brisbane in 1942. Poor discipline, misogynist attitudes to “their women” and base envy on the part of the Australian diggers led to that nastiness, not American hubris and arrogance. It is surprising that you are guilty of the deification of the digger at the expense of honest historical analysis that conservative historians and commenters are so frequently accused of.

It would also seem that your understanding of the situation in the Middle East is sorely lacking if you haven’t managed to get your head around Pan-Arab nationalism. Although, to be honest, replacing America with Arabia in MS Word was a somewhat random selection. I could have done it to any sacred cow of the left, or the right for that matter. The point was to highlight just how hypocritical it is for you to make sweeping generalisations about the American psyche. It was a nice bait and switch with the Tea Party and Al Qaida though, Bravo Zulu. I’d have gone the other way and suggested that the radical left in the US, so opposed to American opposition to Al Qaida and the Taliban, support of Israel and general involvement in affairs beyond their own borders would make them a better match for each other. Something along the lines of their enemy’s enemy being their friend.

I could have replaced America for just about anything, Chinese or Japanese as you suggested; or even Inuit, Tamil or Aboriginal. It doesn’t matter. Any way you cut it, it highlights the hypocrisy of your position. Despite your previous postings in condemnation of the Liberal Party’s ideologically driven perceptions of “the other”, all you have managed to present in this post is more of the same anti-American slush that has been perpetuated by blinkered leftists since the early part of the 20th Century.

Richard Sharpe said...

My point is that we don't as Australians, take our nationalism very seriously.

That wasn’t your point; if it was you’d have said it. Your point was to paint all Americans as visceral creatures unable to act rationally in response to challenge. It is very interesting that you use the example of the Battle of Brisbane to enhance your argument in regard to American arrogance and hubris. That whole sorry saga is rather more an indictment on Australia than on our allies. Neither the immediate causes of that night’s particular nastiness, nor the underlying causes of the resentment that led to it, speak well to the character of the Australian soldiers in Brisbane in 1942. Poor discipline, misogynist attitudes to “their women” and base envy on the part of the Australian diggers led to that nastiness, not American hubris and arrogance. It is surprising that you are guilty of the deification of the digger at the expense of honest historical analysis that conservative historians and commenters are so frequently accused of.

It would also seem that your understanding of the situation in the Middle East is sorely lacking if you haven’t managed to get your head around Pan-Arab nationalism. Although, to be honest, replacing America with Arabia in MS Word was a somewhat random selection. I could have done it to any sacred cow of the left, or the right for that matter. The point was to highlight just how hypocritical it is for you to make sweeping generalisations about the American psyche. It was a nice bait and switch with the Tea Party and Al Qaida though, Bravo Zulu. I’d have gone the other way and suggested that the radical left in the US, so opposed to American opposition to Al Qaida and the Taliban, support of Israel and general involvement in affairs beyond their own borders would make them a better match for each other. Something along the lines of their enemy’s enemy being their friend.

I could have replaced America for just about anything, Chinese or Japanese as you suggested; or even Inuit, Tamil or Aboriginal. It doesn’t matter. Any way you cut it, it highlights the hypocrisy of your position. Despite your previous postings in condemnation of the Liberal Party’s ideologically driven perceptions of “the other”, all you have managed to present in this post is more of the same anti-American slush that has been perpetuated by blinkered leftists since the early part of the 20th Century.

1735099 said...

"Your point was to paint all Americans as visceral creatures unable to act rationally in response to challenge."
No- that's the point taken, not the point made. If I had meant that, I'd have said that. It's in your mind. Methinks in defence of America you doth protest too much.
"Poor discipline, misogynist attitudes to “their women” and base envy on the part of the Australian diggers led to that nastiness, not American hubris and arrogance."
I have a great deal of respect for the Australians of the time (including my father who as a newly-married country school teacher enlisted a few days after the bombing of Darwin and served in the RAAF in Port Moresby and Lae from 1943 until 1946) and the part they played at that crucial time - the only time in our history when there was a real threat to our national sovereignty. It's a shame that you're prepared to belittle that sacrifice in defence of one of our allies.
Incidentally, they were "their women". It was also their country and their city. One thing I have observed through personal experience both as a serving soldier in Vietnam, and in extensive travel throughout Western Europe and South East Asia since, is a uniquely American disrespect for other countries and cultures. I have seen many examples of this, ranging from smoking in temples (Bangkok), to the wearing of inappropriate clothing (Kuala Lumpur), to loudmouth and boorish behaviour (Munich).
This attitude, upon objective observation, infers that the USA is inherently superior to every other civilisation, and that there is nothing to be learned or respected in others. It could be tolerated, except that it's a one-way process. As I've pointed out, in my experience, some Americans seem to believe that their values and institutions are to be held in high respect, but there is no need for that respect to be reciprocated.
My occasional trips to Vietnam on project work with disabled kids reveals a deep resentment of the USA by Vietnamese of the generation who remember the war, and Americans are often compared unfavourably to Australians in that context. It's understandable of course, when you examine the incidence rate of physical impairment in the population, a legacy of the 80,000,000 litres of chemical herbicides and defoliants in Vietnam, eastern Laos and parts of Cambodia.
I saw the same attitudes when I worked beside a number of American teachers recruited by the Queensland school system in the late seventies and early eighties and working in special schools. The bulk of them were unprepared to adapt their teaching behaviour to Queensland schools and students, and did not have their contracts renewed. British and Kiwi teachers recruited during the same programme generally were successful and stayed in the system.
"It is surprising that you are guilty of the deification of the digger at the expense of honest historical analysis that conservative historians and commenters are so frequently accused of."
I'm flattered that you think I was engaging in historical analysis. I report what I see and attempt to put it in context. I don't "deify" the digger, but I would say on the basis of observations made in 1970, that the average digger was worth ten Yanks in the field.
"Any way you cut it, it highlights the hypocrisy of your position."
You need to explain why my position is hypocritical.

Richard Sharpe said...

Fair enough, if you object to my paraphrasing your words to suit my argument, I’ll retract them, on the condition that you offer Roosevelt and Bush the same courtesy. That said; “there is a national conviction that any threat to national prestige must be quickly and ruthlessly eliminated” goes a lot further towards my point that you were trying to paint Americans as visceral creatures unable to act rationally in response to challenge than it does towards your later argument that Australians don’t take their nationalism seriously.
I too have profound respect for the Australians of that time, which would include both my grandfathers and their brothers, the grave of one of whom I visited in North Africa last year. That doesn’t inhibit my ability to see the bad along with the good. The Battle of Brisbane being a case in point. Did you bother to read the link you provided? Here’s a couple of choice quotes:

Just before noon on 26 November 1942 an American MP tried to stop a fight in Albert Street. An Australian soldier was hit on the head with an MP's baton and more Aussie soldiers became involved in the incident. It was a short but violent brawl. Nothing like what was about to happen later that day.

Our brave boys were fighting in the streets. An MP, a breed universally disliked in both armies, smacked one of the antagonists with a baton. So far there is nothing particularly out of the ordinary in that scenario, except that the MP is an American. Anyone who has worked in a coalition knows that it doesn’t matter what colour uniform you are wearing, an MP is likely to give you a touch up if you’re fighting in the street. I have witnessed firsthand an American Naval Shore Patrol give one of their own a good going over after he had been apprehended misbehaving in port in Thailand.

It is the response to that that paints the Australians in a poor light. Again, I quote from the link you provided:

As they were talking, along came Private Anthony E. O'Sullivan of the 814th MP Company, who challenged Private Stein for his leave pass. While Stein was fidgeting around to find his leave pass, the MP became impatient and asked Stein to hurry up as he did not have all night. At this point in time his new-found Aussie mates had a go at the MP and told the MP to take it easy and leave Stein alone. After some cursing, etc, a baton was raised and arms and legs started to fly in all directions. More Aussie soldiers and even a few civilians came out of the dark to look after their mates.

So an MP is doing his job making sure his countrymen have the appropriate leave passes, and he start copping it from drunken Aussies who start swearing and carrying on. Any MP, regardless of his accent, will respond to that. The telling part is that it doesn’t end there; Australians start spilling into the street escalating the problem. The Americans respond in kind and soon enough there’s an all in brawl going on in Adelaide St. Soldiers fight, it’s one of the things they do. I remember an all in on Queen St one night when I was a young digger. This one carried on though. Again I quote from your source:

By 8pm between 2,000 to 5,000 people were involved in the disturbance which continued to rage.

This is no longer a brawl between drunken soldiers and MPs. This is a riot. Any way you look at it, the behaviour displayed by the diggers is disgraceful and shows a lack of discipline. While their comrades were advancing on Buna, these drunken louts were rioting in Brisbane. It is hard to find any justification for that, even if you take the view that the Americans were stealing “their women”, as astonishingly sexist as that point of view is.

Richard Sharpe said...

The one thing I have noticed as I have travelled through Europe, SE Asia, E Asia, Africa, and the SW Pacific, is that obnoxious tourists come in all flavours. The Brits are particularly notorious in places like Thailand, as are Australians. I am as guilty as the next drunken Australian lout for tarnishing our reputation overseas. I was a young infantryman in the company of my mates on the sauce in SE Asia. I’ve gone bar-hopping in Phuket with the crew from the USS John Young, and done the same in Penang with the crew from the HMS Nottingham. I’ve also seen an American sailor leap over the top of his shipmates to rush to the defence of one my section mates. I’ve seen incredible rudeness from a Jordanian LTCOL in Africa and lick-spittle sycophancy in the same country from an American. I’ve served with Americans who make our little two-bit operation look like the boy scouts with their stunning professional knowledge and competence. I’ve also swapped a FRED (Fucking Ridiculous Eating Device – the can opener from a ration pack) for an American CamelBak and had the moron walking away thinking he got the best of the deal.
All this boils down to my experiences against yours. I’ve worked with very good Americans and some very ordinary ones. I’ve also had the same experience with Australians. The hypocrisy comes from your ability to tar Americans with one brush, and yet when the topic is changed will take an opposite view, for example – based on the rhetoric of their leadership and the actions of many, is hatred against Jews ingrained in the Palestinian psych? Based on Israel’s economic success in a region surrounded by much poorer nations, sometimes with much greater resources, are all Jews money grubbing misers? Based on their actions over the last century, is xenophobic militarism ingrained in the German psych? Based on their actions over the last century, are all Russians Bolshevik imperialists etc?

1735099 said...

We could swap anecdotes about our personal experiences until the cows come home. I doubt that would clarify the issue. We could also trawl over reports of the Battle of Brisbane. I'm content to believe what my father perceived, which was that the Yanks were cocky, gun-happy, and behaved as if they owned the place. Because this gelled with what I saw in SVN, I have no reason to believe otherwise.

Let's look again at what the two Presidents said.

Bush's use of the words "the last phone calls, the cold murder of children" counterpoised against images of falling statues is a clear example of imagery to convey a specific meaning. It would be difficult to conclude any meaning other than that of taking revenge. Roosevelt's reference to "the character of the onslaught" is about not what happened, but how it happened.

The language used in these speeches, although separated by over sixty years would have been very carefully chosen. A very specific meaning was being conveyed. It is all about American exceptionalism. Both these attacks (Pearl Harbour and 9/11) would have been treacherous had they been directed towards any state, but the fact that the USA was the victim seems to have a special significance.

Cutting to the chase, our disagreement gets down to a discussion about this notion of exceptionalism. I contend that it does exist, that it is embedded in the national psyche, probably as a result of their education system, and that the USA would be a better and more civilised nation without it, because it perverts their view of the world.

The rise of militant Islam is an inevitable reaction to this exceptionalism and it was always clear that it would culminate in asymmetric warfare. The ham-fisted approach to Operation Iraqi Freedom was a direct result of a failure to understand the task, and again a symptom of an inward-looking military culture.

It makes me sad to understand that it took the disaster of Iraq before the US approach to counterinsurgency began to be influenced by people such as David Kilcullen who famously described the decision to invade as "F… stupid". As you're no doubt aware, he's ex Australian infantry. The fact that the Bush administration took its eye off Afghanistan and Pakistan simply compounded the tragedy, and we'll be dealing with the consequences for decades.

After Vietnam, you would have thought that they might have been prepared to concede that that military technology and "stunning professional knowledge and competence" is not necessarily the total solution to insurgency, and it saddens me to understand that the cost in blood has been so high.

By the way, the concept of "sexism" didn't exist in 1942, and that middle-eastern country you discuss is Israel which was founded as a Jewish State. Not all Israelis are Jewish. The Jewish population of Israel is approximately 80% and Muslims make up about 15% of the population.

Richard Sharpe said...

The information I provided on the Battle of Brisbane came from the source you provided. I haven’t introduced any new data. It might be time to look at the issue without being influenced by your father’s perceptions of what happened, if, by your account he’d enlisted after 19 Feb 42 and these things happened in Nov 42. If you are going to hold an opinion on this, it might be worth looking deeper into it. In the broader scheme of things, the 2nd AIF had relieved the beleaguered CMF and pushed the Japanese back along the track and at the time were advancing on Buna. The Americans had already fought the Battle of the Coral Sea and were heavily engaged on Guadalcanal. Brisbane hosted the General Headquarters of the Allied Forces in the South West Pacific Area. This meant that there were large numbers of Americans either stationed in Australia or transiting through on their way to the battlefields of the SW Pacific. Set against that backdrop, a bunch of drunken diggers getting into a blue with an American MP is, by itself, fairly insignificant. The riot that followed was not. That represents a complete breakdown in discipline and junior leadership.

The common factor that links both Pearl Harbour and the series of attacks on 11 Sep 01 is that they were both launched against Americans on American soil. The comments by the respective Heads of State are not particularly unusual when it is considered that both attacks were surprise attacks on native soil. After the Bali bombing, an attack that didn’t meet the criteria of being on home soil, John Howard said:

The indiscriminate, brutal and despicable way in which lives have been taken away on this occasion by an act of barbarity will, I know, deeply shock all Australians.

It doesn’t take a particular national psyche for a leader to make note of the nature of either Pearl Harbour or the attacks of 11 Sep 01.

Richard Sharpe said...

It is interesting that you make reference to David Kilcullen. I served in Bougainville with him. He went on to achieve some level of local fame following the contact at Motaain in East Timor where he was the OC of the company involved. It is a small army after all.
In a statement he made after he was quoted as saying that the decision to invade was “fucking stupid”, he had this to say:

Spencer Ackerman, in yesterday's Washington Independent, claims I told him the Iraq war was "f*cking stupid". He did not seek to clear that quote with me, and I would not have approved it if he had. If he HAD sought a formal comment, I would have told him what I have said publicly before: in my view, the decision to invade Iraq in 2003 was an extremely serious strategic error. But the task of the moment is not to cry over spilt milk, rather to help clean it up: a task in which the surge, the comprehensive counterinsurgency approach, and our troops on the ground are admirably succeeding.
Anyone who knows me has been well aware of my position on Iraq for years. When I went to Iraq in 2007 (and on both previous occasions) it was to end the war, by suppressing the violence and defeating the insurgency. (Note: I said END the war, not abandon it half-way through, leaving the Iraqis to be slaughtered. When we invaded Iraq, we took on a moral and legal responsibility for its people's wellbeing. Regardless of anyone's position on the decision to invade, those obligations still stand and cannot be wished away merely because they have proven inconvenient)...The question of whether we were right to invade Iraq is a fascinating debate for historians and politicians, and a valid issue for the American people to consider in an election year. As it happens, I think it was a mistake. But that is not my key concern. The issue for practitioners in the field is not to second-guess a decision from six years ago, but to get on with the job at hand which, I believe, is what both Americans and Iraqis expect of us. In that respect, the new strategy and tactics implemented in 2007, and which relied for their effectiveness on the extra troop numbers of the Surge, ARE succeeding and need to be supported.


Part 2 to follow.

Richard Sharpe said...

I kind of agree with him, at least as far as getting on with the job and not trying to second guess strategic decisions. In all honesty I was a little surprised that the Iraq invasion was given the go-ahead. I thought the sabre-rattling would continue for a while longer, possibly followed by some air strikes to force Saddam to comply with the resolutions. That said; I was not privy to the briefs that both GWB and JWH received. I have mates who do work in that field who were fairly convinced by the intelligence. They won’t go into any detail, for fairly obvious reasons, but the case seemed pretty solid in 2003.
The important thing following that decision was the manner in which the US managed to turn the insurgency around. When I refer to the stunning professionalism and competence of some of the Americans I have worked with, I don’t mean that their building entry drills are slick. I am talking about people at the MAJ-LTCOL level who have a solid grasp of the strategic level implications. I have mentioned to you before that the US Army today is a far cry from that of the Vietnam era. A great deal of effort has gone into the intellectual training of their officer corps. They learn fast. Faster, it seems, than their political masters in Washington. You only need to look at people like Petraeus.
What stalled Iraq was the same thing that cost the US the Vietnam War – public opinion at home. Following the success of the initial invasion, massive numbers of troops were returned home to alleviate the public pressure for an end to the war. It could be argued that the Iraq insurgency only gained traction because the administration was unable to commit fully to winning the peace in the same way they had won the war. This was largely due to the pressure being applied by anti-war activists at home, at least until the US Military were able to convince the politicians of the benefits of a surge. It is odd to consider that the well meaning protesters actually prolonged the war and caused untold additional deaths. Could this be another example of the law of unintended consequences?

1735099 said...

"I haven’t introduced any new data."

I wouldn't call it data. It's a contemporary account. From my own experience, what is written as a contemporary account is not always exactly what happened. I've read after-action reports of action involving my unit in SVN, and not to put too fine a point on it, some of them are fiction. See - http://jellybeansinthejungle.blogspot.com/2010/04/friendly-fire.html
(second last paragraph).

"The riot that followed was not. That represents a complete breakdown in discipline and junior leadership."

I wouldn't judge from this distance. What is clear is there was simmering tension, and that sooner or later it would erupt. Important from an historical point of view is the reason for the tension. The incident itself is less significant.

"I was a little surprised that the Iraq invasion was given the go-ahead."

I wasn't. The narrative coming from the White House had clearly set the script, and there would have been an invasion irrespective of what the intelligence was showing. What happened later to Valerie Plame and Joseph Wilson was clear evidence that nothing was going to get in the way. For me, there were eerie resemblances to Vietnam, given our government dragged us into it because the Yanks were there. This time, fortunately, Australians weren't being conscripted to fight.

"The important thing following that decision was the manner in which the US managed to turn the insurgency around."

Sure - but at what cost? Apart from the 4287 Americans KIA and 30,182 wounded and 107, 152 civilian causalities, it could be argued that diverting resources away from Afghanistan led us to what we're seeing now. Other consequences included the dangerous realignments in the ME and the rise of Iranian prestige.

"What stalled Iraq was the same thing that cost the US the Vietnam War – public opinion at home."

Absolutely, the USA is a democracy. The "public" have a limited store of patience when national sovereignty is not at stake. Over time the American voters began to become aware of the reality that was Vietnam, and they reacted pragmatically. To deny them that right is to deny the very democratic principle that was apparently being fought for. Wars fought over ideology are always dodgy enterprises.

"It is odd to consider that the well meaning protesters actually prolonged the war and caused untold additional deaths."

It depends on your perspective. It could also be considered that if the movement against the Iraq campaign had been at the level it was during the Vietnam era, and much earlier in the piece, the invasion may not have taken place.

Whatever, my point was that there is a phenomenon called American Exceptionalism, and the history of conflicts in which we have been involved with them bears that out. As to the background of this exceptionalism take a look at - http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/style/longterm/books/chap1/americanexceptionalism.htm
and
http://www.american.com/archive/2008/april-04-08/understanding-american-exceptionalism
An interesting quote from the second article -
"It is an America of individualism and personal freedom, divorced from the bonds of neighborhood, community, and family. Bayles argued that “we can’t reclaim or bring back the self-restraint."
It is this lack of self-restraint together with rampant materialism and individualism that worries me.

1735099 said...

Another example of American Exceptionalism - http://blogs.crikey.com.au/planetalking/2010/12/13/faa-and-boeing-tell-atsb-we-know-best/

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