Bill Moyers announced his retirement from weekly journalism last week, and as part of a rather melancholy journey through what we'll be missing when he does retire, I found this archived show from this last October 30th. I had missed it when it aired, but I'm incredibly grateful that I have the chance to see it on the web. It's a tour de force of news variety; a great interview with James Galbraith, an interesting retrospective on William F. Buckley with Richard Brookheiser, and a great essay from Moyers himself about President Obama's (still upcoming) decision on whether or not to send more troops to Afghanistan. All three are well worth watching, but this quote about the sanitization of war and the way to make politicians and the public at large grasp the real costs of fighting struck me as Moyers at his best.
"Bring back the draft, and then watch them dive for cover on Capitol
Hill, in the watering holes and think tanks of the Beltway, and in the
quiet little offices where editorial writers spin clever phrases
justifying other people's sacrifice. Let's insist our governing class
show the courage to make this long and dirty war our war, or the guts
to end it."
Last Friday, Bill Moyers Journal aired a remarkable program of clips from LBJ's conversations about reluctantly getting deeper and deeper into Vietnam. The most startling thing about these tapes is the extent to which they make clear that LBJ new from the beginning that he was sinking into an unwinnable quagmire, but did it anyway.
The parallels between Vietnam and Afghanistan have certainly been much discussed, but this program adds perspective that is gripping, both because the tapes are moving in themselves, and because Moyers was one of Johnson's aides at the time, and knows exactly whereof he speaks. The comparison is jaw-dropping in its accuracy - if you missed it, take the time.
Rep. Ed Markey has a post up on HuffPo today that calls for the online public to support his bill, HR 3458, The Internet Freedom Preservation Act", which he and Rep. Anna Eshoo proposed in July. He notes that it is a legislative support for the actions the FCC took last week to preserve equal access to the internet for all content providers (this is what is commonly referred to as "net neutrality").
Contrast that with John McCain's recently introduced "Internet Freedom Act of 2009", which is a newspeak name for an attempt to make sure that the internet can be easily controlled by commercial entities - the "freedom" it refers to is freedom from regulation by the FCC (because watching the economy crash has shown us how well deregulation works!)
McCain admitted during his campaign for the presidency that he didn't use the internet, but has received more donations from the companies who would benefit from this legislation than any other senator. His bill would allow those companies to privilege the upload of some content over other content (kind of like what's happening with your cable bill now), and frustrate the actions the FCC just took to preserve the open access to the internet that has made it the most successful communications development in history. Here's Boing Boing Editor Xeni Jardin describing the argument to Rachel Maddow (note the observation that Vint Cerf and most of the others who created the web as we know it today are all on the side of preserving equal access):
In other words, McCain's bill is crafted to do exactly the opposite of Markey's bill. The distinction is critical, and Markey's bill deserves the support of anyone who values the free exchange of ideas on the web. E-mail, call, or write your representatives today!
Foreign Service officer Matthew Hoh resigned in protest from the State Department in September, saying he had lost confidence in the policy he was helping to implement in Afghanistan, according to an article by Karen DeYoung in this morning's Washington Post (read the article, it's very good work).
Hoh, a former Marine who served in Iraq as part of a reconstruction team, has a personnel file that's full of glowing reports, and the article includes comments from several of his colleagues in Afghanistan that indicate that they hold him in the highest regard. Indeed, when he first sent his letter of resignation, they were so interested in not losing him that both the US ambassador to Afghanistan and Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke tried to talk him out of resigning. They offered him a promotion to senior embassy staffer, a job which he initially accepted, and then declined a few days later, as he realized that he wouldn't be able to support the mission in which he no longer believed.
Two things about this turn of events are significant. The first is that when someone of this caliber sacrifices his career and submits a principled resignation, we owe it to them and ourselves to pay close attention to what they're protesting with their resignation. In 2003, a diplomat named John Brady Kiesling resigned from the foreign service over our developing jingoistic fervor about Iraq. Had anyone that resignation the attention it deserved, we might have saved ourselves the loss of tragic amounts of blood, treasure, influence, and national prestige. Unfortunately, Kiesling worked in Athens, not Iraq, and his resignation went unnoticed by the public at the time. At least he did better than Scott Ritter, the UN weapons inspector who protested publicly that there were no significant WMD in Iraq, and was savaged for his trouble by the Bush administration and accused of treason by its Greek chorus in the press.
That the Obama administration isn't attempting any similar slander of Mr. Hoh is encouraging, and I hope they give his protest and its reasons their full attention. (As a side note, if Dick Cheney should decide to unburden himself of any opinion concerning Mr. Hoh that isn't laden with a huge measure of respect for a man who was willing to make sacrifices that Cheney's own "other priorities" prevented him from considering, someone should horsewhip him back to whatever rock he's currently living under.)
The more important aspect of Hoh's resignation, though, is the reason behind it. He's become convinced that the Afghan people have turned against the US troops in their country out of national pride, and that our continued presence there is only inflaming a nationalist resistance that we'll never overcome. His analysis draws on having spent most of this year doing what his superiors recognize as great work at winning hearts and minds in Afghanistan, after doing a good deal of the same thing as a Marine in Iraq.
Hoh's resignation letter alludes to the non-existence of any central authority to support in Afghanistan. The largest coherent political unit in much of the country is the local valley's tribe, and in each of these valleys, that tribe's interest in working with NATO troops is losing out to its interest in driving foreign invaders from its territory. Winning them over would be a valley by valley proposition, and Hoh considers it impossible. Apparently it was the failure of the Afghan election that was the straw that broke the camel's back, but even if we had a central government that we could trust, the NATO support that government relies on would deprive it of legitimacy in the eyes of its people.
It's become cliche to say so, but we've seen this movie before. We confused what was essentially a nationalist revolt in Vietnam with a communist conspiracy to overthrow the French colonial government there, and involved ourselves in 15 years of supporting a corrupt government which had no credibility with its people, at the end of which we'd lost over 50,000 lives and gained nothing except our first military defeat as a country. We got into that war in exactly the same way we're getting into this one - slowly, a little bit at a time. If Matthew Hoh's resignation prevents us from repeating that mistake, he will have augmented an already impressive career with a service to his country that few can provide.
If there's any justice, though, this should not be the end of his career in government. I understand he is due to meet with VP Biden's advisers on Afghanistan today, and it would be both just and a wise use of human resources if Hoh were retained as one of those advisers by Biden or some other part of the administration's policy apparatus. John Brady Kiesling's bravery and Scott Ritter's were "rewarded" by wrecking their careers. It would be a great change if we didn't lose Hoh's services as a result of his principled objection to a dangerous policy.
Most of the time, this blog's name alludes to shouts of "NO!" that spring unbidden from the viewer (at least, this viewer) at the inanities, banality, sloppy reporting, and outright lies that appear nightly on our TV screens. Every now and again, though, the same screen produces shouts of "YES!", and it would be both silly and churlish not to acknowledge them.
Last night was such a night. First, Keith Olbermann delivered an hour-long "special comment" about the need for health care reform that drew upon his own recent experience in caring for his father, who was stricken by serious illness last month. In that editorial, Olbermann made reference to the fears that inform the craziness that has been prominent among opponents of reform, the failure of the supporters of reform to allay those fears, and the high stakes that raise the pressure and the volume on both sides of the argument ("it's about pain and death").
Olbermann's special comments have become legendary (or infamous, depending on who you talk to), and I had my doubts about whether he could keep one going for a full hour, but he did it, in spades. If you have time, click the link and have some - it's great television and a service to the republic.
Olbermann's show was followed by the always interesting Rachel Maddow, who provided a characteristically informative and provocative hour, but the last segment of her show was the cherry on top of the evening's offering - an inteview with Sarah Vowell about her history of the Puritan settlement of America, The Wordy Shipmates, which is newly out in paperback.
Vowell's take on our history is layered with both pride in our country's principles and and ambivalence about our shortcomings, and so provides a much richer assessment of the subject than most. Unsurprisingly, her history of the Puritans runs true to this form. She compares the experience and writing of John Winthrop and Roger Williams as two poles of the Puritan experiment, and makes an interesting case that much of our national character is both represented by and was established in the conflict between these two men.
What made the segment on Maddow's show so compelling, though, was a discussion of Winthrop's famous sermon, "A Model of Christian Charity", written while Winthrop was on his way to become governor, and famous because of its exhortation that the Massachusetts Bay Colony should rise to its destiny as a "city on a hill", the city that Ronald Reagan referred to as "shining" in his paean to American greatness three hundred years later. Vowell pointed out that unlike Reagan's speech, WInthrop's sermon takes much more account of the fact that we can fail at this task, and that if we do so, it will be from a lack of the communitarianism that he calls for.
I expect that it was a coincidence, but coming as it did after Olbermann's personal and impassioned plea that we fix the glaring hole in our community represented by the health care system in this country, it was particularly moving and appropriate. Vowell points out that in making reference to the "shining city on the hill", Reagan buried the lede of the sermon itself. Instead, she commends to us a much more poetic and much less triumphalist passage, which comes just before the city on the hill reference:
"We must be willing to
abridge ourselves of our superfluities, for the supply of others’
necessities. We must uphold a familiar commerce together in all meekness,
gentleness, patience and liberality. We must delight in each other; make
others’ conditions our own; rejoice together, mourn together, labor and
suffer together, always having before our eyes our commission and community in
the work, as members of the same body."
I'm not a believer, but even I can say "amen" to that.