node created 2012/06/17
last changed 2013/02/04
On the third day I was there, this guy who had picked me up in the Jeep, a corporal who I was ultimately going to replace, he and I were in the battalion intelligence section, we were sent down to the tractor park, the amphibious tractor park to meet a bunch of detainees. It was our responsibility to take care prisoners, and detainees were a classification of civilians, they were not combatants; they could be detained for questioning, which is why they were called detainees.

And Jimmy and I went down to the tractor park and two tractors came in, they had a whole bunch of Vietnamese up on top high flat-topped vehicles about eight or nine feet tall, and as the tractors wheeled into the park the Marines up on top immediately began hurling these people off, and they were bound hand and foot, so they had no way of breaking their falls, and they were old men, women, children, no young men, and I couldn't believe these guys were treating these people this way, and I turned to Jimmy and said, I grabbed him by the arm and said "What are those guys doing? We're supposed to be helping these people." And Jimmy turned to me and he looked at my hands on his arm, I sort of took them off, and he said "Ehrhart, you better keep the mouth shut until you know what's going on around here." I think it was at that point that I realized things were not quite what I was expecting.

It went downhill from there, and again I can't even begin to explain in the space of time that you have all the things that went into it, but I began to understand, it became obvious that the enemy was the very people in these villages around us, and we were in a very heavily populated area at that time, they were the enemy, or at least the enemy was out there somewhere and we couldn't tell one from another. And day after day our patrols went out and we ran into snipers and mines and snipers and mines and snipers and mines. I saw four armed soldiers the first eight months I was in Vietnam, and yet our battalion during that same period of time sustained 75 mining and sniping incidents per month, over half of them resuling in casualties. This is for a unit of about a thousand men. But there was no one to fight back at, and you begin to think, these people are the enemy, they're all the enemy. And then you go through villages and, you know, you get sniped at and so you call an airstrike in on the village and the whole village goes up, or you go through a place and you search it, and you burn houses and blow them up. The common perception, the notion I had when I was in high school was it was the Vietcong terrorized the Vietnamese population, forced them to fight against the Americans on pain of death. What I began to understand in Vietnam was that they didn't need to do things like that, all the had to do was let a Marine patrol go through a village and whatever was left of that village, they had all the recruits that they needed. I began to understand why the Vietnamese didn't greet me with open arms, why they in fact hated me, but of course that didn't change the fact that my friends were getting killed and injured every day and the only place that you could focus your own anger and fear was on those civilians who were there, and so it was this self-perpetuating mechanism: the longer that we stayed in Vietnam the more Vietcong there were, because we created them, we produced them.

None of that distilled itself into the clear kind of expression that I'm presenting now. What I began to understand within days and which became patently clear within months was that what was going on here was not what I had been told, what was going on here was nuts, and I wanted to get out. I knew if I was still alive on March the 5th 1968 they'd stick me on an airplane in Danang we used to call it the freedom bird and I could fly away and forget the whole thing. Turned out not to be quite so easy to forget it, but that was the notion, and certainly my last eight to nine months I ceased to think, I quite literally ceased to think about why I was there, or what I was doing. The sole purpose for my being in Vietnam at that point was to stay alive until I could get out.

And the reason for that is, you know, the kinds of questions that began to present themselves were just.. the questions themselves were ugly and I didn't want to know the answers. It's like banging on a door, you knock on a door, and the door opens slightly and behind that door it's dark and there's loud noises coming like there's wild animals in there or something. And you peer into the darknees and you can't see what's there but you can all this ugly stuff.. do you want to step into that room? No way, you just sorta back out quietly, pull the door shut behind you, and walk away from it. And that's what was going on, those questions, the questions themselves were too ugly to even ask, let alone try to deal with the answers.
I guess I should add my own story - when I was in high school, this army recruiter gave a talk to our class. What follows is a paraphrase of his speech:

"How many of you support the war in Iraq?"

no one raises hand

"What about Hitler? Saddam Hussein is doing the same things Hitler did to his own people. So If you oppose the war in Iraq, you support Hitler!"

None of us quite had the nerve to speak up about it, but if you listened closely, you could hear the sound of a thousand little bullshit detectors going off.
Strikingly, no concern was voiced over the glaringly obvious fact that no official reason was ever offered for going to war -- no reason, that is, that could not be instantly refuted by a literate teenager.
Historically, the most terrible things - war, genocide, and slavery - have resulted not from disobedience, but from obedience.
War, Fascism, concentration camps, rubber truncheons, atomic bombs, etc., are what we daily think about, and therefore to a great extent what we write about, even when we do not name them openly. We cannot help this. When you are on a sinking ship, your thoughts will be about sinking ships.
As inspection of its domestic programs makes clear, the Administration has no intention of addressing such problems; rightly, from its point of view. Any serious measures would infringe upon the prerogatives of its constituency. For the executives of a transnational corporation or other privileged sectors, it is important for the world to be properly disciplined, for advanced industry to be subsidized, and for the wealthy to be guaranteed security. It does not matter much if public education and health deteriorate, the useless population rots in urban concentrations or prisons, and the basis for a livable society collapses for the public at large.

For such reasons, it is important to distract the domestic population. They must join their betters in admiring "the stark and vivid definition of principle...baked into [George Bush] during his years at Andover and Yale, that honor and duty compels you to punch the bully in the face" -- the words of the awe-struck reporter who released the Policy Review explaining how to deal with "much weaker enemies."

The principle that you punch the bully in the face - when you are sure that he is securely bound and beaten to a pulp - is a natural one for advocates of the rule of force. It teaches the right lessons to the world. And at home, cheap victories deflect the attention of a frightened population from domestic disasters while the state pursues its tasks as global enforcer, serving the interests of the wealthy. Meanwhile, the country continues its march towards a two-tiered society with striking Third World features.

The same Times reporter goes on to quote the gallant champion himself: "By God, we've kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all." The second national newspaper joined in, applauding the "spiritual and intellectual" triumph in the Gulf: "Martial values that had fallen into disrepute were revitalized," and "Presidential authority, under assault since Vietnam, was strengthened." With barely a gesture towards the dangers of overexuberance, the ultraliberal Boston Globe hailed the "victory for the psyche" and the new "sense of nationhood and projected power" under the leadership of a man who is "one tough son of a bitch," a man with "the guts to risk all for a cause" and a "burning sense of duty," who showed "the depth and steely core of his convictions" and his faith that "we are a select people, with a righteous mission in this earth," the latest in a line of "noble-minded missionaries" going back to his hero Teddy Roosevelt -- who was going to "show those Dagos that they will have to behave decently" and to teach proper lessons to the "wild and ignorant people" standing in the way of "the dominant world races." Liberal columnists praised "the magnitude of Bush's triumph" over a much weaker enemy, dismissing the "uninformed garbage" of those who carp in dark corners (Thomas Oliphant). The open admiration for fascist values is a matter of some interest.

[..]

On British television, anti-Saddam Arab intellectuals in London, including the prominent Kuwaiti opposition leader Dr. Ahmed al-Khatib, were unanimous in calling for a cease-fire and for serious consideration of Saddam's February 15 peace offer. In October 1990, Dr. al-Khatib had stated that Kuwaitis "do not want a military solution" with its enormous costs for Kuwait, and strenuously opposed any military action.

The silence here was deafening, and most instructive. Unlike Bush and his associates, the peace movement and Iraqi democratic opposition had always opposed Saddam Hussein. But they also opposed the quick resort to violence to undercut a peaceful resolution of the conflict. Such an outcome would have avoided the slaughter of tens of thousands of people, the destruction of two countries, harsh reprisals, an environmental catastrophe, further slaughter by the Iraqi government and the likely emergence of another murderous US-backed tyranny there. But it would not have taught the crucial lessons, already reviewed. With the mission accomplished, the disdain for Iraqi democrats continues unchanged. A European diplomat observes that "The Americans would prefer to have another Assad, or better yet, another Mubarak in Baghdad," referring to their "military-backed regimes" (dictatorships, that of Assad being particularly odious). "This may account for the fact that thus far, the administration has refused to meet with Iraqi opposition leaders in exile," Jane Friedman reports in the Christian Science Monitor. A diplomat from the US-run coalition says that "we will accept Saddam in Baghdad in order to have Iraq as one state," which might be interpreted as meaning: to prevent Iraqi democracy.
Is it any wonder then that the latest figures show 22 veterans killing themselves each day? That is more veterans than children killed at Sandy Hook, every single day. Where are the huge policy initiatives? Why isn’t the president standing with those families at the state of the union? Perhaps because we were not killed by a single lunatic, but rather by his own system of dehumanization, neglect, and indifference.
Every war when it comes, or before it comes, is represented not as a war but as an act of self-defense against a homicidal maniac.
He who joyfully marches to music rank and file, has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would surely suffice. This disgrace to civilization should be done away with at once. Heroism at command, senseless brutality, deplorable love-of-country stance and all the loathsome nonsense that goes by the name of patriotism, how violently I hate all this, how despicable and ignoble war is; I would rather be torn to shreds than be a part of so base an action. It is my conviction that killing under the cloak of war is nothing but an act of murder.
War is a way of shattering to pieces, or pouring into the stratosphere, or sinking in the depths of the sea, materials which might otherwise be used to make the masses too comfortable, and hence, in the long run, too intelligent.
On the bombing of the North, there was meticulous detailed planning. How far should we go? At what rate? What targets? The bombing of the South, at three times the rate and with far more vicious consequences, was unplanned. There's no discussion about it. Why? Very simple. The bombing of the North might cause us problems. When we started bombing the North, we were bombing, for example, Chinese railroads, which happened to go right through North Vietnam. We were going to hit Russian ships, as they did. And there could be a reaction somewhere in the world that might harm us. So therefore that you have to plan for. But massacring people in South Vietnam, nothing. B-52 bombing of the Mekong Delta, one of the most densely populated areas in the world, destroying hospitals and dams, nobody's going to bother us about that. So that doesn't require any planning or evaluation.
Friends are predetermined; friendship takes place between men and women who possess an intellectual and emotional affinity for each other. But comradeship — that ecstatic bliss that comes with belonging to the crowd in wartime — is within our reach. We can all have comrades. The danger of the external threat that comes when we have an enemy does not create friendship; it creates comradeship. And those in wartime are deceived about what they are undergoing. And this is why once the threat is over, once war ends, comrades again become strangers to us. This is why after war we fall into despair.

In friendship there is a deepening of our sense of self. We become, through the friend, more aware of who we are and what we are about; we find ourselves in the eyes of the friend. Friends probe and question and challenge each other to make each of us more complete; with comradeship, the kind that comes to us in patriotic fervor, there is a suppression of self-awareness, self-knowledge, and self-possession. Comrades lose their identities in wartime for the collective rush of a common cause — a common purpose.

In comradeship there are no demands on the self. This is part of its appeal and one of the reasons we miss it and seek to recreate it. Comradeship allows us to escape the demands on the self that is part of friendship. In wartime when we feel threatened, we no longer face death alone but as a group, and this makes death easier to bear. We ennoble self-sacrifice for the other, for the comrade; in short we begin to worship death. And this is what the god of war demands of us.

Think finally of what it means to die for a friend. It is deliberate and painful; there is no ecstasy. For friends, dying is hard and bitter. The dialogue they have and cherish will perhaps never be recreated. Friends do not, the way comrades do, love death and sacrifice. To friends, the prospect of death is frightening. And this is why friendship or, let me say love, is the most potent enemy of war.
We cannot say much about human affairs with any confidence, but sometimes it is possible. We can, for example, be fairly confident that either there will be a world without war, or there won't be a world -- at least, a world inhabited by creatures other than bacteria and beetles, with some scattering of others.
Tagswar
This drug thing, this ain't police work. I mean, I can send any fool with a badge and a gun to a corner to jack a crew and grab vials. But policing? I mean you call something a war, and pretty soon everyone is going to be running around acting like warriors. They gonna be running around on a damn crusade, storming corners, racking up body counts. And when you at war, you need a fucking enemy. And pretty soon, damn near everybody on every corner is your fucking enemy. And soon, the neighborhood you're supposed to be policing, that's just occupied territory. You follow this? [..] Okay The point I'm making is this: Soldiering and policing, they ain't the same thing. And before we went and took the wrong turn and start up with these war games, the cop walked a beat, and he learned that post. And if there were things that happened on that post, where there be a rape, a robbery, or a shooting, he had people out there helping him, feeding him information. But every time I came to you, my DEU sergeant, for information, to find out what's going on out on them streets... all that came back was some bullshit. You had your stats, your arrests, your seizures, but don't none of that amount to shit when it comes to protecting the neighborhood now, do it?
"The Wire"
The war is not meant to be won, it is meant to be continuous. Hierarchical society is only possible on the basis of poverty and ignorance. This new version is the past and no different past can ever have existed. In principle the war effort is always planned to keep society on the brink of starvation. The war is waged by the ruling group against its own subjects and its object is not the victory over either Eurasia or East Asia, but to keep the very structure of society intact.
No individual gets up and says, I'm going to take this because I want it. He'd say, I'm going to take it because it really belongs to me and it would be better for everyone if I had it. It's true of children fighting over toys. And it's true of governments going to war. Nobody is ever involved in an aggressive war; it's always a defensive war - on both sides.
Yes, we have had disarmament conferences and limitations of arms conferences. They don't mean a thing. One has just failed; the results of another have been nullified. We send our professional soldiers and our sailors and our politicians and our diplomats to these conferences. And what happens?

The professional soldiers and sailors don't want to disarm. No admiral wants to be without a ship. No general wants to be without a command. Both mean men without jobs. They are not for disarmament. They cannot be for limitations of arms. And at all these conferences, lurking in the background but all-powerful, just the same, are the sinister agents of those who profit by war. They see to it that these conferences do not disarm or seriously limit armaments.
"War Is A Racket" (1935)
Most wars in the 20th century have started as a result of lies. Amplified and spread by the mainstream press. And you go, well that is a horrible circumstance, that is terrible that all these wars start with lies. And I say no, this is a tremendous opportunity, because it means that populations basically don't like wars and they have to be lied into it.
War is a massacre between people not knowing each other in behoof of people knowing, but not massacring each other.
Tagswar
Don't be deceived when they tell you things are better now. Even if there's no poverty to be seen because the poverty's been hidden. Even if you ever got more wages and could afford to buy more of these new and useless goods which industries foist on you and even if it seems to you that you never had so much, that is only the slogan of those who still have much more than you. Don't be taken in when they paternally pat you on the shoulder and say that there's no inequality worth speaking of and no more reason to fight because if you believe them they will be completely in charge in their marble homes and granite banks from which they rob the people of the world under the pretence of bringing them culture. Watch out, for as soon as it pleases them they'll send you out to protect their gold in wars whose weapons, rapidly developed by servile scientists, will become more and more deadly until they can with a flick of the finger tear a million of you to pieces.
Journalists should ask a specific question: since these programs began operation shortly after September 11th, how many terrorist attacks were prevented SOLELY by information derived from this suspicionless surveillance that could not be gained via any other source? Then ask how many individual communications were ingested to acheive that, and ask yourself if it was worth it. Bathtub falls and police officers kill more Americans than terrorism, yet we've been asked to sacrifice our most sacred rights for fear of falling victim to it.

Further, it's important to bear in mind I'm being called a traitor by men like former Vice President Dick Cheney. This is a man who gave us the warrantless wiretapping scheme as a kind of atrocity warm-up on the way to deceitfully engineering a conflict that has killed over 4,400 and maimed nearly 32,000 Americans, as well as leaving over 100,000 Iraqis dead. Being called a traitor by Dick Cheney is the highest honor you can give an American, and the more panicked talk we hear from people like him, Feinstein, and King, the better off we all are. If they had taught a class on how to be the kind of citizen Dick Cheney worries about, I would have finished high school.
Show me a man or a woman alone and I'll show you a saint. Give me two and they'll fall in love. Give me three and they'll invent the charming thing we call 'society'. Give me four and they'll build a pyramid. Give me five and they'll make one an outcast. Give me six and they'll reinvent prejudice. Give me seven and in seven years they'll reinvent warfare. Man may have been made in the image of God, but human society was made in the image of His opposite number, and is always trying to get back home.
"The Stand"
Just as bombs follow oil, and drones follow drought, so boats follow both: boats filled with refugees fleeing homes on the aridity line ravaged by war and drought. And the same capacity for dehumanising the other that justified the bombs and drones is now being trained on these migrants, casting their need for security as a threat to ours, their desperate flight as some sort of invading army. Tactics refined on the West Bank and in other occupation zones are now making their way to North America and Europe.
The USA has a huge military budget because:
[1] it values its freedom and independence
[2] it values its allies and trade routes
[3] it costs the USA a lot more to get any measure of military might since it does not have a conscripted military and its materiel is not made by government suppliers.

The USA has a huge military budget because:

[1] it has whipped it's population, and that of a significant portion of the worlds population, into a frenzy of fear and paranoia, by maintaining a permanent war status since the end of WWII. Whether hot or cold, the USA has waged war against non-enemies, aggressively supporting brutal dictatorships around, killing millions in defence of "freedom and democracy" around the world. The USA as "protector" of the "free world" has been holding the human species hostage to the possibility of imminent extinction via nuclear weapons for nearly 70 years now. This in the name of valuing its freedom and independence.

[2] it has decided that the best social control mechanism for social pacification is to provide the lowest possible cost for goods and promoted consumerism as ersatz status symbols for a largely disenfranchised permanent underclass. In order to secure such cheap access to goods, the USA must dominate all world trade and be able to dictate prices for resources, resource extraction, production and distribution. This in the name of valuing its allies and trade routes.

[3] it spends a lot less money for the size of our military than any other country would for a similarly sized and scaled military because 18 year-old's with no prospects always form a cheap labor pool( "sold" as in soldier, comes from Roman Latin, daily wage-worker), particularly if one can convince them that they are serving their country men in the name of noble goals and values like "freedom and democracy". And because military production in the USA has always been "dual-purpose", a civilian feel-good, while producing weapons of mass destruction.

The USA has co-opted a tremendously large section of it's so-called private market for dual-purpose: production of disposable goods, while supplying the worlds largest military with an endless production line of "goods", of which no good can ever come. Most major manufacturing firms in the USA would not be economically viable if it were not for this arrangement. Boeing could never make it solely producing commercial air-liners, the market for such is not large enough, but if the Pentagon needs x number of fighter jets, missiles and rockets every year, which must be constantly restocked, due to usage in wars or due to degradation from not ever being used, they can show a profit for their civilian production lines. The same is, and has always been, true for GM, Ford, GE, etc.

The USA has not, historically, HAD a "health service" because we traditionally left health to the people themselves, the private sectore, and communities and states (The US Constitution says nothing about healthcare, and it explicitly says that anything it does not assign to the federal government belongs to the people and to the states)

The USA has not, historically, HAD a health service, because immiseration is a constitutive part of maintaining an exploitable permanent underclass. During the first 250 years of American history, surplus value, ie. profit, was made primarily by either a) stealing the indigenous peoples lands or b) exploiting "free labor", ie. slavery. Following the civil war profit has largely been made by exploiting those born into inter-generational poverty, both here and around the world. The majority of Europeans who immigrated to the USA during the first 150 years of colonization were debt-prisoners, ie. the then european permanent underclass. The USA has proudly cultivated cultural identities for the permanent underclass, going back almost 350 years, nowadays we call them "rednecks", the "n-word", and "mehicans".

The constitution, written for the most part by by the 18th century 1%, actually went to lengths to prevent the existence of a standing army. The USA has been violating it's own constitution every day for nearly 70 years now by maintaining the largest scale military ever seen in world history in direct opposition to our founders intents. With a media hell-bent on scaring the bejesus out of everyone 24/7, covert intelligence services, dedicated primarily to propagating domestic propaganda(be scared, be very scared), and brutal police forces, who routinely terrorize, denigrate and humiliate our permanent underclass, we have held our population in line through domestic terror, knee-jerk reactionary patriotism, dog-whistle ethnic discrimination, and cultural envy as a function of permanently denying the permanent underclass of the USA access to the "freedoms" and "democracy", which supposedly are those things that make America all so great.
I used to call myself a war photographer. Now I consider myself as an antiwar photographer.
Here's how I feel about gays in the military: Anyone... dumb enough... to want to be in the military... should be allowed in. End of fucking story. That should be the only requirement. I don't care how many push-ups you can do – put on a helmet, go wait in that fox hole. We'll tell you when we need you to kill somebody. I've been watching all these Congressional hearings and all these military guys and all the pundits going, "The esprit de corps will be affected, and we are such a moral..." Excuse me, but aren't you all a bunch of fucking hired killers? Shut up! You are thugs, and when we need you to go blow the fuck out of a nation of little brown people, we'll let you know.

There Will Come Soft Rains

There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground, 
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;

And frogs in the pools singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white,

Robins will wear their feathery fire
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;

And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.

Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree
If mankind perished utterly;

And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn,
Would scarcely know that we were gone. 
July 1918
Arms are instruments of ill omen. When one is compelled to use them, it is best to do so without relish. There is no glory in victory, and to glorify it despite this is to exult in the killing of men. When great numbers of people are killed, one should weep over them with sorrow. When victorious in war, one should observe mourning rites.
I'll be honest with you
I hate war in all its forms
Physical, psychological, spiritual
Emotional, environmental
I hate war

And I hate having to struggle, I honestly do
Because I wish I had been born into a world where it's unnecessary
This context of struggle and being a warrior and being a struggler
Has been forced on me by oppression

Otherwise I would be a, a sculptor, or a gardener, carpenter
You know, I would be free to be so much more

I guess part of me or a part of who I am, a part of what I do
Is being a warrior, a reluctant warrior, a reluctant struggler
But, I do it because I'm committed to life
We can't avoid it,
we can't run away from it

Because to do that is to be cowardice
To do that is to be subservient to devils, subservient to evil
And so that the only way to live on this planet
With any human dignity at the moment is to struggle
What can one say about a country where a museum of science in a great city can feature an exhibit in which people fire machine guns from a helicopter at Vietnamese huts, with a light flashing when a hit is scored? What can one say about a country where such an idea can even be considered? You have to weep for this country.
"American Power and the New Mandarins" (1969)