I suppose a reporter who was not alive during the American war in Vietnam can be excused for a naive view of the U.S. military’s long involvement in domestic politics (“Pentagon warns White House on mixing politics, military,” June 3) by Alex Horton of the Washington Post. But I’m surprised that he also seems to be ignorant of the military politics behind our invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Our Constitution mandates control of the U.S. military by civilian authorities, meaning civilian (not military) politicians. In the case of Vietnam, the civilian politicians around President Lyndon Johnson (mostly Democrats) wanted desperately to start a war with the communist government of North Vietnam to prevent what they had fantasized as the “domino effect” that would result in a communist takeover of other Southeast Asian nations. The U.S. Navy complied by creating a fake “attack” on two of its destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin to justify a bombing campaign and, later, invasion by U.S. combat troops. (These facts are well-documented in the 2017 PBS documentary film series The Vietnam War by Ken Burns. The eight months I spent in combat in the Central Highlands makes this story personal for me.)
In 2003, the U.S. military, under the command of U.S. Army Gen. Colin Powell, with the assistance of the CIA and other spooks, created an elaborate fake scenario of Iraqi “weapons of mass destruction” to justify the Republican neocons’ desperate attempt to create a war in the Middle East, to divert attention from their failed domestic agenda. Powell spread the official lies when he spoke to the United Nations, thereby cementing his role as a military toady of civilian politicians.
In both Vietnam and Iraq, U.S. military officers, to protect their budgets and the careers of senior officers, lied often enough about what they were doing to justify the growing reluctance of the populace to believe anything coming from Washington, D.C. One result is that the bipartisan lying has become business as usual.
That the civilian politicians who control the Pentagon (many of whom are draft dodgers) want to contain fallout from the mischief of our current commander in chief is not surprising. What is surprising is that people who should know better (like Horton) apparently assume this is something new.
Sterling Grogan lives in Santa Fe.