Archive for November 20th, 2012

Seth Lipsky wrote a column in the Wall Street Journal a couple of days ago titled John Kerry, Secretary of What? It argues that John Kerry is unqualified to be Secretary of State or Secretary of Defense because he testified to atrocities and war crimes committed by soldiers in Vietnam. Lipsky suggests that someone who vilifies veterans, or causes others to vilify them, is himself worthy of vilification. He speaks approvingly of John O’Neill, who led the Swiftboat Veterans for Truth in the 2004 presidential campaign:

Mr. O’Neill and fellow officers who served on Swift Boats in the war in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta torpedoed Mr. Kerry’s campaign for president in 2004. The Swift Vets exposed his libels against American GIs and debunked his claims to heroism in the Mekong Delta.

Then Lipsky quotes from Kerry’s testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971. Kerry reported what veterans confessed about their actions in Vietnam, where they

had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war, and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country.

Lipsky then suggests that because no one prosecuted the veterans for these crimes, they did not happen. That is, the veterans had confessed to crimes they had not committed. Ask yourself how likely that is: your country drafts you to fight a nasty land war in the villages, rice paddies, and jungles of Vietnam. You witness what we know happens during a war. When you return home, you testify to atrocious acts you committed while you were overseas, and you lie about it! These soldiers were not bragging. Like John Kerry, they were angry their country had put them in a hellish place where atrocious activity had become commonplace, with little to distinguish among normal ravages of war, war crimes, and memories of things they had done.

Lipsky concedes that a few bad apples, as we call them now, may have committed war crimes. In fact, he generously places Kerry in that group, citing Kerry’s own testimony:

There are all kinds of atrocities, and I would have to say that, yes, yes, I committed the same kind of atrocities as thousands of other soldiers have committed in that I took part in shootings in free-fire zones. I conducted harassment and interdiction fire. I used 50-caliber machine guns, which we were granted and ordered to use, which were our only weapon against people. I took part in search and destroy missions, in the burning of villages.”

“All of this is contrary to the laws of warfare, all of this is contrary to the Geneva Conventions and all of this is ordered as a matter of written established policy by the government of the United States from the top down. And I believe that the men who designed these, the men who designed the free fire zone, the men who ordered us, the men who signed off the air raid strike areas, I think these men, by the letter of the law, the same letter of the law that tried Lieutenant Calley, are war criminals.”

When Kerry refers to a free fire zone, he means the rules of engagement permit you to shoot anything that moves, including women and children. A military court prosecuted Lt. Calley for the massacre at My Lai not because his actions there had a different result from military actions in innumerable other villages. It prosecuted him because his company was more deliberate than most, and because he and his men murdered so many people. After Seymour Hersh reported the massacre in the States, the military had to prosecute him.

Imagine what Vietnam veterans encountered when they returned home. On one side were anti-war protesters who actually did vilify returning vets as war criminals – behavior that disgraced the peace movement, not the returning soldiers. On the other side, returning vets encountered so many people who did not even want do know what happened in Vietnam. They couldn’t comprehend it. Along comes John Kerry, a decorated officer, angry that his government, in a paroxysm of brutality and stupidity, sends thousands of his generation to die in a place they don’t care about. He tries to tell people, in government and out, what is happening over there. He vilifies the war, not the people forced to fight in it. He honestly confesses that he participated in the same hell as everyone else.

When John Kerry reports in 1971 that destroying villages and their civilian inhabitants was U. S. policy, he tells the truth. These ravages of war were not the result of a few bad apples. Lipsky neither acknowledges nor cares that history supports John Kerry. The evidence did not support John O’Neill when he campaigned to discredit Kerry in 1971; the evidence had not changed when O’Neill mounted the same campaign in 2004. The Swift Boat Veterans demonstrated their hatred for Kerry when they launched a twisted campaign of falsehood against him. The Republicans would have disavowed the campaign in a second if they had an ounce of honor. They did not – George W. Bush and his corrupt propagandists stood by silently. At least John McCain, a fellow veteran, disavowed the swift boat veterans.

The swift boat veterans hated Kerry for his testimony, all the more because it was true. They hated him because they felt he made them look bad. Kerry’s goal was not to level accusations at his fellow soldiers. His goal when he returned from Vietnam was to end the war by telling people what was actually happening over there. The swift boat veterans never accused Kerry of lying in his testimony during the anti-war movement. They know he told the truth. Instead they denigrated his heroism, saying he did not deserve his medals. Somehow that stuck. I don’t know why, but it did.

The Vietnam war was born in lies, it matured in lies, and it ended in lies. We have still not acknowledged what we did there. When he returned from the war, Kerry told the truth about U. S. activities in Vietnam. We saw what happened to him in 2004 as a result. Eight years ago, too many people listened to John O’Neill and his dirty organization before they listened to John Kerry. This week, we still see Seth Lipsky use space in the Wall Street Journal to dishonor John Kerry for his testimony, more than forty years after Kerry’s honorable and heroic service to his country.

We’ve all heard someone say at one time or another, “We have to put the Vietnam war and its divisions behind us. Otherwise its wounds will never heal.” It’s a platitude. First acknowledge the truth. Reconciliation follows.

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The Right to a Job Doesn’t Exist

The idea of the United States of America was born during the Age of Enlightenment (17th and 18th centuries).  The great philosophers of that time challenged the divine right of kings by enunciating a new theory for the social order.  Their theory was articulated by the English philosopher John Locke (1632-1704), who claimed that man originally was born in a state of nature where he had the absolute rights of life, liberty, and property.  Thus, when Thomas Jefferson presented the Continental Congress with the document that would lay the foundation for our government and society, the Declaration of Independence, he included one of the most eloquent and oft quoted statements in the English language:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness”

In essence, this one profound statement gives all Americans rights that cannot be taken away by any legal authority.  The greatest of these rights is the right to property, which includes an individual’s body as well as possessions he/she has toiled to produce.

So, where is this treatise headed you might ask?

This Friday is Black Friday in the United States and to protest the labor practices of mega-retailer Wal-Mart, some of its employees are planning nationwide walkouts.  On the busiest shopping day of the year in the U.S. supposedly 1000 picket lines are expected at Wal-Mart stores across the country.  Specifically, the activism is meant to draw attention to what strike organizers call Wal-Mart’s “retaliation against employees who speak out for better pay, fair schedules and affordable health care”.

Now, there is no question that Wal-Mart employees are entitled to freedom of speech, guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, just like all other Americans.  And they have enjoyed that right by virtue of the fact that none have been imprisoned or worse for speaking out against their employer.  But, this action by disgruntled Wal-Mart employees has really nothing to do with freedom of speech; it has everything to do with property rights.

In the employer-employee relationship, the employer has property rights to the business which includes, the buildings, inventory, and all other aspects of the enterprise (i.e. good will) not seeded to another entity.  This also includes the paid positions made available to the public by the company.  In this same relationship, the worker has property rights to his/her labor.

This arrangement is consistent with the right to property proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence.  A right which includes an individual’s body as well as possessions he has toiled to produce (in this case the business enterprise) and is the reason why the hiring process includes the worker filling out an application, meeting to be interviewed, and negotiating an employment contract.  Consequently, the right to one’s labor is an indispensable property of the individual.  But the job that he sells his labor to perform is the property of the business.  Thus, the right to a job doesn’t exist because that would be a violation of the property rights of business owners.

Now, I realize there are such things as anti-discrimination laws, collective bargaining laws, and other acts of government which grant workers the right to employment and job security.  But, they violate the unalienable right to property guaranteed first in the Declaration of Independence and then in the U.S. Constitution.  They are also egregious representations of how far we have strayed as a nation from our original ideals of liberty.

If Wal-Mart employees are unhappy with their working conditions, they have a right to petition their employer within the confines of their labor contract.  If their grievances are not met, the choice before them is to either continue to honor their labor contract or resign.  The founding principle which gave birth to American liberty requires this.

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John Boyd writes about fingerspitzengefuhl. When you see the term in writing, the author says, “This word is hard to translate.” Then the author says it means “fingertip touch.” That’s not a bad description, since in a sense it refers to interaction between fingers and the brain. It also refers to interaction between any part of the body and brain, and most broadly, interaction between you as a thinking entity and how you act.

Here are some examples of fingerspitzengefuhl that stay pretty close to the literal meaning:

  • Improvisation or performance of a complicated piece on the piano
  • A similar performance on any musical instrument
  • Skiing
  • Soaring
  • Chess
  • Military operations on a battlefield
  • Dogfighting
  • Swordfighting
  • Seduction
  • Handling a complex negotiation

You have the idea now. A general definition that fits all these examples would be fine sensitivity, sure instinct or great situational awareness.

John Boyd tied this idea to the so-called OODA loop. The letters in this acronym stand for:

  • Observe
  • Orient
  • Decide
  • Act

Think of the OODA loop as a process, one that applies especially well to situations of conflict. We can discuss this loop in greater detail later, especially in connection with Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, and Miyamoto Musashi’s The Book of Five Rings.

I’ve wanted to think about how fingerspitzengefuhl and the OODA loop might apply to civil conflict. You know from past posts that I have advocated planned, non-violent resistance to our government. I believe this resistance must come from the states. They are the political actors best equipped to secure freedom. Citizens acting together within their own states have the best chance of success. We need a handbook to guide state resistance to the federal government.

Since I started with a reference to John Boyd’s work, we’ll end this post the same way. Ten years ago, I bought Robert Coram’s biography of John Boyd for my dad, who like Boyd was a fighter pilot. My dad fought in World War II; Boyd fought in the Korean War. If you like to read biographies of leaders, pick up Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War. If you hear an echo of Sun Tzu in that title, that’s not an accident.

Boyd developed a theory of warfare – and of conflict more generally – that emphasizes psychological elements of conflict. We can’t briefly summarize his fairly complex theories here. Instead, download this well edited version of his comprehensive slide deck, Patterns of Conflict. It is worth your time.

In connection with a handbook for civil resistance, useful for states as they interact with the federal government, we should keep some big questions in mind. How do republics fail or fall? Why does the government that husbands the republic lose its authority and effectiveness? Lastly, why do leaders fail so spectacularly, and others succeed? We want to keep these questions in the background as we consider effective means to save ourselves.

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Tax Revolt

The fastest, most effective way to deprive government of power is to deprive it of money. Legitimacy requires moral authority. Power just requires cash. Money is not just the mother’s milk of politics: it is the blood and oxygen as well. Because governments do not act to lessen their own power, they never act voluntarily to lessen their access to money. A tax revolt can force or induce government to shut off the tap for a time, but just how a tax revolt works is an uncertain thing.

We do not have much experience with tax revolts in our country. California’s Proposition 2.5 to limit property tax increases had success, and the movement spread to other states. We have a number of organizations that lobby for tax reform in Washington, but by and large Americans have paid a great deal in taxes without much public protest either about high rates or about how it is spent.

Not until the Tea Party, that is. This spontaneous movement, named Taxed Enough Already, came out to catch people’s attention on April 15, 2009. No amount of ridicule, skepticism, mockery and deceit could tamp down its central aim. We have to lower taxes. To do that, we have to lower spending. To to that, we have to reduce government’s reach. Smaller government means less spending means lower taxes. Why this message was met with such mockery is something of a mystery.

Whether the movement achieves success, or whether we can call the movement a revolt, we can’t know yet. We can say the movement has been somewhat inchoate so far, rising as it has from frustrations that have developed in so many places, over such a long time.

To organize a tax revolt across so vast a land, when the institutions of tax collection are so well established, is a hard task. Would a tax revolt require that everyone quit heir W-2 jobs and go to work off the books, as so many people do already because they have no choice about the matter? Would it require that people stop filing tax returns? Who would be the first person willing to go to jail for tax avoidance?

During revolutionary periods in Europe, workers’ movements have called for a general strike. A strike counts as a temporary albeit radical pressure tactic, but no general strike has ever reestablished liberty, reduced the size of government, or lowered taxes. Besides, the purpose of a revolt in the American case is not to bring down our government, but to replace it with new institutions located elsewhere. If that distinction isn’t clear, think of the difference between the Russian revolution in 1917, and the division of Czechoslovakia into two states after the Cold War. Recall the breakup of the Soviet Union itself. In both the Czechoslovakian and the Soviet cases, locally based governmental institutions replaced much larger, more distant power centers.

How would you organize a broad-based, radical tax revolt in the United States? It could come from citizens groups like the Tea party, but it would probably require leadership from the states’ governors, and from other leaders within each state. Meantime, the states have other, less fraught ways to make themselves more independent of the national government. In a tax revolt, citizens need support from their state governments. For alternate methods of resistance, state governments need their citizens’ support. Either way, citizens and state governments must be united to make resistance work. The national government can readily interfere with piecemeal, unorganized resistance. Therefore we want measures that bring citizens and state governments together in a common cause to dismantle federal authority over individuals and states.


Originally published in Revolution on the Ground. For an interesting article on state resistance to federal policy, see Why ObamaCare Is Still No Sure Thing.

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