"The secret of the demagogue is to make himself as stupid as his audience so that they believe they are as clever as he." Karl Kraus, in Die Fackel [The Torch], Vienna, 1899-1935.

Striking Out On Slow Balls

DECEMBER 26, 2004

On December 22nd, Al Neuharth, the founder of USA Today and an ex-soldier from WW II, wrote a short column mildly critical of Bush and the US invasion of Iraq [appended below]. The substantive points he made were:

  1. The Commander in Chief (Bush) is "unwise."
  2. The war in Iraq is an "ill-advised adventure."
  3. Therefore, bring the troops home "sooner rather than later."

There was a massive response to this column which was initially heavily negative but then became about evenly matched between positive and negative according to Editor & Publisher magazine. On their website, E & P tabulate 12 negative responses and about an equal number of positive ones.

The negative ones provide an interesting window on the thought processes of Bush's supporters and I've reproduced them here along with my comments.

The first seven, other than expressing general disapproval, provide no rationale for the writer's position. If there's a unifying characteristic among these, it appears to be a desire to retaliate. Here they are:

  1. Al Fowler, Malcolm, NE: "Hero in '44 and traitor in '04. I will never even ACCEPT a free USA Today from a hotel, and will make it a point to say why when staying."
  2. Cliff Hair: “Never heard of Al Neuharth! What makes him so special and who gives a damn what he thinks?”
  3. Travis Snyder: "He dishonors those who died by inviting American surrender. This is no Vietnam. We can never have another Vietnam."
  4. Pat Giuffra: "I have asked the hotels to not deliver USA Today any more to my room because of this type of distorted news reporting that it is putting out these days." Galen Heslet, Hemet, CA: “Al Neuharth should butt out. Nobody elected him to run things in this country. His liberal-leftist negativity isn't doing the troops in Iraq any good with this kind of tripe.”
  5. Dan Conrad: "It is profoundly tragic that the legacy of Vietnam, it appears, was to validate the practice of wishing military failure on America to satisfy some perverse need for political vindication. The left leaning press and all their lapdogs can go straight to hell."
  6. Michael Bustamente, Sterling Height, MI: “Tell you what. We leave and the sanctimonious jerks like you and your Free Press, you go there and stay after we leave.”
  7. J. Boke, Titusville, FL: “Al Neuharth's war experience crippled his brain, or he's just too old to have much left. War experience doesn't necessarily make one wise. It CAN have a negative effect on one's judgment. It sounds like Mr. Neuharth, as well John McCain, both suffered mentally via their strong emotional suffering.”

No. 8 completely misses the substantive points and instead disagrees with Neuharth's assertion that the troops were properly equipped in WW II:

  1. Henry Yang: “Did he really serve in France, Germany and Philippines? Where was he when our tanks were ill-equipped to deal with the hedge rows in France after the Normandy landing? Do we need to count the number of unnecessary casualties because we were not properly armed and equipped in WW II? By the way, how could we send soldiers to fight the Battle of the Bulge with not properly clothed for the winter and does he know how many soldiers froze to death?”

No. 9 falls into the same trap as No. 8, but he ultimately raises two issues.

  1. Bob Armstrong, Clayton, CA: "Tell Al that my Pop served on Guadalcanal and they sure as hell were not properly equipped. The First Marine Division stormed ashore with WW I rifles and had to eat captured Jap food for 3 months. War is hell and every war has shortfalls. The M16 first sent to Vietnam was a joke. When the Iraqi elections are held and they demonstrate a willingness to fight for freedom this will all worth it. If we fail it will be an Iraqi failure not ours."

The first is the "elections" to be held in Iraq. The willingness of the writer to ignore the terrible cost in lives and the massive destruction of the civil infrastructure of Iraq for the purpose of mimicking a US-style, CIA-managed election in which even the international observers are afraid to set foot in the country shows clearly that he has fetishized the idea of elections. The source of this fetish is most likely Cold War propaganda since it corresponds to a theme which was heavily utilized because the Soviet Union was vulnerable to it.

The second is "a willingness to fight for freedom." In the steps toward freedom, one would think that the one with the highest priority by far would be to throw out the foreign invader/occupier. This is precisely what the Iraqi Resistance is trying to do with a determination which has never been exceeded in history. In the way such things work, the forces which accomplish that task will have legitimately earned the right to form the government they want. The writer seems not to understand that he has undermined his own argument.

No. 10 also raises two issues worth commenting on. He's mangled the word order in the second sentence, but I know what he's trying to say.

  1. Alec Jones, Hoover, AL: "As far as I am concerned, Mr. Neuharth's opinion represents the very worst attitude possible in today's geopolitical climate. Nothing more than a unilateral withdrawal would encourage those who are our enemies and wish to do us harm. With all due respect to Mr. Neuharth's past service for this country, he is sadly out of date with respect to patriotism."

The first is "unilateral withdrawal" of US military forces from Iraq. The US is fighting an essentially indigenous resistance. They live there. The US forces don't. So there is only one kind of withdrawal and it's unilateral. So the adjective is unnecessary. So why use it? Is this some buried, unexamined mental trash left over from a propaganda campaign justifying some previous war against some enemy hell bent on world domination? Like Ho Chi Minh trying to invade "South" Vietnam from "North" Vietnam as the first step "in his dream of world domination?" [These words were used by V.P. Hubert Humphrey in a speech before the bible thumping, Confederate flag waving Texas state legislature in 1968, in referring to Ho Chi Minh, the only Vietnamese head of state who was not propped up by the US, and reported on the front page of the Wall Street Journal without a trace of irony.]

The second is the assertion that Neuharth is practicing "out of date... patriotism" as evidenced, presumably, by his calling the Commander in Chief "unwise." This notion of patriotism, meaning respect for the leader, gets uncomfortably close to the interpretation which was enforced in the Third Reich. The next step is that what the leader says becomes binding law. This actually happened in Germany in the mid-1930's as Germany's legal scholars wrestled with the problem of reconciling established law with the needs of the new "geopolitical climate" [No. 10's formulation]. This latter interesting aspect of the relationship between the German legal establishment and Hitler is closely replicated in the advice the head of Bush's Office of Legal Counsel, Alberto Gonzales, Esq. gave Bush on certain quaint, old-fashioned, and inconvenient international laws, such as the Geneva Conventions. With the correct incantations, advised Gonzales, Bush could free himself from these encumbrances.

No. 11 exaggerates in order to get our attention, but the domino effect of following Neuharth's suggestions results in surprisingly modest consequences which: "drastically change the way we live." Retroactively, this makes big time enemies out of Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Marconi, the Wright Brothers, and Bill Gates.

  1. A.P. Oliver, commander USN (ret.): “To withdraw troops from Iraq would qualify as the greatest surrender in history and invite direct attacks here in this country and ultimately drastically change the way we live. No respectful American could agree with your illogical conclusion.”

He says that withdrawing from Iraq would "invite direct attacks" on the US. Baghdad is 6211 miles from Washington, DC and the Iraqi Resistance forces operate with hand held weapons, mostly RPG-7's with a range of several hundred yards. The writer also seems to have forgotten that we lived for half a century with Soviet nuclear-powered submarines with nuclear-tipped Polaris-type missiles prowling off both coasts. Anxious to feed his paranoia, the writer ignores the fact that it would be generations, if ever, before Iraq could enter that league and that if the US were to normalize its relations with oil-rich Iraq, which it will have to in any case, it will never happen.

If he's referring to terrorist organizations with the resources to operate internationally and who sympathize with the Iraqi Resistance, then the US invasion and continued operations in Iraq have obviously raised the risk of such attacks. This is another example of where the writer undermines his own argument.

No. 12 disagrees with Neuharth's lack of patience.

  1. Rand Oertle: "If he fought in WW II, which his conclusions make me doubt, he is actively twisting the truths of that conflict. Of course, twisting the truth for Mr. Neuharth is his committed modus operandi. We didn't get out of WW II until the job was finished. The defeat of Germany and Japan took years. Now they are our allies."

To the people who plan them, wars are like any other project. They have inputs, outputs, and a time to complete as parameters. This is the way high level managers think of, for example, putting a man on the moon or setting up a shoe factory in China.

The manager's job, initially, is to correctly estimate the three parameters and then, as the project proceeds, to anticipate problems, to re-allocate resources, to revise the initial estimates, and, finally, to achieve the project goal without bankrupting the organization. Good managers do this surprisingly well.

By all the criteria of good management, the Bush regime should have been thrown out long ago. The most glaring stupidities being the lies used to justify the invasion of Iraq, Bush's arrogant declaration of victory from the deck of the carrier Abraham Lincoln on May 2, 2003, the use of torture to interrogate Iraqi's rounded up in dragnet operations, the continueing need for supplements to pay for the war, the loss of confidence in the US dollar, and most recently, the Defense Secretary's glibly ignorant response to a soldier's question about the absence of armor on vehicles.

My overall assessment of this mini sample of Bush's defenders is that they can't remember why they are supporting his war (Nos. 1 to 7), they have an attention deficit disorder in the sense that they tend to respond to a question they can answer rather than the one at issue (Nos. 8 and 9), their minds are littered with the detritus of old propaganda campaigns (Nos. 9 and 10), they have a predisposition to fascism (No. 10) or paranoia (No. 11), or an inability to recognize gross incompetence when they see it (No. 12).

If they strike out on Neuharth's exceedingly slow pitches, how would they handle these?

  • By the precedents established at Nuremberg in 1945, the civilian and military leadership of the United States is guilty of war crimes punishable by death.
  • The Bush regime was kept in power by an election rigged to exclude the war as an issue,
  • and they are protected from impeachment by a catatonic Congress.


They can only dream of holidays at home

December 22, 2004

By Al Neuharth, USA TODAY Founder

Most of us love to spend Christmas with our families, but many cannot. Some numbers of this year's can-dos and cannots:

•More than 62 million of us will travel 50 miles or more to be with family.

•Most of our 2.4 million military men and women will be unable to go home for the holidays.

•More than a half million troops serving overseas will have little holiday happiness, especially the 138,000 in Iraq.

My saddest Christmases came when I was ages 19, 20 and 21 serving in the Army in World War II. The 86th (Blackhawk) Infantry Division took me far from my South Dakota home, first to Texas and California for training, then to France, Germany and the Philippines.

Some of my Blackhawk buddies and I often were watery-eyed when we heard the holiday hit song of 1943 and 1944 — Bing Crosby singing, I'll be home for Christmas if only in my dreams.

Despite unhappy holidays, nearly all of us who served in WWII were proud, determined and properly armed and equipped to help defeat would-be world conquerors Hitler in Germany, Mussolini in Italy and Hirohito in Japan.

At age 80, I'd gladly volunteer for such highly moral duty again. But if I were eligible for service in Iraq, I would do all I could to avoid it. I would have done the same during the Vietnam War, as many of the politically connected did.

"Support Our Troops" is a wonderful patriotic slogan. But the best way to support troops thrust by unwise commanders in chief into ill-advised adventures like Vietnam and Iraq is to bring them home. Sooner rather than later. That should be our New Year's resolution.

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