You may only read this site if you've purchased Our Kampf from Amazon or Powell's or me
• • •
"Mike and Jon, Jon and Mike—I've known them both for years, and, clearly, one of them is very funny. As for the other: truly one of the great hangers-on of our time."—Steve Bodow, head writer, The Daily Show

"Who can really judge what's funny? If humor is a subjective medium, then can there be something that is really and truly hilarious? Me. This book."—Daniel Handler, author, Adverbs, and personal representative of Lemony Snicket

"The good news: I thought Our Kampf was consistently hilarious. The bad news: I’m the guy who wrote Monkeybone."—Sam Hamm, screenwriter, Batman, Batman Returns, and Homecoming

November 21, 2006

America, America, God Shed His Crazy Grace On Thee

I have a question.

It's this:


My calm, measured inquiry is prompted by a new NY Times op-ed by Mark Moyar, a professor at the Marine Corps University. According to Moyar, it turns out Vietnam and Iraq are quite similar, but in a good way:

The United States faced a very similar crisis a half-century ago. In 1955, the pro-American government of Ngo Dinh Diem sought to disband militias that belonged to religious sects, analogous to the Shiite militias in Iraq today...

Through political acumen and force of personality, Diem gained the full cooperation of the National Army and used it to subdue the sects...

Diem went on to become a highly effective national war leader. When, in August 1963, he suppressed challenges to his authority from another religious group, he again experienced an upsurge in prestige...

South Vietnam’s history recommends the pursuit of two objectives that American officials are now urging upon Prime Minister Maliki: subduing the Shiite militias and transferring control of the police from Shiite partisans to Iraqi nationalists...

If we pull back our troops temporarily and let Mr. Maliki deal with Iraq’s problems using Iraqi forces, we will be able to determine more quickly whether he can save his country as Diem saved his in 1955.

Now, I'm no expert on Vietnam. But...even I could guess there was something a little wrong with this analogy:

• Before France colonized it, Vietnam was mostly Buddhist.

• France brought Catholicism. A minority converted, and in the standard colonial pattern this minority were most of the ones who ran things for the French. Thus, Catholicism was the religion of a disliked elite.

• Ngo Dinh Diem was Catholic.

• Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki is Shia.

• The militias which Diem "sought to disband" in 1955 therefore were not "analogous to the Shiite militias in Iraq today." Why? BECAUSE THEY WEREN'T CATHOLIC.

• Again, Diem was Catholic. In fact, he was Extra-Catholic; his brother was an archbishop. But the main sects he attacked in 1955 were Cao Dai (Syncretic), Hoa Hao (Buddhist), and a criminal organization called Binh Xuyen. (As the op-ed says, Diem "suppressed challenges to his authority from another religious group" in 1963. The other religious group was Buddhist.)

• Again, Maliki is Shia. Thus, even if he had the power to crush the Shia militias (he surely doesn't), he wouldn't want to. He would be crushing his own base of support.

The op-ed is crazy and evil in about nineteen other ways too. Spencer Ackerman touches on a few here. But just the problem I identify should be enough to disqualify this guy from teaching anyone anything anywhere. Moreover, even if the crazy-filter failed to catch him before he got tenure, in a non-insane country the country's most prestigious newspaper wouldn't be printing something like this. In a non-insane country, the most prestigious newspaper would be wiping its prestigious ass with it.

But here in America, the NY Times will not only publish something calling for our puppet to shed rivers of Iraqi blood, they don't even care it makes no sense whatsoever.

God, we're in trouble.

MORE EXCELLENT CRAZY: The leader of the Hoa Hao militia was Ba Cut. As the Pentagon Papers record, in 1956 Diem had him beheaded in public.

Since Mark Moyar believes the situations in Vietnam and Iraq are "analogous," I guess his plan involves some future public beheadings. I think we can all agree Iraq hasn't had enough of those.

Posted at November 21, 2006 02:59 AM | TrackBack

"But just the problem I identify should be enough to disqualify this guy from teaching anyone anything anywhere. Moreover, even if the crazy-filter failed to catch him before he got tenure, in a non-insane country the country's most prestigious newspaper wouldn't be printing something like this."

Fortunately for academia, doctorates are granted to those displaying academic rigor of enough significance to advance their fields and not just to those opinions that are held to be popular.

Unfortunately, the standards beyond the PhD level drop significantly and are based primarily on two things - publishing and fundraising. In International Relations, the latter often goes to those willing to tow the mainstream Realist line in support of policies favorable to political / economic institutions. This seems to have the double-effect of legitimizing the crazies while simultaneously further entrenching the hawkish policies as the academic mainstream. Of course, this then makes it easier for such people to publish and the cycle continues.

Particularly with regard to military academies, there is a tension between fostering an environment of academic integrity - which tends to gravitate towards what Americans erroneously consider more of a "liberal" agenda - and appeasing the symbols of both the political winds and the pressures of military hegemony.

To be fair, I have to imagine that the higher administration of such institutions fancy themselves social scientists and have, like the rest of us, been instilled with a need for diversity of opinion, sound methodological practices, and exterior collaboration/conferencing. But it is doubtful that such institutions will change their stripes in the near future for two reasons. The first is that they have become homogenized to such an extent that they believe inherently minor differences constitutes broad diversity (and the rest of the "liberl" IR community are a bunch of quacks) and so little effort is made in recruiting outsiders. The second is that they don't convey much sense of invitation to other institutions through conference presence, publications, enagagement outside the Ivory tower, etc.

I'm (hopefully) finishing my PhD in April and have been job hunting myself for the past few months. My work is specifically in counter-terrorism and I have a lot of ideas on contemporary conflicts that are not only pragmatic, but deliberately address Realist concerns. I think I would make a fabby addition to any military academy - except for the fact that I would never, NEVER apply for the post. I have no intention of approaching a university that (seemingly) hates what I stand for and in which I would be unlikely to make tenure. I can see that this is unfair to myself, the insititutions, their students, the profession, and the country as a whole. But I doubt I am alone in my hypocrisy.

Posted by: urthwalker at November 21, 2006 06:52 AM

The comparison is even more outrageous than it seems. In reality, most Vietnamese are Buddhist but in the same way that many agnostics in America nevertheless self-identify as Christian. (For instance, I identify as Lutheran but haven't been to church in more than a decade.) There's lots of ancestor worship in Vietnam but basically zero religious fervor in most of the population.

This is very different than, say, America. I suspect that the Shia and Sunni in Iraq are also rather fervent believers - not at all like Vietnam.

Posted by: Aaron Datesman at November 21, 2006 06:56 AM

"A highly effective national war leader."

It would seem that for Moyar an effective war leader is one who takes steps which keep war going for decades. While certainly not all Diem'sfault, it is hard to see that his policies in 1955 led to good times for Vietnam and its people--unless, like Moyar, you're crazy.

Posted by: Bob at November 21, 2006 11:02 AM

Yeah, I was going to take issue with "a highly effective war leader" as well. Someone whose corrupt, autocratic government perpetuated a civil war and ended in flames and a US-supported assassination/coup shouldn't necessarily be described as "highly effective", unless you forgot one or two letters, like "in-".


This settles the long-standing mystery of why men have nipples.

Posted by: saurabh at November 21, 2006 11:40 AM

And there in America, the LA Times will publish a neocon nutcase's rousing call to bomb Iran. The title of that one was really subtle: "Bomb Iran" And just in case you missed the message, the opening line was "We must bomb Iran."

Don't you people have laws against that kind of thing???

Posted by: Jean at November 21, 2006 01:09 PM

Don't you people have laws against that kind of thing?

Laws against what? LOVING AMERICA?!?

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at November 21, 2006 02:14 PM

OMFG, I don't even know where to start. Almost every sentence he wrote is wrong in multiple ways. In a sane world it would be sufficient to put up a sign saying, "Here be idiots", and let it go at that.

However, Moyar engages in a propaganda technique that will be studied by future generations, in much the same was as we study Goebels' the Big Lie (to which the neocons are no strangers). In this technique, the most outrageous and falacious arguments possible are made in a major media outlet. If you do not counter them, they are out there and gain normalcy over time by simple repitition. If you engage and counter them, the mere act of engagement gains normalcy for the ideas. Either way, once the insane idea is floated, every time someone makes any point remotely related, the press trots out an adherent of the insanity to "balance" the sane perspective.

I really don't know how to counter this kind of propaganda, and evidently no one else does either, since it seems to work. You can't debunk the ideas rationally, because they do not use reason as support. The arguments are essentially emotional, supported only by wildly strained analogies and outright falsehoods.

Posted by: shargash at November 21, 2006 03:41 PM

Plus that nasty little question: How'd that work out for Mr. Diem? He still our boy in Asia?
Oh, never mind...

Posted by: Paul Curtin at November 21, 2006 04:03 PM

What I love is this sudden wave of erudition on the Vietnam war, coming from the Iraq war hawks.

Had they tried such nuanced analysis with their 60's counterparts, the response would have been along the lines of, "Bullshit! We've got to stop those goddam commies in 'Nam or every freakin' Southeast Asia country will end up flyin' the hammer n' cycle and then it won't be long before we all have to start learning how to speak Russian!"

Posted by: Muddy Mo at November 21, 2006 07:36 PM

Proving what we might have suspected- "Marine Corps University" is a working definition of oxymoron.

Or some kind of moron.

Migawd, these are the people "defending us"? We are in some deep doo-doo now.

Posted by: serial catowner at November 21, 2006 09:57 PM

It should reassure Maliki that he is being cast as Diem in this drama. This begs the question: Who're going to play Marshall Ky and General Thieu in Iraq, Son of 'Nam?

Posted by: Lloyd at November 21, 2006 10:14 PM

Since the New York Times (née Pravda) is America’s tabloid of record, the only thing surprising about that article is that it doesn’t mention how all the dubious suppositions are supported by ‘highly placed government sources’ and/or unicorns.

Posted by: Cous Cous at November 21, 2006 11:40 PM

suarabh: Re: "This settles the long-standing mystery of why men have nipples"

Wait a second, so God is a MAN?

Posted by: Jean at November 22, 2006 03:42 AM

Dammit, Serialcatowner, you beat me to the punch. Fie, oh fie.

Posted by: Jesus B. Ochoa at November 22, 2006 08:53 AM

Hey, folks, we're dealing with a Marine, not Rene Descartes.

Posted by: von Rundstedt at November 22, 2006 01:40 PM

Poor general Westmorland, till the end he believed he had never lost a battle in vietnam. But as the Vietnamese would say, this may be so but it is irrelevent. The same with that nut, this may be so , but it is irrelevent. It hard to deal with pathology. Amin
PS. Please proof read the statment, that guy is too much

Posted by: Amin at November 22, 2006 08:36 PM