Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Futures and Pasts


America's irrepressible fifth column of Islamopacifascist defeatocrats keeps insisting that the Iraq War is Vietnam all over again -- even though it's quite clear to cooler heads that it's actually World Wars II through V -- so Rich Lowry figures he might as well take their ball and run with it. Thus, we now have it on good authority that the Iraq War is like the Vietnam War...not for us, but for al-Qaeda:

When the United States lost Vietnam, it lost credibility and saw an emboldened Marxist-Leninist offensive around the Third World. Al-Qaida is a global insurgency and not a nation-state -- and thus its circumstances are radically different from ours 40 years ago -- but it has suffered a similar reputational loss.
Lowry hastens to add that things were very different back when AQ was "winning" in Iraq, which is an era I must've slept through. But now that its "indiscriminate killing" and "lunatic decrees" are becoming unpopular, it's losing political capital. Which I guess gives the US an opportunity to win Iraqi hearts and minds at long last (as long as it can restrain itself from indiscriminate killing and issuing lunatic decrees).

Beyond noting that Lowry doesn't seem to have a very clear practical idea of what "victory" in Iraq might entail, I have to disagree with his analogy. I say that the Iraq War is in fact much more like the Second Anglo-Maratha War was for the Peshwa Baji Rao II...not from our standpoint, mind you, but from that of the ethnic Kurds. For non-Kurdish Sunnis of the Hanafi school, the war is more reminiscent of the Second Rif War, which, at the risk of belaboring the obvious, was itself not entirely dissimilar to the Third Anglo-Maratha War. It can hardly be a coincidence, then, that Blackwater's role in the conflict, despite certain radically different circumstances, recalls nothing so much as most, though not all, of the Janissary revolts.

All of which tends to confirm my suspicion that although 9/11 changed everything, Iran's Shiite majority is nonetheless in roughly the same position as the Poles during the First Silesian Uprising, while the United States, having forgotten the stark lessons of the Ifni War, risks following in the footsteps of the Saharan Liberation Army at the Battle of Edchera.

I don't think it's too much to ask for concerned Americans to take note of these striking historical parallels, so that we can move our national debate forward.

(Illustration: "Tet Offensive, 1968." Source: United States Military Academy.)

13 comments:

peacay said...

I'm not so much sidestepping your -- I guess I can't say humour or sarcasm for fear of harshing on the momentum, but let's say: -- observations, rather you have brought some lingering thoughts to my mind about Vietnam.

I spent 2 years in and around Hanoi - this century - which I found to be a wonderful place with wonderful people (like most places are I suppose).

Early on I was intent on understanding everything: why people did things the way they did and what they ate or what they thought about the government or about world events or their place in Asia and their personal and collective desires for the future: on and on went my inquisitive interactions, helped of course, to an extent, by my learning a little of the language and moreso, by just spending a long time there and showing that I was interested: people are always happy when interlopers show interest in their world.

One of the earliest and most persistent, for a while at least, wonderments on my mind was how people regarded America and what they had taken away from the war: what legacy remained from that period in their history?

Now I'm a fairly ignorant bloke and I didn't (and don't) particularly have a strong understanding of history (any, really) beyond the usual general knowledge and perhaps that was a good position to be in. It meant that I didn't really have any preconceived notions about the right and wrong of it or the tactics or propaganda or media coverage or political views or the nature of victory with respect to the Vietnam war. It meant that I could ask kinda honest questions out of curiosity rather than to bolster imprinted thoughts. Oh, I was provocative to a civil extent at times, adding a bit of spice to the mix to liven up the debate or test the depth of surface beliefs, but for the mostpart I would, according to age, ask about their memories for the period and how it affected their families, their livelihoods, their standard of living and what they thought the war was actually about and if they thought that the combatants were justified in engaging, much in the way I'm describing here: dispassionately and generally, rather than specifically and emotively.

Now, I wouldn't suggest I carried out a 'valid' survey by any means, and these are only the thoughts of a lay passerby, but if I was to attempt to collate the responses and distil them into what you might call a 'generalised' - not unanimous, but close - reaction to America and the war it would have to be something like:

"Yes, it's part of our history. We are proud of the people who fought on the side of Uncle Ho (as he's affectionately known) and we are glad that Uncle Ho's system of government wasn't taken away. But of America we have no hard feelings, and the truth of it is that we never really think of it - the war - except on Victory Day perhaps (or whatever it's called: they have a few of these for various historical military campaigns) and even then, it is more about pride in the nation rather than
"nyaah nyaah We Won! Ha! Take that you bastards!!"

And so, because the war has no real concious influence today, we are more than happy to meet American tourists who, by and large, we have found to be lovely people. Of course, like everyone in the world, we have our political opinions about the ubiquitous tentacles of American foreign policy but it's more in the way of displeasure with interference by any nation in another nation's affairs rather than it being about displeasure with America, per se. And we certainly don't hate America. We don't think of them too much unless it's about consumer goods and culture perhaps."

I'm sorry for going on at length here and I'm probably not communicating as effectively the feelings I had/have as a result of these interactions as perhaps I might be better able to convey were I to have bought you your fifth or eleventh beer in some seedy out-of-the-way bar late at night, where long conversations are more easily exchanged, but this word, this entity, this country, this historical nemesis known as Vietnam is just such a powerful and multifactorial psychological and cultural trope in the fabric of modern America - or so is my distant perception - that it perhaps defies equivalence in history (maybe 9.11 is one too) in terms of the profound influence it exerts over the national psyche, and it's a difficult task trying to hold up, as an outsider, what is always going to be a sensitive mirror towards this - what is it? - national glitch or obsession or fantasy or symptom or fracture or malignancy or neurosis we observe to be embedded in the conciousness there.

They don't care. The rest of us don't care. But why is it that America is obsessed with Vietnam (or the Vietnam war)??

I'm actually not seeking an answer to that riddle necessarily. Perhaps there is a book (to be) written that examines the phenomenon from the same perplexed point of view akin to my own, but I doubt it could be (or could have been) written by an American alone; it would require an interloper's perspective too.

Partly I suppose I'm even suggesting - insufferably no doubt, without actually offering specifics or data or evidence, even - that this phenomenon Vietnam, as it manifests in the 'mind' of America, for want of a better phrase, really is a manifestation of a diseased system, that the hubris (them there defeatocrats no doubt) and wounded pride is a very deep affair, relating to capitalism and the tenets of the rah rah! American dream and the founding system of government.

I'm not smart enough to promulgate such a thesis (and I should say, I'm not saying that I strongly hold such a belief to the extent I've just put - I'm just riffing) but I do think there is a vast psychological field of analysis in terms of the way a nation thinks and reacts and how it relates to its historical place in and attitude towards the rest of the world available for sifting with the examination of what exactly Vietnam is to America.

Who the fuck am I anyway?! Well, one thing I noted elsewhere a while ago, is that a thing the rest of us in the english speaking western world have in common and America doesn't, is that we all are thoroughly raised on a 2nd culture, that being America. It's why pissant dweebs like your dishonourable correspondent feels qualified to have and voice an opinion. We are watching and we don't always like what we see.

I hope it is noted I never said 'Americans', my thoughts range much more in this intangible notion of America rather than its inhabitants as it were. To the best of my recollection all Americans I've met here or while travelling, with whom I spent more than 5 minutes have been wonderful peoples (similarly for every other country's citizens, in general, as well).

Shit, you made me go all ranty again. I'll have to stop doing that. You provocative bastard!

Phila said...

Very interesting comments, and I'll probably have to think about 'em a long while before they sink in properly.

Meanwhile, I think your "manifestation of a diseased system" comment is right, with the following caveat. My gut instinct here is that the "wounded pride" you speak of is largely a right-wing ideological affair with extremely shallow roots in the popular mind. And even then, I don't think it's so much a matter of America having been humiliated on the world stage - these same people humiliate us constantly, on purpose, with malice aforethought - so much as the fact that a bunch of hippies and peaceniks and middleclass nobodies challenged the Masters of The Universe on their home turf, and didn't obviously and definitively lose that argument...the argument, ultimately, being a fairly pragmatic one about power and authority.

What Vietnam "means" today in official culture is pretty much the same thing, IMO. All the wounded-sounding rhetoric and all the revisionism makes the basic outlook sound much more complex than it is: I think it all has to do with a twisted, but fairly consistent and pragmatic goal of removing legal and conceptual and moral obstacles to the exercise of power. I don't think it has all that much to do with idealism about capitalism or American destiny at the policy level, though I'm sure some ideologues tell themselves that it does. I view the problem as almost...mechanical, and all the grandiose soul-searching as the human-looking skin that goes over the gears and flywheels. (It's a reversed, much more frightening version of going to war with an impassive metal mask over one's face in order to present a pitiless face to one's enemies.)

Also, it was said that failure in Vietnam would lead to all sorts of catastrophes for America, but they never really materialized; that being the case, the psychological effects of failure themselves became the danger, to the extent that they might prevent us from making the same mistake again (and again). That's why Americans have so often heard that we could "get over" Vietnam by winning a war elsewhere. But it'd be a mistake, IMO, to treat that as anything more than rhetoric and imposition. Most of what we hear about "our" psychology in this country is nonsense, and is an attempt to prevent honest reflection.

Anyway, while I don't think that the "hippies" "won" - I have a pretty dour outlook on that point, and on the romanticism surrounding it - the view of the war as an arrogant mistake is widespread and elemental enough that people who want to define it as, say, a Failure of the Will tend to have an uphill battle. My point being that the perception from abroad of Vietnam as this ever-rankling "obsession" for Americans is to some extent a measure of the influence of a very small group of people with very specific goals in mind.

Nothing's quite that simple, obviously. And I'm ignoring the ongoing interest that people who opposed the war have in presenting themselves as heroes or what have you. But I do think there's some truth to what I'm saying.

Your point about a "second culture" is an excellent one, and is something I've noticed in my own travels. And it's part of the reason I find it hard to know how to interpret comments like the ones you heard in Vietnam. Which is not to say that I think they're insincere, or wrong, or naive, by any means...only that the cause and effect of that sincerity, and that ability to "not care," bears looking into. When you talk about being "raised" to some extent by America, I think that's a perfect metaphor, not least because parental failings and cruelties are often so easy to shrug off...on the surface, at least. At the risk of sounding obsessed, power does warp perceptions, and people do have a habit of making a virtue out of necessity.

Lest I sound too negative, I have to add that I sincerely love (what I think of as) America; I have my own form of pride in it and my own strange sort of idealistic faith in it (and in the rest of the world, natch). And I don't want to suggest that anger and resentment and fear are the only psychologically defensible stances towards this country. American culture has its positive and even liberating qualities, and you can recognize and respond to them without being an imperialist or a dupe.

Now, how about that beer?

peacay said...

Thanks for the thoughtful response, especially so when I realise what a grammatically bastardised and poorly edited post-midnight spiel I foisted on you.

I'm sure I overplayed the 'national psyche' element to a degree and you've done a good job dialling back my rhetorical insinuations. I don't know, however, if the shallow roots in the popular mind obviates the possibility that Vietnam used as a widespread media/literary/commentary measure and metaphor is not at least partly related to the quintessential American ethos of the individual over the collective raised to the level of nationhood on the world playing field. I guess that is the heart of my argument. Hippies and anti-authority and whether or not Mr & Ms Gen. Public give it a 2nd thought are, in this idea, kind of beside the point. Not that they aren't important considerations for other ways of processing the episode in historical and cultural terms. In reality I think your gut instinct about power/authority and my musings on national psyche both have some observational validity.

If I'm appearing a bit sheepish it's because this is a large conversation which I've jumped into, admittedly ill-equipped and uncertain, and it could easily take over my web life were I to attempt to properly elucidate the thoughts into a proper argument. As I say, I don't think I could anyway. I am merely musing out loud.

Does right wing mean hawkish? (I'm never sure about 'wings' in America because your major 'left wing' party is, to many of us, incredibly right of what we regard as 'centrist'). Because if you mean that it's the hawk mentality that keeps the Vietnam flag flying as a manipulative motif then I would have thought that's the stuff of individuals in both major parties. The American military is a ginormous segment of political life - like nowhere else on earth in terms of its importance in domestic rhetoric, fearmongering and policy - and not really a partisan trope.

So if the Vietnam flag has been and is flown by a small section of hawks then the degree of traction it gains in the media and wider commentary is perhaps itself indicative of hitting a chord in the collective belief system. Maybe.

The point I didn't well make when speaking of my interactions with Vietnamese people is that their thoughts about America are not very much related to the war at all whereas the word Vietnam is, in my not so humble estimation, to most Americans, a hugely evocative poly-taloned beast. It may well be that the current criminals in and associated with the White House use that war as a manipulative chant or the like, but they didn't invent its importance in the wider media.

I didn't think you were particularly critical of your country before your final pre-beer paragraph. And as I said, I wasn't trying to criticise human beings by attempting to posit the continuing ripples about Vietnam as an potential inditement of hypercapitalism (the individual must win!) or the constitution or the collective ethos or whatever, it's about examining the system which gives rise to such a perverse trope. I don't hate 'America' - whatever that is - but I'm fairly skeptical of the way certain tenets of its foundation manifest.

Phila said...

I'm sure I overplayed the 'national psyche' element to a degree and you've done a good job dialling back my rhetorical insinuations.

No, I think you're right that it's a big deal. And on reflection, I may've gone overboard on the "dialing back." But what I'm arguing is speculative enough that it needs a bit of overstatement just to be somewhat clear.

I don't know, however, if the shallow roots in the popular mind obviates the possibility that Vietnam used as a widespread media/literary/commentary measure and metaphor is not at least partly related to the quintessential American ethos of the individual over the collective raised to the level of nationhood on the world playing field.

This is a tough question. Granting that such an ethos can be traced back a pretty long way in our history, I'm still not sure how "quintessential" it is. There are other, better traditions here, which are in their own way just as powerful...but they tend not to be very useful when it comes to launching wars, abusing the poor, mowing down forests, and so forth.

At the least, I'd say that it's very hard to know where American idealism about the "individual" ends and the cynical political exploitation of it begins.

I'd also add that we tend to portray ourselves as benefiting the world when we invade or subvert other countries...it's amazing how much "we" revert to the language of collectivism at such times. Which reinforces my opinion that, like sociopaths, we have no particular attachment to truth and will say whatever's likely to benefit us in a given situation.

Why so many people swallow it is a whole other question. IIRC, studies have shown that there's often a pretty big disconnect between what Americans claim to believe, and how they vote (healthcare, conservation, and outsourcing being good examples of issues where people have a weird tendency to vote against their own self-described interests).

I am merely musing out loud.

Ditto. There's nothing authoritative about anything I'm saying!

Does right wing mean hawkish? (I'm never sure about 'wings' in America because your major 'left wing' party is, to many of us, incredibly right of what we regard as 'centrist'). Because if you mean that it's the hawk mentality that keeps the Vietnam flag flying as a manipulative motif then I would have thought that's the stuff of individuals in both major parties.

Basically, we have an official right wing that's corporatist and militarist to the point of outright fascism. Its main fellow travelers -- to simplify things greatly -- are religious conservatives, who tend to want more limits on personal freedom (at least for other people), and libertarians, who tend to want fewer (at least for themselves). It's an ungainly beast, but it's generally held together by a few shared paranoias, resentments, lusts, &c.

Our Democratic Party is, as you say, pretty much center-right by any sane country's standards, and in my darker moments I believe its primary function is to put a "concerned," humanist face on basically hard-right policies...to give the impression that moral debate has occurred, basically.

"Liberal," meanwhile, is pretty much the official catch-all term for anyone to the left of Dick Cheney; it encompasses everyone from Hillary Clinton and Joe Lieberman to academic Marxists (the term "socialist" is also appropriate, even if you're talking about people whose goals really aren't remotely socialistic).

The reality isn't as simple as I make it sound, of course. But for now, suffice it to say that both parties are marriages of convenience whose official platforms please almost nobody.

And yes, both parties do a lot of flag-waving, and are eager to prove their "toughness" (i.e., their willingness to use military force). That said, the Democrats, as compromised and corrupt and untrustworthy and pathetic as they are, do tend to appeal to the popular perception of Vietnam as a disaster, if not always as an injustice.

So there's a lot at stake in that particular symbol, on "both" sides, or so it appears to the people who invoke it. I think its relevance to people has actually waned a great deal, personally, and that a lot of the talk about it is strictly for the consumption of an ever-shrinking demographic whose appetite for talking about itself is legendary.

Which is the point of this post, really: What we're doing in Iraq can't really be likened to Vietnam, pro or con. But the underlying argument is about whether the government should be trusted when it calls a war "necessary," or "winnable," and that's what gives the topic whatever residual power it has. In my opinion.

The point I didn't well make when speaking of my interactions with Vietnamese people is that their thoughts about America are not very much related to the war at all whereas the word Vietnam is, in my not so humble estimation, to most Americans, a hugely evocative poly-taloned beast.

Sure, as long as we make the distinction that Americans are not talking about "Vietnam" in the sense that the Vietnamese might talk about "America"; we're talking, as we tend to do rather obsessively, about ourselves. The country of Vietnam, and its casualties, and the aftermath of the war, barely enter into the discussion, usually. The subject is hugely evocative, in my view, mainly because it can be used as a bludgeon against one's political opponents. It's an endless shouting match: "the arrogance of power!" versus "you dirty hippies lost the war!"

As for its deeper significance...well, without denying that there's any, which would be absurd, I'd at least want to float the possibility that the appearance of a deep national wound (or whatever you want to call it) might actually mask a certain lack of engagement with the event. The words are simply describing what should be there, perhaps.

Same goes for 9/11, which we were quite literally instructed not to think about, but to react to. The ubiquity of references to it don't prevent our actual engagement with it from being superficial...quite the opposite.

I think we're talking about the same thing, ultimately...just from a slightly different angle.

It may well be that the current criminals in and associated with the White House use that war as a manipulative chant or the like, but they didn't invent its importance in the wider media.

No, but neither did the public invent, or demand, its importance in the wider media. If we're talking about the political media, I'd blame them to a huge extent for the creation of this alleged national agony over Vietnam, which supposedly makes various timid forms of opposition to that war "controversial" all these years later. It's no accident that this narrative was waiting readymade for BushCo. Indeed, Cheney made no secret of his belief that the real tragedy of Vietnam was the modest checks that were put on executive power afterwards. So again, that's what I think the debate is primarily about. Which I don't say in order to deny the deeper psychological issues, but simply to try and sharpen my own sense of where they lie...which I agree is a very interesting question.

Putting all that aside, I can't tell you what a pleasure it is to wake up to comments this thoughtful and engaged...I really appreciate it, and I suspect I'll be coming back to them often as I try in my scatterbrained way to sort these issues out.

charley said...

it's almost ridiculous for me to jump in at this point, but i can't help thinking that anyone in America over the age of 45 isn't in some fashion effected by the war in Vietnam

and i don't pretend to be intellectually capable, nor do i have any desire to dissect what that effect is. i know we all have our 9/11 stories, and here is mine.

i heard about it while washing windows in Orlando. the first clue i had was when some old dude, a VFW type (i don't really know) came up while i was washing windows at a tractor shop. "hey, do they have a tv in there" "dude, it's a tractor shop" he looked at me like i was an idiot and brushed by me. asshole, he could have at least let me know what was up.

i got in my car started driving to the next job, a Chinese restaurant. en route i heard this fantastic story of a plane flying into the world trade center, i thought sometimes these morning jocks go too far, but the more i listened the more i realized it was real.

now i don't know the history, but for some reason the Orlando area has a sizable Vietnamese population, and as it turns out the Chinese restaurant employed mostly Vietnamese fry cooks. when i got out of the car two of them were sitting in front waiting for the proprietor. they rather excitedly asked me if i'd heard about "it". i said yes, and under the circumstances a fairly normal and animated 15 to 20 minute conversation ensued. during the conversation i thought about my youth and my fears of being drafted for a war i knew i would refuse to fight. in reality the war was over 3 years before i would have been eligible, but, i still worried about it. and then it struck me, these guys are about my age. while i was worrying about it they were living it. so i asked.... suddenly they became very subdued and quiet. they remained polite but basically the conversation was done, they uttered a few expressions in Vietnamese to one another... the normal flow of our previous conversation was over.

just then this older guy bursts out of the beauty salon next door (strip mall) and of course "did you hear?" he identified himself as a ret. general who was waiting while his wife was having her hair done. "we are gonna get those bastards." "yeah, but we don't know who did it." "oh, we know who did it all right." and then i knew the trouble had begun.

Phila said...

it's almost ridiculous for me to jump in at this point, but i can't help thinking that anyone in America over the age of 45 isn't in some fashion effected by the war in Vietnam

It's never ridiculous for you to jump in, charley.

I'm 42, and I'm definitely affected by it...I had a lot of nightmares about it as a little kid, and the culture in which I was brought up comprised people who were completely horrified and angry over it.

The question isn't so much whether we're affected by it as how, and that gets hard to work out when so much of the conversation about it is (IMO) actually a conversation about something else. My point -- assuming I even have one, which I'm starting to doubt -- is just that you can't take the discussion at face value. It's not necessarily about Vietnam, any more than the obsession with Britney Spears is necessarily about her.

That said, Peacay's comment about the Vietnamese lack of "hard feelings" is fascinating, especially given the much larger death toll and much more traumatic reality of the war for the Vietnamese. And he's right...it bears looking into. I have my theories -- I always have my theories -- but they sound too trite in my head to bother putting 'em here. Even if you choose not to take their viewpoint at face value, it's still interesting that that's the one they offer.

Way too complicated for the likes of me.

peacay said...

It's all Jim Morrison's fault.

If I hadn't read his biography all those years ago I wouldn't have discovered Norman O Brown's 'Life Against Death: The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History' which, although not necessarily a great book, did instil in me a fascination for attempting to comprehend national or international manouvers and tactics from a psychoanalytical point of view.

So I'm glad, boss, that you have imbued the discussion with the realities which my inquisitiveness tends to sidestep or ignore. It's a one-trick pony idea within a vacuum. I'm certainly not withdrawing the idea but I concede it's probably not a line of discussion or analysis that stands well as a discrete formula.

--you can't take the discussion at face value. It's not necessarily about Vietnam--[..]--we're talking, as we tend to do rather obsessively, about ourselves.--

Forgive me from tacking 2 bits from separate comments together but I agree with it.

I note your unsaid and said fascination with the reactions I found from talking to Vietnamese people. One very large consideration that you ought to figure into your thoughts on this topic is history. The Vietnam war was but a blip in 2,000 years. They have successfully repelled interlopers from China, Cambodia, Thailand and France in that time. I would direct you to the Vietnam History article at Wikipedia but it is a prejudiced document imho with some slanderous editorial input and inaccuracies. So the people are proud of their heritage; their bloody LONG heritage and maybe when you think of it like that you'll see why the recent war, although obviously catastrophic at the time, was simply another pothole on the road forward.

Funnily enough, in the epicentre of communism, the middle of Hanoi, in shops and markets you will find that capitalism is in fact RIFE. They all just want what we want: a new ipod, a better motorbike, more money for a vaction and betterment for their families. With all its fairly obvious problems, the government/political system is mostly respected by the people, save for when it interferes with their attempts to obtain 'the better life'. For a developing country they really are doing just fine.

In relation to Charley's meeting the Vietnamese cooks, although I can't possibly know, it occurs to me that their being Vietnamese (now American, presumably) would make them always a target for opinionated discussion on the subject (war etc) wouldn't you think? They probably just want to get on with their own life and not be the centre of attention for those Americans who would want to talk about themselves through them. I wonder if they tell anyone they are Cambodian sometimes? Heh.

Phila said...

Norman O Brown's 'Life Against Death: The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History' which, although not necessarily a great book, did instil in me a fascination for attempting to comprehend national or international manouvers and tactics from a psychoanalytical point of view.


Again, I'm not disagreeing, and I tend to favor the same sort of approach. But part of a psychoanalytical approach is delving beneath what a person (or a nation) seems or claims to be reacting to, obsessed with, etc. My own bad habit is to view almost everything in national discourse as a code, and to see avoidance as the basic aim of...well, just about everything. But there's nothing in what I'm saying that really conflicts with what your approach, as far as I can tell. I'm just riffing off it, as you said above.

One very large consideration that you ought to figure into your thoughts on this topic is history. The Vietnam war was but a blip in 2,000 years.

That's a really good point. And one thing I've been mulling over is what a spoiled, terminally adolescent country we are, in many ways, with all the romanticism and self-mythologizing that this entails. Whereas the Vietnamese, as you say, had real troubles before and after our "blip" of a war.

On a more negative note...isn't their life expectancy still comparatively short (though not as short as it was in, say, the first decade after the war)? I wonder if they have as many survivors of that era as we do. Could that enter into it as well?

The difference in religious culture probably has some bearing on it, too....

They probably just want to get on with their own life and not be the centre of attention for those Americans who would want to talk about themselves through them. I wonder if they tell anyone they are Cambodian sometimes? Heh.

I'm not sure that would help much, given our history with Cambodia! But yeah, I think you're right. And I think there's often a reticence among certain minorities about talking about politics with white Americans, period. It may have seemed pretty stark for charley on 9/11, but that may be just because he had occasion to talk to them about it, for once. They might've clammed up just as much on some other day.

I know a couple of Iraqi immigrants - business owners - who've been avoiding such conversations for years. While they realize that most people are well-meaning and curious, they also know how difficult things are to explain, and quickly things can go downhill, so they usually have very definite boundaries for discussion and are not above telling people what they want to hear.

And then, restaurants run by Syrians and Iranians and Iraqis and Egyptians tend to be called "Middle Eastern" or "Persian" or "Mediterranean," in hopes of forestalling at least some of the expected conversation (or worse)....

After 9/11, of course, all of this stuff got worse. I always remember being in an Indian restaurant in Jersey City a few days after the attack, and seeing a Pakistani family that was absolutely covered in American flags...even their baby had a flag t-shirt. Something tells me they wouldn't have been keen to get into a conversation with a white person about politics.....

Phila said...

Also, it occurs to me that what might unify at least some of my airy speculation, and bring it closer to your thinking, is the idea that "America" is perhaps a wee bit obsessed with being "right," which it confuses with the condition of being moral. That ties in with what I see as the main debate over Vietnam, and it also accounts to some extent for my qualms about opposition to the war, then and now; people tend to act as though simply being right about a war is sufficient in terms of opposing it (and they complain about things like "exit strategies" and "incompetence," as though the war would be tolerable if it'd been done "properly").

On all sides, we want to be "proved fucking right," as Judith Miller put it. Seems like as good a place to look for our national pathology as any.

peacay said...

The CIA are definitely good for at least one thing.

No, I don't think religion comes into it at all. It's fairly ancestrally based (even if CIA say 80% register as non-aligned, most people burn things for ancestors on the half or full moon each month but this is way low level 'religiosity' compared to most other places in the world. Very relaxed.)

68yrs male 74yrs female as at the moment. I also don't believe this plays any great part.

They don't forget. They just don't obsess.

Well if you guys are adolescents we in Oz are toddlers. Why do you think I spend so much time digging in the dust of every other place on earth? We have no culture (yes, you are allowed to parse that in which ever way you wish!)

Phila said...

No, I don't think religion comes into it at all. It's fairly ancestrally based (even if CIA say 80% register as non-aligned, most people burn things for ancestors on the half or full moon each month but this is way low level 'religiosity' compared to most other places in the world. Very relaxed.)

It's definitely low level compared to us, and it's also - IIRC - not quite as teleological as ours. Seems pertinent...but Lord knows that's no guarantee of anything!

charley said...

After 9/11, of course, all of this stuff got worse. I always remember being in an Indian restaurant in Jersey City a few days after the attack, and seeing a Pakistani family that was absolutely covered in American flags...even their baby had a flag t-shirt. Something tells me they wouldn't have been keen to get into a conversation with a white person about politics.....

yeah, i had a customer like this too. very bright guy, pakistani sold insurance, educated in england (well, that's a guess based on his accent) he would have definitely been willing to talk about "it". tho i would have been afraid to broach the subject. at any rate, those windows were covered with american flags.

i reckon between the two of you, you nailed it on the fry cooks. but, the vietnam war was romantic, as were the topsy turvy times. so much so that nixon was actually identified and pilloried as a criminal, even if he wasn't forced to walk the plank. these days bush just shoves it up their ass and breaks it off. (now thinking of the fisa atrocity.)

(and they complain about things like "exit strategies" and "incompetence," as though the war would be tolerable if it'd been done "properly").

well, that's the argument we're having now. but the iraq war isn't romantic, it's just ugly and stupid, not unlike the vietnam war, but not romantic, and infinitely more dangerous.

another anecdote from a vietnamese. this time thru my sister in alabama. "that's what you americans do, you go in and bust shit up, and then you leave."

on 9/11 i just wanted to go home and hug my family. which is i suspect, what most people want.

"we want the world and we want it.... NOW!"

"big ideas, images, and distorted facts."

naturally you're into deeper waters than any dead or ancient songwriters aphorisms can cover...

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