Every Thursday, I have about a one and a half hour phone conversation with a good friend, Ed Cooney. Ed and I used to have lunch on Thursdays, but he had the temerity to move to Buffalo, New York so now all we have is Thursday mornings. We – I think we, I, for sure – try to limit the conversation to politics and religion. I consider Ed a good Christian (although I’m not sure that he does, not the Christian part, the Good Christian, part). Ed sends out a weekly newsletter and, lately, he has been talking about the part morality plays in our foreign policy.
As much as I am interested in the part morality plays in our foreign policy, it was an old article that Ed sent me, that got me thinking about how we think about the enemy. In the article, Ed tells about a minster, Archie Mitchell, whose family were the only casualties of World War II on the mainland of the United States. After loosing his family, the poor guy became a missionary in Vietnam. On his third tour, while working at the Ban Me Thuot Leprosarium, Archie…along with a generous supply of medicines and equipment…were removed from the clinic by a 12 member unit of the Vietcong….In 1969, negotiations for their release were near completion when they were suddenly broken off. None of the three have been seen since….Were any tender moments left for Archie Mitchell and his co-prisoners? Did they ever smile or laugh again? What, beside the threat of death, fueled Archie’s energy to keep on keeping on? What sustained his faith?
While Ed wrote this in 2010, I think that his thinking of the Vietcong is based on what we were told about the Vietcong during the Vietnam War. I have a different impression. I have never been to Vietnam and I have never met any Vietcong, but my base impression is much more benign. My default level is based on what I read and see about Vietnam now. And it is reinforced by talking to Ophelia and Peter who have lived there and still have strong Vietnamese friendships. I think that the Vietnamese are, essentially, the same people today as they were in 1962.
This has got me thinking about ISIS and how our propaganda – both overt and covert – has influenced my thinking on ISIS. I heard David Brooks quote someone – in a way that seemed like he agreed – that, today, ISIS is the biggest treat to global security. That is astonishing: ISIS is a bigger treat than global climate change, it is a bigger threat than 15,000 nuclear weapons, a good portion of which are armed and ready to go; as far as that goes, ISIS must be a bigger threat than a nuclear Pakistan falling apart.
Let me try a mind game for a minute. We think ISIS is much worse than the Mexican drug cartels but the cartels killed more than twice as many people as ISIS, the cartels routinely decapitate people – about 700 in 2012 alone – they are on our border, right on our border!, and directly dealing drugs as far north as Bismark, North Dakota. Think about that for a moment. Now think about ISIS, doesn’t ISIS still seems scarier. It does to me, too.
It is amazing, the day in, day out, propaganda we are subjected to. I’m not trying to say that ISIS are the same as the Vietcong. The Vietnamese were fighting a war for independence and did not behead people. I am not saying that ISIS are anything but thugs with an ideology overlay. In that regard, they are more like Nazis than Vietcong, but most Nazis were people just trying to get along rather than sociopaths and I suspect that most of ISIS is also.
As an aside, in May, 1945, when the allies occupied Europe, they vowed to rid Germany of the Nazis. Very quickly, they realized that wouldn’t work and by 1952, the Nazis were back in power. According to Tony Judt in Postwar, In Bavaria in 1951, 94 percent of judges and prosecutors, 77 percent of finance ministry employees, and 60 percent of civil servants in the Regional Aquaculture ministry were Nazis. In May 2003 Bush made the same pledge and he kept it. The Coalition Provisional Authority got rid of anybody associated with the Ba’athist Party down to the school principal level. That is is a good part of why Iraq fell apart after the war, it had nobody to run the place who had any idea of what they were doing. End aside.