Farther Down the Rabbit Hole

I haven’t been consistent with posting to my blog, primarily because I have been depressed about the current state of politics in the States. This morning it occurred to me that our current political situation is a little like going down the rabbit hole in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. We are currently expected to accept “alternative facts” as reality (and some actually do). Nothing is what it appears to be. As one who came of age in the 1960s, I well remember Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit:

The year was 1967. I was in the Army and, although I didn’t know it at the time, would end up in Vietnam before my term of service had ended. As an English major at the University of Illinois, I had naturally read Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 and went in to the military expecting to encounter a degree of insanity. I did indeed find that. One of the Army chaplains responsible for preparing us for the possibility of combat in Vietnam, told us that the Vietnamese were like “wild animals” and that it was OK to kill them because they did not have souls.

This is not to say that my experience in the military was all bad. I met a lot of really good people in the Army, and I learned some valuable skills. Most of the people were just fine, but the system as a whole was (and probably still is) basically insane. I suspect that’s always been the case. The nineteenth century poet, Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote The Charge of the Light Brigade to illustrate the “fog of war.” The light brigade was ordered to “attack the front.” They failed to ask, “Which front,” and attacked the wrong one, where they were caught in a relentless crossfire.

We also have numerous examples of military failures in the States, with one of the most famous being Custer’s Last Stand, also known as “The Battle of the Little Big Horn” or the “Battle of the Greasy Grass,” depending on whether your principal affiliation is with Custer or with the Plains Indians. Custer’s arrogance seems to have been the principal cause of his disastrous last mission. The Korean War was generally a debacle and a good example of a “catch 22.” The war created a political mess, but not having the war would also have resulted in a big mess.

The same is true for Vietnam. The roots of the Vietnam War go back into the nineteenth century, when the militarized Western nations decided that they could control most of Asia and Africa. The French wanted Indo-China and Equatorial Africa. The French weren’t the only ones, of course, but the French thought that they could exploit much of SE Asia, including Cambodia and Vietnam. People who lived in SE Asia, however, objected to being ruled by the French. The United States felt that it had no choice but to protect its interests in SE Asia, which led to our military involvement in Vietnam. For a good overview of that war, see The Vietnam War. I do not know, of course, whether our current bluster and military “adventuring” will lead to another major conflict. We are also in a “chicken and egg” situation when it comes to having our military “fingers” in so many pies. Has our military presence in so many locations resulted in armed resistance, or did local military challenges result in our efforts to control armed resistance?

When it comes to understanding a complex situation, the general rule is, “follow the money.” Most military “adventuring” is based on exploitation for profit. War is expensive. A good example would be the US War in Iraq. The original thinking was that the US could pay for the war using Iraq’s resources. That didn’t turn out to be the case, however. Wars are expensive for a variety of reasons, and while some corporations and those who own stock in them profit, most of us don’t.

In some ways, the history of humanity is the history of war. Over the years, the US has been involved in a lot of them. Currently, we have a lot of troops engaged in one conflict or another. In many ways, war is an “alternative reality.” At this point in out history, for most of us in the States, our familiarity with war is based on movies or video games and an occasional news story shot “on location.” We willingly go down the “rabbit hole” of the alternative reality offered. That reality, however, is far different for those who are actually living it.

The question is, how far down the rabbit hole can we go before we are trapped forever? The Dutch, Portuguese, and, of course, the British all thought that the world was theirs to exploit. Europeans in North America contented themselves with driving the native populations out, putting them on reservations, and claiming the land and the resources.

In 1968 I was stationed at Ft. Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas. When Pete Seeger came to town for a concert. A number of us from Ft. Sam attended, when Pete sang “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy,” we knew that it was a metaphor for the US involvement in Vietnam.

The metaphors are the same. We are either down the rabbit hole or waist deep in the Big Muddy. It’s about time we extracted ourselves.

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