Kissinger: Realism in Theory

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Say what you will about Clinton, at least she has the sense to pay heed to the demon Kissinger. I may like Bernie’s non-interventionist ways (and that’s about the only thing I like other than the fact that he channels the crazy uncle), but his hating on Nixon’s right hand man is sophomoric at best (Bernie: “Kissinger was one of the most destructive secretaries of state in the modern history of this country.”). It is rather amusing: a socialist Jew hating on a socialist-killing Jew. Blood doesn’t run thicker than water, apparently. Continue reading

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China v. Vietnam v. America: How Quickly We All Forget

American napalm, that was so four decades ago.

The left loves to excoriate America’s strategic, altruistic, and ultimately flawed foray into Southeast Asia as cynical corporate imperialism. Noam Chomsky is particularly fond of this interpretation. But LBJ’s escalation of America’s participation in Vietnam’s civil war goes hand-in-hand with his beliefs about the ability of government to remake society and the world. The Great Society and Vietnam War were flip sides of the same coin. Champions of the left such as FDR, LBJ, and Obama in recent years, have characteristically opted to ally with corporations to advance their altruistic goals, which creates dissonance within the left driven by a misunderstanding of cause and effect. Corporations become the boogeymen that drive war, when in fact well-meaning, left-wing pipe dreams animate conflicts that corporations then more than willingly accommodate. Conservatives, supposedly so pro-corporate, have made less use of them than liberals.

I digress. Back to Southeast Asia. While the Vietnam War is a favorite topic of American-haters, Vietnam doesn’t share their obsession with getting stuck in the past. The other day The Diplomat published an excellent article that explored both Vietnam’s strategic considerations and its historical consciousness. America’s massive crime of getting involved in that far off land appears to be little more than a blip.
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Native Barbarism: Keeping European Colonialism in Perspective

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The Revenant has some things going for it. For one, the cinematography is beautiful. Tom Hardy proves, yet again, he has acting chops. Leonardo DiCaprio, after much grunting and groaning over the years to get an Oscar, gets a role where he literally grunts and groans his way the whole movie to achieve the allusive gold (really, I want to see the script). The script itself is fine and there are great, dramatic moments throughout, but on the whole it needed editing (over two and a half hours long). What irritated me most, though, was the eye-rolling, ahistoric, cliché moralism of the film.

Yes, it is the historian in me that is annoyed, but it isn’t over presentism (see every Ridley Scott movie) or pedantic historical inaccuracies. Rather, what irks me is the Zinnian tripe in which the white man is the invading oppressor and the red man is the oppressed (not the first time I’ve gone after Zinn the “historian”). Granted, Zinn presents  a fun and simplistic morality tale and as with most morality tales there is a kernel of truth, but in the end, it is just that: a tale, which as expected, has sparked equally obnoxious right wing backlashes. It is a truism among historians that bringing politics into the study of history leads to bad history. And bad history begets more bad history, which, not surprisingly, worms its way into our films. I had hoped a skilled director would have handled the topic with more care, but alas.
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Zinn’s Oppressor and Oppressed Exposed to be One in the Same

At the beginning of summer I picked up David Halberstam’s The Fifties. Halberstam, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1964 for his journalism in Vietnam, put his research skills to work during the next four decades of his life writing books on history. The Fifties puts his talents on display as he effortlessly and colorfully takes us on a fantastic trip through one of America’s most storied decades. It’s a joy to read a work that is not only well-researched but well-written.

One thing about good history is that it has a tendency to surprise you. When a writer inhabits the past fully, leaving behind his 21st century prejudices, unique and unexpected things begin to pop out of the woodwork. One particular historical nugget caught my eye in Halberstam’s work: his account of Earl Warren. And then I thought of my whipping boy, Howard Zinn, and couldn’t resist taking him to task yet again.

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