Sunday, September 03, 2006

Rummy and the American Legion of Lemmings (Part I)

Every six months or so the American Legion sends me a letter asking why I haven't joined yet. Last week, at its annual convention in Salt Lake City, Utah, the Legion answered its own question.

It's bad enough that the Bush administration abuses its authority at every opportunity to use active duty troops as a Leni Riefenstahl style backdrop for its political rallies. The military, constitutionally under young Mister Bush's command, has no other choice but to play along. But for a so-called "veterans' service organization" to volunteer itself as a wall in the neoconservative GOP echo chamber is a particularly offensive piece of Rovewellianism.

The keynote speaker list, as you probably know, included not one, not two, but three heavy hitters in the administration. Well, call it two heavy hitters plus Condi Rice. Okay, call it one heavy hitter plus Rice and young Mister Bush himself. As heinous as the addresses given by Condi and Dubya were, they were downright palatable compared to the nose whistle recital that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld gave. The major hue and cry over Rumsfeld's speech was how he managed to insult the intellectual and moral clarity of the majority of Americans who now believe the invasion of Iraq was a mistake. I was more struck by how, once again, Rumsfeld's remarks proved just how ill suited he is for the job he presently holds.

From the sound of his warfare analogies, Rumsfeld seems to think he's fighting Hitler's Germany and Mussolini's Italy all over again. That goes a long way in explaining how badly he's screwed up the war he's actually fighting now. But then again, Rummy and the rest of the inner neo-circle never have been all that good at making sense.

They insist on blaming their failures on the "new" nature of the so-called war on terror--but that doesn’t keep them from comparing their "new" kind of war to the "old" kind of war whenever they find it convenient to do so. Rummy and his neo-cronies tell us that this kind of war is "new" because it involves non-nation state entities. They also castigate their critics for not having learned the "lessons of history." But they either forget or neglect to mention that America's history is chock full of wars against non-state entities--Barbary pirates, Mexican banditos, Indian tribes, rebels, insurgents, terrorists, guerillas and all other sorts of evil doers. They also neglect to mention that, with the notable exception of Vietnam, their predecessors who fought the old kind of new wars were a darn sight more successful than they have been at fighting this new new kind of war.

You'd think that a smart guy like Rummy would have learned from the historic lessons of America's old new kind of wars in the course of fighting his new new kind of war, but that would be too much like Rummy admitting that history is smarter than he is. You also might think that Rummy would realize he failed to learn the same historic lessons that Vietnam era Secretary of State Robert McNamara failed to learn. But admitting that would be too much like Rummy admitting he was--and still is--wrong.

Rumsfeld and McNamara are running neck and neck for the Worst U.S. Cabinet Secretary Ever title. Rumsfeld deserves a lions share of the blame for driving America to the Project for the New American Century's catastrophic policy of toppling Saddam Hussein through military force. But as Bush the Younger's second in command of the military, he is singularly responsible for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in both Afghanistan and Iraq, and for fumbling the overall war on terrorism.

But Rumsfeld has done far more damage than that. His hands-on management of the wars he helped to create has shown the "best trained, best equipped" armed force in the history of humanity to be an all but impotent tool of U.S. national power. Despite great expense of human life and national treasure, America's military is unable to decisively defeat an enemy that has no army, navy, air force, Halliburton or USO. Objective future historians will point to Rumsfeld as one of the key figures who squandered the power the United States had accumulated at the end of a decades-long Cold War against the Soviet Union.

Incredibly, ironically and tragically, Rumsfeld is still at the helm of neoconservative America's misguided, warfare-centric foreign policies, and is likely to stay in that position as long as George II sits on the throne. From the sound of Rummy's remarks to the American Legion Convention, there's no reason to think he's about to start learning from his own mistakes either, and well, why should he? He's an old man. Unlike most of the rest of us, he won't have to pay the price for his mistakes.

So, a sensible, concerned American citizen might ask, what sort of "veterans' service organization" would invite a guy like Rumsfeld to be a keynote speaker at its annual convention?

(Next: the band of brothers at the back of the bus)


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at ePluribus Media and Pen and Sword.


  1. That would probably be the same kind of workers service organization that played such a key role in the suppression of workers and union organizing throughout the early decades of the 20th century:

    "During the Armistice Day parade on November 11, 1919, the American Legion Post 17 in Centralia, Washington, attacked the union hall of the IWW. The Wobblies, as IWW members are known, were warned of the attack in advance. The Wobblies were further prepared because this was not an isolated incident. Their hall had already once been damaged by a Legionnaire attack. There was pressure nationally, both from within the American Legion and from the ruling class of the country, to eliminate labor organizing. Under cover of the war hysteria, the ruling class was using illegal and unconstitutional methods to prevent what they feared would be a socialist revolution.

    "Five Legionnaires were killed while storming the IWW hall. In revenge, other Legionnaires went door-to-door to hunt for Wobblies and Wobbly sympathizers. Dragnet operations by lynch-mobs combed the nearby forests, beating and dragging people to jail. Because of the confusion in differentiating Legionnaires from union members, a member of one lynch-mob was shot by "friendly fire" of another. (For a detailed history, read the book Wobbly War: The Centralia Story, by John McClelland Jr, published by the Washington State Historical Society.)

    "The prison was full of IWW members, who were constantly threatened and tortured by the Legionnaires. One night, there was a short electrical blackout, which had been planned to allow several people to tie up Wesley and take him out to be tortured, castrated by the local doctor, and hung by his neck from the bridge.

    "Wesley's efforts as a member of the IWW and a veteran of the world war, to improve working conditions for returning veterans and other workers, were ended by his brutal murder, and eight other Wobblies spent ten to fifteen years each in prison on murder charges for the deaths of the five Legionnaires who attacked their hall. One prisoner, Loren Roberts, was driven insane by the torture of the Legionnaires. No one was ever charged with the murder of Wesley Everest. All of these lives will have been wasted if the Wobbly War is not publicly discussed. Centralia residents have for nearly 80 years felt largely unable to do so, until now."

    There’s another nice accounting of the American Legions excesses here:

    And then, of course, it’s been said many American Legionnaires proudly served in The Black Legion, too.

  2. Lurch,

    Funny you should bring all this up. I'm just now (shame on me) reading Dos Passos's USA.

    Funny how things and thoughts among like minded people come together.

    More on this subject later.

  3. Well, GMTA and all that, Jeff. This being a Labor Day weekend, my local NPR outlet has had three shows today that featured Woody Guthrie's union ditty, "Union Maid."

    Dos Passos was a powerful writer. I'm going to assume you've read Steinbeck's "Grapes of Wrath", "Mice and Men" and "Cannery Row."

  4. Jeff,

    My apologies for being off topic, but somehow your remark from last week about Armitage just floated to the surface of my consciousness.

    It is quite remarkable that this (tall?) tale comes to the fore after all this remarkable that it strikes me as contrived.

    Surely, if this tale is true, Armitage would have known that Libby was being hung out to dry for something he (Armitage) had done - was he really going to just let that play out? Yea, I know they're a conscienceless crew, but he'd let someone go to prison to pay for his (purportedly) gossippy remark? And Powell would too? What changed during all this time to make him come forward?

    It all seems just too neat. Isikoff refers to it as "one of the ironies of the Plame investigation: that the initial leak, seized on by administration critics as evidence of how far the White House was willing to go to smear an opponent, came from a man who had no apparent intention of harming anyone" - yet even if it was "only" the result of negligence and not intentional, harm was done, serious harm. But the tone of the piece seems to be that Armitage was just having fun gossiping, so no harm done.

    This brings up a number of issues:

    • Why has Armitage not been fired, as Bush promised would happen to whomever was the leaker?
    • Isn't it interesting that this crime is being pinned on a couple of the few "moderates" in this administration?
    • Should Libby sue Armitage too, for wrecking HIS career too?
    • Why do known gossips have access to classified information?
    • Why the long delay in this story coming to light, when Armitage clearly knew (according to this tale anyway) that what he had done was serious, and would result in prosecution of an innocent, not to mention serious scrutiny of numerous other high level officials?
    • What is Powell's defense for not being forthcoming? (Did Isikoff even give Powell a chance to respond to this story?)
    • What about all the funds wasted in the investigation - are we taxpayers supposed to just chuckle and say that "boys will be boys"?

    In short, I smell a fish tale. This is all just too convenient. Maybe the idea is they'll pay off Armitage to take the fall, and it took them that long to find someone willing to take on that role?

    Woe unto those of us trying to keep up with all the shenanigans of this crew - it is more than a full-time job, and I already have one of those...

  5. Lurch,

    Yeah, I'm all up to speed on Steinbeck. My favorite novelist of all the guys we studied in high school. (My English teacher, Ron Enlow, was one of the very finest teachers I ever had. He could get just about anybody fired up about Shakespeare.)


    The Armitage story stinks to high heaven, IMHO.

  6. I hope everyone got to see Keith Olbermann's take-down of Rumsfeld. It was sufficient to make me buy his book, purely as a statement of support.

    If you missed it, go to:

    A classic.

    Jeff, your comment really does say it all.

  7. Anonymous6:13 AM

    This may be of interest:

  8. Kathleen,

    Yeah, I don't recall Olberman ever being quite so fired up.


    I'm glad to find that Karen and I agree on this. Thanks for the link.

  9. Anonymous9:07 AM

    My pleasure.

    If you liked it, you'll love these:

    I think that Margolis is the bigger man than Cheney, Bush and Rumsfeld combined.

  10. Anonymous10:03 AM

    This may be a somewhat bleak silver lining to a rather portentous cloud, but I believe that Bush, Rice, Cheney and Rumsfeld, have, not because of themselves but rather despite themselves, done the United States a huge service by bogging it down in these various quagmires.

    This in so far as they've made it stunningly clear that while the United States will long be the world's "defender of last resort" attempts to "uplift" the world in ways that just happen to help Halliburton and its ilk are hugely destructive, not only to the "uplifted parts," but also to the United States, which is distracted from more important things such as hurricane protection in New Orleans, the education, or lack thereof, in public schools, etc. etc....

    Some lessons in life are very costly, but, once learned, quite profitable.