CHARLIE DON’T SURF (Oldie but Goodie)

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Posted on 11th November 2013 by Administrator in Economy |Politics |Social Issues

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This was one of my favorite articles, written in February 2010. Most of my normal financial sites turned it down. A lot of people didn’t like it. It was too tough for them to swallow. I like it when my articles make people uncomfortable. My confidence that it was a good article went up when Marc Faber emailed me and said it was one of the best articles about American Imperialism he had read and asked me for permission to reprint it in his Gloom, Doom and Boom Report. Happy Veterans Day. 

 

    

  

“I’ve seen horrors… horrors that you’ve seen. But you have no right to call me a murderer. You have a right to kill me. You have a right to do that… but you have no right to judge me. It’s impossible for words to describe what is necessary to those who do not know what horror means. Horror… Horror has a face… and you must make a friend of horror. Horror and moral terror are your friends. If they are not, then they are enemies to be feared. They are truly enemies! I remember when I was with Special Forces… seems a thousand centuries ago. We went into a camp to inoculate some children. We left the camp after we had inoculated the children for polio, and this old man came running after us and he was crying. He couldn’t see. We went back there, and they had come and hacked off every inoculated arm.

There they were in a pile. A pile of little arms. And I remember… I… I… I cried, I wept like some grandmother. I wanted to tear my teeth out; I didn’t know what I wanted to do! And I want to remember it. I never want to forget it… I never want to forget. And then I realized… like I was shot… like I was shot with a diamond… a diamond bullet right through my forehead. And I thought, my God… the genius of that! The genius! The will to do that! Perfect, genuine, complete, crystalline, pure. And then I realized they were stronger than we, because they could stand that these were not monsters, these were men… trained cadres. These men who fought with their hearts, who had families, who had children, who were filled with love… but they had the strength… the strength… to do that. If I had ten divisions of those men, our troubles here would be over very quickly. You have to have men who are moral… and at the same time who are able to utilize their primordial instincts to kill without feeling… without passion… without judgment… without judgment! Because it’s judgment that defeats us.” – Marlon Brando portraying Colonel Walter E. Kurtz in Apocalypse Now

  

Colonel Kurtz was once considered a model officer, on track to become a general. The military brass concluded that Kurtz had gone insane. He had gone rogue. He commanded his own troops of natives deep in the jungles of Cambodia. They worshipped him like a god. The military brass dispatch Captain Benjamin Willard to terminate Kurtz’ command, with extreme prejudice. Kurtz was a symbol of American imperialism. American leaders decided the way to stop communism was to dispatch 553,000 American men to a godforsaken hell on earth in order to spread democracy. This pointless effort cost American families over 58,000 dead boys and another 150,000 wounded. Kurtz was right. The North Vietnamese lost 1.2 million dead and 600,000 wounded, but their willingness to do anything to drive out the imperialist invader led to ultimate victory. Colonel Kurtz understood that severe brutality and lack of moral qualms is the only way to confront an enemy defending its homeland. Reason, humanity, and morality would insure defeat.

Francis Ford Coppola’s epic Vietnam War film Apocalypse Now is a parable of imperialism, evil, madness and human darkness. Coppola’s script was based upon Joseph Conrad’s 1899 novella Heart of Darkness. The book and the movie follow a world weary, skeptical, cynical character in his search for the truth about Kurtz, an evil genius. A long slow boat ride through dangerous dark jungles represents a path from civilization to madness. The book explores European colonial imperialism in the Congo, while the movie explores U.S. interventionist imperialism in Vietnam. The themes of hypocrisy, imperialism, evil, and human madness were pertinent in the 1800s, the 1960s, and today. In the book, the main characters work for a Belgian trading company who conquer the “savages” of Africa to “harvest” ivory and rubber for sale in “civilized” Europe. Native laborers who failed to meet rubber collection quotas were often punished by having their hands cut off by their Belgian saviors. In the movie, the main characters work for the U.S. military, who conquer the “savages” of Vietnam to “save” them from communism and “civilize” the jungles by napalming them. Today, the neo-cons who have captured the foreign policy of the U.S. are conquering the “savages” of the Middle East in order to secure oil while making their countries “safe” for democracy. The book is considered a masterpiece. The movie is considered a near masterpiece. The lessons from both are applicable today.

The Hypocrisy of Imperialism

“The belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary; men alone are quite capable of every wickedness.” – Joseph Conrad


File:Punch congo rubber cartoon.jpg   File:MutilatedChildrenFromCongo.jpg  

“In fourteen years Leopold has deliberately destroyed more lives than have suffered death on all the battlefields of this planet for the past thousand years. In this vast statement I am well within the mark, several millions of lives with the mark. It is curious that the most advanced and most enlightened century of all the centuries the sun has looked upon should have the ghastly distinction of having produced this moldy and peity-mouthing hypocrite, this bloody monster whose mate is not findable in human history anywhere, and whose personality will surely shame hell itself when he arrives there–which will be soon, let us hope and trust.” – Mark Twain

“ Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”John F. Kennedy

“It is an enduring American principle that this duty obligates the government to anticipate and counter threats, using all elements of national power, before the threats can do grave damage. To forestall or prevent such hostile acts by our adversaries, the United States will, if necessary, act preemptively in exercising our inherent right of self-defense.” – George W. Bush                                                                 

The rhetoric used in the 1800s to justify imperialism was inherently racist. In Conrad’s novel, the men who work for the Company describe what they do as “trade,” and their treatment of native Africans is part of a benevolent project of “civilization”. The hypocrisy of the “civilized” Europeans is clear from their acts of torture, cruelty, and near-slavery inflicted upon the natives in the name of enlightening them. Heart of Darkness opens with Marlow on a boat on the Thames River in London as the day turns from dusk to darkness, telling the story of his adventure up the Congo River in search of the mysterious Kurtz. He begins by comparing how the Roman Empire must have treated the uncivilized British savages in ancient times exactly like the Belgians were treating the uncivilized African savages in the Congo. Imperialistic extension of power by emperors, kings, presidents, and generals has been a policy extending across centuries. As he winds his way up the Congo River on his steamship, Marlow witnesses native inhabitants of the territory being compelled into the Company’s service, and they experience unbearable ill treatment at the hands of the Company’s agents. The cruelty and squalor of imperial enterprise contrasts harshly with the impassive and magnificent jungle that engulfs the white man’s colonies, making them appear to be small islands amid an immense darkness.

King Leopold II of Belgium systematically raped and pillaged the Congo, stealing their rubber and ivory in the late 1800s. In 1891, Leopold issued a decree giving him absolute power over the rubber and ivory trade. The decree imposed a tax on Leopold’s Congo subjects requiring local chiefs to supply men to gather rubber. It obliged inhabitants to supply these products without compensation. The genocide scholar Adam Jones comments that “the result was one of the most brutal and all-encompassing corveé institutions the world has known…Male rubber tappers and porters were mercilessly exploited and driven to death.” Leopold’s agents held the wives and children of these men hostage until they returned with their rubber quota. Those who refused or failed to supply enough rubber had their villages burned down, children murdered, and hands cut off. Conrad notes the hypocrisy of this brutality by portraying the Company men describing their task as benevolence towards the natives. In truth, the Africans were just objects to be used by Europeans in their quest for booty. The novel essentially dehumanizes a whole race, treating them as less significant than the white man

Francis Ford Coppola captured the essence of Conrad’s novel and also encapsulated the spirit of the country in 1979. The movie was filmed at the very end of the 2nd Turning Awakening period as the enthusiasm of the 1960s had waned and had left the old cultural regime fully discredited, internal enemies identified, comity shattered, and institutions delegitimized. The Vietnam War was being reassessed with a dose of brutal realism as other anti-war films like The Deer Hunter and Coming Home were released in 1978. The movie opens with Captain Willard (the Marlow character) being dispatched by the Army brass up the Nung River to find Colonel Kurtz and terminate his command. The American military had dispatched over 500,000 young men into the jungles of Vietnam and Cambodia in their game of communist containment with the Soviet Union and Communist China.

Making the world safe for Democracy was the cause employed to rationalize slaughtering millions of inhabitants in Southeast Asia. The war to liberate Southeast Asia from communism resulted in the deaths of 3.5 million Vietnamese, 2 million Laotians & Cambodians, and 58,000 Americans. Rather than raping and pillaging the lands for its resources, the American military napalmed its jungles, carpet bombed its cities, defoliated the jungles with 20 million gallons of herbicides (including Agent Orange) and slaughtered women and children (My Lai Massacre). It was easy to rationalize these acts when referring to the inhabitants as gooks, dinks, tunnel rats, and Uncle Ben’s boys. Racism makes it easy to treat human beings as objects and dehumanize your acts of horror. Coppola’s movie addresses the absurdity of the war by highlighting that ordinary everyday life of the United States, symbolized by the picnic settings in a war zone and surfing in the midst of a battle, is incongruous with the atrocities that the war creates.

The current imperialistic ventures of the U.S. Empire are centered in the Middle East. The rationale for the current occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, used to sell the American public, is the war on terror. We are making the Middle East safe for Democracy, just like Vietnam. The accurate nature of the conflict revolves around oil, the lifeblood of American suburban sprawl culture. The truth is that the imperial rulers of the empire have ignored America’s imminent energy crisis for decades and must now secure the precious barrels of lifeblood from the Middle East. While “liberating” the Iraqi people with cruise missiles, tanks, and B1 bombers they have managed to kill at least 250,000 Iraqi natives in their own country. The neo-cons who launched this war of choice view dead Iraqi women and children as collateral damage in their imperial quest to secure their black gold. This is easy to do when you treat those you are liberating in a racist manner. When you refer to people as dirty Arabs, box-cutters, terrorists and sand niggers, it is effortless to dehumanize them. The hypocrisy of spreading democracy by invading a sovereign country under false pretenses seems to not bother a vast swath of the American public.

The Kurtz character in both the novel and the movie goes “mad” according to those in command. The idea of company man turned savage, of a brilliant and successful team-player, being groomed by “the Company” or “the U.S. Army Special Forces” for greater things, suddenly gone native, match exactly. Kurtz’ madness is only relative, that in the context of the Company insanity is difficult to define. As Marlow and Willard meandered their way up river it became apparent that madness reined across Africa and Vietnam. Nothing makes sense. Right and wrong are bathed in shades of gray. Kurtz had gone farther than the Company or U.S. Military was willing to venture. He had gone past the grayness into darkness. Madness, in Heart of Darkness, is the result of being removed from one’s social context and allowed to be the sole arbiter of one’s own actions. Madness is thus linked not only to absolute power and a kind of moral genius but to man’s fundamental fallibility: Kurtz has no authority to whom he answers but himself, and this is more than any one man can bear. Apocalypse Now shows that absolute corruption is partnered with absolute power. Coppola portrayed the American army as the force with absolute power with its subsequent corruption. This is in parallel with Conrad’s Company and Kurtz, who both control less powerful people. The slaughter of natives on a massive scale in the name of acquiring ivory or stopping the spread of communism is pure madness. Kurtz was too successful in his slaughter efforts, therefore he was “mad”.

 We train young men to drop fire on people, but their commanders won’t allow them to write “fuck” on their airplanes because it’s obscene! – Colonel Kurtz

The U.S. imperial policy, in effect since 9/11, has created Kurtz’s across the globe. Absolute power leads to acts of madness because there are no social mores to restrict the behavior of normally law abiding citizens. There is potential madness within everyone. In the wrong circumstances human fallibility can lead to unthinkable atrocities. The German people were cultured, educated and law abiding as the 1930s dawned. By 1945, they had started a World War leading to 65 million deaths and systematically exterminated 6 million Jews. Absolute power led to madness on the part of an entire population. Examples of absolute power leading to the mistreatment, torture, and murder of local inhabitants by Americans in the last nine years are numerous. American soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq committed unspeakable acts against Iraqi prisoners. The photos are despicable and inhuman. The U.S. Military had absolute power over prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. In the name of protecting America, these soldiers have been given free rein to water-board, commit other acts of torture and brutality, and even murder all in the name of democracy. Our CIA has been given complete authority to use predator drone missiles against anyone they suspect is a terrorist in Afghanistan. If a few women and children are killed, they are just “sand niggers”, so no major concern. That is pure madness. We’ve unleashed Kurtz’s all across the Middle East.

 

The Absurdity of Evil

“When the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys.” – George Orwell – Shooting an Elephant

   

Kilgore: You can either surf, or you can fight!

Willard: Are you crazy, Goddammit? Don’t you think it’s a little risky for some R&R?

Kilgore: If I say it’s safe to surf this beach, Captain, then it’s safe to surf this beach! I mean, I’m not afraid to surf this place, I’ll surf this whole fucking place!

Kilgore: Charlie don’t surf!

There is no scene in any movie more majestic and more absurd than the attack on a Viet Cong village at the mouth of the Nung River. Captain Willard and his crew rendezvous with the 1st Air Cavalry Division led by Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore, played with panache by Robert Duvall. He is a strange twisted psycho. Kilgore refuses to transport them to the Nung River until he finds out that one of the crew members is a professional surfer and the waves at the mouth of the Nung River are perfect for surfing. Riding high above the coast in a fleet of Hueys accompanied by OH-6As, Kilgore launches his attack on the beach with Richard Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries blaring over loud speakers. Kilgore explains to Willard that, “we use Wagner. It scares the shit out of the slopes. My boys love it!”The surreal scene ends with the soldiers surfing the barely-secured beach amidst skirmishes between infantry and the Viet Cong. After helicopters swoop over the village and demolish all visible signs of resistance, a giant napalm strike in the nearby jungle dramatically marks the climax of the battle. The absurdity is that Kilgore is considered sane, while Willard is supposed to assassinate the insane Kurtz.

Kilgore: Smell that? You smell that?

Lance: What?

Kilgore: Napalm, son. Nothing else in the world smells like that.
[kneels]

Kilgore: I love the smell of napalm in the morning. You know, one time we had a hill bombed, for 12 hours. When it was all over, I walked up. We didn’t find one of ‘em, not one stinkin’ dink body. The smell, you know that gasoline smell, the whole hill. Smelled like
[sniffing, pondering]

Kilgore: victory. Someday this war’s gonna end…
[suddenly walks off]

Conrad’s novel and Coppola’s movie are explorations of hypocrisy, ambiguity, and moral confusion. Right versus wrong; good versus evil; saving versus defeating; humanity versus savagery; white versus black or yellow; winning versus losing; all are blurred in a haze of mystification. Can insanity exist in a world that has already gone insane? Is Kurtz really insane or was he just put into an insane situation which brings out the darkness and evil that exists within every human heart?  Marlow snakes his way up the Congo River slowly as the river flows against his progress. He starts his journey from the Outer Station, reaches the Central Station, and eventually reaches the Inner Station. The atmosphere gets darker, more confusing, and more absurd as he gets closer to Kurtz. Willard starts his mission in daylight. The lighting and mood darken as the boat navigates upstream and Willard’s silent obsession with Kurtz deepens. The snaking passageway from lightness to darkness is a reflection of the dual nature of the human soul.

The madness, ludicrousness and senseless violence of the Vietnam War are all on display as the patrol boat proceeds up river. They are attacked by a tiger in the Jungle, witness a riot during a Playboy Bunny performance for the troops, and observe the chaos at Do Long bridge as leaderless panicked soldiers scramble to live another day. The moral ambiguity of the war is brought into clear view when the captain spots a sampan and orders an inspection over the objections of Willard. Initially reluctant to board the boat, Chef hostilely searches it and one of the civilians makes a sudden movement towards a barrel, prompting Clean to open fire, killing nearly all the crew. The one concerned about the barrel, a young woman, lies dying. Chef discovers that the barrel contained the woman’s pet puppy. Phillips insists on taking the survivor to receive medical attention, however, Willard ends the debate by shooting the survivor, calmly stating “I told you not to stop.”

American leaders have sent our military into harm’s way in countries halfway around the world without a clear mission. The initial mission was to defeat the Taliban and capture or kill Osama bin Laden. Within weeks, the Taliban government had collapsed and bin Laden was trapped at Tora Bora. Inexplicably, the U.S. military allowed bin Laden to escape. Now, nine years later bin Laden is still making audio tapes, the Taliban is stronger than ever, and we can’t distinguish the enemy from the good guys. The war has crossed the border into Pakistan. CIA officials are blown up by double agents. Corrupt officials and secret police can’t be trusted. Afghanistan is a quagmire where America has wasted a quarter of a billion dollars, 984 American lives, thousands wounded, and untold numbers of Afghans killed and misplaced. The mission now is to build a new democratic country, just like we tried in Vietnam.

The absolute folly of American imperialism is perfectly reflected in the pre-emptive invasion of a sovereign country that posed no risk to our safety and security. Faulty and/ or fake intelligence regarding weapons of mass destruction was used as the basis to launch a pre-emptive attack on Iraq. President Bush and his neo-con advisors obscured the War on Terror, created false links to 9/11 and al Qaeda, declared the certainty of weapons of mass destruction, and promoted visions of mushroom clouds over U.S. cities to railroad the American public into a war of choice. The irrationality of this war is evident by the launching of 800 cruise missiles from ships at sea to destroy key infrastructure, power plants, and bridges in a public relations TV display of Shock & Awe geared for the 52 inch boob tube mesmerized American public.

As President Bush declared Mission Accomplished after a month of combat operations the United States was left with the task of spending billions, borrowed from the Chinese, to rebuild the infrastructure and bridges that we had just destroyed. Meanwhile, bridges in the U.S. were collapsing with commuters being killed. The hypocrisy and madness of U.S. leadership is exasperating. After combat operations the American imperial ruler in Iraq Paul Bremer inexplicably disbanded the Iraqi military. These trained killers then joined the insurgency, killing thousands of American soldiers and innocent Iraqi citizens. The American “Surge”, four years after the mission had been “accomplished”, succeeded because the American military handed out wads of cash to the insurgent Sunnis who were killing American soldiers. The hypocrisy and irony of borrowing money from the Chinese to pay foreigners to not kill us in their country that we invaded under false pretenses, seems to have been lost on the neo-con hardliners like Dick Cheney.

Heart of Darkness

“I watched a snail crawl along the edge of a strait razor. That’s my dream. It’s my nightmare. Crawling, slithering along the edge of a strait razor… and surviving… But we must kill them. We must incinerate them. Pig after pig. Cow after cow. Village after village. Army after army. And they call me an assassin. What do you call it when the assassins accuse the assassin? They lie. They lie, and we have to be merciful for those who lie. Those nabobs. I hate them; I do hate them.” – Colonel Kurtz

 

Imperialism, colonialism, and empire building have existed for as long as man could exert coercive influence upon weaker men. Humans are fallible, vain, ambitious, and have capacity for good and evil. Rulers throughout history have allowed hubris, wealth seeking, and resource acquisition to influence their actions towards other nations. Imperialism is inherently evil as a more powerful nation imposes its power over a frail people. The symbolism of rivers winding their way through Africa and Vietnam like a snake is tied to the biblical association with temptation and sin. On the river both Marlow and Willard come to the realization that Christian virtues preached by their societies are a farce as they witness the inhumane and corrupt treatment of the native inhabitants. Coppola’s choice of title reflects the hypocrisy of the Christian belief that the Vietnam War was necessary to defeat the anti-Christian communists. “Apocalypse” refers to the expectation of an imminent cosmic cataclysm in which God destroys the ruling powers of evil and raises the righteous to life. The ruling powers of evil in the movie are the U.S. Military. Killing the natives in order to save them from communism is not Christian or appropriate behavior.

History is replete with examples of nations possessing a superiority of wealth and power exercising a policy of invasion to “aid” developing nations and their native inhabitants. The occupation of these countries is always framed in the context of civilizing the natives and bringing progress to a less developed society. But, absolute coercive power over another race always leads to atrocities, corruption and misery for the local populace. The Casement Report, issued in 1904, detailed the grim tales of killings, mutilation, kidnapping and cruel beatings of the native African population by soldiers of the Congo Administration of King Leopold II. This led to the arrest and punishment of officials who had been responsible for murders during a rubber-collection expedition in 1903, including one Belgian national who was given a five year sentence for causing the shooting of at least 122 Congolese natives.

General Maxwell Taylor, one of the principal architects of the Vietnam War, noted:

“first, we didn’t know ourselves. We thought that we were going into another Korean War, but this was a different country. Secondly, we didn’t know our South Vietnamese allies… And we knew less about North Vietnam. Who was Ho Chi Minh? Nobody really knew. So, until we know the enemy and know our allies and know ourselves, we’d better keep out of this kind of dirty business. It’s very dangerous.”

The North Vietnamese and their tenacity as both nationalists and communists were formidable. Ho Chi Minh was quoted as saying, “You can kill ten of my men for every one I kill of yours…But even at these odds you will lose and I will win.” Between 1965 and 1975, the United States spent $111 billion on the war ($686 billion in FY2008 dollars). More than 3 million Americans served in Vietnam. By war’s end, 58,193 American soldiers were killed, more than 150,000 were wounded, and at least 21,000 were permanently disabled. Approximately 830,000 Vietnam veterans suffered symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. America’s imperialist venture ended in failure, disillusionment, and millions of native casualties.

The paradigm of both societies that are in question is of the predominance of ordinary citizens to trust the government or greater power to do right by less dominant people. The self-righteousness that is associated with powerful governments and people is turned upside down in the novel and movie. Imperialism, defined by The Dictionary of Human Geography, is “the creation and maintenance of an unequal economic, cultural and territorial relationship, usually between states and often in the form of an empire, based on domination and subordination.”

The racist nature of imperialism is seen in J.A. Hobson’s justification: “It is desirable that the earth should be peopled, governed, and developed, as far as possible, by the races which can do this work best, i.e. by the races of highest ‘social efficiency’.” The fact is that the European colonialists of the 19th Century saw Africans as an inferior race and that belief led to unspeakable brutality and dehumanization of an entire Continent. The Christian anti-communists in America saw the Vietnamese as a sub-human race of God-less savages. This opened the door to napalming villages, slaughtering women and children and carpet bombing their cities.

Today, the War on Terror is code for subjugating the Muslims of the Middle East. Americans view the natives occupying Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran as no better than dirty uneducated street people who worship an evil god and hate our way of life. This view permits the use of overwhelming firepower against people living in huts and caves. When another human life is considered not as valuable as your own, it is easy to call the deaths of women and children – collateral damage. The United States “liberation” of Iraq has left 5 million orphans out of 12 million children under 18. The insanity of the civilized versus savages plot is when both Marlow’s and Willard’s boats are attacked by villagers with spears and arrows.

The Chief is killed, but the overwhelming firepower is too much for the villagers. This same insanity can be seen in Iraq & Afghanistan as the natives use homemade explosives versus the U.S. military’s vast array of high tech weapons that cost millions. The few thousand terrorists in the world have already won. On 9/11 the terrorists committed the greatest act of terror in history and murdered 3,000 innocent Americans. They killed .001% of the American population. They could not do permanent or long lasting damage to our country. We’ve done it for them. George Bush’s imperialist response to an act of terror was to double the national debt, start two wars, sacrifice thousands of young Americans, killing hundreds of thousands of people in their own countries and taking away freedoms and liberties of US citizens.

Imperialism will always be framed by those in power as beneficial to those being “civilized”. The most evil atrocities will be committed in the name of advancement. The human impact of imperialism is madness. The hubristic delusions of emperors, kings, generals and presidents ultimately put average men into morally ambiguous circumstances. Kurtz represents all men who have been commanded to commit crimes against humanity in the name of an organization or country. Every man has the capacity to hand themselves over to evil if put into a chaotic, dangerous, vague situation for a long period of time.  Any man could degenerate into a Kurtz when moral and physical restraints are taken away, because when no one is watching, the darkness of the human heart can escape from its deepest recesses. The acts of barbarism committed in the Congo, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan by seemingly ordinary men were the result of madness. Some committed murder, others torture, but the majority internalized their inner ordeal resulting in post-traumatic stress disorder. When men know their mission is not morally legitimate, their souls become tormented. There is vagueness to our existence that we may never fathom – a real heart of darkness.

“All ambitions are lawful except those which climb upward on the miseries or credulities of mankind.” – Joseph Conrad

Kurtz’s final words are a description of his own inner darkness, a darkness that exists within all men.

“The horror, the horror.”

As long as imperialism is practiced by empire builders, men will be driven mad by these ambitions. Those who get pushed over the edge will pray for the end. It will be their only friend. Empires always collapse under the weight of their imperialistic ventures. The cost of imperial overreach and the moral descent into a heart of darkness ultimately mark the end of an empire. The American empire is on this path. The only question is whether it will end in a whimper or in a blaze of fire which brings the entire world to an end.

Kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill
This is the end
Beautiful friend
This is the end
My only friend, the end

It hurts to set you free
But you’ll never follow me
The end of laughter and soft lies
The end of nights we tried to die

This is the end

                                    The Doors – The End

37 Comments
  1. Timeisrunningout says:

    Depressing article but truthful. I don’t think most people have a clue to what is happening in the big picture. We have cable channels and other bullcrap on TV to distract them. I supported the Afghan invasion and going after Saddam, but why are we still there. I’ve got two sons in college now and there is no way I would want them to be drafted and sent to Lybia. ‘
    Overreach has a way of taking care of itself. Corruption, greed and moral relativism has taken root everywhere you look. Our leaders are a reflection of us.
    Don’t know exactly when the train wreck will come, but we must be getting close.

    I’ll close for now and leave folks like RE to pontificate for multiple pages

    9th April 2011 at 9:49 pm

  2. buchjoe says:

    I remember this from when you originally published. Still one of your best. Thanks for revisiting it.

    9th April 2011 at 11:09 pm

  3. SSS says:

    General Douglas MacArthur, one of the most famous and controversial military men in our nation’s history, warned both John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson not to get into a land war in Asia. Kennedy and Johnson served under MacArthur in the War in the Pacific during WWII. MacArthur personally awarded Johnson the Silver Star for gallantry in action. Both presidents deeply admired MacArthur and, while president, went to visit with him in the Waldorf Towers where MacArthur and his wife Jean lived in NYC.

    MacArthur died in 1964 prior to the beginning of the Vietnam War. In August 1964, Johnson got his Gulf of Tonkin Resolution passed, and it was game on in Vietnam. He failed to heed his old commander’s advice. Pity. But then again, this great article by Admin could not have been written.

    I close with this ending quote from MacArthur’s “Duty, Honor, Country” speech delivered in 1962 at West Point. Delivered without notes. A friend of mine was in the West Point Class of 1962 and put a tape recorder on the stage. Whenever we would get together at his house, everyone demanded that he break out the (really scratchy) recording so we could listen to the old general’s firm and fluid delivery of one of the most famous marshall speeches ever made. You just don’t hear prose like this anymore.

    “”The shadows are lengthening for me. The twilight is here. My days of old have vanished, tone and tint. They have gone glimmering through the dreams of things that were. Their memory is one of wondrous beauty, watered by tears, and coaxed and caressed by the smiles of yesterday. I listen vainly, but with thirsty ears, for the witching melody of faint bugles blowing reveille, of far drums beating the long roll. In my dreams I hear again the crash of guns, the rattle of musketry, the strange, mournful mutter of the battlefield. But in the evening of my memory, always I come back to West Point. Always there echoes and re-echoes: Duty, Honor, Country. Today marks my final roll call with you, but I want you to know that when I cross the river my last conscious thoughts will be of The Corps, and The Corps, and The Corps. I bid you farewell.”[

    10th April 2011 at 12:33 am

  4. howard in nyc says:

    Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ was on my parents’ bookshelf when i was a kid, and i read it when i was 12 or 13. and my dad offered some historical context with other tales of King Leopold and other european colonial adventures and crimes in africa. (both my parents are american, but spent a couple of years working in Liberia, where they met, and soon after returned to the usa to start a family. so tales of their experiences in west africa were a staple of my childhood.)

    then i saw Apocalypse Now, and of course recognized the source. and in part because of my biases as a young man (thoroughly anti-colonialism and anti-Vietnam war), but in part because i am incredibly concrete, the shades of ambiguity and moral confusion in both works were lost on me.

    the mere presence of white colonialists was wrong and evil. the mere presence of the us army in vietnam was wrong and evil. any attempt to ignore, minimize, sugarcoat or otherwise deny this beginning truth gives rise to unlimited hypocrisy. everything that follows has to be viewed, interpreted or considered from that beginning truth. any seeming ambiguity or confusion requires some level of disregard of this initial reality.

    of course, insanity ensues. how could it not?

    the historic context of the usa’s imperialist adventures in afghanistan, iraq, pakistan, yemen and now libya, the background facts of economic stripping and political meddling throughout the world by the strong preying upon and stealing from the weak, all politely ignored, rationalized away, not considered, by the powerful leaders calling the shots and by the individual citizen.

    of course hypocrisy, ambiguity and moral confusion results.

    more often than not, by choice. but choosing to ignore big huge chunks of reality and truth, hypocrisy, confusion, insanity, failure and destruction are often the result. sadly, not often enough nor quickly enough.

    oh, and DMacAES.

    10th April 2011 at 2:08 am

  5. howard in nyc says:

    and i forgot to say, excellent article, jq. my response is in no way a criticism of your piece. just my point of view on those two literary/artistic works (both of which i love), and on the human evil of strong vs weak.

    10th April 2011 at 2:11 am

  6. SSS says:

    @ lower case howard.

    have you ever mastered the shift key/ i think not.

    make your case against the shit-eating macarthur, dickweed. i’ll destroy you. you’re gonna make a point of the wwi vets protest during the hoover administration, aren’t you/ boo, fucking, hoo.

    your turn, genius. let ‘er rip.

    10th April 2011 at 2:23 am

  7. howard in nyc says:

    Chain of Command.

    10th April 2011 at 2:37 am

  8. howard in nyc says:

    (not referencing the bonus army. there was a nasty job to be done. he did it. hoover’s fucking fault, not big doug’s)

    10th April 2011 at 2:38 am

  9. howard in nyc says:

    aw, shit. you probably went to sleep. anyway, macarthur was a great, brilliant general, one of the finest in our history. his disregard for truman’s authority cannot tarnish his long list of achievements. i especially respect his excellence in light of his famous, accomplished father. more typically a background like that yields a mediocrity like john mccain.

    but his one big flaw was a doozy. civilian authority is a very big deal. forgetting that you are not bigger than the game is a big deal. so, i’ll pare it down to in 1952 (or was it ’51), DMES. but all that other stuff, his ww1 record, his modernization of west point and the whole approach to training officers, his gallantry in the phillipines going out and returning, his governance of occupied japan, his incheon landing and routing of the north koreans, all that was pretty damn great.

    10th April 2011 at 2:58 am

  10. bigargon says:

    actually i think MacArthur’s greatest accomplishment when how he ran the Japanese occupation after WW2. he encouraged Japanese people to develop a peaceful government without the Heavy handedness of other American efforts. I believe he learned lesson from his father’s experience (Arthur MacArthur) in the Philippines (which has many parallels to what happened in Iraq.)

    One thing this article does lack is the conscious and unconscious effects of Social Darwinism. the idea that “white” races were considered more “evolved”. If you look at books from the later 1800′s and early 1900′s, this would be stated as a “fact”. this had a tremendous influence on how European world imposed laws, borders and ideas upon the Asia and Africa.

    another real good fictional book about colonialism from an African perspective is a book by Nigerian Chinua Achebe “Things fall apart

    http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_c_1_17?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=things+fall+apart&sprefix=things+fall+apart

    10th April 2011 at 6:08 am

  11. Surly1 says:

    Terrific article. Glad you reposted.
    “The horror…” continues in our name, every day.

    10th April 2011 at 6:23 am

  12. SSS says:

    howard in nyc

    Ok, forget it. You captured quickly all the high and lows of MacArthur. Well done.

    The first book I read on MacArthur was his self-serving “Reminicences.” Jeez, I thought, this guy is really full of himself. Then I read William Manchester’s “American Caesar,” a brilliant, balanced biography of one of the most complex and renowned generals in our history.

    Like you, I am well aware of MacArthur’s flaws, particularly his insufferable ego, which led to his biggest mistake: challenging President Truman’s constitutional authority as Commander–in-Chief. Harry did the right thing when he fired MacArthur.

    A general named John K. Singlaub tried more or less the same thing when he publically criticized President Carter’s proposal to reduce U.S. forces stationed in South Korea. Carter fired him, and Singlaub retired shortly thereafter. I met with Singlaub for over an hour while I was serving in El Salvador. His proposals would have gotten us into a full scale war against the Salvadoran FMLN rebels and Nicaragua’s Sandinista government. Dumber than a fence post. Glad Carter fired him.

    10th April 2011 at 12:30 pm

  13. Administrator says:

    SSS

    American Caesar was a great book. Manchester was a great historian. I loved his Churchill Biography, but he went and died before Volume III, the most important part 1940-.

    I think he picked someone to complete it for him.

    10th April 2011 at 12:46 pm

  14. SSS says:

    howard

    True story. One of the Army generals I met while I was in the Air Force was a WWII vet who served for several years on MacArthur’s staff in the Pacific. Whenever one of MacArthur’s staff members would depart for another (usually upwardly mobile) assignment, MacArthur would present the departing staff member with an autographed picture of ……………. himself.

    10th April 2011 at 12:51 pm

  15. howard in nyc says:

    yeah, most of what i know of macarthur came from the manchester book. i’ll have to try his churchill bio.

    i vaguely remember singlaub, from that incident with carter, and also i think he came up during iran contra. i looked at his wiki page–that’s a real cold warrior, man. from manchuria to nicaragua.

    10th April 2011 at 2:30 pm

  16. Surly1 says:

    “American Caesar” was a great read and filed in many of the substantial gaps in my knowledge about DMA. Apparently Inchon remains one of the most audacious military maneuvers since Hannibal’s elephants.

    Interesting how necessity is a mother. At a time when the US needed them most, we got MacArthur, Patton, Eisenhower, Ridgway, Marshall, Nimitz, Halsey…

    Had forgotten all about Singlaub. Apparently deservedly so.

    10th April 2011 at 3:04 pm

  17. Muck About says:

    To be a good General, one must be an out of the ordinary egoist.

    All war is hell. There are not enough bad words in the English language to curse war in all its’ forms and manifestations.

    All Generals should lead like Patton – from the front. A requirement for starting a war should be that those who start it must have fought in one to qualify. That’ll slow things way down and eliminate all the bullshit “police actions”, “exporting democracy” crap and expeditions that leave us with whole parts of generations damaged beyond repair and our moral standards in tatters.

    Good post Admin.

    MA

    10th April 2011 at 4:13 pm

  18. flash says:

    Johnson was a piece of cowardly shit and so was the gold digging McArthur.
    One can only speculate to the amount of gold McArthur and his dad , the Governor of the Philippines were responsible for stealing from the Philippines natives they murdered and robbed?

    http://www.thewarreportonline.com/2012/04/23/lbj-war-record-questioned/

    Johnson claimed to be the first member of Congress to join the military after Pearl Harbor. He was immediately named a lieutenant commander in the Navy. His only duty was to go on a fact-finding mission to the Pacific for Congress.

    While in Australia, Johnson went as a passenger aboard a B26 Marauder nicknamed the “Heckling Hare” that was part of a bombing mission over New Guinea. Johnson’s plane had mechanical problems and turned back before reaching the target, but drew fire from Japanese Zero fighters while returning safely to base. MacArthur personally gave Johnson the Silver Star before LBJ went home to write his report.

    That was the end of his military service. President Franklin D. Roosevelt “released” him and several other members of Congress from duty. Johnson’s total time in uniform was about six months.

    In his book “Lone Star Rising: Lyndon Johnson and His Times, 1908-1960,” Dallek wrote that “Johnson was the only one on the ‘Heckling Hare’ who got a medal for the June 9 (1942) mission. It is difficult not to suspect political back-scratching. Lyndon went home with a medal and MacArthur had a new vocal advocate in Washington.

    26th May 2012 at 2:43 pm

  19. Zarathustra says:

    In his book, Samurai, Japanese Ace Saburo Sakai recounts spotting two C 47 transports. He shoots one down before running out of cannon rounds. Johnson was on the one that survived. Pity.

    26th May 2012 at 5:15 pm

  20. Leobeer says:

    So let’s look at the map. Who has nuclear weapons in Asia? India, Pakistan, Russia, China, N Korea and probably Israel. Who has oil and has yet to be attacked? Iran.

    Iran is said to be developing n/w so we are told that it is most urgent that they be attacked before they do. The “Iran is developing weapons for attack” is pure BS and it is BS because they would be wiped out if they ever used them first. No country will attack another country that can use the nuclear option to strike back. Iran is not stupid and they want to defend themselves (and their oil).

    Why do people keep a gun in the house? To protect themselves.

    27th May 2012 at 6:16 am

  21. Dead Cat Bounce « The Reading Room says:

    [...] CHARLIE DON’T SURF (Oldie but Goodie) (theburningplatform.com) 28.803593 -82.575932 Share this:FacebookTwitterLinkedInPrintEmailLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. [...]

    27th May 2012 at 8:18 am

  22. Administrator says:

    11th November 2013 at 9:00 pm

  23. llpoh says:

    MacArthur was one of the most brillaint soldiers the US ever produced – possibly the most brilliant. He had an incredible ego, and an intellect to match. His ego went too far at times.

    When he was at West Point, so the story goes, the tradition was that the person ranking first in a given class before the final exam was excused from the final. MacArthur was ranked first in some class (all of his classes I suspect but as he had missed several classes due to illness the class professor decided that MacArthur had to take the final. MacArthur essentially said fuck you, I am not taking the final, I am first in the class. He slept calmly through the final. The treaher folded like a cheap tent. Or so the story goes.

    11th November 2013 at 9:30 pm

  24. Zarathustra says:

    In the early eighties, I often had lunch at a little Vietnamese joint called the Saigon Cafe. I usually came in late so often I was about the only customer, but the food was good. I got to know the owner, whom I only remember as Nom. He had been the Minister of Education under the Thieu government of South Vietnam and after coming to this country in 1975, had worked for the Federal Govt for a few years before becoming burnt out and deciding to just fuck it all and open up a restaurant. He spoke five languages and was highly intelligent. This was a time when a lot of Vietnam War movies were or had come out. I remember asking him once, “which Vietnam War movie best captured the spirit of the war. Without hesitation, he answered, “Apocalypse Now.”

    This is a true account. Fuck you if you don’t believe me.

    11th November 2013 at 9:31 pm

  25. Administrator says:

    11th November 2013 at 9:39 pm

  26. AWD says:

    We dropped more ordnance on Vietnam than all the bombs used in WW2, and they still won.

    WTF were we doing there again? Fighting communism? I guess they hadn’t heard of Obama and liberal progressives yet. We’re getting our own “Apocalypse Now”.

    11th November 2013 at 9:40 pm

  27. AWD says:

    11th November 2013 at 9:42 pm

  28. Zarathustra says:

    Loopy writes, “MacArthur was one of the most brillaint soldiers the US ever produced – possibly the most brilliant.”

    Aside from his impressive bullshit, MacArthur is primarily known for two things:

    1) His rather brutal sacking of the Bonus Army encampment of disgruntled WW1 veterans.
    2) His sinecure as Army Theatre commander of New Guinea/Borneo, etc. during WW2, which was the most worthless five star position ever since Stilwell and Nimitz were carrying the load in the Pacific. His negligence at mobilizing Clark airfield after Pearl Harbor resulted in it being largely destroyed by Japanese planes flying from bases in Formosa and his pointless half-reconquest of the Philippines later was of no strategic value whatsoever. It was done merely because he said “He would return” and because Roosevelt wanted him as far from American politics as possible.

    11th November 2013 at 9:42 pm

  29. AWD says:

    “Apocylpse Now” was filmed in the Philippines, which now looks like a nuclear bomb hit it. I feel for those people. It used to be a beautiful place.

    11th November 2013 at 9:53 pm

  30. Zarathustra says:

    Okay, I in my haste above I forgot about Inchon. I’ll give MacArthur credit for that one (forgive me for forgetting about the forgotten war).

    11th November 2013 at 9:59 pm

  31. Jackson, with several comments about comments, says:

    Administrator…. Another great oldie and goodie that shouldn’t be forgotten. When it was suggested that you republish some of your best, you wrote that you didn’t think the reprints would get many comments. “Charlie Don’t Surf” belies your concern.

    SSS, a most relevant comment about Douglas MacArthur and his savvy warnings. Of course the best and the brightest, the chickenhawks, and the weekend warriors knew better, didn’t they. Yah, they sure did and let’s stand again for Taps this Veterans’ Day.

    Administrator, I have mixed feelings about William Manchester. He was a court historian who was blinded by Churchill, whose ego, love of war, and lack of judgment help wreck Britain and Europe. However Manchester got it right with American Caesar, much of which I’ve read two or three times. MacArthur’s great accomplishments were his strategic genius (particularly island hopping), his taking so much territory with so little loss of American life – Manchester who was seriously wounded on Okinawa appreciated that – and his occupation of Japan (as bigargon says.) Manchester’s war autobiography, “Goodbye Darkness,” is one of the four best soldiers’ stories ever written. His “A World Lit Only By Fire” is a fascinating history. Now that I think about it, Administrator, you’re right in calling Manchester a great historian.

    flash, if what Manchester writes about MacArthur exposing himself to fire again and again and again, both in WW1 and WW2, is true, there can’t have been any or many more soldiers who were as fearless or more so. As for the piece of shit remark, well I bet you’d get a “right on!” from HST and a whole dugout full of other MacArthur detractors.

    As for Lyndon Johnson… with the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination coming up, LBJ seems to be both in the spotlight once again and now at the center of attention.

    And one more comment…. This about Muck About’s, “All generals should lead from the front – like Patton..” Right on, but they should lead like Caesar, on foot with the troops, and wearing a red cloak, when Rome’s legions fought the Helvetti then, on foot again, as the let’s-go-get-’em point man leading his legions against thousands across a field at Munda. Keep in mind that Caesar was a major Roman political figure when all this happened. If the B’s, ‘Bama, the Bushes, and that other Butt, who was impeached and disbarred, had to take the field and lead from the forward fighting platoons, we’d surely have fewer maimed and disturbed vets and fewer crosses at Arlington and elsewhere.

    11th November 2013 at 10:04 pm

  32. llpoh says:

    Also MacArthur was a brilliant choice to run Japan after the war.

    I am not suggesting he was an almighty success as a general. I said he was brilliant, and he was indeed. Magnificently brilliant. I think I read his IQ may have ben north of 180. He ranked alongside Robert E Lee in intellect.

    11th November 2013 at 10:13 pm

  33. llpoh says:

    Ceasar was about 5 feet tall.

    11th November 2013 at 10:16 pm

  34. Jackson, on a puny? but not a Punic person, says:

    llpoh,

    Suetonius writes of Caesar that “He was tall, of a fair complexion, round limbed, rather full faced, with eyes black and piercing.”

    A study of almost 1000 Roman male skeletons between 500 BC and 500 AD showed the average height was 5’6.” Vegetius, writing about height requirement for Roman soldiers, suggested that 5’5″ or 5’6″ was the ideal height.

    And as for Caesar, most writers suggest he was about 5’7.” With no precise measurements to go on, but thinking that a man now has to be 6′ or taller to be considered tall, I’d bet Caesar was 3 or 4 inches taller than the average Roman man and legionnaire, in other words 5’9″ or 5’10.”

    You could be right about five feet. Do you remember the source of your information and, if so, would you pass it along.

    Also, I’ll bet no one cares a Fl—g F— about this except you and I…. and I’m beginning to wonder about myself.

    11th November 2013 at 10:56 pm

  35. llpoh says:

    The source of my info was my PHD archeaologist guide I had in Rome. She said that Ceasar was a midget and that the comments re him being “tall” were laughable and bullshit. I am not sure how she knew, but best I could tell she knew her shit beyond belief – she knew the age and history of every frigging rock, column, and ditch in the whole city best I could tell. I told her that far as I knew, she could be making the everything up – she was quite offended. She took me to a rock/column she had just been describing from afar where she had said that that rock was placed there by such and such on such and such date, and pointed out the inscription – a perfect match. She had worked on a great many of the digs in the forum and around Rome and Ostia Antica.

    She said Caear was a runt even among a people of runts, and based on my experience, that is good enough for me. Some websites list him at around 5’2″.

    11th November 2013 at 11:14 pm

  36. llpoh says:

    Jackson – I found it fascinating that he was a runt, as I had read the “tall” quote. She did say that these folks – Caesar and his ilk – were always portayed as supermen in sculptures and in legend.

    She pointed out one sculpture of some famous roman and said something to the effect “take this guy, whatsisname, and see how he is portrayed – handsome, strong, tall, etc. In reality he was an ugly, short, overweight faggot drunk. The sculptures put his basic features on an athletes body.” She said being a faggot was accepted and not unusual back then.

    I highly recommend that anyone going to Rome spring for a private guide – expensive as al hell, but you can ask for and get a phd in history, art, archeaology, etc., and come away with a much better experience.

    11th November 2013 at 11:20 pm

  37. Jackson says:

    llpoh, Thanks for your comments on visiting Rome. It brings back pleasant memories. I didn’t have guide, as you had… I thought I knew it all when I was there. Surely I would have seen more had there been someone to show me things other than the usual tourist sites. Now I travel by internet. Do I want to see the Coliseum? Google images and a Google searched article or two are my Pegasus. No NSA, no cramped airplane seats, no six mile or more walking days, and no more discomforts. And at home I get along with my wife better than strangers on the road.

    As for Caesar. Well, who knows how tall he was, whether he had to wear lifts, or what. The fun of a little disagreement or trading information is that it’s a spur to looking into something one has a mild interest in and often is a prompt for recollection. Now I know a bit more about the late JC and I’ll chuckle to myself when I remember how I tried to stretch your short Caesar out for quite a few more inches.

    12th November 2013 at 12:03 am

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