The Lies of Vietnam

Source: National Archives and Records Administration.
President Lyndon B. Johnson in Vietnam: With General William Westmoreland, Lieutenant General Nguyen Van Thieu, Prime Minister Nguyen Cao Ky (South Vietnam). Source: National Archives and Records Administration.

Rarely have accomplishments turned out so totally at variance with intended objectives. The war did not save South Vietnam, it did not deter future aggression, it did not enhance the credibility of United States commitments elsewhere in the world, it did not prevent recriminations at home …

The American defeat there grew out of assumptions derived quite logically from th[e] strategy [of “flexible response”]: that the defense of Southeast Asia was crucial to the maintenance of world order; that force could be applied in Vietnam with precision and discrimination; that the means existed to evaluate performance accurately; and that success would enhance American power, prestige, and credibility in the world. These assumptions in turn reflected a curiously myopic preoccupation with process—a disproportionate fascination with means at the expense of ends—so that a strategy designed to produce a precise correspondence between intentions and accomplishments in fact produced just the opposite.1

But there is an even profounder understanding of history … [that] recognizes that injustice flows from the same source from which justice comes … This indictment may be regarded not only as a shrewd expression of the moral ambiguity of all government, as both an instrument of, and a peril to justice; it is, more profoundly considered, a recognition of the basic paradox of history. It recognizes that the creative and destructive possibilities of human history are inextricably intermingled. The very power which organizes human society and establishes justice, also generates injustice by its preponderance of power.2

Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s The Vietnam War is extraordinary.

The immersive, 18-hour documentary captures the complexities, consequences, and emotions of the war, while placing today’s societal divisions in historical context. It mercilessly lays bare the unconscionable lies of U.S. statesmen and generals, and their betrayal of the country’s citizens, values, and decency.

You should watch it. (more…)

Favorite Books of 2015

The holiday season is upon us, so I thought I’d take to the blog once more to share some of the best books I read during the year.  Following fortuitous retweets from Marc Andreessen and Conor Sen last year, these annual posts have become the most frequently visited pages on the blog, with the 2014 and 2013 iterations attracting nearly one in five views.  So thanks!  I hope you find one or more of the books listed below to be an enriching read. (more…)

Reflections on a Winding Road to EM Private Equity

In late 2005, I would arrive at the office early and catch up on the latest news of sectarian violence in Iraq.  It made for gruesome reading—bodies discovered in vacant houses, tied to chairs with clear evidence of torture.  A favorite tool seemed to be power drills, which were used on knees, ankles, heads.

There were suspicions that Iraq’s interior minister—Bayan Jabr—was at least partially responsible, and that members of the National Police force that he oversaw were effectively operating as Shia death squads, exacting vendettas against Sunnis and former elements of Saddam Hussein’s regime.  The sectarian violence seemed to be increasing until February 2006, when militants bombed one of Shia Islam’s holiest sites, the Golden Mosque in Samarra, kicking off an orgiastic spate of bloodletting that brought Iraq to the precipice of a full-blown civil war. (more…)

Thoughts on James Fallows’s “Chickenhawk Nation”

Colleville-sur-Mer, France (2004).
Colleville-sur-Mer, France (2004).

[President Barack] Obama gave his still-not-quite-natural-sounding callouts to the different military services represented in the crowd. (“I know we’ve got some Air Force in the house!” and so on, receiving cheers rendered as “Hooyah!” and “Oorah!” in the official White House transcript.) He told members of the military that the nation was grateful for their nonstop deployments and for the unique losses and burdens placed on them through the past dozen years of open-ended war … He said that the “9/11 generation of heroes” represented the very best in its country, and that its members constituted a military that was not only superior to all current adversaries but no less than “the finest fighting force in the history of the world” … This has become the way we assume the American military will be discussed by politicians and in the press: Overblown, limitless praise, absent the caveats or public skepticism we would apply to other American institutions, especially ones that run on taxpayer money. A somber moment to reflect on sacrifice. Then everyone except the few people in uniform getting on with their workaday concerns.1

James Fallows has written one of the most important articles of the year: “The Tragedy of the American Military.”2  You should read it now; the words below will be here when you’re finished.

In the article, Fallows discusses the crisis in civil-military relations that has been building over the last 15+ years, and argues that this state of affairs has negatively impacted the country’s ability to fight and win wars.  As I read it, the three pillars of his argument on why the United States gets lured “into endless wars it cannot win” are, in a nutshell: (more…)