Monday, 27 August 2007

Funny but dumb

You know, John Stewart's a funny guy, and The Daily Show's always good for a giggle, but it's also true that Stewart's Show isn't really news. You have to get that somewhere else. Bush's very good speech to the US Veteran's of Foreign Wars for example -- to an audience, like our own RSA, who would be expected to understand something of the history about which he speaks -- is somewhat different in the reading of it than it is in Stewart's funny but dumb presentation to his TV audience, who I'd expect to know bugger all about what they're invited to laugh at.

But that's TV, isn't it.


  1. Bush's speech has rightly been panned by the very people who ought to know about it: the historians. There are too many mistakes to cover in a mere comment, but one stands out for me: Bush quote mines a Japan historian, John Dower, who was so upset by it that he came out and said Bush was misrepresenting him.

    “They [war supporters] keep on doing this,” said MIT professor John Dower. “They keep on hitting it and hitting it and hitting it and it’s always more and more implausible, strange and in a fantasy world. They’re desperately groping for a historical analogy, and their uses of history are really perverse.”


    “Whoever pulled that quote out for him [Bush] is very clever,” Dower said, acknowledging that “if you listen to the experts prior to the invasion of Japan, they all said that Japan can’t become democratic.”

    But there are major differences, Dower said. “I’m not being misquoted, but I’m being misrepresented.”

    “In the case of Iraq,” Dower said, “the administration went in there without any of the kind of preparation, thoughtfulness, understanding of the country they were going into that did exist when we went into Japan. Even if the so-called experts said we couldn’t do it, there were years of mid-level planning and discussions before they went in. They were prepared. They laid out a very clear agenda at an early date.”

    See also this link for an interview with Dower:

    The US president is delusional, and this spells trouble for the rest of the world.

  2. I might add that the group of people who really ought to know about the Vietnam war are the Vietnamese. Their reaction to Bush's speech? He's got to be kidding:

    People in Vietnam, where opposition to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq is strong, said Thursday that Bush drew the wrong conclusions from the long, bloody Southeast Asian conflict.

    "Doesn't he realize that if the U.S. had stayed in Vietnam longer, they would have killed more people?" said Vu Huy Trieu of Hanoi, a veteran of the communist forces that fought American troops in Vietnam. "Nobody regrets that the Vietnam War wasn't prolonged except Bush."


    Ton Nu Thi Ninh, former chairwoman of the National Assembly's committee on foreign affairs, said Bush was unwise to stir up sensitive memories of the Vietnam War.

    "The price we, the Vietnamese people on both sides, paid during the war was due to the fact that the Americans went into Vietnam in the first place," Ninh said.{48AABCEB-C8E4-4336-8EBE-E50B54342275}&tid=informbox

  3. Your examples of panning, John, are from A historian (singular, not plural), and from a communist former adversary.

    I don't doubt that you could find more, but my point perhaps is that you might like to read it and think for yourself, rather than leap to Googling what other people say.

    (Could it be, perhaps, that you're another who's suffering from 'Bush Derangement Syndrome'?)

    That said, this point of Dower's is obviously and all too unfortunately true: “In the case of Iraq ... the administration went in there without any of the kind of preparation, thoughtfulness, understanding of the country they were going into that did exist when we went into Japan."

  4. I have read the speech, and found it of a kind with much of the US administration's propaganda on Iraq. I mean, Graham Greene? I've read "The Quiet American", and Bush's use of Greene's novel is impenetrable. Is Alden Pyle meant to be the US, or critics of the war? It's not at all clear.

    (Actually, it's dubious as to whether Bush -- notorious for his lack of intellectual curiosity -- actually read the novel. Alden Pyle is not the "main character" as Bush claimed. The reporter is.)

    Bush also doesn't mention that the Khmer Rouge is widely understood to have come to power largely as a result of US bombing of Cambodia. They embarked on their horrific genocide before the US left Vietnam.

    And blaming Al-Qaeda on Vietnam? It's like the man writes his speeches from Never Never Land.

    These are facts: objective truths, unlike Bush's speech, which is veering ever closer to Soviet-style propaganda. And I say that as someone who has no love of communism. If I were a principled conservative/libertarian living inthe US, I'd be thinking very deeply about the public face of the right in the country.

  5. "Actually ... Alden Pyle is not the "main character" as Bush claimed. The reporter is."

    Actually, Greene's somewhat elliptical style might have you confused on this. The story is certainly written through the reporter's eyes, rather than through the third person or 'God's eye' view, but that doesn't make him the main character: it's more a comment on the God's eye view of which Pyle himself seems to be guilty -- and too of those who claimed that American withdrawal at any price would have no consequences for the Vietnamese people.

    Far from impenetrable, I find that as pellucid as one could possibly be, notwithstanding your attempts to evade and/or miscontrue what the speech said.

  6. What I find fucking hilarious is that Bush appears to be the only person who can't draw a Vietnam analogy where Iraq is concerned.

  7. A big difference between Japan and Iraq was that the Americans were perfectly willing to exterminate the Japanese people if necessary. The Japanese knew this. The Americans also considered eradicating the culture of Japan as well, targeting the language and the religion of the country. Fortunately the Japanese came to their senses.
    Vietnam would have been easier than Iraq if this same approach was taken. North Vietnam could have been systematically destroyed yet there was no march on Hanoi. Enemy air bases were left untouched. Many bombs were dropped but mostly on empty jungle.
    The enemy today has a great advantage in that they get to practice their barbarity regularly. To control foreign countries one needs to be cruel - cruel to be kind. Your troops practise their skills on the weak and defenceless, attacking the soft spots. Only very rarly are they called upon to indulge in epic battles of survival. This is how people like Saddam ruled relatively well compared to the Iraq of today. This is how it has always been. The West has no stomach for the cruelty required to rule insane people although I notice that NATO is getting better in Afghanistan and you don't hear much about Chechyna these days due to Putin now being in control.
    A complete withdrawal from Iraq once Saddam was captured would have been a wise move in my opinion as the right message would have been sent to other dictators.
    It is folly to try and rescue these people from themselves.

  8. The other big difference with Japan was that it was utterly defeated and exhausted, and its regime toppled after four years (even longer if you count Manchurian wars) of intense war. Iraq is a very different kettle of fish – a regime was toppled but that was at the beginning of the conflict and so provided an opportunity for revolt rather than marking its end.

    As for the speech, some interesting bits but hard to tell amid all the platitudes to various dignitaries.

    The thing that struck me was the utter self centeredness of it. In discussing all these wars, you would barely imagine that anyone but the US was involved. At a time when the US is finding allies hard to find it’s odd that the contribution of allies was ignored. Hell he was speaking to people who would have been in the trenches alongside them.

    That has always struck me as the weakness in US foreign policy outlook, when they view the world it is always about them and them first. Not always the best way to build bridges and improve understanding.



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