General Colin Powell (1937-2021)

octogenarian with multiple myeloma

Colin PowellThe first substantial story about the death of Colin Powell that I saw appeared in Common Dreams. “Colin Powell, Who Helped George W. Bush Lie Nation Into Iraq War, Dead at 84.”

Further: “It’s crucial to remember just how important Colin Powell was to selling the Iraq War, and how deliberately he used his public credibility to boost the lies that pushed us into the war. That is his biggest legacy.”

Certainly, as someone who was vigorously active in opposing the Iraq war for months before it began in 2003, I recognize the outsized role his United Nations presentation played in “legitimizing” the 2003 invasion. They never did find those weapons of mass destruction that Saddam Hussein was supposed to have had.

Still, I’m uncomfortable defining most people over their biggest mistake. It is especially so when Powell acknowledged and regretted the speech repeatedly, calling it the biggest blunder in his career.

From Daily Kos: “Born in Harlem, New York, to Jamaican parents, Powell was a retired four-star general who served in multiple administrations. He was an icon of the Republican Party, serving as the youngest and first Black national security adviser under former President Ronald Reagan and first Black national security adviser and as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President George H.W. Bush.”

“In 2008, during then-candidate Barack Obama’s presidential run, Powell stood up to decry those who falsely called Obama a Muslim in order to discredit him… In his later years and during former President Donald Trump’s presidency, Powell began to move away from the party he had affiliated himself with for so long.”

Vaccine disinformation

It is true that Powell died of complications from COVID-19, though he was fully vaccinated. But it’s also accurate that the octogenarian was being treated for multiple myeloma, cancer that forms in certain white blood cells.

So when John Roberts, Fox News‘ co-anchor of “America Reports,” tweeted news of Powell’s death to promote vaccine disinformation, he was rightly blasted.

“According to… Roberts, Secretary Powell’s [breakthrough] death ‘raises new concerns about how effective vaccines are long-term,’ which is both manipulative and false, given the facts surrounding his health – namely that he was 84 and battling cancer that impacts the body’s ability to fight infections… Roughly 7,100 such deaths have been reported in the US, with 85% occurring in patients 65 and older.

“Vaccine disinformation is ‘a big reason behind low inoculation rates,’ the L.A. Times recently reported… Fox News aired claims that undermine COVID-19 vaccines on 99% of days in the last six months, according to research by progressive media watchdog group Media Matters for America. Only two days from April through September didn’t feature the sowing of doubt about the safe and effective shots.”

“Mission Accomplished” is Old Enough to Drive

Calling the Iraq war a ‘tragedy’ implies that the U.S. had a legitimate reason to go to war against Iraq in 2003

In response to my post about war protest songs, someone I know IRL, and a very nice guy wrote: “As a veteran, I still have bad feelings about those protesters who demeaned individual soldiers returning from the horrors of war. The young men and women of those days are the PTSD patients of today.

“If you want to protest against something, take it out on the politicians who started the war.”

Far enough. The problem is that by the time the mainstream analysis catches up with the facts, it’s far too late. The American Conservative notes, “The Iraq War Was a Crime, Not a ‘Tragedy.'” Andrew Bacevich, reviewing Michael Mazarr’s Leap of Faith, rejects the author’s contention that the Iraq war was “the product of good intentions gone awry.”

As Daniel Larison points out: “Waging an illegal preventive war cannot be noble and cannot be done with ‘good intentions.’ To embark on an unnecessary war in violation of another state’s sovereignty and international law because you claim to be afraid of what they might do to you at some point in the future is nothing other than aggression covered up by a weak excuse. It is the act of a bully looking to lash out at a convenient target.

“Calling the Iraq war a ‘tragedy’ implies that the U.S. had a legitimate reason to go to war against Iraq in 2003, but there was no legitimate reason and anyone who thought things through could see that at the time.”

That would include between 12 and 14 million people who came out on February 15, 2003, “the largest protest in the history of the world.” I was in New York City where an estimated 200,000 gathered. It was so large that I never got within 40 blocks of the United Nations, the rally’s terminus point. Yet the events were largely ignored.

Now, ‘Mission Accomplished’ Is Old Enough to Drive. We’re still in Iraq. “A few people got rich, a lot of people got killed and the carnage rolls on because too many people thought it was real. My old bar friend was right. The fix was in, and still, too many forget.”

As my buddy suggested of the perpetrators of unnecessary war: “There’s a special place in hell for them.”

Vets say pardoning military service members who were accused or convicted of war crimes is an insult to those who have served honorably.

Now I Know: The Bomb Detector That Was a Dud

My lesson from 9/11

But, of course, the Iraq war started anyway.

Back in 2002, there was some entity that devised a plan that people all over the country would sing the Mozart Requiem on September 11 of that year. In Albany, the performers were the group Albany Pro Musica. For that performance only, two of my fellow choir members, Gladys and Tim, and I crashed Pro Musica. On a very windy Wednesday morning, we went down to the bandstand by the Hudson River and sang. (That was probably the only day I’ve ever worn a tux to work.)

But that left me grappling – what can I do for peace? My friends Jay and Penny let me know about a peace vigil at the Capitol building just up the street from where I work, which I saw disperse. I didn’t go the next week, but on September 25, I started participating in a weekly vigil for peace, organized by some Quakers, though the participants were not all from the faith.

I knew then that we needed to stop the war from starting since Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. I attended other rallies, in addition to the Wednesday noon events. I went to NYC on February 15, 2003, to be part of the now forgotten largest protest in world history (In 2011, I supported a Kickstarter film about that date; now that it WASN’T nominated as Best Documentary, maybe I’ll FINALLY get the video this year.)

I boldly predicted that if the war were to start, in five years, there would be at least two countries where one was now, believing the Kurds, who had been all but autonomous in the 11+ years since the Gulf War, due to the northern “no-fly” zone enforced by the US and the UK, would opt out of a country so torn by sectarian tension.

But, of course, the war started anyway. I still protested, but now it was seen as even more treasonous than before, and some of the passersby let us know it. Finally, after the fall of the Saddam regime, one of the more regular complainers came over to gloat. “See, it’s over!” he crowed.

Of course, it wasn’t over. “Mission” was not “accomplished.” In fact, according to Wikipedia, by 2006, the war had had more operations than a cut-rate surgeon could perform. By then, some of the neocon warmongers have admitted that they were wrong about Iraq. Somehow, that was small comfort, after “three years, tens of thousands of Iraqi and American lives, and $200 billion – all to achieve a chaos verging on open civil war.”

At some point, during the run-up to war, someone had designed a simple white on green button that said: “Choose Peace”. I wore it on my coat regularly. When we ran out of buttons, I went out and had more made, giving them away to whoever would wear them.

This is oddly true: I STILL have some of those buttons left, 15 years later, which I will gladly give/send you, as long as you agree to wear them. The trick is: I don’t know what peace will look like anymore, at least in Iraq. And Syria. And Afghanistan…

Starting war is easy. Starting peace is tough. And don’t get me started about “freedom fries”…

2006: Remembering the Iraq War’s Pollyanna pundits. (Thanks, Dan.)

2015: 70,000 Muslim Clerics Issue Fatwa Condemning Terrorism

This is an edited repost from March 19, 2006.

Wars real (Iraq) and fictional (MASH)

Much of the first season, MASH was a standard sitcom, and a pale comparison to the film.

MASH.signpostMore of those Ask Roger Anything answers:

New York Erratic wants to know:

What should we do about Iraq? Go back, send just humanitarian aide, leave it alone or some other option?

I found it hysterical to listen to Jeb Bush, and others, thrash around trying to figure out the answer to the question, “Knowing what we know now, should we have gone to war in Iraq?” Given the fact that the REAL, CORRECT answer is that we should NOT have gone to war in Iraq, knowing what we SHOULD have known THEN, then the hypothetical question should have been a cakewalk.

I hate going to the Jon Stewart well again, but the Daily Show’s Mess O’Potamia segments have been so dead on. In particular, two segments, one from July 2014, noting that the “U.S. is like the Oprah of sending weapons to the Middle East”, and if our friends don’t use them as we intended, whatcha gonna do? Watch that HERE or HERE.

Even more on point, a segment from June 2015 that says, sarcastically, “Just arm the rebels, that never backfires,” that “learning curves” are not for folks like us. Watch HERE or HERE or HERE or HERE for this succinct description:

“We spent the ’80s giving Saddam Hussein’s Baathists weapons to fight against the Iranians. The ’90s helping Kuwait fight against Saddam’s Baathists that we armed. The 2000s heading a coalition to destroy Saddam’s Baathists, and the 2010s fighting against those very same unemployed Baathists now going by the name ISIS that we originally armed in the ’80s to fight Iran.” In fact, our ONLY success is when we armed those Afghan rebels c. 1980, and they became the Taliban.

Those unemployed Baathists, BTW, were largely the strategic blunder of Paul Bremer, our head civilian honcho in-country, who, at least last year, was pushing for US troops back into Iraq. Let’s just say that I don’t find Bremer to be a reliable expert.

I listen to Ash Carter, the current Secretary of Defense, complain that the Iraqis aren’t “standing up”. The problem is that, in many ways, there ARE no Iraqis. I didn’t hear anything about this until the summer of 2014, in anticipation of the centennial of the start of World War I, but the terrible map-drawing in the region after that conflict is part of the problem that remains to this day.

Back in 2006, Senator Joe Biden suggested allowing Iraq to be broken up into sectarian areas, i.e., Kurds, Shia, and Sunni, though he now denies it. I think he may have been right initially.

Of course, the real problem, beyond the fact that we shouldn’t have gone to war in the first place is that, after going in for the wrong reason, and us torturing people, thus undermining our credibility, has provided “terrorist groups and their supporters with yet another chance to tap into a well of anger and frustration,” essentially creating the situation where perhaps we should respond militarily.

What was the question again?

Whatever the current administration is SAYING our actions are going to be, it will almost certainly be more. War has a funny way of developing mission creep. Perhaps America needs a 12-step program to cure it of its war addiction.

Surely we need to help with humanitarian aid, for the refugees dislocated from Iraq, in particular, is our responsibility.

Beyond that, I have no idea. I’ve seen interviews with Iraqi troops, and there seems to be no consensus as to what the US role should be. The fact that we’ve been wrong for SO long suggests another strategy. I think the idea of transferring CIA drone strike capacity to the Pentagon would presumably give more legitimacy, more transparency, to whatever defensive action we’ll be forced to take.

But I’m no good at unscrambling this omelet.
Jaquandor, living on the Byzantium Shores, asked:

If you ever liked MASH: Colonel Potter or Blake? BJ or Trapper?

I LOVED MASH, or MAS*H, if you prefer, and watched it religiously through six time slots on five different days. When it was on Saturday night at 8:30 p.m. Eastern Time, during its second season (1973-74), it became part of the best television lineup ever, preceded by All in the Family, and followed by The Mary Tyler Moore Show, the Bob Newhart Show and the Carol Burnett Show.

In fact, when the series DVDs, plus the 1970 movie upon which it was based, has been on deep discount on Amazon, as it was recently, I was tempted to buy it, but the reviews of the packaging scratched some discs made me wary.

The show took a while to find its footing, its voice. Much of the first season, it was a standard sitcom and a pale comparison to the film. As most critics noted, it wasn’t until the episode Sometimes You Hear the Bullet, in which Hawkeye’s friend visits him and (40-year-old SPOILER ALERT), later dies after being wounded, that the show developed any real level of gravitas.

For me, the show should have ended when Radar (Gary Burghoff) went home, which shows up in the eighth season, but, I believe, was filmed during the seventh. I never bought Klinger (Jamie Farr) out of the dresses. I would hope, however, that they would have included that Dreams episode from season eight.

The problem was that the show started to repeat itself. The first eight seasons, I often would watch the summer rerun of episodes I’d already seen, but by season nine, the show was already in a sense of deja vu, and I only watched once per episode.

In fact, Ken Levine, who was a writer in seasons five through eight noted that he accidentally helped rewrite a previous episode, and that was back in season seven. Search his blog for more great stories.

Also problematic is that the chronology started to make no sense at all. Hawkeye (Alan Alda) and Trapper John (Wayne Rogers) were in trouble in 1952 in season two or three, Winchester (David Ogden Stiers) was celebrating Christmas 1951 in season nine. Someone put together a timeline of all the shows.

So, picking between Trapper John and B.J. (Mike Farrell) is complicated. Trapper was great in seasons two and three. B.J. was so earnest early on that he was initially irritating, but he grew on me until the later seasons when even his storylines started to repeat. First time he falls off the fidelity wagon, it’s great, but a subsequent possibility seemed forced.

McLean Stevenson’s Colonel Henry Blake also seemed to come into his own by the time he left after season three. The last scene in Abyssinia, Henry STILL makes me cry.

I had a bit of an adjustment of Harry Morgan as Colonel Potter because I remember the actor as a crazy general on the show two seasons earlier. But it was clear they needed a different type of character in that function, and he was great. The episode with the tontine, from season eight, was possibly Potter’s finest hour.

You didn’t ask, but I thought it was odd that Major Burns (Larry Linville) never really evolved from that one-note character, while Major Houlihan (Loretta Swit) changed from being “Hot Lips” to being Margaret, making the majors’ romance less viable over time. Gaining Major Winchester was clearly an improvement.

BTW, I saw the late Larry Linville at Capital Rep several years in The Importance of Being Earnest. His performance, in drag, was way over the top, yet unconvincing.

Memorial Day 2015: war is failure

“It turns out that the national security state hasn’t just been repeating things they’ve done unsuccessfully for the last 13 years, but for the last 60.”

There was a time when I thought there were bad guys and good guys, and they were very easily distinguishable.

But now I think war is failure. Even a “just war” may be, at very best, the least bad outcome. And usually, just a bad outcome, with war profiteers (Blackwater, or whatever they’re calling themselves now). Pope Francis got it right this month: “Many powerful people don’t want peace because they live off war.”

Any American born since 1984 has spent at least half of his or her life with the country at war. My life percentage is only about 40%.

We go to war in Iraq. Some of us thought it was a mistake at the time. Others discover it later, realizing we were lied to. Now, the calls by some to go war with Iran ring hollow.

Unintended consequences of war: My Lai in Vietnam, Abu Gharib in Iraq, to name just two during my lifetime. I highly recommend Graphic Novels About Consequences and Horrors of War by Meryl Jaffe.

On this Memorial Day, I also suggest Demobilized in the USA: Why There Is No Massive Antiwar Movement; I.F. Stone, the urge to serve, and remembrance of wars past:

Among the eeriest things about reading Stone’s Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia coverage, 14 years into the next century, is how resonantly familiar so much of what he wrote still seems, how twenty-first-century it all is. It turns out that the national security state hasn’t just been repeating things they’ve done unsuccessfully for the last 13 years, but for the last 60. [Compare, for instance, Laos and Iraq.]

But if much in the American way of war remains dismally familiar some five decades later, one thing of major significance has changed, something you can see regularly in I.F. Stone’s Weekly but not in our present world. Thirteen years after our set of disastrous wars started, where is the massive antiwar movement, including an army in near revolt and a Congress with significant critics in significant positions?

If, so many years into the disastrous war on terror, the Afghan War that never ends, and most recently Iraq War 3.0 and Syria War 1.0, there is no significant antiwar movement in this country, you can thank the only fit of brilliance the national security state has displayed. It successfully drummed us out of service. The sole task it left to Americans, 40 years after the Vietnam War ended, was the ludicrous one of repeatedly thanking the troops for their service, something that would have been inconceivable in the 1950s or 1960s because you would, in essence, have been thanking yourself.


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