The Charlotte News

Wednesday, April 23, 1941


Site Ed. Note: Today's letters to the editor took umbrage at the short letter to the editor of April 19, and its brief editorial note after it regarding the Will of Robert Rice Reynolds's mother. Actually, of course, the April 19 letter said nothing about the substance of the Will but only suggested it be examined; the editorial note ever so briefly set out its principal provision and made no comment upon it. So, just why, if there was nothing of which the great Senator should have been ashamed, these Vindicators got so upset and defensive about it all, we don't know. But there you are. To be fair, however, we must quote the Senator's good friend and confidante who remarked on the intrinsic good sense and intelligence of Senator Reynolds, and especially with respect to Nazis and the British: "Bob has been over them foreign lands before and since the World War. He knows the lay of the land, the habits, the customs of the people. As to Bob Reynolds being in sympathy with the Nazis, that is all poppycock." We think we understand. The brilliant, blue-blood Bob was not in sympathy with the Nazis; he just didn't like them furen Brits worth a whit.

Having supplied the four pieces from this day's page in 1998, we shall content ourselves with stressing two statements from these editorials, first, from "Alternative": "The human family is not going to live enslaved to any brutal self-styled Master Race, no matter what victories it may yet win." We merely comment, in light of events occurring since late 1998, that such a statement is applicable to any self-styled Master Race, not just Nazis; it is applicable to dark forces within the United States as well.

Second, from "Expert Talks": "Like Lindbergh [Major Alexander De Seversky] sees the war largely in terms of air power. But he discounts the Lindbergh thesis that to win Britain and the United States must ultimately land huge armies in Europe and defeat the German armies." We add only that of course, as matters turned out by 1944, it did take an invasion with a land force finally to grind out the ground first to Paris, then to Berlin, to win the war in Europe. Of course, that is not to say Lindbergh was completely right, for it took laying the groundwork with bombing of German cities for over three years, winnowing the Nazi defenses, to get to the point that a ground force could be landed with any confidence of reasonably efficient success. But bombing with air superiority alone, while plentifully effective, proved indecisive without a follow-on invasion.

The Nazi had the benefit of having a whole society organized on the basis of military discipline and dictatorship since 1933; the Nazi's disregard for the value of individual human life, in consequence of that very reverence above all for military discipline and the superiority of the state, and organization of the state around that primary concept, enabled the state to continue without conscience to throw as cannon fodder at the enemy men and youth alike, men and youth who had to serve, on penalty of instant death for refusing. It also must be pointed out that Lindbergh and the America Firsters, for whom Lindbergh fronted as a spokesman, were not favoring an invasion in such opinions of the need for one to win the war, but rather were attempting to spook the American public into believing that in order to win the war, such an invasion, with its inevitable wholesale loss of life, "every fourth American boy", as the isolationists were fond of proclaiming, would be necessary. While the losses were heavy, it was not of course in the end every fourth American boy. The consequence of doing nothing, however, would have been not only every fourth American boy killed, but every American boy who refused to become a Nazi and serve the Reich.

Such a result, however, by implication, was what the shortsighted likes of Lindbergh, who had been decorated by Hitler, found preferable, especially with the misguided notion in place that the Nazis were well-suited to contest what the Firsters and their like considered the greater menace, the Communists. In fairness to Lindbergh, he was not the brightest tack in the world, had no formal education beyond high school, and was simply a pawn being used, much as the Italian sailors were used to conduct sabotage, as explained in the first piece of the day.

Speaking of pawns being used, perhaps, perhaps not, but at least those who believed that all was justified in fighting Communists, we watched last night "Charlie Wilson's War". We thought it an entertaining and well-made film. But, the story behind it is not fully elucidated by the film, dodging, seemingly consciously so, the ultimate issue as it relates to today: that it was America and the CIA providing covert support to the Muslim insurgents in Afghanistan, contesting the Marxist rule, friendly to the Soviet Union, set up in the country in 1978, which ultimately gave us Usama Bin Laden and September 11, 2001. It was those arms supplied through the efforts of former Congressman Charles Wilson, as well as those captured by the Afghan guerillas from the Soviets during the war, which supplied the terrorist training camps; it was the CIA which trained Freedom Fighter Bin Laden to kill effectively and to train others to do likewise.

So, we do not find Mr. Wilson to be quite so much the unmitigated hero as he is painted; or the CIA in this instance, or at least a small coterie within it, as it is likewise painted, as some sort of renegade cowboy operation against a horde of unresponsiveness on Capitol Hill and in the country generally, helping out the poor Afghan children being blown up by Soviet mines disguised as toys; or the "sixth richest woman in Texas", a right-wing anti-Communist, who poked her nose into matters of which she had little in-depth knowledge, premised on an easy good-versus-evil conception, and stirred up the whole idea of sending arms to the Afghan rebels on the notion that the Soviet Union was ultimately trying to get at Pakistan, a stepping stone to control of the Strait of Hormuz and thus the Persian Gulf, a domino-theory rationale as baseless as turned out to be the rationale for Vietnam.

The primary reason the Soviet Union went into Afghanistan was simple, to stop the guerilla insurgency against a friendly government, much as the United States was fond of doing during the Cold War, albeit, after the debacle of Vietnam, limiting itself to covert operations arranged through the CIA, often in violation of the law of the land, as with the Iran-Contra arms deal. There is no evidence that the Soviet invasion was aimed at Pakistan or any other territorial acquisition or control. That was purely the result of the paranoia spewed from the Pakistani regime, one violently corrupt at that.

Moreover, it is pure silliness to suggest, as this film does and repeats incessantly as if to promote propaganda for its rationale for making into a hero a Congressman who was, by his own admission, a disgrace in terms of his personal behavior, that the Cold War was won through "Charlie Wilson's War"--by Congressman Charles Wilson, the Lone Ranger cowboy, of whom most Americans outside his Congressional district in Texas had never heard until this well-crafted but ultimately disingenuous, or at least misinformed and inchoate, movie came along. We had never heard of him for good reason. His single claim to fame sounds more in the nature of a barroom folk tale blown out of proportion--which it is--than anything of reality.

We reiterate that it is an entertaining and well-crafted film, one telling a well-crafted tale, one which ingratiates the viewer to its protagonist characters, as any good film or tale ought, and as one would expect from its principals, all highly skilled in the art, which is why we take the time to make comment in the first place. But if you should see this film, don't accept as reality on its face that which is being portrayed without looking into the objectively reported facts, free from the propagandistic aims of old Cold Warrior Communist haters, surrounding the war in Afghanistan. That war has often been called the Soviet Union's Vietnam. And it is true that it became a sinkhole, both financially and in terms of loss of Soviet soldiers, for a decade until Mikhail Gorbachev unceremoniously pulled Soviet forces out in 1988. Once engaged, a kind of societal hypnosis to war set in; it became an imperative to win and not retreat, undoubtedly hinged to the same arguments which prolonged American involvement in Vietnam, that which prolongs involvement in Iraq, that those who preceded will have otherwise died in vain--and thus the Soviets sent out more to die in vain, until the ugly handwriting of defeat was scrawled at last on the wall in otherwise unending blood for vain blood. At its end, after committing 100,000 troops, the Soviets suffered 15,000 killed and another 37,000 wounded. Over a million Afghan soldiers and citizens died. Moreover, it helped to cripple Russia's economy in its last decade of existence under Communist rule.

But, given those facts, the Cold War, as we have suggested before, was determined not based on any one action or one war, or any one politician or any one Administration in the United States during its 45-year history. Rather, it was a combination of factors through eight American Presidents, and primarily the notion that no society may last long built around a military dictatorship with a privileged class lording over a peasant class. The people in the breadlines, or those enforced on meager means to do the Party's bidding in order to survive, ultimately revolt, in big and small ways, and corrode from within such a system, and especially when an empire is established which must be maintained in foreign lands over long distances from the mother country. That outmoded concept of empire never has worked for long, especially since the end of the nineteenth century, never will, no matter the military forces opposing to try to keep it in check. The individual spirit for freedom and self-determination and the concomitant quest for national identity are too great, too inherent within the human will, for any system premised on theories antithetical to those characteristics long to survive.

And to suggest that Afghanistan, even though the millstone for the Soviets in the end, or that America's limited role in that war, was the only contributing factor to the determination of the Cold War, as the film implies, is to ignore the brave stands made by Lech Walęsa in Poland, by Vaclav Havel in Czechoslovakia, and the many nameless souls in other above-ground and subterranean Solidarity and Charter 77 type movements throughout the Soviet satellites who fought Soviet domination for four and a half decades. Even as to Afghanistan, aid came from other places, notably China, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. To try to lay all or most of the credit at the feet of Charles Wilson, a small band of committed Cold Warriors in the CIA, and a rich lady in Texas, operating largely in secret in the early 1980's, is an absurdity which only the art of Hollywood could concoct and make at all convincing.

We are not suggesting that Mr. Wilson is a bad guy or had no impact or was one who did not stand for anything. He had principles and he stood by them, to his credit, even if those principles were misled, we think, by what he was shown in the depressed refugee camps, to respond to a call to arms for retribution rather than to try to initiate rapprochement with the enemy. We are suggesting therefore that this presentation of him goes too far in promoting him as a sort of bigger than life folk hero, one man on a white horse, when what he did, primarily cashing in political IOU's for funding of covert weapons sales from Israel through Pakistan to the Afghan rebels, was, in the grand scheme of things, not only not particularly daring, but not very well considered as to its probable end result--the consequence always inherent in placing arms at the disposal of embittered, fanatical Islamic forces and thereby empowering them, especially the young and impressionable, to the continued recollection that violence, rather than honest diplomacy, is the surest path to achieve their ends. And by diplomacy, we mean tough diplomacy with teeth of the type exemplified by the Cuban missile crisis, not appeasement. The idea that there was any path other than enabling tougher violent retaliation is something which Mr. Wilson appears never to have considered, at least as portrayed in the film and the short documentary which accompanies it on disk. Had he sought an audience with the Soviet leadership to try to stop the war, had he sought support on the Hill for a delegation to seek such an audience, that would be something on which to base an heroic story, whether he achieved thereby a peace or not. But, of course, sitting around a table engaging in peace talks usually wouldn't make for much of an exciting movie.

While he apparently did warn that America should provide financial support to rebuild Afghanistan lest it become a training ground for terrorist groups arising out of the war, anyone with any sense of American history would have understood that the citizenry of the United States, and hence the majority of its elected officials, would not have stood for rebuilding a country which the Soviet Union and not America had torn apart in war, a country which the United States had supported only through covert CIA-orchestrated aid, not military commitment. It is something about which Mr. Wilson might have thought in advance, before being led around, as so much Texas cattle, by the ring in his nose held by the "sixth richest woman in Texas". The negligent result of that shortsightedness and naivete is what we are enduring today--in both Afghanistan and Iraq, the latter with respect to the absence of support after the war with Iran ended about the same time as the war between the Soviet Union and Afghanistan.

But the film instead appears to lay the shortsightedness to the rest of the Congress, not Mr. Wilson, whose effectiveness as a Congressman ended at enabling covert aid for shoulder stinger-missile launchers, as he was unable to convince his fellow Congressmen of the need for post-war aid in rebuilding the country. Somehow we do not accept that premise, however, as such a simple cut-and-dry reality. If Mr. Wilson had been operating all the while with full clarity of mind, he would have seen to it, as relentlessly as he had the delivery of the missile launchers, that post-war humanitarian aid was delivered to avoid the terrorist camp rule by the various regional factions within the country resulting from the vacuum of central power following the war. The Congressman should have obtained, ab initio, along with his covert arms appropriations, a commitment from Congress to aid after the war, before the arms were provided. Ultimately, a billion dollars was spent on arms for Afghanistan. Obviously some of that money should have and could have been earmarked for humanitarian post-war rebuilding, rather than being spent entirely on covert weapons deals.

Charlie Wilson and the CIA in Afghanistan were no heroes. They were at best well-meaning adherents to their own limited insight at the time, and led by their own lack of personal accountability, with a purblind self-righteousness in fighting the Evil Empire, without ever stopping enough to examine how the world looked from the perspective of the Soviet Union, and what the result might be after that war, inevitably without U.S. support in rebuilding the country. At worst they were inept bunglers, officious intermeddlers interposing themselves where they had no business, with the means to know in advance that there would be no post-war aid in rebuilding the country, and that without it, a terrorist state would inexorably raise its spiny tail, a repeated result capable of being gleaned from a study of history, especially in that region of the world. The truth, as usual, probably is somewhere in between the extremes. So, again, we don't suggest that they were bad people with ill intent, with designs to create Usama Bin Laden and his terrorist training camps and that to which those camps led. But, inevitably, history should have instructed them as to that possible result in advance of the aid, and means to prevent the vacuum which produced that result provided along with it, or the aid should never have been given in the first instance.

Had the Soviets won the war in Afghanistan, there would have been no Bin Laden; he would have been executed. Would it have impacted one whit or extended the Cold War? No one can say, but the probabilities run against it for the fact that it was the prolonging of the Afghan war itself in conjunction with numerous other factors, mainly the unrest in the various Soviet satellite countries, and the domestic economic woes those events precipitated, not per se the loss in Afghanistan, which caused the Soviet Union to dissolve.

Afghanistan was a border state to the Soviet Union, as was Iran, which in 1979 had been overrun by Islamic fundamentalists who had taken hostage American diplomats. The Soviet Union foresaw undoubtedly much the same sort of problem coming from Afghanistan against a government friendly to it, as the United States had seen occur against the Shah of Iran, friendly to the United States and the West for decades before his being deposed and forced into exile.

And perhaps the Soviet Union in some measure was right; for if there is anything as despicable and disastrous, as history also shows, as a government built on military discipline and empire quest, it is a government built on religious fanaticism, a state which insists that there is no separation between church and state, a ruler which takes his instructions from something he calls "god" but which includes violence toward the enemies of the state as an appropriate means to the end of righteousness under that one true religion against the world of infidels, a god, in other words, of convenience to confirm in every instance, by coincidence, the divine rule and word of the sovereign dictator, a god who conforms to the views of the dictator, not the converse. At least the Soviets proclaimed no god to give them guidance in their murder of innocent civilians as do the Islamic fundamentalist fanatics.

The "sixth richest woman in Texas" might reflect on that in the mirror as we suffer the ill effects to this day of "Charlie Wilson's War", should they desire to claim anything other than the fruits of victory--which, as someone once said, always has a thousand fathers--a war ultimately won through the support of religious fanatics in Afghanistan, who believe violence is an integral part of their religion, support primarily stimulated by fanatics in the United States, with religious fervor enlisted to their cause, who also believe in violence as an integral part of their religion, and who also believe that their "god" affords them wealth and power to do his "will" for all "god's people", another way of confirming their own will to do whatever they wake up in the morning and conceive to do, with their wealth and personal influence, and regardless of its consequence to others, either now or later, and regardless of whether it happens to be legal or even moral in any abstract or objective sense.

But, as we suggested, it is rather more the rule than the exception through its history, though certainly not without exception, that in cinema the heroes cast in dramatic context with snappy dialogue to ingratiate them to the viewer are not really so heroic and bigger than life when posed in reality.

In any event, we hope that the rich, shortsighted buttinskies of this type, blindly committed to ends without thought as to what the means to them portend, and the leaders they cultivate, behaving as lone cowboys on the range of discontent, meddling in foreign conflicts without proper planning for the aftermath of those conflicts, even if the meddling produces an ostensible victory for our supposed side, next, when like spirit moves them, will check themselves before so precipitately acting without the knowledge, advice or consent of the American people. Such meddling betrays a lack of understanding of basic human orientation within the world, as respects national pride and dignity and religious pride and dignity, as outrageously irrational as those notions sometimes become. It makes for a simple and entertaining American tale maybe, this lone rider of the purple plains, a Lawrence of the Arabesque, providing the poor peasant a means to fight back against his technologically superior oppressor, but usually not one in reality with a very attractive result when thought out to its full implications.

Just as with the Cliveden Set in England, their heroine in Commons, Virginia's Lady Astor, and their propagandistic aims through their newspapers in support of the Nazis during the mid-1930's, promoting them as a hedge against Communism, and thereby enabling the appeasement philosophy in England which sat by as Hitler steadily built his previously emasculated war machine in violation of the Versailles Treaty and the League of Nations mandate, inevitably there are people who fancy themselves above the laws and treaties between nations, that their money and social standing ought enable them power to influence matters, sometimes, we think, for the mere sake of influencing substantial matters outside their more usual local sphere of affairs, not for any actual crying need for that influence. That self-perceived mandate to impact matters of import is based on the sudden self-esteem achieved by the glad-handing reaction from others to their private wealth, wealth usually accumulated through inheritance or plain nefarious greed or both, not through personal industry and intelligence. Through that supposed superior insight, self-nourished and bathed and swirled in cyclical mutual vanity, they find that they must, for fully realized raison d'etre, exert their vaunted views over the rest of us and prove to us how vastly influential they are, how supreme their insight to that of the rest of us poor peons.

More usually than not, however, that self-promoted heroism from the back lines winds up this way, with untoward results down the road, as it did on December 7, 1941, as it did on September 11, 2001--purblind as to consequence, for finding its seeds outside the law, often in defiance of it, supplanting that which "god" and a small coterie of like-minded fanatics told them for that which the democratic common weal of the country ought to have informed reason in them to the contrary. Such individuals obviously have the right to speak their minds as much as anyone else, but to funnel their money and influence, to speak not with one voice but one amplified to such decibels as to drown out the vox populi completely, and thusly enable the supplying of weapons, without the knowledge or consent of the American people, to one side or another of a conflict, one in which the United States is not officially involved, is another thing entirely. And on that, discretion and sensitivity should stay the hand to insure the wise end before the expedient means to an uncertain finale are undertaken, no matter how loud the children may cry out for help and tug tenaciously to our heart strings. There are children throughout the world and in every land. Experience has shown that often those children, once fed and clothed and cared for, do not have great problem once adults in biting the hand that fed them.

"Charlie Wilson's War", the film and the reality behind it, is no model by which anyone should be strictly emulative, at least not without learning thoroughly from the mistakes which were made in support of one side of that war, producing the results we have.

Anyway, life isn't always a box of chocolates, or, for that matter, a bowl of goldfish.

For all of its flaws of omission, we liked the movie though. And, not grudgingly, it is hard not to admire the tenacity to purpose of former Congressman Wilson, especially as he did what he did out of true conviction, not for expectation of political gain or for money. We shall see...

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