Defeating Terrorists using the Viet Cong Playbook

In doing research for my latest novel, I read several books on the Vietnam War. I wanted a perspective from sides. There were lessons we might apply to our foreign policies today. The books were,

A Viet Cong Memoir by Truong Nhu Tang. Tang rose to the position of Minister of Justice within the Provisional Revolutionary Government of Vietnam (PRG.) Tang now lives in exile in France.

Last Night I Dreamed of Peace: The Diary of Dang Thuy Tram. Tram was a doctor who treated wounded members of the National Liberation Front (NLF) and the North Vietnamese Army (NVA.) She traveled by foot on the Ho Chi Minh trail into South Vietnam. She was killed by American forces in 1968 with several NVA soldiers. She was 28 years-old. The story of how her diaries survived the war and emerged decades later makes it worth the read.

On  Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War by (Col. Ret.) Harry G. Summers

Hue 1968: A Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam by Mark Bowden

For those of us who came of age during the “American” war in Vietnam, these books are quite unsettling.

They are also a valuable lesson for today.

My first inkling that much of what I believed about the Vietnam War was wrong started when I watched the documentary The Fog of War, interviews with Robert McNamara. He was one of the prime architects of American policy, from initial involvement to the escalation putting more than five hundred thousand American combat troops in the country.

I’d also read Stanly Karnow’s Vietnam: A History and referred to it during my research.

In developing one of the main characters in the book, a former Viet Cong fighter (or more properly the National Liberation Front as I learned in my research), I wanted to understand their view of American intervention.

To say it changed my perspective is an understatement.

Most Americans saw Vietnam as a roadblock to the domino effect of the spread of communism. To most Vietnamese, we were just another in a series of colonial powers using Vietnam for our own benefit.

Our single focus on stopping the spread of communism, something we perceived as a monolith led in partnership by the Soviets and China, blinded us to the more distinct emergence of anti-colonial nationalism within countries such as Vietnam.

Contrary to what I and most Americans believed, there were three distinct sides fighting the war. Each with their own purpose.

The South Vietnamese government, supported by us. A democratic government in name only, led by men who rose to power through assassination and intrigue.  They used torture and violence to suppress opposition.

The National Liberation Front consisting mostly of Southern Vietnamese seeking self-determination within South Vietnam. They relied on the North for military support, understood they could never defeat the American forces militarily and used a combination of guerilla tactics and political efforts to drag out the war. They understood the anti-war movement within the US would eventually exhaust America’s tolerance for suffering losses.

The NVA and government of North Vietnam. They sought a unified Vietnam under the socialist system. Ho Chi Minh, who died in 1969, held less stringent insistence on reunification recognizing the strength of the nationalist spirit in the south.  On his death, a more intense socialist power structure gained control.

Our unwillingness to gain an understanding of the true nature of the political situation in Vietnam, coupled with a rabid Cold War philosophy, effectively eliminated any opportunity to avoid military intervention.

There were some who argued this point but were ignored. The Cold War mentality blinded even the most brilliant Americans to the changing reality of the world.

There is evidence that JFK understood the finer points of Vietnamese nationalism, and perhaps held a less comfortable feeling for our intervention tactics in controlling the South Vietnamese government, but that is academic.

What does this all have to do with today?

In the words of George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”

During the height of World War II, sentiment in America about Germany and Japan was one of abject hate. Our efforts were focused on defeating them quickly and completely.

Yet, as soon as we ended the immediate war, we did not seek their total annihilation. We understood that while many Germans were Nazis, it was not all Germans. While some did nothing, others worked secretly to change Germany.

Same with the Japanese. If one asked a Marine riflemen on Iwo Jima about what he wanted to do, the answer would be to kill all the Japanese. He meant to kill the Japanese trying to kill him, not every living Japanese in the world. Even if he didn’t understand that himself.

Today, the world faces the asymmetric threat of Islamic radical fundamentalism and the specter of terrorism. Their goal is to stop the spread of the modern world and the progress of science, rational discourse, and tolerance.

Much like the NLF, the fundamentalists understand they cannot defeat us militarily. They can try to drive us into isolation, or find a way to unleash a nuclear Armageddon, but only if we fail to learn from history.

We must realize that within Islam the majority of the faithful do not condone the violence. They do not support the fundamentalist’s distortion of the Quran. But it is on them to raise their voices and join those who suffer from these terrorist acts in fighting against them.

The solution to radical fundamentalism is not the wholesale destruction of Islam any more than ending the war in Germany or Japan required the genocide of every German or Japanese.

We can learn a lesson from the history of war. We can learn a lesson from the aftermath of Vietnam that blind belief without careful honest analysis to understand those involved can lead to unnecessary horrors.

What happened in Vietnam after we left was inevitable. Truong Nhu Tang left Vietnam, disillusioned by the disaster that Socialism brought to the country. His dream of a self-determined government for the people of South Vietnam dashed on the failed socialist system. This was a man who spent decades fighting for a cause.

Vietnam is just now emerging from the long nightmare. We were never going to change the course of that country.

We spent 56000 American lives winning our way to a Pyrrhic victory. Now is our opportunity to make those lives count for more than a footnote.

There’s a story of a conversation between Colonel Harry Summers (the author of one of the books I mentioned) and a North Vietnamese Colonel Tu during the discussions for the return of American prisoners.

Summers said, “You never defeated us on the battlefield.” To which Colonel Tu said, “That may be true, but it is also irrelevant.”

Before we undertake a policy that involves the commitment of military forces to solve a problem, let’s make sure the result is not irrelevant.

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The Best Year(s) of Life

One route for our daily walk takes us past Cumberland High School.  Walking by the place I spent four years of my life sparked memories. It got me to think about those very different times.

As often happens, my mind’s synapses fired off sounds, images, memories, and thoughts.

I wondered about what I might consider the best year of my life. It became evident there could be no such thing. The many good years I’ve had have far outweighed any bad ones. The year of falling in love and marrying. The year of my daughter’s birth. Each of these, and others, were among the best.

I tried to broaden the perspective. To think of what I might consider the best year in the various stages of my life. One rose above the others.

The summer between my junior and senior year of high school rose to the top. 1973, 17 years old, on the cusp of adulthood without the full responsibilities. I had a car, a great job at Almacs, and great friends from school and work.  A future of possibilities before me.

It was a great time of my life.

It was a summer spent walking the beach with friends, at Scarborough or Horseneck. Talking waveabout our plans for the future, or for the next night.

Listening to the music of Steely Dan (Reeling in the Years)  Seals and Crofts (Diamond Girl), and Chicago (Feeling Stronger Every Day.)

Waiting in the warm sun for the perfect wave to body surf to shore, hoping against hope the pretty college-age “older” women would notice, even if we knew they were out of our league.

Shared experiences between friends who continue to be part of my life.

1973 was part of that all too brief time when one lives life for the moment. Not much of a past to regret and too naïve of the future to worry.

One of the many concepts of Einstein I struggle with is his concept of time. He once said, “The distinction between the past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”

I hope Einstein is right. I hope the past is still out there. The stubbornly persistent illusion lets me close my eyes, feel the warm sun on my skin, look for that perfect wave, and hear the sounds of time playing the music of my memories.

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Drake’s Equation: The Key to Stopping Terrorism

drake-equation-540pxI’m sure most of you immediately recognized the reference to Drake’s Equation and wondered, what does this have to do with terrorists?

Briefly, everything.

For my Red Sox fan friends who may be struggling with the analogy, Drake’s Equation was the brainchild of Dr. Frank Drake. In 1961, to stimulate discussion on the probability of intelligent life in the universe (leaving aside the argument if it exists here), Drake came up with a way to hypothesize the number of intelligent civilizations in the universe.

This is an inexact science.

But the salient point is one element of the equation, i.e. the fraction of intelligent civilizations who develop sufficiently advanced technology to make themselves known in the universe. We did it with television. Signals of everything from Hitler’s opening speech at the 1936 Olympics to Moe, Larry, and Curly are winging their way bringing tidings of our culture to ET.

The other element implied, but not explicitly stated, is the fraction of civilizations who develop advanced science such as nuclear technology and survive it. Thus, the link to radicalized fundamentalism and terrorists.

In 1956, the year of my birth, the idea that one day I would carry around a device capable of storing 128 gigabytes of data, or that the entire Library of Congress and almost every printed book that ever existed could be accessed by this same device, was the stuff of science fiction.

Such is the proliferation of technology in the intervening years.

In that same year, 1956, three countries had nuclear weapons. Today, there are at least nine. The US developed them first, followed by the Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom. The technology proliferated through cooperation and espionage. The point being is it could not be contained.

Technology, once released, acts much like a virus. It infects the host (just look around at the cell phone addicts.) Jumps to the next host (because they desire the technology rather than by infection,) and the virus spreads exponentially.

Here’s how Drake can illuminate the solution.

Our response to terrorism is a single dimension solution. Kill them. However, like a virus, you can never quite kill them all. Now imagine if just one small cell of fifty radicalized virulent terrorists, intent on riding the mushroom cloud to the virgin happy hour, obtain a nuclear weapon? The inevitability of such an occurrence, given the unstoppable proliferation of technology, is sobering.

We need to fight more than the symptoms of radicalized fundamentalism. We need to identify and eliminate the underlying cause.  Therein lies the greatest risk. We have lost our ability to face complex issues. We want a 144 character answer for a problem requiring a doctoral dissertation.

Given the current inherent disdain for deep rational thought, I wonder if we have it in us as a people.

There are no simple solutions to this problem. How can we kill them all is the wrong question. We need to ask a different one.

Why do otherwise rational intelligent humans see killing themselves and innocent humans as a path to a better life after death?

The answer is simple. Because life for them and their families is not good. It would seem that trying to kill people who believe they would be better off dead is not a viable solution. Despite sophomoric cries to the contrary, it is not our job to arrange their trip to visit their god.

In the short term, we have no choice but the react and defend. But what about long-term?

If we want to survive long enough for the universe to know we are here, we must craft a long-term solution before we flunk the math of Dr. Drake.


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American Albatross

TrumpThe prescient genius of the founding fathers understood that the future may yield a President who might commit a crime, be subject to impeachment, and cause removal from office.

They provided a mechanism for it, even as they hoped their vision of America would bring the best and the brightest to the office of the President.

Yet, with all their foresight, they never expected that Americans would elect a moron, incapable of even the most basic understanding of decorum, behavior, and separation of powers.

We are led by an idiot in chief who, if he committed no crime, shows a complete contempt for the office of the Presidency and the nature of its power.

His supporters parse the words and downplay the impact. They point to Obama and Clinton getting away with things as somehow a rationale for excusing Mr. Trump. They seem to take premature comfort, based solely on Comey’s public testimony, the President committed no crime; the idiocy of what he did aside.

But this is more a marathon than a sprint. The self-inflicted damage to the Presidency is only now coming into view. The closed-door testimony will get out. The truth always does. One question remains, how far down will this President drag us all?

We can only hope this Presidential albatross around our neck will end well.  Like the words of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner.

He went like one that hath been stunned, 

And is of sense forlorn: 

A sadder and a wiser man, 

He rose the morrow morn.

Let’s hope our “morrow morn” comes soon.


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The “Gift” of a Life?

How do you gift a human life?  Someone’s interpretatBible Quranion of the Bible says you can. Read these stories,

Giving my child away because the Bible says I should

Six wives and counting

If there’s an urgency to destroying radical Islam, shouldn’t there be an equal or greater urgency to target fundamental Christians who “gift” a human? Why is it so easy to recognize a twisted interpretation of a Christian doctrine as contrary to most Christian beliefs, but not so when it is within Islam?

Why are we willing to act out of fear and destroy those we do not understand because we see them as broadly representative of an entire religious tradition, yet, when confronted with similar examples of a “Christian” atrocity, we argue it does not represent most Christians.

Where’s the outrage? Where’s the slobbering vitriol to “destroy” these enemies of all that is good?

My issue with religion is the certainty of adherents that their own theology is the correct one and all others are wrong. They hold this secret despite protestations to the contrary. As I am often reminded,

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

Those who embrace the fundamental aspects of any religion are equally dangerous in my mind.

One lashes out with bombs strapped to brain-washed adherents who believe they’ve booked a trip to a “Virgin” nirvana.

Another will use cruise missiles or perhaps nuclear weapons to blanketly target 1.5 billion adherents because of the actions of a few.

All in the name of God.

Where’s the “Christianity” in that?


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Presumptuous Trumpism

From September 7, 1940, until May 10, 1941, England endured a period known as the Blitz. It is a derivative of the German word Blitzkrieg, “Lightning war.”

Germany sent wave upon wave of bombers to bring terror, genuine countrywide terror, to London and all of England.

32,000 people, men, women, and children, died.

87,000 were wounded.

2 million homes were destroyed.

And the Brits survived. (as a side note, we stood by. Sent lots of supplies, but not quite interested in the war, yet.)

From the ashes of that terrible time, the people of England survived.

Julie Andrews, a most gifted voice, sang as merely a child in the shelters as the bombs fell.

Not to minimize the deaths of those in the London Bridge today, but it pales to those who survived the blitz. The Brits understand this. The Brits walked around the police tape on London Bridge as soon as the police allowed them.

They hardly need our President to lecture them about what to do.

I offer this as an apology for the idiocy of our President who misquotes the mayor of London to solidify his own failing agenda.

My favorite quote from our idiot in chief is “‘Do you notice we are not having a gun debate right now? That’s because they used knives and a truck” leaving out the fact that the “terrorist” had no options because guns are difficult to obtain in England.

Our President decided to deride the Mayor of London by taking a quote out of context to reaffirm the President’s idiocy.

Perhaps President Trump might learn something from another Brit he likely admires, Winston Churchill. Mr. Churchill once famously quoted, “Never give up. Never give up. Never give up”

Alas, we have a President who not only is unwilling to face the tough challenges, he is more than willing to let someone else go in our place.




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Trump got One Right (But he doesn’t know why)

With our withdrawal from the Paris Accord on the environment, we joined an elite club.  Nicaragua, Syria, and the USA (us) are the only countries in the world who did not sign (or in our case scratched out and said never mind) the Paris Accord on the environment.

Thank goodness, Trump got one right and it didn’t involve spelling.

Let me explain. Under the Obama Administration, the US and almost every other country in the world signed the Paris Accord on the Environment.


The agreement was far from perfect and, praise the red-faced covfefe God, our President recognized this. He said, “Nyet, we shall not “Почитай это или оставайся под нашей подписью” (Honor this or stand by our signature.)

I’d like to think he recognizes the wisdom of one, of the two countries, that didn’t sign the original agreement, Syria and Nicaragua.

Syria got a pass. They were too busy executing dissidents and trampling civil rights to attend. (That and the NO_FLY zone we and the Russians imposed that would’ve shot them down.)

Now the Nicaraguans are a different story. Those bastards didn’t sign because they didn’t think the agreement went FAR ENOUGH. I thought Saint Reagan fixed that problem?

Regardless (I love that phrase) the Nicaraguans got it right. An agreement that carries no penalties for failing to comply is meaningless.  It reminds one of the many treaties we had with Native Americans. Not one of which we complied with and we tout ourselves as the country with a conscience.

Trump pulled out of the accord because the science of global warming is unclear about human influence. Trump thinks it adversely affects the coal industry.

The one where we send humans into mines.

Where OSHA imposes over-regulation on miner safety.

Where the EPA imposes over-regulation on environmental discharges.

Where the future offers opportunity and our President wants us to embrace the past.

I have a yet to be determined time left on this planet. My daughter and her husband will long outlive me. My grandchildren will long outlive even my memory.

We must leave them a planet where that can happen.


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