Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Wobegon Boy Has An Aiken Moment

In the great national debate over stay-or-go during the Vietnam era, Senator George Aiken (R-VT) is widely believed to have suggested that the U.S. should declare victory and bring the troops home. However, Wikipedia tells us:

Actually, what he said was that "the United States could well declare unilaterally... that we have 'won' in the sense that our armed forces are in control of most of the field and no potential enemy is in a position to establish its authority over South Vietnam," and that such a declaration "would herald the resumption of political warfare as the dominant theme in Vietnam." He added: "It may be a far-fetched proposal, but nothing else has worked."

Aiken's formula (Declare victory and bring 'em home.) provides the solution to the messes in both Iraq and Afghanistan. U.S. presence in Iraq for a thousand years will not end the enmity between Shi'ite and Sunni; they will kill each other whether the U.S. is present or not. U.S. presence in Afghanistan is not going bring Afghanistan into the modern world. Enough! Kudos to Matthew Hoh for refusing to drink the Kool-Aid of the Bright Shining Lie. If this is (fair & balanced) realpolitik, so be it.

[x Salon]
Time To Move On From Afghanistan
By Garrison Keillor

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The former Marine officer Matthew Hoh, who resigned his Foreign Service post in Afghanistan because he feels the war is pointless and not worth dying for, deserves all the attention he's gotten and more. The Obama administration faces hard decisions there, and the man made a good case against deeper American involvement. He says that our presence among the Pashtun people, the rural, religious people, is only aggravating a civil war between them and the urban, secular (and, it seems, fraudulent) government of Kabul, and the role of the Taliban and al-Qaida is not central — the real issues are tribal and cultural.

American families, he said, "must be reassured their dead have sacrificed for a purpose worthy of futures lost, love vanished, and promised dreams unkept. I have lost confidence such assurances can be made any more."

It is rare that a high-level official — he was the senior State Department guy in Zabul province — resigns in protest, and in all the to-do about his four-page resignation letter, nobody had a single bad thing to say about Matthew Hoh.

The American people tend not to admire quitters, which is maybe why protest resignations are so rare. You can get up on your high horse and talk about your principles, but we suspect that you're just another slacker looking for an easy way out. Your old football coach told you that when the going gets tough, the tough get going, and by "get going" he didn't mean "write a four-page letter about your disillusionment with his coaching and the split-T offense in general" — he meant, Toughen Up, Assume the Three-Point Stance, Hit 'Em Hard, Eat Some Turf, Get Up and Hit 'Em Again.

On the other hand, you don't want to be the last man to believe in the mission after everyone else has seen the light and gone home. Sunday in San Francisco, they set out to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Woodstock by gathering 3,000 guitarists in Golden Gate Park to play Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze" and 50 showed up and some of them were playing ukuleles. The '60s are over. Time to move on.

This is the great divide, between the true believers and the skeptics, and we cross over it every day, back and forth. On the one hand, we admire persistence and the good workers who go at the job and get it done, but then we listen to management huff and puff and realize that the ship is becalmed and liable to be boarded by pirates. Time to look for other work.

The box-elder bugs that flock into my house seeking shelter from the cold seem untroubled by skepticism. They march in and are squished and more bugs walk across the smeared innards of box-elder brethren and nobody is the wiser, the message is never passed on toward the rear.

Our time is brief. No matter how smart you are or pretty, the demand for you is limited. This is the hard lesson of adult life. Vancouver wants you to come and perform your work and you say yes and hundreds of e-mails fly back and forth — What beverage would Mr. Keillor wish us to place in the back seat of the limo? Fermented persimmon juice? Not a problem. Should the flower petals that young maidens strew in his path be rose or narcissus? — and then, two days before the big day, you are struck by a sore throat and propulsive sneezing. So you call Vancouver and tell them you can't come. They take the news calmly. They don't shriek, "No! No! Not this! Our lives will be shattered if you cancel, esteemed one." Your non-appearance is No Problemo.

And this is how you find out the hard truth. The world can get along without you pretty well.

You don't want to be the last person to write a novel in Esperanto or compose a 12-tone symphony, the last Socialist Labor candidate trying to hand out literature to the working class as they go into Wal-Mart, or the last Christian Science person to believe in the efficacy of prayer after all your friends have slipped away to have surgery, or the consumer of the last contaminated tuna left on the grocery shelf — you don't want that.

Time to move on. Tell the others. It's a brand-new day. Let us start making our way on out of Afghanistan, Mr. President. Ω

[Garrison Keillor is an author, storyteller, humorist, and creator of the weekly radio show "A Prairie Home Companion." The show began in 1974 as a live variety show on Minnesota Public Radio. In the 1980s "A Prairie Home Companion" became a pop culture phenomenon, with millions of Americans listening to Keillor's folksy tales of life in the fictional Midwestern town of Lake Wobegon, where (in Keillor's words) "the women are strong, the men are good looking, and all of the children are above average." Keillor ended the show in 1987, and 1989 began a similar new radio show titled "American Radio Company of the Air." In 1993 he returned the show to its original name. Keillor also created the syndicated daily radio feature "A Writer's Almanac" in 1993. He has written for The New Yorker and is the author of several books, including Happy to Be Here (1990), Leaving Home (1992), Lake Wobegon Days (1995), and Good Poems for Hard Times (2005). Keillor's most recent books include a new Lake Wobegon novel, Liberty (2009) and 77 Love Sonnets (2009). His radio show inspired a 2006 movie, "A Prairie Home Companion," written by and starring Keillor and directed by Robert Altman. Keillor graduated (B.A., English) from the University of Minneosta in 1966. His signature sign-off on "The Writer's Almanac" is "Be well, do good work, and keep in touch."]

Copyright © 2009 Salon Media Group, Inc.

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