Kain’s wars.

William Brafford

William Brafford grew up in North Carolina, home of the world's best barbecue, indie rock, and regional soft drinks. He just barely sustains a personal blog and "tweets" every now and then under the name @williamrandolph.

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15 Responses

  1. Michael Drew says:

    Thanks for this. You should post more, William.Report

  2. Will says:

    I don’t think the debate has gotten muddy – I thought my last post on the Crusades was a model of blogging clarity.

    Humanitarian interventions are a good example to bring up, though.Report

  3. E.D. Kain says:

    I agree, this is a very good post. And whether the discussion has shed light or mud is up for debate at this point. I do have more to say on this and on Will’s post and hopefully will say it tomorrow. Cheers.Report

  4. dexter45 says:

    From this American’s viewpoint Vietnam was a war of folly on our part. LBJ did not want to be the first president to lose a war and he wanted to out anti-commie the Republicans. From the Vietnamese point of view it was a war of defense. I just wish a few of the best and brightest had read an incredibably good book about Vietnam called “The Fire on the Lake” before starting that war. There is a very valid reason why the Chinese border stops at Vietnam and it is not mountains. Those people want to rule themselves. Fifty some thousand dead Americans and at least a million dead Vietnamese later the makers of Agent Orange bought another island to hide their money.Report

    • Michael Drew in reply to dexter45 says:

      @dexter45, “before starting” the Vietnam War is an extremely fraught concept.Report

      • dexter45 in reply to Michael Drew says:

        @Michael Drew, In what way? If LBJ hadn’t wanted to start a war, why did he have to create a reason? Also, “Fire on the Lake” was not published until 72, so that sentence should have read ” could have read” instead of “had read”.Report

        • Trumwill in reply to dexter45 says:

          @dexter45, Johnson didn’t start the war. He either entered it or expanded our involvement in it, depending on how you look at it. My guess is that’s where Michael is coming from.Report

        • Michael Drew in reply to dexter45 says:

          @dexter45, If what you meant is “before the first of Johnson’s major escalations after the Tonkin incidents,” then that’s a discreet historical moment, like “the Ameican invasion and overthrow of Saddam’s regime in 2003,” and unlike “before the start of the Vietnam War.” The very conflict in which we engaged so deeply in Vietnam was ongoing long before Americans were involved in any way, and then American involvement itself long predated even the earliest moment that the U.S. could be said to have started fighting in the war in an earnest way. That is what made it such a devastating experience for us: at the start no one was envisioning anything like the level of engagement we quickly reached. Taken in full, it was of course folly. But it wasn’t implemented in its totality at the outset; it was implemented in a series of increments, and indeed from early on there were deep misgiving among the central “architects” (they were in fact nothing of the kind) about the possible outcomes. McNamara himself plead with Johnson to get out of Vietnam in ’65. Likely he was wrestling in part with realities (or implications thereof showing up in his systematic military analyses) laid out in the book you reference. This is all to say that you’re absolutely right that an empirical, substantive understanding of Vietnam would have clearly militated against major U.S. military engagement, but that the relevant facts were not unknown to policy makers, and that, as ever, the thing to look at in understanding the genesis of a policy in history that doesn’t make a lot of sense on the merits are 1) the contemporary political factors working on the decision makers, and 2) legacy/hangover effects of previous policy on the question at hand, and how that frames (1).Report

  5. greginak says:

    dexter noted a good point. Different countries will have different understandings of why a particular war was fought. Also i think its important to distinguish between why we think a war was fought in retrospect and what the people involved thought they were doing. The Germans before WW1 and WW2 felt surrounded by enemies and that they would not survive without living space. Part of the German’s feeling they needed to fight WW1 was the thought, which turned out to be wrong, they needed colonies to be world power. All the other big Euro countries had all the good colonies so they felt helpless and doomed in the long run with them. Plunder was certainly part of it, but also a drive for survival was a part of it.Report

  6. Sam M says:

    Might as well muddy things even more and tyry to analogize, I suppose. So…

    How does this apply to personal conduct? I suppose tyou could argue that there are only two kinds of face-punching; defensive face-punching and face-punching of plunder.

    Someone might counter with all kinds of examples of a different kind. Say someone says something completely unhinged to your wife or girlfriend. I am old-fashioned enough to think that fighting words actually exist, and that some words, when spoken in certain ways, really do justify a physical remedy. Again, I know it’s hopelessly retrograde, but there it is.

    No, I guess you could still chalk this up to face-punching of plunder, and say I resorted to fisticuffs only to preserve ready mating opportunities, or to protect same from future threats. But that seems like incredibly tortured logic to me.

    What I don’t get is what value there might be in taxonimizing in this way. What does the existence of three or four types of wars or (face-punching) mean, as opposed to two? In ED’s case, it seems to me that by limiting it to two (being plunder and defense) the goal is to limit options. No one attacked you physically? Then any military move you consider amounts to plunder. I suspect the world might be better if everyon thought that way. But they don’t.Report

  7. Ben says:

    What level of hostility is necessary before preemptive defense becomes defense?
    What happens when the potentially cost of waiting for that level of hostility becomes catastrophically expensive?
    Who dies for someone’s ethical hairsplitting?Report