Friday, April 4, 2014

They never learn

I am busy depressing myself this week by reading Neil Sheehan's A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam. I'm barely one third of the way into it and must confess it's turning into a hard slog. It's remarkably depressing to read page after page describing how thoroughly government official after official, both American and Vietnamese, displayed astounding levels of incompetence and no one seemed to notice or care.

I may do a longer review once I've actually finished the book, for now suffice to say that all the same mistakes we're still making in the Middle East happened in Vietnam. We aided and abetted the Army of the Republic of Vietnam in creating recruits for the Viet Cong, we were sloppy with armament and munitions so it never took long for anything we gave to the ARVN to find its way into VC hands, and intelligence data were either cooked (wildly inflated body counts, for example) or deliberately misinterpreted.

The more I read of recent foreign policy and military history, the more I wonder just why agencies like the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency exist. If in any situation there is more than one possible explanation for anything, the CIA and NSA will consistently pick the wrong answer. If they have a choice of allies, they'll go with the most thug-like and corrupt. When they're ask to pick targets, they'll manage to kill off the local school teachers or bomb a convent full of nuns. They'll see threats where none exist and ignore ones that are real. A reader could substitute names (delete Saigon, insert Kabul) and it would read like it was reporting on events from this decade instead of 50 years ago. It really makes a person wonder just how on earth the U.S. has managed to muddle along without accidentally triggering a nuclear war or some other disaster for as long as it has.

As I've said in other posts, I'm sure both agencies have dedicated, competent employees who actually know what they're doing. In the section of the book I've finished, there is one intelligence officer mentioned who is really good at his job. Unfortunately, when he passes the information up the chain of command, no one higher up wants to hear it because it contradicts what they want to believe. So they ignore the facts and lie to the White House and the Pentagon. We all know how well that turned out.

The stupid, it burns.


  1. None of these intelligence agencies saw 9/11 coming. None of them saw the fall of the Berlin Wall coming. None of them anticipated Putin's invasion of Crimea. What the hell good are they?

  2. And then there is the real reason we were there. Nothing to do with VietNam
    the Ol'Buzzard


My space, my rules: play nice and keep it on topic.