Same Bungle - Different Jungle



Based on comment to Bracing Views blog


"In early 1967 [General William] Westmoreland gave a most complicated and interesting explanation for the rationale behind the President's "ceiling" on the number of American troops. 'If,' he said, 'you crowd in too many termite killers, each using a screwdriver to kill the termites, you risk collapsing the floors or the foundation. In this war, we're using screwdrivers to kill termites because it’s a guerilla war and we cannot use bigger weapons. We have to get the right balance of termite killers to get rid of the termites without wrecking the house.' To continue this extraordinary metaphor, the American force had managed to wreck the house without killing the termites; they had, further, managed to make the house uninhabitable for anyone except termites. In a different manner, they had made the [American-created puppet government] house unlivable as well." -- Frances FitzGerald, Fire in the Lake: The Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam (Westmoreland quoted in Newsweek, 27 March 1967 – almost a year before the Tet Offensive of 1968)

Economists have a different expression for this wasteful phenomenon. They call it The Law of Diminishing Returns. It postulates that the more one puts into an unproductive process or product, the less one gets out of it, with both inputs and outputs following divergent exponential curves. As this applies to the U.S. military, a.k.a., The Lunatic Leviathan, our vaunted Visigoths started out bombing the "high value" targets throughout North Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, after which they then moved on to lesser- and lesser-valued targets until they had nothing of any real value left to bomb. The Americans and their genius generals began by bombing factories, oil storage depots, electrical power plants, water-treatment systems, government buildings and roads, but quickly wound up sending hugely expensive aircraft carrier battle groups halfway around the world to bomb bamboo bridges and jungle trails that the Southeast Asians could rebuild or relocate overnight at hardly any cost at all. Change the Southeast Asian names to Middle Eastern or African ones and the dreary tale will need no adjustment. Same Bungle, Different Jungle.

Some of our military professionals might argue distinctions without a difference, saying things like, "But Iraq is not Vietnam." To which my fellow Vietnam veteran Daniel Ellsberg would answer: "Yeah, like in Iraq it's a dry heat and the language our military and diplomatic personnel don't speak is Arabic instead of Vietnamese." Back during my nearly-six years in Uncle Sam's Canoe Club, a.k.a., the United States Navy, even eight months at the Defense Language Institute didn't help all that much. Our Vietnamese teachers would just smile and compliment us on learning "Monterey Dialect," which no one in South Vietnam spoke. Other than the Vietnamese alphabet, I had to start learning the language all over again from scratch once I finally arrived in-country. Most of my fellow "advisors" simply forgot everything since they never got to meet a Vietnamese who needed or wanted any "advice" from them.

Taking note of this extarordinarily uneconomical pattern of behavior -- which typically consumes decades once allowed to begin -- one might even come to suspect that the U.S. military considers national bankruptcy a good and necessary thing. Something tells me that the Afghan "termites" (and their relatives on other continents) will come out of this insanity on top once again.