How Trump Can Save the West from Itself

trump dirtyOut of despair, insight. A comment from a despairing American friend of mine suddenly helped me to understand Donald Trump and his context. “If Thomas Jefferson had foreseen Donald Trump,” he said, “he would have told his fellow revolutionaries that they must stop fighting immediately and make peace terms with George III.” There was further gloom. “Trouble is, and despite Jefferson, the Enlightenment only had shallow roots in the United States.” Thus an intellectual blue-stater, more influenced by Hollywood than he would ever acknowledge, looks down on the plain people of middle America: the Donald Trump electorate.

Forgetting Donald Trump for a moment, my friend was right, more so than he realises, about the long-term failure of the Enlightenment. Which, in turn, was partly responsible for the thirty-year failure of Western policy which threatens us with decline. If the West’s will to power and ability to exercise power are gone beyond recall, then anarchy and destruction loom over the entire planet.

In recent years, the world has been turned upside down. Old assumptions and old certainties no longer work. This means that there are no grounds for Western geopolitical self-confidence. At the beginning of the 1990s, we were invited to hail the new world order and the end of history. How hollow those phrases sound now. If they are ever recalled to mind, it is with bitter irony. Forget optimistic slogans: we are now in the era of the unknown unknowns.

Yet none of this is Donald Trump’s fault. The President is dramatising the problems, not creating them. He had no hand in the West’s failures in the Middle East. He did not create the threats to American jobs and living standards from automation, robotisation and globalisation. He is not responsible for the immigration pressures from the huddled masses in poor countries. He cannot be blamed for the failure of the European single currency, or for the West’s inability to reach a post-Cold War modus vivendi with Russia. Men who regard themselves as much wiser than Mr Trump and who have the academic credentials to prove it, if not necessarily the record of practical successes, ought to scrutinise their own motives. They clearly have an aesthetic objection to a Trump presidency: that is understandable. “What rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Washington to be born.” Yet it may also be that they are angry with him because he is forcing them to confront their own failure.

This failure is not always blameworthy. Some of the challenges which face the West may be beyond the capacity of anyone to surmount, even Donald Trump. In the meantime, Mr Trump is at least forcing them onto the agenda. The wiser men usually prefer not to think about the insolubles, rather as the Eloi tried to ignore the Morlocks. But even if he might seem to resemble a Morlock, Mr Trump is a great stimulator of thought. Not just thought; action too. On at least three problems, he might even be able to rescue the West from some of the Enlightenment’s minor failures.

My gloomy friend seemed to take it for granted that even if his fellow Americans had not been worthy to receive the message, the Enlightenment had been successful in Europe. That, alas, is untrue. If one considers its high expectations, it has failed. This failure has been associated with the most tragic period in human history and may well lead to the destruction of the human race. But it should all have been so different. For countless millennia, and despite great cultural achievements, much of human life was a wretched business: nothing but the animal struggle for food, warmth and sex at a slightly higher technological level. Countless numbers of individual lives were a cry of pain.

Then everything changed. This began with a paradox. The Reformation and the wars of religion greatly enhanced the scope of individual freedom: not an outcome which most of the major participants would have sought. That laid the foundations for the Enlightenment and the industrial revolution, which caught fire in free Britain. There were crises and wars: there always are. “Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upwards.” But by the end of the nineteenth century, it did seem as if there had been a decisive and irrevocable break with the long dark age of scarcity and oppression. It appeared that men had learned how to live in advanced societies. The rule of law was basic. Once it was in place, forms of parliamentary government and democracy could follow, creating a constitutional order which would guarantee stability, freedom and growing prosperity, made possible by the great expansion of economic activity and trade. Progress seemed assured: the Whig interpretation of history appeared to have triumphed—and no wise Tory should have begrudged its success. Any sensible person would rather be governed by Macaulay than by Joseph de Maistre.

“Take up the white man’s burden,” Kipling urged the Americans. It must be conceded that there were stains on the imperial mission, notably the Germans in South-West Africa and the Belgians in the Congo. But there was every reason to hope that its more humane versions could spread the benefits of Western civilisation to the entire world.

Then everything went wrong. Europe declared war on itself. From 1914 to 1945, the continent went into the dark: a blacker period than the darkest of the Dark Ages. The cries of pain had returned, from millions of throats, in some of the world’s greatest cities. European civilisation almost drowned in its own blood. A shattered continent crawled away from the abyss. “No poetry after Auschwitz,” said Adorno. It almost seemed a case of no anything after Auschwitz. Orwell’s 1984 was an entirely plausible next phase in European history. Another was a nuclear wasteland. We were saved, but not by the Enlightenment: rather by its reverse. Europe survived because of mutually-assured nuclear destruction. If we were determined to go on destroying ourselves, the third attempt would be the final one. We did not learn that lesson from Locke or Montesquieu. We learned it from fear.

Europe also owed everything to the beneficence of the Americans, who were even prepared to sign up for mutually-assured destruction. Mr Trump is now railing against European ingratitude. This is entirely justified, especially when it comes to the French. It is only surprising that the Americans have taken so long to complain.

But the Enlightenment did play a role in post-war Europe. It underlay a tragic misjudgment. Amidst the ruins, the refugees, the walking skeletons emerging from the death camps, some of the noblest minds in Europe came to an entirely understandable—indeed seemingly self-evident—conclusion. On the continent, nationalism had come into being as a hand-maiden of the Enlightenment, a progenitor of progress, a chorus of youthful idealists singing the “Ode to Joy”. That glorious phase passed. Increasingly, nationalists put on jackboots. The youthful idealists were given haircuts and turned into conscripts singing the “Giovinezza” or the “Horst Wessel Lied”. By 1945, it was easy to argue that far from enhancing the Enlightenment, nationalism had become its prison cell. In order to survive, Europe would have to move beyond the era of the nation-state. It would have to unite.

That was an erroneous conclusion, for it ignored two apparently contradictory aspects of human nature. The first is that countries can change and human beings can learn from history. In 1648, most non-Spaniards would have agreed that it was hard to share a continent with Spain. By 1815, that baton would have passed to France. In 1900, we British were widely regarded as too cocky for everyone else’s peace of mind. Our embarrassments in South Africa were greeted with a good deal of gloating. By 1918, reinforced in 1945, the Germans were the villains, though that assessment was confused once the Cold War started and the Russians made their bid for villain status. But times change. In a world beset by uncertainty, we can be sure on one point. Whatever else happens, the French and the Germans will never again go to war over Alsace-Lorraine. After 1945, continental Europe could have coped with a sadder and a wiser nationalism.

Which brings us to the second relevant aspect of human nature. Along with sex, money and religion, nationalism has a powerful potential for good or evil. Canalised in the patriotism of a stable nation-state, it need not be a threat and could also help that state to claim legitimacy, inspire allegiance and govern effectively. Mens sana in corpore sano has a political equivalent: a healthy nationalism in a healthy nation. But a repressed and thwarted nationalism means trouble.

In their determined attempts to move beyond nationalism, the founders of the EU were always going to run into trouble—because they ignored the need for democratic consent. The Euro-nomenklatura has always distrusted democracy. Hitler used elections to win power. More recently, Brexit and the election of Donald Trump have not enhanced the ballot box’s prestige among the EU’s bien-pensantry. They would prefer to treat the voters as fractious children, suffering from a high temperature, who are refusing to take their medicine. So: distract the brat’s attention, then shove the spoon into its gob, follow that up with a sweet and then say soothingly to the coughing and spluttering infant, “There, there, what was all the fuss about?”

Yet there is a limit to the extent that the people of Europe can be treated as children in a sick-bed, and the EU has now reached an impasse. The single currency has proved more durable than we critics thought; I have worn out several sandwich boards predicting its demise. But monetary union cannot work indefinitely, unless it is underpinned by fiscal union. In turn, that must mean political union. Even the most insensate federalists surely realise that this is not possible without popular approval.

So they are stuck. They have tried to refute architecture and gravity, by building the roof before building the walls. They have tried to refute Marx by using politics to determine economics. They have succeeded—in creating a problem which may be beyond the power of the human mind to solve. It would appear that on the single currency, they can neither go forward, go backwards, nor stay the same. Intellectuals have a déformation professionnelle. Anyone naive enough to believe that such persons will have a sceptical temperament ought to examine the evidence.

Down the millennia, most intellectuals have worked for churches. As ecclesiastical preferment became less attractive, many of them moved over to socialist politics. In each case, they were looking for a faith; in both cases, they were prone to group-think. They were also convinced of their own moral rectitude. This had two consequences. First, they tended to dismiss any opponents as either too stupid to understand the truth or too immoral to recognise it. Second, buttressed by group-think and by intellectual self-confidence, they were ready to override any evidence which seemed to contradict their conclusions. Convinced that they are building a better world, they are often happy to sacrifice the present on the altar of the future. Thus idealism leads to cruelty. Despite the Gospel of love, Christianity has been associated with innumerable cruelties. Despite the attractive personal traits of many adherents, attempts to put Marxism into practice have always ended in cruelty. Intellectuals also invented apartheid—and the European single currency. That single currency is built on ruins. It is ruining millions of lives. Youth unemployment and chronically low growth not only inflict widespread suffering and the loss of life chances; they are a threat to social and political stability in countries where neither can be taken for granted. Yet the Euro-nomenklatura takes no notice. Well insulated—at least pro tem—from the sufferings in the streets and the market places, their response to any difficulties with Europe is to demand more Europe.

This is where Donald Trump could be useful. Europe is overdue for the emperor’s-new-clothes treatment. An undeceived child would not be enough. He would merely be deluged in outrage. It is not easy to deluge Donald Trump. He will not express polite bewilderment. This rude mechanical in the White House will jeer and sneer and throw things. If there is a dunghill to hand, its contents might be flung at the naked emperors: a salutary therapy. Donald Trump could help to bring Europe to its senses. After 1945, the Americans saved Western Europe and thus made possible the eventual rescue of the East. But these wretched Europeans always find a way of getting into a mess. It is time for a new Kipling to inspire a renewed effort in burden-carrying. The over-sophisticated Eurocrats of Brussels and Strasbourg regard the new President with horror, and would not think much of Kipling either. There is a word for their cast of mind: decadence. A roughneck President could be a valuable corrective.

As he could be in the West’s relations with Russia. Thanks to the West’s economic strength, Marxism’s chronic weakness, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and the unwitting help of Mikhail Gorbachev, the West won the Cold War: arguably the greatest, certainly the most benign, victory in all history. Apart from improving the quality of life for hundreds of millions of people, this triumph created an opportunity and a closely-related challenge. The West had the chance to put George Bush’s phrase into reality, by creating a new world order, or at least a new system of collective security which would have embraced the whole of Europe, including Russia. NATO had been founded to keep the Americans in, the Germans down and the Russians out. With the end of the Cold War, it had almost done its work. This does not mean it should have been abolished. There is an analogy with a liberal-minded headmaster of a generation ago who disliked corporal punishment and was determined not to use it, but was not ready to go as far as formal abolition. So he would keep a cane in the cupboard, hoping that it would merely gather dust.

If the West had come together with the Russians in a new security arrangement, NATO might gradually have been subsumed in the military co-operation that would have evolved under the aegis of the new alliance. The early 1990s was the moment for the West to scrap all its concepts while keeping its weapons systems. After all, we no longer had a strategic quarrel with Russia. We also had a common interest in coping with Muslim extremism. But by failing to rise to the challenge of a new security order, we have come perilously close to losing the chance to make a deal with the Russians. This has happened because far too many people in the West are locked in Cold War attitudes, despite their reluctance to reinforce that with Cold War levels of defence provision. The result was a widespread failure of hard thinking: of enlightenment with a small e. A continent which prides itself on a high level of public intelligence let itself down.

Could Mr Trump rectify all this? Talk about paradoxes—there must be 100,000 people in the West more qualified in geopolitics than he is. For him to succeed where they have failed: that is surely unthinkable. And yet. Donald Trump is the least-equipped foreign affairs President since Harry Truman, the saviour of the West. With apologies to Henry Kissinger—no greater intellect has ever engaged with geopolitics—it could be argued that the second-greatest Western foreign affairs statesman since 1945 was not Reagan or Thatcher, but Ernest Bevin. He owed nothing to book-learning; everything to instinct and patriotism.

Truman and Bevin had the task of girding the West’s loins in the pursuit of containment. Thank God they succeeded. Our generation faces a lesser challenge. We only require a modus vivendi. But that too will require clarity and steadfastness. It seems far-fetched to imagine Donald Trump morphing into a Truman or a Bevin. Yet we live in far-fetched times.

During the twenty-five years since the West spurned the chance to build on that Cold War doctrine, peaceful coexistence, and move towards friendship with Moscow, much has gone wrong in Russia. Civil society, a democratic political culture, the rule of law: much of the ground gained has been lost. Tentative advances have turned into headlong retreat. But we need not give way to despair. An understanding with the West could enable the Russian economy to grow and the Russians in general to recover their political self-confidence. We have far less to fear from a strong and self-confident Russia than we have from an embittered and insecure superpower—for whatever its economic failings, its superpower status is guaranteed by its nuclear armoury. We need have no strategic quarrel with Russia. We do have reason to fear a Russia which relies on its nuclear weaponry for its self-esteem. In all this, President Trump seems to have the right instincts. Let us hope that he comes to the rescue.

There is another great nation with whom we have no insurmountable strategic conflict: China. There is, of course, the Taiwan question, but that has proved manageable. In this case, however, Mr Trump’s instincts seem less reliable. Yes, there is a moral case for recognising Taiwan. There is a far stronger case for recognising the limits of morality and the need for it to be constrained by Realpolitik. Equally, superpowers often seek spheres of influence, as China is doing in the South China Sea. As long as there is no threat to freedom of navigation, we need not alarm ourselves. Partly as a quid pro quo, partly to deal with the real strategic threat, we should encourage the Chinese to defang North Korea.

But the most important factor in Sino-American relations is trade and jobs: it is the economy, stupid. The twenty-first century has seen an extraordinary economic symbiosis. The Chinese produced cheap goods, which boosted American living standards while helping to control inflation. Out of the proceeds, Beijing bought US Treasury bonds, which helped to fund the American deficit. That was fine, unless you were an American worker whose job was exported. People like that helped to elect Donald Trump, and he is not going to forget them. There is no easy solution. The Chinese labour market is also under pressure, from cheaper wage-rate economies. All this will require negotiations, diplomacy, compromises. On the basis of his first month, these are not the new President’s trump suits.

But Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis are not averse to subtlety. Perhaps they can persuade Mr Trump to reserve his belligerence for the EU.

He could also use it on the Gramscians. Antonio Gramsci was the most formidable Marxist after the founding father. He realised that the proletarian revolution was not enough and that there were other ways forward. He advocated a long march through the institutions: educational, cultural, journalistic, bureaucratic, ecclesiastical. This has been alarmingly successful, thanks in part to widespread naivety among conservatives, who thought they were being hard-headed when they reasoned: “Leave culture to the leftists. What harm can they do?” This is dangerous nonsense. Everyone understands the importance of soft power in international affairs. That is equally true in domestic matters. The Left not only uses its marchers to undermine Western culture. It also uses its power to de-legitimise free enterprise and promote egalitarianism. Lose the culture war, and the economic war is in jeopardy.

Yet it may be that the Gramscians have over-reached themselves, with their attack on the normal. Tolerance is an Enlightenment virtue and a core Western value. Of course sexual minorities should have nothing to fear from persecution—chacun a son trou. But the escalation of the culture wars has left many Americans feeling uncomfortable, as if they were now the victims of intolerance. Donald Trump ought to be grateful for the liberal proselytisers and for the agitation over lavatory usage by transgender persons. In Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, this almost certainly won him his majority, and the White House. A reassertion of normality and common sense would help to keep him there. Apart from that, it would be an unequivocal good.

To put it mildly, Mr Trump is a work in progress. But he cannot yet be accused of reneging on his promises. Like Hitler—a grossly unfair comparison—he seems set on doing what he said he would do. Mein Kampf, Mein Trump. It is to be hoped that—the EU apart—he comes to understand the wisdom of suaviter in modo, fortiter in re. We shall see. People like my despairing friend, a scion of the Enlightenment, will no doubt continue to despise him. But as I pointed out, Thomas Jefferson is not a reliable ally. Once, as he surveyed a White House dinner table resplendent with cultural luminaries, J.F. Kennedy said it was probably the most distinguished gathering of talents that the building had seen since the evenings when President Jefferson dined alone. But it must be remembered how Jefferson paid for his library, his mansion—and his wine cellar. The money came from slavery. Blacks toiled in the fields so Jefferson could enjoy the harvest of the Enlightenment.

Human life is a complicated, paradoxical and unpredictable enterprise. It may be that we could yet reap a good harvest out of Donald Trump.

Bruce Anderson is a British journalist. This article first appeared on the online publication Reaction ( in February.


29 thoughts on “How Trump Can Save the West from Itself

  • says:

    This eminently educational article left the head of a relative simpleton, like yours truly, spinning. The depth and girth of the author’s familiarity with a wide range of subjects is awe-inspiring and humbling. The verbal depiction of Donald Trump is brilliant. One can only hope that the hopes expressed for the future of western civilisation will come through.

  • says:

    As we approach the centenary of Oswald Spengler it is time to take stock. Yes, the left has truly won the “culture wars” and has succeeded in the Long March through the Institutions. However, as Spengler noted, the Left is not a system of Government, but a reaction to a system of Government. Therefore it cannot by itself “govern”. As it tries to govern, the Left can only continue in reaction against government with the effect of undermining its own institutions and drive itself further left, until it devours itself. This has been noted by such Left luminories as Pacal Bruckner and Michel Houellebecq. I think I can even see concern in that old Marxist Paul Kelly in one of his latest pieces in the Australian. How does one stop the Long March through the institutions when there is no Mao to do it? The way will be left for “Caesars” like Trump to show leadership and sieze control and govern where the Left cannot.

  • ian.macdougall says:

    In recent years, the world has been turned upside down. Old assumptions and old certainties no longer work. This means that there are no grounds for Western geopolitical self-confidence. At the beginning of the 1990s, we were invited to hail the new world order and the end of history. How hollow those phrases sound now. If they are ever recalled to mind, it is with bitter irony.

    Not a bad article, Bruce. Its only problem is its conception of the US being somehow as it was in the days of the Founding Fathers, before it became in reality an imperial power in its own right: an expending empire, particularly in Latin America (Monroe doctrine and all that) while still calling itself in the words of its own national anthem, the land of the free, and the home of the brave.
    Vietnam was where it all really came unstuck; big time. The US became a democracy against democracy, in a war to prevent democracy and to stall the triumph of a national liberation army which, according to Eisenhower’s own report of US intelligence on the subject, had the support of around 80% of the Vietnamese people. And so the US was against bringing on the national elections it had agreed to in the 1954 Geneva Settlement.
    The the land of the free, and the home of the brave had bankrolled the French colonial war in Vietnam, because the French state as it emerged from WW2 was not only flat broke, it had been humiliated by both the German conquest of France and the Japanese conquest of Vietnam.
    While US companies had little of their assets in Vietnam, that was not the case in Latin America. The message from the land of the free and the home of the brave to the Latin Americans was simple: try to repeat the Simon Bolivar stunt and go for genuine self determination, and you will get napalm, you will get round-the-clock B-52 raids, and you will get Phoenix Programs galore designed to weed out liberals and democrats from your towns and villages: wherever they can be found.
    When the benighted, semi-literate Trump rabbits on about ‘making America great again’ he can only mean America of the Founding Fathers as it was in the time of those same Founding Fathers; returning the US somehow to some Hollywood-stylised heroic past. He can only mean America when its armed forces (WW1, WW2, Korea) genuinely fought for freedom. That was before Vietnam – ignoring America’s Jeffersonian-era ‘peculiar institution’ of black slavery, and Jim Crow, segregation, and all the rest of it.

    • Warty says:

      No, he means the America before it took on the guilt surrounding the white man’s burden; the America before it started to become white-anted by the Civil Rights Movement, with all its noble ‘intentions’, followed by feminism and all the ‘wrongs’ it sought to rectify, followed by the identity politics it spawned, that has landed it in a quagmire of divisiveness, indecision, deeply ingrained corruption, itself a product of cronyism. Its universities have been spewing forth this stuff since the Hamburg School very quickly self jettisoned to America, the moment it heard the jackboots on the cobble stones outside. Thence began the long march through all our institutions, until even cuck conservatives cannot see the wood for the trees.

      • Jody says:

        Formidable insight on display here, Warty!! Totally agree with you.

      • ian.macdougall says:

        Before you close your mind on the matter, have a read of John Kerry’s view of the war at

        Upon returning from Vietnam, Lieutenant John Kerry, now a Senator, testified on the issue of Vietnam before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971. Here are a few of his statements:
        “I would like to talk, representing all those veterans, and say that several months ago in Detroit, we had an investigation at which over 150 honorably discharged and many very highly decorated veterans testified to war crimes committed in Southeast Asia, not isolated incidents but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command….
        They told the stories at times they had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war, and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country.”
        “In our opinion, and from our experience, there is nothing in South Vietnam, nothing which could happen that realistically threatens the United States of America. And to attempt to justify the loss of one American life in Vietnam, Cambodia, or Laos by linking such loss to the preservation of freedom, which those misfits supposedly abuse, is to us the height of criminal hypocrisy, and it is that kind of hypocrisy which we feel has torn this country apart.”
        “We found that not only was it a civil war, an effort by a people who had for years been seeking their liberation from any colonial influence whatsoever, but also we found that the Vietnamese whom we had enthusiastically molded after our own image were hard put to take up the fight against the threat we were supposedly saving them from.
        We found most people didn’t even know the difference between communism and democracy. They only wanted to work in rice paddies without helicopters strafing them and bombs with napalm burning their villages and tearing their country apart. They wanted everything to do with the war, particularly with this foreign presence of the United States of America, to leave them alone on peace, and they practiced the art of survival by siding with whichever military force was present at a particular time, be it Vietcong, North Vietnamese, or American.
        We found also that all too often American men were dying in those rice paddies for want of support from their allies. We saw first hand how money from American taxes was used for a corrupt dictatorial regime. We saw that many people in this country had a one-sided idea of who was kept free by our flag, as blacks provided the highest percentage of casualties. We saw Vietnam ravaged equally by American bombs as well as by search and destroy missions, as well as by Vietcong terrorism, and yet we listened while this country tried to blame all of the havoc on the Viet Cong.”
        “Someone has to die so that President Nixon won’t be, and these are his words, ‘the first President to lose a war.'”

        • Warty says:

          Your first mistake, Ian, was to quote John Kerry. If one were to believe him, then Assad had absolutely not chemical weapons left in his armoury, zilch, all cleared out for all to see. If one were to believe him then Iran was entirely satisfied with the billions of dollars of US bribery and no longer had any interest in producing weapons grade plutonium.
          The second mistake was to use the term ‘war crimes’ in relation to a war, any war, as though it is something that can be sanitised. For a start it doesn’t even begin to understand the nature of the sort of war being waged in Vietnam, or my own country, Rhodesia, where the battle is won or lost in the villages, not the battle field (quite simply because there are seldom any battlefields). The Americans lost that war for a number of reasons: firstly because, no matter how many Mai Lais they may have inflicted, there was absolutely no chance of their matching the overwhelming scale of atrocity committed by the Vietcong, sometimes on a daily basis. John Kerry, as one would expect from a limp frangipani, doesn’t even begin to address that aspect.
          Overwhelming terror wins a war based on the meting out of terror, and the Americans were never going to win that one. The term ‘war crime’ was only obliquely used in relation the main perpetrators. Kerry’s reference to the Vietcong-perpetrated carnage was one phrase: ‘Vietcong terrorism’ , yet he itemised many of the things the Americans did ‘for fun’. You may not understand what affect finding the mate you had to leave behind during a particularly fierce contact, with his pants pulled off and his severed testicles shoved into his mouth. The desire for retaliation is overwhelming.
          Close my mind? Mine is not an armchair viewpoint.

          • Warty says:

            (P.E.W. Intake 103, Royal Rhodesian Regiment, 1969. Service number lost in the mists of time.)

          • ian.macdougall says:

            Ah Warty, you have brought light to my darkness. We can dismiss anything that John Kerry says, because he is a ‘limp frangipani’.

            Your first mistake, Ian, was to quote John Kerry. If one were to believe him, then Assad had absolutely not chemical weapons left in his armoury, zilch, all cleared out for all to see….(etc) “

            We can play this sort of whataboutery as long as we like. I have no time for Assad, believing that the bastard should be at least locked up, put on trial, and then disposed of according to international law. Furthermore, I think it likely that accusations of barbaric atrocities committed by the other side and understandable reprisals carried out by our decent, honourable blokes against their better natures is an old, old refrain, probably dating back to the days when wars were fought with clubs and spears.

            Overwhelming terror wins a war based on the meting out of terror, and the Americans were never going to win that one. “

            Well all I can say is, they had a bloody good go. You may recall Lt Calley’s defence over My Lai: “It was a free-fire zone!” As far as he was concerned, no more needed to be said.
            The Americans had total air superiority, from B-52s down to helicopter gunships; terror from the air. They dropped over 7 million tons of bombs on Indochina during the war—more than triple the 2.1 million tons of bombs the U.S. dropped on Europe and Asia during all of World War II, and more than ten times the amount dropped by the U.S. during the Korean War. 500 thousand tons were dropped on Cambodia, 1 million tons were dropped on North Vietnam, and 4 million tons were dropped on South Vietnam. On a per capita basis, the 2 million tons dropped on Laos make it the most heavily bombed country in history; The New York Times noted this was “nearly a ton for every person in Laos.” That should have been enough to defeat the Vietcong ‘terrorists’, who by definition could not possibly ever have had the mass of the population onside. Eisenhower therefore must have been dead wrong when he asserted in simple honest faith that the national plebiscite agreed to by the interested powers under the 1954 Geneva agreement vote had to be dodged, because according to US intelligence, Ho Chi Minh could count on the support of “80% “ of the overall population.
            I suggest that the dismissal of that intelligence by the Johnson and Nixon administrations was the costliest blunder the US ever made, and was the cause of its fall from ‘greatness’. That is what Donald Trump is ever banging on about in his election mantra of “make America great again.”


  • Don A. Veitch says:

    ‘To put it mildly, Trump is a work in progress’, yes, but now, its ‘all over red rover’, we have started to ‘reap the harvest’ of his shallow, skittish and schizophrenic nature.

    Trump believes in nothing except what The Kushner Kids said five minutes ago. Trump does not even know where his ‘mighty armada’ is heading, let alone the nation! It only took 100 days for Trump to capitulate on everything.

    A few other points:
    • REAGAN? He TRIPLED the deficit, never built star wars. Trump is repeating the same old supply-side, trickle down voodooism;
    • THATCHER destroyed UK industry;
    • ERENST BEVIN, a great socialist trade unionist, blamed most foreign policy problems on American inconsistencies (we certainly need him now!);
    • KISSINGER? Yuk. Kissinger sabotaged the 1968 peace talks for Nixon’s ego. The lost- war dragged on for 7 more years. That cost another 300,000 GIs dead (and 300 Australians, I got conscripted!). The man will rot in hell;
    • Just when the war on terrorism was almost won (Moselle, Aleppo, Jerabulus Pass, Manbij, Palmyra) the caliphate of Erdogan in disarray, Hezbollah triumphant against ISIS/Nusra, then Trump bombs his allies, and picks a fight with Russia;
    • Trump is now Boris Yeltsin-like, increasingly dysfunctional. A buffoon;

    The only ‘things’ Trump is loyal to and consistent with are Goldman Sachs, Bonapartist Generals and Wall Street. Same-old-same-old team!;
    The American Empire is in deep trouble: a Eurasian currency to topple the dollar will emerge backed by gold – the Chinese are buying up the world’s gold; civil war, insurrection across the Union; WWIII is a real possibility.
    Thank you Donald!

    • Jody says:

      Nobody suggested for a moment that any of these people or ideas were perfect; just that their opposition was dangerous and imperfect.

    • ianl says:

      > ” … and 300 Australians, I got conscripted!”

      So was I, and several of my mates. Irrelevant … except if one is harbouring a 50 year old grudge, I suppose.

      Your comments are becoming increasingly incoherent, thread by thread. Dismal, I’m afraid. Where do Kennedy and Johnson fit in this ? Obummer’s Arab Spring ? Clinton’s Mogadishu ? Why is Hezbollah preferable to ISIS ? Erdogan was not in disarray – quite the opposite, actually, which is why Austria wish him to stay out of the EU.

      In short, cherry-picking only wins arguments against stupid people. Kidding not.

      • Warty says:

        Hear! Hear! ianl.

      • Don A. Veitch says:

        I was once very pro-American in one of their many losing, useless wars.
        No more.
        I have sons now, and do not wish them to be wasted.

        • Warty says:

          The daft gits of the Moratorium movement were played by a far more sophisticated North Vietnamese regime, who used deception much like an art form. There are still a number of late sixty and seventy year olds, who never went any where near Vietnam, that still believe the Vietnamese were fighting a war of liberation, knowing little about the deep historical divisions between North and South Vietnam.
          Any ‘returned serviceman’ who remained oblivious to the brutal campaigns of sub human intimidation carried out in the once non-aligned villages in South Vietnam was never located anywhere near any of the operation zones. None of the gruesome details made its way onto the television screens or the front pages of the Australian papers.
          The reasons for America and Australia/ New Zealand becoming involved were complex and largely well meaning to begin with. People like President Ngo Dinh Diem didn’t help with the perception that the South Vietnamese government may not have been worth fighting for, and the North Vietnamese milked this perception for all it is worth (both internally and externally) but the fear of communist expansion beyond Vietnam were justified, and Diem was, after all, supposedly a devout Catholic, vehemently opposed to communism. He was such a liability ‘he had to go’.
          War is not a jaunt in the park and criticisms of authorities, of the government and even reasons for being there do arise amongst the troopies, but far less so amongst the Australians, who by and large fought magnificently, their ‘skills’ far surpassing those of the Americans. But for those who had the misfortune to enter a village after the Vietcong had had their way, the images were life-changing: they had little reason to doubt why they were there in Vietnam.
          Not wanting to be overly impolite Don, but where were you? If you’ve somehow forgotten, may I suggest you read Paul Ham’s magnificent tome: Vietnam. The Australian War. And be proud of your fellows who fought there.

          • ian.macdougall says:

            People like President Ngo Dinh Diem didn’t help with the perception that the South Vietnamese government may not have been worth fighting for…

            You can say that again. The Americans installed his Mafia regime, and then when he became disobedient, in true gangland style they had him murdered; rubbed out; eliminated. It’s all in the historical record.
            We could all be “proud of the fellows who fought there” if the cause they had been fighting for (ie that of the Saigon Mafia) had not been quite so rotten, and they had not been fed so much bovine manure by ignorant, toadying Australian politicians.
            You would have us all believe that the NLF guerrillas were just a bunch of murdering, marauding bandits.
            Well, Warty, such people never get very far once they get the population offside. I cannot think of a single historical example where such succeeded. (Please enlighten me if you can.)
            Following that delusional theory, the Americans and the Saigon Mafia tried to isolate the NLF guerrillas from the population they emerged from, using the ‘strategic hamlets’ program. It was a total failure, because the theory and perception it was based on was garbage; start to finish.

        • Jody says:

          I’m ‘pro-America’ because there are precious few, if any, other western nations to be “pro”. And thank you for your service in Vietnam; it was appreciated. As for Kissinger, Niall Ferguson has written 2 tomes about him and is in the process of writing another. Clearly, not everybody shares your view of HK.

          I had a few peers who were conscripted and one died of a brain tumour afterwards, in his late 20s. The rest returned in one piece, as far as I know. And I concur with your view that we don’t want our sons ‘wasted’, however I feel that comment was more often than not a vain cry which has punctuated the history of humanity.

  • Keith Kennelly says:

    Yeah Paul Kelly is as liberal as me.

  • Keith Kennelly says:

    Spoken like a true judgemental ignoramus

  • Don A. Veitch says:

    The only point I try to make is that the Vietnam war should have ended in about 1968 (before Tet, before My Lai), the south would have been saved from communism, but for the treachery of Nixon/Kissinger.

    • Warty says:

      Not good enough, Don. Your first, extended comment was replete with generalisations, more slogans than serious, detailed examinations. Many of the statements throw up more questions than they answer. For instance, your Labouresque comment about Margaret Thatcher destroying industry, presumably you are referring to the moribund coal industry that was being subsidised at considerable tax payer expense, courtesy of union pressure. Indeed, she closed down an ailing coal industry, but she also broke the back of many of the powerful, old Marxist unions which were single-handedly holding British industry back in the 19th Century. So successful were her economic policies, subsequent Labour governments continued to implement ‘Thatcherism’.
      I also get not a little annoyed with the badly done by ‘returned soldier’ who sees fit to run down the side he was fighting for. Nixon may have made mistakes, Kissinger too, but both had extraordinary qualities, few politicians have shown since. You’ve only to read some of Kissinger’s books to get a fetch of an impressively expansive mind. Start with his Diplomacy and then read his On China and be impressed.
      As I said above, the causes of the Vietnam war are not what they seem, which is why I suggested you read Paul Ham’s book on the war. Most people of the time were very successfully ‘played’ by the North Vietnamese government, if you can call it that. A nineteen year old Nasho was highly unlikely to have had any understanding of the political machinations at play behind the scenes. A few of a Labor persuasion, may have been a little over influenced by politicians like Jim Cairns, later, after their return, but if they did they were unwittingly being fed kitty litter.He single-handedly did a lot of damage.
      Most readers of Quadrant follow each others’ comments with interest and perspicacity, and we notice trends. Speaking for myself, I attempt not to remain predictable: it is for others to know whether or not I am successful in that.

  • Keith Kennelly says:

    I always thought that Don.

    I thought the war was finished after the defeat of the North’s Tet offensive.

    I also thought that one of Nixon’s few errors.

    If it wasn’t for Watergate he’d have been hailed one of the US’s better presidents. History might be kinder to him.

    • ian.macdougall says:

      The Vietnamese population, in their war of national liberation, had a bit of support from the Russians (about equal to the support given by AUSTRALIA to the South Vietnamese, according to TIME magazine’s estimate) but otherwise they were on their own. And as US Defence Secretary Robert MacNamara belatedly came to realise that it was just such: a war of national liberation. (See his ‘The Fog of War’ on YouTube)
      It began as a colonial war: and nobody these days tries to justify colonialism: the white man has dropped his burden. The French lost vital prestige when they had their homeland occupied by the Nazis, and then on top of that their colonial possession of Vietnam got swallowed up in the expansionary project of the Japanese. Then after WW2, and in the face of all that, they tried to take up where they had been so rudely interrupted, but the Japanese had dented their all-powerful colonial image, just as they had done for the other European colonial powers in SE Asia.
      So the US bankrolled the French for their post-WW2 colonial war. After Dien Bien Phu, when it looked like the French were going to lose that war completely, the US used all the diplomatic chicanery it could muster to ‘temporarily’ divided Vietnam into North and South until a nationwide plebiscite could be held: which the US immediately sabotaged.
      Ultimately, and despite the setback of Tet, the Vietnamese defeated the mightiest war machine ever assembled. When Nixon and Kissinger announced that they were ‘Vietnamising’ the war, it became obvious to all involved that they were getting out while the going was still good.

  • whitelaughter says:

    Of course the Enlightenment failed – it was a failure from the beginning, claiming credit for achievements wrought by earlier generations. The combatants of the religious wars opposed religious freedom? Hardly. The Reformation gave us the lovely quote: “in essentials, unity; in doubtful matters, liberty; in all things, charity”. It was only possible because of the flight of Orthodox scholars westwards after the fall of Byzantium. The ban on Jews in England was ended by Cromwell.
    The symbol of the Enlightenment should be the guillotine, as the Terror is it’s only true child.

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