‘Heigh-ho the derry-o, the Cheese Stands Alone’
By Thomas Adcock
Copyright © 2013 – Thomas Adcock
NEW YORK, near America
As a young boy in Detroit, once a grand city and a programming pioneer at the dawn of television, I was enthralled by broadcasts via station WXYZ of a weekly show called “The Lone Ranger,” which is not to be confused with this summer’s Hollywood flop movie of the same title. In the TV version of my early youth—the series ran from 1949 to 1957—an off-camera announcer, in synch with the crescendo finale to Gioachino Rossini’s “William Tell Overture,” would jazz us postwar baby boomers with a heart-pounding introduction to the latest adventures of two mounted lawmen—the Lone Ranger from cowboy Texas, and his faithful Indian sidekick, Tonto:
In the early days of the western United States, a masked man and an Indian rode the plains, searching for truth and justice. Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear, when—from out of the past!—come the thundering hoofbeats of the great horse Silver! The Lone Ranger rides again!
Little did I know, as a freckle-faced lad, that those lines in a children’s show—dreamed up by scriptwriters for Detroit’s WXYZ—would come to articulate the dubious conditio sine qua non of America’s military-industrial-media complex. Such is now clearly the case: the Lone Ranger, as metaphor for President Barack Obama, is determined to bomb Syria with Tomahawks—the long-range, subsonic cruise missiles named for the American Indian battle-axe used by Tonto’s homeboys.
In the Spanish-speaking world, incidentally, the term “tonto” generally means “village idiot.” The literal translation is “fool.”
BOMB THROWERS, from left: National Security Advisor Susan Rice, senior doddering old man of the U.S. Senate, John McCain; President Obama, a lone ranger in search of justice, if not truth; and Lindsey Graham, the Senate’s reigning tonto.
When America readies its BGM-109 Tomahawks for firing at a foreign target—with boosters, these babies weigh 3,500 pounds each [1,600 kg], and cost $1.45 million a pop [€1.1 million]—it is useful to pose some questions. In the war fever context of Syria, these would be: do average Americans, let alone employees of the Pentagon, know where Syria is—or Damascus; do we have basic comprehensions of the political, criminal, and cultural circumstances that require urgent U.S. intercessions; is the government’s case for bombing credible; are we justified in our sense of déjà vu?
The answers—minus the biggest and sorriest question that I shall pose in conclusion to this essay—might be as follows:
Syria? Vietnam? Where the heck’s them places?
During the Vietnam War (1955-1975), known throughout Southeast Asia as the American War, I fought on the home-front side of resistance. If medals were given to veterans of pepper gassings and police clobberings, I would own a certain share of honor. I claim no special wisdom in this: it simply occurred to me that I and most of my countrymen had never heard of Vietnam until the Central Intelligence Agency began sending squads of “military advisors” to that sorry land, its people exhausted from driving out French colonialists.
Accordingly, I reasoned that it is not a good idea to send battalions of the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps to invade a country—or saturate its provinces with Napalm, the gelatinous, acidic gas that adheres to human skin, causing severe and potentially lethal burns, as famously recorded in a photograph of maimed children—unless we least know where that country is.
As for Syria: I will certify that a chinless wonder called President Bashar al-Assad has committed war crimes—the most heinous being mass poisoning of civilians in areas generally opposed to his dictatorship, according to concurring analyses of British, French, Israeli, and U.S. intelligence agencies. Details differ, but these four intelligence services concur: Assad has authorized use of sarin gas, the nerve-crippling compound specifically outlawed in United Nations Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993 (to which Syria is not a signatory). The latest of several usages was August 21, when some 1,429 victims in the suburbs adjacent to Damascus were killed—including some four-hundred children, according to President Obama. As a parent and grand-parent, and a person of non-pacifist impulse under righteous circumstances, I would be pleased to see the Syrian people despatch the odious Assad in the same manner by which Libyans resolved the problem of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
And as for the geographical questions of Syria and its capital city, my Vietnam reasoning applies. A new computer game at the website usvsth3m.com shows a world map under the headline, “Where’s Damascus?” Of sixty-five guesses from respondents who work at the U.S. Department of Defense, only fifty-seven percent approximated location within 200 miles [322 km]. You can well imagine the how low that percentage was among Americans in general.
A-rabs, shmay-rabs? What’s the diff?
The enigmatic, historically persecuted Alawite sect of Shi’ite Islam constitutes merely twelve percent of Syria’s majority Sunni population. The Alawite minority consolidated power in the violent coup d’état of 1970: Hafez al-Assad ousted Sunnis from the government, proclaimed himself president, and installed his co-religionists as ferocious palace guards and army commandants. In 2000, Assad père bestowed continuing authority to the mandible-challenged Assad fils.
Religious and political grievances associated with the continuing turmoil in Syria—which upon the partitioning of the Ottoman Empire at the close of World War I was ruled by imposition of the League of Nations’ French Mandate of Syria; in Arabic, al-Intidab al-Firansi fi Suriya—are of more than a thousand years’ vintage. Just as Americans were pleased to ignore the history and culture of one-time French Indochina—today, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (in Vietnamese, Công hòa Xã hôi chú nghia Viêt Nam)—we are poised for abject ignorance about virtually all things Syrian. Or, as recently elucidated by Sarah Palin, cutie-pie queen of American imbeciles and her Republican Party’s nominee for vice-president in 2008: “Let Allah sort it out.”
Huh? So that’s what we’re doing?
On a daily basis, the American corporate media obliges the president and the Pentagon with a simple-minded tattoo: Syria is not Vietnam, and certainly not Iraq. Obliging further, scriveners of the press and well-coifed TV commentators employ a form of Orwellian newspeak reminiscent of both Vietnam and Iraq—per phrases such as “surgical strike” and “limited engagement” and “freedom” and “absolutely no boots on the ground” and “threats to our national security” and “weapons of mass destruction” (other than bombs and bullets, of course).
Meanwhile, there is Mr. Obama as impresario of a Kabuki drama on the stage of Washington’s Capitol Hill, where Congressional hearings are destined to yield blessings for the president’s call to “enforce accountability” for Assad’s sarin-happy henchmen, and to “stand up to others who flout fundamental international rules.”
The president’s televised drumbeat for war, in the holy name of protecting democracy and U.S. “credibility,” was made on the sultry Saturday of August 31, in the Rose Garden behind the White House. Questions from reporters were not entertained. Ongoing “hearings” in Congress are open to presentations by officials of the Obama administration, and members of the Washington’s well-heeled political class. However, the vast majority of ordinary citizens who oppose yet another American insinuation into a foreign civil war—six in ten of us want no part of the Syrian mess, according to an opinion poll released September 3 by ABC Television News and the Washington Post newspaper—have no place on the agenda. Troublemakers who voice objection from the balconies are swiftly ejected by Glock-packing officers of the Capitol Police Department.
As I write, the Foreign Relations Committee in the upper house of Congress—the Senate—has adopted a resolution of support for Mr. Obama. Strings are allegedly attached: missile strikes against Syria must occur within a period of sixty days, with allowance for a single thirty-day “extension,” with no infantry grunts any time. Leading the charge, despite their contempt for the Democratic Party president, were John McCain and Lindsey Graham—the Senate’s most reliably war-crazed Republicans.
One extension, no infantry. Nudge-nudge, wink-wink, say-no-more.
The lower House of Representatives, controlled by regressive extremists of the Republican persuasion, has yet to render judgment.
Flashback to August 4, 1964: the U.S. Navy, operating in the Gulf of Tonkin waters off North Vietnam, is attacked by North Vietnamese torpedo boats, with radar image tracking to prove it. One problem: in 2005, the images were acknowledged as phonies in a declassified National Security Agency historical study that concluded, tersely, “[N]o attack happened.” Nonetheless, the fraud was casus belli for the August 7, 1964, “Gulf of Tonkin Resolution” in Congress, which granted then-President Lyndon Johnson authority to replace supposedly non-combatant C.I.A. advisors with conventionally conscripted boots on the ground to commence battle at any whiff of “communist aggression.”
Fifty-eight thousand American soldiers were killed on account of that fraud, and nearly a half-million Vietnamese. Colin Powell was a U.S. Army major in Vietnam, serving with the U.S. 23rd Infantry Division. In his autobiography—“My American Journey,” published in 1995—Mr. Powell said he is “haunted” by the “nightmare” of the Vietnam War, characterizing his nation’s leadership in that disaster as “ineffective.” (As we will see herein, Mr. Powell would be haunted by his role in war yet to come.)
Thirty-eight years following fakery in the Gulf of Tonkin—a sufficient span of time to further dull America’s notoriously dull historical memory—Congress enacted Public Law No. 107-243 in October 2002, enabling then-President George W. Bush to implement a gigantic midnight bombing raid on Baghdad, dubbed “Operation Shock and Awe” by its chief architect, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld—whose glee in firing off deadly pyrotechnics so appalled his cousins in the Bremen suburb of Weyhe-Sudweyhe that they disowned him as a family member, according to The Telegraph of London.
On February 6, 2003, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell made what seemed a convincing case for invading Iraq with a parade of falsehoods; whether knowingly or unwittingly, disingenuousness matters little to a corpse. In telling the United Nations Security Council of intercepted Iraqi army telephone communications, Mr. Powell “decided to add his personal interpretation of the intercepts…taking them substantially further, and casting them in the most negative light,” according to “Plan of Attack,” a book by the eminently credible Bob Woodward, a Washington Post editor.
As sideshow to his U.N. performance, an unusually dramatic Mr. Powell dangled a tiny vial of what he suggested was deadly anthrax as he swore, “[E]very statement I make today is backed up by sources—solid sources. These are not assertions. What we are giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence. …The gravity of this moment is matched by the gravity of the threat that Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction pose to the world. Our conservative estimate is that Iraq today has a stockpile of between one-hundred and five-hundred tons [90,719 to 453,592 kg] of chemical-weapons agent.”
Nothing of the sort was ever found—not by U.N. weapons inspectors, not by their American or British counterparts.
Six years later, almost to the day of his U.N. bravura, Mr. Powell “made a surprising admission,” according to CBS reporter Rebecca Leung. “He told the Washington Post,” she wrote on the TV network’s website, “that he doesn’t know whether he would have recommended the invasion of Iraq if he had been told at the time that there were no stockpiles of banned weapons.”
In a September 2005 interview with ABC, Mr. Powell said the memory of his U.N. charade was personally “painful” and a “blot” on his professional record.
According to iraqbodycount.org, a website administered by a British-based non-governmental research group, as many as 125,360 Iraqi civilians were blotted from Earth as a result of Mr. Powell’s painful experience. The number of American soldiers killed, according to the U.S. Defense Department, is 4,486. The number of the maimed, the missing and orphaned, and the doomed is too vast and changeable for objective counts.
Finally— the Biggest & Sorriest
Testifying on Tuesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee over which he presided before becoming President Obama’s secretary of state, John Kerry tipped his hand to lies that may come in the newest war context. Soon after claiming his boss has not
the slightest notion of sending ground troops into Syria, a rather slippery Mr. Kerry said, “I don’t want to take off the table an option that might or might not be available to a president of the United States to secure our country.”
On second thought—and under friendly questioning, briefly interrupted by an obstreperous troublemaker frog-marched out of the Senate chamber—Mr. Kerry said, “There will not be boots on the ground with respect to the civil war.”
Let us now pause, in consideration of two ironies, the first involving Mr. Obama.
Shortly after his inauguration in January 2009, our new president was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. This was largely due to his condemnation of Mr. Bush’s ruinous Iraq War during his struggle against Hillary Clinton, his chief rival for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008; then-Senator Clinton voted favorably on Public Law No. 107-243 in October 2002, giving the go-ahead to Mr. Bush.
Then there is the confounding matter of John Kerry, who succeeded Ms. Clinton as secretary of state in the Obama administration.
On April 23, 1971, a young Mr. Kerry made his very first appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee—as founder of Vietnam Veterans Against the War. Following are excerpts from his testimony. On behalf of his comrades in arms, he spoke truth to power, per transcript published in the Congressional Record:
[T]here is nothing in South Vietnam which could happen that realistically threatens the United States of America. And to attempt to justify the loss of one American life…by linking such loss to the preservation of freedom…is, to us, the height of criminal hypocrisy.
We found that not only was [the Vietnam War] a civil war, an effort by people who had for years been seeking their liberation from colonial influence…[but that most Vietnamese] didn’t know the difference between communism and democracy…They wanted everything to do with the war, particularly with this foreign presence of the United States, to leave them alone…We saw Vietnam ravaged equally by American bombs [and] Viet Cong terrorism, and yet we listened while this country tried to blame all of the havoc on the Viet Cong.
We rationalized destroying villages in order to save them. We saw America lose her sense of morality…
We are here to ask, and to ask vehemently, Where are the leaders of our country? Where are they now—now that the men they sent off to war have returned? These are the commanders who have deserted their troops. …These men have left all the casualties, and retreated behind a pious shield of public rectitude.
We wish that a merciful God could wipe away our own memories of service as easily as this administration has wiped away their memories of us. …And so, when thirty years from now our brothers go down the street without a leg, without an arm, or a face, and small boys ask why, we will be able to say “Vietnam,” and not mean a desert, not a filthy obscene memory, but mean instead where America finally turned, and where soldiers like us helped her in the turning.
I would urge Mr. Kerry to re-read his testimony of 1971, when he was a 28-year-old veteran impassioned by truth. I would like an honest answer to the biggest and sorriest question on the eve of America’s intent to rain down death and destruction in a far-off land—yet again: What empirical evidence exists that could lead ordinary Americans to trust the word of their government on matters of war?
Tyrants the likes of Bashar al-Assad will forever be with us, long after the body counts they cause. They are with us now: Kim Jong-un, for instance, the fat Stalinist boy-king of Pyongyang, North Korea.
According to South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense, its neighbor to the north ranks third—after the U.S. and Russia—in stockpiles of chemical weapons. The ministry estimates that North Korea possesses between 2,500 and 5,000 metric tons of nastiness [2,500,000 – 5,000,000 kg]—including phosgene, hydrogen cyanide, mustard gas, and sarin.
Quite credible reports note that Fat Boy has likely used sarin against his own people; likewise, it seems that Russia serves as Syria’s pharmacist in matters of sarin refill prescriptions. Yet I hear no plans to bomb Pyongyang (and certainly not Moscow). Perhaps Assad should stick to bullets and starvation, à la Kim Jong-un, as means of slaughtering the troublemakers of Syria.
This time around, an American president will not have the comfort of a British poodle to cuddle in his lap. Prime Minister Tony Blair served Mr. Bush in such fashion, although Mr. Blair eventually disobeyed his master. Try as he might, Prime Minister David Cameron failed to persuade the House of Commons to let loose the dogs of war.
President François Hollande of France has expressed enthusiasm for Mr. Obama’s wish to bomb Damascus. So far, however, he plays the rôle of a man holding a combatant’s coat.
Last Sunday, Chancellor Angela Merkel declared in a televised debate with Peer Steinbrueck, her anti-war challenger in the upcoming national election, “Germany will not participate” in missile strikes against Syria.
Inevitably, Mr. Obama will find himself as the sole cop in a world full of wicked crime. I am reminded of a song I sing to my grandchildren:
The farmer in the dell, the farmer in the dell—
Heigh ho the derry-o, the farmer in the dell.
The farmer takes a wife, the wife takes the child,
The child takes the cow—
Heigh-ho the derry-o, the farmer in the dell!
The pig takes the dog, the dog takes the cat,
The cat takes a mouse, the mouse takes the cheese—
Heigh-ho the derry-o!
The cheese stands alone, the cheese stands alone—
Heigh-ho the derry-o, the cheese stands alone!
Thomas Adcock is American correspondent for CulturMag.