[US President Joe] Biden blamed for Afghanistan debacle. – News headline
“This is not Saigon”: US Secretary of State defends US evacuations from Kabul. – News headline
In the year 1 BC (Before COVID), some of Dame Amoeba’s friends and writing buddies on the US mainland hosted a group of Mongolian folk rock/heavy metal musicians during their first North American Tour. The group that they had formed calls itself “the HU“, which means “the people”, not “the Pete Townshend or Randy Bachman knockoffs”. The event was mutually rewarding, not least because the HU’s members, despite, well, looking like hard-living heavy metal musicians, were in fact polite, courteous, humble, friendly, and approachable (even with formidable language barriers in place). In particular, the men of the HU expressed their appreciation to their hosts for allowing them to visit their homes, and for their efforts to “value Mongolian culture.”
Most of which appears to consist of venerating Genghis Khan and his ability to wipe out enemies (the $10 word for which is genocide), and moaning about how Mongolians of the modern era don’t come close to measuring up to their forebears. Your Friendly Neighborhood Amoeba reads that some of the lyrics in songs by the HU are, or are inspired by, poetry from the time of Genghis Khan and the Mongol Empire he forged, celebrating the fighting spirit of the Mongols and the ascendancy of the Mongol master race.
Ah, but the Mongol Empire was long ago, and the modern Mongols far away. Moreover, while the HU band’s emotions are intelligible (the sort of cute aggro that inspires Baby Boomers and millennials to bring their eight-year-old grandsons to AC/DC concerts), their lyrics are not. Besides, throat singing and the morin khuur are unusual. So, the HU band duly received its 15 minutes of fame, with any visions of swastikas carefully swept into a corner, out of sight and out of mind. It even came to the attention of the Great God Disney, which, perhaps perceiving a minor kindred spirit, permitted it to feature in one of their secondary Star Wars offerings.
While he was supposed to be doing something else (yes, dear reader, you’ve heard this before, and it does happen a lot), YFNA happened upon a reference to the Yassa, the law code of the Mongol Empire, and followed it up. It was quickly apparent that the Firesign Theatre‘s Secret Code of Military Toughness had an 8th century BC* precedent (and perhaps inspiration; those guys were neither ignorant nor dumb). For the Yassa was secret (the code was known only to the Khan and select nobles of the Mongol Empire, and no direct written copies survive), military (“Every man, except in rare cases, must join the army”), and tough. How tough? Citizens seemed to exist, under the Yassa, in three states:
- Innocence (or at least ‘under the radar’)
- Grace (beneficiary of selective enforcement)
- Condemned to death (for every sin from littering on up, and no sitting on Death Row for twenty years as lawyers invent new ways to appeal the verdict)
The message was clear. “Be prepared to serve the Khan and his Empire, and, if called, to die in that service. For if you are not, you will surely die anyway. Right now.” What was that? You’ve never heard of Khwarezm or its Empire? There’s a reason. Being wiped out to the last human for refusing to serve will do that to you.
And if you were prepared to serve? Welcome to the ‘ohana and to its blessings. And really, what better feeling can [ahem] a servant have than knowing that the boss not only looks after you, but has the will to wipe out your enemies, without hesitation, reflection, or remorse, and the power to make it so?
Kinda like Al Capone and his soup kitchens.
Or Adolf Hitler and his Kraft durch Freude program.
Or ISIS, handing out oil money to the victims of the royal and corporate sheiks.
Blame the carrot, blame the stick, blame the person and personality of Genghis Khan. Whatever. The Mongols were unified in purpose and action. Their opponents were not. The Mongols often understood the military weaknesses and the political divisions of those whom they faced better than they did. Understood them and exploited them. And the opponents promptly fell over.
Blame the carrot, blame the stick, blame the person and personality of Adolf Hitler. Whatever. After more than a decade of political, economic, and social disaster under the Weimar Republic, the Germans under the absolute rule of the Nazis were unified in purpose and action. Their opponents were not; the French in particular struggled through several political crises and general disaffection from citizens, whose loyalties were fragmented among a dozen political parties and movements. The Germans often understood the military weaknesses and the political divisions of those whom they faced better than they did. Understood them and exploited them. And when the shooting finally started, the opponents promptly fell over.
Hitler was dismissive of the notion that the United States of America would enter into World War II, believing that the indolence and political squabbling of US citizens would keep them from getting involved in “foreign wars”. The USA’s “free press” provided der Führer with plenty of evidence in favor of his view, as did Franklin Roosevelt’s press statements, and his struggles to arrange meaningful assistance to France and Britain against stiffening political and popular opposition.
Similarly, the Japanese expected the USA either to refrain from getting into WWII’s Pacific Theater, or (especially after Pearl Harbor) to quickly come to a negotiated settlement. They reckoned that Yankees lacked the concept of bushido and would quickly fold under the pressure of a resolute opponent.
Both the Germans and the Japanese would eventually suffer the consequences of their misjudgment, but, arguably, for one reason and one reason only – as, in 1940 through early 1942, the USA was no better prepared, in materials or attitudes, than the nations that the Axis had so easily knocked down in those years.
Hitler’s military proved unable to make its way across the 21 miles of the English Channel, ultimately to Germany’s undoing. (To be fair, the last successful invasion of the British Isles had been a millennium earlier, in 954 BC**. Also, all of the Mongol conquests had been over land.) The expanse of the Atlantic Ocean was much broader than his reach, submarines notwithstanding. Japan did far better at amphibious operations (e.g. Taiwan, Philippines, Dutch East Indies, Solomon Islands), but still could not reach the US mainland, and only managed the one raid against Hawai‘i. Water provided the time to allow the USA to get out of its own way (in particular, by squelching most of the backtalk) and, ultimately, blind its opponents with science, bury them with stuff, and otherwise brute-force its way to victory.
And at a cost of human lives far less than that of most other nations of any size in the conflict. The armed services of the USA lost about 400,000 souls during the war, about the same as Great Britain despite having twice the number of people in uniform, serving two major theaters of operation (Europe and the Pacific).
Meanwhile, the Soviet Union, fighting on one front, and with a total population similar to that of the United States, lost at least eight million fighters, with twice that number of civilian casualties to boot. “Be prepared to serve the General Secretary and his Empire, and, if called, to die in that service. For if you are not, you will surely die anyway.”
Since World War II, the USA has fought its [ahem] “conflicts” (the word “war” being prohibited language, thanks to the suddenly-realized risk of We the People getting dosed with our own Hiroshima/Nagasaki medicine) on the basis of the pillars it recognized during the 1940s:
- Technological superiority (much of it stolen from the Germans) to, as much as possible, kill them remotely, so none of us get hurt
- Superior agricultural and industrial production capacity
But hey, if Freedom!! is such a superior system, why do we have to fight for it? And why are we so reluctant to have anybody die in its … oh never mind. Let’s just see what these three pillars have won us in the ensuing eighty years.
Korea 1950-1953. An inspired, unified North Korea invades a muddled, corruption-ridden South Korea backed by the gutted military of the USA, and nearly wipes it out within two months. Millions of Koreans die, fighters and civilians, with atrocities committed by both sides. The USA, contributing 90% of United Nations forces supporting the South, loses around 40,000 armed service personnel. Technology, desperately restored following the “defense” budget slashing of the late 1940s, reverses the losses, primarily through a strategic bombing campaign that levels 90% of North Korean infrastructure for housing, agriculture, and industry, but draws Chinese forces into the conflict, resulting in a stalemate at the cost of hundreds of thousands of Chinese dead.
The 1953 border (same as the 1950 border), the North Korean state, and the state of war between North Korea and South Korea, all persist to the present day, with the South Korean state bolstered by massive US investment, a massive US military presence, and a massive US propaganda campaign against the North, which somehow has done nothing to convince North Koreans of the perfidy of their leadership.
Vietnam 1955-1975. Ho Chi Minh, with his inspired Viet Minh fighters, have blocked French attempts to restore French Indochina. Reportedly, he accepted aid from the Soviet Union because the USA, desperate to rehabilitate France after its WWII debacle, reneged on a promise. He and his South Vietnamese allies (Viet Cong) move, in stages, to unify Vietnam under Minh’s rule. His opposite number is a corrupt dictator, despised by most of his citizens. He is assassinated in 1963, and is followed by a sequence of increasingly inept heads of state. In the ensuing conflict, millions of Vietnamese die.
Increasingly, the USA assumes the military burden. Vietnam becomes the most heavily bombed nation in the history of warfare. More than 55,000 US armed service personnel lose their lives – make that, against the massive Vietnamese casualties, “a mere” 55,000 lives lost. Their sacrifice is greeted with Jane Fonda, Woodstock, Watergate, and the defining paean of the Baby Boomer generation: “Hell no, we won’t go!” Oh, and a terminally depressing slab of black granite in Washington, DC.
Eventually, a dispirited USA leaves. South Vietnam promptly collapses. A
war conflict undertaken with the express purpose of “stopping Communism” results in the establishment of three stable, prosperous Communist states (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia) in southeast Asia. The Vietnamese now conduct tours for tourists, showing off evidence of US atrocities and US futility.
Iran 1979-1981. The state of Iran (known to history as “Persia”) throws off millennia of imperial rule, and decades of US-favorable politics and economic policy (i.e., oil) by deposing and exiling the US-backed Shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlawi, and replacing his dictatorial rule with the equally-dictatorial theocracy of Ayatollah Sayyid Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini, to massive popular acclaim. The refusal of the USA to return the former Shah to Iran for trial precipitated the Iranian hostage crisis, when university students stormed the US embassy and detained US diplomats and citizens. The botched rescue efforts, in which the only USA citizens to die were in a military-aircraft traffic accident, sealed the fate of then-US president Jimmy Carter and guaranteed the ascendancy of Ronald Reagan, with his 600-ship Navy, his steamrollering of the mighty nation of Grenada, his entanglement in the Iran-Contra mess, and his christening of the nation’s slide to Donald Trump.
Ayatollah Khomeini’s revolution, a disaster to Western concept of women’s roles in society (to name one), is still going strong, 42 years later.
Gulf War, 1990-1991. Iraq’s dictatorial Saddam Hussein, used as a foil against Iran (see above) in an increasingly complex and intractable Middle Eastern situation (see Israel), invaded and attempted to annex Kuwait. The prompt United Nations response (often termed “Desert Storm”) quickly restored the status quo, at the cost of 10,000 Iraqi lives (mostly military), and approximately 150 dead US armed services personnel, about a quarter of whom fell to friendly fire.
Western access to Middle Eastern oil was temporarily secured, global warming fans, at the cost of weakening Iraq’s political leadership and further destabilizing the region, leading to …
September 11, 2001. Water had ceased to be an effective barrier to an assault on the USA shortly after the end of WWII, with the development of aircraft and, eventually, missiles, that could deliver munitions anywhere within the 48 contiguous states. The land of Freedom!! finally got to experience the consequences of the end of its sacred isolation, up close and personal. Nearly 3,000 US citizens, none of them active fighters, lost their lives. (vs the 25,000 citizen lives lost in the firebombing of Dresden, Germany, in 1945, two months before Germany’s surrender.)
In the immediate aftermath of the terrorist bombings, Your Friendly Neighborhood Amoeba ventured to offer prayers for the assailants, and a consideration of what we might have done (see several items above) to bring this happening upon ourselves.
He was almost eviscerated.
In the subsequent wars of attempted conquest, there have been nearly 5,000 US combat deaths in Iraq, nearly 3,000 in Afghanistan. No one seems to agree on how many hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans have perished. But, to those in the USA, 8,000 deaths is too many, and we are removing ourselves. Freedom!! must not mean all that much, then. Especially when it is expressed in terms of Guantanamo, and Abu Ghraib, and the desecration of irreplaceable historic monuments.
And, in an expense of time, lives, and treasure extending over twenty years in an effort to make the world “safe from terror”, the footprint for potential terrorist activity in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran is arguably larger and more dangerous now than it was on September 10th, 2001, and the fundamentalist Islamic resistance in Iraq, thought to have been defeated, is resurging.
And what do the proponents of Freedom!! have to back any enthusiasm for their cause? A nation of spoiled-brat ignoramuses that can’t even agree to wearing masks, and getting the vaccinations for free that their inventors have been demanding extortionate terms from other nations for, as basic precautions against a deadly, and still poorly understood, contagion? A private space race among three billionaires, while millions (including their own employees) suffer from dearth and murderous working conditions? A nation that has not only refrained from throwing a known seditionist in jail, but seriously contemplates his return to power and that of his political party??
A nation that, faced with those willing to die for their cause, however filthy its opponents consider it to be, simply turns and walk away, its people counting their things and squabbling among themselves as they go?
Genghis Khan would have left
Khwarezm the Untied States of America a smoldering waste.
* 13th century CE. See top of page.
** 1066 CE.