William J. Astore: My Dad’s Silver Dollars

My dad left me two silver dollars. They’re worth much in sentimental value (I’ll explain in a moment), but they also teach us something about how America has changed.

Here’s a photo of them. Lady Liberty is on the front, an eagle is on the back.

These were “peace” dollars issued in the aftermath of World War I. (Note the word “peace” under the eagle.) Imagine that: a coin issued by the USA dedicated to and celebrating peace! It’s truly hard to imagine such a coin being issued today, and not only because our currency is now made only with base metal (a debased currency?).

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William J. Astore on Edward Snowden and Turnkey Tyranny

Edward Snowden recently talked to Joe Rogan for nearly three hours. Snowden has a book out (“Permanent Record“) about his life and his decision to become a whistleblower who exposed lies and crimes by the U.S. national security state. As I watched Snowden’s interview, I jotted down notes and thoughts I had. (The interview itself has more than seven million views on YouTube and rising, which is great to see.) The term in my title, “turnkey tyranny,” is taken from the interview.

My intent here is not to summarize Snowden’s entire interview. I want to focus on some points he made that I found especially revealing, pertinent, and insightful.

Without further ado, here are 12 points I took from this interview:

1. People who reach the highest levels of government do so by being risk-averse. Their goal is never to screw-up in a major way. This mentality breeds cautiousness, mediocrity, and buck-passing. (I saw the same in my 20 years in the US military.)

2. The American people are no longer partners of government. We are subjects. Our rights are routinely violated even as we become accustomed (or largely oblivious) to a form of turnkey tyranny.

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Of Premature Withdrawals, Forever Wars, and the US Military

Remember these generals? The “adults in the room” for Trump? How well did that work out?

As the Trump administration prepares to deploy more U.S. troops to serve the needs of Saudi Arabia, I got to thinking about America’s forever wars in the Middle East and Central Asia. Back on August 17th, I clipped an article from the New York Times entitled “Debate Flares Over Afghanistan as Trump Considers Troop Withdrawal.” I noted the usual “arguments” presented by US military leaders and chickenhawks of both parties. That withdrawals would constitute a “retreat” that would be “premature” and “reckless.” That US troops had to remain to counter “an enduring terrorist threat.” That the Taliban enemy had perfected “weasel language” that would allow them to win any peace treaty. Making his usual appearance was General (retired) David Petraeus, who warned ominously that a complete withdrawal from Afghanistan “would be even more ill-advised and risky than the Obama administration’s disengagement from Iraq.” Petraeus, of course, has argued for a generational commitment to Afghanistan that could last as long as seventy years.

A few points to make here:

1. A US withdrawal wouldn’t be “premature.” Rather, it’s at least seventeen years overdue.

2. Terrorist threats are nothing new (I was reading about them on active duty in 1985). Moreover, they are often fed by the presence of US troops and bases as well as by “kinetic” actions, i.e. killing people, especially innocent civilians.

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William J. Astore on James Mattis, the General Who Couldn’t

James Mattis is making the talk show rounds, promoting his new book, “Call Sign Chaos.” Interestingly, while openly critical of President George W. Bush for being unprepared for the Iraq War, and President Barack Obama for lacking a strategy and being too soft toward enemies like Iran, Mattis is remarkably circumspect about his service as Secretary of Defense under President Donald Trump. Perhaps Trump’s non-disclosure agreements really do pack a punch?

I’ve written about Mattis before. Trump may have picked him in part because he looks a little like George S. Patton of World War II fame. While serving under Trump, Mattis was deferential but not as big of an ass-kisser as most of Trump’s subordinates. Mattis was a disappointment nonetheless, bought off by all the money Trump and the Republicans (and Democrats as well) shoveled to the Pentagon.

Mattis, among several generals Trump called “his” own, did nothing to end America’s disastrous overseas wars and the profligate spending on them. He also did nothing to curb the U.S. military’s desire to spend $1.7 trillion on genocidal nuclear weapons. He had no vision for a U.S. military that would be less imperial, less wasteful, and, in two words, less stupid.

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William J. Astore on Still Not Getting the Vietnam War

I recently read an article on Rocky Bleier’s return to Vietnam, the subject of a documentary on ESPN.

Rocky Bleier played on the Pittsburgh Steelers football team in the 1970s, when the Steelers were at their finest. Before that, he was drafted into the Army and was wounded in combat in Vietnam. Doctors thought he’d never play football again, but Bleier proved them wrong, helping the Steelers to win four Super Bowls.

Bleier’s return to Vietnam was emotional and revealing, but in a way that is one-sided, privileging the American experience of that war. Franco Harris, another famous football player, puts it succinctly: “It’s a tragedy, I wish the war [Vietnam] had never happened.” But was America’s war in Vietnam simply a tragedy? Or was it more of a crime? What was America after in Vietnam? And at what cost to the peoples of Southeast Asia?

As Bleier puts it, “All of a sudden I had an overwhelming feeling of loss and sadness. Why did we fight this war? Why did we lose 58,000 soldiers and in all honesty for what? Maybe for first time I can understand on a slight basis the impact that our soldiers go through and maybe just a little what post-traumatic stress might be and how the body reacts to all the emotions.”

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William J. Astore on Torture USA

Five years ago, President Obama infamously said, “We tortured some folks.” And no one was held accountable; indeed, as Tom Tomorrow put it in a cartoon from that time, “The only government official who went to jail for it [John Kiriakou] was the whistleblower who exposed it.” In the cartoon, Tom Tomorrow has Obama say that, “Still, we must accept responsibility! Which is to say: we must briefly acknowledge the unpleasantness in the upcoming torture report, and then quickly move on.”

And that’s exactly what America did: quickly move on, without consequences (except for Kiriakou). And then candidates like Donald Trump emerged, boasting of how much he’d increase the use of torture. And thus Trump as president could pick Gina Haspel, implicated in the torture regime, as the new head of the CIA. Well done, President Obama.

Recently, one of my readers alerted me to concerted efforts to “unredact” the redacted CIA report released in December 2014, based on open source research and logical deduction by a number of British researchers, concerning extraordinary rendition and black sites. Check out this link for further details; the full report (403 pages) can be downloaded as a pdf file.

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