A Big Fool Says to Push On

On the eve of the beginning of the tenth year (October 7) of the U.S war in Afghanistan, Bob Woodward’s new book “Obama’s War” about presidential decision making on the war in Afghanistan is pretty scary reading.  It sounds to me like folk singer Peter Seeger’s song about the Vietnam war “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy,” describes the U.S. war in Afghanistan.

The song “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy,” tells about an Army platoon slogging through a Louisiana river during field exercises in 1942.  The Captain of the platoon ignores the platoon sergeant’s advice about the depth of the river and commands the platoon to continue on until the platoon members are up to their necks in swirling water.  The Captain orders the platoon to “push on” and disappears underwater to drown.  The Sergeant immediately orders the platoon to turn around and head out of the deep water.

Pete Seeger sang “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy” at anti-war rallies in 1967 and 1968 during President Lyndon Johnson’s escalation of the U.S. military involvement in Vietnam.  The verse in which the Captain calls the sergeant a “Nervous Nelly” reflects President Johnson’s attitude toward critics of the Vietnam war.  The song touched a raw nerve in the White House which was transmitted to the CBS TV network when it refusedto broadcast Pete Seeger singing it on the Smother Brothers TV show because of the song’s “political tone.”

Would Sergeant Obama Challenge the Captains of War?
I had hoped that when Obama became President he would have been the Sergeant challenging the “Captains” of the Department of Defense and the U.S. military, the architects of the Afghanistan and Iraq war policies, on the depth of the water of the wars he had inherited.

But Sergeant Obama has not said “turn around.” Instead, Sergeant Obama gave himself a field commission to Captain and joined the Captains of the military and the Captains of industry who are leading the platoon into the deep waters of Afghanistan.

How did Captain/President Obama decide to head us for deeper water?

In his book “Obama’s War,” Bob Woodward recounts that “At critical points in the review, the ghosts of Vietnam hovered. Some participants openly worried that they were on the verge of replaying that history, allowing the military to dictate the force levels. While Obama sought to build an exit plan into the strategy, the military leadership stuck to its open-ended proposal, which the Office of Management and Budget estimated would cost $889 billion over a decade. Obama brought the OMB memo to one meeting and said the expense was “not in the national interest.”

“For two exhausting months, he had been asking military advisers to give him a range of options for the war in Afghanistan. Instead, he felt that they were steering him toward one outcome and thwarting his search for an exit plan. He would later tell his White House aides that military leaders were “really cooking this thing in the direction they wanted.”

“He was looking for choices that would limit U.S. involvement and provide a way out. His top three military advisers were unrelenting advocates for 40,000 more troops and an expanded mission that seemed to have no clear end. When his national security team gathered in the White House Situation Room on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 2009, for its eighth strategy review session, the president erupted.”

“So what’s my option? You have given me one option,” Obama said, directly challenging the military leadership at the table, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen and Army General David Petraeus, then head of U.S. Central Command.

“We were going to meet here today to talk about three options,” Obama said sternly. “You agreed to go back and work those up.”

Mullen protested. “I think what we’ve tried to do here is present a range of options.”

Obama begged to differ. Two weren’t even close to feasible, they all had acknowledged; the other two were variations on the 40,000.

Silence descended on the room. Finally, Mullen said, “Well, yes, sir.”

No options but war!

But Obama ended up not forcing the military to provide any real options to increased war.

And now, we are waist deep in the big muddy of Afghanistan and the President says “push on.”

We desperately need a sergeant to turn our platoon around and head us back to the safety of the shore before we all drown in the costs of war-human and financial.

Lyrics to Waist Deep In The Big Muddy
By Pete Seeger

The Sergeant said, “Sir, with all this equipment
No man will be able to swim.”
“Sergeant, don’t be a Nervous Nellie,”
The Captain said to him.
“All we need is a little determination;
Men, follow me, I’ll lead on.”
We were — neck deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool said to push on.

All at once, the moon clouded over,
We heard a gurgling cry.
A few seconds later, the captain’s helmet
Was all that floated by.
The Sergeant said, “Turn around men!
I’m in charge from now on.”
And we just made it out of the Big Muddy
With the captain dead and gone.

We stripped and dived and found his body
Stuck in the old quicksand.
I guess he didn’t know that the water was deeper
Than the place he’d once before been.
Another stream had joined the Big Muddy
‘Bout a half mile from where we’d gone.
We were lucky to escape from the Big Muddy
When the big fool said to push on.

Well, I’m not going to point any moral;
I’ll leave that for yourself
Maybe you’re still walking, you’re still talking
You’d like to keep your health.
But every time I read the papers
That old feeling comes on;
We’re — waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool says to push on.

Waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool says to push on.
Waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool says to push on.
Waist deep! Neck deep! Soon even a.
Tall man’ll be over his head, we’re
Waist deep in the Big Muddy!
And the big fool says to push on!

It was back in nineteen forty-two,
I was a member of a good platoon.
We were on maneuvers in-a Loozianna,
One night by the light of the moon.
The captain told us to ford a river,
That’s how it all begun.
We were — knee deep in the Big Muddy,
But the big fool said to push on.

ann wright

The Sergeant said, “Sir, are you sure,
This is the best way back to the base?”
“Sergeant, go on! I forded this river
‘Bout a mile above this place.
It’ll be a little soggy but just keep slogging.
We’ll soon be on dry ground.”
We were — waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool said to push on.

Ann Wright, War Is a Crime

Published by the LA Progressive on October 2, 2010
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