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


  1. Michaelc says

    To a hammer every problem looks like a nail. Only a fool asks the military to give him non-military options.

  2. Joshua says

    Obama is hardy worthy of the title Seargent, he is more akin to a butter bar who is gonna “teach” the experts how it’s done. Those you call “Captians” are actually the Seargents, they know how to fight wars, thats what they do, thats what they know (and they don’t teach that at Harvard).

    As long as there are failed states , there will be places where groups like Al Queda can hide and conspire against civilization. Look to Somalia, when the UN and US pulled out ,it became a haven for terrorists and pirates. Look at Yeman, Look at Afganistan prior to 9/11. The world couldn’t be bothered to help these countries get back on their feet after their problems BUT the World has payed for their lack of interest.

    Those countries didn’t have anything the world wanted, so their people were left to live in “No-mans land” and we are suprised that much of worlds recent problems come from the very same locations that weren’t “strategicly important” 20 years ago. Is it any wonder why international thugs migrate to these places? Where else can you train an army that has no allegence to any Nation State?

    If we leave , we will have to go back, that’s a fact

    • Michaelc says

      You must be kidding about the lack of strategic importance of our current trouble spots 20 years ago. Afganistan was the site of our proxy war against the USSR carried out by Mujahideen and our hired gun Osama. Iran, our hired gun the Shah, Guns for Hostages? Iraq, Desert Storm and our hired gun Saddam?

      If there is a single consistent lesson from history it is that the trouble spots of yesterday are usually the trouble spots of tomorrow.

  3. says

    Fred F says it all about this aspect of the Obama presidency.

    Common sense in Afghanistan has always called for minimum force to achieve maximum feasible effect, then clear out. The Bush and now especially Obama course in Afghanistan has been the exact opposite. Too bad about lives lost. The objective apparently was and remains to demonstrate that B. and O. are and were macho enough to keep fighting no matter what.

    Never mind the lack of feasible worthy on-the-ground objectives. Never mind even pursuing worthy and feasible limited but high-impact air strikes next door in Iran – on vulnerable military targets valued by the domestically repressive and externally terror-sponsoring regime, whose clients have long been targeting American troops, preventing Palestine-Israel peace, and achieving other mayhem.

    But yet other key aspects of this presidency have featured an inability to define clear worthy objectives and then actually go public and insist on them before utterly compromising them away into ineffectuality, inscrutability or nigh-meaninglessness.

    One telling example (besides med insurance, Wall-Street regs, etc.) concerns greenhouse gas emissions and resulting climate change. Presidential action on this matter mutated remarkably in just four months: from postures in Copenhagen, to proclaiming a need not only to burn oil to continue gas emissions, but moreover to make sure to extract that oil from the deep sea. The BP spill was not Obama’s doing, but in effect he and his chosen Interior Sec. asked for it and were (and remain) nigh feckless in coping with the likes of it.

  4. Fred Farkle says

    Well this tea partier agrees that our Afghan occupation is nuts. The idea that we’re accomplishing anything good by pouring out tons of bullets and money over there, for a decade or more, is foolish and bizarre.

    Bomb their terror camps to dust? Good idea, took about a month. We should have pretty much packed up right then and headed home.

    Promise to bomb them to smithereens again at the first faint sign of any further Islamist hanky-panky? Absolutely, and make sure they get the message loud and clear!

    But we have no clear goals for being there now – none of our officials can even tell us what a victory would look like.

    Hey, Prez-O, you generals, and congress-critters: either convince us all that what our boys are doing makes some sense, national-security-wise … or bring them home!

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