Truth or Consequences

My Lai

Truth or Consequences was once a TV game show and a town in New Mexico.

In the real world, there is always truth, and ignoring the truth has terrible consequences. In Vietnam, we tried to demonstrate that advanced technology could conquer Stone Age nationalism. Using guns that could fire thousands of bullets a minute, chemicals that could incinerate whole villages at once, and planes that could deliver the bullets and chemicals from miles in the air, we set out to inflict compassionate colonialism on the Vietnamese.

But we lost. The civilian “terrorists” on motorbikes, or hiding beside rice paddies, beat the highest technology fighting forces the world had ever seen. Just as rude farmers, crouching behind stone walls, had once beaten the better armed and trained Hessian “Redcoats” thrown against them.

We also used our military to prop up a wildly unpopular government in Saudi Arabia, in exchange for effective control of Saudi oil. But as with other such adventures, one consequence of creating a puppet Saudi ruling class was the need to educate some to administer our desires. As the British saw in India, and the French in Vietnam and Algeria, some of our educated Saudi puppets started to act out feelings of nationalism.

By the 1970s, the Saudis had decided that they could manage their own oil. They still wanted us to provide, and pay for, the military force to control their population. They sent us the bills, but kept the income for themselves.

As the birthplace of Islam, they spent money to honor and promote the religion. We encouraged them to foster the most extreme and intolerant Islamic sects. We taught them that religious extremes and the politics of divisiveness had been effective tools for managing plantations and textile mills in our own South – keeping profits up and workers down.

We encouraged them to export their religious beliefs, to support religious “freedom fighters” against Russia’s attempts to control Afghanistan. We mixed their religion with our politics and weapons, and told them that any excess was OK, if it served our transitory goals.

So, export they did – to Afghanistan and Sudan. To attack the USS Cole. Then, Saudi money paid for, and Saudi citizens planned and executed the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The “puppets” we propped up and the mujehadin we trained brought the religious intolerance we encouraged to our doorsteps.

This was not the first time we reaped what we sowed. In Vietnam, the military encouraged drug use by our troops, to help them quiet the nightmares and dull the pain. When the troops came home, our population of homeless, drug-addicted young men grew, and with it the crime necessary to afford drugs that had been free or nearly so “in country” in Vietnam. We drove Vietnamese peasants off their land, and drove their daughters into brothels to make a living and to soothe our young fighters. And venereal disease became a standard problem among our homeless, addicted vets.

Now we are paying new consequences for our foreign adventures. Do you recognize the names Maria Lauterbach or Megan Touma or Holly Wimunc? Each was a U.S. soldier. Each was murdered, this year, in North Carolina. Each was murdered by another U.S. soldier. All involved had served tours in either Iraq or Afghanistan. Each was killed because she had become a problem for her killer.

In California, the military has just dropped all charges against a sergeant who ordered his men to kill a group of handcuffed, sitting (or kneeling) Iraqi prisoners. They were killed because our soldiers had to move, and the prisoners were a problem.

The sergeant, and the soldiers accused of killing the women at Fort Bragg, and the increasing number of other post-Afghanistan and post-Iraq soldiers being charged with violent crimes, are part of the new consequences of our current philosophy of war and of social justice.

After Vietnam, the veterans who littered our streets, disabled by their memories or by drugs, were abandoned by a military that refused to take Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome seriously, and by a society that punished, rather than treated, the very behaviors it had encouraged during the war.

In the 1980s, Reagan the demigod authorized Colombian, El Salvadoran, and Honduran generals to traffic cocaine to fund their death squads, to contain civil unrest in Latin America. Prices plummeted in our cities and we still suffer the consequences.

Now our troops are being told that their mission is so important that the rules of war don’t apply. They are trained to believe that treaties can be ignored. And daily, they shoot down civilians who “may” or “might” or “could” pose a threat.

And when a soldier seems to get too enthusiastic about killing civilians, he is discharged, not treated. Treatment is too expensive. And our military still clings to its denial that mental health issues arise in the service – if one of these boys goes bad in uniform, it must mean he was bad before he signed up. Not our problem. Kick him out. Punish – don’t treat.

my-lai-1.gifPeople think that the one-half trillion dollar Bush/McCain deficit is the worst consequence of our imperial adventures. It is not. We are training tens of thousands of young people to kill as their first response to stress, as their primary approach to solving problems. And we are going to discharge them into a society of falling real incomes, curtailed educational opportunities, and nonexistent mental health treatment facilities.

Recently editor Robert Scheer pointed out (on KCRW’s “Left, Right & Center”), that no power that has tried to conquer Afghanistan has ever succeeded. Yet both presidential candidates have committed to expanding our effort to impose an inept, corrupt, and grossly unpopular government, of our choosing, on that country.

This is going to be worse than the post-Vietnam homeless vet problem. In Vietnam, we encouraged troops to self-medicate and to prove their studliness on the local women. But in Vietnam, we acknowledged war crimes. We prosecuted the officers who led the My Lai massacre. We prohibited water boarding and other atrocities.

Now, in the name of — what? — we order our troops to target civilians (“every civilian is potential terrorist”). We use water boarding and other tortures to extract confessions that our own FBI says are utterly unreliable. And when we’re caught at it, the Pentagon’s official policy is to excuse any officer accused of misconduct. Punish the grunts, the guardsmen, the weekend warriors. But never an officer.

The Vietnam vets brought home PTSD, drug addiction, and venereal diseases. Today’s vets will bring home contempt for rules at all levels, contempt for other (“alien”) viewpoints, and the belief that their highly trained killing skills are the best first response in any dispute.

tom_hall_2.jpgHow far we have come from General and President Eisenhower’s preference for negotiations over war (at the height of the Cold War, he invited Khrushchev to visit America), to General Westmoreland’s burning villages to save them, and to our new rejection of all rules of warfare.

And now even Obama wants to escalate in Afghanistan. The truth is that the consequences are going to be real, tragic, and expensive. Bush’s one-half trillion dollar deficit is going to be only a small down payment on the true social costs of “compassionate colonialism” and “no billionaire left behind.”

by Tom Hall

Tom Hall is a family law attorney. He is originally from Boston, where he grew up in the Cambridge Friends Meeting (Quakers), thinking that religion was a progressive force. During the Vietnam War, he organized draft counseling centers and worked with groups training people to participate in highly disciplined nonviolent demonstrations (real disciplined nonviolence is just plain maddening to police forces who count on demonstrators giving them reason to get ‘messy’ during public demonstrations). After the war, he became just another yuppie working to make himself a comfortable life. The Bush administration has shocked him back into social concerns. Tom can be reached at

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  1. Tony Valle says

    Mr. Hall,

    I read a grand total of one essay on this website: yours. I find that once you have read or heard one liberal, progressive, anti-captitalist, anti-military, anti-USA screed…you have read them all.

    You and Ms. Hamilton are so focused on my anger and hate….what about the hatred of the Jihadists that led to the bombings in Madrid, England, Bali and the USA? How is my supposed “hatred” a threat to you?

    There is nothing enlightening about your original article or any of your responses. I challenge your assertions and you offer nothing substantive to refute them. Your psycho babble about what “hatred” implies doesn’t makes sense. Hatred can spring from a multitude of sources whether it’s a well of total ignorance or as a result of a learned system of belief (such as Leftist Feminisim, militant Black Liberation Theology, or Jihadism).

    As to your point about the maddrassas…again, you assume that only illiterates (you refer to them with a cutesy expression, “illiterati”) are found in madrassas. In point of fact, the demographics of maddrassas include college and graduate school educated men, whether they are found in Europe or in a middle eastern cesspool. I thought everyone knew by now that many of the 9/11 hijackers were educated men from middle class backgrounds.

    You accuse me of hatred and ignorance, but again, you offer nothing to reveal your understanding of either Christianity, Islam, or the role of the US military in wars.

    I don’t try to pass myself as an expert, but I would dare say that I possess a greater understanding of the subjects you write about than you have revealed. What you reveal is a progressive (leftist) ideology that demonstrates a thinly veinly contempt for what America represents in the world.


    Tony Valle

  2. Tony Valle says

    If the USA taught the Mujahadeen to be “extreme and intolerant,” who taught the Shi’ites? Who taught the Muslims in Thailand to be violent? Who taught the Muslims currently invading, raping and slaughtering innocents in Africa how to be violent? Who taught the Muslims in Britain, France, Belgium and Spain to be violent and murderous? Did you know that almost 40% of Muslims enrolled in Universities today in Britain believe that “killing in the name of Islam” is justified? Do you honestly believe that Muslims would adopt a concept (killing in the name of Islam) that was taught to them by a Western nation? Everything they do, they do because their “perfect example” (Mohammed), did it and instructed them to do likewise including: marrying a child bride at the age of 9 (Aisha), honor killing, killing infidels, subjugating infidels, enslaving infidels, multiple marriages, cutting off hands and feet of criminals, beheadings, etc. Did the USA teach Saudis to keep their women in the home, unable to drive, to keep them covered up, to keep them out of schools as well?
    You may be a lawyer, but you need to learn something about Islam before posting an article that claims that it is the USA that fostered the most extreme elements of Islam. Even Muslims would be offended to read your ridiculous notion that we taught them to be extreme. They are proudly extreme and are willing to kill and die for their perverse faith (Jihadism or Islamofascism).
    Put your law school training to work and study more about this issue before you offer up inaccurate and contemptible drivel about the role of the USA in promoting “extremism.”

    Tony Valle

    • Lois Hamilton says

      Dear Mr. Valle,

      Why are you so afraid of a differing view from yours? Wy are you so angry and hatefull? If you dare to re-read your nasty personal attacks on Tom Hall, you should feel ashamed of yourself, but you won’t, because you are an example of the mean spirited devisiveness that the Right-Wing Patriarhs at our governments’s helm have shoved down the throats of peace loving Americans.

      Peace, Progress, Courage & Compassion,
      L. Hamilton
      Liberal and Proud od it!

      • Tony Valle says

        Dear Ms. Hamilton,

        Regrettably, neither you nor Mr. Hall address the substance of my response. Mr. Hall contends that it is the USA that is ultimately responsible for the aggression of Muslim Jihadists. I assert that Mr. Hall is dangerously misinformed and misguided about the threat of Global Islamic Jihadism (that has nothing to do with the actions of the USA). As a matter of fact, the INACTION of Bubba Clinton following the bombings of the embassies in Africa and the attack of the USS Cole EMBOLDENED Osama Bin Laden to carry out a “bigger operation” against the United States, and it confirmed for him (Bin Laden)that the USA was a “paper tiger” (under Democrat leadership). 9/11 took all of the Clinton years to prepare for (while Clinton dismantled the military) and was carried out while BUSH was in office less than one year.

        I am neither angry, nor hateful, nor am I afraid of a differing viewpoint. I am not ashamed either, because there is virtue in refuting these damnable, liberal leftist lies about the United States.

        I am providing a very valuable public service in giving you a more informed perspective on what is happening in the world, because Mr. Hall has not done so.


        Tony Valle

      • Tom Hall says

        Dear Ms. Hamilton,

        Thank you for your supporting comments. I agree that Mr. Valle is angry. But I wonder if he is hateful.

        Hate implies sufficient knowledge and understanding to form an informed view. Mr. Valle’s ad hominem attacks clearly show a deep lack of knowledge about the subjects he addresses. He is merely parroting talk radio, televangelists and bloggers who profit from selling hate to the Mr. Valles of the world. I think some of the madrassas set up to inculcate quite similar views into their illiterati are analogous to Mr. Valle’s sources.

        The anger is, of course, quite different. Anger often grows from fear – often from fear of the unknown. We perceive threats from what we don’t understand and use anger to build the energy to respond to the threat.

        And yet as divisive and mean spirited as his posts may seem at first blush, isn’t there something more important about them? They are here. On a progressive site. At some level, Mr. Valle is actually exploring viewpoints different from his. Right now he may still be doing it to find points to fire his anger/fear at.

        But he’s here, reading progressive essays. Can’t we just hope that he will begin to think about some of what he reads, rather than just reading to find points to attack? Is that the real audacity of hope?


  3. Tony Valle says

    Your theory that the United States Government taught Saudi Arabia to develop the most “extreme and intolerant” muslim sects is laughable, ridiculous, and a complete falsehood. The ideas of Jihad, Holy War, and killing in the name of Islam are found within the texts of the Koran and the Hadith that religious leaders use to inspire Muslims all over the world to kill on a daily basis (not just those in Saudi Arabia). Every day since September 11, 2001 there have been terrorist acts committed by Muslims (over 10,000),not to mention honor killings, beheadings, stonings for sexual crimes including the offense of being a single woman in the same room with a man). Even Muslims would be offended by the idea that we taught them how to be extreme! Your ignorance about Islam and your contempt for the role of the United States in confronting a war that was declared against it (as evidenced by the attack on the USS Cole, US embassies in Africa, the attack on 9/11, etc), renders you an incompetent writer and thinker on this issue.
    Law School taught you to argue both sides of an issue, but not to examine (all of) the evidence and arrive at the correct conclusion.
    Tony Valle

    • Tom Hall says

      Dear Mr. Valle:

      Thank you for your comments, which I think help with our understanding of the issues raised in my essay.

      I agree that it is possible to find passages in the Koran which are used to inspire killing. I assume that you would equally agree that there are passages in the Bible that are used the same way.

      Just as there are a variety of sects in Christianity, some quite violent and lawless, and others quite peaceful, there are a variety of sects within Islam. We see many stories of inter-sect Islamic violence, and we see too many stories of people claiming to be Christians murdering other people, over such disputed issues as civil rights and women’s health care.

      While it is true that Mohammed, who lived many centuries ago, without apparent scientific knowledge, seems to have viewed women as less than equal to men, it is also true that in this century, many for-profit televangelists, and the Southern Baptist Church, formally reject science and take the position that women are biologically and spiritually inferior to men and need not be given equal rights with men. As we have recently seen in Texas, there are self-proclaimed Christians who support child rape.

      But one needn’t agree with any given sect of Christianity or Islam to find that the consequences of our efforts at international hegemony have had in the past, and will continue to have in the future, tragic consequences for Americans of all religions.

      Tom Hall

      • Tony Valle says

        Dear Mr. Hall:

        Thank you for your tepid, neutered, boiler blate, liberal response that equates Christianity with radical Islamic theology. Let me state for the record, that I have never killed a man in the name of Jesus and the threat of it happening from any of the Christians that surround you is so remote as to not even be measurable. Even if we disagree with your condemnation of the USA and your apologia on behalf of radical Muslims, there is no threat to you for your views in a Christian or Jewish society.
        Can you name a single peaceful, Orthodox, Islamic “sect” that is creating a stable and prosperous environment for its residents? How are the Islamic states in Iran, Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon doing in providing freedoms and opportunities for its people? Let me guess…your standard response will be to blame Israel and the United States. Right. But this does not address the fundamental issue at hand which is that adherence to Orthodox Islam itself creates dysfunction, resentment, and retards personal, spiritual and financial growth as evidenced by all of the Modern Islamic states. You take away oil from the Gulf States and you would still have people living as if it were the Seventh century (in some respects, they still are).

        Is there a modern day movement within Orthodox Christianity or Judaism to kill infidels? The incidents that you cite about violent outbursts or attacks among “Christians” are thankfully rare, and they do not represent a movement of Christians who are waging a Jihad against Muslims or any other religious groups. Before you have a chance to whine about the Crusades, please do your homework to understand that the Crusades were a defensive response to continual Muslim aggression, war and invasions as they sought to spread Islam “by the sword.” Then, just as now, civilization has always needed to take up arms to defend itself against barbaric savagery.

        It seems ludicrous to me that Liberals such as yourself will always bring up “Christians” who have killed to offset the charge that Islam is a violent religion. I thought that 9/11 would prompt Liberals to wake up and understand that the threat of terrorism is real and ever present and Liberals have responded by stating that “Bush lied us into war.”
        I saw a bumper sticker that stated “Bush lied, and all your fears are based on lies.” Really?

        You are a nice man, but your ideas are dangerously misinformed and misguided. It would be wise for you to spend more time reading about Islam and understanding how modern day leaders such as Ahmadenijad view themselves as pivotal figures in the apocalyptic return of the “Hidden Imam,” The Mahdi, who will usher in a new age of Islamic domination (preceded by a nuclear conflagration or the “mother of all wars.”
        Your wish for peace can only be obtained as our military works with Israel in defending ourselves and each other from Islamic madness.
        And the best news? You will never be threatened by either a Christian or a Jew for holding such contemptible views, but a Muslim would behead you for refusing to convert to Islam.

        Your ideology cannot allow you to accept and understand the presence of evil in this world and how evil is conquered and defeated.

        Tony Valle

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