Wilkerson on Militarism and Regrets About Iraq War

Yves here. Even as the US has made American soldiers and reservists make more sacrifices through extended tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, it seems that the cost of our military misadventures is kept as far away from ordinary citizens as possible. One appalling change during the Iraq War was the successful prohibition against the press publicizing the return of felled soldiers. Before, commemorating the their return, with soldiers in dress uniform carrying the flag-shrouded coffin from the plane, was an important ritual acknowledging the passing. Of course, in modern wars, we also have fewer dead and more injured, not just loss of limb but also neurological injuries and PTSD.

Perhaps as a result of that, and perhaps also, the memory of America’s “good” World War II now a distant relic, Veteran’s Day no longer seems to have the significance to the American public that it did when I was a child. By contrast, when I was in Australia in 2002-2004, the press gave reverential coverage on Anzac Day to the few surviving World War I vets.

Wilkerson discusses his guilt, and what he believes is more generalized guilt, about asking American soldiers to risk and often lose life and limb in combats that are well divorced from traditional ideas about why military service is important: protecting the nation from foreign threats. Anyone with an operating brain cell knows our wars of convenience starting with (at least) Vietnam are a stain on this country, yet we keep at it for preservation of empire and profit.

By Paul Jay. Originally published at theAnalysis.news

Paul Jay

Hi. Welcome to the Analysis News. I’m Paul Jay. In a few seconds, I’ll be joined by Larry Wilkerson. We’re going to talk about November 11, Veterans Day in the United States, and Remembrance Day in Canada, which is supposed to honor soldiers who have sacrificed their lives. But just how much is that about honor, and how much is it about promoting militarism, and what actually is done for veterans in the United States and Canada, which I don’t think amounts to much. Back in just a few seconds. Please don’t forget the donate button. Come over to the website if you’re on YouTube or if you’re listening on one of the different podcast platforms, come to the website where you can donate. And please get up on the email list. Be back in just a few seconds.

So, as I said, November 11 in the United States is Veterans Day in Canada. It’s Remembrance Day, which mostly comes out of the in Canada, at least from the First World War. I think the name Veterans Day came during or after the Korean War, but it amounts to the same thing. It’s a day which is supposed to be where we remember the sacrifices soldiers made in order to maintain our quote unquote way of life and quote unquote, democracy.

And no doubt many soldiers made enormous sacrifices and did give their lives and were wounded and destroyed themselves in many ways, believing they were fighting for what was just believing they were fighting for the good of their families, their countries and such. I think in most cases, that wasn’t the case. I think a lot of soldiers died in unjust wars. But what we do on November 11 is not talk about how to avoid unjust wars, how to avoid new military confrontations. What’s done in both countries is to create this mythology and a kind of I would call false patriotism. And we’re in a very dangerous world now where we can’t afford such culture now. Joining me to talk about this is a man who spent much of his life in the military, colonel Larry Wilkerson. Thanks for joining us, Larry.

Larry Wilkerson

Thanks for having me, Paul. Especially on Veterans Day.

Paul Jay

So what are your thoughts on Veterans Day? And as I say in Canada, Remembrance Day?

Larry Wilkerson

I think in the United States, it’s been transfigured majorly from what purpose most Americans would attribute to it. And your opening comments alluded to some of that. But the major thing that troubles me about the transaction of it, if you will, is that it no longer represents what we think as Americans it should represent, which is what you detail there defense of the homeland, patriotism, a certain degree of positive nationalism, if you will. If nationalism can have a degree of positivism and the kind of thing that we celebrate rather than denigrate, Today Veterans Day marks the fear, the apathy, the guilt Americans feel about their veterans because they know intuitively, if not intellectually. And I think increasingly both, that they’ve sent them to wars for the past 20 plus years. They were absolutely not for anything but the national security state, corporate benefactors like Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Boeing, Grumman, and other defense contractors, merchants of death, and for the billionaires in the world who make so much money off of wars like they are making, for example, off the war in Ukraine right now. That’s why we fight, and that’s why we create veterans.

And let me just say to close my opening comment, that’s why I feel an enormous amount of guilt. No matter how small my contribution might have been, it nonetheless was palpable to putting across the case for war with Iraq in 2003. A preposterous war, a war that killed British citizens, American citizens, other allies, and literally hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and others in the region and put millions of them into diaspora or made them refugees within their own countries and destabilize the Levant. The Middle East, for years, probably won’t see it stabilized again in our lifetimes. And it all started with 2003 and our invasion of Iraq, and it was for nothing, nothing at all positive, unless you count making Halliburton $44 billion a positive. That’s what bothers me. And the other thing is, we’ve gone from a veterans department that the DoD wanted to move out of its budget profile because it was beginning to cost so much at 35 and $40 billion a year to a Veterans administration. Now, that costs 245 plus billion dollars a year. And that’s all because of the stupid wars we’ve had over the last 20 plus years.

And they still don’t service our veterans as adequately, comprehensively, and positively as they should.

Paul Jay

Well, the suicide rates amongst former retired military veterans, PTSD, homelessness, I mean, the levels are stratospheric. I don’t have the numbers off the top of my head, but I think veterans are one of the most significant portions of homeless people. The lack of care. And then there’s these Veterans Day, when the reality is veterans are treated like shit.

Larry Wilkerson

As I said, it’s out of fear, guilt, apprehension. Veterans will tell you more than not. They will tell you if you thank them for their service, and they have a moment to comment. Don’t thank me for my service. I don’t want to be thanked for my service. I’m really conflicted over my service. Where did you serve, by the way? And then the person at the airport or the ballgame or whatever will turn and walk away or look sheepishly at them and say, well, I didn’t serve. That’s the majority of Americans, less than 1% of Americans have served in these wars over this last 20 years. That’s boys and girls. And it’s tragic that that’s the circumstance. But when you have that kind of circumstance, no war tax, no threat to the average family, that their son or daughter will be drafted, you’re going to have more war because it’s so much easier to do, and there’s so much less political pushback because so few people are involved.

Paul Jay

People who watch theAnalysis know I’ve mentioned this a couple of times. I have ten year old twins, and in their school, they’ve been reciting this poem which was taught to me decades ago. It’s called in Flanders Fields the Poppies BLow. And this is to commemorate a battle that took place during the first world war in Flanders fields, where thousands of Canadian soldiers were sent to their deaths for absolutely no reason. And this is now venerated year after year after year in schools. And it’s on the surface supposed to be a poem where we have sorrow about these young men that were slaughtered. But the actual heart of that poem comes in later in the second or third stanza, which essentially says, if you don’t pick up our torch, you will be betraying those of us who died. And in fact, that poem, which is taught in schools up to this day, was a recruiting mechanism to get more soldiers to go fight in the First World War and get slaughtered in their tens and tens of thousands for a war that did nothing but make arms manufacturers rich and helped create the conditions for the rise of fascism in Germany.

And we don’t talk about any of this. It’s just this sort of vague nationalism about fighting and serving and preparing kids again to go off to war. I had a really interesting interview a few years ago with general Louis Mackenzie the Canadian general, and he said something which was I don’t know, he was far more frank than I’ve ever heard a military guy, and he went on to a bit of political career. But he said to me, we need soldiers who don’t know history. If they really knew history, why on earth would they go off and do what we tell them to and go die in these wars? So we need them to be uneducated about these things. And boy, things haven’t changed.

Larry Wilkerson

Yeah. Poems like Flanders Fields and some of Richard Kipling’s writings and others of that ilk are basically hymns written by people who are defending the right. And many of these points know this they’re defending the right of very rich men and increasingly today women, who send young boys and girls to die for state purposes so they don’t have to go themselves or so they can make more money. That’s really what it’s all about. The greek said, old men send young boys to die, and then in parentheses, because the state needs preserving. Well, today it’s not even the preservation of the state. Tell me how our invasion of Iraq had anything to do with preserving America. I remember the blatant lie that Tony Blair told prime minister Tony Blair, I almost fell off my chair in the state department chief of staff’s office. Literally almost fell off my chair when I heard it on the TV, because Powell had just told me, watch it, Prime Minister Blair, he’s going to make a speech. And so we had the CNN on, I think it was, and we were looking up there and all of a sudden he said, well, in 45 minutes, san Hussein could blanket London with poisonous gasses.

Where did he get that? Powell said. And I said, probably the same place he got this dossier he just sent over to us, which we found out later had been written by a grad student or something like that. Told about all the things that Saddam Hussein had from the first war and what he could do with them, and all this. There’s just a hodgepodge of someone who’d gone through, like, a plagiaristic student, picking things out of other people’s articles and putting it together. And this was Britain’s public policy campaign to support its entry into the war in Iraq. And here’s Blair giving the ultimate statement and saying that in 45 minutes, the weapons could actually hit London. We knew that was preposterous. I think it was. Tom Finger was in my office. He was the deputy in our guy, our intel guy. Tom was a very good intel specialist, and there’s no foundation to that whatsoever. No foundation whatsoever. And the phones rang off the hook as the White House asked us where he got the information. And we asked the White House where he got the information, but we were telling similar lies. Indeed, we would go to the United Nations and put a whole pack of lies out.

A whole pack of lies. I wish I’d known there were lies at the time. Had I known there were lies, maybe I wouldn’t have helped put them out. Why were they lies and why didn’t I know it? I’ve asked myself that question a hundred times. But that brings me to my point. My great angst on Veterans Days is all the boys and girls, mostly boys at that time, that I helped send into harm’s way. And some of them didn’t come back, or some of them came back like the young man on the first day, I went over to Walter Reed, to the Wounded Warrior Project, the National Military Medical Center. Now. Walter Reed. And I met him. He was the Air Force’s only triple amputee. Triple amputee. He’s sitting across the table from me as best he could. He’s getting a prosthetic arm, he’s getting a prosthetic right leg, and they’re working on his left leg. They’ve built him a van. He can drive. His wife was a third grade school teacher in Tampa, Florida, and she came up and stayed with him for 19 months through something like 18 surgeries. And I’m looking at him and I’m saying to myself, my God, he’s a triple amputee.

And he’s sitting here across, drinking a cup of coffee. And I had something to do with putting him there. And the Marine sitting next to him had only one leg. His right leg was severed at the knee, and he felt like he was comfortably okay because Joe was sitting there with a missing arm and two missing legs. And I’m thinking, this is the detritus. This is the refuse. This is the aftermath of this war. How horrible this is. And by that time, I had learned quite a bit. It was all a forest. It was all a forest. Not only were there no WMD, if you go through the streets of Iraq today, especially Alambar province or Baghdad itself, and you ask the average Iraqi merchant, male or female, if they were better off under Saddam Hussein, or better off now, they’ll tell you without equivocation they were better off under Saddam Hussein. So what did we do all that for and why did we do it? And when you start answering those questions categorically and with some authenticity to your answers, it’s revolting. It truly is revolting, because we did it for money, basically. We did it for money, and we did it for the complex, and we did it for people who, like I used Halliburton, dick Cheney’s favorite company.

I mean, he was CEO of Halliburton before he became vice President of the United States. $44 billion they made off of Iraq and Afghanistan combined in the years of those wars. That’s why we have wars. And we ask ourselves, why do these people come home and commit suicide? Why do they have posttraumatic stress? Well, there are a lot of reasons, but one of those reasons has to be just has to be logically speaking, it just has to be that they come home and they understand what they’ve done. They understand they spent three tours in Iraq shooting at women and children and other soldiers, and they were shooting at them not for freedom and democracy, not even for the defense of their nation, but for Lockheed Martin, or for Oliverten or for George W. Bush or for Donald Rumsfeld.

I think it’s important for viewers that don’t know that you were not just some bureaucrat in an office sending people to their deaths or to fight. You believed all this yourself and went to fight in Vietnam and put your own life on the line. You could have easily been one of these people because you so believed the mythology. How did you get from that person who volunteers to go to Vietnam and fight to a person who now is one of the sharpest critics of US. Foreign policy?

It was a long, difficult road in the distance from Vietnam to just before I became what you might call a member of the top power echelon in Washington, first when he was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Colin Powell, and then when he was Secretary of State. The distance between Vietnam and there I learned about Vietnam. So it’s not like I went into the Iraq war totally ignorant of what had been done to me in Vietnam. I not only learned about Vietnam, I taught it at the Naval War College. At the Marine Corps War College. So I’m entering and this increases my guilt. As far as I’m concerned, I’m entering this environment of war with Iraq in 2002 and early 2003 with this sure knowledge of Vietnam being a forest. Worse than a forest. Not even a tragic forest, a divolical forest where so many boys and girls were killed, where 59,000 names are over there on that black marble wall that don’t need to be there. And I went into this with that idea, as did Colem Powell. One of the first things he told me, as we knew that we were getting closer and closer to war in January, early January, right after Christmas, 20 02 20 03 we knew that there were so many similarities between Vietnam and Iraq that we needed to tell the president about them.

So he ordered me to get a he ordered me to get a hold of everything I could get on the Vietnam War, from David Halberson to General Throck Morton to whoever had written something about the Vietnam War telling LBJ, don’t do this, don’t do this. Or had written afterwards about you shouldn’t have done this. LBJ all the material. And then he said something that was kind of with a smile. He won’t read any of it. So we’ll just do a memo. We’ll do a one or two page memo summarizing all of it, because we can get him to read that he being George W. Bush President of the United States. So we did all that, and we shifted over to the executive secretary to Condi Rice, a national security advisor, and we said, you got to tell the president about this. This is looking a lot like Vietnam. Did he read it? Did he do anything about it? Did he have any conversation with anybody about it? I mean, Powell told me he didn’t even think he read it. It didn’t have any impact at all. So then I walked over to the CIA to listen to George Tenant and John Mcglaugh and tell me all about how Saddam Hussein does have weapons of mass destruction, et cetera, et cetera.

But everything pointed towards possession of WMD that we were shown. And if he was working on an active nuclear program, as General Powell said repeatedly, that was the only one that really frightened him, then we needed to do something. Did we need to invade? Did we need to do that? Maybe not. Today I look back on it, and I wish that I had done what I anticipated doing. When I was asked to put together the UN presentation that was quit, retire, get out, leave, resign. Go tell the president I was leaving. But I didn’t. And so that’s the reason I come full circle. That’s the reason I say I share some of the blame for those boys and girls who were killed in Iraq.

Paul Jay

In a recent interview I did with Dan Ellsberg, who released the pentagon papers, but before that worked for ran corporation were developing american nuclear war plans, he said, both for his participation in the nuclear war planning and his role in vietnam. Prior to the pentagon papers released. If he was accused of war crimes, he said he wouldn’t plead not guilty.

Larry Wilkerson

Nor would I. I once said publicly if Dick Cheney will go before the bar, I’ll go with him.

Paul Jay

Well, you certainly made amends. Cheney should have been and still should be along with Bush charged with war crimes for the Iraq war.

Larry Wilkerson

Most significant comment I ever made to Colon Powell was when he was going on the show for memorial day, the concert on the capitol loan. And I said, you know, sir, best thing you can say, the best thing you could stand up there and say is stop these stupid wars and quit making veterans. Of course he wasn’t going to say.

Paul Jay

That, but that’s a good ending. Alright, that’s good. Thanks very much Larry.

Larry Wilkerson

Thank you.

Paul Jay

Take care and thank you for joining us on theAnalysis.news

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  1. rob

    I’ve always heard rumors of these things called “laws” and “rules”, but I’ve come to realize that is just “something people say”.
    It is something people who pretend the world is working, use to make themselves feel better.

    If the good col. Wilkerson wants to add to his dawning to the depth of the depravity of our war machine, he needs to include the pretense for this whole “new american century”

    only a fragment of what has been “known” for twenty years, about 9/11…
    finally shown
    Where will people take this?

  2. S Haust


    “When you were a child”, it was probably Armistice Day, was it not?

    The difference in what is being memorialized is huge.

    I was in grade school then and I do remember that Armistice Day
    was a big deal. I wonder now whether we will ever again be able to
    observe a moment of silence regularly, whether at 11 AM or any
    other time.

  3. The Rev Kev

    Since Remembrance Day in Canada was mentioned, I will repeat a link I gave yesterday about how it went down in Toronto-


    We hold a minute’s silence here in Oz too. The point of that day is to remember those that did not come back-

    ‘They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
    Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
    At the going down of the sun and in the morning
    We will remember them.’

    But what is not remembered is what war is like-

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3fewueSTMBs (2:59 mins)

    1. Dick Swenson

      And read “What it is Like to Go To War” by Karl Marlantes (2011). It took this Vietnam war veteran 30 years to write. And if it isn’t enough, read “War is a Force that Gives us Meaning” by Chris Hedges (2003). This small book written by a war correspndent will take you weeks to read. It will make you feel angry and sad at the same time.

      Everything that needs to be said has been said in these two books.

      1. Jams O'Donnell

        It’s all a problem of education. You can go back to ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ and ‘The Good Soldier Schwiek’ from WWI – even the ‘The Peloponessian War’ from Ancient Greece – but if no-one makes children read them then they might as well not exist. And it’s in the interests of the state that children don’t read them, so they don’t, and so they believe the convenient lies and go off to get maimed and killed.

        Or as Herman Goering said:

        “Of course the people don’t want war. That is understood … But after all it is the leaders who determine the policy and it is a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, a parliament or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.”

        There are of course exceptions – Russia at present IS really being attacked, by the US, which in turn is being attacked – in it’s delusions of continuing control – by China

    2. Kouros

      The guy that posted that clip also said that ” We remember those who stood up and fought for democracy.” That Canadian General hit the bull’s eye, having people not knowing history. WWI was definitely not about democracy but about empire and conquest and “honour”… Women didn’t even have the right to vote and I am not sure that the franchise was extended to all men.

    3. Janie

      If you can, visit Verdun. It’s not that far northeast of Paris, and it’s near, or maybe in, champagne country. To see what war is like, Andrei Martyanov recommends the movie “‘Come and See”. (I haven’t seen it – too chicken.)

    4. Parker Dooley

      I prefer Wilfred Owen:

      Dulce et Decorum est
      Anthem for Doomed Youth

      Neither would be considered to be motivators for recruitment. Both were used by Benjamin Britten as text for his War Requiem, a beautiful, appropriate and moving work for Armistice Day listening. Owen, 25,was killed one week before the Armistice.

  4. Candide

    One thing that reminds me of the active nature of the NC blog is the inevitable typo that results from a remarkable amount of text generated… and it’s easy to fly past those.

    However the robot that generated this transcript needs correcting, for using the word “forest” instead of “farce.” Major statement, major misdirection of meaning:

    “I’m entering this environment of war with Iraq in 2002 and early 2003 with this sure knowledge of Vietnam being a forest. Worse than a forest. Not even a tragic forest, a diabolical forest where so many boys and girls were killed, where 59,000 names are over there on that black marble wall that don’t need to be there.”

    Thanks for this post and for all the efforts at honest meaning.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      We did not produce the transcript. It came from theAnalysis.news, I did them a disservice by not including their note saying this one was machine-generated and they would be putting up a cleaned-up version.

  5. Stephen

    Thanks for posting this. Quite a moving interview and Larry Wilkerson says some things that must be very difficult for him.

    War has become too easy for western countries to wage. Ukraine, almost a pure proxy war, with foreigners doing the dying (something that has even boasted about) is the most obvious example. But in all the recent wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and going back to Vietnam it is clear that US / western deaths were a fraction of the total. We also have to remember that only a small fraction of the military, mainly (but not exclusively) junior combat infantrymen incur by far the lion’s share of the risk.

    Fully agree too about the futility of wars such as WW1 and even the rationale for WW2 has been questioned by revisionist histories such as that of Peter Hitchens in “The Phoney War”. But there was a need to mobilize all of society to fight them: for example something like 70% of all British men born from 1915 to 1927 served in the armed forces in one capacity or another (quoted in Browned Off and Bloody Minded by Alan Allport). Additionally, elites were heavily affected by these wars. For example, Herbert Asquith, UK Prime Minister who took the country into WW1 lost a son on the Western Front. Contrary to popular myth, Generals were not safe either. At the start of WW1 the British lost so many general officers that in early 1915 they even issued an order telling senior officers not to take unnecessary risks. Recent western wars have been relatively cost less though or even profitable for senior political and military elites.

    I believe that up to the late 80s we had a political class and a broader public in most western countries that understood the true cost and futility of war because oftentimes they had seen it at first hand. The price paid for that experience was all too high but it has been lost. Instead, war seems now to be treated as a game and as a business opportunity.

    1. Colonel Smithers

      Thank you, Stephen.

      Asquith fils has a memorial at Amiens cathedral, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raymond_Asquith. I was there and in Arras and Senlis in June and came across more.

      The heir to what became my senior school in 1923, Captain Richard Morgan-Grenville, fell at Ploegsteert in December 1914. His family home was sold some years later.

      When my father was fighting in the Falklands and first gulf war, Mark Thatcher was counting money in Hong Kong.

  6. ex-PFC chuck roast

    It is a pleasure to hear from a man who will forever seek redemption.

    Bring back the draft.

    1. John Wright

      Bringing back the draft will not accomplish much.

      Drafted US soldiers remotely commanding drones puts the solders at psychological risk. not physical risk, and the US could sort for the personalities that would handle the drone task well.

      Given the USA worship of finance, it would be far better to allow wronged foreign citizens to recover damages from the USA. Note that the EU wants to use the confiscated Russian $300 billion reserves to rebuild the Ukraine and that Poland wants 1.3T in reparations from Germany for WWII.


      I remember when Paul Wolfowitz stated that Iraq could fund its own rebuilding, which was a way of spinning that Iraq would sell their oil to simply restore Iraq to the state BEFORE the USA “shock and awe”.events.

      From: https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2018/03/iraq-oil/555827/

      “Paul Wolfowitz, then the U.S deputy secretary of defense, told a congressional panel in March 2003. “We’re dealing with a country that could really finance its own reconstruction, and relatively soon.””

      Why should the Iraqi’s need to use THEIR oil to rebuild the damages caused by an invading foreign power?

      The USA should have to pay reparations to wronged foreign nations and leaders who misled the USA citizens into supporting these devastating wars should pay a price rather than be “rehabilitated”, by the Democratic party no less, as GW Bush has been.

      1. Jeotsu

        I’d be curious to know how commanding drones to fire on obvious military targets (uniformed opponents in a defined area of conflict, often with very-obviously-military armoured vehicles and artillery) affects the psyche and causes PTSD vs using those same drones against civilians, or military targets indistinguishable from civilians.

        War and killing will still do bad things to your brain, but much of the drone footage coming out of Ukraine is very different in tone and character to the Predator-footage we saw so much coming out of the ‘Stans these last 2 decades.

        1. John Wright

          One could imagine that a drone operator could be presented synthesized pre-processed video in which all people and vehicles were always “military” in nature.

          Good for morale….

    2. KLG

      An inescapable Draft that included the children of the PMC would make a huge impact on warmongering as the default position of our so-called leadership. When Tripp and Heather are as likely to return home through Dover in a box, or spend three years in rehabilitation at Walter Reed, as Juan and Maria, something will be different. Charles Rangel was correct.

      1. John Wright

        Here is a story about televangelist Pat Robertson.

        “In his letter, Mr. McCloskey said he and Mr. Robertson were on the same troop ship to Japan on their way to Korea as second lieutenants in February 1951. The former Congressman added that his ”single distinct memory” was of Mr. Robertson waving goodbye from the dock at Kobe, Japan, ”and telling us that his father had pulled some strings in Washington to keep him out of combat duty.””


        Drafted, but not being at risk, might be acceptable for children of USA war policy makers.

        An inescapable draft might have a lot of safe harbors for the well connected,

        1. Lysias

          When I realized I would not be able to escape the Vietnam War draft, I did some investigating and conferring with recruiters and determined that, if I did well in the military’s language aptitude test, the military would assign me as a linguist, a relatively safe assignment. So that is what I did: I joined the Air Force (the safest of the services), took the language aptitude test, was sent to the Defense Language Institute in Monterey to learn Romanian, spent nine months in Monterey studying, then (because I turned out to have passed the military’s German language proficiency test while in basic training) succeeded in getting myself assigned to Berlin as a German linguist for the remainder of my four-year enlistment.

  7. dingusansich

    “But everything pointed towards possession of WMD that we were shown.”

    A quote comes to mind: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

    It seems that L.W., an intelligent and experienced man at the apex of his career, ran into a wall of cognitive dissonance. He knew about the deceit and folly of Vietnam. He surely was aware that parties with agendas other than impartial presentation of facts could control what he was shown. Yet his position, his good standing, his status, depended on not knowing that. In that situation people find that, as Upton Sinclair says, they no longer understand what they understand. They doubt what they know. They find rationalizations. They dare not oppose the passionate intensity of the worst and quiet their lack of conviction.

    I see that as a social and institutional phenomenon. It takes great intellectual and moral courage, and from a pragmatic perspective a bit of craziness, to give up long-sought and difficultly obtained status and what goes with it. It is not an enviable position. So you write a memo to a guy who, when presented with a report titled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.,” derisively said, “All right, you’ve covered your ass.” Nor forget that if you’re a nail that sticks out, a multitude of mighty big hammers are ever ready to come down. You go along.

    If there were some answer beyond a willingness to say, at great personal risk, “And yet it moves,” which even Galileo probably didn’t, I’d like to suggest it. In pyramidal architectures of power it’s hard to see what it might be, and I incline toward Franklin’s words of equivocal endorsement in his address to the constitutional convention:

    In these sentiments, Sir, I agree to this Constitution with all its faults, if they are such; because I think a general Government necessary for us, and there is no form of Government but what may be a blessing to the people if well administered, and believe farther that this is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in Despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic Government, being incapable of any other.

    It is Wilkerson’s personal tragedy to have failed his test. It is a larger historical tragedy that only rarely will someone in a position of authority pass it.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I don’t want to sound like I am defending Wilkerson. But I happen to have a friend from a hard core military family. One of her brothers was staff to the Joint Chiefs and sat in on all the big meetings and was witness to major decisions.

      In the runup to the Iraq War, I had major arguments with her: “UN Weapons Inspector Hans Blix is going through sites in order of important. He’s already gone through 75% of them. If Saddam has anything, he’s moving it around on trucks.” She was so energetic and convinced, second hand, that it now seems there was some pretty persuasive-looking evidentiary shock and awe.

      She became livid over based on what her brother had told her, which she said was Joint Chiefs were being told, that a mere saltshaker size of WMD was incredibly dangerous.

      First, this is insane. That much in nerve agents (which I assume is the highest toxicity/volume item) would at most be a with-Iraq threat.

      But second, this suggests the Joint Chief were getting cooked intel. Admittedly one branch could have been conning another, or this could have been the CIA.

  8. spud

    the free traders that run the world could care less about the lives of the deplorable. all they care about is being able to use money to purchase things on the free market any where in the world, such as artillery shells from south korea, free of pesky democratic controls.

    the dollar is their god, the military is their hammer.

    1. Colonel Smithers

      Thank you, JCC. At Heathrow airport this spring, dad was stunned to be thanked for his service, a first for him in the UK. Dad was puzzled and amused, as he’s cynical about all this, and asked why. The immigration control officer was also ex RAF.

  9. Karma

    The US military veterans of the last few decades since the draft ended can be grouped into at least 3 broad categories:
    1. Those deluded patriots who honestly believed that by enlisting they were serving their country in the tradition of their citizen-soldier predecessors. Through state propaganda and the (mis)education system they were duped. They are guilty of being ignorant of history and the reality of the evil they were signing up to serve, and of being gullible and naive, and should be responsible for those failures. That is sad, but forgivable.
    2.Those people who signed up strictly for the pay and benefits; in other words, mercenaries — people willing to kill other human beings for money, no different than a mafia hit man. Mercenaries practice the most degraded profession on this planet and have been a plague on mankind for centuries.
    3. Those psychopaths who signed up hoping for the chance to legally commit murder under the guise of military service. As Ernest Hemingway put it: “There is no hunting like the hunting of man, and those who have hunted armed men long enough and liked it, never care for anything else thereafter.” What is even more outrageous and sickening is that these psychos don’t care whether they are destroying other armed men or innocent civilians as long as they get to experience “the thrill of the kill.”

    One can feel pity for those unfortunates in the first group. Though not entirely innocent (they could and should have known better what they were really signing up for), their motives were not ignoble.
    As for the other two groups of veterans (especially the third), they richly deserve whatever hell they are suffering now. They helped destroy entire nations, murdering hundreds of thousands of men, women and children and plunging millions more into lives of poverty and wretched misery. Karma is indeed a bitch….

    1. Kouros

      Isn’t there a #4 which refers to all the poor Americans with absolutely no chance for betterment and putting a leg up the ladder other than joining the military and maybe getting an education, like J. Vance, the new Senator from Ohio?

      Your #2 I think includes mostly these #4 people I have in mind, people who likely not think that they have to eventually kill other people and then live with the trauma, when they sign to join.

      1. Anthony G Stegman

        The military advertisements stimulate a specific part of a young person’s brain in order to seduce them into joining the military. The advertisements appeal to young peoples need to belong, to their desire for excitement and challenge, and to a lesser extent their feelings of patriotism. Military commercials on TV never show torn and battered bodies; either of American service members or of the enemy. That part of military service is sanitized away.

      2. HotFlash

        My nephew enlisted in the Air Force after high school as it was the only chance he had for a higher education, so your Case #4 type. I was shocked and blurted out to my sister, “I didn’t know that B was a killer!” “Oh, no, he’s going to learn aircraft mechanics, and that’ll get him a good job afterward.” I remembered Cindy Sheehan, whose son Casey had been told by his recruiter that he would be a chaplain but ended up on the front lines, not as a chaplain but as a shooting-type soldier, and eventually dead. Young B, OTOH, left the airforce before his enlistment term was up, never was out of the states, I think, but don’t know the circs as they don’t talk about it. Who knows?

      3. Karma

        That excuse #4 also applies to all the poor Germans who joined the Nazi Party and and all the poor Italians who joined the Fascists and all the poor people who joined the various Communist parties. They directly or indirectly ended up killing foreign people or, even worse, oppressing or murdering their own fellow citizens (and the way things are going, we may soon get to see how the US military will act if and when ordered to do so).
        So yes, #2 does indeed include all #4 — there is no “innocent subset” distinction.

        1. Kouros

          Thus the pyramidal society that cultivates poverty and puts people in position to seek to join the military for making a living and survival should be criticized, not only the individuals making this decision, which you seems inclined to do.

          1. JCC

            Agreed! There is a #4.

            At the time I joined I was working 6 days a week at a minimum of 12 hours a day in a dead-end restaurant job. There were no major wars going on (prior to the 1st Iraqi War) and I was desperate to improve my chances at a decent, healthy, life. I had no money for college and was smart enough to get a decent job with a full year of electronics schooling within the Army that would in all likelihood keep me off any “front line”.

            And it was at a time when patriotism still meant something.

            It didn’t quite work out as planned, but close enough, and I was also smart enough to pay attention and learn what our Govt was really all about, something I never had the time to do when working 72+ hours a week, and so I got out at the first, legal, opportunity.

            Not all who join the Military are NAZIs, born killers, and worse. It is unfortunate, I know, but some just want a decent chance at a decent life and have limited resources so they take a chance and use one of the very last public institutions available to get there.

            I’m always surprised at how easy it is for someone to sit on the sidelines and condemn others in the worst possible ways.

            Oh yeah… another benefit… I met and lived very closely with people of many different races from all over the country from every walk of life, so it definitely improved my ability to empathize with all those “others”, as well as my ability to recognize the real natural-born killers.

        2. Jams O'Donnell

          “Under the influence of politicians, masses of people tend to ascribe the responsibility for wars to those who wield power at any given time. In World War I it was the munitions industrialists; in World War II it was the psychopathic generals who were said to be guilty. This is passing the buck.

          The responsibility for wars falls solely upon the shoulders of these same masses of people, for they have all the necessary means to avert war in their own hands. In part by their apathy, in part by their passivity, and in part actively, these same masses of people make possible the catastrophes under which they themselves suffer more than anyone else.

          To stress this guilt on the part of the masses of people, to hold them solely responsible, means to take them seriously. On the other hand, to commiserate masses of people as victims, means to treat them as small, helpless children. The former is the attitude held by genuine freedom fighters; the latter that attitude held by power-thirsty politicians.”

          Wilhelm Reich, The Mass Psychology of Fascism

    2. Jeremy Grimm

      I would also add a category 5, containing those in categories 1,2, and 4 who through training and experience join those in category 3. And I would also add a category 6, containing those from all 5 other categories who develop psychosis that leads to crushing existential sorrow and regret.

  10. Anthony G Stegman

    International law needs to be strictly enforced. The US has gotten away for decades with committing war crimes simply because there is no international body strong enough to challenge it. This needs to change.

    1. Jams O'Donnell

      You are absolutely right. But the situation will change only when the USA is comprehensively defeated at least economically, and perhaps also in war. China and Russia plus the rest of the BRICS+ are going to complete the former goal within the next ten to fifteen or so years. With any luck they won’t need to undertake the second (except as far as the Ukraine goes).

  11. Glen

    Thank you for posting this. This is the best discussion based on this holiday that I have seen in a LONG TIME.

  12. Kana

    I dunno if all the bad wars started with Vietnam, I mean how about WWII?

    “There have been many books written on the history of American business elites working with the Soviets to build their industry from the very beginning. And many books on the American business elites industrial buildup of Germany after the devastation to Germany from WWI. Most notably by award-winning, New York Times investigative author Edwin Black.

    America was financing and literally behind the industrial ability of England, and Germany, and the Soviet Union (also) to fight each other and France in WWII.

    “If we see that Germany is winning we ought to help Russia and if Russia is winning we ought to help Germany, and that way let them kill as many as possible, although I don’t want to see Hitler victorious under any circumstances.”

    -President Harry Truman a few years before his presidency, 1941

    After they had damaged each other to such a great extent during the war it made it easy for American business elites to create and control the entirely new economic system of the non-communist world. That was worked out at the famous meetings at Bretton Woods — which saw the creation of the IMF, World Bank, and the dollar reserve system under the direction of American business elites.”

    From Estimated Prophets

    1. digi_owl

      Frankly USA has been “expansionist” since the colonies first gave London the middle finger.

      First by taking over colonial holdings by hook or crook, and then by sending in the marines any time some smaller nation crossed US corporate interests.

      I suspect the big difference now i that Vietnam broke DCs ability to use drafts to bolster ranks, as modern mass communication means people are not as easily misled about the nature of war.

  13. HotFlash

    Paul Jay notes thaat veterans are treated like s–t, which is true. But it’s not only veterans, serving troops are treated pretty badly, too. There is a website called anysoldier.com. Originally started to send care pkgs and letters to soldiers who didn’t get mail, they soon were getting requests for certain items, current requests are here. The requests and accompanying notes give quite a picture of day-to-day life in the services. The ladies who asked for cup noodles, snacks and jerky since they were the last shift serving in the cafeteria and often didn’t get dinner themselves, requests for soap, deodorant, and other toiletries from guys on post in a remote area, or even on base if the PX was out of stock (ladies sanitary items seem a particular O/S item) — the stories go on and on and on and the picture is so sad. This is nothing less than slavery, in oil and gas fields mostly, instead of plantations.

  14. Retired Carpenter

    Owen’s “”Dulce et Decorum est” from WW-I might also be relevant. Here is the ending:
    If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
    Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
    And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
    His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin,
    If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
    Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
    Obscene as cancer,
    Bitter as the cud
    Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,–
    My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
    To children ardent for some desperate glory,
    The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
    Pro patria mori.”



  15. Jackman

    It’s so interesting about someone like Wilkerson–what is the moment, the trigger, where suddenly in his conscience, the ‘no’s’ have it, and all that he’s spent his entire life doing is for naught? You want to be able to see that and understand it better. It’s his savage understanding of the direct corporate influence over our wars that I find so particularly surprising. At any rate, good for him. I suspect that most of us don’t come to our political philosophies from so far away.

    1. Robert Gray

      Maybe he just finally got around to reading Smedley Butler?

      ‘There are none so blind as those who will not see.’

    2. Lysias

      Like Wilkerson, I am a veteran of the Cold War. After the fall of the Soviet Union, my thinking about U.S. wars changed.

  16. zina

    America is a nightmare for humanity, since WW2 it has destroyed 38 countries and innocent peoples, and killed tens of millions of civilians, mostly children and women and elderly men. And that should be celebrated, it’s really morbid. In addition, over 100 coups against legitimate governments around the world that did not agree to be servants to America’s needs, and there the victims were civilians. Terrible and horrible are the mass crimes of the USA, and one even begins to enjoy them.

  17. Irrational

    Just to add some perspective about treating veterans right: Vietnam vets, who were mostly drafted, are having to fight for literally decades to get disability benefits. First it took years to establish what Agent Orange caused in terms of cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes etc etc. And even now the VA disputes individual cases to the point that the veterans need to take the VA to court. They then have to fight to get their benefits backdated to the point in time when their ailments started. When you consider that many of these veterans also suffer from PTSD, who can see this through?
    War is terrible, but if one most have constant wars, then at least one should treat the veterans right.

      1. digi_owl

        Back then i think veterans were feared, as they were liable to topple governments if they didn’t get their due.

    1. Jams O'Donnell

      And the US have made not the slightest move to compensate the Vietnamese people for the millions of (continuing) deaths from Orange and landmines, and for the illegal and unjust war waged against them.

  18. Felix_47

    There are many good reasons for a universal national service requirement. The fact that the American electorate has not demanded it says a lot about our society, none of it admirable. And the lack of such a requirement is similar to our lack of meaningful taxation, campaign finance reform, rational health care and multiple other lapses. It explains the sorry state of our politics (shaped by draft dodgers like Trump and Biden and Clinton), and national cohesiveness. The military panoply around our leaders smacks of stolen valor.

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      A universal national service would be an excellent tool for training impressionable youth to a pliable mindset useful to whatever purposes our Elite might conjure. Add a youth corps to help prepare youth for national service from their early teens.

      1. Lysias

        The Air Force enlisted men who served with me and who had “volunteered” under the pressure of the draft had anything but impressionable mindsets.

  19. Sausage Factory

    The endless bullshit of the US. Lets cry about Iraq 20 years after we did it, like we did after Vietnam … whats next, Afghanistan and Syria? Crocodile tears, maybe Libya after it ceases to become useful.

    AmeriKarma. Coming to the US every day from now on until eternity. Militarily, socially, economically and environmentally. Nobody will cry or shed tears of pity and no one will help.

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