November 10, 2001
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A news article in today's New York Times reports that in an interview with a Pakistani newspaper on November 7, Osama Bin Laden "asked Americans to rise up against their government as they did during 'their government's war in Vietnam.'"
Today's New York Times seems to be swinging into action in following Mr. Bin Laden's advice, harping incessantly on the supposed similarities between the American intervention in Afghanistan and the war in Vietnam.
The front page of the Times metro section carries an article on the dedication of a Vietnam War memorial in New York. The article reports that the ceremony "became a reminder of the cost of a war in Afghanistan," and the article says, "A further parallel -- between Vietnam and the current war in Afghanistan -- was a powerful theme of the day."
The Times metro section also carries a "Beliefs" column about Christian attitudes about the American intervention in Afghanistan. That column says, "In the United States, disillusionment with World War I combined with the Gospel renunciations of violence to produce a quasi pacifism among many Protestant leaders in the 1920's and 30's, often married to a belief that the world could be reformed without conflict. As an advocate of intervention against Hitler, Reinhold Niebuhr, the most prominent American theologian of the 20th century, rejected that view. What he called 'Christian realism' held sway through World War II and the first dozen years of the cold war, only to give way again to antimilitary sentiments during the Vietnam War."
Finally, there is the "Journal" column on the Times op-ed page, in which the Times columnist asserts, "It's easy to make the case that one similarity between Vietnam and the war on terrorism is already nailed down: the light-at-the-end-of-the tunnel syndrome."
Three separate articles in one day's New York Times making the link between Afghanistan and Vietnam -- not even counting the article reporting on Osama Bin Laden's remark. Not bad work, given that Osama Bin Laden's remark was published in Pakistan only today. The Times can move pretty quickly when it wants to.
Hel-lo!: The "Journal" column on the Times op-ed page today is egregious in at least two other aspects. The columnist asserts that secretary of transportation, Norman Mineta, "is so overmatched by events that he makes Tommy Thompson look like Patton. In a letter to The Times 10 days ago the transportation secretary argued that private security companies should be kept on the job in airports in part because the State Department uses them to protect our embassies abroad. Hel-lo! It was private guards who were presiding when Osama bin Laden's operatives bombed our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, killing 224 and injuring more than 5,000."
Hel-lo! The columnist's sneering at the private security guards protecting the embassies in Kenya and Tanzania stands in utter ignorance of what actually happened.
For one thing, the private guards were not "presiding," but were actually operating under the supervision of the U.S. Marine guards who secure our embassies. If the Times columnist doubts that Marine guards are responsible for protecting the embassies, he could check with the family of Sgt. Jesse Nathan Aliganga, a U.S. Marine guard who was killed Aug. 7, 1998, during the terrorist bombing of the embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. Or with the family of Marine Corporal Robert V. McMaugh, an embassy guard who was killed in the bombing of the American embassy in Lebanon on April 18, 1983.
For another thing, the Kenyan and Tanzanian guards who were at the embassies performed heroically, at great risk to their own safety and at the cost in some cases of their own lives. Their actions saved the lives of others. Here is how CNN reported what happened in Nairobi, Kenya: "In the Nairobi bombing, sources told CNN that authorities now believe a truck -- possibly a Mitsubishi -- pulled up to the U.S. embassy's front entrance but guards told the driver that it could not enter there. The truck then reportedly drove to the embassy's rear entrance where the driver again met resistance. There are reports that shots were fired and someone in the truck allegedly threw a grenade. 'Someone either waved or threw hand grenades at (a guard). He refused to open the gate. When hand grenades came, of course, he ran away to save himself. The blast went off, knocked him down, and he survived,' said Thomas Pickering, U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs. The Kenyan guards 'did a heroic job in preventing the truck that approached the rear gate of the embassy in gaining access to the embassy,' Assistant Secretary of State Susan Rice for African Affairs said. 'Clearly, according to our reports, (they) had every intention of getting inside the compound, and had they gotten inside, particularly underneath the garage, the damage to our facility and to our people would have been even greater,' Rice said."
Here is how the New York Times itself reported on what happened in Tanzania: "In some respects, American officials said, the embassy security system worked as it was supposed to because the bomb went off outside the embassy compound rather than inside. . . . No American was killed here; one temporary American employee was evacuated to London on Friday for medical treatment. The United States Marine guards, who are posted at all American embassies, operate from inside the front door of the building. They do not typically inspect individual visitors or cars, officials here said." That job was apparently left to the Tanzanian security guards, and the Times reports that "five Tanzanian security guards at the gate were all killed."
If the Times columnist wants to argue that Americans rather than Tanzanians should be the ones standing at embassy guardposts as truck-bomb fodder, he'd probably get a lot of support in Tanzania. There may be an argument that could also convince Americans. But "Hel-lo!" doesn't quite cut it.
The same "Journal" column on the Times op-ed page sneers at the opposition to the Taliban. "We're also repeatedly told that the vastly outnumbered Northern Alliance -- poorly equipped warriors 'who farm or do odd jobs when not at the front,' as The Los Angeles Times put it -- is an able proxy with or without shoes." Hel-lo! The kind of smug sneering at an army without shoes rings false to anyone with an elementary knowledge of American history. As Robert Middlekauff put it in his history "The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789, "The bloody tracks at Valley Forge made by men without shoes appeared in later campaigns as well." As for farmer-soldiers, Mr. Middlekauff writes, "Elsewhere, especially in the thinly settled southern colonies, companies were usually composed of men -- farmers, farmers' sons, farm laborers, artisans and new immigrants." Mr. Middlekauff writes that "Almost every senior American general commented on the propensity of the militia to desert -- and if they were not deserting they seemed perpetually in transit between home and camp, usually without authorization."
Smartertimes.com isn't asserting that the Northern Alliance leaders are the present day equivalents of George Washington. But given the propensity of the New York Times to dwell on the war in Vietnam, it would be nice if the newspaper's editors remembered some of America's other wars and the conditions under which they were fought.
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