The Least, First

Monte Asbury's blog

Chuck Hagel said what I felt

with 14 comments

I’m often at a loss to explain my feelings about war. It is a sense of tragedy—a sense that trusting, loyal people are shamelessly used—not by the enemy, but by the rich and powerful who condemn them to lifelong trauma.

Chuck and Tom HagelI was surprised, today, to find someone who could say it. It was Sen. Chuck Hagel, in a New York Times story dated February 18, ’07.

Hagel was a “grunt,” a regular soldier, during some of the most brutal combat of the Vietnam war. At right is a photo of him with his brother Tom, atop a personnel carrier.

Here’s an excerpt.  In quotes are Hagel’s own words; narration is by journalist Janny Scott (emphasis mine):

“I was part of, I think, the forgotten group of people in all wars — that is, the person at the bottom who is expected to fight and die and has very little to say in policy, even tactics.”

His faith in the rightness of the Vietnam War was worn down by reading history and traveling abroad, but what changed his mind most, he said, was listening to tape recordings released in the late 1990’s of telephone conversations in which President Lyndon B. Johnson confided that he saw the war as pointless. That was in 1964, and Mr. Johnson said he feared impeachment if he tried to withdraw.

“The dishonesty of it was astounding — criminal, really,” Mr. Hagel said. “I came to the conclusion that they used those people, used our young people. So I am very careful, especially now. We’d better ask all the tough questions. This administration dismissed every tough question we asked. We were assured, ‘We know what we’re doing.’ That’s what they said in Vietnam.”

1964! Lyndon Johnson thought it pointless in 1964! The US’ main build-up happened after that! Set aside, for the moment, the enormous losses of the S.E. Asians themselves. 58,000 US troops would die. 150,000 would suffer wounds. Their emotional and physical losses haunt many of them, their families, their children, to this day.

They obeyed their Commander-in-Chief. Who saw no point to it. Who could have prevented it.
Who sentenced them to death and suffering rather than risk impeachment.

May God have mercy.

Related posts: Maj. Gen. S. Butler, USMC (ret), in a famous speech on war, Theodore Roosevelt on criticizing the President
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Written by Monte

April 4, 2007 at 4:53 pm

14 Responses

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  1. Franc: You are so gracious to me. Thanks for your kindness, it warmed my heart.
    I agree, we look in vain for a major political candidate who even seems to grasp the tragedy of the situation, not to mention own the American part of these problems.
    Someday, I believe, we will. Whether my guess is correct or not, we will press on.
    I am glad that you continue to cry out on behalf of those who are so easily crushed. You have my admiration. I hope, somehow, we get to meet someday.
    With much respect,


    April 17, 2007 at 12:57 pm

  2. Hi Monte,
    I respect your struggle to make sense of this corporate/governmental/military criminal agression, invasion and occupation for profit based on fraud and deception. Casualities and victims are everywhere as more lives are sacrificed daily for profit. Nothing seems to be able to stop this bloodlust for resources and strtegic positioning as it spreads throughout all the world. How can we NOT expect CONSEQUENCES here in North America for our war against ‘those that have what we want’ as we torture, rape and target the innocent with brutality and genocide. Social programs are now non existant in America as the middle class on down are being finally stripped and driven to the streets to fund this evil.
    The world public seems frozen into submission. What will it take to end this war on the innocent? These wrongs done to the innocent by the west can never be forgiven. Ignorantly believing that just going to the polls to vote for the cowardly “sell-us-out” Democrats is the same as choosing to fry ’empty promises’ with either olive oil or canola oil. The same murderous foreign polices have existed under past Democrat administrations.
    The rhetoric for support of the troops pales alongside the lack of support or acknowledgement of the victins of U.S. brutalities who are looked on as being worthless and no better than dogs.
    I cannot personally support the troops or any agressive foreign intervenion for profit now matter how it is packaged nor however the corporate arms of propaganda will be used to discredit those resisting this evil.
    Your own personal tasks to inspire, educate and help dismantle false thinking and hateful propaganda is an honorable undertaking.
    Best wishes to you also


    April 15, 2007 at 12:39 pm

  3. fma7, here are my thoughts of the moment: I agree with you that Chuck Hagel’s comments are arrogant, when one considers the more forgotten, more on-the- bottom civilians who suffer the greatest losses of every war.
    He should have known better.

    At the same time, I think war creates victims of all involved. And it is pretty hard to rank them: this group suffered this much, this group suffered this much, etc.

    My dad was a Missouri farm boy from pretty poor circumstances. Drafted into World War 2, he was yanked from that life into combat against the Nazis and Fascists in North Africa and Italy. He survived, and left the military and married my mother after the war.

    But I think the horror of the war pursued him every single day of the rest of his life. I wonder who he might have been, had he not suffered the unimaginable brutality that he witnessed. As he aged, he acquired dementia, and often imagined that he’d been captured and was in a Nazi prison camp.

    I don’t understand culpability very well. I certainly do wish the USA was part of the Hague war crimes process. But who exactly is a war criminal – I guess I can’t think of a helpful thing for me to do along that line.

    But I do plan to devote part of my life to helping Americans understand the wickedness and horror that American government has often brought to others, as well as the way the US government has victimized the powerless of its own number by disregard for the lives of the soldiers it has thrown away. I do plan to be one small voice among many urging Americans to know their history and regard war plans with grave skepticism.

    Who’s guilty, and where victim-hood ends and culpability begins – I think that’s probably an area that’s not mine to declare. Certainly I haven’t done all I could to prevent such tragedies, so, in a sense, culpability is my own.

    My task seems to be to inspire men and women to choose a better way, to care for those “forgotten” and “on the bottom,” and to insist that their government do so, as well. And to ask God to give us hearts that so resist evil that we are not easily enticed or deceived into it.

    Best wishes, friend!


    April 13, 2007 at 1:53 pm

  4. Hi Monte,

    I came here to say hi and to follow up on my question. I think deep down I was expecting an answer in the lines of “industrialists lobby”. Because I think no one other than the industrialists benefits from war.

    I came across some “support out troops” sites. They think they have to WIN because the enemy loves death more than they love life.

    I consider this pathological paranoia. During these past few days, I was experiencing it first hand as I was attacked by a person who was going around the web, talking about me as an Iranian who spreads hatred for Arabs!!!!!!!!!! The ONLY thing that I did, was to stop responding to the provocative comments of this individual. This made me realize that a LOT of times, the war mongers just capitalize on ill (physiological/mental illness) of a group of gullible innocent individuals who can easily be manipulated into crime. The extent of this person’s campaigne against me was nothing less than criminal. To go around and “wish for massacre of Iranians” was just absurd.

    I think this is how hate begets hate; and how we end up with a history of violence that is established on none but a mental disorder.

    Take Hitler for example! I always wonder whose puppet he was. And my gaze wanders to the direction of the ultimate winner of the WWII.


    April 9, 2007 at 8:09 pm

  5. Monte,
    We are constantly beat over the head with loaded, manipulative slogans and engineered propaganda such as ‘support the troops’ and even public schools are censoring students’ creative expressions reflecting on the real carnage resulying from this illegal and immoral blood lust because showing the military/troops in a negative way may effect their performance.
    while the administration is hijacking the poor and disenfranchised and trolling prisons/penitentaries and urban gangs to find bodies to hold weapons and press buttons to kill innocent civilians and those righfully defending their homes and family from rape, torture and murder since the proof out there shows that’s what happens to those who resist the occupation. Individuals escaping their personal hells such as poverty or prison are consciously exchanging free thought and personal accountability and willingly embarking on the journey to be made over and shaped however the military sees fit. They are not innocent. The military as “mommy” or “the big nipple” where no one has to grow up and make their own decisions cause “mommy’s umbrella” is there to tell them what to think and do.
    I don’t buy this. Idon’t support the troops and I will not pay taxes that will support killing innocent civilians in soeverign countries that we over-run because we want their resources.


    April 9, 2007 at 10:19 am

  6. fma7: Thank you for the Easter greetings, and for the thought-provoking comments. Your hard questions make me think about elements of this conflict that I have not considered in this way. This is a large part of why I have a blog – to hear the hard questions, and benefit from them.
    I want to think on your points for a couple of days. I’ll be back to you.
    Thoughts from others certainly welcome!
    With sincere thanks – this is solid gold to me – although very difficult!


    April 9, 2007 at 9:10 am

  7. Easter greetings Monte,
    This is an illegal invasion and occupation authorized by the U.S. Administration and orchestrated by the corporatem military sector and opposed by the majority of U.S. citizens. Close to 3/4 of a million Iraq civilians have been killed. Almost i/2 of the invasion force are mercenaries. Civilians have have been targetted with illegal phosporus, cluster bombs, unspent uranium, new laser weapons, illegal kidnapping/rendition, torture, sexual abuse, horrific rape and beatings, plus direct involvement in death squads and orchestrating Shia-Sunni divisions and resulting violence. This administration has apparently funneled money and support to terrorist groups within Iran and Lebanon. Sadam Hussein was initally a CIA operative and did the U.S. dirty work which placed him th edictators chair in Iraq. The US and Britan sold Saddam the chemical weapons to gas the kurds plus the Iranian soldiers during the 8 year war supported by America.
    Anything dishonest, immoral, illegal and evil that could be done by the US administration/military has been done followed by lie after lie. The world is being held hostage by this blood frenzy while the U.S. and lackeys Britan and Israel antagonize and plan for massive slaughter next door in Iran.
    There are no US. homes nor families in either Iraq and Iran needing defending and any military personell there are there illegally and with state sanctioned murder on their nind and innocent blood on their hands and therefore are thugs and corporate hired guns and whores. They , in my opinion, don’t get to sheepishly throw their hands in the air and say they were just following orders. Anyone who surrenders free thinking when initally exchanging mommy for the military should not have a green light to act without personal repercussions.


    April 8, 2007 at 9:54 pm

  8. Good point – the largest group of casualties is nearly always civilians. Certainly true by, apparently, more than 100 to 1 in Iraq. They are, unquestionably, the most forgotten group, and, to an inestimable degree, the greatest tragedy.

    At the same time, I have known many soldiers who earnestly felt they were defending their own families and home, and doing what was right.

    That’s what makes the discussion so difficult – they are mostly not thugs, but good people who have lived their lives among others with views that have taught them that not to question is the honorable thing to do, and that those who do are disloyal. Often these opinion-shapers are people they love and trust very much, and coming to see them as wrong calls all they know into question.

    So I think there is a “battle” to free the minds of those who have been persuaded to kill and not question. And that battle is about building trust and asking questions when teachable moments occur, and waiting for the lights to go on. It’s terribly slow and frustrating. But without it, without an inner change, the argument just seesaws back and forth forever, rather than bringing a culture to a consensus about right and wrong.

    I’m reminded of a story – I think it was the Jewish writer and holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, who walked into the trial of an infamous Nazi war criminal – Eichmann, perhaps – and collapsed to his knees in amazement. Later, when asked by a journalist what was going on, he said that he had expected a monster, but Eichmann was an ordinary man. He ended with “When I saw Eichmann, I saw myself,” having realized it was not monsters who commit such crimes, but ordinary people, people like himself.

    Which, to me, makes the wooing of each individual mind much more desperately important.

    Thanks for your correction!


    April 7, 2007 at 1:39 pm

  9. “I was part of, I think, the forgotten group of people in all wars — that is, the person at the bottom who is expected to fight and die and has very little to say in policy, even tactics.” –
    …. I see the targetted civilian populations as the real people on the bottom and soldiers as mindless drones or corporate hired guns willing to give up free thinking and adult decision making and all too ready to murder, rape and torture because they were told to. Hagel has represented all that is vile and posionous and I don’t believe he shows the necessary courage to ask the real meaty questions .


    April 7, 2007 at 11:20 am

  10. Hey out there! Naj asks a good question, and I can’t find the answer. All I can find suggests he’s pretty popular in 1964, and doesn’t hint at impeachment. Anybody know why he’d be thinking someone would try to impeach him?


    April 6, 2007 at 10:49 pm

  11. why was Johnson afraid and thought he would get impeached? Who would have lobbied for his impeachment, had he not gone the path of war?


    April 6, 2007 at 5:51 pm

  12. Why would he be impeached or why was he afraid of it?


    April 5, 2007 at 8:52 am

  13. crux (sorry)


    April 5, 2007 at 8:49 am

  14. The crus of the problem is this:
    “feared impeachment”


    April 5, 2007 at 8:48 am

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