Sunday, October 01, 2006

In Which The Gorilla Explores American Idiom

There are many fine and wonderful things about America. She has many fine and wonderful people. Colin Powell isn't one of them. Every few months I roll my eyes heaven heavenward and mutter to myself "Oh for crying out loud, here we go again, Colin Powell's making another effort at rehabilitating himself." April was the occasion of the last major "push:"

Powell: U.S. made 'serious mistakes' in Iraq Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell on Saturday said the United States has made "serious mistakes" during the Iraq war that have led to the rising violence the country now faces. [snip] "We made some serious mistakes in the immediate aftermath of the fall of Baghdad," Powell told a crowd of thousands at the McCormick Place conference. "We didn't have enough troops on the ground. We didn't impose our will. And as a result, an insurgency got started, and . . . it got out of control." Now, American troops must "stick with the people of Iraq" until order is restored, he said. [snip] Powell, a retired four-star general, served as secretary of state under Bush from 2001 until 2005. [snip] Chicago Sun-Times April 9 2006 [cached page on gigablast] [Emphasis added - mfi]

Now the Washington Post is taking part in the "helping rehabilitate Colin" drive.

So what have we got here? We have Colin Powell who has made a lot of money and garnered a lot of adulation from having made a career out of targeting civilians. We have an undeniably effective and talented soldier who is famous for having a military doctrine named after him. He's got quite a record. Let's talk about My-Lai. In his autobiography - no I'm not going to link to it I've more self-respect than that, Powell talks about his role in the Vietnam War and makes excuses for targeting civilians by destroying their food and homes as follows:

"We burned the thatched huts, starting the blaze with Ronson and Zippo lighters ... Why were we torching houses and destroying crops? Ho Chi Minh had said people were like the sea in which his guerrillas swam. We tried to solve the problem by making the whole sea uninhabitable. In the hard logic of war, what difference does it make if you shot your enemy or starved him to death?"

With attitudes likes that it was no wonder he was involved (albeit peripherally) in the cover up:

"In direct refutation of this portrayal is the fact that relations between American soldiers and the Vietnamese people are excellent."

His involvement in the cover up his willingness to please and his undeniable talent did his career no harm. But his attitude is disturbing as is his unwillingness to learn from history. In his book Powell fails to mention that this tactic was used by the Wehrmacht [PDF] throughout Eastern Europe, the Ukraine, and generally throughout the USSR. He also fails to mention that it led directly to an initially neutral or even pro-German population realising in short order what they were up against and flocking to join a previously tiny resistance. (Germany lost that one btw, just like American lost in Vietnam, and has lost in Iraq - Colin.)

And it is Iraq that is Powell's greatest failure. A failure of courage and a failure of integrity. His speech at the UN pressing the case for war was one "at which United Nations officials who heard it openly laughed" and was inaccurate in "almost every detail. [link]" Inaccurate is too kind - it was downright untruthful. The man lied through he his teeth and his lies mean that he bears a major portion of the blame for the blood-soaked hell hole that Iraq has become.

Why on earth did he permit himself to do it? I suspect the answer is that peculiar mixture of vanity and cowardice found amongst the latterday American military elite. The vanity is the notion that they and they alone are the superior and indispensable ones. The cowardice comes from their, increasingly partisan role in politics. He believed he was indispensable and superior. He wasn't then, he isn't now. He's a blood-soaked liar nothing more.

As I said at the start of this posting America has many fine and wonderful things and many fine and wonderful people. Powell isn't one of them. But one of the many fine and wonderful things about Americans is their use of idiom. It can be pithy, direct, truthful - and devastatingly accurate. Americans have the perfect idiomatic expression for such politically inspired movements to rehabilitate someone who has miserably and abjectly failed his country when she needed him most . They call it "putting lipstick … on a pig."

Putting lipstick on a pig

markfromireland

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