Showing posts with label Taliban. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Taliban. Show all posts

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A photo story of the largest march on Washington

story and photos by Mike Marcellino

It was the fall of 1969 and I had a Dodge Coronet 500, light blue, or aqua, and a Hurst five speed and already dropped a clutch.

While the newspaper, The Painesville (Ohio) Telegraph, the oldest newspaper in the Western Reserve, east of Cleveland, didn't assign me, I volunteered to cover the march against the Vietnam War in Washington. D. C. on Saturday, November 15, 1969.  Hey, after all I had volunteered to cover the war itself for the United States Army.  I had only been back from Vietnam for a little more than a year and the first six moths I drove from one corner of the country to the other in my Coronet 500 with an Indian-Chinese girl I had married in Singapore.  The trunk was full.  I had a lot of vinyl. I was trying to unwind and land in some town as a newspaper reporter.  I'll never forget an editor of a California paper telling me he couldn't hire me because I hadn't covered politics.  Yea, I just covered a war.

Now, this being a piece I am blogging, I decided music would be appropriate at this time. So, rather randomly, I'm listening to Cat Stevens' "Wild World (1970)." He's well known for his conversion to Islam to become Yusuf Islam, but the British singer songwriter was born Steven Demetre Georgiou, 21 July 1948. He had a Greek-Cypriot father and a Swedish mother.

So, here's "Wild World" by Yusuf Islam. Cat Stevens is back so to speak and the world goes on.

The tires on my Coronet 500 were bald and we decided to make the trip to D. C. at the last minute to do a photo feature story for the weekend magazine, "Telegraphic."  We (photographer Dennis Gordon and I) ran into a blizzard on the Pennsylvania Turnpike and all I remember is endless seas of fluffy white lit by my headlights and the windshield wipers going back and forth.  This wicked snowstorm reminded me of how the Huey helicopter pilots described night flying on their "Firely" missions to stop the VC from infiltrating troops and supplies into the Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam.  (The last of the U. S. troops pulled out in 1973 and South Vietnam fell to an invasion of the North Vietnamese army two years later.)  

All I could think of was the bald tires and staying on the road winding through the Allegheny Mountains.  We got into D. C. at 4 o'clock in the morning.  I pulled over on the side of the road somewhere.  It was pitch dark and nothing was moving.  We woke up a few hours later to the banging of police billy clubs on fenders of my Coronet 500.  I don't remember where we put the car, just somewhere away from the Capital.  

It was crystal clear but cold, in the 30s, but by the end of he day it was bitter.  The day turned out to be historic in a number of ways.  An estimated 600,000 people marched and filled The Mall between the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument.  And, other than some teargassing of demonstrators later in the day at DuPont Circle, the day was peaceful.  It was the largest march on Washington in our nation's history.  

Can you imagine waiving the Taliban flag and marching on Washington today? Or, maybe a flag of peace in a neutral color would work.  Those flags of a different color today may be the Arab Spring and Occupy and other such protests around the world. People want their rights and they don't want wars.

I'll never forget at the end of the day, looking at the courtyard in the Department of Justice complex filled with tanks and troops.  I'll let these photos, first published on November 21, 1969 tell the rest of the story.  The image of the Viet Cong flag framing the U. S. Capital building seems to tell the story of our nation's longest war.  

A few weeks before the march on Washington The Beatles released "Come Together."  Well, people did though it took some years but finally they ended the bloody war.

Hare Krishna Hare Krishna
Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama
Rama Rama Hare Hare

- The Maha Mantra

Friday, December 25, 2009

The fog of Afghanistan

War's outcome rests with people's will
By Mike Marcellino

Part 3 of a 3 part series on America’s course in the Afghanistan War

Today I was asked what at first seemed to be a simple question about a recent column I had written about America’s course in Afghanistan and the escalation of the war. The column was called, “Afghanistan: Different viewpoints, same ol’ same ol.’ The column cited a BBC of an interview with a senior American diplomat and Marine captain in Iraq and a Stars and Stripes story about what U. S. troops are encountering fighting and community building on the ground in Zabul Province, a Taliban stronghold.

“You have to ask yourself, ‘what are the major powers doing in a backwater such as Afghanistan??’” a reader asked. He used two question marks and I would see why trying to answer his question.

What we are doing in Afghanistan? Like some people say on Facebook about their relationships –“It’s complicated.”

One answer could be that the United States leaders fear facing hostel governments in the Middle East and South Asia threatening our oil supply (Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan).

A number of major powers have interests at stake, including the United States, Russia and China. In addition the struggle to control oil supplies, Russia and China have large Muslin minorities.

The answer may be the old Cold War “domino effect” is back in vogue in Washington. Politicians and military leaders had believed that if one country would fall to Communism then others would follow. This was the rationale for the Vietnam War, along with control of natural resources of Southeast Asia.

The United States feared the spread of Communism and yet, even though we lost the Vietnam War to the communists, other nations didn’t fall and the Soviet Union collapsed.

The decade long war in Southeast Asian cost 6 million lives, including 58,000 American troops. Some argue that just fighting against communism in the Vietnam War led to its collapse in the Soviet Union. Interestingly, Vietnam is now rather prosperous with many resorts on the South China Sea beaches and increasing tourism.

Since the beginning of the Middle East wars in the early 1990s, 
U. S. policy makers have put communism on the back burner and Islamic fundamentalist insurgents and terrorists on the forefront. Radical Islam is the “evil” we must confront with force, not communism, at least for the time being.

Afghanistan has been embroiled in political turmoil and war for 35 years with leftists, monarchists and Islamic fundamentalist and minorities battling for power. In the late 1970s the Soviet Union set up a communist government in Afghanistan. In a 9-year war, Afghan Islamic fighters, the mujahedeen, defeated the Soviet army. The country was devastated, as one million Afghans died and millions more fled the country as refugees.

Everyone agrees the present Afghan government is corrupt and lacks wide popular support. The country is rather lawless. Most of the people are poor and illiterate. The poppy crop supplies much of the heroin for the world’s illicit drug trade and funds the Taliban and other insurgents.

The answer may be that we’re convinced that in Afghanistan we’re in a holy war, with good fighting evil. Many fundamentalist Christians in the U. S. armed forces, including senior military leaders, believe they are engaged in a holy war.

Radical Islamic fundamentalist, principally al Qaeda and its supporters believe they are waging a holy war against the “infidels,” or non-Muslims.

One answer may be a resurrection of the Crusades of the 11th Century. Each side of course believes the other to be “infidels.”

Both “holy wars,” some historians and observers believe are rooted in the timeless desire for power and control, whether it be a cave, a country or the world.

Whatever the reason for the U. S. involvement in Afghanistan, we’ve decided that force and violence are the only solution. The 
U. S. won’t talk to the Taliban until they surrender and the Taliban won’t talk until the U. S. forces leave the country. There seems to be little attempt to break the deadlock.

Regardless of the answer to the question, ultimately the outcome of the war and the nature of Afghanistan will be determined by the Afghans.

The present U. S. strategy in Afghanistan seems to be predicated on the belief that we are engaged in a worldwide war against extremists, including the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

A few political leaders, even Vice President Joe Biden to an extent, along with senior diplomats, military and intelligence officers believe in a narrow focused strategy to defeat al Qaeda.

President Obama, Secretary Clinton and our military leaders have rejected that strategy, believing that Afghanistan is the den of al Qaeda.

As a result 30,000 more U. S. troops are going to Afghanistan bringing the total of 10,000. Next spring the U. S. plans to attack Taliban strongholds in rural and urban areas, beginning a new "ground up" strategy of rebuilding Afghanistan in the towns and villages.

We plan to step up the training of Afghan troops, start turning security over to them and in the middle of 2011 start withdrawing U. S. troop “if conditions on the ground permit.”

That’s the strategy the U. S. used in losing the Vietnam War. President Nixon called it “Vietnamization.”

South Vietnam had an army of two million, one of the largest in the world at the time of its defeat by North Vietnam, two years after U. S. troops withdrew.

The likelihood of the Afghan army being able to secure the country is questionable. Factionalism and lack of confidence in and corruption of the present government must be overcome. Afghanistan isn’t much of a nation for nation building.

“What are the major powers doing in the backwater of Afghanistan?”

“It’s complicated.

The outcome of the war is simpler.  It lies with the will of the Afghan people.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The surge in the Afghanistan War: And what then?

The war in Afghanistan:  a commentary 

by Mike Marcellino

A child is crying outside as I write this.
Don't know what to make of it, except I thought that a lot of children and other folks in the world are crying today.

How are you today?

I’m rather overwhelmed by thoughts of war, and have tomorrow night's radio show staring in the face.

Personally, I am rather ticked, thinking of reality of pouring 30,000 more US troops, plus 10,000 from other NATO countries into Afghanistan.
As I journalist I'm working on the story. I've found some very interesting facts and aspects that I think's been overlooked.

So here's my commentary prospect, off the cuff, riddled with past and recently acquired information stuffed into my Swiss cheese brain.

One simple question -

When, and it's only a question of when, U.S. and NATO forces pack their bags and leave Afghanistan?
And, what then?

Seems to boil down to what level of death and destruction the American people are willing to tolerate.

When the people, you know the “people,” the ones that actually fight America's wars. Call them “Joe six pack” if you like, reach their breaking point, they'll end the war, just like what they did with Vietnam. They'll end if and any politician who resists that tide will follow along or be swept away, out of office.

Like the TET offensive in Vietnam, all it will take to have a million people in DC is some terrible scenes on TV, like the ones on our screens during the 10 years of the nation's first television war and our longest war. Scenes like a dozen Viet Cong taking over the US Embassy in Saigon for a few minutes till they were wasted by U. S. troops, or and Afghan general on CNN shooting some Taliban guy point blank in the head with a 45, just like what happened in TET.

Remember there's nothing like the smell of napalm in the morning. It, it smells, “like victory” as that cool actor who's name always is missing, oh, Robert Du val. Now I know I'm on top of my game today. Anyway, the wars in Afghanistan and Vietnam reminds of instant replay, like on football.

How many people know, or even remember, that the Viet Cong, insurgents, our primary enemy in the Vietnam War, were wiped off the face of the earth during the TET offensive - a surprise attack by the combined forces of the VC and NVA (North Vietnamese Army), tens of thousands all across the country on the day of the cease fire for the Vietnamese New Year. Most all of the soldiers of the of South Vietnam (ARVN), the country we propped up for two decades or more, were at home bringing in the New Year. Can't image there was much to celebrate.

I wasn't on R & R surfing Bondi Beach that TET, I can tell you that. I was in a bunker at night out on the perimeter of a base camp at the tip of the Iron Triangle, a VC stronghold we never took, in charge of myself and two or three other GIs, because I had three stripes. Technically one stripe as I was a “specialist five” not a buck sergeant. I served in the United States Army as a combat correspondent and photojournalist for a year minus a seven day drop.

For the only time in a year, a call came in on the radio, soldiers affectionately called “a prick 29.” A voice I didn't know, someone in charge I guess, told me that 5,000 NVA regulars were headed for our base and I was on the perimeter. He said nothing more and I began to wonder if I could find the two wires and set the claymores off around the bunker. And wondered how well I could fire the l60 caliber light machine gun I'd never used.

Pounded by U. S. air strikes and artillery and the Big Red One, the First Infantry Division, the one Clint Eastwood was in, the North Vietnamese force overran the provincial capital instead. A lot of folks were killed, most of the civilians and I gave blood the next day in a hospital where an awfully pretty Philippine nurse I knew was a nurse.

America infantrymen, called “grunts,” artillerymen and jet fighter pilots kick the enemy's. And, all over South Vietnam our troops won every battle, decimating the entire Diet Cong, tens of thousands of “insurgents.” Funny, we never called them “insurgents” in Vietnam, that civil war.

We lost, though we won, perhaps one of America's most unequivocal military victories. And yet, we lost. The American people decided they had enough, enough of horror on their televisions, enough of death and destruction, enough of their sons and loved ones coming home in body bags.

Trouble is how many Americans actually know now what happened forty years ago in the rice paddies, mountains and jungles of South Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos? How many really knew what happened then? I know there's some today with short memories, or prefer to short memories. Reality may not fit into their political agenda or scheme to win riches like rice and oil, power and control.

Well, at least we don't have to deal with the “domino theory” where if South Vietnam would fall to the communists other countries in Southeast Asia and other sort of free countries all over the world would follow.

No, now we have a 21st Century version of the Crusades and of course, a lot of oil in South Asia and not to mention Iran and Israel and nukes. Is our thinking really that clouded?

Tonight President Obama appears to be following the course of LBJ, President Johnson, for those who may not recognize LBJ. Sadly, look what happened to that strong-willed Texan. He died a broken man, agonizing over the Vietnam War, what might have been, or was it the more than 58,000 dead Americans, hundreds of thousands with lifelong wounds with hundreds of thousands more wandering the streets of America, many eaten away with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Well, I have my own theory without dominoes.

What would happen if we rounded up all the Taliban leaders, and as many fighters as we could and kind of throw a big and talk, play some music? You laugh? That I know of as far back as the Civil War, and in the world wars enemies shared coffee over a fire, even sang Christmas carols together, at night too dark to fight. I'm not aware of U. S. troops in Vietnam getting together with the VC or NVA, however. A sign of the changing times. You'd have to ask our troops in Afghanistan about that, though we trained and supplied many of the insurgents, like the leader of the Taliban, to fight the Russians back in the 1980s. 

My plan would be to keep the dinner going until we found a way to stop the war dead, or agree to stop fighting, at least until we got together for dinner again.

Does that sound impossible? No more so than the likelihood of victory on our present course. And, I thought the American people had elected a new president because he had some new ideas, maybe some peaceful ones, of ways to end wars and stop staring them.

Does anyone really think the Afghan army and police will hold on to their country once we leave? Do you really think the army and police of a country where three quarters of the people, most living in villages can win the hearts and minds?

Do you really think we can succeed when the Russians failed? Mikhail Gorbachev, Soviet leader at the time of their war in Afghanistan, does think so and he was quoted as such a few days ago.

After the last of U. S. combat troops left South Vietnam in 1973, did the South Vietnamese government survive? No. In 1975, the South Vietnamese Army folded their tents in face of an offensive by the North Vietnamese Army. Soldiers and politicians were the first to run and most of the only ones to get aboard the last U. S. helicopter out. I can still picture the television footage of that last chopper with people clinging to the skids.

Even one of our friends in Afghanistan, a warlord general turned politician, recently said flatly that the presence of US and NATO forces actually diminishes the will of Afghans to fight against the Taliban.

Afghans think it is now the war of the United States and NATO. Well, it is, isn't it? The real point is it's no the Afghans' war any more. So, it's not really about the Afghan people then, is it?

Making matters worse, the Taliban and other insurgency forces are killing Afghan civilians as a terror tactic to defeat the U. S. and NATO. And, their strategy is working. People believe, and it's hard to argue the point, that the insurgents will stop killing them, or at least not as much, when U. S. and NATO leave.

Now there's a military matter I must include. To an extent our soldiers don't have to aggressively fight the insurgents. We need to bring security to the cities and villages. Now this isn't easy mind you, especially in house to house fighting. Remember, the scenes on television from battles in Baghdad and Fallujah in the Iraq War? That kind of fighting is bloody awful.

And then there is the main Taliban, insurgent strategy – bombs, roadside, everywhere. Enough said. Then, war is hell.

If their present, illegally elected democratic government falls, will the Afghan people live in some degree of oppression? Yes. But ask yourself, how are they living now?

We'd be better off sending in 40,000 plows, rather than troops.

What would the Taliban do if we just started rebuilding, doing good things? At least other than defending ourselves. We'd be the “good guys” wouldn't we. Or at least we'd look more them.

What would the Taliban do if we started to relate to them as human beings, though one's we don't like and disagree with, rather than monsters?

Remember the war in Afghanistan in the 1980s? Many of the same insurgents, including the current leader of the Taliban, Mullah Omar, who defeated the Soviet Union were our friends against the Russians. Sounds rather twisted, doesn't it? Omar, a really tough guy, lost an eye defeating the Soviet Army. Just for the record, he's already quoted as saying we can't win.

How would the Afghan people react to a different course, activating my theory, of course?

How would the world react to a peace offensive, something never done before?

How would the world react if we started marching to the drumbeats of Gandhi and King, the spirits of Jesus, Buddha and Muhammed?

Maybe then, we'd have God on our side.

What would the Taliban do then?

Would it be better or worse?

It looks like we'll never find out.

Copyright by Mike Marcellino 2009