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This Time We Win: Revisiting the Tet Offensive
Most of what Americans know about the Tet Offensive is wrong. The brief 1968 battle during the Vietnam conflict marked the dividing line between gradual progress towards an ill-defined victory, and slow descent to a humiliating defeat. The fact that the enemy was, in fact, handily defeated on the ground was immaterial; that they could mount an attack at all was deemed a military triumph for the Vietcong. At least this is the received wisdom of Tet.
In This Time We Win, James S. Robbins at last provides an antidote to the flawed Tet mythology that continues to shape the perceptions of American military conflicts against unconventional enemies and haunt our troops in combat. Indeed, America’s enemies recognize and find inspiration in the prevailing Tet narrative.
In his thorough re-examination of the Tet Offensive, Robbins examines the battle in the familiar frameworks of terrorism, war crimes, intelligence failure, troop surges, leadership breakdown, and media bias. The result is an explosion of the conventional wisdom on this infamous battle, one that offers real lessons for today’s unconventional wars. Without a clear understanding of these lessons, we will find ourselves reliving the Tet Offensive again and again.
5/4/11 WHAT TO THINK ABOUT THE FACT THAT BIN LADEN WAS NOT ARMED
..the first reaction most of us had when we heard that OBL had been killed was a sense of "justice." We had finally "got him back." We repaid an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth..most of us thought & probably continue to think that the monstrocity of what OBL did (I.e. mastermind of the world trade center attack) deserves his life in response. Let's face it, unless we are extreme saints we all have a measure of "earthly justice" in us, some more than others. Yet on a daily basis we must regularly quash such desires for "eye for an eye" justice. We get cut off on the freeway. Earthly justice demands us to go cut that person off in return. a family member gets murdered. Earthly justice demands we murder the perpetrator in response. But we CAN'T DO THAT, can we ? yet, most would say that OBL does not fit into the equation of the commandment to refrain from earthly justice (as citizens, or as Christians, or other religions) or in other words "taking the law into our own hands." Many would say OBL caused the death of so many innocent people, and may argue he continues to plot ways of murdering Americans, et.al, or anyone who does not fit into his idea of "faithful" to the philosophy or religion he practiced (if indeed he was truly doing what he did as a matter of "faith", misguided or otherwise). Thus killing him would, arguably, be a matter of self-defense whether or not he was armed at the moment, sort of like him being a soldier for a country with whom we have declared war (and to a certain extent we did declare "war" on terrorism & we called the World Trade Center attack an "act of war." ) Nonetheless, if OBL was not armed when they entered his bedroom & did not engage in any act of "lethal resistance", is it right to kill him rather than take him prisoner ? That is a very tough question which people will debate for years to come. I don't have an answer, but I'm simply not completely comfortable with an "eye for an eye" approach, no matter what, even if it was Adolf Hitler. Furthermore, I hope that America can continue to develop "relational" ways of dealing with terrorism and threats to our country, or perceived threats, or in some cases, misperceived threats. I myself come from a missiological perspective and my emphasis is, of course, bringing Christ, to others, but not forcing Christ on others, more like sharing a gift. I don't think there was hope to "convert" OBL at this point in his life, but I wonder if we had reached him earlier in life, could we have changed history? I read a bio about OBL as a child and young man & he didn't seem so angry or aggressive, but a few events added up to him feeling snubbed or rejected that may have given him a feeling of being "cornered"..and he had to "make friends" with others who had been marginalized (OBL was even rejected by a few fellow Muslims, or moderate muslims, maybe non-practicing muslim arabs, et al).What we want to do, then, is learn from history and become preventative in our approach to "self-defense" so that extreme measures don't become necessary, and extreme terrorist acts become less likely as well . I've argued before that we need to continue to maintain a "missiological" approach to interacting with the Muslim world. Things that Americans take for granted, flaunting their bikini bodies on the beach, for example, is offensive to some Arabs or Muslims. If u find yourself in a situation where u may think u are offending the conscience of a Muslim, consider putting a shirt on for the moment. Little things add up and little things can subtract as well. That Muslim won't be at the beach every day. Every other day you can flaunt your bikini body, but maybe just cover up for a moment (this is just one example). Yes, u have the legal right to do this or that, but can u temporarily set aside your rights to avoid offending a person's conscience, whether or not u agree with what they believe? I would like the Whitehouse to do more in regards to educating American citizens re diplomacy with other peoples & cultures, especially Islam. Education is not indoctrination and is not something to legally enforce, but simply suggestions for helping maintain a harmonious society, with less violence, either from a Christological point of view or simply a citizenship perspective.
8th PSYOP Bn, Ft Bragg NC, 1974-78
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It treats the subject lightly (it's a cartoon, you know), and if I'm not a great or even a reasonably mediocre cartoonist, I'm still better at that than I was at being a soldier, but I am proud of my service in the Army, and prouder still that I spent it in this unique outfit. From seeing "Never So Few" at the drive-in when it came out and reading (re-reading) Alistair MacLean's "Landmark Books" biography of Lawrence of Arabia in elementary school, I've had an interest in unconventional warfare since childhood, and I'm glad I got the chance to be involved in it, even if it was only on the fringes, in peacetime.
That's why my little bimbo in the toon isn't wearing her usual bikini or lingerie, and while they ARE a little more form-fitting than they actually were, her jungle fatigues are kind of loose and baggy. Approximately a third of the battalion was comprised of women, still WACs when I first got there in '74 and until a year or two later, when the WAC was disbanded and female officers and enlisted women were "branched" into Intelligence, Signal, Quartermaster, Transportation, Medical Service and other skill-specific branches of the service, just like the men. The ones I had the privilege of serving with were good, competent people then, and if what I read on the websites is true, there are good and competent female officers and enlisted women in PSYOP (and Civil Affairs and other UW slots) doing good work in Iraq and Afghanistan and throughout the Army today. This is the way all our wars of the forseeable future are going to be fought, whether the conventional generals like it or not, and those doing it now and those who paved the way in the past deserve all the support and respect we can give them.. I didn't want to depict them in any more demeaning fashion than a second-rate girlie cartoonist can help doing.
And, while the character at the right is based on the same figure I usually use, it isn't yet another self-portrait of the artist. I (and everyone else in the outfit) frequently worked WITH Special Forces, but I was never IN Special Forces--I was NOT a "green beret" (I've got a 5th Group t-shirt they gave me, so I can't say I've "been there", can't say I've "done that", but only that I "got the t-shirt"). And 4th PSYOP Group, and 8th Battalion, did have a number of SF officers and NCOs assigned. Some of you may be familiar with Jim Morris as the author of the story on which the Disney movie "Operation Dumbo Drop" was based. I never met him personally, but I know him better for "War Story", his book-length account of his experiences as an SF officer working with the Montagnards and as a PIO at 5th Group HQ in Nha Trang. On page 262 of the Dell 1985 paperback edition, in the midst of describing the Tet Offensive, he recounts a conversation with "a very good man", one Lieutenant Gordon--"a good combat man" who was going to keep getting shanghaied into admin jobs because there are a lot of good combat men but very few able administrators. I've spent years reading military history and memoirs, but that was the first and only time I've ever seen a mention of someone I personally knew, because that "Lieutenant Gordon" went on to become Captain Gordon, one of those SF officers in 8th Battalion, my boss, and my friend. My apologies for not having the skill to do a better likeness. And Tom, Barbara, Deborah or George, if by chance you see this, shoot old Gomez a Flickr mail c/o Sir Basil. Please.
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