"Are you going to put that in your blog?" asked Jenny (28% Clam nature) at the beginning of the year, seeing the secondhand copy of "Why we were in Vietnam" by Norman Podhoretz that I was reading. "Yes," I said. But I never have gotten around to it.
I wrote at least two straggly drafts of posts about Norman's book.
The first was the obvious one, about the similarities between then and now. It seemed like exactly the same two mistakes had been made:
In both cases there was a clear and compelling case for the war, but the governments that were pursuing the war never really bothered to argue it. In both cases there was a desire to do things on the cheap, and promise the electorate that it would be easier than the generals said it would. But these thoughts never really came together, and I couldn't find certain passages I thought I had read and wanted to quote so I didn't post anything.
The second was about unintended consequences of polemical writing. I had always considered the Vietnam War to be a ghastly mistake, until I read a book by John Pilger (many years ago now) that convinced me it was a noble and successful endeavour to save the rest of Southeast Asia- Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, etc.- from Communism. John Pilger didn't intend to convince me of that, of course, being a virulently anti-American looney, but he made a pretty convincing argument that the Vietnam War had been fought to strengthen the hand of Suharto and other right-wing strongmen and had been successful in doing so. This argument didn't come up in Norman's book, so I researched a little bit more, and found that Suharto had well and truly finished massacring the Indonesian Communists before American involvement in South Vietnam got underway, and that the Thai strongmen in 1975 were much less pro-American, and much less secure in their position, than the Thai strongmen in 1963. I guess that serves me right for trusting John Pilger.
I also read a book written by H. G. Wells in what was, I later found out, a very brief religious phase during the First World War. I suppose it was pretty innocuous, really, humanism tacked on to a finite emergent God like the one found in some of Frank Herbert's books, but in every line it was as though it was Weston writing, the evil demon-possessed scientist from C. S. Lewis's Perelandra. Was it just that H. G. Wells and C. S. Lewis came from the same age and wrote the same kind of prose? Or was Wells the model for Weston? I wrote a whole post about this but never posted it, either.
Lastly, I have been kicking around for at least a month the idea that the Reformation was inspired by Islam, and that the religion developed by the Reformers was a crude attempt to make Christianity into a less self-consistent version of Islam. But these tenuous stirrings haven't really come together.