King Woodrow’s Wilsonian Armenia: an imperial folly avoided

Carlton Meyer, “King Woodrow’s Wilsonian Armenia” (Tales of the American Empire, 29 April 2022)

Among the many follies of past US President Woodrow Wilson (who served two terms from 1913 to 1921) was his plan to establish an independent Armenia, by force if necessary, in northeast Turkey in the early 1920s. The new country would have covered a large area right up against Turkey’s border with what was then contested territory between Turkey, then emerging from a dying Ottoman empire, combined with the Armenia of the old Russian empire that would soon become part of the Soviet Union. The area in Turkey had been subjected to ethnic cleansing of Christian communities, many if not most of them Armenian, by Ottoman Turkish authorities during World War I. Kurdish individuals were often tasked by the Ottomans to kill Armenians and other Christians, and some of these Kurds were rewarded with the houses and other properties of their victims. Irony of ironies, in the later Republic of Turkey, these and other Kurds would end up under immense pressure from Ankara – including the banning of their languages and cultures, deportations and even massacres – to give up their Kurdish language, traditions and history, and assimilate to the dominant Turkish ethnicity.

Meyer gives a summary of the situation in Turkey just after the end of World War I when the Ottoman empire was weak and European powers were vying with one another to grab and control Ottoman territory in the Middle East. Britain and France carved up the Levant between themselves and Italy and Greece competed to grab parts of western mainland Turkey around Izmir / Smyrna and the islands just off the coast. Turkish soldiers and military officers under the leadership of Kemal Ataturk (who for some strange reason is not mentioned in the episode) took up arms against the Ottoman government and fought to secure Turkey’s territory and borders. Independent Armenia, established just after World War I from Russian imperial territory, did not stand a chance: abandoned by the West, the country was invaded and forced by a new revolutionary Turkish government to give up territory taken from the old Ottoman empire.

For his part, Wilson had relied on getting approval from the US Congress to send US troops to fight with Armenia to gain Turkish territory in 1920. Congress refused and independent Armenia ended up being squeezed by two powers in its region (Turkey and the Soviet Union). The rump Armenia was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1921 and did not regain its independence until 1991.

Had Wilson been able to persuade Congress to send troops to Armenia, the outcome could have been very different and much bloodier: Wilson’s ambitions would have pitted him and the US against not only Turkey but the USSR and possibly even Britain and France at a time when the US was relatively inexperienced in conducting international diplomacy. A war against Turkey and then the USSR might have drained the US of money and young men, and the US and economy would have run a very different course in the 1920s. The US was already in the habit of occupying other nations militarily and running their domestic affairs to the detriment of the populations in those nations, and the addition of Armenia to that set would have entrenched the habit and created an unstable geopolitical situation in the Middle East close to the Soviet Union. Armenia and its neighbours in Georgia and Azerbaijan could very well have become buffer states between the West and the USSR and all three could have become the setting for a new World War.

While Meyer regards Wilson’s plan for an independent Armenia (albeit one that would eventually become dependent on the US and at the same time act as the eyes and ears for the US in the Middle East) as yet another foolish imperial adventure following previous ones, starting with despatching troops to Haiti and other parts of the Caribbean from 2015 onwards, he does not give very substantial reasons as to why supporting an independent Armenia in land taken from others (even if those others stole the land themselves) was a foolhardy undertaking. A small, impoverished nation stuck between two much larger powers with their own plans for the Caucasus would never have survived for very long and American lives lost in defending Armenia would have been lost in vain, to say nothing of the impact on Armenians themselves. That an independent Armenia exists now and has done so since 1991 is the result of a much changed geopolitical context in western Asia.

While Soviet annexation of Armenia delayed Armenia’s political development, it did at least help preserve the nation and gave Armenians a reason to rally around their culture, language, history and traditions in the hope that one day Armenia, no matter how big or small, would become independent.

Though one can sympathise with the Armenians’ desire to run their own affairs after the horrors they endured during World War I, perhaps in the long run it was better for the Soviets to have annexed Armenia than for Wilsonian Armenia to exist. A Wilsonian Armenia would have been surrounded by neighbours hostile to it and heavily reliant on faraway Western nations whose support would be inconsistent at best and hypocritical at worst. In the multi-polar world, Armenia may well find that having been part of the Soviet Union gives it an entry into the network of China’s Belt Road Initiative at a time when Europe is turning away from partnership with Russia and by implication China.

The Chinese defeated the US Army in 1950: how the US lost the Korean War in the long term through arrogance and ignorance

Carlton Meyer, “The Chinese defeated the US Army in 1950” (Tales of the American Empire, 18 February 2022)

Compared to his other short history documentary videos on his channel, this latest installment in Carlton Meyer’s “Tales of the American Empire” Youtube series might not look quite as colourful, based almost entirely as it is on old 1950s black-and-white newsreel film archives. Yet the narrative here is relevant to contemporary audiences 70 years later with the world edging closer to a global war between the United States and its allies on the one hand and Russia, China and their allies on the other. Everyone concerned about such a potential war would do well to watch this video about how, during the Korean War in late 1950, the Chinese fought American military forces in the Battle of Unsan and then later in the Battle of Chosin Reservoir (at Lake Changjin) in North Korea.

While the Chinese suffered much heavier casualties than the Americans did in both battles, in the long term the battles had the effect of shattering US confidence in capturing North Korea and US hopes of reuniting the Korean peninsula under Western domination. In the end, the Chinese and North Koreans pushed the Americans and South Koreans back to the 38th parallel near the present-day border between North and South Korea. Narrator Meyer puts much of the blame for American blunders during US conduct of the war in North Korea in 1950 onto General Douglas Macarthur who failed to study Chinese fighting tactics in North Korea, relied more on military technology and less on strategy, and pursued the Chinese into traps they had set for the Americans.

Meyer may take a rather eccentric view of the outcome of the Battles of Unsan and Chosin Reservoir in suggesting that the Chinese really won these battles despite their heavy losses and being unable to make good on the gains they made during the fighting due to overstretched supply lines on their side. His argument that American losses were as much due to arrogant assumptions that the US could easily push the Chinese back to the Chinese-North Korean border (and even beyond) and that the fighting would be over by Christmas, as to the enemy’s determination and resilience, is worth noting. In the current age, with Americans assuming that Russia will conduct a hot war with Ukraine using outdated World War II strategies and military hardware, and both China and Russia having reformed their armed forces and supplied them with new technologies that are leaving the US behind in the way of military technological innovation, the US really cannot afford to rely on old stereotypes about other nations’ capabilities in waging war, and to conduct military policy based on those stereotypes.

The video is much stronger on the details of the battles the Chinese and the Americans fought, though less so on the outcomes of the battles and the consequences those outcomes had for the US and the Korean peninsula in the decades that followed. Still, Meyer is to be commended for introducing current audiences to aspects of a war the US government would prefer people not to know – because Americans would discover that their nation’s armed forces are much less powerful than the propaganda spread by the Pentagon and Hollywood suggests, and that their political and military leaders really are much more stupid and incompetent than they suspect.

Panama Ransacked in 1989: a brief snapshot of a seedy relationship between the CIA and Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega

Carlton Meyer, “Panama Ransacked in 1989” (Tales of the American Empire, 4 February 2022)

A very informative video, this instalment in Carlton Meyer’s Tales of the American Empire series investigates the secret history of CIA involvement in Central America and the roles played by George H W Bush as CIA Director and then later as US Vice President (1981 – 1988) and US President (1989 – 1992), and by Manuel Noriega as head of Panamanian intelligence, cocaine trafficker and Military Leader of Panama (1983 – 1989) who was on the CIA payroll on and off from the early 1970s on. Bush and Noriega worked to keep Central America under US and CIA control using cocaine smuggling operations to fund CIA activities aimed at undermining governments in Nicaragua and elsewhere in Central America. However in the 1980s a rift developed between Noriega and the US government under President Reagan when Noriega refused to modify a 1977 treaty requiring US military bases in Panama to close by the year 2000. From then on, Noriega began to work independently of the US government and the CIA in smuggling cocaine from Colombia into the US, and to resist overthrowing the Sandinista government in Nicaragua.

The US government began looking for ways to get rid of Noriega, especially after Bush himself embarked on his Presidential campaign in 1988 and became potentially vulnerable to blackmail from Noriega over his role in the CIA’s drug smuggling operations from Colombia to the US. After Bush won the Presidency in November 1988, the plan to overthrow Noriega as Panamanian leader – and also to plunder Panama to erase all evidence of Bush’s involvement in cocaine trafficking – began in earnest. This culminated in the US invasion of Panama in December 1989 which included a massive bombing campaign of Panama City that resulted in much destruction, mostly in poor neighbourhoods, and (depending on the source) killed as many as 3,000 Panamanian civilians and made 20,000 homeless. Noriega gave himself up and was replaced by another set of crooks.

The close and complicated association that Noriega had with the CIA, Bush and the US government through the 1980s is hinted at in the documentary. Viewers wanting more information about Noriega and how he blew hot and cold in his partnership with the CIA can refer to the links provided by narrator Carlton Meyer beneath the video. Archived photographs, film of the US invasion of Panama, maps, interviews and a speech by US linguist / political activist Noam Chomsky summarising Noriega’s role and place in Panamanian politics and history flesh out Meyer’s narration.

Once again Meyer does excellent work in exposing the seedy underbelly of US imperial politics in Latin America and the criminal nature of the US government and its intelligence agencies. The grubby links between US global politics and international drug trafficking networks are clearly exposed in this particular example of cocaine trafficking in the 1980s, and the role it played in enabling the continuing dominance of US power in Latin America.

The Disastrous Liberation of the Philippines: how the US failed to end war and suffering in 1944 – 1945

Carlton Meyer, “The Disastrous Liberation of the Philippines” (Tales of the American Empire, 10 December 2021)

In this short documentary, military historian Carlton Meyer makes his case that the US decision to liberate the Philippines from Japanese rule in 1944, when US armed forces could have bypassed that part of Southeast Asia (as they did with Singapore and Malaysia), and blockaded the island chains stretching from Formosa (Taiwan) through Okinawa and the Ryukyu Islands to southern Japan, and even to the Korean Peninsula, was the most disastrous the US made in the Pacific front against Japan. By attempting to liberate the Philippines, the US action not only resulted in the unnecessary deaths of thousands of US and Filipino soldiers, and of even more thousands of Filipino civilians and the destruction of Filipino cities, but delayed the conclusion of the war. Actions the US took to blockade Japan and cripple its military industries took place much later in 1945 than sooner in 1944. Japan’s offer to surrender might have been accepted sooner as well, though Meyer notes that the US deliberately delayed accepting Japan’s surrender because it wanted to demonstrate the effectiveness of its atomic bomb program to the Soviet Union and that program was not ready in early 1945.

Meyer lays out how the US could have effectively used a blockade of Japan to force that nation to surrender earlier and save millions of lives, not to mention using its troops in areas where they really were needed (in China and Korea perhaps) and thus preventing Soviet entry into the war against Japan. (This probably might not have stopped China and Korea from accepting Communist government but might have reduced popular support for the Communists.) Cutting supplies from Japan to the Philippines by an island blockade could have led to early Japanese surrender in the Philippines followed by an orderly withdrawal of Japanese troops – in most other parts of Asia and the Pacific region, Japanese soldiers surrendered and withdrew without necessarily fighting to the death – and the destruction of cities and towns in the Philippines would have been less severe.

The weakest part of the documentary is in Meyer’s attempt to find and explain why the US did not do what it should have done. There were individuals in the US Joint Chiefs of Staff who supported US Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz’s plan for blockading Japan. Meyer fingers US General Douglas Macarthur as the main advocate for retaking the Philippines in order to salvage his tattered reputation after his catastrophic defence of the Philippines against Japanese invasion in 1942. Whether the Roosevelt administration supported Macarthur over Nimitz’s plan or Nimitz changed his mind (under pressure from others perhaps), Meyer is unable to say. He is also unable to say what reasons may have attached to the US decision to liberate the Philippines and prolong the fighting unnecessarily, and if these reasons might themselves have been based on geopolitical or other agendas, the consequences of which would have given the US political, economic or other strategic advantages in East and Southeast Asia and the Pacific region.

Visual material including maps and archived film and photos help illustrate Meyer’s argument of what the US could and should have done. The voiceover narration can be quite fast and viewers may need to re-run the film to catch the details of what Meyer says. The implications of Meyer’s argument are enormous, as the decision not to follow Nimitz’s plan to blockade Japan resulted not just in unnecessary suffering, death and destruction but had widespread consequences for other parts of Asia beyond Japan and the Philippines which themselves generated further actions and results that are still working out in the geopolitics of this part of the world more than 70 years later.

In the context of Meyer’s Tales of the American Empire series, it’s hard not to think that the US decision to “liberate” the Philippines in the way this was done was perhaps to keep the Filipino people in such a wretched and impoverished state that they would never be able to press for independence.

The 1964 Coup in Brazil: how Brazil and South America were set back for 21 years by US regime change action

Carlton Meyer, “The 1964 Coup in Brazil” (Tales of the American Empire, 12 November 2021)

This instalment in Meyer’s ongoing series investigating the long history of US imperialism across the globe focuses on the overthrow of Brazilian President João Goulart by his nation’s military in 1964 and the role the US government under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson played in that coup. Goulart came to power in Brazil in September 1961 on a platform of educational, taxation, electoral and land reforms aimed at benefiting the poor and stimulating the national economy. He was friendly towards the Castro government in Cuba during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis and his belief in Cuban independence and self-determination led the Kennedy government to consider overthrowing Goulart’s government. The plan to get rid of Goulart became Operation Brother Sam. After Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963, US President Lyndon B Johnson then authorised a US naval task force and aircraft to travel to Brazil, ostensibly to conduct a military exercise, to support the March 1964 coup. The coup was organised by the CIA together with the Brazilian military.

The mini-documentary shows how supposedly progressive US governments like those of Kennedy and Johnson actually supported right-wing forces in Latin American nations and thwarted those nations’ drive for self-determination so as to safeguard US corporate interests. Archived film interviews and Brazilian television news reports help demonstrate how the Brazilian Chief of Army General Staff Castelo Branco was persuaded to support the coup by US military attaché Vernon A Walters who told him that the US naval force and aircraft would assist in regime change (to the extent of openly invading the country) if the coup were to falter. The film does not note that Castelo Branco later benefited from supporting the coup – he became President in April 1964 – which would have been rich irony.

As a result of the coup Brazil suffered repressive military rule for 21 years during which time the country served as the model and template for US-assisted overthrow of other South American leaders and governments deemed undesirable by Washington DC: this 21-year period includes the 1973 overthrow of Chilean President Salvador Allende by the Chilean military. Many consequences of the 1964 coup against Goulart were to follow and are still working their effects through Brazilian society and the rest of South America. Unfortunately Meyer’s video, concentrating on the details of Goulart’s overthrow and the US role in it, does not have the time or the scope to cover the full significance of the coup for Brazil and the entire Latin American region.

The Destruction of Laos: casting light on a shameful aspect of the Vietnam War

Carlton Meyer, “The Destruction of Laos” (Tales of the American Empire, 15 October 2021)

Many people know that the Vietnam War dragged Cambodia into its horrors – or rather, US State Secretary Henry Kissinger saw fit to drag Cambodia into the Vietnam War – but I confess to being unaware that Laos had also been dragged into the Vietnam War even though the fact that Cambodia was an unwilling participant made so by the US should have suggested to me that the US would treat Laos similarly. Here comes Carlton Meyer with his latest TofAE episode to cast light on a relatively little-known front of the Vietnam War: the US bombing of Laos. As Meyer notes, Laos in the early 1970s was a small country of some 3million yet the US saw fit to drop over 2 million tons of bombs in 580,000 bombing raids over 9 years from 1964 to 1973: that works out to one planeload of bombs being dropped onto Laos every 8 minutes! At the same time this was happening the US government denied it was bombing Laos or had US combat forces in the country.

After describing the scale of the bombing of Laos, Meyer goes on to detail how US forces and the CIA operated in the country. Combat forces worked as contractors for the CIA and trained and led Laotian and Chinese mercenaries in Laos. Many of these Americans supplemented their incomes by engaging in the opium trade. US denial of involvement in Laos meant that finding lost or missing US soldiers or pilots in the country was difficult or impossible, since that would force Washington to admit that the US did indeed have forces there.

Meyer rounds off his short documentary by explaining why the US invaded and brought the Vietnam War to Laos: the reason was to shut down the Ho Chi Minh supply trail that passed from North Vietnam through Laos and Cambodia to South Vietnam. Meyer explains how the US attempt to cut off the supply trail was bound to fail as the Vietcong in South Vietnam had support from the general public there and could obtain supplies from myriad, mostly local sources, not just from North Vietnam. Ultimately it was the determination of the Vietnamese to reunite as an independent nation, free from Western domination (whether in the form of French colonialism or US neocolonialism), that was the major factor in Vietnam’s victory.

Meyer enlivens his short video documentary with archived film, maps and snippets of old 1970s interviews including one with a US refugee worker dealing with displaced Laotians who relays what the refugees told him about the relentless nature of the bombing and the total destruction it caused. This interview with the refugee worker, which concludes the film, conveys the absolute horror of what amounted to virtual firebombing of the country. What Meyer details is indeed an absolutely shameful episode in US military history.

Meyer probably could have noted the continuing legacy of the US bombing campaign in Laos: about 30% of the bombs dropped on Laos did not explode on impact but remain in many parts of the country and continue to maim and kill Laotians, children in particular.

Treachery by US Army Generals in World War II: how incompetence and bad decisions led to US defeat and Japanese occupation of the Philippines

Carlton Meyer, “Treachery by US Army Generals in World War II” (Tales of the American Empire, 1 October 2021)

While many people know that Japan dealt the British Empire its worst defeat in Singapore in February 1942, not many know that a few months afterwards in May 1942, Japan also defeated the United States in the Philippines after a five-month campaign (it began on 8 December 1941, just after Japan’s bombing of Pearl Harbour in Hawaii) that led to 23,000 US soldiers and 100,000 Filipino soldiers dead or captured. Those captured ended up being shipped off to Japan in infamous “hell ships” (where they were crammed into cargo holds with little air, ventilation, food or water) to work as slave labour in factories or mines for as long as three years. Much of the blame for the disastrous US defeat can be laid upon the US Army generals in charge of the combined US / Filipino forces for their incompetent – and at times inexplicable – decisions that allowed much smaller Japanese forces to attack and lay waste US airfields and destroy valuable US aircraft and ships.

In this episode of his “Tales of the American Empire” series, Carlton Meyer concentrates on three examples of incompetent actions by US Army generals in the Philippines. In the early months of Japanese invasion of the Philippines after December 1941, General Douglas MacArthur withdrew US forces to Bataan Peninsula, allowing the Japanese to seize Manila which forced the colonial US government to retreat to the island of Corregidor. MacArthur’s withdrawal included the abandonment of Fort Wint on Grande Island at the entrance of Subic Bay. Japanese forces bombed Corregidor and after a long siege, starved and still waiting for reinforcements, US defenders surrendered to Japan. While Macarthur, Filipino leader Manuel Quezon and other high-ranking military officers and diplomats escaped capture and left the Philippines, others were not so lucky: at least 17 US Army generals became POWs.

One of the these officers was William F Sharp, in charge of the Visayan-Mandanao Force. Believing that Japan would execute US soldiers and other Americans captured in Corregidor, Sharp surrendered to the Japanese though many Americans and Filipinos under his command refused to give up and became guerrilla fighters. Another officer, Jonathan M Wainwright, had also surrendered in the belief that his action would minimise casualties and save hostages from being executed.

The actions of Wainwright and Sharp, to whom Wainwright transferred his command of all US and Filipino troops (at least until the Japanese insisted that all US and Filipino troops had to surrender, forcing Wainwright to pressure Sharp to surrender also), might be seen as being under duress, both generals perhaps not aware that the Japanese were not planning to execute their Corregidor hostages. The actions of MacArthur though, in following a pre-war plan to compel his troops to retreat to Bataan Peninsula, enabling the Japanese to capture Manila and Luzon Island and to cut off supplies to the Americans, beg for explanations as do also the actions of US President Franklin D Roosevelt in failing to send appropriate reinforcements to US forces in the Philippines. Why did MacArthur defer to a plan and not go on the attack against Japanese invaders? What do MacArthur’s failures and Washington’s disregard for US troops in the Philippines – never mind the Filipinos – say about US attitudes towards Japan, the Philippines and East Asia / Southeast Asia generally that might still be relevant to current US attitudes towards East Asia and China in particular?

Unfortunately Meyer’s narration, sticking to the chronology of the details of the US retreat to Bataan Peninsula and the actions of MacArthur, Wainwright and Sharp, does not dig into the motivations or reasoning of these men for making decisions that do not reflect well on their competence or ability as military leaders. What Meyer does though is tell a very well researched and detailed account of American error and Japanese determination and zeal, with plenty of archived film and photographs to flesh out the story.

The Empire’s 2021 Coup in Guinea: a succinct example of US bullying and meddling in small nations’ politics

Carlton Meyer, “The Empire’s 2021 Coup in Guinea” (Tales of the American Empire, 17 September 2021)

This video serves as another short and succinct example of the United States’ openly blatant bullying of other much smaller and poorer nations in faraway continents in its determination to remain the dominant world power even though those countries pose no threat to its economic and financial power. The reason the US intervenes in other nations’ affairs and overthrows their leaders, no matter that those leaders were elected in open and transparent elections, is to dominate those countries if they are in regions the US considers its own backyard, to prevent them from doing deals and forming alliances with other nations that could threaten the US’ own interests, and to warn countries neighbouring the target nations from following the targets’ example lest they also incur Washington’s wrath and invite interference. On 5 September 2021, the President of the Republic of Guinea aka Guinea Conakry Alpha Condé was deposed by the Special Forces unit of his country. Special Forces Commander and former French Foreign Legion corporal Mamady Doumbouya led the unit soldiers who deposed Condé.

The video explains the US connection to Doumbouya’s coup: US Special Forces soldiers were present in Guinea-Conakry at least two months before the coup was carried out, and their presence in the country before and after the coup can hardly have been coincidental. Although the US officially denounced the coup, it did not move to sanction Doumbouya and did not move troops or naval ships near Guinea-Conakry to enable Condé to regain leadership. Visual evidence in the form of a photograph of Doumbouya posing with US AFRICOM personnel in front of the US Embassy in Conakry is presented in the video. Other visual evidence from cellphone videos taken by Conakry residents who then uploaded the videos to the Internet shows armed US soldiers in city streets while the coup was under way.

In his voiceover, Meyer provides the context in which the coup was carried out: Guinea-Conakry’s chief export is bauxite, from which aluminium is obtained, and its main customer for bauxite is China. Condé developed close economic and trade relations with China, the latter also investing funds in improving Guinea-Conakry’s infrastructure and hospital facilities. In a populous region not far from Central and South America, and with considerable offshore oil and gas deposits, Guinea-Conakry’s growing links with China and the investments China was making in the country could not be ignored by its equally poor neighbours – and those links and China’s other activities certainly came to the attention of the US.

In an age where the US is in deep economic, financial and military decline, and other nations such as China and Russia are rising powers in many different spheres, not only economically and militarily, even a small and poor country like Guinea-Conakry which is no threat to Washington is not allowed by the US to make its own trade deals with China or whoever else it wants to contract with and to pursue its own political, economic and military self-interest.

The Chaotic Fall of Kabul in 2021: demonstrating the failed propaganda and lies of the US empire

Carlton Meyer, “The Chaotic Fall of Kabul in 2021” (Tales of the American Empire, 20 August 2021)

Using past and current news videos of the US evacuations from Saigon (Vietnam) in 1975 and Kabul (Afghanistan) in 2021, this instalment in Carlton Meyer’s Tales of the American Empire compares these two momentous events in the decline and fall of the American Empire and uses them to demonstrate how the US government not only lies to its citizens but, in detailing the apparently disorganised and messy evacuations, also exposes the United States’ incompetence in not foreseeing events and planning for an orderly departure and that nation’s cold and brutal indifference to the fate of its citizens stranded in both countries, to say nothing of the fate of those local Vietnamese and Afghans who assisted the US in its wars and might have been (or be) accused of treachery. The film then lays out the context for the US occupation of Afghanistan in the wake of terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center towers and other locations in the US on 11 September 2001. Those attacks provided the convenient excuse for the US to invade Afghanistan and overthrow the Taliban government in spite of the fact that none of the terrorists supposedly involved in the attacks were Afghanistan citizens; the only link was that Saudi terrorist leader Osama bin Laden was living in Afghanistan at the time of the 9/11 attacks. Meyer states that bin Laden had nothing to do with these attacks: he learned about these from local news media where he was living; and that bin Laden himself and the supposed existence of his organisation Al Qa’ida were a ruse for the US to pursue a War on Terror in Afghanistan and other nations in western Asia and northern Africa whose governments had been targeted for overthrow.

One significant feature of the film which Meyer could have emphasised more is the failure of US and other Western intelligence to ascertain that the Taliban had cut deals with sections of Afghanistan’s government and armed forces, and that Taliban overthrow of US puppet President Ashraf Ghani’s government would be swift: this failure is illustrated in US President Joe Biden’s press conference about a month before the fall of Kabul, in which Biden asserts that the collapse of Ghani’s government would not occur as the country’s armed forces were more than adequately staffed and equipped to fight and resist the Taliban, and that there would be no hurried evacuations from Afghanistan similar to those that occurred in Saigon in April 1975. This part of the film illustrates more than anything else that has been and is being written about the Biden government’s performance in the months leading up to the Taliban resurgence, that the entire apparatus of and surrounding the US government, including US intelligence and the most senior leaders of the nation’s armed forces, has utterly failed the US people in its ineptitude.

Funnily, while watching the film of the passenger jet moving down the runway at the Kabul airport, with all the people running alongside, that the film features early on, I had the impression that the crowds did not look all that desperate to clamber on board. It may very well be that the people (nearly all of whom were men) at the airport were aware of the momentous events taking place in Kabul, that the Western planes landing at the Hamid Karzai International Airport might well be the last such planes they would see; and that Western mainstream news media were imposing their own interpretations of the scenes at the airport onto the crowds and the country to insinuate that many Afghans were desperate to leave the country after Taliban victory. Even when backed into a corner, with all its lies and propaganda about Afghanistan and the failed 20-year war there, the West still needs to lie about its failures.

The American Retreat from Vietnam: an example of how the US is detached from reality and lies to its people

Carlton Meyer, “The American Retreat from Vietnam” (Tales of the American Empire, 2020)

In the wake of the American retreat from Afghanistan in August 2021, the apparent parallel collapse of the Afghanistan armed forces and the concomitant swift rise of the Taliban back to power in Kabul, this episode in Carlton Meyer’s ongoing series Tales of the American Empire is worth a watch for possible similarities between US loss in Afghanistan over 2020 – 2021 and US defeat in the Vietnam War in early 1975. Certainly images of the Chinook helicopter hovering over the US embassy in Kabul, similar to images of a Chinook hovering over the US embassy in Saigon in April 1975, cannot just be coincidental. As it turns out, there are many similarities and parallels indeed, so much so that not only does the question of whether the US learned anything at all from its Vietnam defeat arise but also the question of whatever good the US might have learned from that defeat was either worthwhile or wasted.

One obvious parallel is that just as the US threw money, equipment and weapons at the Afghanistan army, so it did the same at the South Vietnamese army from 1969 onwards, after Richard Nixon became US President as the second half of Meyer’s film details. The South Vietnamese army was much larger and better equipped with advanced military hardware than the Viet Cong. At the same time, morale and loyalty towards a corrupt government in Saigon within the South Vietnamese army were low, just as soldiers in the Afghanistan army were disloyal to the corrupt governments of Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani in Kabul. South Vietnamese soldiers were apt to sell weapons and equipment to the Viet Cong secretly, just as their Afghan counterparts did more recently to the Taliban and their supporters. As well, in both Vietnam and Afghanistan, the armies were heavily dependent on US “advice” and communications: in both countries, once the advisors left, the armies collapsed. (This bodes ill for the armed forces in countries like Australia and others that coordinate their activities closely with US armed forces, to the extent that these other nations’ armies are unable to act on their own initiative.) In addition, senior generals in the South Vietnamese army were corrupt and amassed fortunes for themselves from US taxpayer money, and surely decades later their equivalents in the Afghan armed forces and the government did the same: news that Ashraf Ghani secretly fled Afghanistan by car with another four cars and a helicopter all filled with cash (and having to leave some money behind at Bagram airport) has been circulating on the Internet.

A second parallel is that just as sections of the US government knew that the Vietnam War was unwinnable as early as the early 1960s yet lied to the general public and continued to throw money and men into a giant black hole, so half a century later some elements in the US government must have also known that the war in Afghanistan was also unwinnable for the US yet allowed the lies to continue. A major difference may be that most politicians and the news media in the early 2000s were so divorced from reality that they persisted in pushing more trillions and more troops into the quagmire in Central Asia, even though they must have known (or at least their gut feeling must have known) that the war in Afghanistan could not be won and that sooner rather than later the US and its allies would have to leave the country in defeat and humiliation. Whether the general public in the US and the West generally in the early 2000s was as naive as it might have been in the 1960s and 1970s and accepted the lies and propaganda is another matter.

Whether South Vietnam was a safe place for its people to live in during its existence, I do not know, though the violence (especially violence against women and girls) that follows the establishment of US military bases in places as far-flung as Iraq, Japan and South Korea suggests that in Afghanistan during the US occupation from 2003 to 2021, the casual violence and brutality dished out by US and other Western troops to civilians in Afghanistan, collectively and individually, must have been considerable. The wailing of Western human rights organisations about what the Taliban might do to Afghan women and girls now that the movement has reasserted itself, when for the past 20 years most Afghan women and girls living outside Kabul and other major cities (they constitute about 75% of the country’s female population) experienced little of Western largesse and much of Western violence, is more than a little hypocritical.

By itself, Meyer’s film is a very informative introduction on the way the US prosecuted the war in Vietnam during Richard Nixon’s presidency, demonstrating how the US cause was a lost one due to its arrogance and failure to understand the Vietnamese people and their aspirations for independence. In light of the recent US defeat in Afghanistan, the film becomes a warning, a part of the ongoing narrative of US hubris, belief in American exceptionalism and over-dependence on technology and fire power.