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Deja Vu All Over Again

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“Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it.”

About now, President Biden wishes he could ignore philosophical reminders, but the traditional presidential honeymoon is over.

“The buck stops here. If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. You broke it, you bought it.”

If you hold the keys to the kingdom, and a castle falls on your watch, you are responsible even if all other options were also undesirable. On the other hand, the stories of wars, pandemics and structural racism are incomplete if limited to blaming the guy in charge for the “optics.” The helicopters hovering over the Saigon embassy and the cargo planes struggling on the Kabul runway have similar back stories. Those stories unfold from the decisions, made by the leaders of our institutions, that might have gone another way.

For example, leaders whip up war fever and send fighters to the other side of the planet, where the enemy is native to the terrain, its mountains and alleys. The enemy has a long history of fighting invaders: the Chinese, French, Japanese; or, Alexander the Great, Mongols, the British, the Soviets.

Leaders tend to think they are smarter than their counterparts on the other side. In 1945, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) parachuted a six-man team into the jungle camp of Ho Chi Minh and Vo Nguyen Giap. Ho’s force got weapons and joined the Allies’ end game against the Japanese. Later, the Truman and Eisenhower administrations decided they preferred the French colonizers and then the Catholic nationalist Ngo Dinh Diem to the Communists.

(By the way, the OSS was not a war time stranger to Bandera. They recruited millions of bats in the Ney Cave just south of the county line on the Middle Verde Ranch in a scheme to incinerate Japanese cities.)

The Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the early 1980s gave U.S. leaders another chance to show their anti-communist chops. In particular, the larger than life Democratic congressman from East Texas, “Good Time” Charlie Wilson, decided that the Islamic guerrillas , the Mujahideen, like Diem deserved U.S. help. With help from the successor to the OSS, the CIA, they embarrassed the Soviet tanks and helicopters, consolidated their regime as the Taliban, and provided a campground for al Qaeda.

Even though the parallels are never perfect, here is one more. From LBJ’s 1964 Tonkin Gulf Resolution to now, opponents of that war have been considered pariahs, un-American, even pro-Communist. On September 14, 2011, the only member of Congress to oppose President Bush’s “blank check . . . without time limit” was Barbara Lee, a California Democrat. She had to get round the clock bodyguards.

The philosopher also said, “Only the dead have seen the end of war.” Let’s hope he was wrong.

Tom Denyer has resided in the county since 1979.