The Fish
for 29 June 1998. Updated every WEEKDAY.
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Manifest Destiny


Are you quite young? Your
piece on the current
incarnation of The Communist
seems to come from
a young person. Your only
reference to the persons of
Marx and Engels reflects an
interest in assesing [sic] their
breeding potential. The rest
of your piece seems concerned
with sussing out the vacant
psychostructural dynamics
that consistently miss the
history of communism. More
like a political essay for
Tiger Beat; "shocking irony,"
it is not. BTW - shocking
irony is thin gruel. Try

Jack Garman

Ah, little Jackie, there was
a day when I too thought I
could see through an argument
to the person behind it (we
called it ad hominem and
looked down on it then). I
tried using British "slang"
terms such as "suss" to show
that I fit in with the crowd
I was "running with." And I
never thought about the
ironies of history, felt it
was insincere or bad form to
let myself be so brutally
frank: what we nowadays would
call "politically incorrect."
But for fuck's sake, if
you're going to act older and
wiser, make some fucking
sense. You complain about my
"reference to the persons of
Marx and Engels," but you
don't seem too familiar with
Marx's actual writing career,
which was deeply affected by
those carbuncles - try
reading his letters sometime!
Am I really trying to "asses"
[sic] Marx and Engels'
breeding potential by telling
people to look past their
appearances to the ways
readers have used their
texts? You might wanna try
reading that part of the
essay again, young Jack. What
on earth are "psychostructural
dynamics" - the psyche of whom?
The structure of what? Did you
have an actual point about
the history of communism?

Maybe one day you'll be able
to see that there is
something a teeny-weeny bit
ironic about the history of
communism - an irony that
might enrich your view of
both history and communism.
In the meantime, I suggest
piling on the starch to
thicken that oh-so-thin
ironic gruel.


Fish With Letter Icon

In your haste to ascend to
the usual Suckish heights of
sharp-quilled hipness (which,
of course, is what keeps us
Suckers coming back day after
day), you tripped yourself
up. You spent a little too
much time checking Marx's
conclusions for prescience,
before slamming this activity
as "not the point," at least
for "receptive readers."

Further, just because it is
all everyone else ever does,
doesn't mean you had to
uphold the absurd notion that
Marx's raison d'etre was
soothsayer-to-the-world. Step
past the propaganda in the
Manifesto, and you'll find
some analysis. Coupling their
analysis with ominous
statements about the imminent
fall of capitalism to the
specter of communism was Marx
and Engel's special way of
showing the downside of the
dominating structures of
Western society while selling
people on an alternative. A
little more than merely
sitting cross-legged in the
town square with funny hats
on, laying out socioeconomic
tarot cards.

Reading the Manifesto, we
find discussions of
globalization, the
monopolizing tendencies of
capital, the ever-increased
concentration of capital in
fewer hands. Gee, MAI, FTAA,
Microsoft, bank-merger mania
... hmmm....

Sure, the language and
substance of a lot of the
Manifesto is prescient. The
point is that maybe if more
people had heeded Marx at the
time, we wouldn't be in such
an inequitable mess now. And
it just might be worthwhile
to look into the rest of his
writings for tips on how to
get out of the mess we're in. No,
I'm not talking about any
type of communism, but
meaningful adjustments to the
system we have. Call it what
you will.

Stephen Targett
Toronto, Canada

Touché, Stephen, but
are you saying that if we all
listened to Marx we'd be more
like, you know, Canada?


Fish With Letter Icon

dearest hypatia,

first of all, bravo on the
article. this is the suck
literature i like to read.
the best i've read since,
say, "the gospel according to
luke," or something along
those lines. i write you
today to relate a similar
experience in a broadly
different context. i traveled
last year through budapest,
hungary, and decided to take
a day trip into szobor park.
it's a "statue museum," which
houses the remains of
"communist" statues that once
laced the city. it was kind
of weird actually. there were
statues of lenin and the
general bolshevik aesthetics
- certainly nothing that
appeared hungarian ... but
when i walked in, the museum
shop was playing russian
military music and selling
"shockingly ironic" t-shirts.
for instance, one depicted
lenin underneath a mcdonald's
style "M" saying "McLenin's:
A Real Taste of Communism."
another had this expression:
"Marx is dead, Lenin is dead,
and I'm not feeling so great
either." before i left, i
purchased a real hungarian
certificate of communist
military service. from what i
understood (my hungarian is
not so good), it was the
woman's son's when he
completed his tour. i bought
this symbolic totem for about
ten bucks. when i got back to
state side, i mentioned that
i visited szobor park to a
hungarian friend. he
responded: "oh, you mean that
junkyard outside of the

which means to say, you're
right (on many more levels
than you thought). marxism
*is* a commodity (we don't
even need to discuss che
gueverez or rage against the
machine). whether an insignia
of nostalgia or an image of
horror, communism is dead,
dead, dead. even marx, who
(ironically?) once claimed
not to be a marxist, would
probably not be able to live
without the "shocking irony"
of which you speak in
approaching critical social
theory. living past-world
spirit and the end of history
(or dialectical materialism,
that is) is scary, but also
pretty inspiring. marx is
indeed dead, but
surprisingly, i'm not feeling
so bad about it....


Jesus fucking God.


Fish With Letter Icon

Brown Bag

I said it once, and I'll say
it again : Wow! What a great
article about Jerry Brown. I
wonder if you could do the
same for Willie Brown, so
that maybe I might like our
mayor of San Francisco? But
that would be a tall order.
And you would probably have
to lie. On second thought,
maybe I should write to Joe
Klein to do a Brown-East type
article about Brown-West.
Anyway, I'm usually very
disillusioned by politicians,
but your soap box rampage
gave me a little hope.


Dana Dowell

Willie Brown? Uh ... sorry.
Snappy dresser, though. And
some really nice cars. And
he's, well, unashamed. That
counts for something.

I apologize for giving you
hope. But, you know, don't
come crying to Suck when you
get it taken away again.
You've been warned.
("President Jeb Bush."
"President Gray Davis." Fun
game, yes?)

Ambrose Beers

Fish With Letter Icon

One problem with living in a
peaceful place such as
America is that hardly
anybody understands how to go
about being violent.
Sucksters, for example.

God knows what went on in
Indochina, but from the
alleged evidence, it would
have been ridiculous to have
gassed the renegades (if
that's what they were) when
it would have been so much
easier to have shot them.
(Since the supposed witnesses
could see them, they could
have shot them.) It is not so
easy to gas people in the
open. The Aumists nailed only
about a dozen people, though
they had thousands trapped in

It is not enough to have a
dislike for warfare and
organized political violence
to qualify to discuss it. As
a craft, it has its secrets,
and those who don't know what
they are tend to make awful
jackasses out of themselves.

You may perhaps wish to delve
into the news releases from
early in Reagan's first term.
He was anxious to present
someone a Medal of Honor to
show his disdain for those
dirty peaceniks, so an
exploit was invented.
Supposedly, the hero was
attacked by swarms of Cong
who, just like in Tarzan
movies, kept standing up in
front of his gun. Though he
offed a dozen or two of these
bravos, instead of simply
shooting him (as in the final
scene of Bakshi's Wizards)
they kept trying to club him
into submission. And he kept
killing them.

In pinning on the medal,
Ronnie said, "You're not
going to believe this." It
was the only sensible thing
he ever said, but you know
what? He was wrong anyhow.

In the future, confine your
remarks to topics about which
you know something. Spice
Girls, maybe.

Harry Eagar

Yes, it's crushing that
America's not more violent.
Just think how much wiser we
would all be. Note to Suck
readers: Go disembowel the
neighbors right away. It'll
help you understand things.

I love the notion that
violence is some kind of
club, and members are
accountable only to members.
Where does that leave us with,
say, Pearl Harbor or the
road to Bataan or Stalin's
pogroms? Whoops, I've never
conducted show trials and
killed 10 million people -
guess I better not judge
until I've been in Josef's
shoes. Here, I wrote a short
play just for you:

Didi: You know, I've been
thinking ...

Gogo: Yes?

Didi: It was wrong for the
Hutus to kill all those

Gogo: Oh yeah? You ever chop
a man to pieces with a

Didi: (Thinks for a moment)
No, I can't say that I have.

Gogo: Then what the hell
would you know about it?

Didi: Hmm. I guess you're

Gogo: Not your place to say,
is it?

Didi: No, I guess not.


Those of us who've never been
in combat - who are very
fortunate - can never have
any idea at all what the
experience is like. But the
idea that we somehow can't
hold the military accountable
until we've had our ticket
punched is (first time I've
ever used this word wholly
without some irony) wholly
un-American. After the coup,
when the military junta runs
the country, the armed forces
may do as they please without
being in any way accountable
to civilians. Hey, it's
worked so well in the Third
World, right? Let's give it a
swing, what the hell.

You might go back to the Suck
piece that you're talking
about and follow the link to
the story that CNN actually
broke. It's a whole lot less
simple than you've taken it,
and a whole lot more
plausible than US troops
"gassing the renegades." In
fact, the CNN account fits
very nicely the reality
you've described, the fact
that it's "not so easy to gas
people in the open." (And it
was reported by someone with
three decades of combat
experience, not that I have
any illusions about how
people who describe
"organized political
violence" as a "craft" feel
about Peter Arnett or about
reporters in general.)

Incidentally, if it's so
incredibly hard to gas people
in the open, why are we so
concerned about Iraq having
nerve gas? One or the other,
folks, one or the other. The
most interesting thing about
people who practice the craft
of organized political
violence is that they seem to
have a whole lot more
interest in the violence part
than the politics part.

Ambrose Beers

You have made a lot of
assumptions, A. B., all of
them wrong. I have no
personal experience of
warfare; but since organized
political violence on an
industrial scale is one of
the defining characteristics
of our time, it seems prudent
to try to understand it.

Do I admire Arnett? Yes. I am
a newspaper reporter; he did
a good job in Vietnam. I
don't know if he knows
anything about gas warfare.

In Vietnam, the United States used
"non-lethal" gases to kill
people. The technique is to
disable someone (with a tear
gas, for example), then shoot
him while he's down. It's a
technique, a craft. I didn't
say I admire it, though when
the cause is proper, you want
your warriors to be
competent. When they are not,
when the general is Douglas
MacArthur, you tend to get a
lot of people killed
unnecessarily, even on your
own side. (I have the
impression you don't know
much about war history. Would
you be surprised to learn
that 100,000 Filipinos were
killed in order to liberate
Manila, an action of no
military value?) As for why I am worried about
Iraq having nerve gas, I
personally am not. On behalf
of Iranians, Kurds, Marsh
Arabs, Kuwaitis, and sailors
on tankers in the Persian
Gulf, I am unhappy to see
Iraqis with any weapons at
all, even flint knives.

It seems to me that quite
enough people have been
murdered; the method is not
of much consequence, at least
not to the murderees. The
Iraqis have, apparently, used
gas on Kurds. Whether it is
the most efficient way to
murder peasants is doubtful.
Most people who have studied
the matter think not. The
psychological effects,
however, are hard to match by
other means.

I did NOT say that the
military can't be criticized
or can be criticized only by
other militarists. I said the
critics should know what they
are talking about. I will add
that it's a big subject, not
one that can be comprehended
in less than several years of
hard mental work. I don't
advocate that America become
more violent - I have written
admiringly several times in
my newspaper about the fact
(which few realize) that a
man is more likely to die
peacefully in bed in the USA
than in any other large
society in history - but as
long as the rest of the world
remains violent, it seems a
matter of intense
self-interest to understand
how it's done.

Harry Eagar

So, OK, let's try to
understand how it's done.

From a column by Robert
Scheer in the Los Angeles
27 May 1997, on newly
declassified audio tapes of
discussions between Lyndon
Johnson and his key advisors
on Vietnam:

"In another conversation,
Johnson tells his national
security advisor, McGeorge
Bundy, 'It looks to me like
we're getting into another
Korea. I don't see what we
can ever hope to get out of
there with once we're
committed .... I don't think
it's worth fighting for, and I
don't think we can get out,
and it's just the biggest
damn mess.' But instead of
owning up to a failed policy,
Johnson lied to the public
about the necessity of a war
that never made sense to him
or his key advisors. He was
convinced he would lose the
1964 election if he appeared
soft on communism in Vietnam.
'Well, they'd impeach a
president that would run out,
wouldn't they?' he asked

"Three months later, Johnson
found his main excuse for the
war. American ships had
reported a possible attack by
North Vietnamese PT boats in
the Gulf of Tonkin. Johnson
rushed to announce his
retaliation bombing of North
Vietnam in time for the late
evening news. In fact, there
had been no attack, and
once-secret cables now
clearly reveal that Johnson
was informed of the
likelihood of error well
before he took that drastic
step escalating the war. The
captain of the destroyer
Maddox had cabled that 'it is
supposed that sonar man was
hearing ship's own propeller
beat,' which he had
misinterpreted as torpedo
explosions. But, as Defense
Secretary Robert McNamara
cabled in response to naval
officers who recommended
waiting before retaliating:
'The president wants to go on
the air at 11:15 p.m., that is
the problem.'"

Probably just one of the
things on Robert McNamara's
mind when he wrote, in a 1995
memoir, that "we were wrong,
terribly wrong" about
Vietnam. From an 11 April
1995 account of that memoir,
again in the LA Times:

"'When it came to Vietnam, we
found ourselves setting
policy for a region that was
terra incognita,' McNamara
writes. Thanks to Sen. Joseph
McCarthy's decimation of the
State Department a decade
earlier, there was no
sophistication about China,
either. As a result, McNamara
says, the administration
'badly misread China's
objectives and mistook its
bellicose rhetoric to imply a
drive for regional hegemony.
We also totally
underestimated the
nationalist aspect of Ho Chi
Minh's movement.

"'Such ill-founded judgments
were accepted without debate
by the Kennedy
administration, as they had
been by its Democratic and
Republican predecessors. We
failed to analyze our
assumptions critically, then
or later. The foundations of
our decision-making were
gravely flawed.'"

Then there's the one about
Erwin Griswold, the US
Solicitor General during the
Nixon Administration, telling
the Supreme Court, in 1971,
that publication of the
so-called Pentagon Papers,
the secret Department of Defense
history of the
Vietnam War that was leaked
to the press by Daniel
Ellsberg, would irreparably
harm the national security;
Griswold himself wrote the
Op-Ed piece, a couple of
decades later, acknowledging
that this had been a false
argument designed to prevent
public examination of the US
involvement in Vietnam.

Or let's consider the secret
bombing of Cambodia or the
events in My Lai - neither of
which, in my recollection,
were revealed by press

Governments sometimes get
their hands dirty and
sometimes lie about it; is it
really entirely implausible
that the United States used nerve gas in
Vietnam, despite the official
denial? I've also worked as a
reporter, covering local
politics - and I suspect,
based on that experience
(which falls a good deal
short of covering this sort
of story, as I'm well aware),
that you've encountered at
least a few official
spokesmen who are capable of
looking you in the eye and
lying to you. Think national
government is more honest
than local government, or
less secretive? Speaking of
Ronald Reagan, remember the
deliberate, calculated
misinformation that the
Reagan administration fed the
press regarding Libya?

With regard to Iraq, I was
greatly interested in Robin
Wright's 16 February story in
the LA Times, quoting
(anonymously, which is
unfortunate but
understandable) US
intelligence and military
officials who acknowledged
that the US government had
provided intelligence support
to Iraq, during the Iran-Iraq
War, knowing that the support
we provided would be used in
attacks involving nerve gas.

I'm not sure the tone of you
first email matches the
information provided in the
second, but email tends to
sound nastier than intended -
or maybe I'm just reading too
much into it. Still, the
"stick to the Spice Girls"
thing was a bit much. To
borrow a line, you have made
a lot of assumptions....

Ambrose Beers

Fish With Letter Icon

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