07 May 2010

Conspiracies and Wars

Normally, I'm not one for conspiracy theories, but yesterday's stock market gyration is just too tempting. Consider how much money could be made by executing a few thousand buy orders at the bottom of such a rapid plunge and rebound. Could yesterday's 999 point drop in the Dow be the work of a few rogue traders? A self-funded "probing" cyber attack by a government preparing to paralyze the West should the need arise to do so?

It also looks like the recent attempt to car-bomb Times Square is the result of a long-time association between the family of the alleged bomber, Faisal Shahzad, and militant leaders of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. He had become a naturalized US citizen, making him a very desirable target for recruitment by such groups.

On the other hand, back in the 1960's there was a conspiracy by the US government to cover-up certain embarrassing details of the Vietnam War then in progress by abusing the system of classifying information (in ways that are now illegal). Daniel Ellsberg blew the cover by leaking thousands of pages of classified documents (now known as the Pentagon Papers) to the press. Ellsberg was saved from prison by the Nixon Administration's botching of the case against him, while committing crimes of its own ( the Watergate break-in). Still, I was offended by the way Ellsberg described his crimes and his pot-smoking so proudly during a City Arts and Lectures interview on NPR. Civil disobedience is a serious thing. Maybe Ellsberg would be more serious about it if he had served even a tenth of the 115 year sentence for which he was eligible. I suppose I should thank him, because efforts by him and people like him ended the draft just before I would have been forced to decide between going to Vietnam as a soldier or to prison as a draft resister. I never considered Canada. As I said, civil disobedience is a serious thing. Doing it for the right reasons and taking the consequences is patriotic. Evading the consequences is not. Ellsberg talks as if he's forgotten that.

Today I have friends and colleagues whose careers include one or more tours of duty in Vietnam. I now realize that in a way, we won. The time our war effort bought the Pacific Rim economies to develop, and the pain it caused the North Vietnamese, made it impossible for one Asian government after another to fall like dominoes to Communism. So, for those who did what they saw as their duty, thank you for serving and welcome home.

I remember especially one paratrooper who had become a reservist after his tour in Vietnam. He was the only one on campus. I met him while he was in uniform, folding his parachute before his weekend training exercise. He had a lot of guts to try to make it at such a left-leaning school. We all should have been more welcoming to him. After all, he did what he did for us.

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