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Saturday, May 19, 2012


One of the most important readings about the Vietnam War that I have ever encountered is a chapter by the late Douglas Pike, a real authority on the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese, about dau tranh, or struggle, the philosophy behind the Vietnamese Communist revolution. Dau tranh, Pike explains, had two forms: military and political. Of the two, the political was far more important, and indeed, the Viet Cong always had several times as many active political workers as soldiers during the Vietnam War. Their mission was to rally their own troops and sow confusion among the enemy, doing whatever they could, in particular, to make the South Vietnamese government unable to function effectively. They also infiltrated that government at every level and tried to influence the views of enemy forces. Their goal, essentially, was to reduce society to chaos and allow the well-organized Communist Party to take over. The other day I raised some eyebrows in a small group setting by suggesting that the Republican Party has been practicing dau tranh for more than twenty years. It has now crippled government at all levels and has a good chance of reducing much of the United States to chaos in the next ten years.

Dau transh in its current form started with Newt Gingrich's all-out assault on the Democrats in the House of Representatives, whom he was determined to demonize in order to take away their majority. Grover Norquist's anti-tax pledge, now signed by almost every Republican in Congress and thousands more in state legislatures around the country, is another form of dau tranh. So, of course, is the ceaseless drumbeat of propaganda day after day, week after week, year after year, on Limbaugh, Hannity and the rest. So is the attack on the authority of the mainstream media, universities and scientists. Oddly, while this attack on government probably did more than anything to land us in our current economic mess, the mess also makes dau tranh more effective, because it undermines confidence in the government. Conservative Republicans have also waged long-term dau tranh within our legal system, using the Federalist society to develop a network of conservative lawyers and judges and packing the courts whenever they can. Jeffrey Toobin has analyzed the increasingly significant results of that effort in a series of articles in the New Yorker.

I was moved to write this post because I have to deal with dau tranh almost daily myself in managing this blog. One of my regular readers is a fanatical right-winger who probably posts 50 comments a week here, week in and week out. They are not really comments, for the most part--they are links to some piece of right-wing propaganda, often accompanied with personal abuse towards myself. I think I know who he is, although we have never met face to face, and I also regard him as the prime suspect for having put my name on the Obama=Hitler email which is still circulating, even though he denied it when we were both still on the same discussion forum. (He was kicked off the forum when his dau tranh and personal abuse went too far.) I warn, of course, on the blog, that abusive anonymous comments will be deleted, but he berates me for doing so nonetheless. The attempt to keep the extreme Republican view of the world in the foreground is a key element of Republican dau tranh, just as it was for Nazis and Communists.

The Republicans' real target is the idea that dominated the last century--the idea that human reason can design, and create, a better world. That is why Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson have been given places in their Pantheon of villains. I'm afraid they have sufficiently discredited that idea that it no longer dominates our political life, and might be disappearing altogether. Their lust for power is much, much greater than their respect for the truth. This is the threat the nation faces. Pike also argued provocatively in one of his books that there was no known counter-strategy to dau tranh, and I'm afraid he may have been right.


Anonymous said...

I've seen teams of couples enter high end stores spouting the party line day tranh style, it's bigger than you think.

Anonymous said...

Thank God I live in Europe. I was strongly anti-religion for instance while younger and living in USA as a counterreaction to extremist religious influence but in Europe I explore my moderate religious tendencies without heavy influence either way and so am free to self development in my beliefs political and historical, etc.

Maybe the language barriers between countries helps to cut off reigons from one another and stop the spread of propaganda, from say French Front Nationale to German and other groups who are not intellectual but would just hear radio in their car on the way to work and not read the big newspapers as in USA. Maybe the European history of religious war has stopped this nonsense here and the results of WWII, Spanish civil war, Italian fascism, Vichy France are well remeberd as well as the massive Stalinist atrocities in Russia. Few want such horrors again (Revolutionary Terror in France for example) even if they are somewhat racist or xenophobic due to high immigration and parallel unemployment. America is probably going to some sort of Civil War due to this internal extremism of economic libertarianism (why should I pay taxes for schools, roads, etc. that I use?) schizophrenically combined with absolute corporate dominance of political system and religous fundamentalism and belief in Global Manifest imperial Destiny of USA system with Jesus(white man's burden- no condoms for Africa but give us all their minerals for mobile phones, etc.), USA economic colonization, military pacification of globe.

I remember hearing about how Trotzkyists always tried to dominate/undermine anitglobalizers campaigns so that they had to stop meeting in England. This Dau Tranh is a typical extremist tactic. Like torture in Eastern bloc and under Nazis and fascists and now USA govt. it shows a lack of moral depth. If you are not arguing in good will, i.e. able to change your mind when you hear a good argument then you are just tactically attacking your opponent. There are whole websites and books how to argue with the opponents of certain belief systems depending on which side you come from when you try to convert them. Fundies vs. Catholics, etc. My big question is why do these people believe as they do? I think it is tribal affiliation and identification but little real self identity and searching, i.e. they never grew up and put real questions to themselves after puberty, adulthood, or if so then they really rejected modern world to become ultraconservative (simple answers easier to accpet) so as to avoid posing real deeper questions. I suppose if you withdrew someone from their tribe you could get a sort of Stockholm syndrome conversion after a long time if they learned how normal the other side is. Preacher'S kids often reject the parent's teachings for instance as too restrictive. Perhaps America needs a Robespierre/Stalinist type terror or bloody quasi-religious civil war to shake them out of this nonsense. It seems Middle East is going to Islamic civil war between Sunni/Shia. The whole fabric of modern life could break due to the general intolerance in USA conservative areas and Middle East leveraging problems elsewhere (energy needs in China/India/Europe) to create global conflict.

Paul Coonan said...

"Pike also argued provocatively in one of his books that there was no known counter-strategy to dau tranh, and I'm afraid he may have been right."

I disagree with you on that one. You have shed more light on and have given a name to what many of us already see.

The reason I disagree is because we are now entering the heart of the information age. A new "age of enlightenment" like We the People have never experienced before is at our doorsteps. Information was power in Vietnam, as well as many other significant atrocities in history. The power of information today has grown exponentially, both in the negative and positive.

Many are unplugging from the "Matrix" so to speak and those who have have generated the ability of great discernment. It becomes difficult for me to go out in public sometimes because I can, within hearing only a few sentences on almost any topic, can see those who are severely programmed. It is like putting on the sunglasses in "They Live" from 1988. At the same time, I can easily tell who is on the same wavelength as me and there is a mutual and instant understanding between the 2 of us.

It is overwhelming for me to be around so much blatant ignorance that seems to be the majority of people out there. I have to keep my mouth shut. I don't deal with ignorance very well, but revel in the discussions with those whose eyes are already opened!

Ignorance begins where thinking for oneself ends.

Too many people no longer think for themselves, they are being conditioned not to. Even Zooey Deschanel, in an iPhone commercial, hears rain but has to ask her iPhone if that is rain she hears, while a window is 2 feet away. That is the sick society many are falling into! Trained corporate servitudal consumers.

Ok I have ranted long enough.

Bottom line... Dau tranh can be overcome, combated, and it is happening right now. Whether Republican party or Democrat, I still see them both as 2 heads on the same dragon. Dems and Reps can keep up their games of distraction, as We the People watch, most of us not realizing that this is not Dem vs Rep, this is Government vs We the People. Which is also another distraction in reality since this nation has become a Corporatocracy.

The real battle is between We the People and the rich corporations who own and hide behind our government. People are waking up to this reality as well, but that is a whole other topic.

Anonymous said...

I was told some years ago that this was happening at the local level...that the relgious right was running candidates on moderate, reasonable sounding candidates with the idea of long term takeover of every aspect of government. I thought he was nuts at the time, but now I realize I should've been paying more attention.

Bob in NC said...

It is a brilliant insight to extend Pike's concept of Dau Tranh to the Republican right's 20+ year drive to destroy our government and loot our economy.

Your earlier analysis of top GOP contenders's hypocrisy (Gingrich, Santorum & Romney)is useful too (Two & A Half Men)... but both fall short of understanding how & why these guys are touting the 1% line.

As an old sociologist, I say "it's the economy" (none of y'all are "stupid")-- It is simply this: Capital is eliminating workers by the millions and doesn't want to pay it's share of the costs of maintaining "safety nets" for the "superfluous" displaced, under-employed, under-educated masses of ordinary folks we used to call "workers".
Therefore, capitalist "lackeys" (GOP pols, lobbyists, media mouthpieces like Limbaugh & Hannity) gang together in dau tranh to do their masters' bidding.

US workers and their unions, though nowehere near as guilty, are not blameless. Failing to create a genuine Labor party during the Awakening (1966-75) when conditions cried out for it, the unions hid in the sand and failed to adapt the German apprenticeship-training model to participate in the new technology that boosted productivity.
Granted, Labor were stymied by the first rounds of Capital's attack: fomenting commie-& mob baiting to enable massive job exporting ("off-shoring") and GOP killing Glass-Steagal to enable elitist financial games. Not able to see a place for workers in a high-tech economy, Labor failed to support general public education and failed to link with brown & black workers in the few remaining manual trades, while Capital attacked public education & infrastructure funding as vigorously as it crushed unions.
Now, having destroyed much of government, most of the economy, Capital is ravaging the public entitlements of Social Security & Medicare, as other sources of funds dry up: viz, China balks at further "investment" in US Treasury bonds. The Fed's end-game of printing more Trillion $$ will b the final blow to ordinary folk as gas, bread & milk soar to $10 (after January 2013).

Is there hope? Not likely in "civil war" when there is no feasible organization of rebels; not likely in "digital/social media", as Facebook, Twitter etc, are easily manipulated to track & control under martial law...
What then?

Cliff said...

I love how the right wing defends the rights in the US or State Constitutions until defending those rights are contrary to thier talking points and positions.

Case in point, the citizens of Colorado amended their Constitution to allow a person to use medicinal cannabis under a doctor's recommendation for specific reasons. This law has been on the books for over 12 years.

In the last 3 years, the right, with help from some on the left, have tried to take away that constitutional right by denying access to medicine through burdonsome regulations and outright discrimination of those who chose medicinal cannabis for relief.

They also introduced dui legislation which targets those who have thc metabolytes in their system while specifically ignoring other medications (oxycodone, morphine and other Schedule 2 substances) which cause impairment.

Every time I hear of Republicans being in favor of limited government, freedom and liberty, I think of those Republicans who would like to throw me in a cage for exercising my constitutional right to medicate in a safe and responsible manner.

Anonymous said...

Great, but depressing, post. Professor: Can you put Dau Tranh into your generational framework of US history? Is this something entirely new, or are there earlier examples from US history of times when one party sought to create chaos for their long-term political benefit?

Bruce Wilder said...

Years ago, when I was participating on a Civil War usenet group, which had more than its share of discussions powered by the equivalent of wingnuts, I witnessed, as a regular poster went off the deep end, and began obsessively harassing others. I also saw a wingnut, improbably wake up to the evidence, and transform in the other direction. Both things happen -- too rarely, perhaps, but they do. One thing, though: it's not about you, either way; it's about them.

Just a reminder, in case you forgot.

Bruce Wilder said...

". . . doing whatever they could, in particular, to make the South Vietnamese government unable to function effectively."

What popped into my head as I read this was a quip to the effect, that the government of Diem did not need much help, to fail to function effectively.

I was also reminded of your earlier post on the parallels with Weimar. In drawing those parallels, there was a curious passage, where you seemed to flip the attribution of agency, to make the Republicans-in-opposition correspond to Brüning, when the more straightforward correspondence would be between Müller/Brüning and Obama.

I saw a documentary on vaccines, The Greater Good, recently on television. I didn't know anything about it, and turned the channel reluctantly, half-expecting hear about the crazies ranting about how mercury in vaccines causes autism. I grew up in an era, in which the polio vaccine had recently transformed expectations of what collective action could accomplish: the March of Dimes had removed a great scourge. The documentary showed how the great examples of the success of the vaccines against smallpox and polio had been used as moral precedent for a vast array of vaccines, of increasingly marginal and questionable utility, pushed by an increasingly authoritarian government on behalf of an increasingly greedy and irresponsible pharmaceutical industry with immense lobbying power.

We are at the end of an era. The logic and moral force of our institutions is played out, exhausted. Obama's impulse to preserve, for example, the casino capitalism of the banksters, is as misplaced as the Republican determination to create a crisis around the debt ceiling. You can say that the Republicans were the deregulatory authors of the housing bubble and the Global Financial Crisis, and you would not be wrong, though Clinton's neoliberal cabal, back in power in the Obama Administration, might have had something to do with the bipartisan repeal of, say, Glass-Steagall.

Gaze across the Atlantic pond, where Europe, which has been governed and drawn forward by the Idea of Europe for 60 years, is foundering on the failure of that institution-building project, to create a common currency that works. The idea of a European Union was, and is, a great liberal ideal. But, right now, in its senescence, it has been overcome by corruption and technocratic incompetence, just as in its beginnings, it was birthed by selfless idealism and technocratic competence. Fascism is responding to its cue in Greece, Italy and Spain, but it would misread the situation to cast them as the bad guys in a Manichean drama; the times are revolutionary, but not because the would-be revolutionaries make them so; the ancien regime makes the revolution, by being ancien, corrupt and irresponsible. And, the breakdown of long-established norms and structures brings out the crazy in some people, as well as unwise conservatism in others.

INTREPID said...

I have not read Pike's book alluded to by you. I don't think the analogy with the Viet Cong and that of the Republican Party holds up. The Viet Cong were a segment of the North Vietnamese state government. They had their own clandestine government for the south and a military organization, we called COSVIN. So far as I know the Republican Party is a legal party whose members have not "infiltrated " the Obama Administration with the intent of causing "chaos". Moreover, I think the current GOP does not have the monolithic structure and discipline of the NV Communist Party had, not perhaps until the Tea Party factions eliminate the moderates like Senator Lugar, et al.
I do see the incessant drumbeat of various factions of the GOP to topple the current Democratic administration. I 've been reading a few books on early American history that make me realize that the carping, acrimony, and viciousness of attacks by the political parties in our early days were about just as bad. The opposition party called President Andrew Jackson's wife "a confirmed adulteress", and remember the many duels fought by political opponents like Hamilton and Burr. Jefferson and the first Adams hated each other publicly for a long time; making up just before they died on the same day--ironically on July 4th. They had their Rush Limbaugh's in those days too, but mostly newspaper editors, not radio entertainers. The newspapers did not pretend to be unbiased in those days, unlike today. So it ALL seems like politics as usual.

What I do see regrettably is that most political maneuvering these days consists of more attacks on the person rather than on his/her policy or actions, like the now dead ad acclaimed: "where's the meat?" "What's your beef, and how are you going to fix it?" I get tired of ads, emails, and alike that proclaim some new character flaw. or unfounded claims about place of birth, hidden religious beliefs, or sinister plots to ruin the country.

And, remember the Savings and Loan Scandal of the 90's.
Father Bush had the Federal government pay out through the FDIC and various other agencies to bail out those financial institutions that went under for making high risk
transactions. Estimated total cost to "we the people" was over $150 billion bucks (more when adjusted to the times). Sound familiar? And, JP Morgan says we don't need no stupid regulations. And, he's on the board of governors (or whatever they are called) of the FED.

Thomas said...

I have read, with great interest, the comparisons Prof. K has made between the Republicans and other practioners of divisive politics (to include, but not limited to, Fascists and Communists). The analog to Dau Tranh is similarly apt. The issue is not who wrote the playbook; it is that the Republicans are so willing to borrow pages.

The argument that the analolgy is less germane because the Republicans and the Viet Cong are easily distinguishable misses the point. Whether or not anyone in the GOP consciously adopted and adapted Dau Tranh as such, they are patently doing what Prof. K has been noting for some time now: advancing their agenda to de-construct the Government, on the theory that "Government is the problem." The Republicans are intent on proving that theory by doing everything possible to prevent Government from being any sort of a solution.

I concur with INTREPID only to a point. Yes, indeed, politics in the early Republic could be every bit as mean and vicious as today's. Among the things I take from this blog is, however, that it has NOT always been thus. Rather, there was a time (still within many our lifetimes) when politicians across the spectrum seemed to understand that the world had changed since the time of the Founding Fathers, and that the role of government had to evolve accordingly. Further, it was not a fatal error to work cooperatively or to compromise with an elected representative from the other party. Differences obviously existed along political lines, but at least most elected representatives (regardless of party) were in government for the purpose of governing. I don't remember the days before Newt Gingrich was Speaker being quite so polarized as they have been since.

Anonymous said...

Since the current administration was worn in
and until the results of November, 2010 elections
were official and sworn in in January, 2011, the
current administration's party had majority in
both the Congress and the Senate.

Those would be the facts.

In spite of such majority no budget has been
passed, even while the administration's party
had untouchable majority.

I wonder who was obstructing them from doing
so and re-constructing the government?

Shelterdog said...

I wonder if a term that described this phenomenon--just as accurately but perhaps more persuasively--is "Leninist." This time, the Big Lie is coming from the elite vanguard of the counter-revolutionaries.