Saturday, October 30, 2004

A BFO is a Blinding Flash of the Obvious

Now it's Sunday the Halloween before the election and time for a short, belated rant. I went to Viet Nam twice when I was young, got wounded twice, two Purple Hearts and two Bronze Stars (not for valor, but for what they called meritorious service). I wasn't a hero, but I did my duty and I learned some things about war. The most important: The first principle of war is the Principle of the Objective. We didn't have an obejctive in Viet Nam, so we lost. H.G. Summers, On Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War (Presidio Press 1982).

The first principle holds: Every military operation should be directed towards a clearly defined, decisive, and attainable objective. Here's the meat:

"No one starts a war--or rather, no one in his senses ought to do so--without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it. The former is its political purpose; the latter its operational objective. This is the governing principle, which will set its course, prescribe the scale of means and effort which is required, and make its influence felt throughout, down to the smallest operational detail." Carl von Clausewitz, On War.

One evening in the fall of 1967 we ambushed what we thought was a small Viet Cong patrol. Turned out to be a couple of rice farmers, unarmed, carrying a body in a casket out of their little village to bury. What had, in the dark, looked like weapons were a hoe and shovel for grave digging. I didn't need Harry Summers to tell me we didn't know what we were doing in Viet Nam, but when I read a review of his book I was gratified someone had reached the same conclusion as I. Summers was a Colonel of Infantry at the Army War College. The review I read was in the Wall Street Journal. The Principles of War on which Summers based his analysis were the results of von Clausewitz' 18th century study of the Art or Science of War and had been fundamental to Army doctrine for a very long time. I studied them at West Point in the early 60's. This was not some radical new idea; it was just the basic stuff. It was conservative is what it was.

So here's this morning's first BFO:

The tragedy of Viet Nam was that somehow in the incoherence of the time we forgot first principles. In contast to our befuddled approach to the war, the question whether the war was "just" just disappears. Maybe if we'd understood what we were doing we wouldn't have done it. Instead we spent years, money, lives, dead babies, burned babies, My Lai--all of that--on a war about the obective of which we had not a fucking clue. The tragedy of Viet Nam was a tragedy of stupidity.

But we learned the hard lesson. The press later called in the Powell Doctrine, but it was just Clausewitz' first principle: If you don't know what you're doing, then don't do it.

The tragedy of Iraq is something else. Despite the advise of Powell, Wes Clark, Rick Shinseki, and lots of others, the chickenhawks--the ones who thought Viet Nam was a mighty good little war, but had other priorities, daddies who got them into the Gaurd, whatever--the ones who didn't have the guts to choose between Viet Nam and Canada--the chickenhawks simply ignored what we'd learned the very hard way, made fun of it, called it the "Vietnam Syndrome," couldn't wait for the country to "get over it." So we're off to Baghdad where the grateful Iraqis were to greet us with flowers, off to Baghdad without enough body armour, without even an aim, let alone a plan to maintain civil order or turn the lights back on, off to Baghdad without orders--WITHOUT ANY ORDERS?--to secure weapons or explosive storage bunkers. (isn't this a little hard to swallow? We invade Iraq to keep weapons away from terrorists, but once we get there just can't be boathered?) The tragedy of Iraq is a tragedy of arrogance, malice, and greed.

So what's the point of the rant? Right now only two. First, the astonishingly intelligent, ignorent, arrogant, greedy, bigoted, radical right wing zealots--not a conservative among them--who hired Bush to front the show are the core of this corrupt regime, not the exceptions. The exceptions, the O'Neills and the Whitmans have already seen the light and gone home. All we have left are the Ashcrofts and the Cheneys.

Second, I've tried to find or imagine some principled, benevolent explanation for what these gangsters are up to, and it's not there. Everything I've said here is obvious to the casual observer, but the news of the world tells me tomorrow's election's a tie. What are they putting in the red states' water? I'm on the wrong planet is all. Beam me up, Scottie.

Friday, October 15, 2004

A Thursday Night in October, after the Third Debate

Driving home from a meeting yesterday evening I had a BFO. I love BFO's. If you stay in the right hand lane and just keep up with traffic the police probably won't bother you. You can really just relax and enjoy the ride. Go too fast, dodge in and out, try to get ahead, have a little fun, drive way too slow they might notice, then you might get in trouble. What kind of trouble depends, of course, on other things.

But what if you like to drive fast? What if you're one of those risk takers. What if the right hand lane, just keeping up with traffic bores you? Well, that's easy, make a choice: Follow the rules and escape notice or speed and risk a run in. Up to you.

A thing about BFO's: sometimes they morph to a decent metaphor. Just follow the rules, whatever they are, wherever they are, no matter how silly, and you probably won't get in trouble with the bosses, whoever they are. Take a risk, walk outside the line: trouble. Ask John Lindh. Ask Kenny Boy Lay.

To stay inside the lines, to follow the right rules, though, you've got to know what they are, don't you? Well, that's what I'm here for: just ask a lawyer. Lawyers know the rules, right? You pay a lawyer enough he may tell you the rules. Better yet, you pay that lawyer really enough, he'll make the rules for you. That's what corporate lawyers and lobbyists are there for: to help you make the rules. After making the appropriate contribution to the lawmaker's "campaign fund," the lobbyist gets to help the congressman write the rules--your rules--rules just made for you. So you can stay safely in the right hand lane, just keep up with traffic, while you're really driving as fast as you can and doing most anything you want. It's the American way.

But I'm a trial lawyer, as the caption tells you, so I don't care much about making rules. I just want one: the one says my client wins this case, whatever that takes or happens to mean. Now if I'm working for the insurance companies or the prosecutors I have a lot more interest in enforcing the rules, because the people I work for wrote them.

But I don't work for an insurance company or a district attorney. I'm a scary liberal trial lawyer, so I hate rules. Rules just get in the way, mainly, because as a scary liberal trial lawyer the people I represent--the ones whose fight I fight--are generally not of the rule-making classes. They're just trying to get along.

Why is it, do you suppose, that the people who make the rules--the bosses--don't like me and my colleages? Duh. But here's the real question: how have they managed to convince the other folks, the ones just getting by, that I'm their enemy?

This question goes in many directions, on and on, always has and always will. But not this morning. Thursday was the first cold snap. Always a beautiful day down here in Austin.

Saturday, October 09, 2004


Just finished listening to Mark Knopfler's new cd, Shangri-La. Good, as you'd expect. Next up on my pc, though: Amy Subach, "I'm on Fire." Awesome. I'd forgotten, till I heard her just after Knopfler, how good she is: He's good; she's damn good. Hear her here:
Also just finished Cryptonomicon & started Snow Crash. Neal Stepenson is one of a half dozen writers who make me angry/jealous, they're so good. More here: