The First Rule of American War …

… is not to believe what we’re told

by Fabius Maximus (May 11 2015)

Summary: Another war starts with its barrage of propaganda on America, raising the usual questions. Can we learn from experience? Will we demand accurate information and better analysis, laughing at those who have been so often wrong? Today’s post provides some context that might help you decide what’s happening, or at least create useful doubts.

“Truth”, it has been said, “is the first casualty of war”.

– Philip Snowden in his Introduction to Truth and the War, by E D Morel (1916)

Update from Ukraine

The US Army announced {1} that “about 300” soldiers from the 173rd Airborne arrived in Ukraine on April 14 “to begin a six-month training rotation with Ukrainian national guard forces”. The New York Times describes the training {2} in the upbeat prose typical of its stenographers repeating what they’re told, with a few specifics (“The courses will train 705 Ukrainian soldiers at a cost of $19 million …”). Canada has sent 200 trainers {3}, Britain has sent 35 {4}, and perhaps Israel has sent some as well {5}.

There’s no mention of involvement by US Special Forces, the premier trainers of foreign armies in the methods to fight civil wars, beyond a bland announcement {6}by Special Operations Command Europe (SOCEUR) of deployments to train local troops in “Poland, Slovakia and the Baltic states of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia involving several hundred personnel from US special forces”. No mention of direct involvement of US special operations troops, the covert tip of DoD’s spear – but then we shouldn’t expect to be told.

Compare It to Previous Direct Confrontations with Russia

As usual with American geopolitical analysis, many “experts” quickly lose their perspective at the first hint of conflict, venting breathless warnings that we’re in a new Cold War – perhaps even sliding to nuclear war. It led them to predicted scores of great power wars since World War Two; every month brings a new crop of war rumors (last year the hot “news” concerned war between some combo of Japan, the Philippines, and China).

Back on Earth, nuclear powers tend to walk lightly around each other after their first close call. For the US and Russia that was a close brush with death in the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis (see the tapes of the NSC meetings described in Virtual JFK: Vietnam if Kennedy Had Lived (2010); you’ll have a far higher opinion of him after reading it). For India and Pakistan that was a not-close but still scary moment during Kargil War in summer 1999 {7}.

One glimpse of atomic death convinces national leaders to avoid direct confrontations of armed forces, relying instead on proxies willing to die for the interests of their great power sponsors. After centuries of experience, western governments have become expert in managing these.

Compare Our Escalation in Ukraine with Vietnam

I have similarly directed acceleration in the furnishing of military assistance to the forces of France and the Associated States in Indochina and the dispatch of a military mission to provide close working relations with those forces {8}.

The first rule of American war is not to believe what we’re told; we know little because the government tells us so little – plus it lies. The second rule of American war is not to believe what we’re told; we know little because the government tells us so little – plus it lies.

History books recount the slow increase in the numbers and involvement of US troops in Vietnam begun in 1950. These mislead the reader, because these actions were not visible to people at that time. Truman’s one line mention of Vietnam gave no numbers, a precedent followed by Presidential speeches during the next two decades. Even the documents stating key decisions seldom give specific numbers.

For example, see the equivalent of a next step Obama might take: National Security Action Memorandum Number 111: First Phase of Vietnam Program, 22 November 1961 {9}. This outlined JFK’s first big expansion of the war. At the end of 1960 we had roughly 800 troops in Vietnam, including about 400 special forces; by the end of 1961 there were aproximately 3,200, including about 2,000 in a Military Assistance Advisory Group (“MAAG”) – with eleven dead so far (note that different sources give different numbers, illustrating the vagueness of primary sources about expansion of the war).

The bottom line was increased commitment to the war. We sent more troops, incurring more casualties as US10 helicopters with US pilots carried the Army of the Republic of Viet Nam (“ARVN”) into battle, accompanied by US military advisers. None of this was known to the public except in a vague sense. President Kennedy spoke often about Vietnam, but with few details {10}.

Even the passage of key milestones were invisible to contemporaries, such as the creation on 27 September 1950 of a MAAG in Vietnam, the organizational framework for expanding our involvement – or the momentous creation on 8 February 1962 of the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam – a war-fighting force headed by a commander (Paul Harkins, a good but rigid man put into a job where everything he knew was wrong).

We knew only that our brave troops supported a beleaguered nation fighting for its freedom. Much like today, as in this cheery bit of propaganda from Stars and Stripes {11}, so carefully devoid of context that tells a fairy tale. Although about today’s Ukraine War, change the names and it could be dated 1962.


If this is a path similar to the escalation in Vietnam (which I doubt), we’re in an early stage. Like early or perhaps Summer 1961.

To understand these events, apply the lessons familiar to anyone who has read post-World War Two history. Assume you know only half of what’s happening. Regard with skepticism the confident statements of “experts”. Watch the trend of events rather than the narrative (for example, Nato has reported several “invasions” of Ukraine by Russia, which oddly seem to have produced relatively few casualties, little combat, or any results).

In this, as in so many areas, the information superhighway does not appear to make us better informed than the people of pre-electronic days of sixty years ago. In 1962 we knew the government’s goals but not its actions. Today we don’t even know its goals. What were the objectives for the invasion and occupation of Iraq? What are the objectives of Team Obama in Ukraine? We can only guess at these why’s – the most difficult of questions.

For More Information

“Historian Stephen F Cohen on the US/Russia/Ukraine history the media won’t tell you: The New York Times ‘rewrites whatever the Kiev authorities say’ {12}. There’s an alternative story of Russian relations we’re not hearing”.

Also see Patrick L Smith in Salon: “The New York Times does its government’s bidding: Here’s what you’re not being told about US troops in Ukraine: US troops are now operating openly in Ukraine. The paper of record’s ‘coverage’ is an embarrassment, per usual” {13}. This has interesting background information about the Ukraine war, although some details are exaggerated.

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about the war in Ukraine {14}, about information and disinformation {15}, and especially {16, 17} about the key to reforming America.



















Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s