Kurt Anderson weighs in on Vietnam
Posted to www.marxmail.org on June 12, 2006
In 1986 Graydon Carter and Kurt
Anderson founded a satirical magazine called Spy that took a no-holds-barred
toward the rich and the powerful. After the magazine went under, both made
career shifts that landed them editorial positions at celebrity-worshipping
magazines of exactly the kind that Spy excoriated. Carter runs Vanity Fair,
whose latest issue has an exclusive on Greenwich,
Connecticut's new rich: "Viewed from
above, the sprawl that is the Cohen estate resembles Buckingham
Palace, or Windsor Castle.
Even people unfazed by luxury are startled by the excess. One billionaire,
whose name I've promised not to reveal here, said his jaw dropped the first
time he visited." Just the kind of journalism that the
world has been waiting for.
is a columnist at New York Magazine, a citadel of middle-class appetites. If
you want to find out where to get a bargain on Gucci handbags, New York is just for
you. I like to check in on the magazine's website in the largely vain hope that
I might find an interesting film review, but also to check up on what the once
impertinent Kurt Anderson now has to say after becoming part of the
Establishment--largely out of a morbid interest in the art of selling out.
In an article describing their drift, Howard Kurtz of the
Washington Post had the following to say:
One sign of the times:
While Spy frequently ridiculed zillionaire Donald Trump as a "thick-fingered
vulgarian," Carter was among the glitterati at
Trump's wedding to Marla Maples -- and put the newlyweds on the cover of Vanity
Fair's March issue.
In the latest issue of New York Magazine, Mr. Anderson
weighs in on the differences between Vietnam
a subject of some interest to me since the Irish BBC once interviewed me on the
topic (the ingrates never sent me the $100 emolument they promised.) The
is titled "The Vietnam Obsession Itís the analogy that wonít quit--and
wonít fly, either. But could Iraq
end up like Vietnam?
We should be so lucky."
It seems that Mr. Anderson has hopes that after 30 years
Iraq could also become a source of cheap labor like Vietnam: "In fact, if
during the next three decades Iraq itself follows a course something like that
of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam--that is, if it becomes an authoritarian
country run by our nominal enemies yet stable, peaceful, prosperous, and
apparently happy--we should count ourselves extremely fortunate indeed."
(So, of course, does Thomas Friedman.)
is far too much the urban sophisticate to put things in the same way as Sean Hannity, the message amounts to basically the same thing:
In Vietnam we were
fighting on behalf of not-so-good-guys against not-so-bad-guys. In Iraq, we really
are fighting on the side of the majority of the people (and their
not-so-bad-guy leaders) against bad guys. Back then, we fought to prevent a
regional domino effect of communist overthrow; in Iraq, we started fighting to
provoke a regional domino effect of democratic overthrow. But the fact that
this time we are fighting on morally high(er) ground--for
bigger stakes against no remotely noble enemies--probably makes the hell-bent,
largely avoidable Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld mismanagement of Iraq
more egregious than the Johnson-McNamara-Nixon conduct of the war in Vietnam.
This heavily qualified exercise in obfuscation could be
rendered more simply as the following: "Iraq,
is a just war. And it is really too bad that the Bush administration screwed
things up so badly."
Besides questions of winnability, Anderson seems interested
in the public mood. "But otherwise . . . how many of us
care passionately about the war? How much does it color American life
and culture? Compared with Vietnam,
the fundamental apathy on all sides is remarkable."
Mr. Anderson attributes this to the fact that this is a
lower-intensity war: "Twenty-four Iraqis died in Haditha,
while at My Lai several hundred civilians were
murdered." Of course, there was even less militancy throughout the 1980s
when low-intensity warfare was occurring throughout Central
America and Sub-Saharan Africa. As somebody who visited Nicaragua
during this period, I was always reminded of how a mother felt after her son
had been killed by the contras. From her perspective, the war was always highly
Of course, some of the apathy might be as well attributed to
the failure of the news media to do its job. Mr. Anderson informs us that the
antiwar protests in New York City
have not been so large lately. Maybe if his editor assigned somebody to write
about them, they would be larger. I certainly do understand that this might
take away from valuable space now being allotted to matters such as "Will Sudoku Kill the Crossword Puzzle?" or "Cheating
at the Montauk Shark-Fishing Tournament?"
For Mr. Anderson, the basic difference between the 1960s and
now has a lot to do with the American people, and students in particular,
becoming more apathetic, a theme that Time Magazine revisited all through the
1980s and 90s. Our former Spy opines, "And in a way that the sixties were
precisely not, this is also an Age of Whatever. Thus the Iraq war, even if it ends badly, will cause no
great disillusionment about Americaís
heroic white-hat nobility--you canít lose your virginity twice."
I imagine that Mr. Anderson is quite the expert on losing
one's virginity, given his peregrinations throughout the rather mercenary world
of commercial media. As it turns out, he was fired from New York Magazine in
1994 for, according to Mr. Anderson's blog, being "too annoying in its
coverage of the then-owner's business and social and political
associates." Knowing full well how expensive NY can be and what it means
to be out of a job, I can certainly empathize with Mr. Anderson's decision to
no longer annoy anybody else in positions of power.