By Richard J. Maybury
From the August 2010 EWR
This EWR article was published almost four months before the November 2010 Wikileaks scandal.
In the Air Force during the 1960s, I had an unusual, almost unique job, and from it learned a lot which today gives added depth when studying economics and investments.
One of the first things I learned in the Air Force was the term pencil whip. To pencil whip a record is to alter it so that the press, public and higher officials do not find out what you have been doing.
“Pencil whip it.” In the space of four years, I must have heard that order given at least fifty times. Most of it was in the 605th Air Commando Squadron, which was a special operations outfit based in Panama. My experiences there convinced me that all special ops units have two histories, the written one and the real one.
Later I realized this applies to the whole government. I think all parts have two histories, and we have no idea what’s really been happening behind closed doors.
I’m telling this story because my military experience puts me in a position to see and understand a catastrophe the mainstream press says little about. I believe that when this debacle becomes widely known, it will bring huge changes in the war and in the flows of money to pay for the war. Very likely, careers will be ruined, families of GIs will be enraged, and the military recruitment system will be wrecked.
Before I begin, let me say that America is a wonderful country, and I truly love it. But the country and the government are not the same thing.
Few Americans realize…
… the federal government has been meddling in Latin America continuously since the Marines were ordered into the Dominican Republic in 1800. Other Latin countries invaded by US forces include Mexico, Cuba, Argentina, Peru, Nicaragua, Uruguay, Columbia, Panama, Paraguay, Haiti and Chile. 1
That’s just in the 19th century. In the 20th century, Washington’s meddling in the lands between the Rio Grande and Cape Horn became constant and pervasive. Any Latin regime that does not dance to Washington’s tune knows they may have to face CIA-backed guerrillas.2
Perhaps the best-known example is Iran-Contra in the 1980s. The Reagan administration sold weapons to their mortal enemy, the Khomeini regime in Iran, and used the proceeds to finance the Contra guerrillas’ attempted coup in Nicaragua.
No one was ever prosecuted for giving aid and comfort to the Iranian enemy. The Iran-Contra circus was one of the finest examples of the effect political power has on a person’s mind.
The puppy rule
By the time he or she is six months old, every dog knows the rule, do not bite unless bitten. Some humans are not intelligent enough to learn this rule, and they go into politics.
The Washington elite cannot resist meddling in other countries. They produce an endless stream of enemies and conflicts. Long-time readers of EWR know this generates a deluge of profits from investments that do well in wartime, if you understand how foreign policy and military affairs really work.
The Army Air Corps…
…disbanded its air commando (special ops) squadrons after WWII. For the Vietnam War, the Air Force revived these units, but almost all memory of air special ops had disappeared. Our primary job in Panama was to revive it.
We helped reinvent special ops tactics and equipment, and taught them to the troops of Washington’s pet dictators in Latin America. We worked a lot with Green Berets, and with the CIA’s notorious School of the Americas. One of the troops I helped train was Manuel Noriega, who later became dictator of Panama.
“More than $3 billion in cash has been openly flown out of Kabul International Airport in the past three years, a sum so large that U.S. investigators believe top Afghan officials and their associates are sending billions of diverted U.S. aid and logistics dollars and drug money to financial safe havens abroad.”
-Wall Street Journal, June 28, 2010, p.1
The Green Berets I helped infiltrate into South America were operating against someone. I’m reasonably sure it was Che Guevara.
In 1968, the Air Commando designation was dropped, and the squadron was renamed 605th Special Operations.
Perhaps the most memorable part…
…of my military experience is the fact that we rarely knew what kind of mission we were really on. We just did what we were told. A crew often had no idea they were in combat until they returned home and found bullet holes in the plane.
In the records, almost all the operations were labeled “training” or something equally tame, but I soon learned that many missions contained features that were, for want of a better word, weird.
One example was when a C-46 crashed, killing all eight crewmen. The official report said the incident was an accident caused by mechanical failure. I never met a flight engineer who believed it. All said this particular mechanical failure could only be caused by sabotage.
Another example. One day a friend came off a mission very shaken, white as a sheet. I asked what happened. He said it was top secret but he was so stressed he had to talk about it.
He’d been on search-and-rescue alert, and was scrambled to fly to a jungle clearing where a Panamanian army truck had been in an accident. The C-47 crew was told to evacuate the injured, in a rapid engine-running onload.
When the unarmed rescue plane landed, the crew saw the truck in a ditch nearby. As the injured were hurriedly loaded, the medic asked for my friend’s help.
As my friend tended to an injured Panamanian, a bandage slipped. Beneath it was a bullet hole. He checked another soldier, then another. More bullet holes.
Over the roar of the engines, he yelled to the medic, “These guys weren’t in an accident, they were shot!”
The medic yelled back, “Shut up, it’s top secret!”
“But we’re in a combat zone and we don’t have any air cover!”
“Shut up, it’s top secret!”
They were not authorized to be in a war, so they had no need of protection. What could be more logical?
The rest of the crew sat in the plane clueless to the fact that at any moment they could be enveloped in 700 gallons of flaming gasoline.
Secrets and lies, always secrets and lies. This should not have been surprising. It was during the Vietnam War, which, by 1969, every informed person knew was a hoax. (Economist Murray Rothbard went so far as to say publicly that even if Washington lost the war, the Soviet Socialist empire would collapse, because socialism does not work.)
Strange incidents were a constant topic of conversation, and we eventually realized our job was not to defend America, it was to forcibly change other nations. Our politicians are naturally good, wise and noble, and they know what’s best for others.
Our Spanish-speaking trainers, who overheard and understood what the Latin trainees were saying, joked about this, and members of the 311th Air Commando Squadron even wore a tongue-in-cheek insignia on their hats that said “Coup Qualified.”
…90% logistics.3 It’s much more economics than strategy or tactics. The side that runs out of bullets and beans first is the side that loses.
I was a loadmaster, which is why factors described below are apparent to me and to few others.
The loadmaster is responsible for everything that happens on a transport aircraft between the cockpit and the tail. Much of this is logistics — hauling cargo and troops — plus airdrops, gun missions, search and rescue, infiltrations and exfiltrations, dropping flares, you name it. The loadmaster sees much that no one else does. And, he often stands in the open door of the plane, suspended over the terrain as if riding a magic carpet, watching what’s happening below.
He has his hands on the cargo. If he pays attention, he develops an excellent understanding of what’s really happening in 90% of the war.
For instance, during Iran-Contra, there may have been a loadmaster who said to himself, “well look at this, we’re hauling missiles to Iran; maybe Iran isn’t the threat the White House says it is.”
In other words, what a loadmaster sees is not the politics you’re shown on TV, it’s the real thing.
I believe the root of the insanity…
…is a faulty model, or paradigm. The US foreign policy paradigm has always been a duplicate of the universal plot of 1930s cowboy movies. Governments are assumed to come in two colors, white hats and black hats, and Washington believes it should help the white hats and hurt the black hats.
The truth is that among most of the world’s governments, there isn’t any white, just shades of black — coal black, jet black, midnight black — and US officials think they can read minds and identify which regimes have honorable intentions.
US military commanders on the scene in foreign countries quickly find they have no idea what Washington’s allies are really thinking. All they know for certain is that nothing seems to fit the white-hats-vs.-black-hats paradigm on which their orders are based.
Very often, these commanders find that the ruler they are helping is as untrustworthy as the one they are fighting, he just bathes more often. Washington’s well-groomed “ally” is simply using the US for his own purposes.
What else would he do?
The US commanders stumble from one nasty political surprise to the next. But it’s not a good career move for a commander to report back to Washington, “I can’t handle this job — the good guys are more crooked than the bad guys and I don’t know what to do.”
The only way commanders can cope is to begin manufacturing their own foreign policies. Documents sent to Washington are pencil-whipped to show that the commander is competent and has all important matters under control.
The result is that each year the mountain of paperwork that piles up in Washington — the government’s institutional memory — becomes more addled. A lot of embarrassing stuff is swept under the rug and never gets into the official record, classified or otherwise.
In short, bad paradigms lead to bad behavior and pencil whipping of the records.
The Russian precedent
I’m reminded of President Wilson sending the army to invade Russia, a US ally, in 1918. Wilson’s orders were so confused they boiled down to, we don’t know why we are sending you there, so do whatever you think necessary, and afterward we will let you know if you’ve earned a medal or a firing squad. The army lurched from one meaningless battle to the next.4 Ever since, except for four years in the 1940s, Moscow and Washington have been enemies.
Policies on top of policies
I’d bet that at least half the brigade commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan have been forced to make up their own secret foreign policies, and Obama hasn’t the foggiest idea what’s going on.
One implication is that Washington does not have one foreign policy, it has scores, and I am sure a lot of them contradict each other. This is inevitable when the official paradigm — good-guys-vs.-bad-guys — is out of touch with reality.
Something similar, I believe, goes on in economic policy. Since the Federal Reserve began operations in 1914, the reality of Fed policy has rarely squared with the theory. There was, for instance, that little blip called the Great Depression.
I believe, the government’s institutional memory about economics has been pencil whipped just like its military memory. Its data, and the explanations of the data taught to the president and other top officials, are often “adjusted” into hogwash.
It is now common knowledge that a big part of the euro crisis is due to European governments pencil whipping their economic data. They’ve lied not only recently but right from the euro’s beginning in 1999.5 In my opinion, anyone who thinks the US government is not guilty of the same kind of economic fraud was born yesterday.
…when you read EWR, you are to some extent seeing the world through the eyes of a special operations loadmaster, who has not forgotten that a huge portion of the official record is pencil whipped.
[This EWR article was published almost four months before the November 2010 Wikileaks scandal.]
1 “Presidents Have a History of Unilateral Moves,” by L. Gordon Crovitz, Wall St. Jrnl., 15 Jan 87, p.24.
2 It is no secret that many of these interventions have been to bail out United Fruit and other companies that knowingly went into high risk areas and then demanded to be rescued when the Latin politicians they bought didn’t stay bought.
3 Supplying War by military historian Martin van Creveld, Cambridge University Press, 1977, 1997, Chapter 8.
4 Decision To Intervene, by George F. Keenan, Norton & Co., 1956, Chapter 18.
5 “Remembering the happier days of the euro dream,” by David Shukman, BBC website, 29 May 2010.
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