By Bill Shunas
Over what seems to have been most of this year, much ado has been made about the Russian connection with Donald Trump and his entourage. And more specifically there is the question of whether or not the Russians in some way(s) interfered with or influenced the 2016 US elections. It would be offensive if the Russians or outsiders of any sort interfered with our elections Our election system is not the best. It is not very democratic in many ways from gerrymandering to voter suppression. Still, fair elections are something for us as a nation to work towards. And we or any nation should - in principle - ideally choose our leaders without interference from other nations.
So, yes, it would be highly offensive if the results of our last election were altered because of Russian interference. Are we missing something here? In all these months of talk about Russian involvement in our election I haven't seen or heard much about the US involvement in elections as well as in regime change in other countries. We are guilty of that. We don't like it when the Russians do it to us, but what about when we do it to the many? Looking at my trusty world atlas to get an idea of how many nations had their leadership selection interfered with by the United States, I see many. I seem to remember cases in about three dozen countries. In addition to those, I suspect (a) there's some I missed and (b) there's been minor interference in other places that are under the radar. I don't know about Australia or Antarctica, but the other five continents are well represented in CIA and State Department lore as places they've proudly been at work. From Congo to Cuba. From Indonesia to Iraq. From Nicaragua to Namibia. And on it goes.
Sometimes we change the regime in someone else's country by force and/or assassination and sometimes by fudging an election. The obvious example is Vietnam. After the elections there in 1956 we - whoops - there were no elections then. There were supposed to be elections then as mandated in the Geneva Accords. However, Central Intelligence told Eisenhower that the communist Ho Chi Minh would be elected in a fair election. So Ike cancelled the election. After that the US installed a series of presidents in South Vietnam.
The changes in presidents were sometimes carried out by assassination and sometimes in a more peaceful way. Examples of more violent regime change include the ousting of the democratically elected Mosaddegh in Iran in the 1950's. He nationalized the oil companies so he was thrown out in a coup organized by the CIA. Mosaddegh lived. Salvador Allende in Chile wasn't so lucky. He didn't meet our standards so we backed the generals who got rid of him.
Coups and assassinations are the sexy examples, but we have also done the deed in less spectacular ways. The list of countries in which we interfered is long. If the popular will in some distant country didn't match the wishes of the US government, we used whatever means necessary to install the regime we wanted. There were the above mentioned coups. There were the ever popular bags full of money and the endorsement of rigged elections. It seemed like every time a Central American graduate of the School of the Americas at Fort Benning ran for office he'd get 99% of the vote. Pretty popular those Benning grads. Don't forget the wars we used for regime change. Laos lasted as long as Vietnam. We regime changed Saddam Hussein. He was a piece of shit, but we had no right. You can hardly call them wars, but we regime changed Grenada and Panama and the Dominican Republic and Haiti with our military. In many of these actions we performed some degree of violence. Sometimes non-violence worked, but that is no reason for a pat on the back. We need to lose the self-righteousness when complaining about the Russians interfering in our elections. It's not right, but we are equally guilty or more guilty if you consider the volume and the violence.
So, congratulations to us. Fifty years of VVAW. And now we have Trump. Maybe we didn't work hard enough. So the struggle continues. In various ways over the years we have opposed these fascists. I fondly remember my little opportunity. We were in DC for a march and rally to support those in opposition to Apartheid in South Africa. We and other groups were in this park getting ready to form up to join the march. Must have been two or four thousand of us. Then I look down an adjacent street and see Nazis marching. All five of them. They were carrying a flag which displayed a large swastika and maybe one other sign. A couple of them were wearing some kind of storm trooper uniform.
These five marched along and did a column right, heading into the park. How stupid. And they kept marching single file - right towards us - right towards me. I was baffled. They kept coming. I connected with a punch to the chin. There is no political lesson here. It was surreal. In a second, fellow VVAW members started wailing away. Forming next to us for the anti-Apartheid march were members of the Iranian Students Association (ISA). At that time Iran was ruled by the Shah, and the ISA folks had a visceral hatred of fascists. They descended on the Nazis post haste. There were cops around, mainly sitting on motorcycles getting ready to guide our march. They weren't in a hurry to extricate the Nazis, but eventually they rescued them. Whole thing was bizarre.
I suspect the threat of fascism comes not so much from those who dress in costume, but from those who don't. Those thugs who dress in costume are certainly offensive and dangerous. They are offensive to those who have been the objects of their hate. They are dangerous to those they choose to attack. Whether it's the Nazis or the Klan or other individuals or hate groups they are dangerous as models for wannabes and as symbols of a past that some dream about restoring and as instigators of events like Charlottesville Virginia. While these people are offensive and often dangerous the real fascists are wearing suits and ties, not beige shirts with swastika armbands. Enter Donald Trump stage right. He wants to make America great again. He probably is wishing that he could bring us back to before World War II when proposals of fascism were part of the political discourse.
The only fortunate thing about Trump being president is that he is inept at being president. With a right leaning Congress and a right leaning president much bad legislation could be enacted. "Very bad. Very bad." But he has alienated too many people to be effective. If he doesn't use nuclear options we might be better off than with, for example, Mike Pence who appears stable and knows how to play the game. Pence would do the bidding of the wealthy right wing and may be efficient at it. It felt good to pound some Nazi back in DC forty years ago. I thank VVAW for pointing me in the right direction. We need to watch the fascists with the swastika arm bands, but the coat and tie fascists are at center stage. They are the ones that make the times dangerous.
Bill Shunas is a Vietnam veteran, author and VVAW member in the Chicago chapter.