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Wars Won, Lost, Ongoing, and the Peace That Follows

......also won, lost, ongoing...

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, January 08, 2014.

Fifty years ago, Lyndon Johnson announced the War on Poverty. This was just before our War in Vietnam, which I don't recall was referenced as a war in 1964, insofar as it involved us, but rather a peace keeping mission with advisors and all that. At least till August, when the Gulf of Tonkin incident propelled us into a real war commanded by real generals with real American soldiers, about 60k of whom were killed. The Tonkin incident was a lie, the war a disaster at the time, and Johnson's rep sank with it.

Today, the War on Poverty doesn't look any better than Vietnam to those who are wired to think that. A huge waste of money to uplift a worthless part of the population is their view, and Obamacare is its continuation. As usual, they're wrong.

Using war as a template for describing things is a lazy and often inaccurate way the media has found to frame issues. It's especially false because we've now come to understand that wars serve different self image issues with nations and people, and because the winner or loser designation is often incorrectly applied. For most of history, wars were short, usually a big battle and then over. Armies were near impossible to keep together, and it was necessary to limit duration. We were not able to keep huge armies in the field without soldiers pillaging and killing their own people, and even winning a battle and war sometimes resulted in rivals for crowns to utilize public anger and overthrow the ruler. So, who won the war? Often someone who'd not fought it.

Today, we know that winning a battle may or may not be crucial at all. We won all the battles of Vietnam but lost the war. But we've seemingly won the peace, and Vietnam is becoming a bigger trading partner every day, and relations have improved mightily, fueled in large measure by soldiers on both sides. Despite being embarrassed, the military improved by leaps and has given us the machine we have today, which scares everyone should we apply it full measure. You learn and improve from failure.

We've learned that you have to make the war's loser admit to having lost or be prepared to fight again, something we did not do in 1918, England did not do in Ireland, China could not do in Southeast Asia, Russia cannot do in Chechnya, and even the American South and Native Americans have difficulty saying. The stigmata of losers, though, means they fetish-ize and treasure up the memories of single battles they won, like the Little Bighorn or Kosovo, because history denoted the winner of the war. This applies to non military and comparatively violent free wars, like the one on poverty, and the what can now be seen as a war for civil rights.

That the civil rights, poverty, Vietnam , and Cold War were waged simultaneously with the moon race and so much else is what makes the 1960's so incredible.

The war on poverty was designed to educate, feed, enlighten, and raise up and employ the talents of a decided American under class, which bigots like to think were African Americans and stats and reality showed were and are predominantly white. It produced four major legislations, battles won if you will, that are staggering in their reach, failure, and success.

First, the Food Stamp Act of 1964. This was based on the concept that if you were starving, especially as a child, you couldn't learn no matter school quality. Kids and adults deserve a minimum of sustenance to survive, never mind prosper. A plus for farmers and kids both.

Second, The Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 which created the Community Action Program, Job Corps and Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA), a centerpiece of what was to be the "war on poverty." That most young have never heard of them speaks to this good hearted but failed intent overall.

Third, the Social Security Act of 1965, which created Medicare and Medicaid. A huge success despite everything said since.

And fourth, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. Helped a lot, reauthorized every five years, and the No Child Left Behind act was its last iteration. Problems galore, but the momentum and attention is where it should be.

How did these won battles further the intent of the war, and was it won? Obviously, the war was not won, but in the half century till recently, there was an armistice, if not peace. But tell me: who were the competing sides? And why?