From Vietnam to Obama’s Afghanistan

The Great Society – Anonymous silkscreen poster. 1967. 40 x 26 inches. Image supplied by CSPGFrom Art For A Change blog in the USA:

LBJ, Obama & Afghanistan

On December 1, 2009, in an address to the nation delivered from the United States Military Academy at West Point, President Obama announced the sending of an additional 30,000 U.S. combat troops to Afghanistan in order to wage what he calls a “war of necessity.”

To mark the occasion I have written, “Hey, Hey, LBJ…”, an illustrated essay on the subject of U.S. protest posters from the 1960s that lambasted that other liberal Democratic President who supposedly possessed a progressive domestic social agenda – Lyndon Baines Johnson, or L.B.J. (1963-1969).

L.B.J.’s assumed intentions of wanting to implement wide-ranging social reforms in the U.S. were thwarted by his ever increasing military escalation of an unpopular war in Vietnam. President Obama has similarly opened a Pandora’s box with his sharp military escalation in Afghanistan; and while the “Hey, Hey, LBJ…” presentation examines 15 historic posters from our collective past, it also offers the reader glimpses of what the future could possibly hold for us all.

The 15 posters I have written about in my essay disparaged L.B.J.’s foreign and domestic policies with wry humor, sardonic wit, and pointed outrage. What’s more, the prints were exceptional from a design standpoint, and they continue to stand as important political and cultural documents in American history. Despite their historic value and obvious political and aesthetic significance, few of the posters I present in my essay are to be found in online collections, even though they were widely distributed and known in the 1960s. Most of the posters featured in my essay have not been seen since they were first published.

With his December 1 troop deployment announcement, President Obama has fully completed his metamorphosis into L.B.J. Less than one year after his inauguration, Mr. Obama’s promises of delivering “Hope” and “Change” have ended up being battlefield fatalities on the arid plains of Afghanistan. Rather than delivering his diktat of escalating war from the Oval Office of the White House, Mr. Obama revealed his war plans at the same service academy used in 2002 by George W. Bush when the former president explained his Orwellian “Preventative War” doctrine. West Point afforded Mr. Obama the opportunity of presenting his military strategy for Afghanistan against a backdrop of soldiers and Academy cadets – a setting conveying resolute leadership from the nation’s Commander in Chief. How ironic that Obama will next travel to Oslo, Norway to accept the Nobel Peace Prize on December 10.

Obama administration officials have calculated that the Afghan war will cost $1 trillion over the next 10 years – a figure most likely underestimated. The Pentagon says that annually it spends $1 billion for every 1,000 soldiers in Afghanistan; and that by the time it delivers a single gallon of fuel to the landlocked country for use by U.S. soldiers, the cost has skyrocketed to $400 per gallon. As the U.S. economy teeters, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the unemployment rate reached 10.2 percent in November ‘09 – that’s 15.7 million Americans without work; the New York Times noted, “If the unemployed lived in one state, it would be the country’s fifth largest.” Just prior to his West Point troop deployment announcement, President Obama boasted that he would “finish the job” in Afghanistan; if the “job” in question is to drive the U.S. further into economic collapse, then Mr. Obama may well achieve his goal.

To help finance the unpopular war in Vietnam, L.B.J. imposed a 10-percent surtax on the American people. Not to be outdone, a number of powerful Congressional Democrats are today hoping to pass the “Share the Sacrifice Act”, a surtax to be forced upon all U.S. citizens in order to help pay for Obama’s war in Afghanistan. The bill would place a 1-percent surtax on all those who earn less than $150,000, with up to 5-percent imposed on those with higher incomes.

The particulars of Obama’s odious decisions should not hinder our optimism and authentic struggle for the democratization and transformation of society. Such a project should never be reliant upon a single politician or individual – the people in motion are the true engine of history. The publication of “Hey, Hey, LBJ…” is but a small contribution towards wiping away debilitating historical amnesia and political illusions, allowing us to thoughtfully plot a course of action for building a society where words like “Hope” and “Change” are not slogans from some clever marketing and branding campaign – but expressions of a mass democratic impulse fully implemented by a free people.

The complete “Hey, Hey, LBJ…” illustrated essay can be viewed at:

[ The Docs Populi archive and the Center for the Study of Political Graphics (CSPG) were kind enough to give me access to their archives, allowing me to select original posters from their incomparable collections as illustrations for my essay. The opinions expressed in the essay are my own and should not be attributed to either Docs Populi or CSPG. ]

Obama’s Misguided War Speech Shouldn’t Be the Last Word on Afghanistan: here.

See also here.

Why Obama’s troop surge won’t work: here.

The real goals of the Afghanistan escalation are domestic and electoral. Like Lyndon Johnson who escalated in Vietnam, Obama lives in mortal fear of being called a wimp by Republicans: here.

6 thoughts on “From Vietnam to Obama’s Afghanistan

  1. December 2, 2009

    Canada must withdraw troops from Afghanistan immediately

    By Malalai Joya

    I have just completed a two-week speaking tour across Canada, bringing a message to the great people of this country: The people of Afghanistan are fed up with the occupation of their country and with the corrupt, Mafia-state of Hamid Karzai and the warlords and drug lords backed by NATO.

    On behalf of the suffering people of Afghanistan, I offer my condolences to the families here who have lost their loved ones. I believe these fallen soldiers, themselves, are the victims of the wrong policy of your government. The families of Afghan civilians killed in this war share your feelings of loss.

    If we turn these sorrows into strength, we can end this war. Bringing the troops home at the end of 2011 is too late; the troops should be withdrawn as soon as possible, before more Afghan and Canadian lives are needlessly lost.

    Today, it has become an open secret that the Canadian government of Stephen Harper has been complicit in the torture of countless innocent Afghans. This is just one reason people in Kandahar and across my country are tired of this war.

    It is clear now that the real motive of the U.S. and its allies, hidden behind the so-called “war on terror”, was to convert Afghanistan into a military base in Central Asia and the capital of the world’s opium drug trade. Ordinary Afghan people are being used in this chess game, and western taxpayers’ money and the blood of soldiers is being wasted on this agenda that will only further destabilize the region.

    The recent so-called election in Afghanistan tells you all you need to know about what kind of “democracy” has been imposed by the occupation. It is ridiculous to Afghans that the Harper government and Defence Minister Peter MacKay have called this process a “successful election”.

    Even the cats of Afghanistan laugh at this kind of statement, because everyone knows that this was the most fraudulent election possible. Before the vote, people on the streets predicted the outcome with a proverb, “It will be the same donkey with a new saddle.” In the end, in fact, we have seen that even the saddle–Karzai–is not new.

    Now that Karzai has been inaugurated again, the nature of his government is more obvious than ever. Both of his new vice-presidents, Fahim and Khalili, are warlords with the blood of innocents on their hands. In Kandahar, where Canadian troops have been stationed for years, Karzai’s brother is reported to be involved in drug trafficking, and the New York Times recently reported that he’s been receiving regular payments from the U.S. CIA.

    So do not be deceived by talk of Karzai cleaning up corruption. His appointment of a new anticorruption team is a case of the rabbit being put in charge of the carrots.

    Torture, drug trafficking, the continued rule of warlords and fundamentalists–these are the only things that this war has brought Afghans. Today, our people are being vicitimized by two enemies: the occupation forces bombing us from the sky, and the warlords and their Taliban brothers-in-creed.

    If the troops withdraw, it will be easier for Afghans to fight one enemy and to determine our own future. It is the duty of the Afghan people to work for freedom and democracy; these values can never be donated to us by the very foreign powers who–after nearly three decades of funding various fundamentalists are arming warlords and other criminals–are responsible for many of the problems Afghanistan faces today.

    While I am opposed to the policy of the Canadian government in Afghanistan, I have been very moved by the support of ordinary people across this country, from Victoria to Halifax. Having spoken to big public meetings in cities right across this country, it is clear that the Canadian people are fed up with their government’s policy in Afghanistan. Let’s raise our voices together to end this unjust and devastating war.

    Malalai Joya was the youngest woman elected to the Afghan Parliament in 2005. She has recently completed a cross-Canada book tour in support of her new political memoir, written with Vancouver writer and activist Derrick O’Keefe, A Woman Among Warlords: The Extraordinary Story of an Afghan Who Dared to Raise Her Voice.


  2. 35th anniversary of Vietnam war

    Solidarity: Wednesday night will see an event at the Bolivar Hall in London marking the 35th anniversary of the end of the US invasion of Vietnam and expressing solidarity with the Vietnamese people.

    The event is organised by Trade Union Friends of Vietnam with the Vietnamese embassy and will feature speakers including leader of the Vietnam General Confederation of Labour Chau Nhat Binh.


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