When Muhammad Ali took the real heavy weight June 25, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in History, Racism, Vietnam, War.
Tags: anti-war, boxing history, cassius clay, dave zirin, draft resister, heavywieght title, history, muhammad ali, peace activism, permanent war, Race, racism, roger hollander, tet offensive, vietnam, vietnam deaths, Vietnam War
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In an era defined by endless war, we should recognise a day in
history that wasn’t celebrated on Capitol Hill or in the White House. On
June 20, 1967, the great Muhammad Ali was convicted in Houston for
refusing induction in the US armed forces. Ali saw the war in Vietnam as
an exercise in genocide. He also used his platform as a boxing champion
to connect the war abroad with the war at home, saying: “Why should
they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop
bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro
people in Louisville are treated like dogs?” For these statements, as
much as the act itself, Judge Joe Ingraham handed down the maximum
sentence to Cassius Clay (as they insisted upon calling him in court):
five-years in a Federal penitentary and a $10,000 fine. The next day,
this was the top-flap story for the New York Times with the headline:
“Clay Guilty in Draft Case; Gets Five Years in Prison.”
The sentence was unusually harsh, and deeply tied to a Beltway,
bipartisan consensus to crush Ali and ensure that he not develop into a
symbol of anti-war resistance. The day of Ali’s conviction the US
Congress voted 337-29 to extend the draft for four more years. They also
voted 385-19 to make it a federal crime to desecrate the flag. Their
fears of a rising movement against the war were well-founded.
The summer of 1967 marked a tipping point for public support of the
Vietnam “police action”. While the Tet Offensive, which exposed the lie
that the United States was winning the war, was still six months away,
the news out of south-east Asia was increasingly grim. At the time of
Ali’s conviction, 1,000 Vietnamese noncombatants were being killed each
week by US forces. One hundred US soldiers were dying each and every
day, and the war was costing $2bn a month.
Anti-war sentiment was growing and it was thought that a stern rebuke
of Ali would help put out the fire. In fact, the opposite took place.
Ali’s brave stance fanned the flames. As Julian Bond said, “[It]
reverberated through the whole society. … [Y]ou could hear people
talking about it on street corners. It was on everyone’s lips. People
who had never thought about the war before began to think it through
because of Ali. The ripples were enormous.”
Ali himself vowed to appeal the conviction, saying: “I strongly object to
the fact that so many newspapers have given the American public and the
world the impression that I have only two alternatives in this stand –
either I go to jail or go to the Army. There is another alternative, and
that alternative is justice. If justice prevails, if my constitutional
rights are upheld, I will be forced to go neither to the Army nor jail.
In the end, I am confident that justice will come my way, for the truth
must eventually prevail.”
Already by this point, Ali’s heavyweight title had been stripped,
beginning a three-and-a-half-year exile. Already Elijah Muhammad and the
Nation of Islam had begun to distance themselves from their most famous
member. Already, Ali had become a punching bag for almost every
reporter with a working pen. But with his conviction came a new global
constituency. In Guyana, protests against his sentence took place in
front of the US embassy. In Karachi, Pakistan, a hunger strike began in
front of the US consulate. In Cairo, demonstrators took to the streets.
In Ghana, editorials decried his conviction. In London, an Irish boxing
fan named Paddy Monaghan began a long and lonely picket of the US
Embassy. Over the next three years, he would collect more than twenty
thousand signatures on a petition calling for the restoration of
Muhammad Ali’s heavyweight title.
Ali at this point was beginning to see himself as someone who had a
greater responsibility to an international groundswell that saw him as
more than an athlete. “Boxing is nothing, just satisfying to some
bloodthirsty people. I’m no longer a Cassius Clay, a Negro from
Kentucky. I belong to the world, the black world. I’ll always have a
home in Pakistan, in Algeria, in Ethiopia. This is more than money.”
Eventually justice did prevail and the Supreme Court overturned Ali’s
conviction in 1971. They did so only after the consensus on the war had
changed profoundly. Ali had been proven right by history, although a
generation of people in Asia and the United States paid a terrible price
along the way.
Years later upon reflection, Ali said he had no regrets. “Some people
thought I was a hero. Some people said that what I did was wrong. But
everything I did was according to my conscience. I wasn’t trying to be a
leader. I just wanted to be free. And I made a stand all people, not
just black people, should have thought about making, because it wasn’t
just black people being drafted. The government had a system where the
rich man’s son went to college, and the poor man’s son went to war.
Then, after the rich man’s son got out of college, he did other things
to keep him out of the Army until he was too old to be drafted.”
As we remain mired in a period of permanent war, take a moment and
consider the risk, sacrifice, and principle necessary to dismantle the
war machine. We all can’t be boxing champions, but moving forward, all
who oppose war can rightfully claim Ali’s brave history as our own
Big Media’s Curious Nixon Judgment December 15, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Media, Vietnam, War.
Tags: 1968 election, anna chennault, dean rusk, henry kissinger, hubert humphrey, journalism, kissinger, lbj, Lyndon Johnson, Media, nixon, Richard Nixon, robert parry, roger hollander, thieu, treason, vietnam, Vietnam War
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www.consortiumnews.com, December 11, 2010
When Richard Nixon’s presidential library this week released tapes of him making bigoted remarks about blacks, Jews and various ethnic groups, major American news outlets jumped at the juicy details, recounting them on NBC’s Nightly News, in the New York Times and elsewhere.
Which is all well and good. It was also worth knowing that National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger, himself a German-born Jew, would express nonchalance at the prospect of the Soviet Union putting its Jewish population in gas chambers.
“The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy,” Kissinger remarked in a taped conversation on March 1, 1973. “And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.” (Maybe?)
“I know,” President Nixon responded. “We can’t blow up the world because of it.” [See NYT, Dec. 11, 2010.]
But the Nixon-Kissinger Realpolitik wasn’t limited to such an unlikely prospect as the Soviets undertaking a Jewish extermination campaign. More shocking was the powerful evidence released two years ago by Lyndon B. Johnson’s library corroborating long-held suspicions that Nixon and Kissinger conspired to sabotage the 1968 Vietnam peace talks to ensure their ascension to power.
In that case, however, the major U.S. news media looked the other way. Except for a brief reference to an Associated Press dispatch, the New York Times and other leading news outlets apparently didn’t regard as newsworthy that Nixon and Kissinger had consigned more than 20,000 American soldiers and millions of Indochinese to their deaths in order to win an election.
By extending the Vietnam War for those four years, Nixon and Kissinger also ripped apart the social and political fabric of the United States – turning parents against their children and creating hatreds between the American Left and the Right, which continue to this day.
One might have thought that the LBJ Library’s evidence, which included a dramatic pre-election confrontation between President Johnson and then-Republican presidential candidate Nixon over what Johnson had termed Nixon’s “treason,” would be worthy of some serious attention. But none was forthcoming. (It fell to us at Consortiumnews.com to provide a detailed account of these exchanges.)
As has happened with other high-level scandals – such as the CIA’s admissions about cocaine trafficking by Ronald Reagan’s beloved Nicaraguan Contra rebels – the major U.S. news media shies away from evidence that puts the national Establishment in too harsh a light or that suggests the preeminent U.S. news organizations have missed some monumentally important story.
For the mainstream media, it’s safer to focus on the foibles of an individual like Nixon than to accept that respected members of the ruling elite in the United States are so corrupt that they would sacrifice the lives of ordinary citizens for the achievement of some political or foreign policy goal.
So, we get to learn from the new Nixon tapes that he made bigoted assertions about “abrasive and obnoxious” Jews, Irish who get “mean” drunk, Italians without “heads screwed on tight,” and blacks who would need “500 years” and have to “be, frankly, inbred” to become useful contributors to the nation.
The Peace Talk Gambit
As offensive as those remarks are, however, they pale in newsworthiness to the now unavoidable conclusion that Nixon, aided by Kissinger, struck a deal with South Vietnamese President Nguyen van Thieu in fall 1968 to block Johnson’s negotiated end to the Vietnam War.
The significance of Nixon’s “treason” was that – while 500,000 U.S. soldiers were serving in Vietnam – Nixon’s campaign assured Thieu that Nixon would, as U.S. president, continue the war to get a better deal for Thieu. That left Nixon little choice but to extend the war and expand the fighting because, otherwise, Thieu would have been in a position to expose Nixon’s treachery to the American people.
Yet, what was also stunning to me about the “treason” tapes when the LBJ library released them in December 2008 was how much Johnson knew about Nixon’s sabotage and why the Democrats chose to keep silent.
Right before Election Day 1968 – with the Paris peace talks in the balance and with Democratic nominee Hubert Humphrey closing the gap on Nixon – Johnson considered allowing the White House to confirm the facts of Nixon’s gambit to Christian Science Monitor reporter Saville Davis who had gotten wind of the story.
Johnson raised this possibility in a Nov. 4, 1968, conference call with Defense Secretary Clark Clifford and Secretary of State Dean Rusk. However, both opposed going public, with Clifford – a pillar of the Establishment – arguing that the disclosure risked national disorder.
“Some elements of the story are so shocking in their nature that I’m wondering whether it would be good for the country to disclose the story and then possibly have a certain individual [Nixon] elected,” Clifford said. “It could cast his whole administration under such doubt that I think it would be inimical to our country’s interests.”
So, instead of confirming the story, Johnson agreed to maintain his public silence. He stood by as Nixon’s narrowly won the presidential election over Humphrey by about 500,000 votes or less than one percent of the ballots cast.
Still, four decades later, when the Johnson library released the audiotapes, they offered a dramatic story: an embattled president angered over intelligence intercepts that revealed emissaries from Nixon’s campaign, including right-wing China Lobby figure Anna Chennault, urging the South Vietnamese government to boycott peace talks in Paris.
Beginning in late October 1968, Johnson can be heard on the tapes complaining about this Republican maneuver. However, his frustration builds as he learns more from intercepts about the back-channel contacts between Nixon operatives and South Vietnamese officials.
On Nov. 2, 1968, just three days before the election, Thieu withdrew from his tentative agreement to sit down with the Viet Cong at the Paris peace talks. That same day, Johnson telephoned Senate Republican leader Everett Dirksen to lay out some of the evidence of Nixon’s treachery and to ask Dirksen to intervene with the Nixon campaign.
“The agent [Chennault] says she’s just talked to the boss in New Mexico and that he said that you must hold out, just hold on until after the election,” Johnson said in an apparent reference to a Nixon campaign plane that carried some of his top aides to New Mexico. “We know what Thieu is saying to them out there. We’re pretty well informed at both ends.”
Johnson then made a thinly veiled threat about going public with the information. “I don’t want to get this in the campaign,” Johnson said, adding: “They oughtn’t be doing this. This is treason.”
Dirksen responded, “I know.”
Johnson continued: “I think it would shock America if a principal candidate was playing with a source like this on a matter of this importance. I don’t want to do that [go public]. They ought to know that we know what they’re doing. I know who they’re talking to. I know what they’re saying.”
The President also stressed the stakes involved, noting that the movement toward negotiations in Paris had contributed to a lull in the war’s violence.
“We’ve had 24 hours of relative peace,” Johnson said. “If Nixon keeps the South Vietnamese away from the [peace] conference, well, that’s going to be his responsibility. Up to this point, that’s why they’re not there. I had them signed onboard until this happened.”
Dirksen: “I better get in touch with him, I think.”
“They’re contacting a foreign power in the middle of a war,” Johnson said. “It’s a damn bad mistake. And I don’t want to say so. …
“You just tell them that their people are messing around in this thing, and if they don’t want it on the front pages, they better quit it.”
The next day, Nixon spoke directly to Johnson and haltingly professed his innocence, while also acknowledging that he knew how close Johnson was to negotiating an end to the war.
“I didn’t say with your knowledge,” Johnson responded. “I hope it wasn’t.”
“Huh, no,” Nixon responded. “My God, I would never do anything to encourage … Saigon not to come to the table. … Good God, we want them over to Paris, we got to get them to Paris or you can’t have a peace.”
Nixon also insisted that he would do whatever President Johnson and Secretary Rusk wanted.
“I’m not trying to interfere with your conduct of it. I’ll only do what you and Rusk want me to do. We’ve got to get this goddamn war off the plate,” Nixon said. “The war apparently now is about where it could be brought to an end. … The quicker the better. To hell with the political credit, believe me.” [Emphasis added]
But the South Vietnamese boycott continued, leading to Johnson’s conference call about going public with the story of Republican sabotage, before he was dissuaded by Rusk and Clifford.
In the aftermath of the election, Johnson continued to confront Nixon with the evidence of Republican treachery, trying to get him to pressure the South Vietnamese leaders to reverse themselves and join the Paris peace talks.
On Nov. 8, 1968, Johnson recounted the evidence to Nixon and described the Republican motivation to disrupt the talks, speaking of himself in the third person.
“Johnson was going to have a bombing pause to try to elect Humphrey. They [the South Vietnamese] ought to hold out because Nixon will not sell you out like the Democrats sold out China,” Johnson said.
“I think they’ve been talking to [Vice President-elect Spiro] Agnew,” Johnson continued. “They’ve been quoting you [Nixon] indirectly, that the thing they ought to do is to just not show up at any [peace] conference and wait until you come into office.
“Now they’ve started that [boycott] and that’s bad. They’re killing Americans every day. I have that [story of the sabotage] documented. There’s not any question but that’s happening. … That’s the story, Dick, and it’s a sordid story. … I don’t want to say that to the country, because that’s not good.”
Faced with Johnson’s implied threat, Nixon promised to tell the South Vietnamese officials to reverse themselves and join the peace talks. However, the die was cast for more war. Thieu could not be pressured because he had the leverage over Nixon; Thieu could go public even if Johnson didn’t.
The U.S. participation in the Vietnam War continued for more than four years (including its expansion to Cambodia) at a horrendous cost to both the United States and the people of Indochina. Before the conflict was finally brought to an end, a million or more Vietnamese were estimated to have died along with an additional 20,763 U.S. dead and 111,230 wounded.
At home, the growing resistance to the war also led to more abuses by Nixon, who routinely cited national security to justify a massive political spying operation against his enemies.
That paranoia led to the White House “plumbers unit” breaking into the Democratic National Committee at Watergate in 1972, planting bugs but eventually getting caught. The Watergate scandal led to Nixon’s resignation two years later.
However, it took almost another decade before the story of Nixon’s “treason” began to reach the American public.
Journalist Seymour Hersh sketchily described the initiative in his 1983 biography of Henry Kissinger, The Price of Power. Hersh reported that the Nixon campaign had benefited from back-channel communications from Kissinger who was working as a consultant to the Johnson administration.
U.S. intelligence “agencies had caught on that Chennault was the go-between between Nixon and his people and President Thieu in Saigon,” Hersh wrote. “The idea was to bring things to a stop in Paris and prevent any show of progress.”
Hersh noted that in her own autobiography, The Education of Anna, Chennault had acknowledged that she was the courier. She quoted Nixon aide John Mitchell (who became Nixon’s Attorney General) as calling her a few days before the 1968 election and telling her: “I’m speaking on behalf of Mr. Nixon. It’s very important that our Vietnamese friends understand our Republican position and I hope you made that clear to them.”
However, Kissinger had powerful defenders in Washington, including inside the upper echelons of the news media, people such as Ted Koppel, the host of ABC’s influential “Nightline” program, and Katharine Graham, the publisher of the Washington Post and Newsweek.
So, Hersh’s reporting came under a barrage of criticism and his account of Nixon’s 1968 peace-talk gambit was treated as a dubious conspiracy theory.
Gradually, however, more evidence bubbled to the surface. Reporter Daniel Schorr added some details in a Washington Post “Outlook” article on May 28, 1995, citing decoded cables that U.S. intelligence had intercepted from the South Vietnamese embassy in Washington.
On Oct. 23, 1968, Ambassador Bui Dhien cabled Saigon with the message that “many Republican friends have contacted me and encouraged me to stand firm.” On Oct. 27, he wrote, “The longer the present situation continues, the more favorable for us. … I am regularly in touch with the Nixon entourage.”
Anthony Summers’s 2000 book, The Arrogance of Power, filled in more of the blanks, including a reference to the debate within Democratic circles about what to do with the evidence.
Both Johnson and Humphrey believed the information – if released to the public – could assure Nixon’s defeat, according to Summers.
“In the end, though, Johnson’s advisers decided it was too late and too potentially damaging to U.S. interests to uncover what had been going on,” Summers wrote. “If Nixon should emerge as the victor, what would the Chennault outrage do to his viability as an incoming president? And what effect would it have on American opinion about the war?”
Summers quoted Johnson’s assistant Harry McPherson, who said, “You couldn’t surface it. The country would be in terrible trouble.”
As it turned out, however, the country was in terrible trouble anyway. Not only did the Vietnam War continue for four more years – before Kissinger negotiated a settlement along the lines of what Johnson had hammered out in 1968 – but the Republicans discovered that key Democrats would stay silent even if GOP candidates sabotaged Democratic presidents.
In 1980, faced with a similar opportunity as President Jimmy Carter struggled to resolve a crisis over Iran’s holding of 52 American hostages, Republican operatives, including Kissinger and other veterans of the 1968 gambit, interfered again. [For details on the so-called October Surprise case of 1980, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege.]
Though much of this history about the electoral scandals of 1968 and 1980 has now been painfully pieced together, the major U.S. news media continues to look the other way, either ignoring the evidence as it emerges or disparaging those who have put the pieces together.
Apparently, it’s one thing to note that individuals within the Establishment have personal weaknesses but it’s another to question the integrity of the Establishment as a collective body. Then, the defenses come up and inconvenient history gets shoved into the memory hole.
The contrast between the coverage of Nixon’s bigoted remarks and his role in sabotaging peace talks that could have saved countless lives is further proof that the U.S. national press corps is more comfortable commenting on a politician’s flaws than on crimes of state.
[For more on these topics, see Robert Parry’s Lost History and Secrecy & Privilege, which, along with Neck Deep, are now available as a three-book set for the discount price of $29. For details, click here.]
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’ are also available there.
Agent Orange in Vietnam: Ignoring the Crimes Before Our Eyes October 17, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Media, Vietnam, War.
Tags: agent orange, chemical warfare, dave lindorff, dioxin, dow chemical, geneva conventions, james dao, monsanto, new yori times, roger hollander, vietnam, vietnam defoliation, vietnam veterans, Vietnam War, War Crimes
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On Oct. 13, the New York Times ran a news story headlined “Door Opens to Health Claims Tied to Agent Orange,” which was sure to be good news to many American veterans of the Indochina War. It reported that 38 years after the Pentagon ceased spreading the deadly dioxin-laced herbicide/defoliant over much of South Vietnam, it was acknowledging what veterans have long claimed: in addition to 13 ailments already traced to exposure to the chemical, it was also responsible for three more dread diseases-Parkinson’s, ischemic heart disease and hairy-cell leukemia.
Under a new policy adopted by the Dept. of Veterans Affairs, the VA will now start providing free care to any of the 2.1 million Vietnam-era veterans who can show that they might have been hurt by exposure to Agent Orange.
This is another belated step forward in the decades-long struggle by Vietnam War veterans to get the Defense Department and the VA to acknowledge the American government’s responsibility for poisoning them and causing permanent damage to them and often to their children and grandchildren. Dioxin, one of the most poisonous substances known to man, is known to cause many serious systemic diseases, autoimmune illnesses, cancers and birth defects. (It is also a warning about the general Pentagon and government approach to other hazards caused by its battlefield use of toxins-most significantly the increasingly common use of depleted uranium projectiles in bombs, shells and bullets-an approach which features lack of concern about health effects on troops and civilians, denial of information to troops, and denial of care to eventual victims.)
Missing from the Times article, written by military affairs reporter James Dao, which did include mention of the obstructionist role the government has played through this whole sorry saga, was a single mention of the far larger number of victims of Agent Orange in Vietnam-the people on whose heads and lands the toxic chemical was actually dropped, or of the adamant refusal by the US government to accept any responsibility for what it did to them.
According to the article, the VA estimates that there may be as many as 200,000 US veterans who are suffering from Agent Orange-related illnesses. But according to a court case brought on behalf of Vietnamese victims, which was dismissed by a US Federal District Judge who ruled that there was “no basis for the claims,” there are at least three million Vietnamese, and possibly as many as 4.8 million, who are suffering the same Agent Orange-related illnesses as American veterans and their children. It is estimated that as many as 800,000 Vietnamese in the country’s south currently suffer from chronic health problems due to Agent Orange exposure, either to themselves, or to a parent or grandparent. Most of these victims, some of whom are retarded, and others of whom cannot walk or have no use of their arms, need constant care.
Veterans for Peace, an organization whose membership includes a large number of Vietnam War veterans, has issued a call for the US to provide funds for health care, education, vocational education, chronic care, home care and equipment to clean up hotspots of dioxin in Vietnam-a call which Congress and the White House have consistently ignored. Tests have found dioxin levels around the sites of the three main former US bases in what was South Vietnam to be 300-400 times recognized safe levels. The US dumped huge amounts of Agent Orange for miles around those bases to kill off jungle cover that Vietnamese fighters could use to approach the bases, but it was never cleaned up when the US pulled out.
One organization that includes a number of American veterans of the way, including former military doctors or soldiers who later became physicians, is the Vietnam Friendship Village Project USA Inc., which raises funds to help establish communities in Vietnam to care for the victims of Agent Orange.
It may seem a pathetic stab at principle given America’s use of two nuclear weapons against civilian targets in Japan a few years later, but back in World War II, in the midst of the most brutal island-to-island fighting during the Pacific War, a US Judge Advocate General in the Pentagon ruled that a military request for permission to use herbicides against the Japanese on Pacific islands would be illegal under the Hague Convention (forerunner of what are now called the Geneva Conventions). He ruled that trying to destroy the crops of civilians on those islands to deny food to the Japanese troops would be a war crime. The US went ahead and used the herbicides anyway, arguing that even though it was illegal, the US was free to go ahead, since the Japanese had already broken the laws of war by using strychnine to kill military guard dogs in Siberia. Under the rules of war, if one side breaks a rule, the other side is no longer bound by it.
But the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese never used toxic materials against US forces or against South Vietnamese forces. And the Pentagon in the Vietnam War never even considered whether spraying a highly toxic herbicide over 1.4 million hectares-12% of the total land area of Vietnam and almost 25% of the southern half of the country-might be a war crime.
Moreover, the Pentagon knew, before it began its massive defoliation campaign, about studies showing that Agent Orange was heavily laced with deadly dioxin, but covered up those studies, some by the chemical’s makers, Dow Chemical and Monsanto, and never even warned the troops who handled the material daily, or who were sent out to fight in areas that had been heavily sprayed.
The ongoing medical disaster in Vietnam caused by America’s criminal use of Agent Orange to defoliate a nation would be a good place for President Obama to start earning his just-awarded Nobel Peace Prize. He could kick off his peace campaign by finally honoring President Richard Nixon’s immediately broken promise to provide several billion dollars in reconstruction aid to Vietnam at the conclusion of peace talks at the end of the war. Not a dollar of such aid was ever given.
Dao says he didn’t mention significance for Vietnamese dioxin victims of the VA’s decision to recognize three new diseases as being Agent Orange-linked, because “my beat is veterans,” and because he only had 800 words in which to cover his story. That may be true (though surely the Vietnamese at least deserved a one-sentence mention). But back on July 25, when the Times ran a story (by Janie Lorber, not by Dao) about the finding by an expert panel of the National Institute of Medicine linking Parkinsons, ischemic heart disease and leukemia to Agent Orange, upon which the latest VA decision was based, it also failed to mention the Vietnamese victims. In that case, the lapse was simply journalistically inexcuseable, since it was about a new medical finding, not a policy decision regarding the treatment of veterans.
At this point, the only way the New York Times can salvage a bit of its journalistic reputation on this topic would be by having Dao, Lorber or some other reporter write a piece about the impact of America’s Agent Orange use on the people of Vietnam. They could start by calling a veteran at Veterans for Peace or the Vietnam Friendship Village Project USA.
Dave Lindorff is a Philadelphia-based journalist and columnist. He is author of Marketplace Medicine: The Rise of the For-Profit Hospital Chains (BantamBooks, 1992), and his latest book “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006). His work is available at www.thiscantbehappening.net
Celebrating Cronkite While Ignoring What He Did July 18, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in History, Media, Vietnam.
Tags: anti-war, corporate media, david halberstam, dissent, glenn greenwald, journalism, lewis lapham, martin luther king, Media, roger hollander, tim russert, U.S. imperialism, us press, vietnam, vietnam history, Vietnam War, walter cronkite
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“The Vietcong did not win by a knockout [in the Tet Offensive], but neither did we. The referees of history may make it a draw. . . . We have been too often disappointed by the optimism of the American leaders, both in Vietnam and Washington, to have faith any longer in the silver linings they find in the darkest clouds. . . .
“For it seems now more certain than ever that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate. . . . To say that we are closer to victory today is to believe, in the face of the evidence, the optimists who have been wrong in the past” — Walter Cronkite, CBS Evening News, February 27, 1968.
“I think there are a lot of critics who think that [in the run-up to the Iraq War] . . . . if we did not stand up and say this is bogus, and you’re a liar, and why are you doing this, that we didn’t do our job. I respectfully disagree. It’s not our role” – David Gregory, MSNBC, May 28, 2008.
When Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Halberstam died, media stars everywhere commemorated his death as though he were one of them — as though they do what he did — even though he had nothing but bottomless, intense disdain for everything they do. As he put it in a 2005 speech to students at the Columbia School of Journalism: “the better you do your job, often going against conventional mores, the less popular you are likely to be . . . . By and large, the more famous you are, the less of a journalist you are.”
In that same speech, Halberstam cited as the “proudest moment” of his career a bitter argument he had in 1963 with U.S. Generals in Vietnam, by which point, as a young reporter, he was already considered an “enemy” of the Kennedy White House for routinely contradicting the White House’s claims about the war (the President himself asked his editor to pull Halberstam from reporting on Vietnam). During that conflict, he stood up to a General in a Press Conference in Saigon who was attempting to intimidate him for having actively doubted and aggressively investigated military claims, rather than taking and repeating them at face value:
Picture if you will rather small room, about the size of a classroom, with about 10 or 12 reporters there in the center of the room. And in the back, and outside, some 40 military officers, all of them big time brass. It was clearly an attempt to intimidate us.
General Stilwell tried to take the intimidation a step further. He began by saying that Neil and I had bothered General Harkins and Ambassador Lodge and other VIPs, and we were not to do it again. Period.
And I stood up, my heart beating wildly — and told him that we were not his corporals or privates, that we worked for The New York Times and UP and AP and Newsweek, not for the Department of Defense.
I said that we knew that 30 American helicopters and perhaps 150 American soldiers had gone into battle, and the American people had a right to know what happened. I went on to say that we would continue to press to go on missions and call Ambassador Lodge and General Harkins, but he could, if he chose, write to our editors telling them that we were being too aggressive, and were pushing much too hard to go into battle. That was certainly his right.
Can anyone imagine any big media stars — who swoon in reverence both to political power and especially military authority — defying military instructions that way, let alone being proud of it? Halberstam certainly couldn’t imagine any of them doing it, which is why, in 1999, he wrote:
Obviously, it should be a brilliant moment in American journalism, a time of a genuine flowering of a journalistic culture . . .
But the reverse is true. Those to whom the most is given, the executives of our three networks, have steadily moved away from their greatest responsibilities, which is using their news departments to tell the American people complicated truths, not only about their own country, but about the world around us. . . .
Somewhere in there, gradually, but systematically, there has been an abdication of responsibility within the profession, most particularly in the networks. . . . So, if we look at the media today, we ought to be aware not just of what we are getting, but what we are not getting; the difference between what is authentic and what is inauthentic in contemporary American life and in the world, with a warning that in this celebrity culture, the forces of the inauthentic are becoming more powerful all the time.
All of that was ignored when he died, with establishment media figures exploiting his death to suggest that his greatness reflected well on what they do, as though what he did was the same thing as what they do (much the same way that Martin Luther King’s vehement criticisms of the United States generally and its imperialism and aggression specifically have been entirely whitewashed from his hagiography).
So, too, with the death of Walter Cronkite. Tellingly, his most celebrated and significant moment — Greg Mitchell says “this broadcast would help save many thousands of lives, U.S. and Vietnamese, perhaps even a million” — was when he stood up and announced that Americans shouldn’t trust the statements being made about the war by the U.S. Government and military, and that the specific claims they were making were almost certainly false. In other words, Cronkite’s best moment was when he did exactly that which the modern journalist today insists they must not ever do — directly contradict claims from government and military officials and suggest that such claims should not be believed. These days, our leading media outlets won’t even use words that are disapproved of by the Government.
Despite that, media stars will spend ample time flamboyantly commemorating Cronkite’s death as though he reflects well on what they do (though probably not nearly as much time as they spent dwelling on the death of Tim Russert, whose sycophantic servitude to Beltway power and “accommodating head waiter”-like, mindless stenography did indeed represent quite accurately what today’s media stars actually do). In fact, within Cronkite’s most important moments one finds the essence of journalism that today’s modern media stars not only fail to exhibit, but explicitly disclaim as their responsibility.
UPDATE: A reader reminds me that — very shortly after Tim Russert’s June, 2008 death — long-time Harper‘s editor Lewis Lapham attended a party to mark the release of a new book on Hunter Thompson, and Lapham said a few words. According to New York Magazine‘s Jada Yuan, this is what happened:
Lewis Lapham isn’t happy with political journalism today. “There was a time in America when the press and the government were on opposite sides of the field,” he said at a premiere party for Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson on June 25. “The press was supposed to speak on behalf of the people. The new tradition is that the press speaks on behalf of the government.” An example? “Tim Russert was a spokesman for power, wealth, and privilege,” Lapham said. “That’s why 1,000 people came to his memorial service. Because essentially he was a shill for the government. It didn’t matter whether it was Democratic or Republican. It was for the status quo.” What about Russert’s rep for catching pols in lies? “That was bullshit,” he said. “Thompson and Russert were two opposite poles.”
Writing in Harper‘s a few weeks later, Lapham — in the essay about Russert (entitled “An Elegy for a Rubber Stamp”) where he said Russert’s “on-air persona was that of an attentive and accommodating headwaiter, as helpless as Charlie Rose in his infatuation with A-list celebrity” — echoed Halberstam by writing:
Long ago in the days before journalists became celebrities, their enterprise was reviled and poorly paid, and it was understood by working newspapermen that the presence of more than two people at their funeral could be taken as a sign that they had disgraced the profession.
That Lapham essay is full of piercing invective (“On Monday I thought I’d heard the end of the sales promotion. Tim presumably had ascended to the great studio camera in the sky to ask Thomas Jefferson if he intended to run for president in 1804″), and — from a person who spent his entire adult life in journalism — it contains the essential truth about modern establishment journalism in America:
On television the voices of dissent can’t be counted upon to match the studio drapes or serve as tasteful lead-ins to the advertisements for Pantene Pro-V and the U.S. Marine Corps. What we now know as the “news media” serve at the pleasure of the corporate sponsor, their purpose not to tell truth to the powerful but to transmit lies to the powerless. Like Russert, who served his apprenticeship as an aide-de-camp to the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, most of the prominent figures in the Washington press corps (among them George Stephanopoulos, Bob Woodward, and Karl Rove) began their careers as bagmen in the employ of a dissembling politician or a corrupt legislature. Regarding themselves as de facto members of government, enabling and codependent, their point of view is that of the country’s landlords, their practice equivalent to what is known among Wall Street stock-market touts as “securitizing the junk.” When requesting explanations from secretaries of defense or congressional committee chairmen, they do so with the understanding that any explanation will do. Explain to us, my captain, why the United States must go to war in Iraq, and we will relay the message to the American people in words of one or two syllables. Instruct us, Mr. Chairman, in the reasons why K-Street lobbyists produce the paper that Congress passes into law, and we will show that the reasons are healthy, wealthy, and wise. Do not be frightened by our pretending to be suspicious or scornful. Together with the television camera that sees but doesn’t think, we’re here to watch, to fall in with your whims and approve your injustices. Give us this day our daily bread, and we will hide your vices in the rosebushes of salacious gossip and clothe your crimes in the aura of inspirational anecdote.
That’s why they so intensely celebrated Tim Russert: because he was the epitome of what they do, and it’s why they’ll celebrate Walter Cronkite (like they did with David Halberstam) only by ignoring the fact that his most consequential moments were ones where he did exactly that which they will never do.
© 2009 Salon.com
Glenn Greenwald was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator in New York. He is the author of the New York Times Bestselling book “How Would a Patriot Act?,” a critique of the Bush administration’s use of executive power, released in May 2006. His second book, “A Tragic Legacy“, examines the Bush legacy.
Robert McNamara and Smedley Butler July 13, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in History, Vietnam, War.
Tags: fog of war, general butler, nuremberg, robert mcnamara, roge hollander, smedley butler, tom gallagher, vietnam history, Vietnam War, war, War Crimes
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Butler, of course, achieved far greater clarity than the ever-hedging McNamara did. Butler’s story is fairly well known: four years after a military career that included service in Cuba, China, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Mexico, Haiti, and France, he wrote a book called “War is a Racket.” He gave speeches in which he would say things like, “during that period, I spent most of my time being a high class muscle- man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.”
Whether any of this later-in-life understanding made Butler a better or worse person I do not know. What I do know, though, is that what Butler was willing to say and write was extremely helpful to more than one generation of antiwar activists: “Hey, you don’t have to take my word for it. Listen to this guy, he should know.”
Likewise, I suggest to no one that they should get over their antipathy to Robert McNamara if that is what they feel – the evil that he and Kissinger and the rest did will long outlive them. And anyone who no longer hates the criminals should certainly remain outraged at their crimes. But let us take something of value out of McNamara’s life.
When we encounter potential military recruits looking to serve in one of the nation’s seemingly always available wars but not looking too closely at exactly what it is we’re fighting for because they assume our leaders wouldn’t lead them astray on matters of life and death, let’s tell them about Robert McNamara. If the man in charge of one of our wars could later write that what the US did at the time was “wrong, terribly wrong,” don’t we all owe it to ourselves to take a closer look at where those in power are leading us today?
And when it comes to questioning the conduct of modern war, it’s hard to beat McNamara’s comments in Errol Morris’ documentary film “The Fog of War”: “We burned to death 100,000 Japanese civilians in Tokyo — men, women and children,” he told Morris. “[General Curtis] LeMay said, ‘If we’d lost the war, we’d all have been prosecuted as war criminals.’ And I think he’s right. He — and I’d say I — were behaving as war criminals.” And that was World War II he was talking about – the “good war.” Words to keep in mind the next time one of our drones accidently bombs a wedding.
A remark of McNamara’s made during a C-SPAN discussion of his 1995 memoir, “Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam,” is a good reminder of just how infuriating he could be, right to the end. In regard to Vietnam, he told his interviewer, “We were fighting — and we didn’t realize it — a civil war. Now, true, obviously there were Soviet and Chinese influence and support and no question that the communists were trying to control South Vietnam, but it was basically a civil war.”
Well, if McNamara didn’t know it was a civil war, it wasn’t because tens of thousands of the war’s opponents hadn’t said so or because President Eisenhower hadn’t publicly acknowledged that Ho Chi Minh would have been elected president of Vietnam in a fair election.
But even if McNamara may never have been a man to be taken entirely at his word, what he went on to say on C-SPAN that day might just have some value today as the US plunges deeper into an already nearly eight year old war in Afghanistan: “And one of the things we should learn is you can’t fight and win a civil war with outside troops, and particularly not when the political structure in a country is dissolved.”
America’s Imperial Wars: We Need to See the Horrors April 11, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Vietnam, War.
Tags: Afghanistan War, anti-war, civilian casualties, david lindorff, gaza, Iraq war, marc herold, naplam, phosphorus, us history, us imperial war, Vietnam War, war atrocities, war casualties, war history, war journalism, war media, war reporting
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Published on Saturday, April 11, 2009 by CommonDreams.org
When I was a 17-year-old kid in my senior year of high school, I didn’t think much about Vietnam. It was 1967, the war was raging, but I didn’t personally know anyone who was over there, Tet hadn’t happened yet. If anything, the excitement of jungle warfare attracted my interest more than anything (I had a .22 cal rifle, and liked to go off in the woods and shoot at things, often, I’ll admit, imagining it was an armed enemy.)
But then I had to do a major project in my humanities program and I chose the Vietnam War. As I started researching this paper, which was supposed to be a multi-media presentation, I ran across a series of photos of civilian victims of American napalm bombing. These victims, often, were women and children-even babies.
The project opened my eyes to something that had never occurred to me: my country’s army was killing civilians. And it wasn’t just killing them. It was killing them, and maiming them, in ways that were almost unimaginable in their horror: napalm, phosphorus, anti-personnel bombs that threw out spinning flechettes that ripped through the flesh like tiny buzz saws. I learned that scientists like what I at the time wanted to become were actually working on projects to make these weapons even more lethal, for example trying to make napalm more sticky so it would burn longer on exposed flesh.
By the time I had finished my project, I had actively joined the anti-war movement, and later that year, when I turned 18 and had to register for the draft, I made the decision that no way was I going to allow myself to participate in that war.
A key reason my-and millions of other Americans’–eyes were opened to what the US was up to in Indochina was that the media at that time, at least by 1967, had begun to show Americans the reality of that war. I didn’t have to look too hard to find the photos of napalm victims, or to read about the true nature of the weapons that our forces were using.
Today, while the internet makes it possible to find similar information about the conflicts in the world in which the US is participating, either as primary combatant or as the chief provider of arms, as in Gaza, one actually has to make a concerted effort to look for them. The corporate media which provide the information that most Americans simply receive passively on the evening news or at breakfast over coffee carefully avoid showing us most of the graphic horror inflicted by our military machine.
We may read the cold fact that the US military, after initial denials, admits that its forces killed not four enemy combatants in an assault on a house in Afghanistan, but rather five civilians-including a man, a female teacher, a 10-year-old girl, a 15-year-old boy and a tiny baby. But we don’t see pictures of their shattered bodies, no doubt shredded by the high-powered automatic rifles typically used by American forces.
We may read about wedding parties that are bombed by American forces-something that has happened with some frequency in both Iraq and Afghanistan– where the death toll is tallied in dozens, but we are, as a rule, not provided with photos that would likely show bodies torn apart by anti-personnel bombs-a favored weapon for such attacks on groups of supposed enemy “fighters.” (A giveaway that such weapons are being used is a typically high death count with only a few wounded.)
Obviously one reason for this is that the US military no longer gives US journalists, including photo journalists, free reign on the battlefield. Those who travel with troops are under the control of those troops and generally aren’t allowed to photograph the scenes of devastation, and sites of such “mishaps” are generally ruled off limits until the evidence has been cleared away.
But another reason is that the media themselves sanitize their pages and their broadcasts. It isn’t just American dead that we don’t get to see. It’s the civilian dead-at least if our guys do it. We are not spared gruesome images following attacks on civilians by Iraqi insurgent groups, or by Taliban forces in Afghanistan. But we don’t get the same kind of photos when it’s our forces doing the slaughtering. Because often the photos and video images do exist-taken by foreign reporters who take the risk of going where the US military doesn’t want them.
No wonder that even today, most Americans oppose the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan not because of sympathy with the long-suffering peoples of those two lands, but because of the hardships faced by our own forces, and the financial cost of the two wars.
For some real information on the horror that is being perpetrated on one of the poorest countries in the world by the greatest military power the world has ever known, check out the excellent work by Professor Marc Herold at the University of New Hampshire (http://cursor.org/stories/civilian_deaths.htm and http://www.rawa.org/temp/runews/2008/10/06/the-imprecision-ofus-bombing-and-the-under-valuation-of-an-afghan-life.html).