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Vietnam a Half Century after the Gulf of Tonkin August 5, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Asia, History, Vietnam, War.
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Roger’s note: The entirely “unnecessary” Vietnam War cost nearly 60,000 American lives and hundreds of thousands wounded and emotionally and physically destroyed.  But this doesn’t begin to approximate the cost in lives and physical destruction to the Vietnamese people.  There were more than a million deaths, a large percentage civilian.

Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon were the commanders in chief who were directly responsible for the slaughter, but Eisenhower and Kennedy served as presidents during the the early years of American political and military intervention.  Of course there were many more, including the 98 senators who fell for the Bay of Tonkin hoax.  My generation will well remember such warmongers as Secretary of Defence (i.e. WAR) McNamara and General Westmoreland (Waste more land).  And then there is always Napalm (Dow Chemical) and Agent Orange (Dow and Monsanto).  And let’s not forget the vultures of the war profiteering arms industry.

The above named mass murderers will never be indicted, except perhaps by “history,” for what that’s worth.

I am reminded of Crime and Punishment’s Raskolnikov’s musing about his crime of murdering a despised old money lender versus the hundreds of thousands killed in Napoleon’s wars.  A single mother convicted of shop lifting to feed her children will suffer more at the hands of the criminal justice system than than the astute politicians, military and corporate elites mentioned above.  I don’t know why, but this somehow offends my sense of justice.

And why does all this seem not just a matter of history, but just as relevant today?

 

oped.com, August 4, 2014

napalm

HOI AN, VIETNAM. “I believe that history will record that we have made a great mistake,” Sen. Wayne Morse (D, OR) declared fifty years ago this week. He was referring to congressional passage of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, the decisive step into one of the greatest tragedies in American history. That resolution would be used for nearly a decade by Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon as authorization to conduct war in Vietnam.

A look at Vietnam today makes plain just how mistaken and tragic the American venture into war there was. First, though, a brief summary of how the decisive turn into that disastrous mistake a half century ago occurred.A BLANK CHECK FOR WAR

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Lyndon Johnson signing the Tonkin Gulf Resolution
(image by
Wiki Commons)

Nearly unanimous (of the 516 members of Congress who voted, only Morse and Sen. Ernest Gruening of Alaska opposed) passage of the resolution was secured on August 7, 1964, on the basis of the claim that three days earlier North Vietnamese boats had launched an unprovoked attack on two American ships. Believing that the argument that he was “soft” on communism and the fight in Vietnam was the only thing that Republican nominee Barry M. Goldwater had as a potentially effective argument against him in the November election, President Johnson seized upon the apparent attack to get what he had wanted for months: a Congressional resolution giving him a blank check to conduct whatever military operations in Vietnam he deemed necessary and that would pass “quickly, overwhelmingly, and without too much discussion of its implications.”AN ATTACK THAT DIDN’T HAPPEN

As Johnson was moving to launch retaliatory airstrikes against North Vietnam on August 4, reports reached the Pentagon from the scene off the coast of North Vietnam that there was serious doubt that an attack had occurred and from Admiral Ulysses S. Grant Sharp, Jr., at Pacific Command in Hawaii, suggesting that “a ‘complete evaluation’ be undertaken before any further action.” There is no indication that Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara informed the President of these communications during the crucial hours when the airstrikes were being set in motion.A 2000 National Security Council historical study reached an unambiguous conclusion about the alleged North Vietnamese attack on August 4: “No attack happened that night.” But an event that didn’t happen led to a resolution that served as the concept sketch for the script of a major tragedy.

Fifty years later, the magnitude of that mistake is unmistakable in Vietnam.

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Poster in front of bar in Hue, Vietnam, May 2014
(image by Robert McElvaine)

VIETNAM AND CHINAAmong the reasons given for undertaking the war, the most prominent were to block the expansion of Chinese influence into Southeast Asia and to oppose communism.

What was needed to accomplish the first objective was a strong, unified Vietnam. The Vietnamese have hated China for two thousand years, and having a communist government would not alter that basic fact in any way. Ho Chi Minh was by far the best bet to achieve this American goal.Less than four years after Hanoi’s reunification of Vietnam in 1975, the Communist regime was engaged in a brief but bloody border war with its putative comrades from China. And currently tensions between the two countries over islands in the South China Sea (Vietnam rejects that name and calls it the Eastern Sea) are high. Vietnam and the United States find themselves virtual allies in opposing Chinese expansionism.

MORE SOCIAL DARWINIST THAN SOCIALIST

As for the other main war aim, how communist is Vietnam in 2014?There is a store in Hanoi called “Shop Aholic.” There must be steel cables restraining the preserved body of Ho Chi Minh so it doesn’t spin in its glass coffin in the nearby mausoleum.

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Versace store, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
(image by Robert McElvaine)

On a walk in Saigon–its current official name notwithstanding, it is not now and never has been Ho Chi Minh’s city–from Notre Dame down Dong Khoi (the famous Rue Catinat in the days of the French Empire, when it was considered Saigon’s Champs Élysees) to the Hotel Continental, the Opera House, and beyond, one passes all the familiar ration outlets of a communist country: Cartier, Versace, Dior, Piaget, Hermes, Louis Vuitton, Rolex . . . . “Dong Khoi” means “Total Uprising Street.” The total uprising taking place along it and throughout Vietnam is an explosion of capitalism.

When one visits the still more-or-less-communist country of Cuba, among the many indelible impressions is the nearly complete absence of trucks on the highways. They have no products to move around. Has anyone ever seen “Hecho en Cuba” on anything? They make, in a word, nada. Superimpose the roads in Vietnam on those in Cuba and the result would be a chiaroscuro painting. Vietnam’s highways are clogged with trucks moving goods around, reflecting the entirely market-based economy in this nominally socialist country.If they look at many aspects of Vietnam today, conservative Republicans in the United States might see the paradise of which they dream. This “socialist” nation has a paddle-your-own-canoe-or-sink economy. There is no welfare, no minimum wage, no unemployment insurance, no national healthcare, no old-age pensions for most people, no free education beyond middle school ….

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Shrine to Ho Chi Minh, Dien Bien Phu, Vietnam
(image by Robert McElvaine)

Ho Chi Minh’s countenance appears everywhere in contemporary Vietnam, benevolently smiling upon policies that he strongly opposed. It is much like the situation with many “Christians” in the United States who do the opposite of what Jesus taught. The farther self-identified followers get from the teachings of their supposed leader, the louder they proclaim his name. Uncle Ho has been deified–to the point of being portrayed like the Buddha on a lotus blossom. But when it comes to actual economic practice in Vietnam today, the altars at which worship takes place are those of William Graham Sumner and Ayn Rand.

But outside the economic realm the role of government is large. Vietnam remains a one-party political system in which corruption is rife and basic freedoms are restricted. The Vietnamese receive none of the benefits of positive government, but bear all the burdens of negative government. There are neither political nor economic checks and balances.A proposal was made in 2013 to change the country’s official name from the “Socialist Republic of Vietnam” back to what Ho had named it in 1945: the “Democratic Republic of Vietnam.” That would constitute a lateral move–from one wholly inaccurate name to another, equally inaccurate, one. By no stretch of the imagination is contemporary Vietnam either socialist or democratic.

If they want to adopt a name that reflects reality, they should call the nation the “Social-Darwinist Dictatorship of Vietnam.”A WAR FOR NOTHING

American policymakers in 1964 sought a Vietnam that was capitalist, would block China, and with which they could have good relations.The United States fought a war at terrible cost to achieve those ends and lost. Today, though, Vietnam is staunchly capitalist, adamantly opposed to China, and friendly to the United States. Had the war never been fought, it is highly likely that all of those ends would have been achieved at a much earlier date.

What, then, was this “b*tch of a war,” as Lyndon Johnson would later call it, to which the President proposed marriage a half century ago this week, with the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution as the engagement ring, good for?Absolutely nothing.

The Lyndon Johnson tapes: Richard Nixon’s ‘treason’ March 16, 2013

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16 March 2013 Last updated at 01:09 BBC GMT

 

By David Taylor

President Johnson on the phone in 1964

Declassified tapes of President Lyndon Johnson’s telephone calls provide a fresh insight into his world. Among the revelations – he planned a dramatic entry into the 1968 Democratic Convention to re-join the presidential race. And he caught Richard Nixon sabotaging the Vietnam peace talks… but said nothing.

After the Watergate scandal ta ught Richard Nixon the consequences of recording White House conversations none of his successors have dared to do it. But Nixon wasn’t the first.

He got the idea from his predecessor Lyndon Johnson, who felt there was an obligation to allow historians to eventually eavesdrop on his presidency.

“They will provide history with the bark off,” Johnson told his wife, Lady Bird.

The final batch of tapes released by the LBJ library covers 1968, and allows us to hear Johnson’s private conversations as his Democratic Party tore itself apart over the question of Vietnam.

Continue reading the main story

Charles Wheeler

Charles Wheeler in 1989
  • Charles Wheeler was the BBC’s Washington correspondent from 1965 to 1973
  • He learned in 1994 that LBJ had evidence of Richard Nixon’s sabotage of the Vietnam peace talks, and interviewed key Johns on staff
  • Wheeler died in 2008, the same year the LBJ tapes were declassified
  • David Taylor was his Washington-based producer for many years

The 1968 convention, held in Chicago, was a complete shambles.

Tens of thousands of anti-war protesters clashed with Mayor Richard Daley’s police, determined to force the party to reject Johnson’s Vietnam war strategy.

As they taunted the police with cries of “The whole world is watching!” one man in particular was watching very closely.

Lyndon Baines Johnson was at his ranch in Texas, having announced five months earlier that he wouldn’t seek a second term.

The president was appalled at the violence and although many of his staff sided with the students, and told the president the police were responsible for “disgusting abuse of police power,” Johnson picked up the phone, ordered the dictabelt machine to start recording and congratulated Mayor Daley for his handling of the protest.

The president feared the convention delegates were about to reject his war policy and his chosen successor, Hubert Humphrey.

So he placed a series of calls to his staff at the convention to outline an astonishing plan. He planned to leave Texas and fly into Chicago.

He would then enter the convention and announce he was putting his name forward as a candidate for a second term.

It would have transformed the 1968 election. His advisers were sworn to secrecy and even Lady Bird did not know what her husband was considering.

On the White House tapes we learn that Johnson wanted to know from Daley how many delegates would support his candidacy. LBJ only wanted to get back into the race if Daley could guarantee the party would fall in line behind him.

They also discussed whether the president’s helicopter, Marine One, could land on top of the Hilton Hotel to avoid the anti-war protesters.

Daley assured him enough delegates would support his nomination but the plan was shelved after the Secret Service warned the president they could not guarantee his safety.

The idea that Johnson might have been the candidate, and not Hubert Humphrey, is just one of the many secrets contained on the White House tapes.

They also shed light on a scandal that, if it had been known at the time, would have sunk the candidacy of Republican presidential nominee, Richard Nixon.

By the time of the election in November 1968, LBJ had evidence Nixon had sabotaged the Vietnam war peace talks – or, as he put it, that Nixon was guilty of treason and had “blood on his hands”.

The BBC’s former Washington correspondent Charles Wheeler learned of this in 1994 and conducted a series of interviews with key Johnson staff, such as defence secretary Clark Clifford, and national security adviser Walt Rostow.

Continue reading the main story

We now know…

  • After the Viet Cong’s Tet offensive, White House doves persuaded Johnson to end the war
  • Johnson loathed Senator Bobby Kennedy but the tapes show he was genuinely devastated by his assassination
  • He feared vice-president Hubert Humphrey would go soft on Vietnam if elected president
  • The BBC’s Charles Wheeler would have been under FBI surveillance when he met administration officials in 1968
  • In 1971 Nixon made huge efforts to find a file containing everything Johnson knew in 1968 about Nixon’s skulduggery

But by the time the tapes were declassified in 2008 all the main protagonists had died, including Wheeler.

Now, for the first time, the whole story can be told.

It begins in the summer of 1968. Nixon feared a breakthrough at the Paris Peace talks designed to find a negotiated settlement to the Vietnam war, and he knew this would derail his campaign.

He therefore set up a clandestine back-channel involving Anna Chennault, a senior campaign adviser.

At a July meeting in Nixon’s New York apartment, the South Vietnamese ambassador was told Chennault represented Nixon and spoke for the campaign. If any message needed to be passed to the South Vietnamese president, Nguyen Van Thieu, it would come via Chennault.

In late October 1968 there were major concessions fro m Hanoi which promised to allow meaningful talks to get underway in Paris – concessions that would justify Johnson calling for a complete bombing halt of North Vietnam. This was exactly what Nixon feared.

The US delegation, left, and North Vietnamese delegation at Paris peace talks
The Paris peace talks may have ended years earlier, if it had not been for Nixon’s subterfuge

Chennault was despatched to the South Vietnamese embassy with a clear message: the South Vietnamese government should withdraw from the talks, refuse to deal with Johnson, and if Nixon was elected, they would get a much better deal.

So on the eve of his planned announcement of a halt to the bombing, Johnson learned the South Vietnamese were pulling out.

He was also told why. The FBI had bugged the ambassador’s phone and a transcripts of Anna Chennault’s calls were sent to the White House. In one conversation she tells the ambassador to “just hang on through election”.

Johnson was told by Defence Secretary Clifford that the interference was illegal and threatened the chance for peace.

President Nixon in 1970 with a map of Vietnam
Nixon went on to become president and eventually signed a Vietnam peace deal in 1973

In a series of remarkable White House recordings we can hear Johnson’s reaction to the news.

In one call to Senator Richard Russell he says: “We have found that our friend, the Republican nominee, our California friend, has been playing on the outskirts with our enemies and our friends both, he has been doing it through rather subterranean sources. Mrs Chennault is warning the South Vietnamese not to get pulled into this Johnson move.”

He orders the Nixon campaign to be placed under FBI surveillance and demands to know if Nixon is personally involved.

When he became convinced it was being orchestrated by the Republican candidate, the president called Senator Everett Dirksen, the Republican leader in the Senate to get a message to Nixon.

The president knew what was going on, Nixon should back off and the subterfuge amounted to treason.

Publicly Nixon was suggesting he had no idea why the South Vietnamese withdrew from the talks. He even offered to travel to Saigon to get them back to the negotiating table.

Johnson felt it was the ultimate expression of political hypocrisy but in calls recorded with Clifford they express the fear that going public would require revealing the FBI were bugging the ambassador’s phone and the National Security Agency (NSA) was intercepting his communications with Saigon.

So they decided to say nothing.

The president did let Humphrey know and gave him enough information to sink his opponent. But by then, a few days from the election, Humphrey had been to ld he had closed the gap with Nixon and would win the presidency. So Humphrey decided it would be too disruptive to the country to accuse the Republicans of treason, if the Democrats were going to win anyway.

Nixon ended his campaign by suggesting the administration war policy was in shambles. They couldn’t even get the South Vietnamese to the negotiating table.

He won by less than 1% of the popular vote.

Once in office he escalated the war into Laos and Cambodia, with the loss of an additional 22,000 American lives, before finally settling for a peace agreement in 1973 that was within grasp in 1968.

The White House tapes, combined with Wheeler’s interviews with key White House personnel, provide an unprecedented insight into how Johnson handled a series of crises that rocked his presidency. Sadly, we will never have that sort of insight again.

 

How Did the Gates of Hell Open in Vietnam? January 18, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in History, Imperialism, Vietnam, War.
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Roger’s note: the United States military policy of massacres and torture did not begin with George W. Bush.  It began with the genocide of the Native Peoples, continued on with the brutality against African Slaves and the imperialist policies that began with the Spanish-American war and continues to this day in the Middle East, Africa, and around the globe.
Published on Friday, January 18, 2013 by Tom Dispatch

A New Book Transforms Our Understanding of What the Vietnam War Actually Was

by Jonathan Schell

For half a century we have been arguing about “the Vietnam War.” Is it possible that we didn’t know what we were talking about? After all that has been written (some 30,000 books and counting), it scarcely seems possible, but such, it turns out, has literally been the case.

Now, in Kill Anything that MovesNick Turse has for the first time put together a comprehensive picture, written with mastery and dignity, of what American forces actually were doing in Vietnam. The findings disclose an almost unspeakable truth.  Meticulously piecing together newly released classified information, court-martial records, Pentagon reports, and firsthand interviews in Vietnam and the United States, as well as contemporaneous press accounts and secondary literature, Turse discovers that episodes of devastation, murder, massacre, rape, and torture once considered isolated atrocities were in fact the norm, adding up to a continuous stream of atrocity, unfolding, year after year, throughout that country.

It has been Turse’s great achievement to see that, thanks to the special character of the war, its prime reality — an accurate overall picture of what physically was occurring on the ground — had never been assembled; that with imagination and years of dogged work this could be done; and that even a half-century after the beginning of the war it still should be done. Turse acknowledges that, even now, not enough is known to present this picture in statistical terms. To be sure, he offers plenty of numbers — for instance the mind-boggling estimates that during the war there were some two million civilians killed and some five million wounded, that the United States flew 3.4 million aircraft sorties, and that it expended 30 billion pounds of munitions, releasing the equivalent in explosive force of 640 Hiroshima bombs.

Yet it would not have been enough to simply accumulate anecdotal evidence of abuses. Therefore, while providing an abundance of firsthand accounts, he has supplemented this approach. Like a fabric, a social reality — a town, a university, a revolution, a war — has a pattern and a texture.  No fact is an island. Each one is rich in implications, which, so to speak, reach out toward the wider area of the surrounding facts. When some of these other facts are confirmed, they begin to reveal the pattern and texture in question.

Turse repeatedly invites us to ask what sort of larger picture each story implies. For example, he writes:

If one man and his tiny team could claim more KIAs [killed in action] than an entire battalion without raising red flags among superiors; if a brigade commander could up the body count by picking off civilians from his helicopter with impunity; if a top general could institutionalize atrocities through the profligate use of heavy firepower in areas packed with civilians — then what could be expected down the line, especially among heavily armed young infantrymen operating in the field for weeks, angry, tired, and scared, often unable to locate the enemy and yet relentlessly pressed for kills?

Like a tightening net, the web of stories and reports drawn from myriad sources coalesces into a convincing, inescapable portrait of this war — a portrait that, as an American, you do not wish to see; that, having seen, you wish you could forget, but that you should not forget; and that the facts force you to see and remember and take into account when you ask yourself what the United States has done and been in the last half century, and what it still is doing and still is.

Scorched Earth in I Corps

My angle of vision on these matters is a highly particular one. In early August 1967, I arrived in I Corps, the northernmost district of American military operations in what was then South Vietnam.  I was there to report for the New Yorker on the “air war.” The phrase was a misnomer.  The Vietnamese foe, of course, had no assets in the air in the South, and so there was no “war” of that description.

There was only the unilateral bombardment of the land and people by the fantastic array of aircraft assembled by the United States in Vietnam.  These ranged from the B-52, which laid down a pattern of destruction a mile long and several football fields wide; to fighter bombers capable of dropping, along with much else, 500-pound bombs and canisters of napalm; to the reconfigured DC-3 equipped with a cannon capable of firing 100 rounds per second; to the ubiquitous fleets of helicopters, large and small, that crowded the skies. All this was abetted by continuous artillery fire into “free-fire” zones and naval bombardment from ships just off the coast.

By the time I arrived, the destruction of the villages in the region and the removal of their people to squalid refugee camps was approaching completion. (However, they often returned to their blasted villages, now subject to indiscriminate artillery fire.) Only a few pockets of villages survived. I witnessed the destruction of many of these in Quang Ngai and Quang Tinh provinces from the back seat of small Cessnas called Forward Air Control planes.

As we floated overhead day after day, I would watch long lines of houses burst into flames one after another as troops moved through the area of operation.  In the meantime, the Forward Air Controllers were calling in air strikes as requested by radio from troops on the ground. In past operations, the villagers had been herded out of the area into the camps.  But this time, no evacuation had been ordered, and the population was being subjected to the full fury of a ground and air assault. A rural society was being torn to pieces before my eyes.

The broad results of American actions in I Corps were thus visible and measurable from the air. No scorched earth policy had been announced but scorched earth had been the result.  Still, a huge piece was missing from the puzzle.  I was not able to witness most of the significant operations on the ground firsthand. I sought to interview some soldiers but they would not talk, though one did hint at dark deeds.  “You wouldn’t believe it so I’m not going to tell you,” he said to me. “No one’s ever going to find out about some things, and after this war is over, and we’ve all gone home, no one is ever going to know.”

In other words, like so many reporters in Vietnam, I saw mainly one aspect of one corner of the war.  What I had seen was ghastly, but it was not enough to serve as a basis for generalizations about the conduct of the war as a whole. Just a few years later, in 1969, thanks to the determined efforts of a courageous soldier, Ron Ridenhour, and the persistence of a reporter, Seymour Hersh, one piece of the hidden truth about ground operations in I Corp came to light.

It was the My Lai massacre, in which more than 500 civilians were murdered in cold blood by Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry, of the Americal Division. In subsequent years, news of other atrocities in the area filtered into the press, often many years after the fact. For example, in 2003 the Toledo Blade disclosed a campaign of torture and murder over a period of months, including the summary execution of two blind men by a “reconnaissance” squad called Tiger Force.  Still, no comprehensive picture of the generality of ground operations in the area emerged.

It has not been until the publication of Turse’s book that the everyday reality of which these atrocities were a part has been brought so fully to light. Almost immediately after the American troops arrived in I Corps, a pattern of savagery was established. My Lai, it turns out, was exceptional only in the numbers killed.

Turse offers a massacre at a village called Trieu Ai in October 1967 as a paradigm.  A marine company suffered the loss of a man to a booby trap near the village, which had in fact had been mostly burned down by other American forces a few days earlier.  Some villagers had, however, returned for their belongings. Now, the Marine company, enraged by its loss but unable to find the enemy, entered the village firing their M-16s, setting fire to any intact houses, and tossing grenades into bomb shelters.

A Marine marched a woman into a field and shot her.  Another reported that there were children in the shelters that were being blown up.  His superior replied, “Tough shit, they grow up to be VC [Vietcong].”  Five or ten people rushed out of a shelter when a grenade was thrown into it.  They were cut down in a hail of fire. Turse comments:

In the story of Trieu Ai one can see virtually the entire war writ small.  Here was the repeated aerial bombing and artillery fire… Here was the deliberate burning of peasant homes and the relocation of villagers to refugee camps… Angry troops primed to lash out, often following losses within the unit; civilians trapped in their paths; and officers in the field issuing ambiguous or illegal orders to young men conditioned to obey — that was the basic recipe for many of the mass killings carried out by army soldiers and marines over the years.

The savagery often extended to the utmost depravity: gratuitous torture, killing for target practice, slaughter of children and babies, gang rape.  Consider the following all-too-typical actions of Company B, 1st Battalion, 35th infantry beginning in October 1967:

The company stumbled upon an unarmed young boy.  ‘Someone caught him up on a hill, and they brought him down and the lieutenant asked who wanted to kill him…’ medic Jamie Henry later told army investigators. A radioman and another medic volunteered for the job.  The radioman… ’kicked the boy in the stomach and the medic took him around behind a rock and I heard one magazine go off complete on automatic…’

A few days after this incident, members of that same unit brutalized an elderly man to the point of collapse and then threw him off a cliff without even knowing whether he was dead or alive…

A couple of days after that, they used an unarmed man for target practice…

And less than two weeks later, members of Company B reportedly killed five unarmed women…

Unit members rattled off a litany of other brutal acts committed by the company… [including] a living woman who had an ear cut off while her baby was thrown to the ground and stomped on… 

Pumping Up the Body Count

Turse’s findings completed the picture of the war in I Corps for me.  Whatever the policy might have been in theory, the reality, on the ground as in the air, was the scorched earth I had witnessed from the Forward Air Control planes. Whatever the United States thought it was doing in I Corps, it was actually waging systematic war against the people of the region.

And so it was, as Turse voluminously documents, throughout the country.  Details differed from area to area but the broad picture was the same as the one in I Corps. A case in point is the war in the Mekong Delta, home to some five to six million people in an area of less than 15,000 square miles laced with rivers and canals. In February 1968, General Julian Ewell, soon to be known by Vietnamese and Americans alike as “the Butcher of the Delta,” was placed in charge of the 9th Infantry Division.

In December 1968, he launched Operation Speedy Express. His specialty, amounting to obsession, was increasing “the body count,” ordained by the high command as the key measure of progress in defeating the enemy. Theoretically, only slain soldiers were to be included in that count but — as anyone, soldier or reporter, who spent a half-hour in the field quickly learned — virtually all slain Vietnamese, most of them clearly civilians, were included in the total.  The higher an officer’s body count, the more likely his promotion. Privates who turned in high counts were rewarded with mini-vacations. Ewell set out to increase the ratio of supposed enemy soldiers killed to American soldiers killed.  Pressure to do so was ratcheted up at all levels in the 9th Division. One of his chiefs of staff “went berserk,” in the words of a later chief of staff.

The means were simple: immensely increase the already staggering firepower being used and loosen the already highly permissive “rules of engagement” by, for example, ordering more night raids.  In a typical night episode, Cobra gunships strafed a herd of water buffalo and seven children tending them. All died, and the children were reported as enemy soldiers killed in action.

The kill ratios duly rose from an already suspiciously high 24 “Vietcong” for every dead American to a completely surreal 134 Vietcong per American.  The unreality, however, did not simply lie in the inflated kill numbers but in the identities of the corpses.  Overwhelmingly, they were not enemy soldiers but civilians.  A “Concerned Sergeant” who protested the operation in an anonymous letter to the high command at the time described the results as he witnessed them:

A battalion would kill maybe 15 to 20 a day.  With 4 battalions in the Brigade that would be maybe 40 to 50 a day or 1200 a month 1500, easy. (One battalion claimed almost 1000 body counts one month!)  If I am only 10% right, and believe me its lots more, then I am trying to tell you about 120-150 murders, or a My Lay [My Lai] each month for over a year.

This range of estimates was confirmed in later analyses. Operations in I Corp perhaps depended more on infantry attacks supported by air strikes, while Speedy Express depended more on helicopter raids and demands for high body counts, but the results were the same: indiscriminate warfare, unrestrained by calculation or humanity, on the population of South Vietnam.

Turse reminds us that off the battlefield, too, casual violence — such as the use of military trucks to run over Vietnamese on the roads, seemingly for entertainment — was widespread.  The commonest terms for Vietnamese were the racist epithets “gooks,” “dinks,” and “slopes.”  And the U.S. military machine was supplemented by an equally brutal American-South Vietnamese prison system in which torture was standard procedure and extrajudicial executions common.

How did it happen? How did a country that believes itself to be guided by principles of decency permit such savagery to break out and then allow it to continue for more than a decade?

Why, when the first Marines arrived in I Corps in early 1965, did so many of them almost immediately cast aside the rules of war as well as all ordinary scruples and sink to the lowest levels of barbarism?  What chains of cause and effect linked “the best and the brightest” of America’s top universities and corporations who were running the war with the murder of those buffalo boys in the Mekong Delta?

How did the gates of hell open? This is a different question from the often-asked one of how the United States got into the war. I cannot pretend to begin to do it justice here. The moral and cognitive seasickness that has attended the Vietnam War from the beginning afflicts us still. Yet Kill Anything that Moves permits us, finally, to at least formulate the question in light of the actual facts of the case.

Reflections would certainly seem in order for a country that, since Vietnam, has done its best to unlearn even such lessons as were learned from that debacle in preparation for other misbegotten wars like those in Iraq and Afghanistan. Here, however, are a few thoughts, offered in a spirit of thinking aloud.

The Fictitious War and the Real One

Roughly since the massacre at My Lai was revealed, people have debated whether the atrocities of the war were the product of decisions by troops on the ground or of high policy, of orders issued from above — whether they were “aberrations” or “operations.” The first school obviously lends itself to bad-apple-in-a-healthy-barrel thinking, blaming individual units for unacceptable behavior while exonerating the higher ups; the second tends to exonerate the troops while pinning the blame on their superiors.

Turse’s book shows that the barrel was rotten through and through.  It discredits the “aberration” school once and for all. Yet it does not exactly offer support for the orders-from-the-top school either. Perhaps the problem always was that these alternatives framed the situation inaccurately.  The relationship between policy and practice in Vietnam was, it turns out, far more peculiar than the two choices suggest.

It’s often said that truth is the first casualty of war. In Vietnam, however, it was not just that the United States was doing one thing while saying another (for example, destroying villages while claiming to protect them), true as that was.  Rather, from its inception the war’s structure was shaped by an attempt to superimpose a false official narrative on a reality of a wholly different character.

In the official war, the people of South Vietnam were resisting the attempts of the North Vietnamese to conquer them in the name of world communism.  The United States was simply assisting them in their patriotic resistance.  In reality, most people in South Vietnam, insofar as they were politically minded, were nationalists who sought to push out foreign conquerors: first, the French, then the Japanese, and next the Americans, along with their client state, the South Vietnamese government which was never able to develop any independent strength in a land supposedly its own.  This fictitious official narrative was not added on later to disguise unpalatable facts; it was baked into the enterprise from the outset.

Accordingly, the collision of policy and reality first took place on the ground in Trieu Ai village and its like. The American forces, including their local commanders, were confronted with a reality that the policymakers had not faced and would not face for many long years. Expecting to be welcomed as saviors, the troops found themselves in a sea of nearly universal hostility.

No manual was handed out in Washington to deal with the unexpected situation. It was left to the soldiers to decide what to do. Throughout the country, they started to improvise. To this extent, policy was indeed being made in the field. Yet it was not within the troops’ power to reverse basic policy; they could not, for instance, have withdrawn themselves from the whole misconceived exercise.  They could only respond to the unexpected circumstances in which they found themselves.

The result would combine an incomprehensible and impossible mission dictated from above (to win the “hearts and minds” of a population already overwhelmingly hostile, while pulverizing their society) and locally conceived illegal but sometimes vague orders that left plenty of room for spontaneous, rage-driven improvisation on the ground. In this gap between the fiction of high policy and the actuality of the real war was born the futile, abhorrent assault on the people of Vietnam.

The improvisatory character of all this, as Turse emphasizes, can be seen in the fact that while the abuses of civilians were pervasive they were not consistent. As he summarizes what a villager in one brutalized area told him decades later, “Sometimes U.S. troops handed out candies.  Sometimes they shot at people.  Sometimes they passed through a village hardly touching a thing.  Sometimes they burned all the homes. ‘We didn’t understand the reasons why the acted in the way they did.’”

Alongside the imaginary official war, then, there grew up the real war on the ground, the one that Turse has, for the first time, adequately described.  It is no defense of what happened to point out that, for the troops, it was not so much their orders from on high as their circumstances — what Robert J. Lifton has called “atrocity-producing situations” — that generated their degraded behavior. Neither does such an account provide escape from accountability for the war’s architects without whose blind and misguided policies these infernal situations never would have arisen.

In one further bitter irony, this real war came at a certain point to be partially codified at ever higher levels of command into policies that did translate into orders from the top. In effect, the generals gradually — if absurdly, in light of the supposed goals of the war — sanctioned and promoted the de facto war on the population.  Enter General Ewell and his body counts.

In other words, the improvising moved up the chain of command until the soldiers were following orders when they killed civilians, though, as in the case of Ewell, those orders rarely took exactly that form.  Nonetheless, the generals sometimes went quite far in formulating these new rules, even when they flagrantly contradicted official policies.

To give one example supplied by Turse, in 1965, General William Westmoreland, who was made commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam in 1964, implicitly declared war on the peasantry of South Vietnam. He said:

Until now the war has been characterized by a substantial majority of the population remaining neutral.  In the past year we have seen an escalation to a higher intensity in the war.  This will bring about a moment of decision for the peasant farmer.  He will have to choose if he stays alive.”

Like his underlings, Westmoreland, was improvising. This new policy of, in effect, terrorizing the peasantry into submission was utterly inconsistent with the Washington narrative of winning hearts and minds, but it was fully consistent with everything his forces were actually doing and about to do in I Corps and throughout the country.

A Skyscraper of Lies

One more level of the conflict needs to be mentioned in this context.  Documents show that, as early as the mid-1960s, the key mistaken assumptions of the war — that the Vietnamese foe was a tentacle of world communism, that the war was a front in the Cold War rather than an episode in the long decolonization movement of the twentieth century, that the South Vietnamese were eager for rescue by the United States — were widely suspected to be mistaken in official Washington.  But one other assumption was not found to be mistaken: that whichever administration “lost” Vietnam would likely lose the next election.

Rightly or wrongly, presidents lived in terror of losing the war and so being politically destroyed by a movement of the kind Senator Joe McCarthy launched after the American “loss” of China in 1949.  Later, McGeorge Bundy, Lyndon Johnson’s national security advisor, would describe his understanding of the president’s frame of mind at the time this way:

LBJ isn’t deeply concerned about who governs Laos, or who governs South Vietnam — he’s deeply concerned with what the average American voter is going to think about how he did in the ball game of the Cold War. The great Cold War championship gets played in the largest stadium in the United States and he, Lyndon Johnson, is the quarterback, and if he loses, how does he do in the next election? So don’t lose. Now that’s too simple, but it’s where he is. He’s living with his own political survival every time he looks at these questions.”

In this context, domestic political considerations trumped the substantive reasoning that, once the futility and horror of the enterprise had been revealed, might have led to an end to the war. More and more it was understood to be a murderous farce, but politics dictated that it must continue. As long as this remained the case, no news from Vietnam could lead to a reversal of the war policies.

This was the top floor of the skyscraper of lies that was the Vietnam War. Domestic politics was the largest and most fact-proof of the atrocity-producing situations.  Do we imagine that this has changed?

© 2013 Jonathan Schell
Jonathan Schell

Jonathan Schell is the Doris M. Shaffer Fellow at The Nation Institute, and a Senior Lecturer at Yale University. He is the author of The Seventh Decade: The New Shape of Nuclear Danger and The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence, and the Will of the People. .

 

Profiting Off Nixon’s Vietnam “Treason” March 4, 2012

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Roger’s note: it has been my opinion that in our time things really began to go “off the track” with the Nixon presidency and not with the Bush era, as many argue (of course, in a broader sense the car jumped the rail in 1492).  The Nixons and the Bushes and the Obamas and the military-industrial complex behind them sacrifice lives by the hundreds of thousands, and we honor them as presidents and patriots.  The cynicism behind it all is almost beyond comprehension, not to mention surreal.

 

Robert Parry, www.opednews.com, March 3, 2012

This article cross-posted from Consortium News

President Richard Nixon addresses the nation about his bombing of Cambodia, April 30,

As I pored over documents from what the archivists at Lyndon  Johnson’s presidential library call their “X-File” — chronicling Richard Nixon’s apparent sabotage of Vietnam peace talks in 1968 — I was  surprised by one fact in particular, how Johnson’s White House got wind  of what Johnson later labeled Nixon’s “treason.”

According to the records, Eugene Rostow, Johnson’s Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, got a tip in late October 1968 from a Wall Street source who said that one of Nixon’s closest financial backers  was describing Nixon’s plan to “block” a peace settlement of the Vietnam War. The backer was sharing this information with his banking  colleagues to help them place their bets on stocks and bonds.

In other words, these investment bankers were colluding over how to  make money with their inside knowledge of Nixon’s scheme to extend the  Vietnam War. Such an image of these “masters of the universe” sitting  around a table plotting financial strategies while a half million  American soldiers were sitting in a war zone was a picture that even the harshest critics of Wall Street might find hard to envision.

Yet, that tip — about Nixon’s Wall Street friends discussing his  apparent tip on the likely course of the Vietnam War — was the first  clear indication that Johnson’s White House had that the sudden  resistance from South Vietnamese President Nguyen van Thieu to Paris  peace talks may have involved a collaboration with Nixon, the Republican candidate for president who feared progress toward peace could cost him the election.

On Oct. 29, Eugene Rostow passed on the information to his brother,  Walt W. Rostow, Johnson’s national security adviser. Eugene Rostow also wrote a memoabout the tip, reporting that he had learned the news from a source in  New York who had gotten it from “a member of the banking community” who  was “very close to Nixon.”

Eugene Rostow’s source said the conversation occurred among a group  of Wall Street bankers who attended a working lunch to assess likely  market trends and to decide where to invest. Nixon’s associate, who is  never identified in the White House documents, told his fellow bankers  that Nixon was obstructing the peace talks. Eugene  Rostow wrote…

“The conversation was in the context of a professional discussion  about the future of the financial markets in the near term. The speaker said he thought the prospects for a bombing  halt or a cease-fire were dim, because Nixon was playing the problem as  he did the Fortas affair — to block. …”They would incite Saigon to be difficult, and Hanoi to wait. Part of his strategy was an expectation that an offensive would break out soon, that we would have to spend a great deal more (and incur more  casualties) — a fact which would adversely affect the stock market and  the bond market. NVN [North Vietnamese] offensive action was a definite  element in their thinking about the future.”

(The reference to Fortas apparently was to the successful  Republican-led filibuster in the Senate to block Johnson’s 1968  nomination of Associate Justice Abe Fortas to replace Earl Warren as  Chief Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.)

In other words, Nixon’s friends on Wall Street were placing their  financial bets based on the inside dope that Johnson’s peace initiative  was doomed to fail. (In another document, Walt Rostow identified his brother’s source, who disclosed this  strategy session, as Alexander Sachs, who was then on the board of  Lehman Brothers.)

A separate memo  from Eugene Rostow said the unidentified speaker at the lunch had added  that Nixon “was trying to frustrate the President, by inciting Saigon to step up its demands, and by letting Hanoi know that when he [Nixon]  took office ‘he could accept anything and blame it on his predecessor.'”

So, according to the speaker, Nixon was trying to convince both the  South and North Vietnamese that they would get a better deal if they  stalled Johnson’s peace initiative.

In a later memo providing a chronology of the affair, Walt Rostow  said he got the news about the Wall Street lunch from his brother  shortly before attending a morning meeting at which President Johnson  was informed by U.S. Ambassador to South Vietnam Ellsworth Bunker about  “Thieu’s sudden intransigence.”

Walt Rostow said “the diplomatic information previously received plus the information from New York took on new and serious significance,”  leading to an FBI investigation ordered by Johnson that uncovered the  framework of Nixon’s blocking operation. [To read that Rostow memo,  click here, here and here.]

The Rostow memos are contained in a file with scores of secret and  top secret documents tracing Nixon’s Vietnam peace-talk gambit as  Johnson tried frantically to stop Nixon’s blocking operation and still  reach a peace agreement in the waning days of his presidency.

After Nixon narrowly prevailed in the 1968 election and as Johnson  was leaving the White House without a peace agreement in hand, the  outgoing President instructed Walt Rostow to take the file with him.  Rostow kept the documents in what he called “The ‘X’ Envelope,” although the archivists at the LBJ Library in Austin, Texas, have dubbed it the  “X-File” after the once popular TV series.

Rostow’s “‘X’ Envelope” was not opened until 1994, which began a  process of declassifying the contents, some of which remain secret to  this day.

After Johnson’s peace initiative failed, the Vietnam War dragged on  another four years, leading to the deaths of an additional 20,763 U.S.  soldiers, with 111,230 wounded. An estimated one million more Vietnamese also died.

[For a much detailed examination of what Johnson called this “sordid story,” see Consortiumnews.com’s “LBJ’s “X’ File on Nixon’s “Treason.’“]

 Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at more…)

Using Federal Power to Resegregate American Schools September 24, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Education, Racism.
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Published on Saturday, September 24, 2011 by CommonDreams.org

 

  by  Jim Horn

Prior to passage of the Elementary and Secondary Act (ESEA) in 1965, a savvy Lyndon Johnson, who knew the South would never willingly desegregate schools, crafted the federal legislation so that large sums of money would go to any of the segregated systems of the South that would comply with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which, of course, banned racial discrimination in any public institution receiving federal funds. This strategy of carrot (ESEA) following stick (Civil Rights Act) worked like a charm, and the “segregation now, segregation forever” crowd quietly resolved to accept the federal millions and, in doing so, reluctantly complied with the Supreme Court’s mandate handed down in the unanimous 1954 Brown decision, which had been largely ignored in the South.

I was a sophomore in one of those small segregated Southern high schools in 1965, and I remember the first black kids who, until that time, had had a 60-mile roundtrip daily bus ride to endure if they wanted to go to high school. As a legacy of that ESEA carrot, then, my little school and the rest of the schools in the Old Confederacy became and remain less segregated than many schools in the North, where housing patterns maintain de facto segregation even where the law cannot. By the early 1970s, apartheid schooling in the 19 Southern states was over, or so we thought.

Johnson’s creative use of federal funding, then, was able to accomplish for the commonweal what federal mandates and court rulings could not. Congress amended ESEA in 1966 and 1967 to provide big carrots, too, for special education and English language learners. Major reauthorizations of ESEA followed in 1981, 1994, and in 2001 with No Child Left Behind, with the power of the federal purse strings made more figural in each subsequent reauthorization.

Then, following the 2008 calamity brought on by Wall Street’s casino capitalists, Education Secretary Arne Duncan used a newfound power of $4. 35 billion in federal discretionary Race to the Top (RttT) grants to sidestep the legislative gridlock holding up changes to NCLB that were being advanced by the corporate foundations and the Business Roundtable: 1) uncapped expansion of charter schools (minus any regulations or incentives for maintaining diversity or inclusion of special populations or ELL), 2) proliferation of testing data tracking systems, 3) more value-added standardized testing, and 4) teacher evaluations based on student test scores. Any state or LEA that wanted to get a chunk of Duncan’s 4 billion dollar carrot would have to comply with these four conditions.

In an ironic twist of policy fate whose impending impact remains as ignored as it is misunderstood by the public, ESEA monies were used, for the first time, as the carrot to re-ignite the policy that the original ESEA had been designed to extinguish: school segregation and poor performance. In peer-reviewed research studies (here, here, and here) that examine the effects of charter schools on school diversity, researchers have found, in fact, that both for-profit charter schools and non-profit charter schools have significant segregative effects when compared to public schools. And study after study after study has shown similar negative effects on school performance as measured by test scores of students in charter schools when compared to matched public schools.

No amount of empirical, reality-based evidence, however, can seem to derail or even slow down the charter train, fueled and driven as it is by conservative ideologues, neoliberal efficiency zealots, and the profiteers of the education-industrial complex like Pearson and McGraw-Hill. And now Congress is getting into the act (pun intended) as well, with House passage of H. R. 2218, whose clone is under consideration by the Senate to provide new segregative charter funds, including monies this time for charter school facilities. In these legislative efforts, inspired as they are to break up the ESEA reauthorization into smaller chunks that Team Obama can never claim credit for (or be blamed for, as the case may be), unwitting or uncaring elected officials of our national government are, in fact, promoting the expansion of school resegregation through the expansion of charter schools that, in 4 out of 5 instances, are worse or no better academically than the public schools they are replacing. And neither House nor Senate versions offer a syllable to demand or incentivize the creation of diverse, inclusive charter schools, thus choosing to make ESEA’s most effective social steering mechanism a tool now of segregationists and social control advocates whose agendas appear aligned with the eugenics era that flourished a hundred years ago.

If these federal bills in support of corporate reform schooling arrive on the desk of the first African-American President of the United States, will he, too, embrace their silent support of the return to apartheid education? Will Barack Obama show up on the wrong side of history?

Jim Horn

Jim Horn is Associate Professor of Educational Leadership at Cambridge College, Cambridge, MA. He is also an education blogger at Schools Matter and has published widely on issues related to social justice in education.

 

 

 

 

Big Media’s Curious Nixon Judgment December 15, 2010

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Robert Parry

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.

Johnson’s Complaints

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.”

Nixon’s Protestation

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.

More Dead

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.

More Evidence

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.

Obama Running Scared June 23, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Health.
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Published on Tuesday, June 23, 2009 by the Albany Times Union (New York) by Helen Thomas

A universal health care system based on the single-payer model appears to be a bridge too far for President Barack Obama.

A single-payer system, such as Medicare for everyone, would provide health care for all.

President Lyndon Johnson had the courage to weigh in with all his clout to win passage of Medicare and Medicaid.

President Roosevelt put all his chips on the table to win passage of the Social Security Act that makes the elderly more secure.

All around the world, governments have long made medical care available for their citizens. Why not us?

Obama clearly has no stomach for the political battle that any single-payer plan would ignite. So he’s endorsed a step that would allow the government to provide health insurance coverage — not health care — to eligible people. Such government-sponsored health insurance is being considered in Congress as it writes health care reform legislation.

While the public plan option gets full consideration in Congress, the single-payer model has been unwelcome at the White House or on Capitol Hill.

Obama said part of the fierce opposition to health care reform has been fueled “by some interest groups and lobbyists — opposition that has used fear tactics to paint any effort to achieve reform as an attempt to, yes, socialize medicine.”

He made it clear that his idea of health care reform would allow patients to choose their own doctors and keep their own health plans.

Somehow government bailouts have been more palatable for Wall Street plutocrats who happen to be needy.

Obama stressed in a speech to the AMA in Chicago last week that he does not favor socialized medicine.

Some 47 million Americans are uninsured — many because some employers have dropped coverage in the economic downturn. Others lack insurance because pre-existing illnesses deny them access to private insurance. There also are millions with no way to pay for soaring health insurance payments because they have lost their jobs.

Nearly all Republicans and some moderate Democrats oppose any public plan option. These are the same lawmakers who receive many government-provided perks including health insurance.

In his remarks to the AMA, Obama warned against “scare tactics” and “fear mongering” by opponents of the public plan option, which the President said should be available to those who have no health insurance.

Obama rejected the “illegitimate concern that’s being put forward by those who are claiming that a public option is somehow a Trojan horse for a single-payer system.”

Obama should tear a page out of LBJ’s vote-getting manual and shame the heartless opponents.

The health of all Americans is our business.

© 2009 Times Union

Helen Thomas is a columnist for Hearst Newspapers. E-mail: helent@hearstdc.com.  Among other books she is the author of Front Row at The White House: My Life and Times. 

Obama’s Health Care Waterloo June 19, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Health.
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Dave Lindorff

www.opednews.com, June 19, 2009

The Obama administration and the Congressional Democrats are finally hitting the inevitable wall that was bound to confront them because of the president’s congenital inability to be a bold leader, and because of the party’s toxic decades-old decision to betray its working class New Deal base in favor of wholesale corporate whoredom.

The wall is health care reform, which both Barack Obama and the Democratic Party had hoped would be the ticket for them to ride to victory in the 2010 Congressional elections and the 2012 presidential election.

But you cannot achieve the twin goals of reducing health care costs and providing access to health care to 50 million uninsured people, while leaving the profit centers of the current system—doctors, hospitals and the health insurance industry—in charge and in a position to continue to reap profits.

Watching President Obama address the American Medical Association was a cringe-inducing experience as he assured the assembled doctors he was not going to expand Medicare payments “broadly” to cover all patients, or end the current “piece-work reimbursement” system that has so enriched physicians, or as he told them that savings would “not come off your backs.” It was particularly cringe-inducing when he told the AMA that he knew that making money was not why its members were in the profession, saying, “That is not why you became doctors. That is not why you put in all those hours in the Anatomy Suite or the O.R. That is not what brings you back to a patient’s bedside to check in or makes you call a loved one to say it’ll be fine. You did not enter this profession to be bean-counters and paper-pushers. You entered this profession to be healers – and that’s what our health care system should let you be. “

Oh please. I know there are plenty of wonderful doctors who are dedicated to their patients and to patient care. But I also know plenty of doctors who have told me how half their classmates in medical school were mainly in it for the money, and that study halls and cafeterias of American med schools echo with the conversations about what can be made working in particular specialties. Not to mention the corrupt and insidious profit-sharing arrangements doctors enter into with labs, CAT-Scan and MRI test centers, pharmaceutical companies and other businesses, to earn profits by sending patients for unnecessary tests and treatments.

One can only imagine what he would be saying to insurance industry executives about his “reform” plans.

Because Obama and Congressional Democrats are unwilling to cut themselves off from the lucrative campaign-funding bonanza that is the health care industry, they cannot address seriously either the cost or the access crisis that plagues health care in the US, and that makes health care in this country cost 20 percent of GDP—twice what it costs in any other modern nation on a per capita or GDP basis, and that still leaves one in six Americans without ready access to even routine health care.

The answer to this crisis is obvious: a single-payer “socialized” system, in which you still have private doctors, and private or publicly run hospitals, but where the government sets the payment rates for treatment, and provides all compensation to health care providers.

If Democrats in Congress were serious about health care reform, they would immediately order the Congressional Budget Office to conduct a cost study of instituting such a program—a study that would include an estimate of the savings to individuals and employers if health care costs were lifted entirely off their backs (because obviously it would require considerable new government revenue to fund a single-payer program, but that’s only half the equation—the other half, the savings, is simply ignored by critics and doomsayers on the right and in the health care industry). Instead, Obama and the Democratic Congress are studiously avoiding even allowing any mention of the single-payer option. (A New York Times report today on the various health care plans working their way through Congress, and coming out of the White House, completely blacked out any mention of a single-payer bill in the House authored by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which the House leadership has prevented from even getting a token hearing.)

Obama’s unwillingness to lead on this issue will doom his health care plan. There is obviously no way Congress is going to shake off its corrupt leech-like attachment to corporate sponsors and their cash-spreading lobbyists, but had the new president wanted to make a historic mark and cruise to victory in 2012, he could have, like President Lyndon Johnson before him in his campaign for Medicare in 1965, put himself solidly behind a single-payer plan and made the case that it could cut America’s collective health bill in half while opening the door to every American.

Instead, he’s likely to end up with worse than nothing—that is with even more uninsured Americans come 2012, and with health care costs moving up as a share of GDP—and could well find himself out of a job. The policy that his handlers, like White House Chief-of-Staff Rahm Emanuel, had conceived of as Obama’s ticket to re-election, health care reform, could well prove instead to be his Waterloo.

That is if his adoption of a policy of expanded war in Afghanistan—another example of a failure to lead—doesn’t prove to be this president’s bigger policy disaster.

___________________

DAVE LINDORFF is a Philadelphia-area journalist. He is author of “Marketplace Medicine: The Rise of the For-Profit Hospital Chains” (Bantam Books, 1992), and most recently of “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006). His work is available at www.thiscantbehappening.net

Bill Moyers Journal: Missile Attacks on Pakistan February 3, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Pakistan, Uncategorized.
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MARILYN YOUNG: Yeah, but that’s, that’s you know, he’s read history. He should at least or he should have been very familiar with the Johnson administration. That’s exactly the trap that Johnson walked into. And it’s not necessary. I have this odd notion that the American public is actually, in the main, adult enough to listen and think and to respond to a president who says, I’m going to tell you what’s going on. For eight years there has been miasma, lies, deception, bizarre behavior. We’re going to change that and not just economically and not just domestically. But we’re really going to see what we’re doing everywhere. That means I did not approve a military move I was urged to approve because I want to know what I’m doing. And I’m sure my fellow citizens will join me in wishing to know what it is the United States is doing militarily before it does it.

See also:

http://rogerhollander.wordpress.com/2009/01/30/obama-continues-bush-policy-of-deadly-air-strikes-in-pakistan/?

 

http://rogerhollander.wordpress.com/2009/01/30/barack-obama-international-outlaw/?

Bill Moyers Journal, January 30, 2009

             

     
 

         
January 30, 2009

 

BILL MOYERS: Welcome to the JOURNAL.

Very often in the White House, the most momentous decisions are, at the time, the least dramatic, the least discussed. And they don’t make news, or history, until much later, when their consequences bubble to the surface downstream. There are observers who think that could prove to be the case with a decision made within hours of Barack Obama’s swearing in last week.

It started as a few lines in wire reports – a bit of buzz on the web – then a story here and there in the weekend papers. Unmanned American drones like this one, called Predators, honing in on villages in Pakistan, near the border with Afghanistan, striking like silent intruders in the night, against suspected terrorists.

Early accounts of casualties varied from a dozen to more than 20 dead and wounded. One Pakistani security official told THE WASHINGTON POST that perhaps ten insurgents had been killed, maybe even a high value target, a senior member of al Qaeda or the Taliban. Then the TIMES of London quoted locals who said “… three children lost their lives” when the missiles destroyed several homes.

Since last August, 38 suspected U.S. missile strikes have killed at least 132 people in Pakistan, where allegedly we are not at war.

In next door Afghanistan, the number is much higher. For seven years American and NATO forces have been chasing Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda and the Taliban, not only with Predator drones, but with guided missiles and bomber raids as well. According to the United Nations and the organization Human Rights Watch, aerial bombing has killed or wounded more than a thousand civilians, what the Pentagon calls, “collateral damage.”

The death of civilians has brought sharp criticism, including from some of our NATO allies and the president of Afghanistan. They believe the bombing is turning people in both Afghanistan and Pakistan against the West, actually undermining an effective campaign against terrorists.

The bombing of civilians from the sky is an old and questionable practice, argued over since the moment the military began to fly. It was deliberate strategy in World Wars I and II. American presidents approved it in Korea and extensively in Vietnam, again in the first Gulf War, then in Bosnia and Kosovo, and six years ago during the campaign of “shock and awe” over Iraq.

But what lifted those reports last weekend out of the routine is the simple fact that for the first time the air strikes occurred on President Obama’s watch. As he said during his campaign, and as Secretary of Defense Gates reaffirmed this week, Obama is escalating America’s military presence in Afghanistan. He may increase it to as many as 60,000 troops this year.

When I read the first story about the Predator strikes last weekend, I thought back to 1964, and another president.

LYNDON JOHNSON: My fellow Americans…

BILL MOYERS: After an encounter in the Gulf of Tonkin between American destroyers and North Vietnamese torpedo boats, President Lyndon Johnson ordered bombing raids over North Vietnam.

 

LYNDON JOHNSON: Air action is now in execution…

BILL MOYERS: LBJ said we want no wider war, but wider war is what we got, eleven years of it.

Now military analysts and historians, including my two guests are wondering aloud – could Afghanistan become “Obama’s war,” a quagmire that threatens to define his presidency, as Vietnam defined LBJ’s?

Marilyn Young is a professor of history at New York University. She’s published numerous books and essays on foreign policy, including THE VIETNAM WARS, 1945-1990, THE NEW AMERICAN EMPIRE and IRAQ AND THE LESSONS OF VIETNAM. She is the co-editor of a collection of essays to be released next month titled BOMBING CIVILIANS: A TWENTIETH-CENTURY HISTORY.

Pierre Sprey is a former Pentagon official, one of Defense Secretary Robert McNamara’s famous “whiz kids” who helped design and develop two of the military’s most successful airplanes, the F-16 Falcon Fighter and the A-10 Warthog Tankbuster. But in the late 1970s, with a handful of Pentagon and congressional insiders, Sprey helped found the military reform movement. They risked their careers taking issue with a defense bureaucracy spending more and more money for fewer and fewer, often ineffective weapons.

You will find an essay with his shared by-line in this new book, AMERICA’S DEFENSE MELTDOWN, published by the Center for Defense Information.

Welcome to both of you.

 MARILYN YOUNG: Thank you.

PIERRE SPREY: Thank you.

BILL MOYERS: Marilyn, what did you think last weekend when four days into the Obama administration we read those reports of the strikes in Pakistan?

MARILYN YOUNG: My heart sank. It absolutely sank. It had been very high. I had been, like I think the rest of the country, feeling immensely encouraged and inspired by this new administration and by the energy and vigor with which he began. And then comes this piece of old stuff on approach to a complicated question that in comes in the form of a bomb and a bomb in the most dangerous of all places. And, yeah, my heart sank, literally.

BILL MOYERS: Our military, Pierre, says it’s sure that it’s striking militants in Pakistan and Afghanistan. And that they’re not targeting civilians. Can they be sure? From your experience, can they be sure?

PIERRE SPREY: I’m sure that their purpose is to strike militants. I have no doubt of that whatsoever. But with the weapons they use and with the extremely flawed intelligence they have.

MARILYN YOUNG: Yes.

PIERRE SPREY: I’d be astonished if one in five people they kill or wound is in fact, a militant.

BILL MOYERS: What do you mean “flawed intelligence”?

PIERRE SPREY: You can’t tell with a camera or an infrared sensor or something whether somebody’s a Taliban. In the end, you’re relying on either, you know, some form of intercepted communications, which doesn’t point at a person. It just, you know, points at a radio or a cell phone or something like that. Or, most likely, you’re relying on some Afghani of unknown veracity and unknown motivation and who may, may very well be trying to settle a blood feud rather than give you good information.

BILL MOYERS: But don’t these drone planes and Predator missiles provide a commander-in-chief, a President of the United States, with enormous political convenience for being able to order military action without risking American lives?

MARILYN YOUNG: Yeah.

PIERRE SPREY: Yes.

MARILYN YOUNG: Yeah, it’s-

PIERRE SPREY: But-

MARILYN YOUNG: Simple. Yeah.

PIERRE SPREY: And-

MARILYN YOUNG: And then-

PIERRE SPREY: A very dangerous option because it’s so convenient and because at home it’s politically acceptable because our boys aren’t dying on the ground, it gets us into tremendous trouble, which, of course, in general is true of bombing.

BILL MOYERS: And your-

PIERRE SPREY: Bombing is always politically popular relative to sending infantry and killing our boys.

BILL MOYERS: Aren’t these drone planes and these Predator missiles effective? Don’t they get the bad guys, even though they might kill a few civilians?

PIERRE SPREY: Their importance is enormously exaggerated, as is their glamour. A Predator is a very large radio-controlled model airplane with a 48-foot wingspan and a snowmobile motor in the back. It only goes about 80 miles an hour. And it stays up for 10, 15 hours and carries a missile. And when they launch the missile, the missile is not pinpoint accurate. You know, if it’s a house, reasonably often it hits the house it’s aimed at. And when it does, it usually kills a bunch of other people around.

MARILYN YOUNG: And it’s true, you can aim at this table. But the question is who’s sitting at – well, they might want to aim at this table. But, you know, who’s sitting at the table? And you don’t know. Or actually you do want to hit Pierre but you don’t want to hit the two of us. Unfortunately, pieces of what hit him hit us. And we are severely injured or dead. But really Pierre is what you wanted and Pierre is what you got. And this is supposed to be a triumph. And it seems to me that it is a triumph in the most abstract sense. And if you are on the ground as one of these things come at you, the material meaning of being bombed becomes very clear. And that’s not ever discussed or taken into account.

BILL MOYERS: The material meaning?

MARILYN YOUNG: Yes. What it feels like to be bombed, not to be in the crosshairs going down but to be on the ground looking up. And the footage that we have in the sense we have of drones is of someone 10,000 miles away pushing a button and, wham, there it goes. But nobody’s sitting there on the ground looking at what happens after it goes up.

PIERRE SPREY: And what happens on the ground is for every one of those impacts you get five or ten times as many recruits for the Taliban as you’ve eliminated. The people that we’re trying to convince to become adherents to our cause have turned rigidly hostile to our cause in part because of bombing and in part because of, you know, other killing of civilians from ground forces. But we’re dealing with a society here, that’s based on honor, you know? The Pashtun are very ancient people.

BILL MOYERS: This is the tribe in the southern part of the-

PIERRE SPREY: Well, it’s not a tribe. It’s a nation. This is 40 million people spread across Afghanistan and Pakistan, you know, who don’t even recognize that border. It’s their land.

BILL MOYERS: Forty million?

PIERRE SPREY: There’s 40 million of them. That’s a nation, not a tribe. Within it are tribal groupings and so on. But they all speak the common language. And they all have a very similar, very rigid, in lots of ways very admirable code of honor much stronger than their adherence to Islam.

PIERRE SPREY: They have to resist, you know, being invaded, occupied, bombed, and killed. It’s a matter of honor. And they’re willing to die in unbelievable numbers to do that.

BILL MOYERS: Are you suggesting that these strikes could be contributed to the destabilization of Pakistan, one of our allies?

MARILYN YOUNG: It’s clear that they’re doing that. I mean, there never was before an organization called Taliban in Pakistan. This didn’t exist as an organization. It does now. It’s unclear to me as well the relationship between our punitive enemy, al Qaeda, and the Taliban. That’s unclear. And it’s, it’s very unclear what American policy will be with respect to either group. Mainly what’s unclear is what our goal is in Afghanistan. It’s really unclear.

BILL MOYERS: Well, we went there to get Osama bin Laden after 9/11 and to free Afghanistan from the brutal grip of the Taliban, religious extremists who were wrecking misery and creating a base there for al Qaeda, right? That was-

PIERRE SPREY: And we failed miserably on both missions, you know? al Qaeda’s obviously flourishing, undoubtedly stronger around the world than it was when we started this in 2001. And what did we liberate the country from? We certainly caused the Taliban to withdraw. We didn’t defeat them. They withdrew. And Afghanistan turned into a battleground for warring huge, extremely violent drug gangs. All these provincial governors, all these people we call warlords euphemistically are large-scale drug gangsters.

MARILYN YOUNG: Uh-huh.

PIERRE SPREY: And the country was ripped apart by them. And that’s why the Taliban is coming back.

BILL MOYERS: You saw the story in “The Washington Post” this week from Secretary of Defense Gates who says, you know, we’re not longer going to be involved with these gangsters you talk about, with a corrupt government of Karzai in Kabul. We’re going to concentrate instead on doing something about the mess you just described by waging a war that will ultimately defeat the insurgents. That was, in effect, his message. New strategy.

MARILYN YOUNG: Right.

BILL MOYERS: Involvement with the civilian government.

MARILYN YOUNG: And we’ll focus on the provinces. And there is also an implication from earlier stories that there will be an effort to buy off various warlords to try and import some of what was done in Iraq into Afghanistan. The problem is the focus remains a military solution to what all the other information I have says is a political problem. So I don’t care how you slice the military tactic, so long as your notion is that you can actually deal with this in a military way, you’re just going to march deeper and deeper into what Pete Seeger used to call the Big Muddy or I guess in Afghanistan it’s pretty dry. It would be some other expression. But the point is if you can’t figure out a political way to deal in Afghanistan then you can only compound the compound mess that Pierre talked about.

PIERRE SPREY: Yeah, the military approach is always and the conventional think tank approach and the General Petraeus approach is, first, we’ll establish security.

MARILYN YOUNG: Right. That’s-

PIERRE SPREY: And then we’ll fix the government.

MARILYN YOUNG: Right.

PIERRE SPREY: That doesn’t work. In fact, that’s already failed. And the more we try to fix the security situation, the more we will drive these people, particularly the Pashtun, into implacable opposition. And whether the military solution is more bombing from Predators or from F-16s or more special forces on the ground, you know, attacking villages and inadvertently killing lots of civilians, it doesn’t matter. As long as security comes first, the mission will fail because these people are sick and tired of a government that’s oppressing them and a foreigner who’s killing them.

BILL MOYERS: There was a photo the other day of a protest in Pakistan, a few days after a drone attacked. The banner reads, quote, “Bombing on tribes. Obama’s first gift to Pakistan.” Now, that’s part of the blowback, isn’t it?

PIERRE SPREY: That’s incredibly dangerous.

MARILYN YOUNG: Yeah.

PIERRE SPREY: I mean, I don’t think people in America have any sense of how dangerous that is. By bombing into those areas, those traditional Pashtun areas, that the Pakistani government long ago made a pact, you know, at the founding of the state of Pakistan to never invade those areas and to leave the Pashtun to govern themselves. And we are forcing the Pakistanis to break that pact, both on the ground with their army. And we’re breaking it by bombing the Pashtun in Pakistan. That is taking a weak and also rotten Pakistani government and crumbling it. That’s putting them on the horns of a dilemma that they don’t need. Why is that so dangerous to us? Because this is a nuclear armed country. And when they fall apart and fall into the hands of people like, people that are running Afghanistan, you could have a nuclear war with India, you know? I mean, we’re talking about not just blowback but we’re talking about catastrophe could result.

MARILYN YOUNG: You know, the thing that gets me, Obama appoints George Mitchell and he says what we’re going to do is listen. What we’re going to do is figure we’re just going to listen. And in his first press interview on that Arab TV network, which was a brilliant move I thought, he talked about respect. BARACK OBAMA [SOT]: We are ready to initiate a new partnership based on mutual respect and mutual interest.

MARILYN YOUNG: He used the word “respect” repeatedly. And it’s an excellent word to use and an important one. He, it’s not impossible to say we’re going to pause in Afghanistan and listen. We’re going to think about it. We’re going to figure it out. We’re not going to move militarily at this moment until we know what we’re doing.

BILL MOYERS: But suppose, Marilyn that somebody from the Pentagon came to the White House right after the inauguration and said, “You know, we’ve had this drone attack planned. And we’ve spotted these insurgents whom we think really are militants–“

MARILYN YOUNG: Right.

BILL MOYERS: “and killers in their own right. And we want to – we want you to approve this raid.” And suppose he had said no four days after the inauguration and that had been leaked. You know what would have happened on all of the right-wing talk radio shows in.

MARILYN YOUNG: Sure.

BILL MOYERS: And maybe “The Washington Post” and editorial page and others like that. He has no backbone, right? I mean, wasn’t he in a sense, trapped by this option?

MARILYN YOUNG: Yeah, but that’s, that’s you know, he’s read history. He should at least or he should have been very familiar with the Johnson administration. That’s exactly the trap that Johnson walked into. And it’s not necessary. I have this odd notion that the American public is actually, in the main, adult enough to listen and think and to respond to a president who says, I’m going to tell you what’s going on. For eight years there has been miasma, lies, deception, bizarre behavior. We’re going to change that and not just economically and not just domestically. But we’re really going to see what we’re doing everywhere. That means I did not approve a military move I was urged to approve because I want to know what I’m doing. And I’m sure my fellow citizens will join me in wishing to know what it is the United States is doing militarily before it does it.

PIERRE SPREY: I would applaud, I would have the utmost admiration.

MARILYN YOUNG: Yeah.

PIERRE SPREY: For any leader, even for a senator or congressman who had the guts to say exactly what you just said. But it’s not in the cards. And we knew it wasn’t in the cards when during the campaign Obama subscribed to the fact that we’re in a war on terror.

MARILYN YOUNG: Right.

PIERRE SPREY: This is not a war on terror. You know? And anybody who starts from the premise that it’s a war on terror is heading straight into disasters error.

MARILYN YOUNG: Yeah.

PIERRE SPREY: And he said-

BILL MOYERS: I don’t understand that because George W. Bush defined this as a war on terror. And I think Obama must be using the same invocation, you know?

PIERRE SPREY: Exactly.

BILL MOYERS: This is all part of the war on terror. He said it in his inaugural address.

PIERRE SPREY: Yes, he said that. I was appalled. You talk about our hearts sinking.

PIERRE SPREY: 9/11 was not an act of war.

BILL MOYERS: What was it?

PIERRE SPREY: It was a criminal act. It was a simple.

MARILYN YOUNG: Right.

PIERRE SPREY: Criminal act by a bunch of lunatic fanatic violent people who needed to be tracked down and apprehended and tried exactly as you would with any other lunatic violent person, like we do with our own domestic terrorists, like the guy who bombed the Oklahoma federal building.

BILL MOYERS: Federal building. Right.

PIERRE SPREY: You know? Exactly the same thing we did to him is what we should have launched on a huge basis, of course, on a huge international police basis and not called it.

MARILYN YOUNG: And there would have been totally international support.

PIERRE SPREY: It’s not a war.

MARILYN YOUNG: Right.

PIERRE SPREY: We, by calling it a war, we have glorified al Qaeda. We have glorified the cause of violent radical Islam. All that tiny minority have become heroes. And we made them heroes. We made their propaganda. We made their case for them.

BILL MOYERS: Let me read you an excerpt from the official White House statement on foreign policy under President Obama. Quote, “Obama and Biden will refocus American resources on the greatest threat to our security, the resurgence of al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. They will increase our troop levels in Afghanistan, press our allies in NATO to do the same, and dedicate more resources to revitalize Afghanistan’s economic development.” There you have a very clear statement of their intentions that we’re going to concentrate on the war. And in fact by the end of this year there’ll be 60,000, not 30,000 American troops in Afghanistan. And there’s no indication the strikes, the air strikes that are killing civilians are going to stop.

PIERRE SPREY: And the 60,000-

MARILYN YOUNG: No.

PIERRE SPREY: -will be useless.

MARILYN YOUNG: Yeah.

PIERRE SPREY: You know, the Russians at the peak of their invasion – who dealt with the Afghanis a good deal more brutally than we did – had over 150,000 and a trained a 250,000 man Afghan army. And they lost. 60,000 is a recipe for failure, defeat, and ultimately a disgraceful withdrawal by the United States. One way or another, no matter how nice a face we put on it, we’ll be kicked out of there just like we were kicked out of Vietnam.

BILL MOYERS: Speaking of Vietnam, and you’ve written so much about this, we have a conversation between President Johnson and, your old boss, Secretary of Defense McNamara about bombing. Take a look at this. ROBERT McNAMARA [SOT]: If we hurt them enough it isn’t so much that they don’t have more men as it is that they can’t get the men to fight because the men know that once they get assigned to that task their chances of living are small. And I, myself, believe that’s the only chance we have of winning this thing. And when they see they’re getting killed in such high rates in the South and they see that supplies are less likely to come down from the North, I think it will just hurt their morale a little bit more. And to me that’s the only way to win, because we’re not killing enough of them to make it impossible for the North to continue to fight. But we are killing enough to destroy the morale of those people down there if they think this is going to have to go on forever. PRESIDENT JOHNSON [SOT]: All right. Go ahead, Bob. ROBERT McNAMARA: Thanks.

BILL MOYERS: Now, Secretary McNamara and President Johnson were talking about a different kind of bombing from the drones in Afghanistan and Pakistan and a lot more of it. But do you see a historical parallel there?

PIERRE SPREY: Absolutely.

MARILYN YOUNG: Oh, yeah. I mean, the notion that you will break the will of the enemy, I – that’s such a depressing clip. I just can’t – I mean, it just sinks me right back into the moment when all that was going on. Winston Churchill is held up as a great hero because he defies German bombing and says we will fight them everywhere. They can’t break our will. And he is considered a great hero. McNamara is incapable of reading that same spirit back into his enemy. Instead, he assumes that he can bomb them into submission. And it’s the same notion now that you can scare them, break their will. And the drone, this precise thing, is maybe, in the minds of those who use it, even more scary because you don’t see us but we see you. And zap we gotcha. But it’s, again, an effort to deal with a political issue with force. And it doesn’t work.

BILL MOYERS: Pierre, as I said in the introduction, you helped develop a couple of very effective fighter planes. Is there a moral dimension to this use of drones that you didn’t see in a more conventional kind of weapon?

PIERRE SPREY: There’s a moral dimension to every kind of bombing that destroys civilians, particularly bombing that destroys more civilians than military people. You can’t avoid it. There’s nothing notable about the drones that changes that. And the moral dimension is very simple. And it dates back to the original theologian of bombing, Julio Doue, a rather fanatical Italian from World War I who first hypothesized, wrongly, that you could destroy an enemy’s morale, exactly what you said, and win victories without any ground armies if you simply bombed them enough. And secondly, that the bombers would always get through, that they would always defeat fighter opposition and antiaircraft opposition. Both propositions have been provided in history over and over and over again to be not only wrong but thumpingly wrong.

BILL MOYERS: Has civilian bombing ever been effective, Marilyn?

MARILYN YOUNG: I can’t think. Can you?

PIERRE SPREY: The answer is no.

MARILYN YOUNG: No.

PIERRE SPREY: Very simply, no.

BILL MOYERS: Here you say there are none.

MARILYN YOUNG: No. I don’t think ever.

PIERRE SPREY: And by the way-

MARILYN YOUNG: No.

PIERRE SPREY: You know? Churchill tried it. Churchill, by the way, after that brave stand to resist the Germans, turned around and, for politic reasons, just like our leaders, decided that it would be a great idea to simply area bomb Germany. What that means is to kill civilians. And they deliberately set out to kill German civilians on the same premise of Julio Doue that we would kind of kill them into submission. And it failed miserably.

BILL MOYERS: Does it seem to you that President Obama believes he can escape the outcome in Afghanistan that George W. Bush did not escape in Iraq?

MARILYN YOUNG: Right. I think he does think he can escape it. I think anybody would imagine coming into fresh into power would imagine he can make it happen better. If he didn’t believe that, he would not have said – he would not have signed off on the drone attack. So I think he thinks he can escape it. And by fiddling within the same set of tactics that the Bush administration did. And isn’t it any – there’s no new thinking going on.

PIERRE SPREY: See, that’s the problem.

MARILYN YOUNG: Yeah.

PIERRE SPREY: Is – he’s surrounded by people who tell him, you know, “Boss, you know, all we need is, like, 30,000 more people here to secure the nation. And we need to get rid of Karzai because he’s a problem. And we got a few more Band-aids here, and it’ll all be fine.” So-

BILL MOYERS: We couldn’t keep up with who we were getting rid of in Saigon, you know? I’m serious about that.

PIERRE SPREY: Exactly. And we’re-

MARILYN YOUNG: Right.

PIERRE SPREY: It’s – same thing’s going to happen when we get rid of Karzai because the people behind him are worse. And they will be worse. And Obama is going to be in exactly that situation, surrounded by a bunch of Robert McNamaras, except not so smart.

BILL MOYERS: So do you believe “The New York Times” was accurate the other day when it said Afghanistan could quickly come to define the Obama presidency?

MARILYN YOUNG: I hope not. I cannot tell you how much I hope not. I think – he’s got so much he wants to do. And he has so many good things he wants to do. And he starts out, you know, really marvelously, trying to do those good things. And if he is deflected, as Johnson was, that would be, well, it’s this sort of tragedies that America’s good at. It turns out to be as much a tragedy for the people we’re supposedly engaged with as it is for us.

PIERRE SPREY: I’m pessimistic on that. I’m more pessimistic than Marilyn.

MARILYN YOUNG: I’m, yeah.

PIERRE SPREY: I think he will be trapped in it. I think.

MARILYN YOUNG: I’m hopeful.

PIERRE SPREY: I mean, he’s already-

MARILYN YOUNG: I’m not, I knock wood a lot.

PIERRE SPREY: He’s already so committed through his campaign of reinforcing Afghanistan and continuing the path we’ve been on unless he finds an act of enormous political will and courage and a way of explaining it to the American people that, you know, we’ve engaged on a path that’s wrong and that’s not going to work. And I’m about to reverse course. That’s really hard to do.

MARILYN YOUNG: You know, it’s-

PIERRE SPREY: And if he doesn’t reverse course, it’s the same quicksand. It’s deeper and deeper, step by step.

MARILYN YOUNG: See, suppose that Osama bin Laden stayed where he was. Suppose he did. I mean, the acts of terror occur or they don’t occur and they’re deflected or they’re not deflected no matter where he’s living, right?

PIERRE SPREY: Yep.

MARILYN YOUNG: So the question of why we’re in Afghanistan looms very large indeed.

PIERRE SPREY: Absolutely.

MARILYN YOUNG: Since it doesn’t seem to relate in any way I can really name with precision American security.

BILL MOYERS: Two important books, “Bombing Civilians: A 20th Century History,” with Marilyn Young, and “America’s Defense Meltdown: Pentagon Reform for President Obama and the New Congress,” with an important chapter from Pierre Sprey. Thank you both for being with me on the Journal.

MARILYN YOUNG: Thank you, Bill.

PIERRE SPREY: Thank you, Bill.

One Missing Word Sowed the Seeds of Catastrophe December 20, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
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Posted on Dec 20, 2008, www.truthdig.com
Palestinian gunmen
AP photo / Khalil Hamra

Palestinian gunmen stand with their weapons during the funeral for a 40-year-old man in the northern Gaza Strip on Thursday. The man was killed when an Israeli missile hit his house in Beit Lahiya.

By Robert Fisk

Editor’s note: This article was originally printed in The Independent.

A nit-picker this week. And given the fact that we’re all remembering human rights, the Palestinians come to mind since they have precious few of them, and the Israelis because they have the luxury of a lot of them.

And Lord Blair, since he’ll be communing with God next week, might also reflect that he still—to his shame—hasn’t visited Gaza. But the nit-picking has got to be our old friend United Nations Security Council Resolution 242. This, you’ll recall, was supposed to be the resolution that would guide all future peace efforts in the Middle East; Oslo was supposed to have been founded on it and all sorts of other processes and summits and road maps.

It was passed in November 1967, after Israel had occupied Gaza, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Sinai and Golan, and it emphasises “the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war” and calls for “withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict”.

Readers who know the problem here will be joined by those who will immediately pick it up. The Israelis say that they are not required to withdraw from all the territories—because the word “all” is missing and since the definite article “the” is missing before the word “territories”, its up to Israel to decide which bits of the occupied territories it gives up and which bits it keeps.

Hence Israel can say it gave up Sinai in accordance with 242 but is going to keep East Jerusalem and much of the West Bank for its settlers. Golan depends on negotiations with Syria. And Gaza? Well, 242 doesn’t say anything about imprisoning one and a half million civilians because they voted for the wrong people. No one in 1967 dreamed that the Israeli-Arab conflict would still be in ferocious progress 41 years later. And as an Independent reader pointed out a couple of years ago, the Security Council clearly never intended the absence of a definite article to give Israel an excuse to stay in the West Bank. Alas, our reader was wrong.

I’ve been going back through my files on 242 and discovered a most elucidating paper by John McHugo, who was a visiting fellow at the Scottish Centre for International Law at Edinburgh University. He points out that pro-Israeli lawyers have been saying for some years that “Resolution 242 unanimously called for withdrawal from ‘territories’ rather than withdrawal from ‘all the territories’. Its choice of words was deliberate … they signify that withdrawal is required from some but not all the territories”.

McHugo is, so far as I know, the only man to re-examine the actual UN debates on 242 and they make very unhappy reading. The French and Spanish versions of the text actually use the definite article. But the Brits—apparently following a bit of strong-arm tactics from the Americans—did not use “the”. Lord Caradon, our man at the UN, insisted on putting in the phrase about the “inadmissability of the acquisition of territory by war” in order to stop the Israelis claiming that they could cherry-pick which lands to return and which to hand on to. Britain accepted Jordan’s rule over the West Bank—the PLO were still shunned as super-terrorists at the time—but it did no good. Abba Eban, Israel’s man on the East River, did his best to persuade Caradon to delete both “the” and the bit about the inadmissability of territory through war. He won the first battle, but not the second.

That great American statesman George Ball was to recount how, when the Arabs negotiated over 242 in early November of 1967—at the Waldorf Astoria (these guys knew how to pick the swankiest hotels for political betrayal)—the US ambassador to the UN, Arthur Goldberg, told King Hussein that America “could not guarantee that everything would be returned by Israel”. The Arabs distrusted Goldberg because he was known to be pro-Zionist, but Hussein was much comforted when US Secretary of State Dean Rusk assured him in Washington that the US “did not approve of Israeli retention of the West Bank”. Hussein was further encouraged when he met President Johnson who told him that Israeli withdrawal might take place in “six months”. Goldberg further boosted his confidence. “Don’t worry. They’re on board,” he said of the Israelis. Ho ho.

It’s intriguing to note that several other nations at the UN were troubled by the absence of “the”. The Indian delegate, for example, pointed out that the resolution referred to “all the territories—I repeat, all the territories—occupied by Israel … ” while the Soviet Union (which knew all about occupying other people’s countries) stated that “we understand the decision to mean the withdrawal of Israeli forces from all, and we repeat, all territories belonging to Arab states and seized by Israel … ”. President Johnson rebuffed the Soviets and bluntly refused to put the word “all” in the resolution. Bulgaria, not surprisingly, said much the same as the Soviets. Brazil expressed reservations—rightly so—about “the clarity of the wording”. The Argentinians “would have preferred a clearer text”. In other words, the future tragedy was spotted at the time. But we did nothing. The Americans had stitched it up and the Brits went along with it. The Arabs were not happy but foolishly—and typically—relied on Caradon’s assurances that “all” the territories was what 242 meant, even if it didn’t say so. Israel still fought hard to get rid of the “inadmissability” bit, even when it had got “the” out.

Ye gods! Talk about sowing the seeds of future catastrophe. Well, Colin Powell, when he was George W Bush’s secretary of state, gutlessly told US diplomats to call the West Bank “disputed” rather than “occupied”—which suited the Israelis just fine although, as McHugo pointed out, the Israelis might like to consider what would happen if the Arabs talked about those bits of Israel which were not included in the original UN partition plan as “disputed” as well. Besides, George W’s infamous letter to Ariel Sharon, saying he could, in effect, keep large bits of the West Bank, set the seal on Johnson’s deception.

McHugo mischievously adds that a mandatory warning in a city that says “dogs must be kept on the lead near ponds in the park” clearly means that “all” dogs and “all” ponds are intended. These days, of course, we use walls to keep dogs out. Palestinians, too.

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