Camouflaging the Vietnam War: How Textbooks Continue to Keep the Pentagon Papers a Secret June 18, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Education, History, Vietnam, War.
Tags: bill bigelow, daniel ellsberg, education, hearts and minds, history, ho chi minh, howard zinn, pentagon papers, roger hollander, vietnam, Vietnam War
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In the Academy Award-winning documentary Hearts and Minds, Daniel Ellsberg, who secretly copied and then released the Pentagon Papers, offers a catalog of presidential lying about the U.S. role in Vietnam: Truman lied. Eisenhower lied. Kennedy lied. Johnson “lied and lied and lied.” Nixon lied.
Ellsberg concludes: “The American public was lied to month by month by each of these five administrations. As I say, it’s a tribute to the American public that their leaders perceived that they had to be lied to; it’s no tribute to us that it was so easy to fool the public.”
The Pentagon Papers that Ellsberg exposed were not military secrets. They were historical secrets—a history of U.S. intervention and deceit that Ellsberg believed, if widely known, would undermine the U.S. pretexts in defense of the war’s prosecution. Like this one that President Kennedy offered in 1961: “For the last decade we have been helping the South Vietnamese to maintain their independence.” No. This was a lie. The U.S. government’s Pentagon Papers history of the war revealed how the United States had sided with the French in retaking its colony after World War II, ultimately paying for some 80 percent of the French reconquest. By the U.S. government’s own account, from Truman on, Vietnamese self-determination was never an aim of U.S. foreign policy.
Like today’s whistle-blowers Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden, Daniel Ellsberg knew the consequences for his act of defiance. Ultimately, he was indicted on 11 counts of theft and violation of the Espionage Act. If convicted on all counts, the penalty added up to 130 years in prison. This story is chronicled dramatically in the film The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers, and in Ellsberg’s own gripping autobiography, Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers.
In June of 1971, Ellsberg surrendered to federal authorities at Post Office Square in Boston. Forty-two years later, few of the historical secrets that Ellsberg revealed— especially those that focus on the immediate post-World War II origins of U.S. involvement in Vietnam—appear in the school curriculum.
Corporate textbook writers seem to work from the same list of must-include events and individuals. Thus, all the new U.S. history textbooks on my shelf mention the Pentagon Papers. But none grapples with the actual import of the Pentagon Papers. None quotes Ellsberg or the historical documents themselves, and none captures Ellsberg’s central conclusion about the United States in Vietnam: “It wasn’t that we were on the wrong side; we were the wrong side.”
Textbooks resist telling students that the U.S. government consistently lied about the war, preferring more genteel language. Prentice Hall’s America: History of Our Nation includes only one line describing the content of the Pentagon Papers: “They traced the steps by which the United States had committed itself to the Vietnam War and showed that government officials had concealed actions and often misled Americans about their motives.” The textbook offers no examples.
Teaching students a deeper, more complete history of the American War—as it is known in Vietnam—is not just a matter of accuracy, it’s about life and death. On the third anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Howard Zinn, author of A People’s History of the United States, spoke bluntly about what it means when we fail to confront the facts of our past wars: “If we don’t know history, then we are ready meat for carnivorous politicians and the intellectuals and journalists who supply the carving knives.”
The “we” in Zinn’s quote refers especially to the young people who will be convinced or tricked or manipulated—or lied—into fighting those wars, even if it is only “fighting” by guiding remote assassination drones from bases in a Nevada desert.
For almost 30 years, I taught high school U.S. history. I began my Vietnam unit with a little-remembered event that happened on Sept. 2, 1945. I showed students a video clip from the first episode of PBS’s Vietnam: A Television History, in which Dr. Tran Duy Hung, a medical doctor and a leader of the resistance to French colonialism, recounts the massive end-of-war celebration with more than 400,000 people jammed into Hanoi’s Ba Dinh Square. Japan had surrendered. The seemingly endless foreign occupation of Vietnam—Chinese, then French, then Japanese—was over.
Dr. Hung remembers: “I can say that the most moving moment was when President Ho Chi Minh climbed the steps, and the national anthem was sung. It was the first time that the national anthem of Vietnam was sung in an official ceremony. Uncle Ho then read the Declaration of Independence, which was a short document. As he was reading, Uncle Ho stopped and asked, ‘Compatriots, can you hear me?’ This simple question went into the hearts of everyone there. After a moment of silence, they all shouted, ‘Yes, we hear you!’ And I can say that we did not just shout with our mouths, but with all our hearts.” Dr. Hung recalls that, moments later, a small plane began circling and then swooped down over the crowd. When people recognized the U.S. stars and stripes on the plane, they cheered, imagining that its presence signaled an endorsement for Vietnamese independence. “It added to the atmosphere of jubilation at the meeting,” said Dr. Hung.
I want my students to recognize the hugeness of this historical could-have-been. One of the “secrets” Ellsberg risked his freedom to expose was that the United States had a stark choice in the fall of 1945: support the independence of a unified Vietnam, led by Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh, which had spearheaded the anti-fascist resistance during World War II; or support the French as they sought to reimpose colonial rule.
Think about all the suffering that might have been avoided had the U.S. government taken advantage of this opportunity. Howard Zinn quotes from the Pentagon Papers in A People’s History of the United States:
Ho [Chi Minh] had built the Viet Minh into the only Vietnam-wide political organization capable of effective resistance to either the Japanese or the French. He was the only Vietnamese wartime leader with a national following, and he assured himself wider fealty among the Vietnamese people when in AugustSeptember 1945, he overthrew the Japanese . . . established the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, and staged receptions for incoming allied occupation forces. . . . For a few weeks in September 1945, Vietnam was—for the first and only time in its modern history—free of foreign domination, and united from north to south under Ho Chi Minh. . . .
In class, I brought this historical choice point to life with my students through a role play, in which some students portrayed members of the Viet Minh and others represented French business/government leaders arguing before “President Truman” about the future of Vietnam. (A fuller description and materials for the activity can be found at the Zinn Education Project website.) The role play depicted a make-believe gathering, of course, because the United States never included any Vietnamese in its deliberations on the future of Vietnam. Nonetheless, the lesson offers students a vivid picture of what was at stake at this key juncture.
In this and other activities, I want my students to see that history is not just a jumble of dead facts lying on a page. History is the product of human choice—albeit in conditions that we may not choose. Tragically, the United States consistently chose to side with elites in Vietnam, first French, then Vietnamese, as our government sought to suppress self-determination—perhaps most egregiously in 1954, when the United States conspired to stonewall promised elections and to prop up the dictator Ngo Dinh Diem.
Forty-two years ago this month, Daniel Ellsberg allowed himself to be taken into custody, with no clear outcome in sight. A reporter asked Ellsberg whether he was concerned about the possibility of going to prison. Ellsberg replied: “Wouldn’t you go to prison to help end this war?”
No one expects that kind of integrity from textbook corporations. But educators needn’t confine ourselves to the version of history peddled by giant outfits like Pearson and Houghton-Mifflin-Harcourt. Right now, every high school student is learning either to accept or to question the premises that lead our country to wage war around the world. As Howard Zinn suggested, if students don’t know their history, then they are “ready meat” for those who will supply the carving knives of war. Fortunately, more and more teachers around the country recognize the importance of teaching outside the textbook, of joining heroes like Dan Ellsberg to ask questions, to challenge official stories.
This article first appeared at the Zinn Education Project.
he Assassination Of Dr. King And The Suppression Of The Anti-War And Peace Perspectives April 14, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Civil Liberties, Foreign Policy, History, Human Rights, Race, Racism, Torture, War.
Tags: ajamu baraka, black liberation, Civil Rights, colonialism, history, imperialism, james earl ray, king assassination, liberal establishment, martin luther king, mlk, neo-colonialism, obama era, obama militarism, roger hollander, us imperilaism, vietnam, Vietnam War, war
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by Ajamu Baraka
This week marks the 45th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. In those years, a King has emerged who bears little in common with the man who lived and struggled and died in the Freedom Movement. Killing the man was the work of an instant. Suppressing and distorting his legacy have been full time projects ever since.
The Assassination Of Dr. King And The Suppression Of The Anti-War And Peace Perspectives
by Ajamu Baraka
“Memory, individual and collective, is clearly a significant site of social struggle.”
(Aurora Levins Morales)
“As I have walked among the desperate, rejected, and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they ask — and rightly so — what about Vietnam? They ask if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government. (Beyond Vietnam – A Time to Break Silence,” Rev. Martin Luther King, Riverside Church, April 4, 1967)
April 4th is an anniversary that I suspect many people in the U.S., including those in government, would prefer that people ignored. On that date 45 years ago, James Earl Ray, supposedly acting alone, murdered Martin Luther King Jr. on a balcony of the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee — silencing one of the great oppositional voices in U.S. politics.
Unlike the celebrations organized around the birthday of Dr. King, with which the U.S. government severs Dr. King from the black movement for social justice that produced him and transforms his oppositional stances into a de-radicalized, liberal, integrationist dream narrative, the anniversary of the murder of Dr. King creates a challenge for the government and its attempt to manage the memory and meaning of Dr. King. The assassination of Dr. King raises uncomfortable questions — not only due to the evidence that his murder was a “hit” carried out by elements of the U.S. government, but also because of what Dr. King was saying before he was killed about issues like poverty and U.S. militarism .
The current purveyors of U.S. violence will find attention to Dr. King’s anti-war and peace position most unwelcome, especially with a black president that has been able to accomplish what U.S. elites could have only dreamed of over the last few decades – the normalization of war-making as a legitimate tool to advance the geo-political interests of the U.S. and its’ colonial allies. So reminding people of Dr. King’s opposition to U.S. warmongering and the collaboration of liberals in that warmongering then and now, produces a strange convergence of political forces from both ends of the narrow U.S. political spectrum that have an interest in suppressing King’s anti-war positions.
The Suppression of the anti-war and peace movement and the pro-war coalition: then and now
When Dr. King finally opposed the war on Vietnam he incurred the wrath of liberals in the Johnson Administration, the liberal philanthropic community, and even a significant number of his colleagues in the clergy. The liberal establishment was scathing in its condemnation of his position and sought to punish him and his organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), in a manner similar to their assaults on the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), when it took an anti-war and anti-imperialist position much earlier than Dr. King and SCLC.
In today’s popular imagination of the anti-war and peace movement in the 1960s and 70s, the culprits have been re-imagined as the radical right, symbolized by President Richard Nixon. But it was the Kennedy Administration that escalated U.S. involvement in Vietnam, despite the liberal mythology around his supposed reluctance to do so, and it was Democrat Lyndon Johnson who dramatically expanded the war. When Johnson pulled out of the 1968 presidential race, Hubert Humphrey, the personification of contemporary liberalism, was slated to be the favorite to win the Democratic nomination. Humphrey, along with the rest of the liberal establishment, was firmly committed to Johnson’s war strategy, even in light of growing public opposition.
It should also be remembered that the Chicago police riot of 1968 against anti-war demonstrators took place at the Democratic National Convention, where the protestors were directing their fury at the Democratic Party — which has controlled the Executive Branch during the escalation of almost every major military experience by the U.S. State from the Second World War onwards. The notion of democratic weaknesses on matters of “national defense” owes itself to the historical amnesia of the U.S. population and the successful propaganda campaigns of the more aggressive foreign interventionist elements of the radical right over the years.
Today the array of forces in support of U.S. military aggression is similar to what we saw from the establishment in 1968, except for one important factor: in 1968 there was an organized, vocal anti-war movement that applied bottom-up pressure on the liberal establishment in power and on the Nixon Administration. Today, however, not only have significant elements of the contemporary anti-war and peace movement voluntarily demobilized during the Obama era, many of those individuals and organizations have entered into what can only be seen as a tactical alliance with the Obama Administration and provided ideological cover for imperialist interventions around the world.
Even mainstream human rights organization have facilitated the cover-up, either by their silence on the question of war; by their tacit acquiescence as demonstrated by their pathetic pleading with the attacking powers (usually the West, under NATO) to adhere to the rules of war; or by the construction and articulation of some of the most noxious but effective white supremacist covers for imperialist dominance that may have ever been produced – “humanitarian intervention” and the “right to protect.” Operating from the assumption that the white West are the “good guys” and have a “natural” right to determine which nations deserve to be sovereign, when regimes should be changed, who the international criminals are and what international laws need to be enforced, the political elites have been able to mobilize majority support for imperialist adventures from Iraq to Libya and now Syria. In a nod to the civilizing assumptions of Western modernity that is at the base of the colonialist project justifying these interventions, progressives and even some radicals have muzzled themselves or have even supported these misadventures that entail the West, under the leadership of the U.S., riding in to save people from their “savage governments.” For these activists, if those humanitarian missions result in Western companies managing to secure water, oil and other natural resources and shifting regional power relations to favor the West, well that is just the price to pay for progress. As Madeline Albright said in response to a question regarding the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children due to U.S. sanctions, “we think the price was worth it.”
It is still about values, consciousness and organization:
“All nationalists have the power of not seeing resemblances between similar sets of facts. A British Tory will defend self-determination in Europe and oppose it in India with no feeling of inconsistency. Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits, but according to who does them, and there is almost no kind of outrage — torture, the use of hostages, forced labour, mass deportations, imprisonment without trial, forgery, assassination, the bombing of civilians — which does not change its moral colour when it is committed by ‘our’ side . . . The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them.” ( George Orwell)
The murder of Dr. King was not just the murder of a man but an assault on an idea, a movement and a vision of a society liberated from what Dr. King called the three “triplets” that had historically characterized and shaped the “American” experience – racism, extreme materialism and militarism. On April 4, 1967 in the Riverside Church in New York, exactly one year to the day before he would be murdered, Dr. King took an unequivocal stand in opposition to the U.S. war on the people of Vietnam, and declared that the only way that racism, materialism and militarism would be defeated was if there was a “radical revolution of values” in U.S. society. Today, 45 years later, with a Black president in the White House, racism in the form of continued white supremacy has solidified itself on a global scale; extreme materialism characterizes the desires and consumption patterns of a debt constructed middle class, even as it feels the weight of a national and global economic crisis; and militarism occupies the center of U.S. engagement with the nations of the Global South.
While the current national and global reality could not have been prefigured by political elites in the U.S., the murder of Dr. King and the disarray within the civil rights movement on direction, goals and programs, allowed the government to e turn its repressive apparatus to the violent suppression of the Black liberation movement. As the leading element for radical social change in the U.S., the assaults on the Black liberation movement meant that the hope for fundamental change in the U.S. would not be realized. The radical revolution of values that King hoped would transform the country was repackaged by the early 1970s into an individualist, pro-capitalist, debt-constructed consumer diversion. The country began a more dramatic rightward move in the late 1960s that saw the emergence of Nixon; Ronald Reagan; New Democrats; a new and even more virulent ideological construction – neoliberalism; and a uni-polar world, where under Bush and now Obama, the U.S. and its Western colonial allies are able to engage in a form of international gangsterism — invading nations, changing governments and stealing resources, in a manner that is similar to the early years of conquest when they first burst out of Europe in 1492.
The challenge is clear. A de-colonial, revolutionary shift in power from the 1% to the people is the only way Dr. King’s “radical revolution of values” can be realized in a national and global context in which the West has demonstrated that it will use all of its military means to maintain its hegemony. Yet, to realize that shift, the “people” are going to have to “see” through the ideological mystifications that still values Eurocentric assumptions as representing settled, objective realities on issues like democracy, freedom, human rights, economic development and cultural integrity in order to confront the new coalitions of privilege. Dr. King and the black anti-racist, anti-colonialist movements for social justice brought clarity to these moral issues by its example of movement building that sparked struggles for social justice in every sector of U.S. society. That is why sidelining black radical organizations and the black social justice movement has been one of the most effective consequences of the Obama phenomenon.
Today the necessity to stand with the oppressed and oppose war and violence of all kinds has never been more urgent. But that stand cannot be just as individuals. Individual commitment is important, but what Dr. King’s life reaffirmed was the power of movement — of organized and determined people moving in a common direction. That is why the government so desperately attempts to disconnect Dr. King from the people and the movement that produced him and to silence any opposition to its colonialist violence. The example of movement building and struggle is an example that has to be brutally suppressed, as witnessed by how the Obama Administration moved on the Occupy Wallstreet Movement once it became clear that they could not co-opt and control it.
Consciousness, vision, an unalterable commitment to privileging principle over pragmatism and a willingness to fight for your beliefs no matter the odds or forces mounted against you – these are the lessons that all of us who believe in the possibility of a new world should recommit to on April the 4th. Internalizing and passing that lesson on through a culture of resistance and struggle ensures that one day all of us will be able to create societies freed from interpersonal and institutional violence and all forms of oppression in our own promised lands.
Ajamu Baraka was the founding Director of the US Human Rights Network until June 2011. A long-time human rights activist and veteran of the Black Liberation, anti-war, anti-apartheid and central American solidarity Movements in the United States, Baraka has been in the forefront of efforts to develop a radical “People-Centered” perspective on human rights and to apply that framework to social justice struggles in the United States and abroad. He is currently a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, where he is editing a book on human rights entitled “The Fight Must be for Human Rights: Voices from the Frontline.” The book is due to be published in 2013. t
How Did the Gates of Hell Open in Vietnam? January 18, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in History, Imperialism, Vietnam, War.
Tags: general westmoreland, history, jonathan schell, lbj, Lyndon Johnson, my lai, nick turse, roger hollander, scorched earth, vietcong, vietnam, vietnam atrocities, Vietnam War
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A New Book Transforms Our Understanding of What the Vietnam War Actually Was
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 Moves, Nick 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?
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. .
Wounded Knee 122 Years Later December 29, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in First Nations, Genocide, History, Human Rights.
Tags: black elk, frank baum, gaza, genocide, history, Iran, Iraq, johnny barber, lakota, lbj, massacre, roger hollander, sioux, vietnam, wounded knee
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Published on Saturday, December 29, 2012 by Common Dreams
December 29th marks the 122nd anniversary of the Massacre at Wounded Knee. It is a story that remains fresh in the lives of many indigenous peoples across America. Each generation is taught to never forget.
In 1891, reviewing the history leading up to the massacre, Commissioner of Indian Affairs Thomas Morgan said,
“It is hard to overestimate the magnitude of the calamity which happened to the Sioux people by the sudden disappearance of the buffalo. The boundless range was to be abandoned for the circumscribed reservation, and abundance of plenty to be supplanted by limited and decreasing government subsistence and supplies. Under these circumstances it is not in human nature not to be discontented and restless, even turbulent and violent.”
Commissioner Morgan was not empathetic about the plight of the indigenous people. He was just stating facts. One year prior to the massacre, in Oct 1889, he issued a policy paper stating his convictions regarding the native population.
“The Indians must conform to “the white man’s ways,” peaceably if they will, forcibly if they must. They must adjust themselves to their environment, and conform their mode of living substantially to our civilization. This civilization may not be the best possible, but it is the best the Indians can get. They cannot escape it, and must either conform to it or be crushed by it. The tribal relations should be broken up, socialism destroyed, and the family and the autonomy of the individual substituted.”
The Wounded Knee Massacre is still commonly depicted as a “battle” that no one can be blamed for, but if blame is assigned it is always made clear that a Lakota fired the first shot. This is the justification for all that followed. A century after the murders, Congress issued an apology, expressing “deep regret” for the events on that day in 1890 when upwards of 370 men, women, and children were gunned down as they fled for their lives. But the Wounded Knee Massacre was not an anomaly, nor was it an accident. Wounded Knee is the entire history of indigenous peoples relationship with Imperialism made manifest in a single event.
“I did not know then how much was ended. When I look back now from this high hill of my old age, I can still see the butchered women and children lying heaped and scattered all along the crooked gulch as plain as when I saw them with eyes still young. And I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud, and was buried in the blizzard. A people’s dream died there. It was a beautiful dream.” Black Elk.
The ancestors of the victims commemorate the massacre in order to honor those who have fallen and to foster healing of their still devastated communities. The ancestors of the perpetrators ignore inflicting the wound and the wound festers.
From Wounded Knee, where just days after the massacre a young newspaper editor named Frank Baum (later to become famous for the children’s story “The Wizard of Oz”) opined, “The Pioneer has before declared that our only safety depends upon the total extermination of the Indians. Having wronged them for centuries, we had better, in order to protect our civilization, follow it up by one more wrong and wipe these untamed and untamable creatures from the face of the earth.“
To Vietnam, where Lyndon Johnson’s call to win hearts and minds of the civilian population was corrupted by GI’s to, “When you have them by the balls their hearts and minds will follow.”
To Iraq, where Madeline Albright was asked if the deaths of ½ million children during sanctions was worth it, she replied “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price — we think the price is worth it.”
To Gaza, where Dov Weisglass said, “The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.”
To Iran where a new sanctions regime is in place and the state department claims, “The sanctions are beginning to bite,” and dozens of places in between, the wound festers.
In each case, the power with the superior military claims that the occupied and oppressed are dangerous and threaten the very existence of the state, even as the state starves the population, restricts their every move and denies them the most basic rights under the guise of “security”. All attempts by the “enemy” to seek peace are ignored or derided as “lies” while the theft of land and/or resources continue unabated. Each time the oppressed demand their rights or dare to strike back against their oppressors, the oppressor claims that the people are motivated by hate and seek the annihilation of the state. Negotiations are viewed as a sign of weakness and are rarely pursued unless they can be used as a tool to further oppression. The oppressors continually talk about “pursuing peace” as they systematically destroy any and all opposition.
We kill by starvation, we kill by denying medicine, and we kill by isolation. When that doesn’t silence dissent of the “malcontents” we do not hesitate to kill with bullets and bombs. Remember Commissioner Morgan’s words, “This civilization may not be the best possible, but it is the best they can get. They cannot escape it, and must either conform to it or be crushed by it.”
One day we too will be crushed by this flawed concept of civilization.
The Dahiya doctrine is a military strategy in which the Israeli army deliberately targets civilian infrastructure as a means of inducing suffering on the civilian population, making it so difficult to survive that fighting back or resisting occupation are no longer practical, thereby establishing deterrence. The doctrine is named after a southern suburb in Beirut with large apartment blocks. Israeli bombs flattened the entire neighborhood during the 2006 Lebanon War. But this doctrine is not a modern strategy for controlling populations. Nor is putting the people of Gaza on a “diet” new- subjugating an entire population through a combination of poverty, malnutrition, a struggle over limited resources, and violence is the American way, adopted by our closest allies, (and “the only democracy in the Middle East,” with the “most moral army in the world,”) the Israelis.
Dec 27th marks the 4th anniversary of the beginning of Operation Cast Lead, (the name derives from a popular Hannukah children’s song about a dreidel made from cast lead.) During this attack on Gaza, 1,417 people were killed (330 children), 4336 were wounded. 6,400 homes were destroyed. Hospitals, mosques, the power plant, and the sewage system were deliberately targeted.
Israel accuses Hamas of war crimes for shooting rockets without guidance systems indiscriminately into Israel. Israeli officials claim that “Hamas hides behind civilians” as a justification to bomb civilian population centers and infrastructure. Killing civilians in Gaza using precision munitions, is a war crime, no matter who is hiding behind them.
After the recent killing of 20 children in a Newtown, Connecticut grade school, President Obama, wiping tears from his eyes said,
“This is our first task — caring for our children. It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged. And by that measure, can we truly say, as a nation, that we are meeting our obligations?“
The just completed eight-day Israeli operation against Gaza called the Pillar of Cloud (The name is derived from a Biblical passage) saw three generations of the al-Dalu family wiped out in a single bombing, including 4 children between the ages of 1 and 7 years old. The surviving son does not speak of surrender, relinquishing the families land, or disappearing. He demands justice. His tears are mixed with fury. Can he be blamed?
As the ceasefire went in to effect there was one consistent message from the people of Gaza. We are here. This is our home. We will never leave. They will have to kill every one of us.
Upon cessation of the bombing, our Congress immediately voted to replenish Israel’s bombs and munitions in order for Israel to “protect itself”. The wound festers.
In his speech the President went on to say,
“If there is even one step we can take to save another child, or another parent, or another town, from the grief that has visited Tucson, and Aurora, and Oak Creek, and Newtown, and communities from Columbine to Blacksburg before that — then surely we have an obligation to try.”
Wounded Knee has not disappeared. The Lakota people remain. Gaza has not disappeared. The Palestinian people remain. In Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Libya, and Somalia people grieve for the loss of their children. The violence wrought upon them in our name continues. If we can take one step to save another child, we have an obligation to try.
Johnny Barber is currently in Afghanistan as a member of a delegation from Voices for Creative Non-Violence. He has traveled to Iraq, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, and Gaza to bear witness and document the suffering of people who are affected by war. His work can be viewed at: www.oneBrightpearl-jb.blogspot.com and www.oneBrightpearl.com
The Vietnam War and the Struggle For Truth June 22, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in History, Vietnam, War.
Tags: american exceptionalism, fort apache, history, ho chi minh, john ford, john grant, john wayne, kissinger, lbj, nixon, robert mcnamara, roger hollander, the man who shot liberty valance, truth, U.S. imperialism, vietnam, vietnam veterans, Vietnam War
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Roger’s note: nearly 60,000 American soldiers and over a million (!!!) Vietnamese, including civilians, were killed in the Vietnam War, hundreds of thousands were wounded, much of Vietnam was destroyed — the notorious scorched earth policy — and untold thousands of American Vietnam veterans returned home to lives traumatized by what they saw and did, many choosing suicide as a way out. That our war mongering president, himself with blood on his hands, is launching a project to whitewash the shameful Vietnam Holocaust is disgusting and criminal in itself.
opednews.com, June 22, 2012
Vietnam, a story of virtually unmitigated disasters that we have inflicted on ourselves and even more on others.
-Bernard Brodie, 1973
The Vietnamese won the Vietnam War by forcing the United States to abandon its intention to militarily sustain an artificially divided Vietnam. The history is clear: It was the United States, not the Vietnamese, who scotched the unifying elections agreed on for 1956 in the Geneva negotiations following the French rout at Dien Bien Phu. Why did the US undermine these elections? As Dwight Eisenhower said in his memoir, because everyone knew Ho Chi Minh was going to win in a landslide of the order of 80% of the population of Vietnam.
So much for Democracy.
“We can lose longer than you can win,” was how Ho described the Vietnamese strategy against the Americans. Later in the 1980s, a Vietnamese diplomat put it this way to Robert McNamara: “We knew you would leave because you could leave. We lived here; we couldn’t leave.”
The Vietnam War was finally over in 1975 when the North prevailed over the US proxy formulation known as South Vietnam, which then disappeared as a “nation,” as many thousands of our betrayed Vietnamese allies fled in small boats or were subjected to unpleasant internment camps and frontier development projects deep in the hostile jungles.
In a word, the Vietnam War was a debacle for everyone involved.
Now, we learn the United States government is planning a 13-year propaganda project to clean up the image of the Vietnam War in the minds of Americans. It’s called The Vietnam War Commemoration Project. President Obama officially launched the project on Memorial Day with a speech at the Vietnam Wall in Washington. The Project was established by Section 598 of the 604-page National Defense Authorization Act For Fiscal Year 2008. It budgets $5 million a year.
President Obama at The Wall by Unknown
“Some have called this war era a scar on our country,” Obama told the specially invited Vietnam veteran crowd at The Wall. “But here’s what I say. As any wound heals, the tissue around it becomes tougher, becomes stronger than before. And in this sense, finally, we might begin to see the true legacy of Vietnam. Because of Vietnam and our veterans, we now use American power smarter, we honor our military more, we take care of our veterans better. Because of the hard lessons of Vietnam, because of you, America is even stronger than before.”
Vietnam toughened us up, made us better human beings. I would submit the President is wrong on that score, that there are profound lessons we have failed to learn.
Phase One of the Commemoration Project goes through 2014 and “will focus on recruiting support and participation nationwide. There will inevitably be international, national, regional, state, and local events planned, but a focus will be on the hometown level, where the personal recognitions and thanks are most impactful. The target is to obtain 10,000 Commemorative Partners.” Phase Two, through 2017, will encourage these Partners to commit to two events a year. “The DoD Commemoration Office will develop and host a “Master Calendar’ to list all the events, reflecting tens of thousands of events across the nation, as we thank and honor our Vietnam veterans.” Phase Three, from 2017 to 2025, will focus on “sustainment” of the positive legacy established in Phases One and Two and will involve “targeted activities” as deemed necessary.
The planners of the Project decided the Vietnam War began in 1962, which makes 2012 the 50th Anniversary of the start of the war. Just that decision alone exhibits disingenuous calculation. Anyone who has read anything beyond a pop novelization of Rambo knows it’s impossible to understand US involvement in the Vietnam War unless one goes back at least to 1945 and the decision to succumb to Cold War hysteria and support the re-colonization of Vietnam by the French. When you understand how Ho Chi Minh’s Viet Minh soldiers fought side-by-side with US soldiers against the Japanese occupiers of Vietnam, when the Vichy French colonial garrisons were cowed by the Japanese, you begin to understand the profound betrayal at the root of the entire war.
The problem is that understanding is the last thing the Pentagon and the US Government want the American people to wrestle with. If President Obama’s launching language is any indication, the purpose of the Vietnam War Commemoration is to create a malleable and supportive populace for future military operations — especially under the new doctrine of focused killing with drones and special-ops units now being established around the world.
Everyone in Washington knows the post-World War Two behemoth United States faces an inevitable decline vis—vis former third world, colonial nations like China, India and Brazil. It’s also clear globalized actors like al Qaeda founded as a reaction against our international interventions are not static and will evolve with our changing tactics. The world is, thus, getting more and more frightening for Americans, especially those who insist on holding on to the good-old-days of Manifest Destiny and American Exceptionalism.
It has to do with an insistence on living in a glorious western colonial past, a bubble that’s part historical fact and part illusion and that entails ignoring what the Buddhists call the fundamental impermanence of life or what the Greek Heraclitus meant when he said, “You can’t step into the same river twice.” Today we might say: sh*t happens and things change. But for an imperialist, these are subversive thoughts. Just the mention the word “imperialism” and people turn into Sergeant Schultz: “I see nah-thing.”
In our schools and institutions it’s unfortunate American citizens are rarely taught to understand historical events like the Vietnam War. History is subversive, and our leaders have all become corporate panderers who want what every other pandering leader in history has ever wanted: a compliant populace waving the flag and not asking questions. Thus we have the Vietnam War Commemoration Project.
John Ford’s America
I’m a cineaste, a subversive-sounding French word for film buff. Nothing dramatizes all this quite as perfectly as two iconic John Ford movies, in which the director, a Navy reserve admiral, employs John Wayne as a key player in the patriotic task of burying Truth in American popular history. John Wayne, of course, was key to the imagery that got us into Vietnam. Wayne even co-directed and starred in the 1968 patriotic clunker The Green Berets. For those who question the relevance of classic film to American political meta-narrative, one need only mention Ronald Reagan who rose to power by confusing the two realms.
The two Ford movies are Fort Apache in 1947 and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance in 1962. The former is a cavalry and Indians story and the latter is a gunfighter and bad man story. Ford was an amazing director and both are excellent fiction films that reinforce Manifest Destiny and American cultural values — to the point of necessarily burying unpleasant truths and encouraging popular legends.
At the end of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, a newspaper editor learns that dude lawyer Jimmy Stewart really didn’t shoot the bad gunman Liberty Valance, played by Lee Marvin. The shooting of Valance in a western town at night made Stewart famous and got him elected a US senator. The editor learns that gunfighter John Wayne knew Valance would kill his tenderfoot pal Stewart, so Wayne had dry-gulched Valance with a rifle from a nearby alley.uestion is, will the editor spill the beans and destroy good-guy Stewart’s senatorial career. In what is now an iconic line, the editor says: “This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”
Both the official and popular histories of the Vietnam War are rife with this kind of slippage. The emotional emphasis on anti-war activists “spitting” on soldiers and the emphasis on the heroics of individual soldiers in Vietnam are just two examples. In both cases, the larger, historical realities are buried in favor of popularly endorsed and highly publicized narratives on an individual and personal level. The fact anti-war activists were actually opposing LBJ, Robert McNamara, Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger and the cruel and insidious war they and the institutions they controlled were determined to escalate is lost in the cynical, patriotic focus on individual heroism.
The colonel’s debacle and a newly promoted Wayne promotes the legend by Unknown
Fort Apache is a perfect analogy for the Vietnam War. John Wayne is a cavalry captain in Apache country; he’s a good soldier who respects Cochise and his braves. At this point, along comes Henry Fonda as a tight-ass lieutenant colonel taking command of the garrison; he resents being sent with his teenage daughter Shirley Temple to this smelly armpit of the world — in this case, Ford’s favorite location, the incredibly austere Monument Valley in Utah.
Besides the grand-scale scenes of precise cavalry units advancing on horseback amongst the mesas and desert tabletops, there’s the usual John Ford cotillion dances with officers in formal uniforms and ladies in gowns that are simply preposterous for the frontier. And there’s the usual male camaraderie and buffoonery amongst the enlisted men centered on drinking to lighten things up. Plus a Romeo and Juliet romance between upper class Temple and the fresh West Point 2nd lieutenant son of grizzled Sergeant Major Ward Bond, a Civil War Medal Of Honor winner.
Fonda wants to reestablish military discipline at the fort and to regain the glory he once had as a general in the Civil War. (It seems rank was shuffled considerably once that conflagration was over.) He also wants to rip into the goddamned savages who caused him this ignoble assignment.
Fonda reluctantly allows Wayne to go with only a Spanish translator to talk with Cochise unarmed in his stronghold. (Cochise speaks Spanish but not English.) Wayne and Cochise get on smartly and agree that Cochise can resettle in his former lands. But Fonda has different plans. He dismisses Wayne’s agreement and orders the garrison to mount up to meet Cochise. To Wayne, it’s a loathsome betrayal.
The Apaches have the US cavalry outnumbered ten to one. But this doesn’t phase the madman Fonda. He orders the recalcitrant Wayne to guard the wagons and orders a frontal attack that takes his troops right into an Apache ambush that Wayne warned him was there.
Fonda is shot off his horse, and Wayne rides like the wind to save the wounded officer. But Fonda shoves him away and mounts Wayne’s horse to join his encircled men, now in a formation that resembles images of Custer’s Last Stand. Fonda apologizes to Bond, who makes a jovial crack about their future grandchildren. Then they’re all killed by the infuriated Apaches.
Cut to Wayne back behind the wagons, awaiting the advancing savages. A lone rider comes up and, as Wayne goes out unarmed to meet him, the rider angrily slams the garrison colors into the dirt at Wayne’s feet. Cochise has let his paleface amigo live for another day.
Then there’s a break and its some years later. Wayne is now a colonel, and he’s engaged with some reporters in his office. There’s a dignified, formal portrait of the Fonda character on the wall. The reporters all want to hear about the glory of Fonda’s now famous fatal charge. Wayne plays along and passes on the legend of the great man. Then he goes outside and leads his troops on a stirring march out of the compound. The end.
The fact the arrogance and incompetence of the Fonda character and his blatant betrayal of a negotiated agreement he had sent an officer out to obtain at significant risk had caused the loss of much of his garrison is simply swept under the rug. Truth is secondary to institutional integrity. Wayne has now realized on which side his bread is buttered and that his career is not about negotiating with savages. Geronimo was pointedly introduced earlier in the meeting with Cochise. To protect the women folk and advancing civilization on the frontier, Wayne now has the guerrilla Geronimo to clean up.
As well-wrought film art, one can see Fort Apache in two ways — as glorifying Manifest Destiny and the extermination of Native Americans or as explaining the process of how truth is the first casualty of war and, if we let it happen, a permanent casualty of permanent war.
The Truth Will Set Us Free
A friend of mine just gave me three boxes of books on the Vietnam War to add to my collection; and I’m always looking for more in thrift shops and used book stores. Chris Hedges says we’re becoming an illiterate culture attuned to spectacle. That may be true, but I’m not going to be one of Orwell’s proles in such an equation. The point is, we in the antiwar movement — especially those of us who are Vietnam veterans and still read — have a responsibility to make sure the national record is complete. Bernard Brodie was right in 1973 in his mature, analytic book War and Politics when he said Vietnam was “a story of virtually unmitigated disasters that we have inflicted on ourselves and even more on others.” Nothing has changed in the past 39 years, and a well-funded Pentagon propaganda campaign won’t affect that truth.
I’ll be the first to concede honor and bravery exist even in a lousy, unnecessary and cruel war like the one in Vietnam. But we cannot allow the rah-rah garbage that appears to be lined up for the well-funded Vietnam War Commemoration Project to prevail without a fight — even if that fight is asymmetrical and has to be fought in guerrilla mode with rhetorical jujitsu and even strains of Dada absurdity if necessary. The fact is, there are two sides to the Vietnam War, and the one that says the war was not necessary needs to be heard loud and clear and needs to be respected. Plus, it needs to be made clear to Americans that the Vietnamese endured vastly more pain and suffering than any of us did.
The poet W.D. Ehrhart was a young Marine infantryman in the war. He was wounded there. He returned to Vietnam in 1985 and wrote about his trip, about the good things and about meeting Mrs. Na who lost five sons to The American War. As he is led into her modest peasant home, she looks at him. “I have suffered so much misery,” she tells him, “and you did this to me.”
Ehrhart wants to flee the little house and vomit in the road. The incident reminds him of a poem he had written earlier called “Making the Children Behave.”
in those strange Asian villages
where nothing ever seemed
and my few grim friends
moving through them
When they tell stories to their children
of the evil
that awaits misbehavior
is it me they conjure?
It takes great humanity and courage to get to a place like Ehrhart has reached. John Ford would not have understood the need to recognize the truths Ehrhart and other vets have tried to tell Americans, though many Americans like Platoon director Oliver Stone certainly do. The Pentagon and the US government do not want to encourage such difficult truths when they need young soldiers for future wars that may, like Vietnam and Iraq, turn out to be tragic debacles.
In another poem, Ehrhart poignantly addresses the human problem of sending young men to fight delusional and unnecessary wars. It’s called “Guerrilla War.”
It’s practically impossible
to tell civilians
from the Vietcong.
Nobody wears uniforms.
They all talk
the same language,
(and you couldn’t understand them
even if they didn’t).
They tape grenades
inside their clothes,
and carry satchel charges
in their market baskets.
Even their women fight,
and young boys,
It’s practically impossible
to tell civilians
from the Viet Cong.
you quit trying.
Profiting Off Nixon’s Vietnam “Treason” March 4, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in History, Vietnam, War.
Tags: eugene rostow, history, lbj, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, robert parry, roger hollander, vietnam, vietnam peace process, Vietnam War, Wall Street, Wall Street Bankers, walt w. rostow
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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
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.”
“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.'"]
“Vietnam Ambush”: A Cautionary Tale March 4, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in History, Vietnam, War.
Tags: book review, daniel seidenberg, david krieger, Dick Cheney, history, roger hollander, tonkin gulf, vietnam, vietnam ambush, Vietnam War, war, westmoreland
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Vietnam Ambush Daniel Seidenberg Jr. PublishAmerica Baltimore, 2010
In the 1960s, the United States of America conscripted young men into its military forces. The head of Selective Service, which imposed conscription, was General Lewis B. Hershey. Assisted by local draft boards, he gobbled up young men and put them in uniforms. Then they were trained to kill.
Most young men were edgy and wary about conscription, particularly after it became apparent that the military’s destination of choice was the jungles of Vietnam. To receive a deferment and remain beyond the military’s clutches, one had to stay in college or graduate school. Dick Cheney, one of the subsequent great warmongers of our time, successfully used college deferments to stay out of the military until he qualified first for a marriage deferment and then a deferment for having a child. He always managed to stay one step ahead of the military’s grasp.
Other means of escaping being drafted into the military were failing one’s physical examination, claiming to be gay and conscientious objection. All were difficult. One rumor at the time was that if you drank enough Coke fast enough, it would raise your blood pressure to the point that you would fail your physical. This advice seemed more like an urban legend than fact. Not many young men were secure enough to use homosexuality as a reason for staying out of the military, and the criteria for conscientious objection were rigid and based in traditional religious practices that objected to killing. The truth was that most of us were naive and hadn’t given much thought to avoiding military “service.” That changed as the war in Vietnam heated up and expanded.
The generation before us had fought in World War II, which seemed like a good war, pitting democracy against fascism (Hitler, Mussolini, Tojo). More recently, there had been the war in Korea, which was touted as a fight for democracy against communism. There was precedent for young men to go docilely into the US military and do its bidding. And then, along came Vietnam, Lyndon Johnson’s lies about the Tonkin Gulf incident and General William Westmoreland (“General Waste-more-men”), who always saw a light at the end of the tunnel – all he needed was more conscripts.
The net of conscription ensnared many of us. I was one. Another was Daniel Seidenberg Jr., who received his draft notice at the age of 19 in the winter of 1967. He was just out of high school, and he was a surfer. When his notice came, he thought about escaping to Canada, but, after visiting Canada, decided against it. Instead, he joined the regular army, having been promised by the recruiter that he would not be sent to Vietnam. Despite the promise, after being trained as an infantryman, he was sent to Vietnam. He ended up with near-fatal head wounds that have left him disabled for life.
In 2010, Seidenberg published a book he wrote about his military experience in Vietnam. The book, titled “Vietnam Ambush,” confirms the worst fears of those of us who didn’t go to fight in that needless, reckless and lawless war. It is a well-written account of the war from the perspective of a soldier in the field. It should be read by every young American who thinks war might be glorious. In fact, it is a cautionary tale that should be read by young people throughout the world. It takes the adventure and heroics out of war and tells it like it really is, a dirty business in which the old send the young to fight, kill and die in far-off lands – in the case of the Vietnam War, to fight in humid jungles which US military planes were busy defoliating with the poisonous chemicals napalm and Agent Orange.
Here is how Seidenberg describes his dilemma as a US soldier in Vietnam on the opening page of his book:
I was a combat infantryman in Vietnam. We were shooting dice for our souls. Our very spirits were on the line, if we survived.
No one could say what we were fighting for. The consensus was that our purpose was to simply survive it all. I knew that merely surviving would not be enough. I had to make sure that I survived with a clean conscience.
What good is living, if you wind up hating yourself? And I didn’t want to be responsible for any crimes.
In a war fought entirely in cold blood, keeping a clean conscience was not easy. Simply staying alive was not easy.
Although today there is no longer conscription, there is instead a “poverty draft,” which makes the military an economically attractive option for escaping poverty. Being put into a killing zone makes it difficult to not become a killer if only in order to stay alive oneself. Should we allow ourselves to be used as tools in war? Should we not fight against militarism and those who, like Dick Cheney, promote it? Should we not refuse to subordinate our consciences to leaders who lie us into war?
“Vietnam Ambush” is a short book. It is written in simple prose. It tells the truth. It reminds us that our society has corrupted its youth with war. It reminds us that war steals from the young – their youth and their consciences. It reminds us about the importance of having political leadership that is decent and truthful, not deceitful and dishonest. It reminds us that war is not a game played on a field of battle; it has consequences that last for lifetimes. War traumatizes young men and women. It kills and maims soldiers and civilians alike. It reminds us to choose peace.
Monsanto, Agent Orange Creator, Returns To Vietnam February 8, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Asia, Health, History, Vietnam, War.
Tags: agent orange, environment, genetically modified, gmo, history, monsanto, roger hollander, vietnam, vietnam history, Vietnam War
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Monsanto ready to sell GM crops and weed-killing chemicals in Vietnam; Many outraged
Multinational agricultural biotech corporation Monsanto, known as the creator of chemical weapon Agent Orange, is attempting to infiltrate Vietnam once again — this time as GMO dealer.
Agent Orange, used for chemical warfare in the Vietnam War, is estimated to have killed 400,000, deformed 500,000 and sickened another 2 million.
“BA VI, VIETNAM: Handicapped orphans are fed by the medical staff at the Ba Vi orphanage. These young children represent the 3rd generation of Agent Orange victims more than 30 years after the war in Vietnam, where a battle is still being fought to help people suffering from the effects of the deadly chemical.” – Global Post (Photo Paula Bronstein / AFP/Getty Images)
“Between 2.1 to 4.8 million Vietnamese were directly exposed to Agent Orange and other chemicals that have been linked to cancers, birth defects, and other chronic diseases during the war that ended in 1975, according to the Vietnam Red Cross,” Thanh Nienn News writes.
30 years after the war, three generations have suffered from the effects of Agent Orange.
Now, as Monsanto seeks to reap profits in Vietnam once again, this time through agribusiness, many are speaking out against the corporation as well as the potential effects of the GM seeds and herbicides that Monsanto seeks to sell.
* * *
Thanh Nienn News in Ho Chi Minh City reports:
No biotech company has yet got the official green light for selling genetically modified organisms (GMOs), but it does not assuage the fears that Vietnam could end up with another tragic legacy from a company that once caused many deaths in the country, environmental activists say.
It would be ironic if Vietnam becomes a willing party to a “lethal” product made by the same US company that manufactured Agent Orange, the toxic defoliant used during the Vietnam War.It would be ironic if Vietnam becomes a willing party to a “lethal” product made by the same US company that manufactured Agent Orange, the toxic defoliant used during the Vietnam War, they pointed out. [...]
In 2006 the government approved a blueprint that envisaged covering between 30 percent and half of the country’s agriculture lands with the controversial gene-altered crops by 2020.
Only three companies – Monsanto, Syngenta, and Pioneer – have been licensed to carry out lab research and tests in Vietnam, the minister’s statement said.
Monsanto accounts for almost one-quarter (23 percent) of the global proprietary seed market.
[Senior Lieutenant General Nguyen Van Rinh, former deputy defense minister, chairman of the Vietnam Association of Victims of Agent Orange] is also worried about the weedkiller Roundup Monsanto plugs for use along with its crops.
“By introducing [GMOs] paired with toxic weed killers, the tragic legacy of Agent Orange might repeat itself,” he warned. [...]
The U.S. Airforce spraying ‘Agent Orange’ defoliant over the countryside of Vietnam. Originally termed “Operation Hades,” the spraying program was renamed “Operation Ranch Hand” to improve public relations.
Jeffrey Smith, author of the bestseller Seeds of Deception and founder and executive director of the California, US-based NGO Institute for Responsible Technology, said: “It is not inconsequential that a new genetically modified corn up for review is designed to be tolerant to the herbicide 2,4-D, a component of Agent Orange.
“This means that much higher amounts of toxic 2,4-D will drench the agricultural lands where this new crop is planted.
“It would be a harsh and ironic consequence if Vietnamese people suffer from birth defects from both of these Monsanto products, Roundup and Agent Orange.”
* * *
The Global Post reports:
Monsanto is, of course, highly aware of Agent Orange’s reputation and has fought numerous lawsuits filed by chemical’s victims both Vietnamese and American. The chemical, commissioned by the U.S. military, was dumped over jungles to kill vegetation and rout communist forces.
In Monsanto’s own primer on the Agent Orange era, it casts the chemical as patriotic — it was meant “to save the lives of U.S. and allied soldiers,” Monsanto says — and contends that the matter “should be resolved by the governments that were involved.”
Keeping Monsanto out of Vietnam already appears to be an uphill fight.
A Vietnamese legislator and former deputy defense minister has, according to Thanh Nien, faced evasion when he tried to raise the issue with the [government].
When Muhammad Ali took the real heavy weight June 25, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in History, Racism, Vietnam, War.
Tags: anti-war, boxing history, cassius clay, dave zirin, draft resister, heavywieght title, history, muhammad ali, peace activism, permanent war, Race, racism, roger hollander, tet offensive, vietnam, vietnam deaths, Vietnam War
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In an era defined by endless war, we should recognise a day in
history that wasn’t celebrated on Capitol Hill or in the White House. On
June 20, 1967, the great Muhammad Ali was convicted in Houston for
refusing induction in the US armed forces. Ali saw the war in Vietnam as
an exercise in genocide. He also used his platform as a boxing champion
to connect the war abroad with the war at home, saying: “Why should
they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop
bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro
people in Louisville are treated like dogs?” For these statements, as
much as the act itself, Judge Joe Ingraham handed down the maximum
sentence to Cassius Clay (as they insisted upon calling him in court):
five-years in a Federal penitentary and a $10,000 fine. The next day,
this was the top-flap story for the New York Times with the headline:
“Clay Guilty in Draft Case; Gets Five Years in Prison.”
The sentence was unusually harsh, and deeply tied to a Beltway,
bipartisan consensus to crush Ali and ensure that he not develop into a
symbol of anti-war resistance. The day of Ali’s conviction the US
Congress voted 337-29 to extend the draft for four more years. They also
voted 385-19 to make it a federal crime to desecrate the flag. Their
fears of a rising movement against the war were well-founded.
The summer of 1967 marked a tipping point for public support of the
Vietnam “police action”. While the Tet Offensive, which exposed the lie
that the United States was winning the war, was still six months away,
the news out of south-east Asia was increasingly grim. At the time of
Ali’s conviction, 1,000 Vietnamese noncombatants were being killed each
week by US forces. One hundred US soldiers were dying each and every
day, and the war was costing $2bn a month.
Anti-war sentiment was growing and it was thought that a stern rebuke
of Ali would help put out the fire. In fact, the opposite took place.
Ali’s brave stance fanned the flames. As Julian Bond said, “[It]
reverberated through the whole society. … [Y]ou could hear people
talking about it on street corners. It was on everyone’s lips. People
who had never thought about the war before began to think it through
because of Ali. The ripples were enormous.”
Ali himself vowed to appeal the conviction, saying: “I strongly object to
the fact that so many newspapers have given the American public and the
world the impression that I have only two alternatives in this stand –
either I go to jail or go to the Army. There is another alternative, and
that alternative is justice. If justice prevails, if my constitutional
rights are upheld, I will be forced to go neither to the Army nor jail.
In the end, I am confident that justice will come my way, for the truth
must eventually prevail.”
Already by this point, Ali’s heavyweight title had been stripped,
beginning a three-and-a-half-year exile. Already Elijah Muhammad and the
Nation of Islam had begun to distance themselves from their most famous
member. Already, Ali had become a punching bag for almost every
reporter with a working pen. But with his conviction came a new global
constituency. In Guyana, protests against his sentence took place in
front of the US embassy. In Karachi, Pakistan, a hunger strike began in
front of the US consulate. In Cairo, demonstrators took to the streets.
In Ghana, editorials decried his conviction. In London, an Irish boxing
fan named Paddy Monaghan began a long and lonely picket of the US
Embassy. Over the next three years, he would collect more than twenty
thousand signatures on a petition calling for the restoration of
Muhammad Ali’s heavyweight title.
Ali at this point was beginning to see himself as someone who had a
greater responsibility to an international groundswell that saw him as
more than an athlete. “Boxing is nothing, just satisfying to some
bloodthirsty people. I’m no longer a Cassius Clay, a Negro from
Kentucky. I belong to the world, the black world. I’ll always have a
home in Pakistan, in Algeria, in Ethiopia. This is more than money.”
Eventually justice did prevail and the Supreme Court overturned Ali’s
conviction in 1971. They did so only after the consensus on the war had
changed profoundly. Ali had been proven right by history, although a
generation of people in Asia and the United States paid a terrible price
along the way.
Years later upon reflection, Ali said he had no regrets. “Some people
thought I was a hero. Some people said that what I did was wrong. But
everything I did was according to my conscience. I wasn’t trying to be a
leader. I just wanted to be free. And I made a stand all people, not
just black people, should have thought about making, because it wasn’t
just black people being drafted. The government had a system where the
rich man’s son went to college, and the poor man’s son went to war.
Then, after the rich man’s son got out of college, he did other things
to keep him out of the Army until he was too old to be drafted.”
As we remain mired in a period of permanent war, take a moment and
consider the risk, sacrifice, and principle necessary to dismantle the
war machine. We all can’t be boxing champions, but moving forward, all
who oppose war can rightfully claim Ali’s brave history as our own
Big Media’s Curious Nixon Judgment December 15, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Media, Vietnam, War.
Tags: 1968 election, anna chennault, dean rusk, henry kissinger, hubert humphrey, journalism, kissinger, lbj, Lyndon Johnson, Media, nixon, Richard Nixon, robert parry, roger hollander, thieu, treason, vietnam, Vietnam War
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www.consortiumnews.com, December 11, 2010
When Richard Nixon’s presidential library this week released tapes of him making bigoted remarks about blacks, Jews and various ethnic groups, major American news outlets jumped at the juicy details, recounting them on NBC’s Nightly News, in the New York Times and elsewhere.
Which is all well and good. It was also worth knowing that National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger, himself a German-born Jew, would express nonchalance at the prospect of the Soviet Union putting its Jewish population in gas chambers.
“The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy,” Kissinger remarked in a taped conversation on March 1, 1973. “And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.” (Maybe?)
“I know,” President Nixon responded. “We can’t blow up the world because of it.” [See NYT, Dec. 11, 2010.]
But the Nixon-Kissinger Realpolitik wasn’t limited to such an unlikely prospect as the Soviets undertaking a Jewish extermination campaign. More shocking was the powerful evidence released two years ago by Lyndon B. Johnson’s library corroborating long-held suspicions that Nixon and Kissinger conspired to sabotage the 1968 Vietnam peace talks to ensure their ascension to power.
In that case, however, the major U.S. news media looked the other way. Except for a brief reference to an Associated Press dispatch, the New York Times and other leading news outlets apparently didn’t regard as newsworthy that Nixon and Kissinger had consigned more than 20,000 American soldiers and millions of Indochinese to their deaths in order to win an election.
By extending the Vietnam War for those four years, Nixon and Kissinger also ripped apart the social and political fabric of the United States – turning parents against their children and creating hatreds between the American Left and the Right, which continue to this day.
One might have thought that the LBJ Library’s evidence, which included a dramatic pre-election confrontation between President Johnson and then-Republican presidential candidate Nixon over what Johnson had termed Nixon’s “treason,” would be worthy of some serious attention. But none was forthcoming. (It fell to us at Consortiumnews.com to provide a detailed account of these exchanges.)
As has happened with other high-level scandals – such as the CIA’s admissions about cocaine trafficking by Ronald Reagan’s beloved Nicaraguan Contra rebels – the major U.S. news media shies away from evidence that puts the national Establishment in too harsh a light or that suggests the preeminent U.S. news organizations have missed some monumentally important story.
For the mainstream media, it’s safer to focus on the foibles of an individual like Nixon than to accept that respected members of the ruling elite in the United States are so corrupt that they would sacrifice the lives of ordinary citizens for the achievement of some political or foreign policy goal.
So, we get to learn from the new Nixon tapes that he made bigoted assertions about “abrasive and obnoxious” Jews, Irish who get “mean” drunk, Italians without “heads screwed on tight,” and blacks who would need “500 years” and have to “be, frankly, inbred” to become useful contributors to the nation.
The Peace Talk Gambit
As offensive as those remarks are, however, they pale in newsworthiness to the now unavoidable conclusion that Nixon, aided by Kissinger, struck a deal with South Vietnamese President Nguyen van Thieu in fall 1968 to block Johnson’s negotiated end to the Vietnam War.
The significance of Nixon’s “treason” was that – while 500,000 U.S. soldiers were serving in Vietnam – Nixon’s campaign assured Thieu that Nixon would, as U.S. president, continue the war to get a better deal for Thieu. That left Nixon little choice but to extend the war and expand the fighting because, otherwise, Thieu would have been in a position to expose Nixon’s treachery to the American people.
Yet, what was also stunning to me about the “treason” tapes when the LBJ library released them in December 2008 was how much Johnson knew about Nixon’s sabotage and why the Democrats chose to keep silent.
Right before Election Day 1968 – with the Paris peace talks in the balance and with Democratic nominee Hubert Humphrey closing the gap on Nixon – Johnson considered allowing the White House to confirm the facts of Nixon’s gambit to Christian Science Monitor reporter Saville Davis who had gotten wind of the story.
Johnson raised this possibility in a Nov. 4, 1968, conference call with Defense Secretary Clark Clifford and Secretary of State Dean Rusk. However, both opposed going public, with Clifford – a pillar of the Establishment – arguing that the disclosure risked national disorder.
“Some elements of the story are so shocking in their nature that I’m wondering whether it would be good for the country to disclose the story and then possibly have a certain individual [Nixon] elected,” Clifford said. “It could cast his whole administration under such doubt that I think it would be inimical to our country’s interests.”
So, instead of confirming the story, Johnson agreed to maintain his public silence. He stood by as Nixon’s narrowly won the presidential election over Humphrey by about 500,000 votes or less than one percent of the ballots cast.
Still, four decades later, when the Johnson library released the audiotapes, they offered a dramatic story: an embattled president angered over intelligence intercepts that revealed emissaries from Nixon’s campaign, including right-wing China Lobby figure Anna Chennault, urging the South Vietnamese government to boycott peace talks in Paris.
Beginning in late October 1968, Johnson can be heard on the tapes complaining about this Republican maneuver. However, his frustration builds as he learns more from intercepts about the back-channel contacts between Nixon operatives and South Vietnamese officials.
On Nov. 2, 1968, just three days before the election, Thieu withdrew from his tentative agreement to sit down with the Viet Cong at the Paris peace talks. That same day, Johnson telephoned Senate Republican leader Everett Dirksen to lay out some of the evidence of Nixon’s treachery and to ask Dirksen to intervene with the Nixon campaign.
“The agent [Chennault] says she’s just talked to the boss in New Mexico and that he said that you must hold out, just hold on until after the election,” Johnson said in an apparent reference to a Nixon campaign plane that carried some of his top aides to New Mexico. “We know what Thieu is saying to them out there. We’re pretty well informed at both ends.”
Johnson then made a thinly veiled threat about going public with the information. “I don’t want to get this in the campaign,” Johnson said, adding: “They oughtn’t be doing this. This is treason.”
Dirksen responded, “I know.”
Johnson continued: “I think it would shock America if a principal candidate was playing with a source like this on a matter of this importance. I don’t want to do that [go public]. They ought to know that we know what they’re doing. I know who they’re talking to. I know what they’re saying.”
The President also stressed the stakes involved, noting that the movement toward negotiations in Paris had contributed to a lull in the war’s violence.
“We’ve had 24 hours of relative peace,” Johnson said. “If Nixon keeps the South Vietnamese away from the [peace] conference, well, that’s going to be his responsibility. Up to this point, that’s why they’re not there. I had them signed onboard until this happened.”
Dirksen: “I better get in touch with him, I think.”
“They’re contacting a foreign power in the middle of a war,” Johnson said. “It’s a damn bad mistake. And I don’t want to say so. …
“You just tell them that their people are messing around in this thing, and if they don’t want it on the front pages, they better quit it.”
The next day, Nixon spoke directly to Johnson and haltingly professed his innocence, while also acknowledging that he knew how close Johnson was to negotiating an end to the war.
“I didn’t say with your knowledge,” Johnson responded. “I hope it wasn’t.”
“Huh, no,” Nixon responded. “My God, I would never do anything to encourage … Saigon not to come to the table. … Good God, we want them over to Paris, we got to get them to Paris or you can’t have a peace.”
Nixon also insisted that he would do whatever President Johnson and Secretary Rusk wanted.
“I’m not trying to interfere with your conduct of it. I’ll only do what you and Rusk want me to do. We’ve got to get this goddamn war off the plate,” Nixon said. “The war apparently now is about where it could be brought to an end. … The quicker the better. To hell with the political credit, believe me.” [Emphasis added]
But the South Vietnamese boycott continued, leading to Johnson’s conference call about going public with the story of Republican sabotage, before he was dissuaded by Rusk and Clifford.
In the aftermath of the election, Johnson continued to confront Nixon with the evidence of Republican treachery, trying to get him to pressure the South Vietnamese leaders to reverse themselves and join the Paris peace talks.
On Nov. 8, 1968, Johnson recounted the evidence to Nixon and described the Republican motivation to disrupt the talks, speaking of himself in the third person.
“Johnson was going to have a bombing pause to try to elect Humphrey. They [the South Vietnamese] ought to hold out because Nixon will not sell you out like the Democrats sold out China,” Johnson said.
“I think they’ve been talking to [Vice President-elect Spiro] Agnew,” Johnson continued. “They’ve been quoting you [Nixon] indirectly, that the thing they ought to do is to just not show up at any [peace] conference and wait until you come into office.
“Now they’ve started that [boycott] and that’s bad. They’re killing Americans every day. I have that [story of the sabotage] documented. There’s not any question but that’s happening. … That’s the story, Dick, and it’s a sordid story. … I don’t want to say that to the country, because that’s not good.”
Faced with Johnson’s implied threat, Nixon promised to tell the South Vietnamese officials to reverse themselves and join the peace talks. However, the die was cast for more war. Thieu could not be pressured because he had the leverage over Nixon; Thieu could go public even if Johnson didn’t.
The U.S. participation in the Vietnam War continued for more than four years (including its expansion to Cambodia) at a horrendous cost to both the United States and the people of Indochina. Before the conflict was finally brought to an end, a million or more Vietnamese were estimated to have died along with an additional 20,763 U.S. dead and 111,230 wounded.
At home, the growing resistance to the war also led to more abuses by Nixon, who routinely cited national security to justify a massive political spying operation against his enemies.
That paranoia led to the White House “plumbers unit” breaking into the Democratic National Committee at Watergate in 1972, planting bugs but eventually getting caught. The Watergate scandal led to Nixon’s resignation two years later.
However, it took almost another decade before the story of Nixon’s “treason” began to reach the American public.
Journalist Seymour Hersh sketchily described the initiative in his 1983 biography of Henry Kissinger, The Price of Power. Hersh reported that the Nixon campaign had benefited from back-channel communications from Kissinger who was working as a consultant to the Johnson administration.
U.S. intelligence “agencies had caught on that Chennault was the go-between between Nixon and his people and President Thieu in Saigon,” Hersh wrote. “The idea was to bring things to a stop in Paris and prevent any show of progress.”
Hersh noted that in her own autobiography, The Education of Anna, Chennault had acknowledged that she was the courier. She quoted Nixon aide John Mitchell (who became Nixon’s Attorney General) as calling her a few days before the 1968 election and telling her: “I’m speaking on behalf of Mr. Nixon. It’s very important that our Vietnamese friends understand our Republican position and I hope you made that clear to them.”
However, Kissinger had powerful defenders in Washington, including inside the upper echelons of the news media, people such as Ted Koppel, the host of ABC’s influential “Nightline” program, and Katharine Graham, the publisher of the Washington Post and Newsweek.
So, Hersh’s reporting came under a barrage of criticism and his account of Nixon’s 1968 peace-talk gambit was treated as a dubious conspiracy theory.
Gradually, however, more evidence bubbled to the surface. Reporter Daniel Schorr added some details in a Washington Post “Outlook” article on May 28, 1995, citing decoded cables that U.S. intelligence had intercepted from the South Vietnamese embassy in Washington.
On Oct. 23, 1968, Ambassador Bui Dhien cabled Saigon with the message that “many Republican friends have contacted me and encouraged me to stand firm.” On Oct. 27, he wrote, “The longer the present situation continues, the more favorable for us. … I am regularly in touch with the Nixon entourage.”
Anthony Summers’s 2000 book, The Arrogance of Power, filled in more of the blanks, including a reference to the debate within Democratic circles about what to do with the evidence.
Both Johnson and Humphrey believed the information – if released to the public – could assure Nixon’s defeat, according to Summers.
“In the end, though, Johnson’s advisers decided it was too late and too potentially damaging to U.S. interests to uncover what had been going on,” Summers wrote. “If Nixon should emerge as the victor, what would the Chennault outrage do to his viability as an incoming president? And what effect would it have on American opinion about the war?”
Summers quoted Johnson’s assistant Harry McPherson, who said, “You couldn’t surface it. The country would be in terrible trouble.”
As it turned out, however, the country was in terrible trouble anyway. Not only did the Vietnam War continue for four more years – before Kissinger negotiated a settlement along the lines of what Johnson had hammered out in 1968 – but the Republicans discovered that key Democrats would stay silent even if GOP candidates sabotaged Democratic presidents.
In 1980, faced with a similar opportunity as President Jimmy Carter struggled to resolve a crisis over Iran’s holding of 52 American hostages, Republican operatives, including Kissinger and other veterans of the 1968 gambit, interfered again. [For details on the so-called October Surprise case of 1980, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege.]
Though much of this history about the electoral scandals of 1968 and 1980 has now been painfully pieced together, the major U.S. news media continues to look the other way, either ignoring the evidence as it emerges or disparaging those who have put the pieces together.
Apparently, it’s one thing to note that individuals within the Establishment have personal weaknesses but it’s another to question the integrity of the Establishment as a collective body. Then, the defenses come up and inconvenient history gets shoved into the memory hole.
The contrast between the coverage of Nixon’s bigoted remarks and his role in sabotaging peace talks that could have saved countless lives is further proof that the U.S. national press corps is more comfortable commenting on a politician’s flaws than on crimes of state.
[For more on these topics, see Robert Parry’s Lost History and Secrecy & Privilege, which, along with Neck Deep, are now available as a three-book set for the discount price of $29. For details, click here.]
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’ are also available there.