Roger’s note: Along with millions of others, I contributed via direct action to the United States defeat and the end of the Vietnam War, and this included the picketing of Dow Chemical in Los Angeles. The War is long over and its lessons largely forgotten, and a unified Vietnam is a thriving hive of capitalist production with a Communist veneer. But the war profiteers and environmental terrorists known as Dow Chemical are still in business and eager, along with the rest of the world’s corporatedom, to cash in by buying/owning governments and destroying what remnants of democracy remain.
OpEdNews Op Eds 4/21/2015 at 19:33:43
By Mike Malloy (about the author)
Reprinted from Mike Malloy
(image by Picture: Nick Ut, Courtesy of Fahey/Klein Gallery, Los Angeles) DMCA
Remember Dow Chemical? The horrific corporation that provided the world — and particularly the civilian population of Vietnam — with jellied gasoline (napalm) that burns flesh down to the bone? The same company that provided the world — and particularly the civilian population of Vietnam — with two phenoxyl herbicides — dow2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) and 2,4,5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4,5-T) — in iso-octyl esterform … you know, Agent Orange.
Yeah, that Dow Chemical.
Well, in keeping with its mission of death, destruction, and corporate profits Dow has endorsed the fast-track authority bill (TPA) now being readied in Congress for the President’s rubber stamp. Dow — as well as other predatory capitalist enterprises — are beside themselves with gleeful anticipation. The bill will put into law the necessary steps for “Congress” to sign off on yet another slam to middle America (and struggling populations globally) with the Congressional agreements regarding TPP and its cousin TTIP (Google will explain both). Finally! No more dealing with sovereign laws designed to protect national populations from the slimy greed of the global corporatists. And it’s all being done in secret regardless of what may be said about TPA by our useless corporate media.
Here’s Dow’s jubilant press release:
“Dow Welcomes Congressional Action on TPA, Urges Timely Passage
Washington, D.C. — April 16, 2015
“The Dow Chemical Company welcomes today’s action on Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) by the United States Congress through the introduction of The Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015. This bipartisan and modernized TPA legislation is critical for U.S. competitiveness and sets the Congressional mandate for trade to ensure strong objectives for our negotiators.
“‘Trade is a key component for all American manufacturers and TPA helps strengthen America’s trade agenda,’ said Andrew N. Liveris, Dow’s chairman and chief executive officer. ‘TPA will allow us to increase our exports and sustain American jobs. We join the Business Roundtable, the National Association of Manufacturers, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, along with the wide range of other U.S. associations and businesses of all sizes dedicated to international trade agreements that benefit American businesses, farmers, workers and consumers in supporting this important step forward.'”
Dow applauds Senators Hatch (R-UT) and Wyden (D-OR) and Congressman Ryan (R-WI) for their dedicated efforts in drafting and co-sponsoring this bipartisan legislation. We encourage all members of Congress to engage in a constructive dialogue to pass this important legislation in a timely manner.
Dow (NYSE: DOW) combines the power of science and technology to passionately innovate what is essential to human progress. The Company is driving innovations that extract value from the intersection of chemical, physical and biological sciences to help address many of the world’s most challenging problems such as the need for clean water, clean energy generation and conservation, and increasing agricultural productivity.
Dow’s integrated, market-driven, industry-leading portfolio of specialty chemical, advanced materials, agrosciences and plastics businesses delivers a broad range of technology-based products and solutions to customers in approximately 180 countries and in high-growth sectors such as packaging, electronics, water, coatings and agriculture. In 2014, Dow had annual sales of more than $58 billion and employed approximately 53,000 people worldwide. The Company’s more than 6,000 products are manufactured at 201 sites in 35 countries across the globe. References to “Dow” or the “Company” mean The Dow Chemical Company and its consolidated subsidiaries unless otherwise expressly noted.
And not a single mention of Agent Orange, Napalm, dead children, cancers, or mass death.
http://www.mikemalloy.com Mike Malloy is a former writer and producer for CNN (1984-87) and CNN-International (2000). His professional experience includes newspaper columnist and editor, writer, rock concert producer and actor. He is the only radio talk show host in America to have received the A.I.R (Achievement in Radio) Award in both (more…)
Roger’s note: There are so many war crimes to report, going back to the days of Manifest Destiny. Here is another one, in our time, all the more pernicious for its killing and maiming of children. Every bomb that goes off in Laos represented a financial benefit for the war profiteer who produced it. The real unindicted criminals, of course, are the Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon and the those around them who made it all possible. And the rest who knew better and went along.
Hiding America’s War Crimes in Laos, While Reporting on the Grim Results
by DAVE LINDORFF
The NY Times on Monday ran a lengthy piece (“One Woman’s Mission to Free Laos from Millions of Unexploded Bombs”) on Channapha Khamvongas, a 42-year-old Laotian-American woman on a mission to get the US to help Laos clean up the countless unexploded anti-personnel “bombis” that it dropped, which are still killing peasants — especially children — half a century after the so-called “Secret War” by the US against Laos ended.
The article explained that Khamvongas, as a young adult in Virginia, had read a book by anti-war activist Fred Branfman, Voices from the Plain of Jars: Life Under an Air War (originally published in 1972 and reissued in 2013), which featured accounts and hand drawings by refugees from that war of the deadly US aerial attacks and bombings of their farms and villages. It was a book that sparked revulsion in the US over the saturation bombing of Southeast Asia’s smallest and least developed country — a nation of under six million people.
While the Times article mentioned that the secret air war, launched by Lyndon Johnson against Laos in 1964 and continued by Richard Nixon through 1973, was “one of the most intensive air campaigns in the history of warfare,” and that it had made Laos, a country the size of Great Britain with a population of only a few million peasants, into “one of the most heavily bombed places on earth.” What it did not make clear was that this bombing and strafing campaign, which Branfman’s research showed was so intense that US jets were even killing individual water buffalo, and so continuous that any Lao person, including children, who dared to venture out from underground shelters during the daytime, was targeted.
Instead, Times reporter Thomas Fuller simply parrots the official US line about the Laos air war, which was kept secret from the American public at the time, writing that the campaign’s “targets were North Vietnamese troops — especially along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, a large part of which passed through Laos — as well as North Vietnam’s Laotian Communist allies,” the Pathet Lao.
This is a patent falsehood.
The Ho Chi Minh Trail ran through Laos but along its lengthy eastern boarder with Vietnam. The bombing of Laos, though, was extensive, covering the whole country, and especially the large region of Northern Laos known as the Plain of Jars — an agricultural region in the center of Northern Laos (named for the many neolithic jars found there) that was so heavily bombed that it resembled the surface of the moon (today the circular craters that dot the place are now mostly ponds and breeding grounds for mosquitos). And the goal of the country-wide bombing campaign, as Branfman’s interviews of its refugee survivors made clear, was to disrupt agriculture and kill anything that moved in the country, in hopes of defeating the Pathet Lao insurgency.
Not once in the article is the term “war crime” mentioned, though clearly what the US did to Laos in its Secret War against the people of Laos was a war crime of almost unrivaled horror. (During the war, the Pathet Lao forces, at their greatest, numbered about 35,000, yet the US bombing is estimated to have killed over 100,000 Laotians, which would be about 1.5 percent of the country’s population. The equivalent today in the US would be if some country bombed and killed 3.2 million Americans.)
Not only was this little country bombed. It was littered with anti-personnel bombs that spread tennis-ball sized shrapnel-producing “bombis,” only some 70% of which exploded as intended. The rest remain buried in the soft earth, where they can explode decades later if struck by a plow, or found by a too curious child.
I visited Laos in 1995 as a journalist, and witnessed the continuing horror of this US war crime. Though the Secret War had ended more than 20 years earlier, I kept seeking young kids hobbling along on crutches, with stump legs, or missing hands, some missing both legs. Asking about this, I was told they had been blown up by bombis left over from the war.
Visiting the US Embassy in Laos, which at the time, at least, featured on a flagpole both the US flag and the black-and-white POW/MIA flag of the right-wing pro-war National League of Families, I asked the Press and Cultural Affairs attache about the plague of left-over bombis in the country, and why the US was doing nothing to help clear them away. He said Congress had blocked any such humanitarian action because of pressure from the National League of Families, which was pushing its absurd claim that Communist Laos, two decades after the war ended, was still secretly holding US POWs and MIAs, and was not accounting for America’s dead. He acknowledged off the record that the whole idea of impoverished Laos still holding US prisoners of war was ridiculous, and agreed that Laos — a heavily jungled and sparsely populated country — had not accounted for many of its own MIAs, much less missing Americans who had died or been killed. But he claimed there was nothing that could be done until that issue was resolved.
Of course there is a second matter. Just as the US has done nothing to help Vietnam clean up the massive amount of bombs and the carcinogenic Agent Orange herbicide that was spread across their land by US forces during the war, and has done nothing to help the post-war victims of US anti-personnel weapons and of Agent Orange in that country, not wanting to admit to its war crimes, it has also been loath to assume responsibility for cleaning up the anti-personnel weapons legacy in Laos for the same reason.
It appears that Ms. Khamvongas and her organization, Legacies of War, are finally having some success now at getting the US to belatedly start providing at least some of that assistance — reportedly about $14 million last year. It’s a drop in the bucket considering some 580,000 bombing missions were flown during the air campaign, dropping 270 million bombs. And nearly a third of that ordinance — an estimated 80 million bombs and bombis — are still out there, unexploded, waiting to be disturbed so they can complete their deadly missions.
Some 20,000 Laotians have been killed by unexploding bombs — 40% of them children — mostly by the fragmentation bombis, subsequent to the end of the war in 1973. Far more have been maimed and permanently injured.
Khamvongas doesn’t talk about blame, and that may be understandable for someone who is simply trying to get the US to pony up the money to help get the job done. (A number of countries that are blameless, including Ireland, Japan, Norway and Switzerland, as well as one that shares some of the blame, Australia, are contributing another $25 million a year to the bomb-removal effort.)
But the fact tht Khamvongas doesn’t want to focus on blame doesn’t excuse the Times from having to be honest about what actually happened to Laos and its people, and about America’s criminality in blanketing the country with anti-personnel weapons whose main victims, by design, were and sadly still are civilians, including a disproportionate number of children.
At a time when the US is running a new kind of air war, one involving the use of attack drones, a war which is reportedly also killing primarily civilians, and which is similarly operating in secret from the American people in numerous countries of the world, it is critical that news organizations like the Times, which are always quick to parrot US government calls for war crimes prosecutions of other countries like Syria, Serbia, ISIS or the breakaway Donbass Republics, also call out the war crimes of the United States.
Silence on such grave matters is not just reprehensible journalism; it is a case of aiding and abetting America’s crimes.
Roger’s note: What is most relevant about the story of the My Lai massacre is that those responsible for the crime escaped Scot free. And I am not referring to Lieutenant Calley, rather the political and military leaders from the president of the United States down to the cabinet and the generals. We see this today where in the United States of America mass killing gets reduced to political “mistakes” or “collateral damage.” Of course, history will judge, but in my opinion that is no substitute for justice. As with many analyses posted on alternative Internet sites, the comments are often as or more insightful as the article itself. You can read those from Common Dreams here (Click to see more comments or to join the conversation).
Marking the 47th anniversary of the Vietnam War’s infamous massacre at My Lai, the inimitable Seymour Hersh – whose chilling dispatches from the war helped stir public outrage against it – has written about visiting “the scene of the crime” for the first time. After so many years and stories, he thought he knew “most of what there was to learn about the massacre.” He’s wrong. He hears more stories “told in bland, appalling detail”; he meets Vietnamese who have forgiven but not forgotten; he revisits an atrocity he is reminded was “not an aberration,” unique only in scale. Most vitally, he enjoins us to remember its lessons: Duplicitous and ignorant U.S. political leaders ensnared the country in a war about which they long obfuscated, withheld information and just plain lied, and the war ended when it did, in part, because at least some brave members of the press insisted on telling the truth about it – “that the war was morally groundless, strategically lost, and nothing like what the military and political officials were describing to the public” – and some brave Americans insisted on protesting against that truth.
On the morning of March 16, 1968, about a hundred U.S. soldiers known as Charlie Company arrived at My Lai, having received faulty intelligence that it held Vietcong troops. When they found “only a peaceful village at breakfast,” they slaughtered all its inhabitants anyway. A museum now at the site – there are also “memory day trips” there – lists the grisly statistics: 504 victims, including 182 women, seventeen of them pregnant, and 173 children. The numbers include 97 people killed the same day in another nearby village by members of Bravo Company. The rule of the day was famously articulated by Lieut. William Calley, Charlie’s commander and the only person ever convicted of any crime; his order, used by Nick Turse as the title for his harrowing book on Vietnam, was “Kill Anything That Moves.”
The message of both Turse’s book and Hersh’s trip is the same: “What happened at My Lai 4 (the name U.S.military used) was not singular, not an aberration.” Writing in The New Yorker, Hersh describes meeting veterans who acknowledge “it was just revenge” and who, once amidst the war’s horrors, “began to question who we were as a nation.” When he talks with an elderly Vietnamese leader and former soldier who now works with victims of Agent Orange, she emphasizes, “There was not only one My Lai – there were many.” Most went unnoticed and unreported; My Lai didn’t largely thanks to Hersh, who unearthed and wrote five articles about the massacre. After being turned away by both Life and Look, the large mainstream magazines of the time, he wrote them for the Dispatch News Service, a small D.C. anti-war news agency. Hersh’s stories, in conjunction with countless dispatches from the field from other truth-telling reporters, helped fuel public opposition to the war, including the Washington anti-war march that drew half a million people.
The empire’s response to the growing revelations was as honorable as their conduct in the war. When Calley was convicted in 1971 of pre-meditated mass murder of 109 “Oriental human beings” and sentenced to life at hard labor, Nixon intervened and placed him under house arrest; he was freed three months after Nixon left office in disgrace. Before he left, Nixon had also approved the use of “dirty tricks” to discredit a key witness to the massacre and thus cover up yet one more obscene truth of his dirty little war. Still angry and sorrowful, Hersh painfully digs out new nuggets from a tawdry history he clearly feels remains relevant -and which we remain in danger of repeating. He also summons a Robert McNamara on his deathbed who was said to feel that “God had abandoned him.” Notes Hersh, “The tragedy was not only his.”
The depravity to which human beings are susceptible.
The photos of “the enemy” are so wrenching.
Only by OWNING this reality, and the rest of its history, and not “obfuscating, withholding information and just plain lying,” can the USA hope to emerge from its accelerating plunge into new depths of depravity.
Roger’s note: governments and media parrot the lie that such barbarism was “necessary” in order to save lives (sic). I am sure Dante could find a special place in Hell for them. I just want to point out the murderous cycle of capitalist war profiteering. The same shareholders (of Dow Chemical, for example, the manufacturer of napalm gas) who finance and profit from the bloodbath fall in line to profit from the reconstruction. We see this today in Iraq, where during the initial stages of reconstruction of areas annihilated by US bombing, only US firms were allowed to bid for reconstruction contracts. As General Smedley Butler famously said, “War is a Racket.”
ELAINE KURTENBACH and MARI YAMAGUCHIMar 9th 2015 4:12AM
This photo shows initial destruction and reconstruction after the March 10, 1945 firebombing. (AP Photo/The Center of the Tokyo Raids and War Damage, Eugene Hoshiko)
TOKYO (AP) – It was not Hiroshima or Nagasaki, but in many ways, including lives lost, it was just as horrific.
On March 10, 1945, U.S. B-29 bombers flew over Tokyo in the dead of night, dumping massive payloads of cluster bombs equipped with a then-recent invention: napalm. A fifth of Tokyo was left a smoldering expanse of charred bodies and rubble.
Today, a modest floral monument in a downtown park honors the spirits of the 105,400 confirmed dead, many interred in common graves.
It was the deadliest conventional air raid ever, worse than Nagasaki and on par with Hiroshima. But the attack, and similar ones that followed in more than 60 other Japanese cities, have received little attention, eclipsed by the atomic bombings and Japan’s postwar rush to rebuild.
Haruyo Nihei, just 8 when the bombs fell, was among many survivors who kept silent. A half-century passed before she even shared her experiences with her own son.
“Our parents would just say, ‘That’s a different era,'” Nihei said. “They wouldn’t talk about it. And I figured my own family wouldn’t understand.”
Now, as their numbers dwindle, survivors are determined to tell their stories while they still can.
Where earlier raids targeted aircraft factories and military facilities, the Tokyo firebombing was aimed largely at civilians, in places including Tokyo’s downtown area known as “shitamachi,” where people lived in traditional wood and paper homes at densities sometimes exceeding 100,000 people per square mile.
“There were plenty of small factories, but this area was chosen specifically because it was easy to burn,” says historian Masahiko Yamabe, who was born just months after the war’s end.
Another departure from earlier raids: the bombers flew low.
“It was as if we could reach out and touch the planes, they looked so big,” said Yoshitaka Kimura, whose family’s toy store in downtown Tokyo’s Asakusa was destroyed. “The bombs were raining down on us. Red, and black, that’s what I remember most.”
Nihei, now 78, was mesmerized as she watched from a railway embankment.
“It was a blazing firestorm. I saw a baby catch fire on its mother’s back, and she couldn’t put out the fire. I saw a horse being led by its owner. The horse balked and the cargo on its back caught fire, then its tail, and it burned alive, as the owner just stood there and burned with it,” she said.
Firefighter Isamu Kase was on duty at a train parts factory. He jumped onto a pump truck when the attack began, knowing the job was impossible.
“It was a hellish frenzy, absolutely horrible. People were just jumping into the canals to escape the inferno,” said Kase, 89. He said he survived because he didn’t jump in the water, but his burns were so severe he was in and out of hospital for 15 years.
Split-second choices like that determined who lived and who died.
Kimura, a 7-year-old, escaped the flames as he was blown into the entrance of a big department store while running toward the Sumida River, where tens of thousands of people died: burned, crushed, drowned or suffocated in the firestorm.
Masaharu Ohtake, then 13, fled his family’s noodle shop with a friend. Turned back by firefighters, they headed toward Tokyo Bay and again were ordered back. The boys crouched in a factory yard, waiting as flames consumed their neighborhood.
“We saw a fire truck heaped with a mountain of bones. It was hard to understand how so many bodies could be piled up like that,” said Ohtake.
After about two hours and 40 minutes, the B-29s left.
Survivors speak of the hush as dawn broke over a wasteland of corpses and debris, studded by chimneys of bathhouses and small factories. Police photographer Koyo Ishikawa captured the carnage of charred bodies piled like blackened mannequins, tiny ones lying beside them.
“It was as if the world had ended,” said Nihei, whose father sheltered her under his body, as others piled on top and were burned and suffocated. All her family survived.
Michiko Kiyo-oka, a 21-year-old government worker living in the Asakusa district, survived by hiding under a bridge.
“When I crawled out I was so cold, so I was warming myself near one of the piles that was still smoldering. I could see an arm. I could see nostrils. But I was numb to that by then,” she said. “The smell is one that will never leave me.”
FIGHTING TO BE REMEMBERED
From January 1944-August 1945, the U.S. dropped 157,000 tons of bombs on Japanese cities, according to the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey. It estimated that 333,000 people were killed, including the 80,000 killed in the Aug. 6 Hiroshima atomic-bomb attack and 40,000 at Nagasaki three days later. Other estimates are significantly higher. Fifteen million of the 72 million Japanese were left homeless.
The bombing campaign set a military precedent for targeting civilian areas that persisted into the Korean and Vietnam wars and beyond. But the non-atomic attacks have been largely overlooked.
“Both governments, the press, media, radio, even novelists … decided the crucial story was the atomic bomb,” said Mark Selden, a Cornell University history professor. “This allowed them to avoid addressing some very important questions.”
Survivors of the Tokyo firebombing feel their pain has been forgotten, by history and by the government. After the war, only veterans and victims of the atomic bombings received special support.
“We civilians had no weapons and no strength to fight,” Kiyo-oka said. “We were attacked and got no compensation. I am very dissatisfied with how the government handled this.”
No specific government agency handles civilian survivors of firebombings or keeps their records, because there is no legal basis for that, said Manabu Oki at the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry.
Yamabe, the historian, said authorities “are reluctant to acknowledge civilian suffering from the wartime leaders’ refusal to end the war earlier.”
“If they don’t disclose such data, it can’t be discussed. If the victims remain anonymous then there’s less pressure for compensation,” said Yamabe, a researcher at the privately funded Tokyo Air Raid and War Damages Resource Center, Japan’s main source of information about the firebombings.
Some survivors now refuse to be anonymous. Nihei often travels from the distant suburbs to the Tokyo Air Raid center to share her story with students and other visitors.
Years ago, Ohtake began walking the city to draw up guide maps of areas destroyed by the bombings – maps the resource center now uses.
“The United States went too far with the firebombing, but I don’t quite understand why the Japanese government and the rest of the Japanese don’t talk about this very much,” he said.
“We are not just statistics. I don’t think we’ll still be around for the 80th anniversary,” Ohtake said. “So the 70th anniversary is pretty much the last chance for us to speak up.”
Roger’s note: the Korean War (excuse me, police action) has never ended. There has been an armistice since the early 1950s, but the US has always refused to negotiate a peace treaty with North Korea. The US government needs its demons (the infamous “axis of evil”) more than it wants genuine peace. The demonization of a grotesque and cartoon like North Korea, via a complicit corporate media, is deeply embedded in the consciousness of most Americans.
The U.S. should negotiate with North Korea on its proposal to cancel nuclear tests in exchange for a U.S. suspension of joint military exercises with South Korea Why is this important?
The DPRK government (North Korea) disclosed on Jan. 10, 2015, that it had delivered to the United States the day before an important proposal to “create a peaceful climate on the Korean Peninsula.”
This year, we observe the 70th anniversary of the tragic division of Korea in 1945. The U.S. government played a major role in the arbitrary division of the country, as well as in the horrific Korean civil war of 1950-53, wreaking catastrophic devastation on North Korea, with millions of Korean deaths as well as the deaths of 50,000 American soldiers. It is hard to believe that the U.S. still keeps nearly 30,000 troops in South Korea today, even though the Armistice Agreement was signed back in 1953.
According to KCNA, the North Korean news agency, the DPRK’s message stated that if the United States “contribute(s) to easing tension on the Korean Peninsula by temporarily suspending joint military exercises in South Korea and its vicinity this year,” then “the DPRK is ready to take such responsive steps as temporarily suspending the nuclear test over which the U.S. is concerned.”
Unfortunately, it is reported that the U.S. State Department rejected the offer on Jan. 10, claiming that the two issues are separate. Such a quick spurning of the North’s proposal is not only arrogant but also violates one of the basic principles of the U.N. Charter, which requires of its members to “settle their international disputes by peaceful means.” (Article 2 ). To reduce the dangerous military tensions on the Korean Peninsula today, it is urgent that the two hostile States engage in mutual dialogue and negotiation for a peaceful settlement of the lingering Korean War, without any preconditions.
The North’s proposal comes at a time of increasing tensions between the U.S. and DPRK over a Sony film, which depicts a brutal CIA-induced assassination of the current North Korean leader. In spite of the growing doubts by many security experts, the Obama administration hastily blamed the North for last November’s hacking of the Sony Pictures’ computer system and subsequently imposed new sanctions on the country. Pyongyang proposed a joint investigation, denying its responsibility for the cyber-attacks.
The winter U.S.-R.O.K. (South Korea) war drill usually takes place in late Feb. DPRK put its troops on high military alert on such occasions in the past and conducted its own war drills in response. Pyongyang regards the large-scale joint war drills as a U.S. rehearsal for military attacks, including nuclear strikes, against North Korea. In the last year’s drill, the U.S. flew in B-2 stealth bombers, which can drop nuclear bombs, from the U.S. mainland, as well as bringing in U.S. troops from abroad. In fact, these threatening moves not only provoke the North but also violate the Korean War Armistice Agreement of 1953.
Instead of intensifying further sanctions and military pressures against the DPRK, the Obama administration should accept the recent offer from the North in good faith, and engage in negotiations to reach positive agreements to reduce military tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
John Kim, Veterans for Peace, Korea Peace Campaign Project, Coordinator
Alice Slater, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, NY
Dr. Helen Caldicott
David Swanson, World Beyond War
Valerie Heinonen, o.s.u.,Ursuline Sisters of Tildonk for Justice and Peace, U.S. Province
David Krieger, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation
Alfred L. Marder,U.S. Peace Council
David Hartsough, Peaceworkers, San Francisco, CA
Coleen Rowley, retired FBI agent/legal counsel and peace activist
John D. Baldwin
Arnie Saiki, Coordinator Moana Nui
Regina Birchem, Women’s International League for Peace and Justice, US
Rosalie Sylen, Code Pink, Long Island, Suffolk Peace Network
Helen Jaccard, Veterans For Peace Nuclear Abolition Working Group, Co-chair
Heinrich Buecker, Coop Anti-War Cafe Berlin
Sung-Hee Choi, Gangjeong village international team, Korea
Roger’s note: it’s not just the vulgar materialism that Christmas has been for many decades, but more so the hidden unfreedom of those whose toil blood sweat and tears produce the junk we buy for our children and other family and loved ones. The Chinese “economic miracle” has certainly been a boon to the Communist Party elites and a small middle class, but no so much for the millions who leave their villages to slave away in modern day sweat shops. The notion that socialism can live alongside capitalism is a monumental oxymoron. The Chinese claim to have socialist politics with a capitalist economy, and I fear that Cuba may go in the same direction. This is a formula for environmental, social, cultural and political degeneration. It may look inviting to some in the short run, but in the long run it spells disaster at all levels.
Friday, December 19, 2014
Making/Selling Christmas: Where Your Baubles, Tinsel, Santa Hats and LED Reindeer Come From
Just so you know: Those trinkets of Christmas proclaimed to bring joy to the world – wreaths, lights, stockings, mistletoe, shiny stars and snowflakes and other glittering marvels of tree adornment – are likely made in Yiwu, aka China’s Christmas Village, where the elves are thousands of sweating, under-paid, glue-and-paint-covered migrant workers laboring in 600 steamy fume-filled factories who dream not of a White Christmas, which many know nothing about, but of making enough money to get the hell out of there and back home to the provinces.
The Christmas manufacturing machine in Yiwu, south of Shanghai, is part of a region encompassing 750 companies making millions of holiday geegaws sold at Yiwu’s International Trade Market, a sprawling, five-district, 62,000-booth monument to global consumption the U.N. has declared the “largest small commodity wholesale market in the world.” District Two holds the 400,000 joys of Christmas that make up over 60% of the world’s Christmas decorations: endless corridors lined with mountains of stuff – polystyrene snowmen and snowflakes and Santas, plastic Christmas trees, hand-bent reindeer antlers, intricate LED light shows, stuffed sheep in Santa hats, Father Christmas playing the saxophone – made nearby in sweatshop factories by workers painting and sewing and dipping in glue and paint so toxic in summer heat they go through ten face masks a day. They work 12 hours a day, six days a week and make, in the name of good will toward men, $200-300 a month. The Swedish documentary, Santa’s Workshop, captures their brutal working lives. The plastic fruit of their labors goes to a mostly foreign market increasingly moving online, but also to a growing market within China, where, entirely unsurprisingly, Santa Claus, not Jesus, is the star of the show. There as here, of course, the machine will grind on. But if you don’t want it any fattier, greedier or more toxic, please don’t feed the beast.
Roger’s note: Nearly sixty thousand American soldiers died, god knows how many wounded physically, mentally and spiritually. Over a million Vietnamese killed, many more wounded, the countryside scorched with Agent Orange. For what? So that Lyndon Johnson would not go down as the president who “lost” Vietnam? the way Truman “lost” China? Was LBJ a misguided politician or a war criminal? Is Obama a beleaguered president or a war criminal? Don’t ask me. Ask the families of the slaughtered. Where have all the flowers gone ?
Language is telling; so are facts. With the approach of the “full panoply of Orwellian forgetfulness” that is a 13-year, $65 million commemoration of the Vietnam War by the same people who started it, it’s nigh on impossible to reconcile Obama’s “valor of a generation that served with honor fighting heroically to protect the ideals we hold dear as Americans” with the savage years many “remember, with painful acuity, as other than glorious” – years of lies, loss, rage, trauma, protests and the deaths of millions of innocents. Seeking to “speak truth to power,” Veterans For Peace are rejecting an official narrative they say sanitizes and mythologizes an unconscionable war – and likely helps legitimize further such wars – by organizing their own Peace and Justice Commemoration as part of a larger Full Disclosure Campaign. Its goal is to “truly examine what happened during those tragic and tumultuous years,” and use those lessons to prevent them from happening again.
From the start, many have questioned what longtime activist Tom Hayden calls the “staggering” idea of a commemoration orchestrated by the Department of Defense. Citing the Pentagon’s questionable “version of the truth” that for so long sustained an immoral war, he convincingly argues that, “If you conduct a war, you shouldn’t be in charge of narrating it.” Almost everything about the project, from its website full of glossy pictures of smiling veterans to its very language – its mission to “assist a grateful nation” in thanking veterans, Obama’s thinking “with solemn reverence upon the valor of a generation,” its initial labelling of the massacre of 500 women, children and older men at My Lai an “incident” – bears out the notion that the project’s goal is largely “an ex post factojustification of the war,” or to rewrite history in order to repeat it with as little opposition as possible.
In a petition for revisions that sparked their decision to hold their own commemoration, over 500 veterans and activists argued for “an honest remembrance of what actually went on in Viet Nam.” They seek recognition for the “many thousands of veterans” who opposed or came to oppose the war, who refused the draft, went to jail, left the country, marched in protests; for the millions who marched, prayed, organized; for the military establishment that for years lied, propagandized, made deadly mistakes, and lied again; for the thousands of hapless soldiers thrown into a war of choice who suffered, died, anguished and then came home broken, traumatized and often abandoned – startlingly, more Vietnam veterans subsequently died by suicide than in battle; for the millions of Vietnamese civilians killed, maimed, poisoned, traumatized, driven from their homes, crippled by land mines, their children later disfigured by Agent Orange; for the rage and regret felt by so many Americans towards the war’s lies and losses that a new term was created to express their weariness – the Vietnam Syndrome.
To right those wrongs and expose those truths, Veterans For Peace are now looking for stories, ideas, articles and photos for their own commemoration. “It is incumbent on us not to cede the war’s memory to those who have little interest in an honest accounting, and who want to justify further acts of military adventurism,” they argue. The war, they insist, is a cautionary tale: “What are the consequences of trying to control the fate of a people from afar with little understanding or interest in their history and culture…or their human desires? What are the consequences of dehumanized ideologies used to justify wars of aggression? To honor the Viet Nam generation and to inform current and future generations, we should make every effort to pass on a critical and honest history of the war.”
Sixty-nine years ago last week, a slender woman named Tomiko Shoji was struck and sent aloft by a bright white light. She’d just arrived at her secretarial job, at a tobacco factory, and was standing by the door when the flash occurred; the light’s source had a nickname, Little Boy, but it meant nothing to her at the time. She flew backward under the crushing force of the office door, passed out, and awoke with shards of glass in her head and an expanse of bodies around her—some dead, some alive but dazed, and many more, she soon found, floating “like charcoal” in nearby rivers. The nineteen-year-old climbed up and out of the shell of her younger self; she had survived the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Nearly seven decades later, Keni Sabath, Shoji’s youngest granddaughter, started to wonder: Had the bombing’s aftermath reshaped not just the psyche of her bachan (grandmother) but also, in ways both culturally and historically particular, her own?
In recent years, a public-health hypothesis has emerged that one of the world’s most poorly understood pandemics isn’t a conventional virus—like H1N1, say, or some hemorrhagic fever. This hypothesis suggests that untended wartime trauma can move vertically and horizontally through individuals and families, morphing across years, decades, or even centuries. Sabath began considering the prospect as early as high school, after certain overpowering symptoms emerged on a family visit to Hiroshima when she was six. It was Sabath who had arranged for me to visit her bachan at her aunt’s home in Hilliard, Ohio, where Shoji agreed to share her first full account of the bombing and the family mysteries that followed.
* * *
On my way to Hilliard, I carried my copy of John Hersey’s “Hiroshima.” (My 1989 edition bears the cover endorsement “Everyone able to read should read it,” and I agree.) Its text first appeared as an entire issue of this magazine, on the one-year anniversary of the bombing, and followed the fates of six civilians in the aftermath. Even now, on a more distant anniversary, Hersey’s granular rendering gives an urgency to these stories: of a young clerk, Shoji’s age, who found herself crushed beneath a pile of books; of a Methodist pastor who charged his way back into the city to help, passing victims whose eyebrows had been singed off and women with the flower patterns of kimonos burned into their skin.
As I entered Shoji’s home, on a quiet cul-de-sac, she swept my hand into hers and pressed her cool forehead against mine by way of welcome. Her eldest daughter, Minori, gave me a pair of slippers to wear inside; as the three of us shuffled into the kitchen, where fresh berries and tea cakes awaited, we paused to examine photographs of the Reverend Kiyoshi Tanimoto, the same pastor who weaves his way through Hersey’s narrative, and who also, apparently, stood at the center of Shoji’s. She first came across him preaching in an open-air bazaar in Hiroshima not long after the bombing; he gave her a piece of paper with information about his church, and she soon converted to Christianity. (He later baptized her grandson, Isao, who served as my translator well into the early evening.) Some of the first words Shoji spoke to me in Japanese were about the Reverend: “He would say, ‘Tomiko, why don’t we go all over the world together and tell them of our experiences with the bomb?’ ”
Tanimoto made a second career out of his own suggestion; on the fortieth anniversary of the bombing, Hersey wrote a follow-up story for the magazine, “Hiroshima: The Aftermath,” in which he described the pastor’s extensive U.S. speaking tour to promote peace. But Shoji wasn’t ready to speak freely at the time. This past July, the last surviving crew member of the Enola Gay, the plane that dropped Little Boy, died in Stone Mountain, Georgia, having given many interviews. By then, Shoji had made up her mind that, in her eighty-eighth year, she would share her own account of what happened on the other side of the bomb. So we began right there, with the flash.
* * *
“Radiation! Heat! The wind from the bomb!” When Shoji began to describe her recollections from August 6, 1945, she took on a staccato pattern of speech, gesticulating rapidly. A tiny woman with pixie-gray hair and a sweet, flushed face, she slapped her small hands together and pummelled her head with pinched fingers, as if to imitate flying debris from the blast. At one point, she pretended to fling burned skin across the room like zucchini peels. Then she closed her eyes and went into a deep repose, resurfacing with a sudden phrase: “I’m scared to meet people,” she said, speaking in the present tense of her teen-age self, who might also be herself at eighty-eight. “Something could just blow up. I’ve seen it before.”
On the morning of the bombing—it was 8:15, the start of the workday—Shoji recalls briefly losing consciousness at the Bureau of Tobacco. “When I got up, I ran down to the first floor, down to the bomb shelter,” she said. “All over was smoke; the entire city was covered with smoke. I saw people coming across the bridge just completely black—covered by blood, coming towards us. … The whole city was a sea of fire. And then, at night, it rained black rain.”
Collecting herself, she began walking with colleagues across the city’s many bridges, toward the sea. She caught a train in Hiroshima’s west hoping to find her sister, to no avail; en route were whole trolley cars that had been blown off their tracks, filled with singed corpses. After spending the night, she returned home to find a note from the same sister, which read, “You can find me at the school.” The two stayed in the school turned shelter for some time thereafter, living in a true dystopia. “There were tens of thousands of flies from the dead bodies,” she recalled. “Our greetings to each other became: are you having diarrhea?”
For all those who perished in the bombing, many more survived, day by day. Only later would some, like Shoji, come to discover that the most devastating aftereffects were like ghosts: coming and going on a whim, wreaking forms of havoc often incomprehensible to outsiders and, sometimes, even to those who suffered it.
* * *
I’d always assumed, in ignorance, that to survive the atomic bomb—to be ahibakusha, or “explosion-affected person”—was to have conferred upon you a certain esteem or deference, not unlike that afforded to the bearer of a Purple Heart. Shoji’s family wasted no time correcting me. To be a hibakusha, they explained, was not an honorific but a source of shame, a secret to be closely held. Even grandchildren have often feared telling romantic partners of their grandparents’ experience, worried that their genetic material would be perceived as spoiled goods.
Eventually, Shoji’s family planned for her to enter an arranged marriage with a prominent policeman in Taiwan, where she relocated in her early twenties. They kept her hibakusha status hushed, and refused to allow the two to talk before the ceremony, so as to better seal the secret. “My hands were shaking, holding my bouquet,” Shoji recalled. When her husband learned the news afterward, he spiralled into a rage that never lifted. For the rest of the marriage, Shoji’s daughter Minori said, “He felt he’d been cheated.”
The next several decades brought a parade of physical ailments that were easily traceable to the bomb: Shoji’s eyes and ears gave up early; her insides felt perpetually cold; her teeth fell out, requiring dentures in her forties. But perhaps most debilitating were the psychological symptoms that she didn’t think she could attribute to the radiation. “For thirty or forty years, I was so afraid of thunder and lightening,” she told me, as one of many examples. “It would just crush me. I just lost control.” Raising four daughters was a challenge of another scale. “Nobody understood me; I was like a beggar,” she said, recalling that when her children were young she faced almost daily bouts of overwhelming panic. At night, in dreams, she shouted, “The Earth—the Earth is going to fall!” “At the time, I didn’t know what was affecting me so badly,” Shoji said. “I couldn’t talk about it. Even before I opened my mouth, I would collapse with fear.”
Minori chimed in, gently stroking her mother’s shoulder: “When we would go into her bedroom in the morning, we would see her get so angry—she would throw things. When we were young, I never saw her laugh—she was quiet, and weak.” Back then, neither Shoji nor her children spoke openly about this behavior as tied to the bomb. Remarkably, Shoji says that the idea didn’t come easily to her. She was unfamiliar with the concept of post-traumatic stress disorder, or shell shock, or its classic presentation (nightmares, flashbacks, hypervigilance); these traits seemed unrelated to her experience. “Every year I have these crazy episodes—my family is so good to me, but I have these outbursts, these moments when I lose control,” she said. Years ago, she insists, it all seemed completely inexplicable.
Still, somewhere within her, she began to trace a clear line between her inner state and the events of her nineteenth year. “After I go married, the family would yell at me, and even when I’m beaten, I can’t respond, and I don’t know why. But deep inside, I remember, oh, that’s what it is: the bomb, the aftereffects of the bomb. It’s worse than the day of the bomb.”
* * *
Shoji’s granddaughter Keni Sabath grew up in Hawaii and Texas, the child of a New Jersey-born Navy JAG officer and a fashionable Taiwan-born language tutor. Like her older sister Zena, Keni often spent her days with her bachan, who lived in their home for years before joining Keni’s aunt Minori in Ohio. In the summers, the family would travel back to Japan. “I first became aware of my grandmother’s experience in a very disturbing way, when I was six years old,” Keni Sabath told me after my Ohio visit. “I went to the Peace Park in Hiroshima with my grandmother and my mom. We walked by the river and my mom would translate, ‘This river here was turned into a blood river, and people would jump into it and their skin would burn off.’ ” The family proceeded to the local memorial museum, where life-size wax statues depicted local children fleeing the bombing site, their skin melting and their clothing singed. “The children were my height!” Sabath said. “It was so hard for me to reconcile that hell with the current city. I couldn’t understand: How were people over it?”
Sabath’s crying became incessant thereafter. She couldn’t sleep; each time she saw a plane in the air, she panicked, just as her grandmother continued to do. “My mother ended up taking me to a witch doctor,” she told me. “They thought I was haunted by the ghosts of Hiroshima” (called yurie, or faint spirits). For years, the yurie resurfaced in Sabath each summer, making her anxious, watchful, her eyes skyward.
In recent years, a growing body of scholarship has sought to better understand accounts like Shoji’s and Sabath’s through the framework of “trans-generational trauma,” which traces experiences of catastrophic loss across the span of a family or a community. A wide range of studies have examined evidence of “secondary trauma” in the children of Holocaust survivors, the wives of Vietnam veterans, and, more informally, in the families of U.S. veterans who’ve faced P.T.S.D. after deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2007, a study on the wives of fifty-six traumatized war veterans in Croatia found that more than a third of the veterans’ wives met the criteria for secondary traumatic stress; often, this meant symptoms “similar to those present in directly traumatized persons: nightmares about the person who was directly traumatized, insomnia, loss of interest, irritability, chronic fatigue, and changes in self-perception, perception of one’s own life, and of other people.” More recently, speaking to Mac McClelland for an article on trauma in the families of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, the clinical psychologist Robert Motta said, “Trauma is really not something that happens to an individual.” Instead, he proposed, “Trauma is a contagious disease; it affects everyone that has close contact with a traumatized person.”
But even metaphors of trauma as contagion feel inadequate, or even potentially counterproductive; for one thing, they can get mixed up with questions of shame and stigma, seeming to assign blame or stir up anxieties about contamination where the antidote to both is needed. And stigma, too, gets internalized. As a small child, Sabath said, when she began to fear a plane above, “I would think, how could I let the plane know that I was American?” She would beg her father to come along to Japan during the summers, thinking, “My white military dad—a Navy JAG officer—he signalled my identity, my patriotic Americanness.” Only in his presence could she feel, as the mixed-race grandchild of a hibakusha, that “there is no way you would ever harm us.”
When she reached high school, Sabath became a debating champion and made nuclear proliferation her focus. She went on to college at Yale and visited the White House as a student leader for Global Zero, the international nuclear-disarmament group, for which she recently authored a personal essay on herbachan’s “scenes of living hell.” “I hope you will remember my grandmother’s message and act upon it,” she wrote.
* * *
In the late nineteen-fifties, the Japanese government began issuing certificates to hibakusha, entitling them to certain health benefits, and Shoji became the first survivor living abroad to travel back to Japan to reap the benefits. Over the course of those treatments, Shoji gathered for the first time with other survivors, at healing hot springs. It was in that community that she got her first glimpse of psychological relief, and perhaps began to decipher some of her experiences and speak of them to others. Last fall, she traveled to Yale to say to her granddaughter’s classmates, “I want with every breath, with all my strength, to tell people” about the bomb.
In the final pages of Hersey’s “Hiroshima,” he observed that many people he met there were often reticent to speak or even think about the ethics of the bomb; instead, they would offer approximations of “Shikata ga nai,” a Japanese expression that he translated as “It can’t be helped. Oh well. Too bad.”
At eighty-eight, Shoji seems to have thrown off that cosmic shrug. When we finished in the dining room, her daughter gave me a bundle of pastries and fruit, and we all shuffled to the foyer. The whole family stood in the doorway and waved goodbye. Shoji’s cheeks looked pink, and, as I drove off, it was easy to imagine how she might have appeared on her way to work at nineteen, looking up at the August sky.
Sarah Stillman is a staff writer at The New Yorker and a visiting scholar at the N.Y.U. Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute.
Roger’s note: Defenders of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings allege that they saved the lives of untold thousands of American and Japanese soldiers who would have died in an invasion of Japan. This, as a justification for the unleashing of atomic warfare and the massive civilian death and destruction, is highly questionable speculation. Credible historians have concluded that Japan was already defeated and that the bombings were unnecessary to achieve surrender. Some point to evidence that the bombings were a warning signal to the Soviet Union.
August 6, 1945 and not December 7, 1941 is truly the day that will go down in infamy.
Hiroshima, Japan in the wake of the atomic bomb dropped by the U.S. on August 6, 1945. (Photo: flickr / cc)
“I hate war,” Koji Hosokawa told me as we stood next to the A-Bomb Dome in Hiroshima, Japan. The skeletal remains of the four-story building stand at the edge of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. The building was one of the few left standing when the United States dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima at 8:15 a.m. on Aug. 6, 1945. Three days later, the U.S. dropped the second bomb on Nagasaki. Hundreds of thousands of civilians were killed—many instantly, and many more slowly from severe burns and what would come to be understood as radiation sickness.
The world watches in horror this summer as military conflicts rage, leaving destruction in their wake from Libya, to Gaza, to Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Ukraine. Never far from the dead and injured, nuclear-armed missiles stand by at the alert, waiting for the horrible moment when hubris, accident or inhumanity triggers the next nuclear attack. “I hate war,” Hosokawa reiterated. “War makes everyone crazy.”
Koji Hosokawa was 17 years old in 1945, and worked in the telephone exchange building, less than 2 miles from ground zero. “I miraculously survived,” he told me. His 13-year-old sister was not so fortunate: “She was … very close to the hypocenter, and she was exposed to the bomb there. And she was with a teacher and the students. In all, 228 people were there together with her.” They all died.
We walked through the park to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. There, on display, were the images of death: the shadows of victims burned into the walls of buildings, the pictures of the fiery chaos that followed the bombing, and of the victims of radiation. Almost seven decades later, Hosokawa’s eyes tear up in the recollection. “My biggest sorrow in my life is that my younger sister died in the atomic bomb,” he said.
The day before my meeting with Koji Hosokawa, I sat down in Tokyo to interview Kenzaburo Oe, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. He was 10 years old in 1945. “When Japan experienced the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, this was a greater catastrophe than anything we had ever known,” he told me. “The feeling of having to survive this, go beyond this and renew from this, was great.”
Now nearing 80, Kenzaburo Oe thinks deeply about the connection between the atomic bombings and the disaster at Fukushima, the nuclear power plant meltdown that began when Japan was struck by a devastating earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011. The Nobel laureate told the French newspaper Le Monde: “Hiroshima must be engraved in our memories: It’s a catastrophe even more dramatic than natural disasters, because it’s man-made. To repeat it, by showing the same disregard for human life in nuclear power stations, is the worst betrayal of the memory of the victims of Hiroshima.”
After the Fukushima disaster, Oe said, “all Japanese people were feeling a great regret … the atmosphere in Japan here was almost the same as following the bombing of Hiroshima at the end of the war. Because of this atmosphere, the government [in 2011], with the agreement of the Japanese people, pledged to totally get rid of or decommission the more than 50 nuclear power plants here in Japan.”
A-bomb survivors like Koji Hosokawa, writers like Kenzaburo Oe, and hundreds of thousands of others, now elderly, have lived through the dawn of the nuclear age in 1945 and seen its potential for devastation recently, at Fukushima. Nuclear-weapon arsenals and nuclear power plants each pose separate, horrific risks to humanity, yet the two are connected, with the byproducts of some power plants usable as material for nuclear warheads. Whether from an act of war, or an act of terrorism from a so-called loose nuke in the hands of a non-state actor, or from an uncontrolled meltdown at a nuclear power plant, nuclear disasters are massively destructive. Yet they are completely preventable. We need a new way of thinking, a new effort to eliminate nuclear weapons and shift to safe, renewable energy, worldwide.
As we were leaving the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, Koji Hosokawa told me to stop. He looked me in the eye, and told me not to forget the victims: “People lived here. They lived here.”
Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.
Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 1,100 stations in North America. She was awarded the 2008 Right Livelihood Award, dubbed the “Alternative Nobel” prize, and received the award in the Swedish Parliament in December.
Roger’s note: The entirely “unnecessary” Vietnam War cost nearly 60,000 American lives and hundreds of thousands wounded and emotionally and physically destroyed. But this doesn’t begin to approximate the cost in lives and physical destruction to the Vietnamese people. There were more than a million deaths, a large percentage civilian.
Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon were the commanders in chief who were directly responsible for the slaughter, but Eisenhower and Kennedy served as presidents during the the early years of American political and military intervention. Of course there were many more, including the 98 senators who fell for the Bay of Tonkin hoax. My generation will well remember such warmongers as Secretary of Defence (i.e. WAR) McNamara and General Westmoreland (Waste more land). And then there is always Napalm (Dow Chemical) and Agent Orange (Dow and Monsanto). And let’s not forget the vultures of the war profiteering arms industry.
The above named mass murderers will never be indicted, except perhaps by “history,” for what that’s worth.
I am reminded of Crime and Punishment’s Raskolnikov’s musing about his crime of murdering a despised old money lender versus the hundreds of thousands killed in Napoleon’s wars. A single mother convicted of shop lifting to feed her children will suffer more at the hands of the criminal justice system than than the astute politicians, military and corporate elites mentioned above. I don’t know why, but this somehow offends my sense of justice.
And why does all this seem not just a matter of history, but just as relevant today?
HOI AN, VIETNAM. “I believe that history will record that we have made a great mistake,” Sen. Wayne Morse (D, OR) declared fifty years ago this week. He was referring to congressional passage of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, the decisive step into one of the greatest tragedies in American history. That resolution would be used for nearly a decade by Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon as authorization to conduct war in Vietnam.
A look at Vietnam today makes plain just how mistaken and tragic the American venture into war there was. First, though, a brief summary of how the decisive turn into that disastrous mistake a half century ago occurred.A BLANK CHECK FOR WAR
Nearly unanimous (of the 516 members of Congress who voted, only Morse and Sen. Ernest Gruening of Alaska opposed) passage of the resolution was secured on August 7, 1964, on the basis of the claim that three days earlier North Vietnamese boats had launched an unprovoked attack on two American ships. Believing that the argument that he was “soft” on communism and the fight in Vietnam was the only thing that Republican nominee Barry M. Goldwater had as a potentially effective argument against him in the November election, President Johnson seized upon the apparent attack to get what he had wanted for months: a Congressional resolution giving him a blank check to conduct whatever military operations in Vietnam he deemed necessary and that would pass “quickly, overwhelmingly, and without too much discussion of its implications.”AN ATTACK THAT DIDN’T HAPPEN
As Johnson was moving to launch retaliatory airstrikes against North Vietnam on August 4, reports reached the Pentagon from the scene off the coast of North Vietnam that there was serious doubt that an attack had occurred and from Admiral Ulysses S. Grant Sharp, Jr., at Pacific Command in Hawaii, suggesting that “a ‘complete evaluation’ be undertaken before any further action.” There is no indication that Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara informed the President of these communications during the crucial hours when the airstrikes were being set in motion.A 2000 National Security Council historical study reached an unambiguous conclusion about the alleged North Vietnamese attack on August 4: “No attack happened that night.” But an event that didn’t happen led to a resolution that served as the concept sketch for the script of a major tragedy.
Fifty years later, the magnitude of that mistake is unmistakable in Vietnam.
VIETNAM AND CHINAAmong the reasons given for undertaking the war, the most prominent were to block the expansion of Chinese influence into Southeast Asia and to oppose communism.
What was needed to accomplish the first objective was a strong, unified Vietnam. The Vietnamese have hated China for two thousand years, and having a communist government would not alter that basic fact in any way. Ho Chi Minh was by far the best bet to achieve this American goal.Less than four years after Hanoi’s reunification of Vietnam in 1975, the Communist regime was engaged in a brief but bloody border war with its putative comrades from China. And currently tensions between the two countries over islands in the South China Sea (Vietnam rejects that name and calls it the Eastern Sea) are high. Vietnam and the United States find themselves virtual allies in opposing Chinese expansionism.
MORE SOCIAL DARWINIST THAN SOCIALIST
As for the other main war aim, how communist is Vietnam in 2014?There is a store in Hanoi called “Shop Aholic.” There must be steel cables restraining the preserved body of Ho Chi Minh so it doesn’t spin in its glass coffin in the nearby mausoleum.
Versace store, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
(image by Robert McElvaine)
On a walk in Saigon–its current official name notwithstanding, it is not now and never has been Ho Chi Minh’s city–from Notre Dame down Dong Khoi (the famous Rue Catinat in the days of the French Empire, when it was considered Saigon’s Champs Ãlysees) to the Hotel Continental, the Opera House, and beyond, one passes all the familiar ration outlets of a communist country: Cartier, Versace, Dior, Piaget, Hermes, Louis Vuitton, Rolex . . . . “Dong Khoi” means “Total Uprising Street.” The total uprising taking place along it and throughout Vietnam is an explosion of capitalism.
When one visits the still more-or-less-communist country of Cuba, among the many indelible impressions is the nearly complete absence of trucks on the highways. They have no products to move around. Has anyone ever seen “Hecho en Cuba” on anything? They make, in a word, nada. Superimpose the roads in Vietnam on those in Cuba and the result would be a chiaroscuro painting. Vietnam’s highways are clogged with trucks moving goods around, reflecting the entirely market-based economy in this nominally socialist country.If they look at many aspects of Vietnam today, conservative Republicans in the United States might see the paradise of which they dream. This “socialist” nation has a paddle-your-own-canoe-or-sink economy. There is no welfare, no minimum wage, no unemployment insurance, no national healthcare, no old-age pensions for most people, no free education beyond middle school ….
Shrine to Ho Chi Minh, Dien Bien Phu, Vietnam
(image by Robert McElvaine)
Ho Chi Minh’s countenance appears everywhere in contemporary Vietnam, benevolently smiling upon policies that he strongly opposed. It is much like the situation with many “Christians” in the United States who do the opposite of what Jesus taught. The farther self-identified followers get from the teachings of their supposed leader, the louder they proclaim his name. Uncle Ho has been deified–to the point of being portrayed like the Buddha on a lotus blossom. But when it comes to actual economic practice in Vietnam today, the altars at which worship takes place are those of William Graham Sumner and Ayn Rand.
But outside the economic realm the role of government is large. Vietnam remains a one-party political system in which corruption is rife and basic freedoms are restricted. The Vietnamese receive none of the benefits of positive government, but bear all the burdens of negative government. There are neither political nor economic checks and balances.A proposal was made in 2013 to change the country’s official name from the “Socialist Republic of Vietnam” back to what Ho had named it in 1945: the “Democratic Republic of Vietnam.” That would constitute a lateral move–from one wholly inaccurate name to another, equally inaccurate, one. By no stretch of the imagination is contemporary Vietnam either socialist or democratic.
If they want to adopt a name that reflects reality, they should call the nation the “Social-Darwinist Dictatorship of Vietnam.”A WAR FOR NOTHING
American policymakers in 1964 sought a Vietnam that was capitalist, would block China, and with which they could have good relations.The United States fought a war at terrible cost to achieve those ends and lost. Today, though, Vietnam is staunchly capitalist, adamantly opposed to China, and friendly to the United States. Had the war never been fought, it is highly likely that all of those ends would have been achieved at a much earlier date.
What, then, was this “b*tch of a war,” as Lyndon Johnson would later call it, to which the President proposed marriage a half century ago this week, with the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution as the engagement ring, good for?Absolutely nothing.