Tags: burning draft cards, burning draft records, catonsville nine, civil disobedience, daniel berrigan, daniel lewis, jesuits, roger hollander, roman catholic, vietnam protests, Vietnam War
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Roger’s note: I just want to comment on the headline for this article. The New York Times chooses to describe Berrigan as a Pacifist. The Times, along with the rest of the corporate media and political establishment, love the word Pacifist. Resistance and Revolution not so much. Howard Zinn famously said, when accused of disturbing the peace, that there is no peace, what he really was doing was disturbing the war. The reference to his philosophy of non-violence is an attempt to sanitize his radical actions. We need more Daniel Berrigans; may he rest in power.
By DANIEL LEWIS APRIL 30, 2016, New York Times
Rev. Daniel J. Berrigan gave an anti-war sermon at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, 1972. Credit William E. Sauro/The New York Times
The Rev. Daniel J. Berrigan, a Jesuit priest and poet whose defiant protests helped shape the tactics of opposition to the Vietnam War and landed him in prison, died on Saturday in the Bronx. He was 94.
His death, at Murray-Weigel Hall, the Jesuit infirmary at Fordham University, was confirmed by the Rev. James Martin, editor at large at America magazine, a national Catholic magazine published by the Jesuits.
The United States was tearing itself apart over civil rights and the war in Southeast Asia when Father Berrigan emerged in the 1960s as an intellectual star of the Roman Catholic “new left,” articulating a view that racism and poverty, militarism and capitalist greed were interconnected pieces of the same big problem: an unjust society.
It was an essentially religious position, based on a stringent reading of the Scriptures that some called pure and others radical. But it would have explosive political consequences as Father Berrigan; his brother Philip, a Josephite priest; and their allies took their case to the streets with rising disregard for the law or their personal fortunes.
A defining point was the burning of Selective Service draft records in Catonsville, Md., and the subsequent trial of the so-called Catonsville Nine, a sequence of events that inspired an escalation of protests across the country; there were marches, sit-ins, the public burning of draft cards and other acts of civil disobedience.
Father Berrigan, right and his brother Philip Berrigan seized hundreds of draft records and set them on fire with homemade napalm in 1968. Credit United Press International
The catalyzing episode occurred on May 17, 1968, six weeks after the murder of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the outbreak of new riots in dozens of cities. Nine Catholic activists, led by Daniel and Philip Berrigan, entered a Knights of Columbus building in Catonsville and went up to the second floor, where the local draft board had offices. In front of astonished clerks, they seized hundreds of draft records, carried them down to the parking lot and set them on fire with homemade napalm.
Some reporters had been told of the raid in advance. They were given a statement that said in part, “We destroy these draft records not only because they exploit our young men but because they represent misplaced power concentrated in the ruling class of America.” It added, “We confront the Catholic Church, other Christian bodies and the synagogues of America with their silence and cowardice in the face of our country’s crimes.”
In a year sick with images of destruction, from the Tet offensive in Vietnam to the murder of Dr. King, a scene was recorded that had been contrived to shock people to attention, and did so. When the police came, the trespassers were praying in the parking lot, led by two middle-aged men in clerical collars: the big, craggy Philip, a decorated hero of World War II, and the ascetic Daniel, waiting peacefully to be led into the van.
Protests and Arrests
In the years to come, well into his 80s, Daniel Berrigan was arrested time and again, for greater or lesser offenses: in 1980, for taking part in the Plowshares raid on a General Electric missile plant in King of Prussia, Pa., where the Berrigan brothers and others rained hammer blows on missile warheads; in 2006, for blocking the entrance to the Intrepid naval museum in Manhattan.
“The day after I’m embalmed,” he said in 2001, on his 80th birthday, “that’s when I’ll give it up.”
Father Berrigan being handcuffed in 2001 after he and others blocked an entrance to the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in Manhattan. Credit Richard Drew/Associated Press
It was not for lack of other things to do. In his long career of writing and teaching at Fordham and other universities, Father Berrigan published a torrent of essays and broadsides and, on average, a book a year.
Among the more than 50 books were 15 volumes of poetry — the first of which, “Time Without Number,” won the prestigious Lamont Poetry Prize (now known as the James Laughlin Award), given by the Academy of American Poets, in 1957 — as well as autobiography, social criticism, commentaries on the Old Testament prophets and indictments of the established order, both secular and ecclesiastic.
While he was known for his wry wit, there was a darkness in much of what Father Berrigan wrote and said, the burden of which was that one had to keep trying to do the right thing regardless of the near certainty that it would make no difference. In the withering of the pacifist movement and the country’s general support for the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, he saw proof that it was folly to expect lasting results.
“This is the worst time of my long life,” he said in an interview with The Nation in 2008. “I have never had such meager expectations of the system.”
What made it bearable, he wrote elsewhere, was a disciplined, implicitly difficult belief in God as the key to sanity and survival.
Many books by and about Father Berrigan remain in print, and a collection of his work over half a century, “Daniel Berrigan: Essential Writings,” was published in 2009.
He also had a way of popping up in the wider culture: as the “radical priest” in Paul Simon’s song “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard”; as inspiration for the character Father Corrigan in Colum McCann’s 2009 novel, “Let the Great World Spin.” He even had a small movie role, appearing as a Jesuit priest in “The Mission” in 1989.
But his place in the public imagination was pretty much fixed at the time of the Catonsville raid, as the impish-looking half of the Berrigan brothers — traitors and anarchists in the minds of a great many Americans, exemplars to those who formed what some called the ultra-resistance.
After a trial that served as a platform for their antiwar message, the Berrigans were convicted of destroying government property and sentenced to three years each in the federal prison in Danbury, Conn. Having exhausted their appeals, they were to begin serving their terms on April 10, 1970.
Father Berrigan, right, and a defense lawyer, William M. Kunstler, center, after he was sentenced to three years in federal prison in Danbury, Conn. Credit Associated Press
Instead, they raised the stakes by going underground. The men who had been on the cover of Time were now on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s most-wanted list. As Daniel explained in a letter to the French magazine Africasia, he was not buying the “mythology” fostered by American liberals that there was a “moral necessity of joining illegal action to legal consequences.” In any case, both brothers were tracked down and sent to prison.
Philip Berrigan had been the main force behind Catonsville, but it was mostly Daniel who mined the incident and its aftermath for literary meaning — a process already underway when the F.B.I. caught up with him on Block Island, off the Rhode Island coast, on Aug. 11, 1970. There was “The Trial of the Catonsville Nine,” a one-act play in free verse drawn directly from the court transcripts, and “Prison Poems,” written during his incarceration in Danbury.
Father Berrigan served time for acts of civil disobedience.
In “My Father,” he wrote:
I sit here in the prison ward
nervously dickering with my ulcer
a half-tamed animal
raising hell in its living space
But in 500 lines the poem talks as well about the politics of resistance, memories of childhood terror and, most of all, the overbearing weight of his dead father:
I wonder if I ever loved him
if he ever loved us
if he ever loved me.
The father was Thomas William Berrigan, a man full of words and grievances who got by as a railroad engineer, labor union officer and farmer. He married Frida Fromhart and had six sons with her. Daniel, the fourth, was born on May 9, 1921, in Virginia, Minn.
When he was a young boy, the family moved to a farm near Syracuse to be close to his father’s family.
In his autobiography, “To Dwell in Peace,” Daniel Berrigan described his father as “an incendiary without a cause,” a subscriber to Catholic liberal periodicals and the frustrated writer of poems of no distinction.
“Early on,” he wrote, “we grew inured, as the price of survival, to violence as a norm of existence. I remember, my eyes open to the lives of neighbors, my astonishment at seeing that wives and husbands were not natural enemies.”
Battles With the Church
Born with weak ankles, Daniel could not walk until he was 4. His frailty spared him the heavy lifting demanded of his brothers; instead he helped his mother around the house. Thus he seemed to absorb not only his father’s sense of life’s unfairness but also an intimate knowledge of how a man’s rage can play out in the victimization of women.
At an early age, he wrote, he believed that the church condoned his father’s treatment of his mother. Yet he wanted to be a priest. After high school he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1946 from St. Andrew-on-Hudson, a Jesuit seminary in Hyde Park, N.Y., and a master’s from Woodstock College in Baltimore in 1952. He was ordained that year.
Sent for a year of study and ministerial work in France, he met some worker-priests who gave him “a practical vision of the Church as she should be,” he wrote. Afterward he spent three years at the Jesuits’ Brooklyn Preparatory School, teaching theology and French, while absorbing the poetry of Robert Frost, E. E. Cummings and the 19th-century Jesuit Gerard Manley Hopkins. His own early work often combined elements of nature with religious symbols.
But he was not to become a pastoral poet or live the retiring life he had imagined. His ideas were simply turning too hot, sometimes even for friends and mentors like Dorothy Day, the co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, and the Trappist intellectual Thomas Merton.
At Le Moyne College in Syracuse, where he was a popular professor of New Testament studies from 1957 to 1963, Father Berrigan formed friendships with his students that other faculty members disapproved of, inculcating in them his ideas about pacifism and civil rights. (One student, David Miller, became the first draft-card burner to be convicted under a 1965 law.)
Father Berrigan was effectively exiled in 1965, after angering the hawkish Cardinal Francis Spellman in New York. Besides Father Berrigan’s work in organizing antiwar groups like the interdenominational Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam, there was the matter of the death of Roger La Porte, a young man with whom Father Berrigan said he was slightly acquainted. To protest American involvement in Southeast Asia, Mr. La Porte set himself on fire outside the United Nations building in November 1965.
Soon, according to Father Berrigan, “the most atrocious rumors were linking his death to his friendship with me.” He spoke at a service for Mr. La Porte, and soon thereafter the Jesuits, widely believed to have been pressured by Cardinal Spellman, sent him on a “fact finding” mission among poor workers in South America. An outcry from Catholic liberals brought him back after only three months, enough time for him to have been radicalized even further by the facts he had found.
For the Jesuits, Father Berrigan was both a magnet to bright young seminarians and a troublemaker who could not be kept in any one faculty job too long.
At one time or another he held faculty positions or ran programs at Union Seminary, Loyola University New Orleans, Columbia, Cornell and Yale. Eventually he settled into a long tenure at Fordham, the Jesuit university in the Bronx, where for a time he had the title of poet in residence.
Father Berrigan was released from the Danbury penitentiary in 1972; the Jesuits, alarmed at his failing health, managed to get him out early. He then resumed his travels.
After visiting the Middle East, he bluntly accused Israel of “militarism” and the “domestic repressions” of Palestinians. His remarks angered many American Jews. “Let us call this by its right name,” wrote Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, himself a contentious figure among religious scholars: “old-fashioned theological anti-Semitism.”
Nor was Father Berrigan universally admired by Catholics. Many faulted him for not singling out repressive Communist states in his diatribes against the world order, and later for not lending his voice to the outcry over sexual abuse by priests. There was also a sense that his notoriety was a distraction from the religious work that needed to be done.
Not the least of his long-running battles was with the church hierarchy. He was scathing about the shift to conservatism under Pope John Paul II and the “company men” he appointed to high positions.
Much of Father Berrigan’s later work was concentrated on helping AIDS patients in New York City. In 2012, he appeared in Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan to support the Occupy Wall Street protest.
He also devoted himself to writing biblical studies. He felt a special affinity for the Hebrew prophets, especially Jeremiah, who was chosen by God to warn of impending disaster and commanded to keep at it, even though no one would listen for 40 years.
A brother, Jerry, died in July at 95, and another brother, Philip, died in 2002 at 79.
Father Berrigan seemed to reach a poet’s awareness of his place in the scheme of things, and that of his brother Philip, who left the priesthood for a married life of service to the poor and spent a total of 11 years in prison for disturbing the peace in one way or another before his death. While they both still lived, Daniel Berrigan wrote:
My brother and I stand like the fences
of abandoned farms, changed times
too loosely webbed against
A really powerful blow
would bring us down like scarecrows.
Nature, knowing this, finding us mildly useful
her backhanded love of freakishness
allows us to stand.
Christopher Mele contributed reporting.
A version of this article appears in print on May 1, 2016, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Daniel J. Berrigan, Defiant Priest Who Preached Pacifism, Dies at 94. Order Reprints| Today’s Paper|Subscribe
Merchants of Death, or, your tax dollars at work December 28, 2015Posted by rogerhollander in armaments, Arms, Chemical Biological Weapons, Nuclear weapons/power, Uncategorized, War.
Tags: armaments, arms, arms exports, defense budget, military spending, NICHOLAS FANDOS, roger hollander, war, war deaths, war profiteers, war spending
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Roger’s note: The cost of the US inspired wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan is in the trillions of dollars. So-called “defense” spending amounts to around 60% of US government discretionary spending. Instruments of death, that is, military weaponry, costs billions of dollars every year. War profiteers delight in the fact that their “product” is designed to be destroyed and therefore perpetually replaced. As you can see, the United States manufactures and exports more weaponry than the rest of the world combined. What all these death dollars could support and jobs create in the areas of health, education. housing, nutrition, and the elimination of poverty worldwide is enough bring one to tears.
Number Of Iraqis Slaughtered In US War And Occupation Of Iraq “1,455,590“
Number of U.S. Military PersonnelSacrificed (Officially acknowledged) In U.S. War And Occupation Of Iraq 4,801
Number Of International Occupation Force Troops Slaughtered In Afghanistan : 3,487
Cost of War in Iraq & Afghanistan
U.S. Foreign Arms Deals Increased Nearly $10 Billion in 2014
Stand with Veterans For Peace on November 11 November 10, 2015Posted by rogerhollander in Peace, War.
Tags: Afghanistan, armistice day, drone missiles, november 11, nuclear war, peace, remembrance day, roger hollander, Syria, ukraine, veterans day, veterans for peace, war
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Roger’s note: my annual November 11 “Glorify Way Day”contribution.
Veterans For Peace is calling on all our members to take a stand for peace this Armistice Day. We are calling on all our friends and allies to join us at the barricades of peace on November 11.
Over the last several years, Veterans For Peace chapters have taken the lead incelebrating Armistice Day on November 11. We are reclaiming the original intention of that day – a worldwide call for peace that was spurred by universal revulsion at the huge slaughter of World War One. In Canada and the United Kingdom, this day is known as Remembrance Day.
After World War II, the U.S. Congress decided to re-brand November 11 as Veterans Day. Who could speak against that? But honoring the warrior quickly morphed into honoring the military and glorifying war. Armistice Day was flipped from a day for peace into a day for displays of militarism.
This November 11, it is as urgent as ever to ring the bells for peace. Many Veterans For Peace chapters ring bells, and ask local churches to do the same, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, as was done at the end of World War One.
There are so many reasons we must press our government
to end reckless military interventions
that endanger the entire world.
- In Syria, the U.S. has armed and supported rebelswho share its goal of overthrowing the Assad government. U.S. intervention in Syria has been a major factor in the ongoing tragedy that has made refugees of half of all Syrians, and has done irreparable destruction to the nation of Syria. The U.S. government and military must end its support of the rebels and abandon its efforts at regime change. It must join in sincere diplomatic efforts with the Syrian government and Syrian opposition forces, along with Russia, Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. All sides know that the solution to the Syrian war is political, not military. It is time to stop the bloodshed and the exodus of refugees, and to start talks that respect the self-determination of the Syrian people.
- In Afghanistan, the deliberate U.S. bombing of a Doctors Without Borders hospitalwas followed by a weak apology from President Obama, and his announcement that he would break his promise to end that war, and keep thousands of U.S. troops in Afghanistan beyond his presidency. Fourteen years of deliberate and reckless killing of thousands of Afghanistan civilians has not brought Afghanistan peace or stability.
All U.S. troops, planes, drones, contractors and NATO allies must leave Afghanistan. Let the Afghan people find their own peace and determine their own future.
- Don’t Tempt Nuclear War – End the U.S./NATO Confrontation with Russia. With Russia and the U.S. bombing different rebel targets in Syria, and with the U.S. and NATO pressing Russia on its very borders, the threat of yet another World War looms. The U.S. and Russia have thousands of nuclear weapons pointed at one another, with the capacity to kill many millions of people in each country. Nuclear war between Russia and the United States, which was miraculously avoided during the tense standoff of the Cold War, has re-emerged as an all too real possibility.
- In Ukraine, the U.S. poured in many millions of dollars to stir up opposition to the elected (if corrupt) government, even supporting fascist gangs who led a violent coup that brought a rightwing, western-friendly government to power. Russian speaking Ukrainians in the east were immediately targeted by fascist elements who took control of Ukrainian military and security forces. The Russian speaking minority felt it necessary to organize armed self-defense. Russia facilitated a plebiscite in the Ukrainian province of Crimea, where Russia’s Black Sea naval fleet is based, leading to an overwhelming vote to rejoin the Russian federation.
U.S. and NATO forces must pull back from Russia’s borders. U.S. and NATO forces are stationed in Poland and the Baltic nations, encircling Russia on its own borders. A coordinated international media campaign portrays Russian President Putin as the aggressor, while NATO carries out threatening war games and the U.S. beefs up its first strike nuclear capacity in Europe.
NATO, originally organized to confront the Warsaw Pact forces of the Soviet Union, should be dismantled, instead of being used to intimidate Russia and morphing into an international intervention force serving the aims of those who believe in U.S. and Western global hegemony.
- The U.S. should pull back from its so-called “Pivot to Asia,” where 60% of U.S. naval forces will be deployed, and where the U.S. is building regional military alliances to confront China. In so doing, the U.S. has pressured the Japanese government to abandon its constitutional pledge not to deploy their military outside Japan’s borders, forced the South Korean government – against the will of its people – to build a naval base on Jeju Island, and continues to ignore the pleas of the Okinawan people to return a sense of sanity to their island by removing omnipresent military the U.S.
- The United States, Russia and all nuclear powers must begin living up to their obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which requires them to negotiate in good faith to reduce and eventually eliminate all nuclear weapons. The Marshall Islands is suing the U.S. and all nuclear powers because they are doing just the opposite. The U.S. government recently announced a thirty year program, estimated to cost One Trillion Dollars, to “modernize” its nuclear arsenal. In other words, the U.S. is building new generations of nuclear bombs and missiles. This cannot stand.
- U.S. drone wars in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and beyond must end.
- The U.S. must begin dismantling its 900 military bases around the world.
- War Abroad Mirrors Racism and Violence at Home. The militarization of U.S. foreign policy and use of violence and war around the world is mirrored here at home by racist police killings, and the militarization of law enforcement and schools, where military recruiters often have total access to students. Racism and xenophobia are used to dehumanize Muslims and others in order to justify killing them in war in their own countries. We in Veterans For Peace realize this is the same hatred used here at home to justify killing black, brown, and poor people. It is the same fearmongering used to criminalize honest, hard-working people and tear immigrant families apart through deportation.
This Armistice Day Veterans For Peace calls for justice and peace at home and abroad. We call for the end to racist policies, and for equality for all people.
- Stop the War on Mother Earth. Veterans For Peace also sees the links between war and the destruction of the natural environment upon which all living creatures depend. Stubborn reliance on fossil fuels, and wars for control of them, are primary causes of the perilous climate change into which the world is descending. The ongoing nuclear meltdown in Fukushima, Japan reminds us that nuclear power is neither green nor safe. Shortsighted energy policies threaten to make entire regions of the planet uninhabitable, turning millions of people into climate refugees. New and dangerous wars for water, land and other precious resources are almost certain to follow.
- Between nuclear war and climate disaster, we are facing the possibility of Hell on Earth, UNLESS we create a united worldwide movement for peace, justice, equality and sustainability.
For all of these reasons, stand with Veterans For Peace on Armistice Day, November 11, 2015
Remember to visit the Armistice Day page for ways to get involved!
Tags: albert einstein, bertrand russell, climate change, emanuel pastreich, nonproliferation, nuclear war, renounce war, roger hollander
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Roger’s note: I try to keep my head out of the sand, but when it comes to the apparent inevitability of World War III and climate change disaster (which may be the same thing), then it is a real struggle for me against gravity. If it seemed hopeless sixty years ago, what about today? And yet, without hope …
Sixty years after Albert Einstein and Bertrand Russell issued their manifesto about the growing threat of world war, the globe continues to face the prospect of nuclear annihilation — coupled with the looming threat of climate change.
Sign the new manifesto today at http://diy.rootsaction.org/p/man
By Emanuel Pastreich, Foreign Policy in Focus
It was exactly 60 years ago that Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein gathered together with a group of leading intellectuals in London to draft and sign a manifesto in which they denounced the dangerous drive toward war between the world’s Communist and anti-Communist factions. The signers of this manifesto included leading Nobel Prize winners such as Hideki Yukawa and Linus Pauling.
They were blunt, equating the drive for war and reckless talk of the use of nuclear weapons sweeping the United States and the Soviet Union at the time, as endangering all of humanity. The manifesto argued that advancements in technology, specifically the invention of the atomic bomb, had set human history on a new and likely disastrous course.
The manifesto stated in harsh terms the choice confronting humanity:
Here, then, is the problem which we present to you, stark and dreadful and inescapable: Shall we put an end to the human race; or shall mankind renounce war?
The Russell-Einstein Manifesto forced a serious reconsideration of the dangerous strategic direction in which the United States was heading at that time and was the beginning of a recalibration of the concept of security that would lead to the signing of the Nonproliferation Treaty in 1968 and the arms control talks of the 1970s.
But we take little comfort in those accomplishments today. The United States has completely forgotten about its obligations under the Nonproliferation Treaty, and the words “arms control” have disappeared from the conversation on security. The last year has seen the United States confront Russia in Ukraine to such a degree that many have spoken about the risks of nuclear war.
As a result, on June 16 of this year Russia announced that it will add 40 new ICBMs in response to the investment of the United States over the last two years in upgrading its nuclear forces.
Similar tensions have emerged between Japan and China over the Senkaku/Diaoyutai Isles and between the United States and China over the South China Sea. Discussions about the possibility of war with China are showing up in the Western media with increasing frequency, and a deeply disturbing push to militarize American relations with Asia is emerging.
But this time, the dangers of nuclear war are complemented by an equal, or greater, threat: climate change. Even the commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, Admiral Samuel Locklear, told the Boston Globe in 2013 that climate change “is probably the most likely thing that is going to happen . . . that will cripple the security environment, probably more likely than the other scenarios we all often talk about.’’
More recently, Pope Francis issued a detailed, and blunt, encyclical dedicated to the threat of climate change in which he charged:
It is remarkable how weak international political responses (to climate change) have been. Consequently the most one can expect is superficial rhetoric, sporadic acts of philanthropy and perfunctory expressions of concern for the environment, whereas any genuine attempt by groups within society to introduce change is viewed as a nuisance based on romantic illusions or an obstacle to be circumvented.
As the 60th anniversary of the Russell-Einstein Manifesto drew near, I became increasing disturbed by the complete inaction among the best-educated and best-connected in the face of the most dangerous moment in modern history and perhaps in human history, grimmer even than the catastrophe that Russell and Einstein contemplated. Not only are we facing the increased likelihood of nuclear war, but there are signs that climate change is advancing more rapidly than previously estimated. Science Magazine recently released a study that predicts massive marine destruction if we follow the current trends, and even the glaciers of the Southern Antarctic Peninsula, once thought to be the most stable, are observed to be melting rapidly. And yet we see not even the most superficial efforts to defend against this threat by the major powers.
I spoke informally about my worries with my friend John Feffer, director of Foreign Policy in Focus and associate of the Asia Institute. John has written extensively about the need to identify climate change as the primary security threat and also has worked closely with Miriam Pemberton of the Institute for Policy Studies on efforts to move the United States away from a military economy. Between the two of us we have put together a slightly updated version of the manifesto that highlights climate change — an issue that was not understood in 1955 — and hereby have published it in the form of a petition that we invite anyone in the world to sign. This new version of the manifesto is open to the participation of all, not restricted to that of an elite group of Nobel Prize winners.
I also spoke with David Swanson, a friend from my days working on the Dennis Kucinich campaign for the Democratic nomination back in 2004. David now serves as director of World Beyond War, a broad effort to create a consensus that war no longer has any legitimate place in human society. He offered to introduce the manifesto to a broad group of activists and we agreed that Foreign Policy in Focus, the Asia Institute and World Beyond War would co-sponsor the new manifesto.
Finally, I sent the draft to Noam Chomsky who readily offered to sign it and offered the following comment.
Last January the famous Doomsday Clock was moved two minutes closer to midnight, the closest it has been since a major war scare 30 years ago. The accompanying declaration, which warned that the constant threat of nuclear war and “unchecked climate change” severely threaten human civilization, brings to mind the grim warning to the people of the world just 60 years ago by Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein, calling on them to face a choice that is “stark and dreadful and inescapable: Shall we put an end to the human race; or shall mankind renounce war?” In all of human history, there has never been a choice like the one we face today.
The declaration on the 60th anniversary of the Russell-Einstein Manifesto is displayed below. We urge all people who are concerned about humanity’s future and about the health of the Earth’s biosphere to join us in signing the declaration, and to invite friends and family members to sign. The statement can be signed at the petition page on DIY RootsAction website:
Declaration on the 60th Anniversary of the Russell-Einstein Manifesto
July 9, 2015
In view of the growing risk that in future wars weapons, nuclear and otherwise, will be employed that threaten the continued existence of humanity, we urge the governments of the world to realize, and to acknowledge publicly, that their purpose cannot be furthered by a world war, and we urge them, consequently, to find peaceful means for the settlement of all matters of dispute between them.
We also propose that all governments of the world begin to convert those resources previously allocated to preparations for destructive conflict to a new constructive purpose: the mitigation of climate change and the creation of a new sustainable civilization on a global scale.
This effort is endorsed by Foreign Policy in Focus, the Asia Institute, and World Beyond War, and is being launched on July 9, 2015.
You can sign, and ask everyone you know to sign, this declaration here:
Why is this declaration important?
Exactly 60 years ago today, leading intellectuals led by Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein gathered in London to sign a manifesto voicing their concern that the struggle between the Communist and anti-Communist blocs in the age of the hydrogen bomb guaranteed annihilation for humanity.
Although we have so far avoided the nuclear war that those intellectuals dreaded, the danger has merely been postponed. The threat, which has reemerged recently with the conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East, has only grown more dire.
Moreover, the rapid acceleration of technological development threatens to put nuclear weapons, and many other weapons of similar destructiveness, into the hands of a growing circle of nations (and potentially even of “non-state actors”). At the same time, the early possessors of nuclear weapons have failed to abide by their obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty to destroy their stockpiles.
And now we are faced with an existential threat that may rival the destructive consequences even of a full-scale nuclear war: climate change. The rapacious exploitation of our resources and a thoughtless over-reliance upon fossil fuels have caused an unprecedented disruption of our climate. Combined with an unmitigated attack on our forests, our wetlands, our oceans, and our farmland in the pursuit of short-term gains, this unsustainable economic expansion has brought us to the edge of an abyss.
The original 1955 manifesto states: “We are speaking on this occasion, not as members of this or that nation, continent, or creed, but as human beings,” members of the human species “whose continued existence is in doubt.”
The time has come for us to break out of the distorted and misleading conception of progress and development that has so seduced us and led us towards destruction.
Intellectuals bear a particular responsibility of leadership by virtue of their specialized expertise and insight regarding the scientific, cultural, and historical forces that have led to our predicament. Between a mercenary element that pursues an agenda of narrow interests without regard to consequences and a frequently discouraged, misled, and sometimes apathetic citizenry stand the intellectuals in every field of study and sphere of activity. It falls to us that it falls to decry the reckless acceleration of armaments and the criminal destruction of the ecosystem. The time has come for us to raise our voices in a concerted effort.
Noam Chomsky, professor emeritus, MIT
Last January the famous Doomsday Clock was moved two minutes closer to midnight, the closest it has been since a major war scare 30 years ago. The accompanying declaration, which warned that the constant threat of nuclear war and “unchecked climate change” severely threaten human civilization, brings to mind the grim warning to the people of the world just 50 years ago by Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein, calling on them to face a choice that is “stark and dreadful and inescapable: Shall we put an end to the human race; or shall mankind renounce war?” In all of human history, there has never been a choice like the one we face today.
Helen Caldicott, author
It was the Russell Einstein manifesto on the threat of nuclear war 60 years ago that started me upon my journey to try to abolish nuclear weapons. I then read and devoured the three volumes of Russell’s autobiography which had an amazing influence upon my thinking as a young girl.
The manifesto was so extraordinarily sensible written by two of the world’s greatest thinkers, and I am truly amazed that the world at that time took practically no notice of their prescient warning, and today we are orders of magnitude in greater danger than we were 60 years ago. The governments of the world still think in primitive terms of retribution and killing while the nuclear weapons in Russia and the US are presently maintained on hair trigger alert, and these two nuclear superpowers are practicing nuclear war drills during a state of heightened international tension exacerbated by the Ukrainian situation and the Middle East. It is in truth sheer luck that we are still here on this lovely planet of ours.
Larry Wilkerson, retired United States Army Colonel and former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell.
From central Europe to Southwest Asia, from the South China Sea to the Arctic, tensions are on the rise as the world’s sole empire is roiled in peripheral activities largely of its own doing and just as largely destructive of its power and corruptive of its leadership. This, while humanity’s most pressing challenge–planetary climate change–threatens catastrophe for all. Stockpiles of nuclear weapons add danger to this already explosive situation. We humans have never been so powerfully challenged–and so apparently helpless to do anything about it.
Benjamin R. Barber, president, Global Parliament of Mayors Project
Naomi Klein, author of This Changes Everything
David Swanson, director, World Beyond War
John Feffer, director, Foreign Policy in Focus
Emanuel Pastreich, director, The Asia Institute
Leah Bolger, chair, coordinating committee, World Beyond War
Ben Griffin, coordinator, Veterans For Peace UK
Michael Nagler, founder and president, The Metta Center for Nonviolence
John Horgan, science journalist & author of The End of War
Kevin Zeese, co-director, Popular Resistance.
Margaret Flowers, M.D., co-director of Popular Resistance
Dahr Jamail, staff reporter, Truthout
John Kiriakou, associate fellow, Institute for Policy Studies and CIA Torture Whistleblower
Kim Hyung yul, president of the Asia Institute and professor of history, Sook Myung University
Choi Murim, professor of medicine, Seoul National University
Coleen Rowley, retired FBI agent and former Minneapolis Division legal counsel
Ann Wright, retired U.S. Army Colonel and former US diplomat
Mike Madden, vice president, Veterans For Peace, Chapter 27 (veteran of the US Air Force)
Chante Wolf, 12 year Air Force, Desert Shield/Storm veteran, member of Chapter 27, Veterans For Peace
William Binney, former NSA technical director, World Geopolitical & Military Analysis and co-founder of the SIGINT Automation Research Center.
Jean Bricmont, professor, Université Catholique de Louvain
Emanuel Pastreich is the director of the Asia Institute in Seoul, South Korea.
Sign the Declaration of Peace.
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Tags: cia drone, CIA torture, civilian casualties, drone missiles, torture, trevor trim, War Crimes
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Roger’s note: I am reminded of the Richard Farina title: “I’ve been down so long, it looks like up to me.” In our upsidedown world it has become normal to promote (and elect!) war criminals and punish those who speak and work for peace.
There are many similarities between CIA’s use of drones and torture: Secrecy, lack of oversight and yes, even some of the people overseeing the programs
The controversy over the CIA’s secret drone program has gone from bad to worse this week. We now know that many of those running it are the same people who headed the CIA’s torture program, the spy agency can bomb people unilaterally without the president’s explicit approval and that the government is keeping the entire program classified explicitly to prevent a federal court from ruling it illegal. And worst of all, Congress is perfectly fine with it.
The New York Times reported on Sunday that many of those in charge of the CIA’s torture program – the same people whose names were explicitly redacted from the Senate’s torture report in order to avert accountability – “have ascended to the agency’s powerful senior ranks” and now run the CIA drone program under the agency’s Counterterrorism Center. Rather than being fired and prosecuted, they have been rewarded with promotions.
The longtime Counterrorism Center chief who just stepped down, Michael D’Andrea, was previously in charge of the notorious CIA prison known as the Salt Pit, where prisoners were regularly tortured and some died. His replacement, Chris Wood, was also “central to the interrogation program”, according to the Times.
The only reason we know D’Andrea and Wood’s names is because the New York Times’ executive editor Dean Baquet commendably decided to publish them – unlike the many newspapers who refused to for virtually no other reason except for the fact that the CIA asked them not to. As Baquet put it to the Huffington Post: “It would have been weird to not name the guys who run it. They’re not undercover. They’re not unknown. They’re sort of widely known.”
Adding to the disturbing nature of the CIA’s ability to kill people in complete secrecy, the agency apparently now has a carte blanche to conduct drone strikes on its own. According to the New York Times, President Obama doesn’t individually approve them anymore – he lets the CIA unilaterally decide to kill people if the strikes “fit certain criteria.” We have no idea what those conditions are since virtually everything about drone strikes at the CIA is secret.
Prior to last week’s controversial drone strike, the public at least had the general outlines of what the supposed rules constraining drone strikes were. After the last major drone controversy in 2013, the president announced the government would need to know with “near certainty” that civilians would not get killed. Obama called it: “the highest standard we can set” in a highly publicized 2013 speech.
Yet, up until the Wall Street Journal reported it on Sunday, the public did not know that Obama secretly gave the CIA a “waiver” from those rules for drone strikes in Pakistan, the place where the vast majority of the CIA’s strikes over the last decade have occurred. The publicly-touted policy was made meaningless by a classified order the public had no idea about. (Sound familiar?)
The most absurd part of this whole debate is that the White House actually refused to admit that the two hostages killed in Pakistan died in a US drone strike. Despite an almost universal acknowledgement by media reports – and a multitude of leaks by anonymous US officials – that the hostages were killed by a CIA drone, the administration has attempted to argue that it was a “counterterrorism operation” that resulted in the hostages’ deaths. This led to an awkward exchange between the press and the White House press secretary Josh Earnest, in which it was clear to everyone in the room what had happened, but the White House could not utter the word “drone.”
The reason for this denial apparently has nothing to do with legitimate secrets; the administration just wants to avoid a court ruling their program illegal. The Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday: “the Attorney General’s office warned Mr. Obama that publicly disclosing the CIA’s role in this case would undermine the administration’s standing in a series of pending lawsuits challenging its legality”.
Think about that for a second: The Obama administration has promised more transparency around drone strikes, yet at the same time, won’t even acknowledge that the controversial drone strike it’s apologizing for even happened – just because such admission might force courts to hold the government accountable for its actions.
The dismal state of affairs around drone strike transparency was perfectly summed up in an exchange in early 2013, when the Guardian’s Spencer Ackerman, then writing for Wired, asked Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Dianne Feinstein why, if the CIA repeatedly and brazenly lied to Congress about torture, she trusted the spy agency to tell the truth about drone strikes. Senator Feinstein’s response still encapsulates the current debate: “That’s a good question, actually. That’s a good question.”
More than two years later, we still don’t have an answer.
The Unknown Whistleblower June 4, 2015Posted by rogerhollander in Asia, Genocide, History, Imperialism, Torture, Vietnam, War, Whistle-blowing.
Tags: agent orange, anthony russo, barbara myers, bay of tonkin, cia interrogation, CIA torture, curtis lemay, daniel ellsberg, espionage act, genocide, history, leon goure, Lyndon Johnson, pentagon papers, rand corporation, robert mcnamara, roger hollander, tet offensive, think tank, torture, vietcong, Vietnam War, whistle-blowing
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Roger’s note: torture and corrupt imperial aggression didn’t begin with George W. Bush (1492 might be a good place to start). Here we have documented Vietnam War the torture regime (under presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon) and the beginning of the murderous (and counterproductive) doctrine and strategy of massive bombing that is alive and well in Iraq and Syria today (along with its little brother drone killing machine).
The Secret Origins of the CIA’s Torture Program and the Forgotten Man Who Tried to Expose It
The witness reported men being hung by the feet or the thumbs, waterboarded, given electric shocks to the genitals, and suffering from extended solitary confinement in what he said were indescribably inhumane conditions. It’s the sort of description that might have come right out of the executive summary of the Senate torture report released last December. In this case, however, the testimony was not about a “black site” somewhere in the Greater Middle East, nor was it a description from Abu Ghraib, nor in fact from this century at all.
The testimony came from Vietnam; the year was 1968; the witness was Anthony J. Russo, one of the first Americans to report on the systematic torture of enemy combatants by CIA operatives and other U.S. agents in that long-gone war. The acts Russo described became commonplace in the news post-9/11 and he would prove to be an early example of what also became commonplace in our century: a whistleblower who found himself on the wrong side of the law and so was prosecuted for releasing the secret truth about the acts of our government.
Determined to shine a light on what he called “the truth held prisoner,” Russo blew the whistle on American torture policy in Vietnam and on an intelligence debacle at the center of Vietnam decision-making that helped turn that war into the nightmare it was. Neither of his revelations saw the light of day in his own time or ours and while Daniel Ellsberg, his compatriot and companion in revelation, remains a major figure for his role in releasing the Pentagon Papers, Russo is a forgotten man.
That’s too bad. He shouldn’t be forgotten. His is, unfortunately, a story of our times as well as his.
The CIA Interrogation Center, Saigon
Before him sat the enemy. VC. Vietcong. He was slender, a decade older than the 28-year-old American, and cautious in his initial responses. The American offered him a cigarette. “Smoke?”
Anthony Russo liked to befriend his subjects, finding that sharing a cigarette or a beer and congenial conversation could improve an interview’s results.
This man’s all right, Russo thought — unlike the one he had interviewed when he first arrived in Saigon. That prisoner hadsat before him, quivering in fear, pleading for his life.“Are you going to kill me?” the distraught man had said repeatedly, his thumbs red and bulbous from being strung up.
Torture was not something Russo had anticipated when he took the job. A civilian with a rank equivalent to major working for the RAND Corporation, he had arrived in the South Vietnamese capital on February 22, 1965, and was briefed on his mission. Russo was to meet the enemy face-to-face and figure out what made them tick. On that first day, he could hear General Richard Stilwell, chief of staff of Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV), barking orders from the next room: “You get every goddamn plane in the air that you can!”
Russo thought the war would be over in a few weeks,months at worst.
Instead of the limited conflict he expected, years slipped by. Bombs fell, villages were decimated, the fabric of Vietnamese life assaulted. Russo persisted with his interviews ofVietcong prisoners, witnessing the after-effects of torture in nearly every instance.
It’s hard to pinpoint just when the shift occurred in the young man who came to Southeast Asia to “promote democracy.” But as one tour of duty extended to two, contact with the enemy changed not their hearts and minds, but his. On the eve of the 1968 Tet Offensive, he returned to the United States intent on challenging the war, a chance he would get, helping his friend and RAND co-worker Daniel Ellsbergwith the Pentagon Papers.
That secret history of U.S. decision-making in Vietnam, a massive compilation of internal government memoranda and analyses, had been quietly commissioned by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara in 1967 to assess what had gone wrong in Vietnam. Ellsberg leaked the Papers to the press in mid-1971, setting off a political firestorm and First Amendment crisis. He would be indicted on charges of espionage, conspiracy, and theft of government property, and would face a maximum penalty of 115 years in prison. Charges were also brought against Russo, who was suspected of complicity, after he refused to testify before a grand jury. He was jailed for 47 days for contempt and faced a possible sentence of 35 years in prison if convicted.
Ellsberg’s leak led to a Supreme Court decision on prior restraint, a landmark First Amendment case. Though all the charges were ultimately dropped, the leak and its aftermath had major political fallout, contributing to the demise of the presidency of Richard Nixon and forming a dramatic chapter on the path to U.S. defeat in Vietnam.
Ellsberg became a twentieth-century hero, applauded in print and film, his name nearly synonymous with the Pentagon Papers, but Russo, the young accomplice who goaded Ellsberg to go public, has been nearly forgotten. Yet he was, according to Ellsberg, the first person to document the systematic torture of enemy combatants in Vietnam. If no one knows this, it’s because his report on the subject remains buried in the vaults of the RAND Corporation, the think tank that did research for the Pentagon in Vietnam. Similarly, while the use of unprecedented airpower against the civilian populations of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia inspired international calls for war crimes trials in the 1970s, Russo’s exposure of the fabrication of data that propped up that air war remains but a footnote in Vietnam War historiography, unknown to all but a handful of academics.
He has remained “the other conspirator.” Ellsberg later conceded that he probably wouldn’t have thought of releasing the Papers if Russo hadn’t prodded him to “put that out” and helped copy them in a series of all-night sessions. But Russo would take a backseat to Ellsberg, who had snuck the massive set of documents out of RAND headquarters and released them to the New York Times, the Washington Post, and 18 other news organizations.
The two of them would become the antiwar movement’s odd couple. Ellsberg was articulate, suave, and fashionable; Russo opted for hippie attire, long hair, and impossibly bushy sideburns, a style of dress that fit with his growing political radicalism. Russo and his attorney, Leonard Weinglass, devised a bold — some said reckless — defense strategy focused on using expert witness testimony to put the U.S. prosecution of the war on trial. Weinglass would emerge as a star attorney on the case, even — in the opinion of some observers — eclipsing Ellsberg’s senior lawyer, Leonard Boudin. But his client kept getting into trouble: scrawling a wiseacre comment on evidence before the court, handing a prosecution witness a press release that accused him of war crimes, peppering his statements to the press with movement jargon. In the end, Russo’s leftwing antics would help marginalize him and bury the story he had to tell.
The Think Tank
It all started in a nondescript mid-century building on Main Street in sunny Santa Monica, California. There, the RAND Corporation, a quasi-private think tank with a cozy relationship with the Air Force and Washington power brokers, dreamed up study projects for the Department of Defense.
RAND, an acronym for “research and development,” was launched in 1946 as a private research arm of the Army Air Forces, whose successor, the Air Force, would remain its primary financial backer and client for years to come. The think tank’s work ranged from weapons development to advanced strategic thinking on how to wage — or avert — nuclear war. RAND theorists would set the parameters for strategic defense thinking for decades, with the likes of Herman Kahn, once dubbed the “heavyweight of the megadeath intellectuals”; Thomas Schelling, Nobel laureate in economics for his work on game theory and the originator of “tacit bargaining”; and Albert Wohlstetter, the godfather of RAND’s nuclear strategists who devised the concepts of “second strike,” “fail safe,” and what he called the “delicate balance of terror” (aka “deterrence”).
In 1961, as President John F. Kennedy launched a counterinsurgency effort that would see its first expression in Vietnam, the think tank took on the study of guerilla war, falling into an easy alliance with the Department of Defense and Robert S. McNamara, the numbers man at its head. Thinking he could apply a systems analysis approach to national defense, Secretary of Defense McNamara had turned to the leader in the field for ideas and manpower. From RAND, he recruited heavily to help lead the counterinsurgency charge in Vietnam, creating a team popularly known as “McNamara’s Whiz Kids.” And he turned to RAND for an answer to an essential strategic question: “What makes the Vietcong tick?”
“M&M” would become the institution’s shorthand for the Vietcong Motivation and Morale Study that resulted, an attempt to apply social science to the study of enemy motivation. Russo was eager to join the effort. Elizabeth Gibbs, who married him in 1964, said that her young husband was preoccupied with the threat of guerilla war and wanted to see action on the front lines of the counterinsurgency effort.
Fascinated by flight, Russo had pursued aeronautical engineering in a cooperative work-study program run by Virginia Polytechnic Institute and NASA’s Langley Research Center, where he worked on the first Mercury space capsule. He then went to graduate school at Princeton, specializing in plasma physics. After just a year there, however, he took up the study of national defense policy at its Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, receiving master’s degrees in both engineering and public affairs in 1964. An ambitious academic, he also exhibited an unruly, prankster side. In one of his moments of youthful excess — a story he liked to tell — he cemented a commode to a Virginia war memorial, an act that might be considered a foreshadowing of things to come.
At Princeton, Russo studied under four men he called “heavyweights”: Oskar Morgenstern, an originator with Schelling of game theory; Cold War theorists Klaus Knorr and George Kennan; and Richard Falk, an expert on international law and the lone dove among Russo’s mentors. Falk argued against the move to RAND. But Russo, impressed by the think tank’s influence in the highest echelons of U.S. policymaking, jumped at the opportunity. Within six months he had secured an assignment to Vietnam.
Russo arrived in Saigon in February 1965 and met Leon Goure, his boss and future nemesis, just as the U.S. bombing campaign against North Vietnam was beginning and only two weeks before the first United States Marines landed at Danang. His job was to meet the enemy.
“How many people in your village work for the Front?”
“Everyone in the village works for the Front,” the prisoner responded in Vietnamese, translated by the young man at Russo’s side. His village was in the Cu Chi district, an area near Saigon under Vietcong control. Russo would later describe it as the birthplace of southern resistance to the French and then American armies. Despite their vastly superior arms, the South Vietnamese Army and its American allies rarely ventured into the prisoner’s village for fear of the VC’s deadly resistance methods.
“How was your village defended?” he asked.
“It had pit traps with bamboo spikes, grenade booby traps. It was surrounded by bamboo hedges,” the prisoner responded and then explained in detail how the villagers organized their resistance.
Physically fit and tall, Russo towered over the former cadre. He felt anything but complacent, however, about the enemy he faced, having barely escaped a bomb that had recently exploded in a Saigon restaurant where he was planning to have dinner.
“Why does the Vietcong use terrorism against women and children?” Russo asked. Until now, he had been careful to call the enemy military by its homegrown name, “the Front,” rather than the pejorative “Vietcong.” Emotion must have caused him to break protocol.
He was part of the second M&M study team. Joseph Zasloff and John Donnell, analysts from the initial team, had reported their results in Washington at a meeting attended by Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs John T. McNaughton and Henry Rowen (who would later head RAND). They described the Vietcong as a unified, disciplined army that already acted as an alternative government in large swaths of SouthVietnam with widespread support from the population, prompting a shocked McNaughton to comment that it sounded as if the U.S. had signed up with the wrong — and losing — side. Daniel Ellsberg, who then worked for McNaughton, witnessed the exchange.
The Zasloff-Donnell report, however, came too late for an audience that had already made up its mind. The previous March, President Lyndon Johnson’s National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy had urged an expanded war even as the president campaigned for a full term in office with a promise to keep American soldiers out of Vietnam. Meanwhile, within the military, a struggle for dominance was underway, with Air Force Chief of Staff Curtis LeMay, instrumental in the founding of RAND, agitating for a bigger role for air power.
Then came the Tonkin Gulf incident in August 1964. As presented by President Lyndon Johnson, the destroyer USS Maddox was innocently sailing through the Gulf of Tonkin when attacked by North Vietnamese torpedo boats followed, two nights later, by a second attack on the Maddox and the USS Turner Joy. Johnson orderedmilitary action “in reply,” and Congress quickly passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution giving the president carte blanche to repeatedly intensify the war. The claim of two separate attacks would, however, prove untrue, as Daniel Ellsberg would attest. It had been his first night on the job in the Pentagon.
At RAND, the stage was set for Leon Goure, an analyst acclaimed for his work on Soviet civil defense preparations. Goure had toured Vietnam and visited RAND’s Saigon operation in 1964. Upon his return to the U.S., he proposed that the M&M project be redefined with a critical twist. No longer would it focus solely on an assessment of enemy motivation and morale. It would now identify what kinds of weaponry would be most likely to demoralize that enemy, with an emphasis on air power.
A meeting with his friend LeMay cemented the deal. He would later report that “by the strings he pulled, LeMay assured continuation of the project” under Goure’s lead. At that time, the Air Force still provided two-thirds of RAND’s funding, a connection the new lead analyst made no attempt to hide.
The Answer Is Always Bombing
Susan Morrell could scarcely believe it. As RAND’s Saigon-based administrative assistant, it fell to her to pick up her new boss at the airport on his arrival. Making the Vietnam version of small talk on the way back to town, she asked Goure if he planned to use the existing protocol for enemy interviews or wanted to start over from scratch.
“I’ve got the answer right here,” he responded with a pat on his briefcase.
“What do you mean?” asked Morrell.
“When the Air Force is footing the bill, the answer is always bombing.”
Decades later, Morrell told RAND historian Mai Elliott that it was a moment seared into her memory and in those early days she wasn’t the only RAND staffer to observe Goure’s special affinity for the Air Force. At their first meeting, for instance, Russo remembered Goure commenting on that service’s unhappiness with the Zasloff-Donnell study. Zasloff himself was still in Saigon when Goure arrived and would soon accuse his successor of pandering to the Air Force. Half a century later, in a phone interview just before his death, Zasloff still lamented that his intelligence data hadn’t changed the course of the war and Goure’s had.
Goure’s work on Soviet civil defense was then widely known. In 1961, he claimed that the Soviets had trained 50 million citizens in civil defense procedures, were readying a massive system of bomb shelters to ride out a nuclear conflagration, and so were preparing to absorb a preemptive nuclear strike. His research seemed to have frightening implications: U.S. reliance on what was then called mutual assured destruction, or MAD, to stop a nuclear war suddenly appeared insufficient. The Soviets could strike preemptively if they thought national survival after a nuclear attack was possible. Kennedy stepped into the heated debate in July 1961 with a call for a $207 million appropriation for civil defense. That October, he began to encourage Americans to build their own private shelters for protection from nuclear fallout. Goure became a sought after expert.
In fact, his work would be challenged by New York Times journalist Harrison Salisbury, who questioned Goure’s sources, found observers who vigorously challenged his conclusions, and made his own 12,000-mile trip across the Soviet Union and found them unsubstantiated. But nothing, it seemed, could crack Goure’s reputation in Washington.
The year 1961 had been a seminal moment for Russo, too. His lifelong friend and future technology consultant William Grossmann recalled them driving to their NASA jobs together, one day in Russo’s white 1959 Ford convertible, the next in Grossmann’s white Chevy convertible — and on weekends, sharing heady conversation and wooing girls. The two like-minded Southerners had each taken stands against segregation, while worrying about the bomb, totalitarianism, and the “containment” of Communism. They were impressed that Kennedy had forced the Russians to stand down in the Cuban missile crisis. The same, both believed, could happen in Vietnam. On arrival in Saigon, Russo wrote Grossmann that the Vietnamese “are going to have to get used to it. We’re going to have to be the policemen for a while.”
Russo found himself at the epicenter of American intelligence-gathering in Vietnam. RAND’s Saigon villa became the requisite “prestige stop” for anyone with an interest in the war. By day, it served as a command center; at night, it hosted dinner parties for visiting luminaries, high-ranking figures in the military, the CIA, and members of the press. Goure was the star attraction. In that initial critical period of massive escalation, he provided the perfect mix of optimistic analysis and an engaging personality and so became the “go to” intelligence man in town.
Though Goure wrote research memoranda, RAND’s usual stock in trade, it was on the briefing circuit that he truly shone. His message, reported directly to Westmoreland,the top military commander in Vietnam, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Secretary of Defense McNamara, and others at the Pentagon, was unambiguous: the Vietcong were losing their resolve in the face of U.S. military might, especially airpower. Goure quickly established himself as the Air Force’s best pitchman.
It’s hard to overstate his influence. McNamara was so enamored of his message that, on first hearing him in June 1965, he offered to up the M&M budget on the spot from $100,000 to $1,000,000. As one analyst later quipped, the secretary of defense “lapped up Goure’s analysis like good scotch.” Journalists repeated his claim that the Vietcong were heading for defeat as the daily body count became a staple of war coverage.
Russo, who attended some of Goure’s Saigon briefings, remembered how he liked to brag that RAND had “the best damned intelligence in Saigon.” It would take some time for Russo to realize that his boss’s prescription for military success didn’t match the data.
The Cadre from Cu Chi
Intent on answering McNamara’s question about what made the Vietcong tick, Russo focused on his interviews with enemy prisoners. With full access and a small team of Vietnamese interviewers under his supervision, he visited detention sites all over South Vietnam, including the CIA’s National Interrogation Center in Saigon. Of all the interviews he conducted, the one with that cadre from Cu Chi would most deeply challenge his assumptions about Vietnam. He kept a copy of it, which he published in the left-leaning magazine Ramparts in October 1972, and spoke about it whenever he could, including at his Pentagon Papers trial.
He never knew the prisoner’s name; he was identified in the transcript only as AG132. Over the course of two days in May 1965, Russo sat in his cell listening to his views on Vietnamese history, the political forces at play in his country, and Vietcong organizing strategy and tactics. When the cadre blamed the Americans for the deaths of women and children, Russo took a new tack, initiating what he called a “friendly chat” about world politics, the American role in Vietnam, and the civil rights movement in the U.S.
“Even though I don’t know first hand what it means to be burned out, pillaged, and raped, I grew up knowing it had happened to my ancestors,” Russo would later say. While there is no record of how Russo described his personal history to that cadre, his comments to me years after in private interviews and public conversation provide a window onto what he might well have said. Unemployed and with time on his hands in 1990, Russo held daily court at the Boulangerie, a cafe on Main Street in Santa Monica, just blocks from the RAND Corporation. There, he regaled a small audience with old stories and political analysis.
With a twinkle in his eye, he would say that the short answer to why he got involved with the Pentagon Papers was that the British had burned his hometown of Holland, Virginia, to the ground. He was proud to call it a hotbed of sedition.
While he liked to portray himself as the descendent of America’s first revolutionaries, his Civil War heritage was harder to reconcile. Race was the first issue to challenge his personal worldview. Russo attended a segregated high school and then hung out with black friends he had met working at the local golf course. By the time he got to Virginia Polytechnic, the battle over court-mandated school integration had engulfed the state, with Senator Harry F. Byrd leading the segregationist charge. When Russo got Lionel Hampton to play for a school dance he organized, the university dean, anticipating that a black musician would attract a mixed crowd, demanded that the audience be segregated. Russo defied the order and black and white attendees packed the event.
“We integrated Burrus Hall,” Russo would say. “I see that as my first political act. We stood up for justice.”
He had a way of telling and retelling the stories that were most important to him, so I suspect that he told the Cu Chi cadre of his own experience with civil rights in the South. And perhaps, even under those circumstances — and even through a translator –made the prisoner laugh, as he had a way of telling a spirited tale.
Whatever he said, it appeared to affect the cadre as he hoped it would for he scribbled in the margin of his notebook, “The chat proved to be very successful and the subject’s attitude changed visibly.” Their talk then turned back to the situation at hand and the cadre accused the Americans and their South Vietnamese allies of blocking the election, agreed upon in the 1954 Geneva Accords that ended the French War, an election which would almost assuredly have brought Communist leader Ho Chi Minh to power and reunified Vietnam. A group of schoolteachers from his village, AG132 told Russo, had been imprisoned simply for writing a petition demanding those elections and peace.
The prisoner added that local government officials were, in his opinion, directed and controlled by the Americans who had the same intentions as the French colonialists before them. “The concrete evidence,”said the cadre, “makes the Americans identical to the French. But much more clever.” He summed the situation up this way: “The aims of the Americans are very nice. They fight for freedom and equality. It is very nice to talk about a free world, but I have not seen any good deeds. All I saw was evil.”
By the end of the interview, AG132 had confronted every issue that would later prove troublesome to Russo, including the indiscriminant bombing campaigns, the use of chemical defoliants, and torture.
The cadre’s analysis clearly unsettled the young American, who saw himself as a liberator, not an occupier. In an interview with filmmaker Peter Davis, he would later acknowledge how disturbed he was when the prisoner insisted that the Vietnamese hated the Americans and admitted that he then tried to defend his country, to show that “everything about America wasn’t bad.”
“He was very disdainful of me, but I was fascinated by him,” Russo said. By the end, “I had a great deal of admiration for him. He recited a poem for me. It was very moving to hear him recite this poem right in the middle of this interrogation room in a jail where I knew people had been tortured, if not killed.”
AG132, Russo later testified, had been tortured on multiple occasions. Historical research, including the work of Alfred McCoy, an expert on CIA torture practices, buttresses Russo’s statements about the brutal treatment of Vietcong prisoners. McCoy, for instance, quotes a military intelligence veteran who told a 1971 House subcommittee that, during his 18-month stint in Vietnam, not a single Vietcong suspect had survived the interrogations he witnessed.
Russo’s interview with AG132 took place only three months after he landed in Saigon. Though he would return to it again and again in the ensuing years, some time would pass before he became convinced that he was actually on the side of the aggressor.
His wife remembers him still defending U.S. intentions in Vietnam in the spring of 1965. By that summer, however, Russo and other RAND analysts were questioning their boss’s methodology and intentions. They still found themselves reaching conclusions nearly identical to those of Zasloff and Donnell: that the Vietcong represented peasant aspirations and weren’t likely to be bested by air power or any other kind of U.S. military action.
On a sweltering June day in 1965, Russo and Goure were together when word came in that the most powerful bombers in the U.S. arsenal, B-52s, had been approved for use in Vietnam. Russo knew airplanes and understood full well the kind of destruction B-52s would bring with them. For Goure, the decision was advocacy put into action and he would extol the B-52’s power to destabilize the enemy in his next report. In it, he was careful to note that civilians should be warned of such bombings by leaflets dropped in advance of a raid to insure against any popular backlash.
A month later, Russo would meet an old man at a detainment center clutching one of those warning leaflets. His village had been warned, just as Goure had said, but the bombers came a day early, wiping out nearly all of its inhabitants. “Why?” he cried. It was a moment Russo would not forget.
Breaking the Enemy
Torture hadn’t been part of the job description when Russo signed on at RAND. Of the first victim he met, he said, “I never will forget. He was washed out, looked very sad. He told the translator that he had been hung up by his thumbs and that they beat him real bad. They thought he had thrown a bomb,” though he proclaimed his innocence.
“That was one of the first interviews that I did. It was very sobering. I saw that a person could be broken badly.” The interview tape then goes silent for more than a minute as Russo struggled to regain his composure.
He reported the incident to the American captain who was his contact there only to experience the first of many official brush-offs when it came to torture. Russo said prisoners were tortured “as a matter of course” and reported specific forms of abuse including men being hung by the feet or thumbs, waterboarding, electric shocks to the genitals, and solitary confinement in “a dark cell, a dark, dank, dirty — very dirty cell.”
It is no accident that the torture methods he documented are strikingly similar to those revealed in the December 2014 Senate torture report. Vietnam was the first testing ground for what historian McCoy termed a new paradigm in the practice of torture developed by the CIA. The Agency had launched a multi-billion dollar research program on human cognition in search of techniques to protect U.S. forces in the event of capture by the Soviets. Finding that a potent combination of sensory deprivation and “self-inflicted pain” was more effective than centuries-old methods of physical torture and produced profound psychological regression in their test subjects, the CIA applied the same techniques to enemy interrogation. While they emphasized destruction of the psyche, physical brutalization was also employed. In Vietnam, this included electric shocks, beatings, rape, and the deaths of prisoners in “pump and dump” procedures, named for the process of pumping detainees for information and then dumping their bodies. Russo was witnessing the beginnings of what would become institutionalized CIA torture practices that would span four decades and four continents.
When asked about torture performed by Americans, Russo said a “CIA man” at the National Interrogation Center in Saigon told him in great detail on numerous occasions about the Agency’s torture techniques, including in one case the hanging of a man by his feet while a “piano wire noose was slipped around his genitals.” The CIA operative, he said, grinned as he told him that the prisoner never talked.
Russo documented every instance of torture he encountered. He later wrote that the interview reports were full of “embarrassing stories of atrocities and crimes against humanity” and he argued bitterly with Goure over his boss’s order to “sanitize” the interview transcripts by removing all mention of abuse. Though Russo defied the order, Goure controlled the final drafts.
Then there was the torture paper that Ellsberg has repeatedly said was the first to document American complicity in the routine use of torture and one of three papers that would ultimately get Russo fired. That document was either squashed in internal review or it remains classified, presumably buried somewhere in the think tank’s archives.
There is no reliable information on how much of RAND’s Vietnam-era work still remains off limits to the public. The think tank responded to a 2013 request of mine for Russo’s and other missing reports by saying that the “documents you have requested have not been cleared for public release and are not available.”
Making Russo’s missing torture report public, if it still exists, would provide eyewitness data supporting the burgeoning body of evidence that CIA torture practices have a long and sordid history beginning in Vietnam.
Trouble with the Data
Goure had fabricated his data to emphasize the efficacy and importance of air power and his analysts knew it. At the RAND villa, an open split developed, with Russo leading the group who wanted to expose their boss. He and his roommate, analyst Douglass Scott, spent long nights discussing “what to do about Leon.” Finally, with a third analyst, Russell Betts, they wrote the head of RAND’s Social Science department in the spring of 1966 about the improprieties they had found in Goure’s research methodology.
A succession of three RAND envoys came to Saigon to investigate and by summer a controversy raged on both sides of the Pacific. Russo and Scott had been particularly incensed that Goure signed their names to a February 1966 memorandum that again cited the benefits of air power, which was increasingly targeting rural villages, and proposed that the refugee crisis offered “a major opportunity to pacify” the population. It also pointed out that the chemicals that came to be known as Agent Orange could control movement of the population while also denying food to the guerillas. Russo and Scott fought to get their names removed without success. Around the time their whistleblowing letter hit Santa Monica, Goure amplified his arugument, proposing that the U.S. adopt a deliberate program to generate refugees.
Meanwhile, Goure’s prescriptions for success were being passed up the chain of command. The president’s phone records show McNamara using the February report to offer encouragement to Johnson that the American counterinsurgency operation was working. Influential Washington columnist Drew Pearson would capture Goure’s effect on the president in his famous May 1966 comment: “For the first time [he] sees light at the end of the tunnel.”
At this point, RAND’s leadership knew that Goure’s data, relied upon by both the Pentagon and President Johnson, was questionable at best and decided to pull Goure from the M&M study. The think tank couldn’t, however, get rid of him. He had secured his position with a direct line to the White House through National Security Adviser Walt Rostow, a hawk, architect of Vietnam policy, and staunch Goure supporter. Thanks in part to him, President Johnson, who reportedly sometimes carried a summary of Goure’s conclusions in his pocket for discussions with journalists, would continue to ride a wave of optimism in this period.
Though Russo never let his wife in on his conflict with Goure — he was, Gibbs said, too conscious of his secrecy oath to disclose such problems — she saw a changed man when he visited her in Bangkok on leave in November 1965.He wasmorose and withdrawn. When they returned to Santa Monica at the end of his first tour of duty in September 1966, Russo set to work at RAND headquarters trying to counter the most pernicious aspects of what he’d witnessed. Off work, he took to the hills of Topanga Canyon on his motorcycle, leaving Gibbs home alone. They would soon divorce.
Outside of RAND, the flaws in Goure’s analysis would gradually be noted. Westmoreland expressed his first doubts in late 1965 and McNamara began to worry when the general upped his request for new ground troops to 410,000 that winter. In February 1966, the secretary of defense confided to a few journalists that “no amount of bombing can end the war,” though he continued to maintain a façade of confidence in the war effort.
The bombing levels were by then unprecedented in the history of air power. From March 1965 through November 1968, Operation Rolling Thunder unleashed 800 tons of munitions a day on North Vietnam, a total of a million bombs, rockets, and missiles. Even more bombs were dropped in the South with estimates ranging from seven million to eight million tons of them, not to mention 70 million liters of defoliants, as well as napalmand other anti-personnel weapons. Then, of course, there was the massive bombing of neighboring Laos and later Cambodia.
Yet victory never came into view. Instead of drawing down, the administration only intensified the air war, sidelining the doubters, including — as he grew ever more disillusioned — McNamara himself. In August 1967, he testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee that the air raids had not broken Vietcong morale and that, short of the “virtual annihilation of North Vietnam and its people,” the air war could not succeed. Johnson quickly forced him out of the administration. At his farewell luncheon, a Johnson aide reported that the secretary of defense’s voice broke and there were tears in his eyes as he spoke of the futility of the air war. Later, he would acknowledge more than two million Vietnamese deaths.
Knowing the cause was lost, McNamara had by then ordered the production of the Pentagon Papers, the secret history that he hoped would avert future such disasters.
The Second Tour of Duty
Back in Santa Monica, Russo wrote a critical evaluation of the Motivation and Morale Study, which is still classified. He was also drafting an argument against the defoliation program, already in its sixth year, when, in September 1967, he was called back to Vietnam for a six-month tour of duty.
He found Saigon changed — Americanized, overrun with prostitution and corruption, expensive and dirty. Goure at least was gone, removed from the M&M crew in April by RAND’s new president Henry Rowen, who had been at that Zasloff and Donnell debriefing years earlier.
Once again, Russo felt hopeful that fact-based intelligence could rule the day. His cost analysis of defoliation, written in what he called “RAND systemspeak,” showed that while the chemicals sprayed did little to deprive revolutionary forces of food, they were having a profoundly destructive impact on the civilian population. He estimated that for every pound of food that defoliation denied a guerilla, 100 pounds were denied to civilians. But when he got his moment to brief Westmoreland’s scientific advisor on the subject, he was dismissed in under 15 minutes. Frustrated but undeterred, he set to work disproving a RAND socio-economic study that claimed widespread peasant support for the U.S. backed South Vietnamese army. Again, his work would not be well received.
Russo left Saigon just as the Tet Offensive, a vivid demonstration of the enemy’s resilience, began to unfold on January 30, 1968. He said he could see wrecked planes beneath him as he passed over Danang Air Base.
It’s likely that he wrote the missing torture report in the early months of 1968, a period when the CIA’s use of torture expanded dramatically under the notorious Phoenix Program.
During Russo’s stint in Vietnam, the CIA actually oversaw three separate operations that employed torture: its own interrogation centers, 40 provincial interrogation centers run by Vietnamese with CIA training and supervision, and a training program that schooled 85,000 Vietnamese police in torture techniques, part of a worldwide operation. Russo left Vietnam shortly after the Agency brought the three operations under one counterinsurgency umbrella. The Phoenix Program, designed to destroy the “civilian infrastructure” of the National Liberation Front, would be one of its major operations.
William Colby, the chief of “pacification” in Vietnam who would later become the CIA’s director, informed a House Operations Subcommittee in July 1971 that the Phoenix Program had killed 20,587 Vietcong suspects. Other sources quote figures as much as four times higher. Russo’s paper had done nothing to stop the carnage.
In May 1968, the new head of RAND’s economics department fired him. Associates were told to keep their distance from him during the six-month grace period he was given to find other employment. Ellsberg was the only RAND associate who argued for his reinstatement.
Meanwhile, though relieved of leadership of the M&M, Goure held onto a job at RAND, even returning to Vietnam in 1968 as head of a new study of enemy infiltration rates. He would finally leave in 1969 to become the director of Soviet studies at the University of Miami. There, he would contribute his “expertise”to another front in the war against Communism: Cuba.
In fact, Goure’s “best damned intelligence” had proved to be an intelligence debacle for the ages. After Ellsberg and Russo took the Pentagon Papers public, Russo was eager to expose one thing that mammoth document hadn’t: how a single think tank under contract to the government and far from the public eye, along with its highly touted expert in counterinsurgency warfare, had disastrously affected policy from behind the scenes.
His two Ramparts exposés (one aptly titled “The RAND Papers”) and his testimony at his trial were generally ignored by the mainstream media. Goure’s reputation remained remarkably unsullied and he would continue to be a player in the formulation of foreign policy. In 1980, for example, he was invited onto a panel of advisers to presidential hopeful Ronald Reagan. In 1991, by then the director of Soviet studies at Science Applications International Corporation, he participated in an International Security Council round table discussion of future Russian military policy. Past and future Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was in attendance.
Much of his work, however, was conducted in the shadows. He died in 2007. Stanford University holds the Goure Papers collection, a testament to his enduring legacy. Anthony Russo would not fare so well.
Charged With Espionage
“Russo weeps as he tells jury about change in views on war,” read the New York Times headline on the 66th day of the Pentagon Papers trial when Russo told the story of the Cu Chi cadre to the jury.
He had already published the cadre interview in Ramparts. Now, he again turned to the Vietcong prisoner who had come to symbolize for him all that was wrong with U.S. policy in Vietnam. As he would confide to filmmaker Peter Davis, the memory of that prisoner never left him. He was convinced that if other Americans met their enemy, if he could give that enemy a human face, the public would fully abandon Washington’s efforts to destroy them.
He compared the depersonalization of the Vietnamese to the Nazi depiction of the Jews. “If you don’t know who the Vietnamese people are, it is much easier to be racist. It’s much easier to kill them. This really is a lesson from World War II. Racist attitudes made it possible to manifest hatred and to undertake the extermination campaigns. Well, this really is what the United States is doing in Vietnam. The United States is exterminating the Vietnamese. And the United States couldn’t do this, no American, no human being could do this, if he really knew who the Vietnamese are.”
In the trial’s aftermath, Russo would be progressively marginalized, his claims about the M&M study ignored or written off as the ravings of a leftwing radical. But in its heady days, he reveled in his whistleblower role. Ten months after it began, prosecutor David Nissen’s case was in shambles. Revelations that the government wiretapped the defendants had resulted in a Supreme Court-ordered stay and then mistrial in its first round. And it had only got worse.
Soon enough, the press revealed that President Nixon’s right-hand man, John Erlichman, had introduced presiding trial judge William Byrne, Jr., to the president in his home and had discussed his possible appointment as FBI director — a clear impropriety in the middle of an espionage case. And then it hit the news that convicted Watergate conspirators G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt, Jr., had burglarized the office of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist.
On April 30, 1973, just days after the first news of that burglary, which tied the Pentagon Papers case to Watergate, a set of dominoes lay on the prosecution table. Each domino was labeled — Hunt, Liddy, Erlichman, Byrne, and so on — the last domino had Nixon’s name. It was Russo’s prank.
On May 1st, Erlichman’s domino fell when the news broke that he had admitted to the FBI his knowledge of the break-in at the office of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist. On May 2nd, the last domino did indeed fall. It was revealed that President Nixon had been informed of that break-inat least a week before the court knew about it.
On May 11th, Judge Byrne dismissed all charges against Ellsberg and Russo.
Postscript: Validation by RAND
Seventeen years later, Russo told me that a single realization had changed his mind about the war. He had, he said, been misinformed about the Vietcong. “They were not the enemy we were told they were.”
I asked what had most surprised him in his interviews with Vietnamese prisoners.
“The extent to which they cared about principle,” he answered. “The extent to which they had legitimacy, every reason in the world to be fighting. They were very admirable and very likeable. Very likeable. Natural friends of Americans.”
As for his participation in the release of the Pentagon Papers, he summed up his reasons in a single sentence: “It would have been un-American not to do it.”
Russo died in 2008 before RAND verified his claims about the Motivation and Morale Study in an extensive history written by Mai Elliott (herself a former M&M interviewer and interpreter) under contract to RAND and published in 2010. Her book, RAND in Southeast Asia: A History of the Vietnam War Era, forms a fitting sequel to the Pentagon Papers, with a carefully documented tale of how intelligence can go terribly wrong.
Elliott’s book validates nearly all of Russo’s claims. It confirms, for instance, that Goure did act as a pitchman for the air war, selling a prescription for military success that didn’t faintly match the data at hand. It details Goure’s outsized influence on policymakers and Russo’s claim that evidence of torture by U.S. forces and allies was systematically removed under Goure’s orders. She even quotes former RAND President Gus Shubert’s admission that the assignment of Goure to the Motivation and Morale Study appeared to represent collusion between his RAND predecessor and the Air Force, which he termed a “disgrace.”
In the end, Elliott, and by extension RAND, corroborate and elaborate on nearly every claim Russo made in his 1972 Ramparts articles. Only one of Russo’s charges was rejected: that the think tank was complicit in war crimes.
Never one to mince words, Russo called the M&M a “whitewash of genocide” and “a justification of genocide cloaked in the mantle of RAND social science,” accusations that echoed growing popular sentiment for war crimes trials and that must have held terrible personal resonance for a man whose name is there in black and white, attached to the call for the ever greater use of air power, defoliation, and the displacement of rural populations as tools of war.
Today, Anthony Russo is gone, his report on torture disappeared, and his legacy perhaps doomed to obscurity. RAND, meanwhile, continues to churn out studies for the military; the Air Force continues to drop bombs and fire missiles from Iraq to Afghanistan, Pakistan to Yemen; the CIA continues to cover-up its torture policies. But Russo’s spiritual descendants, whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning of WikiLeaks fame, John Kiriakou who exposed CIA torture,and NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden live on, each putting his freedom on the line just as Russo did. Whether or not any of the whistleblowers of the post-9/11 era knew Russo’s story, they benefitted from a tradition he, Ellsberg, and others of their generation had helped to pioneer.
It’s a testament to the explosive nature of Russo’s revelations that, almost 50 years later, RAND still keeps his report on CIA torture in Vietnam a secret — as the Pentagon Papers might be today if he had not convinced Daniel Ellsberg to make them public. It’s a tribute to Russo that his critical evaluation of the Motivation and Morale Study remains classified as well.
Call it an irony, but Dwight D. Eisenhower, the president who articulated the domino theory that brought Russo to Vietnam, crafted the words that might be most fitting for his epitaph years before he arrived in Vietnam. In his 1961 farewell address, Eisenhower focused on twin internal threats: “the military-industrial complex,” which he first named, and its forgotten corollary: that public policy could become the captive of a “scientific-technological elite.” Russo, who railed against RAND’s secret and deadly influence until his dying day, couldn’t have said it better.
[Note: Special thanks go to Peter Davis for his use of his interview with Anthony Russo, provided courtesy of the University Archives & Special Collections Department, Joseph P. Healey Library, University of Massachusetts, Boston: Hearts and Minds collection, 1970-1974.]
© 2015 Barbara Myers
Tags: alex efthim, gulf war, memorial day, michael mcphearson, peace, roger hollander, rosi efthim, veterans, veterans for peace, vietnam veteran, war
Roger’s note: If you discover a fire in your home, you put it out. Then you investigate to see what caused the fire. The United States foreign policy is based wholly upon putting out fires that they themselves started; this criminal fact is the elephant in the living room that the political and pundit classes (including the lapdog mainstream media) choose to ignore. Memorial Day is a celebration of the members of the US military, most of whom gave their lives fighting wars for which their own government is largely responsible. The only sane and honest way to honor and protect the members serving in the US military, is to bring them home. Of course, for a number of reasons that I will not go into here, this would not be profitable. Which is why it won’t happen (unless we, in a revolutionary way, make it happen).
If you see me this Memorial Day, don’t wish me a happy one and don’t thank me for my service. Reflect on how to stop this madness. Figure out something large or small, grand or minute you can do and then do it. That’s a real way to honor those who have died in war.
Mon May 25, 2015 at 07:34:30 AM EDT
My father Alex Efthim was a Captain in the Army Air Corps, combat intelligence, Pacific Theater, World War II. He always taught me in any peace march to find the veterans and walk behind them. I always have. My father was a member of Veterans for Peace, and his idea of peace was about human rights and justice. So is mine. My friend Michael McPhearson now runs Veterans for Peace; he served in the Gulf War. For a while, Michael lived in New Jersey while his wife Deborah Jacobs ran ACLU-NJ. Now they’re in St. Louis, and after Mike Brown was killed, were on the ground in Ferguson. This is Michael’s Facebook status of a couple days ago, and I find it about perfect. I hope you find a way today to honor those who never came ho me, and to let your concern for living veterans move to action on their behalf.
This is Michael
I wanted to get this down before I forget his name. I just met a Black Vietnam combat vet named Milton. He saw me walking and called out, “Hey young man are you a veteran?” He was so enthusiastic, shaking my hand. He told me where he served, who with etc like we vets and service members do when we meet. I told him my service credentials. He went on to tell me he always wants to thank veterans because he was not thanked and was treated bad when he returned home. I told him about Veterans For Peace, gave him my card and a brochure.
We talked about how we are sent to serve and thrown away when we come home. We agreed on how we are lied to about why we are sent to war. He called the politicians professional liars being paid to lie.
As I was about to go, he told me he was going to take the brochure and place it on the bulletin board at the shelter where he is staying. Until that moment I had no idea this enthusiastic, smiling and energetic veteran was homeless. I asked him his name again, we shook hands in what I’ll call the Unity fashion, we hugged and I set off feeling very emotional.
I’m tired of meeting homeless people. We have homelessness because of greed, indifference and a depraved social structure. I am particularly hurt when I meet homeless veterans. This one was such a wonderful happy man. There is no excuse for this. The U.S. is waging wars around the world to the tune if a trillion dollars a year. Killing innocent people in the name of freedom and discarding many sent to do these dirty deeds. What other word is there for this other than evil?
Call me naive, idealistic or foolish. Whatever, but God(dess) did not put us here to do this. I won’t accept it.
If you see me this Memorial Day, don’t wish me a happy one and don’t thank me for my service. Reflect on how to stop this madness. Figure out something large or small, grand or minute you can do and then do it. That’s a real way to honor those who have died in war. Peace is possible, but we must be wiling to sacrifice and belive in it just as much as it appears we believe in killing and chaos. [emphasis added]
Rosi Efthim::Memorial Day 2015
The Wars on Vietnam May 14, 2015Posted by rogerhollander in Capitalism, Grenada, History, Imperialism, Labor, Vietnam, War.
Tags: class warfare, Economic Crisis, education, financial crisis, grenada, grenada invasion, history, imperialism, labor, patco, rich gibson, robert kennedy, roger hollander, tom hayden, vietnam syndrome, Vietnam War, working class
1 comment so far
Roger’s note: here is a interesting, irreverent and penetrating analysis of US history post Vietnam War, which some may find — I’m trying to find the right word — uncomfortable (?). It’s thesis: “Class and empire’s wars define our times, as they did then” is, as far as I am concerned, incontrovertible.
A Better Recollection Than the Pentagon’s (and the Liberals’)
Following the victory of the Vietnamese people over the U.S. empire and its allies on April 29/30, 1975, elites in the U.S. those who operate within the armed weapon and executive committee of the ruling class that is government, moved quickly to (1) recapture the economy, wrecked by years of warfare; (2) exercise authority over the schools, often up in flames of fire and critique; (3) dominate the military, riddled with desertions, refusals, and shot-up, fragged, officers; (4) retake the culture–to eradicate the Vietnam Syndrome, the memory of the loss as well as the why, who, when, where, and what of the war: especially the Why? The “How’s” are gone too.
In the past month, the Pentagon, PBS, and the for-profit press took a three pronged approach to the Vietnam Wars: (1) praise the returned troops and promote the notion of a home-country stab in the back, (2) highlight the evacuees and the US heroes of the April ‘75 evacuations, and (3) focus on the post-war babylift and the Vietnamese babies now grown up.
In my searches, the journalists’ “W’s” are missing or frothed over. More on that later. Let’s turn to the high-water mark of liberal critique.
Tom Hayden, in his, “The Forgotten Power of the Vietnam Protests,” (Counterpunch, May 3, 2015) does a fine job recreating many of the details of the wars on Vietnam–from the point of view of a liberal Democrat who spent years in the California legislature and who must have grown rich as well from his marriage to Jane Fonda, once anti-war prima donna, later Ted Turner’s wife and religious-“feminist” later still.1
Hayden’s standpoint does not serve his broader analysis well. Perhaps that explains why the words “capitalism,” and “imperialism,” never appear in his piece. Nor does Marx, so powerfully influential to the Vietnamese movement as well as the world’s anti-war movements.
Class and empire’s wars define our times, as they did then.
Vietnam was an imperialist war. Rubber, tin, rice, were all key to any empire’s designs (rubber, like oil, moves the military), while the other indicators of imperialist action (regional control, markets, cheap labor) easily come into view if we walk back the cat from Vietnam’s current state as a low-wage center.
Capitalism, early on the birthplace of what we know as racism today, created the conditions that Hayden rightly notes. It was, indeed, a working class war with troops of color on the US side using racist terms, “Gook, Slope, Dink, etc.” to describe, dehumanize and murder, Vietnamese.
As Nick Turse recently titled his book, the US side was taught to “kill anything that moves.” Frequently, they did, as the 1971Vietnam Veterans Against the War’s Winter Soldier investigation in Detroit graphically demonstrated. Much of this is nicely covered in David Zieger’s film, “Sir, No Sir!,” less than an hour long–perfect for classroom use.2
Hayden’s suggestion, to kick a dead horse one more time, that Robert Kennedy might have ended the war is preposterous, but it is a nice set up for the next card likely to fall–vote your way out of capital and empire, a certain failure as a tactic and strategy.
As David Macaray noted in CounterPunch in 2011, Kennedy was a “shrieking anti-communist,” who originated the plot to kill Fidel Castro.
Kennedy, once Joe McCarthy’s pal, aide, and appointee, repeatedly saying he was “fond” of Tail-gunner Joe, was no dove, but an opportunist off-set to Eugene McCarthy’s somewhat more honest, if bumbling, campaign in 1968. Hayden’s “What if…?” is hollow.
The Vietnam war was no mistake, not the result of bad political decisions alone, but the logical and necessary working out of the ongoing policies of the American empire.
Like any watershed piece of history, it lay the ground for our current conditions.
Brown and Root Construction, profiteering from connections to Lyndon Johnson, Nixon, and all that followed, became Haliburton: home to the war criminal Dick Cheney, still drawing down billions–untold as it’s secret–in Iraq, Afghanistan and black sites world-wide. .
Vietnam’s geological location was important then–and now. The region near the South China Sea could easily become the flashpoint for much broader wars.
As Chalmers Johnson wrote in 1962, well before Vietnam entered most American’s minds, what appeared to be a communist, or at least socialist, movement was “Peasant Nationalism.”3
As the Vietnam war wound down, Donald Rumsfield argued for an end to the draft, creating today’s reality of a “professional” military, economically drafted but self-defining as volunteering, patriotic, dedicated to the unit, and un-cracked after 14 years of wars lost to guerrillas who belong in the seventh century. The military today is almost completely separated from civilian life: about 1.2% actually serve–a praetorian guard.
The third goal, recapturing the military is so far achieved. The military sucks up more than one-half of the economy, dominates colleges and universities, yet few notice—perhaps because war means work.
The first goal, revitalizing and economy that was nearly demolished by 1975 was won, in a perverse sense, by a full scale government/capitalist attack on the working class.
That began with Nixon’s declaration that the 1970 postal strike was an illegal, “criminal,” act, although a wildcat led by many Vietnam veterans continued in several cities.
The 1970 United Auto Workers strike against General Motors was a sham, as William Serrin described in “The Company and the Union.” Serrin went further: “The Inside Story of the Civilized Relationship that has transformed a natural antagonism into a socially destructive partnership and the GM strike of 1970, the most expensive work stoppage in US history.”
At the end of the book, Serrin quotes a UAW member, sold out by the labor tops: “The union and the company, they’re more or less business partners.”4
The unity of labor bosses, top government leaders, and corporate heads was finalized long before this strike, indeed, early in the formative days of the American Federation of Labor, but it grew more and more apparent in an era when every labor head backed the racist, anti-working class, war in Vietnam: Labor Imperialism–the bribe Lenin warned about 100 years ago in “Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism”, a payoff to the “home country” to back the empire. It’s a move that backfired for exploited workers in the rank and file over time, but few noticed.5
In 1972, Richard Nixon’s puppeteer, Henry Kissinger, cut a deal with Mao and China, not only counteracting Chinese support for the Vietnamese, but upending plenty of American Maoists who, in 1969, witnessed the destruction of the largest and most radical student movement in U.S. history, weeks before the biggest outpouring of student activism ever: 1970’s mass demonstrations against the bombings of Cambodia and Laos; the murders at Kent State and Jackson state.
By 1969, Tom Hayden had no influence on SDS whatsoever, the organization abandoned his liberalism and turned to a variety of forms of Marxism.
SDS was wrecked by the rich, red-diaper Weathermen, once terrorists who sought to replace a mass class conscious movement with bombs, now repeating their effort as grant-sucking professors.
The 1969 SDS split meeting, which I attended, was riven with idiot chants of “Mao, Mao, Mao Tse Tung!,” shall we say, contradicted by “Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh!” a nearly unfathomable mess.
The Weathermen, according to one of the few living honest people among them, Mark Rudd, destroyed the SDS mailing list.
The student movement never really revived.
In 1975, Americans learned about COINTELPRO, thanks to the heroic break-in at an FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania, an operation kept secret until 2014, and described in the book, “The Burglary,” by Betty Medsger. The COINTELPRO revelations, a broad and systematic spy-agency scheme to attack, disrupt, and assassinate when necessary, radical groups led most of us to grasp the extent of NSA spying long before Edward Snowden stole the next batch of Family Jewels and turned them loose.6
As war’s end, American schools often were hot-beds of critique and action as students, who learned from the Civil Rights movement and the anti-war movement too, that what they thought and did mattered.
In the early 1980’s came, “Nation at Risk,” and unvarnished plan projecting years of effort to regain control of the not-so-public but fully-segregated-by-class-and-race school system by regulating curricula, promoting high stakes exams, and in the future, linking that to merit pay.
Taylorism had existed in schools since the advent of textbooks, and most teachers were always missionaries for capital and empire, but this was a more regulated, national effort.7
“Nation at Risk” was followed by the Bush II era No Child Left Behind Act which extended a militaristic component, and then thrown into hyper-speed by the Obama Administration’s “Race to the Top,” which drives home merit pay, the next step the abolition of tenure, and drives home the militaristic aims, turning most schools into what a top General demanded in WWI, “human munition factories,” and illusion mills where children are sorted by fake science, along the predictable lines of parental income—always promoting obedience to the nation, loyalty (the ethics of slaves), while tamping down expectations for a better future.
Most school workers, who are not professionals as they so often dream, refuse to recognize that the education agenda is a war agenda: class and empire’s wars.8
The largest school-based union, the National Education Association, repeatedly votes in convention assembled to “Not Discuss,” the wars as the body may find it unsettling.
And the struggle for rule in the economy?
That was settled by Ronald Reagan’s 1980 destruction of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Union who, having helped elected him, foolishly struck, believing a union composed of lots of Vietnam vets, like VP Dennis Riordan, would garner a lot of sympathy. Reagan declared the strike illegal, scabs replaced them (the word “Scab” is out of US lexicon), they never got their jobs back, and the AFL-CIO let them swing in the wind. Solidarity Forever had long ago become every person for him or herself.
From another angle, while finance capital dominated industrial capital since the early 1900’s, the relentless needs of imperialism and the falling rate of industrial profits underpinned a massive move to de-industrialize the US, auto for example moving first to Mexico, then to China, and now to Vietnam.
The industrial working class evaporated, bit by bit, then a torrent. Surely, they exist, but they have been minimized.
The epitome of the rule of capital came in the Fall of 2008, what John Bellamy Foster’s book calls, “The Great Financial Crisis.” 9
The upshot: over a weekend the biggest banker in the western world gathered to face a complete collapse of the world’s economies, the likelihood of riots, bank rushes, even revolutions as capitalism in decay became capitalism in ruins.
They quickly did what no free-marketeer would ever do. They demanded government intervention.
They got it. Inside their executive committee (and remember, armed weapon) industrialists and financiers fought it out.
Big Fish ate Little Fish. So long Bear Stearns. Lehman is lunch.
Jamie Dimon demonstrated his patriotism when a begging treasury secretary, Hank Paulson arrived asking for J.P. Morgan help. Dimon replied, “Hank, I would do anything for the United States, but not at the expense of J.P Morgan.”10
Finance capital won to the tune of $12.9 Trillion from the surely-no-longer free market treasury.11
Industrial capital, like auto, picked up hundreds of billions and officially became the small fries.
But, industrialists did make gains. The Obama administration demanded that the United Auto Workers union make another concession: New hires would make half what senior workers would make and the union would not strike for five years.
The UAW bosses agreed, again, to exchange labor peace for dues income, the last definition of “collective bargaining,” while their own pensions remain solid.
In sum, on the economy, elites gathered together, struggled with one another within the confines of the all-on-all war that is capitalism, which runs them–not vice versa–and they then turned on the poor and working people, cut off their legs, got them to spit on the gains their grandparents won in bloody struggle, while the labor leadership collaborated.
To Chalmers Johnson, in his “Nemesis Trilogy,” which predicts the end of the US empire through over-reach and economic collapse, fascism came to the US before 2008.12
To me, it was finalized with the bailouts; the imperfect but real unity of labor bosses, government, and the corporate world to preserve nationalism and empire. That move cannot be reversed, while wars could be ended.
Add it up:
*parliamentary institutions debased and made nearly meaningless by the direct rule of the rich who tyrannize the economy and wars.
*Racism built into every aspect of daily life from school segregation to geographical segregation to cruel immigration policies and police violence.
*Incessant calls for the unity of all classes in the “national interest, within a nation whose own government is at war with most of the citizens and the world as well.
*The Patriot Act and the National Defense Authorization Act nullify whatever the Bill of Rights represented.
*The President’s private army (armies), the CIA, conducting war at his whim, killing Americans without trial or warrant.
*Massive constant surveillance: Snowden.
*One dangled spectacle after the next: Bruce Jenner to a boxing match to the Princess’ baby.
*More and more reliance on violence and threats of violence: Ferguson, Michael Brown, Baltimore, etc.
*The unity of corporations, government and labor bosses, “in the national interest,” as witnessed with the bailouts but also with the union leaders support for the wars and their physical presence on CIA front groups like the National Endowment for Democracy, The Meany Center, Education International, and many others.
*Celebrations of misogyny: the Porn industry.
*A culture of mysticism, religion, the ideology of death, trapping US presidents who cannot say, “People make gods, gods do not make people,” as part of a grand strategy to counter religious fanatics. Add, according to Gallup, 42 percent of Americans are creationists.
*Farcical billion dollar elections corrupt whatever hints of democracy may have existed.
*Dynastic tyranny, the bane of the American Revolution: Bush III vs Hillary. 13
Fascism, in brief, emerges in the US, and the world, as a rising and popular movement. The victory of the Vietnamese was one of several turning points.
The eradication of the Vietnam Syndrome began right after the end of the wars, first with stab-in-the back lies about the anti-war movement abusing returned vets. Jesse Lembcke hit back with his book, “The Spitting Image,” showing that the main lie, girls spit on them, was groundless.14
The next step was Ronald Reagan’s double edged stroke to both wipe out the memory of the death of nearly 300 marines in Lebanon and, simultaneously, destroy a “Communist threat,” the tiny island of Grenada with a population about the same size as Kalamazoo.
A massive force invaded Grenada in October, 1983–bungled a bit, yet won! Medals all around.
A victory for US troops! 15
On to Gulf War I, Afghanistan, Iraq, IS, and the world!
Then, the Vietnam Wars were eradicated from the US history curriculum. In 25 years of teaching college at all levels, from grad students to freshman, as an emeritus professor and community college adjunct, I have had less than two dozen students arrive with sophisticated knowledge about Vietnam. Granted, the processes of history itself are now erased too, but the Vietnam war is a gaping hole.
The failures of socialism, little more than capitalism with a benevolent party at the top, restored gross inequalities in various ways in the aftermath of revolutions in Russia, China, Cuba, and Vietnam. This, then, led to a considerable degree to today’s IS, AQ and the other religious often-educated savages who rejected distorted forms of Marxism, on the one hand, and Western imperialism on the other.
Seventh century Sharia law will not prevail in societies which can escape neither class war nor empire, but they have already done terrible damage.
In what is not popularly called the “Homeland,” de-industrialization–that is–imperialism–coupled with financilization–created a consumerist society: the root of two-thirds of the US economy.
I assert this has a psychological impact.
The methods of industrial work, as nearly anyone who worked in a factory, like Fords, knows, creates a sense of solidarity. Everyone recognizes that it takes everyone else to create a product, and one-for-all unity to gain control of the processes of making that product, and the gains that are made from its sale.
A consumerist society pits all vs all: “I wish to sell as dear as possible while you wish to purchase as cheap as can be.”
That, I believe, explains in some part why it is there has been so little reasoned resistance in the US since Vietnam.
Inequality, a prime concern of elites, has not created a large, unified, sustained social movement.
Inequality, which had grown since the Vietnam war, boomed from 2000-2013, but especially so after the financial collapse of 2008. It’s so bad, the French worry about it for us.16
An authoritative recent report says: “From 2009 to 2012, average real income per family grew modestly by 6.0% (Table 1). Most of the gains happened in the last year when average
incomes grew by 4.6% from 2011 to 2012. However, the gains were very uneven. Top 1% incomes grew by 31.4% while bottom 99% incomes grew only by 0.4% from 2009 to 2012. Hence, the top 1% captured 95% of the income gains in the first three years of the recovery. From 2009 to 2010, top 1% grew fast and then stagnated from 2010 to 2011. Bottom 99% stagnated both from 2009 to 2010 and from 2010 to 2011. In 2012, top 1% incomes increased sharply by 19.6% while bottom 99% incomes grew only by 1.0%. In sum, top 1% incomes are close to full recovery while bottom 99% incomes have hardly started to recover.17
The Pentagon/PBS take on the anniversary of the war was an extension of the efforts to erase the Vietnam Syndrome.
The Rory Kennedy PBS “Last Days in Vietnam,” film focused on “heroic” low level US officers and spies who sought to get Vietnamese out of the country as the Vietnamese forces approached. Those heroes worked for the empire, killing two to three million Vietnamese in their dishonorable wars.
Let us concentrate on the South Vietnamese helicopter pilots who risked their own lives and their families’ flying to US ships on the sea, tossing all overboard and waiting for rescue. For years, they willingly took orders, surcease, and privilege from men like General Ky, a US puppet and Hitler admirer.
Kennedy’s centerpiece “Baby-lift” was problematic as it’s likely nothing harmful would have come to those babies–and the baby-lift killed at least 150 of them when the first flight out crashed.
Last, to the US veterans: Who abused them? Like before, the Veterans’ Administration was the prime abuser. Vets were denied benefits, medical care, and worst of all, coverage for Agent Orange poisoning until it was far too late for many of them.
What defeats men with guns? Ideas!
Those of us who taught, agitated, organized, and fought against the unjust wars on Vietnam saw things change–those of us lived, largely undamaged. The civil rights movement overcame the most obvious forms of political discrimination. Economic and social discrimination remained powerful.
As Tom Hayden rightly details, without the civil rights movements, its practical, moral, and intellectual contributions, the antiwar movement would have been without a compass–hence the lessons that can be learned from those who are most oppressed, who may have the best understanding of things.
The war ended because of:
*The Vietnamese who fought for decades, making enormous sacrifices.
*The GI’s who returned, knowing they had been sent to be cannon fodder, children of the poor ordered, drafted, to fight other children of the poor, on behalf of the rich in their homelands.
*The students who over time learned what imperialism and capitalism are, and who they are in its midst–and importantly, what to do.
*The workers who over time learned what “working class war,” meant, a war at home, and who struck against the war.
*The movements led by people of color, Chicanos, Latinos, Black people, who saw they were hit, as usual, first and worst, and often resisted first and hardest.
*The women’s movement which revealed the problems of male supremacy inside the resistance movements.
*Marxists, from anarchists to all kinds of communists, who taught others exactly what imperialism is, why the war was not a mistake but a logical working out of US foreign policy, and the it was/is the system, capital, itself which must be unmasked, attacked, and transcended.
We witnessed quantity (leaflet after leaflet, teach-in after teach-in, small meetings and mass meetings, march after march, one bigger than the last) turn into quality—a huge change of mind, a massive anti-war movement.
We saw what appeared to be become what it really was: the vast, technologically mighty, nationalist, American empire was defeated by ideas, weapons, and courageous commitment.
We took responsibility for our own education, recognizing that the public education system was designed to serve capital and its empire. Our study groups were typically much better than the vast majority of university or k12 classrooms in part because we knew that our ideas set up our actions: both mattered.
We made serious mistakes. Too many of us failed to keep the close personal ties, built across race, sex, and class lines, that could sustain a movement beyond the end of the war. Too many of us got scared off when we saw others attacked, or for that matter, ourselves beaten. And far too many of us simply got bought by the empire’s bribe, settled into comfortable jobs and lost track of what we once were.
Our mistakes negated a good deal of what we had done and, thus: a world offering youth perpetual war, bad jobs, no jobs, and escalating racism. But that world is met by the potential, again, of a mass, class conscious, integrated activist movement that grasps what capital, the corporate (fascist) state, and empire means, and how direct action in solidarity with workers, students, educators, and troops can win.
Perhaps our worst mistake was to fail to recognize the central roles of capitalism and imperialism as the US empire organized its own decay following the defeat in Vietnam: in consumerism, spectacles, new masks for intensified racism, the rebirth of support for militarism in schools and in the armies, the divide and rule tactical attacks on differing parts of the working class, and the restructuring of sexism in newer, even more exploitative forms.
Nothing in our social context happens outside the bounds of capitalism and imperialism. But many of us sought to make our peace–by not noticing or even attacking those who pointed the finger.
Again, the core issue of our time is the reality of the promise of perpetual war and booming color-coded inequality met by the potential of a mass, activist, integrated class conscious movement. In the absence of that; barbarism. If you seek a barbarized region, look around you–wherever you may be.
Rich Gibson is emeritus professor, San Diego State University. He is a co-founder of the Rouge Forum, an organization of students, professors, teachers, and community people that recognizes social class and imperialism are important. He was repeatedly jailed for refusing the draft during the Vietnam wars. RG@Richgibson.com
Tags: breaking the silence, civilian casualties, gaza, idf, israel, israel military, israeli veterans, Palestinians, protectrive edge, roger hollander, rules of engagement, saral lazare, War Crimes
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Roger’s note: This speaks for itself.
Over 60 officers and soldiers who took part in ‘Operation Protective Edge’ anonymously testify about acts they committed or witnessed
The “massive and unprecedented harm” inflicted on the population of Gaza during last summer’s 50-day Israeli military assault stemmed from the top of the chain of command, which gave orders to shoot indiscriminately at civilians, according to the anonymous testimony of more than 60 officers and soldiers who took part in “Operation Protective Edge.”
The Israeli group Breaking the Silence, an organization of “Israeli Defense Force” veterans who engaged in combat, on Monday released the 240-page collection of testimony entitled, This is How We Fought in Gaza.
“While the testimonies include pointed descriptions of inappropriate behavior by soldiers in the field,” the report states, “the more disturbing picture that arises from these testimonies reflects systematic policies that were dictated to IDF forces of all ranks and in all zones.”
Breaking the Silence said that the war on Gaza operated under the “most permissive” rules of engagement they have ever seen.
“From the testimonies given by the officers and soldiers, a troubling picture arises of a policy of indiscriminate fire that led to the deaths of innocent civilians,” said Yuli Novak, director of the group, in a press statement. “We learn from the testimonies that there is a broad ethical failure in the IDF’s rules of engagement, and that this failure comes from the top of the chain of command, and is not merely the result of ‘rotten apples.'”
Gaza is one of the most densely-populated places on earth—home to an estimated 1.8 million people, over 60 percent of whom are children under the age of 18. Approximately 2,194 Palestinians were killed in last summer’s attack, at least 70 percent of Palestinians killed in the assault were non-combatants, according to the United Nations. The assault damaged and destroyed critical civilian infrastructure—including houses, shelters, and hospitals—and nearly a year later, hardly any reconstruction has taken place and the civilian population remains strangled by an economic and military siege.
Numerous soldiers said that, during the war, they were told that all people in given areas posed a threat and were ordered to “shoot to kill” every person they spotted.
“The instructions are to shoot right away,” said an anonymous First Sergeant who deployed to Gaza City. “Whoever you spot—be they armed or unarmed, no matter what. The instructions are very clear. Any person you run into, that you see with your eyes—shoot to kill. It’s an explicit instruction.”
Some said they were lied to by their commanders, who told them there were no civilians present.
“The idea was, if you spot something—shoot,” said an anonymous First Sergeant identified in the report as having deployed to the Northern Gaza Strip. “They told us: ‘There aren’t supposed to be any civilians there. If you spot someone, shoot.’ Whether it posed a threat or not wasn’t a question, and that makes sense to me. If you shoot someone in Gaza, it’s cool, no big deal.”
Soldiers testified that thousands of “imprecise” artillery shells were fired into civilian areas, sometimes as acts of revenge or simply to make the military’s presence known. Civilian infrastructure was destroyed on a large scale with no justification, often after an area had already been “cleared,” they said.
“The motto guiding lots of people was, ‘Let’s show them,'” said one Lieutenant who served in Rafah. “It was evident that that was a starting point.”
One Staff Sergeant described perverse and deadly acts committed by soldiers:
During the entire operation the [tank] drivers had this thing of wanting to run over cars – because the driver, he can’t fire. He doesn’t have any weapon, he doesn’t get to experience the fun in its entirety, he just drives forward, backward, right, left. And they had this sort of crazy urge to run over a car. I mean, a car that’s in the street, a Palestinian car, obviously. And there was one time that my [tank’s] driver, a slightly hyperactive guy, managed to convince the tank’s officer to run over a car, and it was really not that exciting– you don’t even notice you’re going over a car, you don’t feel anything – we just said on the two-way radio: “We ran over the car. How was it?” And it was cool, but we really didn’t feel anything. And then our driver got out and came back a few minutes later – he wanted to see what happened – and it turned out he had run over just half the car, and the other half stayed intact. So he came back in, and right then the officer had just gone out or something, so he sort of whispered to me over the earphones: “I scored some sunglasses from the car.” And after that, he went over and told the officer about it too, that moron, and the officer scolded him: “What, how could you do such a thing? I’m considering punishing you,” but in the end nothing happened, he kept the sunglasses, and he wasn’t too harshly scolded, it was all OK, and it turned out that a few of the other company’s tanks ran over cars, too.
While numerous human rights organizations and residents have exposed war crimes committed during last year’s assault on Gaza, this report sheds light on the top-down military doctrine driving specific attacks by ground and air.
One First Sergeant explained that soldiers were taught to indiscriminately fire during training, before their deployments. “One talk I remember especially well took place during training at Tze’elim—before entering Gaza [the Gaza Strip]—with a high ranking commander from the armored battalion to which we were assigned. He came and explained to us how we were going to fight together with the armored forces. He said, ‘We do not take risks, we do not spare ammo—we unload, we use as much as possible.'”
No Israeli soldiers, commanders, or politicians have been held accountable for war crimes, and the Israeli government has resisted international human rights investigations, from Amnesty International to the United Nations.
Breaking the Silence says it “meticulously investigates” testimony to ensure its veracity. The group garnered global media headlines when it launched a report featuring testimony from Israeli soldiers who took part in the 2009 military assault on Gaza known as “Operation Cast Lead.” In that report, soldiers testified about indiscriminate attacks on civilians, including use of chemical weapon white phosphorous.
Tags: children casualties, civilian casualties, human rights, isil, isis, islamic state, lauren mccauley, roger hollander, Syria, war
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Roger’s note: your tax dollars at work in promotion of
A U.S. military strike on Friday targeting fighters with the Islamic State has killed 52 civilians, including 7 children and 9 women, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on Saturday.
According to the human rights watchdog group, an additional 13 Syrian civilians are missing following the attack on a village in the northern province of Aleppo. The deaths mark the highest civilian loss from a single attack since the U.S.-led coalition began its war against the Islamic State, or ISIS, in September 2014.
“[We] condemn in the strongest terms this massacre committed by the U.S led coalition under the pretext of targeting the IS in the village, and we call the coalition countries to refer who committed this massacre to the courts, as we renew our calls to neutralize all civilians areas from military operations by all parties,” the group said in a statement.
Coalition airstrikes have killed an estimated 118 civilians. However, Reuters notes, the U.S.-led attack has “had little impact on the hardline Islamic State group, slowing its advances but failing to weaken it in areas it controls.”
“Washington and its allies say their aim is to support what they call moderate rebels fighting against both Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Isis,” Reuters continues. “But four years into Syria’s civil war, no side is close to victory. A third of the population has been made homeless and more than 220,000 people have been killed.”