April 28th, 2006

Question authority: Part II (My Lai and the press)

I continue to be impressed by how many current trends in public life appear to have their roots in events of the 60s. Beginning at that time, there seems to have been a growing conviction that internal investigations are futile and can only end in coverups and failure, and that going to the press with the story is the only way to redress institutional or governmental wrongdoing.

One of the seminal events that led to this perception was the horrific and shocking My Lai massacre, and the subsequent initial investigation/coverup. I believe that some of the current tendency to go directly to the press without even attempting redress a problem through the usual channels–the checks and balances established by the Constitution (Congressional oversight, for example) or internal investigations by the military, the CIA, or the body in question–can be traced to the trauma of this event.

The massacre at My Lai was a turning point in America’s perception of itself. It represented a loss of innocence about the military, who until then had been thought incapable of the kind of atrocity that occurred there. It also made Americans more cynical towards the military command and its ability to investigate its own wrongdoings. And lastly, the press was seen in the role of heroes bent on publicizing the truth.

The facts of My Lai were sensational, and they make shocking reading today, even in our far more jaded age. I’ve written about My Lai before, here. It was an event of great complexity, and I highly recommend this must-read teaching case study on the subject, which comes as close to explaining what happened there–and why it happened–as I think anything ever could.

There is no question that My Lai was an atrocity, and the shock of learning that the American military could be guilty of such a thing was a great factor in turning people against the Vietnam War. Another terrible aspect of My Lai that led to great distrust was that the original field investigation of the events conducted by the Army was unquestionably a coverup (read the case study for the details, as well as a discussion of how the normal and recommended Army procedure for dealing with events involving possible atrocities was not followed in the case of the initial My Lai investigation).

Present at My Lai on that dreadful day were those who witnessed the massacre but did not participate. There were also some who tried to stop it from happening to the point of threatening to shoot their fellow soldiers if they did not cease the indiscriminate killing.

But such a thing couldn’t be covered up for long; too many people knew about it, and the facts were so shocking that they motivated those in the know to eventually speak out.

How did the truth finally come to light? Many of you are no doubt familiar with the fact that reporter Seymour Hersh is credited with publicizing the story, and that he received a Pulitzer Prize for his work. But it was actually a less well-known man named Ron Ridenhour who was responsible for bringing the My Lai massacre to the attention of the authorities–after the initial coverup, but before the press ever got hold of it.

Ridenhour had served in Vietnam but was not a member of the company responsible for the My Lai killings, nor was he a witness to them. Here is how Ridenhour’s knowledge and disclosure occurred (keep in mind that the My Lai massacre itself had taken place in March of 1968):

Ridenhour learned of the events at My Lai from members of Charlie Company who had been there. Before speaking with Hersh, he had appealed to Congress, the White House, and the Pentagon to investigate the matter. The military investigation resulted in Calley’s being charged with murder in September 1969 — a full two months before the Hersh story hit the streets.

Over a year after My Lai occurred and the original investigation/coverup was closed, Ridenhour composed this letter about My Lai and sent it off to the White House, the Defense Department, the State Department, and various members of Congress. It is credited with motivating the Pentagon to begin a new official investigation of My Lai about a month after the letter’s receipt.

It is significant to me that Ridenhour did not initially go to the press (nowadays, I’m almost sure that would be where he’d go first). In his letter, he gives his reason for approaching the matter the way he did initially [emphasis mine]:

Exactly what did, in fact, occur in the village of “Pinkville” [My Lai] in March, 1968 I do not know for certain, but I am convinced that it was something very black indeed. I remain irrevocably persuaded that if you and I do truly believe in the principles, of justice and the equality of every man, however humble, before the law, that form the very backbone that this country is founded on, then we must press forward a widespread and public investigation of this matter with all our combined efforts. I think that it was Winston Churchill who once said “A country without a conscience is a country without a soul, and a country without a soul is a country that cannot survive.” I feel that I must take some positive action on this matter. I hope that you will launch an investigation immediately and keep me informed of your progress. If you cannot, then I don’t know what other course of action to take.
I have considered sending this to newspapers, magazines and broadcasting companies, but I somehow feel that investigation and action by the Congress of the United States is the appropriate procedure, and as a conscientious citizen I have no desire to further besmirch the image of the American serviceman in the eyes of the world. I feel that this action, while probably it would promote attention, would not bring about the constructive actions that the direct actions of the Congress of the United States would.

So, at first, Ridenhour was very sensitive to the damage that going immediately to the press could cause to the nation and to the military. Instead, he went to the proper investigative authorities charged with oversight, rather than seeking to sensationalize the issue by widespread press coverage.

But later on he apparently changed his mind, and did go to the press. Why?

From a reading of this article about Ridenhour by leftist journalist Alexander Cockburn, which appeared in the Nation in 1988, I’ve pieced together the following story:

Ridenhour had been initially shocked and traumatized by hearing about the My Lai massacre. and felt he needed to do something about it because of the early coverup. He went through a period in which he agonized over whom to tell, which he resolved by writing the letter previously quoted and sending it to the proper authorities.

This is how Ridenhour (who later became an investigative reporter, by the way) described what happened after he wrote the letter and sent copies off:

“I was in Arizona, waiting to go to school and working in a popsicle factory,” Ridenhour said. “They came and interviewed me, and then some of the people I mentioned in the letter-maybe five other soldiers-gave them more names. It sort of bumped and grinded along from late April to September, when they charged Calley.

So far so good. But the news of Calley’s arrest only agitated Ridenhour:

I was convinced there was a cover-up going on, that these guys were not sincere in pursuing the business. They stopped accepting my calls. Then they called me and said they had arrested Calley. I waited to see what would happen, and then, when no one else was arrested, I knew what they were going to do. They were going to flush Calley, claim that this was the act of a wild man and then let it go. That’s when I started trying to get in touch with the press.”

It’s clear that Ridenhour had been outraged at the initial coverup, and feared another. It’s also clear that, by this time, he had a definite agenda: he had decided that the problem was not Calley, but rather a systemic military policy set by the higher-ups, and he was determined that his version of who bore the true responsibility for the massacre was going to be the one heard.

Then Hersh came on the scene:

[Ridenhour] talked to a man from The Arizona Republic. Nothing got published. The Army had put out a brief statement-two paragraphs long-saying that it had charged a lieutenant, Calley, with the murder of an unknown number of civilians. The Associated Press carried the story, but no one picked it up. As Ridenhour tells it, a general who had worked on the Calley investigation became indiscreet at a cocktail party in Washington, let drop details of My Lai and the Calley arrest to a relative of Seymour Hersh, who duly passed on the news. Hersh found the brief item mentioning Calley’s arrest and interviewed Calley, who was being held at Fort Benning, Georgia. (Hersh says he had already been working on the story after a tip-off from a public service lawyer.)

Hersh’s first story prompted The Arizona Republic to print its article, which Hersh, in turn, saw. He flew out to talk to Ridenhour, who gave him the names and addresses of the people who had been at My Lai. Hersh asked Ridenhour to hold the story from anyone else for three days and went about his business. “I was glad to give him the three days,” Ridenhour said. “He was the first person to respond. He went off and started finding those other kids, and they told him those horrible stories.”

The rest, of course, is history.

52 Responses to “Question authority: Part II (My Lai and the press)”

  1. Ymarsakar Says:

    When the idea of “success” is accurately identifying the faces of terroist hijackers by an intelligence organization, you really have to question what kind of standards they are using for good intel if they call this a glorious victory.

    A glorious success would have been stopping them before they stepped onto the deck of the cruise ship and murdered and American in a wheelchair.

  2. douglas Says:

    One success does not a ‘high success rate’ make. Please back your claim up with numbers of some kind, or retract it, or at least posit it as opinion unsupported by numbers.

  3. Spanky Says:

    Yammer….

    Much classified intelligence information becomes public knowledge not very long after it is produced.

    For example, during the Achille Lauro affair, the intel community was asked to identify the hijackers. They weren’t sure which PLF faction they were with – the Syrian-backed group, the PLO-backed group, or the…Libyan-backed group? I think it was Libyan. Anyway, INR was the only one to correctly identify them. If you look at MIT’s case study (which I already recommended, and you apparently didn’t read), you will see that INR not only got it right, but that the other agencies were still insisting they were correct despite some pretty overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

    I thought it was a pretty good illustration of why INR has the reputation that it does.

    But you, what, looked it up on wikipedia?

  4. Ymarsakar Says:

    Another illogical statement is to even say that they have a high success rate, when admitting at the same time that much of it is classified. Obviously any agency will promote its successes, they don’t have to lie about them, but they can make themselves look good, presumably because government agencies care about that sort of thing.

  5. Ymarsakar Says:

    Historically, though, State’s INR has had the highest success rate of all the intelligence community.

    I was refering to the fact that being part of the intel community has some tradeoffs when your record is public. Much that goes into data analysis comes out garbage if the other side knows what you are doing and knows where to input false information to clog up your works.

    It’s not really surprising the intel community didn’t forsee the weaknesses in the Soviet Union. Or that it missed the Pearl Harbor intercepts. Or that it missed 9/11 connect the dots.

    There’s layers to the intel, and anyone who claims that any “layer” has a high rate of success is actually pointing out that their operations are pretty transparent. That’s fine if you’re running a business, but not a spy network and not an information analysis network.

    There’s really nothing in the Achille Lauro affair that I’ve read so far that has contradicted the basic premise.

    It’s not my contention to grade INR on their competency or lack thereof.

    Besides, if INR has agents building relationships with foreign regions, that’s pretty much in the nature of actively collecting human intel. So if you take what Spank said, INR doesn’t have spies, and uses only datamining or satellite collection routines.

    It’s too much of a stretch to take Spank at his word, when he says that an intel agency with a high track record of success and with no actual human resource collection, is going to continue doing so entirely independent of how many know their exact record.

  6. SB Says:

    OK, Y, ya lost me again…

    I have dealt very peripherally with INR, and from what I’ve seen they appear to know what they’re doing. As Spanky says, these are people who spend their entire careers studying, working in, and building relationships with specific regions and countries. In terms of expertise, they’re very impressive. Politically, though, I’m pretty sure they’re not on the same wavelength as their counterparts at CIA.

    Or maybe they are, if the McCarthy business is any indication.

    I was under the impression that the CIA had regional and country experts sort of like DoS. Don’t know much about it, though. We hear a lot about their failures, but not much about their successes. I want to believe their operatives are running around kicking ass like Tom Cruise – I want to, but my faith, alas, is weak.

  7. Spanky Says:

    Um, Yammer: you know so little about anything that it’s really amazing.

    State’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research has no spies. INR does no collecting of its own. While much of its work is classified, what is known, when compared to CIA or DIA findings, is usually accurate.

    Again, I refer you to MIT’s case study of the Achille Lauro affair as a perfect illustration of this.

  8. Ymarsakar Says:

    Now you know State sucks, because no intel agency has a written record of their ratio. It’s pretty easy to datamine with such information open to public or private disclosure.

    The fact that Spank even tries to claim an intel agency has a high rate of success, means that that intel agency has been focusing more on self-promotion than actual secrecy philosophies.

    The best spies are the ones you don’t about. The ones you know about, aren’t spies so much as disinformation conduits.

    This has a lot to do with their use of dedicated experts, rather than generalists, as well as the size and structure of INR.

    State’s weird situation has a lot to do with the fact that people make these claims and believe it is true, which tends to give you a hint as to how well the enemy can analyze State if Spank does it casually.

    People are free to trust intel agencies with a known “history”, but I wouldn’t do that if I was you.

  9. Spanky Says:

    Historically, though, State’s INR has had the highest success rate of all the intelligence community. See the Achille Lauro affair and the difficulty in trying to identify which PLF faction the terrorists belonged to.

    This has a lot to do with their use of dedicated experts, rather than generalists, as well as the size and structure of INR. No dig on the other agencies, but I’d trust them more often than not.

  10. Ymarsakar Says:

    That’s why they pay you the big bucks in state, SB. They pay the people who get to decide even more, because that is what they pay you for, to assume the burden of command and to lead.

  11. SB Says:

    Just a reminder of how things were back then…

    I took my own advice and went to foia.cia.gov yesterday. Went to the Vietnam section and picked a national security assessment from a period when my Dad was over there.

    It would have been hilarious if it weren’t tragic. The topic was: How will North Vietnam, China, and the Soviet Union react if the US escalates its bombing – i.e., hitts the Haiphong area, targets within heavily populated areas, etc.?

    In the first half, the CIA essentially says the NV and everyone else will be cowed by our willingness to take heavier losses and inflict more damage, and will return to the negotiating table rather than endure further horrors.

    In the second half, the State Department systematically rebuts every single point the CIA made, saying basically that heavier bombing will only harden the NV’s resolve and possible draw the Chinese and the Soviets into direct conflict with the US.

    So…you’re President Johnson and your top security advisors are advising you to escalate and not to escalate. What do you do? Flip a coin?

    From what I’ve seen, the spooks and the diplomats are still giving the same type of valuable advice to the President.

    This also reminds me of the debates over Iraq on these blogs. Everybody has an assessment, everybody has a prediction, half say play it safe, half say go for broke. Either course you choose, you’ll never know whether the other option would have worked better. And there’ll always be a crowd constantly assuring you that it would.

  12. Richard Aubrey Says:

    No, Douglas, I’m not. I started looking for them about 1969, and gave up a decade later.
    Nada.
    Not surprising, but I figured it would be honest to make an attempt.

  13. douglas Says:

    UB:”The Hue Massacre was an atrocity committed by the enemy, My Lai was committed by OUR side. That is the reason for the disparity of the reaction.”

    I don’t remember seeing Jane Fonda posing with ‘our’ GI’s. I don’t think that line is gonna work in this case. The people behind the Viet Nam anti-war movement were supporters of the communists. The US was not ‘their’ side.
    I DO, however, agree with the idea you present that we SHOULD be more bothered by our own shortcomings than by the shortcomings of others, but not to the point of allowing those others to continue unabated.

    And I think Richard is still waiting for those links…

  14. Richard Aubrey Says:

    The left has managed to complain about many things over which they have little control, even if it’s one step removed by influencing the US government.

    Point about Hue is that not only did they not give a bleep, it did not cause any of them to change the moral view they took of the Hanoi/VC folks.

    In fact, many of them were not for peace, but for war as long as it took for the North to win, no matter how many died.

    Buckley had a mind game back then: If we woke up one morning and all was quiet and peaceful in Southeast Asia, how many anti-war people would rejoice, if the reason for the peace was that we won? He didn’t bother to suggest anybody should take off their shoes to help tally.

  15. Ymarsakar Says:

    The Democrats will never recognize that car bombs are designed for the media to report it, not for the casualties it actually produces. They know bombs are making people in Iraq hate the insurgency with a fervor, as their wives, husbands, daughter, sons, and babies get shredded day and night by bomb fragments that brutalize and violate the flesh of their loved ones. Why do they still do it?

    Because they know the Democrats are watching and that they will use this footage of violence to do what the insurgency cannot, erode the will and fighting ability of American forces by getting American forces defunded or pulled out or restricted by politicians because of the media issue.

    The insurgency knows that it will never kill enough American military men and women to put a dent in our military morale, so they go for the low hanging fruit, the target of convenience.

    The Democrats see this, and they are smart enough to figure it out because the Democrats are master propagandists and illusionists. But they don’t act like it, like UnK here, so why? Why do they act as if they don’t know these things.

    My answer is simple. Because if they did, it would prevent them from doing what they want, what their willpower demands, and what their ruthlessness requires. The emphasis on American crimes and tribulations, and effecting change in America, who they care about, rather than other people in the world, that they don’t care about.

    IT’s a matter of priorities. Obviously we care more for Germany than we do for Darfur because we care enough to send our best to Germany and not Darfur. Ditto for Afghanistan and Iraq. It’s all about priorities. Do you care? Do you care enough?

    Nobody’s inherently evil, my argument isn’t based upon inherent evil or original sin. So the Democrats can’t label my a religious fanatic. Evil is done by choice, not because you were born with it. And the choice of the Democrats, are obvious.

    The terroists do their dirty work, and the Democrats refuse to acknowledge that fact. I would expect nothing else, from such a ruthless bunch of people.

    Ruthlessness is to be admired, as the military does. But there’s a point when ruthlessness becomes nothing but savageness unleashed, and the Democrats are very close to that. In a sense, the Democrats fall because they are good, in that they have lots of willpower and good propaganda abilities. Like Clinton, a lot of talent, wasted on a lot of things.

  16. Ymarsakar Says:

    It’s not that I believe in the best of intentions on the Democrat’s side. Self-deception is a necessary trait for Democrats to be able to harness power through ruthless and unethical means. Democrats feel guilty that they have more money than a beggar, so Democrats try and enslave the beggar and get power as well. For foreigners, the Democrats can’t get their votes, so they don’t care what happens to them. FOr them to not feel guilty about being that heartless, they must have a high degree of self-deception. So it is truely that they don’t recognize the existence of such things as Hue, because they can’t, it would violate their beliefs and principles. It would be as if you, Richard, recognized the existence of the Satan Khan America. With enough willpower, we can deny anything, regardless of what it is.

    So it’s not so much naivete, as the reverse, acceptance.

    As you can see, Richard, the atitude of UnK mirrors and supports my conclusions. His defense of the Left, is that they didn’t all back Ho so they didn’t really need to do anything about Hue. This supports my conclusion that the Democrats don’t really care about folks that can’t vote for them, they’re non-entities, objects, things to be used then discarded. If they get broken in the process by them or others, then boohoo, we’ll get another one.

    “Our side” “their side”, you see? Not naive at all, just how the Democrats and their allies operate.

    most of the democratic party aren’t propaganda masters like Clinton, they actually believe the stuff they say. For them to do that, they have to excise portions of their consciousness. Moral equivalency is one tool. Self-deception is another. George Soros justifies his billions because he “works against oppressors like big business and Bush” through his foundations. UnK justifies no appreciable outcry over Hue, because Hue isn’t worth it and the brown people were less important because it was yellow on yellow violence, not red american violence on indigenous pops.

    Once you gain enough willpower to override your personal integrity, compassion, and basic principles of tolerance and cosmopolitanism, then the taste of power can easily overwhelm any moral ambiguity.

    High IQ people like Kerry sounds even more confusing, because they have more brain cells to rub together in synergy for use in self-deception.

    That is the reason for the disparity of the reaction.

    And hence, the Left has to recognize that Hue existed for them to react at all in the manner Richard wants them to. Because if the Left recognized Hue’s existence and then recognized Abu Ghraib, they would perhaps come dangerously close to the understanding that it is a hypocrisy to pour efforts into one but not the other. So they evade this issue by deceiving themselves that Hue wasn’t so bad, Hue didn’t exist, Hue was by others and not important, America is more powerful than those who did Hue, so American can do more Hues therefore it justifies our concentration on America and not the victims at Hue because America will do more Hues if we don’t stop them therefore it justifies Hue.

    There’s a plethora of options available in self-deception. The smarter you are, the more options and complex patterns you get. One of the things that can never change is that Democrats are human. They have compassion, they have guilty, and they have greed. It’s how they deal with and control those inner demons that differs from other people, honorable people in the military for example. Those who try to act with decency and compassion towards the oppressed, made no deals with their demons and try very hard to suppress them. Those who make deals with the devil in return for power and feel good happiness, are giving those demons pour over not only their souls, but their willpower as well. Soon they will be nothing but puppets, pulled to the string of the puppetmaster. Whether that be the Communists, the Democrats, or Totalitarian tyrannies like Iran, NK, or saddam.

    Chirac said, “Saddam owns us, we’ll be there to back him”. And that was it.

  17. the Unknown Blogger Says:

    Nick B:

    See my above response to Richard.

    So the left says “don’t go to war with Iraq”, but we go anyway, an then Iraqis start beheading people and you want the left to start saying “hey, Iraqis, stop beheading people?” If you had listened to the left, there wouldn’t have been any beheadings. Do we have to do *everything*?

    Regardless of what you may think, the left in the US has no ability to sway the behavior of terrorists with articles on blogs or protests in the streets.

    (Likewise, if the US suddenly became 100% in favor of the war in Iraq there would be no change in the ongoing insurgency there.)

    What the left CAN (possibly) change is US policy regarding abuse of prisoners. (A non-scandal? Wow.) That is the reason for the disparity you see, not any sympathy with the terrorists. Come on, Nick. Nobody wants to see people being beheaded.

    (But actually, it’s been a long time since there’s been a beheading. I wonder why that could be?)

    Later you write:

    He made little effort to isolate and control a KNOWN situation in a manner which might have avoided the necessity of using deadly force. He was NEGLIGENT. Not exceedingly so, but sufficiently that I think he deserved a measure of public censure.

    Sounds familiar, I totally agree with you. But then we are not the deciders in this case, are we?

  18. the Unknown Blogger Says:

    Richard, your statement implies that you believe all those against the US involvement in Viet Nam to have been somehow enamored of or backing “Uncle Ho”.

    I hope that is not the case.

    If we can get past that, it’s really very simple: The Hue Massacre was an atrocity committed by the enemy, My Lai was committed by OUR side. That is the reason for the disparity of the reaction.

  19. OBloodyHell Says:

    Unknown: Screw the past. I want the left to make 1/3rd the noise about innocent people (Americans AND Iraqis) being beheaded, blown up, and flown into buildings that they give to non-scandals like Abu-Ghirab and Gitmo. I want them to show, express, or otherwise indicate 1/3rd the ire about crap like that that they express about faked allegations like flushed Korans.

    To be honest, I think all too often stuff DOES get swept under the rug — excused, passed off, and otherwise “whatevered” into insignificance. This happens both at the home level (police abuses of power) and elsewhere (MP abuse of power). It’s a lot more likely in police-level actions than it is at the warfighting level. But the police-level is almost always a reflection of the individuals involved than it is of the overall organization (excepting where the organization chooses to look the other way). I’m put in mind of a local case:

    Some punk kid (ca. 18) was doing drugs. He had some kind of fight with his mother, and ran out the house brandishing a sword. She was worried he would hurt someone, so she called the cops, and told them what car he was driving.

    What followed is on film — the cop pulled the kid over, and, knowing he was acting aberrant, knowing he was armed with a sword, got out of his car and approached the punk’s car. Kid jumps out of car and rushes the cop with the sword in the air. Bam Bam Bam Bam — the kid gets shot dead.

    Now, certainly the punk has a GREAT DEAL of culpability in his own death. He was on drugs. He rushed a known cop. I more than amply have no problem with certain aspects of this case.

    The main thing that bugs me here is that the cop KNEW the situation, he did NOT come upon the suspect unaware of his condition. He COULD have ordered the kid out of the car and onto the ground and gained control of the situation BEFORE he left the relative safety of his vehicle. Instead, he just marched up to the car confident that he was king of the walk and no one would ever dare flaunt his police authority (yeah, that sounds interpretive, but if you saw the film, the cop was NOT being overly cautious, despite knowing what was happening — and he KNEW, there is no question — it is WHY he stopped the car, because they’d been told to be on the lookout for him).

    The cop was, “of course” fully exhonerated.

    I’m sorry, I believe the cop FAILED his duty here. He made little effort to isolate and control a KNOWN situation in a manner which might have avoided the necessity of using deadly force. He was NEGLIGENT. Not exceedingly so, but sufficiently that I think he deserved a measure of public censure. I expect cops to try and avoid situations where their power to apply deadly force gets necessarily applied.

  20. OBloodyHell Says:

    > who until then had been thought incapable of the kind of atrocity that occurred there.

    I gather this was pure naivete. I haven’t really looked into it, but I recall reading something which suggested that the events in the Phillipines at the turn of the 1900s as we took over after the Spanish-American war probably made My Lai look like a poker game.

  21. RIchard Aubrey Says:

    Unknown. I believe it is hopeless.

    I want to see documents from 1968 and 1969 in which lefties talk about their horror, their condemnation, and their surprise [snork] at the massacre. I want to see documents about those who changed their minds about Uncle Ho.
    Is that clear enough?

    If you wish, you can find some from later. Those might count.

  22. the Unknown Blogger Says:

    Richard, I asked you very clearly what response you *wanted* to see from the left. But never mind, it’s pretty obvious it’s pointless to continue.

  23. Richard Aubrey Says:

    Ym. I didn’t think you were so naive.

    The left knows it occurred. They have two concerns. One is that as few other people as possible know about it. That failed.

    The other concern is….zero.

  24. Ymarsakar Says:

    If Un still doesn’t get it, the answer to his question of what reaction Richard would have liked to have seen, it is obviously,

    “Any reaction at all, against the massacre”

    People have to recognize that it happened, for there to be a reaction. So asking what the Left’s reaction to something they never believed occured, is a pretty slick question UnK.

  25. Richard aubrey Says:

    Unknown. If you’re talking to me about the Hue massacre and the left’s reaction, that is my answer.
    It happened. I was twenty-three at the time, I was watching. Nothing came from the left about it.
    A couple of years later, I was in a class about military law. The question is what happens when your Vietnamese counterpart starts getting brutal with a POW. “I’d hand him the knife!” said a major. He’d been involved, in his first tour, with helping the next of kin identify the bodies dug out of mass graves outside Hue. Hard to be nuanced, sometimes.
    I’ll give you a hint: Eggs. Omelets.
    For flavor, the people killed were either the oppressor class–or if women and children, part of the oppressor class.
    So now you know the left’s reaction to the Hue massacre.

  26. the Unknown Blogger Says:

    Give me a break. If you don’t have an answer for my question just say so.

  27. Richard Aubrey Says:

    Unknown.

    Go back in your files to the 1968 folder and haul out all those articles condmening the massacre at Hue and the subsequent conversion of a number of lefties from their love of Uncle Ho.

  28. Ymarsakar Says:

    Propaganda isn’t geared for Hue, so there’s no protests or instantaneous regurgitation by talking heads on CNN about it. There’s no Congressionally charged investigations, no voting initiatives, not anything that could be considered active propaganda.

    One is useful the other is not.

  29. the unknown Blogger Says:

    Richard, tell me: How exactly would you like to see the left lamenting Hue?

  30. Richar Aubrey Says:

    Unknown. Who is the “we” who will all agree murder is a bad thing?

    Show me the left lamenting the massacre at Hue.

    The left thinks murder is a bad thing, a good thing, or irrelevant, depending on its political usefulness.
    Thus the unconcern about Hue

  31. Ymarsakar Says:

    The WWII generation was solid but Vietnam eroded a lot of that. J Edgar Hoover spies became metrosexual let’s get ourselves promoted spies.

    At the same time that the military reformed itself and became better after Vietnam, the CIA became worse. You could say that the cia learned the wrong less because they got the wrong people, or that the military was vice a versa, shrugs.

  32. SB Says:

    crosstalk, et. al.,

    Do you think there’s a difference in cultures between DoD organizations and civilian agencies like the CIA?

    We all know honor is a big deal in the military. Cover-ups like the one early on in the My Lai business, are partly just attempts to preserve the honor of the service. There’s a definite feeling of violation, pollution, when civilians get involved in matters of military discipline. Like crosstalk said, you take care of your own dirty laundry – you don’t let civilians paw through it and display it to the world like a sideshow.

    The “old” CIA – Donovan’s CIA – seemed to have almost military values. Not just being sneaky, but being patriotic and honorable. But for some reason I perceive today’s CIA as just another Government bureacracy, with all the Byzantine in-fighting, territoriality, and jealous hoarding of power that goes on in any other agency. National security be damned. (I recently started working at a particular agency as a contractor, and the frequency and viciousness of the turf wars really surprised me.) I’m sure that’s not a complete picture, but I do wonder how many of today’s CIA managmenent types ever risked ending up on the Wall of Honor at Langley.

    I guess I’m just trying to understand how the military deals with issues like My Lai and Abu Ghraib vs. the CIA’s behavior in the “rendition scandal.” (I use quotes because, it seems to me, the rendition thing was an open secret before the current kerfuffle. Everybody knew it was going on; the big shock was the NYT revealing operational details about the Agency’s “airline.”)

    Despite what some have said in this thread, I’m wondering if our politics and our values are now so confused that an adequate definition of “honor” no longer exists for most people.

  33. crosstalk Says:

    Taking the following from neo-neocon as a point of departure: “There is no question that My Lai was an atrocity, and the shock of learning that the American military could be guilty of such a thing was a great factor in turning people against the Vietnam War.”

    Although discussed somewhat by some of your esteemed readers, it appears to be more accurate to say not that “the American military could be guilty. . .” (a collective guilt, as it were), but that “some men in the American military could be guilty. . . ” (keeping the guilt personal).

    There appears to have been a slowness on the part of those responsible within the military to react to initial reports—or perhaps a bit of psychological denial.

    The main other issue at controversy is the scope of legal responsibility (Calley? Medina? their subordinates? others?): who should be blamed, found guilty, and punished. (The left effectively concludes that the entire U.S. military and government are guilty.) This is a real issue, but it is not one which rationally can be used to impose a collective guilt.

    A subordinate issue is how much information in an investigation and trial should be shared. The military culture, I think historically at least, tends to look upon all discipline as internal discipline, and does not go out of its way to publicly humiliate those it punishes. The U.S. culture as a whole is a bit different, and the press culture is just the opposite: trials should be sensationalist affairs.

    I appreciated Richard Aubrey’s post for its attempt to put people “in the moccasins” of someone else. The aphorism may be trite, but it provides a good check on those who would “carry praise or blame to far”.

  34. Ymarsakar Says:

    The leak is in reference to the meta-topic. And presumably the Army did not authorize the agent in vocality to talk to Seymour. It would not be in the interests of the Army to take up such a battle in the mediascape.

    Leaking is only a variation on insider trading. Somebody has info, that nobody else has, and he uses it to his advantage and the disadvantage of everyone else.

    The great majority of the information the media gets, is through Army and military and government press releases. 90% of the info the media has, can be acquired at government websites. The media is not the producer of the information, they are only the filter for information, the gatekeeper, the check point guard, the bouncer at the door.

    It’s not my fault you don’t know this, UB, so don’t blame me. Precognition, not precociousness. Women are precocious, not men.

    As everyone can see, people who can’t argue me point to point and hold their own, produce variations of my name because it amuses them in thinking that it might annoy me. Yammer, yamr, regardless it is quite a juvenile technique.

    Neo, why so combative? I was just wondering. I read your post carefully, and it’s not too great of a leap really, is it?

    Presumably someone that thinks a leap from Ymar to yamr is not so great, calling Neo someone who favors atrocities wouldn’t be too much of a leap either. To take things with some symmetry in logic.

    The more people talk and attack, the more of their patterns that can be picked up. The only annoying people are those who won’t attack, who do hide in the shadows, and will not come to combat.

    Douglass, anyone who has called another person “chicken” to get them to do a dare or to fight, is familiar with Alin’s manipulation tactics. Only the sophistication and doctrine is unfamiliar.

    They used to do these things back in the olden days as well, not just modern times. How many times do you think some guy in the family wanted power over his brother or some such, and went to the problem of assassinating his character, and get him overthrown by his allies? Lots. Byzantine politics would eviscerate the Democrats. Why? Because these manipulation and psychological attack tactics are only 1/2 the maximum potential.

    The other half is actual assassinations, Caesar style, and cloak and dagger work. Manipulation is the cloak, violence is the dagger. The left lacks 1/2 of the equation, and thus they do not achieve power. Obvious, sure, but still, it remains valuable.

    But, this means things get weird. If you can play Byzantine politics, like Alin suggests, without the actual violence. Then what happens is that you get something weird and VERY modern. You get to character assassinate, and nobody dies. Wow, what does this mean? It means that those who play the game will more and more be less experienced in violence and assassination techniques. Back in the KKK days, you had great propaganda ability (as in getting elected to power) on the White Supremacists and great violent abilities as well. That has passed, not entirely of course, but enough.

    The basic principles of manipulation, psychological warfare, and information dissimilation can be found in the Art of War by Sun Tzu, written back in the very olden days. Know thy enemy and know thy self. If your enemy answers emails, send 1,000 emails. Get it? If your enemy is weak, attack. If your are weak, evade. If your are strong, and the enemy is strong, maneuver for advantage. If your are weak and the enemy is strong, maneuver for advantage and time.

    It’s really nothing new under the sun. I really wasn’t kidding when I told Bookworm the Democrat Party is the party of ruthlessness. You don’t need to be violent to be good at manipulation and psychological warfare, but you do need to be ruthless. And that, the Democrats have in spades. Al Qaeda is better at info war than the Democrats, because Al Qaeda uses violence.

    What tends to happen in the End Game (chess) is that even if you are the best liar in the word, it ain’t going to help you if I slip an assassin into your house and kill you. Dead men tell no tales, lies or truth.

    That is the dual edge of the sword of propaganda. Effective and subtle, but also easily countered by violence. Witness the cowardice of the legacy media in not printing the cartoons. Who can doubt that violent intimidation tactics trump manipulative lies and spin? Al Qaeda is good at propaganda, but not even propaganda can save you when a 2,000 pound drops in for a permanent visit.

    The strength of propaganda is the strength of water. Formless, depthless, in large quantities. Hard to snuff out all at once, hard to hit, hard to damage. Hard to predict, hard to see through. The more force you strike it with, the more force it returns to the sender. (try and land on water horizontally from 5 stories) A muddy lake that you don’t know the depth of, produces a primordial fear, and it is this primodial fear that psychological warfare seeks to instill in the target’s imagination and mental faculties. Sun Tzu claimed that the achime of warfare was not to win every battle you came across, but that the achime in skill laid in being able to win battles without fighting at all.

    Violence is powerful, but violence is as ice. Hard, dense, but brittle at the same time. Focused, but can only strike at a specific point. Strike enough times and it will shatter, making it useless. Water is propaganda and words, one drop is not very powerful, but collect them and you get a tsunami. Unstoppable in its violence.

    If anyone goes back and studies Bruce Lee’s philosophy, it can best be communicated as the amalgamation of water and ice. Dance like a bee, strike as a sledgehammer. In our earliest times, it was the hunter vs the hunted. Be as the grass, harmless and at peace. When prey is targeted, strike as the scorpion and the serpent, fast and lethal.

    Multitasking and concentration. Concentration and awareness.

    There is no such thing as the Perfect Defense or the Perfect Attack. Alin perhaps should have recognized that in his writings, it would have made his tactics more effective. This was the first time I across Alin’s writings.

  35. douglas Says:

    I’d argue that Al Qaeda and their friends are familiar with the tactics as well…

  36. SB Says:

    That was interesting, douglas.

    I think Alinsky’s radical methods must have filtered down to the wider culture, and now they’re the default “rules of order” in our political discourse.

    Notice the emphasis on emotions and emotional bludgeoning in this piece. Nothing about logical argument – just how to make people look stupid or evil and feel uncomfortable. Basically, it’s insisting that the other guy play fair while you cheat.

    I agree – it does remind you of some of the tactics used in this andother blogs’ comment sections.

  37. douglas Says:

    This might be OT, but then again…

    July/August/September 1993 (Rev. 2001) FILE: Activist Counteraction

    TO: Executive Addressed
    FR: James E. Lukaszewski, APR, Fellow PRSA Chairman
    RE: Understanding Grassroots Tactics: Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals*

    Saul D. Alinsky (1909 – 1967) is the father of modern American radicalism. He developed strategies and tactics that convert the enormous emotional energy of grassroots groups into effective anti-government, anti-institutional, and anti-corporate activism. His ideas are widely taught today as a set of model behaviors and actions, and used with an emotional commitment to victory that goes well beyond those who become his targets.

    Grassroots pressure on large organizations will grow. Studying Alinsky’s rules and developing empathetic counteractive strategies can level the playing field, especially during high-profile public debate and decision making.

    Here are eight of Alinsky’s 13 Rules for Radicals. They take advantage of the patterns of weakness, arrogance, repeated mistakes, and miscalculations large organizations and their leadership make:

    Power is not only what you have, but what the target thinks you have.

    Never go outside the expertise of your people. Feeling secure stiffens the backbone.

    Whenever possible, go outside the expertise of the target. Look for ways to increase insecurity, anxiety, and uncertainty.

    Make the target live up to its own book of rules. If the rule is that every letter or E-mail gets a reply, send thousands.

    Ridicule, especially against organizational leaders, is a potent weapon. There’s no defense. It’s irrational. It’s infuriating. It also works as a key pressure point to force concessions.

    A good tactic is one your people enjoy. They’ll keep doing it without urging and come back to do more. They’ll even suggest better ones.

    Keep the pressure on. Never let up. Keep trying new tactics to keep the opposition off balance. As the target masters one approach, hit them with something new.

    Pick the target. Target an individual, personalize the attack, polarize and demoralize his/her supporters. Go after people, not institutions. Hurting, harassing, and humiliating individuals, especially leaders, causes more rapid organizational change.
    This sampling of Alinsky’s rules illustrates why opposition groups enjoy opposing and why corporations and institutions fail to win. Simply put, large organizations are never as committed to victory as their opposition is committed to defeating them. There are few surprises here, just unprepared organizations.

    * Adapted from Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals by Saul D. Alinsky, copyright 1971, revised edition 1989, Vintage Books, New York

    I think some of you may have read this already…

  38. the Unknown Blogger Says:

    Yamr the boy wonder scrawled:

    I skimed neo’s current post, and I already picked up that little subtle hint that the military already had a trial or whatever going on before the media leak (just like Abu Ghraib, which is why I picked it up).

    Read it more carefully then, Yamr. It wasn’t a leak, it was a “statement”. From the Army. To the press. But don’t worry, we are all still dazzled by your precociousness.

    Neo, why so combative? I was just wondering. I read your post carefully, and it’s not too great of a leap really, is it?

    Given the motivation for the whole series is that leaks to the press are allegedly “crippling” our ability to defend ourselves. And given how your tone changes about Ridenhour from when he is refraining from going to the press (which you clearly despise) to when he realizes the Army is going to make Calley the fall guy and goes to Hersh (who you clearly despise) with his “agenda.”

    But my apologies if I offended you, I just wanted to make it clear that you believe that the American public had a right to know about the My Lai massacre.

  39. Ymarsakar Says:

    I skimed neo’s current post, and I already picked up that little subtle hint that the military already had a trial or whatever going on before the media leak (just like Abu Ghraib, which is why I picked it up).

    When your facts and historical analyses are consistent, it’s easier to pick up allegorical similarities.

    Times have changed. leaking is no longer something that you get punished for. Leaking is now popular, it now nets you riches and fame.

    This means that you have to recalibrate the system, given the imbalance in Ph. You need to add more acid, you need to dissolve the new reagents (leakers) before they imbalance the Ph scale and cause a problem.

    It’s mostly common sense. There’s a brake and there’s an accelerator. Sometimes you use the brake, sometimes you accel, and it all depends on what the hell is going on at that exact moment.

    This common sense is overrided because when the brake gives you 50 dollars and the accel gives you 75 dollars, it’s all good and all chaotic.

  40. neo-neocon Says:

    unknown blogger: If you read my post carefully, you will see that there were press releases about Calley’s arrest before the story hit the big time with Hersh, et. al., and before Ridenhour went to the press. It was not a secret; it just hadn’t been picked up by the press in a big way until Ridenhour and the others were interviewed by Hersh.

    How you could read this post and suggest I possibly could mean what you are suggesting is beyond me.

    There is nothing whatsoever in my post that could be construed as indicating My Lai could–or should have been kept secret. My post has to do with the actions of those reporting a problem–to whom do they go first? And how has this event affected the cynicism with which people regard the military, and military investigations or other internal governmental agency investigations?

  41. SB Says:

    Neo,

    Not sure My Lai was the origin of “question authority.” That meme already existed among college-aged people as early as 1963.

    As for journalists, check out “A Bright Shining Lie” by Neil Sheehan. Although it’s primarily about J.P. Vann, it highlights the cognitive dissonance journalists felt when they compared what they heard in Army press briefings with what they saw on actual combat operations. Lots more to it than that, of course – like Madame Nhu the Dragon Lady’s attitude toward her non-Catholic, non-French-speaking countrymen, etc. According to Sheehan, the contradictions were just too glaring to ignore – and so he and his cohorts reported them.

    For what it’s worth, I think Sheehan portrayed Vann as one of the few higher ranking officers who actually knew what was going on and who possibly had the will and ability to fix it. So the book wasn’t anti-military or even anti-war – just anti-institutional-screwup.

    Anyway, I think early journalists’ reporting just reinforced an attitude that already existed among college-age people back in the states – namely that the system was broken and couldn’t be trusted anymore. I wasn’t there at the time (thank God) so correct me if I’m wrong.

    I think the journalists who came later probably saw that their predecessors’ controversial pieces had an effect on the public’s opinions and behavior, so they jumped on the “dysfunctional war” bandwagon in order to cause a stir in their own names. That’s not *all* they did, of course, but I think the desire for a “me too” kind of fame had a lot to do with it.

    I think by the time My Lai happened the press were just going with the existing flow – report the dysfunctional war.

  42. nyomythus Says:

    That said, Neo, I’m confused by your post. Are you saying the American public did not have a right to know about My Lai? That it should have remained a secret internal military matter?

    Q: What were the consequences to the endeavor of the many by the actions of the few in this case? Do we need to discuss and discern what is the effect to the greater good, greater evil? Ambiguous, but we may be on to something here.

  43. Holmes Says:

    It seems to me the point is that this is her hypothesis for the origins of the “question authority” idea in its modern form.

  44. the unknown Blogger Says:

    The massacre at Hue, with no excuse for combat fury and between ten and twenty times the casualties, was a matter of VC policy, which is why the left didn’t mind.

    Again, as others have said here recently, and in the spirit of a more civil comments section, the least we should be able to do is agree that we *all* consider murder to be a bad thing.

    That said, Neo, I’m confused by your post. Are you saying the American public did not have a right to know about My Lai? That it should have remained a secret internal military matter?

  45. Richard Aubrey Says:

    Pancho. When were you at Benning? I graduated 09-DEC-69.

    Weird coincidence is that we recently had a pastor whose husband was a Ranger instructor–something like that–and was looking for a job to pass the time. Calley asked her to keep the accounts for his defense fund. Don’t know how that paid.

    I never saw how Medina did anything wrong except have a company which did that. Wasn’t there, didn’t order it, would have stopped it. So he’s responsible in the military commander sense, not in the legal sense. If a couple of young studs tear up a bar, the company commander isn’t guilty of drunk&disorderly, but his career might be damaged because he failed to show “leadership” which is frequently having the buttheads transferred to some other chump’s unit before they can make trouble.
    Pancho knows this, but I wanted to make that clear.

  46. SB Says:

    Interesting to hear the whole story. I’d have to learn a lot more about Ridenhour’s pre- and post-Vietnam activities and his overall personality to judge his actions fairly. Until then, I’d say he was basically an honorable soldier who wanted to see justice done – both for the lives of the victims and for the reputation of the service. It appears his going to the press was an honest attempt to keep the issue in the public eye and prevent the military from sacrificing Calley and then quietly forgetting about it.

    As for Hersh and the rest of the press – sorry, I’m not willing to concede that they had any idealistic impulses whatsoever. They just wanted a sensational story that validated the line they were selling about Vietnam at the time. Seymour Hersh is still selling the same line today.

    As for one-sided reporting: Remember, they hold us to a higher standard. Russian gulags – big deal, we know the Russians are like that. John Wayne shooting little Asian peasants – NEWS!!!

    I wonder if the Wall Street Journal would have been interested in Ridenhour’s story?

    I’m sure there was more to Ridenhour than an idealistic-but-naive young man who just tried to do the right thing. I hope Neo will fill us in with more facts.

  47. Pancho Says:

    There is a book called “365 Days” by a physician

    “365 Days” is by Dr. Ron Glasser, who is a good friend of mine. Ron is now a pediatric cancer physician in Minneapolis not married and so dedicated to his work his hasn’t left Minnesota in a decade or more.

  48. Pancho Says:

    While I was going through Infantry Officer Basic School at Ft. Benning I lived right down the street from Lt. Calley’s quarters, where he was serving his sentence under house arrest. Everyday I would pass by and see the MP’s guarding the house, and sometimes see Rusty Calley himself sitting on the front porch.

    Even then, not knowing all the details of case, one sensed that this poor guy was taking the fall for the entire episode. Confirmed when he was tried and his Company Commander Cpt. Medina got off scott free.

  49. Richard Aubrey Says:

    There is a book called “365 Days” by a physician who worked with the casualties at Camp Zama, in Japan.

    He recounted some of his own stories about the fighting in Viet Nam and told others in the third person.

    One is the story of a company busting the bushes for days. They lose guys to booby traps, snipers, they never find the enemy. One night, they are near a ville and get mortared from the ville. The story ends in the dawn with a hundred pair of boots moving through the grass toward the village.

    Point is, an accumulation of helpless grief, fatigue, and anger. The implication is that this unit is going to tear up the village, possibly a la My Lai.

    Normal Americans don’t do this under normal circumstances. The use of this by the left to condemn the US and/or the military is dishonest.

    I have, in years of reading military history, run across two incidents which were nearly identical.

    One, in Normandy, had to do with an American unit succeeding in a vicious assault. As they get into the town, most Germans are dead, some are fled. Some Americans break into a barn looking for Germans and find only livestock whom they immediately kill. This is a matter best described as “their blood was up.”
    In the Korean War, after an assault, a bunch of Americans, having broken through to the Chinese rear area encountered a string of pack ponies. Not even having slowed down from their initial charge, they shoot down all the ponies.

    Had there been civilians there, in either case, they may well have been killed. Civilians, after all, look more like the enemy than cows do. Wars in which the enemy try to look like civilians increase the chances of this happening.

    It takes a great deal of training, supervision, and discipline to tamp down the killing fury.

    It is inevitable, but the rarity of its occurrence in US military operations is impressive.

    Something like this is going to happen in war. The government must see that all steps are taken to see it is as infrequent as possible, and, knowing it will happen, not be complacent about this particular cost of war.

    The massacre at Hue, with no excuse for combat fury and between ten and twenty times the casualties, was a matter of VC policy, which is why the left didnt’ mind. Eggs, omelets. That sort of thing.

  50. TalkinKamel Says:

    Yes, Leftist journalists were always convinced that America had an agenda, that nothing could ever be the responsibility of one or more evil men, but must always and ever be some sort of horrible conspiracy concocted by the US government, to attack Communism (which they inevitably saw as guiltless) and to draw helpless nations into some sort of Pax Americana. That Calley really might have been just an evil and/or incompetent officer, and that he was arrested for the crime unlike, say, the perpetrators of the Tet atrocity, or leaders of the Khmer Rouge, who are, doubtless, even today, celebrated as “Heroes of the People”, counted for nothing with them. America was evil. America must pay.

    Which is the reason, of course, why I find it impossible to take these Left-wing journalists seriously. They were ever vigilant in uncovering America’s sins, but totally uninterested in the Russian Gulags, the horrors of life in North Korea and Red China, the plight of the Vietnamese boat people or the Cubans trying to escape Castro’s island paradise in inner tubes, and rubber rafts. It’s clear that injustice, and oppression, only called forth their outrage when done by Americans, or their allies.

    OT—Neo, be careful! It looks like a lot of other websites, such as Powerline, are undergoing a “Refusal of Service” attack today. Don’t want to lose you, too! Keep up the good work.

  51. elaine Says:

    I’m a costumer, my husband is in the military. It is important to me to use only the correct unit patches when I work. I have been trying to find out the MP’s unit that guarded Lt Calley from 68-69 and then again 71. I read you lived down the street and saw the MP’s so I hope you can help make this correct. Thanks, Elaine

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About Me

Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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