November 14th, 2006

Government lies, press lies: finding the truthtellers on that island

Since last week’s election, I’ve been thinking about Vietnam. Again.

Back in earlier installments of my “A mind is a difficult thing to change” series (and no, readers, I’ve not given up on composing new installments; they’re just so lengthy that I have to find a huge chunk of free time in which to tackle them), I wrote at least four pieces on the subject: here, here, here, and especially here.

A deja vu feeling engendered by this post-election week harks back to the early seventies, the time of Vietnamization and the phased withdrawal of US troops, and then the final pulling of the financial plug on the South Vietnamese in 1975. That war ended, for most Americans, not with a bang but a whimper, as well as a sigh of relief.

Back then, my thoughts about Vietnam–and therefore many of my opinions and feelings–were formed mainly by reading what we now call the MSM but what at the time was simply the press, the newspapers, the papers of record, all the news fit to print. Part of my revisiting of the Vietnam story has been to re-evaluate some of the information and impressions I and many others swallowed at the time, and to look at them in the harsh light of a new day.

There’s nothing easy about that process. How does one evaluate what is truth, what is lies, and what is the bias and subtle shading in between? On the island of the truth tellers and the liars, how can you tell the difference, when knowing the answer could be a matter of life and death?

One way, of course, is to look at the track record for accuracy and the known biases of the presenter of such “truths” Another, and my favorite, is to read on both sides and then try to decide. But in the end, the reader is faced with the fact that truth is an elusive beast to stalk.

But it’s not a unicorn. I’m not one to throw up my hands in despair and decide that all truths are equally equal and equally unknowable, so why bother. I believe we can–and must–try to learn history as best we can, or be condemned to repeat it. Sometimes I fear that even if we do learn it, we’ll still be condemned to repeat it, simply because human nature doesn’t change.

Which brings us (in laborious fashion; I know, I know!) back to Vietnam.

One of the constant themes of many critics of the US role in Vietnam was that our government lied. There’s no question this was a watershed experience for many Americans who lived through it; for them, ever afterwards, a deep and bitter skepticism towards our government replaced an earlier too-naive trust. For many such people, there was a concomitant attitude change towards members of the press, who were now seen as heroic giant-slayers and (pardon the word) crusaders, bravely exposing those government lies.

I was never one who saw it in such very stark terms. But yes, early on, it became evident that Vietnam was one of the most complex endeavors in American history, one in which the government did appear to lie (or at least bend the truth) about some key issues, such as, for example, the possibilities of actually ever “winning” the conflict. But it’s also become clear that the press also had a horse in that race, and wasn’t adverse to some shady doings of its own.

Anyone who’s read my “change” series knows that a goodly part of my post-9/11 thinking has been a process of evaluating press lies, truth-shadings, and biases. One reason the press can get away with this so easily is because of human laziness: how many people are going to make it their business to become the MSM’s fact-checkers? That would be far more than a full time job, although it’s become a bit easier with advent of the internet.

Take the Pentagon Papers. We all know the drill: fearless Daniel Ellsberg, at the risk of prosecution, spirits away classified information (not in his pants a la Sandy Berger–the Papers were originally 7,000 pages long, and Ellsberg was a skinny guy) and gives it to the press, who publish it in brave defiance of government efforts and a Supreme Court case trying to enjoin them from doing so. But Ellsberg’s–and the Times and Post‘s–devotion to truth won out, the American people were informed of the government’s deceptions, and we finally disengaged from an unwinnable battle.

We can forever debate the Vietnam war itself–its morality, justification, execution, and results; I’m trying not to do that in this post. This is about the sorting through of information.

So, what about the press lies about the government lies? Who will tell that story, and who has the patience to listen? It’s a marathon, not a sprint; to tell it requires a laborious wade through a mind-numbing number of documents, and to even read about it requires a bit of work, as well, and a troubling rethinking of old perceptions.

For example, just for the Pentagon Papers alone, the task of evaluation would require actually reading the original Papers, and then reading all the major press stories about them, sorting through the excerpts from the Papers that were published in newspapers at the time, and seeing how they compare to the Papers as a whole. It’s something I must confess I’ve never done, and probably never will do. But others have, and they report some curious goings-on.

A fascinating piece on the subject of war coverage by the MSM–both then and now–was written by James Q. Wilson and appeared recently in the Wall Street Journal. Take a look at this, on the Papers:

Journalist Edward Jay Epstein has shown that in crucial respects, the Times coverage was at odds with what the documents actually said. The lead of the Times story was that in 1964 the Johnson administration reached a consensus to bomb North Vietnam at a time when the president was publicly saying that he would not bomb the north. In fact, the Pentagon papers actually said that, in 1964, the White House had rejected the idea of bombing the north. The Times went on to assert that American forces had deliberately provoked the alleged attacks on its ships in the Gulf of Tonkin to justify a congressional resolution supporting our war efforts. In fact, the Pentagon papers said the opposite: there was no evidence that we had provoked whatever attacks may have occurred.

In short, a key newspaper said that politicians had manipulated us into a war by means of deception. This claim, wrong as it was, was part of a chain of reporting and editorializing that helped convince upper-middle-class Americans that the government could not be trusted.

We’re not on that island of the truth-tellers and the liars, where a single cleverly-worded question can discern the truth. Would that we were; our task would be a great deal easier. But it’s plain that there were enough lies to go around, and that the MSM’s lies must lead every thinking person to question the earlier version of history that was learned back when events were happening, and when newspaper and television coverage combined to give us our primary perception of the blooming buzzing confusion around us.

In writing this post, I went back and read a few of the comments to my earlier Vietnam essays. I happened across this one, that deals with the very subject at hand: media coverage of the Pentagon Papers:

The NYT and WaPo reporters (Neil Sheehan, et al) who provided a highly abridged (paraphrased and quoted) version [of the Pentagon Papers] to the public of that era (’71) distorted the originals in sundry and fundamental ways in order to imply or more directly state that Pres. Johnson and others employed deceptions at critical junctures in the conflict when in fact (as stated in the original document as well as the scaled down version) they did not. A specific example (and a critical one in that era) taken from Michael Lind’s Vietnam: The Necessary War:

The June 14, ’71 NYT edition of their edited version of the Pentagon Papers indicates Pres. Johnson had virtually concluded his decision to initiate a bombing campaign against the North by Nov. 3, 1964. (If true this would have made Johnson out to be deceitful toward the American public at an early and critical stage in the conflict.) However the Pentagon Papers itself states: “… the President was not ready to approve a program of air strikes against North Vietnam, at least until the available alternatives could be carefully and thoroughly re-examined.” That quote, reflecting November, 1964 circumstances, can be located via a search in this section of the Pentagon Papers.

This single distortion may not appear to be dramatic in and of itself, but there were other overt and more subtle distortions in the NYT’s and WaPo’s paraphrased versions of this document. In sum they always and consistently distorted the picture in a manner which eroded Pres. Johnson’s (and others) reputation, broadly characterizing him as being willfully deceitful; that general mischaracterization is what proved to be critical at the time rather than any single aspect of the paraphrased report.

I’m not trying to absolve Johnson of all wrongdoing; there’s enough blame to go around. And some of it most definitely goes to our old friends, those dragon slayers in the MSM.

48 Responses to “Government lies, press lies: finding the truthtellers on that island”

  1. Ymarsakar Says:

    Everyone tries to game the system, that is just human nature. But the press is the only system that tries to game itself, through itself, and has no checks or balances ON itself.

  2. Ymarsakar Says:

    A lot of people think that because the press rags on Clinton and the Democrats, this means they aren’t biased towards the Left. The Left believes in power, in accruing more power to themselves. It does not matter to them who they will have to step over or sacrifice to the gods of entropy, in order to acquire said power. The press had the power, and they used it to acquire even more power in the Vietnam days. Bragging about how absolute power has corrupted the government, while ignoring the very fact of their own nauseating decay. The very worst of self-righteous idiots.

  3. kungfu Says:

    Be skeptical. Reading this post, it struck me that the report you cite that questions the validity of the original Times’ report comes from James Q. Wilson of the Wall Street Journal. Shouldn’t we be as skeptical of the Journal’s evaluation of the original Times’ report as we are of that report itself?

  4. Good Ole Charlie Says:

    Neo:

    Strikes me that one HUGE difference between “then” and “now” is that there are a substantial number of people who believe that the main liar is “The Press”/MSM.

    In the sixties, I believe that press circulation – especially if you include network TV – took an amazing jump in “circulation/Viewers/Whatever”. Now the tale of the tape is that they are loosing circulation and viewers at a rate that does not bode well for future economic viability.

    Serves ’em right…what I know of my own field, MSM and the fellow guilty parties don’t have a clue. Since I know what I know and they don’t seem to know what I know, why should I believe them in other things?

    And how they overwork unquoted sources and the hack phrase “Say experts”. What a Crock…

    Yeah, I do read the local rag…Dilbert, not Doonesbury, though. Oh, and the sports page during baseball season and the America’s Cup…

  5. Anonymous Says:

    I’m wondering what the big deal is about the Gulf of Tonkin ‘incident’ not being mentioned in the Pentagon papers.

    Is that supposed to mean it didn’t happen? Surely it didn’t have to be planned to be used as a mythic attack justifying the war?

    Only that and Johnsons’s planning to bomb N.Korea are mentioned as examples – but we know Kennedy began the campaign by bombing S.Vietnam, so it’s hard to see any signifance beyond The NY Times getting the lack of facts wrong – not for the first time i.e Judith Miller and Iraqi WMD programs.

    Anyway – on a seperate but relevant note – Israel’s Olmert today is causing eyebrows to raise in the U.S MSM by his praising of the Iraq war, which has “brought stability to the middle east”.

    Facinating take on things, that is…

  6. Sergey Says:

    Yes, from Israeli point of view, Syria’s and Iran’s involvement in Iraq made it somewhat harder for them wage proxy wars against Israel. There is no true stability in ME, and never was. But Saddam’s ballistic missiles that rained at Israel during Gulf war are not a threat anymore.

  7. brad Says:

    “Only that and Johnsons’s planning to bomb N.Korea are mentioned as examples…”

    My my, he was not only evil, he sucked at geography too!

  8. snowonpine Says:

    I spent many decades in a research position that required me to read the MSM. wire service stories, articles, reports, government documents, you name it and it was obvious, when you compared the reportage from various sources, that the press had a very strong agenda that was reflected in their coverage, word choice, picture and caption choice and in which stories they elected not to cover.

    At one point I pasted up side-by-side Washington Post and Washington Times coverage of what one would have thought was a routine crime story. A woman was robbed and murdered in her house and the reportage and editorials discussed the suspect and the upcoming trial.

    It went something like this:

    The Post said that a “former seminarian” who adamantly protested his innocence had been arrested and charged (the tone of the articles implied he had been railroaded) and that, if convicted he could be sentenced to 40 years in jail. Post editorials went on about how he was being mistreated, falsely accused, etc. The Post gave remarkably few details about the actual crime.

    The Times said that a “defrocked priest” had been charged. The Times said that the accused donned his old religious garb and convinced the victim to let him in, whereapon he choked her, robbed the house and left: the unconscious victim subsequently choked on her own vomit. The Times mentioned that the accused had copped a plea to avoid a trial and that the net result would be a few years added to a sentence he was about to serve for another murder. Although this case had been front page news in the Post, the Post buried news of the plea agreement in a one inch article in that back of the paper.

  9. justaguy Says:

    previously banned.

  10. justaguy Says:

    I thought you said you weren’t afraid, neo. I guess you’re part of the press now.

    justaguy: I’m leaving this last comment of yours up just to explain–once again, and for the last time–that you were banned long ago and your comments will be deleted, all of them, no matter what the content. As far as fear goes, I don’t even think you believe your own rhetoric that fear is any sort of motivator in my banning you. Your behavior has been offensive, puerile, and trollish.

    Edited By Siteowner

  11. Trimegistus Says:

    So that’s two wars the NYT has now caused us to lose. Isn’t that treason? Isn’t there some way to make them pay a price for this conduct?

    Anybody have an old truck and some fertilizer?

  12. DonkeyKong Says:

    Neo, you imply that the msm had a motive against the Johnson administration and it’s motives for war in Vietnam, but you don’t explain what that motive is. (your post is like an Escher painting.) Was the NYTimes and the Post working for Moscow, SDS, hypnotized by Pete Seeger’s banjo. Your post is incomplete at best.

    I think you’ve fallen into the worst of the conservative mythologies wraped in the worst boomer habit of navel gazing. That a war is won or lost in the press.

    That’s actually a more focused question. You believe we lost Vietnam in the press. Absurd, but believed by many.

  13. Ichabod Says:

    So that’s two wars the NYT has now caused us to lose. Isn’t that treason?

    Change the above from “caused us to lose” to ‘helped’ us to lose and I would agree. It WAS treason – but which is unfortunately not prosecutable for various reasons, although no less disgusting and morally reprehensible for that.

    Anybody have an old truck and some fertilizer?

    This is the type of casually vicious remark that’s kind of fascinating. For instance, extrapolating to Germany during WW2: Anybody have a match for the ovens?

    Guess where this would be: Anybody have a desire to die and a vest loaded with C4?

    Here’s another: Anybody have a box cutter and some spare anthrax spores?

    Rather than killing the Times with a bomb, which seems a bit extreme even for such an inept attempt at parody, a little jail time would suffice to bring justice to the situation – and set an example for other opportunists with leaked information about secret programs in the WOT. Alas, such a thing is unlikely to happen, but it should.

    You believe we lost Vietnam in the press. Absurd, but believed by many.

    Yes, so absurd that it is even believed by the North Vietnamese themselves.
    &nbsp

  14. sam Says:

    It is sad and sobering to recall the neocon mantra of yesterday: “Iraq isn’t Vietnam”.

  15. J. Peden Says:

    Sorry, sam, no one I’ve come across has shown, or even attempted to show, that Iraq is Vietnam, the statement which needs to be proven by those making the assertion, since they are the ones who raised the question to begin with.

    All I hear instead is that mantra.

  16. Anonymous Says:

    Al Jazeera launches its English language television channel today at 12 GMT. This is a huge development.

    You can stream it.

    http://english.aljazeera.net/HomePage

  17. Sergey Says:

    The obvious difference between Viet Nam and Iraq is losing the first damage US only morally, but losing the second would damage them strategically too. No Vietnam terrorists ever hoped to attack US on US soil. But jihadists already did it and will do it again if emboldened by American retreat. The whole jihad project is possible only because terrorists see Americans as “weak horse”, as they many times told to their potential recruits. To disprove this perception is the main strategic goal of WOT. Being achieved, it will precipitate collapse of the whole radical Islam ideology, just as rigid, uncompromising stance of Ronald Reagan and Pope Joan-Paul II precipitated collapse of Communism.

  18. strcpy Says:

    Snowonpine, media instances like that are what formed much of my political beliefs.

    I watched a lot of c-span in the 90’s (usually on that channel when I was doing school work). It was amazing how an event I watched live was reported the next day. I always wonder how many liberals would still be liberals if they dealt with that much.

    It also reminds me of statistics. Lots of people just refuse to believe statistics because so many of them “lie” (and, like the media content, it’s not exactly a lie). I am a Computer Scientist (I worked in an academic weenie research position for a while and my education is in the theoretical end) with a math minor. Had to take lots and lots of statistics amongst other nice boring courses.

    We learned both how to cook the numbers and note when the numbers have been cooked. Slanting your stuff gets you funding – you always have to have your research be the most important thing on the planet – and knowing how to read between the lines is how you learn.

    They can also be done as honest straight forward research (what I always did as a professional, it always felt dishonest and no job or research is worth that). Unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be the common attitude. In fact, it is so prevalent it is sometimes horrid what is given as real science (even at the graduate level). *sigh* I better stop, I can fill quite a few pages of text on this.

    The MSM *could* give us straight up news with very little slant if they wanted too, it is not really that hard to do. They could also easily just be upfront and open about their bias, see most blogs for instance. You can not totally get away from bias, but they can do much better.

  19. Sergey Says:

    The recent examples illustrate futility of hopes on damage reduction by retreat nicely. Israeli withdrawals from Lebanon and Gaza did not reduced terrorists activity in these areas, but led to it major aggravation. In long run, indefinitely long occupation is cheaper in blood, that total lack of it.

  20. Sergey Says:

    My profession includes massive reading of press materials in supposedly more checkable field as science news. But, as a trained mathematician, I also see clear bias in facts presentation, selection, and discussion, even in such in the old days high-quality journals as Nature, Science and Lancet. Dirty tricks with statistics are most abundant, especially among environment studies and climatology, – the most politicized of all.

  21. Ymarsakar Says:

    justaguy: I’m leaving this last comment of yours up just to explain–once again, and for the last time–that you were banned long ago and your comments will be deleted, all of them, no matter what the content. As far as fear goes, I don’t even think you believe your own rhetoric that fear is any sort of motivator in my banning you. Your behavior has been offensive, puerile, and trollish.

    I prefer more posts from Neo than more explaaanations from neo.

  22. Jim Miller Says:

    If you can find it, you’ll want to get a copy of Epstein’s “Between Fact and Fiction: The Problem of Journalism”. The book is a collection of his essays on journalism, including his essay on the Pentagon papers, and is by far the best thing I have read on the subject.

    For example, in the second essay, Epstein asks, “Did the Press Uncover Watergate?” Short answer: No. (That essay can be found at his site, as I recall.)

  23. snowonpine Says:

    Just a note for the statisticians and mathematicians in the crowd–When I had to find statistics on this or that subject I often found several different sets of statistics which lead to different conclusions, or one set of statistics covering one aspect of the question , another covering the other part of the question. If I found two sets that came from different organizations, used different methdologies, etc. I was always careful to tell staff for my decision maker clients (I usually dealt with staff) that they couldn’t combine the different sets of statistic and why. Result,from their responses it looked like they were often just fine with selecting one figure from column a and one from colum b and combining them and they were only interested in those statistics that proved their point rather than those which were more likely to be correct.

    P.S. A blogger who earlier posted his statistical analyses of patterns of terrorist attacks has come up with some interesting statistical correlations between numbers of Muslims in certain parts of London and sex crimes rates at this website http://gandalf-reconquista.blogspot.com/2006/11/have-you-daughter.htmlplotted I am not competent to judge the validity of what he is doing but perhaps someone here will be interested enough to look at his work.

  24. Sergey Says:

    Statistics is a mighty instrument, but it needs utmost care in using it: there are lots of non-evident obstacles and pieces of subtlety, and also of implied assumptions which are not always true. So, many mistakes are honest, people simply do not know underlying theory and straightforward use formulas that they were taught. But it really like mine field, and people are so happy to get conclusions which please them, that it require rare intellectual honesty to accomplish all necessary checks and controls. Also, it is absolutely impossible on the basis of the numbers only judge accuracy of procedures used in collecting primary material.

  25. bugs Says:

    Stupid question: Why do you suppose the notion of government “lies” and “cover-ups” became such hot issues during the VN war? In WWII, they were called “propaganda” and “military censorship.” My impression is that most people understood exactly what these were and when they were being used, and recognized that they were valid techniques in wartime.

    And then, in Vietnam, the rules changed completely? A government fighting a war was now expected to always tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, no matter what effect it had on morale or even the success of military operations? Failure to do so makes us “just as bad as the enemy,” or worse since we should know better?

  26. snowonpine Says:

    Sergey–My clients were very unhappy and incredulous when told that there were no statistics to anwer their particular question or that there were statistics but they did not answer their question in the way they wanted it answered; apparently not having done any research themselves, they always assumed that someone, somewhere must have produced and published statistics to answer their particular question. They always wanted certitude, which a number represented for them and it almost seemed to me that if they got the certitude of a number, any number, they would be satisfied. I often joked with my coworkers-a very uptight, humorless bunch–that I would give the next requester who wanted a statistic that was impossible to find a number, any number, say, 9.4% or 53.789% or 1/3rd, which would probably give them the certainty they needed.

  27. Sergey Says:

    “The things that will destroy America are prosperity at any price, peace at any price, safety first instead of duty first, the love of soft living and the get rich quick theory of life”. — Teddy Roosevelt.

    Now you can add to this list of America destroyers another one – civil liberties at any price. Common wisdom holds that these niceties need be somewhat curtailed in wartime – even habeas corpus was suspended during WWII. But liberal simply do not believe that their nation is at war, so they see these restrictions unnecessary or even the whole war theme as government conspiracy in order to deny them civil rights.

  28. Trimegistus Says:

    Ichabod:

    I agree that it would be right and just for the Times publisher and editors to serve some jail time for actively working to bring about defeat for their own nation in war. But as you say, that ain’t gonna happen.

    We can vote out a politician who displeases us, but we can’t do anything to the Times. We can’t even buy stock and raise a stink at board meetings because the Times has a nifty two-tiered system in which only Sulzberger family members can actually influence the company.

    They are accountable to no one. In such a situation, what recourse do we have? They are a private group waging war on the nation, and the government is unable or unwilling to stop them. Do we let them continue?

  29. armchair pessimist Says:

    A truck and fertilizer are the tools of a lone nut; a hanging rope and an lynch gang are the tools of an outraged people. If we had any b@lls we’d string them all up.

  30. neoneoconned Says:

    “A truck and fertilizer are the tools of a lone nut; a hanging rope and an lynch gang are the tools of an outraged people. If we had any b@lls we’d string them all up.”

    and the worst bit is that you are probably serious

  31. Ichabod Says:

    They[NYT] are accountable to no one. In such a situation, what recourse do we have? They are a private group waging war on the nation, and the government is unable or unwilling to stop them. Do we let them continue?

    Yes. If the choice offered is between doing nothing to the NYT and murdering the owners(which BTW is a false dichotomy), we of course “let them continue.” They deserve jail time and they certainly deserve contempt but murder is out of the question. This is America, not the Islamic world where such political killings are commonplace and taken for granted, even to the point of being an institutionalized feature of the Islamic culture.

    I took the post calling for their murder as a crude jest, had no idea the poster was serious. Real Timothy McVeigh stuff. One good “recourse” is what is happening frequently on this blog and elsewhere to expose the infamy, lies and distortions of the NYT and the MSM in general. Just a short while ago they had the field to themselves.
     

  32. dicentra Says:

    We on the Right have been impatient and contemptuous with the Left’s trotting out of Vietnam again, because frankly it’s tiresome: after all those movies and TV shows that beat the Futility Of War drum so incessantly, we can safely say that we get it–War Is Hell. As in, duh. Like we need 13 years of Hawkeye Pierce’s pacificst tantrums to figure that out.

    But now that the Democrats have taken Congress, the Left’s use of the Vietnam paradigm threatens to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    Read the rest…

  33. Judith Says:

    VENONA PAPERS! Got to read them. Also, in the past, a general from one of the satellite countries of the soviet, admitted the “publicity” plan employed by the KGB was to undermine our efforts. Their plan utilized the “youth of America” to be their attack on us. They also used the press. Time magazine admitted (after we lost the war in vietnam) that they had manipulated their news reporting in order to achieve their goals. They did not “approve” of our war in vietnam. We are more savvy today, but the same old tricks are still being used. The enemy within.

  34. Sergey Says:

    Real solution to treason of clercs was tried and turned to be successful – it was Commission on anti-AMERICAN ACTIVITY. Are now politicians present with temperament and decisivness of Sen. McCarty?

  35. snowonpine Says:

    The Left has rewritten the whole history of Communism in the U.S.–red diaper babies, “the Hollywood Ten,” the Rosenbergs, Whittaker Chambers and Alger Hiss, HUAC and Joe McCarthy–and the MSM has shown very little enthusiasm for publicising, much less exploring the VENONA Papers, Vasily Metrokhin’s KGB archive material and other works which have slowly trickled out and which directly contradict that fabricated reality.

    McCarthy may have been a rather odious singer but, his song about many Soviet operatives infiltrating the U.S. government, was basically true, as shown by material in VENONA and Metrokhin and research published by a few lonely others. At this time the MSM and the Left are simply too powerful to overcome, their spell too powerful to break, so their verion of history prevails. Unless and until the Internet and blogosphere as alternative sources of news, research, commentary and opinion gain more viewers and thus more power, this Leftist myth will continue to be the dominant one.

  36. Ymarsakar Says:

    And then, in Vietnam, the rules changed completely? A government fighting a war was now expected to always tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, no matter what effect it had on morale or even the success of military operations? Failure to do so makes us “just as bad as the enemy,” or worse since we should know better?
    bugs | 11.15.06 – 12:24 pm | #

    Just one of many clever techniques to sabotage a war and said you did the right thing.

  37. Ben Says:

    The fundamental problem, IMHO, is that many of our elites no longer believe in America. I am NOT saying that they are unpatriotic, so calm down. What I am saying is that they no longer believe that America is special, or, in fact, any different from any other country. They are so wrapped up in guilt (for our prosperity, our past crimes, racism, etc.), that they are no longer able to make qualitative distinctions. In other words, in their minds the USA is as bad as Nazi Germany because the USA enslaved Blacks and drove Indians off of their lands. Of course, this is so patently ridiculous that one wonders how (or whether even to bother) to refute it.

    As a result, there is a tendency among people holding this view to demand perfection of the USA, while excusing horrible crimes that happen elsewhere. This explains how the USA can be viewed as a fascist society (e.g., the Patriot Act), while Castro’s Cuba is a bastion of all that is good. Because the USA is not perfect, it is therefore as evil as the worst of the worst. Because the benighted Third Worlders in Cuba have universal health care, everything else there must be wonderful. (On a tangential note, I wonder how many people holding this view realize how profoundly racist it is?)

    The fundamental problem is that because of guilt (and other factors), these people cannot accept the fact that in 2006, the USA, despite its lack of perfection and somewhat violent history, is still qualitatively superior to Communist China in almost every measure of human dignity. The old aphorism is that the perfect is the enemy of the good. Anyone seeking perfection in a human endeavor will not find it, and the difference between grown-ups and children is that grown-ups are able to understand this.

  38. Justin Olbrantz (Quantam) Says:

    And then, in Vietnam, the rules changed completely? A government fighting a war was now expected to always tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, no matter what effect it had on morale or even the success of military operations? Failure to do so makes us “just as bad as the enemy,” or worse since we should know better?

    They call that progress. Haven’t you noticed that the bar for just about all aspects of war (treatment of prisoners, civilian casualties, code of military conduct, code of government conduct, etc.) has risen dramatically as the 20th century has progressed? Progressives expect the standards of war to rise with the standard of living, level of civilization, level of technology, etc. War should, in theory, be less hell than it used to be.

    Whether that’s a realistic expectation is an entirely different matter.

  39. Perry Says:

    bug wrote: “And then, in Vietnam, the rules changed completely? A government fighting a war was now expected to always tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, no matter what effect it had on morale or even the success of military operations? Failure to do so makes us “just as bad as the enemy,” or worse since we should know better?”

    You’re confused.

    In a justified war, the government may say “white lies” to maintain morale.

    But the case of Vietnam was completely different, because the war there *was not justified at all to begin with*. The war itself had been launched on the basis of lies.

    The attack on Pearl Harbor had been real. However, Vietnam had never attacked the US, nor ever posed any threat to the US. The US went to war on a country that had done nothing to it, and caused horrendous pain and misery on countless innocent Vietnamese, killing millions of civilians in the process.

  40. Warren Says:

    Several of Johnson’s lies were important to me: First, I remember seeing a clip of him claiming that the treaty of 1954 between the French and the Viet Minh guaranteed a free and independent “South Vietnam”. The treaty said no such thing, and, in fact, said the opposite. Second, when he ran against Goldwater in 1964 he accused Goldwater of wanting to use nukes against North Vietnam and of bombing the north in general, then Johnson went ahead and bombed the north.

    I was also severely disappointed to learn that the 1954 treaty had established elections to be held in Vietnam in 1956, but that it was the US that prevented the elections from taking place because the communists would win.

    Neither Kennedy, nor Johnson, nor Nixon were up to the challenge presented by Vietnam. And their advisers apparently convinced all of them that honesty with the public was a bad idea. The lack of honesty tripped them up.

  41. Warren Says:

    To follow up my previous criticism. I must also say that the leadership of the anti-war movement was also quite bad, disorganized, and not entirely trustworthy. Their excuse was a lack of experience and budget.

    The Civil Rights movement provides an interesting comparison, the leadership was well-known, funded, experienced, and wiser. This is mainly because the Civil Rights movement had it’s roots in movements going back more than 30 years, where the Anti-War movement had to pick up the odd old radical or Communist here or there.

    There were two paths offered by the “Wiser” heads (in my personal experience): 1) “There is no way to peace, peace is the way.” (dizzy pacifists and Friends (Quakers)). And 2) The only way to end the war in Vietnam is bloody revolution — the ruling class will never give up it’s goals. Overthrow capitalism first. (various Marxists including CPUSA types). Neither one made much sense.

  42. Sergey Says:

    Perry, the problem with North Vietnam was not that it attacked US directly, but that its aggression against South was a part of a greater geopolitical threat – expansion of Communism, which must be stopped. In this respect there was no much difference between Korean and Vietnam war. But, unfortunately, in these old days leftists peacemongers had so much political influence that US leadership could not sale to American public the idea of necessity throw Communism back every time when it attempted to enlarge its sphere of influence and control by military means. So they invented false pretext to right causa belli. But the real need to go to war was at place. US can not stand safe as a lone island of freedom in hostile ocean of tyranny; their only hope to get long-lasting peace, security and prosperity is to transform the rest of the world, and the means of this transformation is supporting of liberty movements everywhere. Ronald Reagan understood this and was most successful US President for half a century, but his approval rating at the end of his presidency was 25% much worse than now has Bush.

  43. Richard Aubrey Says:

    After WW II, the west believed Stalin when he said free and fair elections would be held in the part of Europe he owned.
    Nobody actually believed the Czechs and Poles and Hungarians really voted for what then happened to them.

    The problem in Viet Nam was that the US decision makers were looking at the election about six years after being conned by the communists in Eastern Europe. Sure the Communists would win. Just as they won in Eastern Europe. If you accept the premise of an election, you accept the prospect of losing. If the other side cheats, you don’t get very far by complaining. We were going to lose to cheaters and would be able to do nothing but complain when a good deal of the chattering class and lefties would sneer at sore losers, knowing and applauding the cheating.
    Not a good plan.

    I picture some Soviet leader, Stalin or Brezhnev or Andropov or whomever, chatting with the head of the KGB.
    “So,” says the leader, “Comrade KGB boss, what are we doing with the American peace movement?”
    “Nothing,” says the KGB boss, trying not to become incontinent, “it’s unnecessary. They’re doing everything we could wish and paying for it themselves.”
    Or the KGB boss could say, “Nothing. It is beneath us to interfere in such a fashion. Gentlemen do not do such things.”

    What’s your pick?

  44. Don Says:

    Be skeptical. Reading this post, it struck me that the report you cite that questions the validity of the original Times’ report comes from James Q. Wilson of the Wall Street Journal. Shouldn’t we be as skeptical of the Journal’s evaluation of the original Times’ report as we are of that report itself?

    Well, unlike the Times report back in the day, you can fact-check Wilson (or rather, Edward Jay Epstein).

  45. Ymarsakar Says:

    Good point, Richard.

  46. Carl G. Mueller Says:

    Impeachment
    http://i-m-democracy-4-u-now.blogspot.com/2006/12/imepeachment-silent-i-word.html

    Writer’s Help Wanted:

    My cranium gray matter says impeachment but there must be another way?

    Amy & David Goodman’s book:
    “Static” Just one particular page is 153 which talks about torture:
    President Bush declared on December 15, 2005 that the legislation he was signing, after fighting it for months, made it “clear to the world that this government does not torture.” But the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 (the McCain amendment) had been almost completely eviscerated by that point. At the insistence of Republican senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, with the acquiescence of Michigan Democrat Carl Levin, the bill stripped Guantanamo detainees of the right to challenge their detentions in U.S. courts, thereby reversing a landmark decision that explicitly affirmed these rights for the detainees. So while the act bans torture, Guantanamo detainees, who UN Investigators, among others, confirm are being tortured by their American captors, have no way to enforce the law. Page 154, two weeks later, “December 30, 2005”, President Bush issued a “signing statement”. “The executive branch shall construe [the law] in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the president … as commander in chief.”

    Impeachment: The silent “I” word.
    In other words, President Bush was able to disregard the legislation he signed into law two weeks earlier because he was the President? Now one year later the public is in the bliss of signet anesthesia. Americas must blame themselves for allowing Nancy Pelosi Henry A Waxman, Tom Lantos and the media to be silent in using the “I” word.

    Connection between the Vietnam War and Iraq war.
    One year one month and another media silent Anniversary?

    From Scott Shane of the New York Times News Service
    Friday, December 2, 2005.
    Page A8:
    The National Security Agency releasing hundreds of pages of long-secret documents on the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident that played a critical role near the beginning of the Vietnam War.

    The material was posted on the Internet at midnight Wednesday included one of the largest collections of secret, intercepted communications ever made available for study. The most provocative document is a 2001 article in which an agency historian argued that the agency’s intelligence officers “deliberately skewed” the evidence passed on to policymakers on the crucial question of whether North Vietnamese ships attacked U.S. destroyers on Aug. 4, 1964. Based on the mistaken belief that such an attack had occurred, President Johnson ordered air strikes on North Vietnam, and Congress passed a broad resolution authorizing military action.

    The historian, Robert J. Hanyok, wrote the article in an internal publication and it was classified top secret despite the fact that it dealt with events in 1964. Word of Hanyok’s findings leaked to historians outside the agency, who reque

  47. Snowden | clemency | NY Times | Pentagon Papers Says:

    […] people may think the Times was heroic back then. But they should consider this and […]

  48. The NY Times wants clemency for Snowden Says:

    […] people may think the Times was heroic back then. But they should consider this and […]

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