USA Today features Tom Millington, a U.S educator in Cuba
Tom Millington wanted to be a diplomat. Instead, he’s an educator in Cuba. But he acts as an ambassador of sorts, coordinating a study abroad program that helps American students learn more about the island nation. And with the historic shift to normalize U.S.-Cuba relations announced Dec. 17, he is eager to see firsthand what happens next.
What do the U.S. and Cuba have in common? And what do Cuban students teach their American peers? Listen to this installment of Readers’ Voices.
Ernesto Londoño from the New York Times tells Amanpour why the newspaper thinks the U.S. should end its Cuba embargo
Obama meets Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi at home where she was kept under arrest.
Image: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press
BY THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
15 hours ago
President Barack Obama gave a blunt assessment Friday of the need for further reform in Myanmar’s move toward democracy, weighing into sensitive controversies over the treatment of religious minorities and a prohibition keeping opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from running for president.
Suu Kyi, released four years ago from more than two decades of confinement, is now a member of Myanmar’s Parliament but is unable to run in next year’s presidential election because of a constitutional rule barring anyone with strong allegiances to a foreign national from standing for the presidency. Suu Kyi’s sons are British, as was her late husband.
“I don’t understand a provision that would bar somebody from running for president because of who their children are,” Obama said, with Suu Kyi by his side. “That doesn’t make much sense to me.”
Obama and Suu Kyi took questions from reporters from the back patio of the house where she spent much of her time under house arrest. The two were warm and affectionate in their interactions, sharing a long embrace after their opening statements and joking with each other throughout their remarks.
Obama has been pressing Myanmar’s leaders to amend the Constitution, but has been careful to not directly endorse his fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate as the country’s next president. He also raised an issue that has led to criticism for the opposition icon — her reluctance to address the abuse of minority Rohingya Muslims who are deeply disdained by most people in Myanmar.
“Discrimination against the Rohingya or any other religious minority I think does not express the kind of country that Burma over the long term wants to be,” Obama said. “Ultimately that is destabilizing to a democracy.” Myanmar is also known as Burma.
Obama and Suu Kyi met briefly Thursday on the sidelines of a regional summit in the capital city of Naypyitaw. On Friday, Obama flew to the city of Yangon to hold more substantial talks with Suu Kyi and also toured the Secretariat Building, where Suu Kyi’s father, independence hero Gen. Aung San, was assassinated by political rivals in 1947.
Obama had broadly embraced Myanmar’s move away from a half-century of military rule, suspending U.S. sanctions and rewarding the country with high-level visits from American officials. But Myanmar has stalled in fulfilling its promises of political and economic reforms, and in some cases has lost ground.
“We shouldn’t deny that Burma today is not the same as Burma five years ago,” Obama said. “But the process is still incomplete.” “We shouldn’t deny that Burma today is not the same as Burma five years ago,” Obama said. “But the process is still incomplete.”
Both Obama and Suu Kyi warned against complacency in the move toward democracy. Suu Kyi described the process as going through “a bumpy patch.”
Suu Kyi opened the press conference by addressing reports of tension between the U.S. and those working for democratic reforms in Myanmar. “We may view things differently from time to time but that will in no way affect our relationship,” she said.
Obama notably held his news conference on his visit to the Southeast Asian nation with Suu Kyi , not the country’s president. Obama said he told President Thein Sein that he will be judging whether reforms are being fully realized first off by whether next year’s election is held on time and whether the constitutional amendment process reflects inclusion.
Suu Kyi said it’s flattering to have a constitutional provision written with her in mind but it’s not how the law should be written. The 69-year-old said she and her supporters are working to change it and welcome Obama’s support.
“The Constitution says all citizens should be treated as equals and this is discrimination on the grounds of my children,” she said.
By WILLIAM YARDLEY OCT. 6, 2014
The Vietnam War was raging when Fred Branfman went to Laos in 1967 as an international aid worker. Determined to immerse himself in the society, he lived with an elderly villager, learned to speak Laotian and became a translator. In time, he met Laotians who told him something startling: There was a second war in their country, a secret American bombing campaign, that was devastating remote villages.
The revelation led him to take up a new mission when his term as an aid worker, for the nonprofit organization International Voluntary Services, ended in the summer of 1969: to bring attention to what became known as the “Secret War.”
It had gone on for years — Air Force bombers attacked parts of Laos controlled by the Communist North Vietnamese, killing thousands of Laotian civilians — but it had been invisible to most Americans.
Mr. Branfman, who was 72 when he died on Sept. 24, in Budapest, became one of the first to expose the air war, publicly challenging accounts by United States officials who had initially denied the bombing campaign and later insisted that it did not target civilian areas.
In Laos, Mr. Branfman took foreign officials and journalists into bombed villages and wrote freelance articles about the campaign. In 1971, he returned to the United States, where he helped start two influential antiwar groups, Project Air War and the Indochina Resource Center, which lobbied Congress to stop financing the war. The same year, he testified before Congress opposite William H. Sullivan, the American ambassador to Laos from 1964 to 1969 and one of the overseers of the bombing campaign.
Mr. Sullivan, who died last year, told Congress that Mr. Branfman and others had exaggerated the issue. Mr. Branfman and another opponent of the war, Representative Paul N. McCloskey Jr., a Republican from California, testified that Mr. Sullivan and the government had concealed the campaign.
The next year, Mr. Branfman provided stark documentation in a book he edited, “Voices From the Plain of Jars: Life Under an Air War.” The book — its title refers to the hard-hit farming region of northern Laos — included 16 Laotian “autobiographies” drawn from interviews by Mr. Branfman. Some included rudimentary line drawings by villagers depicting family members and neighbors being killed. It told of people fleeing the bombardment and hiding in caves for years.
According to reports at the time, at least two million tons of bombs were dropped from 1964 to 1973, nearly a ton for every person in Laos.
“No American should be able to read that book without weeping at his country’s arrogance,” the columnist Anthony Lewis wrote in The New York Times in 1973.
Jerome J. Brown, an Air Force captain who had helped identify targets for the bombing campaign in the late 1960s, said in 1972 that Mr. Branfman’s work had motivated him to discuss the campaign in detail publicly.
In 1976, Graham A. Martin, the last American ambassador to South Vietnam, bitterly blamed antiwar groups for the United States’s failure to prevent the fall of Saigon. Calling the antiwar campaign “one of the best propaganda and pressure organizations the world has ever seen,” he singled out one in particular, the Indochina Resource Center.
Fredric Robert Branfman was born on March 18, 1942, in Manhattan and grew up on Long Island, in Great Neck. His father, Ivan, was a textile executive, and his mother, Helen, was a homemaker. He received a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Chicago in 1964 and a master’s in education from Harvard in 1965.
Mr. Branfman taught English in Tanzania before going to work in Laos.
His wife, Zsuzsanna Berkovits Branfman, said he had died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, known as A.L.S. or Lou Gehrig’s disease. The couple had been living in Budapest for several years. Besides his wife, he is survived by three brothers, Alan, Yaakov and David.
After the war, Mr. Branfman worked in Democratic politics, spending four years in the early 1980s as a senior staff member for Gov. Jerry Brown of California running the California Public Policy Center, a research arm. He was also an adviser to Senator Gary Hart of Colorado, helping to write policy papers for the senator’s 1988 presidential campaign before Mr. Hart dropped out of the race.
Mr. Branfman was later an activist on environmental issues, particularly climate change. He returned to Laos several times, including once to be interviewed for a documentary about the bombing campaign called “The Most Secret Place on Earth.” Last year, a new paperback edition of “Voices From the Plain of Jars” was published.
President Nixon’s farewell on Aug. 9, 1974, as he boards a helicopter at the White House. (Associated Press)
On the eve of Richard Nixon’s resignation 40 years ago, he could hear protesters chanting outside the White House as he retired to the Lincoln Sitting Room to make calls.
The distant shouting reminded him of the height of the Vietnam War protests. “Except this time,” he recalled during the more than 30 hours of interviews that he did with his former aide Frank Gannon in 1983, “the chant was ‘Jail the Chief! Jail the Chief!'”
But the 37th president was unmoved. “It didn’t bother me,” he said, smiling in his conversation with Gannon nearly a decade later. “You know, after all, I’d been heckled by experts.”
It was that brazen side of Nixon — impervious to criticism and casting himself as a victim even as he stepped down — that infuriated millions of Americans during what became a moment of national shame. Nixon’s deception and abuse of executive power stunned the nation.
The Gannon-Nixon tapes, part of Nixon’s post-presidency attempt to rehabilitate his reputation, are being rereleased this week for a new generation by the Richard Nixon Presidential Library & Museum and the Richard Nixon Foundation to mark the 40th anniversary of his resignation and the presidential scandal known as Watergate.
The clips in the series are appearing day by day through Saturday on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. Sitting down with his longtime aide in a nonconfrontational setting — markedly different from the contentious Frost/Nixon interviews of 1977 — the former president frames one of the most famous political scandals in his own words.
The tapes are being billed by the library as revealing the former president’s more emotional, candid and reflective side. They are at varying times maudlin, craven, emotional; even in 1983, Nixon appears to see himself as a man wronged, saying that he had resisted resigning because it would be an “admission of guilt” that would have set a bad example for future presidents.
While they do not provide new revelations about the Watergate affair, which began as a 1972 break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington, they do provide intimate details of the Nixon family’s last hours at the White House and a powerful leader’s gradual submission to the politically inevitable.
The damning revelations of his involvement in the Watergate coverup by then were rolling into public view. He had lost the three votes he was counting on in the House Judiciary Committee to protect him from impeachment. Key supporters were abandoning him. And he could not bear the spectacle of going on trial before the Senate as “a crippled, half-time president.”
But in Nixon’s mind, he was still a victim, the tapes indicate. Even in those final White House days, he was still defiant about what had “happened” to him, basking in the adulation of loyal aides, and nurturing his lingering hesitation with a note left in his bedroom by his daughter Julie, who begged him to “go through the fire,” noting that millions still supported him.
“I’m a fighter; I just didn’t want to quit,” Nixon said. “Also, I thought it would be an admission of guilt, which of course it was,” he added. “And … it would set a terribly bad precedent for the future.”
But the damning tape of the “smoking gun” conversation, recorded in the Oval Office only a few days after the break-in and firmly establishing his knowledge of the burglary and coverup, “was the final blow, the final nail in the coffin. Although you didn’t need another nail if you were already in the coffin, which we were.”
Nixon recalled calling his family together and bringing with him a transcript of the tape to convince them he had to resign.
After his televised address to the nation on the night of Aug. 8, 1974, Nixon walked back to the residence with top advisor Henry Kissinger. “He said, ‘Mr. President, history is going to record that you were a great president.”
“I thought it would be an admission of guilt, which of course it was,” former President Nixon said in a 1983 interview of his reluctance to resign. (Raiford Communications)
Nixon’s version of events is once again stirring debate among historians, some of whom say it represents a misleading view of a crucial chapter in American history. Watergate historian Stanley Kutler described the videos as a desperate attempt to “rewrite history” and said he had urged the library to create a more informative exhibit. “This was Nixon carefully programmed…. This was Nixon in the middle of his last campaign.”
Nixon asserted, for example, that he had already made up his mind to resign before the incriminating “smoking gun” tape was revealed.
“That’s not true,” said Kutler, a professor emeritus of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “He was still trying that day to stay in office — and finally one Republican congressman after another told him he had to quit.”
In Yorba Linda on Tuesday, there was no rush of visitors to see the excerpts on display, selected from the interviews and played in a loop in a darkened theater.
For much of the day, the theater was nearly empty as a few older couples and the occasional family trickled in to watch them. Many visitors seemed oblivious to the anniversary and said they did not know that the tapes were new. Some said they were too young to remember Nixon’s resignation; others said they had become more fond of him over the years.
For 81-year-old Nancy Jerdee of Chandler, Ariz., there was not much new, but it brought back her sadness from that day. “I lived through all of that,” she said, describing Nixon as a great president. “It was such a stupid thing to have to resign over…. Presidents have done a lot worse than that.”
Nixon recalled that he did not sleep much the night before his last day in the White House. When he awoke, he realized that the battery had worn out on his watch — it had stopped at 4 p.m. on his last day as president. “By that time,” he said, “I was worn out too.”
Nixon recalled how he closed his eyes as he stepped aboard the helicopter for the last time. “I heard Mrs. Nixon speaking to no one in particular, but to everyone,” he said. “It’s so sad,” he remembered her saying. “It’s so sad.”
Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
The architects of our foreign-policy disasters would prefer we simply forget the past.
|Clockwise from top left: Elliott Abrams, Henry Kissinger, Bill Kristol, Dick Cheney
(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta; Reuteres/Pascal Lauener; Gage SkidmoreAP Photo/Richard Drew)
I recently happened to be in the audience for a discussion on the legacy of World War I, held at the Thompson/Reuters headquarters in New York City, when Henry Kissinger made an amazing observation: of the five major wars that the United States has fought since World War II, all were entered on behalf of “idealistic principles.” No less surprising to me was the fact that nobody else in the crowded room of media and policy bigwigs appeared to find anything odd about that statement. Given what we now know about the lies, deception and corruption that preceded the most catastrophic of these wars—Vietnam and the second Iraq War—to call them “idealistic” is to purposely evade history at best, or (more accurately) to rewrite it purely on the basis of ideology rather than evidence.
Now Kissinger, at 91, may be pretty old and famously amoral, but he is not senile and has never been stupid. He offered his blinkered version of recent events before a room full of knowledgeable people because he figured nobody really cared one way or another. After all, it was “history”—which, in contemporary American political culture, is another word for “irrelevant.” And it is this contempt for history, as the cliché correctly advises, that condemns our nation to continually repeat it. The circumstances may differ, but the pathology remains unchanged.
Neocons are surpremely aware of this tendency and exploit it to the fullest. In fact, most of their careers would be impossible without it. Would Elliott Abrams be able to mouth off as a respected Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, attacking Barack Obama in a recent Politico piece as “The Man Who Broke the Middle East,” if his patrons took the time to consider that Abrams both enabled and ran political interference for what the Guatemalan Supreme Court of Justice has deemed a genocidal dictatorship? (Abrams also got himself disbarred in the District of Columbia for his lies to Congress about these and other crimes in which he participated while serving in the Reagan administration, both before and after the Iran/Contra affair.) Should that stretch American memory muscles beyond their breaking point, how about the fact that this criminal, while serving on the National Security Council during Bush II, himself helped to “break” the Middle East by undermining the 2006 Palestinian elections, which helped lead to the creation of a Hamas-run rump state in Gaza in the first place? And yet he somehow gets away with the crazy claim that “the Middle East that Obama inherited in 2009 was largely at peace” in order to blame its alleged collapse on the current president. (Politico is, conveniently, the ground zero of American political ahistoricity: virtually everything it publishes occurred during the previous twenty-four hours and will cease to matter within the next forty-eight.)
Numerous observers have expressed incredulity over the eagerness of so many media mavens to allow the discredited armchair warriors of the 2003 US invasion of Iraq to dominate discussion of the current crisis in that country—a crisis whose foundations they helped put in place. In a saner world, each one would, at a minimum, be required to answer the following question: “Given your record the last time this issue arose, why in the world should we listen to anything you have to say today?” But as the respective rehabilitations of Henry Kissinger and Elliott Abrams demonstrate, being a known liar and an arguable (Kissinger) or unarguable (Abrams) enabler of genocide is no barrier to career advancement in the American establishment, thanks to the collective amnesia of its most elite institutions, especially its elite media.
Sometimes they lie outright. Here are Dick and Liz Cheney writing in The Weekly Standardregarding the Iraq invasion: “It is undisputed, and has been confirmed repeatedly in Iraqi government documents captured after the invasion, that Saddam had deep, longstanding, far-reaching relationships with terrorist organizations, including al Qaeda and its affiliates.”
Undisputed? Really? How about, just for starters, the 9/11 Commission, before which Cheney testified. Its final report, as Warren Bass noted in The Wall Street Journal, states that the commission has “seen no evidence [of] a collaborative operational relationship. Nor have we seen evidence indicating that Iraq cooperated with al Qaeda in developing or carrying out any attacks against the United States.”
William Kristol, perhaps the wrongest pundit in all of American history—and hence also the most sought-after by media institutions like The Washington Post, The New York Times,Time, ABC News, etc.—demonstrates a coy agnosticism when it comes to the choice between outright fabrication and contempt for the historical record. He doesn’t mind pretending, as he did on ABC’s This Week With George Stephanopoulos, that the current crisis was caused by what he termed “our ridiculous and total withdrawal from Iraq in 2011,” when in fact that withdrawal had been decided on in the 2008 Status of Forces Agreement negotiated with the Iraqi government by George W. Bush. But Kristol is just as comfortable asserting in The Weekly Standard (in an article written with Frederick Kagan), “Now is not the time to re-litigate either the decision to invade Iraq in 2003 or the decision to withdraw from it in 2011.” This is perhaps the only path available to someone with the chutzpah to insist, back in April 2003, that it was merely a “kind of pop sociology in America that, you know, somehow the Shia can’t get along with the Sunni,” when that same person today is calling for yet another attack on the country to deal with the Sunni/Shiite massacres inspired by the earlier one. But as Kristol, Cheney, Abrams and Kissinger demonstrate over and over, success within our political punditocracy means never having to say you’re sorry.
July 16, 2014
|Kim Ludbrook/European Pressphoto Agency|
Most important, it helped him manage the lethal divisions within the large Zulu nation, which was rived by a power struggle between the African National Congress and the Inkatha Freedom Party. While many A.N.C. leaders demonized the Inkatha leader, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, Mr. Mandela embraced him into his new unity government and finally quelled the violence.
Fred Branfman, author of a number of books about the Indochina War is our featured guest blogger. Working as the Director of Project Air War in 1969 he wrote about the U.S. bombing in Indochina, which he claimed was directed at civilians.
Branfman, an American teacher who exposed the secret war to the U.S. Congress and helped stop the bombings was working as an educational adviser for the U.S. government in Laos, when in September 1969 thousands of refugees fled into the Laotian capital of Vientiane. Working as a translator for international media, he began to interpret thousands of villagers’ stories, telling of planes dropping bombs.
Told by U.S. officials in Laos that Americans had nothing to do with the bombs, Branfman became consumed with the desire to understand what was happening. Gathering details, he journeyed to Washington and spoke at a special session of the U.S. Senate Committee on Refugees, exposing the U.S. government’s covert activities.
Mr. Branfam who lives part of the year in California will be interviewed by Harvard-Westlake students in preparation for their Investigative Journalism trip to Laos in March, 2013.
“Has American Undergone The Spiritual Death Martin Luther King Warned Of? If So, Can It Be Redeemed?” By Fred Branfman
“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”
–Martin Luther King Jr. “Beyond Vietnam” speech, April 4, 1967
I recently watched, and was tremendously moved by, all 10 episodes of Oliver Stone’s “Untold History of the United States” (on Showtime.) I strongly recommend it to all of us, but particularly America’s young people who have been robbed of a most precious legacy: an understanding of their true history – and thus their future. I can’t think of a more meaningful birthday or holiday gift to young people for, as Stone says, “history must be remembered or it will be remembered until the meanings are clear.” As the same U.S. Executive Branch mentality that produced Vietnam is today illegally murdering and weakening U.S. national security interests through the Muslim world, and threatening its own citizens as never before, it has never been more urgent to learn from America’s real history.
I was most moved by Episode 7, on the war in Indochina, whose closing words below constitute not only an epitaph for the Vietnam War but America itself. I thought of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s warning as I watched this segment, which so movingly chronicled how U.S. leaders waged aggressive war, killing over 3.4 million Vietnamese according to former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, and hundreds of thousands more Laotians and Cambodians; have never even apologized for doing so, let alone cleaned up the tens of millions of unexploded bombs and environmental poisons which continue to kill, wound and deform tens of thousands of innocent civilians until today, let alone paid the reparations they still owe the Indochinese; and then successfully erased their crimes and misjudgments from the history taught America’s young people, guaranteeing that they will be repeated now and in the future.
I watched this episode after reading Nick Turse’s monumental new book, Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam, which documents the systematic “industrial-scale” slaughter of Vietnamese civilians by U.S. troops, ordered by top U.S. military officers. Anyone who wants to know what the term “American” really means abroad should read this book.
I cannot say that I am surprised that America’s political leaders, media and public intellectuals continue to ignore the U.S. Executive’s ongoing inhumanity and murder of the innocent – particularly through through its global and spreading drone and ground assassination programs and increasing reliance on the automated warmaking I first saw in Laos 40 years ago. America’s elites are as indifferent to the “mere Muslim Rule” today as they were to the “mere Gook Rule” in Vietnam which Turse so painstakingly documents.
But I must say that I am astonished that even those who justify U.S. leaders’ actions on the grounds of national security have failed to notice the obvious fact that U.S. warmaking in the 1.8 billion strong Muslim World is jeopardizing U.S. national security as never before. Just as shortsighted U.S. backing of the Shah of Iran created a U.S. foreign policy disaster in 1978, the continuation of such policies today will guarantee many more Irans in the future.
Nothing will threaten Americans more in the coming decade than an irrational U.S. foreign policy that, in return for killing a handful of “senior Al Qaeda” leaders (often replaced by more competent deputies), has turned hundreds of millions of Muslims against it including countless potential suicide bombers, greatly strengthened anti-U.S. forces, destabilized friendly or neutral governments and, as revealed by Wikileaks, vastly increased the danger that materials from Pakistan’s nuclear stockpile – the world’s fastest growing and least stable – will fall into terrorist hands. It must be understood that today’s U.S. Executive Branch poses a far greater threat to U.S. national security, and to each of us, than its foes. (Please see my piece on this.)
It is understandable that many of us breathed a sigh of relief when Obama beat Romney, and hope for a Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden victory in 2016. But such hopes should not blind us to the fact that Obama, Clinton, Biden and the Democrats have continued a bipartisan and suicidal foreign policy that is not only illegal and immoral, but threatens the deaths of countless Americans at home and abroad, and increasing attempts to turn the U.S. into a police-state in response.
Stone’s words below pose basic questions: has Martin Luther King’s warning come true? And, if so, what can we do to promote the birth of decency, humanity, and rationality in this spiritually dead nation of ours?
Excerpts from Episode 7: “Vietnam, LBJ, Nixon & Third World: Reversal of Fortune”, from “Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States” (Showtime)
The accepted mythology of the time was the U.S. lost the war in Vietnam. But as linguist, historian and philosopher Noam Chomsky has pointed out, “it’s called a loss, a defeat, because they didn’t achieve the maximal aims. The maximal aims being turning it into something like the Philippines. They didn’t do that. They did achieve the major aims. It was possible to destroy Vietnam and leave”. Elsewhere he wrote, “South Vietnam had been virtually destroyed, and the chances that Vietnam would ever be a model for anything had essentially disappeared.”
When an aging and wiser Robert McNamara returned to Vietnam in 1995 he conceded, somewhat in shock, that despite official US estimates of 2 million Vietnamese dead, 3.4 to 3.8 million Vietnamese had perished. In comparison 58,000 Americans died in the fighting and 200,00 were wounded.
The U.S. had destroyed 9,000 of South Vietnam’s 15,000 hamlets – in the north all 6 industrial cities, 28 of 30 provincial towns, and 96 of 116 district towns. Unexploded ordnance still blankets the countryside. 19 million gallons of herbicide had poisoned the environment. Almost all of Vietnam’s ancient triple canopy forests are gone. The effects of chemical warfare alone lasted for generations, and could be seen today in the hospital in the South where Agent Orange was used. Dead fetuses kept in jars. Surviving children born with horrid birth defects and deformities. And cancer rates much higher than in the North.
And yet, incredibly, the chief issue in the United States was, for many years, the hunt for 1300 soldiers missing in action, a few hundred of them presumed taken as captives by the North Vietnamese. High-grossing action movies were made out of them.
No official apology from the United States has ever been issued, and absolutely no appreciation of the suffering of the Vietnamese.
President Bill Clinton finally recognized Vietnam in 1995, 20 years later. Ever since the war American conservatives have struggled to vanquish “the Vietnam Syndrome”, which became a catchphrase for Americans’ unwillingness to send troops abroad to fight.
For a war that so mesmerized and defined an entire generation, surprisingly little is known about Vietnam today among American youth. This is not accidental. There has been a conscious and systematic effort to erase Vietnam from historical consciousness
Reagan: “It is time that we recognized ours was in truth a noble cause. We dishonor the memory of 50,000 young Americans who died in that cause when we give way to feeling of guilt, as if we were doing something shameful.”
It was not only conservatives who whitewashed American history. Bill Clinton: “whatever we may thing about the political decisions of the Vietnam era, the brave Americans who fought and died there had noble motives. They fought for the freedom and the independence of the Vietnamese people.”
The outcome has been shrouded in sanitized lies. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, dedicated in November of 82, now contains the names of 58,272 dead or missing Americans.. The message is clear. The tragedy is the death of those Americans. But imagine if the names of 3.8 million Vietnamese and millions of Cambodians and Laotians were also included.
The supposed shame of Vietnam would be finally avenged by Ronald Reagan, the two Bushes and even to an extent Barack Obama, in the two decades to come.
The irony is that the Vietnam war represented a sad climax of the WWII generation from which Johnson, Nixon, Reagan, Bush Sr., and all the generals in the high command came, those proclaimed by the mainstream media in the late 1990s as “the greatest generation.”
Yet that same media ignored the arrogance of a generation that, overconfident from WWII, dismissed Vietnam as a fourth-rate power that could be easily defeated. From what the ancient Greeks called hubris or arrogance comes the fall. And from this initially obscure war came a great distortion of economic, social and moral life in America. A civil war that polarized the country till this day – with much denied, little remembered, nothing regretted and, perhaps, nothing learned.
History must be remembered or it will be remembered until the meanings are clear. The second President of the United States, John Adams, once said, “power always thinks it has a great soul and that it is doing God’s service when it is violating all His laws”.
Which makes the details of the oncoming history a sad, inevitable bloodbath that repeats itself again and again, as the U.S.A., much too often, stood on the side of the oppressors, propping up allies with financial and military aid, war on drugs programs, police and security training, joint military exercises, overseas bases, and occasional direct military intervention.
The U.S. empowered a network of tyrants who were friendly to foreign investors who could exploit cheap labor and native resources on terms favorable to the Empire. Such was the British and French way. And such would be the American way. Not raping, looting Mongols, but rather benign, briefcase-toting, Ivy-league educated bankers, and corporate executives who would loot local economies in the name of modernity, democracy and civilization, to the benefit of the United States and its allies.
During the Cold War politicians and the media sidestepped debate over the basic morality of U.S. foreign policy, by mouthing platitudes about U.S. benevolence and insisting that harsh, even dirty, tactics were needed to fight fire with fire. The Kissingers of the world called it “realpolitik”. But even when the Soviet Union collapsed in the early 1990s, our nation’s policies did not change, as the U.S. time and again, has taken the side of the entrenched classes or the military against those from below seeking change.
It was the American war against the poor of the earth, the most easily killed, the collateral damage.
As was asked at the beginning, was it really about fighting communism, or was that a misunderstood or disguised motivation?
It was George Kennan, America’s leading early Cold War strategist who went to the heart of the matter in a memorandum written in 1948. “With 50 percent of the world’s wealth but only 6% of its population, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity. To do so we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and daydreaming. We should cease to talk about vague and unreal objectives such as human rights, raising of living standards and democratization. We are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are hampered by idealistic slogans the better.”
But George Kennan, who lived to be 102 years old in 2005, was an intellectual who never sought political office.
Never in his wildest dreams could he have imagined the barbaric proportions of the upcoming Presidency of Ronald Reagan.
Bill Morse, Director Cambodian Landmine Museum, Siem Reap
Briggs Boss, Sophomore, Thacher School
Stacy Serrette, Teacher and Dean of Student Life, Emma Willard School
Paul Rusesabagina, Real-life Hotel Rwanda hero who saved over 1200 people during the Rwandan genocide.
Shirley Hahn, Beverly Hills, California
The Santa Barbara Independent
Alex Greer, Junior, Laguna Blanca School
Kelly Bennett, history teacher, Santa Barbara Middle School
Alexandra Kall, Francis Parker School
Spencer Barr, English Teacher, Santa Barbara High School, California
Stacy Serrette, Director of Student Life, Emma Willard School
Eric Taylor, Francis Parker School, San Diego, California