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My personal essay, “All That Glitters,” relates the story of how Nixon’s cynical political deal to postpone a truce in Vietnam ultimately cost 20,000 Americans lives and perhaps a million more Asians. Now the truth is all out, that covering up Nixon’s deal led to Watergate. An excerpt from Robert Parry’s new article, putting it all together, is below. You can find the full article at www.smirkingchimp.com and search under Robert Parry’s blog. My essay can be found at www.chilit.org, and search under my essay title.
“A favorite saying of Official Washington is that “the cover-up is worse than the crime.” But that presupposes you accurately understand what the crime was. And, in the case of the two major U.S. government scandals of the last third of the Twentieth Century – Watergate and Iran-Contra – that doesn’t seem to be the case.
“Indeed, newly disclosed documents have put old evidence into a sharply different light and suggest that history has substantially miswritten the two scandals by failing to understand that they actually were sequels to earlier scandals that were far worse. Watergate and Iran-Contra were, in part at least, extensions of the original crimes, which involved dirty dealings to secure the immense power of the presidency.
“In the case of Watergate – the foiled Republican break-in at the Democratic National Committee in June 1972 and Richard Nixon’s botched cover-up leading to his resignation in August 1974 – the evidence is now clear that Nixon created the Watergate burglars out of his panic that the Democrats might possess a file on his sabotage of Vietnam peace talks in 1968.
“Shortly after Nixon took office in 1969, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover informed him of the existence of the file containing national security wiretaps documenting how Nixon’s emissaries had gone behind President Lyndon Johnson’s back to convince the South Vietnamese government to boycott the Paris Peace Talks, which were close to ending the Vietnam War in fall 1968.
“The disruption of Johnson’s peace talks then enabled Nixon to hang on for a narrow victory over Democrat Hubert Humphrey. However, as the new President was taking steps in 1969 to extend the war another four-plus years, he sensed the threat from the wiretap file and ordered two of his top aides, chief of staff H.R. “Bob” Haldeman and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, to locate it. But they couldn’t find the file.
We now know that was because President Johnson, who privately had called Nixon’s Vietnam actions “treason,” had ordered the file removed from the White House by his national security aide Walt Rostow.
“Rostow labeled the file “The ‘X’ Envelope” and kept it in his possession, although having left government, he had no legal right to possess the highly classified documents, many of which were stamped “Top Secret.” Johnson had instructed Rostow to retain the papers as long as he, Johnson, was alive and then afterwards to decide what to do with them.
Nixon, however, had no idea that Johnson and Rostow had taken the missing file or, indeed, who might possess it. Normally, national security documents are passed from the outgoing President to the incoming President to maintain continuity in government.
But Haldeman and Kissinger had come up empty in their search. They were only able to recreate the file’s contents, which included incriminating conversations between Nixon’s emissaries and South Vietnamese officials regarding Nixon’s promise to get them a better deal if they helped him torpedo Johnson’s peace talks.
“So, the missing file remained a troubling mystery inside Nixon’s White House, but Nixon still lived up to his pre-election agreement with South Vietnamese President Nguyen van Thieu to extend U.S. military participation in the war with the goal of getting the South Vietnamese a better outcome than they would have received from Johnson in 1968.
Nixon not only continued the Vietnam War, which had already claimed more than 30,000 American lives and an estimated one million Vietnamese, but he expanded it, with intensified bombing campaigns and a U.S. incursion into Cambodia. At home, the war was bitterly dividing the nation with a massive anti-war movement and an angry backlash from war supporters.”
In one exchange with a Congressman this morning, Hillary Clinton acknowledged that there was an over-reaction that led to war when the U.S. claimed that weapons of mass destruction were in the hands of the Iraqui government. I wonder if this was code language that explains why U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice cited in a TV interview mob violence as the reason for the Benghazi attack, and did not mention that it was conducted by terrorists, at a time she would have known the truth?
At a juncture when a public accusation that a terrorist attack on the anniversary of 9/11 was behind the death of a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans might have lit a candle of retailiation that could have led to war across the middle east, or lack of faith in a Presidential candidate for re-election, is it possible that the geniouses in Washington decided the American people couldn’t handle the truth?
If you doubt the plauibility of this interpretation of events, consider that in 1968, recently released papers of President Lyndon Johnson confirm that he decided against accusing Richard Nixon of treason for blocking peace talks regarding Vietnam so the war in Vietnam couldn’t be concluded before the fall election, which Nixon won. The reason Johnson didn’t go public with his charges against Nixon was because Johnson’s advisors believed that such an accusation on the eve of an election could destabilize the American public.
If this suggests to you, as it does to me, that Obama’s advisors felt the American people couldn’t handle the truth that America was successfully attacked again on the anniversary of 9/11, and on the verge of another Presidential election, then perhaps you are ignoring the lessons of history. “Weapons of mass destruction” looks like just such code-language regarding Benghazi.
Was in 1968, when I had arrived in Saigon a few days earlier, and was in the midst of an officer’s in-country orientation at MACV headquarters. I had arrived alone, knew no-one, and and my assignment had just been shot out from under me, quite truly, as the Vietnamese general officer I was to serve as press liaison to, had shot my predecessor over a disagreement.
In a very down spirit, I arrived in the general mess hall and was greeted by holiday music, Thanksgiving decor and one of the best Thanksgiving dinners of my life (with apologies to my mother and grandmother). It was such a delight, in that godforsaken place, that I’ve never forgotten the experience, chatting warmly with total strangers, for 40 minutes or so of relief, so long ago and far away. I still have the menu card from that wonderfully surprising Thanksgiving dinner.
Read more in my essay on my military experiences, called “All That Glitters.” Go to http://www.chilit.org and search for the title
Memorial Day is always a mixed bag for me. I do weep for those who served and suffered. But most of them were followers, even the officers, of political leaders who had made life and death decisions on their behalf, sometimes for very bad reasons. Of late, especially since Vietnam, those reasons have been somewhere on the scale between questionable and dead wrong.
When we had the draft, in the Vietnam era, one could have great compassion for the young who sacrificed their options in life to serve their country when called. Even those who dodged service gave up option then. Since the end of the draft, many who have served have done so just to get a job and some training that was not otherwise readily available for them. We can have sympathy for them that they made such a Hobson’s choice.
Today, as we honor those who served, and especially those who suffered and died in place of ourselves, and as we remember their families, we might best respect their loyalty to their nation by questioning the motives and the thinking of those who are our political leaders today, as to their military strategies. Do these strategies justify the continued use of our military might, and are the American people being served well by these strategies and the people behind them?
The loyalties and sacrifices of generations of Americans who have served and supported the military are best served, I believe, by an engaged, questioning, demanding public, that holds our leadership accountable for their strategies and decisions, and speaks out boldly on behalf of those who have served, are serving and those yet to be called.
America has too often been a nation of Forest Gumps, being led to the slaughter by cynical, distant leaders. Memorial Day should be about honoring those who serve by questioning those who lead. It’s not just about memories, but accountability. For a personal story about questioning and service, see my essay, “All That Glitters,” as presented to the Chicago Literary Club. http://www.chilit.org/Papers%20by%20author/Ebeling%20–%20All%20That%20Glitters.htm
My experiences related to Vietnam, including Thanksgiving 1968 in Saigon, are at http://www.chilit.org. Click on “Scheme of Exercises” and then on the story title, “All That Glitters…”. The essay was presented on November 21 this year at the Chicago Literary Club meeting.
I’ve been sadly reminded twice this week of political refrains that echo extremes of reaction during the Vietnam era.
Conservative political leaders have reacted negatively to the “Occupy” movement, and what I’d characterize as the excessive “police state’ enforcement in ways that remind me of the “hippie bashing” that became widespread regarding those who openly organized to oppose the Vietnam War. Of course back then, it wasn’t just the Republicans who went too far in restricting First Amendment rights of protestors — Mayor Daly’s over-reaction to demonstrators during the Democratic National Convention in Chicago was one such disgusting example.
The other conservative comment I found so evocative was in the national security Republican debate last night, when one candidate criticized the idea that the U.S. should withdraw from the Afghanistan War, after 10 years, as a “cut and run” strategy. We heard that from the politicians in the late 60s, and the Vietnam war went on until 1975, with 55 thousand American deaths.
Is there no sense of history in our leadership? Is there any sense at all?
I recently wrote a memoir about my experiences during the Vietnam War, in the late 60s, and after thinking about President Obama’s speech last night on his strategy on getting out of Afghanistan, I realize again that we didn’t learn a thing from the Vietnam debacle. Cynical political calculations by Richard Nixon scuttled the Paris Peace talks in the fall of 1968, as revealed in recently released Presidential papers of then outgoing President Johnson (see Wikipedia under Vietnam War).
Candidate Nixon, with Henry Kissinger and Anna Chennault as messenger, told the South Vietnamese that they would get a better deal in the peace talks under a Republican administration than under the Democrats. Johnson found out, and wanted to expose Nixon as a traitor, but was advised that such an accusation could be socially destabilizing, so he didn’t. The result: Vietnam did not get settled under Democratic watch, and the U.S. proceeded to lose another 20,000 troops (plus a million Asians) before the Vietnam War was finally ended in 1975.
Lesson: Pulling just 33,000 U.S. troops by September, 2012, a month before the election, is another such cynical political calculation, designed to leave enough troops there (70,000) so that Afghanistan will not descend into chaos, as it likely will do, if the troops were mostly removed before the election, embarrassing the Obama administration with a lost war on its watch.
Sound like Vietnam 1968 all over again? The economic loss, and the loss in lives, will be the test.
Following is an except of an essay I’m writing on my experiences during the Vietnam War era:
“The confluence of my coming to adulthood, influenced by world affairs in the late 60s, and so much of my subsequent life, seem to all stem from events around that cataclysm which history now knows as the Vietnam War. Similar personal stories surely grow out of the current debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan, as they did from the Korean War, and other breakdowns of civilization through all of human history.
“As an adult touching old age, I now look at war as the most abominable form of wholesale natural selection, and I’m bitter that the politicians and counselors who commit us to our wars almost universally remain exempt from real personal consequences of their decisions, besides obligatory consolation of the bereaved and being the recipients of abusive rantings in the blogosphere. Instead, those “brave” leaders invariably commit a generation of excitable youth to be the proxies for their own complex, bruised egos, and plots to secure needed oil inventories and pressures to sustain the military/industrial complex. The young warriors lead the way with their own deaths and personal and family sacrifices, while the nation’s leadership continues to politic, govern, prosper and then move on to honored, gracefully reflective retirements, often discussing their “difficult” decisions in their memoirs and in endless book tours.”
A peaceful Memorial Day to all.
As the debate begins over what to do about our massive military presence in Afghanistan, in the wake of the death of Osama Bin Laden, and even Senate Foreign Relations committee chair Kerry questions what our goals now are in that country, I recalled the following excerpt from an essay I’ve recently written on my own Vietnam experience, as follows:
“Even back in those days of a military draft, most American men had managed, either through dumb luck, political connections or serial deferments, to dodge active military service. I had embraced my bad luck, as it were, and sought to make the most of it. In some ways I’d succeeded. In other ways, my own experience was a microcosm of the futility, the waste and the lies of war. America didn’t end the bloodshed in Vietnam until 1975, thanks in large part to the cynical political maneuverings of Nixon, Kissinger and Chennault before that seminal election in the fall of 1968. America had lost its first war. I was reminded of a quotation from Isaac Asimov I’d seen at the foundation museum in Gernika, Spain, site of Franco and Hitler’s carpet-bombing atrocity during the Spanish Civil War, “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.” My experience suggests that the gold bars I once worked so diligently to earn, and proudly wore, were largely worn in vain.”
It was a cold late October night as I hopped off the back of a truck, my carbine was handed down, and I reported for guard duty, marching the perimeter of the Gold Vault at Fort Knox, Kentucky.
A few months before, I’d been studying journalism at Bradley University, and as I trudged along the giant square chain link fence with the dimly-lit vault building over my shoulder, I wondered at how my path had led to this forlorn place, and if and when I’d find my way out to discover some glimmer of a brighter future. I wondered, too, if in reality the inside of the vault looked anything like it had been portrayed in the newest James Bond film, Goldfinger, filmed here just a year before. And, were there still mountains of gold only yards from my guard path? I was so near, yet so far, from the answers.
In another seven months, I’d leave this place, bringing along two gold bars of my own — on my shoulders. My own little war story had began.