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Watching the latest episode of Ken Burns’s Vietnam War saga tonight,  Monday, covering the period from mid 1968 to mid 1969, I’m reminded again of how thin the “veneer” was in Presidential politics, as Nixon and Kissinger hustled to kill the fledging Paris peace talks just three days before the November election, tipping the outcome in their favor by promising the Theiu government a better peace deal under a Nixon administration. Of course, that treasonous deal by political aspirant Nixon fell thru, and 20,000, that’s right 20,000, additional Americans died before the war finally ended in 1975.

Here’s a section on that from my 2011 essay, All That Glitters, published under auspices of the Chicago Literary Club (to read it all, go to http://www.chilit.org, then “Papers” then “Papers by Author” then initial “E” then hit title of essay).

“In the summer of 1968, I learned that indeed I’d be assigned to Vietnam. I wrote to the Information Officer of the Military Assistance Command in Saigon and told him of my military and university training in PR, and asked if I might be posted as an information officer on arrival in late November.

“1968 was a turbulent, defining year in America. Martin Luther King was assassinated, then Bobby Kennedy. President Johnson had beat anti-war candidate Eugene McCarthy in the New Hampshire Democratic primary, then dropped out of the race as public support for the Vietnam War began to wane following the Tet debacle. Hubert Humphrey became the Democratic candidate, but the Democratic Presidential Convention in Chicago saw Mayor Daly brutally suppress anti-war riots in the streets, perhaps scuttling Humphrey’s chances.

“Republican Richard Nixon became the next president, just after his representatives, directed by Henry Kissinger, secretly motivated the South Vietnamese Thieu government to boycott the newly launched peace negotiations in Paris, suggesting they would get a better peace deal under a Nixon administration, according to recently released Presidential documents. The real motivation may have been to deny the Democrats the election advantage of ending the war on their watch. Whatever the intent, this had the unintended effect of extending the war for another four years, with 20,000 additional American deaths, and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese.  It was the year of the My Lai massacre.”

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As the entry below from today’s Writer’s Digest dramatizes, this day in 1862 was the bloodiest in American military history. But the Vietnam War, to be dissected in tonight’s debut of the new 10-part series by Ken Burns, claimed more than twice the American lives, plus 3 million Asian lives.  Yet this country of ours continues such fruitless combats, and the waste that was Vietnam echoes in our continuing crusade in Afghanistan, now America’s longest, and perhaps must futile, war ever.

It’s the anniversary of the Battle of Antietam, fought near Sharpsburg, Maryland, along the banks of Antietam Creek (1862). It was the bloodiest single day in American military history, with nearly 23,000 casualties, and it ended in a tactical draw. One regiment, the First Texas Infantry, lost 82 percent of its men.

The 12-hour battle began at dawn, in a cornfield on David Miller’s farm. It was the first Civil War battle fought in Union Territory; the second, the Battle of Gettysburg, would happen less than a year later. Confederate General Robert E. Lee had brought troops into Maryland — which was still part of the Union, even though it was a slave state — to try to replenish his dwindling supplies. Encouraged by word of Stonewall Jackson’s capture of Harpers Ferry, Lee decided to make a stand in Sharpsburg rather than return to Confederate Virginia.

Union Major General George B. McClellan commanded twice as many troops as Lee. Not only that, but he also had a copy of Lee’s battle plan. But McClellan fumbled these advantages, failing to fully collapse the Confederates’ flanks and advance his center — which meant that more than a quarter of McClellan’s men never entered the battle. In the afternoon, Union troops advanced and a victory seemed imminent, until late-arriving Confederate reinforcements held them off. By sundown, both sides simply held their own ground. A veteran of the battle later recalled, “[The cornfield] was so full of bodies that a man could have walked through it without stepping on the ground.”

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 plausability 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.  

 Today’s Washington Post contains a reflective article by Woodward and Bernstein on issues around the Watergate breakin. On Meet The Press this morning, discussing that story, the authors commented that President Ford‘s decision to pardon Nixon was made in the best interests of the country, so we could “move on.”
I totally disagree.
I’ve always believed that the country would have been well-served, even if it would have been somewhat disruptive, to prosecute Nixon, like the 40 others were were convicted and served time over Watergate. Why? Because if everyday American‘s views of our Presidency had been further compromised by such a trial, we might have instilled a greater sense of humility in those subsequently elected or appointed to high office, hopefully including Congress. Substituting accountability for a “too big to fail” mentality when it comes to our nation’s political leadership would have provided a good object lesson on the value of honesty and the price of deceit for all those who came after.
President Johnson made a similar error when he failed to expose Nixon and Kissinger’s cynical overtures to the Thieu regime in South Vietnam before the election of ’68. Johnson learned that Nixon’s people had encouraged Thieu to back out of the Paris peace talks, which he did, promising that his government would get a better deal under a Nixon Presidency than a Johnson one. The result was that the war in Vietnam went on for another 5 years, with 22,000 more American fatalities. Johnson’s tapes revealed that he learned of the Nixon moves, but didn’t go public with what he called “traitorous acts” because Johnson was too concerned the revelation of these political machinations would have been disruptive to the American people. It might have been, and we might have saved many of the 22,000 American deaths that occurred because of Nixon’s election maneuverings.
Look at the economic disaster that the perverted governmental  “too big to fail” economic strategies regarding Wall Street have created. I believe that people can stand to benefit from more truth, transparency and accountability in government, and that the sense of humility those attributes would inculcate in our leadership is worth whatever temporary disruptions our society might incur.
It is high time to bring the era of Big Lies to an end.
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