There’s Something Happening Here; What it is Ain’t Exactly Clear . . . (Buffalo Springfield)
Forty-eight years ago today — July fifth 1965 — was a big day, at least for moi. The fifth was on a Monday in ’65, and at eight that morning I started work on my first post-college job. I’d gotten my B.S. degree in January, 1965, and had been enrolled in graduate school that spring semester with plans to eventually earn at least a Masters degree in microbiology/biochemistry. Then, in May 1965, the roof fell in. I received my draft notice, and given the unfortunate fact that my student deferments had run out, my choices suddenly became extremely limited. They wanted me, y’ see, mainly because (thanks a lot, LBJ) the war in Vietnam was escalating rapidly, particularly following the (bogus) Gulf of Tonkin “incident” in August of 1964 and the equally stupid Gulf of Tonkin Resolution a few weeks later.
In the summer of ’65 I was 22 years of age, rapidly approaching birthday number 23, and had absolutely NO INTEREST!! in being drafted and sent to ‘fight’ in some steamy jungle located in the middle of a country I’d only heard anything about on various network news reports; a country which offered absolutely zero threat to me or to anyone else on this side of the world; a country which, I soon learned, had been America’s ally during the second world war, an ally who had successfully engaged their Japanese occupiers.
So I did everything I could, short of escaping to Canada as so many others had done and would continue to do, to avoid being conscripted. I won’t bother with the boring details; suffice to say that I was able to sort of ‘fudge’ my Army physical which allowed me an extremely temporary but nevertheless welcome respite, enough time for me to snag a job in a local company’s R&D department, a multi-lab setup which engaged almost exclusively in classified biological and chemical warfare projects projects, each and all under the supervision of both military and intelligence (bad word for what they were up to, but . . . ) agencies. The day I was hired, the head of R&D said something to me about “a critical industry deferment” or somesuch. Whatever it was, it worked. My only regret remains the fact that, through my employment responsibilities, I contributed far more than I ever thought I would to some of the tools of devastation America employed ‘over there’ in our warmongering effort to somehow squeeze out a “victory” from what was always and invariably predestined to be an eventual failure. Which it was. If I had it to do over again, I’d probably go to Canada.
In any case, I don’t typically dwell on recollections of that era, but just recently a friend sent me a link to what I found to be a rather compelling Common Dreams article on what turned out to be a more far-reaching issue than it was portrayed in the media at the time: the release for publication of the Pentagon Papers by Daniel Ellsberg, and the consequences thereof. The article’s author, Bill Bigelow, begins by rehashing some of the basic details, and then brings the scene forward into today’s world. A few excerpts:
The Pentagon Papers that Ellsberg exposed were not military secrets. They were historical secrets—a history of U.S. intervention and deceit that Ellsberg believed, if widely known, would undermine the U.S. pretexts in defense of the war’s prosecution. . . . Like today’s whistle-blowers Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden, Daniel Ellsberg knew the consequences for his act of defiance. Ultimately, he was indicted on 11 counts of theft and violation of the Espionage Act. If convicted on all counts, the penalty added up to 130 years in prison. . . . In June of 1971, Ellsberg surrendered to federal authorities at Post Office Square in Boston. Forty-two years later, few of the historical secrets that Ellsberg revealed— especially those that focus on the immediate post-World War II origins of U.S. involvement in Vietnam—appear in the school curriculum . . . Textbooks resist telling students that the U.S. government consistently lied about the war, preferring more genteel language. Prentice Hall’s America: History of Our Nation includes only one line describing the content of the Pentagon Papers: “They traced the steps by which the United States had committed itself to the Vietnam War and showed that government officials had concealed actions and often misled Americans about their motives.” The textbook offers no examples.
Bigelow then quotes historian Howard Zinn who, on the third anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq, spoke bluntly about what it means when we fail to confront the facts of our past wars: “If we don’t know history, then we are ready meat for carnivorous politicians and the intellectuals and journalists who supply the carving knives.”
Indeed. And it happens over and over again, in needless war after stupid war after needless war . . . ad infinitum, and all for . . . for what? What the hell was the war in Vietnam FOR? What purpose did it serve? There was no threat, expressed or implied to the United States, so the question persists: WHY were we there? Bigelow recalls
. . . a video clip from the first episode of PBS’s Vietnam: A Television History, in which Dr. Tran Duy Hung, a medical doctor and a leader of the resistance to French colonialism, recounts the massive end-of-war celebration with more than 400,000 people jammed into Hanoi’s Ba Dinh Square. Japan had surrendered. The seemingly endless foreign occupation of Vietnam—Chinese, then French, then Japanese—was over.
Dr. Hung remembers: “I can say that the most moving moment was when President Ho Chi Minh climbed the steps, and the national anthem was sung. It was the first time that the national anthem of Vietnam was sung in an official ceremony. Uncle Ho then read the Declaration of Independence, which was a short document. As he was reading, Uncle Ho stopped and asked, ‘Compatriots, can you hear me?’ This simple question went into the hearts of everyone there. After a moment of silence, they all shouted, ‘Yes, we hear you!’ And I can say that we did not just shout with our mouths, but with all our hearts.” Dr. Hung recalls that, moments later, a small plane began circling and then swooped down over the crowd. When people recognized the U.S. stars and stripes on the plane, they cheered, imagining that its presence signaled an endorsement for Vietnamese independence. “It added to the atmosphere of jubilation at the meeting,” said Dr. Hung.
. . . One of the “secrets” Ellsberg risked his freedom to expose was that the United States had a stark choice in the fall of 1945: support the independence of a unified Vietnam, led by Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh, which had spearheaded the anti-fascist resistance during World War II; or support the French as they sought to reimpose colonial rule.
Bigelow then quotes, again, Howard Zinn who quotes from the Pentagon Papers in his book, A People’s History of the United States:
Ho [Chi Minh] had built the Viet Minh into the only Vietnam-wide political organization capable of effective resistance to either the Japanese or the French. He was the only Vietnamese wartime leader with a national following, and he assured himself wider fealty among the Vietnamese people when in August/September 1945, he overthrew the Japanese . . . established the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, and staged receptions for incoming allied occupation forces. . . . For a few weeks in September 1945, Vietnam was—for the first and only time in its modern history—free of foreign domination, and united from north to south under Ho Chi Minh. . . .
Bigelow then makes a final and extremely salient argument:
. . . history is not just a jumble of dead facts lying on a page. History is the product of human choice—albeit in conditions that we may not choose. Tragically, the United States consistently chose to side with elites in Vietnam, first French, then Vietnamese, as our government sought to suppress self-determination—perhaps most egregiously in 1954, when the United States conspired to stonewall promised elections and to prop up the dictator Ngo Dinh Diem.
Forty-two years ago this month, Daniel Ellsberg allowed himself to be taken into custody, with no clear outcome in sight. A reporter asked Ellsberg whether he was concerned about the possibility of going to prison. Ellsberg replied: “Wouldn’t you go to prison to help end this war?”
No one expects that kind of integrity from textbook corporations. But educators needn’t confine ourselves to the version of history peddled by giant outfits like Pearson and Houghton-Mifflin-Harcourt. . . .
Indeed. For reasons which remain incomprehensible to me, textbooks these days — especially in history and in the sciences — are far more designed and written to dissemble reality rather than to reveal facts, to speak truth: Agendas thus served.
Dare we speculate, today, as to whether “secrets” revealed by Bradley Manning, by Edward Snowden, will one day find their way into the historical record? Or will they suffer the fate of so many truths released by Daniel Ellsberg during the Vietnam era? Time will tell, but only an intransigent optimist can dare to view the possibilities with any sense of positive anticipation. Someone once suggested that ‘the past is prelude.’ So: was the atrocity of Vietnam a prelude of current events, or of events not yet current but possibly already scheduled? Time will tell.
Meanwhile and as we wait in breathless anticipation, a pair of flashbacks; a pair of songs from that era some still call the sixties. They still, really, say it all.
Blowin’ In The Wind (Peter, Paul, and Mary)
Once I was (a Soldier) . . . (Tim Buckley)