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Forum Post: Daniel Ellsberg: United States Nearly Used Nukes During Vietnam War

Posted 4 months ago on June 9, 2014, 3:30 p.m. EST by LeoYo (5846)
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Daniel Ellsberg: United States Nearly Used Nukes During Vietnam War

Monday, 09 June 2014 14:21
By Marjorie Cohn, Truthout | News Analysis

http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/24245-daniel-ellsberg-united-states-nearly-used-nukes-during-vietnam-war

We came dangerously close to nuclear war when the United States was fighting in Vietnam, Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg told a reunion of the Stanford anti-Vietnam War movement in May 2014. He said that in 1965, the Joint Chiefs of Staff assured President Lyndon B. Johnson that the war could be won, but it would take at least 500,000 to one million troops. The Joint Chiefs recommended hitting targets up to the Chinese border. Ellsberg suspects their real aim was to provoke China into responding. If the Chinese came in, the Joint Chiefs took for granted that we would cross into China and use nuclear weapons to demolish the communists.

Former President Dwight D. Eisenhower also recommended to Johnson that we use nuclear weapons in both North and South Vietnam. Indeed, during the 1964 presidential campaign, Republican nominee Barry Goldwater argued for nuclear attacks as well. Johnson feared that the Joint Chiefs would resign and go public if Johnson didn't follow at least some of their recommendations, and he needed some Republican support for the "Great Society" and the "War on Poverty." Fortunately, Johnson resisted their most extreme proposals, even though the Joint Chiefs regarded them as essential to success. Ellsberg cannot conclude that the antiwar movement shortened the war, but he says the movement put a lid on the war. If the president had done what the Joint Chiefs recommended, the movement would have grown even larger, but so would the war, much larger than it ever became.

"The Most Dangerous Man in America"

Ellsberg, a former US military analyst and Marine in Vietnam, worked at the RAND Corporation and the Pentagon. He risked decades in prison to release 7,000 top-secret documents to The New York Times and other newspapers in 1971. The Pentagon Papers showed how five presidents consistently lied to the American people about the Vietnam War that was killing thousands of Americans and millions of Indochinese. Ellsberg's courageous act lead directly to the Watergate scandal, Nixon's resignation, and helped to end the Vietnam War. Henry Kissinger, Nixon's national security advisor, called Ellsberg "the most dangerous man in America," who "had to be stopped at all costs." But Ellsberg wasn't stopped. Facing 115 years in prison on espionage and conspiracy charges, he fought back. The case against him was dismissed due to egregious misconduct by the Nixon administration. Ellsberg's story was portrayed in the Oscar-nominated film, "The Most Dangerous Man in America." Edward Snowden told Ellsberg that film strengthened his intention to release the NSA documents.

The April Third Movement

On April 3, 1969, 700 Stanford students voted to occupy the Applied Electronics Laboratory (AEL), where classified (secret) research on electronic warfare (radar-jamming) was being conducted at Stanford. That spawned the April Third Movement (A3M), which holds reunions every five to 10 years. The sit-in at AEL, supported by a majority of Stanford students, lasted nine days, replete with a printing press in the basement to produce materials linking Stanford trustees to defense contractors. Stanford moved the objectionable research off campus, but the A3M continued with sit-ins, teach-ins and confrontations with police in the Stanford Industrial Park. Many activists from that era continue to do progressive work, drawing on their experiences during the A3M. This year, we discussed the political economy of climate change, and the relationship between the counterculture of the 1960s and the development of Silicon Valley. Highlights of the weekend included three keynote addresses - Ellsberg's, one delivered by Stanford political science Professor Terry Karl, and a talk by Rutgers professor of English and American Studies, H. Bruce Franklin.

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[-] 3 points by LeoYo (5846) 4 months ago

"Accountability for War Crimes: From Vietnam to Latin America"

Terry Karl is a Stanford professor who has published widely on political economy of development, oil politics, Latin America and Africa, and human rights. She also testifies as an expert witness in trials against Latin American dictators and military officers who tortured, disappeared and killed civilians in the 1970s and 1980s, when their governments were supported by the United States. Karl's testimonies have helped to establish guilt and accountability for the murders of El Salvador's Archbishop Romero, the rape and murders of four American churchwomen and other prominent cases.

Karl quoted President George H.W. Bush, who announced proudly after the first Gulf War in 1991, "The specter of Vietnam has been buried forever in the desert sands of the Arabian peninsula." Nevertheless, Karl observed, we have been involved in "permanent war" since Vietnam, in part because there had been no accountability, abroad or at home, for each of our past wars. The US global military presence around the world, according to Karl, is not there for defense, but rather to maintain the United States "at the top." No defense can be based on having soldiers in 150 countries.

Beginning with Vietnam, we stopped paying taxes for the wars we fight, Karl said. The Korean War was financed with taxes, but the Vietnam War was paid for through inflation. This helped to produce the recession that was the basis for the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. Wars in Central America, Iraq and Afghanistan have been "paid for" through debt. In this respect, permanent war not only threatens our democracy, Karl pointed out, but also our economic future. In one example, Karl noted that the United States fights wars to secure oil and gas, yet the largest consumer of oil in the world is the Department of Defense because of those very wars.

Karl also observed that we have not "won" all of those unpaid wars - if measured against their original objectives. The United States fought in Vietnam to prevent communist reunification of the country, yet that is exactly what happened. The Reagan administration decided to "draw the line" in El Salvador to prevent FLMN rebels from coming to power, yet the FMLN is the government today. And the Reagan administration supported the contras in Nicaragua to prevent the Sandinistas from governing that country; the Sandinistas are now in control. She predicted we would see similar "victories" in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"The Cultural Memory of the Vietnam War in the Epoch of Forever War"

H. Bruce Franklin was the first tenured professor to be fired by Stanford University, and the first to be fired by a major university since the 1950s. Franklin, who was a Marxist and an active member of the A3M, was terminated because of things he said at an antiwar rally, statements that, according to the ACLU, amounted to protected First Amendment speech. A renowned expert on Herman Melville, history and culture, Franklin has taught at Rutgers University since 1975. He has written or edited 19 books and hundreds of articles, including books about the Vietnam War. Before becoming an activist, Franklin spent three years in the US Air Force, "flying," he said, "in operations of espionage and provocation against the Soviet Union and participating in launches for full-scale thermonuclear war."

Franklin told the reunion about myths the US government has promulgated since the Vietnam War. "One widespread cultural fantasy about the Vietnam War blames the antiwar movement for losing the war, forcing the military to 'fight with one arm tied behind its back,'" Franklin said. "But this stands reality on its head," he maintains. Franklin cited the American people's considerable opposition to the war. "Like the rest of the movement at home," he noted, "the A3M was inspired and empowered by our outrage against both the war and all those necessary lies about the war coming from our government and the media, as well as the deceitful participation of institutions that were part of our daily life, such as Stanford University." The war finally ended, Franklin thought, because of the antiwar movement, particularly opposition to the war within the military.

The other two myths Franklin debunked are first, that the real heroes are the American prisoners of war (POWs) still imprisoned in Vietnam, and second, that many veterans of the Vietnam War were spat upon by antiwar protestors when they returned home. The black and white POW/MIA (missing in action) flag has flown over the White House, US post offices and government buildings, the New York Stock Exchange, and appears on the right sleeve of the official robe of the Ku Klux Klan, according to Franklin. "The flag now came to symbolize our culture's dominant view of America as the heroic warrior victimized by 'Vietnam,' but then reemerging as Rambo unbound," he said. But after talking to people he met in Japan, Franklin came to believe that rather than symbolizing heroism, the POWs surrendered. Franklin also pointed out that there is absolutely no evidence that any Vietnam vet was spat upon by an antiwar protestor. "These two myths turned 'Vietnam' into the cultural basis of the forever war," Franklin said. He also quoted George H.W. Bush who proclaimed in 1991, "By God, we've kicked the Vietnam Syndrome once and for all."

The Legacy of the Vietnam War

But, as Karl and Franklin observed, we are now engaged in a "permanent war" or "forever war." Indeed, the US government has waged two major wars and several other military interventions in the years since Vietnam. And in his recent statement on US foreign policy, President Barack Obama said: "The United States will use military force, unilaterally if necessary, when our core interests demand it - when our people are threatened; when our livelihoods are at stake; when the security of our allies is in danger." Obama never mentioned the United Nations Charter, which forbids "unilateral" intervention - the use or threat of military force not conducted in self-defense or with the consent of the Security Council.

The US military, Karl noted, teaches that the Vietnam War was a success. And, indeed, during the next 11 years, leading up to the 50th anniversary of that war, the US government will continue to mount a false narrative of that war. Fortunately, Veterans for Peace has launched a counter-commemoration movement to explain the true legacy of Vietnam. It is only through an accurate understanding of our history that we can struggle against our government's use of military force as the first, instead of the last, line of defense.

Copyright, Truthout.

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5846) 4 months ago

Don't Walk Away From War: It's Not the American Way

Tuesday, 10 June 2014 12:52
By Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch | Op-Ed

http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/24270-dont-walk-away-from-war-its-not-the-american-way

The United States has been at war -- major boots-on-the-ground conflicts and minor interventions, firefights, air strikes, drone assassination campaigns, occupations, special ops raids, proxy conflicts, and covert actions -- nearly nonstop since the Vietnam War began. That’s more than half a century of experience with war, American-style, and yet few in our world bother to draw the obvious conclusions.

Given the historical record, those conclusions should be staring us in the face. They are, however, the words that can’t be said in a country committed to a military-first approach to the world, a continual build-up of its forces, an emphasis on pioneering work in the development and deployment of the latest destructive technology, and a repetitious cycling through styles of war from full-scale invasions and occupations to counterinsurgency, proxy wars, and back again.

So here are five straightforward lessons -- none acceptable in what passes for discussion and debate in this country -- that could be drawn from that last half century of every kind of American warfare:

  1. No matter how you define American-style war or its goals, it doesn’t work. Ever.

  2. No matter how you pose the problems of our world, it doesn’t solve them. Never.

  3. No matter how often you cite the use of military force to “stabilize” or “protect” or “liberate” countries or regions, it is a destabilizing force.

  4. No matter how regularly you praise the American way of war and its “warriors,” the U.S. military is incapable of winning its wars.

  5. No matter how often American presidents claim that the U.S. military is “the finest fighting force in history,” the evidence is in: it isn’t.

And here’s a bonus lesson: if as a polity we were to take these five no-brainers to heart and stop fighting endless wars, which drain us of national treasure, we would also have a long-term solution to the Veterans Administration health-care crisis. It’s not the sort of thing said in our world, but the VA is in a crisis of financing and caregiving that, in the present context, cannot be solved, no matter whom you hire or fire. The only long-term solution would be to stop fighting losing wars that the American people will pay for decades into the future, as the cost in broken bodies and broken lives is translated into medical care and dumped on the VA.

Heroes and Turncoats

One caveat. Think whatever you want about war and American war-making, but keep in mind that we are inside an enormous propaganda machine of militarism, even if we barely acknowledge the space in our lives that it fills. Inside it, only certain opinions, certain thoughts, are acceptable, or even in some sense possible.

Take for an example the recent freeing of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl from five years as a captive of the Haqqani network. Much controversy has surrounded it, in part because he was traded for five former Taliban officials long kept uncharged and untried on the American Devil’s Island at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. It has been suggested that Sgt. Bergdahl deserted his post and his unit in rural Afghanistan, simply walked away -- which for opponents of the deal and of President Obama makes the “trade for terrorists” all the more shameful. Our options when it comes to what we know of Bergdahl’s actions are essentially to decry him as a “turncoat” or near-voluntary “terrorist prisoner” or ignore them, go into a “support the troops” mode, and hail him as a “hero” of the war. And yet there is a third option.

According to his father, in the period before he was captured, his emails home reflected growing disillusionment with the military. ("The U.S. army is the biggest joke the world has to laugh at. It is the army of liars, backstabbers, fools, and bullies. The few good SGTs [sergeants] are getting out as soon as they can, and they are telling us privates to do the same.") He had also evidently grown increasingly uncomfortable as well with the American war in that country. ("I am sorry for everything here. These people need help, yet what they get is the most conceited country in the world telling them that they are nothing and that they are stupid, that they have no idea how to live.") When he departed his base, he may even have left a note behind expressing such sentiments. He had reportedly told someone in his unit earlier, "If this deployment is lame... I’m just going to walk off into the mountains of Pakistan."

That’s what we know. There is much that we don’t know. However, what if, having concluded that the war was no favor to Afghans or Americans and he shouldn’t participate in it, he had, however naively, walked away from it without his weapon and, as it turned out, not into freedom but directly into captivity? That Sgt. Bergdahl might have been neither a military-style hero, nor a turncoat, but someone who voted with his feet on the merits of war, American-style, in Afghanistan is not an option that can be discussed calmly here. Similarly, anyone who took such a position here, not just in terms of our disastrous almost 13-year Afghan War, but of American war-making generally, would be seen as another kind of turncoat. However Americans may feel about specific wars, walking away from war, American-style, and the U.S. military as it is presently configured is not a fit subject for conversation, nor an option to be considered.

It’s been a commonplace of official opinion and polling data for some time that the American public is “exhausted” with our recent wars, but far too much can be read into that. Responding to such a mood, the president, his administration, and the Pentagon have been in a years-long process of “pivoting” from major wars and counterinsurgency campaigns to drone wars, special operations raids, and proxy wars across huge swaths of the planet (even while planning for future wars of a very different kind continues). But war itself and the U.S. military remain high on the American agenda. Military or militarized solutions continue to be the go-to response to global problems, the only question being: How much or how little? (In what passes for debate in this country, the president’s opponents regularly label him and his administration “weak” for not doubling down on war, from the Ukraine and Syria to Afghanistan).

Meanwhile, investment in the military's future and its capacity to make war on a global scale remains staggeringly beyond that of any other power or combination of powers. No other country comes faintly close, not the Russians, nor the Chinese, nor the Europeans just now being encouraged to up their military game by President Obama who recently pledged a billion dollars to strengthen the U.S. military presence in Eastern Europe.

In such a context, to suggest the sweeping failure of the American military over these last decades without sapping support for the Pentagon and the military-industrial complex would involve making the most breathtaking stab-in-the-back argument in the historical record. This was tried after the Vietnam War, which engendered a vast antiwar movement at home. It was at least conceivable at the time to blame defeat on that movement, a “liberal” media, and lily-livered, micromanaging politicians. Even then, however, the stab-in-the-back version of the war never quite stuck and in all subsequent wars, support for the military among the political class and everywhere else has been so high, the obligatory need to “support the troops” -- left, right, and center -- so great that such an explanation would have been ludicrous.

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5846) 4 months ago

A Record of Failure to Stagger the Imagination

The only option left was to ignore what should have been obvious to all. The result has been a record of failure that should stagger the imagination and remarkable silence on the subject. So let’s run through these points one at a time.

  1. American-style war doesn’t work. Just ask yourself: Are there fewer terrorists or more in our world almost 13 years after the 9/11 attacks? Are al-Qaeda-like groups more or less common? Are they more or less well organized? Do they have more or fewer members? The answers to those questions are obvious: more, more, more, and more. In fact, according to a new RAND report, between 2010 and 2013 alone, jihadist groups grew by 58%, their fighters doubled, and their attacks nearly tripled.

On September 12, 2001, al-Qaeda was a relatively small organization with a few camps in arguably the most feudal and backward country on the planet, and tiny numbers of adherents scattered elsewhere around the world. Today, al-Qaeda-style outfits and jihadist groups control significant parts of Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, and even Yemen, and are thriving and spreading in parts of Africa as well.

Or try questions like these: Is Iraq a peaceful, liberated state allied with and under Washington’s aegis, with “enduring camps” filled with U.S. troops on its territory? Or is it a riven, embattled, dilapidated country whose government is close to Iran and some of whose Sunni-dominated areas are under the control of a group that is more extreme than al-Qaeda? Is Afghanistan a peaceful, thriving, liberated land under the American aegis, or are Americans still fighting there almost 13 years later against the Taliban, an impossible-to-defeat minority movement it once destroyed and then, because it couldn’t stop fighting the “war on terror,” helped revive? Is Washington now supporting a weak, corrupt central government in a country that once again is planting record opium crops?

But let’s not belabor the point. Who, except a few neocons still plunking for the glories of “the surge” in Iraq, would claim military victory for this country, even of a limited sort, anywhere at any time in this century?

  1. American-style wars don’t solve problems. In these years, you could argue that not a single U.S. military campaign or militarized act ordered by Washington solved a single problem anywhere. In fact, it’s possible that just about every military move Washington has made only increased the burden of problems on this planet. To make the case, you don’t even have to focus on the obvious like, for example, the way a special operations and drone campaign in Yemen has actually al-Qaeda-ized some of that country’s rural areas. Take instead a rare Washington “success”: the killing of Osama bin Laden in a special ops raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan. (And leave aside the way even that act was over-militarized: an unarmed Bin Laden was shot down in his Pakistani lair largely, it’s plausible to assume, because officials in Washington feared what once would have been the American way -- putting him on trial in a U.S. civilian court for his crimes.) We now know that, in the hunt for bin Laden, the CIA launched a fake hepatitis B vaccinationproject. Though it proved of no use, once revealed it made local jihadists so nervous about medical health teams that they began killing groups of polio vaccination workers, an urge that has since spread to Boko Haram-controlled areas of Nigeria. In this way, according to Columbia University public health expert Leslie Roberts, “the distrust sowed by the sham campaign in Pakistan could conceivably postpone polio eradication for 20 years, leading to 100,000 more cases that might otherwise not have occurred.” The CIA has since promised not to do it again, but too late -- and who at this point would believe the Agency anyway? This was, to say the least, an unanticipated consequence of the search for bin Laden, but blowback everywhere, invariably unexpected, has been a hallmark of American campaigns of all sorts.

Similarly, the NSA’s surveillance regime, another form of global intervention by Washington, has -- experts are convinced -- done little or nothing to protect Americans from terror attacks. It has, however, done a great deal to damage the interests of America’s tech corporations and to increase suspicion and anger over Washington’s policies even among allies. And by the way, congratulations are due on one of the latest military moves of the Obama administration, the sending of U.S. military teams and drones into Nigeria and neighboring countries to help rescue those girls kidnapped by the extremist group Boko Haram. The rescue was a remarkable success... oops, didn’t happen (and we don’t even know yet what the blowback will be).

  1. American-style war is a destabilizing force. Just look at the effects of American war in the twenty-first century. It’s clear, for instance, that the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 unleashed a brutal, bloody, Sunni-Shiite civil war across the region (as well as the Arab Spring, one might argue). One result of that invasion and the subsequent occupation, as well as of the wars and civil wars that followed: the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, Syrians, and Lebanese, while major areas of Syria and some parts of Iraq have fallen into the hands of armed supporters of al-Qaeda or, in one major case, a group that didn’t find that organization extreme enough. A significant part of the oil heartlands of the planet is, that is, being destabilized.

Meanwhile, the U.S. war in Afghanistan and the CIA’s drone assassination campaign in the tribal borderlands of neighboring Pakistan have destabilized that country, which now has its own fierce Taliban movement. The 2011 U.S. intervention in Libya initially seemed like a triumph, as had the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan before it. Libyan autocrat Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown and the rebels swept into power. Like Afghanistan and Iraq, however, Libya is now a basket case, riven by competing militias and ambitious generals, largely ungovernable, and an open wound for the region. Arms from Gaddafi’s looted arsenals have made their way into the hands of Islamist rebels and jihadist extremists from the Sinai Peninsula to Mali, from Northern Africa to northern Nigeria, where Boko Haram is entrenched. It is even possible, as Nick Turse has done, to trace the growing U.S. military presence in Africa to the destabilization of parts of that continent.

  1. The U.S. military can’t win its wars. This is so obvious (though seldom said) that it hardly has to be explained. The U.S. military has not won a serious engagement since World War II: the results of wars in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq ranged from stalemate to defeat and disaster. With the exception of a couple of campaigns against essentially no one (in Grenada and Panama), nothing, including the “Global War on Terror,” would qualify as a success on its own terms, no less anyone else’s. This was true, strategically speaking, despite the fact that, in all these wars, the U.S. controlled the air space, the seas (where relevant), and just about any field of battle where the enemy might be met. Its firepower was overwhelming and its ability to lose in small-scale combat just about nil.

It would be folly to imagine that this record represents the historical norm. It doesn't. It might be more relevant to suggest that the sorts of imperial wars and wars of pacification the U.S. has fought in recent times, often against poorly armed, minimally trained, minority insurgencies (or terror outfits), are simply unwinnable. They seem to generate their own resistance. Their brutalities and even their “victories” simply act as recruitment posters for the enemy.

  1. The U.S. military is not "the finest fighting force the world has ever known" or "the greatest force for human liberation the world has ever known," or any of the similar over-the-top descriptions that U.S. presidents are now regularly obligated to use. If you want the explanation for why this is so, see points one through four above. A military whose way of war doesn’t work, doesn’t solve problems, destabilizes whatever it touches, and never wins simply can’t be the greatest in history, no matter the firepower it musters. If you really need further proof of this, think about the crisis and scandals linked to the Veterans Administration. They are visibly the fruit of a military mired in frustration, despair, and defeat, not a triumphant one holding high history’s banner of victory.
[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5846) 4 months ago

As for Peace, Not a Penny

Is there a record like it? More than half a century of American-style war by the most powerful and potentially destructive military on the planet adds up to worse than nothing. If any other institution in American life had a comparable scorecard, it would be shunned like the plague. In reality, the VA has a far better record of success when it comes to the treatment of those broken by our wars than the military does of winning them, and yet its head administrator was forced to resign recently amid scandal and a media firestorm.

As in Iraq, Washington has a way of sending in the Marines, setting the demons loose, leaving town, and then wondering how in the world things got so bad -- as if it had no responsibility for what happened. Don’t think, by the way, that no one ever warned us either. Who, for instance, remembers Arab League head Amr Moussa saying in 2004 that the U.S. had opened the “gates of hell” in its invasion and occupation of Iraq? Who remembers the vast antiwar movement in the U.S. and around the world that tried to stop the launching of that invasion, the hundreds of thousands of people who took to the streets to warn of the dangers before it was too late? In fact, being in that antiwar movement more or less guaranteed that ever after you couldn’t appear on the op-ed pages of America’s major papers to discuss the disaster you had predicted. The only people asked to comment were those who had carried it out, beaten the drums for it, or offered the mildest tsk-tsk about it.

By the way, don’t think for a moment that war never solved a problem, or achieved a goal for an imperial or other regime, or that countries didn’t regularly find victory in arms. History is filled with such examples. So what if, in some still-to-be-understood way, something has changed on planet Earth? What if something in the nature of imperial war now precludes victory, the achieving of goals, the “solving” of problems in our present world? Given the American record, it’s at least a thought worth considering.

As for peace? Not even a penny for your thoughts on that one. If you suggested pouring, say, $50 billion into planning for peace, no less the $500 billion that goes to the Pentagon annually for its base budget, just about anyone would laugh in your face. (And keep in mind that that figure doesn’t include most of the budget for the increasingly militarized U.S. Intelligence Community, or extra war costs for Afghanistan, or the budget of the increasingly militarized Department of Homeland Security, or other costs hidden elsewhere, including, for example, for the U.S. nuclear arsenal, which is buried in the Energy Department’s budget.)

That possible solutions to global problems, possible winning strategies, might come from elsewhere than the U.S. military or other parts of the national security state, based on 50 years of imperial failure, 50 years of problems unsolved and wars not won and goals not reached, of increasing instability and destruction, of lives (American and otherwise) snuffed out or broken? Not on your life.

Don’t walk away from war. It’s not the American way.

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