Sunday, April 26, 2015


How to Turn a Nightmare into a Fairy Tale

By Christian Appy


40 Years Later, Will the End Games in Iraq and Afghanistan Follow the Vietnam Playbook?


April 27, 2015 "Information Clearing House" - "TD" -  

If our wars in the Greater Middle East ever end, it’s a pretty safe bet that they will end badly -- and it won't be the first time. The “fall of Saigon” in 1975 was the quintessential bitter end to a war. Oddly enough, however, we’ve since found ways to reimagine that denouement which miraculously transformed a failed and brutal war of American aggression into a tragic humanitarian rescue mission. 


Our most popular Vietnam end-stories bury the long, ghastly history that preceded the “fall,” while managing to absolve us of our primary responsibility for creating the disaster. Think of them as silver-lining tributes to good intentions and last-ditch heroism that may come in handy in the years ahead.


The trick, it turned out, was to separate the final act from the rest of the play. To be sure, the ending in Vietnam was not a happy one, at least not for many Americans and their South Vietnamese allies. 


This week we mark the 40th anniversary of those final days of the war.  We will once again surely see the searing images of terrified refugees, desperate evacuations, and final defeat. But even that grim tale offers a lesson to those who will someday memorialize our present round of disastrous wars: toss out the historical background and you can recast any U.S. mission as a flawed but honorable, if not noble, effort by good-guy rescuers to save innocents from the rampaging forces of aggression. 


In the Vietnamese case, of course, the rescue was so incomplete and the defeat so total that many Americans concluded their country had “abandoned” its cause and “betrayed” its allies. By focusing on the gloomy conclusion, however, you could at least stop dwelling on the far more incriminating tale of the war’s origins and expansion, and the ruthless way the U.S. waged it.


Here’s another way to feel better about America’s role in starting and fighting bad wars: make sure U.S. troops leave the stage for a decent interval before the final debacle. That way, in the last act, they can swoop back in with a new and less objectionable mission. Instead of once again waging brutal counterinsurgencies on behalf of despised governments, American troops can concentrate on a humanitarian effort most war-weary citizens and soldiers would welcome: evacuation and escape.


Phony Endings and Actual Ones


An American president announces an honorable end to our longest war. The last U.S. troops are headed for home. Media executives shut down their war zone bureaus. The faraway country where the war took place, once a synonym for slaughter, disappears from TV screens and public consciousness. Attention shifts to home-front scandals and sensations. So it was in the United States in 1973 and 1974, years when most Americans mistakenly believed that the Vietnam War was over.


In many ways, eerily enough, this could be a story from our own time. After all, a few years ago, we had reason to hope that our seemingly endless wars -- this time in distant Iraq and Afghanistan -- were finally over or soon would be. In December 2011, in front of U.S. troops at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, President Obama proclaimed an end to the American war in Iraq. “We’re leaving behind a sovereign, stable, and self-reliant Iraq,” he said proudly. “This is an extraordinary achievement.” In a similar fashion, last December the president announced that in Afghanistan “the longest war in American history is coming to a responsible conclusion.”


If only. Instead, warfare, strife, and suffering of every kind continue in both countries, while spreading across ever more of the Greater Middle East. American troops are still dying in Afghanistan and in Iraq the U.S. military is back, once again bombing and advising, this time against the Islamic State (or Daesh), an extremist spin-off from its predecessor al-Qaeda in Iraq, an organization that only came to life well after (and in reaction to) the U.S. invasion and occupation of that country. 


It now seems likely that the nightmare of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, which began decades ago, will simply drag on with no end in sight.


The Vietnam War, long as it was, did finally come to a decisive conclusion. When Vietnam screamed back into the headlines in early 1975, 14 North Vietnamese divisions were racing toward Saigon, virtually unopposed. Tens of thousands of South Vietnamese troops (shades of the Iraqi army in 2014) were stripping off their military uniforms, abandoning their American equipment, and fleeing. With the massive U.S. military presence gone, what had once been a brutal stalemate was now a rout, stunning evidence that “nation-building” by the U.S. military in South Vietnam had utterly failed (as it would in the twenty-first century in Iraq and Afghanistan).


On April 30, 1975, a Communist tank crashed through the gates of Independence Palace in the southern capital of Saigon, a dramatic and triumphant conclusion to a 30-year-long Vietnamese struggle to achieve national independence and reunification. The blood-soaked American effort to construct a permanent non-Communist nation called South Vietnam ended in humiliating defeat.


It’s hard now to imagine such a climactic conclusion in Iraq and Afghanistan. Unlike Vietnam, where the Communists successfully tapped a deep vein of nationalist and revolutionary fervor throughout the country, in neither Iraq nor Afghanistan has any faction, party, or government had such success or the kind of appeal that might lead it to gain full and uncontested control of the country. 


Yet in Iraq, there have at least been a series of mass evacuations and displacements reminiscent of the final days in Vietnam. In fact, the region, including Syria, is now engulfed in a refugee crisis of staggering proportions with millions seeking sanctuary across national boundaries and millions more homeless and displaced internally.


Last August, U.S. forces returned to Iraq (as in Vietnam four decades earlier) on the basis of a “humanitarian” mission. Some 40,000 Iraqis of the Yazidi sect, threatened with slaughter, had been stranded on Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq surrounded by Islamic State militants. 


While most of the Yazidi were, in fact, successfully evacuated by Kurdish fighters via ground trails, small groups were flown out on helicopters by the Iraqi military with U.S. help. When one of those choppers went down wounding many of its passengers but killing only the pilot, General Majid Ahmed Saadi, New York Times reporter Alissa Rubin, injured in the crash, praised his heroism.  Before his death, he had told her that the evacuation missions were “the most important thing he had done in his life, the most significant thing he had done in his 35 years of flying.”


In this way, a tortured history inconceivable without the American invasion of 2003 and almost a decade of excesses, including the torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib, as well as counterinsurgency warfare, finally produced a heroic tale of American humanitarian intervention to rescue victims of murderous extremists. The model for that kind of story had been well established in 1975.


Stripping the Fall of Saigon of Historical Context


Defeat in Vietnam might have been the occasion for a full-scale reckoning on the entire horrific war, but we preferred stories that sought to salvage some faith in American virtue amid the wreckage. 


For the most riveting recent example, we need look no further than Rory Kennedy’s 2014 Academy Award-nominated documentary Last Days in Vietnam. The film focuses on a handful of Americans and a few Vietnamese who, in defiance of orders, helped expedite and expand a belated and inadequate evacuation of South Vietnamese who had hitched their lives to the American cause. 


The film’s cast of humanitarian heroes felt obligated to carry out their ad hoc rescue missions because the U.S. ambassador in Saigon, Graham Martin, refused to believe that defeat was inevitable. Whenever aides begged him to initiate an evacuation, he responded with comments like, “It’s not so bleak. I won’t have this negative talk.” Only when North Vietnamese tanks reached the outskirts of Saigon did he order the grandiloquently titled Operation Frequent Wind -- the helicopter evacuation of the city -- to begin.


By that time, Army Captain Stuart Herrington and others like him had already led secret “black ops” missions to help South Vietnamese army officers and their families get aboard outgoing aircraft and ships. Prior to the official evacuation, the U.S. government explicitly forbade the evacuation of South Vietnamese military personnel who were under orders to remain in the country and continue fighting. But, as Herrington puts it in the film, “sometimes there’s an issue not of legal and illegal, but right and wrong.” 


Although the war itself failed to provide U.S. troops with a compelling moral cause, Last Days in Vietnam produces one. The film’s heroic rescuers are willing to risk their careers for the just cause of evacuating their allies.


The drama and danger are amped up by the film’s insistence that all Vietnamese linked to the Americans were in mortal peril. Several of the witnesses invoke the specter of a Communist “bloodbath,” a staple of pro-war propaganda since the 1960s. (President Richard Nixon, for instance, once warned that the Communists would massacre civilians “by the millions” if the U.S. pulled out.) 


Herrington refers to the South Vietnamese officers he helped evacuate as “dead men walking.” Another of the American rescuers, Paul Jacobs, used his Navy ship without authorization to escort dozens of South Vietnamese vessels, crammed with some 30,000 people, to the Philippines. Had he ordered the ships back to Vietnam, he claims in the film, the Communists “woulda killed ‘em all.”


The Communist victors were certainly not merciful. They imprisoned hundreds of thousands of people in “re-education camps” and subjected them to brutal treatment. The predicted bloodbath, however, was a figment of the American imagination. No program of systematic execution of significant numbers of people who had collaborated with the Americans ever happened.


Following another script that first emerged in U.S. wartime propaganda, the film implies that South Vietnam was vehemently anti-communist. To illustrate, we are shown a map in which North Vietnamese red ink floods ever downward over an all-white South -- as if the war were a Communist invasion instead of a countrywide struggle that began in the South in opposition to an American-backed government.


Had the South been uniformly and fervently anti-Communist, the war might well have had a different outcome, but the Saigon regime was vulnerable primarily because many southern Vietnamese fought tooth and nail to defeat it and many others were unwilling to put their lives on the line to defend it. 


In truth, significant parts of the South had been “red” since the 1940s.  The U.S. blocked reunification elections in 1956 exactly because it feared that southerners might vote in Communist leader Ho Chi Minh as president. Put another way, the U.S. betrayed the people of Vietnam and their right to self-determination not by pulling out of the country, but by going in.


Last Days in Vietnam may be the best silver-lining story of the fall of Saigon ever told, but it is by no means the first. 


Well before the end of April 1975, when crowds of terrified Vietnamese surrounded the U.S. embassy in Saigon begging for admission or trying to scale its fences, the media was on the lookout for feel-good stories that might take some of the sting out of the unremitting tableaus of fear and failure.


They thought they found just the thing in Operation Babylift.


A month before ordering the final evacuation of Vietnam, Ambassador Martin approved an airlift of thousands of South Vietnamese orphans to the United States where they were to be adopted by Americans. Although he stubbornly refused to accept that the end was near, he hoped the sight of all those children embraced by their new American parents might move Congress to allocate additional funds to support the crumbling South Vietnamese government.


Commenting on Operation Babylift, pro-war political scientist Lucien Pye said, “We want to know we’re still good, we’re still decent.” It did not go as planned. The first plane full of children and aid workers crashed and 138 of its passengers died. 


And while thousands of children did eventually make it to the U.S., a significant portion of them were not orphans. In war-ravaged South Vietnam some parents placed their children in orphanages for protection, fully intending to reclaim them in safer times. Critics claimed the operation was tantamount to kidnapping.


Nor did Operation Babylift move Congress to send additional aid, which was hardly surprising since virtually no one in the United States wanted to continue to fight the war. Indeed, the most prevalent emotion was stunned resignation. 


But there did remain a pervasive need to salvage some sense of national virtue as the house of cards collapsed and the story of those “babies,” no matter how tarnished, nonetheless proved helpful in the process.


Putting the Fall of Saigon Back in Context


For most Vietnamese -- in the South as well as the North -- the end was not a time of fear and flight, but joy and relief. Finally, the much-reviled, American-backed government in Saigon had been overthrown and the country reunited. After three decades of turmoil and war, peace had come at last.


The South was not united in accepting the Communist victory as an unambiguous “liberation,” but there did remain broad and bitter revulsion over the wreckage the Americans had brought to their land.


Indeed, throughout the South and particularly in the countryside, most people viewed the Americans not as saviors but as destroyers. And with good reason. 


The U.S. military dropped four million tons of bombs on South Vietnam, the very land it claimed to be saving, making it by far the most bombed country in history. Much of that bombing was indiscriminate. 


Though policymakers blathered on about the necessity of “winning the hearts and minds” of the Vietnamese, the ruthlessness of their war-making drove many southerners into the arms of the Viet Cong, the local revolutionaries. It wasn’t Communist hordes from the North that such Vietnamese feared, but the Americans and their South Vietnamese military allies.


The many refugees who fled Vietnam at war’s end and after, ultimately a million or more of them, not only lost a war, they lost their home, and their traumatic experiences are not to be minimized. 


Yet we should also remember the suffering of the far greater number of South Vietnamese who were driven off their land by U.S. wartime policies. Because many southern peasants supported the Communist-led insurgency with food, shelter, intelligence, and recruits, the U.S. military decided that it had to deprive the Viet Cong of its rural base. 


What followed was a long series of forced relocations designed to remove peasants en masse from their lands and relocate them to places where they could more easily be controlled and indoctrinated.


The most conservative estimate of internal refugees created by such policies (with anodyne names like the “strategic hamlet program” or “Operation Cedar Falls”) is 5 million, but the real figure may have been 10 million or more in a country of less than 20 million. Keep in mind that, in these years, the U.S. military listed “refugees generated” -- that is, Vietnamese purposely forced off their lands -- as a metric of “progress,” a sign of declining support for the enemy.


Our vivid collective memories are of Vietnamese refugees fleeing their homeland at war’s end. Gone is any broad awareness of how the U.S. burned down, plowed under, or bombed into oblivion thousands of Vietnamese villages, and herded survivors into refugee camps. The destroyed villages were then declared “free fire zones” where Americans claimed the right to kill anything that moved. 


In 1967, Jim Soular was a flight chief on a gigantic Chinook helicopter. One of his main missions was the forced relocation of Vietnamese peasants. Here’s the sort of memory that you won’t find in Miss SaigonLast Days in Vietnam, or much of anything else that purports to let us know about the war that ended in 1975. 


This is not the sort of thing you’re likely to see much of this week in any 40th anniversary media musings. 



“On one mission where we were depopulating a village we packed about sixty people into my Chinook. They’d never been near this kind of machine and were really scared but they had people forcing them in with M-16s. Even at that time I felt within myself that the forced dislocation of these people was a real tragedy. I never flew refugees back in. It was always out. Quite often they would find their own way back into those free-fire zones. We didn’t understand that their ancestors were buried there, that it was very important to their culture and religion to be with their ancestors. They had no say in what was happening. I could see the terror in their faces. They were defecating and urinating and completely freaked out. It was horrible. Everything I’d been raised to believe in was contrary to what I saw in Vietnam. We might have learned so much from them instead of learning nothing and doing so much damage.”

What Will We Forget If Baghdad “Falls”? 

The time may come, if it hasn’t already, when many of us will forget, Vietnam-style, that our leaders sent us to war in Iraq falsely claiming that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction he intended to use against us; that he had a “sinister nexus” with the al-Qaeda terrorists who attacked on 9/11; that the war would essentially pay for itself; that it would be over in “weeks rather than months”; that the Iraqis would greet us as liberators; or that we would build an Iraqi democracy that would be a model for the entire region. 


And will we also forget that in the process nearly 4,500 Americans were killed along with perhaps 500,000 Iraqis, that millions of Iraqis were displaced from their homes into internal exile or forced from the country itself, and that by almost every measure civil society has failed to return to pre-war levels of stability and security? The picture is no less grim in Afghanistan. 


What silver linings can possibly emerge from our endless wars? 

If history is any guide, I’m sure we’ll think of something.


Christian AppyTomDispatch regular and professor of history at the University of Massachusetts, is the author of three books about the Vietnam War, including the just-published American Reckoning: The Vietnam War and Our National Identity (Viking).


Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Nick Turse’s Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa, and Tom Engelhardt's latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.






"How Rory Kennedy's 'Last Days in Vietnam' Distorts History"

                                               By Nick Turse

This Oscar-nominated doc is all about well-meaning Americans –with nothing about the indiscriminate US firepower that destroyed much of the country.





By Ben Swann

Investigative journalist Ben Swann takes on the central issue of whether or not ISIS was created by "inaction" by the United States government, or by "direct" action. 



Truth in Media 25 February 2015


Saturday, April 25, 2015

THE KEY WAR ON TERROR PROPAGANDA TOOL: 
ONLY WESTERN VICTIMS ARE ACKNOWLEDGED

As April 30 approaches, marking 40 years since the end of the Vietnam War, people in Vietnam with severe mental and physical disabilities still feel the lingering effects of Agent Orange.


Respiratory cancer and birth defects amongst both Vietnamese and U.S. veterans have been linked to exposure to the defoliant. The U.S. military sprayed millions of gallons of Agent Orange onto (South) Vietnam's jungles during the conflict...
Reuters photographer Damir Sagolj travelled through Vietnam to meet the people affected, four decades on.
The Vietnam Association of Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin (VAVA) told Reuters that more than 4.8 million people in Vietnam have been exposed to the herbicide and over 3 million of them have been suffering from deadly diseases.
The United States stopped spraying Agent Orange in 1971 and the war ended in 1975. Twenty years later, some people from villages and cities didn’t know all about it. Forty years later, today, children and their parents still suffer and a large part of the story remains untold. Agent Orange is one big tragedy made of many small tragedies, all man made.
There is not much I can do about it with my pictures except to retell the story, despite all the raised eyebrows. The pictures I took are not about the before and after, they are all about now. As for how poorly we read history and stories from the past, I’m afraid that is about our future, too.
Then another village and another picture. On a hill above his home, former soldier Do Duc Diu showed me the cemetery he built for his twelve children, who all died soon after being born disabled. There are a few extra plots next to the existing graves for where his daughters, who are still alive but very sick, will be buried.

Link to the complete story and powerful pictures here:
http://widerimage.reuters.com/story/legacy-of-agent-orange

Tuesday, April 21, 2015



By Dana Visalli 

April 21, 2015 "Information Clearing House" - 

I recently flew from Seattle to Seoul, South Korea and thence to Hanoi, to join a two-week tour of Vietnam with VFP - Veterans for Peace. The tour is led by American veterans of the Vietnam War who now live in that country, working to in some way atone for the damage done there during that war.

The Vietnamese are a sweet, friendly, even kindly people, and it is impressive to recall how the western countries have treated them. 

The French colonized Vietnam in the 1860s and enslaved the Vietnamese people, forcing them to work for the enrichment of France. We have toured the prison that the French built for resistors, which included a guillotine for those who failed to grasp the god-given right of the French to rule over them.

When the French tried to regain their ‘Indochina’ colony (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia) after WW II, the U.S. supported them (we paid most of the cost of the ‘First Indochina War’), then we invaded and brutalized the Vietnamese for 20 years after the French were defeated (the ‘Second Indochina War’, 1955-1975).

As my plane crossed over the Japanese city of Tokyo on the way into Seoul, I realized that I was retracing a geography that I was familiar with largely from America’s wars. 

The United States firebombed Tokyo on March 10th 1945, dropping 2000 tons of incendiary bombs on the wood and paper houses of that city, incinerating 16 square miles and killing an estimated 120,000 citizens in the worst single firestorm in history. U.S. General Curtis LeMay said, ‘It was the biggest firecracker the Japanese had ever seen.’ 

A few months later, on August 7th of that year we dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, killing an estimated 75,000 people on that day (150,000 total), and on August 9th we dropped another on Nagasaki, killing another 40,000 almost instantly (80,000 over time).

An hour later we landed in Seoul, South Korea. The United States divided Korea into north and south in August of 1945, then invaded South Korea on September 8th 1945 (note that American reports of this event always write that the U.S. marines ‘landed’ in South Korea, minimizing the impact of reality; all cultures interpret events in a manner favorable to themselves) dissolving the new socialist government that had just formed and installing our own man, Syngman Rhee, who had been living in Washington DC for the previous 40 years.

This unwarranted and illegal interference led to the Korean War 5 years later, during which North Korea was utterly and completely devastated  by American military power. 3 million North Koreans were killed out of a total population of 9 million—33% of the population. All of the cities and most of the villages, roads, dams and dikes in that country were destroyed, creating a veritable hell on Earth for those millions of peasants. 

In 1952 General Curtis LeMay noted with evident pleasure that, ‘We have bombed every city twice, and now we are going to pulverize them into stones.’

From Seoul I flew into Hanoi where I met the rest of the VFP group. The American bombing of Hanoi in 1965 (Operation Rolling Thunder), 1968 (Operation Linebacker I) and 1972 (Operation Linebacker II) caused massive damage to this ancient city and killed thousands of people.  

From Hanoi we traveled to the city of Hue, in central Vietnam; Hue was completely destroyed by U.S. bombing of the city during the 1968 Tet offensive. One reporter, Robert Shaplen wrote at the time, "Nothing I saw during the Korean War, or in the Vietnam War so far has been as terrible, in terms of destruction and despair, as what I saw in Hue."

Wherever you go, you will find the land, the people, the infrastructure has been at some point bombed by the United States. 

Remarkably, the United States has been bombing Iraq regularly since 1990 (including during the 13 years of sanctions). Prior to 1990 the United States provided weapons to both Iraq and Iran for their 1980-1988 war. It is now a ruined nation, a failed state. 

The British first invaded Afghanistan in 1838, then again in 1868 and 1920. The United States took over the job in 1956, when it built an airbase in Kandahar capable of accepting intercontinental bombers. The United States supported the fundamentalist mujahedeen with billions of dollars of weapons in the Afghan war with the Soviets (1979-1987), and has now been at war with and occupying Afghanistan since 2001—14 years. 

Afghanistan is also a failed state, as is Libya, which we bombed to rubble in 2011, and Syria, which we are currently destroying by supplying the weapons of war to various factions.

One begins to perceive a pattern here in terms of how the United States of America relates to the rest of the world: endless bombing of other people, other societies and the Earth itself.  

America’s pervasive aggression against others has given rise to the axiom, ‘War is god’s way of teaching geography.’ Who knew where Hue or Pyongyong or Nagasaki or Fallujah were before we destroyed them?

What is the cause of this pathology of pandemic American brutality? We have a case of arrested psychological development on a national scale. 

Child psychologists Jean Piaget and Lawrence Kolberg found that the moral development of children went through several stages. Young children’s early social behavior is typically driven by a fear of punishment or and related need for obedience. 

In the second stage of moral development individuals are concerned with the maintenance of law and social order. As they continue to mature people recognize that rules and laws serve social functions and can be altered. 

Kohlberg in particular identified the highest stage of moral development as one in which individuals live, act, and think according to universal ethical principles that emerge naturally in mature individuals.

Most Americans are trapped in the first stage of moral development, fear of punishment and the need for obedience. 

Writer Larken Rose notes in his book The Most Dangerous Superstition that, ‘There is a harsh contrast between what we are taught is the purpose of "authority" (to create a peaceful, civilized society) and the real-world results of "authority" in action. 

Flip through any history book and you will see that most of the injustice and destruction that has occurred throughout the world was not the result of people "breaking the law," but rather the result of people obeying and enforcing the "laws" of various "governments." The evils that have been committed in spite of "authority" are trivial compared to the evils that have been committed in the name of "authority…. 

The belief in "authority," which includes all belief in "government," is irrational and self-contradictory; it is contrary to civilization and morality, and constitutes the most dangerous, destructive superstition that has ever existed. Rather than being a force for order and justice, the belief in "authority" is the archenemy of humanity.’

It is only when we come alive to our latent capacity for compassionate intelligence, when we care enough about the destruction of other humans and ecosystems and the widespread ‘killing of hope’ by the American military machine to question and/or reject external authority over our moral and ethical lives, we can each take the next step on our individual journeys towards becoming mature, useful and relevant human beings.


Postscript:

In the abstraction of words we lose track of just what war is.  Here is a reminder of the nature of war, an excerpt from Nick Turse’s recent, well-documented work on the Vietnam war, Kill Everything that Moves

U.S. marines had burst into a thatch hut belonging to a young Vietnamese couple. The young mother, Huong, ‘was dragged to the side of the house. A marine held his hand over her mouth; others pinned her arms and legs to the ground. They tore off her pants, ripped open her shirt, and groped her. Then the gang rape began. First one marine, then another. Five in all. Huong's sobs elicited more screams of protest from her husband, so the marines began beating him again, after which a burst of gunfire silenced him. Her mother-in-law's sobs ended after another staccato burst, and her sister-in-law's after a third. Soon Huong could no longer hear the children. Then came a crack and a blinding flash, followed by searing pain that brought her to the ground. The marines exploded a grenade to make the scene "look good," then radioed in their results: three dead Viet Cong.’


Dana Visalli is a biologist living in Washington State. He has traveled numerous times to Iraq and Afghanistan to witness the impact of the American war in and occupation of those countries.