2. The Date which will Live in Infamy
3. Missing Pieces
4. Some Lessons in Political Correctness
5. "Self-Pity" and other Character Flaws
6. On Sensitivity to History
7. "Thief! Thief!"
8. A Date which does not Live in Infamy
A few months before the end of Year 500, the Times Book Review appeared with a front-page headline reading: "You Can't Murder History." The review-article dedicated to this lesson keeps to a single case: "History in the old Soviet Union was like cancer in the human body, an invisible presence whose existence is bravely denied but against which every conceivable weapon is mobilized." It takes up one striking example of "this disease within the Soviet body politic," the depiction of the murder of the Tsar and his family, recalling "those all-powerful Soviet officials whose job it was to suppress the public's memory of this grisly episode," but who, in the end, "could not hold back the tide."1
These reflections did not touch upon a few other examples of murdering history that might come to mind, particularly at this historical moment. Convention has it that multiples of 10 provide the occasion to reflect on the meaning of history and the questions it poses; and perhaps also on the murder of history by its guardians, who, in every society, are acutely sensitive to the faults of official enemies. The convention is useful. By adopting it and examining some of the anniversaries that fall within the 500th year, we can learn something about ourselves, in particular, about the doctrinal foundations of Western culture, a topic of much importance, given the resources of violence, coercion, and denial at its core.
2. The Date which will Live in Infamy
As Year 500 opened in October 1991, other memories displaced the coming quincentennial. December 7 would be the 50th anniversary of the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, the "date which will live in infamy." Accordingly, Japanese attitudes and practices were subjected to close scrutiny, and found wanting. Some profound defect left the aberrant Japanese unwilling to offer regrets for their nefarious deed.
In an interview in the Washington Post, Foreign Minister Michio Watanabe expressed "deep remorse over the unbearable suffering and sorrow Japan inflicted on the American people and the peoples of Asia and the Pacific during the Pacific War, a war that Japan started by the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor." He said that the National Parliament would pass a resolution on the 50th anniversary of the crime, expressing Japan's remorse. But this turned out to be just more Japanese treachery. Penetrating the disguise, New York Times Tokyo Bureau Chief Steven Weisman revealed that Watanabe had used the word hansei, "which is usually translated as `self-reflection' rather than `remorse'." The statement of the Foreign Minister does not count as authentic apology. Furthermore, Japan's Parliament is unlikely to pass the resolution, he added, in the light of President Bush's firm rejection of any apology for the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings.
No one considers an apology for the 1000-plane raid five days after Nagasaki on what remained of major Japanese cities, a triumph of military management skills designed to be "as big a finale as possible," the official Air Force history relates; even Stormin' Norman would have been impressed. Thousands of civilians were killed, while amidst the bombs, leaflets fluttered down proclaiming: "Your Government has surrendered. The war is over." General Spaatz wanted to use the third atom bomb on Tokyo for this grand finale, but concluded that further devastation of the "battered city" would not make the intended point. Tokyo had been removed from the first list of targets for the same reason: it was "practically rubble," analysts determined, so that the power of the bomb would not be adequately revealed. The final 1000-plane raid was therefore dispersed to seven targets, the Air Force history adds.2
Some went beyond George Bush's dismissal of any thought of apology for the use of nuclear weapons to kill 200,000 civilians. Democratic Senator Ernest Hollings told South Carolina workers they "should draw a mushroom cloud and put underneath it: `Made in America by lazy and illiterate Americans and tested in Japan'," drawing applause from the crowd. Hollings defended his remark as a "joke," a reaction to Japan's "America bashing." The humorless Japanese did not find the joke amusing. The event was briefly reported, provoking no inquiries into the American psyche.3
Japan's obsessions with the bomb, which provoke much scorn here, were also revealed after the Texas air shows where the atomic bombing was reenacted annually for many years (perhaps still is) before an admiring audience of tens of thousands, with a B-29 flown by retired Air Force General Paul Tibbets, who lifted the curtain on the atomic age at Hiroshima. Japan condemned the display as "in bad taste and offensive to the Japanese people," to no avail. Perhaps the hypersensitive Japanese would have expressed similar reservations about the showing of a film entitled "Hiroshima" in the early 1950s in Boston's "combat zone," a red-light district where pornographic films were featured: it was a Japanese documentary with live footage of scenes too horrendous to describe, eliciting gales of laughter and enthusiastic applause.
In more sedate intellectual circles, few have considered the observation by Justice Röling of the Netherlands after the Tokyo Tribunal where Japanese war criminals were tried and convicted: "From the Second World War above all two things are remembered: the German gas chambers and the American atomic bombings." Or the impressive dissent by the one independent Asian Justice, Radhabinod Pal of India, who wrote: "When the conduct of the nations is taken into account the law will perhaps be found to be that only a lost cause is a crime... if any indiscriminate destruction of civilian life and property is still illegitimate in warfare, then, in the Pacific war, this decision to use the atom bomb is the only near approach to the directives...of the Nazi leaders... Nothing like this could be traced to the present accused" at Tokyo, seven of whom were hanged along with over 900 other Japanese executed for war crimes; among them General Yamashita, executed for atrocities committed by troops over whom he had no control at the war's end. Even the reactions of high-ranking US military officials have been little noted, for example, Admiral William Leahy, chief of staff under the Roosevelt and Truman Administrations, who regarded nuclear weapons as "new and terrible instruments of uncivilized warfare," "a modern type of barbarism not worthy of Christian man," a reversion to the "ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages"; its use "would take us back in cruelty toward noncombatants to the days of Genghis Khan."4
Recognizing where power lies, Prime Minister Watanabe adopted US conventions in expressing Japan's regrets: he traced Japan's crimes to December 7, 1941, thus implicitly discounting hideous atrocities that killed 10 to 13 million Chinese, by conservative estimate, from 1937 through 1945, not to speak of earlier crimes.5
Passing silently over Watanabe's dating of the guilt, Weisman raises only one question: the evasiveness of the gesture at apology. The anniversary commemoration was based upon the same principle: killing, torturing, and otherwise abusing tens of millions of people may not be wholly meritorious, but a "sneak attack" on a naval base in a US colony is a crime of a completely different order. True, to heighten the recognition of Japan's iniquity, its atrocities and aggression in Asia are regularly tacked on to the indictment, but as an afterthought: the Pearl Harbor attack is the real crime, the initial act of aggression.
That decision has many merits. It enables us to ruminate on the strange defects of the Japanese character without having to confront some facts that are better removed from history. For example, the fact that pre-Pearl Harbor, much of the American business community and many US officials rejected "the generally accepted theory that Japan has been a big bully and China the downtrodden victim" (Ambassador Joseph Grew, an influential figure in Far East policy). The US objection to Japan's New Order in Asia, Grew explained in a speech in Tokyo in 1939, was that it imposed "a system of closed economy, ... depriving Americans of their long-established rights in China." He had nothing to say about China's right to national independence, the rape of Nanking, the invasion of Manchuria, and other such marginal issues. Secretary of State Cordell Hull adopted much the same priorities in the negotiations with Japanese Admiral Nomura before the Pearl Harbor attack, stressing US rights to equal access to the territories conquered by Japan in China. On November 7, Japan finally agreed to the US demand, offering to accept "the principle of nondiscrimination in commercial relations" in the Pacific, including China. But the wily Japanese added a qualifying clause: they would accept the principle only if it "were adopted throughout the world."
Hull was greatly shocked at this insolence. The principle was to apply in the Japanese sphere alone, he admonished the impudent arrivistes. The US and other Western powers could not be expected to respond in kind in their dominions, including India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Cuba, and other vast regions from which the Japanese had been effectively barred by extremely high tariffs when they unfairly began to win the competitive game in the 1920s.
Dismissing Japan's frivolous appeal to the British and American precedent, Hull deplored the "simplicity of mind that made it difficult for...[Japanese generals]...to see why the United States, on the one hand, should assert leadership in the Western Hemisphere with the Monroe Doctrine and, on the other, want to interfere with Japan's assuming leadership in Asia." He urged the Japanese government to "educate the generals" about this elementary distinction, reminding his backward pupils that the Monroe Doctrine, "as we interpret and apply it uniformly since 1823 only contemplates steps for our physical safety." Respected scholars chimed in with their endorsement, expressing their outrage over the inability of the little yellow men to perceive the difference between a great power like the US and a small-time operator like Japan, and to recognize that "The United States does not need to use military force to induce the Caribbean republics to permit American capital to find profitable investment. The doors are voluntarily open" -- as even the most cursory look at history will show.6
Also unmentioned in the historical musings is an air of familiarity about Japan's actions in Manchuria, as they established the "independent" state of Manchukuo in 1932 under the former Manchu emperor. The procedure was "a familiar one," Walter Lippmann wrote at the time, not unlike US precedents "in Nicaragua, Haiti, and elsewhere." Manchuria had claims to independent status, surely stronger claims than, say, South Vietnam 25 years later, a fact recognized by the US client regime, which always defined itself as the Government of all of Vietnam, even in an unamendable article of its US-imposed Constitution. Scholars noted that had it not been for Western intervention in support of Chinese rule over the outer regions, motivated by the desire to increase "the sphere of future Western investment and exploitation," the Tibetans, Mongols, and Manchurians might well have moved towards independence (Owen Lattimore, 1934). Japan undertook to "defend" the "independent state" against "bandits" who attacked it from China. The goal of Japan's Kwantung army was to "liberate the masses" from exploitation by military and feudal cliques and to protect them from Communist terrorists. Adopting the policies favored by Kennedy doves in later years, its military leadership undertook counterinsurgency campaigns, complete with "collective hamlets," earnest measures to win hearts and minds, and other ideas that have a certain resonance. Among a series of unpleasant -- hence unmentionable -- facts is the similarity of these operations to the no less brutal and atrocious ones conducted by the United States a few years later near China's southern border, operations that peaked in murderous violence shortly after the Japanese documents on Manchuria were released by the RAND Corporation in 1967, to be shelved with appropriate silence by the cultural managers.7
The similarity is not entirely accidental. Apart from the fact that the same thoughts naturally come to the minds of similar actors facing similar circumstances, US counterinsurgency doctrine was consciously modelled on the practices and achievements of World War II fascism, though it was the Nazis who were the preferred model. Reviewing US Army manuals of the 1950s, Michael McClintock notes the "disturbing similarity between the Nazi's view of the world and the American stance in the Cold War." The manuals recognize Hitler's tasks to have been much the same as those undertaken by the US worldwide as it took over the struggle against the anti-fascist resistance and other criminals (labelled "Communists" or "terrorists"). They adopt the Nazi frame of reference as a matter of course: the partisans were "terrorists," while the Nazis were "protecting" the population from their violence and coercion. Killing of anyone "furnishing aid or comfort, directly or indirectly, to such partisans, or any person withholding information on partisans," was "legally well within the provisions of the Geneva Convention," the manuals explain. The Germans and their collaborators were the "liberators" of the Russian people. Former Wehrmacht officers helped to prepare the army manuals, which culled important lessons from the practices of their models: for example, the utility of "evacuation of all natives from partisan-infested areas and the destruction of all farms, villages, and buildings in the areas following the evacuations" -- the policies advocated by Kennedy's dovish advisors, and standard US practice in Central America. The same logic was adopted by the civilian leadership from the late 1940s, as Nazi war criminals were resurrected and reassigned to their former tasks (Reinhard Gehlen, Klaus Barbie, and others), or spirited to safety in Latin America and elsewhere to pursue their work, if they could no longer be protected at home.8
The notions were refined in the Kennedy years, under the impetus of the President's well-known fascination with unconventional warfare. US military manuals and "antiterrorism experts" of the period advocate "the tactic of intimidating, kidnapping, or assassinating carefully selected members of the opposition in a manner that will reap the maximum psychological benefit," the objective being "to frighten everyone from collaborating with the guerrilla movement." Respected American historians and moralists were later to provide the intellectual and moral underpinnings, notably Guenter Lewy, who explains in his much-admired history of the Vietnam war that the US was guilty of no crimes against "innocent civilians," indeed could not be. Those who joined our righteous cause were free from harm's way (except by inadvertence, at worst a crime of involuntary manslaughter). Those who failed to cooperate with the "legitimate government" imposed by US violence are not innocent, by definition; they lose any such claim if they refuse to flee to the "safety" provided by their liberators: infants in a village in the Mekong Delta or inner Cambodia, for example. They therefore deserve their fate.9
Some lack innocence because they happened to be in the wrong place; for example, the population of the city of Vinh, "the Vietnamese Dresden," Philip Shenon casually observes in a Times Magazine cover story on the belated victory of capitalism in Vietnam: it was "leveled by American B-52 bombers" because it was "cursed by location" and hence "was a natural target" for the bombers, much like Rotterdam and Coventry. This city of 60,000 was "flattened" in 1965, Canadian officials reported, while vast surrounding areas were turned into a moonscape.10 One could learn the facts outside the mainstream, where they were generally ignored, or even flatly denied; for example, by Lewy, who assures us, on the authority of US government pronouncements, that the bombing was aimed at military targets and damage to civilians was minimal.
Plainly, it is better to keep the history under wraps. The Politically Correct approach, adopted without notable deviation on the anniversary, is to date Japan's criminal course to the "sneak attack" on Pearl Harbor; to bring in Japan's earlier atrocities only as a device to sharpen the distinction between their evil nature and our purity; to put aside the uneasy relation between the doctrine that the war began on December 7, 1941 and the fact that we denounce Japan for atrocities committed through the 1930s, which were, furthermore, deemed acceptable in influential circles; and more generally, to eliminate from the mind discordant notes from past and present history.
It is interesting to see the reaction when the rules of decorum are occasionally violated by comparisons between Japan's policies and actions and ours in Vietnam. For the most part, the comparisons are so unthinkable as to be unnoticed, or are dismissed as absurdity. Or they may be denounced as apologetics for Japan's crimes, an interpretation that is quite natural. Given that our perfection is axiomatic, it follows that any comparison drawn confers upon others a share of our nobility, and thus counts as apologetics for their crimes. By the same irrefutable logic, it follows that applause for our crimes is not apologetics, but merely a proper tribute to our magnificence; and silence about them is only a shade less meritorious than enthusiastic approval. Those who fail to comprehend these truths can be condemned for their "irrational hatred of America." Or, if not so completely beyond the pale, they can be offered a course of instruction, like the Japanese generals.
The ban on such subversive thoughts was revealed on the Pearl Harbor anniversary in a striking way, to which we return (section 8). Another example is provided by a commentary on the anniversary by the noted Japan scholar John Dower, solicited by the Washington Post. Dower commented that there is "more than a little irony in observing Americans ramble on about other people's military violence and historical amnesia," considering how Vietnam and Korea have entered officially-sanctioned memory. The invited column was rejected.11
Another pertinent question was omitted from the deliberations on the aggression launched by Japan on December 7, 1941: How did we happen to have a military base at Pearl Harbor, or to hold our Hawaiian colony altogether? The answer is that we stole Hawaii from its inhabitants, by force and guile, just half a century before the infamous date, in part so as to gain the Pearl Harbor naval base. The centenary of that achievement falls shortly after the opening of Year 501, and might have merited a word as we lamented Japan's failure to face up to its perfidy. Lifting the veil, we find an instructive story.
As long as the British deterrent remained in force, the US government vigorously defended Hawaiian independence. In 1842, President Tyler declared that the US desired "no peculiar advantages, no exclusive control over the Hawaiian Government, but is content with its independent existence and anxiously wishes for its security and prosperity." Accordingly, Washington would oppose any attempt by any nation "to take possession of the islands, colonize them, and subvert the native Government." With this declaration, Tyler extended the Monroe Doctrine to Hawaii. Its independence was also recognized by the major European countries and others, and confirmed by numerous treaties and declarations.
As the century progressed, the balance of power shifted in favor of the United States, offering new opportunities, as in Latin America. US colonists established a thriving sugar industry, and the value of the island as a stepping stone towards broader Pacific horizons became increasingly apparent. Admiral DuPont had observed that "It is impossible to estimate too highly the value and importance of the Hawaiian Islands, whether in a commercial or a military sense." Plainly, our sphere of legitimate self-defense must be extended to include this prize. But there was an impediment: the independence of the island kingdom, and the "demographic problem" posed by the 90 percent majority of native Hawaiians (already reduced to one-sixth the pre-contact era). The colonists therefore undertook to guide and assist these people, so "low in mental culture," and to provide them with the gift of good government -- by their betters.
Planters' Monthly observed in 1886 that the Hawaiian "does not yet realize" the "bounds and limits fixed" and the "moral and personal obligations attending" the gift we have offered them: "The white man has organized for the native a Government, placed the ballot in his hands, and set him up as a lawmaker and a ruler; but the placing of these powers in his hands before he knows how to use them, is like placing sharp knives, pointed instruments and dangerous tools in the hands of infants." Similar concerns about the "rascal multitude" and their innate stupidity and worthlessness have been voiced by the "men of best quality" throughout the modern period, forming a major strand in democratic theory.12
The first Marine landing to support the colonists took place in 1873, just 30 years after Tyler's ringing endorsement of Hawaii's independence. After failing to take power in the 1886 elections, the plantation oligarchy prepared for a coup d'état, which took place a year later with the help of their military arm, the Hawaiian Rifles. The "Bayonet Constitution" forced upon the king granted US citizens the right to vote, while excluding a large part of the native population through property qualifications and barring Asian immigrants as aliens. Another consequence of the coup was the delivery of the Pearl River estuary to the United States as a naval base.
Exhibiting the "uniform" interpretation of the Monroe Doctrine that so impressed Secretary of State Hull, his predecessor James Blaine observed in 1889 that "there are only three places that are of value enough to be taken. One is Hawaii. The others are Cuba and Puerto Rico." All were shortly to fall into the proper hands.
Regular military interventions ensured good behavior by the locals. In 1891, the USS Pensacola was dispatched "in order to guard American interests," which now included ownership of four-fifths of the arable land. In January 1893, Queen Liliuokalani made a last ditch effort to preserve Hawaiian sovereignty, granting the right to vote in Hawaiian elections only to Hawaiians, rich or poor, without discrimination. At the order of US Minister John Stevens, US troops landed and imposed martial law -- to support "the best citizens and nine-tenths of the property owners of the country," in the words of the commanding officer. Stevens informed the Secretary of State that "The Hawaiian pear is now fully ripe and this is the golden hour for the United States to pluck it." Long before, John Quincy Adams had used the same imagery with regard to the second of "the places of value," Cuba, a "ripe fruit" that would fall into our hands once the British deterrent is removed (see
The US planters and their native collaborators produced a declaration proclaiming the conviction of the "overwhelming majority of the conservative and responsible members of the community" -- who numbered a few hundred men -- "that independent, constitutional, representative and responsible government, able to protect itself from revolutionary uprisings and royal aggression, is no longer possible in Hawaii under the existing system of government." Under protest, the Queen surrendered to the "superior force of the United States of America" and its troops, abdicating in the hope of saving her followers from the death penalty; she herself was fined $5000 and sentenced to five years at hard labor for her crimes against good order (commuted in 1896). The Republic of Hawaii was established with American planter Sanford Dole proclaiming himself President on July 4, 1894. Each sip of Dole pineapple juice offers an occasion to celebrate another triumph of Western civilization.
Congress passed a joint resolution for annexation in 1898, as the US went to war with Spain and Commander George Dewey's naval squadron sank a decrepit Spanish fleet in Manila, setting the stage for the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Filipinos as another ripe fruit was plucked from the tree. President McKinley signed the annexation resolution on July 7, 1898, creating "The First Outpost of a Greater America," a journal of the "conservative and responsible members of the community" triumphantly proclaimed. Their iron-fisted rule eliminated any residual interference by the "ignorant majority," as the planters called them, still about 90 percent of the population, soon to become dispersed, impoverished, and oppressed, their culture suppressed, their lands stolen.13
In this manner, Pearl Harbor became a major military base in the US colony of Hawaii, to be subjected a half-century later to a scandalous "sneak attack" by Japanese monsters setting forth on their criminal path.
On January 2, 1992, the Institute for the Advancement of Hawaiian Affairs published a document entitled "The Cause of Hawaiian Sovereignty," reviewing the history, in preparation for "the 100th anniversary of the overthrow of Hawaii" in January 1993.14 Short of a dramatic change in the reigning culture, that anniversary is destined to remain deeply buried in the memory hole, joining many others that commemorate the fate of the victims of the 500 year conquest.
Let us return to the public commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the infamous date, carefully sanitized and insulated from improper thoughts. Americans are much annoyed by the unwillingness of the Japanese to face their guilt for the Pearl Harbor crime, Urban Lehner reports in a lengthy Wall Street Journal article on Japanese "revisionism." He quotes the Pearl Harbor memorial park historian on "the complete absence of a sense in Japan of their own history." To illustrate "Japan's ambivalence toward remembering history," Lehner describes a visit to the home of a "courtly" Japanese military historian, who "can't understand why the U.S. won't forget it. `If the U.S. and Japan are partners, why talk about Pearl Harbor forever? That's what Japanese people are thinking,' he says. `Why do you keep reminding us?'"15
So the article ends, no comment being necessary on the unique sins of the Japanese exhibited with such clarity.
The New York Times Magazine devoted a cover story to this peculiarly Japanese malady by Tokyo Bureau Chief Weisman, entitled "Pearl Harbor in the Mind of Japan." There is "little sound of remorse," the subtitle reads, and "no commemorative ceremonies of the bombing in Japan." The US will approach the event "from a completely different perspective," Weisman writes, reflexively taking that perspective to be right and proper, no questions asked. His study of this topic exemplifies the general style and provides useful instruction in the techniques of Political Correctness, encapsulating many of the standard gambits.16
Americans were not always so clear as they are today about the simple verities, Weisman observes. In the late '60s, "guilt-ridden over the Vietnam conflict...American historians were more willing to question American motives in Asia. Today, their tone is much less apologetic" -- the last word, an interesting choice. With the Persian Gulf war and the collapse of communism, "Times have changed," and "Roosevelt's drawing a line in the sand is no longer seen as improper."
Weisman's claims about the late '60s contain a particle of truth: younger historians associated with the antiwar movement did indeed begin to raise previously forbidden questions. They were compelled to form their own professional association (the Committee of Concerned Asian Scholars), with very few senior faculty involved, to discuss subversive thoughts about possible flaws in "American motives." Though they were the cream of the graduate student crop at the time, not many survived the authoritarian structure of the ideological disciplines; some were eliminated from the academic world in straight political firings, some marginalized in other familiar ways. The young scholars did receive some support in the mainstream, notably from John King Fairbank, the dean of Asian scholarship and a figure at the dissident extreme, often accused of crossing the line to Communist apologetics. He outlined his own position on the Vietnam war in his presidential address to the American Historical Association in December 1968, well after the corporate sector had called for terminating the enterprise. The war was an "error," Fairbank explained, based on misunderstanding and naiveté, yet another example of "our excess of righteousness and disinterested benevolence."17
One will find very little questioning of American motives in respectable circles then, or since.
Conventional falsehoods commonly retain their appeal because they are functional, serving the interests of established authority. Weisman's tales about the late '60s are a case in point: they buttress the view that the academy, the media, and intellectual life generally have been taken over by a left-wing onslaught, leaving only a few last brave defenders of simple truths and intellectual values, who therefore must be given every bit of support that can be mustered for their lonely cause, a project well-suited to current doctrinal needs (see
Like all right-thinking people, Weisman takes it as axiomatic that the US stance in the Persian Gulf and the Cold War is subject to no imaginable qualification, surely no questioning of "American motives." Also following convention, he evades entirely the issue of shared responsibility for the Pacific war. The issue is not "Roosevelt's drawing a line in the sand," but rather the decision of the traditional imperial powers (Britain, France, Holland, US) to close the doors of their domains to Japan after it had followed the rules of "free trade" with too much success; and the US position, maintained to the end, that the US-Japan conflict might be resolved if Japan would permit the US to share in exploiting all of Asia, while not demanding comparable rights in US-dominated regions. Weisman indeed recognizes that such issues have been raised, making sure to frame them in a proper way. He does not refer to the discussion of the actions of the imperial powers in Western scholarship as events unfolded, or since. Rather, these are the "startling" words of Prime Minister Hideki Tojo, hanged in 1948 as a Class A war criminal, who "defiantly defended the attack on Pearl Harbor as forced by `inhuman' economic sanctions imposed by Washington," which "would have meant the destruction of the nation," had Japan not reacted. Could there be a particle of truth lurking behind the thought? The question need not be answered, since it cannot rise to consciousness.
Weisman writes that "of course, most American historians would have little trouble rendering a judgment on Japan's singular responsibility, if not guilt," noting Japan's "annex[ation] of Manchuria in 1931," and its "bloody sweep through China" in 1937 and later into Indochina, driving out the French colonial regime. No words here on the US attitude towards all of this at the time, except for an oblique hint: "Beginning with the decision to move naval vessels in 1940, the United States responded to Japanese military aggression with warnings and protests" -- nine years after the invasion of Manchuria, three years after the murderous escalation in China. Why the delay? Weisman also puts aside other questions: Why were Western claims to their colonial domains stronger than those of Japan, and why did indigenous nationalists often welcome the Japanese conquest, driving out the traditional oppressors? Nor is he troubled by a simple fact of logic: If these were Japan's crimes, then why do we commemorate a much later event as the "date which will live in infamy"? Why is it "the tragedy of 50 years ago" that evokes Weisman's inquiry into Japan's flawed psyche?
Weisman does concede a measure of US responsibility: not for what happened, but for Japan's failure to face up to its crimes. The US wanted "to create a democracy" after the war, but "After China fell to the Communists in 1949 and the Korean War broke out a year later, Washington changed its mind, deciding to foster a stable conservative Government in Japan to challenge Communism in Asia," even sometimes allowing war criminals to regain authority.
This revision of history also has its functional utility: under the laws of Political Correctness, it is permissible to recognize our occasional lapses from perfection if they can be interpreted as an all-too-understandable overreaction to the evil deeds of selected malefactors. In fact, as Weisman surely knows, Washington's "reverse course" was in 1947, hence well before the "fall of China" (to translate: the overthrow of a corrupt US-backed tyranny by an indigenous movement); and 3 years before the officially-recognized Korean war, at a time when the pre-official phase was charging full-speed ahead, as the US-imposed regime, aided by fascist collaborators restored by the US occupying army, was busy slaughtering some 100,000 anti-fascists and other adherents of the popular movements that the US clients could never hope to face in political competition.
Washington's "reverse course" called a halt to democratic experiments that threatened established power. The US moved decisively to break Japanese unions and reconstruct the traditional industrial-financial conglomerates, supporting fascist collaborators, excluding anti-fascist elements, and restoring traditional conservative business rule. As explained in a 1947 paper prepared under the direction of the primary author of the reverse course, George Kennan, the US had "a moral right to intervene" to preserve "stability" against "stooge groups" of the Communists: "Recognizing that the former industrial and commercial leaders of Japan are the ablest leaders in the country, that they are the most stable element, that they have the strongest natural ties with the US, it should be US policy to remove obstacles to their finding their natural level in Japanese leadership." The purge of war criminals was ended, and the essential structure of the fascist regime restored. The reverse course in Japan was one element in a worldwide US campaign at the same time with the same goals, all prior to 1949.18
The reconstruction of what US technical experts angrily condemned as "totalitarian state capitalism," with popular and democratic forces suppressed, was underway well before the reverse course of 1947. The Occupation also determined at once that the basic issues of war guilt would be shelved. General MacArthur "would neither allow the emperor to be indicted, nor take the stand as a witness, nor even be interviewed by International Prosecution investigators" at the War Crimes trials, Herbert Bix writes, despite ample evidence of his direct responsibility for Japanese war crimes -- available to MacArthur, but kept secret. This whitewashing of the monarchy had "momentous" consequences for reestablishing the traditional conservative order and defeating a far more democratic alternative, Bix concludes.19
Weisman observes correctly that Japan's "goal was to assure access to natural resources, markets and freedom of the seas." These goals it has now attained, he adds, by "its own hard work" and "the generosity (and self-interest) of the United States." The implication is that Japan could have achieved the same goals 50 years ago, had it not been in the grip of fascist ideology and primitive delusion. Overlooked are some obvious questions. If Japan could have achieved these ends by accepting Western norms, then why did the British, the Americans, and the other imperial states not simply abandon the high tariff walls they had erected around their colonies to bar Japan? Or, assuming that such idealism would be too much to ask, why did Hull not at least accept the Japanese offer for mutuality of exploitation? Such thoughts go beyond legitimate bounds, reaching into the forbidden territory of "American motives."
In the real world, Japan's aggression gave an impetus to the nationalist movements that displaced colonial rule in favor of the more subtle mechanisms of domination of the postwar period. Furthermore, the war left the US in a position to design the new world order. Under these new conditions, Japan could be offered its "Empire toward the South" (as Kennan put it) under US control, though within limits: the US intended to maintain its "power over what Japan imports in the way of oil and such other things" so that "we would have veto power on what she does need in the military and industrial field," as Kennan advised in 1949.20 This stance was maintained until unexpected factors intervened, notably the Vietnam war with its costs to the US and benefits to Japan and other industrial rivals.
Yet another fault of the Japanese, Weisman observes, is the "bellicose terms" in which they frame Japanese-American relations, thus revealing their penchant for militarism. The Japanese speak of "their `second strike': if Washington cuts off Japanese imports, Tokyo can strangle the American economy by cutting off investments or purchases of Treasury bonds." Even if we adopt Weisman's unexamined judgment on the impropriety of such retaliation, it would hardly seem to rank high in comparison to standard US practices: for example, the devastating and illegal economic warfare regularly waged against such enemies as Cuba, Chile, Nicaragua, and Vietnam; or the efforts of Jacksonian Democrats to "place all other nations at our feet," primarily the British enemy, by gaining a monopoly over the most important commodity in world trade.
Japan's worst sin, however, is its tendency towards "self-pity," its refusal to offer reparations to its victims, its "clumsy attempts to sanitize the past" and in general, its failure to "come forward with a definitive statement of wartime responsibility." Here Weisman is on firm ground -- or would be, if he, or his editors, or their colleagues in the doctrinal system were even to consider the principles they espouse for others. They do not, not for a moment, as the record shows with utter clarity.
The 50th anniversary was commemorated with cover stories in the major newsweeklies, articles in the press, and TV documentaries. Several were applauded by Wall Street Journal critic Dorothy Rabinowitz for their "unrelentingly tough historic view of the Pearl Harbor attack," with no ambiguities about the distinction between pure righteousness and absolute evil (December 2). She reserves her condemnations for the "journalists of the fashionable Left and the terminal Right" who "invariably" portray the Japanese "as victims" of the dastardly Americans. Examples of these lunacies are omitted; the actual historical issues receive not a phrase.
The opposite side of the page carries an article by Robert Greenberger headlined "U.S.-Vietnam Ties Remain Held Back By the MIA Issue," describing a Vietnamese plan "to solve the main issue blocking a resumption of relations: accounting for Americans missing since the Vietnam War." This news report is so conventional as to merit no particular notice, apart from the interesting layout. It is a staple of the media, and the culture generally, that we were the injured party in Vietnam. We were innocent victims of what John F. Kennedy called "the assault from the inside" (November 12, 1963), the "internal aggression" by South Vietnamese peasants against their legitimate government and the saviors who imposed it upon them and defended their country from them.21 Later we were treacherously assaulted by the North Vietnamese. Not content with attacking us, they also imprisoned Americans who had mysteriously fallen into their hands. Unrelenting, the Vietnamese aggressors proceeded to abuse us shamefully after the war's end, refusing to cooperate fully on the fate of US pilots and MIAs, even failing to devote themselves with proper dedication to locating the remains of pilots they had viciously blasted from the skies.
Our suffering at the hands of these barbarians is the sole moral issue that remains after a quarter-century of violence, in which we vigorously backed the French effort to reconquer their former colonies; instantly demolished the 1954 diplomatic settlement; installed a regime of corrupt and murderous thugs and torturers in the southern sector where we had imposed our rule; attacked that sector directly when the terror and repression of our clients elicited a reaction that they could not withstand; expanded our aggression to all of Indochina with saturation bombing of densely-populated areas, chemical warfare attacks to destroy crops and vegetation, bombing of dikes, and huge mass murder operations and terror programs when refugee-generation, population removal, and bulldozing of villages failed; ultimately leaving three countries destroyed, perhaps beyond the hope of recovery, the devastated land strewn with millions of corpses and unexploded ordnance, with countless destitute and maimed, deformed fetuses in the hospitals of the South that do not touch the heartstrings of "pro-life" enthusiasts, and other horrors too awful to recount in a region "threatened with extinction...as a cultural and historic entity...as the countryside literally dies under the blows of the largest military machine ever unleashed on an area of this size," in the words of the hawkish historian Bernard Fall, one of the leading experts on Vietnam, in 1967 -- that is, before the major US atrocities were set in motion.22
From all of this, one single element remains: the terrible abuse we have suffered at the hands of our tormenters.
Reactions to our adversity are not entirely uniform. At the dovish extreme, we find Senator John Kerry, who warns that we should never again fight a war "without committing enough resources to win"; no other flaw is mentioned. And there is President Carter, the noted moral teacher and human rights apostle, who assured us that we owe Vietnam no debt and have no responsibility to render it any assistance because "the destruction was mutual," an observation so uncontroversial as to pass with no reaction. Others less inclined to turn the other cheek forthrightly assign the blame to the Vietnamese Communists alone, denouncing the anti-American extremists who labor to detect lingering ambiguities.23
In the New York Times, we read stories headlined "Vietnam, Trying to be Nicer, Still has a Long Way to Go," with Asia correspondent Barbara Crossette reporting that though the Vietnamese are making some progress "on the missing Americans," they are still far from approaching our lofty moral standards. And a hundred others with the same tone and content. Properly statesmanlike, President Bush announces that "It was a bitter conflict, but Hanoi knows today that we seek only answers without the threat of retribution for the past." Their crimes against us can never be forgotten, but "we can begin writing the last chapter of the Vietnam war" if they dedicate themselves with sufficient zeal to the MIAs. We might even "begin helping the Vietnamese find and identify their own combatants missing in action," Crossette reports. The adjacent front-page story reports Japan's failure, once again, to "unambiguously" accept the blame "for its wartime aggression."24
As the 1992 presidential campaign heated up, Vietnam's savage maltreatment of suffering America flared up into a major issue: had Washington done enough to end these abuses, or had it conspired to efface them. A front-page New York Times story by Patrick Tyler captured the mood. Tyler reported that the White House had rejected Ross Perot's 1987 proposal that easing the pressures against Hanoi might be "a way to win the repatriation of any American servicemen still held in Southeast Asia." "At the time," Tyler observes, "Washington was taking a harder diplomatic line with Hanoi to achieve the same end." "History has shown that concessions prior to performance is death," said Richard Childress, NSC official supervising POW/MIA policy. "They'll take and take and take," he added. "We've learned that over 25 years." "United States negotiators were holding onto their leverage until Hanoi made progress on a step-by-step `roadmap' to improved relations, through cooperation on P.O.W./M.I.A. investigations," Tyler adds, without even the most timid query about Washington's declared intentions or a hint, however faint, that someone might fail to appreciate their righteousness.25
As the country solemnly contemplated "the Mind of Japan," deploring the disgraceful "self-pity" of the Japanese, their failure to offer reparations to their victims, or even to "come forward with a definitive statement of wartime responsibility," the US government and press escalated their bitter denunciations of the criminals in Hanoi who not only refuse to confess their guilt but persist in their shameful mistreatment of innocent America. In a lengthy report on this rising indignation over Vietnam's morbid insistence on punishing us 17 years after the war's official end, Crossette wrote that expectations for diplomatic relations between the US and Vietnam "may be set back by a resurgence of interest in one piece of unfinished business that will not go away: the fate of missing Americans." Properly incensed by Vietnam's iniquity, George Bush, opened Year 500 in October 1991 by intervening once again to block European and Japanese efforts to end the embargo that the US imposed in 1975, while Defense Secretary Dick Cheney reported to Congress that "despite improved cooperation," the Vietnamese will have to do more before we grant them entry into the civilized world. "Substantial progress" on the MIA issue is required as a condition for normalizing ties, Secretary of State James Baker said, a process that could take several years. Meanwhile, officials in one of the world's poorest countries continue to show irritation, as they did "last week when the United States blocked a French proposal calling for the International Monetary Fund to lend money to Vietnam," the Times reported.26
For a time, the embargo was imposed to punish Vietnam for yet another crime: its assault against Pol Pot in response to murderous Khmer Rouge attacks on Vietnamese border areas. The US had striven to normalize relations despite Vietnam's cruel treatment of us, Barbara Crossette reports under the heading "Indochina's Missing: An Issue That Refused to Die." But, she continues, "President Carter's efforts to open links to Hanoi were thwarted by Vietnam's invasion of Cambodia in 1978." Naturally, the saintly moralist could not overlook unprovoked aggression; had George Bush been in charge, he doubtless would have sent Stormin' Norman to crush the aggressor (at least, if there had been a guarantee that no one would shoot back).27
Carter's deep feelings about the war crime of aggression had been demonstrated for all to see by his reaction to Indonesia's invasion of East Timor -- in this case, not terminating a murderous assault on the population but initiating a comparable one. As Indonesian violence approached genocidal levels in 1978 and its military supplies were running low, the Carter Administration sharply stepped up the flow of arms to its Indonesian ally, also sending jets via the Israeli connection to evade congressional restrictions; 90 percent of Indonesian arms were US-supplied, on the strict condition that they be used only for defensive purposes. From his moral pinnacle, Carter surveyed the Vietnamese crime of aggression and reluctantly terminated his efforts to bring Vietnam into the community of civilized nations, so we are instructed. The principled US opposition to the use of force in international affairs was revealed again through the1980s; for example, by Washington's decisive support for Israel's invasion of Lebanon and the accompanying slaughter, the government-media reaction to the World Court judgment in 1986 ordering the US to desist from its "unlawful use of force" against Nicaragua, Bush's invasion of Panama to celebrate the fall of the Berlin wall and the end of the Cold War, and much else.28
According to the USG-Times version, Washington "refused to normalize relations as long as a Vietnamese-backed Government in Cambodia resisted a negotiated settlement to its civil war" (Steven Greenhouse); that is, the conflict with the Khmer Rouge, supplied by China and Thailand (and, indirectly, the US and its allies), and attacking Cambodian rural areas from their Thai sanctuaries.29
The reality is a bit different. The Carter Administration "[chose] not to accept the Vietnamese offer to reestablish relations," Raymond Garthoff observes, impelled primarily by its early 1978 "tilt towards China" and, accordingly, toward China's Khmer Rouge ally, well before Vietnam invaded Cambodia. Pol Pot proceeded to carry out the worst atrocities of his reign, concealed by the CIA in its later demographic study, presumably because of the US connection. Unlike many European countries, the US did not abstain at the UN on the "legitimate" government of Cambodia after the Khmer Rouge were expelled by the Vietnamese, but "joined China in supporting the Khmer Rouge" (Garthoff). The US backed China's invasion to "punish Vietnam," and turned to supporting the Thai-based coalition in which the Khmer Rouge was the major military element. The US "encouraged the Chinese to support Pol Pot," as Carter's National Security Adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, later commented. Deng Xiaoping, a particular favorite of the Reagan-Bush Administrations, elaborated: "It is wise to force the Vietnamese to stay in Kampuchea because they will suffer more and will not be able to extend their hand to Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore," which they no doubt would have proceeded to conquer had they not been stopped in time. After helping to reconstruct Pol Pot's shattered forces, the US-China-Thailand coalition (and the West generally) lent its diplomatic support to Pol Pot; imposed an embargo on Cambodia and blocked aid from other sources, including humanitarian aid; and undermined any moves toward a negotiated settlement that did not offer the Khmer Rouge an influential role. The US even threatened Thailand with loss of trade privileges if it refused to support the Khmer Rouge, the Far Eastern Economic Review reported in 1989.
It was under the pressure of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council that "the Cambodians were forced...to accept the return of the Khmer Rouge," Sihanouk pointed out in his first speech after his triumphant return to Cambodia in November 1991. A year earlier, he had informed US journalist T.D. Allman that "To save Cambodia...all you had to do [in 1979] was to let Pol Pot die. Pol Pot was dying and you brought him back to life."30
A more accurate rendering of Times-speak, then, is that Vietnam's efforts to restore relations were thwarted by the Carter Administration's turn towards China and the Khmer Rouge, that the US exploited the pretext of the invasion to punish the people of Vietnam and Cambodia as severely as possible, and that Washington refused to allow any diplomatic settlement that did not guarantee the Khmer Rouge a leading role.
By expelling this tacit US ally from Cambodia, bringing to an end atrocities that peaked after Carter's "tilt toward China" (hence toward Pol Pot), and then keeping him at bay, Vietnam "may have earned the thanks of most Cambodians," Globe editor H.D.S. Greenway writes. But these actions "earned it the opprobrium of most of the rest of the world" -- notably, those parts of the world that follow US whims. But Vietnam's withdrawal from Cambodia eliminated this pretext for the embargo, leaving only Vietnam's mistreatment of us on the MIA issue. This continuing crime, US moralists in press and government explain, requires that we keep the embargo in force, thus depriving Vietnam of loans and investments from the international financial institutions that the US controls and the Europeans and Japanese, wary of stepping on the toes of their powerful and relentless ally.31
The Pearl Harbor anniversary itself was marked by a Washington Post editorial noting that although Vietnam had made progress, "some MIA advocates" allege that it "is holding back remains." "It will take considerable openness on Hanoi's part and diligent investigation on Washington's to clear up this question," the editors sternly conclude. If the Vietnamese are willing to cooperate fully, we may allow them to join the world community, though we will never forgive them for the harm and pain they have inflicted upon us for over 40 years, any more than we can forget the Japanese infamy of just a few years earlier.32
Turning again to the real world, it is largely US business interests that are complaining over the fanatical commitment to "bleed Vietnam"; they fear that they may be cut out of opportunities for profit by competitors abroad, that they may not get their "fair share of trade in Vietnam," as one executive puts it. These considerations do provide some reason to rethink our stand. We might relent, the press reports, if Vietnam agrees to two years of excavations, takes steps to open our way to Laos and Cambodia, promises to turn over any remains that may ever be found, and grants us "immediate access to the Vietnamese countryside" and to military archives; as the aggrieved party, we meanwhile confine Vietnamese diplomats at the UN to the immediate vicinity, and as for military archives, ...33
"There are Vietnamese like Deputy Foreign Minister Le Mai, who `says he understands the need of the American government to convince the American people on the MIAs'," Greenway writes. "The Vietnamese also understand that the issue of missing Americans is the single greatest barrier to lifting the American-imposed trade embargo, establishing diplomatic relations with the US, and rejoining the world community." But, Greenway adds, "there are also Vietnamese who speak with great bitterness against what they see as America making a political issue of its own loss with a country that has 200,000 to 300,000 of its soldiers missing and unaccounted for." One Vietnamese war veteran suggests that Americans "come back and tell us where Vietnamese are buried." "What a task," Greenway writes from ample direct experience as a war correspondent, "recalling long-suppressed memories of bulldozers shoveling Vietnamese corpses into pits and helicopter sling loads, with arms and legs protruding from the mesh, being carted off to some unmarked grave."34
Greenway deserves credit for this rare departure from the ranks, though we might take note of a few other problems that some might attribute to an agent who remains unnamed.
None of this, hardly a secret, stands in the way of allowing the US to "rejoin the world community," or calls for hansei -- whether "remorse" or even "self-reflection" -- not to speak of reparations for ghastly crimes.
Other voices are too faint to penetrate our orgy of self-pity over the abuse we suffer; for example, the surgeon who carried out a delicate operation in February 1990 to remove a US-made shell from the arm of one of the many victims killed or maimed by unexploded ordnance after the fighting ended. The miserable Commies were berated with much scorn when they released maps of mines in Afghanistan so that civilians could be protected from the deadly legacy of their aggression. There were no such denunciations of the United States, for a simple reason: Washington refused to provide mine maps to civilian mine-deactivation teams in Indochina. As a Pentagon spokesman explained, "people should not live in those areas. They know the problem." What is more, as a matter of elementary logic, no condemnation could be in order for seeding the countryside with mines or anti-personnel bomblets in "our excess of righteousness and disinterested benevolence."35
Readers of the foreign press can hear the voice of 11-year-old Tran Viet Cuong in the city of Vinh -- which had the misfortune of being "cursed by location," as the Times thoughtfully explained (p. 242). His parents desperately want him to obtain an education, and since the town cannot afford schoolbooks, Tran must go without breakfast so that his parents can buy them (if he's lucky, his teacher will buy chalk out of a salary eked from two or three jobs). The local government also "cannot afford to repair many of the roads, hospitals and sewage drains destroyed 20 years ago by U.S. bombers," John Stackhouse reports from the shattered city. In 1991, the children's hospital was forced to close 50 of 250 beds and to ask patients to provide medicines. Doctors perform surgical operations on a table donated by Poland, largely without equipment. At the Vinh Medical Center, where the hospital's pharmacy remains "a pile of rubble," a doctor states the obvious: "the problems here are a consequence of the American war, and the embargo has made it worse."
The embargo, Stackhouse notes, has "isolated Vietnam internationally, cutting it off from trade and aid flows," blocking aid from development organizations where the US has "an effective veto," including the Manila-based Asian Development Bank, which is prepared to lend $300 million, including funds for an irrigation project that could increase farm yields by one-third. Though Vietnam undertook the structural adjustment programs required by the official lenders well before Eastern Europe, it cannot receive any of the low-cost World Bank funds designed to ease the severe impact, thanks to the stern US veto. The result is that child deaths are two to three times higher than in Bangladesh, and the education system, "which once produced an overwhelmingly literate population," has collapsed. Commercial banks and other donors and investors will not move until the US permits it, and foreign markets are largely closed, so there is no prospect for private sector jobs. Even a UNICEF appeal failed, because "No one wants to offend the U.S.," the director of UNICEF's Ho Chi Minh city office observes.36
Readers of the foreign press may also hear the voices of mountain tribesmen in October 1991, as they "asked authorities for permission to shoot down a U.S. helicopter when they heard it was on the way to investigate evidence of U.S. soldiers missing in action." "It is not difficult to uncover the source of the pent-up aggression" here, Canadian correspondent Philip Smucker reports: "It is only a matter of locating which village has had a child recently maimed or killed by a `bomblet,' a tiny bomb left hidden in the soil for the past 18 years" in a region where "carpet bombing and dioxin spraying by U.S. aircraft...devastated the forests, leaving much of the countryside looking like a mountainous moonscape perforated with craters the size of Cadillacs," the soil "drenched with more than 200 litres [of chemical poisons] a square hectare," so that "the number of deformed children is much higher here than in the North where there was no spraying." In this isolated region alone, "more than 5,000 people have been injured and killed" from unexploded bombs since 1975. "I hate the man who dropped this bomb," a peasant says "standing in front of a crater 10 times his size that is literally at his doorstep," one of the relics of the B-52 carpet bombings that killed his wife in 1969. Another tells of his 8-year-old son, who had just been blown to pieces a few weeks earlier when he picked up a round metal object in the mud, another child's death that "will go unrecorded in the annals of the Vietnam War."37
Surely there is nothing here to trouble our unsullied conscience as we scrutinize the deformed minds of the perfidious Japanese and the psychic disorders that so puzzle and intrigue us. Those who have memorized the guiding doctrine of the 500-year conquest will have no difficulty perceiving the moral chasm that lies between us and the Japanese: Morality comes from the barrel of a gun -- and we have the guns.
As if to highlight the point, the New York Times Science Section ran an article headlined "Study of Dioxin's Effect in Vietnam Is Hampered by Diplomatic Freeze." The "diplomatic freeze" is depicted with the symmetry that objective journalism demands ("Vietnamese and American officials move at a glacial pace in negotiations to improve ties," etc.), but the article is unusual in noting some unfortunate consequences of this curious mutual disorder. The problem is that the "17-year freeze in relations between Vietnam and the United States is hindering vital research into long-term effects of Agent Orange and other sources of dioxin on both military and civilian populations." This is most unfortunate, since much might be learned "about the potential dangers of industrial dioxin in the West by studying the people in areas sprayed during the Vietnam War with large doses of American defoliants containing dioxin."
"Vietnam is an ideal location for more research into potential links between dioxin and cancer, reproductive dysfunction, hormone problems, immune deficiencies, disorders of the central nervous system, liver damage, diabetes and altered lipid metabolism," the article continues, and may help solve the "critical" problem of determining "the level at which it might become dangerous to humans." That the creatures under inquiry might have some needs to be addressed, perhaps by the hidden agent, is a thought too exotic to be addressed, even hinted.
There are two reasons why "Vietnam could provide excellent opportunities for study." "First, a large number of Vietnamese of all ages and both sexes have been exposed to dioxin," including "many women and children," while in the West, industrial accidents or "neighborhood contamination" as in Seveso, Italy, and Love Canal "have involved small groups in confined areas," mostly men. Second, Vietnam "furnishes an extensive control group," since northerners "were not sprayed." Another useful feature is that "Many Vietnamese had substantial exposures to dioxin." "Eighty percent of the Vietnamese lived in rural areas and were frequently barefoot or in sandals," an American researcher comments. "Cooperation in Vietnam couldn't be better," but "we're letting a unique opportunity fade" to "study the health consequences for all of us" because of the continuing freeze; "Time is running out for studies of people exposed to spraying."38
Perhaps this interesting research project might include a look at the children dying of cancer and birth defects or the women with rare malignant tumors in hospitals in the South (not the North, spared this particular atrocity), the sealed containers with hideously deformed babies, and other "terrifying" scenes reported occasionally in the foreign press or far from the public eye here. That inquiry too might yield benefits for the United States.39
This critique of the mutual disorder departs from convention in at least suggesting that something may be awry. Like all too much else, it may raise in some minds the question whether the intellectual culture is real, or a script by Jonathan Swift. The critique recalls the occasional complaints about the heavy censorship in Japan under the American occupation, imposed in secret (references to it were censored) while the US designed a Constitution for Japan stating that "No censorship shall be maintained, nor shall the secrecy of any means of communication be violated," and General MacArthur "was emphatically telling the Japanese people and Japanese journalists that freedom of the press and freedom of speech were very close to his heart and were freedoms for which the Allies had fought the war" (Monica Braw). The censorship had been instituted at once and was maintained for four years, by which time the purge of dissidents made it less important. One motive, from the first days, was to prevent any discussion of the atom bomb or its effects. These were kept as secret as possible within Japan because of concerns that the truth might "disturb public tranquility" and imply that "the bombing was a crime against humanity," one censor declared as he barred an eyewitness account of the Nagasaki atrocity. Even Japanese scientific papers were barred. That did elicit some objections, but not because the censorship hindered treatment of survivors, an issue largely ignored; rather, because a unique opportunity to learn more about radiation damage was being lost.40
As America contemplated Japan's crimes on the fiftieth anniversary, a new book appeared on the one American atrocity that has indeed been recognized: the My Lai massacre in March 1968. American reviewers were shocked to learn that "the infamous Lt. Calley," who commanded the killers, "served less than three years of confinement in his bachelor officer quarters before he was paroled" and now enjoys life as a Georgia businessman, driving his Mercedes sedan from his pleasant home to the shopping mall where his jewelry store is located. Concluding his reflections on the massacre, the Washington Post reviewer observes: "Any book on this subject ultimately shirks its responsibility unless it clearly tracks the fault down to the complex light and dark of the individual human soul."
In the London Financial Times, Justin Wintle had a different reaction:
Like nearly every other book about Vietnam published in the West, Four Hours in My Lai focuses on America, and the damage done to the American self-esteem. The other half of the equation is marginalised. Although [the authors] dutifully record the eye-witness accounts of a handful of survivors of My Lai, the engulfing sorrow that still pervades Quang Ngai as a result of eight years' occupation by US and South Korean forces is here unsung. Instead the reader is swamped by any amount of often trivial biographical detail pertaining to the lives of nearly every American mentioned in the text.
That pattern had been set early on. Few winced when the New York Times published a think piece from My Lai on the fifth anniversary of the massacre, in March 1973, noting that the village and region remained "silent and unsafe," though the Americans were still "trying to make it safe" by relentless bombardment and shelling. The reporter quoted villagers who accused the Americans of killing many people, adding philosophically: "They are in no position to appreciate what the name My Lai means to Americans."41
The Washington Post review observes the laws of Political Correctness by enjoining us to plumb the depths of "the individual human soul" with its dark complexities, to seek the answer to My Lai in some universal fault of the human species, not in US policies and institutions. The laws prescribe that the US only reacts to the crimes of others, and has no policies beyond a general benevolence; in Quang Ngai province, no policies beyond "trying to make it safe" for the suffering Vietnamese who we are "protecting." True, there was destruction in Indochina, but, quite commonly, with no agent. There were "substantial tracts of land made fallow by the war," the Times leading Asia hand, Fox Butterfield, reports, coining a phrase that would have made Orwell gasp. His colleague Craig Whitney summarized "the legacy of the war": "the punishment inflicted on [the Vietnamese] and their land when the Communists were allowed to operate in it" and the villagers "driven from the ancestral homes by the fighting." It was all some natural disaster, inexplicable, except by musing on the darkness of the individual human soul, perhaps.42
The British reviewer recommended a step beyond: a look at "the objectives of Washington's policy makers," not merely the soul of Lt. Calley and the half-crazed GIs in the field who carried out the brutal massacre, knowing only that every Vietnamese in the ruins of a Quang Ngai village -- man, woman, or child -- was a potential threat to their lives. As a first step in determining these objectives, we might inspect Operation Wheeler Wallawa, in which the official body count listed 10,000 enemy, including the victims of My Lai. In his detailed study of this and other mass murder operations of the period, Newsweek Bureau Chief Kevin Buckley writes that My Lai was "a particularly gruesome application of a wider policy which had the same effect in many places at many times," for example, in one area of four villages where the population was reduced from 16,000 to 1,600, or another where the US military command's location plots reveal that B-52 bombings were targeted precisely on villages, and where helicopters chased and killed people working in the fields. "Of course, the blame for that could not have been dumped on a stumblebum lieutenant," Buckley commented: "Calley was an aberration, but `Wheeler Wallawa' was not." Or many other operations like it, a fact that brings certain thoughts to mind.43
North American relief workers in Quang Ngai knew of the My Lai massacre at once, but, like the local population, took no particular notice because it was not considered out of the ordinary. Retired army officer Edward King wrote that "My Lai represented to the average professional soldier nothing more than being caught up in a cover-up of something which he knew had been going on for a long time on a smaller scale." By accident, the military panel investigating the My Lai massacre found another much like it a few miles away, at My Khe, but dismissed charges against the commanding officer on the grounds that it was a perfectly normal operation in which a village was destroyed with about 100 people killed and the remnants forcibly relocated -- much like the remnants of My Lai, sent to a waterless camp on Batangan Peninsula over which floated a banner reading: "We thank you for liberating us from communist terror." There, they were subjected to Operation Bold Mariner, which "tried to make that region safe" with probably even greater slaughter and ecological devastation.44
Could there be another candidate for war crimes trials, beyond General Yamashita and 1000 others executed for their crimes in the Pacific War?
Recall that one of the character flaws we discover in exploring "the Mind of Japan" is their "clumsy attempts to sanitize the past" and "the complete absence of a sense in Japan of their own history," much like the Soviet officials who mobilized "every conceivable weapon...to suppress the public's memory" of the "grisly episodes" that form "the larger cancer" of history, finally in vain, because "You Can't Murder History."
Or can you? The fate of the Indochina wars in US ideology illustrates our right to pontificate on this issue. A still more recent example is the Central America episode of the past decade: some future historian will gaze in wonder at our self-adulation over the monstrous atrocities we perpetrated there, surpassing even the earlier achievements that have helped to keep our "backyard" in deepest misery.
The very idea of an American intellectual judging others on how they come to terms with their history is so astounding as to leave one virtually speechless. Who among us, from the earliest days, has failed to come to terms with the truth about slavery or the extermination of the native population? Can there be a resident of civilized New England, for example, who has not committed to memory the gruesome details of the first major act of genocide, the slaughter of the Pequot Indians in 1637, the remnants sold into slavery? Who has not learned the proud words of the 1643 Puritan account of these inspiring acts, describing the official dissolution of the Pequot nation by the colonial authorities, who outlawed even the designation Pequot "so that the name of the Pequots (as of Amalech) is blotted out from under heaven, there being not one that is, or (at least) dare call himself a Pequot"? Surely every American child who pledges allegiance to our nation "under God" is instructed as to how the Puritans borrowed the rhetoric and imagery of the Old Testament, consciously modelling themselves on His Chosen People as they followed God's command, "`smiting' the Canaanites and driving them from the Promised Land" (Neil Salisbury). Who has not shown hansei while studying the chroniclers who extolled our revered forebears as they did the Lord's work in accord with the admonitions of their religious leaders, fulfilling their "divine mission" with a pre-dawn surprise attack on the main Pequot village while most of the men were away, slaughtering women, children, and old men in true Biblical style? In their own words, the Puritans turned the huts into a "fiery Oven" in which the victims of "the most terrible death that may be" were left "frying in the fire and the streams of blood quenching the same," while the servants of the Lord "gave the praise thereof to God, who had wrought so wonderfully for them." Can there be anyone who has not asked whether our history might offer some later resonances of this exultation over the extermination of those who had "exalted themselves in their great Pride," arrogantly refusing to grant us what they have?45
Or if southern Connecticut is too remote for intellectual and moral guides in our greatest city, then surely they could not have failed to immerse themselves in the records of the actions that cleared the New York region of the native scourge only a few years later. For example, the account by David de Vries of his experiences in Lower Manhattan in February 1643, while Dutch soldiers massacred peaceful Algonquin Indians right across the Hudson, finally exterminating or expelling almost all Native Americans from the New York Metropolitan area. The killers in this case preferred another favored model of the Founding Fathers,
considering they had done a deed of Roman valor in murdering so many in their sleep; where infants were torn from their mother's breasts, and hacked to pieces in the presence of the parents, and the pieces thrown into the fire and in the water, and other sucklings, being bound to small [cradle] boards, were cut, stuck, and pierced, and miserably massacred in a manner to move a heart of stone. Some were thrown into the river, and when the fathers and mothers endeavored to save them, the soldiers would not let them come on land but made both parents and children drown.
Not unlike the Rio Sumpul massacre on the Salvador-Honduras border in 1980, the first major atrocity of the US-run war in El Salvador, which some day perhaps the New York Times may even discover; and countless other operations of the elite battalions fresh from their US training, armed with US arms, and guided by the doctrines we have taught them for many years.46
No one can accuse us of concealing the actions that cleared the New York area; the facts are, after all, readily available to everyone in Native American Place Names in New York City, prominently published by the Museum of the City of New York.
The spectacle of our "sensitivity to history" is too obscene to merit review, though neglect would not be quite the right word. Anyone who can recall the images and lessons of their childhood will know why; at least those whose childhood years came before the impact of the popular movements of the 1960s was finally felt, arousing a chorus of revulsion over the PC takeover of our previously saintly culture. My own memories were reawakened a few weeks after the exposure of the My Lai massacre in 1969, while thumbing through a fourth-grade text on colonial New England assigned in a Boston suburb noted for the quality of its schools. The children indeed read a fairly accurate account of the slaughter of the Pequots -- which was applauded, much in the manner of the Puritan record of 1643.47
And so the story continues right through the 500th year. In the Times Book Review, historian Caleb Carr reviews a book on the 1862 Sioux Uprising in Minnesota. The "Minnesota encounter," he explains, was "a total war between rival nations for control of a territory both groups were willing to die for." But there was a crucial asymmetry. For one nation, "settlement was generally their last hope"; they were "staking not only their fortunes but also their very lives on the hope of building new lives in untried country." For the natives, at least at first, "the terms of the conflict" were "less mortal"; they could, after all, trudge off further West. Carr describes the "encounter" as "less than inspiring," and praises the author for recognizing that both nations were guilty of crimes. Those of the Sioux are outlined in gory detail ("atrocious behavior," "sadism and blood lust," "a particular penchant for torturing infants and children," etc.); the tune changes markedly when Carr turns to the settlers seeking to build new lives (broken treaties, hanging of 38 Sioux, expulsion even of some who were not "guilty" of resistance, etc.). But the radical difference is only fair, given the asymmetry of need in the "encounter."
To conjure up a nightmare, suppose the Nazis had won the European war. Perhaps some later German ideologue might have conceded that the "encounter" between Germans and Slavs on the Eastern front was "less than inspiring," though for balance, we must recall that it was "a total war between rival nations for control of a territory both groups were willing to die for"; and for the Slavs "the terms of the conflict" were "less mortal" than for the Germans needing Lebensraum, "staking not only their fortunes but also their very lives on the hope of building new lives in untried country." The Slavs, after all, could trudge off to Siberia.48
It is noteworthy that Carr's review opens with the predictable frothing at the mouth about the evils of PC, that is, the efforts of a misguided few to face some of the truths of history. That is a common posture; in the Times, de rigueur on this topic (among others). In a typical case, another Times reviewer, with bitterness dripping from every line, writes that a novel on Columbus "adheres closely to the new multi-cultural perspective," focusing on what the author "sees as the devastating effects that Columbus's arrival in the New World had on the native populations," including "the supposed deaths of thousands of people." Who but a fashionable "multi-culturalist" could believe that the effects of the conquest were "devastating" or could "suppose" that "thousands" of Native Americans died? A second Times reviewer of the same book, former Newsweek senior book critic Paul Prescott, chimes in with a hysterical denunciation of the "ideologically correct" author for daring to write that the Spanish harmed the natives of Hispaniola while suppressing "the kind of history is not politically correct": that the natives "told [Columbus] that their immediate problem was that they were being eaten by the Caribs." How they "told" Columbus this tale of woe, and why no record exists, Prescott does not explain; on the "immediate problem" as seen by the contemporary observer Las Casas, who denied the cannibalism charge concocted by Columbus, see pp. 198-9.49
It is not unreasonable to suppose that the extremely crude but quite effective propaganda campaign about the takeover of our culture by PC left fascists was in part motivated by the forthcoming quincentennial, with the danger that it might elicit some "self-reflection," perhaps even "remorse."
The renewal of the punishment of Vietnam for its crimes, the voices of the unheard victims, the search into the depths of the "individual human soul" (but nothing more) in the case of our admitted departure from purity, and our contemplation of "the Mind of Japan" -- all of these fall on the 50th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, along with the resurgence of self-pity over our tragic fate.
Those who might believe that the POW-MIA issue reflects the profound humanitarian impulses of our leaders will quickly be disabused of this naive idea by a look at a few comparisons. Walter Wouk, a Vietnam veteran who chairs the New York State Senate Vietnam Veterans Advisory Council, writes:
At the end of World War II the U.S. had 78,751 MIAs, 27 percent of the war's U.S. battle deaths. The Korean War resulted in 8,177 MIAs which represented 15.2 percent of the Americans killed-in-action. Of the 2.6 million Americans who served in Vietnam, 2,505 -- less than 5.5 percent of the U.S. battle deaths -- are listed as missing in action. But even that figure is misleading. Of that number 1,113 were killed in action, but their bodies were not recovered. Another 631 were presumed dead because of the circumstances of their loss -- i.e., airmen known to have crashed into the sea -- and 33 died in captivity. The remaining 728 are missing. It should be noted that 590 of the missing Americans (81 percent) were airmen; and there were strong indications that more than 442 of these individuals (75 percent) went down with their aircraft.
Are the Vietnam MIAs in a special category because of the refusal of the savage Communists to allow a thorough search? In the major study of the MIA campaign, Bruce Franklin points out that remains of MIAs from World War II are discovered almost every year in the European countryside, where no one has hampered any search for 45 years. Remains from General Custer's 1876 battle were still being located in the 1980s, as were skeletons of Confederate soldiers and US soldiers killed in Canada during the War of 1812.50
The truth of the matter is not hard to perceive. The state-media complex has been resorting to a trick familiar to every petty crook and tenth-rate lawyer: when you are caught with your hand in someone's pocket, cry "Thief! Thief!" Don't try to defend yourself, thus conceding that there is an issue to confront: rather, shift the onus to your accusers, who must then defend themselves against your charge. The technique can be highly effective when control over the doctrinal system is assured. The device is familiar to propagandists, virtually a reflex, adopted unthinkingly. The PC propaganda operation is a transparent example (chapter 2.4).
The device also comes naturally to the corporate rulers, who commonly present themselves as pathetic and embattled, desperately trying to survive the onslaught of the liberal media, powerful unions, and hostile government forces that keep them from earning an honest dollar. Their media propagandists play the same game. During the Pittston mine workers strike in 1989-1990, the company president ran daily press conferences, though it was hardly necessary, since the media were eager to do his work for him. In the first (and only) TV gesture toward coverage, Robert Kulwich of CBS commented that Pittston Coal Group president "Mike Odom is willing to say that the union has done a very slick public relations job, and that he has some catching up to do." That takes care of the fact that the national media -- to the limited extent that they covered this historic labor struggle at all -- adopted the company point of view reflexively, deflecting union efforts to present the issues as the workers saw them with their practiced efficiency.51
The same device is standard in debate over the media. It is child's play to demonstrate their subordination to state power with regard to Indochina, Central America, and the Middle East. Accordingly, the sole issue we are permitted to discuss is whether the media went too far in their adversarial zeal, perhaps even undermining the foundations of democracy (the questions pondered in the solemn deliberations of the Trilateral Commission and Freedom House). An academic study of the media on Central America and the Middle East, led by a man with proper liberal credentials, considers only the question of the anti-establishment fervor of the media: Was it too extreme, or did they manage to keep it within tolerable bounds? As in this case, the "Thief! Thief!" technique is particularly effective when the analyst can be placed at the outer limits of dissidence. Thus long-time NPR Middle East correspondent Jim Lederman inquires into the fervent support of the US media for the cause of the Palestinians, their manipulation by Yasser Arafat, and their consuming hatred of Israel -- all so obvious to any reader. Exhibiting his left-liberal credentials, he concludes that there is no proof of a conscious anti-Semitic conspiracy, despite appearances.52
In such ways, mountains of evidence can be made to disappear with a mere flick of the wrist. The technique requires lock-step loyalty on the part of the cultural managers. But the unwashed masses are sometimes more difficult to handle.
In the case of Vietnam, by the late 1960s substantial sectors of the public were joining those whom Kennedy-Johnson National Security adviser McGeorge Bundy called "the wild men in the wings," questioning the "first team" that was running the war, and even the justice of the US cause.53 With all the help provided by the mass media, things were reaching the point where the murderous barbarism of the US war could no longer be concealed or defended. The predictable response was to cry "Thief! Thief!" Of course, there was nothing new in this. But the Indochina wars were reaching the stage where something was needed beyond the norm.
By the late '60s, schoolchildren were given assignments in the Weekly Reader, which goes to elementary schools throughout the country, to write letters to Ho Chi Minh pleading with him to release the Americans he had captured -- the implication being that the evil Communists had snatched them as they strolled peacefully on Main Street, Iowa, spiriting them off to Hanoi for the purpose of torturing them. The PR campaign went into full gear in 1969, for two major reasons. First, US atrocities were reaching a scale that surpassed any hope of denial. Defense against the charges being impossible, the debate must be transferred to the evil nature of the enemy: his crimes against us. Second, corporate America had determined that the war must end. It would therefore no longer be possible to evade diplomacy and negotiations. But the Eisenhower-Kennedy-Johnson doctrine still held firm: diplomacy is not an option because the US and its clients were too weak politically to hope to prevail in the arena of peaceful competition. Accordingly, Nixon and Kissinger radically accelerated and expanded the violence, and sought in every way to deflect unwanted negotiations. The device used was to raise demands on prisoner return that no belligerent had ever so much as considered in the past, in the hope that Hanoi would keep to traditional Western standards and reject them, so that the Commie rats could be denounced for their infamy and the negotiations could be delayed.
After the war's end, a new motive arose. The destruction of Indochina was not considered a sufficient victory: it was necessary to continue to strangle and crush the Vietnamese enemy by other means -- refusal of diplomatic relations, economic warfare, and the other devices available to the toughest guy on the block. The cause was taken up by President Carter, accelerated as he made his "tilt toward China" in early 1978. It has been pursued since by his successors, with the support of the political class generally. Its current manifestations, we have just reviewed.
This resort to the "Thief! Thief!" technique was a brilliant success throughout, thanks to the compliance of the institutions of indoctrination. Franklin reviews the matter in some detail, showing how the press leaped into the fray on command while film-makers and TV pursued the ingenious strategy of selecting the best-publicized atrocities of the US and its client and rearranging personnel to transform them into crimes of the enemy. The supreme cynicism of the enterprise is highlighted by the maneuvers that had to be undertaken to shift from professed outrage over Pol Pot atrocities -- itself an utter fraud in elite circles, as demonstrated conclusively by their reaction to US atrocities in Cambodia a few years earlier and to those of the US-backed Indonesian client in Timor in the very same years54 -- to a complex stand in which Pol Pot is condemned as the very symbol of Communist horror, while the Vietnamese invasion that saved Cambodia from his atrocities is shaped into a still more monstrous Communist atrocity, and the quiet US support for Pol Pot is somehow finessed. Even that task was effortlessly accomplished. And the ideological institutions shifted gears smoothly when the Cambodia pretext was lost and only the POW/MIA issue remained to justify the torture of the people of Indochina.
Michael Vickery makes the important point that every time Vietnam has had a chance, however slight, to escape from the conditions left from the cruel and destructive era of French colonialism, the US has stepped in to block that opportunity. When the Geneva settlement of 1954 laid the basis for unification with countrywide elections, the US barred that option, recognizing that the wrong side would surely win. Though the DRV (North Vietnam) was cut off from the traditional food surplus areas in the south, by 1958 it had achieved food self-sufficiency while industry was developing -- a prospect of success that caused much dismay among US planners, who urged secretly that the US do what it could to retard the economic progress of the Communist Asian states, with its dangerous demonstration effect. They were particularly concerned over the progress in the DRV in comparison to the failures of the US-imposed regime in the south: US intelligence in 1959 expected development in the South to "lag behind that in the North," where economic growth was proceeding and was "concentrated on building for the future." The Kennedy escalation and its aftermath took care of that threat.
After the war, Vietnam was admitted to the IMF, and in a confidential report of 1977, a World Bank team "praised the Vietnamese government's efforts to mobilize its resources and tap its vast potential." The US made short shrift of that danger as well, blocking any assistance and imposing an economic stranglehold. In 1988-1990, Vickery observes further, "in spite of an extremely unfavorable international position, Vietnam had come through with a surprising economic success," leading the IMF to present a "glowing report," the Far Eastern Economic Review reported. The response was George Bush's renewal of the embargo; and in the ideological institutions, a revival of lagging fervor over the abuse we endure at the hands of the criminal aggressors.55
There is method in the madness. Apart from the principled opposition to Third World development out of US control, it is important for subject peoples to understand that they dare not raise their heads in the presence of the master. If they do, not only will they be devastated by overwhelming violence, but they will continue to suffer, as long as we deem it in our interests. Current treatment of Nicaragua illustrates the pattern, as of Iraq, where Bush's friend and ally stepped out of line, so we must see to it that tens of thousands of his Iraqi victims die of starvation and disease after the war's end. The West sternly destroys the weapons of mass destruction it provided to this monster when it was profitable and advantageous to do so, while unleashing "the destructive power of another weapon of mass destruction -- the effective withdrawal of food and other necessities from the Iraqi people," two specialists on world hunger observe.56 The lower orders must understand their place in a world of order and "stability."
In its editorial on Vietnam marking the Pearl Harbor anniversary, the editors of the Washington Post note the
abiding irony that the United States lost the war in a military sense but ended up imposing a victor's terms for normalization. It could do so because it remained a country representing dominant global values, powerfully influencing the regional balance and the international economy. This is how all the concessions came to be made by Vietnam.
The statement has merit, though a little amplification is in order. The "dominant global values" extolled by the Post editors are the values of those who wield the sword and thereby set the rules.57
It would be difficult to find an example in the 500-year conquest as sordid, dishonest, and cowardly as the carefully contrived display of self-pity on the part of the murderous aggressors who destroyed three countries, leaving mountains of corpses and countless others maimed and orphaned, in order to block a political settlement that they knew their clients were too weak to sustain -- a fact that is clear from the internal record, has been developed in detail by military historians, and is recognized even by the most fanatic government "scholars."58 The "abiding irony" is that this shameful performance proceeds, untroubled, alongside our musings about the defects of the Japanese psyche.
The irony -- to use a word that hardly meets the need -- is heightened by another anniversary that did not reach threshold. The 50th anniversary of the "date which will live in infamy" coincided with the 30th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's escalation of the Vietnam conflict from large-scale international terrorism to outright aggression. On October 11, 1961, Kennedy ordered dispatch of a US Air Force Farmgate squadron to South Vietnam, 12 planes especially equipped for counterinsurgency warfare (combat modified T-28 fighter bomber trainers, SC-47s, and B-26 bombers), soon authorized "to fly coordinated missions with Vietnamese personnel in support of Vietnamese ground forces." On December 16, Defense Secretary McNamara authorized their participation in combat operations. These were the first steps in engaging US forces directly in bombing and other combat operations in South Vietnam from 1962, along with sabotage missions in the North. These 1961-1962 actions laid the groundwork for the huge expansion of the war in later years.59
As we have seen, the anniversary did not pass entirely unmarked: Bush chose the occasion -- almost 30 years to the day after Kennedy's first major step in this fateful direction -- to block the admission of Vietnam to the world community, and the propaganda apparatus orchestrated a revival of its POW/MIA hypocrisies. To the best of my knowledge, the conjunction of anniversaries reached the media three times: Michael Albert (Z magazine), and Alexander Cockburn (Nation, Los Angeles Times).60
In a world of truth and honesty, that failure could be attributed to the distinction between the two cases, so large as to make the comparison irrelevant and unfair. It hardly makes sense to draw a comparison between Japan's attack on a naval facility in a US colony, after some relevant earlier interactions, and the first major act of aggression against a defenseless civilian society 10,000 miles away. History offers no controlled experiments, but those who seek an analogy might, perhaps, compare Japan's sneak attack to the US bombing of Libya in 1986, carefully timed for the 7pm EST national evening news; the Reagan PR folks borrowed a leaf from Lyndon Johnson, who had ordered the bombing of North Vietnam in retaliation for the alleged Tonkin Gulf incident in August 1964 for 7pm EST, though the military could not oblige in that case. But this comparison too, one might argue, is still unfair to the Japanese. The US attack on Libya was aimed at civilian targets, on fraudulent pretexts; the Tonkin Gulf "retaliation" too was readily detected to be a fraud, outside the compliant mainstream.61
Such thoughts are doubtless too outlandish to pursue. Let us therefore put them aside, though some might find something in them to consider as we turn to Year 501.
The coincidences of 1991-1992 are striking: great indignation on the 50th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, the backgrounds carefully sanitized; sober contemplation of the Mind of Japan and the social and cultural flaws revealed therein; silence on the 30th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's direct attack against the civilian society of South Vietnam. The combination is a rare tribute to the moral cowardice and intellectual corruption that are the natural concomitants of unchallenged privilege.
One last coincidence might be noted, of no small interest in itself. The forgotten 30th anniversary of JFK's aggression happened to be the occasion for an outpouring of adulation for the fallen leader who, it was claimed with some passion, intended to withdraw from Vietnam, a fact suppressed by the media; and had been assassinated for that reason, it was prominently charged. The awed admiration for Kennedy the lonely hero, struck down as (and perhaps because) he sought to prevent a US war in Vietnam, adds an interesting touch to the questions of hansei that might find some small place in the 500th year. This 1991-1992 drama proceeded at several levels, from cinema to scholarship, engaging some of the best-known Kennedy intellectuals as well as substantial segments of the popular movements that in large part grew from opposition to the Vietnam war. Much as they differ on parts of the picture and other issues, there is a shared belief across this spectrum that history changed course dramatically when Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963, an event that casts a dark shadow over all that followed. Specific timing apart, the renewal of Camelot enthusiasms is an interesting and enlightening manifestation of the cultural and political climate of the early 1990s.
There is no doubt about the import of what followed Kennedy's 1961 aggression. The nature of his plans and the reaction to them is therefore of great interest. The perception of current reality, the shaping of memories, and ideas about a better future could be significantly affected by the truth of the matter: At one end of the spectrum of views, the murder of the President, however tragic the killing of an individual may be, was an event of indeterminate political consequence, though one may speculate one way or another without firm basis62; at the other, it was a momentous historical event, with extraordinary long-term significance and ominous portent.
There are many sources of evidence that bear on the question: in particular, the record of internal deliberations is available far beyond the norm. While history never permits anything like definitive conclusions, in this case the richness of the record, and its consistency, permit some unusually confident judgments, in my opinion. The issue has aroused sufficient interest to merit a separate discussion, presented elsewhere, which I will only summarize here. The basic story that emerges from the historical and documentary record seems to me, in brief, as follows.63
Policy towards Vietnam fell within the general framework of doctrine that had been established for the post-World War II global order, and faced little challenge until the general framework was modified in the early 1970s. The US quickly threw in its lot with France, fully aware from the start that it was opposing the forces of Indochinese nationalism and that its own clients could not withstand political competition. Accordingly, resort to peaceful means was never an option; rather, a dire threat to be avoided. It was also understood, throughout, that domestic support for the US wars and subversion was thin. It was therefore necessary to wind the operation up as quickly as possible, leaving Indochina under the control of client regimes, to the extent feasible.
Basic policies held firm in planning circles (and among elites generally) from 1950 into the early 1970s, though by the end questions of feasibility and cost were seriously raised. The Geneva agreements of 1954 were at once subverted. The US imposed a fragile client regime in what came to be called "South Vietnam." Lacking popular support, the regime resorted to large-scale terror to control the population, finally eliciting resistance, which it could not control. As Kennedy took office, collapse of the US position seemed imminent. Kennedy therefore escalated the war to direct US aggression in 1961-1962. The military command was exuberant over the success of the enhanced violence, and thought that the war could soon be wound up, leading to US withdrawal after victory. Kennedy went along with these predictions though with reservations, never willing to commit himself to the withdrawal proposals. By mid-1963, coercive measures appeared to be successful in the countryside, but internal repression had evoked large-scale urban protest. Furthermore, the client regime was calling for a reduction of the US role or even US withdrawal, and was making overtures for a peaceful settlement with the North. The Kennedy Administration therefore resolved to overthrow its client in favor of a military regime that would be fully committed to military victory. This result was achieved with the military coup of November 1, 1963.
As the US command had predicted, the coup simply led to further disintegration, and as the bureaucratic structure of the former regime dissolved, to a belated recognition that reports of military progress were built on sand. Tactics were then modified in the light of two new factors: (1) the hope that at last a stable basis had been established for expanded military action, and (2) recognition that the military situation in the countryside was a shambles. The first factor made escalation possible, the second made it necessary, even more so as the former hopes were seen to be a mirage. The plans to withdraw, always predicated on victory, had to be abandoned as the precondition collapsed. By early 1965, only large-scale US aggression could prevent a political settlement. The unchallenged policy assumptions allowed few options: the attack against South Vietnam was sharply escalated in early 1965, and the war was extended to the North.
The January 1968 Tet offensive revealed that the war could not be quickly won. By that time, internal protest and deterioration of the US economy vis-à-vis its industrial rivals convinced domestic elites that the US should move towards disengagement.
These decisions set in motion the withdrawal of US ground forces, combined with another sharp escalation of the military assault against South Vietnam and by now all of Indochina in the hope that the basic policies could still somehow be salvaged. Negotiations continued to be deferred as long as possible, and when the US was finally compelled to sign a "peace treaty" in January 1973, Washington announced at once, in the clearest and most explicit terms, that it would subvert the treaty in every crucial respect. That it proceeded to do, in particular, by increasing the violence in the South in violation of the treaty, to much domestic acclaim as the tactic appeared to be successful. The dissident press could tell the story, but the mainstream was entirely closed to such heretical truths, and still is, a ban maintained with impressive rigor.64 These actions of the US and its client again elicited a reaction, and the client regime again collapsed. This time the US could not enter to rescue it. By 1975, the war ended.
The US had achieved only a partial victory. On the negative side, the client regimes had fallen. On the positive side, the entire region was in ruins, and there was no fear that the "virus" of successful independent development might "infect" others. Improving the picture further, the region was now insulated from any residual danger by murderous military regimes that the US helped install and strongly supported. Another consequence, predictable years earlier, was that the indigenous forces in South Vietnam and Laos, unable to resist the US onslaught, had been decimated, leaving North Vietnam as the dominant force in Indochina.65 As to what would have happened had these forces survived and the countries allowed to develop in their own ways, one can only speculate. The press and journals of opinion are happy to serve up the desired formulas, but these, as usual, reflect doctrinal requirements, nothing more.
Basic policy remained constant in essentials: disentanglement from an unpopular and costly venture as soon as possible, but after the virus was destroyed and victory assured (by the 1970s, with increasing doubt that US client regimes could be sustained). Tactics were modified with changing circumstances and perceptions. Changes of Administration, including the Kennedy assassination, had no large-scale effect on policy, and not even any great effect on tactics, when account is taken of the objective situation and how it was perceived.
The scale of these colonial wars and their destructiveness was extraordinary, and the long-term import for international and domestic society correspondingly great. But in their essentials, the Indochina wars fall well within the history of the 500-year conquest, and more specifically, within the framework of the period of US hegemony.
1 Frederick Starr, NYT Book Review, July 19, 1992.
2 WP-BG, Dec. 4; Weisman, NYT, Dec. 6, 1991. On the August 14 bombings, see APNM, ch. 2, including an excerpt from the Air Force history and from Japanese novelist Makoto Oda's eyewitness report from Osaka. On Tokyo as target, see Barton Bernstein, International Security, Spring 1991.
3 AP, NYT, March 4, 5, 1992. Longer stories in the Boston Globe, same days.
4 See PEHR, II 32f., 39. On the principles of justice employed, see also FRS, ch. 3, reprinted from a Yale Law Review symposium on Nuremberg and Vietnam. For excerpts from Pal's dissent, see APNM. See Minnear, Victor's Justice. Leahy, cited by Braw, Atomic Bomb, from his 1950 autobiography, I Was There.
5 Japan historian Herbert Bix, BG, April 19, 1992.
6 APNM, ch. 2, for further material and sources.
7 Ibid., for excerpts.
8 See TTT, 194f.; Simpson, Blowback; Reese, Gehlen.
9 McClintock, Instruments, 59ff., 230ff. Lewy, America in Vietnam. For discussion of this parody of history, see the review by Chomsky and Edward Herman, reprinted in TNCW. For Lewy's thoughts on how to eliminate the plague of independent thought on the home front, see NI, 350f.
10 Bernard Fall, Ramparts, Dec. 1965, reprinted in Last Reflections. For a postwar eyewitness description, see John Pilger, New Statesman, Sept. 15, 1978. Shenon, NYT magazine, Jan. 5, 1992.
11 Dower, "Remembering (and Forgetting) War," ms, MIT.
12 Hietala, Manifest Design, 61; Kent, Hawaii, 41f. Daws, Shoal of Time, 241. Poka Laenui, "The Theft of the Hawaiian Nation," Indigenous Thought, Oct. 1991. See pp. 17-18, 38, above; DD, ch. 12.
13 Kent, Daws, Laenui, op. cit.
14 Institute for the Advancement of Hawaiian Affairs, 86-649 Puuhulu Rd., Wai`anae Hawaii 96792.
15 Lehner, WSJ, Dec. 6, 1991.
16 Weisman, NYT magazine, Nov. 3, 1991.
17 On Fairbank's views, see TNCW, 400-1.
18 DD, ch. 11, and sources cited. Kennan, cited in Cumings, Origins, II, 57; see volumes I, II on the mass murder campaign in US-occupied Korea prior to what is called "the Korean war."
19 Sherwood Fine, quoted by Moore, Japanese Workers, p. 18; Moore, on the general topic. Bix, "The Showa Emperor's `Monologue' and the Problem of War Responsibility," J. of Japanese Studies, 18.2, 1992 (citing John Dower, Japan Times, Jan. 9, 1989).
20 Cumings, Origins, II, 57.
21 Adlai Stevenson, defending the US war at the UN. See FRS, p. 114f.
22 Fall, Last Reflections.
23 Elizabeth Neuffer, BG, Feb. 27; Pamela Constable, BG, Feb. 21, 1992. Carter, news conference, March 24, 1977; see MC, 240.
24 Ibid., 240ff. and NI, 33ff., for samples from the press. NYT, Oct. 24, 1992.
25 Tyler, NYT, July 5, 1992.
26 Crossette, NYT, Jan. 6, 1992. Mary Kay Magistad, BG, Oct. 20; Eric Schmitt, NYT, Nov. 6; Steven Greenhouse, NYT, Oct. 24, 1991.
27 Barbara Crossette, NYT, Aug. 14, 1992.
28 See ch. 5, n. 18. On media coverage of Pol Pot and Timor atrocities, see PEHR. On the illuminating reaction to these exposures, see MC, 6.2.8; NI, app. I. sec 1.
29 Greenhouse, NYT, Oct. 24, 1991.
30 See MC, 6.2.7, and sources cited. Garthoff, Détente, 701, 751. Sihanouk cited by Ben Kiernan, Broadside (Sydney, Australia), June 3, 1992; Allman, Vanity Fair, April 1990, cited by Michael Vickery, "Cambodia After the `Peace'" (ch. 7, n. 24). For a review and update, see Kiernan, "Cambodia's Missed Chance: Superpower obstruction of a viable path to peace," Indochina Newsletter, Nov.-Dec. 1991, citing FEER. See also Kiernan, Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars, Vol. 21, 2-4, 1989; Vol. 24, 2, 1992. For extensive background, see Vickery, Cambodia, and Chandler, Cambodia.
31 Greenway, BG, Dec. 13; Uli Schmetzer, CT, Sept. 2, 1991. Susumu Awanohara, FEER, April 30, 1992.
32 Editorial, WP weekly, Dec. 2-8, 1991.
33 Barbara Crossette, NYT, March 31, 1992.
34 Greenway, BG, Dec. 20, 1991.
35 AP, March 14, 1990; NI, 35.
36 John Stockhouse, G&M, June 12, 1992.
37 Smucker, G&M, Oct. 7, 1991.
38 Barbara Crossette, NYT, Aug. 18, 1992.
39 See NI, 38-9, citing Israeli journalist Amnon Kapeliouk and US researcher Dr. Grace Ziem.
40 Braw, Atomic Bomb.
41 Robert Olen Butler, WP-MG, April 5; Wintle, FT, May 16-17, 1992; reviews of Michael Bilton and Kevin Sim, Four Hours in My Lai. AP, "Five years later, My Lai is a no man's town, silent and unsafe," NYT, March 16, 1973.
42 Butterfield, NYT, May 1, 1977; Whitney, NYT, April 1, 1973.
43 Buckley's unpublished notes. See PEHR, I, sec. 5.1.3.
44 Ibid.; FRS, 222. King, The Death of the Army (1972), cited by Kinnard, War Managers.
45 John Underhill, John Mason, and William Bradford. See Laurence Hauptman, in Hauptman and Wherry, Pequots; Salisbury, Manitou, 218ff. See Jennings, Invasion, for discussion and general background.
46 Robert Venables, "The Cost of Columbus: Was There a Holocaust?," View from the Shore, Northeast Indian Quarterly (Cornell, Fall 1990). Rio Sumpul, see TNCW.
47 For details, see AWWA, 102-3.
48 Carr, NYT Book Review, March 22, 1992. Of some interest, perhaps, is Carr's response to the comments above, which had appeared (in essence) in Lies of Our Times, May 1992. In toto: "The notion that there have been, in American history, episodes in which neither side behaved like much more than bloodthirsty animals is apparently too morally complex for many to bear" (Letters, NYT Book Review, Aug. 23, 1992, inserted irrelevantly into a response to criticism on totally different matters). I leave it to the reader to construct the Nazi analogue.
49 Regular Times reviewer Michio Kakutani, NYT, Aug. 28; Prescott, NYT Book Review, Sept. 20, 1992; reviews of Jay Parini, Bay of Arrows. On the cannibalism mythology that so enthralls Western ideologists, see Sale, Conquest. Ethnohistorian Jalil Sued-Badillo writes that "Archeological studies have not to this day been able to confirm cannibal practices anywhere in America"; Monthly Review, July-Aug. 1992. For a second-hand report of ritual cannibalism in North America, see Axtell, Invasion, 263; for Indian reports, Jennings, Empire, 446-7.
50 Wouk, CT, June 2, 1992. Franklin, MIA.
51 Puette, Through Jaundiced Eyes, ch. 7.
52 For discussion of these examples, see TNCW, 68f., 89f. MC, secs. 5.1, 5.5.2, App. 3. NI, App. I, sec. 2. Lederman, Battle Lines; see my "Letter from Lexington," Lies of Our Times, Sept. 1992, for details.
53 Bundy, Foreign Affairs, Jan. 1967. See MC, 175.
54 On these enlightening and therefore intolerable comparisons, see PEHR, vols. I, II; MC.
55 Vickery, Cambodia After the `Peace'. On the internal US documents, see FRS, 31f., 36f.
56 Drèze and Gazdar, Hunger and Poverty.
57 See note 32. On the belief that the US "lost the war," and its significance, see MC, 241ff.; and below.
58 E.g., Douglas Pike. For sources and discussion, see MC, 180f.; PEHR, vol. I, 338f. See RC, ch. 2.3.
59 Foreign Relations of the United States, Vietnam, 1961-1963, I, 343; III, 4n. Gibbons, US Government, 70-1, citing Air Force history.
60 Albert, Z magazine, Dec., 1991; Cockburn, LAT, Dec. 5; Nation, Dec. 23, 1991.
61 See ch. 2.1-2. Tonkin Gulf, MC, 5.5.1; and RC. On timing, see Foreign Relations of the United States, Vietnam, 1964-1968, 609.
62 One speculation is that in Vietnam, Kennedy might have leaned towards an enclave strategy of the type advocated by General Maxwell Taylor and others or a Nixonian modification with intensified bombing and murderous "accelerated pacification" but many fewer US ground combat forces; while at home, he might not have proceeded so vigorously with Johnson's "Great Society" programs.
63 See my article "Vain Hopes, False Dreams," Z magazine, October 1992, and for a much more extensive review and discussion, see Rethinking Camelot. Sources already cited, and others in the dissident literature, gave a generally accurate picture as events proceeded, requiring little modification in the light of what is now known. For a summary, see MC.
64 On the remarkable complicity of the intellectual community in suppressing the readily-available facts about US subversion of diplomacy, see TNCW, ch. 3; MC, ch. 5.5.3. The full story of this suppression -- in some cases, deliberate -- has yet to be told.
65 On this prospect, see AWWA, 286.