The seventh chapter of the video documentary series can be viewed here. The series can also be viewed in its entirety on Netflix, or purchased directly at untoldhistory.com. Below is our transcribed text, written by Peter Kuznick, Matt Graham and Oliver Stone.
From his speech, "Beyond Vietnam", on April 4 1967, in New York, by Martin Luther King:
"As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men, I have told them that molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. But they ask, and rightly so, 'What about Vietnam?'. If America's soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read Vietnam. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defence than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death. This need to maintain social stability for our investments accounts for the counter-revolutionary action of our forces in Guatemala, tells why American helicopters are being used against guerrillas in Cambodia, and why American napalm and Green Beret forces have already been active against rebels in Peru. They ask if our own nation wasn't using massive doses of violence to solve its problems to bring about the changes it wanted. The questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghetto without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today - my own government."
narrated by Oliver Stone...
Two days into office, on the Sunday, the day before John Kennedy was buried, Lyndon Johnson met with his military advisors and said he was not going to lose Vietnam. He'd never agreed with Kennedy's memorandum to withdraw, and two days later he issued a new memo [NSAM 273] signalling that the US would be taking a more hands-on approach.
His foreign policy thinking was profound in a primitive way:
"There are 3 billion people in the world and we only have 200 million of them. We're outnumbered 15:1. If might did make right, they'd sweep over the United States and take what we have, and we have what they want."
Who was 'they'? His analogies may have been course but, stated in other words, the struggle was not really about communism, but was between the First World and the Third World.
All Latin American countries would now be judged on how they protected the $9 billion in US investments, not in the interests of their own people.
Abandoning Kennedy's attempts at reform, Johnson made it clear in the new Mann Doctrine that all Latin American countries would be judged on how they protected the $9 billion in U.S. investments, not in the interests of their own people. The U.S. would no longer discriminate against right-wing dictatorships, and regarded military aid as a wiser investment than Kennedy's economic aid. The 5th largest country in the world, resource rich Brazil, would be the first to suffer.
In 1964 new democratically elected president Joao Goulart implemented land reform and sought controls on foreign capital. Recognizing Cuba was the last nail in his coffin - Castro's example could not be emulated. Johnson sharply reduced U.S. aid, inflation skyrocketed, CIA financed large anti-government rallies, and the U.S. administration prodded right-wing officers to overthrow the government. Within a month the new regime arrested 50,000 people; torture was instituted. In the next six years, $2 billion of U.S. aid flowed into Brazil and an even more repressive regime ruled for the next twenty years, worsening an already large gap between rich and poor - the dominoes, in this case the democracies, began falling once again across South America. In 1965 Johnson sent 23,000 troops into the Dominican Republic to crush a popular uprising seeking to restore constitutional order after a military coup. Johnson told his lawyer:
"There ain't no doubt about this being Castro now. They're moving other places in the Hemisphere. It may be part of a whole communistic pattern tied in with Vietnam."
In Greece, the birthplace of democracy, where the Cold War had taken its baby steps, and the U.S. had supported a right-wing government for many years, a new yearning for democracy appeared certain to bring the veteran liberal Georgios Papandreou back as Prime Minister. Johnson called in the Greek Ambassador and actually said:
"Listen to me Mr. Ambassador, fuck your parliament and your constitution! American is the elephant, Cyprus is a flea, Greece is a flea! If these two fleas continue itching' the elephant they might get whacked by the elephant's trunk - whacked good! We pay a lot of good American dollars to the Greeks, Mr. Ambassador, and if your prime minister gives me talk about democracy, he, his parliament, and his constitution, may not last very long."
In fact, it didn't. The military junta seized power in 1967, banning mini skirts, long hair and foreign newspapers, making church attendance compulsory while engaging in numerous incidents of sexually-oriented torture and cruelty. Its new Prime Minister (Georgios Papadapoulos), who had been a captain in a Nazi security battalion tracking down Greek resistance fighters, became the first CIA agent to become the premier of a European country.
But it was Asia that posed the greatest resistance to U.S. goals. Aside from Japan, which was becoming a prosperous client state, Red China exploded its first atomic bomb in October of '64, catching Washington totally off guard. In Indonesia, sitting astride SouthEast Asia's principle sea lanes, where more than 3 million members made its Communist Party the third largest in the world behind the Soviets and Chinese, Sukarno, having survived repeated U.S. attempts to remove him, further irritated the U.S. by declaring he would test an atomic bomb. But, he was denied help from China, and when he recognized North Vietnam and expropriated U.S. rubber plantations and threatened to nationalize U.S. oil companies, Lyndon Johnson struck hard.
The CIA acknowledged that the Indonesian massacre ranked as one of the worst mass murders of the 20th century.
Almost half the officer corps had received U.S. training, and in October '65, with CIA support, General Suharto led the army in crushing Sukarno's supporters. In the following months, Suharto's militias and civilian mobs went from house to house killing a half million to a million suspected communists and their families. U.S., British and Australian intelligence provided thousands of names of suspected communists to the army. Sukarno was forced out finally in 1967, and replaced by General Suharto, who enriched himself, his family, his cronies, the Indonesian military and U.S. corporations for decades, until he was finally overthrown by the people, led by student activists in 1998. In 1968, the CIA acknowledged that the Indonesian massacre ranked as one of the worst mass murders of the 20th century. President Kennedy's National Security Advisor, McGeorge Bundy, in later criticizing our Vietnam war policy, wrote that Indonesia was the true breaking point in Asia, far more important to our goals than Vietnam, which was, he said, unnecessary. Yet, now in history, even Indonesia's bloodbath pales in comparison to what the United States inflicted on Vietnam.
They assumed if they wreaked enough havoc and killed enough people, the Vietnamese would submit.
Johnson and his advisors understood very little about Vietnam's history and its strong resistance to Chinese and French invasions over the centuries. They totally underestimated the nationalist aspect of Ho Chi Minh's movement, and assumed if they wreaked enough havoc and killed enough people the Vietnamese people would submit. Within two months of JFK's death in January of '64, Johnson and McNamara escalated covert military activities against North Vietnam, dropping intelligence and commando teams to destroy bridges, railway and coastal installations, kidnapping North Vietnamese and bombing border villages.
Johnson was pathological in his ability to lie. As with the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in 2003, it would take years for the American people to discover the false origins of the Vietnam War. In August of '64, Johnson and McNamara used a fabricated incident in North Vietnam's Gulf of Tonkin as an excuse to further escalate the war. Johnson rushed to Congress to authorize direct military action. The media echoed the line that a U.S. ship had been attacked, and the House, after 40 minutes of debate, passed a war resolution 410 - 0. In the Senate, it was 88 - 2. In a few days Johnson told his Under Secretary of State:
"Hell, those dumb stupid sailors were just shootin' at flyin' fish."
Senator Wayne Morse, one of two senators who voted against the Tonkin Resolution:
"...and I'd have the American people remember what this resolution really is; its a resolution that seeks to give the President of the United States the power to make war without a declaration of war."
In the election of 1964, Johnson crushed Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater, who had threatened to use nuclear weapons in Vietnam. It was billed as a landslide for peace, but following the election Johnson began a steady process of escalation, sharply expanding the "free fire zones", in which anything that moved was considered a legitimate target. The U.S. arsenal of accepted weapons grew to include napalm, cluster bombs and white phosphorous, which burned from the skin straight through to the bone, causing horrific deaths.
The US dropped three times as many bombs on tiny Vietnam as it did in all of World War II.
Johnson's lies about his plans snowballed, and by July of '65 he'd sent in 75,000 combat troops to Vietnam, more than 500,000 by the end of '67. The monthly draft reached 35,000 men as the U.S. set out to find Vietnam's breaking point. Yet, when his Joint Chiefs of Staff at a meeting asked for more firepower, or an all-out war, a witness recalled Johnson started screaming obscenities:
"Imagine you're me. You're the President of the United States. Five incompetents come into your office, try and talk you into startin' World War III! The risk is just too high. How can you fuckin' assholes ignore what China might do? You have just contaminated my office, you filthy shitheads! Get the hell outta here right now!"
The Generals got out and, after a pause, Johnson steadily increased the bombing of North Vietnam. In his inimitable way he explained his strategy:
"I'm going up her leg an inch at a time. I'll get to the snatch before they know what's happening.'"
The U.S. dropped three times as many bombs on tiny Vietnam as it did in all of World War II.
On the ground, in a policy sanctioned by Kennedy, millions of peasants - some say five, some seven - were forced out of villages and resettled in barbed wire camps. Tens of thousands of supposed communists were assassinated as part the "Phoenix Program", but it did little to slow the resistance movement. The murder of civilians became commonplace as the U.S. military leadership exaggerated bodycounts to tell the public the communists were on their last legs while still asking for more and more troops. Five South Vietnamese governments came and went, the last clinging to power through massive corruption.
America's college campuses began to buzz with activism. In October '67, one of the first violent confrontations took place at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Johnson, convinced that communists were behind the anti-war movement, ordered the CIA to uncover proof with massive surveillance and other information gathering efforts. Codenamed Operation Chaos, the CIA's illegal domestic operations lasted almost seven years, compiling a computer index of 300,000 citizens and organizations, and extensive files on more than 7,000 individuals, but failed to prove communist involvement.
Among the FBI's principle targets was the Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Black America was in a state of near rebellion. The summer of '67 passed all previous ones with 75 major riots, many lasting two days or more. National Guard troops were called in and, with police, killed 26 blacks in Newark and 43 in Detroit. A Ramparts magazine, March 1967, expose revealed that the CIA had been funding the National Student Association. Other liberal groups were exposed as agency fronts, with CIA money going to anti-communist professors, journalists, aid-workers, missionaries, labor leaders and civil rights activists who did the Agency's dirty work. Among the discredited were the Ford Foundation, Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty and the Congress for Cultural Freedom.
Even McNamara, with his characteristic rationality, was having doubts. In October of '67, 100,000 people rallied in Washington. Half marched to the Pentagon. Armed infantry prevented them from reaching it. McNamara watched alone from a command post on the roof, listening to chants of "hey hey LBJ, how many kids did ya kill today". Now isolated within the establishment, McNamara despaired. Rumours of a possible mental collapse reached Johnson:
"We can't afford to have another Forrestal."
But when McNamara argued that more bombing would not work, Johnson was livid. He demanded loyalty, saying of another aid:
"I don't want loyalty. I want LOYALTY! I want him to kiss my ass in Macy's window at high noon and tell me it smells like roses! I want his pecker in my pocket!"
Johnson arranged for McNamara's ouster, to become President of the World Bank. At his last Cabinet meeting, an aid reported that McNamara finally broke down:
"The goddamn bombing campaign, its done nothing. They've dropped more bombs than in all of Europe in all of World War II and it hasn't done a fucking thing."
1968 was an extraordinary year of change. In January, on the same day, North Vietnamese and Vietcong forces unleashed a shock attack [the Tet Offensive] on most of South Vietnam's major cities and provincial capitals. The attacks were ultimately repelled with great losses to the Vietnamese but the mood in Washington was despair. A bi-partisan group of elder statesmen reassessed the situation - it was time to get out.
Lyndon Johnson, his enormous ego deeply wounded by doubts of his leadership, besieged by enemies internal and external, his popularity plummeting, announced, shockingly, in March of 1968 that he would not run for a second term. The country was stunned. The leader of their war effort was giving up. To those against the war, this was a great victory. But to many Americans, as well as neutral countries and allies alike, the U.S. now appeared as a rudderless, immoral country, an emperor without clothes - the Chinese said a "paper tiger".
Here was a man, a potential giant, who, in denying his compassion, suffered from a truly American obsession, the fear of weakness.
Wracked by inner demons, Johnson allowed his heartfelt dream of being a great social reformer to be buried in the killing fields of Vietnam. He lamented later in the decade to an historian:
"Losing the Great Society was a terrible thought, but not so terrible as the thought of being responsible for losing the war to the communists. Nothing could possibly be worse than that."
Here was a man, a potential giant, who, in denying his compassion, suffered from a truly American obsession, the fear of weakness.
Hoover's FBI was doing everything it could to disrupt the anti-war movement, as it had done for years to the civil rights movement. Hundreds of agents infiltrated new-left organizations. FBI and CIA news-flacks went to great lengths to marginalize the war's critics and impugn their patriotism. Hoover was especially worried the anti-war protests would merge with the Black Liberation struggle, as a disproportionate number of black soldiers died on the front lines. Forever convinced that communists were behind the civil rights movement, Hoover pursued Martin Luther King with a vengeance, doing nothing to protect him, even encouraging him to commit suicide in one notorious anonymous hate-filled letter, until the moment King himself was shot and killed by another supposed lone-nut assassin, in April of '68.
Race riots once more erupted across America. The Berrigan brothers, who were priests, went to jail for burning draft files. Benjamin Spock, the world's most prominent paediatrician, William Sloane Coffin, a Yale University chaplain, Jane Fonda, a young movie star, and heavy weight boxing idol, Muhammad Ali, were all speaking out:
"I ain't going' no 10,000 miles to help murder and kill other poor people. If wanna die I'll die right here, right now, fightin' you! You my enemy, not no Chinese, no VietCong, no Japanese. You my opposer when I want freedom. You my opposer when I want justice. You my opposer when I want equality. Want me to go somewhere and fight for you? You won't even stand up for me right here in America."
Throughout American in 1968 a newly charismatic Robert Kennedy captured the imagination of young and old, tired of the war. Finishing his brother's legacy, he was calling for a new America - white, black, brown, it didn't matter. His eyes had Camelot in them. Once more the fire of change and reform was afoot. Johnson, secretly hoping to be a last-minute choice for president, if called, feared him as much as any man. But the fates were cruel beyond imagining to the Kennedy brothers, as on this hot June night of his victory in the California primary he was brutally gunned down in another strange, hard to believe set of circumstances by a supposedly deranged young Palestinian.
This was a serious and devastating blow to the heart of the reform movement. Post-war baby-boomers had begun flooding college campuses in 1964, imbued with idealism, dismissive of Cold War ideology, upset with their parent's conformist values and fears, their protests spread world-wide. Students and workers convulsed industrial nations - confrontations shook Prague, Tokyo, West Berlin, Rome and Mexico City, where soldiers massacred hundreds of protesting students. In the summer of '68 at the Democratic Convention, 10,000 protesters were man-handled, along with the media. by Chicago police. Television was now presenting a reality the public had never seen before - American authority figures, acting as aggressors, both at home and abroad. It seemed that the country was coming apart. People spoke of the gulf between the anti-war left and the pro-war right as a civil war, like the one that had ripped the country apart over a hundred years earlier.
It was in the midst of this terrifying turmoil that the anti-communist hardliner Richard Nixon, so bitterly denied the presidency by John Kennedy in 1960, found his life's destiny. But he almost lost. Stunningly, in this setting, the right-wing segregationist Alabama Governor George Wallace, running with the retired General Curtis LeMay, was polling 21%, and threatening Nixon's chances of victory barely a month before the election. Nixon:
"As far as this problem of law and order is concerned, I am the only one of the candidates who has laid out a precise program for stopping the rise in crime and for reestablishing freedom from fear."
Riding the resentment of what he would later call the "silent majority", Nixon's message of law and order resonated with white voters scared of ghetto rebellions, campus disruptions and rising crime, and he eked out the narrowest of victories.
Nixon was also claiming a secret plan to end the war in Vietnam, refusing to divulge its details. What Richard Nixon actually delivered to the county was not peace, law or order, but war, chaos and disorder, as the only president to resign his office in disgrace.
Nixon and his National Security Advisor, and later Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, actually expanded the war, which lasted seven more years. Half the US casualties from the war occurred under Nixon. Kissinger later said:
"I refuse to believe that a little fourth-rate power like North Vietnam does not have a breaking point."
And he and Nixon set out to find it. Nixon's secret plan to end the war turned out to be withdrawing U.S. forces starting in April '69, and replacing them with U.S. trained and equipped South Vietnamese, while systematically and ruthlessly bombing North Vietnam and South Vietnam into submission.
Drawing parallels with Eisenhower's nuclear threats with North Korea, which he said ended that war, Nixon boasted to an aid:
"I call it the Madman Theory. We'll slip the word to them that Nixon is obsessed about the communists, that we can't restrain him when he's angry, and he has his hand on the nuclear button. Ho Chi Minh himself will be in Paris in two days, begging for peace."
Two months into office Nixon began a secret bombing campaign inside neighbouring Cambodia to destroy North Vietnamese military sanctuaries. He took extraordinary measures to hide it from Congress. Even the crew members involved believed they were hitting targets in South Vietnam.
Though most Americans remained in the dark about the country they were invading, the truth occasionally seeped out, as when freelance journalist Seymour Hersh, in November of 1969, broke the news that a year and half earlier US forces had massacred up to 500 civilians in the village of My Lai, nicknamed "Pinkville" for its strong enemy sympathies. Babies, pregnant women and old people had been scalped and mutilated, as command of the situation broke down. Not a single shot had been clearly fired at U.S. forces. Indicative of the growing demonization of this time, and resembling U.S. attitudes towards the Japanese in World War II, 65% of Americans told pollsters they were not bothered by the news of the massacres. The only officer found guilty was given a partial pardon by Nixon, public opinion strongly in favour.
There were few limits to Nixon's thinking. He and Kissinger planned for a savage attack, possibly involving the use of nuclear weapons in the fall of 1969, but were thwarted when millions participated nation-wide in an October moratorium, and three-quarters of a million flocked to Washington in a November. Still, Nixon recklessly put the military on secret alert, flying 18 nuclear-armed B-52s over the polar ice cap towards the Soviet Union, trying to force them, once again, unsuccessfully, to pressure the North Vietnamese to peace terms. Le Duan, who took over the leadership when Ho Chi Minh died in 1969, later told a visiting journalist that the U.S. had threatened to use nuclear weapons on 13 different occasions.
But that had not changed their policies. Although they would pay a terrible price for their independence, the Vietnamese understood a basic truth that America's leaders never grasped; the Vietnamese Foreign Minister later said "We knew that they could not stay in Vietnam forever, but Vietnam must stay in Vietnam forever". The Vietnam War was about independence and time, not about territory and bodycounts. America's sixth president, John Quincy Adams, a century before had warned that a nation should not go "...abroad, in search of monsters to destroy." It was here in Vietnam that the U.S. ran into its ultimate monster, an enemy that could not be defeated, because they were fighting to protect their homeland against foreign invaders. The U.S. would win every major battle, but it never won the war.
According to his lawyer, John Dean, and other insiders, Nixon was actually obsessed with war protesters, and often adjusted his bellicosity to diminish their outrage. But now, stealing himself by drinking heavily and watching the movie Patton over and over again, Nixon announced in April 1970 announced a joint U.S. - South Vietnamese ground invasion of Cambodia to destroy bases along the border.
Six students were shot and killed by the National Guards at Jackson State in Mississippi and Kent State in Ohio. More than 400 campuses went on strike or shut down - 4,000,000 students, 350,000 faculty members, 30 ROTC buildings burned or bombed, more than 700 colleges experiencing some kind of protest activity. Kissinger described Washington as "...a besieged city...the very fabric of government...falling apart."
The air war intensified. Nixon said in 1970 "I want everything that can fly to go in there and crap the hell out of them." Sounding more like a gangster than a statesman, Kissinger conveyed the order to bomb "...anything that flies on anything that moves.", words that could have been spoken by a defendant in the dock at Nuremberg. When Nixon, after he resigned, was confronted with his law breaking, he replied:
"Well when the President does it, that means it is not illegal."
By this time, Cambodia had been subjected for 5 years to a brutal air bombardment and an escalating civil war that left hundreds of thousands of Cambodians, many of them civilians, dead. The communist rebels, the Khmer Rouge, used these atrocities to recruit angry peasants from the countryside and grew exponentially during the bombing. They finally seized power in 1975 from a corrupt U.S.-backed military dictatorship and then unleashed new horrors on their own people. On top of the half million Cambodians killed in the U.S. phase of the war, one and a half million more perished during Pol Pot's monstrous regime. Perhaps 25% of Cambodia's population died during this period.
Meanwhile in Vietnam, many troops were making individual choices, whether to go into combat or not. In a remarkable admission in 1971, The Armed Forces Journal revealed that the conditions of the troops in Vietnam were only exceeded by the French army mutinies of 1917 and the collapse of the Russian army in 1917. Still, Nixon persisted. While bombing Cambodia, and continuing the secret and crippling bombing of tiny Laos, which had started in 1964, Nixon bombed North Vietnamese cities for the first time since '68. Civilian casualties soared. And, after a landslide reelection victory of anti-war candidate George McGovern in 1972, Nixon unleashed a twelve day Christmas bombing on the North, the heaviest yet of the war. The outcry in the world was deafening. A peace agreement was concluded the next month in Paris. It was essentially the same deal that had been offered to Johnson in '68, and which Richard Nixon had secretly undermined in order to win election. The U.S. promised to pay the North $3.25 billion in reparations, but later reneged. Elections were promised, promptly, but South Vietnam dithered and delayed for the next year and a half.
Nixon brought home the last American combat troops in March of '73. As it would decades later in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. invested huge amounts of money into training and equipping a corrupt South Vietnamese ally to fight for themselves. It did not work, nor did Nixon's Madman Thesis. In April of '73, trying to buy time for the South Vietnamese army, he ordered the most intense bombing of the entire war, of both North and South. But, overwhelmed by Watergate revelations, he was forced to rescind the order. The war dragged on for 2 more years until the South Vietnamese army simply collapsed and fled. North Vietnamese forces overran Saigon in April '75. Disturbing images of fleeing civilians, deserting soldiers - their officers a step ahead of them - and U.S. Embassy marines beating down desperate U.S.-connected Vietnamese trying to escape on the last helicopters off the Embassy roof, would remain indelibly printed on the American psyche.
They also added fuel to the already angry hardliners who, like Nixon, contended that the media had sold out Vietnam. Nixon, meanwhile, caught in a web of crimes known as the Watergate scandal, paranoid over his domestic enemies, and further revelations that would expose his illegalities on several fronts, grew increasingly erratic. His Defence Secretary instructed military leaders not to respond to Nixon's orders. The system was truly beginning to crack. [With his resignation] Nixon thus avoided impeachment, but over 40 of his people were convicted of crimes, several of them going to jail. Nixon was pardoned by his newly-appointed Vice President, Gerald Ford.
As the war, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon faded from American television screens, trust between the Presidency and the American people was betrayed.
Kissinger, now promoted to Secretary of State, came through unscathed. He and North Vietnam's Le Duc Tho were awarded 1973's Nobel Peace Prize. Knowing that peace had not yet been achieved Le Duc Tho had the grace to turn the prize down. The U.S. licked its wounds, but few in power reflected on the deeper meaning of what had occurred. The Eisenhower domino theory had proved to be a myth; the feared virus had not spread; Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Taiwan, the Philippines and, most importantly, all prospered remained firmly in the Western camp.
Worried about U.S. loss of prestige in Asia and clearly having not learned the lessons of supporting dictatorships, Nixon and Kissinger turned with fresh eyes to Latin America to reassert U.S. power. Chile had survived as a model democracy since 1932 - it would not survive Nixon and Kissinger. When socialist Salvador Allende won the election of 1970, promising to nationalize U.S. companies like ITT, who essentially controlled Chilean economy, Nixon told his CIA Chief:
"Make the economy scream."
The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, with Robert McNamara at its helm, denied loans to the regime. The CIA funded opposition parties, pushed propaganda and disinformation, offered bribes, and organized strikes and demonstrations against the government, and finally condoned the murder of the most powerful Chilean general, who had vowed to defend democracy.
For the Chilean people, 9/11 has a far more tragic meaning than our 9/11 - it marked the end of their government at the hands of the United States.
When Salvador Allende took his case against the U.S. to a packed General Assembly at the UN in December '72, he was cheered wildly, but may well have signed his death warrant:
"We find ourselves opposed by forces that operate in the shadows, without a flag, with powerful weapons from positions of great influence. We are potentially a rich country, yet we live in poverty. We go here and there begging for credits and aid, yet we are great exporters of capital. It is a classic paradox of the capitalist economic system."
The CIA urged its Chilean agents to act. Military leaders, directed by General Augusto Pinochet, executed their coup d'etat on September 11th, 1973. As the military closed in, Allende made a final radio address from the Presidential Palace:
"These are my last words. I am sure that my sacrifice will not be in vain. I am sure it will be at least a moral lesson...and a rebuke to crime, cowardice and treason."
Allende took his own life with a rifle given him by Fidel Castro. Pinochet seized power. His junta killed or disappeared over 3,200 opponents, and jailed and tortured tens of thousands more in a reign of terror known as the 'Caravan of Death". For the Chilean people, 9/11 has a far more tragic meaning than our 9/11 - it marked the end of their government at the hands of the United States.
Argentina would follow with a terrifying "dirty war" against leftists that would last from 1976 to '83, that would kill or disappear an estimated 9 to 30,000 people. The new Pinochet regime was quickly recognized, and given aid, and lasted in power until 1988. Chile's intelligence service was masterminded by Colonel Manuel Contreras, who became a paid CIA agent. He organized death squads that hunted down political opponents in Latin American, Europe and the U.S. His secret police even sent agents to Washington, DC, to blow up a former Chilean diplomat (Orlando Letelier), critical of the regime. Called Operation Condor, the assassination ring included the right-wind governments of Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Paraguay and Brazil. Assassination squads tracked down and killed more than 13,000 dissidents outside their home countries, hundreds of thousands more were thrown into concentration camps. At a minimum the US facilitated communications among these intelligence chiefs.
In an internal CIA history that was de-classified in 2007, it was revealed that under the leadership of Counter-Intelligence Chief James Jesus Angleton, who was obsessed with the idea of the Soviet Union infiltrating his organization and taking over most of the world, the CIA had been actively involved in creating and using foreign police forces and counter-terrorism units, and training close to 800,000 military and police officers in 25 countries, including secret police and death squad leaders.
After a dismal decade, marked by Vietnam, Watergate and the initial Congressional investigations into the activities of the CIA, America felt confused. What kind of country were we? The answer was a perturbing one. Despite the deep rift between left and right, young and old, Americans were enjoying a rising standard of living, and a loosing of strict sexual, gender and moral codes. There was even halting progress in race relations. No war taxes were levied, and the draft was finally mothballed. Those who could afford a college education, by and large, did not go to Vietnam - the working class did. Most Americans happily enjoyed the fruits of the 1960's economic boom, a boom driven in part by the Military-Industrial Complex, with its huge arms sales. By example, more than 5,000 helicopters out of close to 12,000 were lost in Vietnam. Between 1951 and '65 the State of California alone received $67 billion in defence contracts, which helped revitalize the empty American West, employing huge numbers in new cities and towns. This, in turn, redistributed the power in Congress, with many Representatives throughout the Gunbelt becoming dependent on the arms industry for their positions in government.
And, as it would later in Iraq and Afghanistan, the government would pay for the war by printing more dollars, straining its ability to convert dollars into gold, inflating the currency, and helping to create a deficit that grew from $3 billion in the early '60s to a staggering $25 billion by 1968. Speculation flourished, tax savings were sought out, productive reinvestment lagged. Corruption also abounded in Vietnam, where the U.S. shipped huge warehouses of goods to the war zone - enormous basecamps with giant merchandising centres called PXs, flowered in a primitive landscape like mini-Las Vegas', fuelling dreams of consumption. Black markets thrived as cars, refrigerators, TV sets, food and drink, distorted a Third World economy. Deadly weapons disappeared, stolen by racketeering insiders, both U.S. soldiers and civilians who greedily sold to both the North and South Vietnamese. Financial scandals, as in most wars, disappeared in the debris and chaos.
Ominous signs began to emerge. Factories disappeared, either to developing countries or the non-union South, as older Northern cities began to decay from unemployment, poor housing and schools, and drugs. Real wages not only stagnated, they would actually decline for the next 30 years as the middle and working class's standard of living steadily eroded. In 1971 Nixon removed the United States from the $35 an ounce gold standard, and abrogated the Bretton Woods Treaty that had governed the post-war economic alliance.
OPEC, an organization of oil producing countries, mostly in the Middle East, now felt powerful enough to punish the United States for supporting Israel in the 1973 war. Oil prices quadrupled in the next year. The U.S. which, prior to the 1950s, produced all the oil it needed, was now importing one-third of it supply. The country would suffer deep cycles of inflation and recession, with Wall Street profiting from the increasing volatility and insecurity of a speculative bubble economy, that reached its nadir in the great recession of 2008.
The Vietnam War would indeed spell the end of the last significant period of social and political reform the United States had seen. Was the country now a paper tiger, living on borrowed money and time? This question would haunt the national imagination through the 1970s and even the 1980s and into the '90s when, with the fall of the Soviet Union, the sense of American domination re-emerged.
The accepted mythology of the time was the U.S. lost the war in Vietnam, but as linguist, historian and philosopher Noam Chomsky has pointed out, "Its called a loss, a defeat, because they didn't achieve the maximal aims, the maximal aims being turning it into something like the Philippines. They didn't do that. They did achieve the major aims. It was possible to destroy Vietnam and leave." Elsewhere, he wrote, "South Vietnam had been virtually destroyed, and the chances that Vietnam would ever be a model for anything had essentially disappeared." When an ageing and wiser Robert McNamara returned to Vietnam in 1995, he conceded, somewhat in shock, that despite official estimates of 2 million Vietnamese dead, that 3.4 to 3.8 million Vietnamese had perished. In comparison, 58,000 Americans died in the fighting and 200,000 were wounded.
The U.S. had destroyed 9,000 of South Vietnam's 15,000 hamlets - in the North, all six industrial cities, 28 of 30 provincial towns, and 96 of a 106 district towns. Unexploded ordinance still blankets the countryside. Nineteen million gallons of herbicide had poisoned the environment; almost all of Vietnams ancient triple canopy forests are gone. The effects of chemical warfare alone have lasted for generations, and can be seen in the hospitals in the South where Agent Orange was used - dead fetuses kept in jars, surviving children born with horrid birth defects and deformities, and cancer rates much higher than in the North. Yet, incredibly, the chief issue in the United States was for many years the hunt for 1,300 soldiers missing in action, 200 of them presumably taken as captives by the North Vietnamese - high grossing action movies were made out of it.
No official apology from the United States has ever been issued, and absolutely no appreciation of the suffering of the Vietnamese. President Clinton finally recognized Vietnam in 1995, 20 years later. Ever since the war, American conservatives have struggled to vanquish the Vietnam Syndrome, which became a catchphrase for Americans unwilling to send troops abroad to fight. For a war that so mesmerized and defined an entire generation, surprisingly little is known about Vietnam today among American youth - this is not accidental. There has been a conscious and systematic effort to erase Vietnam from historical consciousness. Ronald Regan:
"Its time we recognize ours was, in truth, a noble cause. We dishonour the memory of 50,000 young Americans who died in that cause when we give way to feelings of guilt, as if we were doing something shameful."
It was not only conservatives who whitewashed history. Bill Clinton:
"Whatever we may think about the political decisions of the Vietnam era, the brave Americans who fought and died there had noble motives. They fought for the freedom and the independence of the Vietnamese people."
The outcome has been shrouded in sanitized lies. The Vietnam Veterans' Memorial in Washington, dedicated in November of '82, now contains the names of 58,272 dead or missing Americans. The message is clear - the tragedy is the death of those Americans. But imagine if the names of 3.8 million Vietnamese, and millions of Cambodians and Laotians were also included. The supposed shame of Vietnam would be finally avenged by Ronald Regan, the two Bushes, and even, to an extent, Barack Obama in the decades to come.
The irony is the Vietnam War represented a sad climax of the World War II generation from which Johnson, Regan, Bush Sr. and all the generals in high command came - those proclaimed by the Mainstream Media in the late 1990s as the "Greatest Generation". Yet, that same media ignored the arrogance of a generation that, overconfident from World War II, dismissed Vietnam as a fourth-rate power that could be easily defeated - from what the ancient Greeks called hubris, or arrogance, comes the fall. And from this initially obscure war came a great distortion of economic, social and moral life in America - a civil war that has polarized the country to this day, with much denied, nothing remembered, nothing regretted and, perhaps, nothing learned. History must be remembered, or it will be repeated until the meanings are clear.
The second president of the United States, John Adams, once said "Power always thinks it has a great soul, and that is doing God's service, when it is violating all His laws", which makes the details of the oncoming history a sad, inevitable bloodbath, that repeats itself agains and again, as the USA, much too often, stood on the side of the oppressors, propping up allies with financial and military aid, war on drugs programs, police and security training, joint military training, overseas bases and occasional direct military interventions. The U.S. empowered a network of tyrants who were friendly to foreign investors who could exploit cheap labor and native resources on terms favourable to the empire. Such was the British and French way, and such would be the American way - not raping, looting Mongols, but rather, benign, brief-case toting Ivy-League educated bankers and corporate executives who would loot local economies in the name of modernity, democracy and civilization, to the benefit of the United States and its allies.
During the Cold War, politicians and the media sidestepped debate over the basic morality of US foreign policy by mouthing platitudes about U.S. benevolence, and insisting that harsh, even dirty, tactics were needed to fight fire with fire. The Kissingers of the world called it "RealPolitik". But even when the Soviet Union collapsed in the early 1990s, our nation's policies did not change, as the U.S., time and again, has taken the side of the entrenched classes or the military against those from below seeking change. It was the American war against the poor of the Earth, those easily killed - the collateral damage.
As it was asked at the beginning, was it really about fighting communism? Or was that a misunderstood, or disguised, motivation? It was George Kennan, America's early leading Cold War strategist, who went to the heart of the matter in a memorandum written in 1948, that:
"With 50% of the world's wealth but only 6.3% of its population, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity. To do so, we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and daydreaming. We should cease to talk about vague and unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratization. We are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans, the better."
But George Kennan, who lived to be 101 years old in 2005, was an intellectual who never sought political office. Never in his wildest dreams could he have imagined the barbaric proportions of the upcoming presidency of Ronald Regan.