Sunday, January 30, 2011

Stop the Press! (unless you are spinning it my way)

So one thing always begets another.  Which if you like eclectic stuff, is fun to dive into.  My last post was about General Patrick Brady's assertion that he was going to film a documentary whereby Gen. Vo Nguyan Giap, supreme communist commander during the Vietnam war "agreed to declare Tet the communist calamity it was."

Now that did not sound anything near what a General would ever say, so I went looking and found nothing to support that declaration except an urban myth exuding the same thing.  But a two star General, Vietnam vet, medal of valor winner was stating this as true!  And then I thought, you mean the same one who, just a couple of days ago, had been called out in the San Antonio Express News for giving "demonstrably false information to the public?"  Yeah, that same one.  What to think...what to think.

So in the process of trying to figure out what to accept as a truth, I come across a lot of really poor information.  But in and amongst the dung are some diamonds.

Now one site I stumbled upon takes the position that the Vietnam war was lost due to antiwar sentiment brought about, provided, and perpetuated by the news media.  This is a common explanation of why were not outrightly victorious in Vietnam used by those who consider themselves hawks or believe in the United State as a military superpower and hegemon.

And within this explanation - the press lost it for us - one must ask, is that so?  Had we been kept in the dark, would the war have proceeded differently?  Yes.  Would we have been victorious in all our effort?  Maybe.  Could it have been much worse for us had we not known what was going on?  Maybe as well.

So my question is this: Does our government have the right to keep from us all information that might sway our opinion on a topic that directly affects us?  Looking at it another way, does an 18 year old male have a right to know what is happening in a foreign land where he will be sent and possibly killed?  Do the parents and wives and children need to be told the good, bad, and ugly so that they can decide if it is worth their blood and treasure that someone else has decided they are willing to expend?

So when Steven F. Hayward, the F.K. Weyerhaeuser Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and an adjunct fellow of the Ashbrook Center, writes:
The Cronkite broadcast opened the floodgates for the media to offer their judgments, as opposed to their reporting, about the war.
 I am left to ponder, what good is reporting something if the context is left out?  Or how it is interconnected with something else is not described?  How am I to draw a conclusion on just looking at a raw fact?

For example, lets say I live near a large vacant lot and the newspaper reports that a new business is being built on that lot and it will employee 100 people.  As the building is going up the newspaper reports the number of walls, the number of nails, the cubic yards of concrete poured, but it never tells me the purpose of the building until it is built.  And because I am downwind from it, I get to endure the smell of fish, that had I been told at the very beginning was the purpose of the building, I may have been able to stop it from being built.

In a round about way, that is what is being offered as acceptable, especially in times of war.  If you just let us do what it takes to win, we will win.  Lets look at another example of how Hayward sees the dangers posed by guys like Walter Cronkite sticking their two-cents in.  Here is what Hayward says in his piece:
On the morning of January 31, the first full day of the Tet attack, Associated Press photographer Eddie Adams and a Vietnamese TV cameraman employed by NBC were wandering around Saigon getting photos and footage of the battle damage when they noticed a small contingent of South Vietnamese troops with a captive dressed in a checked shirt. From the other direction came Gen. Nguyen Ngoc Loan, chief of South Vietnam’s national police. As Adams and the NBC cameraman aimed their cameras, Loan calmly raised his sidearm and shot the prisoner—a Viet Cong officer—in the head.

Now without any context other than the facts presented in the above description and the fact you can visually see in the photo, should comment be offered, or should only the photo be displayed with just the facts?  Some folks would argue that the photo should never have been shown, that war is ugly and that's just what happens.

Hayward writes:
Most news accounts of the photo ignored this context; the drama of the picture was just too irresistible for most news organizations to try to put it in any kind of balanced context.
In other words, had you known the context - the connectivness to something else - the judgement as to the what and why he was being shot - you would look at this picture differently.  Hayward offers:
Loan walked over to Adams and said in English: "They killed many Americans and many of my men." (It was not reported at the time that the prisoner had also taunted his captors, saying "Now you must treat me as a prisoner of war," and had been identified as the assassin of a South Vietnamese army officer’s entire family.)
So when does offering context cross the line into judgement?  My answer is when you don't like what the judgment is.  The fact that Hayward may find the assassination of a prisoner in handcuffs acceptable based on his value system, others (including myself) may not.  And in a democracy, if more of us disagree with one model we have the right to say change it.

You can blame Cronkite for loosing the Vietnam war, but all he did was point out the context that we were being manipulated by our government and General Westmoreland into thinking all was good, the end was nigh!  Tet may have been mis-characterized as a communist victory by the media, but it was correctly analyzed - in my opinion - by Walter Cronkite on February 27, 1968: (see note)
We have been too often disappointed by the optimism of the American leaders, both in Vietnam and Washington, to have faith any longer in the silver linings they find in the darkest clouds. They may be right, that Hanoi's winter-spring offensive has been forced by the Communist realization that they could not win the longer war of attrition, and that the Communists hope that any success in the offensive will improve their position for eventual negotiations. It would improve their position, and it would also require our realization, that we should have had all along, that any negotiations must be that -- negotiations, not the dictation of peace terms. For it seems now more certain than ever that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate.
What did Cronkite base this on?  Context.  Look at what Westmoreland said to the National Press Club on November 21, 1967:
[t]he communists were "unable to mount a major offensive...I am absolutely certain that whereas in 1965 the enemy was winning, today he is certainly losing...We have reached an important point when the end begins to come into view."
Two months later, Tet.  Now the argument is made by some, such as General Brady, that with reference to what happened after Tet:
Unbelievably, there was no military follow-up. Gen. Vo Nguyan Giap, supreme communist commander, would marvel at the mess we made of our victory. His force was devastated. Yet our dishonest media had presented Tet to the American politicians and people as a great communist victory and many people still believe that.
Brady's contention is, that because we were victorious at Tet and had we pushed, we would have won the war decisively and no peace talks or withdraw in 1972 would have tarnished our military reputation and the men & woman who participated.  Maybe.  Or maybe we would still be there like in Iraq and Afghanistan, fighting an enemy we do not respect for their resolve.  The fact of the matter is, we do not know what turn the war would have taken had the American people been kept in the dark and men like General Brady given carte blanch to just "get er' done,"

Note: Walter Cronkite also said in that same piece: "[t]he use of nuclear weapons, or the mere commitment of one hundred, or two hundred, or three hundred thousand more American troops to the battle. And with each escalation, the world comes closer to the brink of cosmic disaster." Nukes and cosmic disaster did not manifest itself.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

And you were there! (only we forgot to film it)

I am perplexed.  I am also flabbergasted.  I like these two words because you would never use them in speaking, but in writing, they really work well.

I was in San Antonio this week and was reading their newspaper, the San Antonio Express News.  I make it a habit to read the Opinion Page, especially the Letters to the Editor.

So I read a rebuttal to a January 20th commentary written for the paper by some guy named Patrick Brady.  The letter starts:
There is a line responsible journalists draw between giving columnists leeway to express opinion and allowing them to give demonstrably false information to the public.
It then goes on to show why various "facts" described by Patrick Brady regarding President Obama are untrue.  So this, unbeknown to me at that time, sets in motion this blog and my perplexedness and flabbergastedness experienced this morning as I dug further into it.

On Friday I am reading the San Antonio Express News and there is a column called: "Despite reports of the day, Tet battle was American victory" written by Patrick Brady, who is identified as a "Retired Army Maj. Gen. [who] earned the Medal of Honor in Vietnam."

Now there are certain words that conservative types use when they write.  They, at least to me, standout like little beacons warning me to be wary of an ideological bias.  So when I read:
The American soldier was never defeated on the battlefield in Vietnam; our defeat came from the elite in the courtrooms, the classroom, the cloakrooms and the newsrooms, from cowardly media-phobic politicians and irresponsible, dishonest media and professors from Berkeley to Harvard.
I pretty much knew what message he was wanting to convey and the demon(s) he was to hold responsible.  In that one single sentence, General Brady laid down the reason as; everyone lied to us about what really happened in Vietnam.  Even Walter Cronkite's name was invoked as a member of the "dishonest media"!

Now I don't know enough about Tet to argue whether General Brady's description of the event in Vietnam 43 years ago accurately reflects the truth.  What I do know is that he had been called out for giving "demonstrably false information to the public" just a few days earlier, and his bashing of the media and professors put him squarely into the neo-con corner of journalistic types.

So I go on line looking for what happened at Tet, first looking at Wikipedia's version.  I was particularly interested in General Brady's comment that:
Years later, to help correct the lies about Tet, Gen. William Westmoreland asked me to go to Vietnam and meet with [Gen. Vo Nguyan Giap, supreme communist commander] Giap to arrange a documentary wherein Giap agreed to declare Tet the communist calamity it was.
There was something about that statement that just did not sound right. What kind of General, especially one that was victorious over his enemy, would ever declare that something he was responsible for was a "calamity"?

That just did not sit right with me. But it was coming from a General himself, a two-star no less, and a decorated Vietnam War hero!  Who is this non-military participating guy that did not endure Vietnam (or any combat for that matter) to doubt such a man?  It was that last line that followed it that got me doubting its truthiness:
"I met with Giap, but we never got the film done."
Like I said, I don't have enough knowledge on Tet to say if the General's contention that General Giap did indeed think the battle was "a calamity" or "would marvel at the mess we made of our victory."  So I went a Googling, because if the media and professors are all liars, they do not have domain over the internet.  Surely I would find others that support General Brad'ys contention that Tet was an American Victory, a calamity for General Giap, and "Walter Cronkite and his ilk had saved Ho Chi Minh."

I found this statement, attributed to General Giap, made in 1982:
This is to tell you that in this, as in other things, the imperialists underestimate the strength of a people, of an army fighting for independence and freedom, for their rights to life.  It seems to me that even today the Pentagon and Washington and the White House are far from having learned the necessary lessons. In the classroom of History the imperialists are really poor students. 
I read the whole damn transcript of that 1982 interview, I can pretty much tell you that there is no damn way a man such as General Giap would have ever "agreed to declare Tet the communist calamity it was."

And a few Google search links later, there it is...on an urban legend website, "General Giap on How U.S. Lost the Vietnam War." which discusses an email that has been passed around now for a while:
The quote surfaced most recently in an anonymous forwarded email (example above) composed in December 2007, days after being mentioned on Rush Limbaugh's website, which in turn cited an October 3, 2007 column by Geoff Metcalf as the source. According to Metcalf, the passage came from "[Giap's] memoirs currently found in the Vietnam War memorial in Hanoi."
Going to the NewsMax article link, you read " The following quote is from his memoirs currently found in the Vietnam War memorial in Hanoi::"
What we still don't understand is why you Americans stopped the bombing of Hanoi. You had us on the ropes. If you had pressed us a little harder, just for another day or two, we were ready to surrender! It was the same at the battles of TET. You defeated us! We knew it, and we thought you knew it.
Only problem is, that there is no such memoir, that is, General Gaip never said that.

Now I want you to go back and read the transcript of the 1982 interview with General Giap and compare his wording, tenor, and explanations with the one attributed to him above.  Then go and read the NewsMax column and compare it to General Brady's San Antonio Express News column.  I'll wait.......

Do you see some similarities between the two?  Tet was, is, and always will be, just what Walter Cronkite said it was on February 27, of 1968:
To say that we are closer to victory today is to believe, in the face of the evidence, the optimists who have been wrong in the past. To suggest we are on the edge of defeat is to yield to unreasonable pessimism. To say that we are mired in stalemate seems the only realistic, yet unsatisfactory, conclusion.
So if General Brady finds this analysis of the events that happened 43 years ago, unsatisfactory to the conclusion he would like to have in its place, that's his right as a free American to do so.  What he does not have a right to do, in terms of integrity and honor, is to mislead people into believing a history that is not borne out by facts.  

To claim it is true by stating he was there ("Years later, to help correct the lies about Tet, Gen. William Westmoreland asked me to go to Vietnam and meet with Giap to arrange a documentary wherein Giap agreed to declare Tet the communist calamity it was.) and then boldly telling us that "we never got the film done"  - but - we should believe him over the "dishonest media and professors from Berkeley to Harvard"  even though there is no other evidence out there to support General Giap's declaration of Tet as "the communist calamity it was," - and - it smacks as the same type of story telling found in that urban myth. Well I am just left perplexed and flabbergasted!

[note 1/30/11 - After sleeping on it, my previous conclusion was a bit harsh and not as objective as it should be, so it has been changed.  Also corrected to "Medal of Honor"]

Patrick Brady is free to spin the take-away message of Tet in any way, shape, or form, he wants.  But because of his standing as not just a two star General, but as a Medal of Honor winner and Vietnam vet, what he says about it will carry a lot of weight.  However, what he states in his column contradicts the historical record (in reference to Giap's comments).  And because of his standing, and the fact that he also invokes General Westmoreland's standing to put words in another man's mouth, his assertion is bolstered to an even higher degree of credibility.  But with history, as in a court of law, this is still just heresay.

So I contend, that based on what I know about Tet, what I know about General Brady's leanings, and what I have been able to uncover, the burden to prove the historical record is false is in General Brady's court.  He owes history, as well as General Westmoreland and General Giap more than just his word to prove his assertion.  Show us the directive from General Westmoreland that discusses the documentary.  Show us travel orders indicating General Brady met with General Giap.  Heck, I would even be a bit swayed if I saw a picture of the two men in the same room together. Excuse me if I remain skeptical until then.

Note 1/30/2011 - See Snopes article for more information on this urban myth regarding General Giap.

And I also found this from the Oakland Museum of California - a May 1996, CNN interview that has been translated from Vietnamese:
The Tet Offensive is a long story. ... It was our policy, drawn up by Ho ChiMinh, to make the Americans quit. Not to exterminate all Americans in Vietnam, [but] to defeat them.  It could be said [Tet] was a surprise attack which brought us a big victory. For a big  battle we always figured out the objectives, the targets, so it was the main objective to  destroy the forces and to obstruct the Americans from making war. But what was more  important was to de-escalate the war -- because at that time the Americans were escalating the war -- and to start negotiations. So that was the key goal of that campaign.  But of course, if we had gained more than that it would be better.  And [after Tet] the Americans had to back down and come to the negotiating table, because the war was not only moving into the cities, to dozens of cities and towns in South Vietnam, but also to the living rooms of Americans back home for some time. And that’s why we could claim the achievement of the objective.
Does that sound like a man giddy to declare Tet the "calamity it really was?"

Notes: 1/31/11 - A pretty good (recent) story on Tet: War Stories With Oliver North: Tet Offensive Full Episode.

Now if you watch it you will see two things leaning in the direction that General Brady would find acceptable.  Oliver North and Fox News.  And yet it offers a pretty even-handed analysis, description, judgement, and comments about Tet - with an interview with Eddie Adams thrown in as well.  And it too declares the Tet offensive a communist failure in military terms, but it explains why it should be seen that way.  It does not, however, put words in General Giap's mouth as a means to prove that contention.  North 1, Brady 0


Thursday, January 27, 2011

O’Reilly Catches Jon Stewart's Deceptive Nazi Edit.....ORLY?

So here is what O'Really happened....

January 24, 2011, Jon Stewart on the Daily Show plays a clip of Representative Steve Cohen (D-TN) stating:
They say it's a government takeover of health care, a big lie. Just like Goebbels, you say it enough, you repeat the lie, you repeat the lie, you repeat the lie, and eventually people believe it. The Germans said enough about the Jews, and people believed it, and you had the Holocaust.
Stewart then empties a cup and five dice fall out whereby he yells " And he rolls...Nazi!"  He then leads in with the comment "Many people were annoyed but none more than Fox News."  He plays some clips, then completes it with a bit of a fracas between Megan Kelly of Fox News and Richard Socarides a "Democratic Strategist" above a banner called "Implausible Deniability."

 Richard. Socarides says:
"If we want to get into who heats this and who's overheating this, every night on the very network we are on now, leading commentators use this kind of language."
Megan Kelly responds:
"That's just not true Richard.  I don't know know if you sit and watch our programing every night, but I watch it every day and you are wrong."
Jon Stewart, feigning disgust, says in a whisper:
"Megan...Megan.  I watch it every day too.  Twelve long years....I think he may be right."
He then plays a bunch of Fox News clips in which reference to Nazis or that group/time is made by a whole slew of different Fox News' "leading commentators."  It starts off with Bill O'Reilly stating:
"If you look back at what happened in Germany, you cannot escape the similarities between what Hitler and his cutthroats did back then and the hate-filled blogs, what they're doing now."
Well Bill O'Reilly took a bit o' offense to this, and in a Fox Nation piece titled: "O’Reilly Catches Jon Stewart's Deceptive Nazi Edit" lambastes Jon Stewart stating:
"If Stewart were a journalist, I would pound him into pudding. But he's not; he's a comedian, and as such, has license to take things out of context for entertainment purposes."
Hmmmm....Unless you want to get hung up on the wording of "every day" or "every night" the point Jon Stewart was making, was that indignation over the comparison to Nazis by Rep. Cohen is no less reprehensible than similar types comparisons made on/by Fox News and their "leading commentators", of which, Bill O'Reilly, is one.

Megan Kelly was pretty adamant that Fox News does no such thing.  The Daily Show showed differently.  There was nothing taken out of context because context was not needed.

Did Bill O'Reilly use a Nazi Comparison in his commentary on February 28, 2008?  Yes

Does the reason it was used matter?  No (and Jon Stewart is pretty clear about his feelings on using a Nazi comparison for anything other than the most despicable of acts against humanity.  And as nasty the comment was about Nancy Reagan, it's not in the same league as what the Nazis did.)

Context Mr. O'Reilly?  I'm sure Mr. Stewart can spoon feed that particular flavor of pudding right into that pie hole of yours.

Update 1/29/11:  Here is what Jon Stewart had to say about Bill O'Reilly's comment

Breaks Over....On to 2011

It's the process of writing these blogs that I enjoy.  Even though no one reads them, it still is enjoyable to put my thoughts down, research a topic, find the context, and add more information to those looking to understand something a little bit more.

At the beginning of last year, I wrote about changing the tenor of my posts and moving away from being cynical and using names that do nothing to further civil discourse.  Little did I know that nine months later I would hear Jon Stewart express the same sentiments with Rachel Maddow after his Restore Sanity rally in Washington DC.

But like Stewart, I was becoming a bit dismayed by everything that I was seeing, reading , hearing, and expressing.  It was not until Stewart interviewed Ron Howard did I get my desire back to blog again.  In this interview, Stewart is almost envious of Howard's ability to not become jaded by all the bad parts of the entertainment business they are both in.  And that's when I realized, I too, was becoming jaded.

My wife has taken a hole-in-the-sand approach to what goes on.  I envy her for that ability, but I can't pretend I don't know what's going on by not looking.  I know it's there, I can't unhear or unlearn it.  And besides, i don't want to become complacent or someone who knew but did nothing to try to change things.

So I decided to take a water off a ducks back philosophy to life this year.  It's working pretty well.  Only two times have I not followed it so far.

This post is coming now after a few post I have already written.  And if I was asked why bother with a blog that know one reads, I would answer because I like the process of reasoning.  It's amazingly interconnect this big ol' world of ours.  And it is so vast and varied that there are really no absolutes.  In the beginning of this blog I wanted to help show shades of gray in a world where too many want to see only black and white.  Three years later and I still want to do the same thing.

So these next posts deal with Vietnam, Tet, Eddie Adams' famous photo, and a Medal of Honor Winner who happens to be a two star General and a Vietnam vet.  And how they all came together, what I learned, and where it leads is fascinating to me.

One thing leads to another.