Information

Arthur Sylvester on the Gulf of Tonkin Incident


On August 4, 1964, Arthur Sylvester, assistant secretary of defense, makes a press statement about North Vietnam's attack on two U.S. destroyers that were on patrol in the Tonkin Gulf.


When Presidents Lie

Presidential dishonesty, like so many things in life, is not what it used to be. Before the 1960s, few could even imagine that a President would deliberately mislead them on matters so fundamental as war and peace. When the evidence of presidential lying grew so enormous the phenomenon could no longer be avoided, its revelation helped force both Lyndon Johnson and his successor, Richard Nixon, out of the office. LBJ’s false assurances regarding the second Tonkin Gulf incident, and their later exposure, would prove a significant factor in his own political demise, the destruction and repudiation of his party, and the ambitious Texan’s personal humiliation and disgrace. Much the same can be said about his successor, the no less ambitious or dishonest Nixon. He, too, paid for his deceptions with his presidency, his reputation and a degrading defeat for his party in the following presidential election.

But by the time of the Iran/contra scandal in the mid-1980s–little more than a decade after Nixon’s public disgrace–lying to the public had become an entirely mundane matter, one that could be easily justified on behalf of a larger cause. During the planning of the secret weapons sales to Iran, Reagan Cabinet officials, as well as the President himself, had warned of dire consequences should the public become aware of their plans: George Shultz argued during the crucial meetings that Reagan was committing “impeachable offenses,” while Reagan himself predicted that if there was a leak to the media, “We’ll all be hanging by our thumbs in front of the White House.” But while the revelation did convulse the nation’s political system for a year or so, it turned out that the President and his men had overestimated the cost of being proven liars as well as suppliers of weapons to terrorists. Presidents Reagan and Bush remained nationally admired and, to many people, beloved figures. The events of Iran/contra barely rated a mention in the media during the weeklong celebration of Reagan’s life following his June 2004 death. Former President Jimmy Carter, who earned a reputation for being painfully honest in public life, meanwhile, is considered a kind of political misfit within these same media circles, in which many seem more comfortable with a politician who ignores painful truths than one who confronts them.

From the standpoint of personal political consequences, the act of purposeful deception by an American President depends almost entirely on the context in which it occurs. Bill Clinton was impeached for his decision to “lie” under oath about adultery–a choice that, fortunately for many of his predecessors in office, no previous President had ever faced. In Clinton’s case, his most vociferous critics succeeded largely in galvanizing the country on the President’s behalf and in making themselves appear ridiculous. At the moment the conservative quest to remove Clinton from office reached its zenith–the day of his impeachment–the President’s approval rating rose to a remarkable 68 percent. Still, lying about his affair with Monica Lewinsky, both to the nation and to the grand jury, was the most costly mistake Clinton ever made, including having the affair itself it was a betrayal of both his closest supporters and many of his own most deeply held personal and political aspirations.

To the relief of many made uncomfortable by the complicated moral questions raised by a President who lied about what most people consider to be a private moral sphere, Clinton’s successor, George W. Bush, returned the presidency to the tradition of deception relating to key matters of state, particularly those of war and peace. Bush may have claimed as a candidate that he would “tell the American people the truth,” but as President he effectively declared his right to mislead whenever it suited his purpose. We have no need here to rehearse the many costly untruths that led to the disastrous invasion of Iraq, as well as almost every significant policy initiative of the Bush Administration, nor their costs. As Michael Kinsley sagely observed early in the Administration’s tenure, “Bush II administration lies are often so laughably obvious that you wonder why they bother. Until you realize: They haven’t bothered. If telling the truth was less bother, they’d try that, too. The characteristic Bush II form of dishonesty is to construct an alternative reality on some topic and to regard anyone who objects to it as a sniveling dweeb obsessed with ‘nuance.'”

Why do American Presidents feel compelled to deceive Congress, the media and the country about their most significant decisions? Perhaps the most elegant defense for such behavior can be found in the arguments of a mentor of a number of the planners of President Bush’s war in Iraq. Abram Shulsky, who headed the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans, whose work was used to override professional CIA analyses in favor of war, was, like the war’s primary intellectual inspiration, Under Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, as well as many other neoconservatives, an admirer of the late political philosopher and refugee from Nazi Germany Leo Strauss, who died in 1973. Together with Gary Schmitt, who heads the Project for a New American Century–the Washington think tank where the war strategy was originally conceived–Shulsky wrote an essay published in 1999 titled “Leo Strauss and the World of Intelligence (by Which We Do Not Mean Nous).” In it, the authors argue that Strauss’s idea of hidden meaning “alerts one to the possibility that political life may be closely linked to deception. Indeed, it suggests that deception is the norm in political life, and the hope, to say nothing of the expectation, of establishing a politics that can dispense with it is the exception.” Joseph Cropsey, a close friend and colleague of Strauss’s at the University of Chicago, as well as the editor of his work, explains that in Straussian thought, a degree of public deception is considered absolutely necessary. “That people in government have to be discreet in what they say publicly is so obvious–‘If I tell you the truth I can’t but help the enemy.'”

However high-minded, the argument does not really convince. With few exceptions, Presidents lie largely not for the reasons above but for reasons of political convenience. The decisions to lie were bred of a fundamental contradiction at the heart of the practice of American democracy. American Presidents have no choice but to practice the diplomacy of Great Power politics, but American citizens have rarely if ever been asked to understand the world in those terms. As the dissident Kennedy-Johnson aide George Ball observed in 1967, “We have used the vocabulary and syntax of Wilsonian Universalism while actively practicing the politics of alliances and spheres of influence and it is now time that we stopped confusing ourselves with our political hyperbole.” The result, more often than not, is that when deals must be struck and compromises made on behalf of large purposes, Presidents tend to prefer deception over education.

In a series of visionary works published in the early 1920s Walter Lippmann examined what he believed to be the necessary preconditions for the operation of a successful democratic republic–a competent, civic-minded citizenry with access to relevant details of public policy. He argued that the entire notion is dangerously utopian and ought to be shelved. At the heart of republican theory, in Lippmann’s view, stood the “omnicompetent” citizen. “It was believed that if only he could be taught more facts, if only he would take more interest, if only he would listen to more lectures and read more reports, he would gradually be trained to direct public affairs.” Unfortunately, Lippmann concluded, “the whole assumption is false.” In truth, Lippmann argued, “public opinion” is shaped in response to people’s “maps” or “images” of the world, and not to the world itself.

Mass political consciousness does not pertain to the actual environment but to an intermediary “pseudo-environment.” To complicate matters, this pseudo-environment is further corrupted by the manner in which it is perceived. Citizens have only limited time and attention to devote to issues of public concern. News is designed for mass consumption hence, the media must employ a relatively simple vocabulary and linear story line to discuss highly complex and decidedly nonlinear situations. The competition for readership (and advertising dollars) drives the press to present news reports in ways that sensationalize and oversimplify, while more significant information goes unreported and unremarked upon. Given both the economic and professional limitations of the practice of journalism, Lippmann argued, news “comes [to us] helter-skelter.” This is fine for a baseball box score, a transatlantic flight or the death of a monarch. But where the picture is more nuanced, “as for example, in the matter of a success of a policy or the social conditions among a foreign people–where the real answer is neither yes nor no, but subtle and a matter of balanced evidence,” then journalism “causes no end of derangement, misunderstanding and even misinterpretation.” Here Lippmann was identifying a problem that has since increased in both time and scope, as media sensationalism and public apathy have increased exponentially since the publication of his prophetic work.

Lippmann’s pseudo-environment is not composed only of the information we receive it consists, in equal measure, of what Lippmann terms “the pictures in our heads.” Voters react to the news through the lens of a personal history containing certain stereotypes, predispositions and emotional associations that determine their interpretations. We emphasize that which confirms our original beliefs and disregard or denigrate what might contradict them. Lippmann compares the average citizen to a blind spectator sitting in the back row of a sporting event. “He does not know what is happening, why it is happening, what ought to happen he lives in a world which he cannot see, does not understand and is unable to direct.” As a result, Lippmann lamented, democracy, in modern society, operates for only “a very small percentage of those who are theoretically supposed to govern.” No one expects steelworkers, musicians or bankers to understand physics, Lippmann believed, so why should they be expected to understand politics?

John Dewey replied to Lippmann in the May 3, 1922, New Republic and later in an important though tendentiously written work, The Public and Its Problems, published in 1927. Dewey conceded that voters were not “omnicompetent”–that is, “competent to frame policies, to judge their results, competent to know…what is for his own good,” and he passionately shared his republican hope that government could be formed to inspire generosity and civic-mindedness in the citizenry. But he disagreed with Lippmann’s sanguine trust in the beneficence of elites. “A class of experts,” he argued, “is inevitably so removed from common interests as to become a class with private interests and private knowledge, which in social matters is not knowledge at all.” An expert shoemaker may know best how to fix a shoe, but only its wearer knows where it hurts. “Democracy must begin at home…and its home is in the neighborly community.” Unfortunately, Dewey noted, “indifference is the evidence of current apathy, and apathy is testimony to the fact the public is so bewildered that it cannot find itself.”

Taken together, these analyses provide at least a partial explanation for the constancy of presidential deception in American political life. On the one hand, Americans carry an unrealistic picture of the world “in their heads”–one based on their faith in their own divine direction, disinterested altruism and democratic bona fides rather than the realities of politics, force and diplomacy. But education has never lived up to Dewey’s hopes, so Lippman’s critique of the inherent inability of democracy to cope with complexity remains salient. These failures, moreover, are exaggerated in the American case by a particular distaste for the practice of power politics and media that have insufficient incentive to provide the basics of civic literacy to their audience. Even those Presidents with the best of intentions come to view deception as an unavoidable consequence of a system that simply cannot integrate the unpleasant realities of international diplomacy.

However preferable it might be to tell the truth, the short-term costs of lying, given that the culture seems to expect it, are negligible. And as Friedrich Nietzsche instructed, these temptations are virtually impossible to resist. While people may desire “the agreeable life-preserving consequences of truth, [they are] indifferent to pure knowledge, which has no consequences, [and are] even hostile to possibly damaging and destructive truths.” The long-term costs of lying–at least at the moment the lie is being told–are almost always invisible. The ultimate costs for this easy calculation, however, are considerable, not only to the nation and to the cause of democracy but also to the aspirations and legacies of the Presidents themselves.

Whether this situation is remediable depends on one of two possibilities: Either future Presidents become convinced that the long-term cost of deception outweighs its short-term benefits, or the public matures to the point of seeking to educate itself about the need for complicated arrangements in international politics that do not comport with the nation’s caricatured notion of itself as an innocent and benevolent force throughout the world. The obvious solution would be to convince US Presidents of the value of substituting a long-term strategic vision in place of their present-minded, short-term tactical views. But “nothing in politics is more difficult than taking the long view,” notes the reporter Ronald Brownstein. “For politicians, distant gain is rarely a persuasive reason to endure immediate pain. Political scientists would say the system has a bias toward the present over the future. Parents might say politicians behave like perpetual teenagers. The problem, for politicians as much as teenagers, is that the future has a pesky habit of arriving.”

The pragmatic problem with official lies is their amoeba-like penchant for self-replication. The more a leader lies to his people, the more he must lie to his people. Eventually the lies take on a life of their own and tend to overpower the liar. Lying may appear to work for a President in the short term, and in many cases it does. But a President ignores the consequences of his deception at his own political peril.

If history teaches us anything, it is that Presidents cannot lie about major political events that have potentially serious ramifications–particularly those relating to war and peace–with impunity. In almost all cases, the problem or issue that gives rise to the lie refuses to go away, even while the lie complicates the President’s ability to address it. He must now address not only the problem itself but also the ancillary problem his lie has created. Karl Kraus once mused, with only slight exaggeration, that many a war has been caused by a diplomat who lied to a journalist and then believed what he read in the newspapers. The tendency for leaders to believe their own propaganda over time is one form of what first CIA agents and, later, political scientists have come to call “blowback.” One feature of blowback is that its effects are almost always portrayed as unprovoked, often inexplicable actions, when in fact they are caused by actions initially taken by the government itself.

The point here is that in telling the truth to the nation, Presidents may often have to deal with complex, difficult and frequently dangerous problems they would no doubt prefer to avoid. But at least these are genuine problems that would have arisen irrespective of the leader’s actions. This is, after all, inherent in the job description. But once a President takes it upon himself to lie to the country about important matters, he necessarily creates an independent dynamic that would not otherwise have come about, and we are all the worse for it.

Had FDR told the truth about Yalta to the country, it is far more likely that the United States would have participated in the creation of the kind of world community he envisioned when he made his secret agreements. John Kennedy’s deception about the nature of the deal to which he agreed to insure the removal of Soviet missiles from Cuba also proved enormously detrimental to his hope of creating a lasting, stable peace in the context of cold war competition. Lyndon Johnson destroyed not only his ambitious hopes to create a “Great Society” but also his own presidency and most of his political reason for being. And Ronald Reagan, through his lies about Central America, created a dynamic through which his advisers believed they had a right to initiate a secret, illegal foreign and military policy whose aims were almost perfectly contradictory to the President’s stated aims in such crucial areas as dealing with governments deemed to be terrorist.

Under President George W. Bush, Americans entered an era of politics in which the value of truth, for all practical purposes, became entirely contingent. Whether its citizens were aware of it or not, the presidency now operated in a “post-truth” political environment. American Presidents could no longer depend on the press–its powers and responsibilities enshrined in the First Amendment–to keep them honest. The death, destruction and general chaos that seemed ready to explode on a daily basis in Iraq following the US invasion seemed to be just one price that “reality” was demanding in return.

Presidents, Bush included, speak rhetorically of their commitment to tell the American people the truth no matter what. This is, of course, nonsense. The Bush Justice Department has even gone before the Supreme Court to argue its right “to give out false information…incomplete information and even misinformation” whenever it deems this necessary. This claim goes well beyond even the famous formulation that Arthur Sylvester, then a Defense Department official, offered on behalf of President Kennedy during the Cuban missile crisis: “It’s inherent in [the] government’s right, if necessary, to lie to save itself.”

In a better world, future Presidents would learn the obvious lessons from the experiences of their predecessors: Protect legitimate secrets by refusing to answer certain questions, certainly. Put the best face on your own actions and those of the politicians you support, of course. Create a zone of privacy for yourself and your family that is declared off-limits to all public inquiry. But do not, under any circumstances, lie.

Eric Alterman Twitter Longtime Nation media columnist Eric Alterman is a CUNY distinguished professor of English at Brooklyn College and the author of 11 books.


Reality Creation and The Tonkin Gulf incident, August 2nd and 4th, 1964

image: USS Maddox in 1964, Wikimedia commons (link).

This day in history, the second of August, marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Tonkin Gulf incident, which took place on August 02, 1964, and which was used as justification for a major escalation of US military activity in Vietnam.

The incident was described to the world by politicians and the media as an unprovoked attack on US Navy vessels conducting routine operations in international waters during the night of August second, followed by a second unprovoked attack on August 04.

Based on allegations that US naval vessels which had simply been "lawfully present in international waters" had been "deliberately and repeatedly attacked," the president went to Congress, asked for and received authorization for the use of "all necessary steps, including the use of armed force." The Tonkin Gulf Resolution was signed into law by joint resolution of Congress and approval of the president on August 10, 1964.

This grant of authority was used to initiate US air strikes in 1964 and major deployment of US conventional ground forces (in addition to the limited numbers of special operations forces that had been in the country since at least 1961) throughout 1965 into Vietnam, with over 184,000 conventional military personnel on the ground by the end of 1965.

Whether or not the deployment of military force into Vietnam was justified in order to stop the violence that was in fact taking place there, the evidence which has been uncovered in the decades since strongly suggests that any attack which took place on US naval vessels on August 02 was not exactly "unprovoked," that those naval vessels were in fact supporting covert military raids into Vietnam (a fact which Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara denied in testimony before Congress during the deliberation over the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution itself in 1964 and again in 1968), and that there was probably no second attack at all on August 04, 1964.

In other words, setting aside the larger question of whether or not military intervention in Vietnam was justified, the evidence strongly suggests that the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution itself was based upon a false version of reality which was presented to the American people and their elected members of Congress. This false version of reality led directly to the combat deployment of over 184,000 people to Vietnam by the end of the following year, a number which increased to over 500,000 at the war's peak in 1968 (see chart below, which can be found here).

This article from the 30-year anniversary of the Gulf of Tonkin incident (in 1994) lays out some of the arguments and evidence supporting the conclusion that the facts surrounding the August 02 confrontation were completely misrepresented, and that it is likely that no actual second confrontation took place two days later on August 04, 1964.

This more-carefully footnoted essay by Professor Peter Dale Scott of the University of California, published in 2008, explains that of the one hundred twenty-two pieces of signal-data collected on the night of August 04 (from radar, sonar, and other signal-gathering devices available to government intelligence personnel), only the fifteen pieces of data which would support the picture of a second attack were passed on to the White House.

Meanwhile, in a completely separate agency from the one which passed on that incredibly selective array of data, a paragraph stating that suggested that the data supported the conclusion that a second attack had not taken place on August 04 was removed from the Current Intelligence Bulletin "which would be wired to the White House and other key intelligence agencies and appear in print the next morning."

Professor Scott writes that it is possible to conclude that these two actions in two separate agencies could conceivably have taken place spontaneously, based upon a certain "shared bureaucratic mindset, or propensity for military escalation."

Of course, it is also possible that these two actions, each designed to paint the picture of a second confrontation which in all likelihood never even took place, and each removing critical information in order to support that false picture, were in fact coordinated.

This possibility is further supported by the published testimony of the Secretary of Defense himself, who went on record before Congress not just in 1964 when they were deliberating over the initial Gulf of Tonkin Resolution but also nearly four years later in 1968, stating "that attacks occurred against our ships both on August 2nd and August 4th, that we had available to us incontrovertible evidence of these attacks when the decision was made to make our limited and measured response, and that these attacks were in no sense provoked or justified by any participation or association of our ships with South Vietnamese naval operations" (see remarks by the Secretary of Defense to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 20 February 1968, about half-way down this web page).

Either he was deceived as well, or he was aware of the selectivity of the data and conclusions that had been presented to the American people and their elected politicians in August of 1964 and was participating in the fabrication of a false reality designed to create a "movie" in the minds of the vast majority of the citizenry which had in its opening scenes events they could look back on and say to themselves, "well, we were illegally attacked first."

The conclusion that the Gulf of Tonkin represents an example of the deliberate creation of a false reality in the minds of a massive number of people is difficult to avoid.

This conclusion becomes even more likely when we realize that the two ships involved in the incident, the destroyers USS Maddox and USS Turner Joy, each had a Navy captain in command, but that they themselves were commanded by a Naval officer on the flagship of their fleet, the aircraft carrier USS Bonhomme Richard -- and that the officer in command of that fleet during that critical time was none other than George S. "Steve" Morrison, the father of the future lead singer of the band The Doors. This fact is stated in the obituary of Admiral Morrison published in the New York Times from December of 2008.

In and of itself, the connection between the rock frontman and the Naval officer does not necessarily add anything the already substantial evidence that the Tonkin incident represented the deliberate creation of an illusory mental construct designed to influence the thought patterns of massive numbers of people. However, some researchers and in particular researcher David McGowan have recently presented additional evidence that many of the influential rock bands to have formed around Laurel Canyon just north of Los Angeles may also have been part of a coordinated effort to "create a new reality" and change the thought patterns of massive numbers of people.

In his recently-released book, Weird Scenes Inside the Canyon, Mr. McGowan argues that there was something contrived about the sudden influx of prospective band members into Laurel Canyon, many of whom (but not all) had little or no musical experience, many of whom came from military families and/or families with powerful political connections, and many of whom shot to rapid success without going through the usual path of struggling to gain recognition, play at better gigs, and eventually sign deals (he notes on page 151 that the members of Buffalo Springfield had supposedly only first met one another five days before they were playing at the prestigious Hollywood club the Troubadour, and a mere six days after that they were already on tour opening for the Byrds, "the hottest band on the Strip"). He also notes that this sudden confluence of suddenly-successful musical acts all happened to center in a self-contained canyon that also housed a secret military facility.

Mr. McGowan points out that the initial output of all these bands coincided very closely with the buildup of combat troops in Vietnam following the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, beginning with the release of the Byrds' Mr. Tambourine Man (on June 21st, 1965 -- summer solstice in the northern hemisphere) and rapidly followed by "releases from the John Phillips-led Mamas and the Papas (If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears, January 1966), Love with Arthur Lee (Love, May 1966), Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention (Freak Out, June 1966), Buffalo Springfield, featuring Stephen Stills and Neil Young (Buffalo Springfield, October 1966), and the Doors (The Doors, January 1967)" (13).

Regarding the Doors in particular, Mr. McGowan presents evidence from previously-published interviews conducted by other interviewers with Jim Morrison himself that the future lead singer never went to concerts before forming the band, and in fact in his own words "never did any singing. I never even conceived of it," nor had he ever felt any desire to learn to play any musical instrument (129). Then, he suddenly formed a band with three other acquaintances who also had no previous musical background, and immediately began putting out albums filled with songs which Morrison had written himself, before even forming the band.

David McGowan's work raises the strong possibility that a concerted campaign of what we might call reality creation was somehow behind the sudden rise of numerous successful bands in the Laurel Creek scene from mid-1965 through the early 1970s. In fact, he presents evidence that some of these

band members (notably the members of the Byrds) began arriving in Laurel Canyon specifically in "autumn of 1964" (see page 135) -- in other words, immediately on the heels of the Gulf of Tonkin incident, and before the actual troop buildup of 1965 (this would only be expected, if the Byrds were to release an album by summer solstice of 1965).

This fact tends to defuse the possible counter-argument that the phenomenon Mr. McGowan is chronicling was somehow an organic response to the sudden deployment of young men to Vietnam (even without the information that these band members were arriving in Laurel Canyon well before the first conventional troops arrived in Vietnam in March of 1965, there would not seem to be enough time between those first troop deployments and the sudden outpouring of albums listed above to be explained by the "organic response" hypothesis).

The thesis that the Laurel Canyon outpouring was some kind of "reality creation" is reinforced by the fact that the first album cited above, the Byrds' Mr. Tambourine Man, came out on the date of summer solstice, indicating the possible involvement of parties who understood the ancient significance of such dates. The possibility is further strengthened by the fact that both the Vietnam War and the counterculture movement at home which was closely associated with the music from the bands described in Mr. McGowan's book were profoundly transformative of society as a whole. It is also notable that music itself is uniquely suited to "creating realities."

The evidence which fifty years later appears to confirm that the Tonkin Gulf incident involved the deliberate imposition of a false narrative or false mental reality upon a large number of people, for purposes of escalating military operations in Vietnam immediately thereafter. The evidence also appears to strongly suggest that at least some aspects of the sudden formation of numerous very influential bands in Laurel Canyon, California almost immediately following that incident may have also been an exercise in reality creation, orchestrated by parties who possessed the knowledge and the ability to do so, and who left clues such as the release of the first Byrds album on one of the most significant dates of the annual cycle.

The possibility that the two aspects of reality creation might be related, and even perpetrated by some of the same players, is astonishing. While it is by no means proven, there appears to be enough evidence to warrant further investigation of this subject by those whose areas of interest or expertise dispose them to doing so.

It should be noted that there is substantial evidence that the concept of "reality creation" -- which should be a positive subject, involving creativity, innovation, and the empowerment and greater freedom of individual men and women, as discussed in this previous post -- was actually at the heart of the ancient mythologies of mankind, which themselves may be a precious legacy to all human beings from an even more ancient "predecessor civilization." However, at a very specific point in history, this ancient knowledge was deliberately subverted and suppressed in a certain very important portion of the world (the western Roman Empire), and those who did so may well have sought to use that knowledge for their own purposes of control and self-enrichment, while suppressing the same knowledge for virtually everyone else (and launching campaigns to stamp it out both within the western empire and then over other parts of Europe and then the world).

The evidence which suggests that there was a historical monopolization of the secrets of "reality creation" by powers who wanted to use them for themselves alone may indeed be pertinent when examining the possibility that there was much more to the Gulf of Tonkin incident, and to the Laurel Canyon scene, than people were initially led to believe.

However, even if we set all of that aside and focus solely on the evidence that the Gulf of Tonkin incident involved the deliberate creation of an illusion which was then presented to the White House, to Congress, and to the people of the world, has extremely important ramifications.

First, when we realize that previous incidents which were used to inflame public opinion in favor of war (when the public might have been indifferent or even hostile to the idea before the incident) may have also involved elements of deception or fabrication (including the USS Maine incident at the start of the Spanish-American War, or the sinking of the Lusitania to inflame American public opinion towards participation in the First World War), we should naturally wonder to what extent incidents since the Gulf of Tonkin might fit into the same pattern.

Second, while it is obvious that most of the individuals who actually participated in the Tonkin Gulf episode are no longer in the positions of power that they held back in 1964 (and in fact, most of them have now left the body, or at least the body they had during that incarnation), it is worth asking to what extent the institutions which participated in the Tonkin Gulf deception in some capacity (that is to say, the branches of the US military, the executive and legislative branches of the US federal government, and the more powerful participants in the national and international media) are still controlled by powers or persons who would condone or even initiate such deception and the perpetration of the creation of illusions or false realities.

Further, a sober consideration of the Tonkin Gulf incident should cause us to reflect upon the frequency with which large numbers of people can be influenced to condone or tolerate the application of horrendous levels of violence against persons who are not actually combatants (whether through the use of munitions and chemicals that caused death and suffering among the noncombatant women and children in Vietnam, or in the massacres of women and children in Native American villages during the "Indian Wars" of the second half of the nineteenth century in what is today the western US). How often is such widespread indifference or toleration accompanied by the creation and propagation of a sort of collectively-accepted "false reality" or narrative, such as "Manifest Destiny" or the false storyline created around the attacks on the Maine, the Lusitania, or the Maddox?

The degree to which the media plays along with the creation of such illusions and does not challenge them (certainly evident in the Tonkin Gulf episode) is also worthy of careful consideration.

Finally, the possibility that certain players on the world stage understand the creation of realities on a level that goes far beyond the simple telling of lies or withholding of available radar evidence, and that they may be using techniques which were once widely seen as beneficial for human consciousness but which have now been suppressed among the wider community and monopolized by a few, would seem to be extremely important to carefully consider and not dismiss out of hand. If some version of this scenario is indeed operating in history, than beginning to understand that fact can help us to realize the extent to which our acceptance of false realities creates false limits and false chains which we let bind and restrict and limit ourselves and others.

But, as Jon Rappoport so eloquently stated in the June 2014 talk discussed in the previously-linked post above, the message of the "trickster-god" in so many ancient mythologies is that we do not actually have to limit ourselves to someone else's imposed realities, and that we can at any time choose to stop giving those realities and their artificial limits that power which they ultimately derive from our own acceptance of them.

An event that happened fifty years ago -- an entire half of a century -- may seem to be ancient history. But, as the above discussion should cause us all to realize, its lessons are profoundly important to our lives at this very moment, and to our understanding of events we see taking place around us today and this week and this year.


Arthur Sylvester on the Gulf of Tonkin Incident - HISTORY

Edit note: This article was written in November before Special Counsel Mueller completed his investigation of alleged Russian collusion. We haven’t seen the full text of the Mueller report yet but I am wagering that it will not require rescinding this article.

“Truth isn’t truth,” declared Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump’s personal attorney, on Meet the Press last August. Giuliani’s comment was the “Trump era’s epitaph,” according to a Washington Post columnist. But truth really is defined differently inside the Beltway — when it is not in total hiding.

Trump could face a “perjury trap” from Special Counsel Robert Mueller because of the unique way that the FBI defines reality — and the truth. The FBI rarely records interviews and instead relies on written summaries (known as Form 302s) which “are widely held up in court as credible evidence of conversations,” the New York Times noted last year. Though defense attorneys routinely debunk the accuracy and credibility of 302s, prosecutors continue touting FBI interview summaries as the voice of God. Even if Trump made factually correct comments to Mueller, he could still face legal peril if his statements failed to harmonize with FBI “trust me on what I heard” memos containing contrary assertions. Freedom Frauds: Hard L. James Bovard Check Amazon for Pricing.

Trump’s danger is compounded because federal agents have the right to lie to you — and to put you in prison if you lie to them. Any citizen who makes even a single-word false utterance (“no,” “yes”) to a federal agent faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The federal false-statements law conveys so much power that, according to Solicitor General Seth Waxman, it could allow federal agents to “escalate completely innocent conduct into a felony.” One federal judge condemned the law for encouraging “inquisition as a method of criminal investigation.”

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, dissenting from a 1998 Supreme Court decision upholding the law, concluded that the law may result in “government generation of a crime when the underlying suspected wrongdoing is or has become nonpunishable.”

Though other federal agencies cannot play the FBI’s game with 302 forms and the false-statements law, they have plenty of options for editing the public record. Inside the Beltway, “plausible deniability” (a phrase first publicly used by CIA chief Allen Dulles in the 1950s) is “close enough for government work” to truth.

Congress enacted the Freedom of Information Act in 1966 to boost self-government by entitling Americans to learn what Washington did in their name. But FOIA is derided nowadays as a “Freedom from Information Act” that begets merely a mirage of transparency. In 2017 persons who filed FOIA requests “received censored files or nothing … 78 percent” of the time, according to the Associated Press. Federal agencies with the most power — such as the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and the Justice Department — are among the worst FOIA abusers. The State Department rejected more than a dozen FOIA requests for Hillary Clinton’s email when she served as Secretary of State — paving the way for clashes and leaks that roiled the 2016 election campaign.

Federal agencies also maximize their discretion in defining truth through almost 50 million decisions to classify information each year. The more information the government withholds, the easier it becomes to manipulate public opinion with whatever “facts” are released. By selectively disclosing only details that support the administration’s policies, government prevents citizens from fairly assessing the latest power grabs or interventions.

The more power government seizes, the more easily it can suppress the truth. The Justice Department can totally suppress embarrassing facts on the most contentious issues (such as torture or assassinations) by invoking the “state secrets” doctrine. The George W. Bush administration routinely invoked state secrets to seek “blanket dismissal of every case challenging the constitutionality of specific, ongoing government programs,” according to a study by the Constitution Project. The Bush administration used state-secrets claims to prohibit torture victims from disclosing to their defense attorneys the specific interrogation methods they suffered. A federal appeals court slammed the Obama administration’s use of state secrets: “According to the government’s theory, the judiciary should effectively cordon off all secret government actions from judicial scrutiny, immunizing the CIA and its partners from the demands and the limits of the law.” Government’s sway over damning information is boundless — at least until some whistleblower such as Edward Snowden obliterates federal credibility.

Unfortunately, Americans have no legal way to commandeer government files until long after most power grabs are consummated. Pervasive secrecy ensures that Americans are deceived far more than they realize.

If one is seeking Shakespearian-level creativity, official claims regarding U.S. military and foreign policy rarely disappoint. How much has changed since 1965, when Pentagon Assistant Secretary Arthur Sylvester hectored Vietnam War correspondents: “Look, if you think any American official is going to tell you the truth, then you’re stupid. Did you hear that? Stupid!” Sylvester’s slap-down has not deterred the media from continuing to play stenographer for the vast majority of government assertions.

Politicians get away with lies in part because Americans are taught that anyone who disbelieves the government must be crazy — the same view the KGB took of Soviet dissidents in the 1970s. This prejudice was canonized in the work of former communist and Ivy League professor Richard Hofstadter’s Paranoid Style in American Politics. Top-ranking government officials exploited that notion to help deceive Americans into submission. At the time of the Gulf of Tonkin incident, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara declared that it is “inconceivable that anyone even remotely familiar with our society and system of government could suspect the existence of a conspiracy” to take the nation to war on false pretenses. The later exposure of the Johnson administration’s lies on the Gulf of Tonkin did not prevent McNamara from being appointed to the Washington Post’s board of directors.

The lies of conniving politicians are compounded by kowtowing experts. In Washington, power is the highest truth. Credibility depends on titles, not veracity. Blind deference to authority might be expected from semi-literate peasants in some mountain hollow. But it is more of a problem coming from the academic elite and establishment heavyweights. Leslie Gelb, former president of the Council for Foreign Relations, admitted, “My initial support for the [Iraq] war was symptomatic of unfortunate tendencies within the foreign-policy community, namely the disposition and incentives to support wars to retain political and professional credibility.” As Daniel Ellsberg declared in 1970, the Pentagon Papers provided thousands of pages documenting “twenty years of crime under four presidents. And every one of those presidents had a Harvard professor at his side, telling him how to do it and how to get away with it.”

Washington’s hypocrisy on lying shined brightly when Congress passed the Stolen Valor Act of 2006, which made it a federal crime to falsely claim to have received a U.S. military award. The Bush administration made hundreds of false claims regarding Iraq to justify its 2003 invasion. But the Justice Department sees no problem with that duplicity — unless someone wrongly claimed to have won a medal in a war launched on false pretenses. Retail lying about war exploits was a crime, while wholesale lying about war qualifies people for Presidential Medals of Freedom. (The Supreme Court struck down the Stolen Valor law as a violation of freedom of speech.)

Public lies, private doubts

Lies subvert democracy by crippling citizens’ ability to rein in government. Citizens are left clueless about perils until it is too late for the nation to pull back. As Hannah Arendt noted, during the Vietnam War “the policy of lying was hardly ever aimed at the enemy but chiefly if not exclusively destined for domestic consumption, for propaganda at home and especially for the purpose of deceiving Congress.” CIA analysts did excellent work in the early period of the Vietnam conflict. But “in the contest between public statements, always overoptimistic, and the truthful reports of the intelligence community, persistently bleak and ominous, the public statements were likely to win simply because they were public,” she observed.

Arendt noted in 1971 that “lies have always been regarded as justifiable tools in political dealings…. [We] can only be surprised how little attention has been paid, in our tradition of philosophical and political thought, to their significance.” Political lies are far more dangerous than most political scientists recognize. Big government requires Big Lies — and not just about wars but across the board. The more powerful centralized administration becomes the more abuses it commits and the more lies it must tell. The government becomes addicted to the growth of its own revenue and power — and this growth cannot be maintained without denying or suppressing the adverse effects of Leviathan’s growth.

Ironically, despite the government’s long record of deceits, distrust of government is often portrayed as more dangerous than government power itself. Private doubts are supposedly a greater threat to America than official lies. Trust in government becomes mass Prozac, keeping people docile and compliant.

LOST RIGHTS: The Destr. James Bovard Best Price: .25 Buy New $9.14 (as of 06:40 EST - Details ) Perhaps the biggest myth remaining — at least in high-school civics classes — is that presidents are somehow more honest than other politicians. Calvin Coolidge may have been the last man who appeared more honest at the end of his presidency than at the start. After Americans were appalled at Richard Nixon’s Watergate duplicities, Jimmy Carter captured the presidency in 1976 in part by promising never to lie to the public. But that pledge did not prevent President Carter from falsely proclaiming that the shah of Iran was a progressive, enlightened ruler — a tall tale that exploded and helped end Carter’s presidency. Campaigning against Carter in 1980, Republican candidate Ronald Reagan would recite Carter’s “never lie” pledge and add, “That reminds me of the quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson: ‘The louder he talked of his honor, the faster we counted our spoons.’’’ Unfortunately, presidential lies are routinely treated as harmless errors, regardless of how many deaths they cause.

While every president in living memory has shredded his own credibility, Trump is reported to be shattering the bogus benchmark (the Washington Post asserts he has made more than 2,000 false or misleading claims). But wild-eyed tweeting is not a federal offense, and it is unclear whether the president has said anything specifically that places him in legal peril.

Perhaps the biggest whopper in Washington nowadays is the assumption that the government and the political class will automatically be trustworthy once the Trump era ends. Even if Trump is toppled by impeachment, there will still be a thousand precedents for federal cover-ups and duplicity. And neither political party nor the bureaucracy has shown any itch to cease hornswoggling the American people.

This article was originally published in the January 2019 edition of Future of Freedom.


USS Coral Sea (CV 43)

USS CORAL SEA was the third MIDWAY - class aircraft carrier and the third ship in the Navy named in commemeration of the historic Battle of the Coral Sea fought in May 1942. The first CORAL SEA was CVE 57 which was later renamed ANZIO. The second CORAL SEA was CV 43's sister ship FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT which was originally named CORAL SEA. The ship was renamed after launching on May 8, 1945.

Commissioned as CVB 43, the CORAL SEA was redesignated as attack aircraft carrier CVA 43 on October 1, 1952, and multi-purpose aircraft carrier CV 43 on June 30, 1975. The USS CORAL SEA was decommissioned and stricken from the Navy list on April 30, 1990, after more than 42 years of service. The ship was sold for scrap on May 7, 1993, making the CORAL SEA the largest warship ever scrapped.

General Characteristics: Awarded: June 14, 1943
Keel laid: July 10, 1944
Launched: April 2, 1946
Commissioned: October 1, 1947
Decommissioned: May 24, 1957
Recommissioned: January 25, 1960
Decommissioned: April 30, 1990
Builder: Newport News Shipbuilding, Newport News, Va.
Propulsion system: 12 boilers
Propellers: four
Aircraft elevators: three
Arresting gear cables: four
Catapults: three
Length: 997,4 feet (304 meters)
Flight Deck Width: 237,9 feet (72.5 meters)
Beam: 121 feet (36.9 meters)
Draft: 38,1 feet (11.8 meters)
Displacement: approx. 64,000 tons full load
Speed: 30+ knots
Planes: approx. 65 planes
Crew: Ship: approx. 2,533 Air Wing: 2,240
Armament: 2 Mk-25 launchers for Sea Sparrow, 2 Phalanx CIWS Mk-15

This section contains the names of sailors who served aboard USS CORAL SEA. It is no official listing but contains the names of sailors who submitted their information.

USS CORAL SEA Cruise Books:

Accidents aboard USS CORAL SEA:

Eleven aircraft airborne at the time of the accident are diverted to Guantanamo Bay.

The NAPO is holed above the waterline and spills 7,600 barrels of oil before reaching Guantanamo for repairs.

Commanding Officers of USS CORAL SEA:

PeriodName
1947 - 1948Captain Aaron P. Storrs, III, USN
1948 - 1949Captain Aurelius B. Vosseller, USN
1949 - 1950Captain Robert Goldthwaite, USN
1950 - 1951Captain Frederick M. Trapnell, USN
1951 - 1952Captain James Sargent Russell, USN
1952 - 1952Captain Robert B. Pirie, USN
1952 - 1953Captain Herbert D. Riley, USN
1953 - 1954Captain Henry H. Caldwell, USN
1954 - 1954Captain Harry E. Sears, USN
1954 - 1955Captain David Lemar McDonald, USN
1955 - 1956Captain William E. Gentner, Jr., USN
1956 - 1957Captain Joseph A. Jaap, USN
1960 - 1960Captain James S. Gray, Jr., USN
1960 - 1961Captain John Joseph Lynch, USN
1961 - 1962Captain Maurice F. Weisner, USN
1962 - 1963Captain Robert Martin Elder, USN
1963 - 1964Captain Charles Eugene Roemer, USN
1964 - 1965Captain Pierre N. Charbonnet, Jr., USN
1965 - 1966Captain George L. Cassell, USN
1966 - 1967Captain Frank Willis Ault, USN
1967 - 1968Captain William H. Shawcross, USN
1968 - 1969Captain James Ferris, USN
1969 - 1970Captain Samuel G. Gorsline, Jr., USN
1970 - 1971Captain Wesley L. McDonald, USN
1971 - 1972Captain William H. Harris, USN
1972 - 1973Captain Paul Arthur Peck, USN
1973 - 1975Captain Thomas S. Rogers, Jr., USN
1975 - 1977Captain Joseph F. Frick, USN
1977 - 1978Captain George A. Aitcheson, Jr., USN
1978 - 1979Captain Stanley R. Arthur, USN
1979 - 1981Captain Richard M. Dunleavy, USN
1981 - 1983Captain Jerome L. Johnson, USN
1983 - 1984Captain Jeremy D. Taylor, USN
1984 - 1985Captain Robert E. Tucker, USN
1985 - 1987Captain Robert H. Ferguson, USN
1987 - 1988Captain Bruce B. Bremner, USN
1988 - 1990Captain Lloyd E. Allen, Jr., USN

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USS CORAL SEA's WestPac Cruise Book from 1981-82 includes a very comprehensive ship's history. Click here to read it.

USS CORAL SEA was launched 2 April 1946 by Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Co., Newport News, Va., sponsored by Mrs. T. C. Kinkaid, commissioned 1 October 1947, Captain A. P. Storrs, III, in command and reported to the Atlantic Fleet.

The ship began a series of career milestones when, on 27 April 1948, two P2V-2 Neptunes, piloted by Cmdr. Thomas D. Davies and Lt. Cmdr. John P. Wheatley, made JATO take-offs from the carrier as it steamed off the Norfolk, Va. This was the first carrier launchings of planes of this size and weight. USS CORAL SEA sailed from Norfolk 7 June 1948 for a midshipmen cruise to the Mediterranean and Caribbean, and returned to Norfolk 11 August.

After an overhaul period, USS CORAL SEA was again operating off the Virginia Capes. On 7 March 1949, a P2V-3C Neptune, piloted by Capt. John T. Hayward of VC 5, was launched from the carrier with a 10,000-load of dummy bombs. The aircraft flew across the continent, dropped its load on the west coast, and returned nonstop to land at the Naval Air Station, Patuxent River, Md. Following training in the Caribbean, USS CORAL SEA sailed 3 May 1949 for her first tour of duty in the Mediterranean with the 6th Fleet, returning 28 September.

On 21 April 1950, the first carrier take-off of an AJ-1 Savage heavy attack bomber was made from USS CORAL SEA by Capt. John T. Hayward of VC 5. The remainder of the pilots of the squadron completed carrier qualifications on board USS CORAL SEA in this aircraft on 31 August, marking the introduction of this long-range attack bomber to carrier operations. At this time, USS CORAL SEA returned to the Mediterranean for duty from 9 September 1950 to 1 February 1951, bringing her impressive strength to the 6th Fleet in its important role as guardian of peace in the Mediterranean.

An overhaul and local operations upon her return, as well as training with Air Group 17, prepared her for a return to the Mediterranean once more on 20 March 1951. As flagship for Commander, Carrier Division 6, she took part in a North Atlantic Treaty Organization Exercise Beehive I. She returned to Norfolk 6 October for local and Caribbean operations, next sailing for the Mediterranean 19 April 1952. While on service with the 6th Fleet, she visited Yugoslavia, and carried Marshall Tito on a one-day cruise to observe carrier operations. The ship was reclassified CVA-43 on 1 October 1952 while still at sea, and she returned to Norfolk for overhaul 12 October.

USS CORAL SEA trained pilots in carrier operations off the Virginia Capes and Mayport, Fla., and in April 1953 she embarked the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives for a three-day cruise. On 26 April, the carrier sailed for a tour of duty in the Mediterranean. This cruise was highlighted by a visit to Spain, and participation in NATO Exercise Black Wave with Deputy Secretary of Defense R. M. Kyes on board as an observer. Returning to Norfolk 21 October, she carried out tests for the Bureau of Aeronautics and trained members of the Naval Reserve at Mayport, Fla., and Guantanamo Bay.

USS CORAL SEA returned to the Mediterranean from 7 July to 20 December 1954, and during this tour was visited by Generalissimo Franco as she lay off Valencia, Spain. On her next tour of duty in the Mediterranean from 23 March to 29 September 1955, she called at Istanbul, and participated in NATO exercises.

Sailing from Norfolk 23 July 1956 for Mayport to embark Carrier Air Group 10, USS CORAL SEA continued on to the Mediterranean on her next tour. She participated in NATO exercises, and received the King and Queen of Greece on board as visitors in October. During the Suez Crisis, she evacuated American citizens from the troubled area, and stood by off Egypt until November.

She returned to Norfolk 11 February 1957. She cleared that port on 26 February and visited Santos, Brazil Valparaiso, Chile an d Balboa, C.Z., before arriving at Bremerton, Wash., 15 April. USS CORAL SEA was decommissioned for conversion 24 May 1957, and upon completion was recommissioned 25 January 1960 to rejoin the Fleet. During September 1960, she conducted training with her new air group along the west coast, then sailed in September for a tour of duty with the 7th Fleet in the Far East.

Installation of the Pilot Landing Aid Television (PLAT) system was completed on USS CORAL SEA on 14 December 1961. She was the first carrier to have this system installed for operations use. Designed to provide a videotape of every landing, the system proved useful for instructional purposes and in the analysis of landing accidents, thereby making it an invaluable tool in the promotion of safety. By 1963, all attack carriers had been equipped with PLAT and plans were underway for installation in the CVSs and at shore stations.

Following the Gulf of Tonkin incident in August, USS CORAL SEA departed on 7 December 1964 for duty with the U.S. Seventh Fleet. On 7 February 1965, aircraft from USS CORAL SEA, along with those from USS RANGER (CVA 61) and USS HANCOCK (CVA 19), blasted the military barracks and staging areas near Dong Hoi in the southern sector of North Vietnam. The raids were in retaliation for a damaging Viet Cong attack on installations around Pleiku in South Vietnam. On 26 March, the Seventh Fleet units began their participation in Operation Rolling Thunder, a systematic bombing of military targets throughout North Vietnam. Pilots from USS CORAL SEA struck island and coastal radar stations in the vicinity of Vihn Son. USS CORAL SEA remained on deployment until returning home on 1 November 1965.

USS CORAL SEA continued WestPac/Vietnam deployments until 1975. She deployed from 29 July 1966 to 23 February 1967 26 July 1967 to 6 April 1968 7 September 1968 to 15 April 1969 23 September 1969 to 1 July 1970 12 November 1971 to 17 July 1972 9 March 1973 to 8 November and from 5 December 1974 to 2 July 1975. Operations by Navy and Marine Corps aircraft in Vietnam expanded significantly throughout April 1972 with a total of 4,833 Navy sorties in the south and 1,250 in the north. USS CORAL SEA, along with HANCOCK, was on Yankee Station when the North Vietnamese spring offensive began. They were joined in early April by USS KITTY HAWK (CV 63) and USS CONSTELLATION (CV 64). On 16 April 1972, aircraft from USS CORAL SEA, along with those from KITTY HAWK and CONSTELLATION, flew 57 sorties in the Haiphong area in support of U.S. Air Force B-52 strikes on the Haiphong petroleum products storage area in an operation known as Freedom Porch.

Operation Pocket Money, the mining campaign against principal North Vietnamese ports, was launched 9 May 1972. Early that morning, an EC-121 aircraft took off from Da Nang airfield to provide support for the mining operation. A short time later, KITTY HAWK launched 17 ordnance-delivering sorties against the Nam Dinh railroad siding as a diversionary air tactic. Poor weather, however, forced the planes to divert to secondary targets at Thanh and Phu Qui which were struck at 090840H and 090845H, Vietnam time, respectively. USS CORAL SEA launched three A-6A and six A-7E aircraft loaded with mines and one EKA-3B in support of the mining operation directed against the outer approaches to Haiphong Harbor. The mining aircraft departed the vicinity of USS CORAL SEA at 090840H in order to execute the mining at precisely 090900H to coincide with the President Richard M. Nixon's public announcement in Washington that mines had been seeded. The A-6 flight led by the CAG, Cmdr. Roger E. Sheets, was composed of Marine Corps aircraft from VMA-224 and headed for the inner channel. The A-7Es, led by Cmdr. Leonard E. Giuliani and made up of aircraft from VA-94 and VA-22, were designated to mine the outer segment of the channel. Each aircraft carried four MK 52-2 mines. Capt. William R. Carr, USMC, the bombardier/navigator in the lead plane, established the critical attack azimuth and timed the mine releases. The first mine was dropped at 090859H and the last of the field of 36 mines at 090901H. Twelve mines were placed in the inner segment and the remaining 24 in the outer segment. All MK 52-2 mines were set with 72-hour arming delays, thus permitting merchant ships time for departure or a change in destination consistent with the President's public warning. It was the beginning of a mining campaign that planted over 11,000 MK 36 type destructor and 108 special MK 52-2 mines over the next eight months. It is considered to have played a significant role in bringing about an eventual peace arrangement, particularly since it so hampered the enemy's ability to continue receiving war supplies.

The Paris Peace Accords, ending hostilities in Vietnam, were signed 27 January 1973, ending four years of talks. North Vietnam released nearly 600 U.S. prisoners by 1 April, and the last U.S. combat troops departed Vietnam on 11 August. However, the war was not over for the Vietnamese. By spring 1975, the North was advancing on the South. USS CORAL SEA, USS MIDWAY (CVA 41), HANCOCK, USS ENTERPRISE (CVAN 65) and USS OKINAWA (LPH 3) responded 19 April 1975 to the waters off South Vietnam when North Vietnam overran two-thirds of South Vietnam. Ten days later, Operation Frequent Wind was carried out by U.S. Seventh Fleet forces. Hundreds of U.S. personnel and Vietnamese were evacuated to waiting ships after the fall of Saigon to the North Vietnamese. South Vietnam officially surrendered to the North on 30 April.

On 12 to 14 May 1975, USS CORAL SEA participated with other Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps forces in the recovery of the U.S. merchant ship SS Mayaguez and her 39 crew, illegally seized on 12 May in international waters by a Cambodian gunboat controlled by the Communist Khmer Rouge. Protective air strikes flown from the carrier against the Cambodian mainland naval and air installations as Air Force helicopters with 288 Marines from Battalion Landing Teams 2 and 9 were launched from Utapao, Thailand, and landed at Koh Tang Island to rescue the Mayaguez crew and secure the ship. Eighteen Marines, Airman, and Navy corpsmen were lost in the action. For her action, USS CORAL SEA was presented the Meritorious Unit Commendation on 6 July 1976.

USS CORAL SEA relieved MIDWAY in the northern part of the Arabian Sea on 5 February 1980 in connection with the continuing hostage crisis in Iran. Militant followers of the Ayatollah Khomeini, who had come to power following the overthrow of the Shah, seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran on 4 November 1979 and held 63 U.S. citizens hostage. The hostage crisis ended on 20 January 1981 when Ronald Reagan succeeded Jimmy Carter as President of the United States and Iran released the U.S. citizens.

On 13 October 1985, USS CORAL SEA returned to the Mediterranean Sea for her first Sixth Fleet deployment since 1957. Commanded by Capt. Robert H. Ferguson, with CVW-13 embarked, it was also the first deployment of the new F/A-18 Hornet to the Mediterranean. The Hornets were assigned to VFA-131 and VFA-132 in USS CORAL SEA.

On 24 March 1986, Libyan armed forces fired missiles at U.S. naval forces operating in the Gulf of Sidra after declaring international waters as their own. U.S. retaliation was swift and deadly. Additionally, F/A-18 Hornets from USS CORAL SEA and A-7E Corsairs from USS AMERICA (CV 66) conducted air-to-surface Shrike and HARM missile strikes against Libyan surface-to-air missile sites at Benghazi and Tripoli on 14 and 15 April.

USS CORAL SEA continued deployments to the Mediterranean Sea and Indian Ocean area throughout the remainder of the 1980s and into the 1990s. In 1987, she developed the "CORAL SEA configuration" in which to help streamline aircraft maintenance, two attack squadrons on board used a shared maintenance. On 19 April 1989, while operating in the Caribbean, USS CORAL SEA responded to a call for assistance from USS IOWA (BB 61) due to an explosion in the battleship's number two gun turret in which 47 crew members were killed. The explosive ordnance disposal team from USS CORAL SEA removed volatile powder charges from the ship's 16-inch guns and flooded powder magazines. USS CORAL SEA also dispatched a surgical team and medical supplies. HC-8, using SH-3G helicopters, also performed medevac and logistical support to IOWA.

USS CORAL SEA was decommissioned 26 April 1990. Stricken from the Navy List, she was sold by the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Service (DRMS) for scrapping on 7 May 1993.

Click here to get a view of the deployments of USS CORAL SEA

USS CORAL SEA Patch Gallery:

Click here to view more USS CORAL SEA Patches.

USS CORAL SEA Image Gallery:

The photo below was taken by Ian Johnson and shows USS CORAL SEA anchored in Gage Roads, Fremantle, Australia, on June 1, 1975. This was the first liberty visit of a US Navy "super carrier" to Western Australia.


Contents

On April 1959, a branch of the Lao Dong (Worker's Party of Vietnam), of which Ho Chi Minh became Secretary-General in 1956, was formed in the South, and communist underground activity increased. Some of the 90,000 Viet Minh troops that had returned to the North following the Geneva Agreements had begun filtering back into the South to take up leadership positions in the insurgency apparat. Mass demonstrations, punctuated by an occasional raid on an isolated post, were the major activities in the initial stage of this insurgency. Communist-led uprisings launched in 1959 in the lower Mekong Delta and Central Highlands resulted in the establishment of liberated zones, including an area of nearly fifty villages in Quảng Ngãi Province. In areas under communist control in 1959, the guerrillas established their own government, levied taxes, trained troops, built defense works, and provided education and medical care. In order to direct and coordinate the new policies in the South, it was necessary to revamp the party leadership apparatus and form a new united front group.

North Vietnam committed, in May 1959, to war in the South this was confirmed by communications intelligence. Diệm, well before that point, had constantly pushed a generic anticommunism, but how much of this was considered a real threat, and how much a nucleus around which he justified his controls, is less clear. Those controls, and the shutdown of most indigenous opposition by 1959, were clearly alienating the Diệm government from significant parts of the Southern population. The government was massively mismanaging rural reforms and overemphasizing its power base in the cities, which might have had an independent rebellion. North Vietnam, however, clearly began to exploit that alienation. The US, however, did not recognize a significant threat, even with such information as intelligence on the formation of the logistics structure for infiltration. The presentation of hard evidence — communications intelligence about the organization building the Ho Chi Minh trail — of Hanoi's involvement in the developing strife became evident. Not until 1960, however, did the US recognize both Diệm was in danger, that the Diệm structure was inadequate to deal with the problems, and present the first "Counterinsurgency Plan for Vietnam (CIP)"

Republic of Vietnam strategy Edit

Quite separate from its internal problems, South Vietnam faced an unusual military challenge. On the one hand, there was a threat of a conventional, cross-border strike from the North, reminiscent of the Korean War. In the fifties, the U.S. advisors focused on building a "mirror image" of the U.S. Army, designed to meet and defeat a conventional invasion. [2]

Diệm (and his successors) were primarily interested in using the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) as a device to secure power, rather than as a tool to unify the nation and defeat their enemies. Province and District Chiefs in the rural areas were usually military officers, but reported to political leadership in Saigon rather than the military operational chain of command. The 1960 "Counterinsurgency Plan for Vietnam (CIP)" from the U.S. Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG) was a proposal to change what appeared to be a dysfunctional structure. [2] Further analysis showed the situation was not only a jockeying for power, but also reflected that the province chiefs indeed had security authority that could conflict with that of tactical military operations in progress, but also had responsibility for the civil administration of the province. That civil administration function became more and more intertwined, starting in 1964 and with acceleration in 1966, of the "other war" of rural development. [3]

An issue that remains unclear is whether or not any of the post-Diệm governments seriously explored a neutralist solution through direct negotiations with Hanoi, which would have been against U.S. policy. Contemporary intelligence analyses discount such negotiations, although they remained an undercurrent Robert McNamara's 1999 book says that "Big" Minh, the leader of the coup that actually overthrew Diệm, was actively exploring such an approach without informing the U.S. [4]

Throughout this period, there clearly was a lack of information about South Vietnamese motivations. Analyses by the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) of the U.S. Department of State define the political problems from a viewpoint different from that of the military. [5] They described the immediate post-coup government, controlled by the popular "Big" Minh with Nguyen Ngoc Tho as figurehead Prime Minister, unable to get control, and the Khánh-led military junta that replaced him simply being a period of instability.

INR saw the priority during this period as more a matter of establishing a viable, sustainable political structure for South Vietnam, rather than radically improving the short-term security situation. It saw the Minh-Tho government as enjoying an initial period of popular support as it removed some of the most disliked aspects of the Diệm government. During this time, the increase in VC attacks was largely coincidental they were resulting from the VC having reached a level of offensive capability rather than capitalizing on the overthrow of Diệm.

Contrary to the INR analysis, Douglas Pike said that there was a substantial defection from the NLF after the overthrow of Diệm, especially among Cao Đài that had considered themselves as especially persecuted by Diệm. Pike believed that a portion of the NLF was variously anti-Diệm, or simply in search of political power, rather than Communist. When this part left, the NLF came much more closely under Hanoi's control. [6]

During this period, INR observed, in a December 23 paper, the U.S. needed to reexamine its strategy focused on the Strategic Hamlet Program, since it was getting much more accurate — if pessimistic — from the new government than it had from Diệm. Secretary McNamara, however, testified to the House Armed Services Committee, on December 27, that only a maximum effort of American power could salvage the situation. Two days later, the Minh-Tho government was overthrown. [5]

INR looked pessimistically at Khánh, who claimed that Minh had been making overtures to Hanoi for a neutralist settlement. [7] It was the contemporary assessment of INR that Minh had been making no such overtures, although this is contradicted by Secretary McNamara's 1999 book.

Whether or not Khánh was right about Minh's plan, INR judged Minh as motivated primarily by personal ambition. Where Minh had tried to form a government of technicians, Khánh, admittedly with U.S. urging, brought in political elements, which quickly led to factionalism not present under Minh's period of good will. INR saw Khánh as having a contradictory policy in terms of U.S. goals: while he did increase security, he did so by means judged counterproductive in broadening the political base of the government.

INR considered new student demonstrations, in April 1964, as the first warning of a new wave of protest, which became more manifest in August. Those demonstrations contained anti-American messages, but INR was uncertain if they represented true anti-Americanism, or simply opposition to American support of Khánh. As opposed to Diệm's catastrophic handling of the Buddhist crisis, Khánh responded with moderation, and, on August 28, INR concluded he was, in fact, improving the political situation. Evidence cited including the dissolution, in the next two weeks, of Minh's military triumvirate and Minh's election as chairman of a new Provisional Steering Committee, as well as release of some jailed generals that had supported Minh. INR suggested that Khánh may have caused the unrest by supporting the genuinely popular Khánh. Khánh, however, promptly sent Minh to exile in Thailand.

Note that Minh was exiled within the same month as the Gulf of Tonkin incident, with its obvious ramifications of increased U.S. involvement.

Communist strategy Edit

The North had clearly defined political objectives, and a grand strategy, involving military, diplomatic, covert action and psychological operations to achieve those objectives. Whether or not one agreed with those objectives, there was a clear relationship between long-term goals and short-term actions. Its military first focused on guerilla and raid warfare in the south (i.e., Mao's "Phase I"), simultaneously improving the air defenses of the north. By the mid-sixties, they were operating in battalion and larger military formations that would remain in contact as long as the correlation of forces was to their advantage, and then retreat — Mao's "Phase II".

In the Viet Cong, and in the North Vietnam regular army (PAVN), every unit had political and military cadre to ensure dau tranh was carried out.

Guerilla attacks increased in the early 1960s, at the same time as the new John F. Kennedy administration made Presidential decisions to increase its influence. Diệm, as other powers were deciding their policies, was clearly facing disorganized attacks and internal political dissent. There were unquestioned conflicts between the government, dominated by minority Northern Catholics, and both the majority Buddhists and minorities such as the Montagnards, Cao Đài, and Hòa Hảo. These conflicts were exploited, initially at the level of propaganda and recruiting, by stay-behind Viet Minh receiving orders from the North.

1959 Edit

Diệm, in early 1959, felt under attack and broadly reacted against all forms of opposition, which was presented as a "Communist Denunciation Campaign", as well as some significant and unwelcome rural resettlement, the latter to be distinguished from land reform.

Increased activity in Laos Edit

In May, the North Vietnamese made the commitment to an armed overthrow of the South, creating the 559th Transportation Group, named after the creation date, to operate the land route that became known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Additional transportation groups were created for maritime supply to the South: Group 759 ran sea-based operations, while Group 959 supplied the Pathet Lao by land routes. [8] Group 959 also provided secure communications to the Pathet Lao. [9]

The Pathet Lao were operating not only against the Laotian government, but also working with NVA Group 959 to supply the southern insurgency much of the original Trail was in Laos, first supplying the Pathet Lao. Nevertheless, the Laotian government did not want it known that it was being assisted by the US in the Laotian Civil War against the Pathet Lao. U.S. military assistance could also be considered a violation of the Geneva agreement, although North Vietnam, and its suppliers, were equally in violation.

In July, CIA sent a unit of United States Army Special Forces, who arrived on CIA proprietary airline Air America, wearing civilian clothes and having no obvious US connection. These soldiers led Miao and Hmong tribesmen against Communist forces. The covert program was called Operation Hotfoot. At the US Embassy, BG John Heintges was called the head of the "Program Evaluation Office." [10]

CIA directed Air America, in August 1959, to train two helicopter pilots. Originally, this was believed to be a short-term requirement, but "this would be the beginning of a major rotary-wing operation in Laos.

Escalation and response in the South Edit

Cause and effect are unclear, but it is also accurate that the individual and small group actions, by the latter part of 1959, included raids by irregulars in battalion strength.

The situation in Vietnam formed a significant part of the agenda of the U.S. Pacific commanders' conference in April. Lieutenant General Samuel T. Williams, chief of the MAAG [11] cited the key concerns as:

  • absence of a national plan for control of the situation
  • no rotation of military units in the field
  • the need for a central surveillance plan
  • the proliferation of Ranger-type counterinsurgency units without central direction and without a civil-military context
  • inadequate intelligence
  • inadequate military communications
  • lack of centralized direction of the war effort.

LTG Williams pointed to the dual chain of command of the ARVN, as distinct from the Civil Guard. The latter was commanded by the Department of the Interior, and controlled by province and district chiefs. This structure let the U.S. Operations Mission (USOM, the contemporary term for non-military foreign aid from the Agency for International Development) financially aid the Guard, they were so dispersed that there could be no systematic advice, much less to the combination of Guard and Army. [12]

Under the authority of the commander of United States Pacific Command, it was ordered that MAAG-V assign advisors to the infantry regiment and special troops regiment level, who were not to participate directly in combat, and advisers be provided down to infantry regiment and to artillery, armored, and separate Marine battalion level. This move would enable advisers to give on-the-spot advice and effectively assess the end result of the advisory effort. He also requested US Army Special Forces (SF) mobile training teams (MTT) to assist in training ARVN units in counterinsurgency.

On 8 July, the MAAG-V headquarters at Biên Hòa was raided by the Viet Cong two South Vietnamese guards were killed along with two advisors, Major Dale Buis and Master Sergeant Chester Ovnand. These were the first American battle deaths in the Vietnam War. [13]

Structural barriers to effectiveness of RVN forces Edit

When the MAAG was instructed to improve the effectiveness of the ARVN, the most fundamental problem was that the Diệm government had organized the military and paramilitary forces not for effectiveness, but for political control and patronage. The most obvious manifestation of Diệm's goal was that there were two parallel organizations, the regular military under the Department of National Defense and the local defense forces under the Ministry of the Interior. Diệm was the only person who could give orders to both.

Command and control Edit

President Diệm appointed the Secretary of State for National Defense and the Minister of the Interior. The Defense Secretary directed of General Staff chief and several special sub-departments. The General staff chief, in turn, commanded the Joint General Staff (JGS), which was both the top-level staff and the top of the military chain of command.

There were problems with the military structure, even before considering the paramilitary forces under the Interior Ministry. The JGS itself had conflicting components with no clear authority. For example, support for the Air Force came both from a Director of Air Technical Service and a Deputy Chief of Air Staff for Matériel. The Director was, in principle, under the Chief of Staff, but actually reported to the Director General of Administration, Budget, and Comptroller for fiscal matters.

Combat units also had conflicting chains of command. A division commander might receive orders both from the corps-level tactical commander who actually carried out the operational art role of corps commanders in most militaries, but also from the regional commander of the home base of the division — even if the division was operating in another area. The chiefs of branches of service (e.g., infantry, artillery), who in most armies were responsible only for preparation and training of personnel of their branch, and orders only before they were deployed, would give direct operational orders to units in the field.

Diệm himself, who had no significant military background, could be the worst micromanager of all, getting on a radio in the garden of the Presidential Palace, and issuing orders to regiments, bypassing the Department of National Defense, Joint General Staff, operational commanders, and division commanders. He also consciously played subordinates against one another to avoid the formation of opposition the Battle of Ap Bac was a defeat caused by a lack of unity of command, with conflicts between the military commander and province chief.

In fairness to Diệm, Lyndon Johnson and his political advisors would do detailed air operations planning for attacks in the North, with no input from experienced air officers. Henry Kissinger, in the Mayaguez incident, got onto the tactical radio net and confused the local commanders with German-accented and obscure commands. Johnson and Kissinger did have more military experience than Diệm Johnson had briefly served in the Naval Reserve, and Kissinger lectured on politics at the end of World War II and the start of the Occupation, with a high status but an actual rank of Private, United States Army. Diệm had never worn a uniform.

"The Department of National Defense and most of the central organizations and the ministerial services were located in downtown Saigon, while the General Staff (minus air and navy elements) was inefficiently located in a series of company-size troop barracks on the edge of the city. The chief of the General Staff was thus removed several miles from the Department of National Defense. The navy and air staffs were also separately located in downtown Saigon. With such a physical layout, staff action and decision-making was unduly delayed on even the simplest of matters.

"The over-all ministerial structure described above was originally set up by the French and slightly modified by presidential decree on 3 October 1957. Military Assistance Advisory Group, Vietnam, had proposed a different command structure which would have placed the ministry and the "general staff" in closer proximity both physically and in command relationship." Diệm, however, made a practice of keeping individuals or small groups from having too much authority.

The chain of command of both the Civil Guard and Self-Defense Corps, went from the Ministry of the Interior to the province chiefs, district chiefs, and village councils. Even though the province chiefs and district chiefs were often military officers, commanders of ARVN units operating in a province or district could not give orders to these units. Instead, they had to pass a request through military channels to the Ministry of Defense in Saigon. If the officials there agreed, they would convey the request to their counterparts in the Ministry of the Interior, who would then send orders down its chain of command to the local units.

Regular military Edit
  • Three corps headquarters and a special military district: [14]
    • I Corps at Da Nang for the northern and central areas the Central Highlands were separate
    • II Corps at Pleiku for the Central Highlands provinces
    • III Corps at Saigon for the southern part of the country
    • Saigon city special military district.
    • three infantry regiments
    • artillery battalion
    • mortar battalion
    • engineer battalion
    • company-size support elements
    • one squadron (U.S. troop) of M24 light tanks
    • two squadrons of M8 self-propelled 75-mm howitzers
    Local defense forces Edit

    Created by presidential decree in April 1955, and originally under the direct control of President Diệm, with control passed to the Ministry of the Interior in September 1958, the Civil Guard was made up of wartime paramilitary veterans. Its major duty was to relieve the ARVN of static security missions, freeing it for mobile operations, with additional responsibility for local intelligence collection and counterintelligence. In 1956, it had 68,000 men organized into companies and platoons. The Civil Guard was represented by two to eight companies in each province. It had a centrally controlled reserve of eight mobile battalions of 500 men each.

    Operating on a local basis since 1955 and formally created in 1956, the Self-Defense corps was a village-level police organization, for protection against intimidation and subversion. It put units of 4-10 men into villages of 1,000 or more residents. In 1956, it had 48,000 non-uniformed troops armed with French weapons. The Self-Defense Corps, like the Civil Guard, was established to free regular forces from internal security duties by providing a police organization at village level to protect the population from subversion and intimidation.

    The Civil Guard and the Self-Defense Corps were poorly trained and ill-equipped to perform their missions, and by 1959 their numbers had declined to about 46,000 and 40,000, respectively.

    1960 Edit

    As mentioned in the introduction to this section, the U.S. was urging the RVN to revise its parallel province/district command and military operations command structure the Counterinsurgency Plan (CIP) was the first of several such proposals.

    Laotian operations Edit

    After the initial 180-day assignment phase of the Special Forces personnel in Laos, the name of the operation changed to Operation White Star, commanded by Colonel Arthur "Bull" Simons.

    Beginning of Phase II raids Edit

    On 25 January 1960, a Communist force of 300 to 500 men escalated with a direct raid on an ARVN base at Tây Ninh, killing 23 soldiers and taking large quantities of munitions. Four days later, a guerilla group seized a town for several hours, and stole cash from a French citizen. These were still in the first Maoist stage, as raids rather than hit-and-run battles. Still, larger guerilla forces broke lines of communications within areas of South Vietnam.

    There was uncertainty, expressed by Bernard Fall and in a March U.S. intelligence assessment, that there were distinct plans to conduct larger-scale operations "under the flag of the People's Liberation Movement", which was identified as "red, with a blue star." It was uncertain if their intent was to continue to build bases in the Mekong Delta, or to isolate Saigon. The Pentagon Papers stated the guerillas were establishing three options, of which they could exercise one or more

    1. incite an ARVN revolt
    2. set up a popular front government in the lower Delta
    3. force the GVN into such repressive countermeasures that popular uprisings will follow.

    South Vietnam corruption breeds discontent Edit

    On April 1960, eighteen distinguished nationalists in South Vietnam sent a petition to President Diệm advocating that he reform his rigid, family-run, and increasingly corrupt government. Diệm ignored their advice and instead closed several opposition newspapers and had journalists and intellectuals arrested. On 5 May 1960, MAAG strength was increased from 327 to 685 personnel.

    Formation of the NLF Edit

    In December, the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam (NLF) formally declared its existence, although it did not hold its first full congress until 1962.

    The NLF platform recognized some of the internal stresses under the Diệm government, and put language in its platform to create autonomous regions in minority areas and for the abolition of the "U.S.-Diêm clique's present policy of ill-treatment and forced assimilation of the minority nationalities". [15] Such zones, with a sense of identity although certainly not political autonomy, did exist in the North. In the early 1960s, NLF political organizers went to the Montagnard areas in the Central Highlands, and worked both to increase alienation from the government and directly recruit supporters.

    1961: Slow U.S. engagement Edit

    Not surprisingly, with a change in U.S. administration, there were changes in policy, and also continuations of some existing activities. There were changes in outlook. Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara (in office 1961-68) told President John F. Kennedy (in office 1961-63) in 1961 that it was "absurd to think that a nation of 20 million people can be subverted by 15-20 thousand active guerrillas if the government and the people of that country do not wish to be subverted." [16] McNamara, a manufacturing executive and expert in statistical management, had no background in guerilla warfare or other than Western culture, and rejected advice from area specialists and military officers. He preferred to consult with his personal team, often called the "Whiz Kids" his key foreign policy advisor was a law professor, John McNaughton, while economist Alain Enthoven was perhaps his closest colleague.

    Still trying to resolve the problems of GVN conflicting command, a new reorganizational proposal, the "Geographically Phased Plan", was offered. Its goal was to have a coherent national plan, which was, in 1962, to be expressed as the Strategic Hamlet Program.

    Kennedy pushes for covert operations against the North Edit

    On January 28, 1961, shortly after his inauguration, John F. Kennedy told a National Security Council meeting that he wanted covert operations launched against North Vietnam, in retaliation for their equivalent actions in the South. [17] It is not suggested that this was an inappropriate decision, but the existence of covert operations against the North, has to be understood in analyzing later events, especially the Gulf of Tonkin Incident.

    Even earlier, he issued National Security Action Memorandum (NSAM) 2, directing the military to prepare counterinsurgency forces, although not yet targeting the North. [18]

    Kennedy discovered that little had progressed by mid-March, and issued National Security Action Memorandum (NSAM) 28, ordering the CIA to launch guerilla operations against the North. Herbert Weisshart, deputy chief of the Saigon CIA station, observed the actual CIA action plan was "very modest". Given the Presidential priority, Weisshart said it was modest because William Colby, then Saigon station chief, said it would consume too many resources needed in the South. He further directed, in April, a presidential task force to draft a "Program of Action for Vietnam".

    In April, the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, under the CIA, had failed, and Kennedy lost confidence in the CIA's paramilitary operations. Kennedy himself had some responsibility for largely cutting the Joint Chiefs of Staff out of operational planning. The JCS believed the operation was ill-advised, but, if it was to be done, American air support was essential. Kennedy, however, had made a number of changes to create plausible deniability, only allowing limited air strikes by CIA-sponsored pilots acting as Cuban dissidents. After it was learned that the main strike had left behind few jet aircraft, he refused a follow-up strike those aircraft savaged the poorly organized amphibious ships and their propeller-driven air support.

    The U.S. Air Force, however, responded to NSAM 2 by creating, on April 14, 1961, the 4400th Combat Crew Training Squadron (CCTS), code named "Jungle Jim." The unit, of about 350 men, had 16 C-47 transports, eight B-26 bombers, and eight T-28 trainers (equipped for ground attack), with an official mission of training indigenous air forces in counterinsurgency and conducting air operations. A volunteer unit, they would deploy in October, to begin FARM GATE missions.

    The task force reported back in May, with a glum assessment of the situation in the South, and a wide-ranging but general plan of action, which became NSAM 52. In June, Kennedy issued a set of NSAMs transferring paramilitary operations to the Department of Defense. [19] These transfers of responsibility should be considered not only in respect to the specific operations against the North, but also to the level of covert military operation in the South in the upcoming months. This transfer also cut the experienced MG Edward Lansdale out of the process, as while he was a U.S. Air Force officer, the military saw him as belonging to CIA.

    Intelligence support Edit

    Also in May, the first U.S. signals intelligence unit, from the Army Security Agency under National Security Agency control, entered Vietnam operating under the cover name "3rd Radio Research Unit". Organizationally, it provided support to MAAG-V, and trained ARVN personnel, the latter within security constraints. The general policy, throughout the war, was that ARVN intelligence personnel were not given access above the collateral SECRET (i.e., with no access to material with the additional special restrictions of "code word" communications intelligence (CCO or SI). [ citation needed ]

    Their principal initial responsibility was direction finding of Viet Cong radio transmitters, which they started doing from vehicles equipped with sensors. On December 22, 1961, an Army Security Agency soldier, SP4 James T. Davis, was killed in an ambush leading an ARVN squad on one of these direction finding missions. After Johnson became President of the United States several years later, he referred to Davis in a speech as the first American killed in Vietnam in reality, there had been fifteen battle deaths before Davis. [20]

    Covert U.S. air support enters the South Edit

    More U.S. personnel, officially designated as advisors, arrived in the South and took an increasingly active, although covert, role. In October, a U.S. Air Force special operations squadron, part of the 4400th CCTS, deployed to SVN, officially in a role of advising and training. The aircraft were painted in South Vietnamese colors, and the aircrew wore uniforms without insignia and without U.S. ID. Sending military forces to South Vietnam was a violation of the Geneva Accords of 1954, and the U.S. wanted plausible deniability.

    The deployment package consisted of 155 airmen, eight T-28s, and four modified and redesignated SC-47s and subsequently received B-26s. U.S. personnel flew combat as long as a VNAF person was aboard. FARM GATE stayed covert until after the Gulf of Tonkin incident. [18]

    Building the South Vietnamese Civil Irregular Defense Groups Edit

    Under the operational control of the Central Intelligence Agency, [21] initial U.S. Army Special Forces involvement came in October, with the Rade people of southern Vietnam. [22] The Civilian Irregular Defense Groups (CIDG) were under CIA operational control until July 1, 1963, when MACV took over. [23] Army documents refer to control by "CAS Saigon", a cover name for the CIA station. According to Kelly, the SF and CIA rationale for establishing the CIDG program with the Montagnards was that minority participation would broaden the GVN counterinsurgency program, but, more critically,

    the Montagnards and other minority groups were prime targets for Communist propaganda, partly because of their dissatisfaction with the Vietnamese government, and it was important to prevent the Viet Cong from recruiting them and taking complete control of their large and strategic land holdings. [24]

    It was in mid-November when Kennedy decided to habe U.S. operatives take on operational as well as advisory roles. Under U.S. terms, a Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG), such as the senior U.S. military organization in Vietnam, is a support and advisory organization. A Military Assistance Command (MAC) is designed to carry out MAAG duties, but also to direct command combat troops. [25] There was considerable discussion about the reporting structure of this of the organization: a separate theater reporting to the National Command Authority or part of United States Pacific Command.

    First Honolulu Conference Edit

    After meetings in Vietnam by GEN Taylor, the Secretaries of State and Defense issued a set of recommendations, on November 11. [26] Kennedy accepted all except the use of large U.S. combat forces.

    McNamara held the first Honolulu Conference, at United States Pacific Command headquarters, with the Vietnam commanders present. He addressed short-term possibilities, urging concentration on stabilizing one province: "I'll guarantee it (the money and equipment) provided you have a plan based on one province. Take one place, sweep it and hold it in a plan." Or, put another way, let us demonstrate that in some place, in some way, we can achieve demonstrable gains. [27]

    First U.S. direct support to an ARVN combat operation Edit

    On 11 December 1961 the United States aircraft carrier USNS Card docked in downtown Saigon with 82 U. S. Army H-21 helicopters and 400 men, organized into two Transportation Companies (Light Helicopter) Army aviation had not yet become a separate branch.

    Twelve days later these helicopters were committed into the first airmobile combat action in Vietnam, Operation Chopper. It was the first time U.S. forces directly and overtly supported ARVN units in combat, although the American forces did not directly attack the guerillas. Approximately 1,000 Vietnamese paratroopers were airlifted into a suspected Viet Cong headquarters complex about ten miles west of the Vietnamese capital, achieving tactical surprise and capturing a radio station. [28]

    1962: Getting in deeper Edit

    From the U.S. perspective, the Strategic Hamlet Program was the consensus approach to pacifying the countryside. [2] There was a sense, however, that this was simply not a high priority for Diệm, who considered his power base to be in the cities. The Communists, willing to fill a vacuum, became more and more active in rural areas where the GVN was invisible, irrelevant, or actively a hindrance.

    Special Forces operations Edit

    In 1962, the U.S. Military Assistance Command–Vietnam (MACV) established Army Special Forces camps near villages. The Americans wanted a military presence there to block the infiltration of enemy forces from Laos, to provide a base for launching patrols into Laos to monitor the Ho Chi Minh Trail, and to serve as a western anchor for defense along the DMZ. [29] These defended villages were not part of the Strategic Hamlet Program, but did provide examples that were relevant.

    U.S. ground command structure established Edit

    U.S. command structures continued to emerge. On February 8, Paul D. Harkins, then Deputy Commanding General, U.S. Army Pacific, under Pacific Command, was promoted to general and assigned to command the new Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MAC-V).

    Military Assistance Command-Thailand was created on May 15, 1962, but reported to Harkins at MAC-V. In a departure from usual practice, the MAAG was retained as an organization subordinate to MAC-V, rather than being absorbed into it. The MAAG continued to command U.S. advisors and direct support to the ARVN. At first, MAC-V delegated control of U.S. combat units to the MAAG. While it was not an immediate concern, MAC-V never controlled all the Air Force and Navy units that would operate in Vietnam, but from outside its borders. These remained under the control of Pacific Command, or, in some cases, the Strategic Air Command.

    No regular ARVN units were under the command of U.S. military commanders, although there were exceptions for irregular units under Special Forces. Indeed, there could be situations where, in a joint operation, U.S. combat troops were under a U.S. commander, while the ARVN units were under an ARVN officer with a U.S. advisor. Relationships in particular operations often were more a matter of personalities and politics rather than ideal command. U.S. troops also did not report to ARVN officers while many RVN officers had their post through political connections, others would have been outstanding commanders in any army.

    At the same time, the U.S. was beginning to explore withdrawing forces. [30]

    Intelligence support refines Edit

    The USMC 1st Composite Radio Company deployed, on January 2, 1962, to Pleiku, South Vietnam as Detachment One. After Davis' death in December, it became obvious to the Army Security Agency that thick jungle made tactical ground collection exceptionally dangerous, and direction-finding moved principally to aircraft platforms. [31]

    Additional allied support Edit

    In addition to the U.S. advisers, in August 1962, 30 Australian Army advisers was sent to Vietnam to operate within the United States military advisory system. As with most American advisors, their initial orders were to train, but not go on operations. [32]

    1963 was a critical year not only because the Diệm government fell, but also because the North, at the end of the year, chose a more aggressive military strategy.

    Stability in the South, however, would not improve with increasing dissent, coup attempts, and a major coup. It remains unclear as to what extent the South Vietnamese were exploring solutions based on a neutralist Vietnam, but this apparently existed at some level, without U.S. knowledge.

    Organizations and personnel Edit

    Organizations and commands would change with time. In January, for example, Major General Trần Văn Đôn became Commander-in-Chief of the RVN armed forces, GEN William Westmoreland was named deputy to GEN Paul Harkins to replace him later. In a structural reorganization, the ARVN made the Saigon Special Region the III Corps tactical zone [33] the former III Corps for the Mekong Delta became IV Corps tactical zone

    January 1963: Question of ARVN effectiveness Edit

    South Vietnamese forces, with U.S. advisors, took severe defeats at the Battle of Ap Bac in January, and the Battle of Go Cong in September. [34] This has been considered the trigger for an increasingly skeptical, although small, American press corps in Vietnam. Ap Bac was of particular political sensitivity, as John Paul Vann, a highly visible American officer, was the advisor, and the U.S. press took note of what he considered to be ARVN shortcomings.

    While the Buddhist crisis and military coup that ended with the killing of Diệm was an obvious major event, it was by no means the only important event of the year. In keeping with the President's expressed desires, covert operations against the North were escalated. Of course, the assassination of Kennedy himself brought Lyndon B. Johnson into office, with a different philosophy toward the war. Kennedy was an activist, but had a sense of unconventional warfare and geopolitics, and, as is seen in the documentary record, discussed policy development with a wide range of advisors, specifically including military leaders although he distrusted the Joint Chiefs of Staff. [35] He was attracted to officers that he saw as activist and unconventional, such as Edward Lansdale.

    Johnson tended to view the situation from the standpoint of U.S. domestic policy, and did not want to render himself vulnerable to political criticism as the man who had "lost Vietnam". [36] Early after becoming president, as he told Bill Moyers, he had the "terrible feeling that something has grabbed me by the ankles and won't let go." His response was to send Robert McNamara to examine the situation and reassure him. [37] McNamara at this point, as he had with Kennedy, exuded a sense of logical control he was not yet in the deep despair that led him to write, ". we were wrong, terribly wrong. We owe it to future generations to explain why." [38]

    "Johnson was a profoundly insecure man who craved and demanded affirmation." [39] When the North Vietnamese did not respond as Johnson wanted, he took it personally, and may have made some judgments based on his emotional responses to Ho. He also spoke with a much smaller advisory circle than Kennedy, and excluded active military officers.

    The Buddhist crisis begins Edit

    While there had been long-standing animosity between Diệm and the Buddhists, in April 1963, for unclear reasons, the central government ordered the provincial authorities to enforce a ban on the display of all religious flags. This ban was rarely enforced, but, since the order went out shortly before the major festival, Vesak (informally called Buddha's Birthday), which fell on May 8, many Buddhists perceived this as a direct attack on their customs.

    In May, a government paramilitary unit fired into demonstrators. As part of a wave of protests, a Buddhist monk immolated himself photographs of his body, apparently seated calmly in the lotus position as he burned to death, drew worldwide attention. By early June, the government was negotiating with the Buddhists as it had never done, with Vice President Nguyen Ngoc Tho, a Buddhist, apparently being an effective negotiator in spite of Diệm's brother and political advisor Ngô Đình Nhu's announcing "if the Buddhists want to have another barbecue, I will be glad to supply the gasoline".

    May 1963 Honolulu conference covert warfare a major issue Edit

    At the May 6 Honolulu conference, the decision was made to increase, as the President had been pushing, covert operations against the North. A detailed plan for covert operations, Pacific Command Operations Plan 34A (OPPLAN 34A) went to GEN Taylor, now Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who did not approve it until September 9. Shultz suggests the delay had three aspects:

    1. Washington was preoccupied with the Buddhist crisis
    2. MACV had no established covert operations force, so even if he approved a plan, there was no one to execute it
    3. Taylor, although a distinguished Airborne (paratroopers once being believed special operators) officer, disagreed with Kennedy's emphasis on covert operations, did not have the appropriate resources in the Department of Defense, and he did not believe it was a proper job for soldiers.
    4. Diệm, fighting for survival, was not interested

    It is unclear if Taylor did not believe covert operations should not be attempted at all, or if he regarded it as a CIA mission. If the latter, Kennedy would have been unlikely to support him, given the President's loss of confidence after the Bay of Pigs invasion fiasco. [40]

    Interim government Edit

    Diệm was overthrown and killed on November 1.

    Secretary of State Dean Rusk counseled a delay in meeting with the coup leadership, which had started calling itself the "Revolutionary Committee", to avoid appearance of it being a U.S. coup. Apparently unknown to the U.S., the plotters had negotiated, beforehand, with vice-president Tho, who had been the chief government negotiator in the Buddhist crisis. In the immediate followup of the coup, Diệm's cabinet were told to resign, and there were no reprisals. Tho, however, was negotiating with the committee, especially the most powerful general, Dương Văn Minh knowing that the military leaders wanted him in the new civilian government.

    Generals Đôn, Chief of Staff, and Lê Văn Kim, his deputy, called at the US Embassy, Saigon, on November 3. [41] Explaining that Minh was, as they spoke, with Tho, they said there would be a two-tiered government structure with a military committee presided over by General Dương Văn Minh overseeing a regular cabinet that would be mostly civilian with Tho as prime minister.

    On the 4th, ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge and his liaison to the coup plotters Lucien Conein met with Generals Minh and Don. Afterwards, Lodge reported, "Minh seemed tired and somewhat frazzled obviously a good, well-intentioned man. Will he be strong enough to get on top of things?" The new government was announced on the 6th: General Minh was Chairman, Don and Dinh were Deputy Chairmen, and nine other generals, including Kim, Khiêm, "little" Minh, Chieu, and Thieu were members. General Nguyễn Khánh, the commander of II Corps tactical zone in central Vietnam, was not in the government.

    After two assassinations Edit

    Kennedy and Diệm both died in November 1963. Lyndon Johnson became the new President of the United States. Johnson was far more focused on domestic politics than the international activist, Kennedy. Some of the Kennedy team left quickly, while others, sometimes surprisingly given extremely different personalities, stayed on the formal and logical Robert McNamara quickly bonded with the emotional and deal-making Johnson.

    McNamara was insistent that a rational enemy would not accept the massive casualties that indeed were inflicted on the Communists. The enemy, however, was willing to accept those casualties. [42] McNamara was insistent that the enemy would comply with his concepts of cost-effectiveness, of which Ho and Giap were unaware. They were, however, quite familiar with attritional strategies. [43] While they were not politically Maoist, they were also well versed in Mao's concepts of protracted war. [44]

    Three things concerned the U.S.: [41]

    1. How stable was the new government? Was the presence of an empowered Tho a threat to Minh and the other generals?
    2. The economy was in tatters, partially due to the suspension of aid as a lever on Diệm
    3. Statistical indicators showed that VC attacks were increased in comparison with the first half of the year, and MACV was concerned that units involved in the coup were not getting back to the field.

    US dissatisfaction with indigenous efforts led to "Americanization" of the war.


    December 17, 2013

    Has Morley Safer Ever Told John Miller This Story?: 'Look, If You Think Any American Official Is Going to Tell You the Truth, Then You're Stupid'

    Everyone who watched the 60 Minutes segment on the NSA should follow it up with this story involving Morley Safer—who, at 82 years old, is still a correspondent at 60 Minutes:

    In August, 1965 Safer appeared in what became one of most famous TV segments of the Vietnam War, showing U.S. troops setting fire to all the huts in a Vietnamese village with Zippo lighters and flamethrowers.

    A year later in 1966, Safer wrote an article about what he'd seen first hand during a visit to Vietnam by Arthur Sylvester, then Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs (i.e., the head of Pentagon PR). Sylvester met at the U.S. Embassy in Saigon with reporters for U.S. news outlets:

    There was general opening banter, which Sylvester quickly brushed aside. He seemed anxious to take a stand—to say something that would jar us. He said:

    "I can't understand how you fellows can write what you do while American boys are dying out here," he began. Then he went on to the effect that American correspondents had a patriotic duty to disseminate only information that made the United States look good.

    A network television correspondent said, "Surely, Arthur, you don't expect the American press to be the handmaidens of government."

    "That's exactly what I expect," came the reply.

    An agency man raised the problem that had preoccupied Ambassador Maxwell Taylor and Barry Zorthian—about the credibility of American officials. Responded the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs:

    "Look, if you think any American official is going to tell you the truth, then you're stupid. Did you hear that?—stupid."

    One of the most respected of all the newsmen in Vietnam—a veteran of World War II, the Indochina War and Korea—suggested that Sylvester was being deliberately provocative. Sylvester replied:

    "Look, I don't even have to talk to you people. I know how to deal with you through your editors and publishers back in the States."

    At this point, the Hon. Arthur Sylvester put his thumbs in his ears, bulged his eyes, stuck out his tongue and wiggled his fingers.

    There are several significant aspects to this:

    • A top U.S. official was honest enough to tell reporters: look, we lie to you constantly and you're a moron if you believe anything we say. He also honestly expressed his total contempt for them and intention to manipulate news coverage by dealing directly with their management and employers.

    Moreover, Sylvester (who before going to work for the Pentagon had been the Washington correspondent for the Newark News) put his beliefs into practice at key moments of history. He lied about what the U.S. knew about Soviet missiles in Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and personally told the key lies about the Gulf of Tonkin incident (listen to him here). And word was passed to Safer's superiors at CBS that "Unless you get Safer out of there, he's liable to end up with a bullet in his back."

    This is such important information about how politics and the media work that it should be taught to everyone in 2nd grade. It's not.

    • Even if regular people don't know this story, you'd expect it to be famous within the media—and particularly famous at 60 Minutes. You might even imagine that "If you think any American official is going to tell you the truth, then you're stupid" would be spray-painted on the walls of the 60 Minutes offices. But if the performance of John Miller and his producers on the NSA segment is anything to go by, that is not the case.

    It's hard to imagine what more the U.S. government could do to get reporters to distrust it, and all for naught. John Miller likely has an office feet away from someone who's been told by a top U.S. official that reporters are morons if they believe anything top U.S. officials say. Miller's response? Believe everything top U.S. officials say. (Of course, given that Miller is recreating Sylvester's career path, it may also simply be that he agrees with Sylvester on the necessity of the press being handmaidens of government.)

    • Even if reporters have forgotten this story, you'd expect that it would be Exhibit A for left-wing media critics and repeated so often that it at least would be common knowledge in those limited circles. Yet the forces of forgetting in the U.S. are so powerful that I'd never encountered it, and I'm probably one of America's top 25 consumers of left-wing media criticism. I can't find any references to it by Noam Chomsky, Gore Vidal, Norman Solomon, Jeff Cohen, Robert Parry, Robert McChesney or Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting. (William Blum does tell part of what happened in his book Killing Hope, and the main quote appears in some online collections of quotes about the media.)

    To make it even more surprising, Safer story was well-known enough at the time that Indiana's anti-war Senator Vance Hartke referred to it in the Congressional Record as "the now famous article." And references to it often appeared in books about Vietnam during the late sixties and early seventies. But after that it evaporated.

    So if something this significant can disappear from history, truly only god knows what else has been thrown down the memory hole. To try to pull it back, I'm putting the entire text of the article online for the first time below, and adding the gist to Safer's wikipedia page.

    I'm also going to try to get John Miller to answer a straightforward question: has Morley Safer ever told him this story?

    (Click here for an image of the article as it appeared in the Southern Illinoisan on September 1, 1966)

    'Look, If You Think Any American Official Is Going to Tell You the Truth, Then You're Stupid'

    By Morley Safer
    Of the Columbia Broadcasting System

    There has been no war quite like it. Never have so many words been churned out, never has so much l6-mm film been exposed. And never has the reporting of a story been so much a part of the story itself.

    This has been true whether you are reporting television's first war, as I have been, or for one of the print media. Washington has been critical of American newsmen in Saigon almost continuously since 1961. That criticism has manifested itself in a number of ways—from the cancellation of newspaper subscriptions to orders to put certain correspondents on ice to downright threat.

    As a friend of mine puts It, "The brass wants you to get on the team."

    To the brass, getting on the team means simply giving the United States government line in little more than handout. It means accepting what you are told without question. At times it means turning your back on facts.

    I know of few reporters in Viet Nam who have "gotten on the team." The fact is, the American people are getting an accurate picture of the war in spite of attempts by various officials—mostly in Washington—to present the facts in a different way. That is why certain correspondents have been vilified, privately and publicly.

    By late winter of 1964-1965 the war was clearly becoming an American war. And with it came an American responsibility for providing and reporting facts. American officials thus were able to deal directly with reporters. The formality of "checking it out with the Vietnamese" ceased to be relevant.

    In Washington the burden of responsibility of giving, controlling and managing the war news from Viet Nam fell to—and remains with—one man: Arthur Sylvester, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs.

    By early summer of 1965 the first set of ground rules had been laid down for reporting battles and casualties. There was no censorship but a very loose kind of honor system that put the responsibility for not breaking security on the shoulders of correspondents. The rules were vague and were therefore continually broken.

    For military and civilian officials in Viet Nam there was another set of rules—rather another honor system that was not so much laid down as implied. "A policy of total candor" is a phrase used by Barry Zorthian, minister-counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Saigon. Zorthian is what Time calls "the information czar" in Viet Nam.

    The breaking of the vague ground rules was something that annoyed everyone. Correspondents were rocketed by their editors, and the military in Viet Nam felt that Allied lives were being endangered. So in midsummer, when Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara came to Saigon and brought Sylvester with him, we all looked forward to the formulation of a clear-cut policy. Sylvester was to meet the press in an informal session to discuss mutual problems. The meeting was to take the vagueness out of the ground rules.

    The Sylvester meeting was surely one of the most disheartening meetings between reporters and a news manager ever held.

    It was a sticky July evening. Inside Zorthian's villa it was cool. But Zorthian was less relaxed than usual. He was anxious for Sylvester to get an idea of the mood of the news corps. There had been some annoying moments in previous weeks that had directly involved Sylvester's own office. In the first B-52 raids, Pentgaon releases were in direct contradiction to what had actually happened on the ground in Viet Nam.

    There was general opening banter, which Sylvester quickly brushed aside. He seemed anxious to take a stand—to say something that would jar us. He said:

    "I can't understand how you fellows can write what you do while American boys are dying out here," he began. Then he went on to the effect that American correspondents had a patriotic duty to disseminate only information that made the United States look good.

    A network television correspondent said, "Surely, Arthur, you don't expect the American press to be the handmaidens of government."

    "That's exactly what I expect," came the reply.

    An agency man raised the problem that had preoccupied Ambassador Maxwell Taylor and Barry Zorthian—about the credibility of American officials. Responded the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs:

    "Look, if you think any American official is going to tell you the truth, then you're stupid. Did you hear that?—stupid."

    One of the most respected of all the newsmen in Vietnam—a veteran of World War II, the Indochina War and Korea—suggested that Sylvester was being deliberately provocative. Sylvester replied:

    "Look, I don't even have to talk to you people. I know how to deal with you through your editors and publishers back in the States."

    At this point, the Hon. Arthur Sylvester put his thumbs in his ears, bulged his eyes, stuck out his tongue and wiggled his fingers.

    A correspondent for one of the New York papers began a question. He never got beyond the first few words. Sylvester interrupted:

    "Aw, come on, What does someone in New York care about the war in Viet Nam?"

    We got down to immediate practical matters—the problems of communication, access to military planes, getting out to battles.

    "Do you guys want to be spoon-fed? Why don't you get out and cover the war?"

    It was a jarring and insulting remark. Most of the people in that room has spent as much time on actual operations as most GI's.

    The relationship between reporters and public information officers in Saigon, or the other hand, has been a good, healthy one. The relationship in the field is better, and in dealing with the men who fight the war it is very good indeed.

    Arthur Sylvester, assistant secretary of defense in charge of public affairs, said Wednesday that no government official should lie when giving out information about the country.

    He said it was all right to withhold information to safeguard the country. He was testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. This article is one correspondent's report of Sylvester's statement about truth in public affairs one year ago.

    THIS article is excerpted from "Dateline 1966: Covering War," a publication of the Overseas Press Club of America.

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    If You Believe the Goverment, &lsquoYou&rsquore Stupid&rsquo

    Everyone who watched John Miller&rsquos &ldquo60 Minutes&rdquo segment on the NSA should follow it up with this story involving Morley Safer &mdash who, at 82 years old, is still a correspondent at &ldquo60 Minutes&rdquo:

    In August, 1965 Safer appeared in what became one of most famous TV segments of the Vietnam War, showing U.S. troops setting fire to all the huts in a Vietnamese village with Zippo lighters and flamethrowers.

    A year later in 1966, Safer wrote an article about what he&rsquod seen firsthand during a visit to Vietnam by Arthur Sylvester, then Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs (i.e., the head of Pentagon PR). Sylvester met with reporters for U.S. news outlets at the U.S. Embassy in Saigon:

    There was general opening banter, which Sylvester quickly brushed aside. He seemed anxious to take a stand &mdash to say something that would jar us. He said:

    &ldquoI can&rsquot understand how you fellows can write what you do while American boys are dying out here,&rdquo he began. Then he went on to the effect that American correspondents had a patriotic duty to disseminate only information that made the United States look good.

    A network television correspondent said, &ldquoSurely, Arthur, you don&rsquot expect the American press to be the handmaidens of government.&rdquo

    &ldquoThat&rsquos exactly what I expect,&rdquo came the reply.

    An agency man raised the problem that had preoccupied Ambassador Maxwell Taylor and Barry Zorthian [a press officer based in Vietnam] &mdash about the credibility of American officials. Responded the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs:

    &ldquoLook, if you think any American official is going to tell you the truth, then you&rsquore stupid. Did you hear that? &mdash stupid.&rdquo

    One of the most respected of all the newsmen in Vietnam&mdasha veteran of World War II, the Indochina War and Korea &mdash suggested that Sylvester was being deliberately provocative. Sylvester replied:

    &ldquoLook, I don&rsquot even have to talk to you people. I know how to deal with you through your editors and publishers back in the States.&rdquo

    At this point, the Hon. Arthur Sylvester put his thumbs in his ears, bulged his eyes, stuck out his tongue and wiggled his fingers.[For the full article by Safer, see below.]

    There are several significant aspects to this:

    &ndash A top U.S. official was honest enough to tell reporters: look, we lie to you constantly and you&rsquore a moron if you believe anything we say. He also honestly expressed his total contempt for them and intention to manipulate news coverage by dealing directly with their management and employers.

    Moreover, Sylvester (who before going to work for the Pentagon had been the Washington correspondent for the Newark News) put his beliefs into practice at key moments of history. He lied about what the U.S. knew about Soviet missiles in Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and personally told the key lies about the Gulf of Tonkin incident (listen to him here).

    And word was passed to Safer&rsquos superiors at CBS that &ldquoUnless you get Safer out of there, he&rsquos liable to end up with a bullet in his back.&rdquo

    This is such important information about how politics and the media work that it should be taught to everyone in second grade. It&rsquos not.

    &ndash Even if regular people don&rsquot know this story, you&rsquod expect it to be famous within the media &mdash and particularly famous at &ldquo60 Minutes.&rdquo You might even imagine that &ldquoIf you think any American official is going to tell you the truth, then you&rsquore stupid&rdquo would be spray-painted on the walls of the &ldquo60 Minutes&rdquo offices. But if the performance of John Miller and his producers on the NSA segment is anything to go by, that is not the case.

    It&rsquos hard to imagine what more the U.S. government could do to get reporters to distrust it, and all for naught. John Miller likely has an office feet away from someone who&rsquos been told by a top U.S. official that reporters are morons if they believe anything top U.S. officials say. Miller&rsquos response? Believe everything top U.S. officials say. (Of course, given that Miller is recreating Sylvester&rsquos career path, it may also simply be that he agrees with Sylvester on the necessity of the press being handmaidens of government.)

    &ndash Even if reporters have forgotten this story, you&rsquod expect that it would be Exhibit A for left-wing media critics and repeated so often that it would be common knowledge in those limited circles. Yet the forces of forgetting in the U.S. are so powerful that I&rsquod never encountered it, and I&rsquom probably one of America&rsquos top 25 consumers of left-wing media criticism.

    I can&rsquot find any references to it by Noam Chomsky, Gore Vidal, Norman Solomon, Jeff Cohen, Robert Parry, Robert McChesney or Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting. (William Blum does tell part of what happened in his book Killing Hope, and the key sentence appears
    in some online collections of quotes about the media.)

    To make it even more surprising, Safer&rsquos story was well-known enough at the time that Indiana&rsquos anti-war Senator Vance Hartke referred to it on the Senate floor as &ldquothe now famous article.&rdquo And references to it sometimes appeared in books about Vietnam during the late Sixties and early Seventies. But after that it evaporated.

    So if something this significant can disappear from history, truly only god knows what else has been thrown down the memory hole. To try to pull it back, I&rsquom putting the entire text of the article online for the first time below, and adding the gist to Safer&rsquos Wikipedia page.

    I&rsquom also going to try to get John Miller to answer a straightforward question: has Morley Safer ever told him this story?


    Tonkin: Setting the Record Straight

    Shortly after the August 1964 Gulf of Tonkin episode that drew the United States deeper into the Vietnam War, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara sent two civilian officials to the U.S. Naval Base at Subic Bay, Philippines, to conduct an inquiry into what happened. As the Chief of Staff for the Commander of the U.S. Seventh Fleet, I had been sent to sit in on the inquiry. I heard one eyewitness, an experienced petty officer, asked whether he could have mistaken the trail of a dolphin for the wake of a torpedo. He replied with some heat, "Sir, I have been a destroyerman for 15 years and I know the [expletive deleted] difference between a dolphin and a torpedo wake. That was a [expletive deleted] torpedo."

    All operational commanders involved in the Tonkin episode - from the captains of the two ships and their task force commander, Captain John J. Herrick, to the higher-ranking operational commanders including Vice Admiral Roy Johnson, Commander of the Seventh Fleet in the Western Pacific Admiral Thomas Moorer, Commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and Admiral Ulysses S. Grant Sharpe, Commander in Chief, Pacific - were convinced attacks had taken place on 4 August but only after they and their staffs had thoroughly assessed all available evidence. In Washington, however, confusion arose suggesting that whoever briefed the national leaders failed to place in clear perspective or even consider the value of the professional testimonies and evaluations sent to the capital.

    Two American destroyers, the USS Maddox (DD-731) and Turner Joy (DD-951), patrolling in international waters off the coast of North Vietnam the night of 4 August, had reported being attacked by North Vietnamese torpedo boats. The incident followed a bold daylight attack by torpedo boats against the Maddox two days earlier, during which two of the hostile boats were sunk by the destroyer and U.S. carrier aircraft. The subsequent actions of 4 August occurred on a dark, moonless, overcast night there was some uncertainty as to details. A flurry of messages from higher commands and Washington wanted immediate details. Within hours Captain Herrick, after evaluations with the captains of the two ships, reported on the 4 August action: "Certain that original ambush was bonafide. Details of action following present a confusing picture. Have interviewed witnesses who made positive visual sightings. . . ." 1

    Compelling Eyewitness Evidence

    A torpedo wake was sighted passing abeam of the Turner Joy from aft to forward on the same bearing as one reported by radio from the Maddox just moments before. This sighting was made by at least four of the Turner Joy's topside Sailors: the forward gun director officer, Lieutenant (junior grade) John J. Barry Seaman Larry O. Litton, also in the gun director the port lookout Seaman Edwin R. Sentel and Seaman Roger N. Bergland, operating the aft gun directorr.

    One radar target (presumably a torpedo boat) was taken under fire by the Turner Joy. It was hit many times and disappeared from all radars. The commanding officer of the Turner Joy, Commander Robert C. Barnhart Jr., observed a thick column of black smoke from the target, as did other Sailors.

    Later during the attack, a searchlight (possibly from a larger North Vietnamese Swatow - class boat vectoring the torpedo boats from a distance) was observed by all signal-bridge and maneuvering-bridge personnel, including Commander Barnhart. The beam of the searchlight was seen to swing in an arc toward the Turner Joy but was immediately extinguished when aircraft from the combat air patrol flying overhead approached the vicinity of the searchlight. Chief Quartermaster Walter L. Shishim, Signalman Richard B. Johnson, Quartermaster Richard D. Nooks, Signalman Richard M Basino, and Signalman Gary D. Carroll, stationed on the Turner Joy's signal bridge, all made written statements that they had sighted the searchlight.

    The silhouette of an attacking boat was seen by at least four Turner Joy Sailors when the boat came between the flares dropped by an aircraft and the ship. When these four men - Boatswain's Mate Donald V. Sharkey, Seaman Kenneth E. Garrison, Gunner's Mate Delmer Jones, and Fire Control Technician Arthur B. Anderson - were asked to sketch what they had seen, they accurately sketched North Vietnamese P-4 - type boats. None of the four had ever seen a picture of a P-4 boat before. In addition, Gunner's Mate Jose San Augustin, stationed aft of the signal bridge on the Maddox, saw the outline of a boat silhouetted by the light of a burst from a 3-inch projectile fired at it.

    Two Marines - Sergeant Mathew B. Allasre and Lance Corporal David A. Prouty - manning machine guns on the Maddox saw lights go up the port side of the ship, go out ahead, and pass down the starboard side. Their written statement attests to their belief that the lights came from one or more small boats moving at high speed.

    Commander G. H. Edmondson, commanding officer of Attack Squadron 52 from the carrier USS Ticonderoga (CVA-14), and his wingman, Lieutenant J. A. Burton, were flying at altitudes of between 700 and 1,500 feet in the vicinity of the two destroyers at the time of the torpedo attack, when both men sighted gun flashes on the surface of the water as well as light anti-aircraft bursts at their approximate altitude. On one pass over the destroyers, both pilots positively sighted a "snakey" high-speed wake (a torpedo-boat signature) 1.5 miles ahead of the lead destroyer Maddox.

    Sadly, in subsequent critiques on Tonkin, scant if any credibility has been given to these Sailors and officers who provided such compelling evidence of the attacks of 4 August. As with eyewitnesses anywhere, one or two or even three could have been in error in parts of what they saw - but not all of them on everything. These were highly trained, experienced, and competent Sailors, reporting directly in their areas of expertise and duty.


    If You Believe the Government, ‘You’re Stupid’

    GUEST WORDS -Everyone who watched John Miller’s “ 60 Minutes” segment on the NSA should follow it up with this story involving Morley Safer — who, at 82 years old, is still a correspondent at “60 Minutes”:

    In August, 1965 Safer appeared in what became one of most famous TV segments of the Vietnam War, showing U.S. troops setting fire to all the huts in a Vietnamese village with Zippo lighters and flamethrowers.

    A year later in 1966, Safer wrote an article about what he’d seen firsthand during a visit to Vietnam by Arthur Sylvester, then Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs (i.e., the head of Pentagon PR). Sylvester met with reporters for U.S. news outlets at the U.S. Embassy in Saigon:

    There was general opening banter, which Sylvester quickly brushed aside. He seemed anxious to take a stand — to say something that would jar us. He said:

    “I can’t understand how you fellows can write what you do while American boys are dying out here,” he began. Then he went on to the effect that American correspondents had a patriotic duty to disseminate only information that made the United States look good.

    A network television correspondent said, “Surely, Arthur, you don’t expect the American press to be the handmaidens of government.”

    “That’s exactly what I expect,” came the reply.

    An agency man raised the problem that had preoccupied Ambassador Maxwell Taylor and Barry Zorthian [a press officer based in Vietnam] — about the credibility of American officials. Responded the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs:

    Look, if you think any American official is going to tell you the truth, then you’re stupid. Did you hear that? — stupid.”

    One of the most respected of all the newsmen in Vietnam—a veteran of World War II, the Indochina War and Korea — suggested that Sylvester was being deliberately provocative. Sylvester replied:

    “Look, I don’t even have to talk to you people. I know how to deal with you through your editors and publishers back in the States.”

    At this point, the Hon. Arthur Sylvester put his thumbs in his ears, bulged his eyes, stuck out his tongue and wiggled his fingers.[For the full article by Safer, see below.]

    There are several significant aspects to this:

    – A top U.S. official was honest enough to tell reporters: look, we lie to you constantly and you’re a moron if you believe anything we say. He also honestly expressed his total contempt for them and intention to manipulate news coverage by dealing directly with their management and employers.

    Moreover, Sylvester (who before going to work for the Pentagon had been the Washington correspondent for the Newark News) put his beliefs into practice at key moments of history. He lied about what the U.S. knew about Soviet missiles in Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and personally told the key lies about the Gulf of Tonkin incident ( listen to him here ).

    And word was passed to Safer’s superiors at CBS that “Unless you get Safer out of there, he’s liable to end up with a bullet in his back.”

    This is such important information about how politics and the media work that it should be taught to everyone in second grade. It’s not.

    – Even if regular people don’t know this story, you’d expect it to be famous within the media — and particularly famous at “60 Minutes.” You might even imagine that “If you think any American official is going to tell you the truth, then you’re stupid” would be spray-painted on the walls of the “60 Minutes” offices. But if the performance of John Miller and his producers on the NSA segment is anything to go by, that is not the case.

    It’s hard to imagine what more the U.S. government could do to get reporters to distrust it, and all for naught. John Miller likely has an office feet away from someone who’s been told by a top U.S. official that reporters are morons if they believe anything top U.S. officials say. Miller’s response? Believe everything top U.S. officials say. (Of course, given that Miller is recreating Sylvester’s career path , it may also simply be that he agrees with Sylvester on the necessity of the press being handmaidens of government.)

    – Even if reporters have forgotten this story, you’d expect that it would be Exhibit A for left-wing media critics and repeated so often that it would be common knowledge in those limited circles. Yet the forces of forgetting in the U.S. are so powerful that I’d never encountered it, and I’m probably one of America’s top 25 consumers of left-wing media criticism.

    I can’t find any references to it by Noam Chomsky, Gore Vidal, Norman Solomon, Jeff Cohen, Robert Parry, Robert McChesney or Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting. (William Blum does tell part of what happened in his book Killing Hope, and the key sentence appears in some online collections of quotes about the media.)

    To make it even more surprising, Safer’s story was well-known enough at the time that Indiana’s anti-war Senator Vance Hartke referred to it on the Senate floor as “the now famous article.” And references to it sometimes appeared in books about Vietnam during the late Sixties and early Seventies. But after that it evaporated.

    So if something this significant can disappear from history, truly only god knows what else has been thrown down the memory hole. To try to pull it back, I’m putting the entire text of the article online for the first time below, and adding the gist to Safer’s Wikipedia page.

    I’m also going to try to get John Miller to answer a straightforward question: has Morley Safer ever told him this story?

    (Jon Schwarz is editor of MichaelMoore.com and was research producer for ‘Capitalism: A Love Story.’ He’s also contributed to the New Yorker, New York Times, Atlantic, Wall Street Journal, Slate, Saturday Night Live and NPR. This column was posted most recently at the important Internet voice CommonDreams.org . It was also published by consortiumnews.com)

    Click here for an image of the article as it appeared in the Southern Illinoisan on Sept. 1, 1966.

    ‘Look, If You Think Any American Official Is Going to Tell You the Truth, Then You’re Stupid’

    By Morley Safer
    Of the Columbia Broadcasting System

    There has been no war quite like it. Never have so many words been churned out, never has so much l6-mm film been exposed. And never has the reporting of a story been so much a part of the story itself.

    This has been true whether you are reporting television’s first war, as I have been, or for one of the print media. Washington has been critical of American newsmen in Saigon almost continuously since 1961. That criticism has manifested itself in a number of ways—from the cancellation of newspaper subscriptions to orders to put certain correspondents on ice to downright threat.

    As a friend of mine puts It, “The brass wants you to get on the team.”

    To the brass, getting on the team means simply giving the United States government line in little more than handout. It means accepting what you are told without question. At times it means turning your back on facts.

    I know of few reporters in Viet Nam who have “gotten on the team.” The fact is, the American people are getting an accurate picture of the war in spite of attempts by various officials—mostly in Washington—to present the facts in a different way. That is why certain correspondents have been vilified, privately and publicly.

    By late winter of 1964-1965 the war was clearly becoming an American war. And with it came an American responsibility for providing and reporting facts. American officials thus were able to deal directly with reporters. The formality of “checking it out with the Vietnamese” ceased to be relevant.

    In Washington the burden of responsibility of giving, controlling and managing the war news from Viet Nam fell to—and remains with—one man: Arthur Sylvester, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs.

    By early summer of 1965 the first set of ground rules had been laid down for reporting battles and casualties. There was no censorship but a very loose kind of honor system that put the responsibility for not breaking security on the shoulders of correspondents. The rules were vague and were therefore continually broken.

    For military and civilian officials in Viet Nam there was another set of rules—rather another honor system that was not so much laid down as implied. “A policy of total candor” is a phrase used by Barry Zorthian, minister-counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Saigon. Zorthian is what Time calls “the information czar” in Viet Nam.

    The breaking of the vague ground rules was something that annoyed everyone. Correspondents were rocketed by their editors, and the military in Viet Nam felt that Allied lives were being endangered. So in midsummer, when Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara came to Saigon and brought Sylvester with him, we all looked forward to the formulation of a clear-cut policy. Sylvester was to meet the press in an informal session to discuss mutual problems. The meeting was to take the vagueness out of the ground rules.

    The Sylvester meeting was surely one of the most disheartening meetings between reporters and a news manager ever held.

    It was a sticky July evening. Inside Zorthian’s villa it was cool. But Zorthian was less relaxed than usual. He was anxious for Sylvester to get an idea of the mood of the news corps. There had been some annoying moments in previous weeks that had directly involved Sylvester’s own office. In the first B-52 raids, Pentgaon releases were in direct contradiction to what had actually happened on the ground in Viet Nam.

    There was general opening banter, which Sylvester quickly brushed aside. He seemed anxious to take a stand—to say something that would jar us. He said:

    “I can’t understand how you fellows can write what you do while American boys are dying out here,” he began. Then he went on to the effect that American correspondents had a patriotic duty to disseminate only information that made the United States look good.

    A network television correspondent said, “Surely, Arthur, you don’t expect the American press to be the handmaidens of government.”

    “That’s exactly what I expect,” came the reply.

    An agency man raised the problem that had preoccupied Ambassador Maxwell Taylor and Barry Zorthian—about the credibility of American officials. Responded the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs:

    “Look, if you think any American official is going to tell you the truth, then you’re stupid. Did you hear that?—stupid.”

    One of the most respected of all the newsmen in Vietnam—a veteran of World War II, the Indochina War and Korea—suggested that Sylvester was being deliberately provocative. Sylvester replied:

    “Look, I don’t even have to talk to you people. I know how to deal with you through your editors and publishers back in the States.”

    At this point, the Hon. Arthur Sylvester put his thumbs in his ears, bulged his eyes, stuck out his tongue and wiggled his fingers.

    A correspondent for one of the New York papers began a question. He never got beyond the first few words. Sylvester interrupted:

    “Aw, come on, What does someone in New York care about the war in Viet Nam?”

    We got down to immediate practical matters—the problems of communication, access to military planes, getting out to battles.

    “Do you guys want to be spoon-fed? Why don’t you get out and cover the war?”

    It was a jarring and insulting remark. Most of the people in that room has spent as much time on actual operations as most GI’s.

    The relationship between reporters and public information officers in Saigon, or the other hand, has been a good, healthy one. The relationship in the field is better, and in dealing with the men who fight the war it is very good indeed.

    Arthur Sylvester, assistant secretary of defense in charge of public affairs, said Wednesday that no government official should lie when giving out information about the country.

    He said it was all right to withhold information to safeguard the country. He was testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. This article is one correspondent’s report of Sylvester’s statement about truth in public affairs one year ago.

    THIS article is excerpted from “Dateline 1966: Covering War,” a publication of the Overseas Press Club of America.


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