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War Is Too Tragic for Weak Balance of Powers

Posted on Feb 26, 2012
Think-N-Evolve (CC-BY)

By Dina Rasor, Truthout

(Page 2)

Ellsberg was a Marine and a gung-ho, cold-war warrior analyst early in his career and landed a job in the Pentagon to analyze cables coming from hot spots around the world.

When President Johnson went to Congress to pass the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, he reported that North Vietnam had fired twice on US Navy ships in two “unprovoked” attacks. In fact, on August 2, 1964, our Navy ship had been checking North Vietnamese signals along their sea borders by breeching the borders and were fired upon. Two days later, another US ship claimed that it was being fired upon by North Vietnamese torpedoes, but it soon became clear that the radar operator was seeing ghost images on his screen.

The second attack happened on August 4, 1964, Ellsberg’s first day on the job in the Pentagon. As he describes in his excellent book, “Secrets,” he first thought that the second attack was real, but then reports keep coming in that the commander was unsure that they were really under attack. But the Johnson White House wanted an excuse to escalate the war, gave assurances that this second attack was real and insisted that the Congress needed to give Johnson a resolution to cover his retaliation. Ellsberg wrote, “By midnight on the fourth, or within a day or two, I knew that each one of these assurances were false.”

He described how the deception was passed on to the public and even the classified reports to the Congress:


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In my new job I was reading the daily transcripts of this secret testimony, and at the same time I was learning from cables, reports, and discussions in the Pentagon the background that gave the lie to virtually everything told both to the public and, more elaborately, to the Congress in secret session….

The contrast between what the senators had been told by the secretaries in a secret joint session of the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees, as I read the testimony, and what I soon knew as a first-week staffer in the Pentagon was striking.

Johnson was in election mode, running against Sen. Barry Goldwater, who wanted to escalate the war, and Johnson criticized him for war mongering. These Gulf of Tonkin incidences gave Johnson the excuse to escalate the war out of “necessity.”

Ellsberg told me one day over lunch that not blowing the whistle on the Gulf of Tonkin deception was one of the biggest mistakes of his life. He believes that he might have been able to expose the dishonesty and possibly thwart the rush to war, thus saving thousands of US and Vietnamese lives. But even though he was greatly disturbed by what he saw, it was his first week on the job and he felt that he was an insider, which made it harder to do the right thing:

Once I was inside the government, my awareness on how easily and pervasively Congress, the public, and journalists were fooled and misled contributed to a lack of respect for them and their potential contribution to better policy. That in turn made it easier to accept, to participate in, to keep quiet about practices of secrecy and deception that fooled them further and kept them ignorant of the real issues that were occupying and dividing inside policy makers. Their resulting ignorance made it all the more obvious that they must leave these problems to us.

Later in the 1960s, Ellsberg, at great risk to himself and his freedom, came around to the immensity of lies and loss of life due to this war and decided that, morally, he had to do something about it. His turning moment came when he saw young protesters willing to go to jail rather than be drafted into a war that they thought was immoral. He knew that the Pentagon Papers would tell the story of the deceptions, so he surreptitiously copied the classified history, tried to give it to some hesitant members of Congress and then finally realized that he had to give it to the press.

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agelbert's avatar

By agelbert, February 28, 2012 at 1:57 pm Link to this comment

I’m in total agreement with gerard, Maxshields, Jay and EmileZ.

As to whether Daniel was gamed by and for the CIA or not, it’s entirely possible but the main issue, as raised by others here is the morally bankrupt mindset of humans in general and our policy makers in particular.

It all boils down to the fact that humans require X to thrive (see Maslow’s hierarchy) but, give a group of humans a slight advantage in the privileges they enjoy and they turn into monsters willing to justify the exploitation of their fellow humans with any contrived excuse, doctrine, religion or some other ‘erudite’ exercise in bullshit. Humans are quick to forget the humanity of other humans; thereby losing their own humanity.

Sure, hormones and biochemistry play a role in this pecking order insanity and constant jockying for position and privilege but it’s long past the time that we stopped behaving like bacteria eating up all the agar in the petri dish. We have reached the edge and we must overcome our refusal to make egalitarianism, with the consequent elimination of war, the law of the earth or perish.

In short, sustainable living is not optional; it is imperative and anything else is insanely suicidal.

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By gerard, February 27, 2012 at 6:42 pm Link to this comment

Max Shields:  I rail against U.S. policy and behavior because as a citizen I have a birthright obligation to try to bring about change for the better here.  However, I do not think the U.S. is uniquely an “unmitigated warring nation.” It seems to be that the idea of nation-states has resulted in an unknown number of self-isolating societies who feel driven toward the use of force and violence (against other nations or their own citizens) in order to maintain their addiction to a psycho-political drug called “ruling power”.
  Getting rid of the “nation-state” idea might help, but then another addiction might occur unless we were smart enough to prevent it:  The idea of “world dominance” as in nonsense like “the American Century” (world domination) or “the Autonomous Civilized Gloobal State” or “the Consolidated Union of Wealthy Free Enterprizers” or “the Federation of Free Trade Nations, or ultimately, perhaps, the “Galactic Commu-Social Political Cooperative” and so on and on to other violent absurdities.
  In my dreams I see other possibilities, but something very vital has got to change first that will liberate us all from selfishness and fear.

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By MaxShields, February 27, 2012 at 4:36 pm Link to this comment

gerard while lack of spirituality may be one way of stating it I agree with your general assertion. We have to recognize that this has become an unmitigated warring nation. It is trigger ready and will go to war at a moments notice with no real provocation/threat.

A Congress that would vote almost unanimously to support the wars against humanity that Israel has waged against the Palestinians, is not a check on a President. I see no resolution which can fetter this nation’s proclivity to wage endless war. It is at the core of that issue, the causes, and the exceptionalism that puts it above morality that must be our greatest pursuit. No, the founders did not expect this, but this is what we’ve become. And until that changes we will continue until there is simply no energy left in the coffers and total collapse is upon us.

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By Jay Lindberg, February 27, 2012 at 2:32 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Our species has at least one fatal flaw.

We have an appreciation for killing because the victim
forfeits their possessions and an adversion to peace
because pillaging is about power.

I sincerely believe that this is the foundation for

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EmileZ's avatar

By EmileZ, February 26, 2012 at 3:24 pm Link to this comment

@ Carl

I wish there were more Daniel Ellsbergs trying to “penetrate” the anti-war left.

Bring on the Daniel Ellsbergs.

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By Carl, February 26, 2012 at 2:01 pm Link to this comment

From the blog:

Retired USAF Col. Fletcher Prouty revealed that the “Pentagon Papers” were a planned CIA leak to shift blame for the failed war in Vietnam from the CIA to the Pentagon. The documents were real, but only certain documents were released. Prouty wrote the other reason for this “leak” was to upset the Nixon administration, which it was trying to destabilize in hopes of ousting Nixon. That President was upset that the CIA refused to provide him with requested documents concerning the Bay of Pigs and the JFK assassination. Nixon also angered the “Power Elite” by withdrawing American troops from their profitable business venture in Vietnam and improving relations with Red China.

Nixon was ousted with the help of covert CIA agent Bob Woodward, working undercover as a reporter at the CIA co-founded “Washington Post”. Gerald Ford became President, who just happened to be a member of the discredited Warren Commission that engineered the cover-up of the JFK assassination!

I’m not sure if the leaker of the “Pentagon Papers”, career CIA agent Daniel Ellsberg, knew he was being used, but he was never prosecuted and allowed to retire and collect his CIA pension. Before becoming a leaker, Ellsberg spent a few years in Vietnam working directly under the senior CIA spook there, Edward Lansdale, pictured in my Nov. 23 blog at the scene of the 1963 JFK coup in Dallas. Bradley Manning is a young, lowly soldier who will spend years in prison, yet Ellsberg was a senior official who knew the consequences of releasing thousands of pages of classified information. Yet he was never prosecuted AND allowed to retire and collect a government pension! No one on the American “left” questions this obvious red flag, and they celebrate Ellsberg as a hero. Ellsberg may be a great guy, but
I wouldn’t be surprised if he reports to the CIA in Langley regarding his insider contacts with today’s anti-war movements.

Can you think of a better cover for a CIA agent to penetrate the anti-war left? Is this former career CIA agent that clever?

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By gerard, February 26, 2012 at 12:08 pm Link to this comment

I’ll stick my neck out here and risk being taunted as “a religious nut” etc., but a great deal of evidence indicates that the only way out of the cycle of war after war is to recognize the spiritual sickness that it manifests and to treat the economic causes and the psychological symptoms at the same time. Nothing short of an about-face on our faith in violence will do. And nothing better than the U.S. legislatively taking the first step (instigated by both enlightened politicians and by public insistence) will start a worldwide avalnnche of peace-making choices. The more “progressive” and “enlightened” nations are responsible to invent and support the specifics of such a change.
  Nothing is clearer today than the worldwide evidences both of spiritual bankruptcy, and yet at the same time, of mental and technological abilities and desires to move forward toward a more humane future. The call is crystal clear, and though much effort is made to prevent hearing it, billions of the world’s people are far from deaf.

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