Tradition II

Wrote about Daniel Inouye concerns in relation to “pre-emptive strikes”. Then thought about Vietnam. If one does not attack unless one is attacked, where was the attack there?

From commentary by John MacLaughlan Gray, “Media that obediently speak the language of war”. Globe and Mail, October 1, 2002: R3:

The credulity of North American media over Iraq is matched only by their willingness to accept the administration’s use of language–parroting invented terms such as “pre-emptive strike” and “regime change” as though they actually portray what happens when a superpower attempts to transform enemies into client states by dropping bombs on them.

Which puts me in mind of a Vietnamese joke some 40 years ago, when the gentlemen of the press of that era dutifully reported official claims as proven fact.

“American Planes Hit North Vietnam After Second Attack on Our Destroyers; Move Taken to Halt New Aggression”, trumpeted a Washington Post headline. “President Johnson orders retaliatory action against gunboats and supporting facilities after renewed attacks against American destroyers”, proclaimed The New York Times.

The official narrative had it that North Vietnamese torpedo boats had launched an “unprovoked attack” against a U.S. destroyer on “routine patrol”, followed two days later by a “deliberate attack” on a pair of U.S. ships.

The display of naked aggression inspired Lyndon Johnson to appear on national TV that very evening, announcing a huge escalation of the war in the form of direct air strikes against North Vietnam.

Johnson’s TV performance was a smash hit and the Tonkin Gulf Resolution–the closest America came to declaring outright war–sailed through Congress.

“The President”, The New York Times noted approvingly, “went to the American people last night with the sombre facts.” Meanwhile, The Los Angeles Times urged Americans to “face the fact that the Communists, by their attack on American vessels in international waters, have themselves escalated the hostilities.”

Only none of it was true. The U.S. destroyer Maddox was in fact spying on North Vietnamese positions, co-ordinating attacks by the South Vietnamese navy and the Laotian air force. And the subsequent torpedo attack never happened at all. There were no PT boats. They made it up out of whole cloth…

I wonder what would have happened had the media maintained a rigorous skepticism about what they were told by officials who…had already expressed an eagerness for war.

“The unwarranted Red assault”:

About brucelarochelle
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