Its been a good week. Robert McNamaras dead and my book, Armed Madhouse, was released in translation in Vietnam.
I dont blame McNamara for losing the war in Vietnam. After all, the good guys won. I do, however, blame him for losing World War II.
In 1995, in Chicago, veterans of Silver Post No. 282 celebrated the 50th anniversary of their victory over Japan, marching around a catering hall wearing their old service caps, pins, ribbons and medals. My father sat at his table, silent. He did not wear his medals.
He had given them to me 30 years earlier. I can figure it exactly: March 8, 1965. That day, like every other, we walked to the newsstand near the dime store to get the LA Times. He was a Times man. Never read the Examiner.
He looked at the headline: US Marines had landed on the beach at Danang, Vietnam.
Vietnamese gun boats had attacked American ships in the Gulf of Tonkin. The Times said so. President Johnson said so. His Defense Secretary Robert McNamara said so.
But on the Oval Office tapes, Johnson said, Hell, those damn stupid [US] sailors were just shooting at flying fish. McNamara corrected him later. They were shooting at their own sonar shadow. But that, of course, wouldnt be mentioned in the Times.
My dad didnt need LBJs tape to know: they lied.
As a kid, I was fascinated by my dads medals. One, embossed with an eagle and soldiers under a palm tree, said Asiatic Pacific Campaign. It had three bronze stars and an arrowhead.
My father always found flag-wavers a bit suspect. But he was a patriot, nurturing this deep and intelligent patriotism. To him, America stood for Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Four Freedoms.
My fathers army had liberated Hitlers concentration camps and later protected Martin Luther Kings marchers on the road to Birmingham. His America put its strong arm around the worlds shoulder as protector. On the back of the medal, it read Freedom from Want and Fear.
His victory over Japan was a victory of principles over imperial power, of freedom over tyranny, of right over Japans raw military might. A song he taught me from the early days of the war, when Japan had the guns and we had only ideals, went,
We have no bombers to attack with . . .
But Eagles, American Eagles,
fight for the rights we adore!
Thats it, he said that day in 1965, and folded the newspaper.
The politicians had ordered his army, with its fierce postwar industrial killing machines, to set upon Asias poor. Too well read in history and too experienced in battle, he knew what was coming. He could see right then what it would take other Americans ten years of that war in Vietnam to see: American bombers dropping napalm on straw huts, burning the same villages Hirohitos invaders had burned 20 years earlier.
Johnson and McNamara had taken away his victory over Japan.
They stole his victory over tyranny. When we returned home, he dropped his medals into my twelve-year-old hands to play with and to lose among my toys.
A few years ago, my wife Linda and I went to Vietnam to help out rural credit unions lending a few dollars to farmers so they could buy pigs and chickens.
On March 8, 1995, while in Danang, I walked up a long stone stairway from the beach to a shrine where Vietnamese honor their parents and ancestors.
Halfway up, a man about my age had stopped to rest, exhausted from his difficult, hot climb on one leg and crutches. I sat next to him, but he turned his head away, ashamed of his ragged clothes, parts of an old, dirty uniform.
The two of us watched the fishermen at work on the boats below. I put one of my fathers medals down next to him. I dont know what he thought I was doing. I dont know myself.
In 45, on the battleship Missouri, Douglas MacArthur accepted the surrender of Imperial Japan. I never thought much of General MacArthur, but he said something that stuck with me. It is for us, both victors and vanquished, to rise to that higher dignity which alone benefits the sacred purposes we are about to serve.
Excerpted from The Best Democracy Money Can Buy (Penguin, 2003). Greg Palast has released a new film on DVD, Palast Investigates: From 8-Mile to the Amazon, on the Trail of the Financial Marauders, a collection of his latest reports for BBC Televisions Newsnight and Amy Goodmans Democracy Now! See GregPalast.com.
From The Progressive Populist, August 15, 2009
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