Lying and Dying Redux

There's only one story that's important today, and it's not President Bush's latest pick for the Supreme Court. It's this one:


Washington -- The National Security Agency has kept secret since 2001 a finding by an agency historian that NSA officers deliberately distorted critical intelligence during the Tonkin Gulf episode that helped precipitate the Vietnam War, according to two people familiar with the historian's work…The research by Robert Hanyok, the NSA historian, was detailed four years ago in an in-house article that remains classified, in part because agency officials feared its release might prompt uncomfortable comparisons with the flawed intelligence used to justify the war in Iraq, according to an intelligence official familiar with some internal discussions of the matter.  (Full Story)
Unfortunately, it took over 40 years to learn about this pertinent little fact. But only because Lyndon Johnson didn't have a Joe Wilson shooting off his mouth. So the evidence -- that the Vietnam War began on a lie -- stayed buried. Did Johnson know the alleged North Vietnamese attack on two of our destroyers in the Tonkin Gulf was pure fiction? Sure he did. In a candid moment, Johnson told then under-secretary of state George W. Ball, "Hell, those dumb, stupid sailors were just shooting at flying fish!"
"Rather than come clean about their mistake, they helped launch the United States into a bloody war that would last for 10 years," said Matthew M. Aid, an independent expert on the events leading up to the Vietnam War.
Did George W. Bush know the Niger documents were fakes? I don't know. But Dick Cheney sure as hell did, which is why he sent Scooter Libby out to smear Joe Wilson and his wife, Valerie. Wilson was exposing the Bush administration's Tonkin Gulf lie -- that Iraq had tried to buy uranium from Niger.

So here we are again, fighting an undeclared war thousands of miles from home. Another generation of American kids are dying and being maimed for life because someone in high office lied and then covered it up -- or, in this case, tried to cover it up.

Individuals in both administrations lied to begin a war, and then were comfortable with keeping their mouths shut about it while other people's kids died. Whether you are for this administration or against it, ask yourself: what kind of people do something like that?

I lived through the Johnson administration, and that first war - barely. Over 60,000 of my generation didn't. A lot of us suspected at the time that the war had been cooked up, but couldn't prove it. There was a draft back then, so we had little choice in the matter anyway. A lot of guys -- like me -- who opposed the war still ended up in the military, unless you had the right connections.

Forty years later, all America has to show for that war is a slab of polished black granite on the Mall in DC. All the families who lost loves ones in Vietnam have left is a name chiseled there to show they ever existed -- all for a lie.

Here we are again with a foreign war raging, kids and parents dying, again for a lie.

Considering it was way back in the 1960s when the NSA reports were doctored and then hidden, I don't find it surprising that they got away with it. Those were different times. Whistle blowers within government were a rarity.

When Nixon shouldered the war from Johnson he was determined not to let the lie destroy him as it had his predessor. He got elected by promising he had "a secret plan to end the war," which was of course another lie. That's why Nixon pulled out all the stops in to destroy former Pentagon analyst, Daniel EIlsberg when he leaked the Pentagon Papers. Ellsberg did not have a wife working for the CIA, but he was seeing a shrink. So the Nixon gang broke into his shrink's office and stole his file, hoping they could prove he was crazy.

That was a long time ago. And the Tonkin Gulf lie was about to be revealed to the American people back in 2001, but it wasn't. Not because it would discredit America's credibility in Vietnam -- history has already taken care of that. No, it had to be kept secret because it was the Bush administration's playbook for justifying war on Iraq. The last thing frothing-at-the-mouth Neocons needed in 2001 was to have a near-identical intelligence cooking operation 41 years ago come to light. Most citizens assume their government lies to them. Seldom, though, do we get hard proof like that.

After being fed the fictional Tonkin Gulf attack reports, Congress dutifully passed a resolution giving President Johnson the right "to use force if  necessary" in Vietnam. Sound familiar? No formal declaration of war as required by the US Constitution. Instead, a chickenshit resolution relieving individual members of Congress from the most important decision they were elected to make -- to take the nation to war.

Forty years later, Congress again ducked and covered, hiding from their constitutional obligation and passing a near identical resolution, giving President Bush the right to use "force if necessary" in Iraq. The first time Congress pulled that stunt, they got all those kids of my generation killed, not to mention a million or more Vietnamese. One would think a blood stain of that magnitude would have current members of Congress seeing the ghosts of members of the "Vietnam War Congress" wailing and prowling the halls, like hundreds of mournful Lady Macbeths. But no, they did it again.

In both Vietnam and Iraq, once the shooting started, all the responsible ones could do was bury their lies as deeply as possible. What else could they do once the dogs of war had been released? People were dying, first by the dozens, then by the hundreds, and then the thousands and tens of thousands. The higher the price in human life rose, the more important it became that the lie that caused those deaths remain hidden.

Which is precisely why Scooter Libby and Karl Rove were so awfully busy in June and July of 2003. And why they were willing to go so far as to threaten national security, not to mention Valerie Wilson's life.

After all, what else could they do? Joe Wilson wasn't seeing a shrink.
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