During the Vietnam war, I wondered why no one in the military or government understood that America picked the wrong side. Didn’t anybody recognize the many errors our country made leading up to and throughout the Vietnam Conflict? And why did so many pay homage to the moribund “domino theory?”
When Daniel Ellsburg released the Pentagon Papers, a history of America’s political and military involvement in Vietnam from 1945-1967, to the New York Times in 1971, I breathed a big sigh. Finally the truth would emerge. Instead all that resulted was vitriol directed against Ellsburg for releasing classified information. No one took issue with the content of the cables and documents. Most ignored the fact that our government had lied to us for years. Apparently Americans relish their fantasies and don’t change their minds even when the truth undermines their beliefs. Ellsburg became one of my heroes.
It turns out America had many heroes inside the government fighting to dispel the inaccurate reports and show we were losing. Those people in the State and Defense departments risked their careers for bucking their bosses. Their reward for pointing out that the emperor had no clothes was demotion, transfer, or separation.
From where did our disdain for the truth come? David Halberstram in his masterful book, “The Best and the Brightest” published in 1969, attributed the loss of China to the Communists in 1949 that established the pattern.
Two talented members of the embassy in China in 1948-50, correctly foretold the defeat of Chiang Kai-shek, and were ostracized from their positions. We could have benefitted from their expertise when Vietnam erupted. Underlings in the Saigon embassy correctly informed the higher ups that Vietnam was a political problem and not a military one. When they informed about the massive corruption of then President Diem and how he had undermined America’s efforts, they were removed.
So what kind of country do we value? The whistle blowers or fantasyland? Truth versus propaganda? See David Halberstam’s “The Best and the Brightest” to see how distorted our government and maybe society have become. Another insightful and well-researched book, “The Coldest Winter,” speaks to missteps in Korea. Bob Woodward’s “State of Denial — Bush at War Part III,” discloses inept US government and military decisions in Iraq. I hesitate to look into Afghanistan. I can only take so much.