Cronkite reflects on mistakes of the past

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On public radio, on the show 'All things considered', Walter Cronkite reflected on a similar situation a president of the US faced in 1964 where suspect intelligence lead to commitment of hundreds of thousands of troops into Vietnam. In this interview, Croncite narrates the hours of August 3rd and 4th of 1964 where a discussion between President Lyndon Johnson and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara unfolds.

In this discussion, the President discusses with the Secretary of Defense modes to instigate an attack on a US destroyer a few miles off the coast of Vietnam. They chose to bait a torpedo attack in order to start war by ordering the destroyer closer to shore. Without knowing the source of the baited 'torpedo' attack, they put the gears into motion in starting a war which will cost 60some thousand American lives. They then react accordingly by retaliating by means of an aerial bombing. Johnson gets on national television and tells the people of the US that a destroyer was attacked, and that the US must commit to war. All of this transpired without the confirmed evidence of a real torpedo attack from the North. The thought then was that even if a specific intelligence was wrong a little here, and a little there, that we would still be there teaching the commies a lesson.

This situation seems very similar to what happend in Iraq. We went in with unconfirmed evidence, thinking that even if we dont find the stone cold evidence, we'll be taking out a bad guy making it justified. It appears that history has repeated itself, at the cost of American lives, money, and favor.

Audio transcript:



http://search1.npr.org/search97cgi/s97_cgi?action=FilterSearch&QueryZip=+AND+%28Date+%3E%3D+07%2D26%2D2004%29&Filter=archive%5Ffilter%5Fclean%2Ehts&ResultTemplate=allow%5Fre%5Fsort%2Ehts&QueryText=+AND+%28Date+%3E%3D+07%2D26%2D2004%29&Collection=ATC2&SortSpec=Date+Desc+Score+Desc&ResultStart=11&ResultCount=10&CleanQuery=&how_long_ago=7 [Broken]
 
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Answers and Replies

  • #2
Why does everybody assume that American lives are more valuable than Vietnamese or Iraqi or whatever-other-nationality lives? The Vietnamese death toll was in the millions.
 
  • #3
BobG
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Dissident Dan said:
Why does everybody assume that American lives are more valuable than Vietnamese or Iraqi or whatever-other-nationality lives? The Vietnamese death toll was in the millions.
'Everybody' doesn't. Only Americans.

What I don't understand is why 'everybody' doesn't think my kids quality of life is more important than those other juvenile delinquents running around town. I do.
 
  • #4
russ_watters
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The Gulf of Tonkin incident was an excuse for entering a war, not a reason for starting one. The French left and we entered.
 
  • #5
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This situation seems very similar to what happend in Iraq. We went in with unconfirmed evidence, thinking that even if we dont find the stone cold evidence, we'll be taking out a bad guy making it justified. It appears that history has repeated itself, at the cost of American lives, money, and favor.
That isn't my recollection. From what I remember, Iraq was in violation of numerous UN resolutions. The US attack was not unwarranted, just (to some people) premature.
 
  • #6
Nereid
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JohnDubYa said:
That isn't my recollection. From what I remember, Iraq was in violation of numerous UN resolutions. The US attack was not unwarranted, just (to some people) premature.
There are parallels though; the US quite openly used its diplomatic muscle to get some of those resolutions adopted, and Colin Powell testified to the certainty that Iraq was, in fact, in violation of resolutions re WMD, using flawed intel. We now know that Bush, Cheney et al had planned to invade Iraq from the early days of their administration ... when you're in the White House, there are ways of making things happen despite 'the facts'.
 
  • #7
Nereid
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BobG said:
Dissident Dan said:
Why does everybody assume that American lives are more valuable than Vietnamese or Iraqi or whatever-other-nationality lives? The Vietnamese death toll was in the millions.
'Everybody' doesn't. Only Americans.

What I don't understand is why 'everybody' doesn't think my kids quality of life is more important than those other juvenile delinquents running around town. I do.
I feel it's considerably more nuanced than that.

There's a kind of 'calculus of death', a multi-dimensional algebra which determines the 'value' of a life, as expressed when that life is taken as a result of human action. It goes something like this*:

Nationality:
US citizen
lives in a western country
lives in another country
lives in an Islamic country
lives in a country which belongs to the axis of evil

Ethnicity:
White
Asian
Hispanic
Black

Religion:
Christian
other religion/non-Christian (except as below)
atheist
Muslim

Wealth:
Rich
in the middle
poor

Intention: - this one is two dimensions - state-sanctioned and otherwise; the two are pretty much inverses.
Commision, successful ('the building housed hostage takers and terrorists; we bombed it and killed everyone inside')
Commision, accidental ('I didn't know it was a hospital/embassy; I really didn't see the large red cross painted on the roof')
Not responsible, individual ('I know my car hit and killed a pedestrian, I know I shouldn't drive while drunk, but I was drunk so I'm not really responsible)
Not responsible, collective ('Yes, I know that thousands will die as a result of using my product exactly as it's intended; no, it doesn't matter that I get filthy rich from their deaths, I'm not responsible)
Omission, deliberate ('Of course denying funds to AIDS groups in country X will lead to thousands of preventable deaths, but they haven't embraced the 'Just say no' pledge)

Others (1):
Children
Women
Old men
Other men

Others (2):
President
Congressmen, Senators, Supreme court justices, cabinet members
law enforcement people
ordinary folk
gang members, delinquents, the homeless, etc
criminals

No matter which group the person killed by human action is in, the grief, pain and suffering of the family of the dead person, relatives, neighbours etc is, no doubt, equally intense. However, for those who behave according to this calculus of killing, the fact of the equality of grief is irrelevant.

To be clear, there's nothing wrong per se with holding these values re killing; what's curious to me is the apparent gross hypocrisy, given the fervent political (e.g. 'all men are created equal') and religious (e.g. 'thou shalt not kill') statements, apparently made with full sincerity.

*wrt the US, primarily domestically.
 
  • #8
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New American Century.Org

Hello Nereid,

We now know that Bush, Cheney et al had planned to invade Iraq from the early days of their administration ... when you're in the White House, there are ways of making things happen despite 'the facts'. ---Nereid.
Your more right than you realize, take a look at this letter written to then President Clinton in
Jan. 26th,1998, by the Undersigned at New American Century.

Given the magnitude of the threat, the current policy, which depends for its success upon the steadfastness of our coalition partners and upon the cooperation of Saddam Hussein, is dangerously inadequate. The only acceptable strategy is one that eliminates the possibility that Iraq will be able to use or threaten to use weapons of mass destruction. In the near term, this means a willingness to undertake military action as diplomacy is clearly failing. In the long term, it means removing Saddam Hussein and his regime from power. That now needs to become the aim of American foreign policy.

We urge you to articulate this aim, and to turn your Administration's attention to implementing a strategy for removing Saddam's regime from power. This will require a full complement of diplomatic, political and military efforts. Although we are fully aware of the dangers and difficulties in implementing this policy, we believe the dangers of failing to do so are far greater. We believe the U.S. has the authority under existing UN resolutions to take the necessary steps, including military steps, to protect our vital interests in the Gulf. In any case, American policy cannot continue to be crippled by a misguided insistence on unanimity in the UN Security Council.
Which is a conservative republician think tank started by a whole lot of people in high level federal government and one florida governor.

Statement of Principles (June 3rd,1997), New American Century.

American foreign and defense policy is adrift. Conservatives have criticized the incoherent policies of the Clinton Administration. They have also resisted isolationist impulses from within their own ranks. But conservatives have not confidently advanced a strategic vision of America's role in the world. They have not set forth guiding principles for American foreign policy. They have allowed differences over tactics to obscure potential agreement on strategic objectives. And they have not fought for a defense budget that would maintain American security and advance American interests in the new century.

We aim to change this. We aim to make the case and rally support for American global leadership. -PNAC.

Elliott Abrams, Gary Bauer, William J. Bennett, Jeb Bush

Dick Cheney, Eliot A. Cohen, Midge Decter, Paula Dobriansky, Steve Forbes,
Aaron Friedberg, Francis Fukuyama, Frank Gaffney, Fred C. Ikle,

Donald Kagan, Zalmay Khalilzad, I. Lewis Libby, Norman Podhoretz,

Dan Quayle, Peter W. Rodman, Stephen P. Rosen, Henry S. Rowen,

Donald Rumsfeld, Vin Weber, George Weigel, Paul Wolfowitz
Talk about "conflict of interest" and/or collusion, by definition. I smell another federal criminal commission afoot, ala "Iran-Contra Affair".
 
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  • #9
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Why does everybody assume that American lives are more valuable than Vietnamese or Iraqi or whatever-other-nationality lives? The Vietnamese death toll was in the millions.
I dont, I only assume that Americans are concerned more about American deaths than others. Just as Iraqis are concerned more about Iraqis than Americans. Dont put words into my mouth.


The Gulf of Tonkin incident was an excuse for entering a war, not a reason for starting one. The French left and we entered.
Precisely, just as WMDs were just an excuse for invading Iraq, right? That was the point of my post, America did not take proper procedures in waiting for evidence to turn up, we assumed, and attacked, and regretted.


That isn't my recollection. From what I remember, Iraq was in violation of numerous UN resolutions. The US attack was not unwarranted, just (to some people) premature.
What are you talking about?!?! It was the UN that Discouraged the attack on Iraq!!! And then the US went against United Nations approval and attacked anyways!!!
 

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