50 years ago, “Penetration however slight”: Remembering a good and noble hoax – the U.S.S. Pueblo

January 25, 2018

Official US Navy photograph of the U.S.S. Pueblo, taken shortly after it went into service as the AGER-2 intelligence gathering ship on May 13, 1967. Crypto Museum image.

Official US Navy photograph of the U.S.S. Pueblo, taken shortly after it went into service as the AGER-2 intelligence gathering ship on May 13, 1967. Crypto Museum image.

January 23 is the anniversary of the North Koreans‘ capture of the spy boat, U.S.S. Pueblo, in 1968 — a beginning of a momentous year for bad events.  The saga of the Pueblo and its crew, including especially Cmdr. Lloyd Bucher, is of special interest to me because it features a series of some of the grandest, best and most humorously-American hoaxes ever perpetrated by imprisoned people against their captors and wardens.  This is one of the great Kilroy stories of American history.  It should not be forgotten.  Especially with the role North Korea plays in contemporary angst, the Pueblo episode should not be forgotten. This is an encore post, with new links added.

1968 brought one chunk of bad news after another to Americans. The year seemed to be one long, increasingly bad disaster. In several ways it was the mark of the times between the feel-good, post-war Eisenhower administration and the feel-good-despite-the-Cold-War Reagan administration. 1968 was depressing.

Lloyd M. Bucher

USN Cmdr. Lloyd M. Bucher (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What was so bad?

  • Vietnam manifested itself as a quagmire. Just when Washington politicians predicted an end in sight, Vietcong militia launched a nationwide attack in South Vietnam on the Vietnamese New Year holiday, Tet, at the end of January.
  • Civil rights gains stalled, and civil rights leaders came out in opposition to the Vietnam war.
  • President Johnson fared poorly in the New Hampshire primary election, and eventually dropped out of the race for the presidency (claiming he needed to devote time to making peace in Vietnam).
  • Labor troubles roiled throughout the U.S., including a nasty strike by garbage collectors in Memphis. It didn’t help to settle the strike that the sanitation workers were almost 100% African American, the leadership of Memphis was almost 100% white, and race relations in the city were not so good as they might have been – the strike attracted the efforts of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and Martin Luther King, Jr. – who was assassinated there in early April. In response, riots broke out in 150 American cities.
  • Two months later, in June, with the Vietnam War as a very divisive issue, the presidential campaign was marked by great distress of voters and increasing polarization. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy appeared to pull into the lead when he won the California primary in June, but he was assassinated that night.
  • Tens of thousands of anti-war protestors, angry at President Johnson, showed up at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago – with Johnson out of the race, the protests were essentially for show. Mayor Richard J. Daley took offense at the protestors, and Chicago policemen, who considered themselves the political opposites of the shaggy-haired protestors, attacked the protestors with clubs and tear gas. A national commission later called it a “police riot.”
  • Apart from Chicago, and the post-King assassination riots, America saw eight other massive riots in cities across the nation; riots also occurred around the world, notably in Paris, France.
  • Vice President Hubert Humphrey could not make his opposition to the Vietnam War known soon enough or broadly enough, and had a tough campaign against Republican, former Vice President Richard Nixon, who promised that he had a “secret” peace plan for Vietnam. Nixon won in a squeaker. Nixon had no secret peace plan.

At the end of the year, the U.S. got a feel-good story out of the Apollo Project, when NASA launched Apollo 8, which orbited the Moon on Christmas Eve. But when people remember 1968, it’s the strife most recall first.

Throughout 1968, there was the continuing sore of Americans held captive by the Republic of North Korea.

Commander Lloyd M. Bucher and the men of the U.S.S. Pueblo were captured by a superior force of North Korean gunboats on January 23, 1968, a few days before the Tet Offensive. Their capture and 11 months of captivity were a trial for the 84 men, and an embarrassment for the U.S.

Tortured and unable to effect an escape, Bucher and his men did the next best thing: They played hoaxes that made the North Koreans look silly.

Among other things, Cmdr. Bucher had signed a confession demanded (by torture) by North Korea. When news of this confession was revealed in the western press, observers were concerned that a U.S. citizen would succumb to making what was regarded as a false confession, but a coup for communist totalitarians. The texts of the confessions and other material from the captives, however, revealed something quite different. The confessions were written or edited largely by Bucher and the crew, and to an American with any familiarity with popular culture, they were hilarious.

My recollection was that at least one of the confessions was that the Pueblo had indeed penetrated North Korean territorial waters, but it was phrased to make it sound like the definition of rape offered in the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). I could not find any record of that confession on the internet.

At some length, I succeeded in getting a copy of the out-of-print autobiography of Cmdr. Bucher, to check my memory of the confessions. The book is out of print. I found a couple of copies at a used book vendor, very inexpensive, through Amazon.com. However, shortly after ordering the books, I was informed by both the Post Office and the vendor that the books had been destroyed by sorting machinery. Fortunately, they had been shipped separately, and one finally arrived.

Unfortunately, the “Final, final confession” does not contain what I recall. However, the book revealed that after the writing of the “Final, final,” Bucher’s crew was asked to write more – apologies to the people of North Korea, and other propaganda documents. It was in those documents that the text I recalled, appeared.

2008 marks 40 years since that terrible year, 40 years since the Pueblo incident. For the sake of posterity, and to aid your lesson plans, here is the part of the confessions I recall which has not been available lately.

Bucher: My Story, Commander Lloyd M. Bucher, USN, with Mark Rascovich, Doubleday 1970, Dell 1971; p. 342

We did in fact get away with a composition that matched my Final, Final Confession for brazen kidding of the KORCOMS, and which far surpassed it in subtlety. Blended into the standard Communist verbosity were such lines of our own as:

“We, as conscientious human beings who were cast upon the rocks and shoals of immorality by the tidal waves of Washington’s naughty policies know that neither the frequency nor the distances of these transgressions into the territorial waters of this sovereign peace-loving nation matter because penetration however slight is sufficient to complete the act.” (Rocks and Shoals is Navy slang for the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the last line contains the essential definition of rape.)

This was both delivered over film and TV and published in the “Ping-pong Times.” The Glorious General was well pleased and set the same team to working on the next letter.

North Korea was anxious to cash in on the propaganda opportunities of the confessions and other material, and spread these documents as far as their naïve public relations offices could. Eventually, in late November or early December, a photograph of the captives, intended to show them healthy and having a good time, was distributed to newspapers. In the photo, the crew were shown smiling on a basketball court, holding a basketball, with a few of their North Korean guards. The photo was not published widely in the United States, however, because almost to a man, the crew were displaying what they had told the North Koreans was a Hawaiian good luck symbol – extended middle fingers. U.S. papers thought the photo inappropriate. European papers published it, however, and eventually Time Magazine ran the photo, with an explanation.

When news got back to Pyong Yang that the North Koreans had been hoaxed, the North Koreans instituted a week of beatings and torture. Within a couple of weeks, however, the North Koreans handed over the crew back to the U.S., at Panmunjon. U.S. officials were convinced that their signing an insincere confession got the Pueblo crew released. Anyone who ever read O. Henry’s Ransom of Red Chief suspected the North Koreans got the crew out of North Korea before the crew could hoax the government completely away.

Fortunately, Lloyd Bucher and the crew of the Pueblo did not follow H. L. Mencken’s advice after the Fillmore Bathtub hoax, and swear off hoaxes completely.

Sadly, the Navy brought charges against Bucher for having failed to avoid capture. The heroes welcome the crew should have gotten, never happened. In months of litigation in Navy courtrooms, the brilliance of the resistance of the crew of the Pueblo was lost, and forgotten. Bucher was cleared, but his reputation was never the same. Officially, the tale of the Pueblo crew is not celebrated.

In an era when hoaxes generally aid and abet the works of scoundrels, crooks and traitors, we should pause for a short time to remember when brave American sailors used hoaxes to let their nation know they were alive and resisting, and to embarrass their captors. It was a sterling show of American spirit, and humor.

We need more shows of American spirit and humor.

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USS Pueblo after captured by North Korea, from...

USS Pueblo after being captured by North Korea, from A-12 spyplane Photo: Wikipedia

Good news update: Much more information on the Pueblo incident is available online now, than when I first wrote about it in 2008. Still no celebrations.

This is an encore post.

Yes, this is an encore post. Defeating ignorance takes patience and perseverance.

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53 years ago: August 7, 1964, Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution

August 7, 2017

August 7 is the 53rd anniversary of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, the resolution which authorized President Lyndon B. Johnson to move troops into South Vietnam to defend U.S. interests.

Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, passed by Congress on August 7, 1964, as presented to President Lyndon Johnson, and signed by him on August 10. This is the document that authorized U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Image from the National Archives, Our Documents display.

Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, passed by Congress on August 7, 1964, as presented to President Lyndon Johnson, and signed by him on August 10. This is the document that authorized U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Image from the National Archives, Our Documents display.

The resolution passed Congress after what appeared to be attacks on two U.S. Navy ships in the Gulf of Tonkin.  At the time, and now, evidence is weak that such attacks took place.

Most historians today think the evidence for the attacks is inconclusive; many argue it is unlikely North Vietnamese gunboats would have opened fire on a vastly superior U.S. Navy warship. Debate is complicated because the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution effectively substituted for a declaration of war, in a war the U.S. arguably lost, which divided Americans as rarely before, and which cost more than 58,000 soldiers and civilians their lives.

How will we view the Tonkin Gulf resolution in 50 years, with the history of two much longer wars in the Middle East factored in? What do you think?

Quick summary from the National Archives:

On August 4, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson announced that two days earlier, U.S. ships in the Gulf of Tonkin had been attacked by the North Vietnamese. Johnson dispatched U.S. planes against the attackers and asked Congress to pass a resolution to support his actions. The joint resolution “to promote the maintenance of international peace and security in southeast Asia” passed on August 7, with only two Senators (Wayne Morse and Ernest Gruening) dissenting, and became the subject of great political controversy in the course of the undeclared war that followed.

The Tonkin Gulf Resolution stated that “Congress approves and supports the determination of the President, as Commander in Chief, to take all necessary measures to repeal any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent any further aggression.” As a result, President Johnson, and later President Nixon, relied on the resolution as the legal basis for their military policies in Vietnam.

As public resistance to the war heightened, the resolution was repealed by Congress in January 1971.

Santayana’s ghost looks on in wonder.

Map of divided Vietnam, during the Vietnam War. History Place map via Mr. Roache's Place

Map of divided Vietnam, during the Vietnam War. History Place map via Mr. Roache’s Place

Considering its powerful effect on American history, the document is very, very brief.  Here’s the text [links added]:

Eighty-eighth Congress of the United States of America
AT THE SECOND SESSION

Begun and held at the City of Washington on Tuesday, the seventh day of January, one thousand nine hundred and sixty-four

Joint Resolution
To promote the maintenance of international peace and security in southeast Asia.

Whereas naval units of the Communist regime in Vietnam, in violation of the principles of the Charter of the United Nations and of international law, have deliberately and repeatedly attacked United Stated naval vessels lawfully present in international waters, and have thereby created a serious threat to international peace; and

Whereas these attackers are part of deliberate and systematic campaign of aggression that the Communist regime in North Vietnam has been waging against its neighbors and the nations joined with them in the collective defense of their freedom; and

Whereas the United States is assisting the peoples of southeast Asia to protest their freedom and has no territorial, military or political ambitions in that area, but desires only that these people should be left in peace to work out their destinies in their own way: Now, therefore be it

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the Congress approves and supports the determination of the President, as Commander in Chief, to take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression.

Map showing ship movements reported during the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, on August 4, 1964; reports that North Vietnamese gunboats attacked and engaged two patrolling U.S. Navy ships pushed Congress to authorize President Johnson to take extensive defensive actions.

Map showing ship movements reported during the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, on August 4, 1964; reports that North Vietnamese gunboats attacked and engaged two patrolling U.S. Navy ships pushed Congress to authorize President Johnson to take extensive defensive actions. (image from Wikipedia map 8/2017)

Section 2. The United States regards as vital to its national interest and to world peace the maintenance of international peace and security in southeast Asia. Consonant with the Constitution of the United States and the Charter of the United Nations and in accordance with its obligations under the Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty, the United States is, therefore, prepared, as the President determines, to take all necessary steps, including the use of armed force, to assist any member or protocol state of the Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty requesting assistance in defense of its freedom.

Section 3. This resolution shall expire when the President shall determine that the peace and security of the area is reasonably assured by international conditions created by action of the United Nations or otherwise, except that it may be terminated earlier by concurrent resolution of the Congress.

[endorsements]

And on that authority, “Congress approves and supports the determination of the President, as Commander in Chief, to take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression,” the U.S. spent the next 11 years in all-out warfare in Vietnam, with up to 500,000 military troops in the conflict, and losing the lives of more than 58,000 men and women. Can we ever know what really happened, or what motivated President Johnson to ask for the resolution, or what motivated Congress to pass it?

U.S. engagement in Vietnam continued well after the repeal of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution in 1971.  In 1973 a peace treaty was signed between the U.S., North Vietnam and South Vietnam.  The provisions of the treaty did not hold; a final North Vietnamese military push in April 1975 crumpled the South Vietnamese government and army.  The few remaining U.S. forces made an emergency withdrawal as Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troops entered Saigon.  Vietnam was reunited by force, under a communist government.

Attacks on the USS Maddox and USS Turner Joy — if they occurred — took place early on August 4.  President Johnson might be excused for having done nothing on the issue at the time.  That was the same day that the bodies of three civil rights workers were discovered by the FBI, murdered by a pro-segregation mob with clear ties to the local Ku Klux Klan.  Either event, the Gulf of Tonkin, or the Mississippi civil rights murders, could be a major event in any presidency, testing to the utmost the leadership and peace-making abilities of a president.  Johnson dealt with both events at the same time.

Three American civil rights’ workers, James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael “Mickey” Schwerner, were lynched on the night of June 21–22, 1964 by members of the Mississippi White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, the Neshoba County‘s Sheriff Office and the Philadelphia Police Department located in Philadelphia, Mississippi. The three had been working on the “Freedom Summer” campaign, attempting to register African Americans to vote.

On a commission from the Dallas Symphony, composer Stephen Stucky composed a piece during the Lyndon Johnson Centennial in 2008; Kathryn and I heard the world premiere of August 4, 1964, on September 18, 2008.  Stucky’s piece (with libretto by Gene Scheer) is the only place I know where anyone has seriously considered the nexus between these two, opposite-side-of-the-world tragedies, and how they set the stage for the rest of the 1960s decade.   The piece has been recorded by the Dallas Symphony.  I highly recommend it.

Here’s a video from the Dallas Symphony on the piece:

What have we learned from this bit of history? What should we have learned from it?

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Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

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History and art: Lyndon Johnson, Civil Rights, Vietnam, Stephen Stucky, the Dallas Symphony, and “August 4, 1964”

August 4, 2017

The Dallas Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Jaap van Zweden, presents the premiere of Steven Stucky's oratorio

The Dallas Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Jaap van Zweden, presents the premiere of Steven Stucky’s oratorio “August 4, 1964,” with soloists, from left, mezzo-soprano Kelley O’Connor, soprano Laquita Mitchell, tenor Vale Rideout, and baritone Robert Orth. Photo from the National Endowment for the Arts, Jason Kindig

In an era when our president and Congress appear unable to deal with one issue on a good day, it may be instructive to look back to a day upon which one U.S. President handled a lot, all at once.

On August 4, 1964, President Johnson awoke to the news that two U.S. Navy ships cruising in the Tonkin Gulf had been fired upon by North Vietnamese Navy gunboats; then the FBI called and announced that the bodies of three civil rights workers had been found, young men registering African Americans to vote in Mississippi.  Both of these events rumble through history like a Rocky Mountain avalanche to today; either was a make-or-break event for any presidency.  

Lyndon Johnson dealt with them both, the same day. And though Vietnam did not turn out for the best, it’s useful to note that Johnson’s call for Congress to grant authority to act on the Tonkin incident got results just three days later.

Sadly we note that Stephen Stucky, the composer of this great piece, died of brain cancer on February 14, 2016.

“August 4, 1964,” is an oratorio covering a remarkable and fantastic coincidence in the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson.  On that day, the bodies of three civil rights workers who had been missing for nearly seven weeks, were found in shallow graves near Philadelphia, Mississippi — they were the victims of violence aimed at stopping blacks from voting.  The incident was a chief spur to the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

And also on that day, the U.S.S. Maddox reported it had been attacked by gunboats of the North Vietnamese Navy, in the Gulf of Tonkin.  The Gulf of Tonkin incident led to the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which gave Johnson the authority to expand and escalate the war in Vietnam, which he did.

Cover for the CD of the Dallas Symphony's performance of Steven Stucky's

Cover for the CD of the Dallas Symphony’s Grammy-nominated performance of Steven Stucky’s “August 4, 1964,” Jaap van Zweden conducting.

The Dallas Symphony commissioned the work, from composer Steven Stucky and librettist Gene Scheer, in commemoration of President Johnson’s 100th birth anniversary — he would have been 100 on August 27, 2008.  The works were premiered in Dallas in 2008.

The music is outstanding, especially for a modern piece.  The Dallas Symphony played at its flashiest and most sober best, under the baton of new conductor Jaap van Zweden.  It was a spectacular performance.  According to the New York Times:

Mr. van Zweden, hailed in his debut as music director a week before, scored another triumph here. And the orchestra’s assured and gritty performance was rivaled by that of the large Dallas Symphony Chorus, both corporately and individually, in shifting solo snippets charting the course of the fateful day.

The strong cast, mildly amplified, was robustly led by the Johnson of Robert Orth, last heard as another president in John Adams’s “Nixon in China” in Denver in June. Laquita Mitchell and Kelley O’Conner, wearing period hats, were touching as Mrs. Chaney and Mrs. Goodman. Understandably, the taxing role of a high-strung McNamara took a small toll on the tenor of Vale Rideout in his late aria.

The entire thing deserves more commentary, perhaps soon.  There is stellar history in the choral piece.  And there is this:  Consider that Lyndon Johnson, the best legislator and second most-effective executive we ever had as president, got hit with these two crises the same day.  On the one hand the nation got the Voting Rights Act, the Fair Housing Act, executive orders and government support to end segregation and the evils it created.  On the other hand, we got stuck with the disaster of the Vietnam War.

How would the nation fared had a lesser person been in the White House on that day?

(August 4 is a busy, busy day in history; much to think about.)

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Much of this is an encore post.

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January 30: A beginning, beginning of the end, end of the beginning, end

January 30, 2017

When students claim to find fantastic conjunctions of dates that they claim show worldwide conspiracies, sometimes centuries in existence, I point them to the internet to find what happened on that date (whatever date it is) and note coincidences “a suspicious mind” might find compelling.

Almost every date on the calendar produces astonishing coincidences. But that’s all they are.

Right? It’s not as if there are such conspiracies, or that the gods conspire to send us messages by making momentous things occur on the same day, right?

January 30 is a momentous date, according to the AP list of events that occurred on this day.
A suspicious mind might reel at these coincidences.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, National Portrait Gallery

Franklin D. Roosevelt, National Portrait Gallery

Beginning: Franklin Roosevelt, the only president of the U.S. to break the tradition of getting elected to two terms only, was born on January 30, 1882,  in Hyde Park, New York.  (Both Ulysses Grant and his cousin, Theodore Roosevelt, had tried to break the two-term tradition  before.)  Roosevelt served at the 32nd president, winning election in 1932, 1936, 1940, and 1944.  During his first term the date of presidential inaugurations was moved from March 21 to January 21, partly in appreciation for the period of time the nation drifted seemingly deeper into depression between Roosevelt’s election in November 1932 and his inauguration in March 1933.  Roosevelt contracted polio in 1921, won election as New York’s governor in 1928, and then won the 1932 presidential race.  His death on April 12, 1945, pushed Harry Truman into the presidency for three years before he had to face the electorate.

End of the beginning: On January 30, 1933, Adolf Hitler took office as chancellor of Germany.  A World War I veteran, Hitler had spent time in prison for trying to overthrow the government. Hitler was seven years younger than FDR, but their careers occasionally coincided on key years.  Hitler’s assuming power in January 1933 gave him a two-month jump on FDR; at the time, few people, if anyone noticed the coincidental rise, nor could see the significance of the events of the year.  According to The History Place:

Germany was a nation that in its history had little experience or interest in democracy. In January 1933, Adolf Hitler took the reins of a 14-year-old German democratic republic which in the minds of many had long outlived its usefulness. By this time, the economic pressures of the Great Depression combined with the indecisive, self-serving nature of its elected politicians had brought government in Germany to a complete standstill. The people were without jobs, without food, quite afraid and desperate for relief.

Now, the man who had spent his entire political career denouncing and attempting to destroy the Republic, was its leader. Around noon on January 30th, Hitler was sworn in.

“I will employ my strength for the welfare of the German people, protect the Constitution and laws of the German people, conscientiously discharge the duties imposed on me, and conduct my affairs of office impartially and with justice to everyone,” swore Adolf Hitler.

Democratic-based government in Germany was doomed for the foreseeable future.  Few foresaw that.

Beginning of the end: On January 30, 1968, during the Vietnamese new year celebration known as Tet, Vietcong and North Vietnamese army regulars kicked off the Tet Offensive, striking targets all over Vietnam simultaneously.  Caught nearly completely by surprise, U.S. and South Vietnamese forces lost control of Saigon, the South Vietnamese capital for a time.  While the U.S. and South Vietnamese eventually won these many battles and pushed out the invading forces,  the simple fact that the thought-to-be-decimated forces of Ho Chi Minh could pull of the offensive at all sent the chilling message that victory in this guerrilla did not yet belong to South Vietnam and the U.S., nor had a tide been turned.   After tumultuous elections in the U.S., Richard Nixon’s presidency could not turn the tide, either.  A “peace” was negotiated, mostly between North Vietnam and the U.S., in 1973, but it did not hold.  In 1975 relations between North Vietnam and South Vietnam hit crisis again, and the U.S. pulled out the last forces left in South Vietnam in April.  Vietcong and North Vietnamese forces defeated the rapidly dissipating military of the South, and the country was united under communist, North Vietnam rule.

Mahatma Gandhi addresses Indians; image from Bins Corner, probably public domain

Mahatma Gandhi addresses Indians

An end: Hindu extremist Nathuram Godse shot and killed Mohandas K. Gandhi in India, on January 30, 1948.  Gandhi was known as “Mahatma,” which means “Great Soul.”  Gandhi campaigned for India’s independence and end of British colonial rule for most of the 1920s, including a period of time in prison for subversive activities.  Gandhi’s great contribution to political change is the massive use of non-violent, non-cooperation.  Non-violent tactics tend to highlight the moral positions of groups in conflict, and make the non-violent side appear to have the stronger case.  Such tactics expose hypocrisy and despotic government rules.  Though he resigned from his political party in 1934, Gandhi remained a key icon of the drive for India’s independence.  When violence broke out over the Mountbatten plan to grant independence in 1947, creating two nations of Pakistan and India divided along religious, Gandhi again appealed for peace, but became the most famous victim of the religious violence that still roils the region today.  Committed to peace and non-violence, Gandhi himself did not ever win the Nobel Peace Prize, perhaps because his life was cut short.  His work inspired other Nobel Peace laureates, including the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1964), the Dalai Lama (1989), Aung San Suu Kyi (1991), Nelson Mandela (with Frederik Willem deKlerk, 1993), and U.S. President Barack Obama (2009).

On January 30, 2011, when I first noted these coincidences here, much of the world held its breath, watching events in North Africa, including especially Tunisia and Egypt.  I wondered, which of these traditions would that day follow, to peace, or toward war?

On January 30, 2017, the installation of Hitler and the Tet Offensive remind us of hubris of world leaders and really bad decisions that can have disastrous results, soon, and for a long time after.

Coincidence? What do you think?


49 years ago, “Penetration however slight”: Remembering a good and noble hoax – the U.S.S. Pueblo

January 23, 2017

Official US Navy photograph of the U.S.S. Pueblo, taken shortly after it went into service as the AGER-2 intelligence gathering ship on May 13, 1967. Crypto Museum image.

Official US Navy photograph of the U.S.S. Pueblo, taken shortly after it went into service as the AGER-2 intelligence gathering ship on May 13, 1967. Crypto Museum image.

January 23 is the anniversary of the North Koreans‘ capture of the spy boat, U.S.S. Pueblo, in 1968 — a beginning of a momentous year for bad events.  The saga of the Pueblo and its crew, including especially Cmdr. Lloyd Bucher, is of special interest to me because it features a series of some of the grandest, best and most humorously-American hoaxes ever perpetrated by imprisoned people against their captors and wardens.  This is one of the great Kilroy stories of American history.  It should not be forgotten.  Especially with the role North Korea plays in contemporary angst, the Pueblo episode should not be forgotten. This is an encore post, with new links added.

1968 brought one chunk of bad news after another to Americans. The year seemed to be one long, increasingly bad disaster. In several ways it was the mark of the times between the feel-good, post-war Eisenhower administration and the feel-good-despite-the-Cold-War Reagan administration. 1968 was depressing.

Lloyd M. Bucher

USN Cmdr. Lloyd M. Bucher (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What was so bad?

  • Vietnam manifested itself as a quagmire. Just when Washington politicians predicted an end in sight, Vietcong militia launched a nationwide attack in South Vietnam on the Vietnamese New Year holiday, Tet, at the end of January.
  • Civil rights gains stalled, and civil rights leaders came out in opposition to the Vietnam war.
  • President Johnson fared poorly in the New Hampshire primary election, and eventually dropped out of the race for the presidency (claiming he needed to devote time to making peace in Vietnam).
  • Labor troubles roiled throughout the U.S., including a nasty strike by garbage collectors in Memphis. It didn’t help to settle the strike that the sanitation workers were almost 100% African American, the leadership of Memphis was almost 100% white, and race relations in the city were not so good as they might have been – the strike attracted the efforts of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and Martin Luther King, Jr. – who was assassinated there in early April. In response, riots broke out in 150 American cities.
  • Two months later, in June, with the Vietnam War as a very divisive issue, the presidential campaign was marked by great distress of voters and increasing polarization. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy appeared to pull into the lead when he won the California primary in June, but he was assassinated that night.
  • Tens of thousands of anti-war protestors, angry at President Johnson, showed up at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago – with Johnson out of the race, the protests were essentially for show. Mayor Richard J. Daley took offense at the protestors, and Chicago policemen, who considered themselves the political opposites of the shaggy-haired protestors, attacked the protestors with clubs and tear gas. A national commission later called it a “police riot.”
  • Apart from Chicago, and the post-King assassination riots, America saw eight other massive riots in cities across the nation; riots also occurred around the world, notably in Paris, France.
  • Vice President Hubert Humphrey could not make his opposition to the Vietnam War known soon enough or broadly enough, and had a tough campaign against Republican, former Vice President Richard Nixon, who promised that he had a “secret” peace plan for Vietnam. Nixon won in a squeaker. Nixon had no secret peace plan.

At the end of the year, the U.S. got a feel-good story out of the Apollo Project, when NASA launched Apollo 8, which orbited the Moon on Christmas Eve. But when people remember 1968, it’s the strife most recall first.

Throughout 1968, there was the continuing sore of Americans held captive by the Republic of North Korea.

Commander Lloyd M. Bucher and the men of the U.S.S. Pueblo were captured by a superior force of North Korean gunboats on January 23, 1968, a few days before the Tet Offensive. Their capture and 11 months of captivity were a trial for the 84 men, and an embarrassment for the U.S.

Tortured and unable to effect an escape, Bucher and his men did the next best thing: They played hoaxes that made the North Koreans look silly.

Among other things, Cmdr. Bucher had signed a confession demanded (by torture) by North Korea. When news of this confession was revealed in the western press, observers were concerned that a U.S. citizen would succumb to making what was regarded as a false confession, but a coup for communist totalitarians. The texts of the confessions and other material from the captives, however, revealed something quite different. The confessions were written or edited largely by Bucher and the crew, and to an American with any familiarity with popular culture, they were hilarious.

My recollection was that at least one of the confessions was that the Pueblo had indeed penetrated North Korean territorial waters, but it was phrased to make it sound like the definition of rape offered in the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). I could not find any record of that confession on the internet.

At some length, I succeeded in getting a copy of the out-of-print autobiography of Cmdr. Bucher, to check my memory of the confessions. The book is out of print. I found a couple of copies at a used book vendor, very inexpensive, through Amazon.com. However, shortly after ordering the books, I was informed by both the Post Office and the vendor that the books had been destroyed by sorting machinery. Fortunately, they had been shipped separately, and one finally arrived.

Unfortunately, the “Final, final confession” does not contain what I recall. However, the book revealed that after the writing of the “Final, final,” Bucher’s crew was asked to write more – apologies to the people of North Korea, and other propaganda documents. It was in those documents that the text I recalled, appeared.

2008 marks 40 years since that terrible year, 40 years since the Pueblo incident. For the sake of posterity, and to aid your lesson plans, here is the part of the confessions I recall which has not been available lately.

Bucher: My Story, Commander Lloyd M. Bucher, USN, with Mark Rascovich, Doubleday 1970, Dell 1971; p. 342

We did in fact get away with a composition that matched my Final, Final Confession for brazen kidding of the KORCOMS, and which far surpassed it in subtlety. Blended into the standard Communist verbosity were such lines of our own as:

“We, as conscientious human beings who were cast upon the rocks and shoals of immorality by the tidal waves of Washington’s naughty policies know that neither the frequency nor the distances of these transgressions into the territorial waters of this sovereign peace-loving nation matter because penetration however slight is sufficient to complete the act.” (Rocks and Shoals is Navy slang for the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the last line contains the essential definition of rape.)

This was both delivered over film and TV and published in the “Ping-pong Times.” The Glorious General was well pleased and set the same team to working on the next letter.

North Korea was anxious to cash in on the propaganda opportunities of the confessions and other material, and spread these documents as far as their naïve public relations offices could. Eventually, in late November or early December, a photograph of the captives, intended to show them healthy and having a good time, was distributed to newspapers. In the photo, the crew were shown smiling on a basketball court, holding a basketball, with a few of their North Korean guards. The photo was not published widely in the United States, however, because almost to a man, the crew were displaying what they had told the North Koreans was a Hawaiian good luck symbol – extended middle fingers. U.S. papers thought the photo inappropriate. European papers published it, however, and eventually Time Magazine ran the photo, with an explanation.

When news got back to Pyong Yang that the North Koreans had been hoaxed, the North Koreans instituted a week of beatings and torture. Within a couple of weeks, however, the North Koreans handed over the crew back to the U.S., at Panmunjon. U.S. officials were convinced that their signing an insincere confession got the Pueblo crew released. Anyone who ever read O. Henry’s Ransom of Red Chief suspected the North Koreans got the crew out of North Korea before the crew could hoax the government completely away.

Fortunately, Lloyd Bucher and the crew of the Pueblo did not follow H. L. Mencken’s advice after the Fillmore Bathtub hoax, and swear off hoaxes completely.

Sadly, the Navy brought charges against Bucher for having failed to avoid capture. The heroes welcome the crew should have gotten, never happened. In months of litigation in Navy courtrooms, the brilliance of the resistance of the crew of the Pueblo was lost, and forgotten. Bucher was cleared, but his reputation was never the same. Officially, the tale of the Pueblo crew is not celebrated.

In an era when hoaxes generally aid and abet the works of scoundrels, crooks and traitors, we should pause for a short time to remember when brave American sailors used hoaxes to let their nation know they were alive and resisting, and to embarrass their captors. It was a sterling show of American spirit, and humor.

We need more shows of American spirit and humor.

More:  

USS Pueblo after captured by North Korea, from...

USS Pueblo after being captured by North Korea, from A-12 spyplane Photo: Wikipedia

Good news update: Much more information on the Pueblo incident is available online now, than when I first wrote about it in 2008. Still no celebrations.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

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Typewriter of the moment: Ho Chi Minh

August 21, 2014

Ho Chi Minh at his typewriter.  Photo from EarthStation 1

Ho Chi Minh at his typewriter. Photo from EarthStation 1

The image looks to me to have been lifted off of a film or video; by the non-white color of his beard, this must have been taken sometime before 1955.  I’ve found no other details on the photo, especially nothing on the typewriter.  Anybody know the date of the photo, the occasion, the location, or the typewriter?

But there you go:  Ho Chi Minh, the leader of the Vietnam freedom fighters against the Japanese in World War II, then against the French colonialists (his forces then called Viet Minh, and later Viet Cong), and then of North Vietnam against South Vietnam and the United States after 1954, until his death in 1969.

Ha!  A second photo of Ho and a typewriter, from Greg Hocfell:

Ho Chi Minh at his typewriter.  Photo via Greg Hocfell

Ho Chi Minh at his typewriter. Photo via Greg Hocfell

Might those photos be from the same session?  Ho looks about the same age, his hair and beard are about the same color, and he’s wearing a dark shirt with white buttons in each.

More:


History in art: August 4, 1964, and the Dallas Symphony

August 4, 2014

On August 4, 1964, President Johnson awoke to the news that two U.S. Navy ships cruising in the Tonkin Gulf had been fired upon by North Vietnamese Navy gunboats; then the FBI called and announced that the bodies of three civil rights workers had been found, young men registering African Americans to vote in Mississippi.  Both of these events rumble through history like a Rocky Mountain avalanche to today; either was a make-or-break event for any presidency.  

Lyndon Johnson dealt with them both, the same day

“August 4, 1964,” is an oratorio covering a remarkable and fantastic coincidence in the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson.  On that day, the bodies of three civil rights workers who had been missing for nearly seven weeks, were found in shallow graves near Philadelphia, Mississippi — they were the victims of violence aimed at stopping blacks from voting.  The incident was a chief spur to the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

And also on that day, the U.S.S. Maddox reported it had been attacked by gunboats of the North Vietnamese Navy, in the Gulf of Tonkin.  The Gulf of Tonkin incident led to the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which gave Johnson the authority to expand and escalate the war in Vietnam, which he did.

Cover for the CD of the Dallas Symphony's performance of Steven Stucky's

Cover for the CD of the Dallas Symphony’s Grammy-nominated performance of Steven Stucky’s “August 4, 1964,” Jaap van Zweden conducting.

The Dallas Symphony commissioned the work, from composer Steven Stucky and librettist Gene Scheer, in commemoration of President Johnson’s 100th birth anniversary — he would have been 100 on August 27, 2008.  The works were premiered in Dallas in 2008.

The music is outstanding, especially for a modern piece.  The Dallas Symphony was at its flashiest and most sober best, under the baton of new conductor Jaap van Zweden.  It was a spectacular performance.  According to the New York Times:

Mr. van Zweden, hailed in his debut as music director a week before, scored another triumph here. And the orchestra’s assured and gritty performance was rivaled by that of the large Dallas Symphony Chorus, both corporately and individually, in shifting solo snippets charting the course of the fateful day.

The strong cast, mildly amplified, was robustly led by the Johnson of Robert Orth, last heard as another president in John Adams’s “Nixon in China” in Denver in June. Laquita Mitchell and Kelley O’Conner, wearing period hats, were touching as Mrs. Chaney and Mrs. Goodman. Understandably, the taxing role of a high-strung McNamara took a small toll on the tenor of Vale Rideout in his late aria.

The entire thing deserves more commentary, perhaps soon.  There is stellar history in the choral piece.  And there is this:  Consider that Lyndon Johnson, the best legislator and second most-effective executive we ever had as president, got hit with these two crises the same day.  On the one hand the nation got the Voting Rights Act, the Fair Housing Act, executive orders and government support to end segregation and the evils it created.  On the other hand, we got stuck with the disaster of the Vietnam War.

How would the nation fared had a lesser person been in the White House on that day?

(August 4 is a busy, busy day in history; much to think about.)

More: 

This is an encore post.

Much of this is an encore post.


“Penetration however slight”: Remembering a good and noble hoax – the U.S.S. Pueblo, 46 years later

January 22, 2014

January 23 is the anniversary of the North Koreans‘ capture of the spy boat, U.S.S. Pueblo, in 1968 — a beginning of a momentous year for bad events.  The saga of the Pueblo and its crew, including especially Cmdr. Lloyd Bucher, is of special interest to me because it features a series of some of the grandest, best and most humorously American hoaxes ever perpetrated by imprisoned people against their captors and wardens.  This is one of the great Kilroy stories of American history.  It should not be forgotten.  Especially with the role North Korea plays in contemporary angst, the Pueblo episode should not be forgotten. This is an encore post, with new links added.

1968 brought one chunk of bad news after another to Americans. The year seemed to be one long, increasingly bad disaster. In several ways it was the mark of the times between the feel-good, post-war Eisenhower administration and the feel-good-despite-the-Cold-War Reagan administration. 1968 was depressing.

Lloyd M. Bucher

USN Cmdr. Lloyd M. Bucher (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What was so bad? Vietnam manifested itself as a quagmire. Just when Washington politicians predicted an end in sight, Vietcong militia launched a nationwide attack in South Vietnam on the Vietnamese New Year holiday, Tet, at the end of January. Civil rights gains stalled, and civil rights leaders came out in opposition to the Vietnam war. President Johnson fared poorly in the New Hampshire primary election, and eventually dropped out of the race for the presidency (claiming he needed to devote time to making peace in Vietnam). Labor troubles roiled throughout the U.S., including a nasty strike by garbage collectors in Memphis. It didn’t help to settle the strike that the sanitation workers were almost 100% African American, the leadership of Memphis was almost 100% white, and race relations in the city were not so good as they might have been – the strike attracted the efforts of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and Martin Luther King, Jr. – who was assassinated there in early April. In response, riots broke out in 150 American cities.

More below the fold, including the key confession to “penetration.” Read the rest of this entry »


49 years ago: August 7, 1964, Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution

August 7, 2013

August 7 is the 43rd anniversary of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, the resolution which authorized President Lyndon B. Johnson to move troops into South Vietnam to defend U.S. interests.

Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, passed by Congress on August 7, 1964, as presented to President Lyndon Johnson, and signed by him on August 10. This is the document that authorized U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Image from the National Archives, Our Documents display.

Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, passed by Congress on August 7, 1964, as presented to President Lyndon Johnson, and signed by him on August 10. This is the document that authorized U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Image from the National Archives, Our Documents display.

The resolution passed Congress after what appeared to be attacks on two U.S. Navy ships in the Gulf of Tonkin.  At the time, and now, evidence is weak that such attacks took place.

Quick summary from the National Archives:

On August 4, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson announced that two days earlier, U.S. ships in the Gulf of Tonkin had been attacked by the North Vietnamese. Johnson dispatched U.S. planes against the attackers and asked Congress to pass a resolution to support his actions. The joint resolution “to promote the maintenance of international peace and security in southeast Asia” passed on August 7, with only two Senators (Wayne Morse and Ernest Gruening) dissenting, and became the subject of great political controversy in the course of the undeclared war that followed.

The Tonkin Gulf Resolution stated that “Congress approves and supports the determination of the President, as Commander in Chief, to take all necessary measures to repeal any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent any further aggression.” As a result, President Johnson, and later President Nixon, relied on the resolution as the legal basis for their military policies in Vietnam.

As public resistance to the war heightened, the resolution was repealed by Congress in January 1971.

Santayana’s ghost looks on in wonder.

Map of divided Vietnam, during the Vietnam War. History Place map via Mr. Roache's Place

Map of divided Vietnam, during the Vietnam War. History Place map via Mr. Roache’s Place

Considering its powerful effect on American history, the document is very, very brief.  Here’s the text [links added]:

Eighty-eighth Congress of the United States of America
AT THE SECOND SESSION

Begun and held at the City of Washington on Tuesday, the seventh day of January, one thousand nine hundred and sixty-four

Joint Resolution
To promote the maintenance of international peace and security in southeast Asia.

Whereas naval units of the Communist regime in Vietnam, in violation of the principles of the Charter of the United Nations and of international law, have deliberately and repeatedly attacked United Stated naval vessels lawfully present in international waters, and have thereby created a serious threat to international peace; and

Whereas these attackers are part of deliberate and systematic campaign of aggression that the Communist regime in North Vietnam has been waging against its neighbors and the nations joined with them in the collective defense of their freedom; and

Whereas the United States is assisting the peoples of southeast Asia to protest their freedom and has no territorial, military or political ambitions in that area, but desires only that these people should be left in peace to work out their destinies in their own way: Now, therefore be it

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the Congress approves and supports the determination of the President, as Commander in Chief, to take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression.

Map showing ship movements reported during the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, on August 4, 1964; reports that North Vietnamese gunboats attacked and engaged two patrolling U.S. Navy ships pushed Congress to authorize President Johnson to take extensive defensive actions.

Map showing ship movements reported during the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, on August 4, 1964; reports that North Vietnamese gunboats attacked and engaged two patrolling U.S. Navy ships pushed Congress to authorize President Johnson to take extensive defensive actions. (image from Echo Two Seven Tooter, replaced with Wikipedia map 8/2017)

Section 2. The United States regards as vital to its national interest and to world peace the maintenance of international peace and security in southeast Asia. Consonant with the Constitution of the United States and the Charter of the United Nations and in accordance with its obligations under the Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty, the United States is, therefore, prepared, as the President determines, to take all necessary steps, including the use of armed force, to assist any member or protocol state of the Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty requesting assistance in defense of its freedom.

Section 3. This resolution shall expire when the President shall determine that the peace and security of the area is reasonably assured by international conditions created by action of the United Nations or otherwise, except that it may be terminated earlier by concurrent resolution of the Congress.

[endorsements]

And on that authority, “Congress approves and supports the determination of the President, as Commander in Chief, to take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression,” the U.S. spent the next 11 years in all-out warfare in Vietnam, with up to 500,000 military troops in the conflict, and losing the lives of more than 58,000 men and women.

U.S. engagement in Vietnam continued well after the repeal of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution in 1971.  In 1973 a peace treaty was signed between the U.S., North Vietnam and South Vietnam.  The provisions of the treaty did not hold; a final North Vietnamese military push in April 1975 crumpled the South Vietnamese government and army.  The few remaining U.S. forces made an emergency withdrawal as Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troops entered Saigon.  Vietnam was reunited by force, under a communist government.

Attacks on the USS Maddox and USS Turner Joy — if they occurred — took place early on August 4.  President Johnson might be excused for having done nothing on the issue at the time.  That was the same day that the bodies of three civil rights workers were discovered by the FBI, murdered by a pro-segregation mob with clear ties to the local Ku Klux Klan.  Either event, the Gulf of Tonkin, or the Mississippi civil rights murders, could be a major event in any presidency, testing to the utmost the leadership and peace-making abilities of a president.  Johnson dealt with both events at the same time.

Three American civil rights’ workers, James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael “Mickey” Schwerner, were lynched on the night of June 21–22, 1964 by members of the Mississippi White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, the Neshoba County‘s Sheriff Office and the Philadelphia Police Department located in Philadelphia, Mississippi. The three had been working on the “Freedom Summer” campaign, attempting to register African Americans to vote.

On a commission from the Dallas Symphony, composer Stephen Stucky composed a piece during the Lyndon Johnson Centennial in 2008; Kathryn and I heard the world premiere of August 4, 1964, on September 18, 2008.  Stucky’s piece (with libretto by Gene Scheer) is the only place I know where anyone has seriously considered the nexus between these two, opposite-side-of-the-world tragedies, and how they set the stage for the rest of the 1960s decade.   The piece has been recorded by the Dallas Symphony.  I highly recommend it.

Here’s a video from the Dallas Symphony on the piece:

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“Penetration however slight”: Remembering a good and noble hoax – the U.S.S. Pueblo

January 23, 2013

January 23 is the anniversary of the North Koreans‘ capture of the spy boat, U.S.S. Pueblo, in 1968 — a beginning of a momentous year for bad events.  The saga of the Pueblo and its crew, including especially Cmdr. Lloyd Bucher, is of special interest to me because it features a series of some of the grandest, best and most humorously American hoaxes ever perpetrated by imprisoned people against their captors and wardens.  This is one of the great Kilroy stories of American history.  It should not be forgotten.  Especially with the role North Korea plays in contemporary angst, the Pueblo episode should not be forgotten. This is an encore post, with new links added.

1968 brought one chunk of bad news after another to Americans. The year seemed to be one long, increasingly bad disaster. In several ways it was the mark of the times between the feel-good, post-war Eisenhower administration and the feel-good-despite-the-Cold-War Reagan administration. 1968 was depressing.

Lloyd M. Bucher

USN Cmdr. Lloyd M. Bucher (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What was so bad? Vietnam manifested itself as a quagmire. Just when Washington politicians predicted an end in sight, Vietcong militia launched a nationwide attack in South Vietnam on the Vietnamese New Year holiday, Tet, at the end of January. Civil rights gains stalled, and civil rights leaders came out in opposition to the Vietnam war. President Johnson fared poorly in the New Hampshire primary election, and eventually dropped out of the race for the presidency (claiming he needed to devote time to making peace in Vietnam). Labor troubles roiled throughout the U.S., including a nasty strike by garbage collectors in Memphis. It didn’t help to settle the strike that the sanitation workers were almost 100% African American, the leadership of Memphis was almost 100% white, and race relations in the city were not so good as they might have been – the strike attracted the efforts of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and Martin Luther King, Jr. – who was assassinated there in early April. In response, riots broke out in 150 American cities.

More below the fold, including the key confession to “penetration.” Read the rest of this entry »


Why so few streets named after Vietnam veterans?

June 11, 2011

Junior Cruz of Salt Lake City was 15 when his Eagle Scout Project honored a fallen soldier from our war in Iraq, Adam Galvez.  You can read a stirring story from The Deseret News at Adam Galvez.com.

Junior Cruz, with Cpl. Adam Galvez's parents Tony and Amy Galvez, at Adam Galvez Street in Salt Lake City

Boy Scout Junior Cruz, with Cpl. Adam Galvez's parents Tony and Amy Galvez, at Adam Galvez Street in Salt Lake City

Marines honor fallen comrade Cpl. Adam Galvez, Salt Lake City, 2007

Marines honor their fallen comrade Cpl. Adam Galvez, at the ceremony naming a street after Galvez.7

Once upon a time I might have wondered about the utility of such a project, not because naming a street after a veterans isn’t a great idea, but because the actions required for naming streets might not measure up to the usual expectations for great service in an Eagle project.  This project and the stories about it quickly dispel such worries — for example, notice that the city required Cruz to raise the $2,000 required to change the street signs, such fundraising itself a major accomplishment.  Our son James’s project at the DFW National Cemetery required similar fundraising, and got at least as much in in-kind contributions — but it was major work.

Marines at the naming of Adam Galvez Street, 2007

Marines salute at the ceremony for the naming of Adam Galvez Street, 2007

Reading the news story, I thought back to a question that has plagued me for years:  Why didn’t we have the good sense to welcome back Vietnam vets with parades, and other welcome home activities?  That was one great lesson of Vietnam I think we, as a nation, learned well.  Today national news programs, like the PBS Newshour, honor each fallen soldier in our nation’s wars.  Here in Dallas, and at other cities I suspect, there is a formal volunteer program to make sure soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan deployments get a flag-waving cheer when they get off the airplane.  Churches, schools, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts volunteer to go wave the flags and cheer the soldiers.  The volunteers may get more out of it than the soldiers, but the message is clear all the way around:  These soldier men and women served their nation, and they deserve thanks and a cheer.

Ceremony naming Adam Galvez Street, February 2007

Ceremony naming Adam Galvez Street, February 2007

Is it too late to do that for Vietnam veterans?  A chief complaint over the years, especially from the war-hungry right wing, is that the Vietnam peace movement dishonored those veterans, chiefly by not honoring them more when they came home.

My brother, Wes, served four tours in Southeast Asia in that war, returning each time to no great celebration other than his family’s great gratitude at his return.  He’s too great a patriot to complain — as are most of the other Vietnam vets.  Our periodic patriotic celebrations now do better:  Vietnam vets get honored at July 4 and Veterans’ Day celebrations, and the fallen get special honors on Memorial Day, in most towns in America.

Junior Cruz hit on a great idea, though:  Name a street in honor of the fallen.

Why not do that for more Vietnam vets?  My hometown of Pleasant Grove, Utah, had a population of fewer than 10,000 people during the Vietnam conflict, but well I remember in my high school years when the list of fallen passed 11, including a recently-graduated studentbody president and basketball star and the brother of a woman in my French class.   Neither of them has a memorial other than their gravestone, that I’m aware.

Adam Galvez Street, Salt Lake City, Utah

Adam Galvez Street, Salt Lake City, Utah

Street names can tell us a lot about a town or city.  In the great booming times of 1950s through 1990s, a lot of streets in America were named after developers’ kids, wives and ex-wives.  More recently developers have taken to cutesy names on a theme designed to sell homes:  “Whispering Waters Way,” “Mountain View,” etc.   Those cities where history gets some note in street names do well, I think.  Ogden, Utah, named a bunch of streets after presidents, in order of their service, from Washington through the second Harrison (and as a consequence, a lot of people who grew up in Ogden can name the presidents in order from Washington through almost to Teddy Roosevelt).  New York has not suffered from renaming a stretch of road The Avenue of the Americas, Washington, D.C. has done well with both Independence Avenue and Constitution Avenue.

Why not rename some streets in American after Vietnam veterans?  While we’re at it, how about Korean War veterans?  We can’t recapture the time and do what we should have done about 58 years ago for Korea or about 45 years ago for Vietnam.  We can do noble things from now, forward.  Why not create memorials that remind us of the great service these people did for their nation, and name and rename streets in their honor?

Resources:


Beginning, beginning of the end, end of the beginning, end

January 30, 2011

January 30 is a momentous date, according to the AP list of events that occurred on this day.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, National Portrait Gallery

Franklin D. Roosevelt, National Portrait Gallery

Beginning: Franklin Roosevelt, the only president of the U.S. to break the tradition of getting elected to two terms only, was born on January 30, 1882,  in Hyde Park, New York.  (Both Ulysses Grant and his cousin, Theodore Roosevelt, had tried to break the two-term tradition  before.)  Roosevelt served at the 32nd president, winning election in 1932, 1936, 1940, and 1944.  During his first term the date of presidential inaugurations was moved from March 21 to January 21, partly in appreciation for the period of time the nation drifted seemingly deeper into depression between Roosevelt’s election in November 1932 and his inauguration in March 1933.  Roosevelt contracted polio in 1921, won election as New York’s governor in 1928, and then won the 1932 presidential race.  His death on April 12, 1945, pushed Harry Truman into the presidency for three years before he had to face the electorate.

End of the beginning: On January 30, 1933, Adolf Hitler took office as chancellor of Germany.  A World War I veteran, Hitler had spent time in prison for trying to overthrow the government. Hitler was seven years younger than FDR, but their careers occasionally coincided on key years.  Hitler’s assuming power in January gave him a two-month jump on FDR; at the time, few people, if anyone noticed the coincidental rise, nor could see the significance of the events of the year.  According to The History Place:

Germany was a nation that in its history had little experience or interest in democracy. In January 1933, Adolf Hitler took the reins of a 14-year-old German democratic republic which in the minds of many had long outlived its usefulness. By this time, the economic pressures of the Great Depression combined with the indecisive, self-serving nature of its elected politicians had brought government in Germany to a complete standstill. The people were without jobs, without food, quite afraid and desperate for relief.

Now, the man who had spent his entire political career denouncing and attempting to destroy the Republic, was its leader. Around noon on January 30th, Hitler was sworn in.

“I will employ my strength for the welfare of the German people, protect the Constitution and laws of the German people, conscientiously discharge the duties imposed on me, and conduct my affairs of office impartially and with justice to everyone,” swore Adolf Hitler.

Democratic-based government in Germany was doomed for the foreseeable future.  Few foresaw that.

Beginning of the end: On January 30, 1968, during the Vietnamese new year celebration known as Tet, Vietcong and North Vietnamese army regulars kicked off the Tet Offensive, striking targets all over Vietnam simultaneously.  Caught nearly completely by surprise, U.S. and South Vietnamese forces lost control of Saigon, the South Vietnamese capital for a time.  While the U.S. and South Vietnamese eventually won these many battles and pushed out the invading forces,  the simple fact that the thought-to-be-decimated forces of Ho Chi Minh could pull of the offensive at all sent the chilling message that victory in this guerrilla did not yet belong to South Vietnam and the U.S., nor had a tide been turned.   After tumultuous elections in the U.S., Richard Nixon’s presidency could not turn the tide, either.  A “peace” was negotiated, mostly between North Vietnam and the U.S., in 1973, but it did not hold.  In 1975 relations between North Vietnam and South Vietnam hit crisis again, and the U.S. pulled out the last forces left in South Vietnam in April.  Vietcong and North Vietnamese forces defeated the rapidly dissipating military of the South, and the country was united under communist, North Vietnam rule.

Mahatma Gandhi addresses Indians

Mahatma Gandhi addresses Indians

An end: Hindu extremist Nathuram Godse shot and killed Mohandas K. Gandhi in India, on January 30, 1948.  Gandhi was known as “Mahatma,” which means “Great Soul.”  Gandhi campaigned for India’s independence and end of British colonial rule for most of the 1920s, including a period of time in prison for subversive activities.  Gandhi’s great contribution to political change is the massive use of non-violent, non-cooperation.  Non-violent tactics tend to highlight the moral positions of groups in conflict, and make the non-violent side appear to have the stronger case.  Such tactics expose hypocrisy and despotic government rules.  Though he resigned from his political party in 1934, Gandhi remained a key icon of the drive for India’s independence.  When violence broke out over the Mountbatten plan to grant independence in 1947, creating two nations of Pakistan and India divided along religious, Gandhi again appealed for peace, but became the most famous victim of the religious violence that still roils the region today.  Committed to peace and non-violence, Gandhi himself did not ever win the Nobel Peace Prize, perhaps because his life was cut short.  His work inspired other Nobel Peace laureates, including the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1964), the Dalai Lama (1989), Aung San Suu Kyi (1991), Nelson Mandela (with Frederik Willem deKlerk, 1993), and U.S. President Barack Obama (2009).

On January 30, 2011, much of the world holds its breath, watching events in North Africa, including especially Tunisia and Egypt.  Which of these traditions will today follow, to peace, or toward war?


Republicans snub Vietnam vet (again – Connecticut this time)

May 29, 2010

Details here, with Gail Collins.


Robert McNamara, Eagle Scout

July 8, 2009

A few weeks ago I finally got a copy of “Fog of War,” at Half-Price Books.  I’ve watched it three times so far.

DVD box for Fog of War, Errol Morriss Academy Award-winning documentary

DVD box for Fog of War, Errol Morris's Academy Award-winning documentary

For a talking head documentary, it’s compelling, and interesting.  It may be just that I lived through the time, and hearing former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara explain now what was going on at various points . . . “Fog of War” is like a director’s cut DVD of the Vietnam War with Coppola, Scorsese, Spielberg and Wilder all explaining every facet of what the director was doing.

Errol Morris’s interviews over the past few days are good, too.  Morris is the director of the movie.  He reminds us that he was making the movie before, and then in the aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Center.  Wrong decisions about war were being repeated.

I was looking to find excerpts that might work in world history or U.S. history classes.  I’m not sure there is one, now.  It should be a powerful film for an AP U.S. history class, but probably assigned viewing rather than in-class.

For his part, Robert McNamara was never anything less than brilliant, even when wrong.  We often forget that he rose to his role as Secretary of Defense because of his being right when others were so wrong — at Ford Motor, McNamara was the one who saw the Edsel as a dismal failure and the wrong path, years before the ultimate failure of the marque, the man who saved Lincoln, the man who pushed the small car revolution in the Ford Falcon, the man who pushed safety packages with seatbelts before they were popular, or required. Even at Defense he was more capable that his predecessors, more careful, and more often right.  (Read that Miami Herald piece from Joseph Califano — it reveals the brilliance of Lyndon Johnson, too.)

McNamara’s descriptions of errors in the highest places are also brilliant in their insight.

With the possible exception of Eisenhower’s never-used apology and fault-accepting letter for the failure of D-Day, the Normandy invasion — never used because the invasion worked — have we seen a more forthright mea culpa and warning from any of our warriors about their own mistakes, and how to avoid them?

What drove McNamara to do that?

Learned something else yesterday:  Robert McNamara was an Eagle Scout.

Is that why it seems like he, almost alone among the architects of that horrible conflict, confessed to error in Vietnam? He was a man who could do almost anything, had done much, but at the most important time could not do whatever it was that was required to achieve a just peace, nor even an end to war. We don’t know yet what the right thing to do might have been.

There is much more to know from that chapter, from and about McNamara, than we have learned yet.  Perhaps McNamara’s passing will spur others to find copies of the movie, and study the Eleven Lessons Robert McNamara learned from Vietnam too late; perhaps others can now apply the lessons in time.

Robert McNamara talks about Vietnam to the press - National Archives photo

Robert McNamara talks about Vietnam to the press - National Archives photo

See the Washington Post’s gallery of photos of the life of Robert McNamara.

Tip of the old scrub brush to the discussions at Scouts-L.


Human rights lawyers arrested in Vietnam, Iran

June 18, 2009

Get the story here, at Accumulating Peripherals, from Matthew Steinglass.

While eyes are on Iran — as best eyes can be on a place where the government has the fog machines turned on high — Vietnam also arrestsed a leading human rights defender, with too few watching.

On Tuesday, according to NPR’s Mark Memmott, Iranian Nobel Prize winner Shirin Ebadi told NPR reporter Davar Iran Ardalan that a prominent human rights lawyer had been arrested by security agents posing as clients.

That lawyer, Abdolfattah Soltani, spoke with Davar just yesterday — telling her that the Iranian government should recount all the votes in last Friday’s disputed presidential election, in which President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared the winner by a 2-1 margin.

“Once they were inside they immediately confiscated his computer and other documents and they arrested Mr. Soltani,” Ebadi said in today’s interview. “As far as we know, they did not have an arrest warrant.”

And in Vietnam:

On the other side of Asia last weekend, Vietnamese plainclothes security agents entered the offices of the Ho Chi Minh City dispute resolution firm PIAC and arrested US-trained lawyer and former Fulbright scholar Le Cong Dinh. As a lawyer at White & Case in 2003, Dinh defended Vietnamese catfish farmers against US anti-dumping tariffs. Then, in 2007, he served as defense counsel for two Hanoi human rights lawyers, Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thi Cong Nhan, who were ultimately sentenced to several years in prison for spreading information “harmful to the State”. While continuing his corporate and civil work, Dinh also defended the well-known political blogger known as Dieu Cay in 2008, when the blogger was arrested on tax charges.

Dinh was arrested Saturday on charges of “colluding with domestic and foreign reactionaries to sabotage the Vietnamese state.”

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