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A History Lesson from the New York Times

 

One thing that journalists and politicians have in common (besides an unhealthy desire to be noticed, that is) is a lack of any sense of history. A politician will typically advocate policies that have had disastrous results in the past, without even making the tiniest effort to examine those lessons. Journalists, for their part, tend to live in the present and simply act as though the past never existed.

And so we have Iraq today.

The president invaded that country without cause, believing he could win a signal victory on the cheap and remake the politics of the Middle East overnight, though even a cursory examination of the history of that region, and of Western efforts to control it, would have shown the scheme to be doomed. Never mind. Bush thinks he’s different.

Journalists, meanwhile, write of the American war and occupation in Iraq as though it is the first time the U.S. has engaged in such an imperial project. The phrase “winning hearts and minds” trips off their keyboards, though it was also the mantra of Pentagon during the Vietnam War too, and though the security situation in Iraq is so bad none of them dare leave the safety of their hotels or the heavily guarded and walled-off Green Zone without the protection of American troops.

The latest evidence of this shared ahistoric affliction is the election in Iraq, which Bush, after first trying to block, finally caved in to, and then has tried to claim as his own idea. The mainstream corporate media have slavishly followed the official line, calling the 60 percent turnout of Iraqis a “victory” for Bush, though most people apparently had no idea whom they were voting for (the names were kept off the lists for fear candidates would be targeted and offed by the insurgency), there was no public campaigning, and the winners–the Shiite Parties–are hardly friendly to America. (and though many, apparently, voted fearing that if they didn’t they would not receive their food rations.)

Now a blogger at the Daily Kos has dug up a bit of history that should shake up both the political and the journalistic set in Washington and New York. It’s an article from The New York Times dated September 4, 1967.

The headline: “U.S. Encouraged by Vietnam Vote: Officials Cite 83% Turnout Despite Vietcong Terror”

Sound familiar? The story under that headline is also hauntingly contemporary. Written by Timesman Peter Grose, it says:

United States officials were surprised and heartened today at the size of turnout in South Vietnam’s presidential election despite a Vietcong terrorist campaign to disrupt the voting.

According to reports from Saigon, 83 per cent of the 5.85 million registered voters cast their ballots yesterday. Many of them risked reprisals threatened by the Vietcong. The size of the popular vote and the inability of the Vietcong to destroy the election machinery were the two salient facts in a preliminary assessment of the nation election based on the incomplete returns reaching here.

Pending more detailed reports, neither the State Department nor the White House would comment on the balloting or the victory of the military candidates, Lieut. Gen. Nguyen Van Thieu, who was running for president, and Premier Nguyen Cao Ky, the candidate for vice president.

A successful election has long been seen as the keystone in President Johnson’s policy of encouraging the growth of constitutional processes in South Vietnam. The election was the culmination of a constitutional development that began in January 1966, to which President Johnson gave his personal commitment when he met Premier Ky and General Thieu, the chief of state, in Honolulu in February.

The purpose of the voting was to give legitimacy to the Saigon Government, which has been founded only on coups and power plays since November, 1963, when President Ngo Dinh Diem was overthrown by a military junta [sic].”

So now we have an election of sorts in Iraq that is being touted as “successful” and a victory over “terrorist” forces, conferring “legitimacy” on a government that to date has been founded on war and the violent overthrow of an existing government, and that, like the string of governments that succeeded the CIA-overthrow of Diem in Vietnam, is a puppet of the U.S. occupiers.

Of course, only some four months after The Times article was published, those “Viet Cong terrorists” began their famous Tet offensive, overrunning much of Saigon, capturing the old imperial capital of Hue, and setting in motion the forces that would lead finally to American defeat and withdrawal from Vietnam. President Johnson, facing a revolt in his party, abandoned plans to seek re-election.

Grose’s naïve and fawning report looks pretty silly today. I suspect that the even more obsequious reports on the Iraqi election in the U.S. media will look at least as silly a few months or years from now.

But then, by that time, no one will remember. The politicians, and the journalists who follow in their wake, will have moved on.

DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. His new book of CounterPunch columns titled “This Can’t be Happening!” is published by Common Courage Press. Information about both books and other work by Lindorff can be found at www.thiscantbehappening.net.

He can be reached at: dlindorff@yahoo.com

 

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Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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