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About the Author

Michael Uhl
Michael Uhl served with the 11th Infantry in Vietnam, co-founded Citizen Soldier and is a charter member of Veterans...
H. Bruce Franklin
H. Bruce Franklin, the author or editor of eighteen books, including the just-published Vietnam and Other American...

Also by the Author

Also by the Author

Will the "unpredictable" nature of this war lead to the kind of malaise in the military that was so costly to troop morale and discipline during Vietnam?

Three million American soldiers--men for the most part--participated in the US invasion of Vietnam over the decade-long duration of that war for us--roughly 1964 to 1973.

Also by the Author

In the new film version of The Quiet American, a photographer
races into a plaza in downtown Saigon, rather puzzling jaded British
reporter Thomas Fowler (Michael Caine).

"The Life and Times of Daniel Ellsberg." What a marvelous subject! Does any other person's life express more intensely the contradictions of American experience during the past fifty years?

Daniel Ellsberg. That young man with boundless promise who graduated third in his Harvard class of 1,147 in 1952, when America too seemed boundlessly promising. Ardent patriot and anticommunist, Ellsberg marched off in 1954 to become a model officer in the Marines. He next became a superstar theoretician of cold war tactics and strategy for the Pentagon, attaining the ultimate civil service grade of GS-18, equivalent to a major general, by age 33. Not content with planning wars for others to fight and defending the Vietnam War on college campuses, Ellsberg volunteered in 1965 to go to Vietnam, where he served almost two years on the team of Gen. Edward Lansdale, who had initiated US covert warfare there in 1954. In Vietnam, Ellsberg displayed such personal bravery in combat that some, like his present biographer, claim he must have been suicidal.

Daniel Ellsberg. The man who in 1971 revealed to the world the secret government that ruled by conspiracy and who thus lit the fuse that exploded the Nixon presidency. Pacifist and apostle of New Age lifestyle. Impassioned activist during seven national administrations, with dozens of arrests for civil disobedience against nuclearism and the American warfare state.

Daniel Ellsberg became 70 years old on April 7. As a birthday surprise, his son Michael unveiled a website containing celebration messages from hundreds of well-wishers. Many told how Ellsberg had inspired them, touching and transforming their lives. Almost all spoke of his "integrity," "courage" or "passion," and many used the word "hero," in phrases like "a true American hero" and "THE hero of the 20th century." Benedictine sister Joan Chittister wrote:

Dear Dan,
You don't know me. You never will. But you have had a great deal to do with the shape of my life. I like to think that I have always believed in justice, honesty, and integrity the way you do. But it was you who showed me what it looked like, up close and dangerous.
      When you released the Pentagon Papers, that very action ripped away the last bit of pseudo patriotism clouding my mind that made it impossible for me to recognize real patriotism, real faith, real integrity. I saw in you what it meant to live beyond self-interest. It was a turning point in my life that I'm still learning to honor.
      Thank you for that act of genuine humanity. It raised the humanity of us all. Your life has been a gift to my own.

Is there anything more that any of us would wish to have said about us? Eloquent tributes came from Richard Falk, Noam Chomsky, John Dean, Jeffrey Masson, Randy Kehler, Barbara Dane, Max Frankel, Howard Zinn, Gar Alperovitz, Michael Lerner, Paul Krassner, Peter Dale Scott, David McReynolds, Senator Mike Gravel, Tom Schelling, Donna Haraway, many Vietnam veterans including Horace Coleman and Ron Kovic (author of Born on the Fourth of July), and Ellsberg's commanding officer in the Marines, who called him "the best platoon leader I had." Other veterans told of powerful emotional experiences reading the Pentagon Papers in Vietnam. Bruce Gagnon (now a key figure in the movement to prevent the militarization of space) described how Ellsberg's action converted him--a "Young Republican for Nixon," son of a military family and a 1971 Air Force enlistee--into a peace activist.

Besides all the messages centered on Ellsberg's release of the Pentagon Papers, many paid tribute to his selfless activism for peace and justice in the subsequent three decades. Some said how proud they were to be arrested with him at demonstrations or to spend many frigid nights with him sitting in on the railroad tracks at the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant.

Thirty years ago now exactly, when Ellsberg shook the nation by releasing copies of the 7,000-page top-secret Pentagon history of the Vietnam War, millions of Americans, Vietnamese and other people around the world responded with the same emotions. But of course many others reacted with fury, labeling him a traitor, a betrayer, a freak, a madman.

Nowhere did the fury rage hotter than in the Nixon White House. Although Richard Nixon himself at first did not seem especially alarmed on learning that the New York Times had begun publishing excerpts from a history ordered by former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, he was quickly thrown into a desk-pounding frenzy by Henry Kissinger, whose own wild tirade characterized Ellsberg as a fanatical drug-crazed sexual pervert, "the most dangerous man in America," who "must be stopped at all costs." After moving on the legal front, first in failed attempts to block the Times and other newspapers from continuing to print excerpts from the Pentagon Papers and then initiating criminal proceedings against Ellsberg and his confederate Tony Russo, Nixon and his gang began to explore other ways to "neutralize" Ellsberg. Perhaps thinking it somewhat impractical to implement Kissinger's exhortations to "kill" Ellsberg, Nixon decided that the most effective way to "destroy" him would be to ruin his public image with "nasty stories" and "dirt" that could be smeared on his motivation. So he recruited the FBI, the CIA and a ruthless gang of thugs to construct Ellsberg's "psychological profile" and investigate his motivations.

Ellsberg's psychological profile and "motivations for releasing the Pentagon Papers" are also, in author Tom Wells's words, "central to this book." Wells opens with a scathing depiction of the White House Special Investigations Unit, who called themselves the Plumbers (their job was to stop leaks)--ex-CIA operative E. Howard Hunt, ex-FBI agent G. Gordon Liddy, former Batista-regime secret policeman Bernard Barker and other Cuban-exile gangsters--as they carry out their infamous burglary of Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office. Ellsberg is then introduced, through the perspective of the conspirators, as "the traitor."

Then comes a long, strange paragraph that characterizes "the traitor" and spells out his motives. Starting off as the conspirators' grotesque view of Ellsberg, the paragraph imperceptibly segues into and merges with Wells's view. Was this, I wondered, just a rhetorical blunder? The answer comes in the following 600-plus pages, which, despite well-researched and sometimes powerful accounts of Ellsberg's achievements, constitute what amounts to an extended character assassination.

In 1971 Richard Nixon and his accomplices failed in their attempts to destroy Ellsberg's "public image," and their bizarre machinations led ultimately to the downfall of the President and prison for some of his gang. Now, three decades on, Wells seems to be trying to finish their botched job. It's easy to understand the motives of Nixon and his henchmen. Wells's motives are less obvious and of no particular interest. If we accept his avowal that he approves of Ellsberg's act, we might speculate that for some reason Wells simply has a visceral distaste for the man who carried it out.

The Wild Man of the title is a disorganized and undisciplined "egomaniac" and "narcissist" with a voracious sexual appetite, overweening ambition and an overpowering craving for adulation and public attention. He is incapable of completing work or maintaining personal loyalties. Wells never misses an opportunity to disparage Ellsberg's character. He even unearths evidence that he didn't bring any means of paying when he invited one couple out to dinner and that another couple living below his apartment called him a noisy neighbor. Finally, Wells skims over Ellsberg's last three decades as an activist, suggesting that this role was forced upon him because he couldn't hold down a job and is constitutionally incapable of completing books.

This last issue is central to Wells's account of his main question, Ellsberg's motives in leaking the Pentagon Papers. Although while working at the RAND Corporation, the Air Force's favorite think tank, Ellsberg in 1959 had been appalled to discover the Dr. Strangelove scenarios that defined US nuclear policy, he remained a committed and esteemed cold war theorist. In 1967, after returning from Vietnam, he was one of the first analysts recruited by the Pentagon to research its own history of US involvement there from 1945 on. Armed with security clearances so high that their very existence was buried in secrecy, Ellsberg burrowed deep into Pentagon archives. What he found helped initiate a metamorphosis in his view of the war. As a principal contributor to this Pentagon history, Ellsberg, once again at RAND, was later commissioned to write his own study of the war. RAND possessed two copies of the Pentagon Papers, logged in so covertly they bypassed the corporation's own document control system. Ellsberg was given permission to have one of these sets in his own office safe and thus became evidently the first person to read the entire report.

Like millions of other Americans stunned by the strength of the Tet Offensive in early 1968, Ellsberg had come to the conclusion that the Vietnam War was unwinnable and therefore ipso facto immoral. In the fall of 1969, he took the fateful step that was to prove the defining act of his life and a crucial event in the life of the nation. Aided by Russo, a former RAND analyst and committed radical, Ellsberg spent months making and secreting multiple photocopies of the Pentagon Papers, followed by more than a year of efforts to get them to the American people.

Why? Although Wells gives obligatory nods to Ellsberg's moral anguish about the genocide being perpetrated in Vietnam and the sordid history revealed in the Pentagon Papers as well as his increasing personal contacts with the antiwar movement, his main explanation comes in hundreds of pages of pop-psych deconstruction of Ellsberg's character. A central thesis, which he buttresses by printing reports from the CIA psychiatrists and to which he returns again and again, is that Ellsberg "couldn't finish his own Vietnam study" because of his "narcissistic" and "undisciplined" personality, and therefore his "egomania" prompted him to release the Pentagon Papers to attain the fame and adulation he craved. "Copying the Papers," Wells argues, would "afford Ellsberg a way out of his study."

What Wells reveals here is his own failure to understand what the Pentagon Papers were (which he never adequately explains) and their effects (which he continually belittles). Indeed, nowhere is there evidence that Wells has actually read extensively in the Pentagon Papers, which he refers to as merely a "study." Only 3,000 of the 7,000 pages of the Pentagon Papers consisted of history and analysis. Unlike Wells, Ellsberg knew that no study, neither his own nor even those 3,000 pages, could possibly have an impact comparable to the explosive package he released to the world. True, those 3,000 pages revealed that the government itself knew that its public version of the Vietnam War and its history was a concoction of outrageous lies, but many other published studies had already made the same revelations. The real bomb that not only blew open the true history of the war but exposed to full view the hideous nature of every post-World War II US government was the other 4,000 pages: the classified documents reproduced as sources for the study.

Wells acts as though the only measure of the Pentagon Papers' effects is whether they shortened the Vietnam War, and he makes it seem as though they didn't. "Only a modest 51 percent of Americans were even aware of the Papers' publication," he argues. Modest? Isn't that a majority? Has the majority of Americans ever been aware of the publication of any other papers or book in the twentieth century? The paperback edition of the excerpts published by the Times sold 1.5 million copies, "though," Wells argues, "few people actually read it." But the impact, especially of the documents, was astonishing.

Nobody has described this more potently than W.D. Ehrhart, the wounded Marine who has since become one of the great poets and writers of nonfiction produced by the war, in a whole chapter of his memoir Passing Time devoted to his reading of the Pentagon Papers: "Page after page after endless page of it. Vile. Immoral. Despicable. Obscene.... I'd been a fool, ignorant and naive. A sucker. For such men, I had become a murderer. For such men, I had forfeited my honor, my self-respect, and my humanity. For such men, I had been willing to lay down my life."

Like Ehrhart and unlike Wells, millions recognize that the Pentagon Papers remain relevant today because they allow us to see what we were never meant to see, because they offer a priceless chance to eavesdrop on how our leaders talk when they think we will never be able to hear.

Take a single example. Many of us knew, before the Pentagon Papers proved, that President Kennedy was lying when he disclaimed any responsibility for the conspiracy to overthrow Ngo Dinh Diem, the man he and his father had helped choose to be Washington's puppet ruler of the fictitious state of "South Vietnam." But what we could only infer was the ideology underlying the conspiracy, as expressed by Henry Cabot Lodge, our ambassador to Diem, in a top-secret cablegram to Washington included in the Pentagon Papers:

We are launched on a course from which there is no respectable turning back: the overthrow of the Diem government.... there is no turning back because there is no possibility, in my view, that the war can be won under a Diem administration, still less that Diem or any member of the family can govern the country in a way to gain the support of the people who count, i.e., the educated class in and out of government service, civil and military--not to mention the American people.

If one of Ellsberg's main goals in copying the Pentagon Papers was fame and adulation--as the CIA's psychiatrists, the Plumbers and Wells would have it--then how can one explain what he did next? Although Russo, who had fewer illusions about politicians, was urging him to make immediate and dramatic disclosure, Ellsberg instead spent months pleading with antiwar senators and representatives--such as J. William Fulbright, George McGovern and Paul (Pete) McCloskey--to release the papers, only to be brushed off. Fulbright's main aide dismissed the papers as "dull and boring," and McGovern told him to go to the Times.

Which is what he finally did. With intricate intrigue, Ellsberg provided a full set to Neil Sheehan, who in turn orchestrated a byzantine operation within the Times, which published the first excerpts on June 13, 1971. At this point, as Ellsberg enters what Wells calls his "battle mode," Wild Man becomes truly exciting and hints of the book it might have been.

On June 15, the government got a temporary injunction that stopped the Times. Now Ellsberg's genius for tactics came into play, as he began to deploy the multiple copies he had stashed in secret locations. On June 17 he and his wife, Pat, went underground. While eluding a major nationwide FBI manhunt, they kept outmaneuvering the White House. On June 18 the Washington Post began publishing excerpts from a copy Ellsberg had smuggled to them. As soon as the Post was enjoined, excerpts began appearing in the Boston Globe. And then the Chicago Sun-Times. Next the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. As soon as one paper was enjoined, another would start publishing until seventeen newspapers got into the action. The White House's attempts at damage control were no match for Ellsberg's cloak-and-dagger operations. While ABC and NBC were broadcasting news about the nationwide dragnet for Ellsberg, Walter Cronkite was interviewing him on CBS in a seedy clandestine apartment. Ellsberg's most decisive stratagem was smuggling a copy to Alaska Senator Mike Gravel, who promptly got it into the Congressional Record, thus making it forever an open public document.

On June 28 Ellsberg surrendered to face criminal charges under the Espionage Act. On June 30 the Supreme Court overturned all the injunctions against publishing. After many months of legal maneuvers--and illegal government maneuvers--the trial of Ellsberg and Russo finally opened in January 1973, the same month the United States officially ended its war in Vietnam (a fact that escapes Wells's notice). By that time, the Plumbers had burglarized the office of Ellsberg's psychiatrist, tried to attack Ellsberg physically at a demonstration, developed plans to firebomb the Brookings Institution (because Nixon thought Ellsberg had hidden documents in its vault) and burglarized the Democratic Party's national office in the Watergate Hotel during the 1972 election campaign. During the trial, Nixon's Chief of Staff, John Ehrlichman, twice tried to bribe the presiding judge with the possibility of being chosen to head the FBI. These facts were brought into the trial, which was now taking place during the Watergate hearings. Finally, when evidence of previously undisclosed White House wiretaps of Ellsberg was introduced, the judge was forced to dismiss all charges. As David Rudenstine pointed out in his 1996 The Day the Presses Stopped: A History of the Pentagon Papers Case (a more informative and helpful book), the Plumbers' machinations against Ellsberg "helped form the basis for two of the three impeachment articles adopted against President Nixon" the following year. So Nixon's attempts to destroy Ellsberg led to his own destruction.

In telling the story of Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers, Wild Man breaks little new ground not already tilled by Rudenstine and Peter Schrag in his 1974 Test of Loyalty: Daniel Ellsberg and the Rituals of Secret Government. He also fails to contextualize Ellsberg's life historically, almost forgetting the "Times" of his title. Without some sense of what it was like to grow to adult consciousness during the late 1940s and 1950s, one cannot understand either the utter normality of Ellsberg's militant anticommunism and profound faith in American democracy or the effect of discovering the secret truth.

Nor does Wells probe that arcane realm of the government-contract think tanks, where civilians answerable to no elected official formulate policies and concoct plans that can shake the world. This think-tank sphere was the immediate matrix that both formed Ellsberg the cold-war theorist and inspired him to expose its dark secrets. Wells's methodology is to interpolate into the story a pastiche of pieces of the 236 interviews he conducted, many with people who have strong motives to discredit Ellsberg, like his former associates at RAND who consider him, as Wells acknowledges, "a loathsome traitor."

So the main value of Wild Man depends on the usefulness of Wells's analysis of Ellsberg's psychology and motivation. But this raises what may be the most important issue, one never articulated in Wild Man: How should we compare Ellsberg's psychology and motivation with the psychology and motivation of all those who kept the secrets he revealed? When Ellsberg tries to explain to Wells in an interview the psychological power of possessing secrets, Wells interprets this as a damaging personal confession rather than an explanation of the cult of secrecy endemic to the secret government. Why did Kissinger call Ellsberg the most dangerous man in America? Because unlike himself and the other insiders of the secret government, Ellsberg was violating their most basic code.

Wells presents Ellsberg as an example of unhealthy psychology, implicitly suggesting that the Strangeloves at RAND happily grinding out their plans for the destruction of Vietnam, not to mention global thermonuclear war, are healthy. If Ellsberg had not released the Pentagon Papers and dedicated the rest of his life to peace and justice activism but instead had stayed inside the secret government, would Wells then consider him a normal person? Much of the book consists of the opinions of Ellsberg's character, motives and psychology expressed by the war planners and war makers. If Ellsberg is a "wild man," what are they?

And what were Ellsberg's motives? They were not fundamentally different from those of other betrayers of the secret government, like Philip Agee in his Inside the Company and Ralph McGehee in his Deadly Deceits. Nor were they very different from those of the soldiers who fragged officers who ordered them out on search-and-destroy missions, the sailors who sabotaged every major aircraft carrier engaged in bombing Vietnam or the supersecret Air Force unit court-martialed for going on strike and refusing to provide in-flight intelligence to the B-52s during the Christmas bombing of Hanoi on the eve of the trial of Ellsberg and Russo.

The psychological issue as posed by Wild Man reminds me of the case of Lieut. Steven Gifford, a missile-launch officer in training, who was shocked to learn that he would be expected to carry out first-strike nuclear annihilation of cities. Told that firing missiles should be a "Pavlovian reaction" and that he "should salivate at the very thought of turning the missile ignition key," Gifford said he might have to think about it first. Therefore the Air Force sent him to a psychiatrist and gave him a less than honorable discharge. His "only problem," according to the psychiatrist's testimony, "was an active conscience."

 

DANIEL ELLSBERG--VIETNAM'S 'MYTH'?

Boulder, Colo.

Early in his review of my book Wild Man: The Life and Times of Daniel Ellsberg ["Pentagon Papers Chase," July 9], H. Bruce Franklin quotes words of praise and admiration for Ellsberg from a website designed explicitly to solicit tributes to Ellsberg. Franklin counterposes those tributes to my critical portrayal of Ellsberg, as if to imply that my portrayal doesn't jibe with reality. But as Franklin must know, people will often say very different things about a person when asked to pay tribute than in other circumstances--such as when talking to a biographer. That was true for a number of people in this case.

Franklin appears to believe that none of the criticisms of Ellsberg expressed in my book have merit, and he suggests that Ellsberg deserves to be portrayed as a great man and a hero. He disparages my view that one of the main reasons Ellsberg released the Pentagon Papers was to achieve greater recognition. He claims that Ellsberg's efforts to get the papers out through a member of Congress contradict my view. Has Franklin never heard of Senate hearings, televised ones at that, at which witnesses testify? Does he seriously believe Ellsberg wished to act anonymously? Franklin questions my "motives" for writing critically of Ellsberg. How about this one: a desire to get it right. I believe strongly that my portrait of Ellsberg is accurate. (It may surprise Franklin that I am perhaps to the left of Ellsberg politically.)

Franklin finds fault with my use of sources who had reason to dislike Ellsberg but fails to note that many who applauded Ellsberg's release of the papers also speak critically of him in the book. Franklin repeats myths about Ellsberg's career that my book shows to be myths (e.g., that Ellsberg was "a principal contributor" to the papers). Franklin also misrepresents some of my views, as when he claims that I "continually belittle" the political impact of the papers. Actually, what I criticize several times is Ellsberg's belief that releasing the papers would end the war. If I did not think the papers were politically important, I would never have chosen to write about Ellsberg. Franklin also says that I don't understand what the papers were. That is nonsense, and I used them liberally in a book I wrote earlier on Vietnam (one Franklin may even have read). Curiously, Franklin deprecates me for calling the papers a "study." But aren't all histories studies? This one was called a study by those who participated in it.

TOM WELLS

 


 

Suffolk, Va.

Tom Wells's biography of Daniel Ellsberg is a solid piece of work even if it's not very concise and has an error or two: For example, he has my attorney in the Pentagon Papers case getting some things terribly wrong but doesn't explain how that was typical of him throughout the case, the poor devil.

More important, Wells presents the data that make the case that Ellsberg is a mythomaniac and a poseur. I know he is right, because I was there throughout: Ellsberg and I were joined at the hip for at least the seventeen-month indictment period and throughout the Ellsberg-Russo Pentagon Papers trial, a trial that materialized in response to my civil disobedience of 1971. If anything, Wells's work is an understatement, because Ellsberg is beyond mythomania. The story of the Pentagon Papers affair has only been partially told, with crucial parts having been covered up. Wells pulls back the curtain by an important amount but certainly not all the way.

H. Bruce Franklin, in his review of Wells's book, makes a series of helpful small critical observations, but in the end he is wrong, terribly wrong, in dismissing the work as "an extended character assassination." In thus characterizing Wells's work Franklin himself is attempting to assassinate Wells's character. But let us dispense with that ugly word and get to the facts.

Franklin makes a statement very similar to one made by John Dean in his Salon review of Wells's book when he says, "Nixon and his accomplices failed...to destroy Ellsberg's 'public image.' Now, three decades on, Wells seems to be trying to finish their botched job." Franklin doesn't mention the fact that Nixon failed because he didn't get my testimony; I went to jail rather than testify against Ellsberg, who has betrayed me by denying the cross I bear.

Franklin should know that criticism often comes from both the right and left, and that the latter is different in form and substance from the former. In John Dean's attack on Wells, he goes to the left to defend Ellsberg. Dean attacks me, calling me embittered. But how can one be embittered when one has found the Holy Grail? Franklin's attack on Wells goes to the right. That they meet as bedfellows shouldn't be seen as strange, because they are both dealing with the Ellsberg myth. Many desperately need the Ellsberg myth in order to crowd out having to come to terms with the details of the abomination of desolation done by our country to Vietnam, not to mention their own guilt.

How ironic that a conscious guy like Franklin, who wrote an entire book about mythmaking in America, falls for the Ellsberg myth. But so have many others; Ellsberg is said by many to be an icon of the peace movement. Wells shows him to be a false icon. His motives are obvious and of great interest. Faced with a false icon and committed to peace and progressive policy and ideas, Wells sees the absolute necessity of going beyond the press version of the Pentagon Papers affair and cleaning up the record. With false icons the movement for peace and progress is greatly hampered. Franklin, however, says Wells's motives are less obvious than Nixon's and are of no particular interest: "We might speculate that for some reason Wells simply has a visceral distaste" for Ellsberg. Hello!? Bruce!? Wake up!

Wells has an admirable desire to see the peace movement with worthy icons and not false poseurs who will cave during crises, as Ellsberg did numerous times, from the publication of the papers to the trial to the third Indochina war. So many, Franklin included, get it wrong because they fail to break through the Ellsberg myth. The myth has Dan turning the documents over to Neil Sheehan. The truth, however, is that Ellsberg wanted to retain control, and when he saw that Sheehan and the New York Times had gone to publication, he tried frantically to stop them. Too late. The papers hit the street on St. Anthony's Day--June 13, 1971. Sheehan had ruined Ellsberg's plans to get the papers safely on the record, and then be called to be a star witness in Congressional hearings.

At our trial Ellsberg said we had accomplished our goal by getting the papers out and that all we had to do was get off on a technicality, if we could. I disagreed; the war was still churning cruelly. We had to go on the offensive in the courtroom, taking risks commensurate with the need to oppose the scale of human savagery continuing in Indochina daily.

Over the years the Associated Press has done periodic puff pieces on Ellsberg, usually failing to mention me at all, even though my civil disobedience shaped the case and won the trial because of my strategy and tactics. Whenever a study of the Pentagon Papers affair leaves me out, it can only cover much less than half the story and therefore fails almost totally in accuracy. In the few works to date, the authors have done poor research; the same cannot be said of Wells. Although his work is not at all the final say on the case or on Ellsberg, it does break new ground. The story deserves to be told; the Ellsberg-Russo Pentagon Papers trial exposed the crimes that resulted in the demise of Nixon. The key to telling the story appropriately comes from Howard Zinn's philosophy of history: It has to be told from the bottom up; it has to start with the Vietnamese people and the People's Army of Vietnam (called the Viet Cong and the NVA by the Westmoreland mentality, subscribed to by the press). The best vehicle for that is the top strategic intelligence project of the war: the RAND corporation's "Viet Cong Motivation and Morale Project." Reams and reams of the RAND interviews are available and have been looked at by the William Joiner Center for the Study of War and Social Consequences, in Boston. It will be done one day when we realize the absolute necessity of producing an accurate and detailed history of the Vietnam War.

In the meantime Wells's book must be read.

ANTHONY JOSEPH (TONY) RUSSO
www.PentagonPapersTRusso.com

 


 

Hendersonville, N.C.

Your excellent review failed to give credit to the courageous publisher of the papers in book form. Beacon Press, the publishing arm of the Unitarian Universalist Association, printed the complete Pentagon Papers in paperback, thereby incurring the wrath of the Nixon Administration. The liberal church group had to cope with an FBI fishing expedition to obtain its financial records. The federal incursion was beaten off, but at considerable cost. The incident is detailed in Warren Ross's The Premise and the Promise.

THE REV. CHARLES W. GRADY

 


 

 

FRANKLIN REPLIES

Newark

Tom Wells says his only motive in Wild Man was "to get it right," but he never does tell us what "it" is. I had assumed that "it" was expressed by the subtitle: "The Life and Times of Daniel Ellsberg." As I said in opening my review: "What a marvelous subject! Does any other person's life express more intensely the contradictions of American experience during the past fifty years?" But Wells never seems to get it, much less get it right. By ignoring the history of these times, Wells misses the significance of Ellsberg's life, including its profound meaning today. But how could Wells comprehend a subject as vast and vexatious as the life and times of Daniel Ellsberg, when he seems incapable of comprehending even my review, each point of which he either misses or misrepresents? Nowhere did I suggest that the book should be an uncritical hagiography; what I found missing was a biography of that ardent cold warrior so transformed by living inside the US war machine during the Vietnam War that he performed an antiwar act of still-transcendent importance and then dedicated the next thirty years of his life to peace activism. Wells asks again and again, Why did he do it? A good question, especially in the twenty-first century. But Wells ignores the obvious and crucial answers, turning instead to ahistorical psychobabble and decades-old memories of Ellsberg's associates, many with powerful motives to discredit him to legitimize their own behavior.

Tony Russo gets it exactly right when he says that the key to telling the story is the Vietnamese people. It was indeed their heroic struggle that changed so many of our lives, even transforming a couple of RAND cold warriors like Daniel Ellsberg and Tony Russo into heroes. But Tony, you need to recognize that you and Ellsberg are still, to use your words, "joined at the hip." Suppose we also asked about you, Why did he do it? The answer would be much the same, as it would be for millions of other Americans who, inspired by the Vietnamese, committed antiwar actions that, though mostly far less effective and courageous than Ellsberg's and yours, were also brave and historic.

H. BRUCE FRANKLIN

 


 

 

VIET VETS--HOME TO ROOST

Corte Madera, Calif.

My book Home to War: A History of the Vietnam Veterans' Movement took thirteen years to write and involved more than 600 interviews. It earned receptions in Washington from the National Office of Vietnam Veterans of America and from Senator John Kerry, and speaking invitations from the Vietnam Center at Texas Tech, from Vietnam Veterans of California and from the William Joiner Center for the Study of War and Social Consequences, in Boston. Clearly these people must know something that Michael Uhl doesn't, judging from his scathing review ["That's Vietnam, Jake," July 9].

Somehow Uhl manages to miss the fact that in a whole range of seminal veteran events--from the Winter Soldier Investigation and Dewey Canyon III to the shaping of a post-traumatic stress definition to the fizzling of the Agent Orange lawsuit to the Gainesville conspiracy trial to the Cranston office hunger strike to the Wadsworth Hospital strike to the crippling of the Vet Center program--I am the first writer to bother interviewing a whole range of participants to flesh out the historical account of these very important occurrences. Aside from saying that I correctly locate the genesis of the campaign to legitimize PTSD within the antiwar movement, Uhl has virtually nothing good to say about the book. He even misses the point of the PTSD chapter, which is that it is the first time the whole history of the creation of that definition was assembled from fresh interviews with dozens of the original participants--something no one had ever thought to do, and which now, because several key participants are gone, can no longer be done.

In trying to synthesize the accounts of hundreds of witnesses, there are going to be contradictions and even outright mistakes. But Uhl deliberately misleads the reader time and again to make it appear that Home to War is rife with error. Uhl blasts me for my supposedly incorrect association of the Concerned Officers Movement (COM) with the Dellums committee hearings in April 1971, on US military atrocities in Vietnam--hearings organized in part by Uhl and his partner Tod Ensign. "COM played no role, nor did any active duty officer appear before the panel," asserts Uhl.

Uhl incorrectly claims that COM was composed only "of antiwar officers still on active duty." In fact, the March 1971 COM newsletter, Common Sense, explains that many of its 600 members were no longer on active duty, since the military quickly released or demanded resignations from officers as soon as their membership in COM was discovered. Many officers did participate in the Dellums committee hearings, as revealed in the published testimony. My sources for the connection between COM and the hearings were my interviews with two key national organizers of Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW), Jack Smith and Skip Roberts. But here's the kicker: That issue of Common Sense reveals that Uhl's group, the Citizens' Commission of Inquiry (CCI), had been meeting for months with COM to gather atrocities testimony. The newsletter also mentions that COM members "are pointing with high hopes toward the April 24 rallies in Washington." Strange of Uhl not to mention such things.

Uhl also claims that I'm way off in asserting that VVAW was leery of associating itself with the Dellums committee hearings--a statement made on tape by Jack Smith. Uhl claims he knows this assertion is false because he "spoke with frequently and knew quite well" most of the leadership of VVAW. In fact, during more than 100 hours of taped interviews with almost every major leader of VVAW, I never heard one of them mention Michael Uhl. The only one who mentioned him was his partner, Tod Ensign, who says, on tape, "Michael, because of his work with us, never really became part of VVAW."

Uhl attacks me for failing to consult another important book on VVAW, Andrew Hunt's The Turning, as well as Big Book: Nobody Gets Off the Bus. In fact, Hunt, who began his book when I was well on the way to finishing Home to War, came to me for help, which I gave by phone and correspondence. And far from ignoring Big Book, I am a contributor to it. Perhaps the most egregious misrepresentation, an outright lie, is Uhl's claim that I have overlooked the true progenitors of CCI and its war crimes hearings: Bertrand Russell and his assistant Ralph Schoenman. I devote two pages to Russell and Schoenman and their connection to CCI, and I cite Schoenman's book Against the Crime of Silence in my footnotes.

I don't have space to list all of Uhl's inaccuracies, like placing Dewey Canyon III in 1970 (instead of 1971), making Bob Kerrey sound like a leader of VVAW (he wasn't even a member), claiming John Kerry was charged with murdering a prisoner (a totally discredited campaign slur), claiming US atrocities in Vietnam were "almost always" against civilians (at least half I've read and heard of were against military prisoners and Viet Cong suspects) and putting twenty years between the Gainesville trial and the filing of the Agent Orange lawsuit (actually it was six years).

Worse are the numerous ad hominem attacks against me in the piece--claims that I am "spooked by things progressive," that I am filled with "underexamined anxieties," that I am "overfascinated" with veterans and so forth. Such remarks betray Uhl's true bias and the fact that his review is really an agenda-driven act of vengeance and spite. "There's been bad blood between many in VVAW and the original group that created Citizen Soldier [the later incarnation of CCI] since the beginning," wrote Jan Barry, the founder of VVAW. Uhl's real beef is that I chose to focus on VVAW rather than CCI, the work of John Kerry and Ron Kovic rather than the work of Tod Ensign and Mike Uhl.

Uhl has a right to attack my choices as a writer but not to misrepresent for his own ends the content, sources and overall care with which I put the book together.

GERALD NICOSIA

 


 

 

UHL REPLIES

Walpole, Maine

It's nice to know Gerald Nicosia has received support for his book within the very community with the greatest stake in advancing the--however deserved--entitlement agenda of veterans and the warrior mystique of their culture. Mazel tov! On his boast of being "the first writer...to flesh out the historical account" of PTSD as a disability of war, I praised the chapter, as he acknowledges. But many writers--Andrew Hunt, Judith Herman and Christian Appy, among others--have given credible accounts in trade publishing of this disability's emergent legitimization long before Home to War appeared.

Take two on Nicosia's sketch of the Concerned Officers Movement (COM) is even more garbled than the original. CCI did meet frequently with COM activists beginning in late 1970; we were organizing events on behalf of the fledgling group. At one press conference, five COM members--all on active duty, incidentally--formally requested that their Pentagon superiors convene "courts of inquiry" into the widespread allegations of US atrocities. COM based its requests on "testimony" from a CCI-sponsored event that predated the Dellums hearings by almost five months. The facts on this combined CCI/COM action are all there, in Neil Sheehan's New York Times article (January 13, 1971). And, yes, when some members left the service, they remained affiliated with COM, and often with VVAW and CCI as well. But it was as an organization of active-duty officers that COM exercised its unique historical and moral powers. Many former officers did participate in the Dellums hearings; I was one of them. None of us were on active duty, and, I repeat, COM itself played no role whatsoever in the hearings. In what strikes me as the symbolic equivalent of shooting himself in the foot, Nicosia actually brags that his two principal sources for information about COM and the hearings had no connection to either.

Nicosia tallies one point on my alleged "inaccuracies," misdating Dewey Canyon III; mea culpa. It was 1971, and I was there. As for "making Bob Kerrey sound like a leader of VVAW"--where is that exactly? And "claiming John Kerry was charged with murdering a prisoner"? I made no such claim. Both Kerrey and Kerry were busted by men who served under them in Vietnam, who reportedly remained their close friends even while revealing all to members of the Fourth Estate. The John Kerry story appeared initially in the senator's hometown paper, the Boston Globe (October 27, 1996). Far from being "charged"--or even investigated--the allegation against Kerry seems to have evaporated. That's fine with me. My review makes quite clear who I believe bears responsibility for US war crimes policies in Vietnam. But can anyone doubt that this smoking gun will reappear should Kerry eventually decide to contest for the presidency? That other "inaccuracy"--my failing to distinguish between Vietnamese civilians and VC suspects or military prisoners--has Nicosia done any homework on the Vietnam War?

Nicosia claims to have helped Andrew Hunt, who wrote The Turning, and refers to phone calls and correspondence with the author. Strange that Hunt, who provides a long list of acknowledgments, does not mention Nicosia. Maybe I missed another footnote. And to accuse me of an "outright lie" in claiming that he "overlooked the true progenitors of CCI" and so forth borders on hysteria. I merely stated that Nicosia's version of the founding of CCI was "even more convoluted than his account of the Dellums hearings."

None of Nicosia's 600 interviewees (211 cited, by my count) ever mentioned my name. Oh my! I should scorn this cheap shot, although I will immodestly suggest that such anonymity reads well on any organizer's résumé. But, for the record, if Nicosia were to call the VVAW principals he interviewed, he would be surprised at how many of them knew or remember me quite well. I never claimed to have been active in VVAW. CCI's offices were on the tenth floor of New York's "movement building," 156 Fifth Avenue; VVAW was three floors below, and for almost a year the two groups worked in coalition. So, Gerald, call especially VVAW co-founder Jan Barry, whose name you invoke to opine--quite correctly--that "bad blood" existed between my group, CCI, and some VVAW leaders after the Winter Soldier split in early November 1970. Such sectarian clashes, alas, were not our movement's finest hours.

And speaking of Barry, here's a wee item that may convince Nicosia to haul his own unconscious up on charges of self-betrayal. He writes that my review makes it appear that "Home to War is rife with error." Surely he must know that "rife with error" is virtually the same phrase Barry assembles to sum up Home to War in his review, "A Troubling Tribute," for The Nonviolent Activist (July/August 2001). In the piece, Barry goes on to score Nicosia's work as "marred...by a lack of fact checking." Sound familiar? (To still the doubters, Barry and I have had no contact for several years, nor had I known of his review until after mine was published, whereas the thirteen years Nicosia worked on his book seems a sufficient span for checking a few facts.) Well, it gets worse. To my charge of Nicosia's being "overfascinated" with veterans in some voyeuristic fashion, Barry adds, "what fascinated Nicosia were the battles angry vets fought.... he dwells on disputes among the participants." But Barry really seems disturbed that Nicosia's "focus on dramatic moments in the lives of some extraordinary, outspoken activists obscures the lasting legacy of VVAW." Now that's the kind of friendly fire that can really wound the reputation of a book claiming to be "A History of the Vietnam Veterans' Movement."

There are two problems with that subtitle. Home to War is not a history but a pastiche of recollections and anecdotes culled for the most part from Nicosia's many interviews. At best it aspires to the realm of oral history--would that it were!--a branch of historical discourse I in no way undervalue. Second, the accumulated experiences of Vietnam veterans, during our thirty-plus years of postwar readjustment and still counting, do not constitute a "movement." There was a movement, an antiwar movement, in which many vets were briefly active; the rest is Vet Cult, as I have attempted to show.

Nicosia accuses me of a writing a "scathing" "ad hominem" "attack." My review is hardly favorable, but there's nothing personal about it. Except for the eyewitness digressions to tidy up the record, it's almost scrupulously academic. It was quite by accident that Home to War provided an occasion for suggesting a range of contexts in the evolution of US social policy and the culture and readjustment of US veterans of war in which the Vietnam veteran experience, spread over three decades, might be examined. "That saga," to quote the final line of Jan Barry's review, "has yet to be fully told."

But as we linger near the subject of personal attacks, I am informed on good authority that Nicosia, upon reading my review, expressed an explosive urge to "blow up" my house. Now that's, at least potentially, "scathing," and certainly personal.

MICHAEL UHL

 

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