Featured Post

The white-Left Part 1: The two meanings of white

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Seymour Hersh admits to racist cover up in his Mỹ Lai story on @DemocracyNow

 Mỹ Lai victims -- They called them gooks as they killed them
Four years ago I wrote a blog post titled: Mỹ Lai and Sy Hersh, a Reappraisal in which I critiqued aspects of Hersh's role in reporting on the massacre. Wednesday, 20 June 2018, on Democracy Now, he made a number of significant contributions to our understanding of his role.

Hugh Thompson
In that 2014 post, I began by exposing how common these type of massacres were in the American war in Vietnam. I explained why I used the tagline "The Vietnam War was a Mỹ Lai every week." to promote my documentary film, Vietnam: American Holocaust. I gave the example of Operation Speedy Express, in which 10,889 Vietnamese were killed at the cost of only 267 American lives.

Ron Ridenhour
I then described the Mỹ Lai massacre of 504 unarmed civilians, and the American heroes of the massacre like helicopter pilot Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson, Jr, and his crew, who landed, faced off against the US soldiers doing the killing, and flew as many as they could to safety. In the aftermath, I covered the role of then Major Colin Powell in trying to cover it up, and those lower rank soldiers, starting with Thompson, and especially Ronald L. Ridenhour, SP5, who wouldn't let it die. He heard rumors and made it his mission in the army to investigate, and then expose, what became known as the Mỹ Lai massacre. Among other things, Ridenhour wrote letters to 30 members of Congress, and found the witness Hersh would interview, and later cite 28 times. Only then did the story get to the indictment of William Calley, and the contributions of Seymour Hersh:
With pressure growing, the Army knew they needed a "fall guy", and after spending nearly a year investigating what had become known, even whispered in the halls of Congress, as the "Pinkville incident", they charged one man, Lt. William Calley Jr., "with premeditation murder" of 109 "Oriental human beings" on 6 Sept 1969. He would become the only person ever convicted in this massacre. They also issued a short press release which was generally ignored.

It is only now, after the Army had built its case and charged Calley [a more cynical person might say, "After the Army had perfected its cover story."] that Seymour Hersh, the official hero of record in the Mỹ Lai massacre, comes onto the stage. He was alerted to the Calley court martial by Geoffrey Cowan of The Village Voice. Geoffrey Cowan had earlier been active in the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer and had set up the first civil rights newspaper in Mississippi. He became an anti-war lawyer and was working on the anti-war presidential campaign of Senator Eugene McCarthy in 1968 when Sy Hersh was its press secretary.

After he received Cowan's tip, Hersh called a trusted friend, a former defense official, and asked "What did this guy Calley do?" From the retired US Army colonel he got the story the Army wanted to put out:
"This Calley is just a madman, Sy just a madman! He just went around killing all those people. Little babies!"
After receiving a small grant from The Fund for Investigative Journalism, Hersh did extensive interviews with Calley's lawyer and finally Calley himself. Hersh later wrote of the 15 hr. interview in which Hersh plied Calley with booze:
"It was silly of him to speak with me, but he just wanted to talk. He went all night."
Calley was a 20-year-old soldier facing capital murder charges talking to an experienced reporter without his lawyer present, but he was by no means innocent, and such tactics certainly could have been justified had Hersh's motive been to end that devastating war, but Sy Hersh admitted 40 years later:
"I’d like to tell you that I thought, oh my God, this is going to kill the war, it’s going to hurt the war effort. But really, fame, fortune and glory raced through my mind. What a story!"
Sy Hersh was getting the story that made him and he was exposing an atrocity, but he was also helping the Army build its case against a scape-goat, and helping to shape the memory the military wanted people to have of the war. "Yes, there were a few atrocities, but we took care of that." His stories ran in 33 newspapers. This is how Sy Hersh became the instrument by which the Mỹ Lai massacre became public knowledge in November 1969. He was rewarded with a Pulitzer Prize and a job at the New York Times. At the time, Hersh boasted "I'm a fucking celebrity!"
Wednesday, on Democracy Now, Hersh talked about how hatred of the Vietnamese was the driving force behind the massacre, and that hatred was encouraged. He says allowed. I say to allow hatred is to encourage it:
And so they began to hate. And they were allowed to hate. And there was a lot of ignorance about the society, about the culture of Vietnam.
He revealed that the Mỹ Lai atrocities were actually worse than he reported. In his much more recent Syria reporting he has also been accused of soft-pedaling the war crimes of a patron. This doesn't seem to be something a journalist should win a Pulitzer Prize for:
I mean, some of the stuff I kept out of the initial story, it was just so awful.
As I said in my original post, Mỹ Lai, itself, was a kind of cover up or misdirection of how pervasive civilian massacres were in Vietnam. For Sy Hersh then to keep stuff out of the one story allowed to surface was certainly not doing anyone wanting peace any favors. Finally, Juan Gonzalez, himself a journalist, asked Hersh how he came upon the big scoop:
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And you initially heard that there was a lieutenant being charged with some of these atrocities? And talk about how you tracked him down.

SEYMOUR HERSH: Actually, what I first heard, it came from a wonderful man named Geoff Cowan, who was just out of law school, who was then in a—he was just in a new public policy group, social law firm, that—one of the first set up in Washington. And he heard this tip, and he figured I might do it. He didn’t know where to go. And I started chasing it. He said it was an enlisted man went crazy.
Notice how he is a little sketchy about the details? For example, he fails to mention the existence of an army press release, and it was Hersh's Pentagon insider that told him "This Calley is just a madman:"
[W]hat happened is, I had got the tip. I found my way to Fort Benning, where Calley—I found my way to Calley. I had a—I saw a document in which he was initially accused of killing 109 or 111 “Oriental human beings.” “Oriental human beings.” And I remember going nuts. Does that mean one Oriental equals how many whites, how many blacks? And I did do something. The one thing I did, that made a friend of life for me with Mel Laird, the secretary of defense, a congressman who was then secretary of defense, who was appalled, too, by this, I did go to his people—to him, actually, pretty much directly, and said, “I’m going to take this out, because this is so friggin’ racist, that I think any American soldier walking down a street in South Vietnam could be executed for having done that.” So I did take it out. I didn’t write that. “Oriental human beings” is what they wrote.
American soldier in Vietnam
The original press release, and charging documents, did clearly betray the racist nature of the massacre, and indeed, the entire war, in its very wording! Seymour Hersh, the consummate wordsmith and propaganda artist, immediately saw the problem with this and alerted the Pentagon to its overly revealing word usage. This was self-censorship at its worst! Not only did Hersh not publish information damaging to the war effort given to him by the army itself, he ran straight to the top, the Secretary of Defense, to alert him as to the damaging admissions being made [ Perhaps on purpose? Thompson and Ridenhour weren't alone in wanting to expose the racist war policies. ] by the lower ranks. Correcting the army's fumble early in the public Mỹ Lai process was so important that he made a "friend for life" of Washington insider Melvin Laird. It is very unlikely Hersh published anything about Vietnam that Laird objected to. He says that he took out the racist reference to protect the US soldiers from the resulting Vietnamese anger, as if they didn't have enough to be angry about already, or needed Hersh to tell them the United States was conducting a racist war against the people the soldiers regularly referred to as gooks. He was hiding the racist nature of the war from his readers, the American victims of the policies of people like Melvin Laird:

AMY GOODMAN: Well, you said you’re going to take it out.

SEYMOUR HERSH: I didn’t put that in.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re going to omit it from the story.

SEYMOUR HERSH: I just took out the word “Oriental.” I said, “I just—you can’t be that dumb. You can’t be that crazily racist.” And it was to charge him with. Anyway, that’s just a sideshow. I did it because I just thought too many American boys who had nothing to do with it would be executed, but just shot at random. It would create so much anger. And I don’t second-guess that. I mean, it was bad enough, what I had, believe me, what they did...
Watch now on Amazon Prime
In spite of all he knew about Mỹ Lai, he never got the Vietnamese side of the story. They were fighting a war of liberation, first against the French, then against the United States. Those "many American boys" were an occupying army that was carrying out a racist war of which Mỹ Lai was merely an example, and it is not considered execution when you kill enemy combatants in a just war.

It is highly unlikely that Hersh's decision to hide the racist nature of the war, or its worst atrocities, saved any lives, either American or Vietnamese. On the contrary, his coverup likely helped the Pentagon lengthen the war and take many more lives. In 2005, former Vietnam War Secretary of Defense Robert F. McNamara said that 3.4 million Vietnamese were killed in the war. Most of these were civilians. My research hasn't indicated how many were killed before and after Mỹ Lai, but the yearly combat deaths for US and South Vietnamese military forces give us a clue:
Pro-US military deaths
before & after Mỹ Lai
US MilitaryARVN [S. Vietnam]
1960-196720,05359,717
1968-197538,456194,537

Mỹ Lai happened two and a half months into 1968, and 1968 was just about the heaviest year for casualties, so it's a bit biases the figures to count all of 1968 as post-Mỹ Lai, but we are working with the limitations of annual figures. In any case, it's easy to see that most of the imperialist military fatalities came after Mỹ Lai; it's a safe bet that this was even more the case with regards to civilian casualties; Nixon's massive carpet bombing of Vietnam and Cambodia was yet to come. Given these facts, its hard to understand why all these years later Seymour Hersh still seems proud of the white supremacist bias that caused him to violate the basic duty of the journalist to tell the whole truth without fear or favor in the biggest story of his career.

As we can see, Seymour Hersh has a long history of putting out the government line with regards to war crimes. He has been a hero of the Left since the Vietnam days because the US government, being a neoliberal one, as opposed to the fascists he has more recently sold himself to, was willing to admit to a single atrocity, and Seymour Hersh was given the honor of breaking the story.

In belittling the racist aspects of the Vietnam War he was also exampling one of the main characteristics of the white-Left as I discussed in:

The white-Left Part 1: The two meanings of white
The white-Left Part 2: Why that is the best name for it

These are my other posts on Seymour Hersh:
Russia admits sarin used in spite of Sy Hersh fantasy, 10 July 2017
Syria, Seymour Hersh and the Sarin denialists, 6 July 2017
Sy Hersh's incredible secret source, 4 July 2017
Seymour Hersh exposes Russian & Syrian lies about sarin attack, 1 July 2017
How Seymour Hersh confuses Syria with Libya, 23 April 2014
After Hersh lays smoke screen, Assad lobes gas bombs, 13 April 2014

2 comments: