White House Lies: A Brief History

News Abroad

Mr. Quigley is author of The Ruses for War: American Intervention Since World War II and a professor of international law at Ohio State University.

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The White House's selective use of intelligence information to provide a reason for war in Iraq stems in significant measure from the capture of the Bush administration by elements with their own foreign policy agenda. For the grouping associated with Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, the issue of Iraq's weaponry provided a public rationale for an invasion carried out for other aims. A false case on Iraq's weaponry was broadcast to the world in Secretary of State Colin Powell's now infamous UN Security Council presentation of February 5, 2003.

While this situation may make the information manipulation in the run-up to the Iraq war seem sui generis , the Bush administration is, unfortunately, not far out of line with American practice. Other administrations engaging in military intervention have given a public explanation that varied from the actual reason. The public explanations were typically unfounded in fact.

In my book The Ruses for War: American Interventionism Since World War II (Prometheus Books 1992), I recount each instance of military intervention abroad by the United States from World War II to the date of publication. In a few instances, the military action was covert, hence the administration gave no explanation. For those interventions that were not covert, I recite the reason as officially stated. Then I explain why that reason was not the actual reason.

Ronald Reagan invaded Grenada because, he said, US students studying at a medical school there were in imminent danger from an anti-US leadership. Yet State Department personnel had been in close contact with the Grenadan leadership and knew the students were not at risk. When Norman Schwarzkopf's troops hit the beaches in Grenada, no one had told them the location of the students they were supposed to rescue, even though State Department personnel had been interviewing the students for several days, trying to convince them they needed to be saved.

When confronted by the press for not knowing where the students were located, Schwarzkopf called it an "intelligence failure." But it did not take much intelligence to know where the students were. The Pentagon could have asked their parents. The State Department in fact knew.

President Bush is trying the same ploy today. He has ordered an inquiry into "intelligence failures" over Iraq, while the real problem was that the administration was not straightforward about its reasons for invading Iraq.

Saving endangered Americans has been a frequent pretext for military intervention. Lyndon Johnson used it when he sent Marines into the Dominican Republic in 1966. He said that US nationals resident in the Dominican Republic were at risk in a civil conflict then underway. Johnson was really concerned that the "wrong side" might win the civil conflict. Most of the US nationals who wanted to leave the Dominican Republic had already done so before the Marines landed. The Marines were hard pressed to find anyone to evacuate.

George H.W. Bush dusted off this rationale to invade Panama in 1989. He said that U.S. nationals were being attacked by Panama's army. There had been a few isolated attacks on Americans. The one Bush highlighted was a checkpoint incident near Panama's equivalent of the Pentagon. Four US army officers stopped at the checkpoint and apparently became alarmed when Panamanian soldiers pointed weapons at them. Panama's version was that the US officers fired first. The US version was that the driver started the car to get away, at which point a Panamanian soldier fired. One of the US officers was killed as the car moved away from the checkpoint. Regardless of whose version of the incident was accurate, this was not an episode that bespoke generalized attacks on US nationals.

Perhaps the best-remembered instance of fabricating evidence for war was Lyndon Johnson's conjuring up of an attack on a US destroyer in the Gulf of Tonkin off the Vietnamese coast in 1964. Johnson told Congress that the United States needed to become involved militarily in Vietnam because North Vietnamese patrol boats had shot at the destroyer. The so-called Gulf of Tonkin resolution became the major Congressional authorization for our involvement in the Vietnam war.

One destroyer had, to be sure, reported to Washington it had been fired upon, but the destroyer's commander almost immediately sent a follow-up message saying that the report of an attack had been in error. A crew member had apparently misinterpreted sonar reflections of the destroyer's own rudder as an incoming torpedo. But Johnson took the withdrawn report of an attack to the UN Security Council and to Congress, using it there to get funding to fight in Vietnam.

Johnson perhaps was taking a cue from Texas history. James Polk got Congress to declare war on Mexico in 1846, telling it that Mexico had invaded US territory and "shed American blood on the American soil." There had been a skirmish, just north of the Rio Grande River, but Texas, recently acquired by the United States, had its southern border at the Nueces River, which parallels the Rio Grande 150 miles northeast of it. Polk wanted to expand south to the Rio Grande, but Mexico still controlled the territory up to the Nueces. The territory between the Rio Grande and the Nueces was hardly "American soil." It was the US forces who were fighting beyond their borders.

William McKinley declared war on Spain in 1898, under the slogan, "Remember the Maine ." An explosion had destroyed the USS Maine in Havana harbor, resulting in the deaths of 266 seamen. McKinley asked the US Navy to conduct an inquiry. The Navy concluded that the explosion was the result of an attack, although it could not identify the attacker. The assumption was that Spain was responsible.

The Spanish government conducted its own inquiry and concluded that there had been no attack, but that the explosion was from spontaneous combustion of materials on board the Maine. The explosion occurred in sight of on-shore eyewitnesses, none of whom saw any disturbance in the water or any suspect vessel. In 1976 the US Navy asked Admiral Hyman Rickover to conduct a new inquiry into the explosion that destroyed the Maine . Rickover concluded that the Spanish inquiry panel had been correct.

The UN Charter era introduced a new element. The Charter posited that war is illegal, unless in self-defense. Initiating war on fabricated reasons puts the United States in violation of the Charter, and of the rights of other states.

The presidents who have engaged in sleight-of-hand may have thought they were acting in the national interest, even as they recited dubious facts to the public. It is helpful to have a reason that puts the potential enemy state in the wrong, a reason that can make soldiers willing to fight, and make their parents willing to send their offspring into battle.

The US military personnel who invaded Iraq thought they were depriving Iraq of weaponry that Iraq might have used against the United States. Their parents thought their children were protecting the United States, just like the parents of the soldiers James Polk sent against Mexico, or the soldiers William McKinley sent against Spain.

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Glenn Franklin Williams - 2/19/2004

I disagree with your opinion, and I believe that President Bush has acted with fortitude, as well as integrity and honesty.

We know that Iraq had chemical weapons at the end of the Persian Gulf War. They had nuclear technology. Remember, the Israelis took out an Iraqi reactor in 1981. Why else would Saddam have ejected UN inspectors unless he were hiding something?

Eventhough they did not find the WMD, remember that the UN inspectors of Mr. Blix found over 100 Al Samud missiles with chemical (albeit empty) warheads on the eve of Operation Iraqi Freedom. It would not have taken long for Saddam's people to arm them with nerve, blister, blood or biological agents.

During OIF, our forces found a substance in stockpiles that while not a chemical munitions, per se, was usually delivered during a chemical attack to degrade the filters of protective masks to enhance the lethality of chemical agent poisoning. We may not have found the ‘smoking gun,’ but we have found evidence to show that we were probably on the right track.

I believe that we will learn that while we waited for the UN to vote to enforce its own resolutions, that the Iraqis hid the WMD well, or shipped them out of the country. And now, we have a more clear understanding of the close relationship between Al Qaeda and the Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein, although we expected it all along.

Furthermore, I believe we will see, if anything, that the faulty intelligence is probably attributed to the previous administration’s castration of the American intelligence establishment, as well as the near emasculation of our military. Thank God, the latter attempt was not as effectively done!


Glenn Williams.

Caleb Bacharach - 2/13/2004

I don't really care what Clinton said. If you are correct and the information is the trouble, why has no one lost their job? For 8 years, Republicans complained of a lack of any accountability in the Clinton government. Well... here is the chance to show some! We went to war based on false information if you are right.

However, I do not believe the intelligence was false since the the intelligence never said what the administration said. To me, Bush is a liar or simply a fool who takes orders from his more hawkish advisors. In any event, not someone who should be President of the greatest arsonal ever on the planet.

Glenn Franklin Williams - 2/13/2004

Remember these quotes?

"If Saddam Hussein fails to comply, and we fail to act, or we take some ambiguous third route which gives him yet more opportunities to develop his program of weapons of mass destruction and continue to press for the release of the sanctions and continue to ignore the solemn commitments that he made? Well, he will conclude that the international community has lost its will. He will then conclude that he can go right on and do more to rebuild an arsenal of devastating destruction."
"If we fail to respond today, Saddam and all those who would follow in his footsteps will be emboldened tomorrow."

"We have to defend our future from these predators of the 21st century. They will be all the more lethal if we allow them to build arsenals of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and the missiles to deliver them. We simply cannot allow that to happen. There is no more clear example of this threat than Saddam Hussein."
"His regime threatens the safety of his people, the stability of his region, and the security of all the rest of us. Some day, some way, I guarantee you, he'll use the arsenal. Let there be no doubt, we are prepared to act."

"I know the people we may call upon in uniform are ready. The American people have to be ready as well."

George W. Bush in 2003? No, Bill Clinton in 1998!

I think President G. W. Bush was presented with the same information that his predecessor did, only he had the intestinal fortitude to do something about it.

Glenn Williams

John Wilmerding - 2/13/2004

"Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction." -- Dick Cheney, speech to VFW National Convention, Aug. 26, 2002

The recent summaries of the Bush regime's false claims that Saddam Hussein had Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) date such claims to about August 2002. After that time, such claims comprised a litany of lies.

The lies were apparently consciously concocted and designed to give Bush a pretext for invading Iraq. I'd like now to cite as proof of this hypothesis the timing of two political parodies I wrote in June 2002, immediately before the false WMD claims began.

Here are the parodies. I think they now have some historic significance, because they show that the people of the USA -- at least some of us -- 'saw through' Bush's vacuous plans to begin starting illegal, first-strike wars for profit, both political and pecuniary.

What do you think?

-- John Wilmerding
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First published June 17, 2002, as 'Bush Declares Worldwide Aggression!'

Bush Declares Worldwide Aggression!
Texas Public Figure Accidentally Takes Truth Serum -- Cannot Lie!
Bush Expounds New 'Tic-Tac-Toe' Doctrine
Stock Markets in a Tailspin!

STRANGER THAN FICTION: Transliterated from government doublespeak contained in an article titled "Bush to Formalize a Defense Policy of Hitting First" written by David E. Sanger and published in the New York Times on June 17, 2002


PARODY, Texas, USA, June 16 -- Under the influence of a powerful herbal elixir he had tasted at a Texas county fair, George Walker Bush publicly pleaded today with his top national security aides to help him publicly 'fess up to a doctrine of pre-emptive action against countries trying to protect their reserves of oil and natural gas.

"First of all, don't look at me like I'm the President or something!" said Bush. "That was all a big misunderstanding! We're just trying to increase profits for the big multinational oil companies headquartered here in good ol' boys' Texas! Now don't you go messing with Texas!" he said, smiling and winking, and waggling his index finger at reporters.

Bush said Iraq is the next country targeted for US control. "We've softened them up enough with the unholy 'sanctions' that daddy started,", said faux-president Bush. "We've killed millions of their kids and destroyed most of their fresh water supply. It will be a miracle if they put up any resistance."

Bush's sudden honesty reflected not only the fact that he unwittingly quaffed a non-alcoholic cocktail of herbal truth serum today (the former Texas governor is a confirmed teetotaler), but also that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Defense Department, apparently still laboring under the impression that Bush is the US president, are desperately trying to devise a way that Iraq's Saddam Hussein can be unseated without the US having to resort to a full-scale invasion. However, the CIA has been short of analytical strength since the massive 'stupidity attacks' of the Reagan administration, and the Defense Department, laboring under the old doctrine that they are supposed to defend, not attack, is ill prepared for Bush's new and heroic vision.

Until yesterday, government pundits seemed to be searching everywhere for a name for the new strategy, seen as a significant move away from the chess-like military strategies of the cold war. The pundits already said that 'dominoes' was taken, and 'checkers' sounded a bit too much like a vaguely-remembered scandal from the Nixon years.

Then someone suggested the name 'tic-tac-toe' for the strategy. Grunt Asscroft, the newly-named director of Bush's 'Guess-STOP-Oh' "homeland security" agency loved it!

'You see, we are the X's, and they are the O's," Asscroft said. "As long as we get to go first, we always win! Boy, I'd hate to be in th' O's shoes!"

When reporters started asking more questions, Asscroft looked a bit uneasy and said, motioning toward Bush, "Over there! Isn't he in charge?"

Other persons appearing as though they might be aides to the faux-president said they are also always looking for ways to grab power in other countries without fighting for it. "One of our guys got a contract to build a 3,600-unit concrete-box prison in Kuwait," said one. "What a plum! Tiny little Kuwait'll never use all those cells, so we figure we'll just deputize all the Kuwaitis, tell 'em to go into Iraq, arrest Saddam Hussein and his bunch, and we'll toss 'em all in the hoosegow!"

"Well, you know we tried to get Russia interested in going in on this with us but they just said 'What's in it for us?" Bush said. "And them ungrateful Afghani's are talking about building a pipeline to ship their natural gas reserves to India, of all places! Who ever heard of injuns needing natural gas? We figger they're plumb loco. Anyhoo, the Iraq thing is pretty much a done deal at this point."

On condition of anonymity, several Bush hangers-on quoted him as saying earlier that "Our potential targets include any state that is too weak to defend itself from our hunger for oil." However other reports indicated that Bush had also confessed to a 'hidden agenda' in attempting to take control of Iraq -- that US and multinational oil companies intend to build a north-south pipeline route through Iraq to get oil and natural gas from the Caspian Sea area and the Caucasus to the deep-water oil port and pumping terminals at Kuwait.

Mr. Bush has hinted at the new policy recently, emphasizing 'pre-emption' when he addressed the German Parliament last month. He expanded on the theme at West Point two weeks ago, saying, "If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long." On Friday, at a Republican fund-raiser, he called his approach a "new Tic-Tac-Toe doctrine," although it echoes actions that past presidents have taken, such as the checkers scandal and the domino theory.

"It's really supposed to mean early action of some kind," Whoozzawhatzza Reese, the ostensible national security adviser, said in a recent interview, looking quite vulnerable and insecure. "It means that if you go first, the other side doesnt!" "There are times", he explained, "when if you don't go first you will lose."

Although Mr. Reese described the new policy as a broad one, and one that names no particular new victims of US aggression, all indications point to the fact that it is already being set in motion against Iraq.

"If the Kuwaitis don't do the job, we're going to send in a bunch of heavily-armed goons and knock on Hussein's door", said Bush. "However, they will be under strict orders to kill Saddam Hussein only in self defense!"

Reminded of current prohibitions in US and international law against assassinating foreign political leaders, one Bush coattail-hanger said, on condition of anonymity, "Only in self-defense! Only in self defense!" Bush, overhearing the discussion, rejoined "Target Saddam? Who, us? We would never, ever do that -- whoops, sorry force of habit -- of COURSE we are targeting him! But the goons will have their orders -- only shoot in self defense!" Bush declared.

"The truth serum! It's wearing off!" someone said hopefully.

"The problem with a full-scale invasion is that you advertise that you are going to go first and be the X's", a senior official said today. "This fellow Bush, whom we still think is the president, seems determined to find some other way to be the X's and go first."

Discussions within the White House have dwelled at great lengths on other cases where other presidents have tried to look smart and go first. Lately the CIA-led Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba has been under very close examination. Reese said "there's a whole range of possible ways to take early action. Maybe that one would have worked if all those pigs hadn't gotten in the way."

Others involved said that White House discussions have taken up other cases: President Johnson's consideration, for example, of a pre-emptive nuclear strike against China to prevent it from deploying nuclear weapons. The option was abandoned. "They couldn't think of a game name to call it," one Bush advisor said. "Lyndon hadn't been told there was oil in China," said another, "otherwise they'd'a been history."

The drafters of the policy have also given thought to cases in which presidents failed to act pre-emptively, including not moving more actively against Nazi Germany in the 1930's. "Well, y'see," said Bush "My grandaddy Prescott Bush was very smart. He really knew how to make money -- he didn't even have to mess with oil! He got the ears of these here Nazi fellers away back in the 1920's and said, 'hey you guys, give me all your extra money -- I'll invest it for you and we'll all make a BIG killing ...'"

Just then, a burly Secret Service man pulled him away, saying something about it being time to take the dog for a walk.

"... and he did it until they got caught in 1943! They made millions! Now that was *real* smart of granddaddy! I'm smart too!" Bush shouted over his shoulder as he was dragged away.

In Berlin last month, Mr. Bush stood in the Reichstag, whose burning in 1933 marked the beginning of Hitler's rise as Europe stood by, and warned his European allies that "wishful thinking" would not eliminate "the new totalitarian threat." Reminded of that comment under the influence of truth serum today, Bush added in his best down-homey Texas drawl, "Well, of course, what I meant was that the Third Reich never ended. You see there was Granddaddy and the Nazis, then there was daddy and the Iraqi children, and now there's me! So don't worry, we're not going away. Granddaddy's buddies said we'd be around for a thousand years, and we will!"
_ _ _ _ _ _ _

The following second parody was first published June 30, 2002 -- it lampooned a Boston Globe article published on the same date.

Bush Studies His New 'Tic-Tac-Toe' Doctrine

The Bahston Sunday Probe
June 30, 2002

We'll Go First!

Under the emerging Bush 'Tic-Tac-Toe' doctrine, the US could launch preemptive attacks against suspect nations at will, and in so doing override half a century of international accords

by George Shultzinger

PARODY, Texas, June 31, 2002 -- As president, George Herbert Hoover Walker Bush presided over the end of the Cold War and the beginning of the lukewarm one. Now his son, faux-president George Walker Bush, is attempting to actually become elected to office in 2002 by stating a new 'Tic-Tac-Toe' national defense policy, irregardless of international laws and compacts that have been in place for more than 50 years.

This new strategic doctrine to guide US foreign policy would call for unilateral preemptive action against perceived threats and enemies and would not, as in the Cold War, rely almost exclusively on multilateral cooperation and massive retaliation for deterrence and containment.

"New threats require new thinking," Bush said, when first articulating the emerging policy earlier this month at graduation ceremonies at the US Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. "This is why I have been looking for people able to think about them. One of the best people I have found is an expert on this here 'Tic-Tac-Toe' stuff, John Hulkman of the Hermitage Foundation. Mister Hulkman went up to their hermitage and studied Tic-Tac-Toe alone for a month! The results were astounding! According to him, if we go first, as long as we put our X in the right place, we can win every time!"

"The 'Bush Tic-Tac-Toe Doctrine," as the faux-president called it last week, marks a significant break from the US posture of the latter half of the 20th century that was, in the hair-trigger days of confrontation with a robust Soviet rival, of necessity more cautious and defensive. Specialists in international relations, whether they support the policy or find it troubling, agree that such a break is likely to force a reordering of the international system.

"The framework of international laws is still relevant, but the fine print is no longer applicable," said Paul Williams, a professor of law and international relations at American University and a former State Department lawyer, "This may be because Bush's eyes are too close together, which augurs poorly for someone being able to read fine print without seeing double."

While Bush's speech was widely perceived as idiotic, for advertising that he contemplates a first-strike war against Iraq if elected in 2004, it is also the expression of a lack of strategic vision that ignores the fact that other nations put stock in the complex web of treaties and multilateral organizations - the North American Treaty Organization, the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization, the Organization of American States - that was put in place in the post-World War II era to fence in China and the Soviet Union and contain communist aggression.

"How does this fit into multilateral institutions? It doesn't," said Joseph Cirincione, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "There's no room for such a doctrine in NATO or the UN, because our alliance structures have been defensive. All the policies of the rest of the world are peace-oriented -- they assume that we don't go first; that we are not the X's."

What Bush has attacked here is much more than mere doctrine, it remains part of the American creed for the World War II generation and beyond: We are the good guys, and the good guys always let the other guys go first -- whether it was the Japanese strike at Pearl Harbor, the Italian incursion into Ethiopia, or the Nazi invasion of Poland, letting the bad guys go first was the way to show that they are the bad ones -- thus it was the way to win. And though the United States later reserved the right to go first with nuclear weapons in a Cold War crisis, it was supposed to be in the context of defending allies from foreign armies.

"Nuclear weapons is my kind of an issue, a no-brainer," said Bush. "If you don't go first, poof!"

But Bush's resident expert John Hulkman, some fellow who is supposedly researching European affairs at the Hermitage Foundation, says he supports the new doctrine. "Will this doctrine create controversy for the international institutions? Sure," Hulkman said. "It won't destroy our multilateral relations, but it will change them. It will simply let everyone know who's boss, that's all. It will tell them that we are the biggest, baddest kid on the block, and we have this stupid policy and stupid faux-president to prove it."

"My specialty is national adaptations to stupid leadership. In my studies, I have come to the conclusion that if you don't have a stupid policy, everyone else may simply go about continuing to think you are smart. Where stupid people come to power, it is best that new, stupider policies be brought forward so the rest of the worlds knows what they are up against. Who knows ... maybe we can prevent a nuclear war this way!" said Hulkman.

Many foreign relations specialists fear that going first could backfire by stirring resentment among other nations, setting a dangerous example for other states, and fundamentally undermining the concept of national sovereignty in place since the 17th century.

Proponents of going first feel that their plan is best in a world where the Cold War's rules no longer seem relevant.

"These people don't know how to play by the rules," Hulkman said. "You have to move quicker, you have to be more aggressive. You have to be the first to write an X in one of the boxes! In fact I am proud to say that I personally suggested the 'Tic-Tac-Toe' plan to Bush. I even taught him to play the game, carefully explaining that in order to win every time, you have to be the X's and go first."

When asked if Bush was able to win when he played the X's, Hulkman shrugged and said "The faux-president is still studying the intricacies of the game."
_ _ _ _ _ _ _

[Parody of a story which ran on page H1 of the Boston Globe on 6/30/2002. -- John Wilmerding]

Caleb Bacharach - 2/12/2004

I think the article is rather flattering to President Bush, since the point is that he is not alone in lying about the rationale for a war. Of course, the author believes that Bush lied and so do I. Because of this, some do not like this article. However, the belief that Bush lied is not simply a cynical assumption but an evaluation of the evidence.

So far, it seems pretty clear that Iraq did not have what Bush assured us it had (yes, I know, someday, they might all show up and vindicate the Republicans, fine- for the sake of argument, let us assume that Republican David Kay is correct and Iraq probably did not have what we thought it did).

This leaves 2 possibilities: Either the intelligence was wrong (as Bush supporters believe) or Bush misinformed the American people about the intelligence (which Bush critics contend).

Bush has created a commission to look into the prewar intelligence, so that suggests an intelligence failure, but he also said that CIA Director George Tenet is doing a great job and is at no risk of loosing his job over this. On the other hand, Tenet says the intelligence was fine: they never said Iraq definitely had WMD, and they included all doubts in their report, he said. What does all this mean? Aside from a total lack of any accountability in the United States government, it means that either Tenet is lying... or Bush is. To the author and to me, the culprit is the administration.

Looking back, it now seems that the intelligence was never s definitive as the administration said it was. While the administration left no doubt that Iraq definitely had all that they said and perhaps more, the intelligence community was not so sure. In fact, it would seem like the UN intelligence and inspectors were 100% right after all when they said Iraqi WMD is no sure thing. Would the American public have supported this war with a possibility, or to confirm our worst suspicions? We will never know. All we know is that statements coming out of the administration were wrong, and so far, it seems no one is to blame. How nice for them.

I recommend the following sites to demonstrate a population misled:

chris l pettit - 2/11/2004

Why is it that individuals always want to play silly semantical games in reading articles. While I agree that history has to do with facts, it is always the case that facts, like statistics, can be twisted to meet the position that you are trying to put forward. Serious historians MUST take into consideration what the author of a text is trying to state, hence the "general basis" and "sentiment" behind the article are as vital as the accurate rendition of the facts that are presented. Are we to sit here and believe that anyone is ignorant to believe that history somehow exists in the clouds somewhere, unaffected by human sentiment. What the author of the article was expressing was the history of the US government using lies to gain support for illegal or tenuous military action. THis is what we must concentrate on. I see there was no contradicting the facts presented, or the additional cases listed at the bottom of my last post. Why not? Because they are accurate in continuing the line of thought that the author is presenting.

If you want to attack whether this article belongs on a history website because it is too political, that is certainly a complaint that would be legitimate. Some would obviously support the view that this article is blatantly using cherry picked facts to make a point. Some would argue that there are planty of additional cases, such as those I listed, that support the point made in the article and that a serious historical discussion must emerge from the historical evidence.

But please do not play semantical games when you could be dealing with substance and please do not be ignorant to think that any history exists in a vacuum and consists of black and white facts. That is an arrogant stance and fails to take into consideration all the sociological, cultural, and environmental circumstances involved in the events and the way in which they are presented. History is part of a much larger picture of the humanities and social sciences and should be treated as such. Present the facts accurately, as credibility is all you have in this world, but never shy away from the "general bases" and "sentiments" presented.

John H. Lederer - 2/10/2004

Of course it is a matter of selectivity. The question is whether one selects what gives a fair picture or what distorts.

Selectivity does not justify any distortion.

"He shot at me on Sunday and I shot back . On Tuesday I thought he had shot at me again, but he had not shot at me."

is not reasonably reduced to "he had not shot at me" for purposes of brevity.

The fact that all history is distorted by selectivity does not justify all distortions of history.

Glenn Franklin Williams - 2/10/2004

Oh, let's see, I guess we have forgotten about the banned al Samud missiles with (albeit empty) chemical warheads before the war by the UN weapons inspectors - I guess they were just going to fill them with beer. Then, there was also the substance found in an Iraqi ammunition dump, that while not a nerve or other chemical agent per se, was known to be delivered with a chemical attack to degrade the effectiveness of the filters on protective masks to enhance chemical munitions' lethality against protected targets (per Soviet doctrine - where the Iraqis learned to fight), and was not Saddam already guilty of aggressively invading three neighboring countries and launching multiple ballistic missile attacks against a fourth nation, with which Iraq was not even at war?

I believe that if there are no weapons of mass destruction found in Iraq, it could be attributed to the excessive delay in the UN that afforded Saddam the opportunity to move them elsewhere, like Syria.

And, ah yes, do we remember these quotes?

"If Saddam Hussein fails to comply, and we fail to act, or we take some ambiguous third route which gives him yet more opportunities to develop his program of weapons of mass destruction and continue to press for the release of the sanctions and continue to ignore the solemn commitments that he made? Well, he will conclude that the international community has lost its will. He will then conclude that he can go right on and do more to rebuild an arsenal of devastating destruction."
"If we fail to respond today, Saddam and all those who would follow in his footsteps will be emboldened tomorrow."

"We have to defend our future from these predators of the 21st century. They will be all the more lethal if we allow them to build arsenals of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and the missiles to deliver them. We simply cannot allow that to happen. There is no more clear example of this threat than Saddam Hussein."
"His regime threatens the safety of his people, the stability of his region, and the security of all the rest of us. Some day, some way, I guarantee you, he'll use the arsenal. Let there be no doubt, we are prepared to act."

"I know the people we may call upon in uniform are ready. The American people have to be ready as well."

George W. Bush in 2003? No, Bill Clinton in 1998!

Glenn Williams

Ralph E. Luker - 2/10/2004

Mr. Lederer, Please keep in mind that the writing of history is _always_ and _necessarily_ a matter of selectivity. The historian can never reproduce _all_ of the evidence which might somehow be relevant to the subject at hand. You surely do not imagine that in the short span of this article, its author could have been expected to reproduce all evidence or even all the incidents that are relevant to the subject. Your point, I take it, is that the author has "cherry picked" evidence about the launching of major American involvement in Viet Nam.

John H. Lederer - 2/10/2004

"general basis" and "sentiment" -- the standards of history?

chris l pettit - 2/10/2004

I love how the above post fails to mention that the Maddox, in the first attack, was actually the agressor, a fact which has been confirmed through historical research. Note the following...

Rather than being on a routine patrol Aug. 2, the U.S. destroyer Maddox was actually engaged in aggressive intelligence-gathering maneuvers -- in sync with coordinated attacks on North Vietnam by the South Vietnamese navy and the Laotian air force.

"The day before, two attacks on North Vietnam...had taken place," writes scholar Daniel C. Hallin. Those assaults were "part of a campaign of increasing military pressure on the North that the United States had been pursuing since early 1964."

On the night of Aug. 4, the Pentagon proclaimed that a second attack by North Vietnamese PT boats had occurred earlier that day in the Tonkin Gulf -- a report cited by President Johnson as he went on national TV that evening to announce a momentous escalation in the war: air strikes against North Vietnam.

But Johnson ordered U.S. bombers to "retaliate" for a North Vietnamese torpedo attack that never happened.

Prior to the U.S. air strikes, top officials in Washington had reason to doubt that any Aug. 4 attack by North Vietnam had occurred. Cables from the U.S. task force commander in the Tonkin Gulf, Captain John J. Herrick, referred to "freak weather effects," "almost total darkness" and an "overeager sonarman" who "was hearing ship's own propeller beat."

One of the Navy pilots flying overhead that night was squadron commander James Stockdale, who gained fame later as a POW and then Ross Perot's vice presidential candidate. "I had the best seat in the house to watch that event," recalled Stockdale a few years ago, "and our destroyers were just shooting at phantom targets -- there were no PT boats there.... There was nothing there but black water and American fire power."

This seems to confirm the general basis and sentiment behind the article written by the author. He could have also mentioned Nicaragua, Chile, Argentina, East Timor, Panama, El Salvador...shall I keep going?

John H. Lederer - 2/9/2004

On August 2 1964 The U.S.S. Maddox, DD-731 was attacked by North Vietnamese patrol boats, who both launched a torpedo at the Maddox and fired (somewhat wildly) machine guns at it. One machine gun bullet (14.5 mm, about .50 cal) holed the Maddox's Mk56 gun director and was recovered. The Maddox took the patrol boats under fire and requested and received air support from the U.S.S. Ticonderoga, which sank one of the three patrol boats sighted and damaged two others.

Two days later the Maddox and the U.S.S. Turner Joy, DD-951 reported a second attack at night confirmed only by momentary radar returns and by sonar indications of many torpedoes. There was no visual sighting. Air support was unable to locate any attacking vessels though they were vectored by Turner Joy.

The Maddox's Captain was suspicious of the supposed torpedo attacks in the second incident since they did not match the first and the sonar returns were numerous and inconsistent with torpedos. He investigated on his own initiative and discovered that in a high speed hard turn the ship's sonar reflected off its own rudder or turbulence caused by the rudder. He concluded and reported that his ship, jittery after the first attack, might not have been attacked. Within several hours he signalled:

"Review of action makes many reported contacts and torpedoes fired appear doubtful. Freak weather effects on radar and overeager sonarmen may have accounted for many reports. No actual visual sightings by Maddox. Suggest complete evaluation before any further action taken."

The article more or less correctly reflects the second incident. It is correct that the administration reported the second incident as an attack for purposes of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution albeit Maddox's CO had already reported serious doubts.

The article totally ignores the first incident where the attack was unquestionable, thereby itself misrepresenting what happened.

The Maddox was attacked by North Vietnam in the first incident, perhaps mistakenly, perhaps deliberately. She and the Turner Joy were almost certainly not attacked in the second incident.

History should not be so malleable a thing from which one picks and chooses what one wishes to support one's argument -- either for the government or for supposed historians wishing to prove a point.