Seymour Hersh Vs. Our Official Narratives
tags: Seymour Hersh; Jimmy Wechsler; Salvador Allende;Vladimir Putin; Murray Polner
Murray Polner, formerly HNN's senior book review editor, blogs at There's No There There. He is the author of No Victory Parades: The Return of the Vietnam Veteran, Branch Rickey: A Biography, and co-editor of We Who Dared Say No To War.
The more I read about Hillary Clinton's disappointment and her loyalists' accusations leveled against Russia's "meddling" in the 2016 election that supposedly cost her the presidency, the more I think of an editor I knew slightly and a journalist.
The first is Jimmy Wechsler, the late editor of the once-liberal NY Post who, while harassed and pursued by Hoover's FBI and McCarthy and assorted Torquemadas, helped smooth the way for modern investigative reporters, His paper broke a story about a secret hoard of money received by then Vice-President Nixon from secret donors.
The second is Seymour Hersh and his fellow reporters. Like Gary Webb, the San Jose Mercury News reporter who tried to crack what he believed to be was a CIA-Contra drug connection before dying of a still-mysterious suicide. Think too of Barbara Ehrenreich, who dug down deeply to explore and expose the lives of cleaning women who do our dirty work, Naomi Klein and her critical work about neoliberalism and worldwide global corporate domination, Jane Mayer's disturbing unraveling of some billionaires and the use they made of their fortunes, my late friend Robert Friedman, who probed Israel's ultra-sensitive subjects like its West Bank conquests and also the Russian Mafiya in the U.S., Newsday's Bill Dedman, who earned a Pulitzer for tracking down mortgage lenders whose loans strengthened housing segregation, Woodward and Bernstein, of course, and the estimable Glenn Greenwald at the Intercept and its stable of splendid investigative writers such as James Risen and Jeremy Scahill.
Toward the end of his life Wechsler reminded his contemporaries in the mass media -- I would especially add today's surviving dailies and their threatened staffs-- that their task is "to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfort able," while maintaining its ethical and moral values.
Hersh, whose compelling memoir "Reporter" has recently been published, has done just that for decades, repeatedly challenging the official lies and obfuscations of governments and lobbyists and their apparatchiks and apologists. We would all benefit if Hersh, now 81, would take on the "Russia-did-it" frenzy plus some of the Trump-related scandals that come and go swiftly without context or depth. Writing and working for the UPI, AP, NY Times, New Yorker and London Review of Books, he has broken story after story: The My Lai, killings, torture in Abu Ghraib prison, Kissinger's career ("the man lied the way most people breathed" Hersh wrote) Israel's nukes and more.
As a people we Americans understand little of the past and our many wars, Flag-waving replace facts. The current near-universal condemnation of Russian "meddling" in the 2016 election overlooks that the U.S. has a long history of invading countries and toppling elected governments. Dissenters like Hersh are rarely given time on our major home screens where most Americans get their news--with the result that too many American military and Asians have died needlessly while civilian Americans don't care about holding the guilty parties accountable, leaving our hawks, conservative and liberal, free to plan more wars.
Hersh has made mistakes such as blaming the U.S. Ambassador to Chile Edward Korry for being involved in the ousting of Salvador Allende, the democratically elected socialist president killed by Chilean neo-fascists, when Korry had actually been frozen out by Washington's hawks, He also mistakenly claimed in his bio of JFK that Kennedy had a pre-Jackie wife from whom he never legally divorced.
Even so, it's his instinctive skepticism born of questioning authority and cultivating sources deep in the heart of the beast that has allowed him to find and document so much hidden stuff. That's what makes his approach so special; informing readers that one of his early editors advised him to approach reporting with the idea, "If your mother says she loves you, check it out."
When Hersh broke the My Lai story, for which he received a Pulitzer, he had searched for and finally found Lt. William Calley by wandering around a huge arm base where he's been hidden. He interviewed Vietnam vet Ron Ridenhauer, a genuine hero for his role in publicizing the murders.Ridenhauer wondered why no other reporter had spoken with him. Robert Miraldi, in his fine biography of Hersh, ("Seymour Hersh: Scoop Artist") noted that many Americans blamed Hersh, since they could not bring themselves to accept that American soldiers were capable of committing such monstrous deeds and then, rationalized that, after all, "war was war."
There were plenty of others to blame. Reviewing Steve Coll's "Directorate S: The CIA and America's Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan," in the London Review of Books, Thomas Powers, one of our more perceptive historians and intelligence analysts, put it this way about our botched adventures and wars.
"Forty-plus years after our final failure in Vietnam, the United States is again fighting an endless war against a culture and a people we don't understand for political reasons that make sense in Washington but nowhere else.... we don't know how to win or how to stop... what lies ahead [is] an endless sliding sideways at some annual cost in money and lives that the American public will tolerate because we don't know how to win and we don't know how to stop."
And then there's our latest "enemy," Vladimir Putin (0fficial America, it seems, always need an "enemy"). The insightful Christopher Caldwell, who also writes for the NY Times, in a nuanced review in the conservative Claremont Review of Books, of former NY Times Russia correspondent's Steven Lee Myers's book "The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin" offers a different take. Caldwell doesn't seem to view Putin as a second coming of Stalin but rather as an heir of pre, anti-Communist religious Russian philosophers Vladimir Soloviev and Nikolai Berdyaev. I would add too, Konstantin Podonostsev, the arch-reactionary Procurator of the Holy Synod, who excommunicated the great Tolstoy from the 0rthodox Church. But Putin also sounds much like Alexander Solzhenitsyn, whose book "Gulag Archipelago," by the way, is compulsory reading in Russian secondary schools. He was imprisoned from 1945-1953 and his book "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich: was the first published book condemning Stalinist gulags to appear in the USSR.
As Putin might see it, writes Caldwell, the armed overthrow of the elected Ukrainian government on Russia's border, with the diplomatic (and eventually, some American diplomatic and military support) has him believing that Myers's version of the "Ukrainian conflict is one of the more balanced to have appeared from a mainstream Western reporter."
The annexation of Crimea, widely excoriated almost everywhere, has yet another plausible explanation. The Peninsula is home to the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol and an anti-Russian Ukraine dependent on the U.S. would have gladly let the U.S. "borrow" it if Moscow hadn't acted as it did. Can you imagine Russia "borrowing" Baja California from Mexico and the U.S.'s reaction? 0r have we forgotten the Cuban missile crisis?
In the end, Caldwell concludes that Putin, as every other leader, is "defending the interests of his people, the first of which is independence."Since the Ukrainian revolution, this success has come at a considerable price, in both diplomatic isolation and lost trade. We will understand nothing about Putin until we realize that, in the eyes of most of his countrymen, he has been right to pay it."
Still, while Putin is no beacon of liberty neither were and are our many leaders who have lied since the Spanish American War, the brutal invasion of the Philippines, recurring occupations of Caribbean mini-states, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Korean war, Reagan's proxy wars in Central America, and Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.
In the 1979 version of Erich Maria Remarque's memorable anti-war film "All Quiet on the Western Front" (still available) a German draftee and combat veteran tries to make sense of the mass butchery he has experienced and concludes that only those who benefit from war support its continuance. It's just a true today.
So who's next? Iran? Syria? China? Russia? During 0bama's presidency U.S. forces and their Hessian pawns in NATO have moved up to the Russian borders, patrolled neighboring Black and Baltic seas and skies and are prepared, because of Article 5 of the NATO pact, to intervene if a NAT0 member is attacked, as Joe Biden, when Vice-President, reassured Estonia.
It was Hermann Goering, one of the great monsters of the 20th Century, who said that people always tend to follow their leaders as war approaches. All you have to do is tell them again and again that they're endangered. "It works the same in any country," he said. But it wasn't Goering's credo alone and it's continually used by others. Here, the Korean and Vietnam wars were fought to "save" us and East Asians from communism and Iraq was invaded because Saddam was tied to 9/11 or so a majority of Americans believed. 70% of Americans, including the NY Times and the New Yorker, supported Bush s invasion of Iraq.
Until specific proof is presented the truth (at least so far) is that Hillary Clinton lost the election because of the Constitution's un-democratic Electoral College and not because of Putin and Russia. Please: We could use Hersh, et.al. working on this case.
Meanwhile, The real danger is the revival of the new Cold War between nuclear U.S. and Russia. Jack Matlock Jr., our Ambassador to Russia from 1987 to 1991, has pointed a way out, arguing that we have to "desist from our current Russophobia insanity and work to restore cooperation in josses of nuclear safety, nonproliferation, control of nuclear materials and nuclear arms reduction. This," he concludes, "is in the vital interest in both the U.S. and Russia. That is the central issue on which all sane governments and sane publics should focus their attention."
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