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The Independent Policy Forum
The Independent Policy Forum
Co-sponsored with the World Affairs Council of Northern California and the
Richard and Rhoda Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley
“SECRECY, FREEDOM AND EMPIRE:
Lessons for Today from Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers”
Author of the new book, Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers
Welcoming Remarks and Introductions:
David J. Theroux
Founder and President, The Independent Institute
David L. Kirp
Professor, Richard and Rhoda Goldman School of Public Policy
University of California, Berkeley
With a Panel of Distinguished Scholars:
Barton J. Bernstein, Professor of History, Stanford University
Edwin B. Firmage, Professor of Law, University of Utah
David R. Henderson, Professor of Economics, Naval Postgraduate School
Jonathan Marshall, Research Fellow, The Independent Institute
Introductory Remarks: David J. Theroux
David L. Kirp
Barton J. Bernstein
Edwin B. Firmage
David R. Henderson
David J. Theroux
Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. My name is David Theroux, and I’m the President of The Independent Institute. I’m delighted to welcome you all to our special event this evening entitled “Secrecy, Freedom and Empire: Lessons for Today from Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers.”
Our program features the former Pentagon official and renowned whistleblower, Daniel Ellsberg, and is cosponsored by the World Affairs Council of Northern California, and the Richard and Rhoda Goldman School of Public Policy here at the University of California.
For those of you who have not seen his new book, Daniel Ellsberg is the author of Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers, which is receiving rave reviews around the country.
The Independent Institute regularly sponsors the Independent Policy Forum, a series of lectures, seminars and debates held here in the San Francisco Bay area. After 9/11 for example, we began a program to examine the key issues involved, and our event this evening continues that dialogue.
In all of our programs, we seek to get beyond left and right, and feature speakers who present their own views, so that we all have a better opportunity to sift through and make up our own minds.
For those of you who are new to our program, The Independent Institute is a non-profit, public-policy research organization that sponsors and publishes studies of major issues, and conducts many conference and media programs. We invite you to visit our Website, which is at independent.org. You’ll find further information on our many programs, our books, our journal, which is called The Independent Review. This is the current issue, for those of you who have not seen it. In addition we invite you to receive a free subscription to our the e-mail newsletter called The Lighthouse.
I’d like to share with you four quick quotes. Thomas Jefferson once declared that “peace and freedom, with all mankind, is our wisest policy, and I wish we may be permitted to pursue it.” Alexander Solzhenitsyn has stated that “violence does not, and cannot exist by itself. It is invariably intertwined with the lie.” Thomas Paine said, “it is the duty of the patriot to protect his country from its government.” [Applause.] And last, Henry David Thoreau wrote, “there are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.”
I believe that each of these quotes speaks to the remarkable story and courage of our speaker this evening. With the war on terrorism, we face unprecedented new government powers at home, and the prospects abroad of a highly dangerous preemptive war as part of a new U.S. policy of global interventionism. Will such actions produce a safer, freer and more peaceful world? If not, what are the real lessons we should be learning from the past?
A couple of quick program matters before we begin. After the discussion, we will have questions from the audience. In the printed program that you hopefully all received, there is a blank card on which you can jot down any questions you might have, and there’ll be ushers roaming the aisles during the program to pick them up. After the question period, we will adjourn and Dr. Ellsberg will be available to autograph his book in the outer lobby on the mezzanine level.
We’re particularly pleased to have the Goldman School as a cosponsor of tonight’s program. At this point, I’m delighted to introduce Professor David Kirp, who is here to represent the Goldman School. Professor Kirp received his LLB from Harvard Law School. He’s the author of 14 books at last count, and among his many activities is his being a member of the Board of Directors of the ACLU of Northern California. [Applause.]
David L. Kirp
On behalf of the Goldman School, it’s a pleasure to welcome you and to introduce Daniel Ellsberg. Three decades ago, Daniel Ellsberg’s decision to make public 7,000 pages on the history of U.S. decision-making in Vietnam, 1945 to 1968. Those classified documents that became known as the Pentagon Papers influenced the course of a war. Now, even as Secrets, an account of that era, has been published, we seem poised on the brink of another, and at least equally, problematic war.
It seems to be fitting in two respects for the Goldman School to be a part of this event and a sponsor of this event. For one thing, the school is committed to the kind of rigorous analysis of central policy issues. Rigor has really been the hallmark of Dan Ellsberg’s work. If there’s a motto, it comes from the title of a book by the founding dean, Speaking Truth to Power.
As well, we pay attention to the ethics, not just the analytics of policy making. I teach an ethics and public policy course. It includes a unit on whistleblowing. You might imagine who one of the star figures is of that material.
As well, there’s a shared recognition at the school that analysis by itself is not enough, that unless legitimate concerns of those affected by policy are taken into account, government action will be ineffectual at best, and even wrongheaded. And that recognition, too, is consistent with the spirit of Daniel Ellsberg’s life work.
But there’s another reason why it’s appropriate for me to be here, and that is, had life events unfolded differently, Daniel Ellsberg might not be the author of this book and a figure known to the world but one of the founding faculty members at the Goldman Policy School. Certainly, his own intellectual background is the stuff of public policy—a dissertation on decision analysis.
He worked with Thomas Schelling, who’s one of the founding figures in the public policy field, after having worked on military strategy. He had a career that took him to the Rand Corporation, one of the places in which the field of policy analysis has its origins, and then to the government, and careers back and forth from government to public policy or familiar stuff in the policy field.
He was one of Robert McNamara’s “bright young men,” a group who really launched—in the aftermath of disappointment over the perceived failures of the Great Societylaunched this field called policy analysis.
And one of his bosses at Rand, a fellow named Charlie Wolf, described in the book as a hawk on Vietnam, became just a few years later, one of the first directors of Rand’s graduate program, which is the counterpart to the Goldman School.
Now, I wrote all that before discovering that this bit of counter-history turns out to be true—that on November 14th, 1969, Aaron Wildavsky had Daniel Ellsberg up to interview for a position at the then-about-to-be-created Goldman, well, then—Graduate School of Public Policy. He came, but knew he couldn’t accept the position because, as he says, “by then I was busily copying the Pentagon Papers.” [Laughter.]
As he describes in his book, coming across the Vietnam files was like opening the door to Ali Baba’s treasure. He’d thought of Vietnam as a worthy effort gone wrong, or a case of failed good intentions, and came only gradually to the conviction that American involvement had no legitimacy from the beginning. And then he acted on that conviction. The rest, as they say, is history.
One of my colleagues worked at the Rand Corporation in the1980s. He tells me the story that he’d go up to the guards desk and look kind of behind the guards desk at Rand. There’s a photo of Dan Ellsberg which says, “Never let this man enter this building.” [Laughter.] That is surely Rand’s loss. It’s a gain for the rest of us.
Today in the Pentagon, the State Department and the CIA, there are files and files and file cabinets filled with classified documents on the history of American decision-making in Iraq, 1945 to the present. And perhaps there’s a Daniel Ellsberg, prepared for reasons of principle, to take the great personal risk of making those papers available, and a New York Times that is willing and prepared to publish them. [Applause.] If so, that would have an enormous impact on our times, even as Dan Ellsberg’s decision to make the Pentagon Papers public probably shortened the war in Vietnam.
In the meantime, we have the pleasure to hear from Dan Ellsberg himself, a voice whose actions in the past, whose entire life vocation have enormous continuing relevance today. Dan. [Applause.]
How many people here saw the little interview that was published by me in the [San Francisco] Chronicle this morning? Can I see? Okay, very good. So, you know what I think about Iraq, the war. I don’t have to go into that, right? It’s what you think probably, pretty much.
I’ll try to talk this evening about history, but actually I’m not on this tour this month, which was set up months ago, with no thought that there would be such uncanny timeliness, unhappily, to the history I was speaking here. So I’m very happy even when I had no voice to have the opportunity in the last 10 days not to talk about history, but to do my best to avert that history being repeated, as is in the process of happening right now. And that’s what I’m going to appeal to you actually to join in this audience, because I suspect that here in my home town of Berkeley, I can count on not having to argue with people over why this war must not happen, and why it’s wrong. [Applause.]
Anybody out here have this book already? Okay, class, will you turn to page seven? [Laughter.] No, actually you don’t have to turn to it. The people who don’t have it yet, or don’t even buy it tonight, can find the chapter I’m about to quote from Chapter One on the Web, where I put it, thanks to my 24-year old son, Michael, three days ago—www.ellsberg.net
Because I told my editors about three days ago, as I was reading in the daily papers, “I want to put this whole book on the ‘Net’ right now. I can’t wait for people to buy it.” Well, you can imagine the reaction I got from my editor on that the week this went on sale. [Laughter.] But I said, “Okay, okay, just parts of it. Chapters one, three, and four. Two is background — the part that has to do, in 1964, with the approach to war before the bombs started falling. And that’s the part that needs reading right now.”
As a matter of fact, I had been sending this with that recommendation to people in Congress before the vote, and now after the vote on the authorization, it is still, the bombs aren’t yet falling. So this is the part that people have to read, I think, very quickly.
Well, one, three, and four. My editor went up to the upper bigwigs in Viking and said, “Chapter One — can’t do Three and Four.” I said, “it’s only 10 percent of the book.” And [she] said, “No, chapter one.” But I negotiated a few pages, which I may get to on chapter four, and you’ll see why.
Because the book begins with my first day as a full-time employee in the Pentagon, having been for about six years a consultant in the Pentagon, occasionally in the White House, or the State Department, from the Rand Corporation, with high clearance—higher than Top Secret — working mainly on nuclear weapons plans, nuclear war plans, almost a year-long study of nuclear crises in ’64, which led me to be hired by John McNaughton, who I talked to in the course of that study, former General Counsel of the State Department, former Harvard Law professor on evidence, now Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs. And he asked me to be his special assistant.
And I wasn’t really interested in being a bureaucrat. I was interested in improving the process, and studying it, and talking really about things that I knew something about. Vietnam was not something I knew about, although I had been there long enough—in 1961, several years earlier—to know that there was very little prospect of any kind of success in Vietnam. I’d been there long enough. It took about a week, and that’s all it did take actually.
But he said, “Look, you’re interested in crises, Vietnam is one long crisis.” This was in July of ’64, and he said, “You’ll study it from the inside. You’ll learn things you have not learned as a consultant, about how the government really works.” And that was true.
So when my first day started—in the book, chapter one, page seven—I didn’t even have an office yet. I was assigned a desk next to the secretaries because my predecessor, a special assistant, hadn’t yet moved out of the little cubbyhole, the office next to the assistant secretary. So I was just sitting at a desk there waiting to read cables and to learn about this new job, when a courier from the message center came running into the office, asked for the assistant secretary, who wasn’t there at the time. He was directed to me, the special assistant. And he handed me a cable, which was very dramatic, from a Captain Herrick, who was the commodore of a two-ship, two-destroyer flotilla in the South China Sea in the Tonkin Gulf, just off the coast of North Vietnam. It was a flash cable. And the reason he was running? It said “am under continuous torpedo attack.”
Now this was at 10:30—I have it here. I had looked this up, of course, on the time. I remember the occasion. And I checked in various textbooks now on when that time was.
The first cable was 10:42 a.m., Washington time—9:42 p.m. in the Tonkin Gulf. The time zones changed in the middle of the Tonkin Gulf, so there’s a lot of confusion actually as to which time zone a particular ship was in. But it was essentially twelve or thirteen time zones away. So morning in Washington was night in the Tonkin Gulf, and it happened to be a moonless night, very choppy, clouded over, no light at all, no stars, no nothing. All that could be seen was on radarscopes, or listened to on sonar, and that was the basis for the reporting that was coming in. The reporting was very dramatic, because one cable after another kept getting run into me. I never had an experience after this again, and I’m not—I don’t know how many there have been, really—since then.
This was not an ordinary event. This was the second time that a U.S. naval ship had been attacked by anyone since the Second World War. The first time had been—this was August 4th—had been two days earlier in daylight in the Tonkin Gulf on a Sunday afternoon, a Saturday night in Washington—so not too many people were in the office. The President wasn’t in.
But the President, then, on Sunday morning got the word that there had been this attack. It lasted about 20 minutes. Torpedoes had been fired; they all missed. Machine guns had been fired from the patrol boats. When we were looking for evidence that there had been a second attack on August 4th, my predecessor Alvin Friedman—who was sworn in as a deputy assistant secretary to give him a little more authority when he went to the Tonkin Gulf to find out what had happened—he came back with a .50 caliber bullet that had lodged in the superstructure of Herrick’s ship. And I’ve held that bullet in my hand. He came back and got quite a historic artifact—the bullet that started the U.S. escalation in Vietnam that lasted quite a long time.
But two days after that actual attack which occurred, were these reports of a second attack in the face of the President’s warning that any other repetition of that—and we hadn’t reacted to the first one—any repetition would have the gravest consequences. And in the face of that warning, here again, they were doing it.
So the other dramatic thing about this was that as flash cables, they were coming in as they were received in the Pentagon. I looked at the clock, I looked at the date/time group on the cable, and could see that it had been sent about half an hour before. Now, a flash cable is supposed to arrive at its destination in 10 minutes. That was the definition of flash, but it’s very hard to achieve that. And actually I wasn’t the first person seeing these, of course; it was going to the President, it was going to the Secretary of Defense. So what I was seeing were reports of something that was actually happening about half an hour earlier, but since they were coming to me minute after minute, it was like real time.
And there was no CNN then, where you could watch events slide half a way across the world. As a matter of fact, there was no radio contact directly with those ships from Washington, so this was as close to a kind of CNN version, a real-time version, as you could get. And apparently Herrick was dictating cables one after another from the bridge of the destroyer while he was taking evasive action in the dark there to avoid these torpedoes.
And here’s what I was reading, and this is verbatim. “Torpedo missed. Another fired at us. Four torpedoes in water. Five torpedoes in water. Have successfully avoided at least six torpedoes.” Nine torpedoes have been fired at the ship, fourteen, twenty-six in all at the two ships. More attacking boats had been hit, at least one sunk. This went on for over an hour, not just 20 minutes—a very extraordinary thing as I was watching these.
The reason I was getting these cables was that my boss was down the hall with Robert McNamara, the Secretary of Defense, planning, picking the targets to be hit in response, because the President, even before the torpedoes were fired, on the basis of intelligence reports from Herrick that he believed—that he was being shadowed by torpedo boats. There was an ambush. He believed he was going to be attacked. The President had already decided on the morning of August 4th that we would retaliate this time. And McNaughton, my boss, was picking the targets with Joint Chiefs representatives.
So I was getting all these cables together to show him when he got back in order, kept coming in. Twenty-six was the surprising number, though—to experts more surprising than to me. This is my first day on the job. They knew, which I didn’t know, that 26 torpedoes was more than we had estimated was in the entire inventory of the North Vietnamese navy. [Laughter.] And there were other odd things about this to intelligence experts, such as no radio signals. No radar signals from the boats. How had they found these destroyers on a moonless night without radar in the middle of the South China Sea at that point?
But, anyway, the cables were coming fast. More torpedoes, more torpedoes, and then, a cable that, for many years, I could remember verbatim, but now I have to look it up.
I was having a discussion with my great historian friend—a great friend and a great historian—Bart Bernstein, who was expressing skepticism very properly about my memory of the conversations that I’d give so long ago. And I said you’re absolutely right to raise these questions. I’ll just tell you—he thought I should have put this in the book. My memory for discussions, and cables, and things that I read 35 years ago, was, and even is, extraordinary. Last week, not anymore—ask me tomorrow what questions people ask me tonight, and I will have some problem with it.
But where I could in this book, of course, I’m using the actual cables, and this new cable, or memos that I wrote at the time, which can also be found, a lot of them, on the Web. This book isn’t just this book, it’s also the outtake section of www.ellsberg.net. I put all the memos on that, and a lot of other stuff. The book would have been three times as long if my two sons, especially my young son, Michael, who called himself, in the editing process, Jack the Ripper, had not slashed at this book.
So a cable comes in that suddenly says, in effect, full stop. “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 sightings [visually] by Maddox [his ship]. Suggest complete evaluation before any further action taken.” Another peculiarity turned up very quickly, within an hour, was that even with all the sonar—these two ships were very close together in the water—only the Maddox heard sonar reports. The other ship didn’t hear any, and only the other ship had radar contacts. The Maddox couldn’t see any. So there are peculiar things about it right from the beginning.
But this message at two o’clock from the commander of the ships was quite a cold bath to me reading this stuff. And a few minutes later—this was a little after 2:00 p.m. in the afternoon Washington time—Herrick sent another cable. “Entire action leaves many doubts, except for apparent attempted ambush at beginning. Suggest thorough reconnaissance in daylight by aircraft.”
Now this had been sent 1:27 a.m., Washington time, so it’s the middle of the night there, so daylight was a few hours away. The point of reconnaissance was to look for wreckage or oil slicks, or even bodies in the water, because they believed they had hit two to four boats and destroyed them. See if there’s any evidence they had actually been under attack, which, to leap ahead here, they had not been. There was no second attack.
But certainly earlier in the day, we had all assumed there was an attack, and there was some other evidence, which was misleading and misinterpreted at the highest levels by McNamara and Johnson, which I’m almost sure did lead them to believe that despite Herrick’s doubts there probably had been an attack or even certainly had been an attack. That was a mistaken interpretation not shared by intelligence analysts at the time. And the head of intelligence, Ray Klein in the CIA, had informed the foreign intelligence advisory board two days later that the evidence they were relying on, which was communications intercepts, had been misinterpreted. Almost certainly there had been no attack. But that was a day before Congress voted on the first Tonkin Gulf resolution, which was based on the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary Rusk’s Top Secret testimony in hearings, rather brief hearings, to the Congress on the 5th and 6th of August.
And the statements by McNamara that night, August 4th, a night I spent entirely all night in the Pentagon, watching the progress of these raids, the first raids against North Vietnam. I was to spend other nights all night, but my first day in the Pentagon, as a full-time employee, was 24 hours long.
And about 11:00 o’clock that night, the President informed the public, and Secretary of Defense then briefed them at length. “We are retaliating to an attack, an unprovoked attack,” and in McNamara’s words, “unequivocal evidence of an unprovoked attack on our destroyers on routine patrol in international waters. We seek no wider war.”
By that night, and certainly within a couple of days, I knew each one of those statements was false, and I knew it not just orally. I had documentary evidence of that from the cables. I won’t go through it. It’s in the book. But “unequivocal”? It could not have been more equivocal, and in fact, hadn’t taken place. But they did believe it, but it was extremely equivocal to say that it was what Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld would say, “bulletproof evidence”; it was a lie.
And it would appear, by the way, that the CIA has been saying to Congress right now, that that is a false statement. They have no evidence of links from Iraq to al-Qaeda. I’m going to try tonight not to start with these connections, and just go on history here for a minute. And I won’t go through why it was all a lie. I’m just saying, “unprovoked”? No, it had been provoked deliberately, at least by very provocative actions.
And indeed when we found that we could get the North Vietnamese on Sunday, on August 2nd, actually to attack a ship, a flurry of excitement went through the Pentagon of all new ways to get more reactions out of them to which we could respond. And “unequivocal”? No. “International waters”? Well, yes, at the time of attack, because that’s why they were fleeing into international waters, having been very provocatively sailing right there as close as they could get, and within what we knew the North Vietnamese regarded as their territorial waters, before the alleged attack.
No wider war? The very fact that I knew this as an essentially insignificant, unimportant person, highly paid. I came in as a GS-18 because of my earlier work as a consultant; it was a raise from my Rand salary, actually, but from work that I had been expert on—actually, the nuclear work—into a field I was not expert, but wanted to learn. So this was kind of an apprenticeship within the government and had no impact on the policy process. And yet a very good window on what was being said, which meant that I knew critical, crucial things bearing on the issue of war and peace, which not one Senator and not one Representative was allowed to know. And on the contrary, about which each one of them, chairmen of committees, was lied to, and successfully lied to. A wider war was on the way.
Now, I have another odd thing worth noting about this was. After my trip to Vietnam one week in ’61, and then having stayed away from it deliberately because I didn’t want the kind of taint that people had gotten from being associated with the Bay of Pigs. I was no expert on Vietnam, but as I mention in the book, I heard somewhere—maybe somebody can give me the reference—“You don’t have to be an ichthyologist to know when a fish stinks.” And Vietnam was not something I really wanted, but to study—all right.
I believe specifically that the bombing campaign that was being planned underway, and the targets that were hit on August 4th, were targets that were part of a 94-target list that had been selected months earlier, just as the Tonkin Gulf resolution had been drafted months earlier, and waited for the appropriate time, the appropriate provocation that would justify getting this blank check through Congress.
I’d have called it a blank check because it said the President was “authorized to take all necessary measures as he determined to prevent, among other things, further aggression in Southeast Asia.” A check can only be cashed once, so that’s a misleading metaphor. There was an unlimited line of credit.
It was a total delegation to the President, and people asked at the time, “Doesn’t this mean that the President could send divisions over there?” And [Senator William] Fulbright, who was shepherding this through for the President, said, “Well, actually, yes, it does say that. The language is that broad, but I assure you that this President will not take any such action.” First, doesn’t intend any such action? Well, that’s another story, but—“and will not take such an action without coming back to Congress for explicit immediate further authorization”? On that assurance, all but two Senators, although many of them had doubts and worries and skepticism about it, but all but two—[Wayne] Morse and [Ernest] Gruening—voted yes for that delegation, for domestic political reasons largely. The Democrats voted to get the Republicans on record behind our President, take the issue away from Goldwater, show a bipartisan support for the President at that time, before the election of ’64.
I was asked just recently when I told a story like this by an interviewer, “Weren’t you shocked when all these lies?” And I said, “No, no, I had been a consultant for years.” [Laughter.] And I had seen a lot of lies in the government. In fact, Harrison Salisbury once wrote in a book about the Pentagon Papers, “It was the lies that got Ellsberg finally.” And I remember writing a long set of corrections to them. I said, “Are you kidding? I couldn’t have been in the government for — if you can’t stand lying—I couldn’t have been an official for a week, let alone for years as I was.” If you don’t understand all the reasons for lying, all the need for it, all the need for secrecy.
Now the secrecy is justified in their minds, especially the need to keep secrets, information from foreign enemies in wartime. But even other countries, other states. And there is that reason which accounts for—I don’t know how you’d measure exactly—one percent, two percent, five percent of the secrecy. The rest of it is to keep secrets from other agencies in the executive branch, from rivals for power, from Congress above all, from the budget committees, from people who control the budget, those are the real enemy—and from other services. The Navy is the enemy for the Air Force and vice versa. That’s what the secrecy is for, and to protect officials from being blamed for errors, from being held accountable, or crimes, or catastrophes, various things, to prevent accountability, in short to prevent democracy.
But then, I don’t want to get too abstract here. Let me give you a few examples of what I learned inside the government. I knew already, yes, they lie, they lie a lot. Let me give some examples of the first kind. Start out with the rational example, the legitimate kind.
It was one day when I was working for McNaughton early in the morning, just before eight o’clock. McNaughton ran. He always ran back and forth from McNamara’s office down the hall. And he ran in and he said, “There’s a press conference coming. A Blue Springs drone has just gone down over China.”
Now Blue Springs was the code name for a covert set of reconnaissance planes by drones, the kind we’re sending over Iraq right now rather openly, the Predator drones we have in Afghanistan and so forth. Well, this was a very covert program at that time because we weren’t in principle at war with China. Sort of like the U2 that we’d been doing over Russia. That was a manned plane, this was an unmanned plane.
So he says, “Okay, a Blue Springs drone has just gone down. We have a press conference at eight-thirty. McNamara says we have ten minutes to give him six alternative lies.” [Laughter.] So he sat down on one side of the desk, I on the other of his desk, at his big office, with yellow pads, and we wrote lies as fast as we could. And we didn’t have time to confer with each other, so there was bound to be some overlap; we just wrote as fast as we could.
The first couple came very quickly, sort of like, “It was a Chinese Nationalist plane.” And I remember asking him, “By the way, did it have U.S. markings on it?” McNaughton writing away, didn’t even look up. He said, “Who knows? Who knows?” [Laughter.] And I said, “Okay, it was a Chinese Nationalist plane.”
Second, “It was a weather plane off course.” That was the one used on [U2 pilot Gary] Powers. That hadn’t worked so well on the U2 because they caught Powers alive, and the plane came down, and they had the photographs and everything. So that one hadn’t turned out well, but it was something to say.
And there were some other things. I don’t know, we wrote these things fast. McNaughton took the list, ran down the hall, came back a few minutes later and he says, “McNamara likes these, he wants four more. We have five minutes. We have five minutes. [Laughter.] So I said, “Why doesn’t he say, ‘no comment’? Because I think the reporters don’t like to be lied to, and they understand intelligence operations, and they’ll accept that, maybe.” He says, “McNamara won’t say ‘no comment.’”
But as he ran out again with our next four lies—I can’t even remember what they were; they came a little harder when you got up to about ten—I said, “try it again, try it again, see if he won’t say ‘no comment.’” So he came back after the press conference where he was present, and he said, “Amazingly he did it. They asked him this question, and he said ‘no comment’ and they seemed to like it.” A reporter came later into the room and said, “Tell your boss, assuming it was him who did it, thank him for this morning. It was so much nicer at last not to be lied to on this point.” Well, that’s the kind of lie, of course, that supposedly legitimizes the whole system.
A more serious kind had to do with right after August 4th. On September 3rd, a few weeks later, when we were planning—and I could quote here, it’s in the book—but writing memos, which I was helping McNaughton on, on how to provoke further attacks on our ships, or our planes, or our troops, to which we could respond. In other words, planning two things: to lie to the public about unprovoked attacks to which we had to respond. The Tonkin Gulf situation, I said, as you’ll see in the book, had been preceded by covert operations of attacks on North Vietnam of actually exactly this nature.
And what stimulated me to decide that there was enough similarity here to what’s going on? The people in the Senate, including people who had voted wrong, who had voted yes on this resolution, still needed some education on. I believe that the President probably will not wait till the good weather in late December or January to get on with his war, because public support is eroding for it. The allies are raising resistance and so forth. I think he wants to get in there fast. I actually think it will probably, though not certainly, be before the election. Now that’s two weeks away, and that poses us a challenge here.
If not before the election—if things like the North Korean episode come along that delay things somehow or confuse things—it might be later, and he’ll take his chances on getting a Republican Senate, though I actually think he would want to nail down a Republican Senate by getting the bombing underway before the election. Maybe there’s in my mind, very roughly, something like a 30 percent, 40 percent chance for that, and then maybe a 20 percent, 30 percent chance that it would be after the election. But let’s say before December or maybe later. But that’s just my guess—I’ll just say how it did happen 38 years ago.
When the President [i.e., Johnson] wanted to get on with the war, in that case after the election, he was competing with a man calling for escalation, so he did not want to carry out the Goldwater plan before the election, or it would jeopardize his landslide, which is what he got. But after the election, we needed to get on with it. So when that time came, the various plans that had been made for provocation began to be taken out and updated. And what I’m saying is, I want our Senators, in particular—the House will never be consulted on this—to be very critical of what they hear at the last minute about the necessity for bombing, having nothing to do with the Congressional resolution, nothing to do with the UN resolution, the President’s need as Commander-in-Chief to respond to, or preempt, attacks on our boys—and girls nowadays.
I use that phrase because on August 4th, the President was saying to Congressmen in his office, “There’s American boys, boys, in the water as we speak. There is blood in that water.”
Now there had been no attack at all, actually. The .50 caliber bullet was two days earlier. There were no bullets and so forth. But he took that act then. He was planning to take the act, not on the basis of the Tonkin Gulf resolution, nor do I think Bush would do it on the basis of Tonkin Gulf 2, which just got passed. He would do it, I think, probably—my own guess from inside—to protect American soldiers, to preempt, and to do something. So, how might that happen?
My choice to put some of this on the Web and not wait for people to buy it, was prompted by a Doonesbury cartoon of October 19th. I read it in Seattle the other day. This reporter, I forget his name in the strip, says, “Ari”—he’s addressing the President’s spokesperson, not Sharon—“Ari, could you go over it?” [Laughter.] It can be hard to tell the difference this month. “Ari, could you go over it one more time? Why war with Saddam, exactly?”
He says, “I mean, there’s no real al-Qaeda link as CIA has confirmed. He doesn’t have nukes. His army’s been decimated, and he hasn’t even been able to shoot down a single U.S. jet, despite all this firing which has led to the protective reaction.” “Isn’t there some kind of provocation you can point to, anything at all?” Ari comes back. “No, we don’t need one.”
So the other reporter says, “Maybe our guys should fly slower.” [Laughter.] And then the first reporter says, “Hey, yeah, like they could cut their engines.” And Ari says, “That’s it for today.”
Well, funny, except that the two pages I wanted put on from chapter four, which they wouldn’t let me put the whole chapter on, starts from early September ’64. U.S. quote “retaliatory”—because we hadn’t retaliated. We were planning and had conducted initiative action. Against North Vietnam was a cocked pistol, as it certainly is today, as we speak.
Officials were waiting for something to retaliate to and increasingly ready to provoke an excuse for attack if necessary. This memo that I quoted from September 3rd went up to the highest levels to provoke a military Hanoi response, and to be in a good position to seize on that response to commence U.S. actions against the DRV [Democratic Republic of Vietnam, i.e., North Vietnam]. That recommendation was accepted and signed by the SecDef, the Secretary of State, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, as a recommendation to the President, saying the main further question — well, we should resume the destroyer patrols offshore as close as possible to North Vietnam, resume the covert operations against North Vietnam, which we had suspended not, because the President didn’t want more of that before the election. But now the election was, when it was over, they said, the main further question is the extent to which we should add elements to the above actions that would tend deliberately to provoke a Hanoi reaction and consequent retaliation by us.
Examples of actions to be considered would be running U.S. naval patrols increasingly close to the North Vietnamese coast and/or associating them with our covert operations, openly saying, “Yeah, we’re doing it, and take that.” And I then say that this is my memory but this document has not turned up.
I very well remember reading the memo by the Joint Staff in response to the question, how can we get this done? Running the destroyer increasingly close to beaching on their coast. U2 reconnaissance planes over North Vietnam could be supplemented by low-level reconnaissance jets flying progressively lower over populated areas.
And so, not slower, but lower and actually faster. The idea was that they proposed to break the sound barrier over Hanoi causing a sonic boom that would—and I remember these words very clearly—“break every windowpane in Hanoi,” to get a rise out of them somehow.
Well, the war started. Another incident in the book: The war did get underway, I’m sorry to say, with my help, not because I thought it was a good thing to do, I thought it was a terrible thing to do. I thought it was even disastrous, and leading the bombing in particular. As a former Marine I have to admit that once the bombing got started—I’m not proud of this—I thought, okay, now the bombing has started, our prestige is at stake, we’re in it, we’ve got to achieve something. I was nuts, psychologically—subjectively against sending Marines or ground troops, which I thought were at least relevant to the situation there. That’s a bad memory for me, but there I was.
So I’m not pointing fingers at other people so much. The question for me that I’m addressing is not how could they—which this country has been asking for 38 years and far more. What this book addresses is how could we—how could I, how did I—come to do this? And then, what came of it?
I had been all over Vietnam evaluating pacification there, using my Marine training as a former Marine company commander to look at the war up close, as you’ll see in some of the pictures here.
And I was on a plane with McNamara to brief the new Undersecretary of State Katzenbach on this plane, as we were coming back from Vietnam. I now was a foreign service officer—I had switched over to the State Department—a civilian. McNamara, for whom I had written speeches earlier, before I went into the Pentagon full-time, calls me to the back of the plane—his KC-135—which could fly all the way from Vietnam unrefueled, a windowless tanker.
And as we were getting at the end of the trip, he calls me to the back of the plane, where he was standing with Bob Komer, an old friend of mine from Rand, as many of you may know, who was a former CIA guy now working for the White House on pacification for the White House. So McNamara said, “Dan, here’s a question you can answer. You’re the best person to answer this. Bob here says that we’re making great progress in Vietnam, and I say things are worse than they were a year ago. What do you say?” So I said, “Well, Mr. Secretary, I would have to say that I’m most impressed at how much the same they are as a year ago. They were pretty bad then, and they’re about the same now. I wouldn’t say worse.” He said, “Well, that proves what I said. They’re worse. We’ve put another 100,000 troops in there, and they’re no better than it was before.” He said, “That shows the situation is actually worse, as I said.” I said, “Well that’s an interesting way to see it, Mr. Secretary. Yeah, you could say that.”
At that moment, a voice comes over the loudspeaker from the pilot’s, the captain said, “Gentlemen, please take your seats. Fasten your seatbelts. We’re coming in for a landing.”
The plane comes in fairly fast at Andrews Air Force Base. It’s very foggy—I’ll always remember. There’s a line of television cameras waiting to be briefed by the Secretary of Defense as he gets off the plane. He’s the first one off the plane. I follow. And actually minutes after we had had this little exchange with him, I hear him go to the microphones and say, “Gentlemen, I’ve just come back from Vietnam. I’m extremely encouraged by all the progress we’ve seen in every dimension of the war. Things are moving ahead.”
And I remember listening to this and thinking, Wow, I hope I’m not in a position where I have to do that. Actually there’s a picture of that moment that is in the book of McNamara making that statement.
That was ’66. A year later I had hepatitis. I would have stayed, but I was leaving. And Bob Komer was coming to take over pacification from the White House. And I was there to say goodbye to him. I would have stayed there if I didn’t have hepatitis and worked for him, but I was leaving. So I had just gotten out of bed, and I was in the Embassy waiting for him to come in so I could shake hands and say goodbye to Bob, and I heard his press conference at Tonsonut Airport when he landed.
And—one minute here—he was saying that he was known as Blowtorch, he had a very hard charging manner and all this, and he’s very brusque, and rather loud when he spoke to the press. But nonetheless—he was saying, “I’m terribly excited that the job I’m taking over here. This is going to be wonderful because we’re on the way, victory is in sight, again, making progress, progress, progress.” I was listening to that.
An hour later he—I mean half an hour later, he comes into the Embassy, and I could hear him down below, I guess—he’s on the second floor. And I could hear him saying hello to the secretaries. “Great to be here. This is wonderful, wonderful.”
This is Bob Komer coming up. He comes into the office. He says, “Dan, Dan, great to see you. Come into the office.” And he goes into the office, sits in his desk, lights his pipe, leans back, he says, “Well, Dan, how’s it going?” I said, “Bob, did you believe what you were saying at the airport?” And as I said that, he went like this on the desk. [Laughter.]
He said, “Dan, do you think I’m crazy?” And I said, “Bob, why did you take this job?” And he said, “Well, that’s what my wife keeps asking me. She said, ‘You could resign. You could go to a university. You could go back to Rand or something like that. Why are you doing this?’ And I keep telling her, when the President of the United States says we’re in a desperate situation, and we need you out there, you just cannot say no to him.”
I’ve reached the end of my time, here, but there is a lot more to say. I believe the Pentagon and the CIA are filled at this moment with people who knew, who know as well as I knew at that time, and McNaughton knew and others—McNaughton, who wrote hawk memos throughout the Pentagon Papers. And who believed nothing of what he was writing in Top Secret memos. He was doing it because he worked for McNamara, and I worked for McNaughton, so I understood that. I did the same.
And Senator Morse, one of the two men who voted against this in ’71. I was just in Oregon so I was very happy to pay tribute to him, as to Mark Hatfield, in Oregon, told me in ’71, when those Herrick cables that I just read to you came out in the Pentagon Papers. That one actually had come out in ’68. But when all the other documents came out in the Pentagon Papers, that had been in my safe, he said, “If you’d given us that, if you’d given me that on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1964 in August, the Tonkin Gulf resolution, instead of five years later, I gave it to the Senate, and then seven years later came out in the New York Times—if you’d given me that then, the Tonkin Gulf resolution would never have gotten out of committee. And if it had, by some chance, it would have been defeated on the floor.”
Well, I thought at the time, that’s a little overstated, because the President wanted to get into the war. I knew already, and it’s certainly true, it’s very, very hard to keep a President who wants to get into a war from having his war. And very hard to stop it once he gets in, very hard. So the time to do it is before he gets in, but it’s not easy. One cable, a few cables, would not have done it. So there’s no Tonkin Gulf resolution, then it would have come later under a different provocation, or he would have gone without a Tonkin Gulf resolution.
And then, years later, it came to me: Wait a minute, if I had taken the whole contents of my safe, or one drawer of it, and given that to Congress, or put it out in the fall of ’64, showing that everything the President was saying during the campaign was false, and that the estimates he was getting indicated that this was unnecessary or ghastly dangerous, highly bloody, I don’t believe the war would have occurred.
I could have done that. A hundred other people could have done that. McNamara could have done that. Of course, none of us thought of doing it, and the reason I was—using the last bit of my voice, which has now come back, in the last week; I lost it here in Berkeley here at a fundraiser for Barbara Lee, which was a good cause to do it. [Applause.] And some of you may have heard me that night, croaking away and losing my voice, talking about Mordecai Vanunu, the greatest prophet and whistleblower of the nuclear era, I would say, who has been in prison for 16 years.
I’ve wanted to say, and I’ve said on every occasion, now—if you know anybody in the government, or if you have any way to get through to them—but especially when I’m in Washington and elsewhere where I can speak directly on the radio to people who listened to this. If you know that the President is now lying us into a recklessly dangerous and unnecessary or wrongful war in Iraq, then I urge you to consider doing what I wish I had done in 1964/1965. Go to Congress, and the press, and tell the truth with documents.
It will, in fact, be at risk to your career, even if you do it anonymously, all the more if it’s traceable to you. All the more if you do it in open testimony, which is the most effective way to do it. Scott Ritter is doing everything he could as a former official. [Applause.] He is definitely a new hero of mine, and he is doing whatever, but a Senator, I mean, an official could do that.
Senators could be holding hearings right now, and in my opinion, you should tell your Senators, both Feinstein, who voted wrong on this, and who does not know something that her colleague, Senator Boxer, does not know. Boxer is on the Intelligence Committee, and understands perfectly well that this is a wrongful war. Boxer should be told she did the right thing, and we’re behind her. Feinstein should be told, “Get right or we will work against you in primaries. We will give our contributions to your rivals. We will work for your rivals. And we will do our best to fire you on this.”
There is, by the way, another Web site that I am even more anxious that you go to than mine—www.moveonpac.org—on which you can make contributions. They’ve raised $2 million—an average contribution of $35—to give to campaigns this week—like Paul Wellstone’s and others where the Senate is in question.
You can tell Feinstein, “If you can’t bring yourself as a vice presidential candidate…”—just as John Kerry, who voted wrong, is a presidenti
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