Vietnam and Now: Lying and Deception "For the Good of the Country" (May 11, 2009)
The lies, deceptions, misrepresentations and statistical legerdemain of the present financial meltdown remind me of the Vietnam era when the same sort of endless propaganda and deception was foisted on the American public "for the good of the nation."
The Vietnam War launched a great number of rich metaphors and ironies. We had to destroy the village in order to save it, etc. But beneath this tortured history lies a key point:
The entire justification for the war and its prosecution were constructed on conscious deceptions chosen by our elected and unelected leaders "for our own good." I think the process worked thusly: fearful the American public was tiring of the burdens of a global Cold War with global domination at stake, the U.S. Powers That Be did not trust democracy or the U.S. public to "make the right decision" which would serve "the best interests of the nation."
So they deceived and manipulated the public in order to gain their acquiescence and compliance. Unlike the current financial mess, where appointed officials from Goldman Sachs et al. are directly and personally benefitting financially from the actions of the government to bail out the Wall Street money-center speculators/bankers, most of those leading the Vietnam War propaganda machine did not benefit directly from the war's prosecution.
Yes, Lyndon Johnson's pals at Brown & Root made millions building bases in Southeast Asia for the Pentagon, and no doubt some of those funds flowed back to Johnson's campaign coffers. But anyone claiming Johnson and his crew of good ole boys and the remaining "best and the brightest" from the Kennedy administration staged the war for personal profit is missing the point.
The political calculation was not for profit but for geopolitical and domestic-political purposes. The brainiacs in State and the Pentagon feared that all of Southeast Asia would topple if the corrupt, venal, precarious South Vietnamese regime folded, but they also divined that the American public would never support a large-scale war in a distant locale that had little to offer in the way of American self-interest.
In other words, the U.S. public rightly concluded that America's stake in Vietnam was simply too small to warrant a stupendous gamble of U.S. treasure and lives. The Korean War had never truly ended, but it had certainly cost over 50,000 American lives; as to whether it had been "worth it" geopolitically was debatable.
Rather than risk the loss of Southeast Asia to Communism, the U.S. Powers That Be subverted democracy for what they considered a higher good: geopolitical dominance in a game with no second place.
All the lies, deceptions, misrepresentations and statistical manipulations were laid out in the Pentagon Papers, and the furor those documents unleashed was not from bad policy revealed but from the conscious manipulation of U.S. public opinion and the subversion of democracy that manipulation represented. (This was called at the time a "credibility gap;" please read the brief Wikipedia link on a very complex and fascinating history.)
To allow the citizenry a say in whether the nation should go to war in a distant land for dubious geopolitical reasons was simply too risky to the Powers That Be, who valued their own judgment more than democracy and who required secrecy and lies to maintain their own freedom of action.
Those familar with the Vietnam era will recognize this propaganda "metric": body counts. In order to foist off the appearance of success and build hope in a quick conclusion to the war, the Pentagon established a false baseline of success: the body count. The dead "enemy" (Viet Cong wore no uniforms so any number of dead civilians were counted as enemy combatants) were toted up weekly and as long as the count was considerably higher than American KIA (killed in action), then the spinmeisters could declare "victory" was just ahead.
When the Viet Cong (indigenous South Vietnamese rebels) and the North Vietnamese regular army (NVA) launched a gigantic countrywide offensive in 1968, the illusion of victory-just-ahead was shredded and the U.S. public lost confidence in the official lies. Iroically, the U.S. and its South Vietnamese allies actually won the Tet Offensive hands down; it took the NVA four long years to prepare an assault on the same scale. (Please read Big Story: How the American Press and Television Reported and Interpreted the Crisis of Tet 1968 in Vietnam and Washington)
But the essential trust of the American people had been lost due to all the lies, deception and phony statistics, and so the war was truly lost not in the jungles but in the resistance and skepticism of the American people.
Recall that the supposed triggering event for the war, the Gulf of Tonkin "attack" by North Vietname ships and aircraft on a U.S. ship, was exploited for propaganda reasons into the justification for what became a full-blown war--a war fought without the Congressional declaration of war explicitly called for by the U.S. Constitution.
When I see Treasury Secretary Geithner justifying the stupendous bailouts of Wall Street and the squandering of taxpayer funds, I conclude he knows he's lying and deceiving the public--but he apparently thinks that is the only way to persuade the public to bail out Wall Street.
In other words, the U.S. public cannot be trusted with fixing the structural flaws in the U.S. economy and financial system (after all, the public might--gasp!--demand the destruction of the money-center and investment banks) so we have to manipulate them into going along with our plan to save Wall Street and the money-center banks.
Just like in Vietnam, the first step is to scare the bejabbers out of the public: the financial system was moments away from crashing, which would have impoverished every last one of you, not just now, but forever and ever.
There is also a domestic political motivation. President Johnson often obsessed over how his Democratic Party would suffer domestic defeat if he were perceived to have "lost Vietnam" to the Communists. (Never mind Vietnam was arbitrarily divided after World War Two.) Thus winning the war "in the hearts and minds" of the American public was Job One--the actual war could be lost, but it needed to be lost without appearing to be lost.
This is a process otherwise known as "peace with honor."
Now we find ourselves swamped by relentless waves of financial propaganda, spin, manipulation and bogus statistical "proof" (a.k.a. body count redux) that the "war" on the bad old recession has been "won."
What a domestic political catastrophe for the ascendant Democrats if they failed to "win the war on recession." Thus creating the perception that the war has been won is absolutely more important than actually dismantling the Wall Street/money-center banks cabal which created the precarious debt/derivative machine and profited most handsomely from it.
I predict we will get our financial Tet Offensive in 2010. That's when the propaganda that "the recession is over" will be revealed as a lie foisted on the public "for our own good." And just as in the Vietnam Era, the American public will lose whatever trust and confidence they once had in their government and its leaders, elected and appointed.
The "recession" will be revealed as a Depression once the stimulus "cure" runs its course and the Bear market rally crashes to Earth starting in October 2009. Then as 2010 grinds on, the process I have termed "when belief in the system fades" will reach ever more citizens, and a Vietnam-era-like outrage that "we've been lied to" will take hold.
Another round of "this is the bottom in real estate" and more borrow-and-spend stimulus will be fired up in 2011, and that too will fail for the fundamental reason that inflating debt cannot cure over-indebtedness and financial trickery cannot fix financial fraud.
Come 2012 then the American public will finally get an unvarnished look at the world currently masked by governmental lies, deception and propaganda. It won't be the fantasyland being promised now ("return to 2006 bubble economy") but a full-blown Depression.
It's called cause and effect, and bogus statistical lies like "the birth-death model of job
creation" and under-reported unemployment cannot mask reality forever.
"Good faith" may have limited application in contract law, but it has no place in constitutional law. If you flout the highest law of the land, especially if you are a top-level decision-maker, you should be brought to justice. If you provably condoned, approved, and justified torture against established national and international law, you should be prosecuted.
And a darned clever new poem by Mike Dakota:
IF ROMEO AND JULIET
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