Thursday, March 21, 2013

Robert McNamara and the Dayton Daily News

A little j'accuse from the Dayton Voice

So, I'm finally taking the time to really think about the Dayton Voice--what the experience was like for me, what it was like for others, what we tried to accomplish, how much of Dayton life it chronicled, the Voice in retrospect, and other passing thoughts. Of course, to interrogate only my own self is to make the story of the Voice about me, which it most certainly was not. To get it right, I would actually have to report, talk to others who were with the Voice and of the Voice and for the Voice, readers and writers and photographers and carriers and sales staff and fellow travelers.

And I would have to set aside time and effort to write about Marrianne McMullen and what she did as co-publisher, editor and writer. She reported some of the papers most important stories, like the Dayton Public Schools' reliance on suspension and expulsion, like what prostitution felt like to the women who had fallen into it, like what Jenny Wilcox, wrongfully convicted and incarcerated, experienced during and after her release, like how the Voice was Marrianne's inspiration.

But as important as it is to make sure that my story of the Voice is not some hagiographic fantasy of myself, I'm going to end this post with a pretty complete transcription of a piece I wrote for the April 20, 1996 issue of the paper about Vietnam, Kennedy-era Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and U.S. media at the time. In that piece, McNamara didn't lie alone," I was, per usual, much more opinion writer than reporter. And so it goes:

"Last week, the Dayton Daily News joined others in the mainstream media in criticizing former Secretary of Defense robert McNamara for hiding the truth about Vietnam. A News editorial chided McNamara for his "late, awfully late" revelations about the mistakes and failures of the devastating war against Vietnam.

"As the News would have it, the prolonged agony of the war was the responsibility of those who governed at the time and especially of an elite few, McNamara included. Americans wanted to trust their government, but the "...leadership at the top carries...the guilt of having hidden the truth from the American people," said the editorial.

"But DDN misses the point--as it must--that it took an enormous collaborative effort to hide the "truth." And the mainstream media was crucial to that collaboration, the News included.

"The media cooperated in a White House strategy of burying inconvenient facts, and omitted critical perspectives in covering the war. Such editorial policy facilitated the physical devastation of Vietnam, submerged the deepening impoverishment of parts of the United States and, ultimately undermined faith not only in American government, but in the media as well.

"After all, the truth about the war was known fairly early. In 1964, Congress passed the Tonkin Gulf resolution that authorized President Johnson "to take all necessary steps, including the use of armed force" to oppose the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese. But in March 1968, I. F. Stone reported in the New York Review that the alleged North Vietnamese attack in international waters on U.S. ships--the incident that the Johnson administration used to obtain passage of the declaration--actually had been a violation of North Vietnamese coastal waters and an attack provoked by the actions of the U.S. Navy. The News ought to check its own file library to see when, if ever, the paper reported that the Congressional quasi-declaration of war had been passed in response to an invented incident.

"Anti-war organizing [at the time] was based on a variety of different considerations. The United States, activists believed, had no legitimate national interest at stake in Vietnam and no reason to fight to maintain client regimes in the old outposts of French colonialism. Of course, rich ore and oil deposits in Southeast Asia and Indonesia were at stake, but access to these resources was not an admitted goal of U.S. war policy.

"Instead, we were fighting to stop a communist takeover and protect the "free world," even though a Vietnamese election in 1956 and agreed to by Ho Chi Minh was stopped by the Eisenhower administration. The News can check to see when it reported that Ngo Dinh Diem was installed with the support of the United States in preference to a freely elected Communist government."

"The national news media, and local outposts like the News, were delighted with the spectacle of protest, which they covered, and uninterested in the substance of these protests. The News, which helped to perpetuate the myth that opposition to the war tied the hands of the U.S. military, ought to go back and check its files to see when, if ever, it reported that more tons of bombs were dropped on Vietnam than were dropped on Europe and Japan during all of World War II.

"Thought the media was comfortable with the studied and persistent omission of the facts about the air bombardment of Vietnam, they delighted in reporting about alleged abuses of returning Vietnam vets by war protestors. The News might consider how many times it covered abuses of vets compared to the far more frequent physical assaults on protestors. Further, compare that to coverage of the estimated 200 or more massacres of Vietnamese villagers by American ground forces. These events were common knowledge among Vietnam vets and war protestors. They were "truths" that Washington elites and a cooperative press ignored.

"The cost of the military build-up resulted in severely underfunding anti-poverty programs. That is one reason why Dr. Martin Luther King spoke out against the war. The News might check its files to see how ofteh the paper reported on Dr. king's opposition to the war.

"Yes, it is terrible that Robert McNamara waited so long to confess. After all, 60,000 Americans and 400,000 Vietnamese died in the war. But mainstream dailies told precious little truth about the war and the Dayton Daily News' editorial maintains that tradition. "Awfully late" is too soon to expect an apology from the News."

"McNamara didn't lie alone," Dayton Voice, April 20, 1995.

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