The Killing of History

by John Pilger, September 21, 2017

One of the most hyped “events” of American television, The Vietnam War, has started on the PBS network. The directors are Ken Burns and Lynn Novick.  Acclaimed for his documentaries on the Civil War, the Great Depression and the history of jazz, Burns says of his Vietnam films, “They will inspire our country to begin to talk and think about the Vietnam war in an entirely new way”.
In a society often bereft of historical memory and in thrall to the propaganda of its “exceptionalism”, Burns’ “entirely new” Vietnam war is presented as “epic, historic work”. Its lavish advertising campaign promotes its biggest backer, Bank of America, which in 1971 was burned down by students in Santa Barbara, California, as a symbol of the hated war in Vietnam.
Burns says he is grateful to “the entire Bank of America family” which “has long supported our country’s veterans”.  Bank of America was a corporate prop to an invasion that killed perhaps as many as four million Vietnamese and ravaged and poisoned a once bountiful land. More than 58,000 American soldiers were killed, and around the same number are estimated to have taken their own lives.
I watched the first episode in New York. It leaves you in no doubt of its intentions right from the start. The narrator says the war “was begun in good faith by decent people out of fateful misunderstandings, American overconfidence and Cold War misunderstandings”.
The dishonesty of this statement is not surprising. The cynical fabrication of “false flags” that led to the invasion of Vietnam is a matter of record – the Gulf of Tonkin “incident” in 1964, which Burns promotes as true, was just one. The lies litter a multitude of official documents, notably the Pentagon Papers, which the great whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg released in 1971.
There was no good faith. The faith was rotten and cancerous. For me – as it must be for many Americans — it is difficult to watch the film’s jumble of “red peril” maps, unexplained interviewees, ineptly cut archive and maudlin American battlefield sequences.
In the series’ press release in Britain — the BBC will show it — there is no mention of Vietnamese dead, only Americans. “We are all searching for some meaning in this terrible tragedy,” Novick is quoted as saying.  How very post-modern.
All this will be familiar to those who have observed how the American media and popular culture behemoth has revised and served up the great crime of the second half of the twentieth century: from The Green Berets and The Deer Hunter to Rambo and, in so doing, has legitimised subsequent wars of aggression.  The revisionism never stops and the blood never dries. The invader is pitied and purged of guilt, while “searching for some meaning in this terrible tragedy”. Cue Bob Dylan: “Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son?”
I thought about the “decency” and “good faith” when recalling my own first experiences as a young reporter in Vietnam: watching hypnotically as the skin fell off Napalmed peasant children like old parchment, and the ladders of bombs that left trees petrified and festooned with human flesh. General William Westmoreland, the American commander, referred to people as “termites”.
In the early 1970s, I went to Quang Ngai province, where in the village of My Lai, between 347 and 500 men, women and infants were murdered by American troops (Burns prefers “killings”). At the time, this was presented as an aberration: an “American tragedy” (Newsweek ).  In this one province, it was estimated that 50,000 people had been slaughtered during the era of American “free fire zones”. Mass homicide. This was not news.
To the north, in Quang Tri province, more bombs were dropped than in all of Germany during the Second World War. Since 1975, unexploded ordnance has caused more than 40,000 deaths in mostly “South Vietnam”, the country America claimed to “save” and, with France, conceived as a singularly imperial ruse.
The “meaning” of the Vietnam war is no different from the meaning of the genocidal campaign against the Native Americans, the colonial massacres in the Philippines, the atomic bombings of Japan, the levelling of every city in North Korea. The aim was described by Colonel Edward Lansdale, the famous CIA man on whom Graham Greene based his central character in The Quiet American.
Quoting Robert Taber’s The War of the Flea, Lansdale said, “There is only one means of defeating an insurgent people who will not surrender, and that is extermination. There is only one way to control a territory that harbours resistance, and that is to turn it into a desert.”
Nothing has changed. When Donald Trump addressed the United Nations on 19 September – a body established to spare humanity the “scourge of war” – he declared he was “ready, willing and able” to “totally destroy” North Korea and its 25 million people. His audience gasped, but Trump’s language was not unusual.
His rival for the presidency, Hillary Clinton, had boasted she was prepared to “totally obliterate” Iran, a nation of more than 80 million people. This is the American Way; only the euphemisms are missing now.
Returning to the US, I am struck by the silence and the absence of an opposition – on the streets, in journalism and the arts, as if dissent once tolerated in the “mainstream” has regressed to a dissidence: a metaphoric underground.
There is plenty of sound and fury at Trump the odious one, the “fascist”, but almost none at Trump the symptom and caricature of an enduring system of conquest and extremism.
Where are the ghosts of the great anti-war demonstrations that took over Washington in the 1970s? Where is the equivalent of the Freeze Movement that filled the streets of Manhattan in the 1980s, demanding that President Reagan withdraw battlefield nuclear weapons from Europe?
The sheer energy and moral persistence of these great movements largely succeeded; by 1987 Reagan had negotiated with Mikhail Gorbachev an Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) that effectively ended the Cold War.
Today, according to secret Nato documents obtained by the German newspaper, Suddeutsche Zetung, this vital treaty is likely to be abandoned as “nuclear targeting planning is increased”. The German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel has warned against “repeating the worst mistakes of the Cold War … All the good treaties on disarmament and arms control from Gorbachev and Reagan are in acute peril. Europe is threatened again with becoming a military training ground for nuclear weapons. We must raise our voice against this.”
But not in America. The thousands who turned out for Senator Bernie Sanders’ “revolution” in last year’s presidential campaign are collectively mute on these dangers. That most of America’s violence across the world has been perpetrated not by Republicans, or mutants like Trump, but by liberal Democrats, remains a taboo.
Barack Obama provided the apotheosis, with seven simultaneous wars, a presidential record, including the destruction of Libya as a modern state. Obama’s overthrow of Ukraine’s elected government has had the desired effect: the massing of American-led Nato forces on Russia’s western borderland through which the Nazis invaded in 1941.
Obama’s “pivot to Asia” in 2011 signalled the transfer of the majority of America’s naval and air forces to Asia and the Pacific for no purpose other than to confront and provoke China. The Nobel Peace Laureate’s worldwide campaign of assassinations is arguably the most extensive campaign of terrorism since 9/11.
What is known in the US as “the left” has effectively allied with the darkest recesses of institutional power, notably the Pentagon and the CIA, to see off a peace deal between Trump and Vladimir Putin and to reinstate Russia as an enemy, on the basis of no evidence of its alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election.
The true scandal is the insidious assumption of power by sinister war-making vested interests for which no American voted.  The rapid ascendancy of the Pentagon and the surveillance agencies under Obama represented an historic shift of power in Washington. Daniel Ellsberg rightly called it a coup. The three generals running Trump are its witness.
All of this fails to penetrate those “liberal brains pickled in the formaldehyde of identity politics”, as Luciana Bohne noted memorably. Commodified and market-tested, “diversity” is the new liberal brand, not the class people serve regardless of their gender and skin colour: not the responsibility of all to stop a barbaric war to end all wars.
“How did it fucking come to this?” says Michael Moore in his Broadway show, Terms of My Surrender, a vaudeville for the disaffected set against a backdrop of Trump as Big Brother.
I admired Moore’s film, Roger & Me, about the economic and social devastation of his hometown of Flint, Michigan, and Sicko, his investigation into the corruption of healthcare in America.
The night I saw his show, his happy-clappy audience cheered his reassurance that “we are the majority!” and calls to “impeach Trump, a liar and a fascist!” His message seemed to be that had you held your nose and voted for Hillary Clinton, life would be predictable again.
He may be right. Instead of merely abusing the world, as Trump does, the Great Obliterator might have attacked Iran and lobbed missiles at Putin, whom she likened to Hitler: a particular profanity given the 27 million Russians who died in Hitler’s invasion.
“Listen up,” said Moore, “putting aside what our governments do, Americans are really loved by the world!”
There was a silence.

Cover photo: Henri Huet/AP



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Laurence James Howell
Laurence James Howell
Oct 2, 2017 1:56 AM

Those that fail to learn from history will surely repeat the errors. The world is rushing towards the final showdown and, as with all the wars since Napoleon, they are manipulated into being by the International Bankers by the use of false flag operations carried out by the security apparatus of the Anglo American Zionist criminal cabal. The only thing that is exceptional about Americanism is that so many are fooled by the untrue and preposterous claims of the latest in a long line of US Presidents and Ambassadors to the UN. Hollywood has got to be the greatest tool in the Zionist toolbox, selling confusing ideas and plotlines to the young and sowing lies and disinformation dressed up as news to older people who should know better. Trump was elected on a platform of telling more truth than any politician before him. “Hillary belongs in jail”, “Washington is corrupt”,… Read more »

Dermot O Connor
Dermot O Connor
Sep 27, 2017 12:14 AM

That most of America’s violence across the world has been perpetrated not by Republicans, or mutants like Trump, but by liberal Democrats, remains a taboo.

Dennis Perrin (a leftie) published this history of Dem warmongering back in 2008. Down the memory hole it went. He got interviewed by AM radio (by the right), but the audience that should have read it (‘liberals’) continued to fap off over the Daily Show.

Sep 25, 2017 4:58 PM

“Our citizens should know the urgent facts…but they don’t because our media serves imperial, not popular interests. They lie, deceive, connive and suppress what everyone needs to know, substituting managed news misinformation and rubbish for hard truths…”—Oliver Stone

Fair dinkum
Fair dinkum
Sep 25, 2017 12:45 PM

Pilger nails it , as the MSM crucifies the Truth.

Big B
Big B
Sep 25, 2017 11:46 AM

Pilger may have his critics, but for me, he keeps on giving. This piece taps deep into my psyche: where are they? All the peaceful mass protests against the abomination against humanity that is the genocidal country-grinding American war machine? Perhaps they will come??? From the FY18 NDAA: Countering Russian Aggression The committee believes the United States must do more to deter Russian aggression, whether across its borders or in cyberspace. Russia continues to occupy Crimea, destabilize Ukraine, threaten our NATO allies, violate the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, and bolster the Assad regime in Syria. In an unparalleled attack on our core interests and values, Russia engaged in an active, purposeful campaign to undermine the integrity of American democracy and affect the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. … the committee markup: Authorizes $65 million for a research and development program on a ground-launched intermediate-range missile in order… Read more »

Sep 25, 2017 6:21 AM

No offence, but how much self righteous propaganda does the US needs to spew before it completely destroys anyone who doesn’t agree with them or follow them.
People have said they’re a police force, that is strict on the world. They’re more like brutal dictatorship to the rest of the world, given past invasions not just on Vietnam, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan.
Now recently they’re going to invade North Korea and start what will be known, if there is humanity left as the 3 world war.

Harry Stotle
Harry Stotle
Sep 25, 2017 6:20 AM

Funnily enough one or two commentators arrived at similar conclusions after reading Kevin Ryan’s ’16 more reaons to question 9/11′ (posted 2 days ago) – how to respond to imperial crimes hidden in plain sight?
The evidence tells us that insitutions designed to curtail such abuses are beset by intercine conflict between member states, while the corporate media is more likely to plug a new book by a war criminal rather than censure the author for the untold misery they are responsible for.
Pilger asks here, as we did on Ryan’s 9/11 thread – what can be done about it when most of the cards are stacked so heavily in favour of a disconnected power elite?
Don’t know is the simple answer – perhaps those that now embrace identity politics have done after realising that they too are equally powerless against the movers and shakers in the deep state?

Thomas Turk
Thomas Turk
Sep 25, 2017 2:37 AM

I have a new/different idea to drop into the mix. The reason for the Tonkin False Flag appears to not have been the touted ‘feared communist domino effect’, but to a planned, thorough search for oil off the Vietnam coast, presumably if they had found the mother load, they would have quickly won the at, ir=e bombed Hanaoi inot dust.
Soon after the end of the Vietnam war, while living in the Far East, (as a Rtd Airline Pilot), I met an ex USAF pilot who flew Phantom fighter bombers in Vietnam. He informed me that many bomb-dropping sorties were carried out over precise grids in the sea off the N Vietnam coast.., with seismic monitoring ships present to assess the data as they searched for OIL.

Sep 25, 2017 2:35 AM

Western Style revisionism and confirmation bias seem to be the new normal in western academic centers and Political pundits. Next you know they will blame the Russians on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
it appears we are entering a new phase of a dying western paradigm . Dangerous times in deed . Will level headed western oligarchs appear soon . Humanity certainly hopes so.
Historically if one dwells into the Rabbit hole Ho CHI Min as far back as 1949 was asking for a political solution . Documents from UN archives show this to be the case but hell Gulf Tonkin and the Russians ate my lunch become credible lies in our western exceptionalist world.

Sep 25, 2017 2:14 AM

Hollywood made several anti-Iran movies based on propaganda lies such as “Rosewater” and “ARGO”. Zionist Jews were behind the both movies. Rosewater is based on the autobiography of Iran-Canadian journalist, Maziar Bahari, who was arrested in Iran covering Dr. Ahmadinejad’s re-election in June 2009 for “Newsweek magazine”. Bahari is married to Italian-British Jewish lawyer Paola Gourley. Several of “journalists” arrested admitted that their trips were funded by the Open Society Institute and the Soros Foundations Network (OSI), The Rockefeller Institute, the Ford Foundation, the German Marshall Fund, Freedom House, Council on Foreign Relations, German Association for Foreign Policy, and the Institute for Democratic Studies in England, all controlled by Zionist Jews. According to Jewish Moment magazine (July-August 2011), Mazair Bahari was “always fascinated by Jewish history and culture. He was the first Muslim who made a movie about Holocaust. His pregnant wife Paola Gourley led a campaign for his release… Read more »

Sep 25, 2017 12:50 AM

People need to be comfortable telling ordinary decent Americans that they personally experience consequences of the behaviour of their State apparatus. How would Americans abroad like their homes being napalmed? Outrage, outrage. Tell them they are acceptable collateral damage….without human rights. Utterly expendable. Start with every US citizen in every European city, especially London, Paris, Brussels, Frankfurt and Madrid. Make them feel totally unwelcome, unsafe, petrified for their children. See how they like it… How would Americans like all diplomatic rights revoked? Bomb every US embassy worldwide? Dear me, the liars for their countries, the CIA agents posing as cultural attaches, etc etc, all treated like expendable scum. How would the world do banning all US investment overseas, banning all US trade overseas? Not too badly. Promote Canadian and Mexican trade explicitly. Rub American egos in 500 tonnes of elephant shit all over the world, every day of every month.… Read more »

Reg Varney
Reg Varney
Sep 25, 2017 10:59 AM
Reply to  rtj1211

Very good post, unfortunately there’s too any countries like this shjthole (UK) for it ever to be realised very good idea though.

Enough is enough
Enough is enough
Sep 24, 2017 11:38 PM

Moore has lost the plot and uncle sams ego never recovered from Vietnem loss.