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Lessons from Vietnam

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Bad Breath

Date: 3/31/04
Show: Fresh Air (NPR)

I don't know what it is — a conditioned reflex? a sensory hallucination? — but each time she says "this is Fresh Air" my nose is catching a whiff of foul-smelling dog's breath. Okay, I admit it: I just can't stand her, Terry Gross, host and co-executive producer of NPR's Fresh Air.

Already before Florida, Gross was busy spreading the liberal gospel through interviews with Hollywood actors and directors and assorted other celebrities who — a mystery to me — know how a better world would look like. But after George W. Bush moved into the White House, her mission took on a new urgency: to ever reach this Hollywood dreamworld, the President had to go. Increasingly, even more so after the invasion of Iraq, anyone who wanted to say something nasty about Bush (or his administration) had an open mike on "Fresh Air."

Terry Gross   Terry Gross [unattributed]

Al Franken, Molly Ivins, Richard Clarke, Kevin Phillips, Hillary Clinton, Ron Suskind, Paul O'Neill, Joe Wilson, Thomas Friedman, Raney Aronson, Wayne Slater, Dana Milbank, Charles Lewis, Wes Boyd, Eli Pariser, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Nicholas Kristof, Dan Briody, David Horsey, Joseph Cirincione, and Sam Hamill took turns before Fresh Air microphones.

For many, the reason for being on Fresh Air was that they had written a new book. In fact, when you look at the NY Times bestseller list, virtually every leftist book author listed there also appears on the guest list of Fresh Air, with the notable exception of Michael Moore — apparently there is a level of stupidity that is too much, even for Gross (though not for other NPR hosts).

Of course, there are conservatives who can write books too, but the problem is that Gross won't read them. At least this is the impression that you will get listening to two recent shows with conservative book authors, Fox News Channel host Bill O'Reilly and former Bush aid Karen Hughes.

In the interview with O'Reilly, Gross totally ignores his book and pesters him with quotes from Al Franken's hatchet-job book "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right." The show gained some notoriety because O'Reilly, fed-up with Gross' hostile questioning, got up and walked out of the interview. Not surprisingly, both scored the incidence as a victory for their side — O'Reilly because he showed it to her and Gross because she showed it to him.

In the interview with White House counselor Karen Hughes it becomes quickly clear that Gross has no idea what Hughes' memoirs "Ten Minutes from Normal" is all about. Exasperated about a line of questioning that has nothing to do with her book, Hughes finally blurts out:

[…] It is an interesting question because it's not really what my book is about. My book, my book is about life, and about setting priorities in life, and about the struggle we face to balance our careers and our family, and about how, how my faith, in my case, helps me set my priorities in life, and how we all need to maybe sometimes take time away from what keeps us busy to think about what's really important and how we allocate our time. I also talk about my passion for the women in [unintelligible] Afghanistan. I, I worked on that issue when I was at the White House and I've been in Afghanistan now twice and, you know, was there a month or two ago. And women are going back to work, and little girls are going back to school, and it's a very optimistic story and so I have to admit I don't really like it being viewed in the context of some of these other political gossip books. I am a little distressed that that's the way it is, but that's the way it is.

Unmoved by the distress inflicted on her guest, Gross continued with attacks on Bush and his policies with select quotes and audio clips from Fresh Air interviews with Clarke and other writers of those "political gossip books." No one can say that Gross isn't taking her mission seriously.

  • audio file Former White House Adviser Karen Hughes [Fresh Air, 3/31/04]
  • audio file Bill O'Reilly [Fresh Air, 10/8/04]
  • NPR Bios: Terry Gross, Fresh Air host
  • Karen Hughes, a Texas-size job [Washington Post, 1999]
  • Al Franken web site: Al Franken Lies
  • Al Franken web site: Al Franken Web
An update

Of course, the long procession of Bush-bashers didn't stop there.

One of the subsequently invited was James Bamford, peddling his book "A pretext for war: 9/11, Iraq, and the abuse of America's intelligence agencies." Remarkably, the interview did not reveal a single new insight or claim that was not already available on various leftist web sites. Apparently, the unnamed sources that Bamford owns inside the CIA have the same browsing habits as I do.

Bamford's early claim to liberal fame was his book "Body of Secrets" in which he accused the Israeli Defense Forces of trying to sink the USS Liberty to prevent the spy ship from observing a massacre of Egyptian POWs during the 1967 war. In this case too, Bamford offered hardly any evidence for his assertions. Recently released NSA surveillance tapes and the transcripts of radio transmissions between IDF pilots and their ground handlers have shown beyond a reasonable doubt that the attack on the Liberty was a case of mistaken identity.

Following a scathing review of his book by Steve Aftergood in Secrecy News, Bamford posted a lengthy rebuttal on the web site of the Federation of American Scientists, ending with this admonition:

I have long read and enjoyed Mr. Aftergood's newsletter. I hope in the future he will stick to the subject he knows best — secrecy — and leave the defense of Israel to Ariel Sharon and his minions.

I have no idea what "Ariel Sharon and his minions" have to do with any of this, except for serving as an easy target for Bamford's promiscuous hate.

NPR sucks!

Several of the Bush-bashers hail from Texas. In fact, writing nasty books about the Bushes and their business friends has blossomed into a cottage industry for Lone Star State liberals. Their latest book with the revealing title "Cronies: Oil, the Bushes, and the Rise of Texas, America's Superstate," was penned by Robert Bryce which, of course, earned him an instant book promotion on Fresh Air. From what I can gather from the interview — I have no desire to read the book — Bryce covers the same well-traveled ground as Kevin Phillips' recent masterpiece "American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush."

But wait, there will be more from where this book came from…


Lessons from Vietnam

Another Request Pending

Date: 4/7/04
Show: Morning Edition (NPR)

Billed in advance as a devastating indictment of Bush's Iraq policies, ME's host Bob Edwards talked to Democratic Presidential candidate [and presumed nominee] Senator John F. Kerry about said policies and jobs. Kerry's answers to Edwards' soft-pitched questions were polished, seemingly well rehearsed, and garnished with much senatorial gravitas. No surprises here — in fact, most of what the candidate said was well-worn material from his stump speeches.

John F. Kerry

Senator Kerry on the campaign trail [P. Deou/Staff ©]

The surprise came afterwards. In an obvious attempt to blunt charges of partisanship, Edwards concluded the interview with this carefully crafted statement:

Morning Edition has a request pending to interview President Bush on Iraq, the economy, and other issues in the upcoming campaign.

Now, it is not uncommon that during the election season news organizations want to talk to the presidential candidates. Usually, they do this by contacting the campaigns and, after some horse-trading about the particulars, the candidates agree to be interviewed or to take part in a debate. The announcement that NPR has a "request pending" suggests that this was not the case here. In fact, JFK himself mentioned that he was the one who called — ostensibly to talk about the economy or, perhaps, to congratulate the host on his recent promotion to the position of NPR's Senior Correspondent. I guess, Bob was too modest to tell us!

Kerry's campaign appearance befits the larger anti-Bush agenda of the network. Just listen to two segments on All Things Considered, one broadcast the day before the interview, the other, the day after. In the first, Michele Norris interviewed the wives of two Marines deployed in Fallujah. Raising the specter of American contract workers butchered, burned, and strung up by a Fallujah lynch mob, Norris tried hard to get them to say something critical of Bush's decision to go to war in Iraq:

Was that, did that change your view of this operation, or your, your…

What we saw and heard about in Fallujah was, was not like anything that, that's really, that we've seen recently. The images were so gruesome — I am wondering whether that changed your view of the operation, or your, your view of what your husband is doing in Iraq?

Do you find that you're, you're wrestling with questions about the war at this point?

Despite Norris' best efforts, the wives didn't give her the headline she was looking for.

The morning after, Bush's National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice was scheduled to appear before the September 11 Commission to testify on the government's failure to prevent the terrorist attacks. Democratic commissioners used a recent book by former White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke to attack Rice. Later the same day, ATC host Robert Siegel called Clarke to comment on Rice's testimony. Needless to say that Clarke felt that he was right and she was wrong. A week earlier, when it was Clarke's turn to appear before the commission, no one at NPR bothered to call his former boss Rice for an opinion. Or is there another request pending?

  • audio file Kerry Calls for New Approach in Iraq [Morning Edition, 4/7/04]
  • audio file Talking with wives of Marines in Iraq [All Things Considered, 4/6/04]
  • audio file Clarke weighs Rice testimony [All Things Considered, 4/8/04]
  • NPR Bios: Bob Edwards, host of Morning Edition
  • NPR Bios: Michele Norris and Robert Siegel, hosts of All Things Considered
  • Kerry's speeches

Tucked away on NPR's web site is a longer version of the interview with the Senator. In it, Kerry actually utters a few new and interesting things — some even a bit amusing, such as his claim that Iraq lies at Europe's doorsteps. If Baghdad's International Airport will ever be open again, indeed, the city will be just a short hop away from anywhere in Europe. But that doesn't put it at Europe's doorsteps. The distance between Istanbul, the Turkish city that straddles the border between Occident and Orient, and Baghdad is exactly 1003 miles: not close, even by liberal standards.

The web site version also contains this exchange about the recent US attempts to arrest radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr:

EDWARDS: Is this arrest a wise move?
Not if it's an isolated act without the other kinds of steps necessary to change the dynamics on the ground in Iraq. If all we do is make war against the Iraqi people, ah, and continue, a, ah, an American occupation, fundamentally, without a clarity is to who and how sovereignty is being turned over, we have a very serious problem for the log run here, and I don't, I think, this administration is walking dead-center down into that trap.

But if, if it were accompanied with the kind of broad-based coalition-building efforts and larger vision of more legitimate kind of stability of government that we could create there, ah, that obviously those who go against it are gonna have to be held accountable, but right now, I think, the administration is in a kind of, ah, no-man's land, a never-never land in between, which begs enormous problems for us.
[…] President Bush said that Sadre's defiance can't stand. What, what should the US do?
Well, ah, [laughter], it's interesting to hear that when they shut the newspaper that belongs to, ah, a legitimate voice in Iraq and…

If there was anything newsworthy in the interview, it was Kerry's statement that the paper which the coalition forces shut down temporarily "belonged to a legitimate voice in Iraq." The paper was calling for Jihad against America and accused American soldiers of targeting Iraqi women and children. I cannot imagine any occupation force in history that would have tolerated such a voice. Clearly, Kerry was misinformed about al-Sadr or he would not have said such a thing. Nevertheless, it was mighty nice of Edwards to spare him all the public ridicule by editing out the remark.


De mortuis nil nisi bonum

Lessons from Vietnam

Date: 4/30/04
Show: Morning Edition (NPR)

Date: 5/1/04
Show: Weekend Edition Saturday (NPR)

It's not often that the people of NPR bare their hearts and souls. A few of Scott Simon's personal opinions on Weekend Edition Saturday come pretty close, or Linda Wertheimer's recent reflections on past congressional hearings may qualify, but these are the exceptions, not the rule.

The reason, I suspect, is that the people of NPR know quite well that the public radio listener, though more liberal than the average American, is not were they are, out there in the nether land of progressive dreams and anti-American convictions.

But this may be just one of those moments.

To celebrate the victory of the North Vietnamese against French and American colonialists, NPR dispatches Michael Sullivan, one of their bureau chiefs, to Hanoi. This, in itself, is remarkable since peoples generally don't celebrate defeat. I grew up in Germany and I cannot remember a single time that we celebrated the end of World War II. It is not that the Germans, albeit in hindsight, weren't glad to get rid of the brownshirts. In fact, I consider May 8 as a day of liberation, rather than defeat, but I wouldn't conceive of celebrating it.

Ho Chi Minh   Ho Chi Minh [unattributed]

Sullivan first deals with the question why the French and Americans lost the war. He seems to agree with the conclusion reached by an international two-day conference in Hanoi that the Vietnamese were winning the war because "it was their land they were fighting to defend."

For the anti-war protesters of the Sixties, it was an article of faith that the Vietcong were a nationalist rather than a communist movement — I know it, because I was there. But after 30 years, even the most loyal fan of Ho Chi Minh must admit that he was, in fact, a communist. After the war, the victorious North installed one of the most murderous regimes in the history of mankind. Of course, we don't know what would have become of South Vietnam if we had not so cowardly abandoned it. South Korea, which at the time was a similarly autocratic regime and our ally, today is one of the most prosperous and democratic countries in the region.

After quickly disposing of the past, Sullivan turns to what must be the most burning question for any NPR reporter anywhere in the world: what do the locals think of the American occupation of Iraq? Of course, asking this question in a totalitarian state such as Vietnam, with no free speech, no freedom of the press, is a little bit silly. What do you expect the average Vietnamese to say whose every aspect of life is controlled by the government? If this is what NPR wanted to find out by sending a reporter to Hanoi, it seems like a total waste of the scarce resources of public radio: a quick call to the embassy of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam in Washington DC would have yielded the same information.

Everybody our daring chief talks to condemns the American occupation, someone even suggests that we invaded Iraq to steal the oil. There is only one lone dissenter who remembers the television pictures of the cheering crowds in Baghdad while the statue of Saddam came down:

They seemed to be for it, so why should I be against it? The people fighting against the Americans now must be part of the old regime.

Sullivan adds:

But his colleague Chan just shakes his head. It's their country, he says, that's why they're fighting, just like we did. The Americans, he said, ought to remember that.

Undoubtedly, this is the lesson that we are supposed to learn: it's their land, their country, that's why they will win. Lest we forget this fundamental message, Sullivan piles on the next day, reporting from a press audience that General Vo Nguyen Giap gave for the assembled international press in which the 92 year old victor of Dien Bien Phu wagged his finger at the Americans:

Any force that tries to enforce its will on other people will certainly face failure. All people fighting for their independence and sovereignty will be victorious in the end.

The trouble with Sullivan's argument is that the Vietnam of 30 years ago was not only the country of communist insurgents, but also the home of millions of Vietnamese who did not want to live under communist rule, who were killed in communist labor camps or lost their life while trying to flee the country. The Iraq of today is not only the country of Baathists and Islamist militants, but also the home of those who welcomed the American troops as liberators and aspired to a more democratic form of government. Why is it that Sullivan always sides with the enemies of freedom, the enemies of America?

Throw into the mix the fact that NPR habitually sides with Castro, and not with the Cubans who escaped his dictatorial regime, with the Sandinistas, and not with the Contras who were fighting for a free Nicaragua, with the Palestinians, and not with Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East, it becomes clear that the people of NPR are stuck in the Sixties, still fighting against what they perceived as American imperialism, while continuing to dream of the just and egalitarian society that the socialist liberation movements of the past had promised to deliver, but never did.

  • audio file Vietnam, France, U.S. & Iraq [Morning Edition, 4/30/04]
  • audio file Vietnamese General Recalls Dien Bien Phu [WE Saturday, 5/1/04]
  • audio file Linda Wertheimer Essay: Hearings Past and Present [WE Saturday, 4/10/04]
  • NPR Bios: Michael Sullivan, South Asia Bureau Chief
  • The Specter Of Vietnam
    In this piece for, Howard Zinn finds yet another connection between the wars in Vietnam and Iraq, arguing that in both cases it was the access to natural resources — not the promotion of democracy — that motivated America. Zinn, revisionist historian and leading figure of the New Left, may be considered one of the spiritual godfathers of NPR. At the turn of the millennium, the network aired a 6-part series in which Special Correspondent Susan Stamberg interviewed "some of the country's greatest contemporary thinkers." Zinn was the first one she interviewed.


I do agree with Sullivan and Giap that the war in Iraq is not winnable, but for a different reason. I believe that America is not prepared to inflict the kind of pain on the Iraqi population that would force the opponents of the occupation to surrender; after all, we think of the Iraqi people as innocent bystanders. As long as those who pay lip service to the ideals of a free and democratic society are not willing to fight for this lofty goal with the same zeal and tenacity as the Baathists and Islamists, their dream of a democratic Iraq must remain a pipedream. The best we can hope for is a moderate, benign dictatorship that is marginally more enlightened than the other regimes of the region.

Easter march   [©1968 Abendzeitung]

I did, indeed, participate in demonstrations against the Vietnam war. The picture is from a newspaper article on the 1968 Easter peace march in Munich which shows my future wife and me take a well-earned break at the Viktualienmarkt. At a time when it has become fashionable to apologize for things that others have done — famously, President Clinton apologized for the fact that the Cleveland administration deposed the Hawaiian Queen Liliuokalani — I would like to apologize for something that I myself did when I was young and dumb: I demonstrated against the war in Vietnam.

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Revised 6/16/04