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Will the Pentagon's Vietnam War Commemoration Acknowledge Nixon's Treachery?

Will the Pentagon's Vietnam War Commemoration Acknowledge Nixon's Treachery?
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Conversations between Richard M. Nixon and his chief of staff H.R. Haldeman uncovered in Nixon's presidential papers confirm that America's 37th president committed an apparent act of treason by ordering his aide Anna Chennault to find a way to "secretly monkey wrench" peace talks in Vietnam, fearing that progress towards ending the war would hurt his chances for electoral success in 1968.

Previously it was known that National Security adviser Henry Kissinger helped sabotage the peace talks because he would be in line for a top position if Nixon won, though Nixon had always denied any involvement, telling Lyndon B. Johnson that "My God. I would never do anything to encourage [South Vietnam] not to come to the table."

After the Watergate scandal, Nixon further told reporter David Frost he had done "nothing to undercut the [peace talks]. As far as Madame Chennault or any number of other people, I did not authorize them and I had no knowledge of any contact with the South Vietnamese at that point, urging them not to....I couldn't have done that in conscience."

Nixon as we now know was lying. Not only did he instruct Ms. Chennault, who had long advocated for an aggressive anticommunist policy in Asia, to sabotage the talks, but he also enlisted the support of Taiwanese president Jiang Jieshi (Chiang Kai Shek) and Vice President Spiro Agnew, who instructed CIA director Richard Helms that his job depended on his pliancy. (see

The exposure of Nixon's deceit is ironic coming on the eve of the inauguration of Donald J. Trump, a man cut very much in the Nixon mold.

The question remains as to whether the Pentagon will include the new documentation as part of its 50th anniversary commemoration of the Vietnam War, or allow the revelations to be buried in the public's memory hole like so many other unsavory aspects of the Vietnam War.

My hunch is the latter given the commemoration's unstated political function which is to sanitize the history of the Vietnam War in order to delegitimize the anti-war movement, promote the veneration of U.S. soldiers and validate the permanent warfare state today.

In 2012, President Obama announced a 13-year long commemoration of the war in Viet Nam funded by Congress at $65 million whose official goal is to "thank and honor veterans" and "celebrate military technological breakthroughs" that came about during the war.

Mr. Obama characterized Vietnam as "one of the most painful chapters in our history, most particularly [in] how we treated our troops. You were often blamed for a war you didn't start, when you should have been commended for serving your country with valor."

These comments promote one of the most egregious myths to come out of the Vietnam War - namely that Vietnam veterans were maltreated and spat on by antiwar protestors when in fact huge numbers of veterans turned against the war and joined forced with the antiwar movement to end it. (see Jerry Lembcke, The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory and the Legacy of Vietnam. NYU Press, 1998).

In line with Obama's remarks, the commemoration website offers a sanitized history of the war that is filled with inaccuracies. It claims for example that "the United States had supported the French army in Indochina through the Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG), and U.S. advisers continued to train and organize the South Vietnamese Army to repel an invasion from the North."

A more accurate statement would read that the Eisenhower administration provided over $2 billion in aid to sustain the brutal French colonial war. Then, the MAAG stayed on to train and organize the South Vietnamese army to repel internal resistance against the U.S. imposed regime of Ngo Dinh Diem which favored the minority catholic population, rigged elections and refused to enact basic land reform.

Former Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara, one of the war's main architects, told Vietnam veteran Michael J. Uhl in 1995 that Vietnam was considered one nation and thus could not engage in "aggression against itself;" the U.S. really had intervened in a civil war. The Pentagon's commemoration is thus at odds with its own chief when the war broke out.

Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen, wrote that "all wars are fought twice, the first time on the battlefield, the second time in memory . . . . Memory is haunted, not just by ghostly others but by the horrors we have done, seen, and condoned, or by the unspeakable things from which we have profited."

At a time it is engaged in a half dozen bombing campaigns and helping to precipitate a new Cold War with Russia, the U.S. executive branch clearly does not want to revive memory about the horrors of Vietnam and has devoted considerable efforts to keeping the truth suppressed.

Attention devoted to the Nixon-Haldeman transcripts will thus likely be fleeting, and the documents kept off the Pentagon's commemoration website.

They speak volumes though about the moral perfidy of an American leader willing to sacrifice the lives of tens of thousands of people to help secure political power, and about the injustice of the Vietnam War which should have ended far earlier than it did.

Jeremy Kuzmarov is author of The Myth of the Addicted Army: Vietnam and the Modern War on Drugs (Massachusetts, 2009) among other works.

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