Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Part 1 of 2: Citizens MUST Supervise Their Government


Let's be clear what supervision means. It means the overseeing, directing, care and control of people or some process to insure it operates safely and correctly. Here are a couple down home examples:
  • Watching over children so they "play nice," don't get in danger, and so you can rescue them from trouble.
  • Knowing how to fry an egg and supervising oneself to not burn it up.
This blog, Part 1, is all about motivating voters to CARE enough to supervise.
The subsequent blog, Part 2, is about the various ways, above and beyond just voting, that serious-minded supervisors get the job done.
We’ll consider the Vietnam war as an illustration of monumental political decisions (not accidents) leading to agonizing failures and war tragedies which continue to bring tears to millions of Vietnam War Memorial visitors. 
The purpose isn’t drama. Instead, we want to weld emotional knowing with historical knowledge and secure it into our personal value system. The strength of an emotionally based value can then cause political engagement to grow. 
Most parents instinctively care to routinely supervise their small children. In contrast, average voters are annoyed and worry their about politicians but typically don’t provide them any supervision. I’m not saying politicians are like children. But politics is so important and overwhelmingly complex that outside supervision by engaged citizens is critically necessary.

I will reveal the key Vietnam war decisions of the presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon. They were the sequence of presidents in office for 21 years from 1953 to 1974. Each president worried over the dangers of involvement in a foreign civil war—and the substantial difficulties involved in making an exit from it.
In a typical year 90% of American voters never perform an act of supervision of local, state, or national government. Typical voters will occasionally voice complaints about politics to one another but not directly to their government officials. Thirty to fifty percent might vote in a couple elections during a year. In view of this, it’s no wonder voters are pessimistic and cynical about their influence on government. 
Voters show little evidence of caring to supervise politicians, but the politicians covet and crave citizen votes and tax money to run government. 
Centuries ago in Greece , in the world’s first democracy, the statesman Pericles said, “Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.”
Here is another famous quote relevant to politics in any century for any country: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” 
This was written by Lord Acton, a brilliant English politician, historian, world traveler, and writer in the 1800s.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1951)

Communism was expanding at the end of the Second World War (WW2) in 1945. The Soviet armies raced into several countries in Eastern Europe and made Communism the only allowed form of government. 
In the Democratic Republic of China (AKA Red China and now officially called just China), the communists were dominant. Northern Vietnam was trending that way.
The north and south parts of Vietnam had various names over the years. I simplify that by referring to them as North or South Vietnam. In 1975-1976 the Communists gained control of all Vietnam and the official name became the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. 
It seemed like one neighboring country after another was falling into Communism. President Eisenhower began comparing the spread of Communism to a series of falling dominoes, and this figure of speech caught on. North Vietnam was known to be increasingly Communist and the “domino theory” caused concerns that South Vietnam would fall to Communist aggression from the North Vietnamese and the whole of Vietnam would be communist. 
After WW2, France was unsuccessfully trying to re-establish itself as a colonial power governing Vietnam. But North Vietnam was becoming Communist and successfully battling against the French. America was financially supporting a large part of these French efforts. Occasionally U.S. aircraft assisted the French. This was the level of U.S. involvement in Vietnam under Eisenhower.
President John F. Kennedy (1961-1963)
Kennedy was a WW2 veteran and became a senator in Congress. He had an interest in foreign relations prior to becoming president and had taken an extensive world tour that included Vietnam. Kennedy is said to have had a great appreciation of history and had doubts of America’s ability to solve Asian political problems with military power. In 1961 he resisted calls for sending ground troops to Vietnam to fight Communism (Logevall, 2012 p 703-708). 
Nevertheless, the U.S. continued to send military supplies to South Vietnam including weapons. At the time of Kennedy’s assassination November 1963, there were 16,000 American military advisors in Vietnam but no combat troops.
President Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969)

Eisenhower and Kennedy knew the dangers of getting involved in a foreign civil war and the difficulties of exiting if things didn’t work out. But they succumbed to the easier, immediate response of ramping up resources and advisors. 
After Kennedy’s assassination, Johnson became president and served out the remainder of Kennedy’s term. 
Johnson, in his campaign for his own first term as president, said he “would not send American boys to fight a war that Asian boys should fight for themselves.” 
But after he became President, he escalated the war with the bombing of North Vietnam, called “Rolling Thunder.” And in March of 1965 the first combat battalions arrived in South Vietnam. 
Bernard Fall, the Frenchman author of the famous book, Street Without Joy: Indochina War 1946-1954, was a true expert on the war. He advised our country on the dangers of involvement. His opinion, his prediction, was that all the American firepower would make the war continue without resolution, “but at immense cost: the destruction of Vietnam” (Logevall, 2012, p 709-214). The future casualty statistics which confirm Fall’s prediction are from The Vietnam War (Ward and Burns, 2017).
  • 58,000 American dead
  • 250,000 South Vietnamese troops dead
  • 1,000,000 North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops dead
  • 2,000,000 north and south Vietnamese civilians dead
  • Tens of thousands in neighboring Laos and Cambodia dead
Johnson certainly had great compassion for all classes of Americans and for political freedoms for others around the world. But during the war he lied to and withheld from both Congress and the American People information they needed in order monitor and provide checks and balances to the President. 
Deceitfully, Johnson prevented Congressional and public oversight by withholding or minimizing bad war news . He did this to insure winning his presidential election and for insuring the passage of his Great Society social welfare legislation (Bird,1998). He did win the election in a landslide and the Great Society passed. 
What President Johnson (a man with heart and political skill) allowed to happen is a critically important lesson for children, young adults, and grownups to understand and worry about.

America was not winning the war in Vietnam. The North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong Communist soldiers were guerillas fighting a style of war they could ultimately win. The American style of war didn’t match the conditions in Vietnam.
The following quotations are from The Color of Truth (Bird, 1968, pages 17, 345, 366, respectively ). Note: Robert McNamara was Secretary of Defense and the Bundy Brothers (MacGeorge Bundy and William Bundy) were top level advisers in the Johnson administration.
  • Long before Robert McNamara privately turned against the war, the Bundy brothers understood what a dubious venture the Johnson administration had embraced. They knew how badly the war was going as early as 1964-1965, yet they found a way to persist in folly. 
  • By 1965 McNamara said, “We have been too optimistic…I’m saying that we may never find a military solution. We need to explore other means. Our military approach is an unlikely route to a successful conclusions.” 
  • Eventually, in 1967, Johnson was told by Robert McNamara that he could not foresee success in the Vietnam war; de-escalation and negotiations with the North Vietnamese to end to war were what was needed. Within a few days Johnson found a position for McNamara as president of the World Bank. Not long after, during a discussion of war matters, McNamara broke down and spoke tearfully about the cost and tragedy of the Vietnam. McNamara then said to the incoming Secretary of Defense, “We just have to end this thing. I just hope you can get hold of it. It is out of control.” 
Early in 1968 the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong (communist soldiers in South Vietnam) together launched the huge TET offensive; they attacked simultaneously more than 100 cities and about 40 provincial capitals. It was the largest military operation of either side during the war. Combat deaths for 1968 were 16,500 killed. More troops were needed to attempt to stabilize things, and there was a new draft call for 48,000 men. President Johnson sought out negotiations to end the war. Unbelievably, the negotiations to end the war were “derailed in a secret agreement between then Presidential Candidate Richard Nixon and the President Thieu of South Vietnam. TET Offensive. (2022, April 23) In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tet_Offensive#United_States
Eventually, Johnson was so overwhelmed with the issues of the Vietnam war that in March 1968 he announced he would neither seek nor accept a nomination to run for a second term. Publicly, Johnson presented a strong and confident public face as a war time president. Privately he agonized over the casualties. He wanted to hear them on a daily basis. Sometimes he appeared consumed with grief and sometimes was found crying. 
Incredibly, as the Johnson Administration and Congress grappled with stark wartime realities, the U.S. military manipulated enemy troop strength figures to give a more favorable impression of American progress in the war (Bird, 1998, p 364). More than a few American soldiers, when hearing official news about enemy dead and American casualties, came to believe the Pentagon was lying.
President Richard M. Nixon ( 1969-1974)

When Nixon took office the American death toll in Vietnam was 36,000.
Nixon in his campaign had promised to end the war, but within the next four years another 21,000 would lose their lives. For every man killed, six were wounded.
In 1970 Nixon decided to commit ground forces to Cambodia, a neighbor of Vietnam through which North Vietnamese supplies and troops passed on their way to South Vietnam. Some of Nixon’s staff worried about him and thought he was in an overly aggressive state of mind. Nixon expressed his own mood as, “We go for broke.” His Secretary of Defense, Secretary of State, and others strongly disagreed with Nixon. Several top advisers resigned in protest (Robenalt, 2015.) Subsequently large protests erupted in America:
  • There were mass student protests.
  • An ROTC building at Kent State was burned to the ground. In the ruckus and protests, four students were shot by National Guardsmen.
  • Many colleges and universities temporarily shut down.
  • Students marched on Washington by tens of thousands.
  • Nixon had made a remark that protestors were “bums” and Nixon’s staff felt this exacerbated the public’s unrest and protests.
Many times during Nixon’s years in office he obsessed about the news media and those in Congress who opposed him. He sought to neutralize such public dissenters. He directed some of his staff to collect damaging information about those dissenters so their reputations could be destroyed. He had his staff install secret wiretaps and microphones for recordings within the Whitehouse. Nixon didn’t even trust some of his own staff, such as his Secretary of State Kissinger.
In June o f 1972 at Nixon’s initiation, a small group (nicknamed and known as the “Plumbers”) broke into the Democratic National Committee headquarters for the purpose of spying and bugging their telephones. Nixon often contemplated underhanded means of attacking those working against him. The Plumbers were caught red handed and arrested. Later on, anonymous tips provided enough clues to tie Nixon staff to illegal surveillance activities. Eventually the existence of the secret Whitehouse recordings came to light. Nixon’s staff tried but were unable to shut down the FBI investigation. Soon Nixon’s cover up fell apart and the criminal behavior of his staff was fully investigated. Multiple Whitehouse and Plumbers staff were found guilty and went to prison. 
Congress overrode a Nixon veto and passed the War Powers Resolution in November 1973; it significantly limited a president’s authority to wage war. 
In 1974 Congress began impeachment proceedings on Nixon, who resigned later in 1974 to avoid the impeachment--which was predicted to end in conviction. Vice President Gerald Ford became President. Ford ruled out further military activity in Vietnam. In April 1975 America finished evacuating Saigon, which surrendered to the North Vietnamese. 

America’s Vietnam war had come to an end.
These four presidents, well informed by history and military advisors, were forewarned about getting into a foreign civil war from which an exit would be difficult. The war went on for years even after the very experienced presidential staff advised ending it-- even after the majority of citizens, most of the Congress, and the press wanted to end it. There are some critically important reasons the war went on as long as it did:
  • The excessive power and independence of the executive branch of government at the time. 
  • Lack of congressional confidence and determination to serve as an effective balance to the power of the Presidency. 
  • Arrogance and excessive desire to win while ignoring and justifying the exorbitant human and financial costs. 
  • Johnson and Nixon were both intelligent and experienced politicians. But out of self-interest they lied and distorted information to manipulate the other branches of government and the American people. Powerful men are necessary but their power must be balanced by the other branches of government and the well informed citizenry.
Several major events led to the end of the Vietnam war:
  • Daniel Ellsberg’s leaking of the Pentagon Papers to The New York Times and other newspapers. When the Whitehouse sought to suppress the Pentagon papers and keep them secret, the Supreme Court quickly ruled that the public had a right to know what had been going on in the Whitehouse and the war. Ellsberg was charged by the FBI with various crimes but the judge declared a mistrial because the prosecution during the trial was violating Ellsberg’s constitutional rights and hiding or lying about information sought by the trial judge himself. (from Ellsberg, 2002)
  • The impeachment proceedings of Nixon for Watergate-related crimes that caused his resignation.
  • Congress passed legislation which reduced the power of the presidency to act so independently and which began to reestablish the balance of power. 
  • Public opinion, protests, and the public media informed the citizens. The citizens and veterans learned they had been intentionally denied information they needed, had been lied to, and abused by their own government.
The point is, these are important tragedies we citizens must remember, reflect upon, and use to maintain a commitment to America to be well engaged and effective politically. We need to be able to vote better and to confront our politicians and have them take us seriously—or be voted out of office.
Part 2 of We The People MUST CARE to Supervise Our Government will focus on what actions well motivated citizens can perform to bring out the best in the politicians and the government. These activities make each citizen's one vote become more meaningful and powerful.


        For references, see the relevant page on the powertomyvotes.com website.

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