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June 13, 2006

Happy Anniversary, Pentagon Papers!

Today is the 35th anniversary of the initial publication of the Pentagon Papers in the New York Times. The traditional gift on such dates is coral. Thus I'm going to give the Papers a plaque made of coral that says "I Don't Understand—How Could This Possibly Be Relevant To The Present Day?" This plaque also has a small button that, when pressed, produces the sound of two million Vietnamese peasants dying.

Now, here's an article from the LA Times by Daniel Ellsberg:

Today, there must be, at the very least, hundreds of civilian and military officials in the Pentagon, CIA, State Department, National Security Agency and White House who have in their safes and computers comparable documentation of intense internal debates — so far carefully concealed from Congress and the public — about prospective or actual war crimes, reckless policies and domestic crimes: the Pentagon Papers of Iraq, Iran or the ongoing war on U.S. liberties. Some of those officials, I hope, will choose to accept the personal risks of revealing the truth — earlier than I did — before more lives are lost or a new war is launched.

A U.S. News & World Report story on the anniversary is here. And the National Radio Project has produced a thirty minute segment of Ellsberg talking about civil disobedience in Crawford, Texas.

La la la la la:

Q What can you say tonight, sir, to the sons and the daughters of the Americans who served in Vietnam to assure them that you will not lead this country down a similar path in Iraq?

THE PRESIDENT: That's a great question. Our mission is clear in Iraq. Should we have to go in, our mission is very clear: disarmament.... it's very clear what we intend to do. And our mission won't change. Our mission is precisely what I just stated.

Posted at June 13, 2006 07:58 AM | TrackBack

The President's honesty is rather refreshing even after 4 years of clear missions.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at June 13, 2006 12:43 PM

Pages 279-282 of the paperbook edition of Ellsberg's memoir, Secrets,--where the cold warrior in him literally collapses, sobbing, on the floor of a restroom, finally crushed by the weight of facing boys not much older than his son who are almost beatifically chosing to go to jail in protest of the draft--are perhaps some of the most moving pages of nonfiction I've read as an adult. I would like to believe--and I think Ellsberg would like to believe--that all of us, or a lot more of us, are capable of such life-shaking epiphanies, and once we get them we can act on them. Some days I'm not sure, and think perhaps he was another unique hero, but either way Ellsberg deserves our salutations for even raising the possibility.

You can find page 279 on Amazon Search Inside by searching for [WRL prison], page 280 for [sobbing] and and 281 comes after that.

Posted by: Saheli at June 13, 2006 01:26 PM

Another great post Jonathan, and thanks for the links.

It is so good to be reminded how clear Georgie was and is on his accomplished mission to Iraq. During Vietnam Bush was an avid supporter of that war especially since it was the sons of other people who were being sent there, George declined himself but he supported it fully. He is continuing that grand and exalted tradition today, at least he is consistent on that point if not on any other point in particular.

The story of mans inhumanity to humanity is an old story, as old as humanity itself but it would be nice if we could work towards changing that story to a newer and better saga however muzzling the press is not going to get us very far in that direction.

Sometimes things happen that are striking examples of the price we pay for abuses of power that run contrary to the constitution. Today I was talking to a neighbor across the street and he told me his biggest worry was "They" were going to take our guns away and how terrible that was because guns are what defines America and what we are. I tried to tell him it was a wedge issue and that there were far more important issues like Iraq, the economy etc. but he was not convinced, oh well.

So it is good to be reminded as the Bush Administration threatens and imprisons the press and other citizens in order to preserve national security in all its splendid variety so that we can remain a free society that we at least we shall be able to keep our guns, to have the freedom to oil and clean them so that when the black helicopters come after us we shall be prepared to defend out prisons.

Posted by: rob payne at June 13, 2006 02:05 PM

your editing of the bush quote is deceitful.

here's the full quote:

That's a great question. Our mission is clear in Iraq. Should we have to go in, our mission is very clear: disarmament. And in order to disarm, it would mean regime change. I'm confident we'll be able to achieve that objective, in a way that minimizes the loss of life. No doubt there's risks in any military operation; I know that. But it's very clear what we intend to do. And our mission won't change. Our mission is precisely what I just stated. We have got a plan that will achieve that mission, should we need to send forces in.

so he clearly includes regime change, for which he can now claim success.

your point about his dishonesty is still intact, but it would have been stronger if you hadn't tryed to spin it.

Posted by: Mike Arauz at June 13, 2006 06:00 PM


I agree, my editing of the quote was deceitful. Or rather, it would qualify as deceitful in some other world than this one, where there was a political system that had a passing interest in reality and there was some point to rigorous, honest discussion.

Here in this world, though, I don't care. Leaving all of that in would inevitably lead to endless discussions about how what Bush actually meant was that we would have 200,000 troops stationed in Iraq for the next seventy years, during which time they would launch twelve invasions of neighboring countries.

I've tried being 100% fair-minded. It's pointless. There's literally no place for it in the United States.

Bush was lying when he said that. He and his administration have lied about Iraq a million different times in a million different ways. That's the only thing that matters. And anyone who doesn't understand that by now is not going to be convinced by a more nuanced examination of his statements at a press conference thirty-nine months ago.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at June 13, 2006 07:04 PM

Frank Zappa, a known Constitutional Advocate, once said "Don't let them take your guns, Son, their erodeing the Bill of Rights."

Posted by: Mike Meyer at June 13, 2006 07:21 PM

Mike Meyer, I see you are a Frank Zappa fan, I always thought he was great, "It can't happen here" or "Take your shoes off for industry" who could forget? Brings back memories of youth.

Posted by: rob payne at June 14, 2006 01:30 AM

I've tried being 100% fair-minded. It's pointless. There's literally no place for it in the United States.

it could be worse, you could be mandatorily made to work for fox news...

Posted by: almostinfamous at June 14, 2006 03:37 AM

I've tried being 100% fair-minded. It's pointless. There's literally no place for it in the United States.

Alright. But I can't believe it's really that hopeless, yet.

How will we win, unless we're rigorous about not leaving the other side any point to argue - in every circumstance, whether they're listening (reading) or not?

Posted by: Mike Arauz at June 14, 2006 06:40 AM

How will we win, unless we're rigorous about not leaving the other side any point to argue - in every circumstance, whether they're listening (reading) or not?

Ah, young padawan -- I remember when I thought politics involved rational argument!

In fact, politics has almost nothing to do with rationality, narrowly-defined, and the sooner we accept this the better off we'll be.

People don't think in terms of facts. They think in terms of stories -- specifically, they think in terms of an ongoing story they're constantly telling themselves about who they are and what their place in the world is. This is true for everyone, from the reddest Bush-lover to the bluest Bush-hater.

If you tell people facts which conflict with their inner story, the facts will just bounce right off. In many cases they literally cannot hear them.

The only way to win is to tell a better story than the right wing. We have some disadvantages here, because their story is the very simple one of Hate/Fear/Greed. Ours is much more complex and for people to believe it they often must change, which is always painful. On the other hand, our story does have one significant advantage, which is that it's true.

Story, story, story. Forget the facts for now. People will hear them when they're ready to hear them.

P.S. One big liberal problem is that in the standard liberal story, facts are supposed to matter. The fact that facts don't matter conflicts with the liberal story, and hence bounces right off.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at June 14, 2006 08:50 AM

Jonathan Schwarz:
Exactly right. If you've got a good story the People will follow. It works really well in Court also, Judges and Juries ARE creatures of politics.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at June 14, 2006 03:17 PM

I will have to get quite a bit more partisan before I believe that winning is worth distorting the quotes like that. I bookmarked this post before I read Mike's comment and now I think it was a lie by ellipsis marks. But I am partisan enough to give Jonathan the benefit of the doubt and imagine that I might come to think about politics the way that he does.

Posted by: Noumenon at June 14, 2006 08:49 PM


I appreciate your sentiment. I certainly understand where you're coming from, because it's exactly where I once came from.


1. I'm not prepared to concede what I did was a lie. I would say it left out a lot of stuff that was meaningful but still in the final analysis extraneous. The reporter asked for an assurance Iraq wouldn't be like Vietnam, obviously meaning that it would not be an open-ended commitment with a hazily-defined, ever-shifting rationale.

Bush answered that it would not, because the mission was simple: disarmament. Well, it turned out Iraq was disarmed, and indeed had been since 1991.

Mission accomplished? No. If our actual goal had been disarmament, Bush would have announced on May 9, 2003 that he was turning the entire matter over to the U.N. and the Arab League, and we'd be out of there in six months. Instead Iraq turns out to be an open-ended commitment with a hazily-defined, ever-shifting rationale. That's because Bush was lying. It was never about disarmament. It was always about controlling the middle east.

You can make that point in a 1,500 page long book, or in a six line quotation from a Bush press conference. But even a 1,500 page long book will leave something important out and in that sense will be deceitful. The only truly accurate representation of life on earth is life on earth.

That said, please don't feel you need to go back and check everything I've ever written. I almost never do this kind of thing, and generally go out of my way not to.

2. I think you're not taking politics seriously. I say this because, again, I think I used to see the world much like you. The reality is what happens in the U.S. is a matter of life and death for lots of people. To put it in the starkest terms, I think there are a lot of nice Iraqis who would look upon the type of moral fastidiousness you express -- that winning isn't worth it if you have to use arguably misleading elipses -- and find it ridiculously self-indulgent.

Here's another way of putting it: I voted for Kerry. And I think as president he would have killed a lot of people. But because he would have killed significantly fewer than Bush, and would be more open to policies that would reduce the kill factor still further, I was happy to be morally culpable for the people Kerry would kill.

That's reality. Refusing to look at it squarely only hampers efforts to change it into something nicer.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at June 14, 2006 09:45 PM

Noumenon: If you VOTE then you most certainly accomplish something, your DUTY as a citizen. None can reasonably ask for more.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at June 15, 2006 09:11 PM

Oh my gosh, Mike, I don't believe that at all. There are three totally different reasons why I think voting is worth hardly anything at all.

1) The perspective from Howard Zinn's People's History of the United States which basically makes the case that all of our rights from the 8-hour day to nonlandowners having the right to vote were won by struggle and violence, and tend to decay if that threat diminishes. Jefferson said the tree of liberty needed to be watered with the blood of patriots. Voting is just too easy and painless.

2) When voting works, it doesn't directly determine policy at all. It just gives us a choice between which of two elites gets to rule us. I think its main positive function is to keep the powerful competitive among each other, acting as natural selection on the government.

3) Then there's computers, something specific to today. The databases know how we're going to vote and gerrymander us together so it won't matter, and the voting machines have such gaping security holes it's easy to cheat.

Nope, if the only effect of my political opinions is to affect my vote, then they haven't accomplished anything at all.

Posted by: Noumenon at June 16, 2006 12:05 AM

So your saying you don't vote?

Posted by: Mike Meyer at June 16, 2006 02:35 AM

I do, actually... despite all the economists telling me it's irrational. Voting just psychologically makes a great pressure valve, you feel like you've done something. I couldn't really tell you why I do, it's just one of those "being a good person" things people do even though it probably doesn't work, like recycling. I never know what I'm doing, so I vote against all the incumbents with the exception of voting for Feingold and against Bush.

Posted by: Noumenon at June 16, 2006 03:21 AM

who you vote for IS your business and none of mine. (unless your voting for me) I thought for quite a while on your quote from Jefferson last night and had miles of possible prose and poetry to spout to back it up, but, alas, you've thrown me. Thanks for voting. (that's all I've got)

Posted by: Mike Meyer at June 16, 2006 10:03 AM


You were trying to give the impact of "Bush said our mission wouldn't be open-ended," but I took the impact to be "Bush said our mission was disarmament -- not democracy." That's how I bookmarked it. A simple gotcha.

Well, Bush was saying our mission was disarmament. But in any case, saying we were going to launch a war for the sake of democracy would have made it MORE like Vietnam, not less. Along with the domino theory, that was exactly the reason given by LBJ and Nixon for our continued presence there -- we were bringing them democracy.

And as you'll notice, an updated version of the domino theory plus democracy is the exact rationale for us staying in Iraq.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at June 20, 2006 07:44 AM