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January 04, 2014

Michael Hirsh Aims at Edward Snowden, Accidentally Blows Off Own Leg

One of the most surprising things about members of the U.S political establishment is that they often don't know anything about anything. You'd think they would, in the same way you assume your doctor knows where your spleen is. But in many cases they're unfamiliar with the most basic facts about history, politics, etc.

For instance, here's Michael Hirsh of the National Journal lamenting the reporting on the NSA enabled by Edward Snowden:

So the question is, what purpose does this endless and seemingly indiscriminate exposure of American national-security secrets serve? This is most definitely not the Pentagon Papers, when the Post and the New York Times exposed the truth about a war already gone by. This is, if not quite a war, then at least a genuine present danger to Americans -- a threat that is, according to some officials, only growing more dangerous.

The Vietnam War was not "already gone by" in June, 1971 when the first excerpts of the Pentagon Papers were published. After turning himself in, Daniel Ellsberg famously said, "Wouldn't you go to prison to help end this war?" He did not say, "Wouldn't you go to prison to help expose the truth about a war already gone by?" (Also, the 1972 Democratic Party platform pledged to "end the war," which would be strange if it had already gone by.)

It is true that by the time of the publication of the Pentagon Papers, U.S. involvement in Vietnam had fallen significantly from its 1968 peak and the Nixon administration had put in motion plans to greatly reduce the use of U.S. ground troops. But by any measure it was still an enormous war. There were 250,000 U.S. troops in Vietnam at the beginning of June, 1971. And still to come was the napalming of Kim Phúc (June 8, 1972), and Nixon musing about using nuclear weapons on North Vietnam (December, 1972).

In addition, if the Vietnam War was over by 1971, that implies the Iraq War never happened at all. 2,414 U.S. troops died in Vietnam in 1971. The highest yearly death total in Iraq was 904 in 2007, and the most troops ever stationed there was 166,000.

Finally, the Pentagon Papers also revealed important information about the bombing of Cambodia. And the great majority of the 2.7 million tons of bombs we dropped there were delivered after the Pentagon Papers were published. To put this in perspective, the Allies dropped just over 2 million tons of bombs in all of World War II, which is generally seen as a notable conflict.

Of course, even if Michael Hirsh were right and U.S. involvement in Indochina had been totally over by 1971, his perspective would still be something that's the opposite of journalism: i.e., that our government's actions should only be revealed once it's too late for us to do anything about them.

P.S. I strongly counsel against taking the advice of any doctor who thinks your spleen is located in your nose.

UPDATE: After this was posted, Hirsch edited his original article to read that the Vietnam war had "already largely gone by," without acknowledging the change. However, the original "already gone by" still appears in a pull quote.

—Jon Schwarz

Posted at January 4, 2014 01:51 PM