Saturday, January 7, 2012

Chomsky and Me

Every time I pick up one of Chomsky's books, it's very much like stepping through the looking glass. It never stops reminding me how invasive our culture is in affecting the way that I perceive the world around me. Yes, I know. That sounds a bit like the first step to insanity, followed by less frequent bathing, hoarding, feral cats and all. But hear me out on this.

Today I picked up Rethinking Camelot; JFK, the Vietnam War and US Political Culture, and in the introductory paragraphs he mentions how this book - or booklet, really - was intended to be part of another book, Year 501; The Conquest Continues, as part of a theme he is trying to help us all see that the war in Indochina was a continuation of the 500 year European-centric conquest of the world, that the "war planning for Indochina illustrates rather clearly some leading features of the Columbian era".

You see, like Howard Zinn, Chomsky looks at the world through the prism of those who are being beat over the head with the stick, and not from the perspective of those holding the stick, that stick-holder being you and me, dear fellow American.

So, quite normally, he sees the invasion of South Vietnam BY THE UNITED STATES as nothing more than an extension of that same effort that brought Columbus to the shores of the New World - the Bahamas, actually - where he immediately enslaved the Arawak inhabitants and worked them mercilessly at mining for gold and silver until he turned a population of about a half a million human beings into about 500 in the 1550 census. Fifty-eight years and about a half a million deaths.

But I wasn't taught that in school. I was taught that he discovered America and established relationships with the Indian tribes that he encountered. In the same way, the American media didn't tell me what was going on in Vietnam when I was growing up, getting nearer and nearer to that magic number of 19, when I'd be eligible for the draft and get to go over there and carry out the policies of our government in it's terrorist war against the people of Vietnamese, both North and South, especially South.

And that is the odd part, that it was the South that we waged our war of terror against. You see, I was being told that we were there to help the people of South Vietnam. But in fact, we were killing them by the bushel basket. We can look back clearly now and in the de-classifed records see that this was true. As an example, read the Toldeo Blade's Pulitzer Prize winning series about Tiger Force and their operations in South Vietnam.

Here is an opening paragraph:

"This series reveals for the first time anywhere that members of a platoon of American soldiers from the 101st known as Tiger Force slaughtered an untold number of Vietnamese civilians over a seven-month period in 1967."

This all came out in 2003. Seymour Hersh uncovered and reported about the My Lai Massacre in 1969. The massacre occurred in March of 1968, and United States government covered it up until if finally leaked out to the "radical press", and from there was picked up and printed in America by the St. Louis Dispatch.

Many were involved in My Lai, and many more in the attempted cover-up. But only one was prosceuted; Lt. Calley. He was sentenced to life in prison. But instead of being reviled by us all as the leader of a gang of mass murderers - which is surely what he was - we responded by making the 45 RPM single The Battle Hymn of Lt. Calley a one million copy seller in just four days. It was declared a gold record on April 15th, 1971. The day after his sentencing, that sentencing was quietly modified from confinement at Fort Leavenworth to house arrest at Fort Benning. And then, after a few years had elapsed, he was ultimately awarded a Presidential Pardon by Richard M. Nixon at the end of 1974.

If you can read any of that and call anything we did over there an effort to help the people of South Vietnam, then you are a prime example of the point I'm trying to make; through a bending of facts, to an underreporting of events, to outright lying, a media can shape the way that we perceive events until there is no truth in what we know about something. Whether it's the annihilation of the Arawak people by the man that we revere as our nation's discoverer, or the whole nation cheering for the release of Lt. Calley and the creation of him as some sort of demented hero through a wildly popular song, even though somewhere between 374 and 504 unarmed people, mostly women, children - including infants in their mother's arms - and old men were forced into ditches and massacred.

But it's even more than that. More later...