Burns, Episode 6 - Phoenix Program, what Phoenix Program? (UPDATE2: protestors)
Episode 6 continues the complete disappearence of the CIA from Viet Nam. There is also an almost complete minimization of the technological advantage the US had, via "electronic battlefield" programs, such as Arc Light B-52 strikes. To hear Mr. Burns's version it was merely our guys with machine guns and artillery and ordinary close air support versus VC/NVA guys with their machine guns and artillery and anti-aircraft guns. That makes all the individual heroics sound so much better than "we hid in our foxholes while the B-52's blew them to atoms".
1. Khe Sahn
While everyone agrees that Khe Sahn was an NVA diversionary attack, the unreported details of the battle make the Marines survival a lot less of an Alamo-like stand.
Khe Sahn was the first place where the sensor systems created for the electonic battlefield showed their value:
Intelligence was generated locally in many ways. Hundreds of acoustic and seismic sensors were seeded around the combat base. This comprehensive sensor system cost approximately $1 billion and was credited with reducing Marine deaths during the fighting by 50 percent. By Marine estimates, the sensor system provided 40 percent of the raw intelligence at Khe Sanh.
The sensor system quickly proved its worth. During the night of February 3-4, sensors detected up to 2,000 NVA soldiers in the vicinity of Marine hill outposts northwest of the combat base. Defensive artillery fires were ordered against them, and sensors reported hearing men screaming in panic and the sounds of troops fleeing their assembly areas. The NVA units were completely destroyed in their assembly areas and the intended attack was effectively broken up. This is one of the earliest examples in warfare of a ground attack entirely thwarted by using remote sensor data.
Khe Sahn was defended by an immense percentage of US air assets in the theatre:
Khe Sanh had top-priority claim on all U.S. air assets in Southeast Asia. B-52s, personally directed by Westmoreland from the Saigon MACV combat operations center, came from Guam, Thailand and Okinawa. Marine and Air Force fighter-bombers provided support from bases in South Vietnam, and Navy aviators from Task Force 77 flew sorties from aircraft carriers in the South China Sea. The VNAF and U.S. Army aviation also provided aerial support. From B-52s, originally designed for high-altitude strategic delivery of nuclear weapons, to propeller-driven Douglas A-1 Skyraiders, aircraft from the entire spectrum of American aircraft were deployed to support the 26th Marines at Khe Sanh.
In February 1968, about 77 percent of the Navy carrier sorties planned against North Vietnam were redirected against targets around Khe Sanh due to clouds that enveloped the North Vietnam airspace.
The most spectacular display of air power at Khe Sanh was provided by the B-52 Stratofortresses. The B-52s had a payload of 108 500-pound bombs per plane, and these strikes, code-named Arc Lights, were conducted against targets such as troop concentrations, supply areas and bunker complexes. These targets were programmed into on-board computers and were launched from altitudes above 30,000 feet. Arc Light bombing procedures were based on a grid system, in which each block in the Niagara area was represented by a box superimposed on a map. Three B-52s, composing one cell, could effectively blanket a box with high explosives. On average, every 90 minutes one three-plane cell of B-52s would arrive on location around Khe Sanh and be directed to a particular target by a controller. Several cells of B-52s could churn up boxes of terrain several thousand meters long. Many enemy casualties were due to concussion alone. In some instances, NVA soldiers were found after an Arc Light strike wandering around in a daze, blood streaming from their noses and mouths. To catch these stunned survivors, artillerymen at Khe Sanh often brought massed artillery fire down onto the Arc Light target area 10 to 15 minutes after the heavy bombers departed.
Arc Light attacks delivered a total of 59,542 tons of munitions from 2,548 sorties during the siege. General Westmoreland was elated at the performance of B-52s. According to Westmoreland, the thing that broke the back of the NVA at Khe Sanh was ‘basically the fire of the B-52s.’
The $1 billion of aerial munitions expended by the United States during the siege totaled almost 100,000 tons****. That was almost 1,300 tons of bombs dropped daily–five tons for every one of the 20,000 NVA soldiers initially estimated to have been committed to the fighting at Khe Sanh. This expenditure of aerial munitions dwarfs the amount of munitions delivered by artillery, which totals eight shells per enemy soldier believed to have been on the battlefield.
**** NOTE: 100,000 tons = 5 Hiroshima A-bombs.
As Senator Everett Dirksen famously said at the time: "A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you're talking about real money." A billion worth of sensors, a billion worth of Arc Light strikes. Factoring in historical inflation of 700%, we spent $14B on a sideshow called Khe Sahn. To put that in persepective, sensors and bombs alone (no troops, no helicopter sorties) for one single battle represents 2% of the entire Federal budget for 1968.
Mr. Burns made a big point in this episode to speak of the massive NVA/VC casualties in the Tet offensive, and how those casualty rates were unsustainable. Well, our expenditures in fighting the war our hi-tech, bomb-heavy way (not merely maintaining half a million troops in country) were equally unsustainable. Both sides were exhausted. That's why there were peace negotiations. With his usual "one side of the story" tactics, Mr. Burns gives ammunition to the "stab in the back crowd".
2. Only VC/NVA commit assassinations
Twice in this episode the VC/NVA were pilloried for targeted assassinations, with some NVA saying it was "a dark spot" on their war. Too bad Mr. Burns didn't spend one second talking about the Phoenix Program of targeted assassination which ran concurrently. Great job Mr. Burns, erase one side of a dirty war; and you can make the other side look really bad.
The Phoenix Program was a military, intelligence, and internal security program designed by the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and coordinated and executed by Republic of Vietnam's (South Vietnam) security apparatus and US Special Operations Forces such as the Navy SEALs, United States Army Special Forces and MACV-SOG during the Vietnam War. It was in operation between 1967 and 1972, but similar efforts existed both before and after this. The program was designed to identify and "neutralize" (via infiltration, capture, terrorism, or assassination) the civilian infrastructure supporting the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam (NLF or Viet Cong) insurgency.
As early as 1964 the CIA used counter terror teams to seek out and destroy NLF cadre hiding in the villages. In 1967, as part of CORDS, the Intelligence Coordination and Exploitation Program (ICEX) was created. The purpose of the organization centered on gathering information on the VCI. It was renamed Phoenix later in the same year...The 1968 Tet offensive showed the importance of the Viet Cong infrastructure, and the Communist-led military setback made it easier for the new program to be implemented. By 1970 there were 704 U.S. Phoenix advisers throughout South Vietnam.
3. Lieutenant Okamoto, from one of the earlier episodes worked in the Phoenix Program
Geez, Ken - you are a bloody, lying hypocrite. You can't be bothered to tell us that the guy you had weeping on camera was a hard-core Phoenix operative? Why should anyone trust a word you say, you propaganda shill.
Quote from Lieutenant Vincent Okamoto, intelligence-liaison officer for the Phoenix Program for 2 months in 1968 and a recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross. Wounded 3 times, he is the highest-decorated Japanese-American veteran of the Vietnam War. He has served as president of the Japanese American Vietnam Veterans Memorial Committee and as a Los Angeles Superior Court judge.
The problem was, how do you find the people on the blacklist? It's not like you had their address and telephone number. The normal procedure would be to go into a village and just grab someone and say, 'Where's Nguyen so-and-so?' Half the time the people were so afraid they would say anything. Then a Phoenix team would take the informant, put a sandbag over his head, poke out two holes so he could see, put commo wire around his neck like a long leash, and walk him through the village and say, 'When we go by Nguyen's house scratch your head.' Then that night Phoenix would come back, knock on the door, and say, 'April Fool, motherfucker.' Whoever answered the door would get wasted. As far as they were concerned whoever answered was a Communist, including family members. Sometimes they'd come back to camp with ears to prove that they killed people.
And why do I make such a stink over the Phoenix Program? Because 35 years later, people who worked for it were given jobs in DHS!
Flight of the Phoenix: From Vietnam to Homeland Security
An Open Letter to Maj. Gen. Bruce Lawlor
by Douglas Valentine (2009)
Imagine my surprise to learn that the Bruce Lawlor is serving as the Office of Homeland Security's Senior Director for Protection and Prevention!...as he told me with abiding bitterness, his political opponents exploited his self-proclaimed participation in the CIA's Phoenix Program in Vietnam.
Having former CIA Phoenix officers in important government positions is nothing new in America. I refer you to Congressman Rob Simmons, a friend of Lawlor's, whom Lawlor describes as a "liberal". Simmons, good liberal Episcopalian that he is, ran a CIA Province Interrogation Center in Vietnam. (See The Spook Who Would be a Congressman.)
Having potential war criminals in positions of power is nothing new, but I'm one of those people who believe that all former CIA officers--especially those involved in "extra-legal" counter-terror programs like Phoenix--should not be allowed to hold public office. I believe this, because the CIA is antithetical to democratic institutions. And that's why I was so surprised to see, that the guy I knew as "Bruce", is now Major General Lawlor, and a top-ranking official in the ominous Office of Homeland Security. By which I mean, he's someone who has access to Ashcroft's political blacklist, and he has control over the covert action teams that can be used to neutralize those dissidents.
To get right to the point, I have a sneaking suspicion that Lawlor, like Simmons, is still working for the CIA, and thus poses a major threat to democracy in America.
One of the reasons I have this crazy feeling, is that nowhere in any of Lawlor's official looking, on-line biographies is there any mention of his CIA service. It's like his biographers are deliberately trying to hide his CIA connection from us.
"It's like his biographers are deliberately trying to hide his CIA connection from us."
Yes, Mr. Valentine, I have the same crazy feeling about Mr. Burns's lying pile of CIA whitewash.
4. The saintly doctor
I won't even get into the propaganda script Mr. Burns's creates around a doctor captured by the VC. There is no balancing story on the other side. This is pure "hate the enemy" propaganda. I mean, the man is a doctor (sob), he has a wife and kids (sob), he is completely innocent - like this kind of stuff only happened on the VC/NVA side? I wanted to puke watching this agitprop.
ADDENDUM (posted original at midnight, this morning had more to add)
5. Reasons behind student protests
Mr. Burns gives us a short montage of campus violence without any explanation of what caused it or any commentary from a former protestor. Not even Mr. Burns's token protest voice, Bill Zimmerman, is allowed to speak to the student protests. They are simply portrayed as one note in a symphony of violence.
UPDATE2: Campus protests grew following 1967 revelations of CIA financing of academic organizations:
Incipient student radicalism was enflamed by the February 1967 expose of rampant and illegal CIA infiltration and financing of seemingly liberal organizations at home as well as abroad. Ramparts magazine set things into motion by revealing that the CIA had been funding the National Student Association. The New York Timeas and the Washington Post exposed other groups as agency fronts. These and other publications disclosed that the CIA had been funneling money to anti-Communist professors, journalists, aid workers, missionaries, labor leaders, and civil rights activists who did the Agency's dirty wrok. Among the discredited organizations were the Congress for Cultural Freedom, the Ford Foundation, Radio Free Europe, and Radio Liberty.
The public outcry was intense. Walter Lippmann (NOTE: WL was quite the Establishment figure.) noted that to the American people, the CIA's cover activities had "begun to smell like a backed up cesspool."
- O. Stone and P. Kuznick, The Untold History of the United States (2012)
This is just one of the many places where Mr. Burns's thumb is obviously on the scale. CIA funding was a huge scandal at the time. It radicalized many university students and faculty. It discredited large and important organizations, like the Ford Foundation. It was a "big deal". But not to Mr. Burns. To him, students demonstrated because whatever.
Beyond the general issue of CIA covert activity inside the US, there was a very specific reason for the Columbia protests: the Institute for Defense Analysis.
The other major catalyst for the student uprising was the 1967 discovery of a Columbia University think tank that was working with the Institute for Defense Analysis (IDA), which was part of the Department of Defense. Students at Columbia saw the IDA as a direct connection the collaboration of the US military through the IDA and the university to further weapons research that contributed to the brutal war in Vietnam.
The key word about the IDA at Columbia is "secretly". When the snip says "discovered", they mean that Columbia's sponsorship of IDA on campus was not public knowledge until an SDS student found documents revealing it. It was this deception that fueled the outrage. It also did not help what the IDA was doing at Columbia:
By 1968, the electronic battlefield technology that Columbia’s IDA Jason Division had developed was being used in South Vietnam in the Battle of Khe Sanh.
Yeah, meet our old disappeared friends, the Jasons, and their disappeared hi-tech electronic battlefield. Nothing to see here, Mr. Burns, eh? Time to move on. Right, you propagandist fraud.
6. Noam Chomsky, non-person
We all had heard up front that this documentary would not interview Noam Chomsky. He was a prominent, if not the most prominent, critic of the war. His highly influential The Responsibility of Intellectuals (RoI) was published in February, 1967, over one year before the Columbia protests. The Columbia protests did not just pop up out of thin air. Important voices were raised for a long period of time.
RoI has been called a watershed event. So important that it's 50th anniversary was marked. That puts it in a class with MLK's Dream Speech; but most people have never heard of Chomsky or his essay. Mr. Burns's has deliberately deep-sixed RoI, or any other examination of the deeper reasons for the protests. That is, he has ignored their intellectual origins. This alone makes his so-called documentary a mere bit of waving-the-bloody-shirt propaganda.
There are determining events, especially when we’re young and formulating our sense of the world: Times when we learn how to take ourselves, where to stand, how to move forward in a fresh way. For me, a key moment was stepping into the periodicals room of my college library in late February of 1967 — I was a sophomore — and reading an article in the New York Review of Books that caught my eye. It was “The Responsibility of Intellectuals,” written by Noam Chomsky.
Nothing was quite the same for me after reading that piece, which I’ve reread periodically throughout my life, finding things to challenge me each time...
Chomsky’s essay appeared at the height of the Vietnam War,...I recall flying over the northern parts of Vietnam some years after the war had ended, and seeing unimaginably vast stretches of denuded forest, the result of herbicidal dumps – 20 million tons of the stuff, including Agent Orange, which has had ongoing health consequences for the Vietnamese. The complete picture of this devastation was unavailable to Chomsky, or anyone, at the time; but he saw clearly that the so-called experts who defended this ill-conceived and immoral war before congressional committees had evaded their responsibility to speak the truth.
In his usual systematic way, Chomsky seems to delight in citing any number of obsequious authorities, who repeatedly imply that the spread of American-style democracy abroad by force is justified, even if it means destroying this or that particular country in the effort to make them appreciate the benefits of our system. He quotes one expert from the Institute of Far Eastern Studies who tells Congress blithely that the North Vietnamese “would be perfectly happy to be bombed to be free.”
Also airbrushed out, the Students for a Democratic Society(SDS). While it later splintered into factions (including the violent Weathermen), SDS had been around since 1962. It's 1962 Port Huron statement is another one of the disappeared intellectual origins of student protest.
The Port Huron Statement was written in Port Huron, Michigan, at a meeting of Students for a Democratic Society. Tom Hayden, the driving force behind the manifesto, was a student at the University of Michigan and came from a working-class family. The Port Huron Statement reflects the dissatisfaction and disillusionment many young people were feeling in the 1960s. College enrollments were booming in the 1950s and 1960s, and many students objected to the way college administrators attempted to control their personal lives. Other students were beginning to be involved in the civil rights movement and were disappointed that the mainstream liberals were not supporting those efforts. (We refer to the student radicals of the 1960s as the "New Left" to distinguish them from the more mainstream Left of the Democratic party.)
After 1962 the student movement increasingly focused on opposition to the Vietnam War, though it built on the basic principles outlined in this manifesto.
And, I might add, a lot of that disillusionment had to do with the nuclear Sword of Damocles that was always lurking in the background during the 1960s. That sword contributed to a cultural milleau that sent Harvard-trained mathematician, Ted Kaczynski, over the edge to become the Unabomber.
General Education and the Culture of Despair
All Harvard freshmen in the 1950s, including Kaczynski and me, were immersed in what the college described as “general education” and students called Gen Ed. This program of studies, which had been fully implemented by 1950, was part of a nationwide curricular reform that sought to inculcate a sense of “shared values” among undergraduates through instruction in the Judeo-Christian tradition.
Gen Ed delivered to those of us who were undergraduates during this time a double whammy of pessimism. From the humanists we learned that science threatens civilization. From the scientists we learned that science cannot be stopped. Taken together, they implied that there was no hope. Gen Ed had created at Harvard a culture of despair. This culture of despair was not, of course, confined to Harvard—it was part of a more generalized phenomenon among intellectuals all over the Western world. But it existed at Harvard in a particularly concentrated form, and Harvard was the place where Kaczynski and I found ourselves.
You rarely hear about these pervasive nuclear holocaust fears in Mr. Burns's little film. The implicit takeaway is that the mental landscape of the students was the same as today. That is a big implicit lie.
7. Tom Hayden - non-person
Oh, yeah, there's another disappeared voice, the late Tom Hayden. Even the NYT gave him a lengthy obituary, emphasizing his non-violence and moderation. But from Mr. Burns, not a word. He was married to Jane Fonda. He was quite prominent, quite colorful. So the silence from KB just screams.
Tom Hayden, who burst out of the 1960s counterculture as a radical leader of America’s civil rights and antiwar movements, but rocked the boat more gently later in life with a progressive political agenda as an author and California state legislator, died on Sunday in Santa Monica, Calif. He was 76.
During the racial unrest and antiwar protests of the 1960s and early ’70s, Mr. Hayden was one of the nation’s most visible radicals. He was a founder of Students for a Democratic Society, a defendant in the Chicago Seven trial after riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, and a peace activist who married Jane Fonda, went to Hanoi and escorted American prisoners of war home from Vietnam.
As a civil rights worker, he was beaten in Mississippi and jailed in Georgia. In his cell he began writing what became the Port Huron Statement, the political manifesto of S.D.S. and the New Left that envisioned an alliance of college students in a peaceful crusade to overcome what it called repressive government, corporate greed and racism. Its aim was to create a multiracial, egalitarian society.
Like his allies the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Senator Robert F. Kennedy, who were assassinated in 1968, Mr. Hayden opposed violent protests but backed militant demonstrations, like the occupation of Columbia University campus buildings by students and the burning of draft cards. He also helped plan protests that, as it happened, turned into clashes with the Chicago police outside the Democratic convention.
Tom Hayden died last year. He was alive for nine of this film's ten-years-in-the-making. He and Chomsky are two of the elephants in the living room of this pile of propaganda. (Later, of course, Daniel Elsburg will join this heard of elephants.)