In October, 1968, Senator Mark Hatfield, a Republican Senator from Oregon, wrote, in an editorial in a magazine, Ripon Forum, “In 1964 the American people – trusting the campaign promises of the Democratic presidential candidate – thought they were voting for peace, only to have their trust betrayed. Candidates at all levels are again expecting voters to accept their post-election intentions on faith, and they deal with Vietnam in terms of assurances not to ‘sell out’ our men in Vietnam and vague promises for ‘an honorable peace.’ This is not enough. In the democratic process, voters should not be forced to go to the polls with their fingers crossed; they should not be forced to rely on blind faith that the man they vote for will share their views on the most important issue of the election.”
I am old enough to remember the ‘68 campaign quite clearly – anyone who lived through that summer really cannot forget it. I also am old enough to remember the ‘64 campaign, including the Daisy Commercial. But for those of you who were not old enough to have those memories, I would like to share some background on what Senator Hatfield was talking about and, then, see if I may possibly draw a few lessons from history for this coming year’s election.
In 1963 President John Kennedy had signed an executive order adopting a plan that would have had all U.S. military advisors out of Vietnam by the end of 1965. That order was classified and secret at the time. In 1963, there were no U.S. combat troops in the southeast Asian jungles. JFK was executed before the nation in the streets of Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963, and Lyndon Johnson became President. Three days later, on November 25, 1963, LBJ signed another secret executive order countermanding JFK’s order scheduling the withdraw of the U.S. military advisors. The two secret orders were not declassified – the American people would not learn of them – for decades afterwards.
The 1964 presidential campaign followed hard on the heels of assassination. Before the November 1964 election, no military advisors were withdrawn, but – still – no combat troops were committed to the fray. The Republicans nominated Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona to run against LBJ. Goldwater was a hard-right conservative. He was extremely anti-Communist in a virulent anti-Communist age. But he was also open to being painted as a dangerous war-monger, which LBJ and the Democrats proceeded to do, the most famous example of which was an anti-Goldwater TV ad they ran that showed a little girl picking a daisy interrupted by a nuclear explosion, all to a chilling sound track. (You can see it on youtube by searching for 1964 Daisy Ad). As hard as it may be to believe these days, LBJ was the peace candidate.
In August of 1964 LBJ engineered an “attack” by North Vietnamese naval vessels on a U.S. Navy vessel in the Gulf of Tonkin. All the documentation at the time shows that there really was no such attack: the whole thing was a black propaganda operation aimed at world opinion, and American domestic politics, to justify (or coerce and fool) Congress into authorizing the use of U.S. military forces in the Vietnam civil war. Up to that time, there was no authorization for the use of American combat forces in that dismal jungle quagmire. The public knew that Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution authorizing the President to use military force in Vietnam. But, again, it would be decades before the people learned that the precipitating justification for the resolution was a totally manipulated fraud.
Although LBJ, and his intelligence/military/industrial cronies, planned on escalating the war in Vietnam from the moment they assumed power, and created false incidents and intelligence to justify it and fool Congress into acting to authorize it, yet it was all kept secret. LBJ was the peace candidate in 1964. The people were never informed of his intentions. He won by a landslide. He was sworn in as President in January 1965. In March of that year, he sent the first combat troops to Vietnam. One million three hundred and thirteen thousand deaths later, it all became history.
That was what Mark Hatfield was talking about in his reference to the ‘64 campaign and the trust the people reposed in LBJ’s lying false promises. In the ‘68 campaign between Hubert “the Hump” Humphrey, Richard “Tricky Dick” Nixon, and George Wallace, the latter was probably the only one halfway clear about what he would do in Vietnam if elected. But everyone knew the race was between the Hump and Tricky Dick, and neither one of them would say anything about how they would end the war which was, by that point, tearing this country apart not to mention what it was doing to the Vietnamese. Neither candidate would address the substance. Both were just asking the American people to trust them. It was secret at the time, but decades later the documents were declassified and we have learned that Tricky Dick sabotaged the peace negotiations that were being held in Paris to make sure that he beat the Hump in the election by continuing to label him as the war President’s vice-president and water carrier. And so the war went on.
1968 sounds a bit like the Obama campaigns, doesn’t it? Except this time the Republican candidate was trying to justify his predecessor’s wars and the Democrat had the secret plan to bring peace. Party labels don’t mean a whole lot. But, again, the campaign disinformation and dissimulation is only possible because those involved are sanctioned by the government to keep the critical facts and information secret from the people – from the voters who are supposedly sovereign – until the disclosure of those critical facts, and the information necessary for informed, intelligent analysis and decision making, no longer matter. Indeed, much information remains classified even long after that point.
So here we are in 2016 at the beginning of another presidential selection season. So far as I have seen up to this point, no candidate is addressing in any substantive way what they will actually do about critical issues facing this country. But they all want our trust. And government secrecy and manipulation is more rampant now than it ever has been. It seems that we have learned nothing from history. Not just those who are too young to remember the history – they have an excuse because this history is surely not taught in our schools – but those who lived through it, at best, just don’t seem to care.
Theoretically, our representative republican democracy is governed of the people, by the people, and for the people. But how can the people govern – how can we have a representative republican democracy – when the people are never informed about what is really going on? Secrecy isn’t maintained like it is to protect national security, it is maintained so that an ignorant electorate can be manipulated into doing what the ruling oligarches want done.
I am on the point of despair for my country. Jules Witcover wrote a book about 1968 titled “The Year the Dream Died.” There are some of my generation that have refused to accept the premise of the title of that book. We’ve continued to believe and to work for the dream that America once represented. And there are many out there who still do. But the country sleeps on.
My leaving Facebook doesn’t mean that I’ve given up. Those who know me know that my motto is “Never ever ever give up.” But FB, I fear, has been taken over by the trolls. Your newsfeed is carefully controlled. Your activity is monitored. “Controversial” posts that don’t reflect the opinions of the gatekeepers tend to disappear quickly, even from your own history pages if you’ve posted them. So, I think there are more productive ways for me to use the few years remaining to me – other ways to try to lift the flags of faith, freedom and love. So I will try to pursue those.
To those who remain, I say: Wake up! Dig for the Truth, it is out there and it can be found if you will only educate yourself and dig for it. Buy or borrow a shovel and start digging. Don’t stop. Never give up. Faith, freedom and love are worth the fight.
God bless you all and have mercy upon us, ours, them, their’s and our poor, sad nation.