Saturday, December 19, 2015


Fellow Concordantes,

I sometimes feel that the Republican Party, while it has not supplied the country with a lot of government that holds up since W hammered through his initiatives, has made up for the many shortfalls by providing quite a bit of amusement.  Sarah Palin was outstanding on the plane of the comic irrational, and now we have Donald Trump.

What makes Trump interesting is how, slapping up what passes for his insights and ideas, he occasionally lays out a moment of common sense that suggests that we might have shared a decade or two of history after all.  So often he appears to flout Republican Orthodoxy and come up with a precept so blindingly reasonable that politicians of both parties flee before this latest fireball.  This may help explain why Joe Sixpack bellies up to Trump in so many polls.

For example.  Several months ago Trump indicated openly that we could simplify the bewildering health insurance crisis by adopting a single-payer program, in effect Medicare for everybody, like the rest of the industrialized West.  Bernie Sanders thinks that too, but even he has enough sense of the moment to play that down.  If there is a proposal the others in the Republican field instinctively run from, there it is.  None of Trump's competitors seem to have the nerve to draw him out in debate on that one, and he never mentions it.

Another area in which Trump's utter ignorance keeps surfacing is defense policy.  Early in the campaign he indicated that he, as president, would deal with ISIS by getting his unnamed people into key positions in the military, then pouring troops into Iraq and Syria, then cleaning the bastards out and "grabbing the oil."  Our oil all along, apparently.  Trump rampant keeps reminding me of Hermann Goering on the eve of the Nazi takeover in Germany, except without the finesse.

Like that 1300-mile wall to keep the Wetbacks out during a decade in which more Mexicans are leaving the United States than are creeping across the border, the indication of who in Mexico would pay for the wall or who would authorize Trump's oil grab and who would fight this roaring new war in the Middle East awaits his election as president. Nobody on Wall Street, certainly. Then, with his hyperjingoist credentials established, during the Republican debate last week, Trump suddenly decried the folly of Jeb's brother in involving us in all that action against Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda, a two-trillion-dollar debacle, money that should have been spent on roads and bridges here.  None of his competitors seemed inclined to call Trump on this utter reversal of his strategy unless, like Dick Cheney, you could persuade yourself that our next oil grab would somehow pay for itself.

The axiom for empires is learn or perish.  The ascendancy of Donald Trump would suggest that our prospects are not wonderful.


Burton Hersh  

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Kennedy Files

Yes, Yes Fellow Skeptics, Carnivores, and Impassioned Fools,

The whole crowd, yes.  Let me be clear, as ever.  My motives are noble, far sighted, and adorably mercenary.  This is a pitch piece yet at the same time an effort to justify all your doubts.

First the pitch, On November 10, Tuesday at 9 pm, a channel most of you can probably get, the REELZ Channel, will air the first of ten one-hour segments about the Kennedy era, The Kennedy Files.   I will be a main commentator; from what I can tell, a lot of what I have to say is drawn from my own two books Bobby and J. Edgar and Edward Kennedy: An Intimate Biography.  In the Tampa Bay Area Bright House broadcasts this series on Channel 354.  Elsewhere, you will have to contact your TV provider to determine how -- and if -- you can access this channel.

I spent a couple of days in a studio in D.C. last March getting my contribution videotaped.  What follows, some of it drawn from these two books and a lot from my experience once the books came out, is intended to suggest how the Establishment, the Media, and the Participants Themselves endeavor to reshape and censor our memories and corrupt historical truth even when the historian and/or the  biographer is essentially sympathetic.

I find at this point I am best known from my treatment of the JFK Assassination in Bobby and J. Edgar (Chapter 19).  Roger Stone, long a corridor operator on the Republican Right and most recently a popular reviler of the Clintons and the manager who dumped Donald Trump, observed in his recent volume, The Man Who Killed Kennedy, which purports to prove that LBJ was behind the Kennedy assassination, that my work, Bobby and J. Edgar, now appears to be "the groundbreaking book" on the subject.  I appreciate the applause, however belated.  When my book appeared it was scholars and investigators on the Left -- to the left of The New York Times, that is -- who liked it best.  At last, some agreement.

Other aspects of my book seem to remain submerged, and I have attempted to surface them throughout The Kennedy Files.  For example, the career and effect of Joe Kennedy on the direction the nation took.  Recently, compromised biographers have attempted to erase from history the bootlegging and union-busting years, the real estate investments with mobsters, the early and open-handed backing of Senator Joe McCarthy, the pressure the old man  -- who owned the Coca Cola franchise there --put on his sons to retake Cuba militarily, however ill-advised.  It was this spirit as well as the Vatican connection of the family that pushed Jack Kennedy, along with the enthusiastic Bobby, into war in Vietnam.  Jack himself realized the foolhardiness of this venture, and he was apparently attempting to correct this blunder when he was shot.  Hating Lyndon Johnson, Bobby reversed himself.  None of this is unconnected to the assassination itself.  Cockamamie theories have appeared ever since, like the notion that the car behind JFK, which contained Kenny O'Donnell and Dave Powers, also contained a mythical Secret Service  operative who iced Jack.  Balderdash, but balderdash deliberately circulated to confound the issue.

Interestingly, exactly the opposite case is there to be made for Edward Kennedy, and in Edward Kennedy:  An Intimate Biography I have attempted to make it.  A lot of Ted's effort over the decades I knew and worked with him went into reversing the process to which his father and brothers had contributed so much.  By pushing  for reduced military exemptions Ted scared the country-club set as to the safety of their sons, married or in graduate school, and helped foreclose the war in Vietnam. Deputized by Lyndon Johnson, he did the leg work that got the Voting Rights Act through the Senate, staved of a potential exchange of missiles with the Soviet Union while Brezhnev was in charge, drove through the embargo that ended apartheid in South Africa, stymied the Reagan-era efforts to drag us into a war with Nicaragua, undermined efforts to prop up a number of quasi-fascists on the Supreme Court.  The truth about Chappaquiddick is in my book.  Unlike his brothers, he was an unembarrassed liberal.  All this, I hope, comes through in The Kennedy Files.

So try and have a look.  Reality is overdue.

Yours eternally,

Burton Hersh

Saturday, June 6, 2015

The Holy Land IV

Coconspiritors Everywhere,

Again, a bit more of a hiatus than anticipated.  The world turns.  I was reminded, swerving on my bike back into our driveway in St. Petersburg the other afternoon, to find the bougainvillea sapling I planted a few years ago in the island of our turnaround exploding with Chinese red blossoms. Ripeness is all, and spring comes with a gratifying violence around here.  I wrote a poem once addressing this recurrent miracle:

                                                Florida: The Permutations of May

                                                        The ibises in committee
                                                         Are pecking up our lawn,
                                                         Their black-tipped probes must aerate
                                                         Our sprinkler-driven dawn.

                                                          The stately jacaranda blooms
                                                           Drop filtering through our tea.
                                                           The transference of spring is rife
                                                           With deep psychiatry.

                                                            Beside our pine the egret towers
                                                            And eyes me from afar.
                                                            If I would peck grubs from the bark
                                                            He'd gladly drive my car.

                                                            The trees are putting out fresh scales,
                                                            The lizards all are budding.
                                                            The rock is crawling on the moss,
                                                             Its stony heart is thudding.

                                                            This is the time our solid core
                                                            Turns to a molten thing.
                                                             Don't ask what spring can do for you.
                                                             What can you do for spring?

I sent a copy of this poem to Edward Kennedy, whose biography I was working on at the time.  I knew he would pick up on more than the reference.  He wrote me he liked it a lot; he wrote poetry himself from time to time, although he tried to keep that quiet.  His difficult death has been a weight on my spirit ever since.  When Walt Whitman composed "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed" he dealt with some of the misery losing Abraham Lincoln involved.  No parallels involved here, but as I reread the poem above perhaps I feel the same way.

If Ted Kennedy were alive today I have a hunch the recurring waves of tribal animosity and open religious hatred that are toxifying feelings here as well as abroad would more than sadden him.  Having devoted his entire professional life to providing for the neglected and the oppressed, the savage cross-currents of hatred, recrimination and violence that are destroying the ancient cultures of the Middle East and are starting to convulse us here would have aroused Kennedy's most profound revulsion.

 Floating around in Israel, as I've indicated, I found myself comparing ideas with plain people attempting to keep going somehow.  The driver of our bus, a tall, dignified Palestinian from East Jerusalem, never missed a chance to offer up prayers on his knees whenever we were stopped near enough a Mosque.  He helped us daily, in every way he could.  I would remain astounded at his skill negotiating our big tour bus in and out of the back-switching, overhung streets, jammed every waking minute with vehicles,  Returned to America, I wondered how this patient man would have responded to the provocations of nitwits like Pamela Geller, co-founder of the American Freedom Defense Initiative, who is making a career out of baiting Muslims by sponsoring competitions among aspiring artists to determine who can draw the most demeaning caricature of the prophet Muhammad.  This in the name of the First Amendment.  When a couple of ISIS hotheads appeared with weapons at one of Pamela's convocations in Garland, Texas they were gunned down by a waiting posse.

As Muhammad himself emphasized, we are all -- Jews, Christians, Muslims --  the children of Abraham.  The merchants of hate seem to be poised these days to take over the planet.  This must be fought by civilized people of every origin until our world comes to its senses.

That's what we can do for spring.


Burton Hersh



Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Holy Land -- III

Fellow Countrycongregants.

Almost six weeks since we returned from Israel, and the place still haunts me.  The New York Times covers Israeli affairs with a thoroughness and realism I sometimes wish the paper took to our own politics.  This morning's edition contains a profile of Ayelet Shaked, a former computer engineer sworn in this week as Israel's Minister of Justice.  Strikingly attractive, demonstrably more than adept with eye liner and lip gloss, the article identifies this thirty-nine-year-old star of the Intractable Right as a hard worker -- " a robot" -- and openly promoting a "'nationality bill' that many see as disenfranchising Israel's Arab minority, about 20 percent of the population." Ecco -- Israel's new "Justice Minister?"

At a time when -- to my observation -- a great many Israeli Arabs are increasingly horrified by the chaos throughout the Muslim Middle East and quietly grateful for the protection and social advantages of residency in the Israeli state, an appointment like this must have horrifying implications.  It has to nourish throughout the Arab community the apprehension that its days in Israel are numbered.  Recent student elections in the universities of the West Bank came down heavily in favor of Hamas rather than the more moderate Fatah.  Selecting a hard-nosed babe like Avelet Shaked doesn't help.

What kept coming through during our days in Israel was how heavily the stresses and costs keep building in this tense garrison state.  Israel has a flourishing industrial life, from pharmaceuticals to armaments, but for the great majority of the citizens who keep the country running day to day the demands are incessant.  Apart from the mandatory years of military service and the annual month of training for both men and women, there are the open-ended call-backs as war follows war.
Most memories of these engagements are not especially heroic.  Our guide, Rotem Litov, a tank commander in his other life, remembers weeks on end, quite recently, getting through the days with the other four men in his tank laying ambushes for roving parties from Hamas.  The tank was beyond cramped, and sanitation was such that the men took pills to bind them up until the battle was over, sometimes weeks. Nobody's mood improved a lot.

 My college roommate's son-in-law, nominally a banker, is also a reserve lieutenant colonel and the commander of an artillery battalion whenever the balloon goes up.  His son is an explosive specialist, and inescapably the family was on edge for months even after dad got back as the boy remained out there helping blow up mile after mile of the tunnels that survived the recent unpleasantness in Gaza.  Dangerous work, a lot of unanticipated casualties.

Taxes are high -- close to confiscatory, 50% on the cost of a new car.  Higher education is so expensive that families with roots in the United States are moving back here to educate the next generation.  The prices of apartments in Tel Aviv rival Manhattan.  The hands-on, post-religious, do-it-yourself mentality of the founders seems to be giving way to the priorities of investment bankers.  A great many are expected to sacrifice, but not that many appear to be profiting, and the anxiety about the surrounding Muslims chokes off the populist impulses which would normally inspire a remedial labor vote.

Irreconcilables on the Arab side play into all this.  We had one session with a spokeswoman for the PLO, a svelte lady of Armenian heritage.  Her version of Israeli history was utterly expurgated and completely made up -- she left out things like the invasion of the Arab armies after Israel accepted the United Nations mandate, although she did fess up again and again when confronted with the details.  She threw in comments like an aside to the effect that all the settlers streaming through to occupy the expanding enclaves in the West Bank were shipped in wholesale from the United States.  That sounded highly unlikely: A social scientist I checked with afterwards agreed that such a projection was beyond wild.  Some Americans had moved in, at best no more than twenty percent. And many soon went home.  But propaganda like this may well be stirring up those Palestinian college students.

Despite all the above, there is hope.  But the Middle East will have to move beyond provocation, beyond racism and delusions of group superiority into a larger humanity.  Perhaps Allah will provide.

Stay well,

Burton Hersh


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Holy Land II

Fellow Countrycommandantes,

Still coming down from two weeks battering through Israel.  I spent much of last week under the lights in a sound studio in Washington, D.C., where a crew of zealots interviewed me exhaustively for a ten-hour documentary intended to worm out of my scratchy memory the whole truth about the Kennedy family.  My two full-length treatments of the family, Bobby and J. Edgar and Edward Kennedy:  An Intimate Biography are replete with widely suppressed facts and interpretations of what actually happened throughout the Kennedy years, from Chappaquiddick to Dallas, revelations largely avoided in calculated establishment cover-ups.  We shall see how much of what I divulged will make it into the final cut.

I think I was still processing the implications of what I had run across in Israel during the previous month.  Most surprising, I have to suggest, was the absence of threat, the open and relatively unprotected way we were able to roll around the country, from the border in the Galilee overlooking Syria to the Judean desert below the Dead Sea, almost entirely without guards or security measures or warnings of any kind.  It was far easier to get in and out of Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv than to process through endless customs hangups coming home through JFK.  I had the chance to exchange ideas with a variety of Muslims, not a few Palestineans, and most were frank enough.  Life in Israel had its problems, plenty needed to be corrected, but compared with existence around the rest of the Middle East...?

In Bethlehem I had a frank conversation with our driver for the afternoon, a squat, cheerful Arab.  How were things going in The Territories?  Pretty good, he said.  Something like 50,000 workers passed over every day into Israel to work.  It would be nice if Jerusalem would let up on the red tape. Overall, couldn't really complain -- it was the leaders on both side who were causing the disruptions.  What was he hoping for? I asked. "Peace," he told me.  Let people live their lives.  Meanwhile, Jewish and Arab families were in abundance in the better restaurants wherever we went, sometimes sharing tables.  I never ran into a scuffle, or even raised voices, from the teeming marketplaces to the hush of the great museums.

At one point a woman in our group, a Jewish retiree from New York, got hit by a serious intestinal problem and our guide Rotem took her the the emergency room of the general hospital in Nazareth.  The staff there is entirely Arab, doctors on down.  Did he feel, I asked Rotem when she returned, feeling better after the right antibiotic, that there was any danger our friend might have been...deliberately misdiagnosed by the people in the hospital.  Or worse.  Rotem was startled.  How could that happen? he demanded.  They're all Israeli citizens.

It may be that Israel presents the greatest threat to radical Islam by presenting opportunities to the Muslim population that no other country in the region is progressive enough -- or prosperous enough -- to match.  More than Israel's reputed 300 atom bombs, genuine progress and social decency may get the country through.   I ran into several refugees from the bloodbath in the Sudan:  not immigrants exactly, but permitted to stay because where else could they go?  Every day victims of Assad's barrel bombs are carted across into the Golan Heights from Syria, where Israeli surgeons do whatever they can.  "We remember rejection," one Israeli told me. "We remember Auschwitz."

 We had a delicious lunch one day in the apartment of a Druze Arab woman.  Her husband was a goat herder.  She had two grown children.  One was in Moscow furthering his education in physics.  The other, a young woman, was doing graduate work in Berkeley.  Perhaps a generation of Arabs is coming along ever more likely to prefer the twenty-first to the fourteenth century and less likely to be conned into blowing themselves up for a corrupted version of supposed Muslim writ.  The tradition of tolerance and openness to other cultures which distinguished Byzantine society and Ottoman intellectual life and kept Aristotle alive in the Arab world throughout the Dark Ages in Europe may now be experiencing a secret rebirth in Israel.

This works both ways.  We spent several nights in a kibbutz, run by a charming Irish-Catholic lady.  I was surprised to discover that in the kibbutzes -- a primary social instrument of Israel's founders -- there are no synagogues.  No rabbis, no prayers.  The founders of Israel -- like the founders of the United States -- were rationalists.  The Jewish homeland they envisioned must not be hidebound, enslaved by the assumptions of the ghetto.

Let's not write Israel off too soon.


Burton Hersh


Monday, April 20, 2015

The Holy Land

Esteemed Concelebrants,

Yes, yes, I know -- almost a month.  Just when you thought Spiritual Guidance was out of your sensitive lives forever -- it's back.  There are, of course, excuses, not least of which is the fact that we were on a two-week trip to Israel, subject to the iron regimen of a travel service designated OAT -- Overseas Adventure Travel.  This blitzkrieg tour of Israel was skillfully if exhaustingly micromanaged, with most days, most meals, all travel accommodations clicking by with Teutonic efficiency.  Tiring, but an amazing engorgement of immediate experience.

Primary to the pitch of OAT is the concept that you will not only view the monuments and historical sites and and sacred landscape but you will also meet the people.  This was arranged through a series of home visits, native dinners, unlikely hospitality from specimens as unlikely as Ultraorthodox Jews, Christian Arabs, and a spokeswoman for the PLO.  Just when you thought you were beginning to understand the place, another take threw a lot into question.

I start with our guide, Rotem.  Rotem Litov, whose forebears fled the prevailing Ukrainian anti-Semitism a couple of generations ago, is a towering extrovert in an Australian bushhunter's hat, by his own admission incurably ADHD, who shepherded the fifteen or so of us -- three couples and the rest adventurous, uncomplaining women-- on and off the bus as we scoured the ancient overlays of civilization.  I came to understand that the ever-attentive Rotem, like his generation of Israelis, lived a double life,  Married, working hard to pay for the cinderblock residence going up beside his olive orchard in one of the villages, Rotem is simultaneously a tank commander in an Israeli armored division, who has taken leave of his civilian life repeatedly during the last ten years to take his tank into battle throughout the prevailing war.  The fierce battle over for the moment, dust settling, Rotem can return to his family and his olive orchard and the next delegation of jumpy Americans for whom he must steel himself.  Like most Israeli men these days a robust, resilient fellow, clearly worried underneath, Rothem incarnates the dream of Israel for his generation.

We made so many scenes, which to elaborate?  We started and ended in Tel Aviv, a bustling, beachside commercial center reminiscent of the Lower East Side of Manhattan fifty years ago, a welter of half painted buildings, many daubed with graffiti, and motorcycles and mopeds.  Adjacent Jaffa seems calmer -- we tour a private museum a painter has opened for tourists and were treated to lunch at the home of a very soignee -- and busty -- Christian Arab, a spread of the usual mushy chipped-pea-based hummus followed by superb baklava.  Coffee exporters, the family was clearly doing very well in today's Israel.

The next evening we were the guests in a slum of the wife of an Ultraorthodox rabbi.  This variety of Judaism was utterly startling to me.  Forswearing all material comforts, these throwbacks to the ghetto  devote themselves to the study of the scriptures and the propagation of enormous families.  We ate whatever there was on a blotched paper tablecloth protected by a wrinkled sheet of clear plastic.

The Ultraorthodox comprise a surprisingly large percentage of the Israeli electorate, and can coerce the politicians into policies otherwise anathema in this bustling state,  For instance, since it is forbidden for a female to touch a male, even incidentally, in passing, except in marriage, the chance that such a contact might occur in the military appears to justify the exemption of all Ultraorthodox children of age, male or female, from the prevailing draft.  All the other Israelis resent this -- even the Druze Arabs serve in the Israeli regiments these days --  and a major fight is brewing in the Knessett.

No single blog can begin to incorporate the many impressions this trip has left.  For more -- keep posted .


Burton Hersh

Monday, February 23, 2015

On American Exceptionalism

Fellow Conquistadores,

Time passes, snow melts, spring is suddenly possible.  Yet somehow the same old self-destructive reflexes appear to be animating our foreign policy, the extraordinary presumption that ours is the responsibility to meddle worldwide in societies we do not begin to understand, to manipulate outcomes and advance hidden interests wherever that serves our unacknowledged commercial purposes.  I will be getting into aspects of all this as a speaker at the 2015 St. Petersburg Conference on World Affairs at the St. Petersburg campus of the University of South Florida on Friday, February 27 at 9AM.  Subject of our exchange:  Can We Keep Our Rights and Protect Our Country Too?

The public-relations justification we have been putting out lately to explain our maneuvering is time-honored American Exceptionalism.  We know better, we can do more.  The cultures and historical experience of the subjects of our attentions seem beside the point, and are rarely mentioned.  It remains quite enough that we are able to "project power," and we do. It remains impolite and worse to bring up the interests whose profit is almost always out there driving these calamitous decisions.  What seems to be lacking in so many discussions is some sense of how we got historically into the role we now find ourselves assuming and where all this is taking us -- all of us, not merely a few special interests.

Throughout the Middle East we are attempting to impose our own terms, political and commercial, on a culture that as recently as 1917 regarded itself as a great, tolerant center of civilization, an achievement comparable with China at its height, or nineteenth century Europe.  The collapse and utter dissolution of the Ottoman Empire in 1918 left it to assorted Western governments to draw the borders of new states in the wreckage and impose self-serving commercial conditions on the entire region. In Iran, for example, as oil became the prize throughout the area, the British moved in and demanded a monopoly of the resources for the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, the predecessor to British Petroleum. When Dr. Mohammed Mossodegh, the country's sickly premier, took steps in 1953 to nationalize Iran's oil fields, the British Secret Service and the CIA sent  in the Agency's top operative in the region, Kermit Roosevelt, with a car trunk full of currency, to pay for a revolution in the streets that brought the corrupt Shah back to run the country as the foremost U.S. military base in the Middle East.   The U.S. oil majors moved in immediately and grabbed important concessions.  When another revolution under the Ayatollahs evicted the Shah in 1979 and nationalized the oil reserves, the grinding enmity between Iran and America began which persists to this day.  Several long afternoons spent with a disheartened Kermit Roosevelt while I was researching my book The Old Boys filled in a lot of the details.

There is an analogous process behind what happened more recently in Iraq.  When Saddam Hussein and the Baath Party came to power in Iraq they nationalized the Iraqi oil fields.  We lived with that and actively assisted Hussein throughout his war with Iran.  Ultimately, we invaded Iraq on the WMD pretext and left the shaky and vulnerable Shiite government  that presides at the moment.  Meanwhile, oil drillers from many places, especially the American majors and Halliburton, are back in Iraq and hard at work.

The notion that we are the disinterested Good Guys around the planet, righting international wrongs and feeding the needy, is overdue for an infusion of reality.  If the exponents of "Radical Islam" are insane and predatory throughout the region, the policies of Western governments and corporations helped  bring a lot of this on.  Highest regards to some of the apologists for our power projections throughout the last several decades, but the fact is we did not go to war over Rwanda, an example of our restraint commonly cited, mostly because there was not enough potential economic profit in an adventure like that to convince our senior policymakers to take their chances and risk paying the price.  Bill Clinton  might have preferred to have intervened retroactively, but at the time the rewards simply did not approach the political risks.

 If we can stop repeating the mistakes of the past, and confront out true motives, perhaps it will not prove necessary to take our beatings in one unproductive and depleting war after another. Or put our constitutional rights in danger by attempting to suppress dissent.  For more, attend our discussion at the St. Petersburg campus of the University of South Florida on Friday, February 27.  We will be taking names.

Cheers, always,

Burton Hersh

Monday, February 2, 2015

Other Peoples' Wars


Again, leading with my apologia.  I have not been active on this blog for a while, and don't I know it?  The novel I have been working on, Comanche Country, picked up so much momentum and whipsawed its own plot with so many surprises that it absorbed my days and nights until I finally finished it last week.  All you aficianados can get a running start toward this last book in the Landau saga by ordering a copy of the first book in the trilogy, The Hedge Fund, either from Amazon or by buying it directly -- and inexpensively -- at Haslams in St. Petersburg, FL or Gibsons in Concord, NH.  If you want to understand, grinning all the way, why what happens happens let the misadventures of the Landaus clue you in.

What prompts this outburst today is word in The New York Times this morning that the administration is considering supplying "lethal weaponry" to the Ukraine government in Kiev.  However duplicitous the involvement of Moscow in Ukraine may be, there is a large population in the Eastern section of the country that prefers to rejoin Russia, and what is playing out there is in essence a civil war. Meddling in other peoples' civil wars has cost us heavily and set us back throughout most of the last half century, and before we back ourselves into another disaster we ought to reconsider.

I remember well the heartbreaking background details of our misadventure in Viet Nam.  Pushed through by John Foster Dulles, whose evangelistic imperialism inclined him to want to send troops into the Hungarian revolution and the collapsing French efforts in Viet Nam until Eisenhower stepped on both proposals, a program was developed that led to the dispatch of the U.S. Navy to cart over a million North Vietnamese Catholics down the coast to Saigon once the provisional peace treaty was signed in 1954.  Dulles had agreed to abide by the countrywide vote scheduled for 1956, which installed Ho Chi Minh.  Dulles reneged.  Instead, prodded by Cardinal Spellman, the Diems, strict Catholics, were pushed into office by American planners and replaced the local Buddhist administrators all over South Vietnam with Catholic refugees from the north,  The Buddhists were incensed and began to form the cadre of what became the Viet Cong.  I got a lot of this from my friend Nick Natsios, who was the CIA station chief in Saigon before we began to intervene militarily.

Civil war broke out.  I remember how angry President Kennedy was at David Halberstam, the N.Y. Times upstart in country and a classmate of mine in college, when he began to report on the "Buddhist  barbecues"  -- self-immolations -- and the corruption of the Diems, longtime Kennedy family friends. When another of my classmates and a personal friend, Sam Adams, a CIA analyst, concluded that there were many times as many Viet Cong around as our projections would admit he was bounced from that Agency.  To admit that would have meant hugely augmenting U. S. troops on the ground, politically unacceptable for Lyndon Johnson.  Years later Richard Helms, head of CIA operations at the time, told me that Adams was right, but who wanted to confront LBJ with those numbers?

As it all played out there were millions of Vietnamese killed, 60,000 U.S. dead, hundreds of thousands of GIs permanently ruined, if not with wounds with drugs, and a national debt it took decades to pay down, at the expense of all public services and efforts to rebuild the national infrastructure.  And still, we lost, utterly.  Their little civil war set us back a generation.  And obviously the same can be said of our stumbling around in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Must we do this again?  So soon, so avoidably?  We ought to be very, very careful about electing a warhawk to the presidency if a cold-blooded peacenik like Obama is tempted to intervene in Ukraine.

Think about all that.  Meanwhile, if you live in or are visiting the Tampa Bay Area I would be very pleased to meet any of y'all at the St. Petersburg Conference on World Affairs, presented on the St. Petersburg campus of the University of Southern Florida.  University Student Center, 200 Sixth Ave. S.  I will be on a panel on Friday, February 27 at 9 AM on the subject:  Can We Keep Our Rights and Protect  Our Country Too?

Meanwhile, buy The Hedge Fund.  It will be the best $13 you ever spent.


Burton Hersh