Years of Upheaval
excerpted from the book
The Greatest Story Never
A People's History of the
American Empire 1945-1999
by Michael K. Smith
Xlibrus Corporation, 2002,
"Only we can prevent forests",
boast the men of Operation Ranch Hand, who shower the countryside
with dioxin to destroy the jungle concealing the guerrilla enemy.
In honor of this carcinogen 100,000 times more deadly than thalidomide,
they sport shoulder patches with a smiling devil and pitchfork.
Exposed villagers suffer diarrhea, labored
breathing, falling blood pressure, optic nerve damage, blindness,
stillbirths, premature babies, and genetic defects. Their cattle
die, their river fish float to the surface belly-up.
Pentagon officials dismiss reports of
U.S. chemical warfare as "Vietcong propaganda."
1964 Rio de Janeiro
The Goulart Administration nationalizes
a subsidiary of International Telephone and Telegraph and limits
profit repatriation by U.S. companies, complaining that they are
"bleeding the Brazilian economy. "
Washington sounds the alarm at Brazil's
"anti-Americanism" and "drift to the left."
With the U.S. Sixth Fleet standing by
offshore, the coup begins with Brazilian troops and tanks advancing
on Rio. Encountering only scattered resistance, the Army takes
over with U.S. backing, cutting short a Brazilian investigation
of C.I.A. bribery. U.S. Ambassador Lincoln Gordon cables Washington
that the Generals have carried out a "democratic rebellion,"
constituting 'a great victory for the free world, " one which
"should create a greatly improved climate for private investments.
General Castelo Branco is the new President.
He shuts down the Congress, murders his political opponents, suspends
habeas corpus for 'political crimes, " outlaws criticism
of the President, places labor unions under government control,
and maintains internal security by death squad. As protests against
his dictatorship mount, security forces fire into crowds, burn
down homes, and torture disobedient priests defending the poor.
Washington and Wall Street applaud Brazil's
program of "moral rehabilitation. "
Income distribution shifts sharply upwards,
the investment climate improves, the World Bank comes running
with loans, and U.S. aid increases in tandem with torture, killing,
hunger, disease, infant death, and profits.
1964 J. Edgar Hoover
Even as a child J. Edgar Hoover kept records-on
his changing clothing sizes, on his teachers, on his own birth.
He was proud of never having been kept
after school. He became an altar boy and sang soprano in the school
He is compulsively neat. If a bedspread
is slightly askew, a cushion out of place, or an insubordinate
leaf mars his front path, his servants are in for a tongue-lashing.
His first act in the office each day is to flick his shoes with
a duster to insure that their impeccable luster bears no smudge.
Paranoid of germs, he protects himself
by maintaining a cold office and installing an ultraviolet light
reputed to eliminate viruses. He shrinks from physical contact
with strangers and loathes people with moist palms, which he equates
with weak character.
He regards Communism as an ideological
He refuses to hire blacks, Hispanics,
or women. He tolerates "coloreds" only as servants.
On Christmas vacations he has a habit of staying at hotels denying
admittance to dogs and Jews. He once told an interviewer that,
"You never have to worry about a President being shot 6y
Puerto Ricans or Mexicans. They don't shoot very straight. But
if they come at you with a knife, beware."
Taking exception to Dr. Martin Luther
King's nasty streak of morality, Hoover denounces him as "the
most notorious liar in the country."
Immersed in the smell of heat, charcoal
smoke, diesel fuel, Buffalo dung, and spent ordnance, American
teenage conscripts plunge through village, jungle, and swamp,
shot at by snipers, cut down by booby traps, drenched by monsoons,
wilted by humidity, choked by dust, sucked by leeches, pulled
under by the waist-deep mud, harassed by creeping, crawling, buzzing,
biting insects, weakened by dysentery, blackwater, and malaria,
preyed upon by the Bengal tiger, the guerrilla ambush, and the
deadly cobra springing from beneath its rock.
Battles are a monotonous succession of
ambushes and firefights in mid-jungle. Holding fixed terrain is
impossible: patrols traverse the same ground over and over in
vicious manhunts for Vietcong, who are indistinguishable from
the civilian population that supports them. Progress is marked
by kill ratio, a statistic defining massacre as victory.
The Americans fight in defense of a military
junta that has had ten changes of government in the past year-and-a-half.
The current head of state is Nguyen Cao Ky, a North Vietnamese
who fought for the French before the Americans took over.
He declares in an interview that Hitler
is his only hero.
According to the Pentagon's rules of engagement
it is morally wrong to shoot an unarmed Vietnamese who is standing
or walking, but right to shoot one who is running; it is wrong
to shoot a captured enemy soldier at close range, but admirable
for a sniper to gun him down at long range, even if he is as defenseless
as a prisoner; it is wrong for a foot soldier to lob white phosphorus
grenades at villages, but right for airplanes to blanket them
In the field, grunts fighting for their
lives are expected to mind their ethical p's and q's.
In air-conditioned offices in Washington,
the men who sent them to war stick pins in maps, determining who
they will massacre next.
A General dressed in an immaculate uniform
and shiny shoes arrives on Sergeant Kovic's ward to deliver Purple
Hearts. A skinny private trails behind with a Polaroid camera
taking snapshots of the war heroes. Stopping in front of each
bed the General delivers a prepared speech.
"Good afternoon, Marine. In the name
of the President of the United States and the United States Marine
Corps, I am proud to present you with the Purple Heart, and a
The skinny private snaps the shutter each
time the General delivers his congratulatory address.
The General stops in front of a nineteen-year-old
with half his skull blown away. Thick bandages are wrapped around
the half that is left. The boy thrashes his arms back and forth,
babbling incoherently and urinating in his clean white sheets.
He screams and nearly tears his bandages all the way off, exposing
the remains of his brain.
"In the name of the President of
the United States," announces the General, "I present
you with the Purple Heart. "
He hands the medal to the teenage vegetable
and the skinny cameraman snaps a picture.
"And here is a picture to send home
to your folks.
The medal-winner is still pissing in his
sheets when the General hands the picture back to the photographer
and walks out of the room.
The Pentagon discloses that it is paying
families an average of $34 in condolence money for each Vietnamese
accidentally killed by U.S. air strikes.
Reports from Saigon indicate that the
U.S. Air Force is paying $87 for each rubber tree mistakenly destroyed
1966 Robert McNamara
He knows nothing about poverty, about
Asia, about people, about American politics. He knows everything
there is to know about bureaucracy and production technology.
He is obsessed with numbers, calculation,
and logic. Through statistics he seeks not merely to measure reality,
but to manipulate and conquer it. Senator Barry Goldwater calls
him "an IBM machine with legs."
Using the same system of materialist accountancy
with which he saved the Ford Motor Company, industrial whiz kid
Robert McNamara has rationalized the Pentagon and now the U.S.
military is producing corpses as efficiently as the auto giant
turns out cars. As profit is to the corporate bottom line, body
count is to 'progress" in Vietnam.
On grounds of cost-efficiency McNamara
champions the electronic battlefield-'people sniffers, "
infrared sensors, cluster bombs, land mines packed with shrapnel,
fragmentation bombs, all washed down with millions of gallons
of chemical defoliants designed to peel back the protective Vietnamese
jungle impeding the perfection of round-the-clock killing and
maiming. Much indebted to the liquid fire that boosts his death
counts, McNamara publicly applauds Dow Chemical Company's "service
to the free world" in manufacturing napalm.
Inexplicably, the raggedly-dressed villagers
of distant Vietnam refuse to be reduced to statistical abstractions,
confounding McNamara and his prized system of rational predictions.
The Defense Secretary is plunged into
gloom and a profound sense of failure.
1967 Dr. King Speaks Out On Vietnam
"The peasants watched as we supported
a ruthless dictatorship in South Vietnam which aligned itself
with extortionist landlords and executed its political opponents.
The peasants watched as we poisoned their water, bombed and machine-gunned
their huts, annihilated their crops, and sent them wandering into
the towns, where thousands of homeless children roamed the streets
like animals, begging for food and selling their mothers and sisters
to American soldiers. What do the peasants think as we test our
latest weapons on them, as the Germans tested new medicine and
tortures in Europe's concentration camps?
. . . We have destroyed their land and
crushed their only non-Communist revolutionary political force-the
United Buddhist Church. We have corrupted their women and children
and killed their men. What liberators!"
1968 Sirhan Sirhan
"Well, sir, when you move-when you
move a whole country, sir, a whole people, bodily from their own
homes, from their own land, from their businesses, sir, outside
their country, and introduce an alien people, sir, into Palestine-the
Jews and the Zionists-that is completely wrong, sir, and it is
unjust and the Palestinian Arabs didn't do a thing, sir, to justify
the way they were treated by the West."
"It affected me, sir, very deeply.
I didn't like it. Where is the justice involved, sir? Where is
the love, sir, for fighting for the underdog? Israel is no underdog
in the Middle East, sir. It's those refugees that are underdogs.
And because they have no way of fighting back, sir, the Jews,
sir, the Zionists, just keep beating away at them. That burned
the hell out of me."
Testimony of Sirhan B. Sirhan in People
1969 FBI Kills Fred Hampton
In a series of Gestapo-style raids, police
attack Black Panther headquarters in San Francisco, Salt Lake
City, Indianapolis, Denver, San Diego, Sacramento, Los Angeles,
and Chicago, spraying buildings with tear gas, shooting up walls,
breaking furniture and office equipment, ripping out plumbing,
and destroying stocks of food the Panthers distribute free to
In Chicago, agent provocateur William
O'Neal meets with COINTELPRO specialist Roy Mitchell at the Golden
Torch Restaurant to pick up a floor plan of Black Panther Fred
Hampton's apartment, which includes the location of furniture
and where Hampton sleeps.
Mitchell delivers the floor plan to Richard
Jalovec, overseer of a special police unit. The two men plan a
raid on the Hampton residence.
O'Neal, acting undetected as Hampton's
bodyguard, slips the Black Panther leader a large dose of secobarbital
in a glass of kool-aid. At 4 a.m. Hampton is comatose in his bed
when a 14-man police team bursts into his apartment with guns
blazing, unleashing dozens of rounds into Hampton, Mark Clark,
and other Panthers.
Grinning over the capture of their dead
quarry, the Chicago police carry Hampton's body out of the apartment.
Survivors are handcuffed, beaten, and charged with aggressive
assault and attempted murder. The raid's mastermind, Cook County
State's Attorney Edward Hanrahan, announces that the officers
have shown 'good judgment, considerable restraint, [and] professional
Infected by the peace movement at home,
anti-war newspapers flourish on U.S. bases, deliberately undermining
morale. GI dissent organizations openly call for an end to the
slaughter. Soldiers flirt with mutiny, going on symbolic anti-war
fasts, flashing peace symbols, and booing, cursing, and killing
their officers. An entire company of the 196th Light Infantry
Brigade sits down on the battlefield, refusing to fight. Black
armbands appear on the sleeves of combat units to coincide with
stateside peace demonstrations. Drug addiction is rampant and
In Saigon, President Nguyen Van Thieu
instructs that in Free Vietnam dissent is forbidden. If his political
opponents are not impeached, he warns, "the armed forces
will cut off these deputies' heads. Our duty is to beat such dogs
1969 Mai Lai
A member of Lieutenant Calley's platoon
appears on CBS News with Walter Cronkite and explains that Charlie
Company lined up hundreds of old men, women, children, and babies
in a drainage ditch and massacred them with bayonets, bullets,
and grenades. Pictures of the atrocity then appear in the press.
A stunned American public reacts.
An elevator starter in Boston says, "It
was good, " adding sarcastically, "What do they give
soldiers bullets for-to put in their pockets?" A Cleveland
woman defends the shooting of children: "It sounds terrible
to say we ought to kill kids, but many of our boys being killed
over there are just kids, too." A Los Angeles salesman stands
on denial: "I don't believe it actually happened. The story
was planted by Vietcong sympathizers .
The Cleveland Plain Dealer receives more
than 250 calls on the morning it runs the photos. About 85% protest
the decision to publish. "Your paper is rotten and anti-American,"
runs a standard complaint.
The Washington Star publishes a picture
of the slain women and children. Callers complain that the photo
is obscene "because some of the dead victims are unclothed.
1969 Chicago Eight trial
Black Panther Bobby Seale is bound, shackled,
and gagged. Abbie Hoffman enters doing handstands and pole-vaulting
over the court railing. Tom Hayden shakes his fist in greeting
to the jurors. Jerry Rubin informs the judge that he enjoys being
on trial: "I like being here . . . It is good theater, your
In Judge Hoffman's theater of the absurd,
four defendants are held in contempt of court for laughing. Hoffman
is given a citation for blowing a kiss to the jury. Dave Dellinger
gets one for "using a barnyard epithet."
Wiretapped by the F.B.I., denied witnesses,
refused testimony on Vietnam, the defendants make a mockery of
Nixon's Star Chamber from their defense table strewn with books,
clothes, food, candy wrappers, pens, mail, and other debris. They
ridicule the judge, disrupt the proceedings, call out to the jury
and the witnesses, berate the prosecutor and the court, refuse
to stand for the entrance of the judge, and read, eat, talk, joke,
and laugh with utter nonchalance. On Moratorium Day, they wear
black armbands, unfurl a Vietcong flag, and read off the names
of the war dead.
They are charged with "conspiracy
to incite a riot" at last year's Democratic Convention, where
Mayor Daley refused permits for legal protest and police attacked
people indiscriminately in the streets.
"The substance of the crime, "
explains Judge Hoffman, is a "state of mind."
1969 Chicago Eight trial
Government Attorney: With regard to the
revolution that we are talking about, you are prepared, aren't
you, both to die and to kill for It, Isn't that right?"
Linda Morse: Yes.
Government Attorney: And the more you
realize our system is sick, the more you want to tear it from
limb to limb, isn't that right?
Linda Morse: The more that I see the horrors
that are perpetrated by this Government, the more that I read
about things like troop trains full of nerve gas traveling across
the country where one accident could wipe out thousands and thousands
of people, the more that I see things like companies just pouring
waste into lakes and into rivers and just destroying them, the
more I see things like the oil fields in the ocean off Santa Barbara
coast where the Secretary of the Interior and the oil companies
got together and agreed to continue producing oil from those off-shore
oil fields and ruined a whole section of the coast; the more that
I see things like an educational system which teaches black people
and Puerto Rican people and Mexican-Americans that they are only
fit to be domestics and dishwashers, if that; the more that I
see a system that teaches middle-class whites like me that we
are supposed to be technological brains to continue producing
CBW warfare, to continue working on computers and things like
that to learn how to kill people better, to learn how to control
people better, yes, the more I want to see that system torn down
and replaced by a totally different one; one that cares about
people learning real things in school; one that cares about people
going to college for free; one that cares about people living
adult lives that are responsible, fulfilled adult lives, not just
drudgery, day after day after day going to a job; one that gives
people a chance to express themselves artistically and politically,
and religiously, and philosophically. That is the kind of system
I want to see in its stead.
The Court: . . . strike the answer and
direct the jury to disregard it as being unresponsive to the question.
1969 Machines of War
Promising a 'generation of peace, "
President Nixon approves an array of new battlefield technology.
Among the improved war machines is Secretary
Laird's "building block to peace" an expanded Anti-Ballistic
Missile System, and the football-field-sized Moby Jet, a C-5A
"self-unloading" transport plane capable of delivering
600 soldiers plus equipment anywhere in the world. Manufacturer
Lockheed boasts that it is "like having a military base in
nearly every strategic spot on the globe. " Also promising
is the $20 billion "electronic battlefield, " a series
of electronic sensors scattered throughout Indochina, able to
bring down an automated rain of destruction on anyone unlucky
enough to trip it off.
"These developments open up some
very exciting horizons, " a Pentagon official enthuses. "When
one realizes that we can detect anything that perspires, moves,
carries metal, makes a noise, or is hotter or colder than its
surroundings, one begins to see the potential."
Greatest Story Never Told