Years of Upheaval

excerpted from the book

The Greatest Story Never Told

A People's History of the American Empire 1945-1999

by Michael K. Smith

Xlibrus Corporation, 2002, paper


1964 Vietnam

"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 choir.

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 virus.

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."

1965 Vietnam

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.

1965 Vietnam

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 with napalm.

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.

1965 Vietnam

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 picture. "

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.

1966 Vietnam

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 by bombs.

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 v. Sirhan

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 ghetto children.

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 discipline."

1969 Vietnam

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 desertion rising.

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 to death."

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 Honor. "

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."

The Greatest Story Never Told

Index of Website

Home Page