Tuesday, July 07, 2009

3,000,000 + 58,000 = 58,000

One of history's great villains died yesterday, and NPR was on-call to provide its special math for the occasion . Robert Strange McNamara died yesterday and Monday's ATC featured three segments on his life and legacy - one by Daniel Schorr, the second by Mary Louise Kelly, and the last being Robert Siegel interviewing Errol Morris, McNamara filmmaker and documentarian.

Here's a challenge: listen to all three reports and see if you can find mention of the millions (2 to 4 is the usual estimate) of civilians killed by the United States in the Vietnam war. At least twice, you'll hear of the 58,000 US service people killed in Vietnam. Siegel safely mentions something that McNamara has already admitted to - 100,000 Japanese civilians burned alive in one night of bombing he helped engineer during WWII - but those millions of Vietnamese dead somehow just vanish.

In addition to disappearing millions of civilian victims - there are other distortions in the reports. Daniel Schorr describes McNamara's killing spree as "his stewardship of the Vietnam War." Also McNamara's presidency of the World Bank - where he lavished money on the torture states of Chile, Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Romania - is described by Mary Louise Kelly as "a successful tenure" and by Schorr as "helping underdeveloped countries." Schorr goes even further and sees it as McNamara's "way of working out a sense of guilt."

Siegel's interview with Morris offers a telling bit of analysis from Siegel himself. Citing critics who have complained that if McNamara had admitted to some of his mistakes sooner it might have made an actual difference, he surmises "but that might have required his exile from the Washington establishment." Well, Mr. Siegel, turn that judgement on yourself and NPR: to investigate and report the news truthfully would put you and NPR on the outs with those who wield economic, military and political power - and might just lead to NPR's "exile from the Washington establishment." And that just wouldn't do...would it?


Kevan Smith said...

Thanks. I knew you;d be all over this. It's not just an NPR thing, either. The NYT didn't mention the number of Vietnamese killed in his obit, nor did Reuters. It's just swept under the rug.

Another thing about that war -- it's still killing today. Unexploded munitions still claim lives and limbs to this day. And Agent Orange still causes illnesses and deaths.

byg!pynk!fuhzi!buhni! said...

Hadn't seen E. Morris' feature on the subject at hand, but have enjoyed some of his other work. Hopin' he didn't play fetch too readily with Professeeeeeyyyr Emeyyyyritus Cheekle McRootypoop.

Don't feel like streamin' it either. Nyeh.

Mytwords said...

Morris' piece is definitely worth watching...but
McNamara does get to spin things quite a bit and Morris never really pushes the civilian toll of the Vietnam war...
I just listened to Morris interviewed on Terri Gros today and it was pretty maddening - I honestly think McNamara conned him...

bunny!out! said...

Ugh, then. In that case, Myt, I'll just stick with his "Vernon, Florida" and other, less innocuous docs. (or perhaps not~)

oopsie!bunny! said...

EDIT: "more" innocuous

Anonymous said...

It's not just Vietnam, of course.

According to the mainstream media in this country (and our government, of course), if they ain't Americans (and rich ones at that), they don't count, not when it comes to death, torture, disease, kidnap, famine, natural disasters or anything else.

We get 24/7 coverage of Michael Jackson's death but nothing about the over 1 million people displaced in Pakistan from the US directed bombing there.

Or about the millions losing their homes in this country due to the banksters, for that matter.

Our media including NPR are whores for the rich and powerful.

Siegel said it all, though unintentionally, of course. Today's journalism is ALL about schmoozing with the powerful.

Speaking truth to power is for losers.

Anonymous said...

I just listened to Morris interviewed on Terri Gros today and it was pretty maddening - I honestly think McNamara conned him...

I honestly think Terri Gross and the rest of the so called "journalists" at NPR have been conned by the NPR management.

How else can one explain their utter failure to object to the way that NPR has been co-opted by the right in recent years.

People like Gross have apparently drunk the NPR Koolaid.

Porter Melmoth said...

McNamara is a perfect example of that particularly American creation: the intelligent-sounding, humanitarian-appearing, logic-based, modern-world power broker who, despite all these 'civilized' tools, nevertheless engages in ancient tactics of ruthlessness and violence to achieve hegemony of power.

If Errol Morris wasn't able to extract the completeness of McNamara's psyche, the flaws and hollowness in his confession are detectable and actually, to be expected. Apologies at such a high level and after so long are just cheap talk. It's like Kissinger saying 'I'm sorry' for Chile, etc.

Abuse of power is unforgivable.

Of course, because NPR's in on the power structure in esoteric DC, they're not going to come down too hard on those who nurture them. And with the esteemed and professorial Siegel (a voice you can TRUST), NPR aspires to - and think they achieve - Cronkite-ian authority, when clearing up history is needed.

geoff said...

I'm 50, so I'm young enough to have missed "serving" in Nam. But I read the Sun Bulletin as a preteen/teen during the Johnson and Nixon years and was revolted that people would allow this to be US government policy. With most of my family, I protested locally and joined the bus caravans to Washington DC on numerous occasions. I joined my elders in the YSA and SDS meeting and, in my heart, I deeply hated that this thing was allowed to happen and fervently wished for - yeah, expected a revolution. It was in the air and could have happened. Instead we got this Watergate charade and Gerald Ford (Warren Commission) and then pretty soon Reagan. This has sucked the mongo bucket of bullshit forever, now, it seems. And the Obama change don't seem to be makin' it. Mac-the-knife-namara and Kissinger-of-Death are all now just elder statesmen to be forgiven their peccadilloes and then forgotten to favor the latest crop of cropper reapers.

How about a general strike? It would take some organizing. Anybody know a good community organizer?

miranda said...

I'll join you, gopol. I wonder what keeps today's masses from revolting, but I suspect it's narcotics like television, consumerism and NPR.

WarOnWarOff said...

and might just lead to NPR's "exile from the Washington establishment."


My father served three "tours" in Vietnam (as a career Army officer), and it just about destroyed our family. I keenly recall sometime in the 70s, watching him play Russian Roulette (unsuccessfully, fortunately) one night in front of my mother and me. We fought all through my adolescence and early adulthood about that damned war, and of course I became a radical. He was in favor of Bush's attacking Iraq (actually said "Saddam is a bad man"!) and we didn't talk for two years or so. Finally, my mother and I sort of re-established communications, and they both actually came over to my point of view and now hate Bush and Cheney and all their misadventures.

So, buh-bye, McNamara, and good riddance.

Anonymous said...

NPR's take on McNamara is the same old cliched tripe: "Powerful man who did some bad things [just a couple million] but repented in his later years" (and presumably will go to heaven as a result -- NPR management).

They give no context to any of their usual "he said/ she said" BS. Just put it out there and "let the listeners decide".

The stuff that passes (or is "passed off") for "journalism" these days is just amazing.

Here's some real journalism on McNamara:


Anonymous said...


In mathematics,

0! (zero factorial) is equal to 1, as explained here for example.

So to be fair, the NPR blackboard does indicate/admit "1" (0!) civilian death in Vietnam.

But the least they could have done is give his/her name.

Anonymous said...

The real irony about NPR's silence on the "McNamara as war criminal" theme is that McNamara himself said that if we had lost the war against Japan, he probably would have been prosecuted as a war criminal.

You can see that in the clip here

one interesting thing that is mentioned (by Jonathan Schell) in the Amy Goodman interview above is that McNamara was one of the few in history who actually admitted to his "mistakes" (ie, crimes).

I think there are actually a couple ways this can be interpreted.

One is that McNamara actually felt remorse for what he had done and wished to prevent its happening again.

I'd call that the "Changed man" theory.

The second interpretation is more self serving. McNamara had been widely criticized by people on both sides of the issue:

War protesters called him a war criminal, of course.

But those in power blamed him for not bringing the full might of the US down on the N Vietnamese, for "holding back".

So McNamara was in some sense left "holding the bag" for Vietnam.

He basically had two options (since denial was not really an option at that point):

Go down in history as the guy who single-handedly planned and executed the entire Vietnam debacle and remain silent about the role played by others (ie complicity)

or spill the beans, make it clear that he was not the only (or even primary) player in the whole debacle and thereby attempt to "redeem" himself at least partly in the eyes of the public.

Which would you rather be seen as, the guy who called all the shots or the guy who was "following orders"?

Given that mcnamara took so long to "come clean" I tend to think that the latter is actually the real reason for his "born again" transformation.
then was silent about it, essentially letting all his buddies (who had blamed him) off the hook.

One of the

larry, dfh said...

WoWo, it breaks my heart to read what your dad put you through, and of course what the VietNam war did to your dad. I don't know many people who came back 'normal' from VietNam. I've stepped over many of them sleeping in doorways and sidewalks. I knew the same would happen from the Iraq war. Do your dad a favor, give him some Smedley Butler to read.

geoff said...

If McNamara had a millionth of the sense and integrity of Smedley Butler the war would never have had US soldiers involved. Surely, the 58000 gets a multiplier from the sick and wounded.

Maybe it was the draft, but there was a lot more visceral pathos during the Vietnam war. Jackson, MS, Kent State, OH, etc. Jack W. Mitchell (NPR's first employee) has this to say about war coverage,

Inevitably, covering the Gulf War recalled for me NPR covering the Vietnam War twenty years earlier during its infancy. NPR had no reporters in Vietnam and never felt the need for any.... Instead of the war, NPR covered the debate about the war taking place in Congress, on campuses, and in the streets, a very different approach than NPR proposed to take in covering the Gulf War in 1991.

It would be interesting to listen to some archival tape of NPR in '70, say. I looked for such at archive.org, but nada.

Archive.org did have a Talk Nation Radio broadcast of an interview with Chris Hedges. This sounds a lot like what I wish NPR sounded like.

Anonymous said...

NPR had no reporters in Vietnam and never felt the need for any"

Too bad (for the rest of us) that NPR now feels the need.

We would have been spared the hotel journalism of Anne Garrels:

"I'm Anne Garrels, reporting live (and naked) from the balcony of the Palestine Hotel in beautiful bombed out Baghdad"

the prevaricator said...

i thought it was interesting that Daniel Schor (sp) causally admitted that he and McMamara frequently played tennis with each other

= a new reader

Anonymous said...

I can see how Schorr would be proud of that.

After all, how many can claim they once played tennis with someone who played an instrumental role in prosecuting a war that killed millions of people?

I think Schorr's last sentence says it all:

"Maybe another generation will remember McNamara as a "consummate public servant." For the generation that demonstrated outside the Pentagon, it is still too soon.'

Poor Daniel. Must be rough when most people still refer to his former "brilliant" friend as a war criminal.

geoff said...

Schorr's reason d'etre at NPR seems to be mainly to blow smoke - often about the Warren Commission.

Anonymous said...

You just gotta wonder how many times Schorr (sap that he is) lost at tennis to McNamara because the Big Mac had cheated.

People like McNamara owe their entire career to lying, cheating and other unethical behavior.

The only "genius" (Schorr's characterization) of people like McNamara is their talent for deception and getting away with murder.

In that regard, I agree that McNamara WAS a genius (in the same way that serial killers like the Zodiac Killer are geniuses). He had nearly everyone fooled (including himself, for over 30 years)