Left and Right Wing Historians and Zealots: Are they mutually dismissible as extremist propaganda or should we look deeper?

I also have found Howard Zinn to offer much clarification on historical issues I previously had not fully understood, and was reminded that the term "Left" or "Right" are really labels, often not helpful when it causes one to write off a thoughtful opinion that might help us better understand some facet of history. Having graduated from the United States Naval Academy, and having been presented with their slant on world history, it came as no great shock that we were given  Defense Department propaganda, but I tried to defend it without having been offered the more complete "truth" (if that word can ever apply to a subject like history).

Through much reading of many views on the Vietnam debacle I continue to find sharp contrasts from different voices concerning what they contend is the "truth." Having recently finished A Distant War by William Prochnau, I learned how  many "lies" about Vietnam had been intentionally created to cover the policy Kennedy began, LBJ doubled down on, and Nixon claimed to be the peace candidate for. When he sabotaged the peace talks Nixon merited LBJ's claim that his conduct amounted to treason.

Prochnau cited song and verse from correspondents in the early Vietnam conflict's days in  1962-3. Halberstam, Sheehan, Arnet, and many more dove in full speed behind the effort until one after the other saw the policy supported a ruthless regime that had little help from the Vietnamese people. That the South Vietnamese army refused to attack at night though left battle plans on the operations board as if they were engaging the VC  those hours, was mind-boggling. It was confirmed by Daniel Ellsberg in his memoir, Secrets,  regarding the Pentagon Papers. They frequently lied about the results of battles that correspondents were present at and knew conflicted with the truth. The classic example was At Bac where the ARVN were soundly defeated but the military claimed a resounding victory. Halberstam and the others wrote what they saw and their trustworthy sources in the field experienced. This process of hearing from the government and our military that differed diametrically from what had actually  happened created a gradual but strongly critical report of lack of progress from the professional correspondents that became loud and frightening to the supporters who wanted them to “get on board” and stop writing critical reports.

These impudent reporters were repudiated by Ambassador Nolting, and those in charge. The Diems, especially Madame Nhu, called them communist sympathizers, and Kennedy hated what he was hearing. He often wanted to know who wasn’t supporting the policy his administration had backed initially with the optimism of that golden era that embodied an atmosphere of Camelot. After so much negativism the Stars and Stripes would counter the New York Times and similar news  reports from western journalists who wrote what they saw, so the troops were provided what the Defense Department and the Government wanted said to promote  the effort.

An example of conflict that occurred with two different views inside the military was surprising and stunning. The Green Berets' had a policy of fighting counter insurgency by trying to “win the hearts and minds” of the villagers to counter the VC attempts to gain their support. Learning the language and customs was essential to this view. The soldiers made enormous efforts not to offend the villagers who were essential to success of the theory espoused by the Kennedy Administration and lauded by many new accounts grabbing the attention of the public. But the Air Force’s General Curtis Lemay ignored the Army strategy and sent bombers deliberately targeting civilians according to reliable sources who quoted him as saying the Air Force policy was to create fear in the villages, intentionally leveling hamlets as his technique of air power strategy saying to the press he would "bomb them back to the stone age." Long after his famous napalm bombing of Tokyo, Yokohama,  and hundreds of other Japanese cities in WWII, he was quoted  admitting that had we lost that war he would have been executed for war crimes because his fire-bombing policy targeted civilians with napalm sent in circles around wooden homes that forced the population to run to the center where they were all burned to a crisp!

Lemay also was quoted as admitting the atomic bombs at Nagasaki and Hiroshima were unnecessary because Japan had been decimated, were unable to recover, and their leaders knew they would have to surrender before that policy was initiated.  Furthermore, no reasonable person with accurate knowledge of the status of Japan then would have expected us to engage in a land war against such a defeated and weak enemy. But other voices prevailed. They needed to test the atomic bomb and give the world assurance that no one would dare challenge the allies with that weapon.  Barely tested and in need of more proof of the effectiveness of the weapons, our Air Force dropped those two unnecessary atomic bombs.

Many have heard quite a different view. We had to do this or suffer enormous deaths in defeating the dug in Japanese Army. So it goes with history. Some voices are diametrically opposed and we must choose who is telling the truth if we can ever find such an ideal. So to say the left and right are mirrors of each other in their madness, or whatever you want to say to dismiss them, is far too simplistic in my view, unless we know who we are rejecting. Yes, I dismiss Ted Cruz as delusional, but not Bernie Sanders as of the same stripe. Nor do I of Howard Zinn. But if you said Tom Hayden, yes, his view seemed simplistic, but an outgrowth of the SDS trying to gain support for the Anti War view. I found him nonobjective, opinionated,yet  a good speaker determined to use power he thought he had but really didn't.

There are also anarchists who are often confused with leftists, and libertarians who may appear right wing delusional zealots. Let’s not forget those with religious, ethical, ecological, or other objections to some historical fiasco that does not fit neatly into this dichotomy. An example would be a person ( Unitarian, Presbyterian, Jewish, Catholic, Buddhist, agnostic, atheist, or a pacifist artist, musician, or other profession) who does not believe in the use of armed force, nuclear weapons, drones or torture yet is conservative on government regulations. There are many variations on this theme of how people differ on issues that affect history in some way that make it extremely difficult to label them extremist right or left wingers. And even if they seem to act as a block, defy that by often saying they are independent. Labels are a simplistic way of arguing what is right or wrong with left wing or right wing historians or prognosticators. To improve one’s dialogue, I submit these labels should be removed from the discussion. If they are useful to reject or support an argument, use them with caution, but clearly identify what is erroneous, or truthful in support of, or opposition to, some issue. That would be an important effort to improve meaningful dialogue.    Dan

Tranquil Rincon Beach                Tranquil Ricon Beach makes one put all rhetoric in perspective.

We should take care, in inculcating patriotism into our boys and girls, that is a patriotism above the narrow sentiment which usually stops at one's country, and thus inspires jealousy and enmity in dealing with others... Our patriotism should be of the wider, nobler kind which recognizes justice and reasonableness in the claims of others and which lead our country into comradeship with...the other nations of the world. The first step to this end is to develop peace and goodwill within our borders, by training our youth of both sexes to its practice as their habit of life, so that the jealousies of town against town, class against class and sect against sect no longer exist; and then to extend this good feeling beyond our frontiers towards our neighbors. Robert Baden-Powell

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