From Ellsberg to Assange: The PentagonPapers to WikiLeaks

by Phillip Jennings

There is no shortage of books and articles chronicling thesometimes abysmal main stream media coverage of the Viet Nam War. To be moreaccurate, it was not the coverage per se but the biased and selective coverageand editorializing about the war that became abysmal, from the individualreporter, to the newsroom and on to the publisher and owners office. My brieftalk today is about why, in my opinion, that happened and what the effect ofthe reporting means today. There is no doubt that a substantial element of theliberal American media, including print and television, became shills for theanti-war, anti-American crowd, sometimes with factual misrepresentations.Sometimes with propaganda. I am going to take the liberty of using “leftist”and “liberal” interchangeably here. I am also going to drop most “qualifiers.”I know that not ALL liberal media and allprotesters against the war fit the same profile. One thing we do know is thatenough did fit the leftist profile to change the course of the war.

A limited war is a war of wills. A limited war begins withthe concept of “leveling the playing field in war,” based on, among otherthings, the belief that it is morally repugnant for a greater power to use allof its resources on a lesser opponent. And the United States of America may be the mostill-equipped nation in history to win a limited war. We have militarysupremacy, certainly. But we are burdened with decency, compassion, aJudeo/Christian heritage (which some now want to deny), and a free press. Andone of the greatest weapons a nation can have in a limited war is total controlof the press. And if it can control, or at least influence, the enemy’spress……..You have Viet Nam.

If there is a central theme to my message, it is this: thecivil liberty, anti-establishment, drug ingesting, sexual revolution, socialand moral upheaval in America combined with a narcissistic relativism impactedand changed the conduct and outcome of the Viet Nam War, rather than thetraditional theory of the war affecting America negatively—“tearing thecountry” apart as it was often said. I know all of you know what relativism is,but just in case let me remind you. Relativism is the concept that points ofview have no absolute truth or validity, having subjective value according todifferences in perception and consideration. In a relativistic world, Democracycannot be better than Communism. It is also a fact that many of the anti-warleaders actively worked directly with communist organizations and countries.But that is a subject for another day.

An era of a relativistic narcissism dominated liberalmotives in America.A great deal of the post traumatic stress disorder seen in Viet Nam vets wasnot due to the change in them from their war experiences, but was insignificantpart due to the change inthe social environment in the United States. The kerosene on the fire of thischange was the American liberal media.

Why is the mediainfluence on the prosecution and final outcome of the Viet Nam War important tounderstand? The answer is—because it is killing U.S.troops today. And in much the same manner as was done in Viet Nam.

Some may ask, isn’t it time to quit beating up on the media andtheir coverage of the Viet Nam War? Time to quit charbroiling Jane Fonda everytime she opens her mouth? In a word—NO. The term media bashing itself ispejorative. Where is the bashing in pointing out the factual errors, theunethical bias and the sometimes anti-American propaganda in Americanjournalism?

The damage done by the media and by those represented byJane Fonda is deep, painful and long lasting. It affects the culture of ourcountry, the country’s view of the world, and a very dangerous world’s view ofus. It is causing death and destruction as we meet here. Among the many ways itdoes that—by spewing anti-American propaganda to the world, it unnecessarilyprolongs our military involvement. By emphasizing our every blemish and error(Abu Grahib anyone? Literally millions of lines of print) it makes our entiremission questionable. And by constantly questioning the depth of our commitmentit frightens allies and emboldens foes. Is this so hard to understand?

John Del Vecchio, author and Viet Namvet, in an essay called The Importance of Story, likened the culture of acountry to an individual’s personality. The difference between a goodpersonality and a bad personality is greatly due to how the person thinks ofhim or herself. Same with countries. Beginning sometime in the Viet Nam War asignificant portion of the major media decided that it had higher moralstandards than the U.S. government and byextension the U.S. population —“it was anunjust war.” My country, right or wrong, became my country, probably wrong.They decided, this American liberal media, that there was no such thing asAmerican Exceptionalism. And they adopted a policy, a religion, ofrelativism—there is no right or wrong. The cynicism and arrogance isstaggering. It has brought us a media which has the incredible arrogance toannounce their impartiality in American affairs. G.K Chesterton said,”Impartiality is a pompous name for indifference, which is an elegant namefor ignorance.”And I couldn’tagree with him more.

In my opinion it has brought us Political Correctness, therope to hang ourselves that Vladimir Lenin talked about. The exercise ofPolitical Correctness is the ultimate threat to our personal freedoms.Political Correctness is the opposite of free speech. Particularly whenenforced by a biased media.I realizethat I’ve made a rather big jump here—from biased reporting in Viet Nam to establishing Political Correctness in America.So yes, my belief is that the liberal media was emboldened and encouraged by onegreat fact: What the “left” found out in Viet Nam andafter was that there were no consequences, no accountability, and noretribution for factual errors, unethical bias and anti-American propaganda.They could question the morality of any situation without having to defend themorality of their own. They were aided and abetted by the great myths about thewar they helped to start and continue to defend. An unjust war, unwinnable,American brutality, crazed and demented veterans, and all of the misrepresentationswhich made the Viet Nam war a “bad” war. By the way, the same guy who deniesthe impact of the news or entertainment industry will try to sell you 30seconds on television at Super Bowl halftime for a million dollars.

The negativism and distrust of government and allinstitutions began in the U.S., not theother way around; the war just gave the organizers and activists of the sixtiesa rallying point. The civil unrest and thuggery so often celebrated by theliberal press, gave rise to the minor and major insurrections that occurred inthe military in the last years of the war. Ironically, when the U.S.was unequivocally winning.

I realizethat liberal American media, the television networks and national press, didnot invent the protest movement—but it would be disingenuous to not recognizethat without the media coverage, editorial support, news selection andemphasis, glamorization and legitimization therefrom, the protests would havebeen a relatively small part of the American landscape during the Viet Nam War.Let’s give them their due. The liberal media, during the Viet Nam War wanted tohave it not just both ways, but all ways. And they got away with it. And infact they won their Viet Nam. They shortened the American involvement in the VietNam War. So who should take credit for the slaughter of South Vietnamese,Laotians and Cambodians after the U.S.left?

Who was it that decided Abby Hoffman or David Dellinger orthe average 19 year old college student knew more about the Viet Nam War andhad a more accurate moral compass than our military? It was the Americanliberal media. Who was it that decided that our troops in Viet Nam were on a hopeless, helpless, foolhardy mission in Southeast Asia? The American liberal media.Who was it that put the killings of four Kent State students on the moral par of the rape of Nanking? TheAmerican liberal media. Who was it that put Che Guevara and Mao tee-shirts onthe unsuspecting and evidently uneducated youth, even today? The AmericanMedia. The American Media, beginning in earnest in the Viet Nam War, with amantra of having an “open mind” and “impartiality” and “relativism,”legitimized communism. Sure, the cold war continued. There were ebbs and flowsof confrontations with the communists until Ronald Reagan buried the USSR,but by this time, to be a communist was about the same as belonging to anotherpolitical party as far as the liberals in the U.S.media were concerned.

How was an army from a tyrannical communist government ableto invade a neighboring country, slaughter hundreds of thousands of itscitizens and overthrow its legitimate elected government and have the potentialSavior of that country become the villain? Was it a spontaneous combustion inthe minds of the world? Or was it constructed and honed by the American liberalmedia? Building on Russia’svast propaganda machine—the leader of which called their propaganda victory in Viet Nam their greatest achievement.

How was a significant amount of young Americans convinced tofollow the lead and rhetoric of a woman who once said—if you knew whatcommunism was, you would fall on your knees and pray that we all becomecommunists? Did the stupidity of that statement—starting with the fact that nota lot of communists actually pray—bother anyone in the peace movement? Or wasthere no one in the liberal media that knew that most Americans did know aboutcommunism and didn’t want to become communists?

The biggest lie told by the Left (and here I’m referring tothe media, the war-protesters, and academics) was that they were against thewar, but supported the United States. They weren’t, they didn’t. They were forthe Communists and against their own country. All of the myths, lies, andmisunderstandings, start with this basic fact. “Oh, but I just wanted to stopthe war” some jackleg from William and Mary would say. Well, if you wanted theU.S. to unilaterally stop fighting, that would mean that you wanted theCommunists to win the war and take over South Vietnam. “I’m going to North Vietnam to stop the war,” you might say ifyou were an air-headed film-star or any other type of “useful idiot” as thecommunists called them. Well, that would mean persuading the North Vietnameseto take their troops out of South Viet Nam, wouldn’t it? And those who cling tothe fiction that it was just a civil war, between South and North shouldexplain why North Vietnamese soldiers were slaughtering people in Laos andCambodia long before American combat units were sent to Southeast Asia. Why Hoblabbed about a Communist Indochina for decades. Why Russiaand Chinasupported Ho’s attempt to unify Viet Nameven if he had to eliminate all of the people in South Viet Nam to do it.

Were all of them, the protesters and liberal journalistsanti-American? Probably not. Were all of them aware of their implied position?Again, probably not. But is ignorance ever an excuse? Was it possible to be aprotester in the sixties and not know the history of communism? Not have heardabout Korea, China,the Russians in Europe? Perhaps. But this is animportant point—how could the American protestors know of communist atrocitiesin Viet Nam—the murder of three thousand people in Hue—if it was not reportedby the American media—and it wasn’t. I agreed and still agree with the media reportingon My Lai. Our soldiers did evil things and all must know that America won’tstand for such things. But the media negated any real concept of impartialityby the almost complete lack of reporting on Communist brutality. Those who say“yes, but the Americans should be held to higher standards” again suggests theparadox of the relativism of the liberal media—if there is no good side or badside, why should we be held to a higher standard? And if there is a good sideand bad side, how could you conscientiously support the bad side.

You can list every mistake every politician and military manmade during the ten year war, yet still come to the conclusion that South Viet Nam was the very essence of a countryto which Americashould pledge our help. If saving 20 million people from the most deadlysociological experiment in the history of the world is not worth our time andmoney, and, sadly, our blood, what is?

Why were most of the soldiers in the Viet Nam Warvolunteers? Could it have been their upbringing, their basic and innate desireto help those less fortunate? It’s true that as many as 250,000 mostly youngpeople once gathered in Washington DC to protest the war. But more than twomillion men volunteered to travel to South Vietnam and fight the communists. Along weekend in our nation’s capital with wine, weed, and women, or twelvemonths in the Viet Namjungle. Think about the choice so many American young men made and you’llreflect on how this country was made. In my experience, almost all Viet Namcombat participants supported the American tradition of assisting theoppressed. They believed John Kennedy’s call to go anywhere and share anyburden.

Two major, somewhat connected, reasons that the left wasable to “defeat” sanity in the battle of the hearts and minds of the Americanpeople during the Viet Nam War.

Relativism was embraced in Viet Nam.

Narcissism was made admirable (If it feels good, do it!) Inthe U.S. we were bringing up a generation to believe that not only did theymatter, they mattered more than anyone, or anything, else. Chesterton again,“Man was made to be doubtful of himself, but undoubting about the truth—thishas been exactly reversed.”

Let me finish with an example of the recklessness, the bias,and the relativistic idiocy of the liberal media—the publication of thePentagon Papers, a 7000 page document consisting solely of confidentialmaterial concerning the Viet Nam War. The project was “commissioned” by DefenseSecretary Robert McNamara. Stolen by Daniel Ellsberg and given to anti-Viet Namwar reporter, Neil Sheehan, The New York Times and the Washington Post decidedto publish a document which would help to cause the South Vietnamese people tofall under a ruthless, tyrannical government, the North Vietnamese.

They did so even after the government of the United States, elected by the people of the United States, sued to stop the publication. Aftera number of judges, including Supreme Court justices said that in publishingthe top secret documents, irreparable harm would be done to the government andto our troops in the fields. That it was not the most treasonable act in thehistory of the United Statesis perhaps only because the U.S.,for political reasons, never declared war on North Viet Nam.The New York Times and Washington Post published top secrets documentsthat aided and abetted our enemy in time of war and suffered absolutely nopunishment.

From the misunderstood concept of fighting a “limited war”to the publishing of military documents to support the goals of America’senemies, there does seem to be a pattern of narcissistic megalomania among theleaders of the anti-Viet NamWar movement in the U.S.

Proving the madness never stops, the U.S. State Departmentjust recently announced they were supporting the distribution of thedocumentary film about the document thief Daniel Ellsberg. By the way, two ofhis current heroes? Julian Assange and PFC Bradley Manning.

And the connection between Ellsberg and Assange is the lackof any moral or ethical considerations about stealing confidential documents.It is America’s dilemma of not knowing what to do about Assange because it hasbeen convinced it is not a moral or exceptional country. The concept of freedomof information has been elevated to insanity status. Can you actually imagine aworld of diplomacy, business, or social life where nothing is secret?

Was there outstanding reporting from Viet Nam? Of course there was. Were there thosein the American media who supported our efforts? Certainly. So how did theliberal media “win” the battle? Not the usual suspect. I believe it was due topoor leadership on the part of the American government. Neither PresidentKennedy nor President Johnson ever took a strong role in winning the war. Thatgave the liberal media the opening they needed. Immoral and unethicalcongressmen gave the media ‘cover’ for their campaign against the war. Immoralcongressmen? If abandoning twenty million people you had pledged to help isn’timmoral, I’m not sure what is.

If you believe America’smission in Viet Namwas a noble cause. If you believe that a communist victory in South Viet Namwas a preventable disaster. Then the American liberal media helped the bad guyswin. It’s as simple as that. And their “win” in South Viet Nam gave rise to thecontinuing difficulty in America’s ability to wage limited war, a seeminglynon-ending part of the world’s future. And that leaves us with a continuing,and serious, dilemma—how to prosecute America’s wars with the burden of aliberal press. In the Iraq War, the U.S. began embedding correspondents withcombat units. The combat reporting was probably improved. The understanding bythe embedded reporters of the hardships and dangers of combat was no doubtdriven home. The problems with this approach are that, as in Viet Nam, aliberal editor and/or publisher can still pick and choose what America and theworld sees. And an embedded press evades the real question—can we fight America’slimited wars with total freedom of the press?

Some believethat the Internet solves the problem. Except a huge amount of what is on theInternet is not true. Without control, there is no way to prevent lies andmisrepresentations on the Internet. And with control, it isn’t the Internet.

The era ofthe Viet Nam War was a perfect storm. The combat was predicated on a flawedstrategy, overseen by inept civilians. The country was experiencing major civilunrest. Drug usage was skyrocketing with the infrastructure of distributionbeing built. The country began questioning its history and motives. Thefeminist movement and birth control fueled a ‘sexual revolution.’ The backlashfrom McCarthyism emboldened the left. The people of South Vietnam and theirfuture became a secondary consideration in the prosecution of the war. Therewas a glimmer of sanity after Nixon was elected in a landslide, quicklyeclipsed by Watergate. The liberal American media had no trouble defenestratingNixon. The field was wide open again to prove themselves right in their viewson Viet Nam.

I firmly believe that a free press is essential todemocracy. Free from government intervention.Free from bias. Free from special interests. And free from ideologieswhich are detrimental to the health and well-being of the United States. Ibelieve that common sense must be a staple of good government, including thecommon sense censorship of American military secrets and administrative secretsvital to diplomacy and, yes, espionage. That’s the easy part. The hard part isto elect a leader who the American people trust to have secrets. Viet Nam sawthe beginnings of the destruction of that trust. We have to elect leaders whobelieve in America,its basic goodness and Exceptionalism.

This speech was delivered at the SeventhTriennial Viet NamSymposium – TexasUniversityMarch 12, 2011 by Phillip Jennings.

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