Few people under 50 can grasp what the last seven years of the Vietnam war was like. It had cost over 21,000 American lives, far more than that in casualites and permanent disabilities, and generally tore America apart, socially, politcally, and spiritually. It was one of the most traumatic periods in our history, and in many respects, we are still reliving and resolving issues stemming from it. Modern conservatives still hang much of their pro-military rhetoric on the canard that "we didn't fight to win in Vietnam." Well now it seems that the conservative hero of that era, Richard Milhaus Nixon, on his way to the presidency, actually conspired to prolong the war to damage Democrats for their part in waging it, and allowing him to "win it."
Days before the 1968 election, the nation had been greeted with the news that the end of the war might be nearer than anyone thought possible during the so very nasty presidential campaign between Nixon and Hubert Humphrey (President Johnson, so politically damaged by the war, had decided not to run for another term). A deal had been struck between North and South Vietnam, a jubilant American people were told, and that peace was finally imminent.
But just days later, the nation's hopes were crushed as it was told that the deal had collapsed and the war would go on. The campaign momentum that had been shifting back toward Humphrey on the news of a peace deal, swung right back to Nixon. Tricky Dick went on to win the election, and the rest, was to become a very dark and ugly history that we are still paying for today. Rather than end the war, as Nixon promised during the campaign, he went on to expand it into Laos and Cambodia where still thousands more people died, while here at home, he set the tone and substance of the "imperial presidency" that many allege, not wrongly, we still endure today.
Old news for most of us; grim details of nearly a half-century gone by that many of those who prospered in the boom times that followed would probably rather forget. But others are far too damaged to ever forget. Whether you agreed with the war or not, you had to have been affected by it. I was in high school at the time, and it pretty much defined me, my clothing, my friends, teachers, school work, family life, and my later views and philosophies as they evolved. I still so clearly remember my mother's anguish as she anticipated my brother's pending draft number as it was about to be announced in the selective service lottery. My father, a WWII war hero who was awarded the Distiguished Flying Cross, sent his medals to Nixon to protest the war. The Vietnam war was everything and everywhere throughout the American existence. If you didn't live through those times, you can just take the Iraq war fiasco, and multiply it by 100. That was Vietnam.
And it still won't go away. Vietnam is the war that will never die. And now we learn that almost a third of it was prolonged because 1) Richard Nixon was a monumentally traitorous scumbag, and 2) Johnson lacked the courage to admit to the American people that his knowledge of just how big a scumbag Nixon had been was inhibited by the fact that the knowledge came via an illegal wiretap. How ironic that it would be Nixon's own wiretap efforts that would destroy him, but one still has to wonder how different the world might have been if Johnson could have admitted to one wrongdoing in order to reveal an even greater one. A wrongdoing that cost so many people their lives, ruined or reshaped their survivors, and probably permanently altered the trajectory and ultimate governability of the American experiment.
There is no outrage because outrage is now a tactic, not an emotion.
Today is the 10th year anniversary of the Iraq war. Seems like a pretty good time for bloggers and the media to remind us that it wasn't the first unnecessary, or unnecessarily long war, by hammering on this Nixon story hard.. Yet if not for Rachel @maddow (again), and perhaps a few Twitterers like me, the U.S. media would scarcely give this incendiary story more than a passing glance. We've become so accustomed to outrage being a tactic in our politics, or for link-baiting a blog site, or for driving a hashtag campaign, that all the genuine emotion has been sapped from the word, as well as its utility in shaping our national discourse. Who has the time or emotion for one more outrage? Especially one that is now 45 years old.
I do. And I really think that you should too.
Now prepare yourself
Because this story may and should upset you on many levels.
First, the basic outine:
Next, the larger context and relevance…
Once again, courtesy of Rachel @maddow, whose team is just so damn good at that: