Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The JeffCO School Board and the Pentagon's "Vietnam"

“You can’t separate this effort to justify the terrible wars of 50 years ago from the terrible wars of today,” said Phyllis Bennis, a Middle East expert who has known Mr. Hayden since the early 1970s. “When I saw this (the Pentagon's version of Vietnam, what the JeffCO School Board dreams of), I thought immediately, ‘We’ve got to stop this.’ ”


A week ago Thursday night, the infamous JeffCO School Board, isolated by a large group of determined students, teachers and parents - voted its censorship resolution (literally, a committee to make recommendations for "correcting" history courses to the School Board). They had to have lots of police and guards and monitors, polite but doing an awful job. For they kept hundreds of students and teachers outside, allowing only a handful of people to come up.

The Board had a fifth floor room for but 200 people (including - perhaps - 30 supporters of theirs) and kept more than a thousand outside.


If you want to airbrush history, you have to exclude a lot of people...


Given the protest, the Board allowed two hours of testimony - an extension from the 30 minutes promised - but only allowed most of us to speak for a minute with a timer, representatives of groups for 3 minutes (they had put on their website 3 minutes for each person if you signed up).


Many students and parents - the teachers had had a march and were in a crowd outside but not admitted to speak - were eloquent. Paula Bard, my wife, testified and so did I. I was admitted to the main room through persistent effort (asking over and over...), and sat down front in a little group of what turned out to be mainly the Board's supporters. They were disruptive (hooting at people who spoke when the 1 minute deadline was up or groups of students when 3 minutes were up) and motivated by hatred of the teacher's union...


Given their loudly expressed terror, I asked: how come the only teacher who has spoken is a supporter of the School Board?


They saw demons but provided no answer.


That curriculum be set by historians and not by McCarthys or nativists for anti-educational purposes was thrown aside by the School Board's 3 to 2 vote. "American exceptionalism," suggested by a disgruntled Pennsylvania teacher named Larry Krieger, echoed by the Republican National Committee, and bankrolled by reactionary money means: don't say that the Founders not only pressed for the Bill of Rights but were often also slaveowners; don't say that across the country, starting in 1638 Pequot massacre, American cities were founded and universities built on the wiping out of indigenous people...


Krieger is the author of an ap "text." Perhaps he would have to revise it...


To congratulate itself for bad things and repress or disappear some of its citizens, every country says its history is "exceptional."

Germany, on the contrary, has memorials about the Holocaust (and look what it took...).


Sometimes, a country does things that are new, inclusive and genuinely good, i.e. the fight for unions, the civil rights movement, the women's movement, the fight against bigotry toward gays and lesbians...

Note that these struggles - fight for and embodying democracy and the defense of basic rights - wells up from below.


As a people, we are slowly coming to honor the Bill of Rights and freedom of speech and conscience, to respect the truth, to listen to the voices of those previous enslaved, slaughtered, demeaned and still courageously present.


Inclusion, fighting for the truth and trying to become a more democratic, mutually recognizing of each person society - a society which has defeated the sense of "nobodiness" (King, "Letter from the Birmingham City Jail"), recognizing the dark side and fighting to overcome it - that gives people a wonderful feeling of having done something important.


This School Board - and the Republican National Committee - represent only exclusion (suppress those voters, exclude that history).


Serious conservatives often stress small government, the rule of law (no torture, preservation of basic rights, no police murders of Michael Brown in Ferguson and others), no crusading wars on far sides of the world to impose America's will on other (Vietnam, the now three wars in Iraq, as chaos grows...).


In contrast, those on the Board puff themselves up as A Censoring Big Government, limited only (they are now a nationwide laughing stock...) by protest.


They, like the Republican Party (Ron Paul excepted), are imperial authoritarians, not, as they are often mislabeled in the corporate press, "conservatives."


What is good in Jefferson County - democracy and openness to the truth- is represented by the students, by the teachers who called in sick or marched and by 2 members of the School Board (Lesley Dahlkemper, Jill Fellman).


Aside from mass nonviolent resistance, there is, and will now be, no decent education in Jefferson Country (the largest school district in the country) while this school board majority survives (and it has 3 years to go unless removed by recall - see here).


Paula Bard, my wife testified at number 92. Here is her original statement - timed for 3 minutes - which she cut down to 1 minutes speaking at the Board:

"To the Jefferson County school board:
We have been parents of children in this district for 20 years.

I do NOT want to see a committee formed to review texts to make sure that materials "promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free-market system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights" and don't "encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law.”

It would be ridiculous to try to teach US history without reference to social strife and civil disorder, they have been the bedrock of the country since its inception, from the revolution to the fight for women’s rights, civil rights, native genocide, Vietnam, immigrant and gay rights.

This current right wing take over of the board has caused enormous disruption, conflict and wasted money. They have no business dismantling a perfectly functional school district with their code words for extremist -- anti union -- anti intellectual -- rah rah free-market capitalism -- bring back Ronald Reagan -- dismantle the New Deal -- agenda. This is about turning US history into high school 'classrooms for propaganda', nothing more. And we have certainly seen a long sordid history of propaganda in classrooms — a standard tool for every totalitarian government the world has ever known.

But to quote the National Coalition on Censorship, “Decisions about instructional materials should be based on sound educational grounds, Not because some people DO or DO NOT agree with the message, ideas, or content of a particular book or lesson. (They and I) strongly urge you to adopt policies and procedures that focus, not on molding patriots or citizens in a particular image, but on educating students to be informed, knowledgeable, thoughtful, and engaged participants in their communities.”

As we have seen this past week, I might add. . . !"


Some of the students pointed out that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat hopeless aggressions. And here is Chuck Hagel's (used to be a smart guy about Vietnam) Pentagonizing that War by celebrating decorated veterans who did not protest (and missing the many who did), suppressing any recognition of American genocide against some 3 million Vietnamese (those killed as a result of American aggression), and omitting anti-war protest.


During Vietnam, some 70% of American students polled thought a violent revolution was needed in this country.


In three separate wars, the US government now destroyed the Middle East (IS is the latest incarnation of the chaos and barbarism unleashed by the Project for a New American Century/Bush administration/Democratic sycophant project to remake the Middle east by war. It has been "remade" (fortunately, Americans are not just gearing up to march in a hopeless imperial enterprise...).


Even the Democrats, including Obama's assistants, are mongers of "endless war" and Obama is now emulating, the vapidity of neocons, Hillary, Panetta et al. For a commentary on the rapacious Leon Panetta, see here.


But according to the JeffCO School Board "Three," Vietnam protest did not exist and the Iraq wars are a source of pride, perhaps even "exceptional"...


"Pentagon’s Web Timeline Brings Back Vietnam, and Protesters

The New York Times
Oct. 9, 2014

Tom Hayden, part of a group objecting to the Pentagon’s history of the war. © Emily Berl for The New York Times Tom Hayden, part of a group objecting to the Pentagon’s history of the war.

WASHINGTON — It has been nearly half a century since a young antiwar protester named Tom Hayden traveled to Hanoi to investigate President Lyndon B. Johnson’s claims that the United States was not bombing civilians in Vietnam. Mr. Hayden saw destroyed villages and came away, he says, “pretty wounded by the pattern of deception.”

Now the Pentagon — run by a Vietnam veteran, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel — is planning a 50th anniversary commemoration of the Vietnam War. The effort, which is expected to cost taxpayers nearly $15 million by the end of this fiscal year, is intended to honor veterans and, its website says, “provide the American public with historically accurate materials” suitable for use in schools.

But the extensive website, which has been up for months, largely describes a war of valor and honor that would be unrecognizable to many of the Americans who fought in and against it.

Leading Vietnam historians complain that it focuses on dozens of medal-winning soldiers while giving scant mention to mistakes by generals and the years of violent protests and anguished debate at home.

The website’s “interactive timeline" omits the Fulbright hearings in the Senate, where in 1971 a disaffected young Vietnam veteran named John Kerry — now President Obama’s secretary of state — asked, “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?” In one early iteration, the website referred to the 1968 My Lai massacre, in which American troops killed hundreds of Vietnamese civilians, as the My Lai Incident.

The glossy view of history has now prompted more than 500 scholars, veterans and activists — including the civil rights leader Julian Bond; Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the top-secret Pentagon Papers; Lawrence J. Korb, a former assistant secretary of defense under President Ronald Reagan; and Peter Yarrow of the folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary — to join Mr. Hayden in demanding corrections to the Pentagon’s version of history and a place for the old antiwar activists in the anniversary events.

This week, in a move that has drawn the battle lines all over again, the group sent a petition to Lt. Gen. Claude M. Kicklighter, the retired Vietnam veteran who is overseeing the commemoration, to ask that the effort not be a “one-sided” look at a war that tore a generation apart. General Kicklighter declined to be interviewed, but a Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Col. Tom Crosson, said in an email that the mission of the commemoration, as directed by Congress, is to “assist a grateful nation” in thanking veterans and their families. He said the Pentagon was willing to make corrections “when factual errors or potential mischaracterizations are brought to our attention,” and that “there is no attempt to whitewash the history of the Vietnam War.”

The team has already changed some facts: After Nick Turse, the author of a book on Vietnam, noted the My Lai Incident reference in a February article on the website TomDispatch, the language was revised to read, “American Division Kills Hundreds of Vietnamese Citizens at My Lai.” It still does not use the word massacre.

Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers. © Leon Neal/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers.
Mr. Hayden, 74, and other 1960s-era activists who helped him gather signatures, say they do not quarrel with honoring the sacrifice of soldiers. But they object to having the military write the story.

“All of us remember that the Pentagon got us into this war in Vietnam with its version of the truth,” Mr. Hayden said in a recent telephone interview from Berkeley, Calif., where he attended a rally to mark another 50th anniversary, that of the free-speech movement. “If you conduct a war, you shouldn’t be in charge of narrating it.”

Vietnam historians are also troubled. Fredrik Logevall, a Cornell University professor whose book on Vietnam, “Embers of War,” won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize, said the website lacked context and that the timeline “omits too many important developments, while including a significant number of dubious importance.” Edwin Moise, a Vietnam historian at Clemson University, said he found numerous minor inaccuracies on the site.

The presidential historian Robert Dallek, meanwhile, said he would like to see the anniversary effort include discussion of “what a torturous experience” Vietnam was for presidents. "It’s hard to believe this is going to be an especially critical analysis of the military,” he said.

Congress authorized the commemoration in 2008, when it adopted a bill that directed the Defense Department to “coordinate, support and facilitate” federal, state and local programs associated with the 50th anniversary of the war. On Memorial Day 2012, President Obama issued a proclamation establishing a 13-year program, lasting until 2025, “in recognition of a chapter in our nation’s history that must never be forgotten.” That day, he spoke at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington.

Few details of the plans have been made public. But in a 2012 interview with the website HistoryNet, General Kicklighter said the commemoration would begin on Memorial Day 2015, when “we will begin to recruit the nation to get behind this effort in a very big way” and that the most active phase would conclude by Veterans Day 2017.

He promised “educational materials, a Pentagon exhibit, traveling exhibits, symposiums, oral history projects and much more.” The mission, he said, is to “help the nation take advantage of a rare opportunity to turn back to a page in history and to right a wrong, by expressing its honor and respect to Vietnam veterans and their families.”

But in antiwar and peace advocacy circles, unease has been percolating for some time. Veterans for Peace, an antiwar group based in St. Louis that includes many Vietnam veterans, has been talking since Mr. Obama’s speech about an “alternative commemoration,” said its executive director, Michael McPhearson.

Mr. McPhearson was unaware of the Hayden petition. “One of the biggest concerns for us,” he said, “is that if a full narrative is not remembered, the government will use the narrative it creates to continue to conduct wars around the world — as a propaganda tool.”

Mr. Hayden said he was particularly incensed at timeline entries like one that describes the Pentagon Papers as “a leaked collection of government memos written by government officials that tell the story of U.S. policy, even while it’s being formed” — without noting the Nixon administration’s effort to prevent their publication, or that Mr. Ellsberg and another leaker, Anthony Russo, were tried as traitors. And while the website does mention some protests, the references are often brief and clinical.

On Nov. 15, 1969 — when 250,000 antiwar protesters jammed Washington in what was then the largest mass march in the nation’s capital — the timeline entry simply states, “Protesters stage a massive protest in Washington D.C.”

Mr. Hayden’s petition grew out of conference calls with others in his antiwar network, including David Cortright, now a scholar at Notre Dame, and John McAuliff, a former conscientious objector who runs a nonprofit organization devoted to reconciliation between the United States and Vietnam.

The effort is also something of a reunion for the group. After scanning the list of signatories, Mr. Ellsberg, 83, exclaimed, “God, I’m glad they’re all alive!”

Many of the longtime activists also see the petition as deeply relevant today.

“You can’t separate this effort to justify the terrible wars of 50 years ago from the terrible wars of today,” said Phyllis Bennis, a Middle East expert who has known Mr. Hayden since the early 1970s. “When I saw this, I thought immediately, ‘We’ve got to stop this.’ ”

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