Politics, Philosophy, Polemics

Archive for June, 2012|Monthly archive page

The Picture Worth One Thousand Words

In From the Vaults, Vietnam War on June 8, 2012 at 6:00 AM

When one considers the Vietnam War, one can examine the actions of major participants such as  Ho Chi Minh, Ngo Dinh Diem, Lyndon B. Johnson, Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon, of military leaders and tacticians such as Generals Giap and Westmoreland and debate the rights and wrongs of those actions, but one should never lose sight of the fact that in war, people are killed and injured.

The Pulitzer Prize winning photograph below was taken by Nick Ut forty years ago today. It remains one of the most iconic images of the Vietnam War.

vietnam napalm girl

We now know that the naked girl in the picture, running with her skin burning due to napalm dropped from a South Vietnamese Skyraider plane, was nine year old was Kim Phuc. As well as the photograph, ITN shot film showing what had occurred just before and after this photograph. It can clearly be seen in this video that large parts of Kim Phuc’s skin was severely burnt. Fortunately her face was unharmed.

Kim Phuc survived the attack and now, 49 years old, lives in Toronto with her husband. She has told her story many times. On Saturday, the Guardian published an Associated Press news report containing more information on the “napalm girl” and how that famous photograph has affected her life. It is worth reading.

Hat Tip: Ian Leslie via John Rentoul.


On Bookstores, Single Men, and Collective Guilt

In Discrimination on June 7, 2012 at 12:00 PM

My interest has been piqued by the following news item from June 3:

A Scottsdale man is claiming that a Barnes & Noble bookstore discriminated against him when an employee forced him out of the store because he was a male shopper alone in the children’s area.

Omar Amin, 73, said store worker Todd Voris told him that a female shopper had complained about him being in the children’s area May 4 in the store at Shea Boulevard and Loop 101 in Scottsdale.

Amin, who was alone at the time, said he was in Barnes & Noble to buy books for his two grandchildren who live in Wisconsin.

“Men alone cannot be by themselves in the children’s area,” Amin said he was told, adding that Voris said other bookstores had encountered problems with child molesters.

Voris, when contacted by The Arizona Republic on Thursday, referred the call to a district manager.

Mary Ellen Keating, a Barnes & Noble spokeswoman in New York, said in an e-mail response: “We have no comment on the store matter you called about. We believe we acted appropriately.”

Following the press attention, Barnes & Noble have put out a statement where they apologised:

We want to apologize to Dr. Amin for a situation in which Dr. Amin was asked to leave the children’s section of our Scottsdale, Ariz., store. We should not have done so. It is not our policy to ask customers to leave any section of our stores without justification.

Those people in favour of the free market would say that Barnes & Noble should have the right to serve anyone they wish to serve and the right to refuse to serve, or request to leave their premises, anyone else. I concur with this view, but that is an aside. The reason why Dr. Amin was asked to leave the store was because he was an unaccompanied male. The logic was that there had been problems with child molester in bookstores, and, I presume, that these molesters were unaccompanied males, hence it was deemed that it was an appropriate response to escort unaccompanied males from the premises.  The problem with this logic is intuitive: even if it were true, and it is not, that all child molesters were unaccompanied males, it does not follow that all unaccompanied males are child molesters. Cafe Mom blogger Jeanne Sager makes the point effectively:

I am sick and tired of the tired old “man around kids must be a pedophile” reaction. It’s unfair to the millions of males in this world who wouldn’t dream of such base and disgusting actions.

Had a store escorted a black male off the premises because there had recently been a spate of thefts linked to black males, or had a car showroom refused to allow a woman to test drive a car because it took the view that women were bad drivers and more likely to crash, there would be uproar.  The actions of Barnes & Noble employee Todd Voris should be considered in the same light.

Hat Tip: Martin Robb

Our man in Tel Aviv: diplomacy, deception and the Six Day War

In Britain, From the Vaults, Israel, James Vaughan, Six Day War on June 6, 2012 at 8:00 AM

I am delighted to provide a space for this post written by James Vaughan, Lecturer in International History at Aberystwyth University. It is an amusing hindsight look at correspondence between the British Ambassador to Israel and the Foreign Office around the time of the Six Day War which was fought for six days commencing June 5, 1967 between Israel and Arab countries. Dr. Vaughan has taken the trouble to locate this correspondence, which I certainly view as worth reading, in the National Archives. Michael Ezra

Our man in Tel Aviv: diplomacy, deception and the Six Day War

Sir Michael Hadow served as Britain’s Ambassador to Israel from 1965 to 1969, during which time he earned a reputation among Arabist circles in the Foreign Office as being unusually sympathetic to Israel (he would later take up a role as the Director of the Anglo-Israeli Association based in London).

 The following extracts, from despatches issued by Hadow to the Foreign Office, provide a faintly comic insight into the success of the Israeli diplomatic deception campaign conducted in the days leading up to the outbreak of the Six Day War on 5 June 1967 and the extent to which the British Ambassador was, in his own words, ‘led up the garden path.’

 28  May 1967

 Speaking frankly, Israel’s military situation was far from what it had been ten days ago. There was now little prospect of an out and out “victory” in a short time.  It would be disastrous for Israel to embark on an operation which entailed the maximum of international opprobrium but which would fail to secure any real advantage for Israel….  I understood that the air battle was important, but I thought here too the odds had gone down fairly sharply…. Israel had lost the element of surprise…. They had signalled their punches to such an extent that I should have thought that as from tonight the Egyptian Air Force would be ready to such an extent that there might be some unpleasant surprises in store for Israel. [1]

4 June 1967

Yesterday was a return to normal Tel Aviv Sabbath.  Beaches packed and general holiday atmosphere.  There has obviously been an extensive stand-down for the Armed Forces…. I propose to discontinue these [situation reports] unless there is anything of significance to report.[ 2]

4 June 1967

The day of the firebrand in the Israel Defence Forces is over.  They are now preparing for the long haul…. [Moshe] Dayan…will be in favour of a longish pause and a ‘détente’…. He will be starting to make plans, depending on Arab inability to maintain the same posture for too long, to be ready for a situation under which Israel could put in a powerful first blow while making the Arabs appear to have struck first.  I would not put it past his ingenuity to think up something: but I do not think he would estimate that such a situation can be brought about in under at least three months. [3]

6 July 1967

On the 4th of June I reported with some confidence that the Israel Government, for a variety of reasons, appeared to have accepted that for the foreseeable future there was no alternative to maintaining a passive posture…in the face of Nasser’s seizure of the initiative against them. Next day they embarked upon one of the most ruthlessly efficient military campaigns in modern history. [4]


[1] The National Archive, Kew, FCO 17/489, Michael Hadow to Foreign Office, No. 393, 28 May 1967.
[2] The National Archive, Kew, FCO 17/489, Michael Hadow to FCO, No. 464, 7.00am, 4 June 1967.
[3] The National Archive, Kew,  PREM 13/1619, Michael Hadow to Foreign Office, No. 469, 12.30pm, 4 June, 1967.
[4] The National Archive, Kew, PREM 13/1622, Michael Hadow to George Brown, 6 July 1967.

Nonsense on the Vietnam War

In Commentator, Vietnam War on June 3, 2012 at 8:14 AM

This is a cross post. It was originally published on Harry’s Place on May 31st 2012, 9:15 am

On The Commentator blog, James Boys has an article which ostensibly attacks President Obama’s statement that would put the commencement of the Vietnam War in 1962, a year when John F Kennedy (JFK) was President. In practice, the article presents a severe distortion of the reality. Boys tries to suggest a substantial difference of view between JFK and his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ), of American involvement in Vietnam.

Specifically, Boys states:

Defence Secretary Robert S. McNamara and General Maxwell Taylor reported back from Vietnam that One thousand troops could be withdrawn by the end of 1963, and that the United States would be able to withdraw all military personnel by the end of 1965.”

This plan was outlined in the Top Secret national Security Action Memorandum (NSAM) 263, dated October 11th, 1963. This was the order to start the withdrawal of troops from Vietnam. “It’s their war,” President Kennedy stated “they’re the ones who have to win it or lose it.” This stance was a serious deviation from the cold war policies of the past, and many speculated that it would be indicative of Kennedy’s second term….

John F. Kennedy had never been an advocate of fighting a land war in Asia, agreeing with General Douglas McArthur that to do so would be futile.” Lyndon Johnson however saw the situation in a different light….To Kennedy, Vietnam had been a distant war, and one to be avoided. To Lyndon Johnson, it was almost personal.

One of Johnson’s first acts as President was to sign National Security Action Memorandum 273, reversing Kennedy’s withdrawal policy….

The image that Boys wishes to leave readers is clear: had JFK not been assassinated, there would have been no ground troops and the horrors of the US decisions for war can be laid fairly at the feet of LBJ.

While it is true that according to NSAM 263 that “The President [JFK] approved the military recommendations contained in Section I B (1-3) of the [McNamara-Taylor] report,” he also “directed that no formal announcement be made of the implementation of plans to withdraw 1,000 U.S. military personnel by the end of 1963.” It can be also noted when looking at the McNamara-Taylor report that the withdrawal of troops was due to be “In accordance with the program to train progressively Vietnamese to take over military functions” and “without impairment of the war effort.”

Fredrik Logevall, in his analysis of the situation, (Choosing War: The Lost Chance for Peace and the Escalation of War in Vietnam, [University of California Press, 1999], pp.69-74), argued that the withdrawal of 1,000 troops was “primarily a device to put pressure on [South Vietnamese leader] Diem,” only designed to be a “token” withdrawal and that “nothing in the voluminous internal record for 1962 and 1963” suggested otherwise. Logevall is explicit, “When judged together, the McNamara-Taylor report, NSAM 263, and the accompanying documents all demonstrate clearly that the one-thousand-man withdrawal signalled no lessening of the American commitment to South Vietnam.”

Boys quotes Kennedy as saying, “It’s their war. They’re the ones who have to win it or lose it.” While he does not provide his source, these were part of Kennedy’s remarks to Walter Cronkite in a television interview on September 2, 1963.  This interview has been uploaded in full to YouTube. The relevant quote used by Boys can be seen between sections 14:00 and 14:04. What Boys has missed out are Kennedy’s further comments. I quote below the section between 16:41 and 17:07:

. . in the final analysis it is the people and the Government [of South Vietnam] itself who have to win or lose this struggle. All we can do is help, and we are making it very clear. But I don’t agree with those who say we should withdraw. That would be a great mistake. I know people don’t like Americans to be engaged in this kind of an effort. Forty-seven Americans have been killed in combat with the enemy, but this is a very important struggle even though it is far away.

By missing out this section where Kennedy makes it clear that he does not think America should withdraw from Vietnam, Boys has presented a distorted picture of Kennedy’s views.

Boys suggests that LBJ’s NSAM 273 (signed on November 26, 1963, a few days after Kennedy was assassinated) was a reversal of Kennedy’s withdrawal policy. This is false. NSAM 273 clearly states:

The objectives of the United States with respect to the withdrawal of U. S. military personnel remain as stated in the White House statement of October 2, 1963.

But more importantly, a very similar draft of this document, was prepared on November 21, 1963. The document refers to the President, who, on that date, was JFK as he was not assassinated until the following day. Consequently, while NSAM 273 was signed with a reference where LBJ was President, that was mainly because JFK has been assassinated. Had the assassination not occurred then NSAM 273 would have been JFK’s document. LBJ’s policy in Vietnam commencing with NSAM 273 was not therefore a reversal of JFK’s policies, but a continuation of them.

This nonsense of Boys is more suited to a film by Oliver Stone and the babble of JFK assassination conspiracy theorists than to a discussion on historical reality. It is a great shame that The Commentator published it.