The War Conspiracy
So, I am reading this book by Peter Dale Scott, The War Conspiracy: JFK, 9/11, and the Deep Politics of War.” The title of chapter four is “Provoking China and the USSR: 1966-68.” As Dale summarizes: “The following chapter . . . represents my serious argument that elements of the US military plotted to frustrate peace talks land perhaps escalate the Vietnam War.” [p. 147]
Robert McNamara, obviously aware of such concerns, had written in his memoirs that the US military were “dedicated, loyal servants . . . motivated by a deep and noble desire to serve their country.” However, as Dale points out “To sustain this non-conspiratorial view . . . McNamara had to ignore certain facts.” For example, he had to ignore that one Colonel Broughton covered up what he, the colonel, claimed was an accidental attack on a Soviet ship that was in a North Vietnamese harbor, including destroying the film of the attack recorded by the planes involved therein. As Dale points out, if the attack was in fact accidental, why did Broughton seen the need to destroy the evidence that would prove that. “If the attack was indeed accidental, then he [Broughton] unfortunately eliminated the best possible evidence for showing this.” [p. 153]
Nonetheless, Dale does not now want to disparage the US military too much. As he puts it, despite the fact that “In its own eyes . . . the US military suffered not just a setback but a defeat in Vietnam,” “We should remember also that, through all the complexities of Watergate, the shock of defeat in Vietnam did not provoke the US military into a political retaliation. No general trod in the footsteps of MacArthur, and even MacArthur accepted his retirement with constitutional grace and dignity.” [p. 149]
So, despite appearances or some troubling incidents, civilian supremacy still reigns in the United States. Or so Dale would like to believe. But what of the role the military played in the demise of Richard Nixon, if not of LBJ as well? That is, it was a military spy ring that was spying on Nixon that led to the creation of the Plumbers and other steps Nixon took to preserve the secrecy he thought necessary for successfully recognizing China, reaching strategic arms agreements with the Soviets, and ending the Vietnam War in a way that would redound to his credit and preserve some dignity in defeat for the United States. In fact, the scenario was such that references were made, sarcastically perhaps, to the movie Seven Days in May, a movie, liked much by JFK, that portrayed an attempted military coup in the United States. And there are reports that Robert Kennedy, during the Cuban missile crisis, told the Soviet ambassador that there was a possibility of the military taking control of the US government’s response to those missiles.
Also, there is the question of what role General Alexander Haig played in Nixon’s demise. There is even a book entitled Haig’s Coup, where it is argued that Haig, with help from others who had connections to the Department of Defense, played a major role in ensuring that Nixon lost via resignation the presidency. The argument there is that Haig did this in order to protect himself from possible charges for the role he had played in the wiretapping of members of the National Security Council and several journalists, as well as protecting himself from revelations of the role he played as a source for Bob Woodward during Watergate. It would appear that the military did in fact engage in some “political retaliation” against those who were unwilling to do what they, the military, thought needed to be done, viz., rolling back communism in Asian and elsewhere.
When seen in this light, LBJ, as Dale notes, appears in a quite different guise than he appeared to Dale, and other anti-war activists, while the Vietnam War was being waged. As Dale notes, it is plausible to see LBJ as attempting, however vainly or fitfully, to restrain the military in Vietnam in order to avoid starting a war with the Soviet Union or China. Insofar as this is accurate, then it is the case that LBJ’s decision not to seek re-election in 1968 needs to be reevaluated in order to see what role the military might or might not have played in that decision. One thing that can be pointed out: By resigning in order to work for peace in Vietnam, as he claimed he was doing, Johnson was making peace the goal toward which the government and its officials would be working. And, so, even Richard Nixon ran as a peace candidate in 1968, promising “peace with honor” if he were elected. Insofar as this is correct, then it may be said that Johnson’s decision not to seek reelection was his way of short-circuiting the military’s desire to win the war.
Would the military then seek to retaliate against Nixon and his attempts to change in significant ways the foreign policy of the United States, moving toward détente with the Soviets and toward recognition of China, while pronouncing the Nixon Doctrine which was geared to demilitarizing US foreign policy, ala’ leaving Vietnam without a victory? Even if the military did not adopt such an agenda, it must be said that where the US is today, where its military is today – beyond almost all reproach – indicates that, even without trying, the military has achieved a level of power that if not superior to at least rivals the power of civilians.