The majority of the people follow the leadership of Ho Chi Minh, who happens to be a communist and a nationalist. They are not communists but they want independence, which they had for a year and a half, basically from the summer of 1945 to December 1946. And in fighting with the French, and in supplying the French, and in paying the French, and the Vietnamese we paid to go with them, we were consciously opposing the desires for independence of the great majority of the people, and we were conscious of that.
To realize somehow in writing, to see the document and to realize that we were conscious of what we were doing in those terms, put the war at that moment for me in a very different light from what it had been earlier, and I knew the war pretty well by that time. It totally jerked it out of the context of a World War II or a Korea even in terms of the images, perhaps the wrong images of our own decision makers. It stripped the war of any pretence of legitimacy for me or any chance of a sense of legitimacy returning to me in looking at that war. There was no way to see the killing that was going on but as murder. The question is, How do you stop murder? Clearly I haven’t found a way to do that. None of us have, and a lot of you have been working at it much longer than I. But that’s the problem we face. How do we stop it? How do we make the next 25 years different than the last 25? With the awful possibility facing us that it’s just possible it could be much the same, because the seeds of decisive change are not obvious to me at this point. It could happen; we are still embedded in this process, still bombing, still dropping the products, some of them made in this city by Honeywell, the subject here, but not alone by Honeywell, of course.
Well, perhaps it would help to understand part of the question, “How do we stop it?” How did we possibly get in this situation? How can we be doing what we’re doing, and what is that that we’re doing? What tools can we understand it?

I was reading on the plane here today the latest New Yorker with the second installment of a two-part article by Sy Hersh, who is the man who broke the My Lai story back in ’69. And this one has to do in particular with the cover-up of My Lai, not just with the atrocity, which he dealt with last week. He also exposed last week that there was an additional atrocity at My Kay 4, simultaneously with My Lai 4, in which 100 people were killed and which the army totally covered up. So the subject here is cover-up. And I want to relate a little to this article as I was reading it today because I think some of the things that go into an answer of how we could have been doing what we’re doing and how then it may be we can bring about a change come together when I finish this. So if it sounds a little rambling as I go through this, bear with me a minute because I think it comes together.

At the very end of his piece, Hersh’s piece here today, he raises the issue not just how it is possible for this atrocity to be committed but he said how do we understand the army as an institution that was capable of covering up a My Lai 4, and ignoring a My Lai 4. A lieutenant general and a secretary of the army, unwilling or unable to face up to its meaning. As soon as I read that, of course, I suddenly saw that fall into place as a story in microcosm of the Vietnam War as a whole, of my own relation to it, of the Pentagon Papers, as I read through this about what happened to the various reports that were made of these atrocities by the army.  Because it turns out, and this is something that Hersh reveals to some extent, the army started out by assuming that My Lai was a total aberration and that no one had known of it, just as most people in the country before the Pentagon Papers, or maybe even now, think of the presidents as having been innocent of the knowledge of what was going on in their names and in our name in Vietnam, of having not known what they were getting us into. The quicksand theory, the quagmire theory—wandering in not by design and choice but by accident and inadvertence. The same picture, and of course the same question is posed: How do we understand the United States of America as a set of institutions or a population capable both of committing the 25-year atrocity of the Vietnam War and of covering it up?

Ellsberg 03