Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia on August 20, 1972 · Page 90
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Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia · Page 90

Charleston, West Virginia
Issue Date:
Sunday, August 20, 1972
Page 90
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Page 90 article text (OCR)

SPEAKING OF BOOKS Stalemate! Our real goal in Vietnam Poems of hope, belief "PAPERS ON THE WAR," by Daniel Ellsberg, Simon .and Sinister, $7.59 hardbound, $2.95 paperbound. .Martyrs are supposed to be simple folk, possessed of simple truth and the courage to speak it. We call the exceptionally courageous foolhardy and we expect the child, not the sage, to proclaim the emperor naked as a jaybird. So Daniel Ellsberg turns out in his book to be an unsettling surprise. He is a .certifiable martyr, but he is also uncommonly thoughtful and intelligent. When he is locked away, as he surely will be, a fertile and disciplined mind will be shut up with him. Perhaps prison will afford him the time he needs to write the definitive study of American foreign, policy since World War II. The evidence in "Papers on the War" is that he is probably the man for the job. Ellsberg got interested in Vietnam because it posed problems in his chosen field of inquiry, the process of Presidential decision- making. During two years in Vietnam and other tours with the State and Defense departments and the Rand Corp., he learned about as much as -anybody knows about the war. His book is a grab bag of essays, memoranda for assorted bosses, congressional, testimony, speeches, a sermon. It is wretchedly organized and remarkably uneven in style and content. Too obviously, the book was t h r o w n together between fundraising rallies and court appearances. Nevertheless, it is the work of an ex ceptional t h i n k e r and--another surprise--a talented reporter. As is well known, Ellsberg remained a believer in the war for quite a long time. Even when he believed, he was hard-eyed skeptical, though, and his on-the-spot reports of 1965 to 1967 are among the most informative pieces to have come out of Vietnam. Unfortunately, .they were available at the time only to war-machine colleagues at Rand, State or Defense. Readership seems often to have been extremely limited. In 1966, Ellsberg . flew to Vietnam with Robert S. McNamara. "At one point," Ellsberg tells us in a f o o t n o t e , "John McNaughton. . . took me aside to relay two requests from McNamara: He would like an extra copy of my report, 'Visit to An Insecure Province'; also, would I mind not showing that report to the military passengers, in the interest of not further straining civil- military relations." STATE MAGAZINE, August 20,1972 The report Is part of "Papers on the War" and, with the other reports like it, offers no ground for U.S. optimism in Vietnam. .("There are two hundred and twenty thousand people in Hau Nghia, and two hundred thousand of them are ruled by the VC," the province chief remarks over dinner. "I am not a province chief; I am a hamlet chief.") The mystery is why all those Presidents, even when supplied with all the facts, have continued the war anyway. The most valuable section of "Papers on the War" is an essay covering almost a hundred pages which Ellsberg has titled "The Quagmire Myth and the Stalemate Machine" and which undertakes to account for U.S. persistence in this particular folly. Ellsberg starts by demolishing the mythical explanation of how Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon expanded U.S. involvement. As Arthur Schlesinger Jr. put this view: "Each step in the deepening of the American commitment was reasonably regarded at the time as the last that would be necessary. Yet, in retrospect, each step led only to the next, until we find ourselves entrapped in that nightmare of American strategists, a land war in Asia." Actually, as Ellsberg demonstrates, each President before Nixon took each reluctant step, despite the advice of key aides that it would prove inadequate, "There is no basis whatever for describing the President in this instance as taking a 'small step' because it was 'reasonably regarded as the last that would be necessary,' " Ellsberg says of John Kennedy's decision, in November, 1961,-to increase the number of military advisers in Vietnam. "What he was told was the contrary, and that from virtually every source. His decisions, he was assured, held out the almost certain prospect that new, larger steps, or else retreat, would present themselves as hard choices in the non-distant future." Presidents from Truman on, chose just such "stalemate" steps in Indochina, Ellsberg shows. Prior to Nixon, no one went for the knockout punch. .Why? Ellsberg's theory, which he describes himself as somewhat unsatisfied with, is that no President had any real hope for success in Vietnam; all knew the enterprise .to be foredoomed and all any of them wanted was to get past the next election without "losing" Vietnam to the Communists. Ellsberg reminds us that Vietnam has been a U.S. war-in the sense that we have financed it--since the 1940s. He sketches the American "loss" of China to Mao's army and recalls the domestic trauma which ensued. As Ellsberg puts it: "To read in such a book as Tang Tsou's 'America's Failure in China'... the list of measures, that were proposed for the U.S. in China but not tried--including largescale use of advisers, logistic support, intelligence and communications assistance, the overthrow or replacement of Chiang, transport, combat air support, large-scale training, U.S. combat units--is to read the list of m e a s u r e s t h a t were successively tried in Vietnam. ('Leverage'for reform and for broadening the government was urged in both cases, tried in neither.) "These measures had been rejected in China because, in the judgment of Gen. M a r s h a l l and others--almost surely correct--they were unlikely to prove adequate. In Vietnam, the Pentagon Papers reveal that .many of the corresponding judgments, at the decision-points of escalation, were scarcely more sanguine, but this time the measures were used anyway. " . . . Almost surely, among the generation of officials who survived the purges of the Asian bureaus in the 50s, it was not the. worries of foreigners that they remembered as the epitaph to the Marshall- Acheson course of cutting losses in China, but the famous charges that this policy exposed Marshall as 'a living lie ... a front man for traitors' and Acheson as The Red Dean.' " Thereafter, in Ellsberg's phrase, Vietnam became the old main in the card game, passed from President to President because "this is not a good year for this administration to lose Vietnam to communism." This was not exactly an honest or respectable policy and so it led to the maze of lies and evasions that have done so much to corrupt government. Ellsberg takes Kennedy's November, 1961, decision to send in more advisers, shows its real origins, shows how the press was m a n i p u l a t e d t h r o u g h background briefings which peddled lies as the inside truth, and finally shows how grossly such Presidential reminiscers as Schlesinger and Theodore Sorenson have misled the readers of their books in an effort to vindicate Kennedy. (Essentially, Gen. Maxwell Taylor went to Vietnam and sent back word to Kennedy that it would be necessary to ship in U.S. combat troops. Kennedy sent more advisers ,, instead, but pretended that this was what Taylor had told him to do.) Curiously, Ellsberg notes, the pessimism that preceded each small effort to maintain a stalemate was followed by optimism that this latest step really would turn the tide. The result .was--or is--a cycle of: A crisis that fostered dark pessimism, -The selection of that option-most likely to keep the war limping along w i t h o u t c r e a t i n g u n necessary domestic furor, *· A loony optimism about the potentialities of the option, A crisis brought on by the "enemy" t h a t demolished the optimism, reinstated the pessimism and started the cycle on another spin. Ellsberg has doubts about his "stalemate machine" theory which are, I assume, related to the political radicalism he has moved toward because of his disillusionment with all those Presidents. There may, indeed, be room for ideological underpinnings, for .a socioeconomic explanation of why Americans remained blinded to reality by anticommunism for two decades. But these are not essential to an appreciation of the Ellsberg theory. It is the only theory anyone has put forth which accounts for Vietnam and which holds up under the most rigorous examination. A little history would help, perhaps, to deepen and expand the theory. There are, in particular, fascinating resemblances between U.S. anticommunism of the past half- century and the reaction of Edmund Burke's England to the French Revolution. In both cases, a people and a government uncommonly advanced for their time were thrown into sheer mindless terror by the rise of a nation committed to radical political and social d o c t r i n e . French equalitarianism settled down to become another strand in the history of Western thought. Communism has done much.the same thing. But the trauma in both cases was -real enough. It would be useful to understand better why this should be the case. And Ellsberg's book is a good place to start. Patrick Ownes Mr. Ownes is a columnist for Newsday. "A DURABLE FIRE" by May Sarton.W.W. Norton Co., $6.00 May Sarton has written "New Poems" of hope and belief and a strength that can only come from a great deal of self-analysis and honesty. There is no yearning for the past, only a learning that gives insight to the future, and there is a power in these lines, which comes because of that ·looking forward. So much of today's poetry bewails the u t t e r hopelessness of tomorrow, but this woman transmits a kind of faith and confidence in time to come. There is a peace in this poetry that ensues because of 60 years of living, from discovering solitude and self. She "learned to clear herself" and "learned to wait" and she tells richly and easily the immense joy of learning to trust herself. The title of the "book is good. It is true to the contents. Most of the poem titles are equally as honest and provocative: "All Day I Was' With Trees," and "After An Island." Her opening "Gestalt at Sixty" is a powerful poem, by far the outstanding selection in the book. Conversely, The dull gets duller as you go "LONG GEORGE ALLEY," by Richard Hall, Delacorte Press, J6.95. Most of us, when beginning a novel, will generously allow the author 40, 50 or maybe even 60 pages to gain our interest before we give up and shelve it as unreadable. I gave Mr. Hall 214, and the last page was as. uninteresting as the first. The sketchy plot concerns itself with the civil rights movement of the early 60s or, more specifically, an attempt by freedom fighters and blacks to integrate a park in a small Mississippi town. One would think the inherent suspense in such a situation would be sufficient to lead to an interesting climax, at least; but, no--by using too many characters, too many viewpoints and too much dialect, the author impedes, the flow of the novel and the climax becomes only another scene. If you're still interested in reading this book, you can make your decision whether to continue after page 3--that's as good as it's going to get. --J. V. Pinson (Mr. Pinson is a free-lance mitec from Winter Park, Fla.) CHARLESTON, W, VA. · her second poem, "Myself to Me," is the worst poem. Her free verse is much superior to the rhymed. Her rhymes often seem contrived and obvious and many times the meter is broken (as in "Myself 1 to Me" and -"A Chinese Landscape"). Some poems begin with promise and a fresh idea, but don't quite come off. There are some trite phrases and some overworked images, and there is a sadness when such things occur because, on the whole, the poetry is strong. There are a few unfortunate choices of words and some repetitions, i.e., anarchic, Easter, blest, disparate, but they are rare. May Sarton writes in her own idiom and only occasionally lapses into the archaic word or phrase, but unfortunately that one word can b r e a k a s p e l l , f o r i n s t a n c e , the "nor" in the final line of a good poem, "Dear Solid Earth." At the same time, there are many good images and phrases: "the country of silence," "clawed at by human needs," "this is good poverty, pale blue eye of spring," and "tall in the the air." There are some excellent poems in the book which ask you to reread, though they are not at all cryptic. "The Tree Peony" is very simple and expressive. Again in "Moth in the Schoolroom," t h e r e is s i m p l i c i t y , tenderness, timelessness, and an interesting new concept of love. Her "Autumn £-"-"'*" is an extremely good section, smacking of the Portuguese; No. 2 is especially suggestive of EBB. "Of Grief" is a new approach, strong, nothing banal or over-sympathetic. Her best poems are the simple ones. May Sarton's "A Durable Fire" is well worth the reading. She offers richness and a variety of style. Though there is an immense appeal to the older person in' this poetry, it is not limited. The young can find a happier outlook as well. Life does not begin or end at 20 or 30 or 40. It extends as long as one cares to seek. The redolence of this one verse suggests the theme: "Today I saw it again in the stare Of the homeless cat, that hunger Not for food only, but to be taken in, And to trust enough to risk it. .." The book is a simple tribute to life and love, to friends, to memory, and ultimately to self. --Jean R. Jenkhu Mrs. Jenkins is professor of speech and drama at Brigham Young University and president of the National Federation of State Poetry Societies, Inc.

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