Times Op-Ed, "Correction: The Lavelle Case". August 7
IT was Rules of Engagement Week last week (but then, isn't it always Rules of Engagement Week in this country?). President Barack "Vietnam is So Over" Obama restored Mad Bomber Lavelle to his rightful rank, and one of Jon Stewart's periodic fainting spells gave Bruce Henderson--author of a book whose publicity blurb refers to " 'neutral' Laos"--On to Damascus!--the chance to go all DeForest Kelley on the Unfair Restrictions on Our Brave Airmen Who Otherwise Would Have Won the War For Sure. Henderson served two years as a Navy weatherman, which means the only Rules of Engagement he personally experienced involved not taking more than two scoops of ice cream on any one trip through the chow line.
Okay, so I sound like a crackpot, or even more of a crackpot than usual, but look: I'm all for righting historical wrongs, provided we recognize the process as a salve for the living. But to me, if the President really wanted to right the Lavelle Case what he should have done is posthumously impeach Nixon, and deport Heinz Kissinger while there's still blood in him. Lavelle the man deserved vindication, and he got it when the truth became known. If we don't feel that's right, or enough, then let's stop keeping political secrets disguised as national security. Lavelle the Air Force commander got off easy. Men of lower rank are aren't reduced a couple of pay grades to cover their superiors' asses; more likely they're reduced to a fine pink mist.
It was a criminal war which fell into the hands of a criminal President. Lavelle took a bullet for his commander; that was his duty. If he didn't want to he didn't have to. Those two extra stars on his collar were for commanding Nixon's Indochina air war in the early 1970s, not for dropping Hersey bars and soccer balls for the kids. He didn't get there by accident, and if he got there without knowing that bombing doesn't win wars, the history of US involvement in Vietnam, or the kind of Dick Nixon was, then he had it comin'. (The Times, by the way, now simply accepts Lavelle's Henry II Defense that his orders that flight reports "could not show 'No response' by bombing targets" was misinterpreted by underlings to mean that flight reports could not show "No Response" by bombing targets.)
Yeah, yeah; I'm the crackpot. I'm the last dirty hippie still spittin' on Our Returning Heroes. That doesn't change the history of US involvement in Vietnam, the Original Operation Shifting Rationale. It doesn't do so even if you're a "liberal" like Barack Obama or a liberal like Jon Stewart. (And I'm not blaming the President, mind you. But that sure went quick once the "facts" were "known". Compare the sixty-five years it took to exonerate Charles McVay, captain of the Indianapolis, and we knew all along he was innocent. Compare the Times retraction of an item which was factual when it was covered with how it handled Judy Miller's outright lies.)
Is this the deal, then? "Why can't you Boomers just get over it, already?" leaves off the "and treat Vietnam as yet another heroic chapter in our glorious martial history"? Wow, what a surprise.
And here's what, kids, since you refuse to even look. Since you refuse to even consider why we had the rules of engagement we did, in Vietnam, or in Korea, and listen only to the second-hand gripes of professional veterans. This didn't happen in a vacuum. We weren't just arguing about tactics. The issue wasn't bounded by whether it was a Good Idea to bomb the North, or Laos, or whomever; it would have been militarily expedient to bomb the Soviet and Chinese rail lines and rolling stock, too. Chew on that for a bit. We weren't arguing over extending the war; we were arguing over extending an involvement which had already gone on five, ten, twenty years, and which, at each and every stop, the public had been assured we were just one more step from winning, right up until we had a half-million men in the field, and a sharply-divided public at home, and it was clear through all the bullshit that we'd failed. And if it wasn't clear previously, it was certainly clear two years before Lavelle took command, when a real hero, Daniel Ellsburg, who faced as much as Dieter Dengler did, and who took a helluva lot more shit for it from the Nixon administration than Lavelle did, decided that the American people deserved to know the truth.
And the Times printed it. Maybe they'd like to apologize now.