We are the Forces of Movement

 

There’s still a lot to learn from Arno Mayer and Gabriel Kolko

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Arno Mayer is one of the more important historians in modern times. His works have influenced more than one generation of historians, particularly those of us on the Left. His work is varied, and always incisive and often brilliant, and one of his overriding themes, and the title of one of his earlier classics, is “the persistence of the old regime.”

His work that his influenced me the most was Politics and Diplomacy of Peacemaking: Containment and Counterrevolution at Versailles, 1918-1919. It’s on a pretty short list of history books that shook up the way I looked at the past and the world in general. In it, he established the framework that the Great War had created a conflict between the “forces of order” against the “forces of movement.” It’s a formula I’ve used ever since. As the war became increasingly bloody, with no end in sight, the Left–the unions, Labor parties, Socialists–the forces of movement, began to organize and demand an end to the fighting and a recasting of society in the home countries. In 1917, the Bolshevik Revolution became a real-time example of that. The old regime, the forces of order, recoiled at the Left’s organization and power and especially loathed the Bolsheviks.

And so, while the Great War raged, there was a concurrent political struggle in western Europe. To cut to the chase, despite some gains by the Left, the forces of order were able to reestablish their political-economic hegemony and stave off socialism in Europe, and part of their strategy did include making some reforms that the Left sought but that did not change the fulcrum of power in the existing systems.  To use another historian’s idea, Bourgeois Europe was “recast” into a more modern state, but did not adopt the type of liberal capitalism that the United States was developing…..yet.

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Though he didn’t use the same terms, Gabriel Kolko showed much the same in his work on the early Cold War. In The Politics of War, and even more in The Limits of Power: The World and United States Foreign Policy, 1945-1954, written along with his wife Joyce Kolko, a couple books to also shake anyone reading them up, he showed a political economic terrain much like the one Mayer depicted.  The Left led much of the resistance to fascism throughout Europe, and its partisans were nationally recognized leaders, openly identifying as Communists and Socialists. When the war ended, the credibility and political power of the Left resistance was a grave threat to American interests.  In France and Italy, via democratic elections, Socialists and Communists were winning local offices and joining popular front governments.  In places like France and Italy, the established governments that had led before the war often took action against partisans in 1945, in some cases jailing or eliminating them.

This outbreak of radical democracy terrified the U.S. ruling class, which dispatched operatives and huge sums of money to Europe to contain the Left there.  Diplomatic officials, the CIA, Organized American Labor, the AFL and the “radical” CIO [or the AFL-CIA, as people joked], cultural figures and other “black ops” characters went to various European countries to establish counter-institutions [such as anti-communist trade unions or American-centric cultural cooperatives] to contain the Left.  The case of Italy is instructive. In the first postwar elections in 1946, the Left won 39.6 percent of the vote–the Socialists received 20.7 and the Communists received 18.9–to 35 percent for the Christian Democrats, and the most respected political figure was the Communist Palmiro Togliatti.  The Americans were firm in their resolve to contain the Italian Left so began an intensified campaign of subversion in Italy. The CIA,1101480419_400 the Mafia, and the Vatican joined together (the Vatican funneled tens of millions of dollars to anti-Communist groups), along with American labor representatives who undermined Left unions, to ensure Christian Democrat success.  Time Magazine featured the Christian Democrat, Alcide de Gasperi on its cover with a menacing “polpo rosso,” red octopus, symbolizing the Left.  In the 1948 elections, the American efforts paid off, with the Christian Democrats gaining 48 percent to the Left’s 31 percent.  Again, the forces of order had restrained the forces of movement and remained in charge of the global political world.

The same dynamic was happening inside the U.S.  Various groups generally outside the halls of power–organized labor, African Americans, the Left, women–had been forces of movement at home.  Blacks and women worked in factories because of the need for ramped-up wartime production; unions negotiated deals with industry for better wages in exchange for no-strike pledges; the left joined in the anti-fascist fight.  But once the war ended and those groups wanted to cash in for the efforts–with better wages for workers, genuine civil rights for African Americans who lived in an apartheid system but had helped defeat Nazi tyranny, women who wanted to work rather than simply become part of the Baby Boom–the state and corporate America, the forces of order, reacted.  The Taft-Hartley Act, the attack on radical African Americans like Paul Robeson, W.E.B. DuBois and Harry Haywood, McCarthyism in its broadest sense, Hollywood Blacklists, and convincing women to leave the workplace were all part of the political revanchist strategy of the old regime to remain firmly in charge without changing the dynamics of power.

Others have used this formula to study the postwar era, after both world wars, in Latin America, Asia and elsewhere, where an emboldened Left was contained, by force or subversion, in countless places. In my own work, I contend that something similar happened in 1960s America, as the Civil Rights Movement had to operate in “safe,” political territory, meaning it never held an anti-Capitalist doctrine, and student groups like SDS, the Black Panthers, and others were subverted by police violence or programs like COINTELPRO.

So what’s this have to do with COVID-19?  This current moment has been in the works for a long time. The Old Regime has been discredited. Many of us have seen it coming since the advent of the “Neo-Liberlism” regime and there’s extensive writing about it. The Coronavirus has lit a fuse that had been soaked in gasoline and was essentially hidden in plain view.  Current events have shown how frail the neo-liberal regime is, how fractured and weak global capitalism has become.  The forces of movement have been active already in America–teachers strikes in various states, environmental activists in groups like RTNA or XR-America, Black Lives Matter, the Flight Attendants Union, and many others–and can act in this moment to demand not just palliatives like a $1000 check, but a fundamental restructuring of the American economy.  Nationalize, don’t bail out, airlines and other industries that got massive subsidies and tax breaks, but cut their workers loose at the first sign of trouble.

Don’t let fear and panic overwhelm this moment. Doctors and scientists are on the front lines of the health crisis.  We have time to take care of each other, and to organize!  It’s time, as Lenin said, to be as radical as reality itself. We are the forces of movement and we have staggeringly larger numbers than the ruling class. We have a world to win!

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The United States and the World, from the 18th Century to Today: Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, Winter 2020

I–Intro

Opening—statements from US presidents as opening:
Trump—“America First”    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dIaoZqMrbCo

Obama—“American Exceptionalism”    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yWpQ_8Ltl3s

Bush on 9/11 and Terrorism    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NpZVeHBylco

Bill Clinton on Globalization—

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CqvGoUo8jAw&feature=youtu.be

Background—Key themes in American foreign policy—

Growth of Power

National Security

Mission/Democracy

Expansion

Economics/Trade/Investment

Origins of U.S. Expansion

US a  colony of Britain along the Atlantic Coast.  Gains Independence.

Develops Financial and Commercial Interests.

Splendid Isolation?

“Manifest Destiny”

Continue reading

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The Economy is ________? Fake news about U.S. economic strength (with updates)

Over the past year or more, there’s been a consistent narrative that the U.S. economy is doing well and on the uptick. While most recognize that Trump’s descriptions of a “perfect economy” or “the best economy in history” are absurd, the liberal, mainstream media consistently talks about the “strong economy” in the U.S and cites it as a campaign asset for Trump.  But in its own pages, adjunct to its declarations of economic strength, are countless stories and examples of the opposite–that the U.S. economy is not doing that well, and more importantly that mega-millions of people are living in precarity, are vulnerable, are suffering.  poverty_america

To be clear, the establishment media has a real and personal interest in portraying the economy in positive ways–they fear more people becoming critical of capitalism (the numbers are growing significantly) and they don’t want the Bernie Sanders-type politicians being able to cite the reality of capitalism in America today.  They may loathe Trump, but still prefer him to an outright critic of the system.  Indeed, in February 2020, polling showed Trump had the highest approval marks on his handling of the economy of any president in the past 20 years.

The “strong economy” narrative generally pivots on two points–stock market levels and unemployment data.  The stock market is at record highs, over 29K, so if one is invested or has a 401 (k), then things are probably looking up.  But, as one of the charts below shows, that’s a small percentage of Americans.  As for unemployment, it is significantly low, but where that would usually lead to a significant increase in wages, it has not.  Wages are static.

For some time I’ve been meaning to write a piece on this topic–claims of economic strength amid countless stories of economic struggle–but that would require work, and as Homer Simpson said, trying is the first step toward failure.  So I’ve collected a sampling of articles I’ve saved in a folder I have labeled “U.S. Economy 2019” and I’m posting the links below as a resource to anyone who wants to know more on the issue.  I’ve tried to group the articles by topic, but it’s not the best-organized thing you’ll ever see.  Still, the news and the data is there. While there’s a fair number of articles and studies below, it’s a tiny share of what I’ve seen and what’s out there on the topic.  It’s not hard to rebut the idea that the economy is strong….

The overall theme of all this information is that Capitalism is deficient and not getting better.  The vast majority live in precarity at best.  Media narratives of a “strong economy” are the real fake news.

Note:  Many of the cites below are articles, but mostly based on fed data.  If possible (meaning, if easy) I’ve used establishment sources to show the various economic problems facing the U.S.  Among the sources to check are the Federal Reserve Board and its constituent banks, the International Monetary Fund, Wall Street bank reports, the Wall Street Journal, trade associations, and of course the Grey Lady and WaPo.  Plenty of lefty publications have great economic work, usually better actually, but I’ve avoided them below for the most part just because it’s easier to quote internal ruling-class stories about the economy.  I would strongly rec, however, Michael Roberts Blog.  It’s a must-read.  


New Articles Posted (2/16)

Great Affordibility Crisis in America*

Household debt exceeds $14 Trillion*

1/3 Americans risk maxing out credit cards

1/3 workers fear running out of money before payday

Credit card debt at record $930 billion

U.N. Report says global inequality threatens world political stability

IMF report–construction activity as sign of credit boom gone bad

J.P. Morgan worried about inflation and Bernie Sanders’ success

514,000 fewer jobs than orig. reported

“Serious delinquencies” in subprime auto loans

Trump says econ is “greatest ever” but  cuts fed pay raise due to “serious economic conditions” 

Treasury yields down on weak retail sales

Negative interest rates means workers have to work longer, save more, expect less

Wages would be even lower without state/local min. wage hikes

Foreclosure crisis in Detroit

1 in 4 renters spend half of income for housing

Single-payer could save $600 billion in admin costs

Employment-based health care not good for workers

Black unemployment rate twice that of white workers

2019 slowest year for job growth since 2011

Rural Kansas jailing people for medical debts

72% of rural hospital closures in states that rejected Medicaid expansion

Texas rural health care crisis

5 Big Tech firms dominate market

Pier 1 files for bankruptcy

Americans work 47 hrs/week, longer than comparable economies

Buttigieg focus on deficit harms working people

Strike numbers going significantly up

Blue-collar “boom” a myth for workers

Industrial production declines 7th month in a row

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Trump “apoplectic” with Boris J. over Huawei

New Articles Posted (2/5)

Americans have positive view of Socialism 

American women view Socialism more favorably

No “blue collar boom”in econ

70% chance of recession in 2020

Farm bankruptcies up 24% on trade wars

Farm bankruptcies hit 8-year high

Farm subsidies go to biggest Ag corps 

Income inequality and poverty

Macy’s closing 100+ stores

Macy’s closing stores and cutting jobs

Layoffs at Goodyear

Ford profit plunges

Fed leaves interest rates unchanged

American spending lowest in 3 years

Biggest drop for capital good in 8 months

Jerome Powell shields Fed from Trump

IMF: Declining econ growth in LatAm and Carib

Yield curve on bonds inverting again?

Fed and inflation

Unemployment low, “involuntary” work high

Michael Roberts: GDP growth far below Trump promise

EPI: China trade deficit costs 3.7 million jobs

Economy shrinks in many U.S. states

Rattner: Econ not that good

IMF calls for oil company transparency

Long-term decline in manufacturing jobs

manufacturing decline

Continue reading

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David Barsamian @ UH

David Barsamian Speaking @ UH

Wednesday, April 3d, 4:00 p.m.

 210 Agnes Arnold Hall

“Rise Up & Resist!”

David Barsamian is the founder and director of the Alternative Radio Network, and frequent collaborator with Noam Chomsky, Arundhati Roy, Edward Said, and others.

 

 

 

 

“Rise Up and Resist!”  When is enough enough? In the face of evil what does it take for people to move from passivity to active resistance?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Event Sponsored by the Arab-American Education Foundation Chair in Modern Arab History

 

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Trump Tax Returns? Really?

So several media outlets are reporting that the new House in January is going to demand Trump’s tax returns  (See Here).

Really? That’s at the top of the “to do” list??

The election was about health care, gun safety, immigration, wages, etc. and they’re still obsessed with what a bag of shit Trump is. Is there some magical line where if you just discover one more piece of disgusting personal info about Trump, or expose one more hypocrisy, he’ll suddenly fold and become vulnerable?

The man isn’t subtle or covert–he’s not some Wizard hiding behind a curtain (well, maybe a Grand Wizard).  He’s been repudiated by millions already, and still has open followers.  In 2016, it was possible to say that we didn’t know what he was really about.  In 2018, DeSantis and Kemp ran campaigns that would make George Wallace and Ross Barnett proud, and won.  Like the Yankees and Notre Dame, you hate Trump or love him . . .

Trump doesn’t care what the media or Dems say and his people don’t care. So his tax returns show he’s a rich guy who cheated on his taxes . . . that makes him a “capitalist.” It’s not his Achilles heel. It’s a waste of energy.

This is why American politics, and esp the Dems, are utterly incompetent. Instead of dealing with problems real people face and reckon with their own failures (Klansmen were elected governor in FL and GA), they play these games.

3 red states expanded Medicare, 2 southern states increased the minimum wage, 3 states legalized weed in some form, FL gave the vote back to 1.5 million people. Polls showed majorities are sympathetic to immigrants and opposed to Trump’s hard line. Most people opposed Kavanaugh. I don’t know if that means Americans are progressive, but it surely means that the media and Dems either don’t know or won’t tell you what this country really is about.

Last night, “Trump Sucks” was enough to take back the house.  Relying on two more years of that, or the Mueller investigation, or another woman coming out with some story about Trump isn’t going to damage him.  Two GOP reps under indictment won last night . . .

Obviously, it’s good to see Trump experience some failure. But waiting on a Hail Mary play from a Blue House of Reps isn’t going to go far. So it’s time to shitcan Pelosi (and Schumer and Hoyer and Clyburn) and do something serious.

By the way, when’s the last time you heard someone from the GOP use the word “bipartisanship?”

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“The Commodification of the Vietnam War: Popular Culture and American Militarism”

From Condemnation to Restoration

(Talk at Université Grenoble Alpes, 25 April 2018)

 

 

Capitalism, Politics, Power, and History

Gramsci and the cultural politics of the elites

Debord’s “spectacle” and “the autocratic reign of the market.”

Tom Frank’s “Conquest of Cool”

 

“Selling” the 60s and the Vietnam War

Tragedy

Legacy

Today

 

Vietnam and the Woodstock Generation, an American Dilemma

Country Joe and the Fish, “I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-To-Die Rag”

Hair, “The Flesh Failures”

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Merle Haggard, “Okie from Muskogee”

Jerry Jeff Walker, “Kickin’ Hippies’ Asses”

Johnny Cash, “Singing in Vietnam Talking Blues”

From War Crime to Noble Cause

 

Jimmy Carter: “well, the destruction was mutual. . . . We went there to defend the freedom of the South Vietnamese. And I don’t feel that we ought to apologize or to castigate ourselves or to assume the status of culpability.”

Ronald Reagan: “It is time we recognized that ours was, in truth, a noble cause. A small country newly free from colonial rule sought our help in establishing self-rule and the means of self-defense against a totalitarian neighbor bent on conquest.”

 

“Crazed Vets”

Travis Bickle

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bickle vn

 

Russian roulette in VC prison in Deer Hunter

 

russian roulette

Rambo Revives Vietnam

 

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POW/MIA (Mythmaking In America)

“Do we get to win this time?”

Rambo, VN, Russians, and the Cold War (1985)

Red Dawn

 

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“Culture Wars in the 80s”

 

The Wall

 

 

vietnam-war-memorial

 

vietnam_veteran_memorial_cc_img

 

one-of-the-vietnam-war

 

Draft Dodgers Come Home to Roost

 

Phil Ochs

 

Quayle, Clinton, Bush and the Working-Class War

 

Screen Shot 2018-04-14 at 5.51.01 PM

 

Clinton’s Draft Letter

 

Bush:

W as draft dodger

 

Trump:

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Rehabbing the Vets … their image at least

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sir-no-sir

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

honor warrior

 

 

The “Sixties” for Sale

(Tom Frank)

The Nike “Revolution”

“The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”

Iron Butterfly Investments?

The Simpsons spoofs the 60s

 

Kerry Not So Lucky/Obama “pallin’ around with terrorists”

 

Swiftboated: “We wish that a merciful God could wipe away our own memories of that service as easily as this administration has wiped their memories of us. But . . . all that they can do by this denial is to make more clear than ever our own determination to undertake one last mission, to search out and destroy the last vestige of this barbarous war, to pacify our own hearts, to conquer the hate and the fear that have driven this country these last 10 years and more and so when, in 30 years from now, our brothers go down the street without a leg, without an arm or a face, and small boys ask why, we will be able to say ‘Vietnam’ and not mean a desert, not a filthy obscene memory but mean instead the place where America finally turned and where soldiers like us helped it in the turning.” (1971)

 

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American Militarism and the Legacy of Vietnam

 

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Ken Burns’s Vietnam today: “begun in good faith, by decent people.”

 

Hannah Arendt: It is not surprising that the recent generation of intellectuals, who grew up in the insane atmosphere of rampant advertising and were taught that half of politics is “image-making” and the other half the art of making people believe in the imagery, should almost automatically fall back on the older adages of carrot and stick whenever the situation becomes too serious for “theory.” To them, the greatest disappointment in the Vietnam adventure should have been the discovery that there are people with whom carrot-and-stick methods do not work either.

Vietnam, Art, Commodity

 

“Mad Men” Finale

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It Wasn’t Just Cronkite

 

 

50 years ago on February 27th, 1968 Walter Cronkite went on national TV with his “Report From Vietnam,” and rattled America.  The most trusted newsman in the country at the time and a supporter of the war until then, Cronkite, in the aftermath of the Tet Offensive, had a change of heart.  Now he urged that Lyndon Johnson begin to disengage from the war–“not as victors but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could.”  It had become plain to him  that the United States would not soon or successfully conclude its involvement in Indochina. “If I’ve lost Cronkite,” the president lamented, “I’ve lost middle America.” LBJ, it went without saying, had lost the war as well.

The story of Tet since then tends to focus on Cronkite.  Because he was so pessimistic, yet influential, he missed the reality of the fighting in February 1968–the U.S. in fact had “won” the Tet Offensive but was undermined at home by Cronkite’s reporting, and rapidly growing antiwar sentiment, and thus had that “military victory” turned into a “psychological defeat.”  The war was won in Vietnam but lost at home . . .cronkite

 

Barely known but occurring on that same day, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Earle Wheeler, returned a four-day trip to Vietnam where he had assessed the aftermath of Tet.  Despite these revisionist claims of Tet as a victory, Wheeler’s analysis wasn’t much different than Cronkite’s and, since he was the JCS Chair and had just returned from meetings with Commander William Westmoreland and the rest of the U.S. military leadership team in Saigon, his words hit harder.

The Chair’s appraisals contrasted sharply with public optimism about the war. As Westmoreland publicly continued to claim success–concluding that he did “not believe Hanoi can hold up under a long war”–Wheeler told reporters that he saw “no early end to this war,” and cautioned that Americans “must expect hard fighting to continue.” Privately, Wheeler was more pessimistic.  It was “the consensus of responsible commanders” that 1968 would be a pivotal year. The war might continue but would not return to pre-Tet conditions.*  Clark Clifford, the incoming Defense Secretary,  put it bluntly; Wheeler had “presented an even grimmer assessment of the Tet offensive than we had heard from Westmoreland and Bunker.”

“There is no doubt that the enemy launched a major, powerful nationwide assault,” Wheeler observed. “This offensive has by no means run its course. In fact, we must accept the possibility that he has already deployed additional elements of his home army.” The JCS chair also admitted that American commanders in Vietnam agreed that the margin of success or survival had been “very small indeed” during the first weeks of

Tet attacks. The enemy, with combat-available forces deployed in large numbers throughout the RVN, had “the will and capability to continue” and its “determination appears to be unshaken.” Although the Communists’ future plans were not clear, he warned, “the scope and severity of his attacks and the extent of his reinforcements are presenting us with serious and immediate problems.” S

everal PAVN divisions remained untouched, and troops and supplies continued to move southward to supplement the 200,000 enemy forces available for hostilities. The MACV, however, still faced major logistics problems due to enemy harassment and interdiction and the massive redeployment of U.S. forces to the north. Westmoreland in fact had deployed half of all maneuver battalions to I Corps while stripping the rest of the RVN of adequate reserves.

Worse, Wheeler, though surprisingly pleased with the ARVN’s performance, nonetheless questioned its ability to continue, pointing out that the army was on the defensive and had lost about one-quarter of its pre-Tet strength. Similarly, the government of the RVN had survived Tet, but with diminished effectiveness. Thieu and Ky faced “enormous” problems, with morale at the breaking point, 15,000 civilian casualties, and a flood of about one million additional refugees, one-third in the area of Saigon–all part of the huge task of reconstruction which would require vast amounts of money and time. The offensive moreover had undermined pacification.

Civic Action programs, Wheeler admitted, had been “brought to a halt. . . . To a large extent, the VC now control the countryside.” He added that the guerrillas, via recruiting and infiltration, were rebuilding their infrastructure and its overall recovery was “likely to be rapid.” Clearly, then, the military had developed its analyses and policy recommendations in February 1968 from candid, at times desolate, views of the effects of Tet.

Later claims of success aside, in February Wheeler at best found the situation “fraught with opportunities as well as dangers” and conceded that only the timely reaction of U.S. forces had prevented Communist control in a dozen or so places.” While Harold K. Johnson, the Army chief-of-staff plainly admitted that “we suffered a loss, there can be no doubt about it,” Wheeler’s euphemistic description of Tet was that “it was a very near thing.”

Subsequent events in 1968, especially the so-called Mini-Tets in May and August, cost the VC/PLAF/PAVN forces dearly and the U.S. and southern Vietnamese militaries rallied to create better conditions, something of a stalemate.  But the decisions made in the aftermath of Wheeler’s report and similar analyses from Vietnam had been made–the U.S. would “Vietnamize” the war, essentially conceding that the influx of over 500,000 American soldiers had not defeated the Communists in Vietnam.

The Americans couldn’t wait until the dust settled late in 1968 to do otherwise; Cronkite had shocked Americans with his bleak report (only months after they had been assured there was “light at the end of the tunnel”) and Wheeler had unnerved official Washington.  Now, when American scholars continue to peddle the “Tet as Victory” line, Wheeler’s report and the overall level of military candor about the parlous nature of the war needs to be a huge part of that dialogue . . .

******

For more on this, see my article in Jacobin, “The Story of the Tet Offensive”

*For Wheeler’s report, see  in Neil Sheehan, et al, eds., The Pentagon Papers–New York Times Edition (New York, 1971), 615-21.

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