Donald Trump the Fascist – Part II

Donald Trump the Fascist – Part II


Howard Adelman

Conrad Black in his biography Richard M. Nixon (2007) informed us that, in the 1950 California Senate race, Helen Gahagan Douglas accused her opponent, Richard Nixon, of advocating “nice, unadulterated fascism.” In this morning’s blog, I implied that few of Donald Trump’s American critics had suggested an identification of Donald Trump with fascism. A reader commented that a Google search in 38 seconds revealed 559,000 results connecting Donald Trump with fascism. However, very few Americans claim that DT is a fascist. They generally equivocate in the endless stream of commentary and analysis of Donald Trump. The analogy hangs in the air, but generally does not land on his head.

Trump has been called a proto-fascist and his post-truth is labeled as pre-fascism. Few Americans label him outright as a fascist.  For some, such as Sheri Berman, a political science professor at Barnard College and an expert on the rise of fascism in 1930s Europe, this is because he is a populist, but not one that conforms to four basic characteristics of fascism. (See her article, “Donald Trump isn’t a fascist,” (…/1/3/14154300/fascist-populist-trump-democracy.) For her, Trump was not an ardent pro-nationalist, wherein the individual is in service to the nation; he does not view the nation as an “organic entity”. Trump does not possess a suspicion of capitalism. He may to some degree be overtly anti-liberal, but he is not anti-democratic rooted in the belief that the people must be led by a strong leader since American democracy as inefficient, unresponsive and weak. Finally, although Trump fails to reject violence unequivocally and will even urge police officers not to protect the heads of those arrested when throwing them in the back seat of a squad car, he does not advocate the use of violence as both a means and an end. In any case, fascism comes to power through revolutionary conquest not the ballot. In the rise of populism, there is a gradual erosion of democratic norms and institutions rather than undermining them through radical revolution.

But this is to confuse the rhetoric of fascism at a particular time with its core tenets. Such a definition gives pre-eminence to the tumultuous environment of hopelessness that gave rise to fascism in the 1930s. Berman argues that, although Trump bears a similarity to fascism in promising to protect Americans from the pernicious effects of foreigners and the disruptions of globalization and free trade that have, in his eyes, decimated America as a manufacturing centre, these are populist appeals common to both fascism and populism. But a populist does not a fascist make. Nor are the conditions – such as military defeat and economic depression – ripe for the rise of fascism.

A Toronto Star (2 April 2016) article by Olivia Ward asked, “Is Donald Trump a fascist?” and opined that “Donald Trump’s strong-armed call to keep Mexicans and Muslims out of America echoes last century’s fascist governments.” Ward cited young historian, Fedja Buric, from Bellarmine University in Kentucky, a specialist on the rise of fascism as the successor to Tito’s communism in Yugoslavia. Buric insisted that Trump was merely the face of fascism in America. He even compared DT with Benito Mussolini. New Republic editor Jamil Smith declared unequivocally that, “yes, Donald Trump is a fascist.” But Buric and Smith were foils for Ward who insisted that, “the jaw-jutting reality star doesn’t quite squeeze into the classic 20th-century mold.”

Even earlier than 2016, on 3 December 2015, Ross Douthat in The New York Times had asked, “Is Donald Trump a fascist?” based on his illiberal musings about Muslims and his blatant lying? Douthat even cited Jamelle Bouie in Slate who, referring to Umberto Eco in turn, “argued that Trumpism, however ideologically inchoate, manifests at least seven of the hallmarks of fascism…a cult of action, a celebration of aggressive masculinity, an intolerance of criticism, a fear of difference and outsiders, a pitch to the frustrations of the lower middle class, an intense nationalism and resentment at national humiliation, and a ‘popular elitism’ that promises every citizen that they’re part of ‘the best people of the world’.” Bouie was born in Virginia and I should have qualified my words about most Americans being reluctant to label Trump as a fascist, for Boule is a Black Virginian and Black Americans seem to disproportionately recognize fascism when they see it.

For those who eschew applying the fascist label to Donald Trump, America historically provided poor soil for fascism given the American conservative tradition of “a libertarian skepticism of state power, a stress on localism and states’ rights, a religious and particularly Protestant emphasis on the conscience of an individual over the power of the collective — that inoculated our politics against fascism’s appeal.” However, DT lacked the inoculation against that contagion because he was not an ideological conservative. In spite of the similarities of DT to Eco’s seven identification markers, and in spite of the fact that DT resisted any vaccination against the pox, neither religion, which for him is purely instrumental, nor Perot’s economic nationalist libertarianism and love of small government, nor, finally, Wallace’s deep racism and local and regional chauvinism, were available to save him from infection, for like a fascist, l’état c’est moi, Trump clearly is not averse to centralization as long as he is at that centre. Nevertheless, Douthat concluded that DT was at best a proto-fascist at one end of the conservative spectrum. “Trump may indeed be a little fascistic, but that sinister resemblance is just one part of his reality-television meets WWE-heel-turn campaign style. He isn’t actually building a fascist mass movement.”

Ishaan Tharoor in The Washington Post (28 March 2017) wrote that, “nobody invoking the ‘analogy’ seriously believes the hideous slaughters of another era are imminent.” Not much comfort. Tharoor went on to identify DT’s “reactionary platform in sync with xenophobic rhetoric and the extremist far right politics of Europe. But this just meant that, “The shadow of an earlier moment of demagoguery seems to unavoidably loom over the national conversation.”

The issue is not that there are no American commentators that called DT a fascist, but that the vast majority avoid, for very different reasons, labeling him with the fascist designation and draw back even at the last minute from knighting him as such. Douthat thought that, although DT had not been inoculated against fascism, conservatives in the Republican Party were and would refuse to embrace him if he overtly takes on those traits.

How wrong he was. Further, as my blog tomorrow will indicate, I want to insist that DT’s fascism goes much deeper than the above merely superficial resemblances to fascist performers.  Trump is philosophically a fascist and it is as a philosophical fascist that he is able to wrap conservatives around his little fat pinky.

I am aware that scholars of Italian fascism, such as historian Enzo Traverso, the Susan and Barton Winokur Professor in the Humanities in the Department of Romance Studies at Cornell University, argue that identifying Trump “through the old category of fascism” is not only misleading but useless (World Policy Journal “Trump’s Savage Capitalism: The Nightmare is Real,” 34:1, Spring 2017, 13-17). This scholar insisted that, despite Trump defining himself as the charismatic leader and despite his speeches and meetings having “an incontestably fascist taste,” the fascist analogy remains superficial involving only Trump’s personality. “Fascism is reducible neither to the temperament of a political leader nor to the psychological predispositions of his followers. The fact is that Trump does not lead a mass movement; he is a TV star.”

Isabel Hull, the John Stambaugh Professor of History and colleague of Traverso at Cornell, pointed out that some of the things that paved the way for fascism in Germany are repeated now, such as a weak government that was intentionally undermined by its elites, and “a highly stove-piped national press, such that people only heard and saw what they already thought, and that should sound familiar though it now comes in a different mode.” Another similarity, Isabel Hull pointed to at the Cornell symposium on “Trump and Fascism,” was that Hitler, like Trump, “had no regard for bureaucracy or law or regularity or policies. Under National Socialism, that system of government made it flexible, adaptable, but also self-radicalizing and ultimately completely self-destructive.”

However, for these thinkers, although there are significant analogies, the identification is just not there. Trump is not an imperialist. Rather than arguing for military expansionism, DT is an isolationist. What drives him is his personal business interests and his family. Xenophobic and reactionary, yes; fascist, no. Populism, not fascism, explains DT.

Without denigrating the role of populism and without insisting that DT exhibits all the expressions of fascism in the 1930s. I suggest that DT is at his core a philosophical fascist and not simply a behavioural one or even that some of his behavioural traits share a kinship with fascism.

I make this assertion, not as a scholar of philosophical fascism, but because of knowledge by acquaintance. When I co-taught the graduate course on Hegel at York University, my colleague was the late Professor Henry Silton Harris, H.S. Harris or simply Harris as he was called by his colleagues and friends. He was and remains the foremost Hegelian scholar in the world. What few seem to know was that his PhD thesis was on Giovanni Gentile, subsequently published as, The Social Philosophy of Giovanni Gentile: with a bibliography (1962).

Gentile, already a widely recognized philosopher in Palermo and then Pisa, Italy, before Benito Mussolini came to power in 1922, became Minister of Education in the first Mussolini government of 1923 and ghost wrote Mussolini’s A Doctrine of Fascism (1930). His own philosophic identification with fascism and the characterization of its essential precepts were inscribed in his volume, The Origins of the Doctrine of Fascism. The fascist themes were also indicated in his break with Croce, the intellectual founder of positivism, the doctrine that science provides the model for all thought and explanation, more fundamentally, that all thought is rooted in sense experience.

With the help of Alex Zisman



Vietnamerica: Part II Propaganda

Vietnamerica: Part II Propaganda – A Distinct Form of Documentary Film


Howard Adelman

In part I, I insisted that a good documentary should not be a propaganda film which brackets critical thought in favour of a single message pushing an ideological agenda on the public. When critical thinking is suspended, the documentary becomes a propaganda film. Today I will try to show how 10% of the Vietnamerica documentary that was ideological undermined the narrative of the suffering of the refugees who fled Vietnam.

Yesterday, I focused largely on the central core of the film and to some extend on one bookend, the success stories. Both happened to be military successes, one about the son of a refugee family who became the first Vietnamese-American general, and the other about the Vietnamese-American scientist who led the team that created the bunker buster bomb. This emphasis on militarism and a revisionist version of the Vietnam War opened the film. The film was transformed in good part from a view and record of the horrific experiences the Vietnamese had under the communists and in their efforts to escape, into an explicit propaganda film in defence of the theory that America betrayed its ally, South Vietnam. For it argues that the war had been effectively won when Kissinger was responsible for the stab-in-the-back, not only in abandoning Vietnam, but in refusing to re-equip the South Vietnamese army when China and the USSR were re-equipping the North Vietnamese. This thesis is dubious to say the least.

The film does not try to defend its extreme revisionist view, but simply to propagate the tale as a given. Quite aside from the questionable historical account, the effort to combine a historical propaganda film with a film of the experiences of the Vietnamese boat people allows the former to both undermine and detract from the latter.

There are the obvious readily challenged factual claims. A narrator says that half who fled Vietnam died in trying. If the numbers who fled were about two million, that would mean one million died in the effort to find freedom. But the film itself provides the generally accepted figure of 200,000 to 400,000 deaths. My studies indicate that the number was close to the higher estimate and North Vietnamese repression can be held responsible for at least half of those deaths. But not one million. Further, in the movie, there is no effort to resolve the contradiction in the figures cited. Similarly, assertions that 7 million died in the war are dubious. There is scant evidence to support such claims and virtually all authoritative sources cite a total of about 4 million dead and wounded on both sides, including 40,000 troops and civilians in The Convoy of Tears as civilians and military personnel fled the aggression of North Vietnamese armies as they moved against Saigon during March and April of 1975.

As far as atrocities and summary executions go, these were committed by both sides. The most famous was that of Nguyễn Ngọc Loan, Chief of the National Police, whose shooting of a handcuffed prisoner in the head with his 38 Smith & Wesson revolver became an iconic picture for the anti-war movement. The victim was Nguyễn Văn Lém, a member of the Việt Cộng captured in the Tet Offensive. Given the status of the photo, few knew that Lém was responsible for cutting the throat, not only of South Vietnamese Lieutenant Colonel Tuan, but his wife, six children and 80-year old mother. I do not know which side was guilty of the greater number of atrocities, but I suspect it was the Hanoi regime. Lém was captured beside a mass grave that held 34 civilian bodies.

It is easy to hold the Hanoi regime responsible for large numbers of deaths. After their victory over the French in the north and their breaking up the large estates and targeting large landowners, the Hanoi communist regime introduced land “reform.” that is, transferring all ownership of property to the state. Pacification followed. It is estimated that the Hanoi regime over four years killed almost 300,000 North Vietnamese citizens. In the period preceding the attack on Saigon, as suggested above, “Of the 200,000 refugees that fled the Highlands offensive by the North in March 1975, only 45,000 made it to Tuy-Hoa. Many of the 155,000 missing were killed by North Vietnamese troops; others were captured. Rebel highlanders also fired on the refugees, some were mistakenly bombed by government planes, and still others may have been run over by fleeing government vehicles. Some died by drowning and sheer exhaustion.” Of the death toll from one military advance over two months, Hanoi was probably responsible for almost half those deaths.

Thus, an estimate of those killed after the fall of Saigon of 100,000 does not seem so outlandish, especially if one includes in the total not only those executed, but those who were worked or starved to death in the so-called “re-education” camps. Some estimates go even higher. For a breakdown of civilians indiscriminately killed as a result of or consistent with orders from higher command, that is, democide, I use Bob Rummel’s publications in chapter 6 of Statistics of Democide focused on democide in Vietnam over 35 years.

The central issue of the propaganda element in the film is, however, not about numbers, but about the stab-in-the-back explanation of why Hanoi conquered South Vietnam. The propagandistic aspect of the film begins with two so-called authorities featured near the beginning of the film. One is Robert Turner, a Vietnam veteran and Associate Director of National Security Law at the University of Virginia, the university from which he earned his academic and professional degrees. Turner has been a national security adviser to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and testified before numerous congressional committees. Studying his works offers some hint of the weaknesses of his academic input into foreign policy in the United States. His CV is very skimpy to say the least, largely consisting of op-eds, power-point presentations and submissions to government committees.

Turner is most famous for his defense of presidential prerogatives in military matters without the checks of Congress. In contrast to the vast majority of scholars, Turner has argued against the doctrine that “unchecked” presidential power is incompatible with democratic governance. He defends “unfettered” presidential power to be at the heart of the constitution, namely, that the power of the democratically elected “monarch” is unboundaried. This thesis is not accepted as a very serious perspective by the vast majority of established constitutional experts. Here is how he expressed his view. “Congress exceeded its proper authority in several instances related to war powers and intelligence.” Turner especially stressed the issue of intelligence and often cited John Locke’s doctrine (Two Treatises of Government) that success in war, described by him as a state of enmity and destruction, required unity of plan, speed, dispatch and secrecy

Turner is fond of quoting Chief Justice John Marshall on this issue. “By the Constitution of the United States, the President is invested with certain important political powers, in the exercise of which he is to use his own discretion, and is accountable only to his country in his political character, and to his own conscience…whatever opinion may be entertained of the manner in which executive discretion may be used, still there exists, and can exist, no power to control that discretion. The subjects are political. They respect the nation, not individual rights, and being entrusted to the executive, the decision of the executive is conclusive.”

The problem is that secrecy in John Locke applied to implementation not to strategy and direction. The latter required a shared long term and even permanent conviction and shared by the executive, the legislature and the people of a realm. This required articulation and consent, not deceit and surreptitious behaviour. Strategy applies to long term existential threats. Tactics apply to the management and execution of opposing that threat. A State of peace among citizens requires consent. Conduct of a war against an enemy requires secrecy. The issue is always how you combine secrecy with consent and not have secrecy supplant consent. Interpreting the power of the purse and the approval of appointments very narrowly just does not cut how the dialectical dance works.

However, Turner’s interpretation of the last years of the Vietnam War, while influenced by that non-conventional doctrine, is, if that is possible, even more questionable and, I believe, outlandish. Those interpretations can be read in many of his presentations that presumably informed Nancy when she began making the film: “Reflections on the Vietnam War,” given to the Air Force Military Academy in 2010; “The Consequences of U.S. Abandonment of Indochina” given at the Fall of Saigon conference in April of 2010. For more recent references, see Turner’s power point presentations on the net entitled, “Remarks on the 50th Anniversary of Authorization for the Use of Military Force in Indochina (the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution)” given to the National Press Club in August 2014; “The Vietnam War and Constitutional War Powers” (October 2014), “Myths of the Vietnam War,” (2015) and “Views on Vietnam: The Irony of the LBJ Library Vietnam War Summit” (April 2016).

All are part of a revisionist history narrative that is akin to the one Hitler offered to Germans explaining why Germany lost WWI. “I continue to believe,” said Turner, “that a misguided and horribly misinformed Congress snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in Indochina, leading directly to the slaughter of millions of innocent lives and the consignment to Communist tyranny of tens of millions more.” Why would you include the testimony of such a questionable authority in a film about the horrible experiences of Vietnamese refugees even if it was somewhat credible? The thesis on the fall of Saigon is a crucial debate and a conflicted issue requiring one form of documentary treatment. The portrayal of the suffering of those who fled is based on a very wide consensus. The cost to credibility of including a thesis about the reasons for the loss of a war in a film about human suffering is enormous.

This is also true of the narrative offered by Lewis Sorley, author of A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and the Final Tragedy of America’s Last Years in Vietnam. His thesis is bought hook, line and sinker by Nancy Bui and, in the film, is offered in an abbreviated account. She expanded upon this thesis in my discussions with her after watching the film. The Americans and South Vietnam had defeated the Viet Cong, had allowed the South Vietnamese government to once again exercise its authority in the towns and villages, and the South Vietnamese army had by then been so well trained that it could carry the war forward without the use of American troops on the ground. However, Nixon and Kissinger sold out South Vietnam in the Paris Peace Accord of January 1973 and then double crossed the South Vietnamese by not resupplying them with arms and ammunition. This position has some justification, particularly the first of these two propositions. But the argument that in 1972, the Americans had won the war when General Abrams replaced General Westmoreland and shifted the strategy from the pursuit of the Viet Cong and body counts to a war to secure villages is highly questionable. Essentially, the thesis argues that the war had been virtually won by the American and South Vietnamese military and then the victory was squandered by the politicians and diplomats engaged in the Paris Peace Accords and its aftermath.

Colloquially put, the U. S. bugged out. Having gotten the North back to the bargaining table, Nixon and Kissinger cut a deal – the 27 January 1973 Paris Peace Accord – which allowed the North to keep its forces in South Vietnam. 80,000 North Vietnamese troops were permitted to remain in South Vietnam and this number was surreptitiously expanded to over 100,000 troops as Hanoi prepared for its 1975 offensive. The breach in the Accords was never really challenged by the U.S. or the world. At the time, of the 160,000 American troops once in Vietnam, down to 27,000 when the Accords were signed, under pressure from the anti-Vietnam War movement and a cowardly Congress, America cut and ran.

Further, Nixon refused to resume bombing to enforce the Accords. This enabled the North to use the cover of a cease fire to move more men and materiel into the South. Meanwhile, Congress, with bills like the Fulbright-Aiken Amendment, and extensive cuts to the military budget, pulled the logistical rug out from under the South. At the very time that the North was stockpiling arms, supplied by China and Russia, the South was having its supply of arms seriously curtailed. It was South Vietnam’s bad luck, at its hour of greatest peril, to be saddled with a feckless ally. Imagine having to depend on the U.S. for the logistical support which is your life’s blood at a time when it was being run by Nixon and Kissinger at the executive level and by folks like Ted Kennedy in the congressional realm. Sorley, and Nancy Bui in turn, lays much of the blame at the doorstep of the American political leadership.
Who else were the real villains responsible, in this revisionist version, for the fall of Saigon? The media focused on the protesters and the casualties (57,000 Americans died in the Vietnam War). A fickle public led by students and liberals opposed the war. There is no discussion in the film about the bombing of Hanoi, the efforts to destroy the supply lines, the refusal of the Saigon government to recognize the reality of the Viet Cong and the civil war (the Viet Cong are, to the best of my memory) never mentioned in the film.) and the widespread destruction in Laos, the failure to sustain a representative government instead of corrupt dictators or even a disciplined core of army officers – failures that would be repeated again and again for decades after the Korean conflict when America entered a foreign theatre to fight a war.

South Vietnam surrendered on 30 April 1975. America rescued 10,000 Vietnamese linked to the military effort and subsequently took in tens of thousands of others in the next three years, many or most of whom were linked with the American war effort. But in 1978, the Vietnamese government began a much wider and more oppressive regime that first targeted the ethnic Chinese in Vietnam and then spread to all other middle class Vietnamese. The suppression was horrendous and it was in this period that Canada entered into scene to help resettle refugees fleeing communist repression and not just those who lost the war.

Did a film about oppression and flight of refugees have to be combined with an alt-right interpretation of failure in the war? Obviously not. Interpreting the reasons for the fall of Saigon deserves a separate film in its own right. The effort to marry the two related but separate topics gives the impression that the plight of the refugees is merely being used to advance an ideological viewpoint. An excellent and emotionally powerful film about the Vietnamese refugee exodus is, ironically, almost drowned in a propaganda film about the reasons the South Vietnam government fell. I personally was torn between the tears I shed at the horrors suffered by the refugees and the tears I metaphorically shed at this lost opportunity to create an award-winning feature-length documentary. Though a lost artistic opportunity to make a great documentary of the exodus of the Vietnamese boat people does not compare with the real tears I have shed over the years at the suffering of the Vietnamese refugees fleeing a communist regime, nevertheless I was torn between my sadness at the lost opportunity and the revival of my compassion for the suffering and the dead. The film is valuable for attending to the latter. But it is flawed and distorted by advancing a far out historical thesis. And that is a pity.

An Afterword

One final and minor but relevant academic point arose, not in the film, but in my subsequent discussions with Nancy Bui. Nancy contended that the Paris Peace Accord obligated the U.S. to resupply South Vietnam with military weapons. I argued that the Peace Accords only permitted the U.S. to make up for depletions. As I recalled, the Accords stipulated that the U.S. would stay out of Vietnam after the U.S. army withdrew in terms of supplying military troops or equipment, except to replace losses on a one-to-one basis. Nancy insisted that there was no provision forbidding America from resupplying the South Vietnamese Army. I was not sure if my memory was correct and I promised to re-read the Accords to check whether Nancy’s interpretation was more accurate. The point is obviously relevant to a thesis that faults the U.S. for the fall of Saigon in general and for the refusal to re-supply South Vietnam with military arms.

There is some truth in this. Nixon did evidently secretly promise President Thiệu both that America would be able to maintain its logistical advantage and that if North Vietnam breached the agreement, the U.S. would resume bombing the North. However, chapter V, article 15(d) of the Paris Peace Accords provided that North and South Viet-Nam shall not join any military alliance or military bloc and shall not allow foreign powers to maintain military bases, troops; military advisers, and military personnel on their respective territories, as stipulated in the 1954 Geneva Agreements on Viet-Nam. Article 2 of Chapter II specifically stated that, “the United States will stop all its military activities against the territory of the Democratic Republic of Viet-Nam by ground, air and naval forces.” This was interpreted as excluding the Americans from acting militarily in any way on behalf of South Vietnam.

Further, the Case-Church Amendment approved by the U.S. Congress in June of 1973 endorsed this interpretation and explicitly prohibited further U.S. military activity in Indochina and at a time preparations were underway to impeach Richard Nixon over the Watergate scandal. When North Vietnam resumed the war and launched the 1975 offensive, the U.S. refused to offer further military assistance and certainly refused to bomb the North. The North Vietnamese succeeded in defeating the South Vietnamese army, not primarily because North Vietnam was being supplied by Russia and China but America was not re-supplying South Vietnam, but because morale in the South Vietnam army had disintegrated, because corruption had eaten away at its soul and because most officers fled the field and abandoned their troops as the North Vietnamese advanced. The North Vietnamese did not have to fight very much to win the war. Replacing equipment was irrelevant when the South Vietnamese army was collapsing and the North Vietnamese were seizing more and more American arms and equipment.

Whether South Vietnam lost the war or the war was lost because the American people and the Congress betrayed and let down their partners is at best a matter of controversy. Dogmatic assertion on one side produced a propaganda film that undermines the documentary on the suffering of those who fled the new totalitarian order.

With the help of Alex Zisman

John F. Kennedy – Redux I

Corporeality XIV: JFK Redux I


Howard Adelman

I received quite a bit of correspondence from readers, especially on my Kennedy piece. Two stand out. One took issue with my contrasting LBJ’s belief in the domino theory with that of JFK. The implication was that LBJ’s beliefs made him prone to greater subservience to the entreaties of the military promoting escalation in Southeast Asia. In contrast, I pointed out that in the last year of his presidency, JFK advocated an unequivocal peace agenda that could have been taken directly from the information sheets provided by the Combined Universities Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CUCND). The implication was that JFK, if he ever did, no longer subscribed to the Domino Theory. Victory by one set of communists in one country in Southeast Asia would not necessarily lead to a triumph of communism in the adjacent country.

The reader pointed out that one month after JFK gave his famous “Strategy for Peace” speech at American University in June of 1963, in a press conference he said the following:  “We are not going to withdraw… for us to withdraw would mean a collapse not only of South Vietnam, but of Southeast Asia. So we are going to stay there.” At the beginning of September, he repeated the same sentiments in an interview with Walter Cronkite. This was an unequivocal expression of an intention to retain troops in Vietnam and a continuing belief in the Domino Theory by JFK as well as LBJ.

A second reader from Florida, himself a Cuban exile who fled Castro’s regime, took issue with my statement that JFK had told the anti-Castro insurgents from the exile community in Miami that he would not be providing air cover when they landed, but they insisted on launching the insurgency operation anyway. There are really two issues. What air cover are we discussing – U.S. government forces, the use of which were expressly forbidden under U.S. policy with respect to covert operations, or the air contingent of the exiles themselves? At what stage of the invasion was the cancellation of air cover determined? Secondly, did JFK inform the Cuban exiles before they launched their mission that he would not authorize an air cover?

“I am very surprised that you would write the sentences below…These are patently not the facts…There was a sequence of decisions and counter-decisions made, ultimately (not always directly) by JFK that took place from Saturday April 15 (D Day minus 2) and Tuesday April 19 (D Day + 2), when it was all over. The key actor (and likely manipulator/hedger of the record as regards JFK’s precise step-by-step involvement during those 4 days, which is not 100% crystal clear) is identified by all as McGeorge Bundy (NSA), closely followed by Dulles (DCIA), Bissel (CIA DDP Plans-Ops) and Gen. Cabell (CIA, Air Force general and military liaison)….also Dean Rusk and Adlai Stevenson. I can give you the sequence of these decisions and center-decisions in that 5-day period, by the day and hour. All this is NSA open, public record, and is mostly consistent with the 2 competing post-mortem reports that JFK, followed by Bissell in his own defense, commissioned and delivered, plus a rebuttal by Tracy Barnes, a CIA Under-secretary.

“JFK approved the landing order at 12:00 noon Sunday 16, with air exile Brigade air cover. US air cover was never ever approved by JFK, the issue was the Brigade’s own air cover, flying from Nicaragua and Guatemala. But Brigade air cover, yes. He rescinded the air cover part at 9:00 PM. The final shot at an “air cover yes” from JFK took place at 10:15 PM Sunday 16th (Cabell and Bissell were offered by Rusk to insist to JFK; they declined to insist), and the landings schedule during the night of 16 to 17 was already activated. Supplies were being landed already and soldiers’ landings started at 11:00 PM – 1:00 AM. JFK “made nothing clear to the exiles” about the planned, approved and last-minute cancellation of Brigade air cover. . I can support at minimum this assertion.”

I had written one paragraph in the whole blog about the event, clearly grossly insufficient for such an important and controversial event in American history. More importantly, I missed an opportunity to zero in with greater precision on the dilemma of the President of the United States being both the political leader of the country as well as the Commander-in-Chief, and this was my main subject. Third, I had omitted my own personal involvement at the time on this issue, which I usually include. Now that President Obama has initiated the American rapprochement with Cuba and is planning a visit on 21 March, let me correct my errors of both omission and commission and, as well, zero in with greater precision on the dilemma I am addressing about reconciling two expressions of presidential power, but beginning with my personal involvement.

When Castro overthrew Fulgencio Batista on 1 January 1959, in anticipation of Castro’s victory, I and most of my friends had already turned a New Year’s Eve Party into a celebratory party for the new Cuban regime. Subsequently, when the American government was giving sympathetic consideration to the Castro regime, at least as I erroneously believed then (Eisenhower and Nixon had already by then privately branded Castro a communist), I was very active in the co-operative movement. I learned of a speech Castro had given to an association of Cuban cooperative farmers after the 17 May 1959 Cuban Agrarian Reform Act was passed. In his usual long talks – this one was 3 hours – he told the farmers that the government had a shortage of seeds. Since co-operative farmers represented only the interests of members of the co-operative and not the interests of Cuba as a whole, he could allocate the seeds the government possessed only to farms that operated within the policies and priorities of INRA (the National Institute for Agricultural Reform) as was the case with the collective farms owned and controlled by the state and the co-operative farms initiated by the state.

The “best and largest lands from the U.S. monopolists,” “paid” for (at the low evaluation for tax purposes of the Batista regime) in Cuban bonds and in Cuban currency earning 4.5% in interest for twenty years, were transferred to co-operative farmers (the peasant co-operatives) which sold their products through INRA on the principle that “those who benefit must accept the conditions” that the policy was intended to serve all Cubans and not just the co-operative membership. As Che Guevara had said in 1961, “peasants fought (for the revolution) because they wanted land for themselves and their children, and to manage and sell it and enrich themselves through their labour.” They would soon learn otherwise. The underlying governing principle was social ownership of the basic means of production. What was more basic than growing food?

At that meeting to which I referred above, the “free” co-operative farms voted to subject their policies to the “guidance” of INRA, thereby, making them eligible to receive seeds – which they did. Suddenly, there were enough seeds to go around for the increase in the number of communal and government-initiated farm operations. Indeed, the farmers had sacrificed their autonomy for security. The Cuban government in 2013 finally passed a new agricultural act that restored autonomy to the older cooperatives under a new policy of decentralizing power and “updating” the system.

Incensed by the 1959 blatant act of bullying and open deceit, the betrayal of the cooperative movement and the use of state power to shape Cuban choices towards a collectivist framework, I became an ardent anti-Castro proponent and fell out on this issue with many of my close friends, but particularly with my older brother who had been in the same class in medical school. I had spent the previous year living in Mt. Sinai Hospital and working in the radiology department, but by then, I had left medical school, much to the chagrin of my brother. He became an even more avid Castro supporter whereas I had fallen away. After the Bay of Pigs incident when he finished medical school that spring, he traveled to Cuba, got trapped there by the American blockade and eventually had to be flown back to Canada on a Canadian air force plane. While he was trapped in Cuba, he became for a while a pro-Castro broadcaster in English sending news of the regime’s successes to Miami 90 miles away.

While I had been sympathetic to the expropriation of the American-owned electrical and telephone companies, and even the large land holdings of the American corporations, such as the United Fruit Company, though I admired and praised his health, educational and literacy programs, I was by the fall of 1960 critical of Castro. My friends and especially my brother remained champions of Castro. But I was also at odds with both Kennedy and Nixon who seemed to be trying to outdo one another in recreating Castro as a bogeyman. As JFK said in the Fall of 1960, “we must (my italics) make the Cuban people know that we sympathize with their legitimate economic aspirations, that we know their love of freedom, and that we shall never be happy until democracy is restored in Cuba.” We must not allow the Soviet Union to turn Cuba into its Caribbean base.” Kennedy was a Cold War warrior. Though I had become a critic of Castro, I was not.

Some have erroneously credited my passionate involvement with Cuba in 1959-61with the fact that my oldest son, who was born in 1960 when Kennedy was ending his campaign against Nixon for the presidency of the United States, with his becoming a famous historian of Latin America. I can assure everyone I deserve no such credit. My tensions with my brother and my friends over Cuba had nothing to do with my son’s career. However, credit might be given to Linus Pauling who, with his wife, visited our house when Jeremy was just a few months old just before he won his second Nobel Prize for his anti-nuclear campaigning. He physically blessed Jeremy. If there is any credit to be given, it is to Linus Pauling. With that very important piece of trivia, I will return to the main issue of the events before and during the Bay of Pigs and, subsequently to the implications for the President both being a political leader and a Commander-in-Chief.

All the President’s Men

No Women in the White House


Howard Adelman

Last evening I stayed up with a friend to watch All the President’s Men, the 1976 Hollywood movie directed by Alan Pakula that starred Robert Redford as Bob Woodward and Dustin Hoffman as Carl Bernstein, the two young, inexperienced but hungry reporters in their late twenties working on the city desk of the Washington Post who, in the movie, were portrayed as exclusively responsible for breaking the Watergate scandal. That scandal was not simply about the break-in of the Democratic Party headquarters in Washington in June 1972. That was only the tip of the iceberg. The movie revealed a vast conspiracy involving the Department of Justice, the FBI, the CIA and eventually the White House involved in an organized covert effort to deliberately and illegally subvert democracy and undermine the core values of the constitution of the United States. What the movie does not reveal is that the Washington Post – and Hollywood – were part of a parallel conspiracy.

Near the end of the movie, journalists were portrayed as paranoid and in fear of their lives, though this may easily have been a matter more of William Goldman’s script and Pakula’s direction than reality. The movie is a paean to journalism in general and investigative journalism in particular. Near the end of the movie, the film portrays the Fifth Estate as transformed into the heroic saviour of democracy. Journalists are the gutsy source of the revelation of truths that others are too fearful to admit. So the heroic spin by the reporters themselves and their Hollywood hacks would have us believe.

The movie as a reverential portrayal of investigative journalism depicts the process of connecting the dots that lead to the initial discovery that the original Watergate break-in involved James W. McCord, a former CIA agent, and four Cuban-Americans with CIA ties connected with E. Howard Hunt, another former CIA man. Most surprising of all, those clues lead to Charles Colson, Richard Nixon’s own Special Counsel, who just happened to be having a romantic dalliance with a fellow reporter at the Washington Post. Following the dictum of Woodward’s Deep Throat to follow the money, clues lead to Nixon’s own Committee to Re-elect the President (CRP which became popularly known as CREEP), to former CREEP treasurer Hugh W. Sloan, Jr., and the chair himself, John Mitchell, Nixon’s Attorney General.

That revelation, in turn, led to H.R. (Bob) Haldeman, the second most powerful man in the U.S., Nixon’s Chief of Staff in the White House, and eventually Nixon himself, but this last link is mentioned only as a note at the end of the movie as was the impeachment proceedings against Nixon and his eventual resignation in disgrace. In addition, what is left out is the revelation in Haldeman’s own diaries, The Ends of Power, published after his death in 1993 (after refusing medical treatment for cancer as he was a Christian Scientist) that Nixon himself was the key initiator of the program of dirty tricks and the Watergate cover-up. The movie ends with Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein typing up their blockbuster breakthrough just as Nixon is being inaugurated for his second term.

What is also left out, and what is arguably much more important, is that the Washington Post was part of an equally large conspiracy to subvert democracy. After all, Herbert Hoover as head of the FBI had been blackmailing presidents for decades to ensure that the FBI remained an autonomous power immune to democratic accountability. For Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein and even Ben Bradlee – though the latter information is omitted in the film since Bradlee was a cooperative aid in developing the script – all knew that Deep Throat was, in fact, the Associate Director of the FBI and de facto real head of the FBI. Mark Felt was Deep Throat and admitted to this to John D. O’Connor for his 31 May 2005 Vanity Fair article on Deep Throat, an admission then confirmed by Ben Bradlee. Bob Woodward, who obviously had his manuscript prepared, during the summer published his account of his relationship with Mark Felt in The Secret Man: The Story of Watergate’s Deep Throat.

After J. Edgar Hoover died in May of 1972 (the Watergate break-in took place after his death, in August 1972), Clyde A. Tolson, Hoover’s heir-apparent and confidante for decades, who was also suspected of being his secret gay lover, was too ill then to assume control of the FBI. Mark Felt, third in line of command, became the de facto head. This was a role he continued to play even after Nixon failed to appoint him Director of the FBI but, instead, appointed L. Patrick Gray III as Acting Director the day after Tolson resigned because of his own ill health. Gray was never confirmed and in the short time her served, spent six weeks away from the office recuperating from an illness and much of the rest of the time touring regional offices to bolster the morale of the organization. Thus, even without the title. Felt ran the organization.

Nixon was not so much determined to get civilian control over the FBI as personal control. The secrets it held were too threatening to him. After all, the FBI under Hoover had been spying on elected democratic leaders for decades. Though Felt is now sometimes portrayed as the protector of democratic accountability, that depiction is both self-serving and hard to swallow. Felt himself was, following his retirement (it becomes clear why Hoover never wanted to retire), indicted and convicted of his own conspiracy to wiretap and break-in to the homes of civilians without any court orders. Felt, along with Edward S. Miller, was charged with authorizing FBI agents, without the benefit of a search warrant, to break into private homes on nine separate occasions in what were called “black bag jobs,” the same type of operation that the ex-CIA officer and his American-Cuban cohorts undertook in breaking into the Watergate headquarters of the Democratic Party.

Of course, Felt was in pursuit of the Weather Underground, relatively harmless minutia in the scheme of things; Nixon was in pursuit of political victory and power and targeted the Democrats when Edward Muskie was leading Nixon in the polls. However, the most continuing and arguably more serious conspiracy was the FBI’s continuing watch on the White House and its occupants long before the Watergate break-in.

Felt had been sideswiped in failing to become director and used the same methods he had absorbed at the feet of J. Edgar Hoover to bring down Richard Nixon. There were several ironies in the whole story, none of them mentioned in the movie which is a morality fable rather than a serious work of fiction or an honest documentary. First, Mark Felt had been initially promoted to his high office as third in command by the White House. Secondly, as mentioned above, Felt was charged himself specifically with breaking into the homes of relatives of the Weather Underground, that is, with “willfully, and knowingly combine, conspire, confederate, and agree together and with each other to injure and oppress citizens of the United States who were relatives and acquaintances of the Weatherman fugitives, in the free exercise and enjoyments of certain rights and privileges secured to them by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America.”

Felt was convicted. However, as a third irony, on 29 October 1980, former President Richard Nixon, who had been brought down by the efforts of Mark Felt, in his first court appearance since Watergate, testified as a defense witness for Felt on his appeal and insisted that all presidents since FDR had initiated non-court-authorized break-ins to counter espionage and subversion. Nixon had even made a donation to Felt’s legal defence fund. Felt was eventually pardoned by President Ronald Reagan on the ostensible grounds that their actions were not motivated by criminal intent but were sincere efforts, “necessary to preserve the security interests of our country.”

Nixon and Felt were two peas in a pod. The Washington Post had not only been used by one to exact revenge on the other, but in themselves covered up their source and the motivations for the leaks, thus becoming part of a contending conspiracy. Robert Redford, wearing all his badges of liberal rights, then, in turn, even in his 2013 documentary, hung to the heroic portrait and never acknowledged the dubious role that Hollywood had played in partnership with the Washington Post.

The movie, both at the time and subsequently, was widely acclaimed and won several awards, William Goldman for his script and Jason Robards for his portrayal of Ben Bradlee, the Washington Post editor who, in the movie, kept insisting on verifying and corroborating “the facts” but, in the movie, hiding the fact that he knew who Deep Throat was all along. The year before last, in Sundance Productions, Robert Redford’s own film production company, the follow-up documentary, All the President’s Men Revisited, was broadcast on television. That second movie included the revelation that W. Mark Felt, (MF, My Friend, in Woodward’s notebooks), played by Hal Holbrook in the original movie, was the real Deep Throat. Felt until 2005 had adamantly denied that he had been Deep Throat in his own autobiography, but in preparation to profit from that disclosure after his own death for his own family, bought back the half rights of his biography from his ghost writer, Ralph T. Toledano, without telling him why and that he had lied about having no connection with Deep Throat. (Evidently, as early as 1976, the prosecutor in a grand jury investigation, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, J. Stanley Pottinger, learned that Felt was Deep Throat; the secrecy of the proceedings preserved the secret for another thirty years though there were wide suspicions that Mark Felt was Deep Throat.)

That second documentary movie never pointed out the implications for the moviemaker’s or the Washington Post’s parallel serious ethical failings. Bob Woodward had known Mark Felt since May of 1972 when Felt provided him with secret information gathered by the FBI for a story he wrote on Arthur H. Bremer, who shot George Wallace. Only a month later, Woodward became the sluice gate for releasing information that Felt wanted unveiled in his determination to bring the Nixon White House down, initially telling him that E. Howard Hunt’s telephone number in the White House was in one of the Watergate burglar’s address book.

However, what stands out for me in re-watching the movie is, as we are all aware, that the supposed heroic pinnacle of newspaper investigative journalism has been significantly decimated. Second, the sense of malevolence portrayed in the movie of a conspiratorial mentality and set of actions seem so arcane and relatively minor because those values were in some ways mirrored by the actual behaviour of the journalists and subsequently institutionalized and magnified in the George W. Bush White House. Third, that malevolence seems more like university fraternity high-jinks compared to what takes place today. Fourth, Haldeman may have been a Christian Scientist, but power then was clearly divorced from religion. The events and the movie took place at a time when religion was not only not connected with the quest for power, but when the connection was hard if not almost impossible to envision, though the Iranian or Islamic Revolution took place less than five years after Nixon’s resignation.

Finally, what may seem totally inconsequential, the title is worthy of note. No one today could make a movie about the contemporary White House as All the President’s Men; women now play such a crucial part of the presidential team. To me, the movie revealed how dumb and clumsy men are as dissemblers and conspirators. Women are far better. But you would never know that by watching this film in which women are all portrayed as dupes and fearful tools of manipulative men, including and foremost our two intrepid reporters, when, as we watch a film that portrays men as clever, focused and highly dedicated, thorough and organized, actually, on closer examination, reveal themselves as clumsy fools.

As George Friedman of Stratfor, an analyst of strategic intelligence on global business, economic, security and geopolitical affairs that was itself scandalized by a Wikipedia leak, wrote, “This was not a lone whistle-blower being protected by a courageous news organization; rather, it was a news organization being used by the FBI against the president, and a news organization that knew perfectly well that it was being used against the president. Protecting Deep Throat concealed not only an individual, but also the story of the FBI’s role in destroying Nixon. The three acknowledged a secret source, but they did not reveal that the secret source was in operational control of the FBI. They did not reveal that the FBI was passing on the fruits of surveillance of the White House. They did not reveal the genesis of the fall of Nixon. They accepted the accolades while withholding an extraordinarily important fact, elevating their own role in the episode while distorting the actual dynamic of Nixon’s fall.”

What is worse, the major federal police as a rogue operation, breaking into private homes without warrants, threatening private citizens and blackmailing democratically-elected politicians or the White House using a federal police agency as a personal adjunct of presidential power to undermine opponents?