Chemical Weapons in Syria? True?

“Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me.”

We, the American public, have already been fooled twice by our leaders about the truth on international incidents.  Both times, the resulting actions were disastrous. 

Now, we need to resist being “fooled” for a third time, this time by a claim that the Syrians, apparently with help from Russia and Turkey, have been using chemical weapons against the rebels.  Frankly, I don’t honestly know whether the Trump Administration claims that chemical weapons were responsible for 42 deaths at the former rebel stronghold of Douma are true or not.  Most likely they are true, but I still have lingering doubts.

The first time we Americans were fooled was when the Lyndon Johnson Administration claimed that two U.S. destroyers were attacked in the Gulf of Tonkin on

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USS Maddox,, one of the destroyers in Tonkin incident.

Aug. 4, 1964.  It later turned out the “attack” may indeed have never occurred as it was characterized.  Even though the reports about the incident were still sketchy, the next day President Johnson called upon Congress to enact the famed Gulf of Tonkin resolution that gave the President authority to take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression. It also declared that the maintenance of international peace and security in Southeast Asia was vital to American interests and to world peace.  And within two days, Congress passed the bill with an overwhelming bi-partisan vote.

Presidents Johnson and Richard Nixon used that resolution to escalate the Vietnam War, and for years the American public supported that action, until eventually tiring of the War.  During that time, any of us who questioned the wisdom of our Vietnam experience were called “traitors,” “unpatriotic” or even “commies” by the many Americans who were duped about the realities of our engagement in Vietnam.

The second example of being fooled was in 2003 when the George W. Bush Administration claimed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.  Again, the same scenario developed, although this time there was more skepticism throughout the country. 

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Secretary of State Colin Powell at UN claiming WMDs existed in Iraq.

Nonetheless, Congress with some opposition approved the attack on Iraq.  Throughout the debate, the Bush Administration provided “evidence” of the existence of WMDs; later it was learned such “evidence” was circumstantial at best.  No WMDs were ever found; yet the war began.

In both of the examples, we saw government propaganda at work.  Sadly, the American media largely went along with the fiction until a few more enterprising journalists began to look more closely into the government’s claims.  Yet, in both incidents, the damage had been done, bringing 58,209 U.S. casualties in Vietnam and nearly 4,489 in Iraq.  In addition, more than a million citizens of both countries were killed, coupled with terrible devastation to their infrastructure.  

It’s Sunday morning, April 14, as I write this.  It’s spring and the grass should be green and the trees filled with buds, but we have more than an inch of snow and more is coming.  To the north of us in Green Bay, there’s a foot on the ground.  I’m far from the Syrian city of Douma, so how am I to know about the truth of chemical weapons?  Must I take the word of our government?

President Trump ordered the attack two days earlier, even before an international commission had a chance to verify that chemical weapons were indeed used.  We’re told Syrian President Assad is an evil devil, and it certainly appears that way.  Assad and his Russian allies deny the use of chemical weapons.  

How am I to know the truth?  The government tells us the attack was a success in knocking out much of Syria’s chemical facilities with minimal casualties.  

President Trump declared “Mission Accomplished.”  Will that prove true?  Sounds familiar.   Didn’t President Bush declare “Mission Accomplished” just a month after we  invaded Iraq?   How true was that claim?

— Ken Germanson, Milwaukee WI, April 14, 2018

 

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Dr. King’s final words and their real meaning

December 7, 1941 – August 6, 1945 – November 22, 1963

April 4, 1968 – September 11, 2001

What do these dates have in common?   For me, they are dates I will never forget.  (If you’re not sure what the dates refer to, see end of this comment.)

Today, I reflect upon that day 50 years ago today, April 4, 1968.  That day Martin Luther King was shot in Memphis Tennessee, a date that will live in American history as testimony of the racial hatred that has flourished in this nation and continues to the present day.

I recall vividly, the morning after, April 5, when I was sitting in the old Orlando Hotel in imagesDecatur, Ill., when the black boldface headline in the Decatur Herald-Review proclaimed the killing of Dr. King on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis.  I was devastated by the news because I had seen Dr. King just five months earlier at a conference at the University of Chicago where he spoke out eloquently against the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.

As I read the news, a grizzled veteran labor union representative (at the time I was a newly hired union rep) wandered by, saw the headline and said something like, “Good, they finally got the b—–d.”  As angered as I was at the comment, I was either too shocked, or too new on the job or just plain cowardly to argue with him.

His reaction, however, was not surprising, since the majority of white Americans were either scared that Dr. King’s leadership that might stir up black resentments, thought he was a communist or would bring violence to the nation.

What the old union rep had forgotten or never knew – along with many white Americans at the time – was that Dr. King was truly on the side of all Americans who might have been denied economic or social justice.  He opposed the Vietnam War in part because the task of dying in the jungles of Southeast Asia was being done by poor and working class young men (women were not a major part of the fighting force then). The college educated sons of the privileged classes were exempt from the draft in those days.  Case in point:  Most of the “chicken hawks” who led us into Iraq on the myth of weapons of mass destruction.

The old union rep should also have realized that Dr. King was in Memphis supporting the union sanitation workers at the time of his death. Dr. King saw the labor movement, in spite of its spotty history in civil rights causes, as a major way to bring working classes, particularly African-Americans, into a better standard of living.  He was on his third trip to Memphis in support of the striking members of public employees’ union (AFSCME).

His final speech mainly is remembered as for his eerie promise that he had “been to the mountaintop,” thus foretelling of his death by assassination that next morning. In reality, most of the speech was involved with bringing justice to the striking workers.

He pleaded with his audience in that Memphis Masonic temple on April 3 that economic justice required that they support the strikers, urging that “we’ve got to give ourselves to this struggle until the end. Nothing would be more tragic than to stop at this point in Memphis. We’ve got to see it through. And when we have our march, you need to be there. If it means leaving work, if it means leaving school — be there. Be concerned about your brother. You may not be on strike. But either we go up together, or we go down together.”

It was a message of solidarity that could be preached by any union leader urging support for a group of strikers.

Dr. King was a unifying force for America and sadly too few Americans understood that in 1968; as the years went by, most have given at least “lip service” to the work of the great man.  He was, yes, a civil rights leader, but in many respects, he was also a leader in the cause of worker rights.  Ken Germanson, April 4, 2018.

December 7, 1941:  The Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor, putting U.S. into World War II.

August 6, 1945:  The US drops the atom bomb on Hiroshima, Japan to begin the nuclear age.

November 22, 1963:  The assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

April 4, 1968:  The assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

September 11, 2001:  Nearly 3,000 killed when planes plow into World Trades Center and Pentagon.