e n d n o t e s 

k a t h e r i n e  m c n a m a r a


Year that trembled and reel’d beneath me!

Your summer wind was warm enough, yet the air I breathed froze me,

A thick gloom fell through the sunshine and darken’d me,

Must I change my triumphant songs? said I to myself,

Must I indeed learn to chant the cold dirges of the baffled?

And sullen hymns of defeat?


We have faith that future generations will know that here in the middle of the Twentieth Century, there came a time when men of good will found a way to unite, and produce, and fight to destroy the forces of ignorance, and intolerance, and slavery, and war.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Address to White House

Correspondents’ Association, Washington, D.C., February 12, 1943

Every European visitor to the United States is struck by the comparative rarity of what he would call a face.... To have a face, in the European sense of the word, it would seem that one must not only enjoy and suffer but also desire to preserve the memory of even the most humiliating and unpleasant experiences of the past.

W.H. Auden, “Hic et Ille,” THE DYER’S HAND



In the week before Christmas the National Gallery was as quiet as museums used to be, when you could observe at your leisure. When I emerged into the afternoon, the weather had turned cold and sunny. Washington is not a metropolis, as has been observed, but it is an agreeable city, if you can ignore the fact of its segregated neighborhoods. I had a little flat just off Dupont Circle where I spent a good deal of time last year. I wanted to see, as closely as I could, how this President and his administration are changing our nation. The atmosphere in the capital is different than out in the country. Potomac fever rises like a mist from this once-swampy ground and cloaks every deed and small fact, every nuance of interpretation in a layer of opacity. Washington is a city of alarms and rumors, and knowing old hands who have already seen everything there is to be seen. The news becomes repetitive and questionable. If you were of the right age, you could say it is a city of ghosts.

Old friends and colleagues visited the District, ghosts of a private past. How odd it was to return to this ancient starting place, as if meaning to examine a life while still in the midst of it; while public matters demand intelligent attention, as the old year turning into the new booms with war talk like firecrackers packed with grape-shot.

I last lived in this city in 1974, during the impeachment hearings of President Nixon. He resigned rather than live with the disgrace of a guilty verdict, and so eased what had become a constitutional crisis. In 1972, not long before the Post reported the Watergate break-ins of that June, I had gone to work at the Peace Corps, not as a volunteer but a young staff member at headquarters in an office called “management information systems.” I reported to two men who had come down from the Harvard Business School to serve in the Federal government. They were Republicans, because Richard Nixon was president. They believed that the “business model” – I don’t recall if they used the phrase in those days – was an excellent plan for the government to adopt. What I learned first was their predisposition to secrecy. After having testified routinely about the agency before Congress, the director of our office told me he had not realized how much you had to explain to the public when you were in government, because you did not have to do it nearly so much in corporate life.

At Harvard Business School they must not have taught that the public sector had its own objectives, its governing purpose – the public weal – being different than the private sector’s, profit and market share. That is what I thought, and what I may have said. My supposition must have been incorrect. A decade later, Mrs. Thatcher’s dictum “There is no society: there are only families,” formulated a politics of terrible disdain for the idea of the public. On this side of the Atlantic, President Reagan led the replacement of society, or the civic bonds that held us together as citizens, with “the economy,” an atomizing, dis-unifying theory and practice of governance under which we live now. Then in 1989, the twentieth century ended, because (argued the historian John Lukacs) with the fall of Communism our historical consciousness changed. Capitalism had no competition now and could expand without limit and without check, unloosing the monopolistic energies inherent in its nature. It was responsible to no national governing power.

However, in the old days under President Nixon, a reorganization of the government had already begun, when the venerable Bureau of the Budget was replaced with OMB, the Office of Management and Budget. The OMB was devoted to a Harvard Business School-like plan of “zero-based” budgeting. As I learned in the MIS office, it was a system of classification in which everything that could be counted, was counted, in order to justify requests for spending, and in which intangibles such as values, traditions, neighborhoods, the environment, could be included only as special cases. Or “special interests,” as Rooseveltian social values came to be labeled. The system of counting things – bodies, for instance – had already been used to justify requests for more war, although Robert McNamara, no relative of mine, who had encouraged it, wrote afterward that early on he had doubted the war could be won.

Remember back to that time of amazement, if you can. Why had the Plumbers from CREEP (the Committee to Re-elect the President) broken into the Democratic Party’s offices in the Watergate? They were looking for information about Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers. More important to them, they wanted to find out whether the Democrats had secret information about Nixon’s White House. A few months earlier, they had broken into Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office looking for material with which to discredit or blackmail him. The burglaries were illegal. Nixon tried to cover up both what his operatives had done and his knowledge of it.

In the spring of 1971, Daniel Ellsberg and Anthony Russo had released the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times and the Washington Post. These seven thousand pages bound into forty-seven volumes were an immense, secret history, written on McNamara’s commission, of America’s diplomatic and military antecedents to, and prosecution of, the Vietnam War. This secret history was highly classified and had probably not been read (or, perhaps, even known about) by succeeding Secretaries of Defense. The newspapers printed them, arguing that the public had a right to know how its leaders had determined to wage that war. Their publishers’ attorneys had stood before the Supreme Court to defend that right under the First Amendment of the Constitution, and the Supreme Court had upheld it. The folly, miscalculations, doubts, and grievances, the ideological rationalizations and political necessities of Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson and their advisors were laid out, the costs in lives and treasure were told, the vast unlikelihood of winning made clear.

Nixon then had escalated the war.

I was in the District when the story of Watergate broke. I used to ride my bike from Capitol Hill, where I lived, down the Mall – not nearly so many buildings then, nor so many people – to my office, at the corner of Lafayette Square. On fine days during the summer of the Watergate hearings, friends and I used to pick up boxed lunches at the new little gourmet shops, take our picnics up to the Capitol, lounging on the grass below the East Front, watch the press come and go. I always hoped to catch a glimpse of Senator Ervin or Congresswoman Jordan. I miss their voices.

This September, I gave a series of talks in Virginia public libraries, in part detailing the threat of the USA PATRIOT Act to our civil rights under the First and Fourth Amendments. Someone – a librarian, no doubt – asked, “Would the Watergate break-ins be legal now?” No, they wouldn’t. Break-ins and burglaries are still illegal. She meant, Would the Nixon people have been able to search the records legally, if the USA PATRIOT Act and FISA had been law in 1972? 1


So many young women and men around Dupont Circle and on Capitol Hill wear faces glowing with the heady sense of nearness to power. Compromise and the presence of the media mask their elders. A new friend from an established family assured me that nonetheless the arts were lively and you didn’t have to socialize with Republicans or politicians, if you didn’t want to. In the permanent Washington, explained my doyenne, what matters is not money, as such, but position. The official city is a great inter-leaved hierarchy where protocol assigns and reaffirms precedence. The novels of Henry Adams and Gore Vidal are still lively and accurate guides for the newcomer. At dinner parties the women are as usual fascinating. You see them evaluate a room in a quick glance, placing every man and woman in it in ranks of advantage, possibility, or dismissal. Then they turn to you and are charming, even kind. Perfectly nice people have unexpected histories. An older gentleman with lively eyes tells you courteously that he is an international lawyer who writes books on political theory and chairs a committee on NGOs that seems to have something to do with the U.N. Later you learn the committee on NGOs is in fact sponsored by the Unification Church, which also publishes the Washington Times (read by “senior people”); while his books are reviewed in Foreign Affairs, and he himself was once a translator in Egypt for Orde Wingate. Orde Wingate, a British general and hero to Israelis for having organized their defense forces in the Thirties, is buried in Arlington Cemetery. This is not fiction, you realize in wonder. The real American novel would be a melodrama of politics, biography, and manners.

During my year in the flat on Dupont Circle, I became a devotee of C-Span. C-Span – the “C” should stand for “citizen” – is our essential window on the triune system of separate powers our government claims to be. Where else can I look in on conferences sponsored by the Brookings Institution or the Heritage Foundation, or laugh wryly when Aaron McGruder, who draws the feuilletoniste comic “Boondocks,” asks why a cartoonist is the only one criticizing the government? Where are the journalists, he asks? “It is the responsibility of any thinking individual with a voice to say whatever they can say within their medium. You can’t underestimate the power of one voice.” I sit up when, still indignant, he says that the coup of the 2000 election happened not when the Supreme Court decided for Bush, but when Gore gave up the challenge and left the huge majority that had voted for him with no place to go .2 (Who speaks for me, now?) I felt hope when twenty-seven Democratic representatives stood together and said the President was making a terrible mistake by leading the country to war on Iraq. C-Span ran that clip throughout the day and night before the House vote on the war-powers resolution. The House gave the President his blank check.

Pacing before the small screen, I watched the noble Senator Byrd defend the Constitution in the well of the Senate against the President’s drive toward a first strike. “Hear me!” he cried, waving the copy of our sacred text he carries in his pocket. But he was not heard.3

You can go down to Congress and sit in the galleries. You can even, possibly, attend hearings. This was a pleasant, even instructive, activity when the Capitol was open to citizens and they thronged the halls looking in on their representatives. After the attacks of 2001, entering the Capitol became more difficult. The people had to go around to their senators’ or congressperson’s offices to get passes for admission. I was skeptical of all this security. Who, in fact, was being kept out? An old colleague, now a congressman, told me that before crashing in Pennsylvania, United Flight 93 had been aimed at the Capitol. The trajectory of the flight plan had been worked out, and was clear. “Imagine this great Dome melted down onto the Mall,” he said, still shaken.

“That day they had no evacuation plan. Nobody knew what to do, or where we should go. We were all standing out in the parking lot waiting for our leaders to tell us what to do. Somebody with a hand-held missile launcher – a lady pushing a baby stroller – could have taken out the Congress right there.”

I said to myself, Steady. Anything is possible. The only weapons the attackers had used, until they turned the planes into missiles, were boxcutters.


Two summers ago the President withdrew unilaterally from the Antiballistic Missile Treaty with Russia and announced he was going ahead with plans to build a missile defense shield. On December 18, 2002, the Times reported: “President Bush today ordered the Pentagon to field within two years a modest antimissile system. If it works, it could intercept a limited attack from a state like North Korea.” If the “modest” system works, it will also put weapons into space commanded solely by the U.S. I thought about a meeting I had in Fairbanks two summers ago with Dan O’Neill, author of THE FIRECRACKER BOYS, a journalist’s thorough account of Project Chariot. Project Chariot was a hare-brained scheme of the early Sixties to explode a huge thermonuclear device off the coast of Point Hope, Alaska. Point Hope, an Iñupiat village, is one of the two oldest continuously inhabited settlements in North America. Reading back, I heard an eerie echo. Early on, Dan O’Neill had taken a satiric look at the missile-shield enterprise.4

“Let’s imagine, for a moment,” he wrote in a column published in the Fairbanks News-Miner in 1998, “that the military was interested in our ideas on the important questions, that it held a real town meeting, and that an absolutely truthful colonel took public comments and questions from the floor. Here’s how it might go:

PUBLIC: Can you say a little about the history of the ABM idea?

COLONEL: Certainly. It was promoted in 1960 by Father of the H-bomb, Edward Teller. At the time, Teller was also proposing to excavate an instant harbor in Alaska by detonating a string of nuclear bombs. His ABM idea was to launch nuclear-tipped rockets that would explode in the vicinity of incoming missiles and knock them out. Scientists called the idea costly and ineffective. But we built one such ABM facility anyway. In North Dakota. It protected only a battery of our own ICBM’s. It was finished in 1975, at a cost of $7 billion, and scrapped the next year. Congress determined its upkeep was a waste of money.

PUBLIC: Didn’t the Star Wars program come next?

COLONEL: Exactly. The Strategic Defense Initiative, or Star Wars, was the most expensive military program in the history of the world. By far. Tens of billions were spent on little more than the hope of a laser missile defense system. Weapons scientists called it “a fraud” and “impossible to accomplish.” Defense contractors thought it was the next best thing to printing your own money. Needless to say, the system does not exist.

PUBLIC: So now you guys are back pushing a scaled-down version?

COLONEL: Correct.

PUBLIC: Will this one work?

COLONEL: Not really, no. You see, there are easier ways for an Iran or a Libya to attack the US than to try to build ICBM’s. They could smuggle a bomb across one of our borders. Or bring one into a city’s harbor onboard a ship. Or launch a short-range missile from a ship offshore. If they did build an ICBM, they could build ones that release multiple decoys, thereby reducing our chances of hitting the actual warhead (assuming that we figure out how to hit one at all-our last nine tests have failed). And remember, the missile defense system we are proposing would only build 20 interceptors. So, for $10 billion (our critics say much more) we would not be buying any real security.

PUBLIC: Tell me again why we should do this.

COLONEL: It will deliver mega-dollar hardware and construction contracts to the home states of some pretty influential senators.

PUBLIC: Like Alaska?

COLONEL: Affirmative. Sen. Ted Stevens says he doesn’t care where the ABM is based, just so long as it can defend all 50 states. Well, North Korea is just 2,000 miles from Attu Island at the end of the Aleutian Chain. North Dakota is nearly 4,000 miles from Attu. So even if North Dakota could launch an interceptor at the same instant that North Korea launched an ICBM toward Attu, the Korean missile would get there first. Sen. Stevens has got this figured.

PUBLIC: OK, I see what’s in it for the politicians and the recipients of pork. But what’s in it for you?

COLONEL: A $600,000 salary at one of the missile defense contractors after I retire from government service.

PUBLIC: Is there anything we can do about this?

COLONEL: Yes sir. You can insist on culverts.

North Korea is 2,000 miles from Attu: very black humor indeed. The grim joke may be on the President. Don’t we have a division of soldiers defending Seoul, near the border, in direct range of North Korean artillery? What happens if the North Koreans shoot at them?

Archipelago gained a new contributing editor during the year, my old colleague Arthur Molella, an historian of science and director of the Lemelson Center at the Smithsonian. Dr. Molella was co-host of a symposium last March on the play “Copenhagen” and America’s development and use of the atomic bomb.5 Michael Frayn’s historical drama, in which he imagines the fateful private meeting in Copenhagen, September 1942, between the physicists Neils Bohr and Werner Heisenberg, had reopened the question of the complex morality of nuclear weapons. Bohr, who had escaped from the Nazi-controlled Denmark, urged Churchill and Roosevelt to support the Allies’ atomic program because (he believed) Germany was trying to develop a bomb. The historian and journalist Richard Rhodes reminded us that fifty-five million lives were lost during World War II, and argued that the carnage was brought to an end because of President Truman’s use, twice, of the atomic bomb. In the nearly fifty-seven years since, wars have claimed about a million lives every year: but, terrible as this is, the wars have remained at the level of conventional weaponry.

Rhodes argued that war remains conventional – historical, not universal – because of the fact of nuclear energy. He thought Bohr was correct in believing that the weapon is so dreadful that no nation would dare use it again, because the situation it has made cannot be resolved by war.

Then last spring the administration leaked a Pentagon report, the Nuclear Posture Review, proposing that the American military consider seven nations to be targeted by our nuclear arsenal in case they acted up against our interests. During the alarmed media outcry, the President’s security advisor explained soothingly that the Review also proposed reducing our nuclear stockpile. Nonetheless, the lunatic idea was out and circulating again: “tactical” nuclear weapons are a possibility.

Around that time, I gave a little dinner in my new flat for Dr. Molella. Over fresh pasta and a light Italian wine, we talked about how atomic visions had formed our childhood. Sardonically, we remembered the “duck and cover” drills in grade school, the black-and-white propaganda films in school assembly, fallout shelters in people’s back yards. Threat of nuclear disaster spooked our generation. We were trained to be afraid; our imaginations were seized by atomic terror. We riffed on Hollywood movies – “The Day After,” “Silkwood,” “The China Syndrome,” “Fail-Safe,” “On the Beach,” “The Invisible Boy,” “Thirteen Days,” “Godzilla,” “Atomic Café,” “Russia House,” “Dr. Strangelove, Or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Bomb.” We wondered whether we shouldn’t look at the movies again. Why not organize a film series? We could invite specialists in film and cultural history and rocket science to lead public discussions. We believed in the liberal value of public discussion of the issues. Perhaps we – I, at least – believed that, if people recalled the history of nuclear weapons, they, too, would be appalled by the prospect of their redeployment, and would say so to the government.

However. According to a Washington Post-ABC News poll (December 18), “Most Americans favor using nuclear weapons against Iraq if Saddam Hussein attacks U.S. military forces with chemical or biological weapons in a war that the public believes is virtually inevitable.6

But the headline and analysis were somewhat deceptive, because when you read further down you found that “the new survey also found that 58 percent of those interviewed would like to see President Bush present more evidence explaining why the United States should use military force to topple the Iraqi leader, up from 50 percent in September. And while most Americans view Iraq as a major threat, fewer than half said it poses an immediate danger to this country.”

The article quoted a citizen, Rebecca Wingo, a thirty-five-year-old trucking dispatcher in Johnstown, Ohio, as saying, “We need to get Saddam Hussein out of power, even it means using nuclear weapons, particularly if they attack us with dirty weapons. When you’re dealing with people like him, the only thing they understand is brute force.”

Rebecca Wingo’s view of the world was perhaps the result of bitter experience, or else the naïve acceptance of propaganda. Did she know that America had already used nuclear weapons, nearly thirty years before she was born? Or, had the indeterminate risk of biological weapons become even more frightening, now, than atomic terror?

These opinions attributed to all Americans came from 1,209 adults chosen randomly and willing to answer the pollsters’ questions between December 12 and December 15, 2002. They thought Iraq was a “major threat” but did not pose an “immediate danger” to this country. How did they decide this?

The Lincoln Memorial is beautiful at night. Across the Potomac, the illuminated Custis-Lee mansion rises on a Virginia hillside above Arlington Cemetery. The eternal flame at JFK’s grave burns as a small beacon in the dark. Just down the Mall, in shadow amid a grove of trees, is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. In the presence of these dead and their memory, part of our history, Lincoln’s temple is a place of contemplation and solace for a troubled heart.

The Second Inaugural, March 4, 1865, is engraved on the wall beside the colossus of Lincoln, who is seated not in majesty but somber isolation.


One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war…. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”…

One night, I stood under the portico and looked down the Mall toward the Capitol. The dome had just been constructed when Lincoln addressed the nation that day. Reporters had noted how it rose above his head against a cloudy sky, and that the sun came out after he finished speaking.

I tried to imagine what Martin Luther King would have seen, standing down there by the reflecting pool before a quarter of a million people, most of whose ancestors had once been slaves. The country seemed to me now as inexorably divided as before the Civil War. The matters at issue were not bondage and civil war but what kind of nation we have become, how we should conduct ourselves in the world and treat our own people at home. To whom were we responsible? We were riven by our incompatible theories and practices of power and our belief, or lack of it, in civil society, the polity, the whole citizenry.

Lincoln, not expecting re-election, had held the Union together as a force of spiritual illumination. He had feared the awful judgment of the Almighty and knew in humility that both North and South were subject to God’s wrath. Thus, he had concluded:

With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan – to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.

His standard was too high for us to attain; we have not attained it. Yet, what if after the attacks of September 11, we ourselves, citizens, had been asked by our current President to do service to a nation that is grander than our small selves, rather than continue to go shopping while the government looked after our safety? No, what he asked of us was – banal. The people were let down. The President could have changed the world (people say) – he could have dropped food and medicines in Afghanistan before dropping bombs (they argue), or, instead of dropping bombs. I did not know if I believed this, however.

Is this country at war? Or, is it “at war”? For, what on earth is a “war against terrorism”? Although I don’t doubt the fabled al-Qaida is up to no good for us, I am not sure “we” and “they” are in the same war. I feel all is veiled by propaganda and fear.

What ought our country to do with all its power? We know the description: the American nation is the greatest military power there ever was in the world, our military budget – and, I suppose, capacity – greater than the next fifteen nations’ put together. Our President warns the world that we will brook no opposition; indeed, no hint of opposition: we will act the aggressor, to prevent any rise of an opposing power.

Is this Alexander the Great? Is it Napoleon?

A few days before Christmas, I phoned a friend with long experience in the Pentagon, a man who calls himself a Truman Democrat, a physicist with a degree from MIT and experience in the planning of war and weaponry. A year ago in June he had written me, “Mr. Rumsfeld is well on the way to making a thorough mess, for all his claims about new ideas and change.” Patiently, he had been explaining what he meant, until the September attacks interrupted our conversation and the essay by him I had hoped to publish.

“Are we really going to war against Iraq?” I asked him directly.

He was quiet for a moment, then said carefully: “You notice the military is chary about going to Iraq. Warfare is the business of killing, and you’d like to think they would find every other alternative first. Herman Kahn used to talk about playing ‘Chicken,’ when young men race cars to the edge: you show up as drunk as you can be and then throw the steering wheel out the door.

“Clearly, some kind of psychological warfare is going on. We have to hope they will learn….

“But I wonder,” he went on: “when will we have thrown the steering wheel out the window? The President may still be maneuvering, or may think he is doing so. But, when you send in troops, after what point can you no longer withdraw them but must commit them to making war?”

I could not emulate his humane detachment, but had a bitter copper-taste.
Reading the Pentagon Papers, Daniel Ellsberg concluded that presidents make wars not because they have inferior or wrong information, or are misled by their advisors: they make war because they believe some greater good is to be gained, some goal of policy, or defeat or containment of a grim enemy, at a cost of life and treasure they are willing to pay. They believe the country also is willing to pay that cost. Having released the papers to public scrutiny, Ellsberg learned then that the electorate, too, and for its own reasons, could make irrational choices.7

From whom would sacrifice be expected in the coming war? The White House announced, straight-faced, that the war would not cost nearly as much as was thought, in terms of billions of dollars expended. We were expected to believe this, although the White House lied to us all the time about fiscal and other matters, according to the economist and Times columnist Paul Krugman, and embroidered, misused, and invented facts, according to the Post reporter Dana Milbank.8 Rep. Charles Rangel, D.-NY, proposed re-introducing the draft, in order (he said) that the sacrifice of life will be equal among all classes. I wondered if he meant to take the proposition of war into every home and provoke an anti-war movement at the grassroots. The Vietnam draft was not levied equally. The boys of my class – that is, middle-class college students – more often didn’t go to war, unless they went willingly when drafted, or could not escape the draft, or volunteered. There were many ways to stay out of that unjust war, although those ways were often unjust to those who went. Rangel’s proposition is interesting, I thought. Let every household study the prospect of war. The Vietnam War poisoned my generation, and I think we have not healed from it.

When you go to the Wall of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, you walk down into silence and grief, until the lists of the dead engraved on the black granite walls rise over your head. It is as though the light has been cut off. Your breath is caught in your throat. Men are kneeling, tracing a name with their finger and weeping. A red carnation, a white carnation, a folded note are set into the cracks. Slowly, you walk on. Gradually, the ground slopes upward, until you emerge again into the world. Maya Lin, who designed the Memorial, said, “I went to see the site. I had a general idea that I wanted to describe a journey...a journey that would make you experience death and where you’d have to be an observer, where you could never really fully be with the dead. It wasn’t going to be something that was going to say, ‘It's all right, it’s all over,’ because it’s not.”

The people who are now planning to send soldiers and weapons in order to kill, avoided war in their private lives, except for General Colin Powell, who served in Vietnam and the war in the Persian Gulf.

Among certain journalists you heard the word “incompetent” used to describe the President’s people, particularly those at the Pentagon. For instance, it seemed the principal actors knew nothing about life in Iraq but, rather, believed that, if they used the right code-words in sentences – “democracy,” for instance, or “liberation,” – what they said was what would happen there. Just before Christmas, North Korea, whose people are being starved by their murderous regime, called the President’s bluff. He refused to negotiate with them. Within days, he ordered the Pentagon to make the missile defense shield operational within two years.

But, I asked my friend the old-Pentagon hand, what if the North Koreans didn’t send a missile over Alaska; what if they fired on the American division defending Seoul?

He said: “The division is ready to fight a war – World War I. No one has asked what the risks are of keeping it there, when it should be held in reserve, as a highly mobile attack force. The reason for that is politics. Politics and prior commitments keep it in a defensive, not offensive posture.”

“Yes, but what would happen if the North Koreans acted?”

“The division there is within range of North Korean artillery. It would be chewed up. And if that happens, the commander should be court-marshaled, and the president impeached.”

What do we, citizens, make of the game of power? Power is real; it isn’t smoke and mirrors. We can only hope that diplomacy will carry the day.

The Gulf War (although I know this was not true) seemed imaginary to me, a media event, not the stuff of experience. On television, the censored tapes we were shown of aerial bombing looked like video games. Our soldiers were not among the hundred thousand burned on the infamous Highway of Death. Our leaders, and we ourselves, have never been called to account for prosecuting warfare from on high. After Vietnam, when war was revealed to the country night after night, year after year, on television, the military learned a lesson. In the Persian Gulf, during thirty-nine days of air strikes and four days of ground war, it controlled the media with censorship and propaganda.

Yet, Saddam Hussein claimed victory because he was not forced out of power. Millions of people in the Arab world accepted this as true, we are told. The poison of Vietnam courses through our veins, my generation’s, to which the President and his warhawks belong, and so I wondered: do they fear that the war in the Gulf has yet to be won?

I do not forget that on Sept. 11, Air Force One did not return to Washington for most of that day, but flew from air base to air base, nor that the President did not address the nation until evening. News correspondents commented sharply on his absence, even as Mayor Giuliani was visible in the wrecked streets. Why did the President not return at once to Washington, the seat of our government? Here is where our national laws are made; here is where our founding documents are kept. I think the President was afraid. When you have been afraid you do not easily forget that dismal feeling of helplessness and panic. You couldn’t think clearly. You wanted your mother or father to protect you and make the threat go away. You flinched; you kept flinching, until you were certain you had built up your defenses; but then you are never certain your defenses are strong enough.

About ten days before the general election in November, with more than 100,000 other people, mostly middle-class, many of them of my generation, I marched in Washington against the President’s coming war, then saw that march under-reported in the media, which was unable to tell the story. No doubt many of us will march again in January. No doubt many will keep marching until the war-machine wears down. But I do not suppose it will wear down soon.

Yet, during my Washington sabbatical I think I became a better citizen. For decades I had done the minimum: voting and, occasionally, contributing to a candidate or a cause. I had formed opinions and spoken out. In Washington, however, I learned an interesting fact, and it surprised me, probably more than any other. It is this. Our elected officials work very, very hard at politics and legislation. I would not say they work for “us,” because our winner-take-all system does not allow for proportional representation, and I am in a large minority. Rather, they work to enact a political will. They work to make things happen. That is the definition of power, I understand: to make things happen.

Although he denied having done so, Robert McNamara had commissioned the writing of a secret history of the Vietnam War. Are secret histories being written now, I wonder; have they been written; and will the Administration’s doctrine of secrecy require another Daniel Ellsberg to bring them to light?

But so much of what lies before us is not secret. A single party now controls the three branches of the Federal government. Its present leaders have never disguised their desire for power and its unlimited use for the benefit of their supporters, nor concealed their belief in their right to power. We who are ordinary citizens stand and watch our civil rights taken away by Congress and an increasingly reactionary Court, and we do nothing, for our protests are scattered and therefore useless, unless we have sought and won the political power that will allow us to act. Liberal “tolerance” has brought people like me to “value” “diversity” of opinion. Shall we “tolerate” and “value” government secrecy, such as that which will keep presidential papers hidden for decades from public scrutiny? Shall we sanction the police power allowing the FBI to examine our most intimate records, without our knowing, on the merest suspicion of some vague possible threat from someone we once sat next to on an airplane? Shall we accept the rule that authorizes the Immigration and Naturalization Service to track our movements even beyond our borders? Shall we accede to the order endowing John H. Poindexter with the weird, shocking authority to collect every electronic record about every American citizen into a national database? Let us not forget: this is the same Admiral Poindexter who was convicted of crimes in the anti-constitutional Iran-Contra arms sales.9

We are watching our rights vanish before our eyes, and no one seems to be able to stop the action. Is it still possible to make the political process answer to those of us who were in the majority in 2000, and a hair’s breadth away from it in 2002? The accumulated power of the presidency looks monolithic, while the opposition absents itself from the fray.

I’ve been sobered by Washington and leave, sensibly, with a lessened sense of hope. I am going back to Virginia, to my own house. During the Congressional campaign last autumn I volunteered on behalf of our local candidate, who lost to the incumbent by a huge margin although she carried our relatively liberal city. The system of redistricting congressional seats is weighted toward the incumbents. It seems just the moment to go to work. I am a member of our City Democratic Committee. I wish to learn three things in my tenure: One, what does the Democratic Party stand for? Two, what do moderate Republicans believe? Three, do we share any common ground?



1The passage following is from “America’s Secret Court,” by Paul DeRienzo and Joan Moossy, Penthouse.com. I quote it because of the incongruity of its source, yet its being a neat summary of the background of the FISA Court, a legal entity of broad powers about which most readers may be unaware. Note: the article is undated but was written before the September 2001 attacks, and the passage of the USA PATRIOT Act (see Senator Russell Feingold, Archipelago, Vol. 6, No. 2,) and the recent Homeland Security Act. These laws have only increased the intrusive powers of the Federal government. The following passage offers some background.

The roots of FISA lie in the social upheavals that convulsed the country in the 1960s and ‘70s. During that time, countless citizens were drawn into a plethora of political-activist groups, from the civil-rights movement to anti-war organizations. Demonstrations and riots rocked cities and college campuses as Americans began to question seriously the government’s war in Vietnam. The federal government moved quickly to stanch the tide of opposition and social change through a program of dirty tricks and unprecedented violations of personal rights and privacy, often justified as necessary for national security.

The government’s abuse of the Constitution eventually reached its height with the Watergate break-in and subsequent scandal that resulted in the near-impeachment and consequent resignation of President Nixon, who had ordered break-ins, known as black-bag jobs, against his Democratic opponents in the 1972 election. To defend his actions, Nixon argued that the president has an “inherent authority” as chief executive to suspend the Constitution in an emergency. Abraham Lincoln had limited habeas-corpus rights during the Civil War, and Franklin Roosevelt had interned thousands of Japanese-Americans in camps after Pearl Harbor.

Public outrage over Nixon’s abuses led to a 1976 investigation by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Testimony before the committee, which was headed by Senator Frank Church of Idaho, revealed that the nation’s intelligence agencies had consistently ignored and violated the Constitution for more than a quarter century. Among other abuses, the FBI was held responsible for the infamous COINTELPRO counterintelligence program that targeted those whom Hoover and Nixon perceived as political enemies: the Black Panther party, the American Indian Movement, and a host of popular leaders, including the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X. To Senator Church, all this was “one of the sordid episodes in the history of American law enforcement.”

The findings of the Church Committee clearly established that there needed to be strict separation of federal domestic law enforcement from the government’s counterintelligence activities. Ever since passage of the Omnibus Crime Control Act of 1968, electronic surveillance in criminal investigations has required a warrant signed by a judge. But the ‘68 law had left open an exception in cases of national security, a loophole exploited by Nixon and his cronies. As designed ten years later, the primary purpose of FISA was to gather counterintelligence information, not to make criminal prosecutions. Surveillance would be conducted under the guidance of the Justice Department, employing a team of lawyers to work with the attorney general and the FBI An innovation proposed by then Attorney General Griffin Bell created a special court of sitting federal judges who would approve FISA wiretaps the same way judges approve criminal wiretaps.

The main targets of FISA were supposed to be foreign intelligence agents working as part of their country’s diplomatic missions in the United States. Although the U.S. Supreme Court has yet to hear a FISA case, lower courts have ruled that “once surveillance becomes primarily a criminal investigation ... individual privacy interests come to the fore and government foreign-policy concerns recede.” Yet the fact that evidence acquired from a FISA surveillance can be used to make a criminal prosecution has led some critics to charge that the FBI is taking advantage of the law to make arrests…. (continued in six parts; readers are advised to proceed with caution because of possible spam.)

Links to other Websites for information about FISA follow Notes.

2 Aaron McGruder, “Boondocks”, The Nation, and many local newspapers, although not those who intermittently stop carrying it because of its political content; see The Progressive and Altnet. See also, Christopher Lyden’s commentary.

See also, McGruder, “Free Speech in a Time of War,” Emory University, Center for Ethics, September 10, 2002, video, available from the C-Span Store.

3 See also, Senator Byrd’s up-to-the-minute web site and click on “U.S. Provided Iraq with Bioweapon Building Blocks.”

4 See also, “The Bear,” Endnotes, Archipelago, Vol. 5, No. 3.

5 See also, “The Colossus,” Archipelago, Vol. 6, No. 1, and “The Colossus, 2, Vol. 6, No. 2.

6 “Most Favor Nuclear Option Against Iraq,” by Richard Morin, The Washington Post, December 18, 2002, p. A18.

7 See, for instance, Nicholas Lemann, “Paper Tiger, Daniel Ellsberg’s war,” The New Yorker , November 4, 2002:

For Ellsberg, the shattering revelation of the Pentagon Papers was that the American Presidents who made decisions about Vietnam had actually been well informed. Nobody was lying to them about the probability of success of American engagement, and they engaged anyway. All this contradicted not only Ellsberg’s own explanation for mistaken judgments but a whole way of seeing the world, in which if decision-makers can be given good information they will make rational choices. But even after reading the Pentagon Papers, Ellsberg remained loyal to the tenets of decision theory; in leaking the Papers to the press, he was simply changing jurisdictions, trading in a faith that perfectly informed Presidents will make rational decisions for a faith that a perfectly informed public will force rational decisions on misguided Presidents. That’s why Ellsberg comes to regard “deception,” “secrecy,” and “lies” as the devils responsible for bad policy – they were other names for misinformation. Hidden within the morally outraged and civilly disobedient radical, in other words, was the soul of a wronged decision theorist. The publication of the Pentagon Papers presented a new kind of Ellsberg paradox: providing the public with complete information didn’t have the effect that Ellsberg expected….

8 For instance, see Paul Krugman, “Dead Parrot Society,” The New York Times, Oct. 25, 2002. See also, Dana Milbank, “For Bush, Facts Are Malleable, Presidential Tradition Of Embroidering Key Assertions Continues,” The Washington Post, Tuesday, October 22, 2002, Page A01.

9 See Arthur L. Limon, “Hostile Witnesses,” The Washington Post, August 16,1998.

The Iran-contra scandal burst upon the scene in November 1986 when it was first reported in a Lebanese newspaper that President Ronald Reagan had approved the sale of missiles to Iran in exchange for American hostages in Lebanon. Later, Justice Department lawyers found evidence that proceeds from the arms sales had been diverted to illegally fund the contra anticommunist guerrillas in Nicaragua in circumvention of the Boland Amendment banning U.S. aid to the rebels. It was an audacious, covert scheme – known by its participants as “the Enterprise” – carried out largely by a small group of top administration officials and private operators without the knowledge of Congress. And when it began to unravel, the foremost question congressional investigators faced was the classic one echoing from the days of Watergate: What did the president know and when did he know it?

Arthur L. Liman, a renowned New York corporate lawyer who had been involved in many big-time cases, was brought in as chief counsel for the Senate special committee set up to investigate. Liman helped conduct 40 days of controversial public hearings that made Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North a household name but were inconclusive about Reagan's role. Liman's memoirs, which are being published posthumously next month, recall those days when a president's fate hung in the balance.

Liman died last year before Whitewater metamorphosed into Monicagate, but he almost certainly would have stuck to the view expressed in his memoirs that the high crimes and misdemeanors alleged in Iran-contra posed a far more serious threat to American democracy and our system of checks and balances. Even Watergate – a bungled burglary followed by a White House-orchestrated cover-up – was less threatening, Liman argued. He saw Iran-contra as a deliberate effort to conduct foreign policy in secret by using a private organization motivated by profit and accountable to no one. Whitewater, by contrast, involved mainly pre-presidential financial activities that posed no constitutional issue or question of presidential accountability, according to Liman, who said the country could not afford to incapacitate a president by a drawn-out investigation that questioned his legitimacy…. (continued here.)

See also:

Anatol Lieven, “The Push for War: Anatol Lieven considers what the US Administration hopes to gain,” The London Review of Books, Vol. 24, No. 19, 3 October 2002.


U.S.A. Patriot Act: Some Web Sites:

Senator Russell Feingold, “On Voting Against the U.S.A. Patriot Act,” Archipelago, Vol. 6, No. 2

Library of Congress, “Legislation Related to the Attack of September 11, 2001

Library of Congress, “HR3162: Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (USA PATRIOT Act) Act of 2001

Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression

Center for Constitutional Rights The USA PATRIOT Act: What’s So Patriotic About Trampling on the Bill of Rights?

Nancy Chang, Silencing Political Dissent (Seven Stories Press)

ACLU:USA Patriot Act Boosts Government Powers While Cutting Back on Traditional Checks and Balances An ACLU Legislative Analysis

American Library Association: Libraries and the Patriot Legislation

ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom

On the USA Patriot Act

Association of American Publishers, Freedom to Read

Congressional Research Service Report for Congress (PDF)

The USA PATRIOT Act and Patron Privacy on Library Internet Terminals By Mary Minow Law Library Resource Exchange

Repeal the USA Patriot Act by Jennifer Van Bergen t r u t h o u t | April 1, 2002, 6-part series

The Jurist – “The USA PATRIOT Act and the US Department of Justice: Losing Our Balances?” Professor Susan Herman, Brooklyn Law School

The FISA Court:

Secret Court Rebuffs Ashcroft, Justice Dept. Chided on Misinformation,” Washington Post, Friday August 23, 2002, p. A1

The Secret FISA Court”

Activists Sentenced to Long Prison Terms

Wisconsin Espionage Case

Previous Endnotes:


Lies, Damn Lies, Vol. 6, No. 2

The Colossus,  Vol. 6, No. 1

The Bear, Vol. 5 No. 4

Sasha Choi Goes Home, Vol. 5, No. 3

Sasha Choi in America,Vol. 5, No. 1

A Local Habitation and A Name, Vol. 5, No. 1

The Blank Page, Vol. 4, No. 4

The Poem of the Grand Inquisitor, Vol. 4, No. 3

On the Marionette Theater, Vol. 4, Nos. 1/2

The Double, Vol. 3, No. 4

Folly, Love, St. Augustine, Vol. 3, No. 3

On Memory, Vol. 3, No. 2

Passion, Vol. 3, No. 1

A Flea, Vol. 2, No. 4

On Love, Vol. 2, No. 3

Fantastic Design, with Nooses, Vol. 2, No. 1

Kundera’s Music Teacher, Vol. 1, No. 4

The Devil’s Dictionary; Economics for Poets, Vol. 1, No. 3

Hecuba in New York; Déformation Professionnelle, Vol. 1, No. 2

Art, Capitalist Relations, and Publishing on the Web, Vol. 1, No. 1





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