Turse and Moyers discuss our “forbidden history!”


It’s the flip side of legends and myths: In our last post, we noted that much of what we accept as fact and news is really legend and myth.

Last night, on Moyers and Company, we watched Nick Turse describe the flip side of this type of pseudo-news. This is the way the Moyers site blurbs the segment with Turse:
MOYERS AND COMPANY: Journalist Nick Turse describes his personal mission to compile a complete and compelling account of the Vietnam War’s horror as experienced by all sides, including innocent civilians who were sucked into its violent vortex.

Turse, who devoted 12 years to tracking down the true story of Vietnam, unlocked secret troves of documents, interviewed officials and veterans—including many accused of war atrocities—and traveled throughout the Vietnamese countryside talking with eyewitnesses to create his book, Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam.

“American culture has never fully come to grips with Vietnam,” Turse tells Bill, referring to “hidden and forbidden histories that just haven’t been fully engaged.”
We were struck by Turse’s use of that term—forbidden histories. Forbidden histories are the flip side of those journalistic legends and facts.

We strongly recommend watching this interview. We offer a few meta-points:

Early in the segment, John Kerry is shown in his famous congressional testimony from the 1970s—testimony in which he told the “forbidden history” of Vietnam, the history Turse is telling. “All these years later,” Moyers notes, Turse’s book confirms the things Kerry described when he was still a young man.

Note: The history Kerry told that day was plainly forbidden. You weren’t encouraged to hear it or know it. According to Moyers, Turse has done twelve years of background work on this forbidden matter.

It’s interesting that Kerry is involved in this forbidden history, because he also played a starring role in the string of legends and myths which began in 1987, a year when our political journalism changed.

In 1987, the mainstream press corps initiated its long, inane, disgraceful war against a string of Democratic White House candidates. They took down Biden and Hart in that cycle, tried hard to take down Gore. (During that cycle, we got many phone calls from the journalists who were chasing Gore.)

In 1992, they invented the Whitewater pseudo-scandals concerning Clinton and Clinton. In 1999 and 2000, they invented all sorts of myths and legends about Candidate Gore.

(We know of no Republican candidate who got this kind of treatment during this period. They invented many myths and legends about Candidate McCain, but those myths and legends were flattering.)

In 2004, we got the swift-boating of Candidate Kerry, though that was not fundamentally a press corps event. In 2007, the press corps went hard after Candidate Hillary Clinton. This twenty-year string of myths and legends only ended with Obama’s nomination, which sent thrills up their legs.

During those years, you were told many things which were untrue or inane about major Democrats. Other stories were, and still are, forbidden. For ourselves, we spent years researching and presenting the forbidden history of Campaign 2000—but even after all the documentation we have offered, the career liberal world still refuses to go there, and they never will.

Before that time, Gene Lyons’ Fools for Scandal had been disappeared. The people we fawn to as liberal leaders refuse to tell these histories.

These historie are plainly forbidden. This brings us up to the present:

Paul Krugman keeps telling a forbidden story, although he doesn’t seem to see that his story is forbidden—that no matter how many times he tells it, it will be completely ignored. (And mocked.) According to Moyers, Turse has done the legwork on a forbidden history from forty-five years ago.

As we watched the program, Turse seemed very sharp to us. We strongly recommend the segment, look forward to reading the book.

That said, Turse’s story will still be forbidden. Career liberals will agree not to care. They won’t discuss the larger sea within which Turse’s book swims.

Dearest darlings, it just isn't done! Careers hang in the balance!

Additional note: For distraction and amusement, you’re encouraged to watch as they churn pleasing legends about Mrs. Parks. This is the way our “press corps” works.

We liberals are very much part of it.


  1. Larry Heinemann (author of "Close Quarters" and the National Book Award winner "Paco's Story") wrote a short but powerful essay in the book "What Shall We Tell Our Children About Vietnam."

    My recollection, many years later, is that Heinemann in part addressed those who say that the US did not try hard enough to win.

    Heinemann's response was: that means we didn't bust enough jungle, napalm enough people, destroy enough cropland, turn enough women into prostitutes.

    We don't talk much about this in the civilian world. But I guess that the military academies did. Because the US approach to fighting war changed radically.

    Korea and Vietnam were fought with the WW-II model: it was understood that you will kill a lot of civilians. Destroy the enemy. It is a kind of going berserk.

    After that, most notably starting in the 1991 Gulf war, the military made a great show of deploying precision weapons, explaining that targets had to be carefully vetted to reduce civilian casualties, and so on. No pictures of huge flights of B-52's dropping long strings of bombs. No bragging about burning down whole towns.

    What people tend to forget is that much of the opposition to the Vietnam war in the US was exactly because of its senseless carnage and destructiveness.

    The Vietnam war didn't square with the self-image of Americans. The image my generation absorbed growing up is that our country was the benevolent power, the one bringing freedom and prosperity and human values to the world.

    That war still does not square with the self-image of Americans. Which is why there is very little market for any kind of honest treatment of it. And partly why the "swift boating" of Kerry was so successful.

  2. These myths persist because both parties promote them -- because it's in their interest to do so. To take the example at hand, where will you find Al Gore telling the truth about Vietnam? Or John Kerry, for that matter, now that he has something to lose, speaking honestly about American foreign policy, when the truth would likely end his political career and his TV appearances, and certainly force him out as Secretary of State?

    These two men, both of them immensely rich, aren't even willing to denounce the austerity fetish and name names. It would cost them money and prestige.

    And since nearly all the corporate journalists/talking heads Bob insists on calling "liberal" are invested in either preserving the status quo and/or forwarding the interests of the Democratic party, it's hardly surprising that they too repeat these myths.

    Krugman gets nowhere, because Obama himself promotes the myth he's trying to debunk. And not a word in protest, from Clinton, Gore or any other Democrat with a national profile and access to the Sunday shows.

    What Bob appears to argue for is an alternative, truth-telling non-establishment media -- voices whose snouts aren't in the trough. That media does indeed exist, and has, for many years. But it's always been marginalized and printed on cheap paper, or comes from MIT professors, exactly as one would expect, and Bob doesn't read it. Or he pretends it doesn't exist. Anyway, professors are stupid.

    Therefore, all liberals/leftists are knaves!

    1. "all liberals/leftists are knaves"

      Well, to be fair, Somerby usually calls them out by name.

      And in my experience the named ones typically do merit the term liberal on the US spectrum and typically do merit the rebuke Somerby provides.

      That there's an alternative media, as you point out, hardly means that the many sins of the establishment media should go unremarked.

    2. Anon at 159,

      For years I've been a big fan of this blog, but I think it's more or less driven down this dead end you describe.

  3. Turse's book, "Kill Anything That Moves" is a most important addition to the 30,000 non fiction books written on the War In Vietnam. A distinctly inhumane story is skillfully and humanely told. His research leaves little doubt as to the voracity of his story. If you are a Vietnam scholar, a casual observer of history or somewhere in between, you should not miss this truly exception book.
    With "Kill Anything That Moves" Turse does not add to the decades long argument about how the US conducted the war on the Vietnamese people he settles it.