Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Taxation Without Representation

By Steve Halpern

Philadelphia Mayor James F. Kenny has proposed an increase in real estate taxes that will disproportionately affect working people. This tax increase comes on the heals of an onerous soda tax. The Mayor argues that these tax increases would fund a budget deficit in the public schools system that has already been cut to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. In my opinion, these tax increases demonstrate clearly that Mayor Kenny has a clear contempt for working people.

The media in Philadelphia and nationally have consistently refused to look at the basic facts surrounding this issue. What are those facts? We can begin by saying that the city, state, and federal governments are literally cash dumping machines, that literally dump obscene amounts of money on some of the most affluent people in the world. What are the facts?

Philadelphia has one of the most lucrative tax abatement programs in the nation. This means that while most working people in the city will see a tax increase on their homes, the owners of skyscrapers worth hundreds of millions of dollars pay no taxes for ten years.

The city put up the money for the construction of sports complexes and a huge convention center. Much of this money went towards a profit to the owners of the construction companies.

Every year the city government has a top priority to make interest payments on municipal bonds. We can assume that much of this money goes to some of the most affluent people in the region.

What has been the result of all these measures? Today Philadelphia is the poorest of the largest cities in the United States. Hundreds of thousands of residents of the city literally do not have enough food to eat.

Then, we can look at the massive amount of cash dumping carried out by the federal government. The federal government spent literally trillions of dollars in a scheme known as quantitative easing. When the banks discovered that many of their loans would not be paid back, the government reimbursed these banks with trillions of dollars. We might consider that both the democrats and republicans supported quantitative easing.

When working people loose money at the casino, we don’t expect the government to make it a top priority to return our lost money. However, when the banks loose huge amounts of money, the government works, as fast as it can, to insure the affluent will have no significant losses.

The tax system

Mayor Kenny argues that one of the reasons for this tax increase is because of the increase in the cost of education. This cost reflects the basic increase in the cost of living. What are the facts?

An issue the media rarely, if ever, reports on is the production cost of commodities. In the past few decades there has been a tremendous shift in manufacturing out of the United States. Numerous factories have relocated from this country where wages might be $10 to $20 per hour, to countries where wages are $1 to $10 per day. When this happens there is a sharp decrease in production costs.

This reflects the fact that corporations are routinely obsessed with cutting costs. When there are technological advances that make production less costly, the cost of production goes down.

So, why do prices go up when production costs of most commodities go down? The answer lies in the fact that corporations are also continually obsessed with generating a maximum profit.

What has been the result of this state of affairs? Today, the most affluent one percent of the population owns about half of all financial assets, while about 80 percent of the population owns no more than six percent.

Understanding this state of affairs we need to ask the question: Why are working people paying any taxes at all? Consider that working people routinely pay city, state, federal taxes, sales taxes, gasoline taxes, cigarette taxes, tolls on highways, as well the soda tax. Why do we pay all these taxes when one percent of the population owns half of all wealth?

We also might consider that working people are the ones who create all wealth. We make our contributions to society in the work we do every day.

So, let’s say a worker pays $100 for a commodity and there is $5 dollars in taxes on this commodity. Let’s say that the corporation that sells this commodity also pays $5 in taxes. In realty, the worker has paid $10 in taxes and the corporation has paid nothing.

Brown v. the Board of Education

In the year 1954 the Supreme Court ruled in it’s Brown v. Board of Education decision that segregation in public education is unconstitutional. What does this ruling have to do with Philadelphia?

The Philadelphia public schools system is overwhelmingly Black and Latino in composition. When we walk across the border of Philadelphia at City Line Avenue we enter the Lower Merion School District that is overwhelmingly caucasian in composition. Per student funding in Lower Merion is double of what it is in Philadelphia.

We might consider that Lower Merion is a bedroom community where most of the residents work in Philadelphia or New York. In other words, the salaries paid in Philadelphia go to the suburban communities where per student funding for education might be double of what it is in Philadelphia.

Given the Supreme Court ruling of Brown v. Board of Education, how is this possible? The Supreme Court ruling only applies to municipalities. Therefore, obscene discrimination is legal as long as it takes place outside of a municipality.


The facts in this blog underscore the idea that the interests of working people and capitalists are antagonistic. The government merely acts as a support committee of corporate power, and routinely dumps obscene amounts of money on the affluent.

Today there is a teachers strike in West Virginia which is one of the least affluent states in the nation. The teachers of that state are saying clearly that they will not be used as scapegoats for the crisis of capitalism.

Ultimately this is the best answer to the demands of government to increase taxes. Without the labor of working people, capitalists literally have no profits. As the standard of living continues to decline, sooner or later masses of workers will discover this fact.

When this happens, then we can talk about a significant improvement in the standard of living. This will happen, not because of increased taxation, but because we will put in place a government that declares that human needs are more important than profits. 

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Rumble and the history of Native Americans

Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked The World.

The Film released in 2017

Directed by Catherine Bainbridge and Alfonso Maiorana

The other evening I was looking for a film to see and stumbled upon the documentary, Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked The World. Viewing this film was, for me, a stunning experience.

While I’m not a musician, I’ve been fascinated by the history of music. When we look at the superstars that include Elvis Presley, The Beatles, and the Rolling Stones, we can trace their roots to the Mississippi Delta that today is one of the most indigent areas of the United States. When we listen to the polyrhythms of Bo Diddley or Dizzy Gillespie we are also listening to the African polyrhythms that have emanated from Cuba. 

In the film Rumble I discovered that Native American music is at the very core of much of the music we listen to today. Clearly the music of Africa developed in this country was the primary influence of much of the music we listen to. However, the film Rumble gives us a glimmer of just how influential Native American music has been.

The educational system in the United States has, for the most part, ignored the history of Native Americans. Growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, I might have seen a hundred films that had a stereotypical image of Native Americans.

Typically these films showed a wagon train where seemingly amiable settlers shot at seemingly ruthless Native Americans. One after another of those Native Americans were murdered as if they were merely target practice.

In reality, there were about 250,000 settlers who travelled on wagon trains to the West. Out of that number, the estimates are that 300 settlers and 400 Native Americans died as a result of hostilities.
In my opinion, the history of this country cannot be understood without a knowledge of at least the outlines of this history. So, before I look at the film Rumble I’m going to give a brief history of Native Americans that will underscore why their music is so compelling.

American Indian Contributions to the World

Before we look at the history of Native Americans, I think it is useful to look at the many contributions they have made to the world. Most of these contributions are unknown to most people. An excellent source for this information is: American Indian Contributions to the World – 15,000 Years of Inventions and Innovations by Emory Dean Keoke and Kay Marie Porterfield.

Agriculture: We can begin by thinking about the food we eat today. Beef, chickens, pork, and even farm-raised fish usually have a diet based on corn. Literally millions of acres in the United States are used for the production of corn. Natural corn is about one or two inches long. The corn we eat today is the result of breeding by Native Americans over a period of many years. Corn, squash, and beans were the three foods at the center of several Native American cultures.

Potatoes are also a staple of the diet in this country. The Incas as well as other Native Americans of the Andes Mountains raised literally hundreds of varieties of potatoes. One cause of the horrendous Irish potato famine was because the British colonizers in Ireland failed to use the Inca methods of farming potatoes.

We normally think of spaghetti and tomato sauce to be an Italian creation. The facts are that the noodles used in spaghetti came from Marco Polo who found the recipe in his travels to China. Europeans first learned of tomatoes with their explorations in the Western Hemisphere.

While Europeans knew of cotton, they oftentimes wore woolen garments because the cotton they used was difficult to manufacture. The cotton used by Native Americans contributed to the widespread use of this material, as well as the beginning of the industrial revolution.

Medicine: While the European colonists were colonists were more advanced in their methods of warfare, Native Americans were more advanced with respect to agriculture and medical care. The Spanish went to Aztec doctors because they employed much more sophisticated methods.

Native Americans studied hundreds of plants and their effects on a wide variety of diseases. Today there are about 200 medicines that utilize plants that Native Americans studied to treat illnesses.

Women: The role of women in Native American societies was completely different from what we see today. Men, in these societies were usually the hunters. Women did most of the other work. This included farming, gathering of water and construction materials, medical care, as well as construction.

Because women’s work in these societies was so important, they commanded a considerable amount of respect. Lewis Henry Morgan lived with the Iroquois in New York and observed that the women organized themselves into a group called the clan mothers. The sachems were the leaders of the Iroquois and if the clan mothers disapproved of a sachem, they had the power to remove this person from their position.

Communal organization: Native American societies clearly were not utopias. There was inter-tribal warfare and the people didn’t have a very long life expectancy. However, everything in these societies was shared. Within a given tribe there usually was no class of people who had everything as well as another class who struggled to merely survive.

Many of these tribes routinely travelled long distances in order to have the food they needed. This communal nature of the Indian world was the primary source of the conflict that erupted with European settlers.

For these settlers private property was the norm. The idea of sharing wealth with everyone was inconceivable to those who held power.

We can see this conflict in what we learned in school as the purchase of Manhattan Island. Manhattan is a Native American word. I was taught in school that Europeans outsmarted the Natives when they purchased Manhattan for a few trinkets.

For the Native American, the idea of owning land was inconceivable. The land was there to be lived on. Indians routinely offered goods for the right to travel through the lands of another tribe. These were acts of friendship and not acts of conquest.

A history of genocide

During the revolution of the thirteen colonies most Black people as well as Native Americans fought with the British. The idea was that while the revolution would advance the interests of the colonists, this same revolution would strengthen slavery as well as the wars against the first inhabitants to live on this land.

By 1830 the United States government adopted the Indian Removal Act. This law required all Native Americans living east of the Mississippi River to move to the Indian Territory that is now the state of Oklahoma. Thousands of Cherokee died in the forced march from their homeland in Georgia to Oklahoma known as the Trail of Tears. As we know, the U.S. government also broke this agreement and eventually confiscated Indian land in Oklahoma.

President Abraham Lincoln who is known as the Great Emancipator signed the order for the largest mass execution in the history of the United States. This was his order to execute 38 Dakota people in Minnesota.

Philip Henry Sheridan was one of Lincoln’s top generals. Sheridan reflected the thinking of the Lincoln and Grant Presidential administrations when he argued that: “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.”

By the year 1890, U.S. troops murdered hundreds of Native Americans at Wounded Knee in South Dakota. The so-called crime of these Lakota people was to engage in dancing the Ghost Dance where Indians imagined that this dance would free them from foreign domination.

We should consider that the very First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States argues that freedom of religion as well as freedom of speech is the law. We might also consider that the murder of hundreds of these Lakota people was only the first step in denying the Native American influence to the musical heritage of this country.

Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked The World

We might consider that the tribal societies in the Western Hemisphere as well as Africa had no television. Every evening they entertained themselves with music. For them, the only reason to perform music was to also dance. In many of these societies there was no word for music or dance. These communities understood that literally everyone participated in the music and dance that might go on every day.

I believe that the music and dance styles of Black people as well as Native Americans were not merely repetitions of those styles before European contact. Slavery as well as the genocide against Native Americans also influenced the music we hear today.

One of the commentators in the film Rumble argued that most of the Africans who were kidnapped and transported to the Western Hemisphere were men. Many of these men would father children with Native American women. This was one source the mixture of the African and Native American cultures.

The film Rumble begins by introducing the life of Link Wray. Link Wray was Shawnee and was born in the state of North Carolina. Tecumseh was also Shawnee and became one of the most influential Native American leaders.

Three of the songs Link Wray wrote were named for the Native American nations of Shawnee, Apache, and Comanche. His breakout hit was Rumble.

Rumble was the hit that transformed the rockabilly sound of the past into the rock & roll sounds we listen to today. One artist argued that any rock guitarist who doesn’t think that he or she was influenced by Link Wray is lying.

Rumble had such a profound effect that it was banned in Massachusetts (The state has an Indian name) and New York. The authorities felt that the song Rumble would contribute to gang violence. Rumble was an instrumental piece that had no words.

Another featured artist on this film was Charley Patton. Patton might have been of the Choctaw nation and was one of the original blues artists. Chester Arthur Burnett known as Howlin’ Wolf acknowledged that he learned to play the guitar from Charley Patton on a cotton plantation. Howlin’ Wolf would in turn influence the Rolling Stones as well as many of the rock musicians of that era.

One of the most moving scenes in the film Rumble was with Pura Fé who is Tuscarora-Taino. Pura Fé listened to a record of Charley Patton recorded many years ago. Pura Fé is a Native American singer who was familiar with the melodies and rhythms of Patton’s music. She learned this music from a lifetime of singing this music with other Native Americans. While she might have never listened to Patton’s music before, she was comfortable singing these melodies.

Mildred Bailey was another artist featured in the film Rumble. Bailey was Coeur d’Alene, was born in Washington state, and raised near the Coeur d’Alene Reservation in Idaho. Bailey sang with Paul Whiteman and Bennie Goodman and became known as Ms. Swing.

Tony Bennett, at the age of 88 talked about how Mildred Bailey influenced him. He said that as a young teenager and aspiring singer, Mildred Bailey was the only song stylist he listened to. Frank Sinatra also argued that Bailey was one of his major influences.

Bing Cosby performed with Bailey’s younger brother Al Rinker in a trio called The Rhythm Boys.

Aaron Neville, along with the Neville Brothers has become one of the most influential groups of their era. Aaron Neville was one of the artist featured in Rumble and said he was a descendent of Choctaw and Haitian ancestry.

With the Haitian Revolution in the early years of the 19th century, many slave owners from that island brought their slaves to Cuba. Then with Napoleon’s invasion of Spain, the French people who lived in Eastern Cuba were expelled and moved to New Orleans. This history explains the Cuban, Haitian, French, and Native American influences of New Orleans. Aaron Neville calls this mixture a Gumbo that characterizes what New Orleans is today.

Every year New Orleans is known for it’s Marti Gras. In the predominantly Black sections of the city, there is a celebration of all of the influences that make New Orleans unique. A considerable amount or work goes into making costumes made of brightly colored feathers. These costumes represent the Native American influence of the city.

The Grandmother of Jimi Hendrix was Cherokee. It was this grandmother that introduced Hendrix to music, and he was proud of his Native American heritage.

At the famous concert at Woodstock in New York, Jimi Hendrix performed his version of the Star Spangled Banner known as the National Anthem of the United States. In Hendrix’s version of the anthem, I believe he transformed the triumphant theme of this song, into a theme that represented over 100 years of genocide against Native Americans.

Robbie Robertson was raised on the Six Nation Reservation in Ontario, Canada. Growing up on the reservation he was surrounded by music and had dreams of becoming a rock and roll star. He stared his career playing with a band in Toronto, Canada, and eventually became the lead guitarist for Bob Dylan.

Robertson is most noted for his work with the group called The Band. He collaborated with Martin Scorsese on several of his films. Robertson is also a strong supporter of Leonard Peltier, of the Oglala nation, who has spent several decades in prison on framed up charges of murder.

Buffy Sainte-Marie was born in Canada and is of the Cree nation. She was raised in Massachusetts. Sainte- Marie gravitated to the anti-war and civil rights movements and became one of the most popular folk singers of that generation. She was blacklisted in this country and prevented from earning a living.

Years after her blacklisting, she learned that it was President Lyndon B. Johnson who wrote to radio stations encouraging them to not broadcast her music. President Richard Nixon also worked to blacklist Buffy Sainte-Marie.

So, we can see that the effort to suppress Native American music has a long history in this country. We can also see from this film that this same music has provided the roots to much of the music we listen to every day.

Some of the artists featured in the film Rumble that I didn’t mention are: Jessie Ed Davis, the group Redbone, and Randy Castillo.

Yes, there are many influences that have contributed to the culture we experience in the United States. This blog attempts to show that without a knowledge of the history of the first inhabitants of this land, we will never be able to truly understand what our real heritage is today.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

The Philadelphia Eagles are Super Bowl Champions

By Steve Halpern

Like many young people growing up in the world, I was, and continue to be, a sports fan. As a young person, what could be a greater aspiration than to develop the skills to be physically active in a game that you enjoy?

To be honest, I wasn’t always a fan of the Philadelphia Eagles. Call me an opportunist, but this team won me over for several reasons. So, this blog is an attempt to tell the story of why I’ve become a fan of the Eagles. I will also write about why I think working people have found so much joy in this team.

Most people gravitate to cheering on the team of their hometown. In my younger years, baseball was a more prestigious sport and many people from my hometown of Newark, New Jersey were fans of the New York Yankees. Clearly, in those years, the Yankees won most of the World Series Championships and there was a lot of cheering going on.

The San Francisco Giants

However, for me winning all the time and being a team located one hour away from my home wasn’t enough to make me a fan. My team was the San Francisco Giants and my hero was Willie Mays who will go down in history as one of the best who ever played the game.

Willie played with style, grace, and he always appeared to have a positive attitude. The Giants of those days were a largely Black and Latino team. Along with Willie Mays, there was Willie McCovey, Jim Ray Hart, the three Alou brothers, El Torrito (The Little Bull) Olando Cepeda, and on the mound was one of the best pitchers of all time, Juan Marachal. In those days, this team gave me reason to be a fan because they always appeared to be consistent in playing their best.

Years later when I grew up I discovered another reason why my support of this team was well deserved. Most people are aware of the fact that Jackie Robinson became the first Black person to play for what is known as a Major League team in 1947.

Most people are unaware of the fact that between 1947 and 1965 Major League Black players were not allowed access to hotels and restaurants the caucasian players frequented. So, for many years, most of the players on the Giants team needed to use the only restaurants and hotels that would accommodate people who were Black. Yet, these same people were some of the best athletes in the history of baseball.

In fact Willie Mays started his baseball career in the Negro Leagues because there was a time when Black players weren’t allowed to even play on the same team as caucasians. So, when I used to see the positive attitude of Willie, this reflected the fact that he had overcome many of the seemingly insurmountable obstacles in his life.  

The Williams Sisters

I happen to have been raised with an appreciation for the game of tennis. The first time I saw Venus Williams play, she lost her match.  However, I saw a potential in her game that I felt could dominate women’s tennis. I also heard that she had a sister who might even be better than Venus. Her name is Serena.

Serena Williams was the first Williams sister to win a major tournament at the U.S. Open. Then, it was Venus who won Wimbledon. Then, for seventeen years the Williams sisters dominated the sport of women’s tennis.

Years after I became one of their many fans, I read the autobiography of their father Richard Williams titled: Black and White – The way I see it. In this book I learned that Richard Williams was born and raised in Shreveport, Louisiana. His mother picked cotton and did the laundry for her employer. They lived in a shack with a roof that leaked and were amongst the poorest people living in the area.

Richard Williams learned to run fast in order to escape from racist mobs. Three of his close friends were lynched by racists. He first left Shreveport to Chicago and then moved to Los Angeles where he married Oracene Price.

One day Richard Williams was watching television and viewed a Tennis match where a woman received about $40,000 for a tournament that lasted four days. Although Williams knew nothing about the game of tennis, he became obsessed with learning the game. Before the Williams sisters were born, he wrote a 78 page proposal outlining how he would raise two daughters who would become tennis champions.

There are many parents who spend a lot of money sending their children to tennis academies in the hope that one day these children might become professionals. Usually these parents coerce their children where they expect nothing less than absolute excellence.

Andre Agassi was a tennis champion who was raised in this kind of environment. Agassi resented the pressure cooker climate he was raised in, and wrote about this in his autobiography Open. Agassi acknowledged that he dealt with this enormous pressure by using methamphetamine.

Richard Williams knew something that was missing in these tennis academies. He knew how his mother raised him in abject poverty and prepared him to confront the extreme difficulties of his life. Richard Williams and his wife Oracene used this knowledge to create a nurturing atmosphere where his daughters decided on their own that they were willing to do what was required to become professionals at the game of tennis.

Tennis is an international game. The Williams sisters are two of the few players from this country who are fluent in foreign languages. They also developed their competitive edge by playing against each other. As a team they developed one of the best records in women’s doubles tennis.

In writing about these two stories, I’m attempting to show the kinds of athletes that have made me a fan.

Why to workers cheer for the Philadelphia Eagles?

Football is different from tennis in that it is a sport based in the working class. Oftentimes when I talk to my co-workers about tennis, there is little knowledge of the game. When I talk to a co-worker about football, oftentimes it is like opening up an encyclopedia of knowledge about this game.

So, in order to understand why working people are so enamored with football, I need to look at what it means to work for a living in this country. The pro-capitalist news media rarely reports on this reality.

Workers toil for long hours under conditions where corporations are driven to increase production and cut costs. Corporations purchase advertising worth hundreds of billions of dollars every year claiming that they produce top quality products. However, the drive to cut costs and increase production means that their top priority has always been a drive to maximize profits.

While workers do the necessary jobs that create all wealth, the owners of corporations reap the immense profits that allow them to live lives in opulence. Workers barely earn enough to pay our bills. The penalty for not working might be jail time, homelessness, or not having enough food to eat.

Adding to these problems is the institutionalized discrimination in this country. One of the ways corporations maximize profits is to run an economic system where there is routine discrimination against women, Black people, Latinos, immigrants, and Native Americans. Certainly, no one has control of the circumstances of their birth. However, those circumstances can make life more difficult for people in order to support the continual drive for corporate profit.

Understanding these conditions we can see why many workers are alienated from their jobs. When I worked in a factory, this alienation was expressed by workers in the profanity that seemed to be apart of the environment.
One would think that capitalists would be satisfied with the enormous wealth they have. This is not the case. I worked for fourteen years in a factory that shut it’s doors in order to move and cut costs. I happened to be one of the hundreds of millions of workers who experienced the elimination of jobs. Many of these jobs moved to places where workers are paid between two and ten dollars per day.

In order to escape these conditions, workers from around the world immigrate to this country where they might be paid seven to ten dollars per hour. Several of the recent Presidents of the United States have made it their top priority to deport millions of these workers. However, without the labor of the twelve million immigrants in this country, entire industries would shut down.

Children see this environment in the alienated faces of their parents. While many parents attempt to create a nurturing environment, it is difficult to hide the day-to-day problems working people routinely face. It is under these conditions that many children naturally gravitate to becoming sports fans.

Hundreds of thousands of people attended the Philadelphia Eagles parade celebrating their Super Bowl victory. Jason Kelce, the center for the Eagles gave perhaps the most moving speech at the conclusion of the parade.

Kelce listed many of the players on the Eagles team who were told, in effect, that they just weren’t good enough. In fact, several players who were starters at the beginning of the season were on the injured reserve in the Super Bowl. For these and other reasons the Eagles relished the role of underdogs throughout the post-season. The fact that team members had been ridiculed enraged Kelce, and he used profanity to express that anger.

My opinion is that these slights were not the only things that enraged Kelce. My opinion is that the game of football gives working people a chance to achieve true adulation. In an environment where alienation is the norm, this is truly a reason to celebrate, and to ridicule those who have argued that we just aren’t talented enough.

In Boston they call Tom Brady the GOAT. This means Greatest Of All Time. Well, the Philadelphia Eagles now have something to say about that. Football is a team sport and no one can win a game alone. The Super Bowl determines what team is the best in a given year. This means that today every member of the Eagles team can justifiably say that they are among the Greatest Of All Time.

Today there are numerous corporations in the Delaware Valley who are attempting to gouge out more profits by riding the wave of the Eagles victory. I’m talking about clothing outlets, supermarkets, as well as furniture stores. Well, my opinion is that the Eagles weren’t motivated to win the Super Bowl so some very affluent people could have even more money. No, I think they did this to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that working people are capable of performing in a way that we are indeed talented enough.

One day I believe that working people will have political power. When that day happens, we will be the ones who profit from our labor. When that day comes, all workers will have the right to engage in all sports activities throughout our lives. When that day comes we won’t need to prove that we are talented enough. We will participate in sports for the fun of the game.


Sunday, January 14, 2018

The myths and realities in the film "The Post"

A review of the film

Produced and Directed by Steven Spielberg

Written by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer

Starring: Meryl Streep as Katherine Graham, and Tom Hanks as Ben Bradlee

Yesterday Judi and I viewed the film The Post. This film has a compelling story line as well as fine acting that dramatized the plot. However, while viewing the film I felt there was an elephant in the room that the writers of the script were extremely careful to ignore. So, in this blog I will first outline the narrative of the film and then write about the actual history of those times.

The Post

This film centers around thousands of pages of files that Daniel Ellsberg stole from the Rand Corporation that documented the United States policy in Vietnam for three decades. Ellsberg knew of these files because he worked for the former Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara. These files documented the fact that Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon all lied to the world about the war against the people of Vietnam.

The New York Times was the first newspaper to publicize these files. Then, the U.S. government sued the Times and they stopped their publication of this story.

At this time The Washington Post was sold on the stock market and there was a clause in the sale that the investors could withdraw their money one week after the sale. We also learn that the U.S. government initiated legal action that could have sent the owner and the editor of the Washington Post to prison for publishing this story.   

So, the owner of the Washington Post, Katherine Graham and her editor, Ben Bradlee had a decision to make. Should they risk the destruction of the Washington Post as well as prison sentences and publish the story? Or, should they take the advice of their legal staff and their board members and stop the publication of the story?

In the drama that unfolds we see Katherine Graham stand up to the advice of powerful men and make the decision to publish the story. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Washington Post.

The story behind the story

We can begin this narrative with the title of Ken Burns ten episode documentary titled, The Vietnam War. If we look up the word war in the dictionary we see that what happened in the horrendous conflict between Vietnam and the United States clearly was a war. However, the last war the United States declared against another nation was in World War II.

From what I can see, the war against the people of Southeast Asia was not a declared war, but an extended military engagement. Clearly, no one ever argued that the armed forces of the Vietnam ever invaded the United States. In fact, the capitol of Vietnam, Hanoi, is 7,649 miles away from Los Angeles, California.

This fact was not lost on the Vietnamese. They didn’t consider U.S. prisoners of this war to be prisoners of a war that had never been declared. They considered these prisoners to be criminals in their country. I don’t agree with this because any soldier who refused to be a part of the holocaust in Vietnam could be sent to prison in this country. The real criminals were the government officials like Robert McNamara who organized this extended military engagement by routinely lying to the people of the world.

So, in my opinion, the question to be asked isn’t just about why politicians lied about Vietnam, but why politicians routinely lie about their motives?

We can begin to see the answer to this question in the film The Post. We see the lifestyles of Katherine Graham and Robert McNamara who had been a business manager before working as Secretary of Defense. We see the opulent homes where they lived, the lavish dinner parties, and the full-time maids who tend to their needs.

No, the war against Vietnam didn’t erupt so Graham and McNamara would be able to live in opulence. However, the capitalist system is organized in such a way so that only a very small minority of the population will profit from the labor of working people who constitute the vast majority.

Understanding this reality, we can begin to see why the United States government made the decision to have an extended military engagement in Vietnam. We can also begin to see why the government felt the need to routinely lie about their motives.

We can see by beginning to understand that the First and Second World Wars had nothing to do with defending liberty, freedom, or democracy. No, those wars were about deciding what nation would become the capitalist super-power of the world. The United States capitalists were the winners of those wars.

After the Second World War liberation movements erupted in Guatemala, the Congo, Iran, Algeria, and Kenya. The United States intervened in an attempt to prevent liberation movements from taking power. Oftentimes the U.S. succeeded in installing puppet regimes that went along with U.S. corporate interests.

However, in Vietnam the United States government encountered a resistance they could not defeat. Many people who have looked at the war against Vietnam are familiar with the Tet Offensive. After the United States carried out an extensive bombing campaign in North Vietnam known as Operation Rolling Thunder, the Vietnamese launched their Tet Offensive where they attacked all the U.S. military installations in their homeland. The Vietnamese suffered horrendous losses in this offensive.

One thing I learned from the Ken Burns documentary was that the Tet Offensive was only one of the offensives launched by the Vietnamese. In all these offensives there was a horrendous loss of life to the Vietnamese.

However, this determination by the Vietnamese was, no doubt, the primary reason why the United States lost this war. Even U.S. military commanders were impressed with the fighting abilities of their Vietnamese opponents. The Vietnamese engaged in this war while experiencing the effects of eight-million tons of bombs and 19 million gallons of defoliants.   

The Civil War in the United States

Looking at this reality, I believe we can gain some perspective by looking at the Civil War in the United States. Today most historians argue that the primary issue of the Civil War was the need to overthrow the system of slavery. However, in those years this isn’t what the government argued. The government of President Lincoln argued that the issue dividing North and South was the fact that the South seceded and he viewed this as an act of treason. The southern states formed a new nation because of differences over the issue of slavery. So, even in those days, the government was not honest about their reasons for war.

Towards the end of the war the Confederate forces had fortified lines that the Union Army attacked over and over again. In the summer of 1865 the Union Army lost about 90,000 soldiers. This was a conscious decision by the Union to break the Confederate will to win using a strategy known as total war. This is the strategy that defeated the Confederacy. This same strategy defeated the United States armed forces in Vietnam.

As I’ve attempted to show the United States government always lies when it decides to go to war or an extended military engagement. We can recall the weapons of mass destruction lie used to justify the war against Iraq. In Vietnam the U.S. government lies were exposed because the Vietnamese had the tenacity to defeat the most powerful armed force in the world.

In the first five minutes of the film The Post we see a U.S. army squadron ambushed by the Vietnamese. This is the only glimmer in the film where we see any Vietnamese, who were, in essence, the central characters of this story.

Yes, it did take a bit of courage to publish the Ellsberg Papers in the Washington Post. Yes, the publication of those papers did aid the international movement against the Vietnam War. However, the true heroes of this story were the Vietnamese who paid a horrendous price so that they would not be ruled by a foreign power.