Over and over again, I’ve stumbled over the resistance to the Right to facts. How do we show people who not committed ideologues (or just plain committed) what the facts in a case are, a case to which they are committed. An example would be the number of people coming over the border with Mexico without papers or the number of voter fraud cases.
In reading The Wise Men (I just celebrated my 77th birthday yesterday and was reading the book at Starbucks where I’d gotten my birthday freebie, coffee cake) I saw how Dean Acheson and Clark Clifford, both high profile and dedicated hawks on the war in Viet Nam, changed their minds based on facts.
What had they done? Notably, no one did it to them. Doves, even those who had switched sides and who these two Cold War warriors respected, could not move them. What moved them was seeing so many people in the country, esp powerful political figures who had been for the war, turn against the war. What was going on? they asked themselves.
And so both men assembled an assortment of persons who knew Viet Nam on the ground as the fighting was going on. Here is a sampling, taken from Acheson’s roster: Phil Habib, a tough-minded diplomat back from two years in Saigon; George Carver, a CIA analyst who had raw intelligence data that had not been first fed through Westmoreland’s fact-massage parlor in Saigon; and General William DuPuy, former Army chief of operations in Saigon who had access to all combat field reports.
Clifford had returned from a trip to Australia, New
Zealand and other Southeast Asian countries expecting to find support and came back empty-handed and puzzled. He talked with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and civilian aides and got no answers, just hopeful wishes that the Communists would give up, which, they admitted, they showed no signs of doing.
Both men had huge influence over LBJ. Both men made known their deliberated resolution that we needed to disengage from Viet Nam. Acheson was summoned. along with the others, as the leading Wise Man (they were at that time dubbed The Wise Old Men – WOMs – by the press and did not include the original members except for Acheson and Harriman [at the meeting of the WOMs that marked the end of an era, Harriman had not been invited but showed up anyway, sending the WH staff scrambling for an extra place setting]). He made his position clear.
For these Cold War warriors – and some of them stayed disengaged from Viet Nam, McCloy busy with the Middle East oil producers for instance – to recommend disengagement was an upending of their life’s work, the building of a Pax Americana that dominated the world and contained Communism. The Domino Theory was pushed aside in respect for the realities of winning a land war in Asia. Many of these men did not grasp the import of dozens of former colonies – colonies of their beloved European partners – gaining independence. They didn’t understand why these little brown people did not just embrace French or British or American culture and submit happily to economic and strategic domination in their affairs. Who the hell were these people who were bringing the greatest military power in the world to its knees?
Well, I’ll just have to finish the book to see what they thought of the whole thing. But one thing is clear: they set out to find out the facts…. and when they found them out, those facts turned their minds around. And this is what conservatives fear about facts.