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tv   American Artifacts  CSPAN  December 25, 2014 4:25am-4:58am EST

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and the airplanes overhead aren't seeing anything either. i don't -- maybe it was blind fishes. but already, in that two-hour window, washington had made a decision to go bomb, to go shoot back. anybody shoots at us, we're going to shoot back. >> secretary mcnamara, 9-0. >> mr. president, we just had word by telephone from admiral sharp that the destroyer is under torpedo attack. >> i think i might get dean rusk, and have him come over here and we'll go over retaliatory actions. >> i think i'll agree with that. >> i'll call the two of them. where are these torpedoes coming from? >> we don't know. presumably from these unidentified craft that i mentioned to you a moment ago. we thought that the unidentified craft might include one pt boat which has torpedo capability. and two s.w.a.t. top boats which
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we don't credit with torpedo capability, although they may have it. >> washington and lyndon johnson's view and mcnamara's view, could -- wanted to shoot. they wanted to be tough. they are in an election season. they have to be seen to be tough. false reports gave them an excuse to do something they wanted to do. you see, some of the back and forth, and i give mcnamara some credit on this, because mcnamara actually paid attention when the ship captain harrick sends him the 1:00 message. mcnamara already advises the president we're under attack, we're going to shoot back. we're going to do that. mcnamara gets the follow-up where the ship commander says, don't think so. mcnamara goes ballistic. he is a pretty powerful, forceful follow, robert mcnamara.
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among other things, he calls up the admiral in charge of pacific command and says, what is this? they don't think -- you don't understand that we're already in motion here. we've already had the meetings with the principals. president's already signed up. we're gearing up. we are ready to fly those b-52's. those hanoi commies better watch out, we're coming after them. what's up with these messages saying there's no attack? right at that moment a composite intercept rolls in. it is a summary of those north vietnamese naval communications during the period 1 to 5 august which demonstrate irrefutebly that their naval boats did, in fact, engage in preplanned combat against our troyers when the actual attack, aggressive intent as early as the first of august, and then they gist the communications. gist means to summarize without giving exact source of where they picked it up. but they were just summarizing.
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this top-secret code word dinar document is what the national security agency provided top policymakers like mcnamara to continue to defend the position that the second attack did take place 73 it was aggressive intent and they basically left out of this chronology all the messages that did not support that story. we shot down two enemy planes in the battle area and one other plane was damaged. this is north vietnamese communication. "we sacrificed two ships. all the rest are okay. combat is very high. we're starting out on the hunt. that's one version of translation. another version is that "one of the torpedo boats reports to headquarters. we shot at two enemy airplanes. not we shot down. at least one was damaged. one other plane was damaged. the summary which the top policymakers used, we sacrificed two ships.
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all the rest are okay. in the original. we sacrificed two comrades but all our brave. and recognize our obligation. so when you go back to the original, you see the word comrades. when you go to the summaries, you see the word boats. two comrades becomes two boats. two boats sounds like a huge attack took place. two comrades, we now believe, are people who were wounded on the 2nd of august. not shot on the 4th of august. there was no attack on the 4th of august. so you can -- it's by going back and looking at these originals, which is what the national security agency should have done at the time, but didn't. instead they prepared a chronology that would show irrefutebly what the president had said on national television. and the story we now know is two different intercept detachments
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in the philippines pick up some of the same messages but one of them, the marine corps interpreters, reads the messages as a warning of an imminent attack. but it wasn't actually a translation of a north vietnamese message. it was their interpretation of a separate message that was about just refuelling the boats that were attacked on the 2nd of august. so you have this error. but understandable in the sense of you got guys sitting there with head phones on their head translating from the vietnamese, listening in on the north vietnamese conversations, and on the edge of their seats because there had been an attack on the 2nd. and their mission is to get those communications ahead of time, give warning, protect american sailors' lives. you can see where that, well, better warn if there's a hint of it.
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same communications are being intercepted by another unit. but that unit translates as refueling of those boats, that are being replenished. i think is the word that we use. but because it's not a warning of an attack, that translation goes out at a lower frequency than the warning of an attack. one's at the critic level, the other is at the priority level. so the critical one comes throughs system in washington and on the employers hours and hours ahead of the other one even though it's a translation of the same intercept. you can see what that does. that puts the people on the on the destroyer's on edge. mcnamara did a little checklist, five reasons why now we are sure a second attack took place. but two of them came from just that one false message. two more were from the false torpedo sightings. so this cobbled together message, confirms something that
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they want to believe because they had already made a decision to hit back. >> the u.s. sorties were launched for one purpose, as a warning to the communists that unprovoked attacks will bring prompt response. >> why would just an attack on the 2nd not be enough for the resolution or the escalation? >> because the attack on the 2nd wouldn't be enough for a blank check resolution to pursue war for a couple reasons. one is president mcnamara and some members of congress like senator dirksen, the minority leader, according to those phone calls that we published, knew that we were running our own covert operations against the north vietnamese and so they were responding to us. so you couldn't present the 2nd of august as unprovoked aggression. but in public statements, after the 2nd of august, on the 2nd
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and the 3rd, the president and mcnamara and others had said, if they attack us again, we're going to whack them. if they attack us again, we're going to shoot back. if they shoot at us again, i cannot be seen to be weak. we are going to whack them. they prepared contingency plans, including b-52 bombers. flying off guam over north vietnam. >> yes? >> secretary mcnamara on 9-0. >> mr. president i put up those meetings with the senate and house leaders. i thought of that was agreeable, i would say to them that some months ago you asked us to be prepared for any eventuality in the south east asia area and as a result of that we have prepared and just completed very detailed target analyses of the targets of north vietnam. in 10 minutes i'm going over with the chiefs the final work on this. we have analyses, numbers of sorties, bomb loading, everything prepared for all the target systems of north vietnam
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and i would describe this to the leaders, simply indicating that your desire that we be fully prepared for whatever may develop. further more, we've prepared detailed movement studies of any contingeagesy forces required, air squadrons, et cetera. >> obviously now, if you put this in the paper. >> i'm going to tell them that. >> and your enemy reads about it, then he thinks we're already taking off and obviously you've got us in a war. i've got to be candid with you. >> i was going to start my remarks by that. to be damn sure it doesn't get in the papers. >> as soon as those reports come in, even though within two hours they are being disproved by the commander of the destroyer being attacked, in those two hours you have made -- you are committed publicly. hit them back. >> the people are calling me. i talked to a new york banker. i talked to lubbock, texas. they think we responded wonderfully. that is good.
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but they want to be damn shire i don't pull them out and run and they want to be damn sure we are firm. that is what all the country wants because goldwater is raising hell about how is going to blow them off the moon. they say we ought to do anything that the national interest doesn't require but we sure ought to always leave the impression that if you shoot at us, you're going to get hit. >> swift and sure has been u.s. retaliation for pt boat attacks. on the high seas. this is the maddox, one of two sfr destroyers attacked in the gulf of tonkin in north vietnam. warplanes from two carriers avenged the unwarranted assault with 64 sorties to north vietnam pt bases, 25 boats, more than half the fleet, were destroyed. and north vietnam oil reserves badly depleted. it is estimated 10% went up in flames after direct hits. >> during the second of august
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attacks, there was a time of electronic intelligence and signals intelligence in between the boats directing them all the way through the period of the attack and withdrawal and damage to the ships. during the 4th of august, at the very moment you have the destroyers reporting torpedos in the water, there is no electronic signaling. there is no communications being picked up. coordinating these attacks. it's -- i think the historian for the national security agency hanyak said it's like a sherlock holmes story, the dog that didn't work. when the dog on the inside does not bark, it means it is an inside job. if there is no electronic intelligence, are the boats talking to each other? means there's probably not an attack. to me, maybe the most telling of all the, we now have thousands
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of pages of primary sources. we have the internal sources. we have the tape recordings. we have the photographs of the attack. we have the state department intelligence histories. we have joint chiefs of staff histories. but to me the document that leaps out of the whole batch is the white house senior staff meeting. this is the day after. this is on the 5th of august, 1964. we really only have these notes because the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, maxwell taylor, has been a top kennedy aide. being sent over to the pentagon to bring the joint chiefs in line. they had been uppity against kennedy during the cuban missile crisis. curtis lamay compares kennedy to chamberlain, appeasing hitler. this is amazing insubordination. max taylor had gone to the pentagon but he kept his white house passes. and he sent his staff over to the senior staff meeting to make
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sure that he, max taylor, sitting over there knew what they were thinking. these notes were taken by an air force major named billy smith. he was a korean war veteran. a four-star general himself. he is sitting in that staff meeting the morning after. so the night before, he had that series of intercepts, torpedoes, the decision to bomb. the bombers have gone off guam. north vietnam taking a huge pummeling. they come in early morning staff meeting. george bundy, national security advisor is presiding. then he says, we actually have less, there was a lot more uncertainty. we have less information this morning and we had last night. bundy says, on the first attack, the evidence would be pretty good. on the second one, the amount of evidence we have today is less than we had yesterday. this resulted primarily from
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correlating bits and pieces of information eliminating double counting and mistaken signals. so you got less information today than you had yesterday and you already bombed them. so sitting in on his first staff meeting is an nbc news reporter who just moved over from nbc to the white house staff. edward r. murrow had moved over from cbs to run voice of america. this was normal, i guess in those days. douglas cater is sitting in his first staff meeting and raises a question about the congressional resolution. the gulf of tonkin resolution to give the president authority to do whatever he wanted to fight back against the vietnamese. it became the ultimate underlying legal authority for the entire vietnam war escalation. only two u.s. senators voted against it. one from alaska and one from oregon. cater says, but i'm wondering,
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hadn't thought it through completely, but the logic really troubles him somewhat. but if this attack on forces, you're going to do a resolution, freedom of all of southeast asia, and you have less information today than you did yesterday? so george bundy says, i'm quoting here, bundy, in reply, jokingly told him, perhaps the matter should not be thought through too far. for his own part, bundy's, he welcomed the recent events as justification for a resolution the administration had wanted for some time. they had drafted a resolution like this back in june to give the president authority to do whatever he wanted in southeast asia. as commander in chief. that he wanted congress' blessing. a blank check. he had been sitting there, because in part we had the upper hand.
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the north vietnamese were a little bit on the defense. we were probing them with all these covert operation, op plan 34. here was this aggression. except provoked by us. but the events, the recent events justification for something we wanted to do for some time. this is the quintessential cherry picking of intelligence to reinforce prearranged rereached conclusions. it is a chilling discussion because you have got them admitting they are less certain but this gives them leverage. the parallel with other disasters, cher picking of intelligence of iraq weapons of mass destruction. oh, the yellow cake, oh, the aluminum tubes. that doesn't pan out? that's all right. we've been wanting to do this anyway.
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it's a big -- it illustrates a perpetual temptation from policymakers, and partly it is human nature. everybody comes to subjects with their biases and prejudices. the thing you're just picking up the information that reinforces what you already think. this was the beginning of escalation. those bombing raids from the 4th of august. the beginning of the escalation. the really big escalation wouldn't happen until the following february of '65, when george bundy, who is joking here, saying he wanted to do this anyway, happens to be in vietnam when the vietcong attack an outpost. happens to be at that outpost. takes it personally. says oh, they're targeting me. they weren't. we now know from vietnamese sources they weren't. they didn't even know he was there. took them three months to organize this attack. to get the supplies down by the north, all that stuff. it was on a prearranged schedule
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but bundy takes it as a reason, oh, they are attacking. aggression by the north. targeting me. we're going to escalate. this is plaiku, north of saigon, the air base that was ripped by vietnamese commune guerrillas. eight americans died in the attack that brought swift retaliation by u.s. and south vietnamese forces. meanwhile president johnson's special assistant for security affairs mcgeorge bundy arrives at the scene of the vietcong raid. he was in vietnam when the attacks took place and holds a battle front conference with the lieutenant general before returning to washington. while he conferred with vietnamese officials the national security council was meeting in washington. it was these meetings that brought the swift decision to strike back at the vietcong. to reemphasize our resolve to continue to defend the cause of freedom in southeast asia. >> and that leads them into this
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incredible escalation of forces. you go back and you listen to the mcnamara and johnson tapes on the 2rd, 3rd and 4th of august, and you see that sort of automatic response in place. somebody is going to shoot at us. we are going to shoot back. not, we're going to try to figure out what it is that they're reacting to, what it is they want. what is it they're trying to do, put ourselves in their shoes, figure out what's a way out of this. no. they shoot. we're going to shoot back. and you just get into the es ka laer to dynamic. and goes through '65, goes all the way through 1975, when the last americans get pulled off the embassy in helicopters. >> mr. bundy arrives back in washington the next day. and he immediately goes into conference with the president and the security council. he tells reporters that he found political and religious factions in vietnam united in their belief that the vietcong is their common enemy. >> i think it's fair to say that
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the americans in vietnam are in very good heart, and are prepared to continue, even against this kind of danger, this kind of sneak attack. >> i think for american citizens the lesson is what ronald reagan used to say to gorbachev about arms control. trust, but verify. i think for policymakers the lesson is, do necessarily terrorist your gut. look for dissent and debate. and this is one of the questions that the insider historian asked, why would my agency, the national security agency that's supposed to present unbiased intelligence, policymakers, why would we slant it? he has three or four conclusions. one is the pressure of the moment. two ways precursor messages that shows attack for coming.
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three, you know what the top policymakers want to hear. four, you saw the president on tv announcing the bombing attack. now you're going to be the one to walk into the oval office and say, whoops. nope. wrong. maybe shouldn't have done that. no, you are not going to be that intelligence analyst. and the other reasons, in part, is that once the top policymakers take those steps, then they really only want to listen to the folks who reinforce the decisions they are already made. the course of action they've been intending to take for awhile. and the people who are dissenting from it, are bringing inconvenient facts to the table, either get pushed away from the table, the most famous story, hubert humphrey gets elected vice president of the united
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states in november '64. sworn in in january 1965. in february 1965, writes a long, personnel heartfelt, eyes-only to the president memo about how our policy in vietnam is just wrong. and we should not be doing what we're doing and we should be figuring out a get-out plan. we know a lot about that memo. it's been declassified. we have the memoirs of humphrey of johnson, of humphrey's staff people who helped draft it. johnson ostracized him for a year. cut him off. refused to let him come to vietnam policy discussions. humphrey hadn't dissented publicly. he hadn't leaked anything. he hadn't tried to build an internal coalition against the president. but he'd written a critical dissenting memo that didn't agree with what the president was doing. so the president decided, you're disloyal. the vice president. you're disloyal. you're not coming to the
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meetings anymore. it was a year of on seek wesness before humphrey got to come back to the table. if that's how dissent and the facts are being received at the very highest levels. what happens if you're national security agency intercept analyst? oops. i guess the final lesson of the tonkin gulf, here we had the ability to listen in on north vietnamese conversations, and yet we did not seem to have an understanding of what it was they were fighting for, how long they would fight, and what that meant for what we ought to do. we were listening, but we were not hearing. >> finally, i have today met with the leaders of both parties, and the congress of the united states. and i have informed them that i
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shall immediately request the congress to pass a resolution making it clear that our government is united in its determination to take all necessary measures in support of freedom and a in defense of peace in southeast asia. assurance by these leaders of both parties that such a resolution will be promptly introduced, freely and expeditiously debated, and passed with overwhelming support. and just a few minutes ago, i was able to reach senator goldwater, and i'm glad to say that he has expressed his support of the statement that i'm making to you tonight.
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you've been watching c-span's american history tv. we want to hear from you. follow us on c-span history. connect with us on facebook at history where you can leave comments, too. and check out our upcoming programs at our website. >> and we would like to tell you about some of our other american history tv programs. join us every sunday at 8:00 p.m. to midnight eastern for a special look at the presidency. learn about presidents and first ladies, their policies and legacies and hear directly from historical archival speeches. every sunday at 8:00 p.m. and midnight eastern on american history tv on c-span 3.
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here's a look at some of the programs you'll find christmas day on the c-span networks. holiday festivities start at c-span eastern on c-span with a lighting of the national christmas tree, followed by the white house christmas decorations with first lady michelle obama and the lighting of the capitol christmas tree. and just after 12:30 p.m., celebrity activists talk about their causes. then at 8:00, supreme court justice samuel alito and former florida governor jeb bush on the bill of rights and founding fathers. on c-span 2 at 10:00, venture into the art of good writing with steve pinker and at 12:30, the secret history of a wonder woman. at 7:00 p.m., author pamela paul and others talk about their reading habits. and at 8:00 eastern, follow the berlin wall with george bush and bob dol.
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at noon, fax experts on first lady fashion choices and how they represented the styles of the times in which they lived. and then at 10:00, tom broe ka on his more than 50 years of reporting on world events. that's this christmas day on c-span networks. for the complete schedule go to >> each week american history tv's american artifacts takes you to museums and historic places. next yes take you inside the u.s. capitol to learn about the history of the house of representatives page program. the program began in the early 1800s and continued up to 2011 when due to technological and staff changes house leadership decided pages were no longer critical to the legislative process and the program was ende ended. >> i'm fara eelliott.
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we're in one of the oldest parts of the capitol's house wing. we call it the new house wing, but it was really built in 1857. and this spot is an ideal place to talk about historic events in the capitol and the artifacts that we have in the collection that matt and i work with and interpret all the time. zb >> so today we want to tell you about the history of the house page program. it has a history going back to the early 1800s. we don't actually know when the first pages served in the house. the tradition of having messengers and a page is simply a messenger, an errand runner. in u.s. legislative practice, it usually has involveinvolved, at in the u.s. congress, young boys between age 8 and age 16 in the 19th century who would run all kinds of errands for members of
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congress. on the floor, rounding up members, things of that nature. and we have a couple of accounts that place it at 1800 when the first pages, young boys served on the house floor as pages. there's an eyewitness account of the house door keeper, thomas claxton on the floor with his nephews. these are the the first accounts of pages. it developed over a couple of decades. by the 1820s we began to see pages showing up in expense reports in the house where we can say definitely that's a page, that's a floor attendant. and it develops over a number of decades. the pages again, tended to be young boys, as young as 8, and the house they tended to be a little bit older. pre-teen, young teens, and the idea was that a younger child was much more liable to take direction.
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if you had an older teen, you might not get such compliance. and the thing, too, about the the house was it was meeting in a chamber, which is now modern national statuary hall. the old hall of the house was very cramped. it was filled with desks. it was really packed with members at a very early point in its existence. and the idea was that you wanted young, fleet of foot boys who could dart in between desks and take amendments from members to the chair and get on and off the floor quickly. there's a great entry in the diary of quincy adams. the great wig member that came back to the house. he's the only member ever to have done that, and he kept a fantastic diary. at one point he's watching the pages on the floor. he refers to them in the diary as tripping mercuries, moving
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about the floor. in his era, it would have been about 18 to 20 pages who were serving. and at that time the pages tended to be boys who were from washington, d.c. they were sometimes sons of members or sons of federal officials, but a lot of times they would be orphans or children from destitute families who members of congress were looking to give a helping hand up, and the pay for pages in that era was actually pretty good. they were paid anywhere from $1.50 at the beginning of the 1800s to $2.50 per day. at the end of congress, they could get a large bow nut from the members. so it was a lucrative enterprise, paging in the 19th century. >> one of the things really interesting about the visual history of pages is that they're such a part of the legislative process that they don't really get noticed in terms of
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paintings and prints until a little bit later, until you start seeing illustrated journals. and at some point it's not until the 1850s and early 1860s that they start showing up as part of the engravings. one of my favorite parts about that is they're used by the illustrators as a commentary of what's going on right then and in the rest of the image because the images are often of the chamber. it's a big stas with a lot going on, and there's an accompanying story to tell you all the details of what's being discussed on the floor and why you're there. they want to illustrate what you think and how you put yourself in the the image. they use pages to do that. for example, we have an 1861 london illustrated newsprint. and the article


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