During his State of the Union speech, President Trump spoke of socialism as if it were a form of evil: “Here, in the United States, we are alarmed by new calls to adopt socialism in our country. . . . Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country.”
But we, as Americans, have already put strong socialist measures into our governing structure. SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, that is, food stamps), Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security as about as socialist as you can get, and they are very popular programs.
Trump appears to be equating socialism with communism. But those who accept socialism do not propose government dictatorship. What they favor is broader sharing among all members of a society in the benefits of that society. These days, that means assuring health care for all, no matter how impoverished, and guaranteeing a minimum income for all.
The United States stands out from other western democracies by its failure to provide medical care and protection from poverty for its people. Government support for and provision of health care is virtually universal among all other advanced nations today. To a lesser degree, protection from poverty is widespread.
My sense is that the U.S. slowness in adopting socialistic measures comes in large part from our devotion to capitalism and our deification of rugged individualism. We admire the strong, look down on the weak. And yet the religions most of us accept—Christianity and Judaism—teach us to succor the weak and the poor. We revere the biblical quotes from the New Testament that tell us “The poor you will have always with you” and “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” The Old Testament tells us that “The meek shall possess the land, and delight themselves in abundant prosperity.”
We are, in short, at odds with ourselves. It’s long since time that we moved toward the benefits socialism can offer us. Newly elected Democrats are already pushing in that direction.
I announced here several days ago, in a blog post titled “Boots,” that my combat boots from Vietnam are the subject of a photograph on display at the Palette and the Page, an art/bookshop in Elkton, Maryland. In that post, I included the URL for a Facebook page on the subject, https://www.facebook.com/patti.paulus.7/posts/10214344159217895
I didn’t mention that on display below the photo are the boots, a plaque my men gave me after the fall of Saigon to thank me for getting them and their wives and children safely out of the country before Saigon fell, and a ceramic elephant I bought in Vietnam. But the focus is on the picture of the boots hanging on the wall above those objects.
I find that photograph, taken by Ann Gonzalez-Yager, deeply moving. It speaks of forlornness and loss. The boots, as Ann portrayed them, reflect my own sorrow over the men killed by my side in combat and the final loss of Vietnam in which so many thousands died. The empty boots, sitting side by side, evoke a sense of desolation. If I didn’t know the story behind the photo, I would believe that these are the boots of a soldier killed in combat.
It is as though my own grief is on display.
Why in 1975 did the top embassy officials in Saigon, led by Ambassador Graham Martin, insist on rejecting the irrefutable evidence that the attack on the city was at hand? In my article about the fall of Saigon (“Bitter Memories: The Fall of Saigon,” http://atticusreview.org/bitter-memories-the-fall-of-saigon/), I surmise that the leaders at the embassy were subject to a condition now called Groupthink Syndrome, defined as firm ideology, immune to fact, shared by all members of a coterie. Tom Polgar, the CIA chief of station, and other senior embassy officials, in other words, joined the ambassador in a fantasy contradicted by the facts. That Saigon would ever fall to the communists was, to them, unthinkable.
Ambassador Martin was the instigator of that fantasy. Readers ask me why he firmly believed that no attack was forthcoming. I conjecture that he was misled by his own conviction, almost a religious faith. To him, the very idea that the Vietnamese Communist flag would ever fly over Saigon was inconceivable. My guess is that he held that belief because his son had died in combat in Vietnam, and he could not countenance the notion that his son’s death had been in vain.
But that is no more than speculation. To this day I am left wondering why he acted as he did. His refusal to accept the evidence of a forthcoming attack and his failure to call for an evacuation resulted in multiple thousands of deaths. The 2700 South Vietnamese soldiers who had worked with my organization were abandoned when we Americans withdrew in chaos on 29 April 1975. They were all either killed or captured by the North Vietnamese. And because the ambassador refused to allow me or my men to be evacuated, I lied, cheated, and stole to get them and their wives and children all out safely. I myself escaped under fire after the North Vietnamese were already in the streets of the city.
To this day, Martin’s reasoning remains a mystery.
The Palette and the Page in Elkton, Maryland, currently has on display the results of collaborations of artists of different disciplines. Among them are a photo of the army combat camouflage boots I wore when I was providing signals intelligence support to units in combat all over South Vietnam. On all those missions, I was under cover as an enlisted member of the unit I was supporting and dressed in fatigues to make me indistinguishable from the troops. As far as I know, the North Vietnamese never discovered that they had a spy in their midst on the battlefield.
Patti, one of the owners of the Palette and the Page, has posted that photo on Facebook. You can see it and read her commentary at https://www.facebook.com/patti.paulus.7/posts/10214344159217895
I have narrated in detail in this blog the story of Graham Martin, the last U.S. ambassador in South Vietnam. He refused to allow me to evacuate my people when the fall of Saigon was imminent. He didn’t believe, in the face of overwhelming evidence, that the North Vietnamese would attack the city.
I’m regularly asked why Martin was so wrongheaded. My answer is that I honestly don’t know. I warned him that signals intelligence left no doubt that the North Vietnamese were about to attack Saigon. I’ve learned in recent years that CIA analysts at the embassy were also alerting him and their boss, CIA chief of station Tom Polgar, that the assault was about to begin. Neither Polgar nor Martin believed the warning.
Months after the fall of Vietnam to the communists, Martin testified before Congress that he had been approached by the Hungarian member of the ICCS (International Committee for Control and Supervision, a group established in 1973 to monitor the so-called cease fire) who told him that the North Vietnamese had no intention of attacking Saigon. Instead, according to this man, they wanted to form a coalition government with all patriotic forces and rule jointly. This man was a representative of a communist government allied to North Vietnam. Martin believed him in the face of overwhelming evidence that the attack was imminent.
The Trump administration’s assaults on the U.S. intelligence agencies lies at the heart of the novel Secretocracy. We know from news reports that the president verbally lacerates the chiefs of those agencies, but we don’t know what actions he has taken to cripple them. Most of that would be budgetary and classified.
Last week, Trump attacked intelligence assessments provided to Congress on Iran, North Korea, and the Islamic State. He maintains, in contradiction of his own intelligence experts, that Iran has violated the agreement not to build nuclear weapons, that North Korea will soon be denuclearized, and that the Islamic State is defeated so that U.S. troops can be withdrawn from Syria. The intelligence community reports the opposite in each case. Then the president maintained that the testimony given by intelligence chiefs to Congress was misquoted and taken out of context, even though the full transcript of their testimony is publicly available and does not support his allegations.
One of the reasons I wrote Secretocracy was to underline the grave danger to our security when the president disregards and even contradicts intelligence. This is unprecedented behavior and puts our nation in peril. In the novel, the protagonist is eventually exonerated and his findings are acted upon. I’ll be curious to see how events play out in the real world.
My greatest fear is that we are headed for disaster.
One of the great challenges of writing Secretocracy was bringing together the various threads of the protagonist’s life into a unified whole at the end. Gene’s job is the principal focus, but he also deals with his failed marriage and the women he meets, his relationship with his son, and his tangles with the men who live in the same shared house he does. In real life, one’s work, family, and social relations tend to remain related but largely independent of each other. But to write a novel gripping enough to keep the reader engaged, I had to weave these threads together into a single story.
Equally challenging was constantly updating the story as more and more scandals broke with the Trump administration. More times than I can count, I returned to the manuscript to splice in stories of new disruptions. My publisher assures me that I can continue to update the story until a few months before the book is to be ready for distribution and sales early next year. I have some hard work ahead of me.
I have never before attempted to write fiction set in the present moment and even going into the near future. I comforted myself with the belief that the pace of disruption affecting the current administration would increase at a predictable pace. So far, my gamble has paid off. Time will tell if I’ll get away with it through the rest of this year leading up to the publication date.