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Steve Gilliard, 1964-2007

It is with tremendous sadness that we must convey the news that Steve Gilliard, editor and publisher of The News Blog, passed away June 2, 2007. He was 42.

To those who have come to trust The News Blog and its insightful, brash and unapologetic editorial tone, we have Steve to thank from the bottom of our hearts. Steve helped lead many discussions that mattered to all of us, and he tackled subjects and interest categories where others feared to tread.

Please keep Steve's friends and family in your thoughts and prayers.

Steve meant so much to us.

We will miss him terribly.

photo by lindsay beyerstein


Book Excerpt: Rick Perlstein's "Nixonland"

All Hail Perlstein

As a get-well gift to Steve Gilliard, whom I admire profoundly and who has taught me much about military affairs, I offer the following excerpt from my forthcoming book Nixonland on one of his favorite subjects: the collapse of the American military in the field in Vietnam.
With best wishes for a speedy recovery.

- Rick Perlstein

On February 8, 1971-...20,000 ARVN troops poured over Laos's border. The B-52s, F-110s, and F-4 had made their way smooth, and for a good ten days they marched without real Communist resistance, a splendid romp: confirmation of the wisdom of Vietnamization, Time reported noting the prowess of the ARVN's "crack" First Division.

Then the tide turned.

Forty thousand Communist troops counterattacked in waves. The counterattack was made easier by the the fact that South Vietnam's President Thieu, the keeper of the tiger cages at Con Son, hoped to have as few ARVN casualties as possible so the army could protect him against any potential coup, so he ordered his general to let them rest for five days--in a military operation that depended on speed. Two determined Communist divisions hammered them mercilessly. Nixon, panicking, demanded, "We must claim victory regardless of the outcome." The military objective was to be the Laotian town of Tchepone, a stronghold for Ho Chi Minh since the French fought in Vietnam in the 1950s, the "hub of the Ho Chi Minh Trail."

Nixon came up with a plan: "It would be a great public relations coup if the ARVN actually reached Tchepone."

So they scripted a military dumbshow: two thousand bedraggled South Vietnamese soldiers were airlifted to the town, whose once fearsome anti-aircraft batteries--and every building besides--had already been pounded into rubble by U.S. ordnance. William Rogers and President Thieu both announced a famous victory. Dutifully, the press reported one: "Major Victory by South Viets," rhapsodized the always gung-ho Chicago Tribune; "Viets Overrun Key Laos Base," reported the usually skeptical Chicago Daily News.

In fact ARVN radio frequencies were commandeered by the North Vietnamese, who used them to call in American salvos against ARVN positions, and the "crack" ARVN units hugged the skids of the helicopters that had inserted them into battle rather than fight....

Among radicals the Laos offensive did not result in widespread protest: just the bombing of the Capitol privy, an occupation of the Stanford computer building led by the Maoist Melville scholar H. Bruce Franklin, some fires at the new University of California campus at Santa Cruz, little else. The really dangerous protests were all in Southeast Asia. On March 20, along Route 9 by the Laos border, a captain ordered two platoons to wade into heavy enemy fire and retrieve one of the downed helicopters and armored vehicles providing rear support the ARVN "advance." The platoons refused to budge: why fight for these cowards who clasped onto the skids of retreating helicopters instead of fighting themselves? A lieutenant colonel arrived pleaded with them, then ordered them: Fifty-three still refused, and also refused his order to provide their names. No disciplinary action was taken. The brass's fear now was that the mutiny would spread company-, battalion-, or brigade-wide. The American Army was collapsing in the field. "I just work hard at surviving so I can go home and protest the killing," explained one G.I.

Soldiers wrote semi-seditious slogans on their flak jackets and helmet headliners ("The unwilling, led by the unqualified, doing the unnecessary, for the ungrateful"; "Eat the apple, fuck the Corps"). In basic training, at Fort Bliss, where soldiers were calling commanding officers by their first name, they passed practically through anyone who promised that wouldn't go absent without leave (AWOLs went up fivefold between 1966 and 1971). In country, soldiers caught in infractions responded: "What are they going to do about it, send me to 'Nam?" They used to arrest soldiers who attended off-base protest rallies. But if they did that now military police would do little else.

Life had first reported on the new G.I. protest movement in May of 1969: the off-base anti-war coffeehouses; the underground newspapers; the terror all of it struck in the hearts of the military establishment. The Student Mobilization Committee opened a G.I. Press Service, mailing bundles of anti-war newsletters--including legal options for soldiers who'd like to resist--to a list of 300 active-duty G.I.s. The first combat refusals began. Scotty Reston wrote on August 27, 1969: Nixon "has been worried about the revolt of the voters over Vietnam against the war...but now he also has to consider the possibility of a revolt of the men if he risks their lives in a war he has decided to bring to a close." He was paraphrasing a common soldiers' lament, especially among draftees: now that Washington was talking about getting rid of the draft, which of them would be the last to die for a war even the President seemed to admit was a mistake?

After the October Moratorium, a sergeant wrote on behalf of his infantry company: "the Moratorium had wide support. It was, in fact, very much a morale builder. The men are intelligent enough to realize that the peace demonstrations are on their behalf.... While many wore black arm bands for the October 15 Moratorium, they are for the large part prevented from demonstrating their feelings on the war." Life then interviewed one hundred soldiers throughout South Vietnam. That revealed that "many soldiers regard the organized antiwar campaign in the U.S. with open and outspoken sympathy," and "are not demoralizing troops in the field." One private said, "I think the protesters may be the only ones who really give a damn about what's happening."

Monkey-wrenching was epidemic. Psy-ops officers who knew Vietnamese rewrote propaganda leaflets to condemn the Saigon government. Aircraft carrier crews grounded planes. Government-issued amphetamines--"speed," an epidemic of which was destroying the counterculture in Height-Asbhury--meant to keep soldiers alert on patrols, were gobbled recreationally. So many were smoking put (it traded for tobacco cigarettes at an exact one-to-one exchange rate) that the Army started cracking down. So, just like in the Haight, most moved on to heroin, smoked in cigarettes. It was odorless, one soldier noted, so "I can salute an officer with one hand and take a drag of heroin with the other."

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