David H. Hackworth
November 21, 1995
IT'S AN OLD TRICK, BUT IT STILL WORKS
Last August, America pilots became the desperate Bosnian government's surrogate air force. What triggered the NATO bombing campaign against the Bosnian Serbs was a U.S. Army officer's bogus report that a Serb mortar attack had killed 38 people. The objective of the air campaign was to bomb the combatants to Dayton, where Richard Holbrooke would try to do the improbable: make peace with those not ready for peace.
Recently, another American, Robert McNamara, made wise from the pain of a war that often bears his name, was searching for the truth in the graveyards of a terrible American mistake: Vietnam.
McNamara asked Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap what happened in the Gulf of Tonkin in 1964. Giap said the American-reported Vietnamese torpedo boat attack which led to the U.S. bombing of his country never happened, confirming what Medal of Honor winner, retired Adm. Jim Stockdale -- who was flying above the nonevent -- said long ago.
Giap insisted LBJ and his brass hats made up the incident to suck the U.S. into the war -- and it worked. Within hours, the bombs started falling.
The rest is history: Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution; by 1968, one-half million Americans were in Vietnam; and by 1973, almost 400,000 Purple Hearts had been awarded.
What a shame it took McNamara 30 years to dig up the truth. Had he only demanded absolute proof at the time, had Congress only not blindly accepted LBJ's staged account, had what lawyers call "due diligence" only been applied by Congress, perhaps a great tragedy would have been avoided.
Tonkin Gulf-type ruses are as old as war, and too often the follow-on jingoistic juggernaut is impossible to stop
The chant "Remember the Maine" triggered off our war with Spain, even though there was no proof Spain had sunk our battleship Maine in Havana harbor. Many historians say Cuban guerrillas did it so we would come to their aid, and, just by the way, scarf up a few of Spain's crown jewels as war trophies.
Have the American people been tricked again? CIA spooks and several NATO officers plus a squad of U.N. ammo experts say so. All report that the mortar round that kicked off the NATO bombing was fired not by the Serbs, but by Bosnian Muslims.
British and French munition experts arrived at Sarajevo's Trzrdca market 40 minutes after the attack to do a shell report, a technique used by grunts almost since the first mortar round slid down a tube.
A good shell report or crater analysis will tell the size of the round and the exact degree from which the shell came. We're not talking rocket science stuff here, but plain old infantryman-putting-a-compass-in- the-still-hot-crater stuff.
The experts agreed the crater was made by a 120ram mortar shell fired from a bearing of 170 degrees. This meant the shell came from the same Bosnian government positions which had been involved in other attacks, such as a rocket that hit Sarajevo's television station in June, causing 35 Bosnian Muslim casualties.
Returning to U.N. headquarters, the "shell rep" team walked into a Tonkin Gulf-like ambush when a senior American officer -- who hadn't even set a boot down near the market -- overruled their scene-of-the- crime findings.
The brass hat ordered that the report say the mortar shell was fired by the Serbs. It was the old military senior to subordinate drill: 'You're wrong. I'm right. You're out of here.' Those who have worn a soldier suit with a boss who's into cover-up or deceptions know the exercise well.
As with Spain and Vietnam, just hours after the officer submitted his "official report," the bombs fell.
There was no shouting 'Remember the Maine" or 'Remember the Maddox' (the U.S. destroyer that was the Tonkin Gulf ploy) this time. Bosnian Muslim Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic did all the protesting: 'I want air raids, air raids immediately to punish those who are killing innocent people."
Air raids he got. And now, as with Cuba and Vietnam, we're about to send in another generation of America "Rough Riders' to follow- up on the raids.
Unless, this time, Congress practices due diligence.