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The Unz Review: An Alternative Media Selection

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General Patton U.S. commemorative stamp, issued in 1953.  Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
General Patton U.S. commemorative stamp, issued in 1953. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

During the long Cold War many Russians grew sufficiently disenchanted with the lies and omissions of their own news outlets that they turned to Western radio for a glimpse of the truth.

The growth of the Internet has now provided Americans with a similar opportunity to click on a foreign website and discover the important stories that have somehow escaped the attention of their own leading journalists. Ironically, much of such “alternative media” coverage actually appears in the leading British newspapers, eminently respectable and published in our closest historic ally.

For example, three or four years ago I noticed a link on a prominent libertarian website suggesting that George S. Patton, one of America’s most renowned World War II military commanders, had been murdered by order of the U.S. government. Not being someone much drawn to conspiracy-mongering, the lurid claim seemed totally outlandish, but I decided to click my mouse and harmlessly examine a bit of Internet fringe-lunacy. However, the source turned out to be a lengthy article in Britain’s Sunday Telegraph, one of the world’s leading newspapers, describing a newly published book based on a decade of detailed research and interviews undertaken by an experienced American military affairs writer.

The book and the article had appeared in 2008 and I had never heard a word about the story in any of my major American newspapers. The description seemed sufficiently factual and detailed that I consulted a couple of prominent academics I know, with backgrounds in history and political science. They had also never encountered the theory, being just as surprised as I was by the material and by the fact that such remarkable revelations had never received any attention in our own country, home of the freest and most scandal-mongering media in the world.

WilcoxBook With curiosity getting the better of me, I ordered the book for about $8 from Amazon.com.

Target Patton, written by Robert K. Wilcox and published by Regnery Press, runs over 450 pages, with an extensive bibliography and nearly 700 footnotes. The many years spent by the author on this project are clearly reflected in the contents, which include numerous personal interviews and the careful analysis of an enormous amount of primary and secondary source material. I’ve seldom encountered so detailed and seemingly exhaustive a work of investigatory journalism, quite understandable given the explosive nature of the charges being made. And yet the expose had never reached readers of the American mainstream media.

I personally found the evidence for Patton’s assassination quite persuasive, even overwhelming, and any curious readers can currently order the book for as little as $2.93 plus shipping and judge for themselves.

Wilcox himself had been just as shocked as anyone else when he first encountered the surprising claims, but the initial evidence persuaded him to invest years fully researching the theory before publishing the results. Some of his major findings seem quite telling.

In the months before his death, Patton had become a powerful critic of the American government, its conduct of World War II, and its policy toward the Soviets. He planned to resign from the military after returning to the U.S. and then begin a major public speaking tour against America’s political leadership; as one of our most celebrated war heroes, his denunciations would certainly have had a huge impact. His fatal car accident took place the day before his scheduled departure home, and he had narrowly escaped death twice before under very strange circumstances.

There are extensive personal interviews with the self-confessed government assassin, then attached to America’s OSS intelligence service, the wartime forerunner of the CIA. This operative had a long and substantially documented career in exactly that sort of activity, both during the war itself and for decades afterward, allegedly working internationally on a free-lance basis and “weeding” selected human targets both for the CIA and various other employers. Towards the end of his life, he became disgruntled over what he regarded as his ill-treatment by ungrateful U.S. government bureaucrats and also a bit guilt-ridden over having been responsible for the death of one of America’s greatest military heroes, prompting his decision to go public, with his claims backed by a voluminous personal diary. Numerous other interviews with individuals connected with the circumstances of Patton’s death seemed to largely corroborate the theory.

The assassin recounted that OSS Chief William Donovan had ordered the killing on the grounds that Patton had “gone crazy,” becoming a major threat to American national interests. Around this same time, a military counter-intelligence field agent began encountering credible reports of a planned assassination plot against Patton and attempted to warn his superiors, including Donovan; not only were his warnings disregarded, but he was repeatedly threatened, and at one point, even placed under arrest. It seems clear that Donovan’s orders came from his superiors, either in the White House or elsewhere.

The motivation may or may not have ultimately had a foreign origin. Over the last twenty years, scholars such as John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr have exhaustively demonstrated that during the 1930s and 1940s a large network of Communist spies had gained enormous influence in the uppermost reaches of the American government. Indeed, Wilcox carefully documents how the OSS itself had been heavily infiltrated at the highest levels by elements of the Soviet NKVD, and that during this particular period, the two intelligence organizations were in an ambiguous quasi-partnership, with Donovan being especially eager to curry political favor with the pro-Soviet elements near the top of the U.S. government.

Meanwhile, Patton, a zealous anti-Communist, had very different views, urging an immediate military attack on the weakened forces of the Soviet Union. It is easy to understand how Stalin and those American leaders in his orbit might have decided that Patton’s physical removal was an absolute priority.

At the time of his death, Patton was the highest ranking U.S. military officer in Europe, and the story naturally became front-page news throughout the world. Several official reports were produced regarding the exact circumstances of the very strange traffic accident responsible, but all of these have completely disappeared from U.S. government files. I find it difficult to imagine a non-sinister explanation for this.

These few paragraphs provide merely the smallest slice of the enormous amount of documentary material and painstaking analysis that Wilcox spent ten years compiling for his outstanding book. Obviously, many questions remain, and absolute proof is impossible seventy years after the event. But from my perspective, the likelihood of an assassination, almost certainly with the active involvement of top American officials, seems overwhelming.

I have also been reliably informed that for many years there has been a widespread belief within the American intelligence community that Patton was eliminated by the U.S. government for political reasons. Such quiet knowledge in those circles is hardly surprising. The alleged government assassin first publicly confessed his guilt in the plot decades ago in front of a journalist at an OSS reunion dinner in DC, while seated at the table of his longtime friend and colleague William Colby, former Director of the CIA. And although the resulting local news stories were completely ignored by the national media, it is hardly surprising that word soon got around within intelligence circles.

Perhaps some experienced scholar with a different perspective could invest time and effort attempting to refute the powerful case set forth by Wilcox, though none apparently has. But suppose that the evidence for this theory is not nearly as overwhelming as it appears, and only sufficient to provide a reasonable possibility that the story is true, perhaps a 25% likelihood. I would argue that if there exists even a slight chance that one of America’s most renowned generals—our top-ranking military officer in post-WWII Europe—was assassinated for political reasons by America’s own government, the scandal would surely rank among the greatest in modern U.S. history.

The book was written by a reputable author and published by a mainstream though conservative-oriented press, but it went unmentioned in America’s major national publications, whether conservative or liberal, nor was any subsequent investigation undertaken. A leading British newspaper reported what American journalists had totally ignored.

It seems likely that if a similar book had been published providing such solidly-documented historical revisionism regarding the sudden death of a top Russian or Chinese general at the close of the Second World War, the story might have easily reached the front pages of the New York Times, and certainly the weekly Book Review section. Perhaps there might even have been considerable media coverage if the victim had been a prominent Guatemalan general, whose name was totally unknown to most of the American public. Yet similar allegations surrounding the demise of one of America’s most famous and popular military leaders of the 1940s have been of no interest to America’s mainstream journalists.

Once again, we must distinguish the two issues. Whether or not I am correct in believing that the case for Patton’s assassination is overwhelming might certainly be disputed. But the fact that the American media has completely failed to report these revelations is absolutely undeniable.

 

As mentioned, I had originally encountered this fascinating history a few years ago, and at the time had been too preoccupied with other matters to publish a column as I’d intended. But having decided to return to the topic, I quickly reread the book to refresh my memory, and found it even more persuasive than I had the first time round. Eight years after original publication, I still failed to find any coverage in our timorous mainstream newspapers, but given the enormous growth of looser web-based journalism, I wondered what might have appeared elsewhere.

Googling around a bit, I didn’t find a great deal. A couple of times over the years, Wilcox had managed to place short pieces of his own somewhere, including the New York Post in 2010 and in the American Thinker webzine in 2012, with the latter including mention of a possibly important new witness who had finally decided to come forth. But otherwise his astonishing book seems to have been entirely shoved down the memory-hole.

On the other hand, others have recently begun trying to take advantage of his research, while refashioning the narrative into one more likely to find favor within the American establishment and the media it controls.

OReillyBook Most notable was Bill O’Reilly, the FoxNews pundit, who published Killing Patton in 2014, another in his series of popular history best-sellers co-authored by Martin Dugard. The very title itself challenged the official story of an accidental car crash, and I eagerly opened the book, only to be severely disappointed. The presentation seemed thin and padded, with perhaps 10% of the text merely rehashing the analysis provided by Wilcox while the remaining 90% represented a rather conventional historical summary of the Western Front near the end of the Second World War, including heavy coverage of the Nazi concentration camps, and with little of this material having any connection to Patton. The only interesting part of the text seemed based on Wilcox’s original research, and that relationship was heavily disguised by the total absence of any footnotes, with the only indication being a single short sentence near the end citing the Wilcox book as a very helpful summary of “the conspiracy theories.” Not unreasonably, the latter author seemed somewhat irritated at the lack of appropriate notice or credit he received.

O’Reilly’s dumbed-down book sold over a million copies, with a title proclaiming Patton’s assassination. But the resulting media coverage was still rather scanty and largely negative, criticizing the supposed indulgence of “conspiracy theories.” Media Matters summarized the reaction as “Historians Rip O’Reilly’s New Patton Book,” and given the near-total lack of any documentation provided by O’Reilly, much of that criticism may not have been unreasonable. Thus, the media totally ignored a heavily documented and persuasive book, while attacking and ridiculing a weak one on the same subject, with this dual approach constituting an effective means of obscuring the truth.

America’s opinion leaders tend to rely upon our most elite national newspapers for their knowledge of the world, and the only coverage I found in these of O’Reilly’s best-seller was a rather odd opinion piece by Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen. Cohen seemed rather uninterested in the assassination question one way or another, but harshly condemned O’Reilly for devoting insufficient pages to discussing Patton’s alleged anti-Semitism. Indeed, he almost implied that some of the remarks later found in Patton’s private diaries were sufficiently nasty toward Jews that perhaps no American should even care whether our highest ranking general in Europe had been killed by his own government or anyone else. The mentality of our mainstream media these days is very strange indeed, and we live in the world it creates for us.

Most recently, the success of the O’Reilly book and our revived Cold War with Russia may have led to production of a new documentary making the case for Patton’s assassination, but possibly reconstructing the facts with a distorted twist. Wilcox’s original research had demonstrated that top American leaders organized Patton’s assassination, though probably in conjunction with the Soviets. O’Reilly provided some of those facts in his book, but his media interviews airbrushed out the American role, simply declaring that “Stalin killed Patton.” And based on news reports, I wonder if this new documentary, apparently made without Wilcox’s involvement, will similarly ignore the massive evidence of direct U.S. government involvement, while perhaps attempting to fix the blame solely upon the nefarious Russians.

Finally, this important historical incident provides a useful means of evaluating the credibility of certain widely-used resources. For years I’ve emphasized to people that Wikipedia is absolutely worthless as a source of reliable information on any relatively “controversial” topic. Given Patton’s enormous historical stature, it is hardly surprising that his Wikipedia entry is exceptionally long and detailed, running over 15,000 words, with nearly 300 references and footnotes. But this exhaustive exposition contains not the slightest suggestion of any suspicious aspects to his death. “Wiki-Pravda” indeed.

For Further Reading:

 
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Several years ago, my articles advocating a large hike in the minimum wage caught the attention of James Galbraith, the prominent liberal economist, and we became a little friendly. As president of Economists for Peace and Security, he invited me to speak on those issues at his DC conference in late 2013. And after the presentations, he arranged a meeting with a friend of his, influential in DC political circles, at which the two of us could present my minimum wage proposals.

While we were waiting for the taxi to take us to that meeting, I heard him quietly discussing a few other matters with a friend standing next to him. Phrases such as “attacking Russia,” “a nuclear first strike,” and “Kennedy and the Joint Chiefs” came to my ears. I can’t recall the exact words, but the conversation stuck in my mind both at the time and on my later flight home that evening, and although I hadn’t mentioned anything, I wondered what remarkable historical facts he had been discussing. His father, the legendary economist John Kenneth Galbraith, had spent decades as one of America’s most prominent public intellectuals and was a very influential figure in the Kennedy Administration, so I assumed that he was not merely engaging in casual speculation.

Finally, a week or two later, my curiosity got the better of me, and I dropped him a note, gingerly raising the topic I’d accidentally overheard. I suggested that if he possessed any private information regarding so astonishing a possibility—that the Kennedy Administration might have considered a nuclear first strike against the USSR—perhaps he had a duty to bring the facts to public awareness lest they be lost to history.

He replied that he’d indeed found persuasive evidence that the US military had carefully planned a nuclear first strike against the Soviet Union in the early 1960s, and agreed about the historical importance. But he’d already published an article laying out the case. Twenty years earlier. In The American Prospect, a very respectable though liberal-leaning magazine. So I located a copy on the Internet:

I quickly read the article and was stunned. The central document was a Top Secret/Eyes Only summary memo of a July 1961 National Security Council meeting written by Howard Burris, the military aide to then-Vice President Lyndon Johnson, which was afterward deposited in the Johnson Archives and eventually declassified. The discussion focused on the effectiveness of a planned nuclear first strike, suggesting that 1963 would be the optimal date since America’s relative advantage in intercontinental nuclear missiles would be greatest at that point. Galbraith’s student, Heather A. Purcell, had discovered the memo and co-authored the article with him, and as they pointed out, this meeting was held soon after the US military had discovered that the Soviet missile forces were far weaker than previously had been realized, leading to the plans for the proposed attack and also proving that the first strike under discussion could only have been an American one.

This history was quite different from the deterrent-based framework of American nuclear-war strategy that I had always absorbed from reading my textbooks and newspapers.

Obviously no nuclear attack took place, so the plans must have been changed at some point or discarded, and there were various indications that President Kennedy had had important doubts from the very beginning. But the argument made was that at the time, the first strike proposal was taken very seriously by America’s top political and military leadership. Once we accept that idea, other historical puzzles more easily fall into place.

Consider, for example, the massive campaign of “civil defense” that America launched immediately thereafter, leading to the construction of large numbers of fallout shelters throughout the country, including the backyard suburban ones which generated some famous ironic images. Although I’m hardly an expert on nuclear war, the motivation had never made much sense to me, since in most cases the supplies would only have been sufficient to last a few weeks or so, while the deadly radioactive fallout from numerous Soviet thermonuclear strikes on our urban centers would have been long-lasting. But an American first strike changes this picture. A successful U.S. attack would have ensured that few if any bombs fell on American soil, with the shelters intended merely to provide a couple of weeks of useful protection until the global radioactive dust-clouds resulting from the nuclear destruction of the Soviet Union had dissipated, and these anyway would have only reached America in highly attenuated form.

Furthermore, we must reassess the background to the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, certainly one of the most important and dangerous events of that era. If Soviet military analysts had reached conclusions similar to those of their American counterparts, it is hardly surprising that their political leaders would have taken the considerable risk of deploying nuclear warheads on intermediate range missiles close to American cities, thereby greatly multiplying their deterrent capability immediately prior to their point of greatest strategic vulnerability. And there was also the real possibility that their intelligence agents might have somehow gotten hints of the American plans for an actual nuclear first strike. The traditional view presented in the American media has always been that an unprovoked American attack was simply unimaginable, any Soviet paranoia notwithstanding, but if such an attack was not only imagined but actually planned, then our Cold War narrative must be significantly modified. Indeed, perhaps important aspects of the superpower confrontations of that era should be completely inverted.

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Could such a momentous historical discovery have been so totally ignored by our mainstream journalists and historians that I’d never heard of it during the previous twenty years? Gossipy rumors of an additional JFK infidelity might periodically make the headlines, but why was there no discussion of serious plans to launch a non-defensive global thermonuclear war likely to kill many millions?

I have limited expertise in either analyzing nuclear warfare strategy or interpreting national security documents, so I could easily be making an error in evaluating the strength of the case. But in a later issue of TAP, William Burr and David Alan Rosenberg, scholars proficient in exactly those areas, published a lengthy rebuttal to the article, followed by a rejoinder from Galbraith and Purcell. And in my own opinion, the Burr/Rosenberg critique was quite unpersuasive.

In their arguments, they emphasized that the key document was found in the Vice Presidential archives, while the National Archives and those of President Kennedy himself are usually a far better source of important material. But perhaps that’s exactly the point. The authenticity of the Burris document was never disputed, and Burr/Rosenberg cite absolutely no contradictory archival material, implying that the documentary evidence was not available to them. So the materials dealing with such an extraordinarily explosive proposal had either elsewhere not been declassified or might even have been removed from the main archives, with only the less direct Burris summary memo in a secondary location surviving the purge and later being declassified, perhaps because its treatment of the subject was much less explicit.

Meanwhile, a careful reading of the Burris memo seems to strongly support the Galbraith/Purcell interpretation, namely that in July 1961 President Kennedy and his top national security officials discussed cold-blooded plans for a full nuclear attack against the Soviet Union in roughly two years’ time, when the relative imbalance of strategic forces would be at its maximum. The proposal seemed quite concrete, rather than merely being one of the numerous hypotheticals endlessly produced by all military organizations.

In a later footnote, Galbraith even mentioned that he subsequently had his interpretation personally confirmed by Kennedy’s former National Security Advisor: “When once I asked the late Walt Rostow if he knew anything about the National Security Council meeting of July 20, 1961 (at which these plans were presented), he responded with no hesitation: `Do you mean the one where they wanted to blow up the world?’”

 

Once I accepted the reasonable likelihood of the analysis, I was shocked at how little attention the remarkable article had received. When I simply Googled the names of the authors “Galbraith Heather Purcell” I mostly discovered very brief mentions scattered here and there, generally in specialized books or in articles written by Galbraith himself, and found absolutely nothing in the major media. Possibly one of the most important revisions to our entire history of the Cold War—with huge implications for the Cuban Missile Crisis—seems to have never achieved any significant public awareness.

And there is also a sequel on this same topic. In 2001 military affairs writer Fred Kaplan published a major article in The Atlantic with the explicit title “JFK’s First-Strike Plan.” Drawing on a wealth of newly declassified archival documents, he similarly described how the Kennedy Administration had prepared plans for a nuclear first strike against the Soviets. His analysis was somewhat different, suggesting that Kennedy himself had generally approved the proposal, but that the attack was intended as an option to be used during a hypothetical future military confrontation rather than being aimed for a particular scheduled date.

The government plans unearthed by Kaplan are clearly referring to the same strategy discussed in the Burris memo, but since Kaplan provides none of the documents themselves, it is difficult to determine whether or not the evidence is consistent with the somewhat different Galbraith/Purcell interpretation. It is also decidedly odd that Kaplan’s long article gives no indication that he was even aware of that previous theory or its differing conclusions, containing not a single sentence mentioning or dismissing it. I find it very difficult to believe that a specialist such as Kaplan remained totally unaware of the earlier TAP analysis, but perhaps this might possibly be explained given the near-total media blackout. Prior to the establishment of the Internet or even in its early days, important information ignored by the media might easily vanish almost without a trace.

Kaplan’s long article seems to have suffered that similar fate. Aside from a few mentions in some of Kaplan’s own later pieces, I found virtually no references at all in the last 15 years when I casually Googled it. Admittedly, the timing could not have been worse, with the article appearing in the October 2001 edition of the magazine, released in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, but the silence is still troubling.

The unfortunate fact is that when a massively important story is reported only once, with virtually no follow-up, the impact may be minimal. Only a small slice of the public encounters that initial account, and the lack of any repetition would eventually lead even those individuals to forget it, or perhaps even vaguely assume that the subsequent silence implied that the claims had been mistaken or later debunked. Every standard historical narrative of the 1960s that continues to exclude mention of serious plans for an American nuclear first strike constitutes a tacit denial of that important reality, implicitly suggesting that the evidence does not exist or had been discredited. As a consequence, I doubt whether more than a sliver of those seemingly informed Americans who carefully read the NYT and WSJ each morning are aware of these important historical facts, and perhaps the same is even true of the journalists who write for those esteemed publications. Only repetition and continuing coverage gradually incorporates a story into our framework of the past.

It is easy to imagine how things might have gone differently. Suppose, for example, that similarly solid evidence of plans for a devastating and unprovoked nuclear attack on the Soviet Union had been found in the archival records of the presidential administrations of Richard Nixon or Ronald Reagan. Is there not a far greater likelihood that the story have been heavily covered and then endlessly repeated in our media outlets, until it had become full embedded in our standard histories and was known to every informed citizen?

 

In some respects, these discussions of events from over a half-century ago have little relevance for us today: the individuals involved are now all merely names in our history books and the world is a very different place. So although the sharp differences between the Galbraith/Purcell analysis and that of Kaplan might engage academic specialists, the practical differences would today be minimal.

But what has enormous significance is the media silence itself. If our media failed to report these shocking new facts about the early 1960s, how much can we rely upon it for coverage of present-day events of enormous importance, given the vastly more immediate pressures and political interests which are surely brought to bear? If our mainstream histories of what happened fifty years ago are highly unreliable, what does that suggest about the stories we read each morning concerning the ongoing conflicts in Ukraine or the South China Sea or the Middle East?

Consider a particularly troubling thought-experiment. Suppose that the proposed nuclear attack on Russia had actually gone ahead, resulting in millions or tens of millions dead from the bombs and worldwide radioactive fallout, perhaps even including a million or more American casualties if the first strike had failed to entirely eliminate all retaliatory capability. Under such a dire scenario, is it not likely that every American media organ would have been immediately enlisted to sanitize and justify the terrible events, with virtually no dissent allowed? Surely John F. Kennedy would have been enshrined as our most heroic wartime president—greater than Lincoln and FDR combined—the leader who boldly saved the West from an imminent Soviet attack, a catastrophic nuclear Pearl Harbor. How could our government ever admit the truth? Even decades later, this patriotic historical narrative, uniformly endorsed by newspapers, books, films, and television, would have become almost unassailable. Only the most marginal and anti-social individuals would dare to suggest that the facts might actually have been otherwise, and they would be widely regarded as eccentric or even mentally ill for doing so. After all, how would the general public know anything different? As I always tell people, the media creates reality.

I am grateful that the world escaped this terrible nuclear disaster. But I find it disturbing that I spent decades religiously reading The New York Times every morning, but only discovered this crucial element of the Cold War by overhearing a conversation while waiting for a taxi.

For Further Reading:

Postscript:

Prof. James Galbraith has now provided a note, clarifying his own views on the issues discussed in this article:

http://www.unz.com/runz/american-pravda-did-the-us-plan-a-nuclear-first-strike-against-russia-in-the-early-1960s/#comment-1531657

 
Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman.  Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons
Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman. Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons

For months the business headlines of America’s leading media outlets have been charting the looming downfall of Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman, now on the verge of losing control of his enormous media company to Shari Redstone, the once-estranged daughter of controlling shareholder Sumner Redstone. Just a few years ago, he was America’s highest-paid chief executive, with his rise to power chronicled in a massive 4,000 word New York Times profile, which absorbed much of the front page of the Business Section. And now he is seemingly more focused on negotiating his exit package, with his fall partly matching the decline in his corporate share price.

But even more remarkable than his fall in business stature has been the new-found silence on his tested intelligence, which for years had been described as corresponding to an IQ in the range of 260, very possibly the highest ever recorded in the history of the human species.

What’s that? Doesn’t that woman who has for decades provided a “Dear Abby” type letter-column in Parade Magazine have the world’s highest IQ? Or isn’t it that semi-employed college drop-out and former bar-bouncer who mathematically proved the existence of God and generated much chatter on the Internet a dozen years back? And weren’t their IQs merely in the low 200s at most, so surely everyone would have heard if America’s highest-paid CEO were also its greatest national genius, thereby confirming the financial reward-structure of our strictly-meritocratic economy? How did our flawless elite media somehow manage to miss the story?

The facts were hardly buried in the small print. For years, his fawning media profiles, at least going back to a 1995 Forbes cover story, have emphasized his exceptional youthful brilliance by noting that he scored a perfect 1600 on the SATs at the tender age of thirteen, a personal detail that his publicists ensured was repeated in numerous other MSM outlets over the years, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Reuters.

Now as it happens, scoring a perfect 1600 on the pre-1995 SAT is hardly a trivial achievement at any age. The overwhelming majority of high-performing high school seniors had taken the exam, and most years those scoring 1600 numbered only in the single digits, occasionally reaching a dozen or so. The exam also had a very high correlation with IQ test results, and indeed the late Henry Harpending once noted that a reasonable case could be made that the old SAT constituted the best high-end intelligence test in the world, being normed on such an enormous population group. Considering that only a small handful of our brightest 17-year-olds annually got a perfect score, an individual who casually achieved that same remarkable feat at the age of 13 must possess an almost superhuman intellect.

By contrast, consider a far lesser mortal such as mathematician Jordan Ellenberg, whose mundane achievements are summarized in his unadorned Wikipedia page. As a child prodigy, he taught himself to read at the age of two, and by fourth grade was a champion in high school math competitions. He went on to win Gold Medals with perfect scores in two different International Math Olympiads, took second place in the national Intel/Westinghouse Science Talent Search, and twice achieved the remarkable honor of being a Putnam Fellow in math at Harvard, where he earned both his A.B. and Ph.D.; later, he also wrote a novel that was a finalist in a national fiction prize. These are hardly intellectual distinctions to sneeze at, and his perfect 1600 on the SAT was fully in keeping with his obvious ability. Indeed, since he got that perfect score as a high school junior, he was very possibly the youngest such student that year in the entire country. However, that last achievement likely came at the age of 16, while his scores at an earlier age were far lower. Indeed, if we exclude young Dauman, I’m not sure there’s ever been a single student under the age of 15 or 16 who ever got a perfect 1600 on the pre-1995 exam.

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I have little doubt that if American journalists were a bit more conversant with the higher reaches of academic testing, Dauman’s remarkable test scores would have constituted the headline focus of each of his media profiles, easily eclipsing his wealth or his corporate position. After all, if an individual selected as the new CEO of some large company had also invented a functioning teleportation device as a teenager, which achievement would receive greater national recognition?

In 1985 Harvard’s Robert Klitgaard published his influential book Choosing Elites on our meritocratic methods of college admissions, with a significant focus on academic tests such as the SAT. In a long, extended footnote (pp. 234-235), he provided a intriguing table presenting the rough equivalency between V+M SAT results and Stanford-Binet childhood IQ scores. While I can’t say whether the estimates are correct, they don’t seem unreasonable to me, and I’m not aware of anything better elsewhere. Although the paucity of data causes the actual table to end at IQ=190, it seems pretty clear that a pre-1995 V+M SAT score of 1600 taken at the usual age of 17 would roughly correspond to an IQ=200. When individuals score beyond the validity of tests, we are faced with problems of extrapolation, and perhaps the least-bad approach would be to apply the old-fashioned age-ratio-method of intelligence-testing, suggesting that Dauman’s score of 1600 at the age of 13 corresponded to an IQ of over 260.

Dauman may be as modest as he is brilliant, and it’s intriguing that after his stupendous SAT scores were mentioned in that glowing 2012 NYT profile, they seem to have disappeared from subsequent media mention despite nearly two decades of emphasis, and I very much doubt that my short item characterizing him as “The Third Greatest Genius in Human History” was the primary cause. A cynical observer might even suspect that he had been slightly “embellishing” his scores for all those years, and his lawyers and publicists finally persuaded him to stop doing so.

But this could not possibly be the case. After all, consider the case of poor Scott Thompson, a PayPal executive appointed Yahoo CEO in early 2012. He claimed that decades earlier he had earned his undergraduate degree at obscure Stonehill College, majoring in accounting and computer science, but when it was revealed that his major had solely been in accounting, the controversy forced his immediate resignation.

Meanwhile, Dauman has been locked in an exceptionally bitter battle for control against his mentor’s daughter over Viacom, a media empire worth tens of billions of dollars. If there were even the slightest possibility that he had actually spent decades making utterly preposterous claims about his academic ability, casually assuming that these would never be noticed by the totally credulous and ignorant journalists of the mainstream media, her crack teams of researchers would surely have already uncovered that fact and used it to destroy him. Thus, Dauman’s IQ surely must be in the 260 range, and if he does ultimately lose his control over MTV and Comedy Central, the world might be the beneficiary, if he chooses to focus his vast intellect on finding an immortality serum or a means of traveling faster than light.

 

On an entirely different matter, I just spent a couple of days reading yet another POW book, Kiss the Boys Goodbye by Monika Jensen-Stevenson and William Stevenson, which left me rather puzzled. Published in 1990 at a point when nearly 70% of the American public believed that there were live POWs still held in Southeast Asia, this text provided remarkable claims of US government involvement in a massive cover-up, along with the sordid motives supposedly responsible. In various later anti-POW books, several former military men who said that they had directly seen imprisoned POWs were dismissed in a few paragraphs as obvious con-men or liars, mostly based on official records; here, those same individuals were discussed and interviewed for pages and finally judged to be credible, while accusations were made that the government was organizing a massive smear campaign against them, including the fabrication of false testimony aimed at destroying their reputations.

The book itself is written in a rather breezy style, and given its shocking claims, I would normally have extreme doubts about its credibility. But the primary author was an award-winning producer at Sixty Minutes, who spent over five years working on the POW project, while her husband and co-author had considerable expertise in intelligence and military matters, especially related to Southeast Asia, and had written a sheaf of books on those topics, including the best-seller A Man Called Intrepid. Many of the charges of government cover-up and conspiracy are based on direct personal experience, so unless we assume that she is a liar or a lunatic, they would seem likely to be correct. And if even merely 10% of the book’s claims are correct, then the POWs almost certainly did exist. So my overall verdict on this new material is “I just don’t know.” Unfortunately, these days I do take this sort of “conspiracy book” much more seriously than I might have six or seven years ago.

Finally, one of John McCain’s wartime propaganda broadcasts for the Communists has now been unearthed and released, exactly confirming some of the material I described in my article last year.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: American Media, IQ, McCain/POW
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To recast a famous philosophical conundrum, what would happen if hundreds of thousands of Americans died, but the media never reported that calamity?

I spend hours each morning closely reading the print editions of my daily newspapers, and for over a decade that question has seemed real rather than merely hypothetical. The reason may be summarized in one word: “Vioxx.”

Vioxx? What’s Vioxx? I suspect that the overwhelming majority of Americans today would have only the vaguest recollection of that name, and if forced to guess, the largest number might respond: “Vioxx—Is that a new Pokemon character?”

Actually, no. The Vioxx Scandal of the mid-2000s represented one of the greatest medical health disasters of modern times, almost entirely due to corporate greed. An ocean of Americans perished, tens of thousands by official government estimate, but with the true figure more likely ranging into the hundreds of thousands. Yet despite that huge body-count, no one was ever punished, and the entire affair was quickly shoved down the memory hole by our national media, perhaps because the media itself had been a major financial participant.

The story is a simple one. At the end of the 1990s, pharmaceutical giant Merck introduced a patented, vastly more expensive substitute for simple aspirin, which it marketed as a painkiller to the elderly by spending hundreds of millions of dollars on direct-to-consumer advertising through television and other media outlets. The advertising did the trick, and twenty-five million Americans were eventually prescribed Vioxx, generating over $2 billion in annual revenue.

The media benefited from the advertising, Merck benefited from the sales, and many millions of Americans benefited from an effective arthritis remedy that supposedly had fewer side-effects than old-fashioned aspirin. Unfortunately, one of these side-effects turned out to be a huge increase in the risk of strokes and heart attacks, many of them fatal.

Some of initial media reports indicated that Merck had desperately fought behind the scenes to suppress the FDA study demonstrating that their extremely lucrative drug had already killed at least 35,000 Americans, but then “voluntarily” recalled that drug just days before the research report was finally scheduled for release.

And there was a striking epilogue to this scandal, ignored by the media, but which I discussed in an article published a few years ago. Since the historical facts haven’t changed, I quote a few of my crucial paragraphs:

This story of serious corporate malfeasance largely forgiven and forgotten by government and media is depressing enough, but it leaves out a crucial factual detail that seems to have almost totally escaped public notice. The year after Vioxx had been pulled from the market, the New York Times and other major media outlets published a minor news item, generally buried near the bottom of their back pages, which noted that American death rates had suddenly undergone a striking and completely unexpected decline.

The headline of the short article that ran in the April 19, 2005 edition of USA Today was typical: “USA Records Largest Drop in Annual Deaths in at Least 60 Years.” During that one year, American deaths had fallen by 50,000 despite the growth in both the size and the age of the nation’s population. Government health experts were quoted as being greatly “surprised” and “scratching [their] heads” over this strange anomaly, which was led by a sharp drop in fatal heart attacks.

On April 24, 2005, the New York Times ran another of its long stories about the continuing Vioxx controversy, disclosing that Merck officials had knowingly concealed evidence that their drug greatly increased the risk of heart-related fatalities. But the Times journalist made no mention of the seemingly inexplicable drop in national mortality rates that had occurred once the drug was taken off the market, although the news had been reported in his own paper just a few days earlier.

A cursory examination of the most recent 15 years worth of national mortality data provided on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website offers some intriguing clues to this mystery. We find the largest rise in American mortality rates occurred in 1999, the year Vioxx was introduced, while the largest drop occurred in 2004, the year it was withdrawn. Vioxx was almost entirely marketed to the elderly, and these substantial changes in national death-rate were completely concentrated within the 65-plus population. The FDA studies had proven that use of Vioxx led to deaths from cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks and strokes, and these were exactly the factors driving the changes in national mortality rates.

The impact of these shifts was not small. After a decade of remaining roughly constant, the overall American death rate began a substantial decline in 2004, soon falling by approximately 5 percent, despite the continued aging of the population. This drop corresponds to roughly 100,000 fewer deaths per year. The age-adjusted decline in death rates was considerably greater.

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Back in college I had a strong interest in the old Soviet Union, and was always amused when experts explained that some of the most important news developments were often tucked away as small items in the back pages of Pravda or Izvestia. I find it distressful that the same situation now seems true in our own society.

 

I was prompted to resurrect this old story after I attended a rare dinner party a few days ago with a group of Republican political activists. One of the individuals was quite agitated at the supposedly dangerous nature of our Chinese imports, and launched into a lengthy diatribe against that totally corrupt foreign government. He angrily reminded his listeners about the Melamine Scandal, in which baby food products sold in China were adulterated by a potentially harmful plastic chemical compound, leading to the illness of hundreds of thousands of infants and the death of six. Although I was too polite to interrupt his monologue, I knew those details quite well since I had directly contrasted that case—and the reaction of the Chinese government—with how America had handled the Vioxx disaster:

China’s leaders may not be democratically elected, but they pay close attention to strong popular sentiment. Once pressed, they quickly launched a national police investigation which led to a series of arrests and uncovered evidence that this widespread system of food adulteration had been protected by bribe-taking government officials. Long prison sentences were freely handed out and a couple of the guiltiest culprits were eventually tried and executed for their role, measures that gradually assuaged popular anger. Indeed, the former head of the Chinese FDA had been executed for corruption in late 2007 under similar circumstances.

Obviously, the two situations were not exactly parallel, but consider the different reactions by the national government and media, and what it implies about the realities of popular control in the two societies. In China, a wave of illness culminating in the deaths of six infants became a gigantic national scandal, leading to prison sentences and even executions for the corrupt businessmen responsible and the government officials who facilitated their crimes.

Meanwhile, in the United States a somewhat similar medical scandal producing a body-count perhaps fifty thousand times larger was quickly hushed up and forgotten by the media, with no serious government investigation or significant punishment for any of the guilty parties. The Merck CEO was forced to resign and replaced by one of his top lieutenants, but allowed to keep his $50 million in past bonuses, greatly boosted by lucrative Vioxx sales. A lengthy class-action lawsuit was eventually settled, with the trial lawyers splitting almost $2 billion among themselves, while payouts to the actual victims amounted to roughly $100 per Vioxx user or perhaps $10,000 per American fatality. Given these facts, is it China or is it America that seemingly possesses a free and vigorous media, with a government responsive to the will of the people and protective of their best interests?

Nearly a half century ago, China was in the throes of Mao’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, and its government behaved very oddly, leading to all sorts of long-term problems for Chinese society. These days, China seems like a perfectly normal country with a perfectly normal government, and instead it is our own political leadership whose bad behavior may inspire much hand-wringing among future historians.

When ruling elites have little concern for the best interests of the populations they govern, the results can be dire. Under the drunken and totally corrupt Yeltsin Regime of the 1990s, Russia’s national wealth was looted by its financial Oligarchs, who siphoned off vast quantities to their overseas holdings while reducing much of the Russian population to penury. As a direct consequence, Russia suffered one of the greatest peacetime demographic collapses in modern world history, a collapse that was quickly ended and gradually reversed once a patriotic nationalist such as Vladimir Putin came to power and implemented different policies.

Late last year a pair of prominent scholars revealed a stunning rise in the death rates of white Americans over the last dozen years, and some have noted the intriguing parallel between Russia of the Yeltsin years and the situation in our own country. The rapid growth in the highly lucrative prescription drug industry seems a major contributor to this dire health situation, which is heavily concentrated among the non-affluent, whose real wages have stagnated or declined for most of the last 40 years. When large population groups gradually notice that their mortality rates are rising and their financial well-being is falling, they may grow dissatisfied with their existing national elites, and the widespread popularity of Donald Trump in such circles should hardly come as a great surprise.

In his most recent book, Prof. Michael Hudson, a distinguished international economist, has correctly emphasized the strong structural similarities between biological and economic systems. Based on this useful correspondence, he suggests that many of America’s current problems may be best understood once we recognize that our society has been very heavily parasitized by its extractive elites. He further notes that parasites typically attempt to seize control of the sensory organs and central nervous system of their unfortunate host, thereby disorienting their victim or even convincing it that they represent an integral and necessary part of the organism’s own tissue.

Since the mainstream media constitute the sensory organs of our body politic, Hudson’s words often ring true as I read my morning newspapers.

 

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The Best Picture winner at this year’s Academy Awards was Spotlight, which seemed an excellent choice to me. That powerful ensemble performance showed a handful of daring investigative reporters at The Boston Globe taking on the political and cultural establishment of their city, breaking the story of how the Catholic Church had long shielded its numerous pedophile priests. The focus was less on the scandal itself and more on the obstacles faced by the journalists, including the widespread disbelief that a cover-up so vast could have remained in place for so long.

A couple of decades earlier, a college friend of mine then living in DC would occasionally regale me with stories of the bizarre lunatics he encountered in his neighborhood. There was one gentleman who regularly occupied a particular street corner with a home-made sign, declaring that he had been sexually molested by a Catholic priest and denouncing his church for protecting such individuals by concealing their abuses. Sometimes all that separates the discounted ravings of street madmen and a long series of international headlines is merely the willingness of a few bold journalists to ask some probing questions.

These thoughts came to mind as I read the various public tributes to Sydney Schanberg, whose distinguished journalistic history came to its end a few weeks ago. Naturally, the majority of the coverage focused on the years he had risked his life during the war in Cambodia, since those had led to his Pulitzer Prize, and later gained him permanent fame in the Oscar-winning film The Killing Fields. But his career spanned more than half a century, of which only a few years were spent overseas as a foreign correspondent, and in many respects those other, later years provide a story every bit as interesting, and perhaps even more relevant today, given the ills that currently plague our society. The plot lacks an uplifting happy ending, but that just makes the tale a more realistic one.

Soon after his return from Cambodia and his Pulitzer Prize, he was named Metropolitan Editor at the New York Times, with one-third of all the newspaper’s journalists serving under him. But just a few years later, he was gone, and his lengthy Times obituary devoted only a couple of sentences to his post-Cambodia years at the newspaper, though his longtime friend Charles Kaiser provided far more of the details in a recent Vanity Fair piece.

In one of our conversations, Syd casually mentioned that although major newspapers are very eager to uncover corrupt practices in distant lands such as Afghanistan or Bosnia, they are less happy when their employees undertake similar efforts closer to home, especially in their own city. And although I never pressed him to clarify what he meant, I sensed he was speaking from personal experience.

According to my late friend Alex Cockburn, the long-time Press Clips media critic at The Village Voice, Schanberg’s focus on the more sordid aspects of his newspaper’s editorial support for the West Side highway project eventually outraged top management, leading to his removal. He had spent 26 years at the Times and the 1984 triumph of The Killing Fields had established him as one of the world’s most famous journalists, perhaps only trailing Woodward and Bernstein of Watergate fame; but in August 1985 he was supposedly escorted from his desk out the front door in the course of a single day.[See below]

Even while still at the Times, he had grown concerned at the decline of journalistic rectitude in the face of financial temptations, such as the growing possibilities for vast wealth opening to those newsmen who seized a lucky opportunity while never rocking the political boat. For example, he once told me the story of a newly hired network news anchor, just arrived in New York City, who joined a group of prominent local journalists for lunch. The newscaster’s entire conversational focus was on the remarkably luxurious interiors of some of the Upper East Side co-op apartments he’d recently seen on a visit, and the chance he himself might have to live in such splendor. The anecdote was prompted by the case of a different network anchor, ABC‘s Peter Jennings, who’d spent his entire career in the news business but managed to leave an estate worth $50 million to his heirs, an outcome that an old-fashioned reporter might view as unseemly.

Certainly, the remaining thirty years of Schanberg’s own career demonstrated a very different lodestar. For years he had received reports from his military contacts of American POWs still held after the end of the Vietnam War, but his beat was the domestic politics of New York City and State, so he turned those tips over to his Times colleagues, who made little effort to energetically investigate them. However, once the Senate POW Committee hearings began in 1991, he immersed himself in the issue, eventually publishing dozens of columns and articles on the topic over the next couple of years.

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The great irony was that although the hearings actually caused the release of a vast quantity of new evidence, much of it strongly supporting the case for the abandoned POWs, the American political establishment instead seized the opportunity to end the nagging controversy by declaring the POWs a myth and the issue closed once and for all, with nearly our entire mainstream media following their lead. Thus, Schanberg began pursuing the massive scandal at exactly the point at which the American media had suddenly lost almost all interest, and he spent the remainder of his life doggedly pursuing a topic that caused him to receive what he later called the “Silent Treatment.”

 

Schanberg’s story might surely make a very powerful film or documentary, demonstrating the darker realities of contemporary American journalism, but only if the huge hidden scandal that he had spent a quarter century seeking to reveal were actually true. The evidence of the abandoned POWs seems overwhelming to me, but I am hardly an expert on Vietnam, and must simply weigh the facts and opinions presented by others.

For example, a few years ago Schanberg’s journalistic integrity and excellence were hailed by Joseph Galloway, an award-winning military affairs writer specializing in the history of the Vietnam War, who included this appraisal:

More recently, Schanberg’s was among the few voices calling to account two U.S. senators, John McCain and John Kerry, both Vietnam veterans, for manipulating the findings of a special Senate committee to cover up the truth: that the Nixon White House, directed by President Nixon and his war planner, Henry Kissinger, left hundreds of living American POWs behind in the hands of their captors when we evacuated Vietnam.

On the other hand, I also recently discovered a totally contrary view advanced by Rick Perlstein, a highly-regarded author of books on the conservative political culture of the Goldwater and Nixon Eras, who denounced belief in the abandoned POWs as a ideological myth born of rightwing paranoia, tainted with sharp racialist sentiment. He favorably cited the views of H. Bruce Franklin, a Maoist cultural historian, whose 1991 analysis I have already rejected as factually shallow, but he more heavily quoted from the conclusions of mainstream historian Michael J. Allen, whose work Until the Last Man Comes Home he described as “the definitive book on the subject.”

Through the modern miracle of Amazon.com, Allen’s book was soon in my hands, and I spent a day or two carefully reading it, hoping to decide how effectively the author refuted the factual claims of Schanberg and others.

In most respects, Until the Last Man Comes Home seems a fine work of academic scholarship, well-written, published by a university press, and featuring glowing blurbs from other historians. The main text runs 300 pages with over 100 additional pages of footnotes and bibliography, along with a lengthy index. But when I turned to that index, the name “Sydney Schanberg” was nowhere to be found.

The absence of any reference to the most prestigious figure in the pro-POW camp troubled me, but I explained it away. After all, Schanberg’s remarkable 8,000 word expose on the POW cover-up had been rejected by every mainstream publication and had only been released on a website in late 2008, perhaps after the Allen’s 2009 book had already gone to press, while nearly all his numerous earlier pieces from the early 1990s had either run as newspaper columns or otherwise appeared outside of mainstream outlets. Allen may have just disregarded these as superseded by later analysis.

However, the next lapse I discovered seemed completely inexcusable. The most comprehensive recent presentation of the pro-POW case is surely An Enormous Crime by former U.S. Rep. Bill Hendon, who also worked as a Pentagon intelligence analyst specializing in POW issues and as an investigator for the Senate POW Committee. Given Hendon’s background, he seems well suited to provide an inside perspective on the topic, and his 600 page volume exhaustively documents the factual details and entire history surrounding the alleged abandonment of the POWs, providing a cornucopia of evidence, much of it seemingly persuasive. The hardcover edition was released in Spring 2007 by an imprint of Macmillan, a mainstream publishing house, but although Allen’s very extensive bibliography lists some 250 books, Hendon’s is not one of them. Refuting Hendon’s arguments is one thing, but simply ignoring them is quite another.

As I started to read the actual Allen text, I better understood why including those missing works might have constituted a problematical distraction from the central flow of Allen’s narrative. Although Allen thoroughly explores the political, ideological, social, cultural, psychological, and historical aspects of the Vietnam POW movement, he devotes relatively little attention to the factual question itself: did the abandoned POWs actually exist? Page after page is given over to the complex internal politics and interpersonal disputes of the various POW activist groups, but it would also be nice to be able to decide whether their basic beliefs had indeed had merit.

Consider, for example, the claim that soon after Reagan took office in early 1981, Canada passed along a diplomatic overture by Hanoi offering to return the remaining American POWs they held in exchange for a payment of $4 billion, representing the cash they had been secretly promised in the original peace agreement but never received. Schanberg devotes several long paragraphs to this vital piece of evidence, and Hendon’s book gives it four full pages. Together, these sources provide the names of several former government officials attesting to the reality of this crucial incident, including with sworn testimony, but it receives no mention whatsoever in Allen’s book. On the other hand, Allen does devote nearly a dozen pages to the American Civil War and the stories of the missing soldiers and POWs in that 19th century conflict.

Going down the list of the major evidentiary findings provided by Schanberg, few of them are mentioned, let alone effectively refuted by Allen, who seems equally ignorant of the 600 pages of material provided by Hendon. If one side in an ongoing historical debate provides a vast quantity of seemingly persuasive evidence, while the other side simply avoids the argument, what conclusions should be drawn by a fair-minded outside observer? Attempting to debunk a controversial hypothesis by ignoring all the most powerful “smoking guns” then casually dismissing the remaining evidence as merely circumstantial is unlikely to persuade any neutral third-party who is provided the two opposing arguments. Perhaps this explains why the mainstream media has been so reluctant to offer space to both sides of the POW argument, and has instead declared the entire matter “Case Closed.”

Allen’s apparent unwillingness to pursue leads found in non-mainstream publications may have caused him to miss important and persuasive evidence. For example, he correctly emphasizes that Sen. John McCain played an absolutely pivotal role at the Senate POW Committee Hearings: he was only former POW among the members and also the most ferocious opponent of the POW activists. Indeed, Allen argues that McCain alone possessed the “moral authority” to defeat the POW advocates in the important arena of public opinion. Then, near the very end of his book, Allen separately mentions “the furious smear campaign” McCain later endured at the hands of some of those activists and veterans groups, who accused him of wartime treason and all sorts of other moral failings, but dismisses these charges as the unsubstantiated attacks of extremists, who typified their ideological movement.

This might seem a plausible analysis, but additional facts change the picture. In an article last year, I pointed out that there seems to be overwhelming evidence that McCain did indeed spend his time as a POW doing enemy propaganda broadcasts for Hanoi, which would surely mark him as a “traitor,” and that he very likely later invented his tales of torture as a preemptive defense against the risk of a court martial upon his return. McCain’s wartime behavior was apparently quite well known in POW circles, and a short wire story in a 1969 edition of Stars and Stripes magazine described his radio broadcasts on behalf of his Communist captors. Indeed, I now possess a recently located audio file of one of McCain’s wartime Hanoi broadcasts, which seems absolutely genuine to me.

The former top-ranking officials of the Nixon Administration and their Pentagon allies were obviously the persons most eager to expunge the widespread popular belief that they had abandoned American POWs, and these same individuals surely not only knew of McCain’s true wartime record, but also possessed the hard evidence to prove it and destroy him politically. These hidden facts may easily explain why McCain acted as such a ferocious bulldog at the hearings, regularly denouncing both his opposing senatorial colleagues and even the relatives of unreturned POWs in extremely harsh and personal terms. Under such a reconstruction, the senator’s “moral authority” may have been considerably less than what Allen assumes.

There are times when a concerted alliance of powerful American elites are determined to establish a particular narrative history of events, facts be damned, and under such circumstances the mainstream media often serves as their handmaiden. A massive and perfectly-timed cover story in The Atlantic Monthly, sharply slanted coverage in major newspapers, and selective statements by influential public officials may have succeeded in achieving this during the Senate POW Committee hearings. And once such an official narrative has been established, later editors may easily be persuaded that any attempts to reopen the issue are either just “old news” or instead are based on wild “conspiracy theories,” long since debunked. Under such circumstances, even an individual of Sydney Schanberg’s stellar journalistic reputation may find it impossible to break through these thick walls of silence.

Meanwhile, Michael J. Allen may be a perfectly fine young scholar, but he was apparently still untenured at the time this book, his first, appeared in print, and I suspect his academic career path would have become considerably more difficult if he had suggested factual conclusions totally divergent from those of nearly the entire American political and media establishment.

These sorts of practical realities must be considered whenever we analyze controversial topics upon which our elite establishment has already proclaimed its definitive and final verdict. Principled journalists and historians may seek to speak truth to power, but the converse may be a more typical outcome.

[Correction: I have been reliably informed that elements of Alex Cockburn's account of the circumstances surrounding Sydney Schanberg's departure from The New York Times were seriously mistaken. Although his Times column was cancelled, he was actually offered another position at the paper by the publisher, but preferred to leave instead and soon began writing a column for NY Newsday, where he remained for the next ten years.]

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Last week America suffered the loss of Sydney Schanberg, widely regarded as one of the greatest journalists of his generation. Yet as I’d previously noted, when I read his long and glowing obituary in the New York Times, I was shocked to see that it included not a single word concerning the greatest story of his career, which had been the primary focus of the last quarter century of his research and writing.

The cynical abandonment of hundreds of American POWs at the end of the Vietnam War must surely rank as one of the most monumental scandals of modern times, and the determined effort of the mainstream media to maintain this enormous governmental cover-up for over four decades raises serious doubts about whether we can believe what our newspapers report about anything else.

A couple of mainstream academics, one liberal and one conservative, whose names would be recognized as those of prominent public intellectuals, dropped me notes strongly applauding my effort to reopen the POW controversy and help get the truth out at last.

But the vast majority of my readers, perhaps being of a younger generation, were quite surprised to read my presentation, presumably having always vaguely assumed that talk of the “abandoned POWs” was just some Hollywood-inspired myth of the 1980s, generated by the success of the Rambo movies of the Reagan Era and continued by the populist paranoia of Ross Perot, before gradually fading away with the passage of time. I can’t really blame them because until just a few years ago that was exactly my own impression.

As someone who was just a child during the Vietnam War and had no familial connection to the conflict, I’d paid little attention to the history. During the late 1970s and afterward, the newspapers had gradually informed me of the POW activists, with their wild talk of Americans still held for years after the war in secret prisons of Communist Vietnam and the dark accusations they made of government conspiracies working to suppress that truth.

Naturally, I’d discounted such claims as the most obvious lunacy, on a par with UFO abductions, and never doubted that the advocates were exactly the sort of rightwing crackpots the media had always suggested. Every now and then lengthy cover stories had appeared in The New Republic or The Atlantic Monthly, among my favorite publications, strongly reinforcing that established verdict, and I always read those, nodded my head, and thought no more of the topic. For thirty-five years I never once considered the possibility that the POWs might have actually existed.

But perhaps it is exactly that past ignorance and disinterest in the Vietnam War and the ensuing POW controversy that affords me some reasonable objectivity on the issue, allowing me to analyze the facts much as I would a historical puzzle from Ancient Greece. And once I finally encountered both sides of the story in late 2008, the evidence in favor of the reality of the POWs seemed absolutely overwhelming.

 

When I discovered Schanberg’s stunning 8,000 word expose online, an article rejected by nearly every significant publication in America, my first step was to locate copies of the conflicting articles that had once seemed so persuasive to me, and reread them much more carefully. Once I did that I realized that the factual argumentation they had provided had been extremely thin. Their contents heavily focused on the cultural and ideological aspects of the POW movement, with the possible reality of any POWs casually dismissed upon rather scanty evidence. What I had been reading was cultural criticism rather than investigative journalism.

To a considerable extent, the rightwing POW activists played into the hands of their critics by presenting the facts of the case upside down, framing their arguments in a way sure to attract the scorn of most reporters. Activist rhetoric was heavy with denunciations of the “treacherous” Communists in Hanoi, who cruelly kept our American POWs still imprisoned despite the peace agreement that ended the war. To any objective journalist, this surely sounded paranoid and ridiculous. Why would the Communists want to keep the American POWs? Out of pure evilness or something?

But the reality was exactly the opposite. It was the American government that had been treacherous, by refusing to pay the Vietnamese the $3.25 billion in reparations that they had demanded at the Paris Peace Talks as a price for ending the war and returning the POWs. If you buy a car and you refuse to pay, is it “treacherous” if the car dealer never delivers your vehicle?

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The problem had been that for domestic political reasons the Nixon Administration chose to pretend that the promised payment of the money was unconnected with the prisoner return, instead labelling it “humanitarian assistance.” Unsurprisingly, Congress balked at providing billions in foreign aid to a hated Communist adversary, and Nixon, weakened by the growing Watergate Scandal, couldn’t admit that unless the money were delivered, Hanoi would refuse to return the remaining POWs.

This very simple and plausible reconstruction seems to have been completely ignored by the prestigious magazines that covered the controversy. For example, the July 1985 TNR cover story by James Rosenthal, a television journalist, ran nearly 3,000 words, but never raised this possibility, instead being overwhelmingly devoted to ridiculing the POW activists and their celebrity enablers, while questioning their motives. The supposed non-existence of the POWs was established by quoting a few government reports and official declarations. Rosenthal particularly emphasized that the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) discounted any evidence of surviving POWs, apparently being unaware that, as Schanberg notes, his immediate DIA predecessor had long held exactly the opposite position, believing that the data indicated the existence of live POWs; after a bitter bureaucratic struggles, he had been forced into retirement over that very issue. Missing that sort of important detail represents the difference between publishing a solidly researched article and just a bit of casual beltway opinion journalism.

 

Even more drastic was my reappraisal of the December 1991 Atlantic Monthly cover story by H. Bruce Franklin. Entitled “The POW/MIA Myth” and running a remarkable 15,000 words, this lengthy debunking had appeared in one of America’s most prestigious outlets for longform journalism at the very start of the Senate POW Hearings and must have heavily influenced the perceptions and tone of the daily print journalists who covered the hearings, while reporting the public statements of the various witnesses and the positions taken by Senators John McCain, John Kerry, and the other Committee members.

The very first sentence of Franklin’s article noted that 69% of the American public then believed that live POWs were still being held in Southeast Asia, but he not unreasonably attributed much of this belief to the various popular Hollywood movies of the 1980s. Franklin is a cultural historian rather than an investigative journalist and he seems to draw on few sources of information beyond the regular newspapers, yet casually ridicules a 60 Minutes producer whose five year investigation had concluded that the POWs definitely existed. Given his own expertise and background, it is hardly surprising that Franklin devotes as much as 90% of the piece to the “cultural” aspects of the POW phenomenon—the rightwing activists who believed it, the hucksters who profited from it, the unrealistic plots of the Hollywood action movies that glorified it.

In a particularly ironic turn, he mocked anyone who might believe in an “enormous conspiracy” by the various arms of the U.S government to suppress the truth about the POWs. Ironic, because Franklin himself was an unrepentant radical Maoist who been one of the very few tenured professors fired during the campus turmoil of the 1960s when he incited riots at Stanford and organized attacks on university buildings. Apparently, he firmly believed that government officials all lied about Vietnam during the war itself, but became scrupulously honest once it had ended.

Franklin’s naivete is almost charming. In 1985 President Reagan’s National Security Advisor was secretly caught on tape admitting that POWs were probably still alive, a statement exactly contrary to his official public position. But Franklin attributes this stunning gaffe to the distorting psychological influence of the Rambo movies then playing in the theaters.

He also persuasively argues that Reagan himself firmly believed in the reality of the POWs and during his term of office made various secret attempts to rescue them, but uses these facts merely to portray the Gipper as ignorant and delusional, never apparently considering the possibility that the president of the United States might have access to better intelligence sources than those of a Maoist professor of cultural studies.

Meanwhile, Schanberg noted sworn testimony by Reagan’s National Security Advisor, revealing that early in the administration an offer had been received via a third country suggesting Hanoi would return the surviving POWs in exchange for a payment of $4 billion (the difference from the original $3.25 billion presumably representing nearly a decade of accrued interest). Perhaps this development, rather than Hollywood action movies, helped explain the president’s beliefs.

Indeed, perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Franklin’s piece is that although he devotes 21 pages of magazine text to exhaustively exploring almost every cultural aspect of the so-called “POW Myth,” including detailed plot summaries of several Hollywood action movies, he never once even mentions the $3.25 billion in reparations that America had promised Vietnam and then never paid, which likely constitutes the key to the entire political mystery. I find that omission highly suspicious and wonder whether he (or his editor) feared that providing such a telling clue might lead his readers to reconsider the entire logical framework being presented to them.

As mentioned, Franklin was an especially fervent opponent of the Vietnam War and he surely must have retained a burning political hatred for Henry Kissinger and the other Nixon Administration alumni whom he blamed for the disaster. But these individuals were obviously also the central figures behind the POW cover-up, and by applying a thick whitewash of cultural critique to the massive scandal, he helped ensure that none of them were ever called to account for their misdeeds by the American people. The term “useful idiot” surely comes to mind.

Over the years it has become quite apparent that major media outlets are sometimes enlisted as weapons in a subterranean propaganda war, and one must wonder whether publication of the massive Franklin cover story, timed to precisely coincide with the launch of the Senate POW Hearings, might have been an instance of this. Certainly there were powerful political figures very eager to bury the scandal once and for all, and what better way to do so than by providing a prestigious national platform for a cultural critic whose greatest personal specialty was the literary interpretation of science fiction, having him produce an article focusing so heavily upon the cultural and ideological shortcomings of the POW advocates while rather casually dismissing the possible factual basis of their case. Surely there must have been numerous investigative journalists available who might have used the same venue to provide the magazine’s elite national readership with a much more realistic and balanced assessment of the facts. But perhaps that’s exactly the point.

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Sydney H. Schanberg, center, in Cambodia, August 1973
Sydney H. Schanberg, center, in Cambodia, August 1973

The death on Saturday of Sydney Schanberg at age 82 should sadden us not only for the loss of one of our most renowned journalists but also for what his story reveals about the nature of our national media.

Syd had made his career at the New York Times for 26 years, winning a Pulitzer Prize, two George Polk Memorial awards, and numerous other honors. His passing received the notice it deserved, with the world’s most prestigious broadsheet devoting nearly a full page of its Sunday edition to his obituary, a singular honor that in this degraded era is more typically reserved for leading pop stars or sports figures. Several photos were included of his Cambodia reporting, which had become the basis for the Oscar-winning film The Killing Fields, one of Hollywood’s most memorable accounts of our disastrous Indo-Chinese War.

But for all the 1,300 words and numerous images charting his long and illustrious journalistic history, not even a single mention was made of the biggest story of his career, which has seemingly vanished down the memory hole without trace. And therein lies a tale.

 

Could a news story ever be “too big” for the media to cover? Every journalist is always seeking a major expose, a piece that not merely reaches the transitory front pages but also might win a journalistic prize or even change the history books. Stories such as these appear rarely but can make a reporter’s career, and it is difficult to imagine a writer turning one down, or an editor rejecting it.

But what if the story is so big that it actually reveals dangerous truths about the real nature of the American media, portrays too many powerful people in a very negative light, and perhaps leads to a widespread loss of faith in our major news media? If readers were to see a story like that, they might naturally begin to wonder “why hadn’t we ever been told?” or even “what else might be out there?”

Towards the end of the 2008 presidential campaign, while John McCain battled Barack Obama for the White House, I clicked an intriguing link on a small website and discovered Syd’s remarkable expose, one which had been passed over or rejected by every major media outlet in the country, his enormous personal reputation notwithstanding.

The basic outline of events he described was a simple one. During the Paris Peace Talks that ended the Vietnam War, the U.S. government had committed to pay its Hanoi adversaries $3.25 billion in war reparations, and in exchange would receive back the American POWs held by the Vietnamese. The agreement was signed and the war officially ended, but the Vietnamese, suspecting a possible financial double-cross, kept back many hundreds of the imprisoned Americans until they received the promised payment.

For domestic political reasons, the Nixon Administration had characterized the billions of dollars pledged as “humanitarian assistance” and Congress balked at appropriating such a large sum for a hated Communist regime. Desperate for “peace with honor” and already suffering under the growing Watergate Scandal, Nixon and his aides could not admit that many hundreds of the POWs remained in enemy hands, and so declared them all returned, probably hoping to quietly arrange a trade of money for prisoners once the dust had settled. Similarly, Hanoi’s leaders falsely claimed that all the captives had been released, while they waited for their money to be paid. As a result, the two governments had jointly created a Big Lie, one which has largely maintained itself right down to the present day.

In the troubled aftermath of America’s military defeat and the Nixon resignation, our entire country sought to forget Vietnam, and neither elected officials nor journalists were eager to revisit the issue, let alone investigate one of the war’s dirtiest secrets. The Vietnamese continued to hold their American prisoners for most of the next twenty years, periodically making attempts to negotiate their release in exchange for the money they were still owed, but never found a American leader daring enough to take such a bold step. The Big Lie had grown just too enormous to be overturned.

Over the years, rumors surrounding the remaining POWs became widespread in veterans’ circles, and eventually these stories inspired a series of blockbuster Hollywood movies such as Rambo, Missing in Action, and Uncommon Valor, whose plots were all naturally dismissed or ridiculed as “rightwing conspiracy theories” by our elite media pundits. But the stories were all true, and even as American filmgoers watched Sylvester Stallone heroically free desperate American servicemen from Vietnamese prisons, the real-life American POWs were still being held under much those same horrible conditions, with no American leader willing to take the enormous political risk of attempting either to rescue or ransom them. Over the years, many of the POWs had died from ill-treatment, and the return of the miserable survivors after their secret captivity would unleash a firestorm of popular anger, surely destroying the many powerful individuals who had long known of their abandonment.

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Eventually, America’s bipartisan political leadership sought to reestablish diplomatic relations with Hanoi and finally put the Vietnam War behind the country, but this important policy goal was obstructed by the residual political pressure from the resolute POW families. So a Senate Select Committee on the POWs was established in order to declare them non-existent once and for all. Sen. John McCain, a very high profile former POW himself, led the cover-up, perhaps because the very dubious nature of his own true war record left him eager to trade secrecy for secrecy. Despite considerable evidence to the contrary, our media declared that the abandoned POWs had never existed and closed the books on the long, lingering controversy.

As it happens, not long after the committee issued its final report and shut down, a stunning document was unearthed in the newly-opened Kremlin archives. In the transcript of a Hanoi Politburo meeting, the Communist leadership discussed the true number of POWs they then held and made their decision to keep half of them back to ensure that America paid the billions of dollars it had promised. Former National Security Advisors Zbigniew Brzezinski and Henry Kissinger both stated on national television that the document appeared genuine and it seemed undeniable that American POWs had indeed been left behind. Although the national media devoted a couple of days of major coverage to this uncomfortable revelation, it then reported denials from both the U.S. and Vietnamese governments, and quickly dropped the story, returning to the official narrative: There were no abandoned POWs and never had been.

 

As I reviewed Syd’s massively-documented 8,000 word exposition, and confirmed for myself that the bylined Sydney Schanberg was indeed the Sydney Schanberg, I experienced a growing sense of unreality. I was reading what might rank as “the story of the century,” a scandal vastly greater and more gripping than the sordid political abuses of Watergate or Iran-Contra, a tale of national treachery suppressed for forty years by our government and our media, but now broken by one of America’s most distinguished journalists. The gravest possible charges were being levied against Sen. John McCain, the Republican nominee, coming right at the height of his presidential campaign. And not one word of this was being mentioned in any of our mainstream media outlets, while almost all of the thousands of political websites, large and small alike, remained just as silent. From that day forward, I have never looked upon our national media with the same eye.

Everyone to whom I showed the article was just as shocked as myself, except for one or two individuals with a strong Vietnam War background, who privately confirmed that it was all probably true.

The election came and went with McCain’s defeat, and the incoming Obama Administration began coping with the intensifying financial crisis, but I still couldn’t put Syd’s remarkable article out of my mind, nor the deafening silence it had received. Perhaps, I thought to myself, the piece had been ignored because it appeared on a small website with few readers, and the unprepossessing circumstances of its release had raised serious doubts about its credibility.

At that time I served as publisher of The American Conservative, a small but generally well-regarded opinion magazine, and I eventually decided to commit my publication to providing the story the wider attention it so obviously deserved. By October I had gotten in touch with Syd, and spent several hours with him on the phone, explaining my interest, gaining his trust, and also assuring myself that he was still just as solid and sober a journalist as he had always been. I began preparations to republish his long expose as the cover story of one of my issues, making it the centerpiece of a symposium on government cover-ups and media lapses, with a special focus on the POW issue.

TAC-McCainPOWs As part of that plan, I recruited a number of strong participants for the symposium, including Andrew Bacevich, the well-known military writer, the late Alex Cockburn, and even a former Republican House Member, who had independent evidence confirming the POW facts. Syd wrote a 2,000 word introductory piece entitled “Silent Treatment,” recounting his unsuccessful efforts to persuade any mainstream media outlet to investigate the scandal, and I added an introduction, providing my own perspective on the story and its implications.

My magazine had tens of thousands of regular readers, and with the story’s prestigious placement and Syd’s stature bolstered by the symposium contributors, I felt confident we would attract a great deal of mainstream attention. I was on friendly terms with quite a number of established reporters and opinion columnists, and sent them advance copies of the material, speaking with some of them by phone, and discovering that all were as shocked by Syd’s revelations as I had been. Yet the result once again was utter and complete silence from mainstream media outlets, and no response to any of my follow-up notes. I was later told that one of America’s best-known investigative reporters read the story and found it stunning, yet he never said a word about it in public.

Although totally boycotted by the establishment media, the article and the related pieces were heavily discussed and reviewed on several popular alternative media websites, left, right, and libertarian, so the facts must have come to the attention of many of the regular journalists who frequent those sources of information, and the cover story of our very next issue provoked considerable mainstream coverage. But Syd’s “scandal of the century” had seemingly vanished into the ether.

Not long afterward, Syd published a collection of his articles in book form, with his McCain/POW expose being one of the last and longest pieces. David Rohde, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winning war reporter then at The New York Times, described the outstanding journalism contained within, writing that “Sydney Schanberg is one of the greatest war correspondents of the twentieth century,” and the praise from Pulitzer Prize winner Russell Baker was equally fulsome. Joseph Galloway, a journalist who had authored major books on the Vietnam War, explicitly contrasted Syd’s integrity with the shameful reticence of nearly all other journalists who failed to acknowledge the reality of America’s hundreds of abandoned Vietnam POWs. So the historical truth seems to be known and generally accepted within informed circles, but no mainstream publication has been willing to allow it to reach the eyes or ears of the general population.

I do believe that the evidence is simply overwhelming to anyone with an open mind, and the universal silence of our media is the only slight contrary indicator. A few months ago I served on a government secrecy panel with Daniel Ellsberg, whose role in leaking the Pentagon Papers had established him one of America’s leading voices on cover-ups of embarrassing military secrets. A major portion of my talk focused on Syd’s POW findings, and the way in which the government and media had successfully colluded to keep the story hidden for over four decades. Ellsberg found the claims totally astonishing, and saying he’d never previously heard a word about them, eagerly took home copies of the article and some related material. At the dinner reception the next evening, he told me he’d carefully read them, and was fully convinced that everything was probably true.

At one point I also received a note from an elderly, rather prominent mainstream conservative academic. He told me that at the end of the Vietnam War he had been a young intelligence officer in Washington, and even after all these decades the abandonment of American POWs still made him sick to his stomach. He said he hoped that someday there might be a U.S. President willing to tell the American people the truth of what had actually happened. I asked him for permission to publish his remarks, even anonymously, but got no reply.

Syd had always believed that the American media was simply scared of his story, with its troubling implications, and I tend to agree with him. Just as the government has maintained its cover-up for all these years because admitting the truth would destroy too many reputations, crucial elements of the media may feel the same way. There is the famous precedent of Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times correspondent Walter Duranty, whose reports from the Soviet Union regularly ridiculed claims of any significant Ukrainian famine during the 1930s and thereby helped ensure that nearly all of America’s elite media discounted and ignored the reports that millions were dying. The Times took nearly sixty years before finally admitting its error.

And the cautious and hierarchical structure of mainstream journalism probably produces a cascading effect. The editor of any media outlet who might consider covering the POW scandal would naturally conclude that “it can’t possibly be true or it would have already reached the headlines of one of America’s leading publications.” Meanwhile, the editors of any one of those latter outlets would note Syd’s 26 years as a star journalist at the New York Times, and wonder why our national newspaper of record would be ignoring the story if it had any substantial basis in reality. And perhaps the editors making such decisions at the august Times itself would be ashamed to admit that they had completely ignored the facts for so long. A story which is “hot” will surely boost a journalist’s career, but one which is “too hot” might risk destroying it.

Sometimes lower-ranking individuals are reluctant to stick their necks out on something so explosive, or even to trouble their superiors on the matter. Syd once told me that some years ago, he had dinner at his home with a retired Executive Editor of the Times, who was astonished to learn of the explosive POW findings, and dismayed that his own newspaper had never covered any of it at the time. “Why didn’t you come to me yourself?,” he asked. Syd responded that he considered it inappropriate to make a personal appeal for coverage on a story of such great significance, and that the material should stand or fall on its own journalistic merits. They parted with some angry words.

The historical events under discussion took place over forty years ago, and I am sure that many would suggest that they have little relevance today. I was just a child when the Vietnam War ended, and barely have a memory of it. The American troops deliberately left behind to die by our own government numbered less than one percent of their comrades who fell in battle, and merely the tiniest sliver of the millions of overall fatalities in that misbegotten war.

But from the very first time I have never believed that Syd’s remarkable findings would significantly alter our view of the Vietnam War or even of our political leadership. The meaningful issue is not whether the Vietnamese Communists held our prisoners for ransom or whether American leaders sought to escape embarrassment by hiding that reality, but rather whether our supposedly free and vibrant mainstream press can be trusted on anything important, with a cover-up of such length and magnitude suggesting a negative conclusion. I think it would be an important and absolutely fascinating exercise for some enterprising media journalist to go around to a considerable number of the appropriate editors and reporters, bring them face to face with Syd’s remarkable findings, and ask them what did they know, when did they know it, and why did none of them ever decide to report it?

The media is an enormously powerful and shaping force in our society, and receives far less scrutiny than it should. Taken together, it constitutes the sensory organs of the body politic, and if these grow unreliable, the results for our society can be disastrous, just as an animal in the wild with failing eyesight must surely face its doom.

 

Twelve months ago I would have been quite pessimistic that Syd’s revelations might reach the media headlines in the foreseeable future, but today a confluence of independent factors may have made that a real possibility.

Most pundits have been flummoxed by the recent rise of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, whose repeated victories over their establishmentarian opponents seemed to violate every rule of modern political campaigns. But I think the obvious explanation is the visceral, burning hatred of so many Americans, both left and right, toward what they perceive to be the total dishonesty and corruption of their reigning political and media elites.

Last year I published an article gathering together the limited available evidence concerning John McCain’s true wartime record, and demonstrating that it seemed at utter variance with that presented by the media. In many respects, my piece was a coda to Syd’s own POW expose, and I was gratified at the very kind words he extended to my work. John McCain is currently up for reelection in Arizona this year and deeply unpopular, with the latest poll putting him at below 40% in his own Republican primary.

Much of my analysis had focused on the strong indications that McCain spent nearly his entire imprisonment as a leading Communist collaborator, whose widespread propaganda broadcasts rendered him the “Tokyo Rose” of that era; later he concocted false claims of torture in order to protect himself against plausible accusations of treason. Although the evidence I found of McCain’s broadcasts seemed persuasive, it was from secondary sources and inexact. But now the actual McCain tapes have been located and may soon be released. I’ve listened to one of them myself and it exactly matches the descriptions contained in my article, while an actual audio file naturally carries much greater evidentiary weight. And the very tight connection between McCain’s deep wartime secrets and those surrounding the abandoned POWs ensure that if the first gains the awareness of the general public, the second will almost inevitably follow. McCain’s sordid wartime record would represent the triggering fuse that might ignite a massive national political explosion.

Will the Arizona voters learn the true facts about John McCain? Perhaps, perhaps not. Trump is very much a loose cannon, whose 10 million agitated Twitter followers constitute an enormous alternative media distribution channel, and one which served him very well during the primaries. Just a few days ago, Trump held a remarkably hostile meeting with all the Republican senators, at which he threatened to personally ensure the defeat this year of Arizona Senator Jeff Flake. Apparently, he confused Flake, who is not up for reelection in 2016, with McCain, who is, and the latter has also been a major target of his political wrath.

Syd despised Donald Trump and everything he stood for, so it would be ironic indeed if Trump became the inadvertent vehicle of “the great cleansing of the Augean Stables” that Syd had sought for so many years.

 

I doubt if one Americans in twenty is aware that over forty years ago, his government deliberately abandoned hundreds of POWs in Vietnam, and then spent four decades desperately covering up that enormous crime, with the media being a willing co-conspirator. But even if our citizens remain ignorant of that particular dark deed, over the years they have strongly come to suspect their elites are guilty of a vast number of equally heinous offenses, some of which are plausible and others ridiculous; and who can reasonably blame them? If our entire media would willfully ignore “the story of the century” as massively documented by one of its most distinguished members, who can say what other matters might remain hidden from public view?

For years I’ve been telling my friends that unless and until our major media publications are finally willing to report Sydney Schanberg’s stunning POW expose, I simply won’t trust a word they write about anything else. And perhaps that is the most important legacy of one of America’s greatest journalists.

For Further Reading:

 
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As a software developer and company co-founder who has lived in Palo Alto since the early 1990s, I understand the extraordinarily important contribution that immigrants have made to our technology industry over the last half century and the crucial role they play in maintaining American competitiveness.

I’ve found it unfortunate that for years top Silicon Valley companies have faced a desperate shortage of H-1B visas, which are intended to allow them to hire foreign workers possessing unique skills. These severe immigration restrictions have led top companies such as Facebook, Google, and Apple to lobby Congress for an immigration reform package that includes a large expansion of this visa program, currently capped at 85,000 per year. However, these efforts by the tech community’s FWD.us and other groups have ended in repeated failure.

One reason for this political failure has been the scandalous nature of the current H-1B visa system. Although originally intended to apply only to unusually skilled individuals, the visa program has been misused as a means of eliminating the jobs or driving down the salaries of ordinary American tech workers.

Over the past year, The New York Times has described how a large fraction of annual H-1B visas are captured by low-end outsourcing companies such as TCS, Cognizant, and Infosys, which are then hired by corporations such as Disney to replace their in-house tech workers with cheaper immigrant labor.

Longtime American employees are forced to train their immigrant replacements, then eliminated in mass layoffs so that these wealthy corporations can boost their profits. Since so many of these H-1B workers are paid less than their American counterparts, this process also exerts continual downward pressure on the incomes of tech workers throughout our economy.

Under such circumstances any significant expansion of H-1B visas is merely a recipe for destroying one of the few remaining well-paying job categories in our society and further impoverishing the American middle class. This is a clear violation of the legislative intent behind the creation of the H-1B visa program.

The obvious solution to this political and economic dilemma is not to expand but instead to reform the H-1B system.

H-1B visas constitute a scarce government resource that is now being provided under an annual first-come, first-serve procedure, with companies allowed to submit an unlimited number of individual applications. This is a totally absurd allocation model, and allows companies to easily game the system. As a result, in 2014 outsourcer TCS received over a dozen times the number of H-1B visas for its low-end immigrant tech workers as did Apple for its elite hires.

The obvious solution is to switch to a market-based alternative, with the government instead auctioning off these visas, thereby providing those crucial immigration slots to the companies to which they provide the greatest value.

Under such a reform proposal, the Googles, Facebooks, and Apples of our country would easily outbid the outsourcing firms, whose only competitive advantage is the low salaries they pay their immigrant workers. And since the former might end up bidding $20,000 or more merely for the right to hire a particular foreign worker, there would be absolutely no downward pressure on the wages of America’s millions of existing technology workers. Meanwhile, any additional costs incurred by these top companies would be negligible compared to the value of the lost business opportunities they currently suffer when they are unable to hire the extremely talented foreign workers they require.

Sometimes the best means of fixing a broken system is simply forcing it to comply with its original intent.

Ron Unz, a former theoretical physicist and software company co-founder, is a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in California. He wrote this for the Mercury News.

(Reprinted from The San Jose Mercury News by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Economics • Tags: H-1B, Immigration, Silicon Valley

The greatest problem with most universities today is that tuition is much too high, forcing an entire generation of students into long-term debt-servitude. Total student loans now exceed $1.2 trillion, and millions of students will probably never be able to pay them off.

During the mid-1970s, tuition at UCLA, Berkeley, and the other UC campuses was only $630 per year. Now the annual cost averages around $15,000, having increased many times faster than inflation.

An important factor has been the huge rise in educational expenses. Undergraduates now enjoy four years of access to nicer food, fancier dormitories, and Olympic-quality swimming pools, but must then spend 10 or 20 years paying back the crippling student loans that covered those temporary luxuries.

However, the biggest factor in rising expenses has probably been the huge growth in the administrative staff. A couple of decades ago there was one administrator for every two faculty members, and now the numbers are roughly equal. Doubling the number of these non-teaching administrators, some of whom receive outrageous salaries, explains where much of the extra money has been going.
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One way of cutting tuition would be to persuade the state legislatures in California and around the country to allocate many billions of additional taxpayer dollars to increase public subsidies to their state colleges and universities. But most government budgets are very tight, so this seems unlikely to happen.

Therefore, the only apparent means of substantially lowering tuition is to drastically cut the expenses, especially those unnecessary administrative costs. Liberals and conservatives should unite behind this important political project, backed by the millions of students who desperately need cuts in their extremely high college tuition.

Ron Unz is chairman of Free Harvard/Fair Harvard, a slate of candidates running for the university’s Board of Overseers on a platform of immediately abolishing undergraduate tuition. He is also a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in California.
(Reprinted from Zocalo Public Square by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Economics • Tags: Academia, Tuition
Keeping English, Raising the Minimum Wage, Fixing Immigration
RonUNZ

I’m willing to take clear stands on issues, including some controversial ones, regardless of ideology or political orientation. Maybe you’ll agree with me and maybe you’ll disagree with me, but at least you’ll know what I believe.

As a U.S. Senator, I’ll carefully listen to both sides of every issue, do my own research, and support the policies that I believe are best for our country and the American people. But here are some of the major issues currently driving my campaign.

And here’s some additional information on who I am and where I stand:

If you find my forthright stand on these controversial issues refreshing in a candidate, you can DONATE HERE—but nothing over $99!

 

Keeping English in the Schools

All immigrant children must be taught English as soon as they enter school if they are to become successful, productive members of our society. As a U.S. Senator, I would propose federal legislation requiring English in our public schools.

For decades, millions of students from a Hispanic family background were automatically placed in Spanish-almost-only “bilingual education” programs, and as a result they had a very difficult time learning how to properly read, write, or even speak English.

Then in 1996 a group of immigrant Latino parents in downtown Los Angeles, led by a leftwing ex-Catholic nun, began a public boycott of their local elementary school for refusing to teach their children English. Their protest received widespread media attention, and I eventually contacted them, surprised at the outrageous nature of the system.

The following year I launched the “English for the Children” Prop. 227 campaign, aimed at dismantling California’s heavily entrenched “bilingual education” system and requiring that all children be taught to read, write, and speak English in our public schools.

We were opposed by nearly all the powerful political interests in California. The Chairman of the State Republican Party and the Chairman of the State Democratic Party both opposed Prop. 227, as did all four candidates for Governor, Democrat and Republican alike, while President Bill Clinton came out to California to campaign against us. Nearly every major newspaper in the state urged a No vote, as did every major union, and we were outspent on advertising 25-to-1. Nonetheless, we won in a landslide, by the widest margin of any contested initiative since Prop. 13 in the 1970s.

Within months, most California schools began teaching their million-plus young Latino students in English rather than in Spanish, and the results were remarkable. All the major newspapers that had strongly opposed Prop. 227 began running numerous stories about how well the new system was working, how easily Latino children were learning English, and how happy their parents and their teachers were with the changes.

The founding president of the California Association of Bilingual Educators declared himself a born-again convert to English immersion, and promoted the change in the Washington Post and CBS News. The liberal Democrat who served as President of the State Board of Education followed a similar path. Within four years the academic test scores of over a million immigrant students increased by 30%, 50%, even 100%.

I launched similarly successful “English for the Children” initiative campaigns in other states, including Arizona and Massachusetts, usually winning in huge landslides. Due to my efforts, bilingual education largely disappeared from schools all across the country, with more and more states following California’s example and recognizing that intensive English instruction was the best educational approach to take with young immigrant children.

In California itself the issue had been entirely dead and forgotten for a decade or more, with almost everyone perfectly content with the new system and nearly a full generation of young Latinos having grown up learning English perfectly well as soon as they started school.

Therefore, I was totally outraged in 2014 when the Democrats and Republicans in the State Legislature united to attempt to completely repeal my Prop. 227 on the November 2016 ballot and reestablish the disastrous system of bilingual education in California.

This proves just how absurdly out of touch the political establishment of both political parties has become and was the main reason I decided to run for office.

 

Raising the Minimum Wage

A much higher minimum wage would solve many of our serious social and economic problems, while supporting conservative principles. As a Republican U.S. Senator I would propose raising the American minimum wage to $12.

Not only do I strongly support a large increase in the federal minimum wage, but I believe that I have already played a major role in moving that issue back to the center of American politics.

Just a few years ago, raising the minimum wage was an issue almost entirely ignored by political leaders, even Democratic ones.

A large fraction of all Republicans believed that the minimum wage was an old-fashioned idea that made no economic sense, and were glad that inflation had drastically reduced its value since 1968. Even many Democrats agreed with this.

Then in Fall 2011 I published a 12,000 word article advocating a very large rise in the national minimum wage as the simple solution to many of our most complex and intractable social and economic problems. My suggestion of $12 per hour was enormously higher than anything previously supported by almost any prominent liberal or Democratic policy advocate, let alone any significant number of elected officials.

James Galbraith, a prominent liberal economist picked up on my idea and began promoting it in his writings, as did leftwing journalist Alexander Cockburn in the pages of The Nation and elsewhere. The centrist New America Foundation solicited an additional 4,000 word minimum wage paper from me, and Ralph Nader enlisted my support for launching a major minimum wage lobbying campaign in Congress, while various union-backed groups began similar efforts in cities and states.

By January 2013 President Obama had unexpectedly made a hike in the minimum wage an important element of his State of the Union Address, although he was merely proposing a $9 figure, while Economics Nobel Laureates Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz had dropped their long opposition to minimum wage laws, and become influential advocates.

Then at the end of 2013, I suddenly launched a $12 per hour minimum wage initiative campaign in California, generating a great deal of state and national media coverage, winning over influential centrist journalists, and allowing me an opportunity to present my advocacy in a wide variety of major publications.

Although my measure failed to quality for the ballot, my arguments won over Phyllis Schlafly and several other prominent conservative figures, greatly broadening the ideological backing for the idea. Raising the minimum wage is a natural issue for conservatives since it cuts social welfare spending and raises the value of work, while forcing businesses to pay for their own employees rather than shifting the costs to the taxpayer. And very low-wage jobs are the magnet that draws most illegal immigrants.

In direct response to my campaign, efforts were launched in Los Angeles to raise the city’s minimum wage to $15, which became law the following year. Similarly, a few weeks after my effort was launched, Sen. Mark Leno introduced a bill into the California Legislature to establish a statewide $13 minimum wage, and after lengthy political battles, this figure was eventually raised to a $15 level and signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in April 2016.

I helped achieve all these results without holding any political office or having any major public platform. As a Republican U.S. Senator from California I would be an extremely effective advocate for enacting a much higher nationwide minimum wage.

 

Solving Our Immigration Problems

Immigrants are generally fine people, but immigration is too high, causing our society all sorts of problems. As a U.S. Senator, I would propose cutting legal immigration and drastically reducing illegal immigration.

I doubt there are many political figures in California with stronger pro-immigrant credentials than my own.

When Gov. Pete Wilson began attacking immigrants in his 1994 reelection campaign, I challenged him for renomination, shocking political observers by capturing 34% of the vote as a pro-immigrant conservative Republican. Afterwards, I was a top featured speaker at the enormous 70,000 person march against Prop. 187 in Los Angeles, the largest pro-immigrant protest in America history but boycotted by virtually every other politically prominent non-Latino.

But over the last dozen years or so I’ve concluded that our national immigration levels are too high and should be sharply reduced.

Mostly due to immigration, America’s population growth rate has been the highest in the developed world, even twice as high as that of China. An exponentially growing population puts enormous pressure on our environment and natural resources while reducing our quality of life. I was born in Los Angeles in the early 1960s, when California was truly the Golden State. Since then, our population has increased by 150%, mostly due to immigration, and many things are much worse, while we now suffer from a severe water shortage.

Even more serious is the negative economic impact on most of our working population, which is forced to compete for jobs and wages with new immigrants, who are often desperate to take any job at all. I believe it’s more than pure coincidence that over the last forty years our immigration levels have been very high and during that same period the incomes of most ordinary Americans have stagnated. Probably the group suffering the most economic harm by being forced to compete for jobs with new immigrants are already established immigrants.

Substantially reducing our legal immigration rates would make sense, but such a change would have little impact unless something is also done to drastically reduce the possibility of continuing illegal immigration.

Most illegal immigrants are perfectly fine people, and many of them have established strong roots here and become part of our society. They’re hard-working and productive, and don’t commit much crime. But something must be done to prevent additional illegal immigration in the future.

The overwhelming majority of illegal immigrants come to America for jobs, and our media pundits correctly say “they take the jobs that Americans won’t.”

But the reason that Americans won’t take those jobs is that the wages are too low, and only recently-arrived illegals are desperate enough to take such terrible jobs. A much higher minimum wage would make such jobs much more attractive to native-born Americans and existing immigrants, and the job-magnet that produces illegal immigration would begin to disappear, making other border-enforcement mechanisms much more easier to implement. The government could even heavily subsidize the return of unemployed illegal immigrants to their home country.

Minimum wage laws are far easier to enforce than immigration laws, and very stiff penalties for repeated violations, even including prison sentences, would ensure almost total compliance.

Once the magnetic lure of American jobs disappears, traditional immigration enforcement measures will become much more effective and future illegal immigration will be reduced to very low levels.

By sharply reducing legal immigration and enormously reducing future illegal immigration, the economic prospects and quality of life for most existing Americans will be greatly improved, including for both legal and illegal immigrants currently living here.

So the first and most important step in solving our immigration problems is a large hike in the national minimum wage.

 

Cutting College Tuition

The gigantic increase in college tuition over the past few decades has condemned an entire generation of young Americans to decades of debt-servitude. As a U.S. Senator, I would propose forcing universities to cut their costs and cut their tuition.

Over the last couple of decades tuition at most public and private colleges has increased to enormous and unreasonable levels, and as a consequence student loan debt now exceeds $1.2 trillion dollars, inflicting huge financial burdens on young Americans.

Most absurd is the situation at Harvard and other very wealthy schools. Although the annual investment income on their enormous endowments may be twenty-five times the size of their net tuition revenue, they continue to extract enormous tuition payments from American families. Harvard and its peers have become gigantic, tax-exempt hedge-funds that run high-tuition colleges off to one side, an absurd situation.

I recently organized a slate of candidates, headlined by Ralph Nader, to run for the Harvard Board of Overseers on a platform demanding that Harvard immediately abolish college tuition. If we are successful in achieving this goal, then other very wealthy elite universities such as Yale, Princeton, and Stanford would probably soon follow.

Once our most elite national colleges have eliminated tuition, there will be enormous political pressure on the much larger number of public colleges and universities to focus as strongly as possible on reducing their tuition. During the mid-1970s, tuition at UCLA, Berkeley, and the other UC campuses was just $630 per year, but today the figure is closer to $15,000 per year, having increased many times as fast as inflation.

Many analysts have pointed to the huge growth in the number and salaries of college administrators, who now sometimes outnumber faculty members, as responsible for the huge rise in college costs. I believe our public colleges and universities, including the prestigious University of California system, should take all possible steps to reduce unnecessary costs, thereby allowing a sharp reduction in tuition.

 

Admitting the Iraq War Disaster

Despite being total failures, the same people responsible for the Iraq War still dominate the foreign policy of both the Democratic and Republican Parties. As a Republican U.S. Senator I would work to remove them from all national influence.

A decade ago my old friend Bill Odom, the three-star general who ran the National Security Agency for Ronald Reagan, publicly declared that the Iraq War was the “greatest strategic disaster in U.S. history”.

He was exactly correct then, and his judgment seems even more prescient today, as the rise of the Islamic State and other powerful extremist groups has led to an endless cycle of war and terrorism in the Middle East, now directly threatening European and American cities. Furthermore, prominent economists have estimated that the long-term cost of the war to our country may run as high as five trillion dollars.

Most of our recent foreign wars in the Middle East area, under both the Bush and the Obama Administrations, have been expensive and immoral foreign policy disasters. Republicans Ron Paul and Pat Buchanan were right about these issues, as were all the other experts, both liberal and conservative, who have been saying the same thing.

I don’t necessarily claim to have the solutions to the ongoing Middle Eastern crisis, but nothing useful can be accomplished until we admit that the Iraq War was a total disaster and absolutely not in our national interest. Today, the exact same individuals who promoted the war still absolutely dominate the foreign policy of the Republican Party and are also very influential within the Democratic Party. Until we completely repudiate them and their dreadful mistakes, we will not be able to move forward.

A few weeks ago in a Republican presidential debate, Donald Trump strongly denounced the Iraq War and the lies of the Bush Administration that promoted it, sending shock waves throughout the Republican Party establishment. Just days later, Trump won an overwhelming landslide victory among the Republicans of ultra-conservative and pro-military South Carolina, demonstrating that “a silent majority” of ordinary Republican voters may understand what most of their leaders do not.

I am very encouraged by these developments and hope that other Republican leaders may find the courage to take the same position.

 

Opposing Affirmative Action

Affirmative action is unfair to white people, Asian people, and everyone else. As a U.S. Senator I would propose completely dismantling it.

I’ve been totally opposed to Affirmative Action for forty years because I’ve always consider it unfair. I came from a liberal Democratic family background, and the single biggest reason I became a Republican under President Ronald Reagan was his strong public opposition to Affirmative Action.

Over the years I’ve probably published over 100,000 words regarding Affirmative Action, possibly more than almost any other Republican policy writer. During the 1980s and 1990s, the vast majority of prominent Republicans and conservatives took positions very similar to mine.

Unfortunately, since the beginning of the 2000s, the Republican Party and most of the Conservative Movement have begun retreating on this important issue, rarely talking about it and often even supporting it under another name. President George W. Bush gave speeches advocating “Affirmative Access.”

In late 2012 I published a 30,000 word cover story, The Myth of American Meritocracy, focusing on the extremely corrupt and unfair admissions practices at our elite colleges. The article was widely praised as one of the best published that year, and inspired much subsequent political and legal effort.

One of my central findings was the very strong statistical evidence for Asian Quotas in Ivy League admissions, although these are endlessly denied by the university administrators, just like their predecessors had denied the existence of Jewish Quotas during the 1920s. The 1978 Supreme Court decision in the landmark Bakke case was based on Harvard’s claim that it did not use quotas, so perhaps 35 years of legal support for Affirmative Action has been based on fraud.

Racial quotas and Affirmative Action in general are totally corrosive and dangerous policies in a multi-ethnic society such as the United States and should be eliminated.

I believe the issue is crucial to America’s future and my position today is exactly the same as it was when I followed Ronald Reagan into the Republican Party.

 

Controlling the Wall Street Casinos

Because of unfair government policies, Wall Street has grown rich while Main Street has grown poor. As a Republican U.S. Senator, I would favor ordinary Americans against the interests of the Wall Street Oligarchs.

Some prominent international economists such as Michael Hudson have characterized most of our entire bloated financial services sector as parasitic on our real economy, and such an analysis sounds plausible to me.

Over the last forty years, Wall Street has gotten richer and richer while the incomes of ordinary Americans have completely stagnated, and I think there may be a connection between these two development.

And when these lucrative gambling casinos overextended themselves and faced collapse and bankruptcy during the 2008 financial crisis, the politicians they controlled, Democrat and Republican alike, rushed to bail them out with taxpayer dollars. Now they’re back to doing better than ever before, while most Americans have still not yet recovered from the Great Recession.

Economics Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz has describes America as having a government “Of the One Percent, By the One Percent, and For the One Percent,” and I agree with him.

We need to return to having a government run for the interests of the American people rather than owned and controlled by financial manipulators.

As a U.S. Senator I would oppose future bailouts and support Bernie Sander’s call for a Tobin Tax on financial transactions to reduce Wall Street speculation.

 

Ending Our One-Party Political System

America has become a One-Party state, with both the Democrats and the Republicans controlled by the same people. As a independent-minded U.S. Senator, I would work to give Americans a real choice in Washington.

The endless foreign and domestic policy disasters of the Bush Administration directly led to the election of Sen. Barack Obama, who was almost universally perceived as Bush’s polar opposite on all issues. His vote represented a national mandate to repudiate all of Bush’s policies.

Instead, President Obama immediately reappointed Bush Defense Secretary Robert Gates to continue his management of our foreign wars, reappointed Benjamin Bernanke to run the Federal Reserve, and promoted Bush appointee Timothy Geither to be Treasury Secretary. He continued Bush’s unpopular foreign wars and financial bailouts, leading many critics to eventually speak of the Bush/Obama Administration.

In many respects, America’s political system has evolved into a one-party pseudo-democracy, in which most of our top political leaders distract the voters by noisily attacking each other on all sorts of hot-button but insignificant issues, while remaining in almost lock-step agreement on most major foreign policy and economic matters because they are in thrall to the same major donors who control them.

I’m trying to offer voters a real choice on the issues in my U.S. Senate campaign, and I will accept no donation over $99.

 

Knowing Where I Stand

I’ve published a half million words on public policy issues, and everything is online and searchable. Read my writing and you’ll know where I stand.

MeritocracyCover-Front Most candidates running for office and other politicians have talking points or position papers prepared for them by their staff, which are often based on polling results, focus groups, or the views of their political consultants. Sometimes they understand what they’re saying, but many times they don’t. And as the polls and the consultants change, their positions often change as well.

I’m not a politician but over the last twenty-five years I’ve published many hundreds of thousands of words of articles and columns on all sorts of issues, including controversial ones, and in nearly all cases, what I’m saying today is very similar to what I was saying in the early 1990s. Therefore, it’s unlikely that I would suddenly change my positions if I were elected to the U.S. Senate.

All my writing is online and searchable, so that anyone who wants to find my position on an issue can easily do so.

My most important articles have also been collected together in a 700 page book, which includes a very comprehensive index. Just look in the index, read the text, and you’ll discover my opinions.

 

Exploring My Background

Over the years there have been several major profiles of my activities and background in the major media.

TNR-UnzThis Man Controls California
Ron Unz’s Improbable Assault on the Powers That Be in California
The New Republic, Monday, July 19, 1999, Cover Story

The California Entrepreneur who Beat Bilingual Teaching
The New York Times, Sunday, June 14, 1998, Front Page

Hooked on Politics
The Los Angeles Times, Thursday, July 16, 1998

Ron Unz, Swim Instructor
The Economist, Saturday, May 2, 1998

 

Considering the Opinions of Others

I’ve been well known for decades to prominent journalists and academics, and they’ve formed a clear opinion of me.

I’ve never held elective office, but I have organized and led numerous major political campaigns over the years and also written a great deal on public policy issues, and my qualifications for serving in the U.S. Senate must largely rest on that background.

When I published my collected writings last year, several prominent academics and journalists contributed some very kind and generous remarks about my work and my activities, which I provide below.

With high intelligence, common sense, and advanced statistical skills, presented transparently and accessibly, Ron Unz has for decades been addressing key issues in a rapidly changing America, enlightening us on the implications and effects of bilingual programs in American schools, clarifying the issues around crime and immigration so often distorted in political and popular discussion, placing the question of an increased minimum wage effectively on the national agenda, and addressing most provocatively the issue of affirmative action and admission to selective colleges and universities, revealing some aspects of this ever disputed question that have never been noted or discussed publicly before. He is one of our most valuable discussants and analysts of public issues.
—Nathan Glazer, Professor Emeritus of Education and Sociology, Harvard University, and author of Beyond the Melting Pot.

Few people on the planet are smarter than Ron Unz or have more intellectual curiosity. This fascinating and provocative collection of essays explores a remarkable range of topics, many of them high profile, some of them arcane. Unz’s analysis is always serious and invariably challenges prevailing wisdoms, which is to say there are a lot of controversial arguments in this book. No one is likely to agree with every one of his conclusions, but we would be better off if there were more people like Ron Unz among us.
—John J. Mearsheimer, the R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago, and author of The Israel Lobby.

Ron Unz is a brilliant essayist. His interests run from ancient history and black holes to contemporary issues like racial quotas and the minimum wage. He moves swiftly to the heart of a subject with cogent analysis and limpid argument. This collection of essays sparkles with unexpected gems ranging from critiques of the mainstream press to appreciation of dissenters from common wisdom such as General Bill Odom and Alexander Cockburn. In every paragraph of these essays the reader enjoys a penetrating intelligence at work.
—Nicholas Wade, former writer and editor for The New York Times, and author of Before the Dawn, The Faith Instinct, and A Troublesome Inheritance.

Over the past two decades as an original thinker and writer Ron Unz has tackled complex and significant subjects such as immigration, education, economics, race, and the press, pushing aside common assumptions. This book brings together in one volume these pieces from a variety of publications. Unlike other essayists on culture and politics, Unz shreds ideology and relies on statistical data to support his often groundbreaking ideas, such as his 2010 essay on “The Myth of Hispanic Crime.” And his 2014 efforts to put a $12 an hour minimum wage bill before California voters is an example of how the action of an individual can draw public attention to an issue he believes is necessary for the economic health of the Republic. Anyone reading this book will learn a great deal about America from an incisive writer and scholar who has peeled back layers of conventional wisdom to expose the truth on issues of prime importance today.
—Sydney Schanberg, Pulitzer-Prize winning former reporter and editor for The New York Times, whose story inspired the 1984 film The Killing Fields.

Provocative and fearless, sometimes infuriating, and quite often, persuasive. And when American’s low-wage workers get their coming big raise, the apostate conservative Ron Unz will deserve a decent share of the credit.
—Prof. James K. Galbraith, author of The End of Normal and Welcome to the Poisoned Chalice: The Destruction of Greece and the Future of Europe .

 
RonUnz1
About Ron Unz

A theoretical physicist by training, Mr. Unz serves as founder and chairman of UNZ.org, a content-archiving website providing free access to many hundreds of thousands of articles from prominent periodicals of the last hundred and fifty years. From 2007 to 2013, he also served as publisher of The American Conservative, a small opinion magazine, and had previously served as chairman of Wall Street Analytics, Inc., a financial services software company which he founded in New York City in 1987. He holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from Harvard University, Cambridge University, and Stanford University, and is a past first-place winner in the Intel/Westinghouse Science Talent Search. He was born in Los Angeles in 1961.

He has long been deeply interested in public policy issues, and his writings on issues of immigration, race, ethnicity, and social policy have appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, The Nation, and numerous other publications.

In 1994, he launched a surprise Republican primary challenge to incumbent Gov. Pete Wilson of California, running on a conservative, pro-immigrant platform against the prevailing political sentiment, and received 34% of the vote. Later that year, he campaigned as a leading opponent of Prop. 187, the anti-immigration initiative, and was a top featured speaker at a 70,000 person pro-immigrant march in Los Angeles, the largest political rally in California history to that date.

In 1997, Mr. Unz began his “English for the Children” initiative campaign to dismantle bilingual education in California. He drafted Prop. 227 and led the campaign to qualify and pass the measure, culminating in a landslide 61% victory in June 1998, effectively eliminating over one-third of America’s bilingual programs. Within less than three years of the new English immersion curriculum, the mean percentile test scores of over a million immigrant students in California rose by an average of 70%. He later organized and led similar initiative campaigns in other states, winning with 63% in the 2000 Arizona vote and a remarkable 68% in the 2002 Massachusetts vote without spending a single dollar on advertising.

After spending most of the 2000s focused on software projects, he has recently become much more active in his public policy writings, most of which had appeared in his own magazine.


Personal
Classics
What Was John McCain's True Wartime Record in Vietnam?
Hundreds of POWs may have been left to die in Vietnam, abandoned by their government—and our media.
The unspoken statistical reality of urban crime over the last quarter century.
Talk TV sensationalists and axe-grinding ideologues have fallen for a myth of immigrant lawlessness.
Are elite university admissions based on meritocracy and diversity as claimed?
The major media overlooked Communist spies and Madoff’s fraud. What are they missing today?