To read more from Jeff, visit his blog: Mormanity.
The Folly of Trust: A Medical Perspective
Some of my more painful experiences in life have come from trusting people in authority, ranging from the promises of a business to the assurances of a medical authority or other persons I respected. While I continue to be an optimistic and trusting person, I increasingly recognize the reality that people often cannot be trusted, especially when there is an opportunity for personal gain at the expense of their personal integrity. I’ve also learned that there are red flags I should have heeded more in my life, such as the words “you’ll just have to trust me” when claiming that an agreement could not yet be put in writing. Other red flags of misguided trust I’ve encountered include the existence of obvious conflicts of interest, an unwillingness to answer questions openly, or signs of concealing or covering up information that ought to be available, asking others to rely on someone’s authority rather than evidence and objective information.
The consequences of my misplaced trust sometimes have affected me for decades. Misplaced trust in medical authority, for example, can lead to lifelong issues. Though my experiences have been minor compared to what many have suffered, they are still instructive. As a teenager, for example, I had severe acne. At about age 15 my mother took me to a dermatologist. I asked if I should change my diet. I ate a lot of dairy products in those days and wondered if milkfat might contribute to acne. “Absolutely not,” said the dermatologist. He explained there’s no evidence that milkfat or diet in general plays any role. It was all about bacteria in my skin, and thus I needed antibiotics. Lots of antibiotics for several years. And so I began a long-lasting routine of taking tetracylcine. One doctor told me that today, this would be the basis for a malpractice suit. Today it is well known that tetracycline can cause permanent staining of teeth, and thus it is rarely prescribed for young people. But that recognition began in 1956, before I was born. The dermatologist probably should have known better. Nobody warned me about the impact on teeth until it was too late, years later.
Today it is also known that the bovine growth hormones that used to be common in the milk I drank can contribute to acne. Further, even without the growth hormones, the American Academy of Dermatology Association notes that cow’s milk can lead to acne breakouts, But I didn’t need studies to show the correlation. For me personally, I gradually observed a connection between what I ate and acne breakouts. In fact, to this day, if I eat too much fat over a couple of days, I will often break out somewhere on my face. I’ve learned to be more careful about my diet, and have also learned that the dermatologist I trusted was wrong on multiple counts. I’d have better skin and better teeth today if I had not trusted him and instead worried more about the risks of antibiotics and prolonged medication as well as the importance of diet. In many conversations I’ve had with medical authorities over the years, it seems that they have very little training on the impact of diet and rarely say anything on diet apart from discouraging high cholesterol and sodium.
Around the same time I was starting to figure out that my dermatologist had not been reliable, I had another experience with misplaced trust in a medical professional. Shortly after I was married, I went to a new dentist in Provo for a checkup. I had just had a checkup in Salt Lake City a few months after my mission and was told my teeth were in good shape (apart from some tetracycline stains). No cavities after two years in Switzerland — wonderful. But in that next checkup in Provo, about six months after the previous one, the dentist had shocking news. He explained that typically after a two-year mission, missionaries come back with a lot of cavities, and I had a mouthful. Twenty-one! I asked how that could be because just a few months ago I had no sign of cavities. The dentist explained that other dentists sometimes miss the early signs of cavities, but now I definitely had 21. Ouch! I was a young married student without a lot of cash, and this was a real setback financially, but quite a boon for the dentist, I’m sure. Here I made the terrible mistakes of not getting a second opinion and of simply trusting a likeable authority, and over several expensive sessions, had 21 fillings installed. Today all those likely nonexistent cavities continue to cause problems as the fillings need to be replaced from time to time or lead to cracks or new decay and require expensive crowns. A minor problem, really, but annoying and costly, with many thousands of dollars having been squandered on the aftermath of those 21 fillings.
The need to doubt medical authorities finally kicked in and rescued me while I was in China. After a very positive experience with minor surgery that I needed after getting banged up on a wet, slippery Shanghai crosswalk, I had developed high respect for a the Shanghai East International Medical Center in Pudong near the heart of Shanghai. It was a public hospital, not one of the overly expensive foreign hospitals that most Americans favor (especially those with the luxury of high-end insurance from Western employers), but their relatively inexpensive VIP clinic was extremely good and much more affordable than the private international hospitals. With that respect in place, I went there again when I had some severe knee pain after twisting my leg. A surgeon took an MRI of my knee (costing only about $80!) and showed me that I had a damaged meniscus, and explained that it needed surgery to repair it. I looked forward to getting that meniscus repaired and signed up for surgery, even though it was still costly and much of it would come out of my pocket with my poor insurance at the time.
When I came in and was admitted and being prepared for surgery, a medical crew came in to look me over. They explained that they would put me under and then go in and remove the meniscus. Wait, remove? Remove? The surgeon said he would repair it! “Don’t worry, it will be OK. It’s actually much easier to just remove it.” I asked to speak to the surgeon but he was not available. I finally realized that this was no time to trust. I got off the bed and walked out, with my MRI in hand. I needed a second opinion and needed to understand if repair was possible and if removal of the meniscus would be a problem (yes, it would be: serious arthritis and limited mobility).
I got in a taxi and I immediately called a physical therapist I had met at some event, Dr. Jae from Korea, and asked him what he thought. He explained that surgeons in China can have a conflict of interest since, of course, they make more money the more surgery they do, so they often recommend surgery even when it’s not needed (this helps explain why so many births in China are through C-section — as high as 70% in some regions and maybe around 50% overall). He said that the best way to get an honest recommendation is to remove the conflict of interest by taking my MRI to another surgeon in another hospital and stating that if surgery is needed, I would only do it back in the United States. Under those conditions, there is no profit motive to sway the judgement of the surgeon. I had the taxi turb around and head to another local hospital, and soon found another surgeon who could meet with me and did as Dr. Jae recommended. He pointed to my meniscus on the MRI and explained that it was just torn a little and did not need to be removed. Rather, he suggested that I should try physical therapy. Bingo!
A few minutes later I was scheduled for physical therapy with Dr. Jae at St. Michael’s, a private but quite affordable hospital near where I lived. He was terrific. After one session, my leg was dramatically better, and after several more sessions, the problem was largely eliminated, meaning that I could walk normally and had no pain. Today I still have that meniscus and am so grateful to not have the painful arthritis that I would likely face today if the surgeon had “repaired” my meniscus by removing it.
In the past two years, I fear that millions have suffered unnecessarily by misplaced or blind trust in medical authorities. Schools have been closed unnecessarily, causing massive harm to millions of school children from delayed education as well as other harms we see from serious increases in obesity and mental health challenges, including dramatic spikes in suicide. Millions of jobs have been lost as local leaders turn into mini-tyrants decreeing which businesses can stay open and which must close. We have been told to trust and to stop asking questions, and those who have asked questions have in many cases been censored or deplatformed. The essence of science is questioning the status quo, while the essence of tyranny is demanding unquestioning compliance. It is the latter that seems to have adopted the slogan, “Follow the science!”
The red flags for misguided trust need to be kept in mind. Is there a potential for conflict of interest? Is there evidence of something fishy going on? Are reasonable questions attacked or silenced rather than answered? There can be many situations where our desires to trust and respect authority figures need to be suppressed in favor of healthy doubt and vigorous questions. Health care and public health policy is certainly one such area, but there’s another field in particular where we need to be on guard lest we face a lifetime of grief, or greatly shortened lives for many, where the potential for corruption, deceit, conflicts of interest, and havoc of all kinds is at a maximum. I speak of war.
Preparing for War: Are We Ready to Trust Again?
Modern war represents the ideal vehicle for corruption and greed. Trillions of dollars can flow with little scrutiny or transparency. Nations go into debt for war, enriching the coffers of those who fund the war effort. Numerous corporations are eager to swallow up the largess of war. Vast fortunes can be made as the fate of nations hang in the balance. Political fortunes are made as well, as history shows that war can distract from crises and scandals and turn a failing leader into a powerful, popular figure, propped up with a controlled media extolling his success and bloated with new emergency powers to pursue his interests. During war propaganda becomes hard to distinguish from news, just as freedom of speech can be hard for the government to distinguish from treason. Even if war could be waged without bloodshed, it is an ugly monster, the prized pet of megalomaniacs and the most successful tool of the greedy.
War is one of the most persistent and extensively treated topics of the Book of Mormon, not because God is a fan of war but because we need the Book of Mormon’s lessons on war in our day. The Book of Mormon teaches us of the corruption that is often behind war, where power-hungry maniacs like Amalickiah will stop at nothing to expand their power, manipulating information to stir up war and promote the quest for power (this occurred among the Lamanites to provoke war against the Nephites — Alma 47:1). We learn of the dangers of elites in society who use their influence to stir up others in anger and to corrupt or overthrow legitimate government. In some cases those elites, like Amlici or the king-men of the Book of Mormon, conspire with enemies to weaken a nation and encourage enemies. The Book of Mormon also reminds us just how insane and horrific war can become, leading to the complete destruction of nations. In the modern era, war is often sold to the people as something that can be waged and won quickly, when in fact it tends to drag on endlessly, especially when there never was an intention to prevent or win the war in the first place. For those with conflicted interests that are benefited by war, how could they ever be content with a swift victory when there could be decades of profit or many years of expended power to cope with a never-ending emergency?
A Red Flag from Korea: My Father’s Story
I first gained a sense of the questionable nature of war from my father, who told his family much about what he experienced and learned while serving in the US Army in the Korean War. In addition to numerous stories of close calls with death and the trauma of war, there were also strange, “fishy” things that kept occurring that indicated something wasn’t right. Secret marches in the middle of the night to take a position in a new location were greeted by the enemy, who were prepared in detail for their operations as if they knew well in advance what was being planned. How could this be?
My father, William Dean Lindsay, was part of the first war that was fought under the direction of the United Nations, and he eventually became convinced that the goal of this war clearly was not to free Korea, which could have been done easily. Rather, the United Nations ensured that half of Korea would be left in the hands of brutal Communist dictators. American soldiers were betrayed by the United Nations. My father testified about this on Feb. 10, 2003 in Salt Lake City, Utah, before the Government Operations Committee of the Utah House in favor of H.R. 7, entitled, “Resolution to Urge Congress to Withdraw the United States from the United Nations.” He spoke as a decorated combat veteran of the Korean War (Army Commendation Ribbon with Medal Pendant and a Bronze Star) and as a resident of Utah concerned about the current and future wars we will fight under the direction of the United Nations. Here is his testimony:
After I had been in combat with my outfit for four months, we were relieved by another division and moved to the rear to rest, regroup, and to receive and train some new soldiers to bring us back up to strength. After a couple of weeks, we were notified that it was time to return to action.
We were told that this was a “Top Secret” move and we were required to remove all insignia from our uniforms, and all identification from trucks, vehicles, and weapons. It was so secret that all movement in our convoy was done at night with Korean runners leading the way. No lights, no cigarettes or even matches were allowed.
We moved to our new position and were ready to occupy it at the appointed time. Up until then, we had no idea where we were or who we were replacing. At 10 o’clock, we began the exchange and suddenly searchlights illuminated our new position and American music blared over loud speakers. Then a voice called out a special “welcome” in English. The speaker identified our division, regiments, and battalions by number and all of our leaders by name.
When the “welcoming party” ended, the enemy opened fire and pounded our position with mortar and artillery fire. The shelling continued most of the night. We sustained some casualties, both dead and wounded.
This horrifying experience only added to the questions that were coming into my mind. How could our enemy know things about us that we did not even know ourselves? And why were we only permitted to play deadly war games with the enemy? We were a vastly superior fighting force, and could have swept them off the land in a short time, but we were not permitted to do so.
After I had been home a number of years, I learned the answer to these questions. The problem was that for the first time in American history, the United States Congress copped out and abdicated their responsibility to declare war, and then compounded the problem by turning control over to the United Nations who orchestrated the war, which, by plan, was to become America’s first no-win war.
We were required to notify the UN in advance of every action we planned so that the enemy always knew what we were going to do, thus the special “welcoming party” at our “Top Secret” destination.
Since learning the truth, I have always despised the United Nations, who conned and deceived and exploited me, and hundreds of thousands of other loyal and patriotic Americans. And I have always felt betrayed by the leaders of the land that I love, who placed the precious lives of so many Americans in the hands of a godless organization that had no regard for human life.
In 1952, my father, a green 19-year-old in the 40th Infantry Division, 223rd Regiment, 3rd Battalion, Company M, a heavy weapons support company, was thrown into the fierce fighting of the Korean “Punchbowl” where many good men would die. This unconstitutional war, fought under the direction of foreign powers not seeking the interests of the United States or the cause of liberty, strengthened the United Nations and set up the grim scenario we have today, with the threat of nuclear war emanating from the brutal dictatorship of North Korea, a terrorist-supporting state that has became a threat to the United States.
My father had basic respect for the President under whom all this happened, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and believes that he was pressured to do what he did. President Ezra Taft Benson, one of the few Church leaders with profound high-level experience in government, served as Secretary of Agriculture under President Eisenhower and also had high respect for him, but also saw and said much about how corrupt government can become. As a testimony to at least a desire on Eisenhower’s part to resist the powers that may benefit from war and corruption, consider his famous farewell speech where he warned against the rising powers of what her termed “the military industrial complex”:
A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment. Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction…
This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence—economic, political, even spiritual—is felt in every city, every statehouse, every office of the federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military–industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist.We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals so that security and liberty may prosper together. [From “Military–industrial complex,” Wikipedia, emphasis original.]
I believe Eisenhower knew what he was speaking about, though the “complex” or “combination” of his day was just getting started compared to the behemoth that we have now. With so much money and so much power involved, with so little transparency and accountability, and with one man now able to declare and wage war without the Constitution’s requirement for Congress to declare it, how can we assume that there is nothing to worry about, no risk for corruption or conflicts of interest or betrayal of American interests? Eisenhower called for us as citizens to be cautious, to be informed, and to stand guard against threats to our liberty that might come from the very powerful forces that are supposed to protecting our liberty. This is not a time to trust, nor a time to stifle questions, no matter how ugly our enemy is or is portrayed to be.
As my father experienced, there is great danger when our military actions become subject to outside influences. However, today our military actions are increasingly subject to what George Washington warned against in his farewell speech, “entangling alliances” with other nations, whether it is through the United Nations, NATO or other treaties or arrangements. Washington knew the lessons of history, especially those from Europe where “entangling alliances” dragged nation after nation into prolonged war.
A Red Flag from Vietnam
My nine years in China suddenly ended with the outbreak of COVID in China while my wife and I were on a trip to tropical Vietnam during the Chinese New Year holiday season in 2019. I would not set foot in China again (there’s another long story there). While in Vietnam for diving at Nha Trang, a visit to Haolong Bay, and a tour of Hanoi, I was surprised at the progress Vietnam had made. It seems that Vietnam learned quickly from the economic revolution of China led by Deng Xiaoping, inspired at least in part by the heroism of heroic farmers in the village of Xiaogang, Anhui Proviince, that showed how deadly collectivism is and how much good can come from economic liberty. If you’re not familiar with this crucial story from China, see my recent article, “Desperate Heroism and the Thunder of a Quiet Revolution: The Rise of China’s Economy and IP System,” where I share lessons from my pilgrimage to the tiny Chinese village where the most vital revolution of modern China occurred, one that we still need to remember and understand.
Vietnam was vibrant and seemed remarkably free in many ways, with, for example, religious freedom beyond that of China. There was a Latter-day Saint Church in Hanoi that we could attend, and we met missionaries (real proselyting missionaries!) serving in the Hanoi area (we cannot have missionaries in China). We were touched by the faith and kindness of the local members we met. But we also saw reminders of the painful past. There was a large celebration organized by the government on the street in Nha Trang near our hotel where I saw a dramatic reenactment of the war, with American soldiers naturally portrayed as the villains invading their country. Understandable from their perspective, of course. But everyone we met there in the south and in Hanoi in the north treated us well.
I loved my time in that beautiful country. But what happened there in the Vietnam War was a tragic disaster in many ways. So many Americans and so many Vietnamese would die in another no-win war. I would become increasingly familiar with the sweeping effects of that war when I began working with Hmong refugees in Wisconsin when we moved back to Appleton from Atlanta in 1994. My entire family would become part of a new Hmong branch, and as I worked with members and investigators, I would learn story after story of the trauma that the war brought to them, including genocide against them for their role in supporting the United States in a secret war that went on in Laos to support the Vietnam effort. We got them involved in our war and promised to always be there for them and suddenly we left them on their own, unprepared for the brutal retribution to come.
As with the Korean War, our involvement in Vietnam was questionable, but once there, there were obvious things that could have been done to win the war without having to let our young men fight and die in hostile jungles. The key to war is often the supply chain. Haiphong Harbor near Hanoi was where shipments of weapons and supplies were received from the Soviet Union. The Ho Chi Minh Trail was the essential route for delivery of war supplies to the North Vietnamese troops. But due to secret “rules of engagement” that we would not learn about until later, our own government abandoned proven principles of warfare that seek to disrupt the enemy’s supply chain. We refused to mine Haiphong Harbor. We could not take out anti-aircraft installations until they were functional, and were greatly limited in what could be done on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The entire scenario looks like it was set up to fail.
Major Matthew J. Dorschel of the United States Air Force described some of these ridiculous rules in “The Effects of Restrictive ROEs on the Rolling Thunder Air Campaign,” Globalsecurity.org, 1995:
The ROEs in place for the air campaign over North Vietnam included restrictions on where aircraft could fly, what conditions aircraft could attack enemy forces (when they were considered hostile), and what degree of force could be used both in self-defense and attack. Another part of the ROEs restricted pilots from attacking certain types of target that were off limits; some of these were: enemy airfields, SAM [surface-to-air missile] sites, power plants, naval craft in some areas, a 30 mile area around Hanoi, and a 10 mile area around Haiphong…. Until early 1967, in many instances U.S. pilots were not allowed to engage enemy fighters unless they themselves had been attacked first….
Several incidents of ROE violations led to court-martial charges; one that led to charges against the commander and the aircrew was the strafing of the Soviet ship Turkestan in 1967 near Haiphong.14 Fear of ROE violations and the consequences of them led to a dilemma; many aircrews felt as if they could not accomplish their mission without either getting killed by the enemy or brought up on court-martial charges by their own government….
The most significant restricted areas that provided sanctuary were the 30 mile area around Hanoi, the 10 mile area around Haiphong, and a 25 to 30 mile “buffer zone” along the Chinese border. These sanctuaries prevented attacks against key targets in the north without prior approval from Washington. The North Vietnamese took advantage of this by offsetting the damage done by our aircraft in non-protected areas. Because Haiphong Harbor was a safe port, they were able to ship up to 85% of their war goods by sea and download them with impunity 24 hours a day at that location. These safe havens allowed the enemy to stockpile war materials until they could be moved to the south. The “buffer zone” along the Chinese border was thousands of square miles where the North Vietnamese could store and transport materials with no fear of U.S. attack. This made any attempts at reducing the ability of the enemy to sustain their combat operations almost futile.
One of the most ridiculous rules prohibited damaging a rubber plantation owned by an influential company, Michelin, the famous tire producer. To protect their precious rubber trees, we weren’t allowed to use bombs in the area and thus had to risk American lives to clear out the enemy by hand. The enemy, of course, seemed to learn or figure out what what the rules were and constantly exploited those rules for their gain. See Jesse Beckett, “The Absurd Rules-of-Engagement GIs Had to Follow During the Vietnam War,” War History Online, Nov. 17, 2021. There’s also a military thesis on the impact of the rules of engagement by Major Ricky J. Drake, “The Rules of Defeat: The Impact of Aerial Rules of Engagement on USAF Operations in North Vietnam, 1965-1968,” The School of Advanced Airpower Studies, Air University, US Air Force, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, May 1992. These rules are still excused by many today as somehow being necessary to prevent World War III, but in light of the massive deceptions to American citizens about this war as revealed in the Pentagon Papers, it’s reasonable to wonder if the entire effort was conducted in bad faith as another deliberate no-win war. In any case, it resulted in a major PR victory for Communism and loss of trust in America by many, especially by its own citizens, if they paid attention.
When the Pentagon Papers were published in 1971, we would learn that our government had lied to us at almost every turn. We had been betrayed. A touch of the shameful abyss of deceit revealed by the Pentagon Papers is covered in the New York Times’ nicely written summary by Elizabeth Becker, “The Secrets and Lies of the Vietnam War, Exposed in One Epic Document,” June 9, 2021. The subtitle is “With the Pentagon Papers revelations, the U.S. public’s trust in the government was forever diminished” — and rightly so.
Though only briefly hinted at in Becker’s article, an important part of the perfidy of the Vietnam War is the justification to start the war in the first place. I was taught in school that the war began because of an unprovoked attack of the North Vietnamese on US forces in the Gulf of Tonkin. Even young people today may still be hearing that tale (let me know if your history courses have been more accurate). A clear and incisive article exposing the shady origins of that war comes from a US Navy officer, Lieutenant Commander Pat Paterson, “The Truth About Tonkin,” Naval History Magazine, vol. 22, no. 1, Feb. 2008, https://www.usni.org/magazines/naval-history-magazine/2008/february/truth-about-tonkin. Here is the abstract:
Questions about the Gulf of Tonkin incidents have persisted for more than 40 years. But once-classified documents and tapes released in the past several years, combined with previously uncovered facts, make clear that high government officials distorted facts and deceived the American public about events that led to full U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.
For many years it seemed that the United States’ questionable declaration of an alleged Aug. 4, 1964 attack on the USS Maddox might have been due to a good-faith misinterpretation of various reports. Only recently did declassified documents reveal that something much more shady was at play. There was a minor incident early on Aug. 2, when the North Vietnamese very likely thought the Maddoxx was involved with attacks underway by the South Vietnamese in the region (attacks that we were promoting and helping to plan, playing a dangerous and unnecessary game in the first place). The response of the North Vietnamese on Aug. 2 was understandable and no excuse for war. But the Aug. 4 events, as conveyed by the White House to the American people and Congress, provided a much stronger story of a significant unprovoked attack, leading to a swift resolution of war and handing President Lydon B, Johnson full power to carry out the war without Congressional oversight, exactly what he wanted.
However, based on documents declassified in 2005 to 2006, now we know that the government’s description of the Aug. 4 event involved intentional deception. There was no attack. We were deceived into support a long-lasting, no-win war that would be a boon to many, but not to our soldiers, not to their families, not to our security, nor to our global goodwill or our own economy (apart from the military-industrial complex). Why the deception was done and how it was orchestrated is not known for sure and must be the domain of “conspiracy theorists,” but the existence of corruption of some kind to dishonestly get us into war is now beyond question. Here is an excerpt from Lieutenant Commander Paterson’s article:
Commander [James] Stockdale was again in the action, this time alone. When his wingman’s aircraft developed trouble, Stockdale got permission to launch solo from the Ticonderoga. He arrived overhead at 2135. For more than 90 minutes, he made runs parallel to the ships’ course and at low altitude (below 2,000 feet) looking for the enemy vessels. He reported later, “I had the best seat in the house to watch that event and our destroyers were just shooting at phantom targets—there were no PT boats there . . . there was nothing there but black water and American firepower.”
Captain [john J.] Herrick [of the Maddox] also began to have doubts about the attack. As the battle continued, he realized the “attacks” were actually the results of “overeager sonar operators” and poor equipment performance. The Turner Joy had not detected any torpedoes during the entire encounter, and Herrick determined that the Maddox‘s operators were probably hearing the ship’s propellers reflecting off her rudder during sharp turns.The destroyer’s main gun director was never able to lock onto any targets because, as the operator surmised, the radar was detecting the stormy sea’s wave tops.By 0127 on 5 August, hours after the “attacks” had occurred, Herrick had queried his crew and reviewed the preceding hours’ events. He sent a flash (highest priority) message to Honolulu, which was received in Washington at 1327 on 4 August, declaring his doubts: “Review of action makes many reported contacts and torpedoes fired appear doubtful. Freak weather effects on radar and overeager sonarmen may have accounted for many reports. No actual visual sightings by MADDOX. Suggest complete evaluation before any further action taken.”…
Analysis of intercepted communications that were shared with the Pentagon shows deletion the vast body of information that would undermine the story of the Aug. 4, along with some unexplained changes in the translation or the pasting together of two messages into one. Faulty intelligence played a major role in the launching of the war. Was this all an accident? The evidence doesn’t support such optimism.
Subsequently, Secretary McNamara intentionally misled Congress and the public about his knowledge of and the nature of the 34A operations [the military operations of the South Vietnamese near the Gulf of Tonkin that we were supporting with the assistance of the Maddox], which surely would have been perceived as the actual cause for the 2 August attack on the Maddox and the apparent attack on the 4th. On 6 August, when called before a joint session of the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees to testify about the incident, McNamara eluded the questioning of Senator Wayne Morse (D-OR) when he asked specifically whether the 34A operations may have provoked the North Vietnamese response. McNamara instead declared that “our Navy played absolutely no part in, was not associated with, was not aware of, any South Vietnamese actions, if there were any.”
Later that day, Secretary McNamara lied when he denied knowledge of the provocative 34A patrols at a Pentagon news conference. When asked by a reporter if he knew of any confrontations between the South and North Vietnamese navies, he responded: “No, none that I know of. . . . [T]hey operate on their own. They are part of the South Vietnamese Navy . . . operating in the coastal waters, inspecting suspicious incoming junks, seeking to deter and prevent the infiltration of both men and material.” Another reporter pressed the issue, “Do these [patrol boats] go north, into North Vietnamese waters?” McNamara again eluded the question, “They have advanced closer and closer to the 17th parallel, and in some cases, I think they have moved beyond that in an effort to stop the infiltration closer to the point of origin.”In reality, McNamara knew full well that the 34A attacks had probably provoked the 2 August attacks on the Maddox. On an audio tape from the Johnson Library declassified in December 2005, he admitted to the President the morning after the attacks that the two events were almost certainly connected….
When Johnson ordered a counterattack on Aug. 5, Commander Stockdale and others knew that we were the ones initiating action, not the North Vietnamese. He would later state, “We were about to launch a war under false pretenses, in the face of the on-scene military commander’s advice to the contrary.”Deception at a very high level led us to engage in a no-win war that would claim over 60,000 American lives and hurt hundreds of thousands of other peoples as well, including the Vietnamese and the Hmong. The deception from the US government over the Gulf of Tonkin Incident may still be called a “conspiracy theory” by those who would have us always trust government, but the evidence of wrongdoing is crystal clear. That’s not to say that we should have done nothing, nor is it to say that Communism is better than freedom (I am for freedom). But if a war is justified, let the case for it be advanced based on truth and open debate, and let it be declared by the voice of the people, following the principles in the Constitution. When extreme deception and other red flags abound regarding the need for war, something fishy is going on and bold questions are needed. Further, if a war is to be fought, let it be won swiftly and with as little bloodshed as possible.
Red Flags Everywhere? What Should We Do?
Our history of war abound with red flags and suspicious circumstances. The Persian Gulf War, for example, began under questionable pretenses. First, we essentially gave a green flag to Saddam Hussein to invade Kuwait after he inquired about our position on the dispute with Kuwait, and then once he attacked, we acted like it was necessary for us to rush in and rescue the world due to Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction that actually never existed. The war could have been prevented. Once started, there was no need for us to be involved. The dictator of Iraq deposes the dictator of Kuwait — was putting the rightful dictator back on his throne really a noble cause that would require spilling the blood of our young people? The government floated many different arguments in an attempt to stir us up in support of the war, including telling us that it was “about jobs” that would come from the improved access to oil, which was a complete lie. From beginning to end, the war was infused with red flags.
The war in Afghanistan is another classic example of suspicious justification for a clearly no-win war. We were attacked by a handful of terrorists from Saudi Arabia. For this, we needed decades of fighting? And invading a country that was not responsible for the attack? For this, we needed the “Patriot Act” to turn our government into a massive spying operation to monitor American citizens and their global finances as if we are all terrorist suspects? The Afghanistan war effort would conclude in shame as we broke promises again and not only abandoned our allies, but many of our own citizens, and left $84 billion of advanced weaponry in the hands of the Taliban who are closely linked to China. Very good for China, but not for us. Was this a good faith effort where someone just accidentally forget a few steps, like evacuate your friend and fellow citizens before you leave, and remove or destroy advanced military equipment on the way out, and keep your airbase functional until everyone is out? Or was the fiasco due to something other than incompetence? It’s the kind of question that needs to be asked, not silenced.
Similar questions can be asked about our involvement in many other regions such as Serbia, where we supported NATO’s bombing of Serbia (illustrating, of course, that NATO is not simply a defensive organization), Sudan, Syria, etc. That’s not to say all such actions were wrong or did not at least seem to have noble purposes, but there are fair questions that can be asked.
The specter of war these days, as in days of old, is linked to corruption and villainy of all kinds. War is now the ultimate playground for the greedy and power hungry. We must approach war with the caution and alertness that Eisenhower calls for. It’s not a time for trust and blind faith in humans who tend to be wicked and easily corrupted. We want America to be the good guy, the knight on a rainbow-colored horse that brings happiness to the masses of the world, but as the Book of Mormon sort of says, constant warfare never was happiness.
As we begin a new round of “rumors of war” and the “patriotic” stirring up of the masses to prepare us to engage in another major war far from our borders, this might be a good time to ponder the red flags of war and of misguided trust before we blindly trust what we are told and asked to do. With the numerous and increasingly popular calls for the US and NATO to enforce a “no-fly zone” over Russie, we need to understand that such intrusion marks the beginning of a real war. Wars are often promoted as something simple — “we’ll just use a few airplanes and missiles, no boots on the ground” — but once engaged, things always get more complicated especially when we learn, sometimes year later, that the goal was not victory after all.
If the cause for war is just, we don’t need to rely on propaganda and censorship and must utterly shun deceit and lies. Let it be debated based on facts and let Congress declare it. But the cause for war is appropriate under the Constitution of this land, explain why it is necessary. Their are bad guys causing war and invading countries all the time. Can we really be expected to join every battle? We seem to trust in bullets and bombs as the way to right every wrong, almost to the point of idolatry, as President Spencer W. Kimball once pointed out in one of the most neglected and most important messages from a modern prophet. In his June 1976 message in the Ensign, “The False Gods We Worship,” President Kimball made some strong comments that challenged many in the Church:
In spite of our delight in defining ourselves as modern, and our tendency to think we possess a sophistication that no people in the past ever had—in spite of these things, we are, on the whole, an idolatrous people—a condition most repugnant to the Lord.
We are a warlike people, easily distracted from our assignment of preparing for the coming of the Lord. When enemies rise up, we commit vast resources to the fabrication of gods of stone and steel—ships, planes, missiles, fortifications—and depend on them for protection and deliverance. When threatened, we become antienemy instead of pro-kingdom of God; we train a man in the art of war and call him a patriot, thus, in the manner of Satan’s counterfeit of true patriotism, perverting the Savior’s teaching:
“Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
“That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:44–45.)…
What are we to fear when the Lord is with us? Can we not take the Lord at his word and exercise a particle of faith in him? Our assignment is affirmative: to forsake the things of the world as ends in themselves; to leave off idolatry and press forward in faith; to carry the gospel to our enemies, that they might no longer be our enemies.
We must leave off the worship of modern-day idols and a reliance on the “arm of flesh,” for the Lord has said to all the world in our day, “I will not spare any that remain in Babylon.” (D&C 64:24.) …
As we near the year 2,000, our message is the same as that which Peter gave. And further, that which the Lord himself gave “unto the ends of the earth, that all that will hear may hear:
“Prepare ye, prepare ye for that which is to come, for the Lord is nigh.” (D&C 1:11–12.)
Look, I know we still need to defend ourselves, just as the people of Ukraine need to now. I know armor, weapons, and fortifications can be vital just as they sometimes were for the Nephites. But I like President Kimball’s approach. Indeed, if we could abandon our tendency to trust first in military force, I believe that many crises could be averted with wisdom rather than weapons. I don’t know the answers, but there are questions that need to be asked, and preferably early rather than after a foreseeable crisis emerges.
Ukraine has been in our prayers in the Lindsay household every day recently. I’ve turned to some friends from Ukraine and or who live much of the time in Ukraine for their thoughts, and recognize that the situation is far more complex that portrayed in the media, with problems going back many years. What’s happening there is painful for people on both sides of the war. A friend from the region told me that most of the Russians and Ukrainians she knows have family on both sides of the conflict, some actively fighting. This factor, she said, may explain the obvious slowness and in her view restraint of Russian forces in advancing into Ukraine, for they could obliterate entire cities if they wished, but appear to be seeking to reduce civilian casualties. I don’t know, though — it’s hard to judge and hard to now which news sources to trust, but I am troubled that Russian sources are being censored in the West. Yes, there will be propaganda, as there is from every country, but how can we even begin to understand other perspectives when differing views are censored?
Many Ukrainians in the east are pro-Russian, not necessarily because they speak Russian or like Putin but often because they’ve seen the practical trouble that has come for nations like Poland joining the EU (EU regulations, for one thing, make it terribly difficult for some Eastern European nations to do business in the EU), and prefer to keep their connections with Russia. Some, even in western Ukraine, question the legitimacy of their government and the US role since 2014 in the government of Ukraine. Some of them feel that Ukraine is being played in a proxy war for the US with Russia. These are views from Ukraine that we aren’t going to hear with the one-sided reported that seems to be aimed at stirring us up for conflict with Russia.
One of my friends (a US citizen whose wife is from Kyiv) has pointed out our need to consider the unfortunate role the US has played in Ukraine in the last decade. He encouraged me to consider a 2016 presentation by Dr. John Mearsheimer, the R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor in Political Science at the University of Chicago. It was an eye-opening presentation, and if he is right, there may have been some relatively painless and simple things we could have done to prevent the catastrophe happening there. Perhaps. I don’t now, but want to know more. Have we provoked Russia? Did our weak sanctions and speaking of “minor incursions” being no big deal encourage the invasion? What was our involvement in the 2014 coup and in the selection of Ukrainian officials since then? Who will profit from war and who has been profiting improperly from events in Russia and Ukraine? And shouldn’t we be a little more worried about the risk of nuclear disaster if Russia feels desperate? (Disclaimer: I am somewhat biased on this issue because I have grandchildren. Sorry about that.)
Meanwhile, I see signals from both of our parties that we all need to stop asking questions (questions = “disinformation,” a lesson we should have learned already from the COVID era, and now an unwelcome question about our conflict with Russia can quickly be branded as “Russian disinformation”) and be prepared to do whatever is needed to stop Russia. This includes, of course, as much virtue signaling as possible — dumping vodka (no matter what country made it), closing accounts of ordinary Russian people, shaming Russian cats, and perhaps burning a few Russian Books of Mormon on Tik Tok for good measure. But it’s much more serious than that. Many are calling for enforcing a no-fly zone through NATO, an action that would initiate war between the West and Russia. I don’t like Putin nor any other authoritarian leader and want every nation and every people to be free. But when it comes to being silent and blindly trusting our government to lead us into a costly and deadly war, I’m not sure we should do that. It sure hasn’t worked well in the past.