No Comment — August 6, 2010, 10:48 am

The Scapegoating of General Lavelle

On Wednesday, President Barack Obama, acting on the advice of the Department of Defense, asked Congress to restore the rank and benefits of John Daniel Lavelle, an Air Force general. In 1971, while he was commanding the Seventh Air Force, General Lavelle authorized the bombing of North Vietnamese targets outside the scope of the then disclosed rules of engagement. He was removed from his position and demoted to lieutenant general by Defense Secretary Melvin R. Laird. A congressional uproar ensued, with demands for Lavelle’s courtmartial, and he was demoted further and pressed to resign as a major general. Now, newly declassified and released documents reveal that Lavelle was acting on the direct orders of the White House when he did what he did—a fact of which Laird was aware. The public representations made by President Nixon and Secretary of Defense Laird to the public and to Congress were lies designed to disguise White House orders to step up the bombing of the north while avoiding any negative repercussions to Nixon. General Lavelle died thirty-one years ago, after having been driven from the military in disgrace, his long career trashed in the interests of Republican electoral politics.

Rachel Maddow does a marvelous job of working this material up, blending in archived footage from the Nixon tapes to carry the story from beginning to end. This is one of the most effective Vietnam-era history lessons in recent memory:

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I sat in a taxi with Emma and her son, Stak, all three bodies muscled into the rear seat, and the boy checked the driver’s I.D. and immediately began to speak to the man in an unrecognizable language.

I conferred quietly with Emma, who said he was studying Pashto, privately, in his spare time. Afghani, she said, to enlighten me further.

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