A New York Times report about Russia paying Taliban militants to kill American soldiers in Afghanistan turned many heads in the summer of 2020 when it was first published. It solidified many Democrats’ views that Russia is a dangerous enemy that is consistently acting to not only undermine the U.S., but actually murder its citizens. As NBC News points out, Joe Biden treated the story as factual as a presidential candidate and has continued to repeat the allegations as president. Yet, as many on the left pointed out countless times since the story was published by major news outlets, the reports have never been adequately substantiated. Maj. Danny Sjursen, a historian and Afghanistan War veteran, has been a notable critic of the story from the get-go. Now, as Biden’s own intelligence agencies declare that they have “low to moderate confidence” in the reports, at the very same time his administration levies a whole host of new sanctions against Russia, Sjursen joins Robert Scheer on “Scheer Intelligence” to discuss the revelation.
Scheer and Sjursen, the author of the forthcoming “A True History of the United States: Indigenous Genocide, Racialized Slavery, Hyper-Capitalism, Militarist Imperialism and Other Overlooked Aspects of American Exceptionalism,” point out the dangers of escalating tensions between two of the world’s greatest nuclear powers and the flagrant disregard for facts many Democrats and corporate media outlets have exhibited in their rhetoric regarding Russia. So what’s behind this recklessness?
“It seems the main motivation [behind stories like the Russian bounty report],” posits Sjursen, “for the longest time was to imply that Trump really was guilty of the Russia collusion, and to sort of sabotage him.”
Clarifying that he has been an outspoken public critic of Trump, the historian calls for “intellectual consistency” with regards to reporting that can have very real, very dangerous effects on the ground. Sjursen and Scheer go on to examine the timing of these allegations, arguing that the story could be linked to Trump’s desire to definitively pull U.S. troops out of Afghanistan–a move many liberals opposed. The entire ordeal also highlights another issue, says the veteran journalist and “Scheer Intelligence” host.
“it’s the big story in terms of what it says about the difficulty of writing accurate history and of doing accurate reporting,” says Scheer. “Because when it doesn’t fit into your narrative, you twist.”
Listen to the full conversation between Sjursen and Scheer as the two discuss the implications of “fake news” as well as talk about the Eisenhower Media Network, an organization Sjursen now leads made up of military and national security veterans who offer incisive and balanced foreign policy analysis.
- Host: Robert Scheer
- Producer: Joshua Scheer
- Introduction: Natasha Hakimi Zapata
- Transcript: Lucy Berbeo
RS: Hi, this is Robert Scheer with another edition of Scheer Intelligence, where the intelligence comes from my guests. And in this case someone I’ve had before a number of times, and certainly has a great deal of intelligence, not only native but in terms of experience of the kind the CIA and the NSA claim to have. Although only 37 years old, he spent 18 of those 37 years in the U.S. military, beginning with West Point where he graduated, and on to service in Iraq and Afghanistan–which is very much central to the specific issue I want to address today.
And that concerns the Russian bounty story. It first surfaced in June of 2020, on the eve of an election; it was seized upon by Joe Biden as a real issue, has continued with the current troubles with Russia to be an issue. Did Russia pay Taliban or other militants–it’s sort of evolved to criminal elements now–in Afghanistan to kill American and coalition troops? A horrendous charge, in terms of what would that involve. And something that, you know, you don’t make lightly with somebody you’re picturing now as an adversary, but has all of these nuclear weapons, and you’re trying to have some sanity.
And so the reason for this podcast now is that on May 7th the New York Times, which played the principal role in publicizing this story back in June of last year, had a story that should have been a mea culpa, in my view, but it wasn’t. And the story talked about, you know, scant evidence and so forth, but it contained a memo. And in that story, with another story on the bounties, said, “Statement on Russian bounty intelligence provided to the New York Times by a National Security Council spokesperson.” And in that statement there’s a clear admission that there’s no there there. That there is, they claim, “low to moderate confidence” that there might have been some connection between some Russian agents and some criminal element, but nothing.
And that affirmed something that had been said by the top US commander in Afghanistan. In September of 2020 he said that after he had gone over all of the material, “it just has not been proved to a level of certainty that satisfies me,” said General Frank McKenzie, and he told NBC. So this is, you know–if we’re going to talk about fake history, fake news, this is pretty big. Maybe as big as you can get in terms of calling your main military possible opponent in the world, accusing them of this heinous deed. Now, you were in Afghanistan; you served there, you know the idiom, you know the country. Take it from there. How did you assess this story?
DS: Well, thanks for having me on the show–
RS: And I should mention that you’re a historian as well as a military veteran; hopefully you’re about weeks away or months away from getting your PhD. And you’ve written a major book on American history from the military point of view that I think is coming out in a few months, right?
DS: That’s right, actually June 1st–
RS: And it’s already been reviewed very favorably by Kirkus. So it’s probably going to create a great storm, and great attention. But take it–how does this figure into what you’ve been writing about history, and the writing of history?
DS: Well, so I think this is a wildly important story that the Biden administration is sort of hoping will pass, in a way. And when I look at it, I look at it through basically three lenses. The first one is, you know, as a veteran of that war, I would be interested to know if another country was in fact paying bounties for the heads of American soldiers. That would interest me. That’s a very large allegation. The second lens is the policy skeptic who has kind of reviewed the intelligence failure since 9/11 and before that, repeated failures and the politicization of the CIA. And I look at that with a skeptical lens as a second lens.
And then the third one is a historian’s lens. Which is to say that there are a lot of, you know, logical holes that I saw immediately. First, of course, being why would the Taliban need to be motivated to kill American soldiers in 2019, because the statement says that the only thing that they are having low to moderate confidence that Russia did was encourage the killing of American soldiers in 2019 specifically. So the war’s already over by then, you know; the Taliban has essentially run our combat troops out of the country. They are in a stronger position than ever. They’ve been killing us for, at that point, 18 years. The idea that they would need it seems a little bit of a logical leap.
And then of course this idea that Russia would have such a great, special relationship with the Taliban, when the Taliban is an outgrowth of sort of the mujahideen that fought a tortured, tortured 10-year war with the Soviet Union, which killed maybe a million Afghans, right; a far more brutal war even than the one that we’re waging. So–
RS: And which the record should show, the US had been on the side originally of the mujahideen that gave rise to the Taliban when it was the old Soviet Union. And in the words of former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski in the Carter administration, they wanted to give Russia their Vietnam. That is a matter of documented record.
DS: And that was going to be my sort of last point, which is that there’s an interesting hypocrisy in the allegations, in that the CIA–which is the ones who are leaking this information, right? That are saying Russia did these bounties and giving it to the New York Times–the CIA literally did this to the Soviet Union. I mean, and bragged about it, right, at the top–like you mentioned, at the very top of the Carter administration, and then the Reagan administration. You know, they paid, they armed, they financed the mujahideen, various groups including some rather unsavory Islamists, to kill Russian soldiers, encouraged them, and yeah, tried to give them their Vietnam. So those were the three lenses [through which] I looked at it, and I think that was the framing before we really got into the details, which have turned out to be complicated.
RS: So let’s get into the details. Because again, we have a lot of–and you know, everyone should be committed to opposing fake news. I mean, news gets people killed, it gets them energized, it gets emotions raised, it sets our priorities, for better or worse. So being accurate about news is really critical to sanity, and certainly ever since we’ve had news organizations. And you know, we throw it around very easily; you know, Trump and the election and so forth and so on. AP, I notice they have it routinely now in stories, you know; the Trump administration’s fake news. OK–so, then, isn’t this fake news? And what is the role of the New York Times in it? It seems to me that from the beginning, and to the most recent admission that there really is no there there, no real evidence, there’s absolutely–in their own memo, from the government, they say there’s no evidence that this led to any action against any American or coalition troops. Flat-out statement. And so even with this admission, there’s no mea culpa; there’s no accountability. You can just hurl out new charges. So why don’t you sort of take us through the evolution of this story?
DS: So I think the evolution is interesting, because when you look in sequence, you learn a lot. So the first real reporting of this is published on June 26, 2020, and updated a month later, and not updated since. In the headline, very boldly, from the New York Times, based on the leak of anonymous intelligence officials–at that time they didn’t say they were CIA, but that was implied–this is the headline. New York Times, June 26th: “Russia Secretly Offered Afghan Militants Bounties to Kill US Troops,”–comma–“Intelligence Says.” So the framing of that is interesting, because it is a–it takes it as almost gospel, right? It takes it as “this is what it is”–and then they put behind the comma, “intelligence says.” Which packs a lot of interesting punch, because how many times has intelligence been wildly off, including invading countries like Iraq?
But that was their first thing. And they did not include very much of a caveat in the heading, or afterwards; it was taken on by the entire establishment Democratic Party, and the anti-Trump establishment Republicans, as gospel, and then repeated over and over again. Now, in September, General McKenzie–who is the commander of all troops in Afghanistan, but he’s more than that; he’s the commander of the US Central Command, meaning he’s in command of all American troops from Egypt to Afghanistan and Pakistan, so the entire Greater Middle East. Now, he said–and let’s be clear about something–he has the largest military intelligence staff in an operational unit on the planet. This is true. Right, because CENTCOM is our most active, sort of operational expeditionary command, combatant command, and they have enormous intelligence resources–signal, human, et cetera, analysts. He said that he could not find evidence that he found, you know, enough. Enough to say that there was this bounty. And that was a bold thing. That was a huge admission from the military. And what was interesting about it is many of these same figures–
RS: Just to quote him: “‘It just has not been proved to a level of certainty that satisfies me,’ Gen. Frank [McKenzie] told NBC News.” That is a pretty strong statement for an active, you know, for the active military; this is not a retired guy like Major Danny that I’m talking to, this is–right? The top guy.
DS: Yeah, the top guy of our most active, you know, command. This is an enormous admission. Of course, these same figures, media, political, continue to Tweet about it; continue to speak as though McKenzie had not released this, and that it wasn’t covered in NBC News and then everywhere else. They continued with this false story, which one could argue is the definition of fake news, right? Continuing to propagate things that have been debunked, with a confidence that, you know, misleads the public to thinking that it’s real.
At that point, Biden sort of eventually, but not right away, starts to hedge a little more in his language, but doesn’t stop talking about the bounties. And then even on April 15th, 2021, you know, when the Kremlin is–you know, there’s a pronouncement and the Kremlin’s informed about the new sanctions on Moscow, for the SolarWinds and election allegations, election-meddling allegations–you know, he says that the bounty allegations aren’t the main reason for these sanctions, but does toss it in there. And so we’re continuing to report this. And then the final bit is what you just mentioned, which is that on May 7th, you know, the New York Times puts out another headline that includes an embedded link to the two-page bulleted “Statement on Russian bounty intelligence provided to the New York Times by a National Security [Council] spokesperson.” That’s the title of it.
What’s interesting about that, the key phrase there is “provided to the New York Times.” Because what I would argue, and what I will be arguing in my next column, is that outlets like the New York Times in particular–and the Washington Post is probably a close second–have become the mouthpieces for the intelligence agencies. And MSNBC, of course, has literally become the mouthpiece for the intelligence agencies, because they give all the former guys a spot. But the New York Times and the Post, they will print things that are politically motivated, leaked to them. And the main motivation, it seems, for the longest time, was to imply that Trump really was guilty of the Russia collusion, and to sort of sabotage him. And I don’t say that as someone who supported Donald Trump, but rather someone who thinks we should be consistent intellectually. The final point, though, on that is–
RS: Just to clear that up, you didn’t support Donald Trump, as far as I know.
DS: Oh, hardly. Oh, my gosh, no. I mean, I protested Donald Trump. I was tossed out of his rally in Tulsa during a direct action, right? So for me to say that is to say: intellectual consistency. What they said in the statement, though, is that they have low to moderate confidence that Russian intelligence officers sought to encourage Taliban attacks. That sounds–
RS: Well, they go further than that–
RS: They go further than that. They actually say, the only connection–first of all, the information is based on detainee–“detainees” means people tortured, OK. Based on that. Secondly, the only connection is not with the Taliban, it’s with criminal units operating–criminals, ordinary criminals, operating in Afghanistan that they say some members of this Russian agency had contact with, and had had for decades. And the main argument is an argument–well, but we know the Russians historically have done this elsewhere. Well, of course you could say that about the United States.
And at the end, it says we don’t have any evidence of this having caused a death or injury of anyone–and it says, however, “We do not have evidence that the Kremlin directed this operation”–get this sentence. “We do not have evidence that the Kremlin directed this operation, but we call on the Russian government to explain itself.” So, we do not have evidence that you beat your wife, but we want you to explain why you didn’t beat your wife. It’s the oldest, you can’t prove a negative. Anyone reading this, certainly anybody at the New York Times, should have known that’s what that is. It’s garbage.
DS: Absolutely. And in fact, Joseph Heller could have written that statement. I mean, the contradictory absurdity of it. That sentence is, it’s almost like an absurdist novel. But it is very much in line with the way that this entire document is written, and the way that the CIA kind of puts this information out, and then the media returns to it. What you have, generally, is enormous amounts of sort of hedging, irresponsible implication, almost passive aggression. Plenty of padding; you know, there’s like four or five bullets that say, look at all these other bad things that Russia did, it’s fully in line with them–but not addressing the issue at hand. That is what informs this entire, you know, exercise.
And I think that it’s extraordinarily dangerous because of the outcomes. Words matter. And these sorts of reports matter, because decisions are made, actions are taken. And so the Democrats in particular in Congress, and some of the Republicans, were trying to avoid Trump ending the Afghan War, at the same time. The timing of this matters, right? If one is wondering, why does it get released, why does it get leaked when it does–it bears noting that that’s precisely when there’s this debate happening about pulling troops out of Afghanistan. So in this same period you have, you know, Liz Cheney on the Republican-side establishment, and Jason Crow on the Democratic side putting together the Liz Cheney amendment–which doesn’t eventually pass, but gets a lot of attention and looked like it might–basically saying that they’re going to cut off the funds necessary to end that war, because it costs money to leave a war, too. And then part of the reason that they argued for that was based on this bounty intelligence. So it was having an effect on our ability to end these wars.
So this wasn’t just a semantic exercise, but it also speaks to what the media has become, the mainstream media, which is these mouthpieces for the CIA. And that will of course come back to bite the Democrats, many of whom were really critical of, like, the intelligence agencies and their proxies during the wars in Central America under Reagan. But when Trump was in charge, suddenly–I didn’t get a memo on this, I just saw it happen–suddenly the CIA became the biggest heroes to places like MSNBC. And someone like Rachel Maddow, who had been very critical during the Bush years of the actions of these very same agencies, turned her show and that whole network into basically a parade of ex-intelligence officials, many of whom were complicit or at least credibly accused of being involved, complicity in some of those very same crimes. So this is the big story to me, is what this says about the media–and what the effects are. That matters.
RS: Well, it’s the big story in terms of what it says about the difficulty of writing accurate history and of doing accurate reporting. Because when it doesn’t fit into your narrative, you twist. And we had this even with Richard Nixon, who after all did not give us the Vietnam War; that is a gift from John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, but there’s no question Richard Nixon exacerbated it, criminally so, expanded it terribly, killed a lot of people. But the fact is, when Richard Nixon went to China, and when he basically ended the source of the conflict, which was after all China, not Vietnam, it was difficult to give him credit. And it was difficult to evaluate that, you know, actually the war ended under Nixon.
Something very similar is happening here. Trump, whatever his reason, did something wise, which is he said we can’t keep fighting these wars. And he was going to end the Afghan War. And lo and behold, Trump gets attacked as a sort of hopeless, naive dove. And people like Liz Cheney, who is now celebrated–because after all, Trump undermined her as a leader of the Republican Party, and everybody forgets the great Cheney legacy–and somehow Trump couldn’t be given any credit for this. But the fact is, the warmongering came from so-called moderate Republicans and conservative Democrats. And who did not, at that point, want us to leave Afghanistan, even though now President Biden says that he will leave, and that it didn’t make any sense to stay.
And this really figures into that. And it figures into fake news and manipulating an election. Because it’s a big deal to say that Trump is some kind of a Russian simp, and he’s allied with these people, he’s allied with the Russians who are killing Americans. What could be more damaging than to say about this president, incumbent president up for reelection, that he has betrayed patriotism, he’s betrayed the country? He’s going easy on the Russians, he’s allied with them because they, what, have the pee tapes or something, and they’re blackmailing him, and this is proof of it: they’ve got a bounty system, they want to kill Americans, and President Trump is looking the other way. That’s really what happened here; it was a manipulation of an election.
DS: Frankly, this is an allegation that is so grandiose and so severe–that, you know, Trump may have been a Russian asset at worst, or may have been a useful idiot, or a tool of the Russians. And that he would even refuse to call them out or take action when they were killing American soldiers–that is an allegation that’s tantamount to treason. And to me, to make such a bold assertion, no matter how unsavory one thinks the individual president is–to accuse a president, essentially, of treason or complicity in the killing of Americans, is so big that it seems to me there should be a massive, not correction, but retraction in every one of the outlets, and by every public figure who irresponsibly spread this story. That only seems correct at an intellectual level, but even on a moral level.
And I think that we’re seeing something that’s very opposite. So something that really jumped at me in this story–and language matters. You know, Hitchens always used to say, “look to the language,” Christopher Hitchens, and I agree with that. Well, if you go to the last bit of that May 7th story, where the New York Times releases those talking points, in the third-to-last paragraph–it is worth quoting a couple of sentences. They say, “After the briefing last month”–where they admitted they only had low to moderate confidence–quote, “some Trump supporters–as well as some left-wing critics of the C.I.A. and military interventions–argued that the CIA’s bounty assessment had been debunked as evidence-free,” quote, “‘fake news,’ vindicating Mr. Trump’s dismissal of the issue.” Now, they lump together Trump supporters and left-wing critics of the CIA, but then this is the sentence that matters: the New York Times then says, quote, “Russian propaganda outlets echoed and amplified those assertions.”
So what they’re saying here, because the whole thrust of their argument is yeah, they only have low to moderate confidence–but look, there’s something going on here, right? They have high confidence that these criminal networks are talking to the Russians, and all this fluff. But what they’re saying in that last sentence is, if you call this a hoax–if you say that this is just flat-out untrue, which appears to be substantiated, which appears to be the correct fact on the ground–then be careful, because you know, Russian outlets are echoing your claims. Well, of course they’re going to do that. But they’re echoing the truth in this instance, and it is of course going to happen, inevitably–but that is a way of squelching debate, and squelching dissent.
And I really did not appreciate that final paragraph, the way it lumps Trump supporters together with the antiwar left. It’s an attack on the people who are critical of the warfare state. And the implication–not too vague, not too indirect–that if you do that, be careful, because you’re kind of acting as a useful idiot for the Russians. And that’s dangerous, dangerous talk. That’s the discipline, that’s how they curtail the bounds of permissible dissent, and that to me is one of the big stories in this broader story.
RS: Well, we can conclude on that, but it’s just–it takes it beyond the Cold War rhetoric. It takes us to the Orwellian search for an enemy, any enemy, whatever enemy you can create. It becomes a totally irrational exercise in the sense of what preserves national security, or the well-being of your people. It’s the need for an enemy. And what we have now is red-baiting without reds. We really don’t red-bait China, because China is very important to the survival of world capitalism, as the factory floor for world capitalism. So we like that kind of communism, except we don’t like them being competitive in the market, but you know, we live with it. But they’re a communist government. We actually get along with Vietnam, though, which is a communist government, and we even see them as an alternative to China, as a different capitalist factory floor.
But we got Russia. And we have the nostalgia about Soviet Russia. And Putin is a guy who broke with all that; after all, he’s a guy we supported, and with Yeltsin, and actually helped make president. So we have this irrational, Orwellian exercise of the need for this enemy. And the irony here is for somebody like myself, who comes from the peace side, we were trying to say, be rational about these communists! Yeah, they’re very bad people, the old Soviet Union; they do not have the well-being of the world in mind; they are doing very harmful things. Nonetheless, we have to be rational, see if we can do business with them, see if we can control our–that was the problem during the Cold War. To prove that–and Eisenhower took up that burden; even Nixon ended up taking up that burden; you can live with these communists.
Now, we are in this Orwellian era where we have this undefined enemy, but focused now sort of on Putin. And that’s what was used against Trump in desperation; you know, that somehow this is a worse Red, even though he’s not a Red, he’s allied with–he’s a conservative, he’s a czar, he’s allied with the church and so forth. But it’s–you know, you’re a historian; aren’t we in an Orwellian moment here?
DS: Absolutely we are. I mean, Orwell, to use the cliché, has got to be either both rolling in his grave when he hears some of the language that’s being used–from our media, from the intelligence officials–and also probably smirking with a little bit of I-told-you-so. Because one could read his assessment of the, you know, the media and the print media at the time, reporting on Soviet Russia, reporting on Russia before World War II–and he wrote long, critical essays about how the media kind of maintains its control, how it suppresses dissent, how it controls thought. Which, of course, largely informs what he writes in Nineteen Eighty-Four. But a lot of those essays have a lot of nuance in them, and one could read them–and if I were to black out, like the CIA does with redactions–if I were to black out the year that was written, as well as the author’s name, I could print that as an analysis essay in Harper’s or something, if they’d print it, about our media today. And people would actually believe it was written today.
So we are in an Orwellian world. And facts don’t matter, apparently. And what doesn’t matter is context, contrast, or backstory. Context, contrast, or backstory–which is to say that we’ll assert, as you said, that Russia is somehow as bad as it’s ever been, worse even; Putin is a new emperor, right, it’s like they’re out for world domination. Never included in that is how powerful is Russia, really, compared to the Soviet Union? And how serious of a threat was the Soviet Union? Were they really coming for [unclear]? Of course the answer is no. That’s the contrast part, and that’s the context.
But then the backstory, you know, no one ever really digs into–what’s going on with Afghanistan? Why would Russia really have this motive? By the point that they would supposedly be paying these bounties, the Americans–they’re not going to change the outcome of the war. I mean, America’s on its way out. I mean, we may stay a long time, but we can’t measurably or meaningfully alter the outcome of that war. The Taliban won. I always question the motive, I always question the justification, because I’ve looked at it with a historical eye. And that’s not really done in our media, which does not do any of those three things.
In doing so, in not doing that and in instead taking this as gospel and repeating it as the CIA mouthpiece, they are acting as state media. They are acting as the sort of state media that we heard Orwell write about in Nineteen Eighty-four But the modern version of that is different. The modern version of that, they don’t have to jail everybody; they don’t have to shut down newspapers. What they do is they police the bounds of permissible dissent, who they publish, who they invite on the shows, and they maintain sort of a radio silence on dissent without actually having to jail folks. Unless they really embarrass them, like Julian Assange, but that’s not normally how it has to be done. The outcomes, though, are the same, and they are Orwellian.
RS: So on that note, let’s end it. But I’d like also for you–I didn’t give you a proper introduction. You’ve moved on, 18 years in the military, from West Point–and actually taught history at West Point, and active duty, rising from lieutenant to major in Iraq and Afghanistan. But you’re now head of the Eisenhower [Media Network]. Why don’t we conclude on a positive note about an American president, and why the Eisenhower [Media Network], and what you’re hoping to accomplish there?
DS: Well, you know, what we’re doing over here at the Eisenhower Media Network is we’ve recruited 12, so far–and we continue to expand–skeptical, independent voices who are either military, mostly, or national security veterans. Who are critical of American foreign policy, critical of militarism, and aren’t taking money from the defense industry–
RS: As was Eisenhower, of course.
DS: As was Eisenhower. And the reason for choosing that name–which was controversial to some, because he did not have a perfect record in Iran, or of course in Guatemala, or many other places. But what I think a lot of Americans forget–and I actually would like to see it linked, and maybe I’ll write a column for Scheerpost or somewhere else this next time the holidays come around. But I would like, on like a Martin Luther King day or on Eisenhower’s birthday, to see someone say, here’s a fact most Americans don’t know: Eisenhower and Martin Luther King essentially agreed more than they disagreed about the problems with the military-industrial complex, war industry, and the outcomes of American militarism.
And there is something profound about a five-star general–there have only been five in our history–who went to West Point, rises to the highest levels, defeats the Nazis, and then finds himself president. You know, he is no peacenik; he’s no hippie; finds himself president, and finds himself often getting the most trouble from his own generals, most of whom he knew during the war when they were younger officers. He did not trust his generals; they gave him a real heartache, and he did not trust the war industry, the military-industrial complex, as he coins the term in his farewell address.
And he leaves us the warning, and that’s why we chose him. Because we’re just hoping to be small contributors to that warning, and the American people, right or wrong or somewhere in the middle, have given a degree of credibility to folks who have been there and done that on behalf of the country. So these are all combat veterans and intelligence veterans of everything from Vietnam to the most current, post-9/11 wars, who are willing to go out there and be critical. And what we try to do is amplify their story, get them published, get them on shows; we’re starting to have some real success.
And just to make a final point about it, I mean, check out our website, EisenhowerMediaNetwork.org, which is up right now, and also on Twitter. But we have people from Colin Powell’s chief of staff, Colonel Larry Wilkerson, who went to Vietnam in 1966 and is in his late seventies, to a guy like Dan Berschinski, who we had on CNN a few weeks ago talking about the Afghan War, who graduated from West Point in 2007 and lost both of his legs in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, not far from where I served. So we’ve got that range of people. And he’s critical of the Afghan War, and he has been, and he’s written and he’s spoken accordingly.
So we’re just trying to get us rowing in the same direction, create connections, and let people know that the military is not a monolith, and there are a lot of veterans who are straight-up fed up with this stuff, and have the expertise to back up their claims. So I appreciate you giving me time to talk about that.
RS: Yeah, and let me throw you a closing curveball about Eisenhower. Something I would like to know more about, and so maybe you could write a book about him. But to my mind, we throw around this word “terrorism,” and what we really mean by terrorism is war on civilians, using civilians, killing civilians to make a political point. You know, innocents in any country; that’s what, I think, would be the clarifying point about terrorism.
And to my mind, dropping Fat Man and Little Boy, the cutely named names for the atomic bomb, on Hiroshima and Nagasaki–it was an act of terrorism. It was done during the day, it was maximizing child casualties with kids going to school, with two non-military targets, basically, and so forth. My understanding is that Eisenhower, who certainly was aware of the possibility of casualties, you know, as a result of extending the war in Japan–he certainly had been witness to the war, and our major leader–my understanding is he opposed dropping the bombs. I don’t know if that’s–whether that holds up to documentation, but the last time I researched it, that was the case.
DS: Well, luckily, Bob, luckily I’m a geek and I read this stuff, and I taught it. And I just pulled up my slides as you were talking, because I thought that’s what you were going to ask me. So in my teaching slides, this is a direct quote from his memoirs. Eisenhower wrote, “[Upon hearing the bomb would be dropped] I had … a feeling of depression and … voiced … my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and secondly because I thought that our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was … no longer mandatory … to save American lives.”
That is a pretty bold statement. Most Americans don’t know that, wouldn’t think it, and I think that should be taught in school. I think it should be taught in school. You should not be able to teach that we dropped the nuclear bomb because we had to, without providing the alternative view, which came from the guy who beat the Nazis. And he wasn’t alone, of course; Admiral Bill Halsey, commander of the Third Fleet in the Pacific, also skeptical. So you know, he was not alone; there were a lot of military men who thought this was unnecessary. And Eisenhower was maybe one of the most passionate voices when he wrote his memoirs.
RS: And it’s critically important. Because the notion of American exceptionalism–you know, we make mistakes, but we don’t commit war crimes; we do enhanced interrogation, but we don’t torture; you know, we have carpet-bombing in Vietnam and kill millions of people, but you know, it’s not the same as genocide. And I think the use of the nuclear weapons, which somehow has faded from our consciousness, is critical to that: what do we mean by terrorism, and unleashing terrorism in the world?
And you know, I wore an “I Like Ike” button when I was a kid in the Bronx, and let me tell you, that was not easy. [Laughs] I was convinced by a great columnist, I.F. Stone, that Ike might have been better than the warmongering Democrats of that moment; history can determine that. I’m not making him a saint, but I’m saying sometimes, as in the case of Major Danny–let me conclude with this–who was a major and West Point graduate and part of the faculty, and saw years of combat, we get a lot of wisdom from the military. And Eisenhower–and I’m happy that you’re running–what is it called, the Eisenhower media institute?
DS: Eisenhower Media Network, EMS.
RS: I can’t think of any better person to carry on the best part of Eisenhower’s legacy. So let’s conclude on that. And I want to thank Christopher Ho at KCRW for getting these programs posted. Natasha Hakimi Zapata for doing the introductions. Lucy Berbeo for doing the transcription. Joshua Scheer, who is the executive producer of Scheer Intelligence. And I want to thank the JWK Foundation for providing some support in the memory of Jean Stein, who certainly was a terrific critical writer. And see you next week with another edition of Scheer Intelligence.
Danny Sjursen is a retired US Army officer, senior fellow at the Center for International Policy (CIP), contributing editor at Antiwar.com, and director of the new Eisenhower Media Network (EMN). His work has appeared in the NY Times, LA Times, The Nation, Huff Post, The Hill, Salon, The American Conservative, Mother Jones, Scheer Post and Tom Dispatch, among other publications. He served combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and later taught history at West Point. He is the author of a memoir and critical analysis of the Iraq War, Ghostriders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge and Patriotic Dissent: America in the Age of Endless War. Along with fellow vet Chris "Henri" Henriksen, he co-hosts the podcast “Fortress on a Hill.” Follow him on Twitter @SkepticalVet and on his website for media requests and past publications.
Copyright 2020 Danny Sjursen