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The hellish-hot weather persuaded me that I was wise to ignore the caution expressed by a close friend who grew up in Dallas, as I set off to give talks there. Better wear a bulletproof vest, he told me.
I was, nonetheless, feeling a bit anxious, given what had happened during my last major speech there, when I addressed the World Affairs Council of Greater Dallas on Jan. 20, 2004. Then my topic was "Intelligence and War: Lessons From the Recent Past," and I was very intentional about being, well, fair and balanced in devoting equal time to listing the baleful lies of two Texans - Lyndon Baines Johnson and George W. Bush - both of whom got a lot of people killed in unnecessary war.
I even reached back into history to enlist help from a former president whom Bush had called his favorite - Teddy Roosevelt, who said:
"To announce that there is to be no criticism of the president or that we are to stand by the president right or wrong is not only unpatriotic and servile, but morally treasonable to the American people."
Suffice it to say that my attempt at evenhandedness failed miserably, even though I used up a lot of precious time rehearsing LBJ's perfidy on Vietnam - dissecting, in particular, his exploitation of dubious intelligence regarding the Gulf of Tonkin non-incident of Aug. 4, 1964. I gave pride of place to that well deserved castigation before I delved into a reconstruction of what was already discernible as of January 2004 with respect to the lies told by George W. Bush to "justify" attacking Iraq exactly 10 months before.
Okay, so maybe I laid it on a little thick in citing what Nazi war criminal Hermann Goering told his American interrogator in Nuremberg:
"Naturally, the common people do not want war. That is understood. But after all it is the leaders of a country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a communist dictatorship....
"The people can always be brought to do the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."
Oil executives and other Dallas insiders in the audience took that as a signal to bolt - and did. One of the early departed, Herbert Hunt of the Hunt Oil family expressed chagrin at having been tricked into attending on false pretenses. He told an associate that, hearing of my continuing friendship with George Herbert Walker Bush, he was deceived into thinking I was "one of us."
Following the Q & A session after my presentation, the World Affairs Council president at the time, Jim Falk, was icily proper. It was not until much later that I learned that he labeled my speech "awful," and that the WAC Executive Committee member who had invited me became the target of a whispering campaign for not really being "one of us." My inviter was declared persona non grata and removed from the Executive Committee.
I had made
what I thought was an honest effort to be fair and balanced but, clearly, my
attempt had fallen far short in Dallas.
This Time It Would be Different
Now, five and a half years later, the task of exposing lies and spreading some truth around had become much less daunting, given the abundant material that had become available in the interim. And Dallas seemed the ideal place to do so, since George W. Bush had just moved in, causing not a ripple of concern - much less disapproval - among the indigenous, so to speak.
Indeed, far from the embarrassment I thought I would encounter among Dallasites over having a suspect war criminal as neighbor, the vast majority seemed utterly pleased - with one notable exception. There were recurrent complaints over inconvenient delays on the golf course, when the former president and his friends insisted on playing through.
Neither George nor Laura Bush came to the Dallas Peace Center dinner at which I spoke on July 9 (although I extended them a cordial invitation). And the nouveau riche were conspicuously absent. Fine by me. Except for a few predictable grimaces when I mentioned the dangerous Israel-centric policy pursued by Bush-43 in the Middle East, I enjoyed an audience that was, in Ciceronian terms, "benign [and] attentive." No one stormed out this time.
The week before my talk, I had offered an op-ed draft, "Is Texas Harboring Torture Decider," to the Dallas Morning News and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, both of which rejected it (surprise, surprise).
That homework having been done, I rang some changes on the theme of the op-ed - namely, that a "smoking-gun" executive memorandum of Feb. 7, 2002, signed by George W. Bush, is confirmation that the responsibility for torture is correctly attributed to rotten apples, but that they fouled the barrel from the top, not the bottom.