Deceit and policy

Published : Apr 21, 2006 00:00 IST

These volumes shed light on the way governments deceive not only adversaries but their own people.

AT some of the best book shops even, one is struck by the absence on the shelves of significant books published abroad, while pulp is freely imported. There is, in the academia, too, a neglect of publications by lesser known publishers, such as Ivan R. Dee of Chicago and lesser known universities. The University Press of Kansas has rendered a service by publishing these three books.

Deceit of adversaries in foreign affairs is bad enough, but governments deceive their own people. Democracies are - have to be - skilled at this game because the media are free; though on foreign affairs most of them play along with the state. Pakistan's lies on the wars of 1947 and 1965 are not only documented but draw the wrath of dissent. There is comparably less documentation on India's lies on Junagadh, Kashmir's accession in 1947, Hyderabad, Goa, the 1962 war with China and, worst of all, the Bangladesh war. Operation Parakram of the Bharatiya Janata Party regime fell into this glorious tradition. Our media and intelligentsia admire exposes in the United States and elsewhere, but are "patriotically" silent on our own misdoings. Even more unforgivable is our academia's timorous voice on the opening of the archives.

The episode of the Pentagon Papers revealed American democracy at its best just as the Iraq war revealed its institutions at their worst - the press, the Supreme Court and Congress. John Prados' scholarly exposures belong to the former tradition. This volume of essays he has co-edited draws on contributions of members of the Vietnam Veterans of America, which organised a conference to discuss the issues the episode raised. It publishes excerpts from Nixon's tapes to show how and why he decided to suppress media reports of the papers. However the papers themselves remain secret to this day though most of them were published. The volume demolishes the plea of "national security" which states make to justify secrecy. A lawyer analyses the legal issues in the case before the Supreme Court, based on the government's brief in the Supreme Court which is now in the public domain. Can this happen in India? Analysts on the Pentagon's project provide their insights; chief among them is Daniel Ellsberg. An invaluable volume.

Never accept the official version of an "incident" with another country blindly. Americans discovered how their nation was taken for a ride after the Gulf of Tonkin incident in 1964. It was used to justify deeper involvement in Vietnam. A war, involving possible use of nuclear weapons, might have started after the USS Pueblo was attacked and captured by North Korean gunships in January 1968. Mitchell Lerner consulted recently declassified papers besides those involved in the operation. The U.S. did not admit it was a spy ship and called North Korea's capture part of a communist conspiracy. But Pyongyang had its own agenda. The conduct of the adversaries in 1968 sheds light on their behaviour in 2006. The U.S. underestimates North Korea's nationalism. This is a definitive book on that episode.

The last volume is, in a sense, Moscow's Pentagon Papers. It contains the Russian General Staff's study on the war in Afghanistan. In India the Henderson-Brooks Report on the 1962 war is suppressed, still. The Russian General Staff reflects on the origin and course of the war; the editors provide an informed analysis. It is a truly unique volume. It reveals that governments deceive themselves as much as they deceive others. The Soviet Union's military planning initially was perfect; its political calculations were all wrong. The General Staff records: "It was thought that Soviet forces would not have to fight during the invasion and subsequent stationing of Soviet forces. It was felt that the mere presence of Soviet forces would serve to `sober up' the Mujahideen." In 2002-03, the U.S. deceived the world on Iraq as much as it deceived itself. Its people and media were complicit in the aggression. It is not the crime but its failure that they bitterly lament today. People do not welcomeinvasions. Only quislings do. The West has yet to understand that truth.

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