Selected Works

James Madison leads an unprepared nation into a struggle that will establish the United States as a major world power and stake its claim to the entire continent.
"A breathtaking portrait of boldness, courage...and sheer youthful vitality."--Newsweek
"A powerful indictment of what the United States helped to bring about in this hemisphere."--The New York Times.
A nonfiction examination of the fall of the Roman Republic--political and military history from 81 B.C. to 30 B.C. (Simon&Schuster, 1994)
"A novel of the death of God, with many resurrections and many Christs." Harper& Row, 1968.
"Wedlock is very good, full of sharp insight and throwaway wit...Langguth writes a sternly brilliant prose, and his characters live."--Elizabeth Janeway, 1972
"This quick-running, exciting novel poses a number of disturbing questions in a spare prose that gives the book great bite." Harper&Row, 1974
"Despite his total immersion in the rituals, Langguth asked the skeptical questions that allowed him to produce here the first objective book on Brazil's Macumba in English."
Literary Biography
"A Saki biography at last, and surely a definitive one...An achievement.--Emlyn Williams.
More than six decades of letters from the author of "On a Note of Triumph," often called the poet of the Golden Age of Radio.


Advance Comment
and Reviews of
"Driven West"

"A. J. Langguth's "Driven West" is American history at its absolute finest. The sad legacy of Andrew Jackson's Indian Removal policy is expertly re-examined with literary verve and deep scholarship. Langguth is a master of the narrative history. Highly recommended!"
--Douglas Brinkley, author of "The Wilderness Warrior"

"...One of the most accessible books ever written about this historical period. It also proves once again that Langguth has few equals when it comes to historical reporting."--Tuscon Citizen

"Jack Langguth has adopted a distinctive and hugely satisfying approach in recounting the fate of the Cherokee Indians, crushed by the exuberance of Manifest Destiny in the three decades from Jackson to Lincoln. In weaving the Cherokee story into the broader tapestry of American politics of that time, he renders a dramatic pictorial filled with powerful and sad figures, the clash of cultural impulse, and the force of human tragedy. The story is heart-breaking, as history so often is."
--Robert Merry, author of "A Country of Vast Designs"

"Highly readable...Langguth is to be commended for reconstructing the story of the Trail of Tears." Jon Meacham, New York Times Book Review

"A fast-paced, lively narrative history of American politics from the 1820s to the Civil War...captures the dark drama of Indian removal." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


Los Angeles Times, May 3, 2009


The U.S. has been complicit
in inhumane interrogations
since 1964 in South America

By A. J. Langguth

As President Obama grapples with accusations of torture by U.S. agents, I suggest he consult the former Senate majority leader, Tom Daschle.
I first contacted Daschle in 1975, when he was an aide to Sen. James Abourezk of South Dakota, who was leading a somewhat lonely campaign against CIA abuses.
At the time, I was researching a book on the United States' role in the spread of military dictatorships throughout Latin America. Daschle arranged for me to inspect the senator's files, and I spent an evening reading accounts of U. S. complicity in torture. The stories came from Iran, Taiwan, Greece and, for the preceding 10 years, from Brazil and the rest of the continent's Southern Cone.
Despite my past reporting from South Vietnam, I had been naive enough to be at first surprised and then appalled by the degree to which our country had helped to overthrow elected governments in Latin America.
Our interference, which went on for decades, was not limited to one political party. The meddling in Brazil began in earnest during the early 1960s under a Democratic administration. At that time, Washington's alarm over Cuba was much like the more recent panic after 9/​11. The Kennedy White House was determined to prevent another communist regime in the hemisphere, and Robert Kennedy, as attorney general, was taking a strong interest in several anti-communist approaches, including the Office of Public Safety.
When OPS was launched under President Eisenhower, its mission sounded benign enough--to increase the professionalism of the police of Asia, Africa and, particularly, Latin America. But its genial director, Byron Engle, was a CIA agent, and his program was part of a wider effort to identify receptive recruits among local populations.
Although Engle wanted to avoid having his unit exposed as a CIA front, in the public mind the separation was quickly blurred. Dan Mitrione, for example, a police adviser murdered by Uruguay's left-win Tupamaros for his role in torture in that country, was widely assumed to be a CIA agent.
When Brazil seemed to tilt leftward after President Joao Goulart assumed power in 1961, the Kennedy administration grew increasingly troubled. Robert Kennedy traveled to Brazil to tell Goulart he should dismiss two of his Cabinet members, and the office of Lincoln Gordon, John Kennedy's ambassador to Brazil, became the hub for CIA efforts to destabilize Goulart's government.
On March 31, 1964, encouraged by U. S. military attache Vernon Walters, Brazilian Gen. Humberto Castelo Branco rose up again Goulart. Rather than set off a civil war, Goulart chose exile in Montevideo.
Ambassador Gordon returned to a jubilant Washington, where he ran into Robert Kennedy, who was still grieving for his brother, assassinated the previous November. "Well, he got what was coming to him," Kennedy said of Goulart. "Too bad he didn't follow the advice we gave him when we were down there."
The Brazilian people did not deserve what they got. The military cracked down harshly on labor unions, newspapers and student associations. The newly efficient police, drawing on training provided by the U.S., began routinely torturing political prisoners and even opened a torture school on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro to teach police sergeants how to inflict the maximum pain without killing their victims.
One torture victim was Fernando Gabeira, a young reporter for Jornal do Brasil who was recruited by a resistance movement and later arrested for his role in the 1969 kidnapping of Charles Burke Elbrick, the U. S. ambassador. (Elbrick was released after four days.) In custody, Gabeira later told me, he was tortured with electric shocks to his testicles; a fellow prisoner had his testicles nailed to a table. Still others were beaten bloody or waterboarded. When Gabeira's captors said anything at all, they sometimes boasted about having been trained in the United States.
During the first seven years after Castelo Branco's coup, the OPS trained 100,000 Brazilian police, including 600 who were brought to the United States. Their instruction varied. Some OPS lecturers denounced torture as inhumane and ineffectual. Others conveyed a different message. Le Van An, a student from the South Vietnamese police, later described what his instructors told him: "Despite the fact that brutal interrogations is strongly criticized by moralists," they said, "its importance must not be denied if we want to have order and security in daily life."
Brazil's political prisoners never doubted that Americans were involved in the torture that proliferated in their country. On their release, they reported that they frequently had heard English-speaking men around them, foreigners who left the room while the actual torture took place. As the years passed, those torture victims say, the men with American accents became less careful and sometimes stayed on during interrogations.
One student dissident, Angela Camargo Seixas, described to me how she was beaten and had electric wires inserted into her vagina after her arrest. During her interrogations, she found that her hatred was directed less toward her countrymen than toward the North Americans. She vowed never to forgive the United States for training and equipping the Brazilian police.
Flavio Tavares Freitas, a journalist and Christian nationalist, shared that sense of outrage. When he had wires jammed in his ears,between his teeth and into his anus, he saw that the small gray generator producing the shocks had on its side the red, white and blue shield of the USAID.
Still another student leader, Jean Marc Von der Weid, told of having his penis wrapped in wires and connected to a battery-operated field telephone. Von der Weid, who had been in Brazil's marine reserve, said he recognized the telephone as one supplied by the United States through its military assistance program.
Victims often said that their one moment of hope came when a medical doctor appeared in their cell. Now surely the torment would end. Then they found that he was only there to guarantee that they could survive another round of shocks.
CIA Director Richard Helms once tried to rebut accusations against his agency by asserting that the nation must take it on faith that the CIA was made up of "honorable men." That was before Sen. Frank Church's 1975 Senate hearings brought to light CIA behavior that was deeply dishonorable.
Before Brazil restored civilian government in 1985, Abourezk had managed to shut down a Texas training base notorious for teaching subversive techniques, including the making of bombs. When OPS came under attack during another flurry of bad publicity, the CIA did not fight to save it, and its funding was cut off.
Looking back, what has changed since 1975? A Brazilian truth and reconciliation commission was convened, and it documented 339 cases of government-sanctioned political assassinations. In 2002, a former labor leader and political prisoner, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, was elected president of Brazil. He's serving his second term.
Fernando Gabeira went home from exile in Sweden to publish a book about kidnapping the American ambassador and his ordeal in prison. The book became a bestseller throughout Brazil, and Gabeira was elected to the national legislature. In an election last October, he came within 1.4 percentage points of becoming the mayor of Rio de Janeiro.
But in our country,there's been a disheartening development: In 1975, U. S. officials still felt they had to deny condoning torture. Now many of them seem to be defending torture, even boasting about it.
A.J. LANGGUTH is the author of "Hidden Terrors: The Truth About U. S. Police Operations in Latin America."

Selections from the Washington Post, December 17, 2006:

A new look at the conflict with Britain that staked America's claim to the continent
By Douglas Brinkley

"...If there is a central theme to A. J. Langguth's finely written 'Union 1812,' it's about...how contentious the debate was over where the Stars and Stripes would fly following the American Revolution, in both the Great Lakes region and the Louisiana Territory. Framed as a sequel to 'Patriots,' Langguth's bestselling book on the Revolution, 'Union 1812' seamlessly weaves together capsule biographies of historical heavy-hitters--including Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, John Quincy Adams, James Madison and James Monroe--as they grapple with border disputes. This makes for popular history at its most accessible, full of colorful anecdotes and pithy quotes...
"[A]fter reading 'Union 1812," you'll sign a petition to have this brave man (Zebulon Pike) re-interred on top of Pike's Peak in Colorado. Besides being a good read, 'Union 1812' allows you to discover the second wave of our founders with a renewed sense of awe and surprise."
(Douglas Brinkely is professor of history and director of the Roosevelt Center at Tulane University.)

Review: Union 1812
By Richard Brookhiser
New York Times and International Herald Tribune (February 11, 2007)

..."'Union 1812' offers to give readers who are not ironmen [i.e., ready to tackle Henry Adams's 2,700-page history] all they want to know about America's second major war.

..."Langguth shows that victory in battle depended, time and again, on the personalities of human leaders...Langguth capably juggles multiple fronts, diplomatic maneuvers, social observations and the eye-witness testimony, fragmentary but vivid, of less figures."

From the LA Weekly, July 2-8, 2004:

What Would George Washington Do?
by A. J. Langguth

During the Vietnam era, Samuel Johnson was widely quoted by anti-war protestors as a rebuttal to the Nixonians whose car bumpers read "America--Love It or Leave It." The demonstrators made a cliche out of Johnson's tart remark that "patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel."

But they ignored the fact that Dr. Johnson considered all Americans scoundrels and that the targets of his contempt included the leaders of our rebellion.

At the height of the Revolutionary War, he declared, "I am willing to love all mankind, except an American." We were "rascals, robbers, pirates." He wanted to "burn and destroy" us. If by some fluke the American rebels should win, Johnson predicted, "They will want a king."

About that, he was not entirely wrong. During the triumphant weeks of victory and then throughout the faltering years of the Articles of Confederation, many Americans believed that what the new country most needed was a monarch.

And who better to take the throne than George Washington?

John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and other revolutionaries disagreed, not least because Washington was a general. Even as the United States was fighting for its survival, those men feared the destructive effect of a standing army on a democracy. Yet America's outpouring of gratitude to Washington--combined with a widespread nostalgia for a familiar form of government--might have led to his coronation.

Except that Washington confounded Sam Johnson by being a patriot and no scoundrel.

Washington knew the extent of his popularity and took care to protect it. Despite his healthy respect for money, Washington never cashed in on his service in war or peace. As president, he exerted his influence to keep the merchants of the North united with the planters of the South. But when their ambitions grew irreconcilable, Washington displeased Jefferson, a fellow Virginian, by supporting the economic policies of Alexander Hamilton, whose urban vision was better suited to the country that America was fated to become.

To Washington, patriotism involved upholding the First Amendment guarantees of a free press and the separation of church and state. In his second term, he argued for postal laws that favorted the nation's newspapers even while attacks from an increasingly partisan press were wounding him deeply.

As he was leaving office, a group of clergymen decided that Washington had not been publicly demonstrative enough about his religion and tried to force him into an avowal of faith. Washington had always made a politician's gestures to conventional devotion, but he evaded the kind of testimonial the ministers wanted. Jefferson wrote admiringly in his journal, "The old fox was too cunning for them."

Washington was less formally educated than his associates--Adams from Harvard, Hamilton from Columbia, James Madison from Princeton. He was not embarrassed about asking other men to help in writing his speeches, and they in turn responded to the aspects of his character that lifted him above them. When it came time to leave public life, Washington drew on the talents of Hamilton, Madison and John Jay to write his farewell address. But the sentiments were his own.

Washington warned against "those overgrown military establishments, which under any form of government, are inauspicious to liberty." Political factions should not divide men "who ought to be bond together by fraternal affection."

Rigorous debate was "a fire not to be quenched." But it demanded vigilance "lest instead of warming, it should consume."

America must treat all nations with good faith and justice, avoiding both lasting hostilities and passionate attachments for any of them. He was offering "the counsels of an old and affectionate friend...to moderate the fury of party spirit, to warn against the mischief of foreign intrigue, to guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism..."

Washington owned slaves. Lafayette, who loved him, tried to persuade him to experiment with freeing them. Washington praised Lafayette's noble heart but found reasons not to follow his example. These days, some historians argue that he could have changed our history if he had acted on his more humane impulses.

Washington knew better. More likely, he would have outraged the Southerners and never have been elected president. He would have looked on from the sidelines as the new country tore itself apart.

I might be more censorious about his behavior if most of us didn't bow as Washington did to the prevailing customs of our time,and with far less justification.

Along with Gore Vidal, we deplore the excesses of post-World War II America as we go on enjoying the fruits of empire. We boycott and demonstrate, write scathing articles, give money to ameliorating causes. But we pay the taxes that allow the country to careen down wrong paths.

These days, religious people sometimes ask, What would Jesus do? Asking that question about Washington is equally futile. But just as he often rose above his personal instincts to preserve the union, his life suggests that he would welcome a new definition of patriotism. He might share the vision that John Kennedy described in a speech at American University in 1963, when Kennedy called on his countrymen to cast off fear and misguided self-interest and engage with other nations and ideologies acoss the globe. Nikita Khrushchev called it the best speech made by an American president since Franklin Roosevelt.

To me, American patriotism has progressed in a wavering but heartening line from George Washington to Jimmy Carter. Sam Johnson might have mocked the prospect, but tomorrow's patriotism will speak less of a blind love for our native land than of a clear-eyed concern for the natives of every land.

A. J. Langguth, a former New York Times correspondent, won the Overseas Press Club Award for "Our Vietnam: The War 1954-1975." Author of "Patriots: The Men Who Started the American Revolution," he is currently finishing a book on the War of 1812.

From the Los Angeles Times, Opinion Section, February 1, 2004

The Weight of the Last Option
By A. J. Langguth

“I heard the bullets whistle,” wrote 22-year-old George Washington after his first exposure to war, “and believe me, there is something charming in the sound.”
When King George II was informed of the remark, he observed, “He would not say so had he heard many.”
I was reminded of that exchange from 1754 during the recent Democratic primaries when both Massachusetts Senator John Kerry and retired Army General Wesley K. Clark stressed their military service as a qualification to be President. Kerry received the Silver Star for saving his patrol boat in South Vietnam by killing a Vietcong soldier. Clark was also awarded a Silver Star for fighting on with his troops in South Vietnam despite serious wounds.
Is that exposure to the rigors and misery of war a valuable asset to the candidate who seeks to become American’s commander-in-chief? The question is likely to be with us through November 2.
In Washington’s case, by the time he was commanding troops during the Revolutionary War, he had long outgrown any youthful enthusiasm for battle, and he was disdainful of civilians who criticized his strategy from behind the lines:
“I can assure those gentlemen,” Washington wrote with an asperity he seldom permitted himself, “that it is a much easier and less distressing thing to draw remonstrances in a comfortable room by a good fireside than to occupy a cold, bleak hill, and sleep under frost and snow without clothes or blankets.”
When Washington became President, his military experience continued to shape his actions. Faced with the prospect of entangling the United States in further wars, he risked his reputation by maintaining the nation’s neutrality. Some members of the opposition party never forgave him for refusing to back France in her war with England.
During the War of 1812, a naval hero named Isaac Hull tried to explain to a group of admiring civilians his reaction to combat: “I do not mind the day of battle,” Hull said. “The excitement carries one through. But the day after is fearful. It is so dreadful to see my men wounded and suffering.” Hull’s president, James Madison, with scant military experience, led the nation into that hapless war.
Sometimes a leader as humane as Abraham Lincoln will be drawn into war and must try to see it through to victory. But General William Tecumseh Sherman, a man who did the fighting, emerged from the Civil War to tell a class of military cadets, “It is only those who have never fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, more desolation.” Sherman concluded with the one-word definition unlikely to be bettered: “War is hell.”
John F. Kennedy saw combat close at hand in the South Pacific. During his nearly three years in the White House, he brought to Cabinet meetings a vivid sense of what war entailed. Although Kennedy blundered into the Bay of Pigs, he then overruled his military advisers and refused to widen the struggle. During the 1962 missile crisis, he was determined to resist launching another strike against Cuba.
By contrast, Lyndon B. Johnson’s enlistment during World War II was an exercise in public relations. As a congressman, he joined the Naval Reserve and went to the Pacific Theater just long enough for a Japanese pilot to fire on a plane in which he was riding. Although no one else on the mission was decorated, Johnson promptly collected a Silver Star--like Kerry and Clark, except that Johnson’s was awarded for spending thirteen minutes as a passenger on a B-26. Johnson quickly returned to Texas to impress voters with his ordeal.
Neither of Johnson’s most prominent advisers on Vietnam saw any more bloodshed than the president did. McGeorge Bundy, national security adviser to presidents Kennedy and Johnson, drew on his family’s friendship with Rear Admiral Alan R. Kirk and watched the Normandy invasion from the flag bridge of the USS Augusta.
Robert S. McNamara, who can be seen now in Errol Morris’s documentary, “The Fog of War,” tries to distance himself from his role in Vietnam. He prefers instead to lament America’s firebombing of Japan during the World War II, even though that was a war most Americans regarded as essential and just.
McNamara attributes the Japan strategy to Maj. Gen. Curtis LeMay, head of the 21st Bomber Command, who became an insistent hawk during the Vietnam years. Perhaps pilots are more likely than other soldiers to become hawks; although they risk being shot down, their views of war are sanitized by the height at which they fly. President George H.W. Bush flew missions during World War II and yet launched a ground war in the Persian Gulf 46 years later.
As to McNamara, while everything he claims about America’s callous strategy in the 1940s may be true, it is not relevant to his later Vietnam decisions. He was only a minor bureaucrat in World War II, not one of its chief architects. In neither war did he face battle.
Nor did a majority of those officials most responsible for last year’s invasion of Iraq. During deliberations, the one ranking veteran was Gen. Colin L. Powell, and he seemed a reluctant warrior. It was President Bush who became the war’s cheerleader. And yet, during the Vietnam years, Bush preferred the option of enlisting in the Texas Air National Guard, and he was not particularly diligent in fulfilling even that obligation.
Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld served in the peace-time Navy of the mid-1950s, benefiting, like many of us, from Dwight D. Eisenhower’s two terms in the White House. As a five-star general, Ike could face down lesser military chiefs and his own vice president, Richard Nixon, when they urged him to prop up the French as their occupation of Vietnam was collapsing.
Neither Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz nor national security adviser Condoleeza Rice has served in the military. Vice President Richard Cheney has offered the most revealing rationale for avoiding Vietnam. He was a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin “trying to get ahead in the world,” Cheney said. Vietnam and the draft “were not the most important things” in his life.
Surviving on the battlefield does not itself inoculate men and women against war. When a commander’s ego or reputation becomes linked to military success, he may persist against all rational argument--Napoleon in Russia, Westmoreland in South Vietnam. And sometimes—Caesar in Gaul, Grant at Vicksburg—he may win the gamble.
Given the unpredictable future, voters can only hope to elect a president who will always weigh the nation’s grave choices thoughtfully, aware that war should be the last option.
Thomas Jefferson, another President who steered the country through eight peaceful years, wrote to a friend, “I think one war is enough for the life of one man.”
Jefferson added, “It may at least lessen our impatience to embark on another.”

* * *

Review of "Jesus Christs" by Susan Salter Reynolds in the Los Angeles Times Book Review of Sunday, June 8, 2003:

A Novel
A. J. Langguth
Figueroa Press/​USC University Bookstore: 227 pp.

Jesus opens his sealed manilla folder to read his instructions for life in the modern age. "Nothing above cabinet rank unless the population is less than three million. Avoid Roman Catholic, Lutheran and Methodist denominations. Be scrupulous in registering for the draft and paying overtime parking tickets. College teaching only as a last resort."
In this demonically funny novel, written in 1968, Langguth weaves between seriously inspirational and just plain silly, approaching the life of Christ in a most Shakespearean manner, down to the last pun and the last jab at patronage. Heaven is a kind of university; Satan is expelled. Jesus bears the burden of his handsomeness; the women always give him trouble. He must live to see his teachings pervertd and misused by believers and zealots alike. His mother Mary is an overbearing proselytizer.
Langguth tests the strength of the form with humor and history and metaphor and irony until it almost bursts into theater.

* * *

The following comes from an online interview with
A. J. Langguth by Howard Blume from the LA Weekly of April 18-24, 2003:

Then and Now
Iraq through the lens of Vietnam
By Howard Blume

In the flush of the U. S. military triumph, it may seem odd to liken the war in Iraq to the past conflict in Vietnam. But there are fascinating parallels. Novelist and historian A. J. Langguth covered the Vietnam War for The New York Times and later returned to Southeast Asia to research Our Vietnam (Simon & Schuster, 2000), his widely acclaimed account of the conflict. Howard Blume asked the Los Angeles-based author, who teaches at the University of Southern California, to ponder the parallels between then and now.

L.A. Weekly: What leaps to mind when you compare Vietnam to the war in Iraq?

Langguth: There were always some people who wanted to suggest we were in Vietnam for the natural resources, for the tin and the rubber. If you had been there, you knew that this was really quite preposterous. There just wasn't that much that was worth fighting for. It was truly an ideological battle. The people who got us into it thought that if we didn't stop the communists in Vietnam, we were going to have to do it in the Philippines, or even San Francisco. It was that kind of ideological frenzy, and never a question of natural resources.

Q: And this time?

A: It's very different this time, isn't it? Because this time, there's really no ideology, is there?

Q: There's an expressed and sometimes shifting ideology, such as a desire to eliminate weapons of mass destruction or a desire to liberate an oppressed people, but these rationales fall short in terms of consistency, and perhaps in terms of logic.

A. Yes. Is it that Hussein had weapons of mass destruction? Then why not continue the inspections? It's basically a crusade against one dictator, I guess. But this time when people say, "No blood for oil," I find it hard to disagree that oil is a large part of the equation. On any kind of rational basis there's no reason for what we've done or what we're doing. So you grasp at anything, and oil, we know, matters to our country and matters to the people running it right now a great deal more than to anyone else.

Q: So Vietnam, which was such a sordid mess, was more of an ideologically pure endeavor, even if wrong-headed?

A: In Vietnam, our leaders didn't even take into account that maybe the domino theory was flawed. They were so certain we were fighting an ideological war. They knew nothing about the history of Vietnam.

Q: Well, they could have had a better understanding of what was going on. Undergraduates at Berkeley could figure it out.

A. Former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara is particularly irritating on this subject. When I asked McNamara quite recently, "What in the world were you thinking?" he said, "Well, you remember I came from the Ford Motor Company. I was told by (former Secretary of State) Dean Acheson and Robert Lovett and all the pillars of the establishment that we had to hold on to South Vietnam. That's what people who knew more about geopolitical issues than I did wanted, and so I'd do it for them."

Q: Bush could offer a version of the McNamara excuse. Intead of saying, "Remember, I came from Ford," he could say, "Remember, I came from owning the Texas Rangers."

A: But perhaps there is a difference between taking your philosophical thinking from the East Coast establishment and from a sports team.

Q: It must rankle when you hear Bush talking about how America has always intervened on the side of right and to promote democracy. He probably doesn't know any better.

A: Oh, he doesn't know anything. For a man of his social class never to have been to Europe until he was elected president shows such a fundamental incuriosity. He's just a very limited man. They found the right hand puppet for the tax cuts. The whole thing until September 11 was the tax cuts, wasn't it? It was almost as though they said: "Look. We've got this one window of opportunity. He might be a one-term president, like his father. We're going to snatch and grab." At least that's the way it seemed from the outside.

Q: But then there was September 11, and this man, with a fundamental disinterest and lack of curiosity in the greater world, is suddenly intervening in every geopolitical theater. It's an astonishing turn of events, and frankly a little scary.

A: It is scary.

Q: How do you make sense of it?

A: Harry Truman was right when he said a president makes foreign policy. But a lot of the policy he makes depends on his advisers. Colin Powell was emasculated. Remember before September 11, there were stories about how limited his influence was and about whether he might even resign. And there been so much documentation about the fact that the Richard Perles and the Paul Wolfowitzes of the world were ready to do this in Iraq long before Bush was elected. That goes back years. What's going on is pretty transparent, although we might not understand the motive behind it.

Q: And that's a difference when compared with Vitnam?

A: President Johnson was really trying to sneak the war past the American people as best he could, and that certainly has not been the aim this time. This time, if anything, there's been true bellicosity, right from the beginning.

Johnson was not particularly interested in foreign affairs. He was somewhat more conversant than the current president because Johnson served on appropriation committees and was the leader of the Senate--he had to be involved. Johnson wanted America to be strong, but mostly he wanted to get his very admirable social and civil rights programs through Congress. And he felt if you started a debate over Vietnam, you would give the conservative Southern Democrats an excuse to oppose his program in the way that the Northern Democrats are opposing Bush's tax cuts now: by saying that, with a war going on, these programs are too expensive.

Johnson always intentionally underestimated the war expenses. He counted on getting special appropriations, and he didn't want to alarm people with the actual cost of Vietnam. We've certainly seen that now,where the Bush administration was adamant about not being drawn into speculation about the cost of the war.

Q: But what a difference in the domestic agendas. Johnson didn't want the war to short-circuit his programs to help the poor and people of color. Bush is trying to salvage tax cuts that offer the greatest benefit to the wealthiest of Americans.

A: You tell people that we can't afford medical care and we can't afford education and we can't afford fixing the infrastructure of our nation. But we can spend $100 billion on going to war in Iraq. If you put it that way, it's a lot harder to sell.

Q: At this point, Bush has asked for $75 billion.

A: Everybody who seems to know anything about it argues that Bush's estimate of $75 billion is billions of dollars lower than the actual cost is going to be.

Q: Unless Iraqi oil ends up paying for it.

A: It's fascinating, isn't it? As the president put it, We're going to return all that resource to the Iraqi people, to whom it belongs. Whereas nobody has ever said that the offshore oil from Texas or California or Alaska should be returned from the oil companies to the American people to whom it belongs. We seem to be suggesting that socialism for oil is good for Iraq but not for the United States.

The main question about the Bush administration's actions is why. Why now? Why the hatred toward sanctions and the impatience with them? What's the motive? It's very hard to know.

Q: To what extent is this dishonesty and to what extent self-deception?

A: You can't rule out self-deception. It's a big part of our foreign policy.

Q: That was certainly true in Vietnam, was it not?

A: The fact is that nobody really knew much about Vietnam. In the early days, the young officers I dealt with, just out of West Point, were really dedicated. Exactly the kind of young officers you'd want. They were full of pumped-up wisdom, American idealism. And after a year in Vietnam, all of the ones I spoke with were saying variations of "I'm going to get out of the Army. I see now that it's a bureaucracy, hopeless, and everything they're telling the people at home isn't true. We're not winning this war." They were very disillusioned.

Q: There's still a chance, isn't there, that Iraq could prove to be a quagmire even after a successful military campaign?

A: The thing that led me to do a book on the American Revolution was my experience in Vietnam, watching those farmers in black pajamas ambushing and flummoxing the world's greatest military power, just as we had done against the British. With the background of Vietnam, why are we still counting on American might--sheer might--to shock and awe? Everybody I talked to in North Vietnam said, "We were never more unified than when the bombs started to drop."

That isn't very complicated. We had a lesson in our lifetime.

Q: And yet Saddam Hussein was not the same sort of opponent as Ho Chi Minh, the leader of North Vietnam.

A: There won't ever be that same warm feeling for Saddam among his people that there was for Ho Chi Minh. And Ho was a tyrant, too. But there were huge numbers of people--I saw them when I went back for my book--who really did love him. They believed that he was the George Washington of their country, the person who would free them from the yoke of the foreigners and deliver a unified country at long last.

And who's going to say anything good about Hussein? Except, of course, you see the same stories I see, that people in Arab nations nearby are saying it's kind of good to see the Americans get their eyes bloodied a little.

Q: Did you expect weapons of mass destruction to turn up?

A: I don't know if I should even say this, but we live in Los Angeles, where we've been through the Rampart scandal. There's a part of me that says if we didn't find evidence of weapons of mass destruction, is it above the CIA to truck in some labratory equipment to justify the invasion--the way the cops have a spare gun to throw down when an unarmed man is shot to death?

When I first went to Vietnam, that thought would have been impossible for me. But, you know, you watch your government do so many things that you disapprove of--like the CIA unseating democratically elected governments. You just cannot think that because it's our country, the land of Jefferson and Madison, that we don't do these things. I know we've done them in the past.

Q: It's striking how resolute and sure of himself Bush seems, whether cutting taxes of launching a war.

A: The smart people I have known have never been quite so sure about anything. I think it's the confidence of the semi-educated. And that he's convinced himself that God is on his side. For the first couple of years of this administration, I bought into the idea that he appointed someone like Ashcroft to be attorney general to satisfy the right wing. It took quite a while for me to wake up to the fact that he is the right wing. It's not that he's this more sophisticated man who needs to appease the right wing because he saw how they could savage his father. He is a true believer.

Bush has that look of somebody who isn't going to back down. There's something so young about him anyway. Not even adolescent, it's younger than that. He looks like a kind of superannuated 7-year-old who has his fingers in a fist and he is just not going to back down. And that's not good.

Of all the presidents in my lifetime--and for the first 12 years it was Franklin Roosevelt, which set a pretty high standard--I would've thought the worst president we could imagine would be Nixon. He had all that paranoia and all that really deep-seated hatred of people. I thought, "We'll never have a worse president than Richard Nixon." But he wasn't dumb.

This man, Bush, is, in some ways, more alarming because I don't think he can be reasoned with. Now, it may be that (presidential political adviser) Karl Rove will see that certain things have to be changed or modified and that Bush would listen. But just on the merits of an argument, I don't think you could ever get through to him. And that isn't really the kind of person you want leading your country.

Of course, you don't need an intellectual to lead the country. In fact, maybe that would be a bad thing. Maybe an intellectual should always be second or third or fourth in command. What you need is somebody like (former Supreme Court Chief Justice) Earl Warren, who was nobody's idea of brilliant, including his own. But when he leaned acoss the bench and asked, "Is it fair?" he summed up an approach you want in your leaders. And I don't see that quality in George W. Bush.

* * *

This article by A. J. Langguth appeared February 16, 2003, in the Opinion section of the Los Angeles Times.


In his recent speech to the United Nations Security Council, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell presented satellite imagery from a rocket engine test site in Fallujah and a missile assembly plant in Musayyib as proof that Saddam Hussein's regime had lied about its weapons programs. But when journalists visited the two locations, they came away uncertain about Powell's claims.
The discrepancy between what reporters on the scene observed in Iraq and the accusations made by Powell reminded me of my own attempt to verify wartime information from the CIA.
That brush with CIA surveillance methods came early in American involvement in Vietnam. Then too the country was being assured that the White House had access to more accurate data than were available to us civilians. Then too we were told that we must trust our leaders.
In that spirit, I was invited one evening in late 1964 to the house of Barry Zorthian, the ranking information officer in Saigon. After years of barring the Western press from Cambodia, Prince Norodom Sihanouk had recently announced that reporters would be allowed to accompany a high-ranking Chinese official on his goodwill visit to Phnom Penh. I would be making the trip for the New York Times. Before I left, Zorthian had two men he wanted me to meet. When I arrived, Zorthian asked that I not report the source of the information the two agents were about to share. I'd had dealings with the CIA in Saigon before, of course, including a session on the veranda of the Continental Hotel I still remember because the agent sat on his briefcase the whole time we drank a beer.
On this night, the agents got quickly to the point: The CIA had amassed irrefutable proof that Sihanouk was allowing Cambodia's border towns to be used as training bases for Viet Cong guerrillas. They would supply the names of five such locations, and once inside Cambodia I could file a story listing them. I'd have a good story, and Sihanouk's protestations of neutrality would be discredited. I made no commitment, took the list and left a few days later for Phnom Penh.
The junket did not begin well. After a few days, I filed a story about signs of dissent within the country, largely among the educated young Cambodians I was meeting who were impatient with Sihanouk's autocratic rule. The day after the story appeared in New York, I was ordered expelled for affronting the dignity of the Khmer people.
I was dismayed. The rare chance to visit Cambodia had barely begun, and there was so much left to see. I wrote to the palace explaining tht it had not been my intention to insult the Cambodians, who had received me with only warm hospitality. The next day, my letter--in English--dominated the front page of a local newspaper, I'm sure to the puzzlement of its readers. I was also notified that my apology had been accepted and that, in fact, my visa would be extended for another week after my colleagues in the press had to leave the country.
The next few days were filled with memorable ceremonies, including a performance by the Cambodian Royal Ballet--Sihanouk's daughter as prima ballerina--dancing at midnight before the illuminated ruins of Angkor Wat. When Sihanouk's guest had returned to China and my friends had gone back to Saigon, I asked for a tour of the countryside. By that time, a strange reversal had occurred, and my requests were quickly granted. A Cambodian army helicopter was assigned to me for the day.
Once aloft, I pulled out the CIA list and told the puzzled pilot that these were the five villages I wanted to visit. We located four of them on his map--the fifth did not appear under any variation of the name I'd been given--and flew off to the first location on the list. Our arrival created the stir that was usual in the villages of Southeast Asia. Because roofs of the thatched huts were not always fastened securely, our helicopter's blades blew off a couple of them, and laughing boys chased after to retrieve them. But the settlement was clearly a simply farming village like thousands across the border in South Vietnam. The difference was that Sihanouk had managed so far to keep his country out of the war. That meant that his villagers weren't being bombed regularly as suspected Communists. The same scene was repeated at each of the other sites. One village had a long irrigation ditch running through it, and I wondered whether aerial shots might have suggested that it was some sort of guerrilla trench. Otherwise, there was nothing at any location to indicate Viet Cong bases.
I returned to Saigon and filed my story: Four villages had been identified by U. S. intelligence as Communist bases, but an on-the-ground inspection had yielded no evidence. At the time, every reporter and U. S. adviser knew that the Viet Cong often slipped into Cambodia to evade American and South Vietnamese pursuit. But the villages on my list were not the Communist installations I had been told I'd find.
Afterward, I wondered whether the mistake had been made in good faith. Or whether the agents thought I might take them at their word and, without checking, file an expose based on their assurances. When I ran into Zorthian, he was philosophical about the agency's gamble. "Well," he said, "we won't be doing that again."
Does that one minor anecdote suggest that Saddam Hussein does not have weapons concealed from reporters as well as from the U. N. inspection teams? Not at all. It simply reminds me that the American people must continue to apply to our own government what Ronald Reagan recommended in dealing with the Soviet Union:
"Trust," Reagan repeated constantly. "But verify."

* * *

The following are two Opinion Page articles by A. J. Langguth about Latin America, the first from the Los Angeles Times of July 15, 2001; the second from The New York Times of June 11, 1979.


By A. J. Langguth

Human rights activists have been calling for Chile's Gen. Augusto Pinochet to be tried for his role in the murders and disappearances that followed his 1973 coup d'etat. Others, led by British journalist Christopher Hitchens, have pressed for former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to be prosecuted for his role in that same overthrow of Chile's elected president, Salvador Allende.

It is unlikely that either Pinochet or Kissinger will be brought to trial. But the outcry has raised a question: Why should the demand for justice stop with those two men?

If world attention is finally focused on 30-year-old crimes in Latin America, simple fairness demands that the inquiry not be limited to the actions of the Nixon Administration. We must also revisit the Kennedy and Johnson years and assess what misery they inflicted on the hemisphere.

Just as President John F. Kennedy's advisers worried about a China-North Vietnam alliance, they were also alarmed that Cuba might succeed in turning Latin America against us. Their greatest concern was with Brazil, the continent's largest country.

In the fall of 1961, Kennedy's new ambassador arrived in Rio de Janeiro. Lincoln Gordon was typical of Kennedy's recruits for his New Frontier: Harvard graduate, Rhodes Scholar, professor of international economics at Harvard's business school. He was not, however, politically adroit. When Brazil's president, Joao Goulart, tried to maintain his country's uneasy balance by naming two cabinet officers from the far left, Gordon warned against their appointments. "Oh," Goulart said cheerfully, "I can keep an eye on them."

During his term, Goulart tried to reassure Washington more directly. He paid a call on Kennedy in the White House and later, during the Cuban missile crisis, he pledged Brazilian solidarity with the United States. In December of 1962, then Atty. Gen. Robert F. Kennedy traveled to Brazil to warn Goulart against any attraction he might be feeling to left-wing causes.

Meantime, the CIA was expanding its presence in Brazil, bribing public officials and circulating lies about such reformers as Paulo Freire, who was considered dangerous not only for teaching farm hands to read but for challenging them to question their condition as chattel on Brazil's great estates.

Ambassor Gordon became friendly with officials of the Institute for Social Research Studies, an organization much like America's John Birch Society. He also heard from segments of the Brazilian military intent on removing the civilian president, although Goulart had just won, by a margin of 4 to 1, a plebiscite expanding his powers.

One stumbling block to a coup, however, was a highly respected Brazilian general, Humberto Castelo Branco. To overcome Castelo Branco's respect for civilian authority, Washington sent as its new military attache Lt. Col. Vernon A. (Dick) Walters, a gifted linguist who knew Castelo Branco well from serving as a liaison with the Brazilian army in Italy during World War II.

As the pieces fell into place, Gordon mastered the idiom of the Cold War, sprinkling his coversation with phrases about Goulart like "parlor pink" and "playing footsie with the communists." The ambassador met regularly with Goulart's enemies. Walters, while he worked on Castelo Branco, advised other Brazilian officers about which colleagues to recruit for their conspiracy.

The CIA was flush with money channeled through the Bank of Boston and the Royal Bank of Canada. Its agents, aiming for a coup, helped to sponsor tens of thousands of demonstrators in Sao Paulo for a "March of the Family with God for Freedom." It ended with the reading of a manifesto by Sao Paulo women on behalf of Christianity and democracy. The archbishop of Sao Paulo had forbidden his bishops to participate, however, saying that the march had been organized by a U. S. advertising agency, McCann-Erickson.

As the coup's target day approached, Walters wired the State Department that Castelo Branco had "finally accepted leadership" of the anti-Goulart forces. On April 1, 1964, the Brazilian military seized the government. Goulart defied his more fiery allies and refused to fight back. He did not want to be responsible for bloodshed among Brazilians, he said.

That night, Gordon slept well. When he flew to Washington, he found a jubilant mood in Lyndon Johnson's White House.

Although Washington downplayed its involvement in the coup, the director of the American Institute for Free Labor Development (AIFLD)--funded by the CIA, the AFL-CIO and some 60 U. S. corporations, including ITT and Pan American World Airways--was indiscreet enough to boast over the radio, "What happened in Brazil did not just happen--it was planned--and planned months in advance. Many of the trade-union leaders, some of whom were actually trained in our institute, were involved in the revolution, and in the overthrow of the Goulart regime."

Even Robert Kennedy, still grieving for his brother murdered the previous November, took heart from the coup: Goulart got what was coming to him, he told Ambassador Gordon.

The Brazilian people got a good deal more. Increasingly severe crackdowns on political dissent led to bloody years of torture and murder. By the time Richard M. Nixon took office in 1969, Gordon was back in the United States, as president of Johns Hopkins University. When students badgered him about having saddled Brazil with a vicious dictatorship, Gordon acknowledged the torture but said that at least Brazil had been spared a communist regime, and he pointed to the country's economic boom. Students countered that the boom had benefited only the corporations, that real wages had declined 10 per cent.

The repression spread. Uruguay, once a model democracy, became a military dictatorship, and Argentina established close ties with Brazil's army and police. From the time Allende was elected president of Chile until his overthrow, CIA agents strengthened the anti-democratic network in the countries of Latin America's Southern Cone, supplying explosives and untraceable handguns.

They introduced members of Brazil's death squads to the police of nearby coutries and set up meetings to discuss how the new dictatorships could monitor their country's political exiles. The women's protest marches, so useful in destablizing the political climate in Sao Paulo, were exported to Chile.

That quick recap of events from 1961 until Pinochet's coup 12 years later raises questions: Should Kissinger be tried as a war criminal or congratulated for carrying forward a bipartisan policy in Latin America? Is Pinochet a monster or merely one more ambitious but dutiful Latin American ally?

Copyright 2001, Los Angeles Times

* * *


By A. J. Langguth

LOS ANGELES--A few months ago, I received some clippings of interviews with a former Federal Intelligence agency official. That operative, Jesse Leaf, had been involved with the agency's activities in Iran, and well into the stories Mr. Leaf made some damning accusations.

He said that the C. I. A. sent an operative to teach interrogation methods of SAVAK, the Shah's secret police, that the training included instructions in torture, and the techniques were copied from the Nazis.

Reading through the clippings, I could think of several reasons why the accusations had not been featured prominently. Mr. Leaf could not, or did not, supply the name of the instructor, his victims would be hard to locate, and the testimony from opponents of the Shah would be suspect.

But there is still another reason that I take to be the truest one: We--and I mean we as Americans--don't believe it. We can read the accusations, even examine the evidence and find it irrefutable. But, in our hearts, we cannot believe that Americans have gone abroad to spread the use of torture.

We can believe that public officials with reputations for brilliance can be arrogant, blind or stupid. Anything but evil. And when the cumulative proof becomes overwhelming that our representatives in the C.I.A. or the Agency for International Development police program did in fact teach torture, we excuse ourselves by vilifying the individual men.

This has been on my mind since I returned from Cuba recently. In Havana, I had tried to hunt down a former double agent, a Cuban named Manuel, who was said to have information about United States involvement with torture in Latin America. Manuel had revealed his true sympathies by leaving his job with the C.I.A. in Montevideo and returning to his homeland. But from his editor I learned that Manuel, whose full name turned out to be Manuel Hevia Conculluela, would be out of the country the entire time I was in Cuba. I could, however, get a copy of the book he had published six months earlier, "Pasaporte 11333, Eight Years With the C.I.A."

Mr. Hevia had served the C.I.A. in Uruguay's police program. In 1970, his duties brought him in contact with Dan Mitrione, the United States police adviser who was kidnapped by the Tupamaro revolutionaries later that year and shot to death when the Uruguayan Government refused to save him by yielding up political prisoners.

Mr. Mitrione has become notorious throughtout Latin America. But few men ever had the chance to sit with him and discuss his rationale for torture. Mr. Hevia once had.

Now, reading Mr. Hevia's version, which I believe to be accurate, I see that I too had resisted acknowledging how drastically a man's career can deform him. I was aware that Mr. Mitrione knew of the tortures and condoned them. That was bad enough. I could not believe even worse of a family man. A Midwesterner. An American.

Thanks to Mr. Hevia, I was finally hearing Mr. Mitrione's true voice:

"When you receive a subject, the first thing to do is to determine his physical state, his degree of resistance, through a medical examination. A premature death means a failure by the technician.

"Another important thing to know is exactly how far you can go given the political situation and the personality of the prisoner. It is very important to know beforehand whether we have the luxury of letting the subject die...

"Before all else, you must be efficient. You must cause only the damage that is strictly necessary, not a bit more. We must control our tempers in any case. You have to act with the efficiency and cleanliness of a surgeon and with the perfection of an artist..."

A few months later, Mr. Mitrione paid with his life for those excesses. Five years later, thanks to the efforts of such men as former Senator James Abourezk, the police advisory program was finally abolished.

But few of the accomplices in torture have ever been called to account. Years ago in open hearings, Senator Frank Church tried to force some admissions but his witnesses sidestepped his staff's sketchy allegations. Given the willingness of Congress to accept the C.I.A.'s alibis about national security, I don't think any other public hearings would fare better.

But neither Jimmy Carter nor Adm. Stansfield Turner, the Director of Central Intelligence, is implicated in those past cruelties, and the President should call on Admiral Turner for a complete internal investigtion and a full report. If he wants Vice President Mondale to oversee the effort, all the better. They can start with Operation Bandierantes in Sao Paulo, Brazil, continue with Manuel Hevia's expose of practices in Uruguay, and then move on to Chile, Iran and Southeast Asia.

If, at the end, the President can assure us that no American who taught or condoned torture is still working for the C.I.A. or any other agency of the Government, I know that at least we will want to believe him.

(A. J. Langguth is the author of "Hidden Terrors," a book about the Central Intelligence Agency in Latin America.)

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