Seymour Hersh: "You Can't Write If You Don't Read Anything"
Even before the investigation, Song Mi, who had made Seymour Hersh famous, and all his 50 years of journalistic activity, was involved in abuse of the Pentagon, reported fraud in the counting of the dead, approved by Defense Minister Robert McNamara, and worked on similar issues up to crimes against the civilian population in Iraq. This reputation led the informants to Hersch.
- How did they find you? Waited in the evening at the entrance and asked to go with them around the corner?
Hersh himself laughs.
- When you want to write about the problems of national security, you need to look for those honest people who serve the Constitution of the United States, and not the boss, not the generals, not the president, etc. And there are a lot of such everywhere: in the government administration, in the CIA, in the Pentagon , in all kinds of troops. I started finding these people early. Back in the sixties, when they were young lieutenants and majors ... We became friends, they introduced me to others ...
Many in the government administration are outraged and unhappy with what is happening, but they remain in the service. If a person put 22 of the year to rise to two general stars, and wants to reach four, and even to the post of chairman of the committee of chiefs of staff, he is not ready for your sake stories throw it all out the window. However, he sees lies, deception, and disorder accumulating. And he appeals to someone like me, able to make sure that all this is made public. We will meet at the bar, and he will tell me everything that, in his opinion, has gone badly. Then he will return home and be able to tell his wife that he has done something to remedy the situation. And he will remove the burden from the heart and pass it on to me. I agree with that. And to this day, I talk a lot with influential people who tell me things that are very different from the official version and newspapers. However, now there is much less freedom in everything.
“Now all mainstream media are discussing Trump's treason, conspiracy with the Russians.”
- I do not think that Trump committed treason when he went to speak with the Russians. I know that since the 11 September 2001 attack, we have a lot of cooperation with the Russians. Much more of what the general public knows. Russian special services have first-class expertise in cases involving international terrorism. Yes, they are very cruel. Russians have 10 years of war in Chechnya, and you know how dirty the war was there. They practically destroyed the whole country. However, the Russians understand the problem and know what is happening in this world.
I don’t support Trump at all, especially his internal politics, but he knows what he is talking about. I am too knowledgeable in international affairs to believe that NATO is the savior and guardian of peace on Earth. I have often heard from knowledgeable people that NATO least of all protects the freedom of the West.
Why do we need so many troops in Germany? Will Russia go to war in Germany? On the largest buyer of their gas, bringing them to the treasury hundreds of millions a year?
And in South Korea, what? Officially there are 26 thousands of our military. However, these are only combat units, and in fact there are eight times more of our troops, somewhere around 200 thousands. We spend a lot of money that does not help protect South Korea. And from whom to protect them? From the invasion of the Japanese? We cannot protect them from shelling from the North. Much of what Trump says makes sense to me, but not for the mainstream media.
- I'm from an immigrant family. I had to change schools. From 16 years, I had to run my father’s business after the latter’s premature death. I went to law, but I hated everything there and left the second year. I learned how to read cases there, but in general I am self-taught and I learned the laws I need to know myself through life. I took care of my mother until, finally, my younger brother took the business into his own hands, and I was not free to become what I wanted, a reporter. I did everything myself.
I got a job as a reporter at the Chicago Criminal Investigation Agency. news. It was very interesting and fun. I had to comprehend everything myself. Can you imagine what was happening in Chicago in the late 1950-x - the beginning of the 1960-s. The cops treated me very well. They loved the press, but on the condition that we didn't do two things. It was impossible to write that the cops shot people in the back, especially blacks. I saw it myself, but did not write it. It would cost me and the agency where I worked. And the second taboo - do not write anything about the mafia. If you found a corpse with 14 bullet holes in the quarter of gaming clubs, where the mafia ran, it was not worth contradicting the cops who wrote in the report that this was the result of a car accident.
Returning from the army, I immediately got a job as a reporter in the provincial newspapers. He covered the human rights movement. I sympathized with them. My father's shop was in the black ghetto of Chicago, and I knew many. I was outraged that the black guy who worked for us did not have such future prospects as me.
There were many religious people involved. And I got acquainted with publications about war crimes, which were then published by various Protestant churches. There was a Bertrand Russell pacifist tribunal. This was not written in the mainstream media. And I was stunned.
I just got married then, and my wife and I were having a fun life, attending parties, getting to bed at 1:00 in the morning at 3. You know, when I worked for the Associated Press for half a year, which was a very neutral organization, I published information about the falsification of the Minister of Defense. And then at six in the morning the bell rang. I picked up the phone. Called the legendary Izzy Stone, the owner of an independent news agency. He asked if I was the guy who published it.
We met, met later, walked together. And he began to teach me. One of his teachings was “You can’t write if you don’t read anything yourself.” He forced me to read the minutes of the hearings in Congress, forced me to read the materials of foreign correspondents, which in America they had not done and are not doing until now, the materials of little, little-known news agencies, and not just Reuters and the AP. And I began to understand how little I know and even less I understand. I began to write. He received various prestigious awards, but it always turns out that we touch something, write and leave.
- You are considered a loner, do not interfere?
- Sometimes it makes it difficult to communicate with colleagues. I am really a closed person, I do not like to work in a team. And in the New York Times, and in the New Yorker, I always had a personal account. They respected my privacy. Editors and publishers kept secrecy and ensured my ability to work. In Washington, I have my asylum for 28 for years. Although I have not done projects there for a long time, but I continue to pay my rent.
Hersh said more than once that no matter how much he later wrote and investigated, they will remember him in connection with Song Mi. A young but already past army with the experience of a police reporter in Chicago, Hersh worked for the Associated Press. He was just beginning to cover military affairs. The detective's experience helped him find out that the Ministry of Defense and the Minister Robert McNamara himself manipulate and falsify the death toll. Among the bosses of Hersh were friends McNamara. However, the times were still good, and for the professionalism of the journalists were not driven out with a wolf ticket. Hersh just removed from the Pentagon. For three years he worked as a freelancer. Then, at the end of 1960, there was a golden time of magazines and newspapers. Hersh wrote a book about biological weapon. For life enough. Life was cheap. Renting an office at a press center in Washington cost $ 80 per month. For a dollar, you could pour three or four gallons of gas.
- How did you find out about Song Mi?
“Jeff Cohen called me.” His father led the news service at CBS. After the law school, he himself worked in a voluntary organization. Jeff gave me a tip that our soldiers, GI, "rage." So many different people were sent to Vietnam. From different church groups, from volunteer organizations, stories came that after a bad day, the soldiers were “delayed” - they were shooting at the civilian population. That they went to the villages in search of the Viet Cong partisans, and found only women and children ... That after a hard day, the officers gave permission, they say, you have the right to a “frantic minute”. And all the barrels, guns, machine guns turned around and fired at random, in huts where people were hiding.
“Such stories came from the 1965 year, when we didn’t even know that our troops were there.” President Johnson lied to us that there were no troops. Now they say that Trump is lying, but then they lied in their eyes. For three or four months, Johnson convinced America that our military was not there at all.
- They lost control of the situation in Vietnam from the very beginning. When there is an army that is extolled as a noble winner of Nazism, the last thing they want is for them to understand that that great army is no more ... Or maybe they were not so great during World War II. .. I do not know....
- It is known that American soldiers staged more than one massacre during World War II.
- True, but they returned as victors, heroes. They saved humanity from Nazi tyranny, and their fame was preserved. I think that is why the authorities so fiercely resisted my materials about Song Mi, in every possible way interfered with work, disrupted parliamentary hearings. Yes, and put only one, although the direct participants in the massacre were about 50 soldiers. According to American data, 347 people were killed. Vietnamese counted 504 in several mass graves.
There were terrible things happening, especially of a sexual nature, about which then it was not customary to write. Children were thrown into the air and shot. Women were not simply raped, but maimed. No one went to court. The army did not want all this to be made public, and strongly resisted my publication.
- Then they also said, they say, fake news?
- No, they could not deny the facts, but they said that I was exaggerating. Were pressed on the publication. I contracted from Life magazine, from other similar publications. I didn’t want to go to the New York Times with this, because they are cunning there, they could easily have appropriated my material if they saw that it was good. I was just a young guy, a freelancer. I ended up working for the Anti-War News Service.
“All my information was from reading anti-war propaganda, from conversations with soldiers returning home, from acquaintances of young officers at the Pentagon, who, by the way, were amazingly and openly talking about everything.
It's amazing how open the Pentagon was in the first half of the 1960's. There was a dining room where employees, military men, and journalists went. We all had lunch together, talked about everything. There, the lieutenants sat with the generals, and all participated in a general conversation. Today, nothing of the kind is left. Now is different. We need to make strong connections, build trust, have lunch together, play cards with them, visit each other, and gradually begin to talk with you.
- I made five materials on Song Mi. With each story, I was digging deeper and deeper, and more and more I realized that it was not an accident, a mistaken bombardment, a flash of madness, spontaneous fire on the civilian population, as happens in war. After all, at first, the army ranks told me that some guy had gone mad and opened fire. When it was impossible to hide, they said that several soldiers lost their mind, after visiting prostitutes in Saigon, they brought drugs and killed 70 people. The officer in charge of communication with the press, who told me all this, received such information and he believed in what he said. The army tried to quickly get rid of this story. They defended the honor of the uniform of the great army of the Second World War.
“I worked on the Song Mi stuff in 1969, when most of the participants had already returned.” A soldier in Vietnam was then sent for a year of compulsory service, and if desired, one could stay still. I could not break through the army bureaucracy, but the experience of a police reporter helped. I found a lawyer, Kelly, who told me in some detail what was accused of that. He did not give the address, but I managed to find him in a day. I found the post office, talked to the postman, found the baseball team where Kelly was playing, and they gave me the address. And Kelly told me a lot of things.
- I gave these stories a lot of space in the memories, because I did not understand the nature of the resistance of the army, as I understand it now. They first denied, then blamed me for exaggeration. Then they were forced to launch an investigation. They attracted a 32 man, but only Kelly was convicted, but he was also kept under house arrest for three years, he was waiting for a trial. He was sentenced to life imprisonment, because there was a deliberate murder of dozens of people, but he was released after three months and a few days.
- In essence, they gave everyone a chance to shirk responsibility, and now I say that it was we, the press, who let them go. Already later, in the 1972 year, while working at the New York Times, when Watergate began, we began to realize that the military had completely stranded themselves. However, they continued to maintain the illusion that everything was in order. That is why we have come to the conclusion that we are posing as "glorious winners of the war in Iraq." Of course, I know both instances of heroism and selfless service, but they have done so much there, to which we prefer to close our eyes!
- The army, of course, survived the scandal with Song Mi. After all, killing people is their profession. And the killing of civilians, the massacres continued. And it was in Afghanistan, in Iraq.
- It's all mad at Assad. He will survive with Russian help. And he is a very cruel dictator, guilty of many crimes. He bombed al-Nusru and the Islamic State (banned in the Russian Federation - approx. Ed.), And the civilian population. However, I always think: in fact, if he loses this war, he will be hung upside down, like Mussolini. His wife and two children will hang next to him. We also fought with the Germans and the Japanese, and if we lost the war, then ... there are now films and series about what would have happened if the Nazis captured America. And when I watch the war in Syria, I think, what would we do in their situation? We dropped two atomic bombs, we burned Tokyo, and together with the British, in a year and a half we killed Germany with daily day and night bombings of their cities. And when someone starts moralizing, I think: who the hell are you to judge others? There, like ours, politicians are sure that the best that can happen to their country is their presidency, their power. Roosevelt was sure of that. Truman gave the order to drop an atomic bomb, feeling like an absolutely right and righteous Christian. I always think what we would do.
- It was interesting to ask his opinion why the informants chose him. However, the last question was how did he learn about the torture at Abu Ghraib?
- At lectures for young journalists, they always ask me, how do I know? And I repeat to them Izzy Stone’s covenant: “You cannot write if you don’t read anything.” I read the UN materials. I knew that we had bombed many Iraqi arsenals during the first war in Iraq. There was still a lot of things left. A commission of armaments control inspectors was appointed. They did a great job in eight years and all documented well. I followed this and made some materials about their work. They, by the way, had a remarkable intelligence gathering, and they knew a lot about what was going on inside the regime of Saddam Hussein. Americans claimed this information because they themselves could not work effectively in Iraq.
“The UN representatives had access to information from military countries, including Russian special forces, British SAS, Italian and German special forces. No one wanted to depend on the grace of Saddam, and the combined forces of the special forces in the field guarded the scientific specialists from the commission. At the same time collecting information about what is happening. There were Iraqis working for the UN. I met with them.
- After the invasion, the Americans managed to arrest the commanders of the Iraqi army. But not all. Somewhat escaped capture. One of them, General aviationwas hiding in Iraq. His daughter graduated from university there, and he could not leave her. My friends managed to get in touch with him. Before Christmas 2003, this general managed to come to Damascus, and we spent 4 days in conversations in one of the hotels. In one of the meetings, he told me about Abu Ghraib.
The Americans then began mass arrests of potential insurgents. A relative of the general received a note from his daughter in prison: they say, father, come and kill me; we were deprived of honor here, and I do not want to live anymore; Americans have dishonored me, and I will not be able to get married, and this will lay a stain on the whole gens ... Family honor is a big deal in the Middle East. I remembered it.
Later, I learned that CBS has good material with photos of American soldiers using sexual torture, but hesitates to release it on the air. My source in the television company told me about it, and I already knew what was the matter. I involved all the links. Soon, I already had a report from Major General Tony Tegubo about what was happening in Abu Ghraib with photographs that even CBS did not have. New Yorker editor David Remnick was skeptical at first, but when he learned that the material on the topic was covered with cloth from competitors, he immediately gave the go-ahead.
The conversation was coming to an end, Hersh was in a hurry, and I still wanted to ask so much. In the book of Seymour Hersh "Reporter" there are many answers, a lot of this, which I would not have thought to ask. There is a lot of valuable information about what is happening in the corridors of power and at military bases. However, the book is an invaluable tool for the reporter profession, written by one of the best reporters in the world.
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