, Salem, MA


August 16, 2013

Column: Straying from our principles


He’s unharmed, you would say. But that incident is a metadata chip embedded within him for life. Is it the price he must pay for living at home and watching over his mom and siblings? What is the price he will pay forever for the mayor’s excellent safe-streets statistics?

We cannot be pleased with the constitutional principle we have compromised in that youth’s case as a price for our safety. But we must also remember we will pay a long-term price every time we trade in our nation’s principles for what we perceive as our safety.

This is the lesson we should have learned from one of the most little-known — but I think most important — chapters of the Pentagon Papers, the once-secret history of how America got into the Vietnam War. While Americans are proud of fighting for the principle of democracy and free elections, the Pentagon Papers reveal a stunning twist of that principle during the Eisenhower presidency.

A Geneva agreement had called for an election in which the people of North and South Vietnam would determine the fate of their country. Yet, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles wrote in a secret cable that it was “undoubtedly true that elections might eventually mean unification (of) Vietnam under Ho Chi Minh.” The Pentagon Papers’ authors concluded: “As early as July 7, 1954, during the Geneva conference, Dulles ought to seek to delay the elections and to require guarantees that the Communists could be expected to reject.”

The election was never held. A decade later, America plunged into a tragic war that ended with an outcome Dulles feared an election would produce: Vietnam unified under communist rule (with Saigon renamed Ho Chi Minh City). At an unconscionable price of more than 58,000 American lives sacrificed, in vain.

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