THE POISON IS DUMPED ABROAD
“There’s a Fire
in our Front Yard”
Once the enemy had been designated, Reagan’s America lurched into its “upheaval” phase. The more Reagan prepared for war, the higher his polls climbed.(1) “He has Washington spooked,” reported Time. “There has been nothing quite like this since Franklin Roosevelt.” Visitors to America, they said, “would have thought Reagan was kind of a laid back god” from the support given his new get-tough policies.(2)
The media fueled the rising war hysteria with bellicose headlines. “REAGAN SOUNDS THE ALARM.”(3) “HARDENING THE LINE.”(4) “REAGAN HANGS TOUGH.”(5) “NO MORE MR. NICE GUY.”(6) “THE WRATH OF RON.”(7) “A PLAN TO WIN IN EL SALVADOR.”(8) Each headline was as much an incitement of Reagan as
We looked forward to “The Wrath of Ron.”
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|it was a description of his actions. After the poison had built up inside us for so long, it felt terrific to have a place to dump it abroad. “We now have a program that has. . . unanimous support,” Reagan told us, ”support by the Congress and the American people. For this consensus will unite us . . . We can no longer afford to delay. The time to act is now.”(9)The call to “act now” felt extraordinarily liberating. Although little was happening in Central America that was new, Reagan now declared it was “a spiritual crisis” for the West. The New Republic reported Reagan as saying in one of his speeches, “The enemy without is Communism . . . which the President described as ‘the focus of evil in the modern world;’ the speech left friends and foes around the world with the impression that the President of the United States was contemplating holy war.”(10)||
We felt liberated by Reagan’s promise of a holy war.
Holy wars often begin with a child sacrifice, symbol of the coming sacrifice of the group’s vitality. Reagan, too, spoke of child sacrifice. “The President,” continued The New Republic, “was apocalyptic. He thrilled his audience with the tale of a man who said that ‘I would rather see my little girls die now, still believing in God, than have them grow up under Communism . . .’ (11) Giving speeches about evil empires and dying children externalized Reagan’s inner problems so well that reporters noticed that afterwards he looked radiant. “In the last few days,” The New York Times’ James Reston noted, “President Reagan and his wife have never seemed happier.”(12) A Daily News reporter later said Reagan had “called life at the White house ‘fulfilling,’ adding: ‘Some nights you go home feeling 10 feet tall.’ “(13)
Reagan’s promise of war affected every aspect of life in America. While domestic problems were almost completely neglected – the government borrowed $29.3 billion in May alone to meet its bills – a Congress which a few months earlier had turned down the first-strike MX missile now felt they “couldn’t tie the President’s hands” and approved it. “President Reagan looked wonderful the morning after the MX vote,” reported The Washington Post’s Mary McGrory. “His eyes were bright, his cheeks rosy . . . Not since the Gulf of Tonkin resolution has a president enjoyed such a triumph . . . The Democrats are buffaloed by Reagan’s continuing, increasing hold on the country’s affections.”(14)
We soared away from our inner problems on Reagan’s MX phallus.
Similarly, after 20 years of turn-downs, Congress approved the B1 bomber, despite its immediate obsolescence and eventual $114 billion price-tag.(15) Poison gas production was approved by Congress after a 14-year moratorium on production. The Navy stepped up its building program, expanding from 400 to 700 ships. Creation of the new 100,000-man Rapid Deployment Force was hurried up, along with the expansion of bases around the world stockpiled with tanks, helicopters, artillery and ammunition. A 70 percent increase in the number of nuclear warheads, from 25,000 to 42,000, was put into high gear, along with the completion of hundreds of Cruise and Pershing 2 missiles to be placed around Europe to carry out our mutual suicide pact.(16) In all, the largest military buildup in the history of the world was being implemented, amounting to a doubling of war expenditures during Reagan’s first term. What a cleansing a trillion dollars worth of destruction could give the world!
The sexual excitement produced in us by so much phallic buildup was reflected by our continuous use of the metaphor of fire, which so often stands for sexual excitement in dreams. Central America, which had a few months earlier been dubbed” a fire in our back yard,” was now pro-claimed by Reagan to be “a fire that is burning in our own front yard.” That we ourselves had created this sexual fire was obliquely admitted by Reagan in one speech when he cited an earlier president as saying, “In America, a glorious fire had been lighted upon the altar of liberty . . . let the sparks that continually go up from it fall on other altars, and light up in distant lands the fire of freedom.” Central America would be our sacrificial altar. We had transferred our sexual fire to them. Appropriately, we called the new CIA – contra base “Las Vegas,” after the
|A FIRE IN OUR FRONT YARD||139|
Central America was “a fire in our front yard,” a symbol of our sexual excitement.
sexual excitement of the gambling and prostitution facilities of that city. The more our economy revived, the more we saw this Central American fire as “out of control.” Democrats in Congress held hearings in which they hallucinated that the situation was “deteriorating very rapidly” in Central America.(17) Republican Senator Barry Goldwater appeared on “Face the Nation” to declare that “If I were President . . . I would say . . . use our troops, our aircraft, our forces [to] quarantine Nicaragua and El Salvador [and] invade Cuba.”(18) Those few critics who were
Cartoonists now regularly gave Reagan a gun to shoot someone.
puzzled as to why “a smoky nuisance fire had suddenly been declared out of control”(19) missed the sexual overtones of “the glorious fire” we saw burning so vividly in our “front yard” (our genitals).
The army began preparing for war.
|Our military buildup in Central America began with the construction of military bases, airfields and radar installations in Honduras near the Nicaraguan and Salvadoran borders.(20) From these American camps, CIA-financed contras made terrorist sweeps into Nicaraguan villages and conducted bombings of Managua and other cities with CIA-owned planes, in an attempt to get Nicaragua to strike back.(21) All these activities were illegal, since it is against American law to help the overthrow of any government with which we were not at war. Yet what was regularly headlined as “Reagan’s Secret War” didn’t really need to be kept a secret. Polls at the time showed that “by 54 to 29 percent, citizens said Reagan is leading the United States toward war in Central America,”(22) while the public’s approval of Reagan’s handling of the presidency was rising to unprecedented levels. Obviously “leading the United States toward war in Central America” was what we approved of Reagan doing.|
That most people also said, when asked directly, that they were “against war” only reflected their defensive level of motivations. What America wanted was war without guilt, and Reagan had promised us he could bring this about. It didn’t even matter which side we backed. Polls showed only 8 percent knew which side we were on in the two countries.(23) What mattered was that we cheered Reagan on as he headed toward war.
Nor was it important that those we financed in El Salvador were led by a man described by former U.S. Ambassador Robert White as “a pathological killer” who helped torture and murder tens of thousands of innocent people, nor that we paid contras $1,000 a month to conduct bloody terrorist raids into Nicaragua to burn villages and shoot innocent women and children for target practice.(24) The President simply labeled the contra terrorists “freedom fighters,” promised that “we’re not going to lose a country to communism on our watch,” put the Navy on a “war footing”(25) and continued to try to provoke a response.
Reagan’s main problem was with Nicaragua. It is almost impossible to start a war with someone who refuses to play his role, and Nicaragua refused to respond to our provocations. It even stopped supplying
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arms to the Salvadoran rebels. At the same time that the Reagan administration was claiming to the American people that “The Communist world – Cuba, the Soviet Union, East Germany, Bulgaria – is pouring the stuff of war and propaganda into Central America,”(26) other U.S. of-ficials were having to admit to Congress that “the flow of military supplies to Salvadoran rebels has been only a trickle for many months.”(27) Since our financing of the contras was supposed to have been for “stopping the flow of arms,” it was embarrassing to have Pentagon officials admit to the press that “they haven’t confiscated any rifles or anything like that” with the tens of millions of dollars we furnished for that purpose.(28)
|Yet psychologically we had to continue to imagine external threats. It couldn’t just be all in our heads. We tried to play up individual incidents as much as we could. When one U.S. adviser was killed in El Salvador, Newsweek put him on the front cover with the hopeful headline “CENTRAL AMERICA: THE FIRST CASUALTY.”(29) When two American journalists were blown up by a land mine in Honduras, the entire U.S. press corps reported – without evidence – that they had been killed by Nicaraguan artillery from across the border.(30) Yet a real incident continued to elude us.Reagan had to make a decision. All of his advisers were telling him that “he must ‘win’ Central America” if he wanted to run again.(31) But neither Nicaragua nor the Salvadoran rebels were cooperating. Should he nevertheless move militarily without a guilt-reducing casus belli? In a crucial National Security Council meeting on July 8, a task force reported to him that “the situation in Central America is nearing a critical point.”(32) Reagan made his decision: move now.||
We felt like bursting through to relieve our inner anxieties.
In an action that was later described by a friendly reporter as “im-pulsive,”(33) Reagan ordered the sending of 5,000 American troops to Honduras to conduct “maneuvers” near the Nicaraguan border and the sending of a large naval battle armada to the coast of Nicaragua. The moves were delayed until the end of July, when Congress was about to adjourn.(34) Until then, he continued to say, “We are not doing anything to try and overthrow the Nicaraguan government.”
At the end of July, Reagan, in a move “which took major congressional figures on both sides of the party by surprise,”(35) sent 5,000 troops
We wanted Reagan to show our muscle.
|and a naval force of 19 ships, including a battleship, 2 aircraft carriers, 140 planes and 16,500 personnel to Central America. “The idea is to intimidate.” a Pentagon official told Time.(36) Reagan’s aides spoke of “a possible quarantine” – that is. an embargo, an act of war-around Nicaragua.(37) Under banner headlines reading “REAGAN GETS TOUGH ON CENTRAL AMERICA – U.S. BATTLE FLEET SAILS,”(38) the flotilla sailed south.|
Would the American people approve of starting a war with no justification at all? Could they stand the guilt that would result? Various Reagan aides sent out “trial balloons” to the press to see how far we should go. U.N. Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick said “a demonstration of U.S. ability to interdict arms shipments on the high seas might be salutary.”(39) U.S. Ambassador to Nicaragua Anthony Quainton said “the time is going to come” when the fleet would have to “quarantine Nicaragua.”(40) Another official said “the presence of the flotilla of ships . . could also serve for attack” in the region.(41) What would be the response by Americans to such suggestions?
We tried to bring off our own Falklands victory.
|As soon as it became clear that war without a guilt-reducing excuse was being contemplated, the media and the Congress gave the answer. “RISKING WAR FOR WHAT?” ran Tom Wicker’s New York Times column.(42) “WEIGH IMPEACHMENT IN AN ILLEGAL WAR” ran another column.(43) “A FIRST STEP TO MORE GI GRAVES” read the front-page headline of the Peoria Journal Star. When the Congressman from Peoria showed this headline to Reagan, he told the President “we’ve got some work to do to get the American people on our side.”(44) The New York Times asked “does the large United States naval battle group going into the area prefigure a quarantine or even a more exten-sive blockade? Does following through with force mean readiness to attack Soviet and Cuban ships and aircraft bound for Nicaragua, as in the 1962 Cuban missile crisis?”(45) “A blockade is an act of war,” said one Congressman, “and the Constitu-|
|HE THINKS HE’S JOHN WAYNE||143|
tion places the decision to go to war in the hands of Congress.”(46) The Washington Post ran full-page interviews for the first time with Nicaraguan officials. One asked, “What wrong have we done to the people of the United States? Why does their government respond with a clenched fist?”(47) Nicaragua even agreed to discuss the issue of arms flow to El Salvador, despite lack of evidence that there was any, “because this supposedly is what most irritates the U.S. government.”(48) Five thousand people marched in Washington to protest the military movements. Even though no major American newspaper was brave enough to report the march, the memory of Vietnam protests nevertheless remained potent. “The United States is being taken to war not only without a declaration from Congress but against its expressed desire,” warned a New York Times editorial.(49) “Who will fight this war?” asked a Congressman during the House debate on the move.(50) “He thinks he’s John Wayne,” House Speaker Tip O’Neill was heard to mutter during the debate. “He thinks he can go down there and clear the place out.”(51)
Obviously the guilt would be too great. Going to war without even a flimsy excuse would not be allowed.
When Reagan backed off, the let – down in mood was severe. The Right, the older psychoclass, was especially disappointed. Columnist Patrick Buchanan said Reagan was “impotent,” proclaimed that “the Reagan Revolution is over, finished,” and said that even if the Right didn’t dump Reagan entirely, “the romance is forever gone out of the marriage.”(52) A headline in one newsweekly called Washington “A City Without Guts.”(53) For a few weeks Reagan’s polls dropped precipitously.(54) Obviously something else would have to be tried. If the tentacles of the octopus couldn’t be pro-voked into action, perhaps the head of the octopus could be.
|Provocation of the enemy was the official task of the Air Force intelligence “Ferret” program. For many years the Air Force had, been sending planes almost daily into Soviet territory to “tickle” their radar and defense systems in order to provoke responses such as the scrambling of fighters, the activation of radar and the firing of missiles. Despite the ever-present possibility that these “Ferret” provocations could start a nuclear war, American planes, according to Time, “had triggered the firings of more than 900 Soviet ground-to-air missiles, so far without a hit.”(55) Over 25 aircraft had been attacked or||
Washington was called “A City Without Guts” after Reagan backed off.
destroyed and more than 120 Americans killed in the past three decades by these secret and deadly games of provocation.(56)
The “Ferret” program included the use of commercial airliners to gather intelligence along Soviet borders. According to Ernest Volkman, National Security Editor for Defense Science, Korean Air Lines “regularly overflies Russian airspace to gather military intelligence.”(57) KAL, says the Boston Globe, was essentially a military company, all of its pilots being military officers with high security clearance. U.S. army intelligence officials have admitted KAL commercial planes have in the past been equipped with side-view cameras and sent to border areas to take pictures.(58) One of these KAL commercial flights was the means used by American intelligence to provoke the enemy and give us our first sacrifice.
At the end of August, American intelligence learned that on September 1 the Soviet Union was going to test their new PL-5 missile on the Kamchatka Peninsula.(59) In order to learn all we could about the tests, we activated all our radar, infrared and radio listening posts in the area. These included the sophisticated “Cobra Dane” Air Force radar system on Shemya island at the end of the Aleutians, the “Cobra Judy” Navy ship radar system near Kamchatka, the U.S. spy satellite network, RC 135 spy planes with radar and other sensors and our regular radio monitoring posts in Japan and Alaska.(60)
U.S. intelligence watched KAL 997 fly into Soviet territory.
|Whether KAL 007 was purposely sent by the U.S. into Soviet territory as part of this intelligence gathering-either equipped with cameras and other sensors or as what the intelligence community refers to as “a target of opportunity” – is as yet not known. Most of the pertinent information has been locked up by a U.S. court as a part of a liability suite against KAL and the U.S. government brought by the families of those killed. The suit claims that the military “saw and recognized radar indications” that KAL 007 was in Soviet territory but deliberately took no action to warn the crew.(61)Whatever the reason for the flight’s course deviation, all the details of the flight itself conform to a scenario of deliberate provocation of the Soviets by U.S. intelligence. As The Washington Post Magazine cover put it, “the U.S. watched” as the plane went into Soviet territory. Several|
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crucial facts make this conclusion virtually inescapable: (62)
 KAL 007 was held up for 40 minutes past its scheduled takeoff time, coordinating its arrival time [3:00 A.M.] over the Kamchatka test site precisely with the moment the American “Ferret D” spy satellite was over the same site.
 The plane was equipped with several backup Systems that made malfunctioning unlikely. But even if its computer was pro-grammed incorrectly and then doublechecked carelessly, its weather radar system and compass would easily have shown the pilot he was off course and over land not ocean.
 The pilot, who had flown the route many times before, only had to look out the window to see the lights of the towns, roads and cars on Kamchatka to know he was not over the Pacific as he was supposed to be. Yet he continued to fly deeper into Soviet territory.
 The pilot remained in radio contact with both Tokyo air control and a second plane, KAL 015, flying behind it, so it would have been simple for U.S. intelligence to have warned it when it saw that the Soviets had discovered KAL 007, cancelled their missile test, scrambled its fighter planes and told its pilots to follow “the RC 135.
 U.S. intelligence could communicate directly to the President, the Secretary of Defense and the CIA, and could have put on their desks 10 minutes after transmission the information that KAL 007 was being chased by interceptors over Soviet ter-ritory. This would have given Reagan and his staff more than an hour and a half in the middle of a normal work day to warn the plane. Whether the President was told and then decided to allow the sacrifice or whether intelligence officers who were watching made the decision themselves is not now known.
Stories later ran in The New York Times and The Washingron Post Magazine concluding that “United States intelligence experts say that they have reviewed all available evidence and found no indication that Soviet air defense personnel knew before the attack that the target was a commercial plane”(63) and that “the entire sweep of events – from the time the Soviets first began tracking KAL Flight 007… to the time of the shootdown – was meticulously monitored and analyzed instantly by U.S. intelligence.”(64) These revelations sank below national consciousness as though they had never been published. Every detail of the
government version given to the public was later shown to have been in-correct. Though Reagan said, “There is no way a pilot could mistake this for anything other than a civilian airliner,” tapes later released showed pilots calling it “an RC 135.” Though the President said there was no warning by the Russians, the State Department later admitted tapes showed the pilot said, “I am firing cannon bursts” before firing the missile that knocked it down, and had even said the target “does not respond to inquiries.”(65) The President’s claim that the Russian pilot could easily see the plane’s outline in the clear moonlight was contradicted by the State Department’s later admission that the Russian plane was always 2,000 feet below the airliner and could not see an outline at all. When the Soviet plane fired its warning shots, KAL 007 gave no response and con-tinued to head straight for Vladivostok on the Soviet mainland.(66) Since the Russians have always been paranoid about their borders, and since there was no way they could possibly know the plane wasn’t carrying nuclear warheads, we could reliably. count on them to shoot it down. What the President had called “the Soviet massacre’, was in fact the first American sacrifice of the Reagan presidency.
We projected all our bloodlust into the Russian bear.
It felt good to have 269 sacrificial victims as proof that the enemy contained all our sadism. Reagan’s popularity polls rose again. NBC-TV
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reported, “An administration official said this proves that all the bad things that Ronald Reagan had been saying about the Russians all these years were right. “67 Reagan himself-though he must have been fully aware that we had watched while the plane was heading for disaster and that the Russians had thought it was a military flight – called it “an act of barbarism.” “This attack was not just against ourselves or the Republic of Korea,” he told us. “This was the Soviet Union against the world.” “SOVIET PARANOIA,” screamed the Orlando Sentinal.(68) “MOSCOW’S BLOODY HANDS,” said the New York Post.(69) The Chicago Tribune termed it “premeditated murder”(70) and The New York Times “cold-blooded mass murder.”(71) “They are beasts equal to the Nazis,” said New York’s Mayor Koch.(72) While Americans burned Soviet flags at the U.N., newspapers reported that “REAGAN RIDES THE CREST OF AN ANTI-SOVIET WAVE” which had “defused the opposition to Administration policies in Central America” and had assured the emplacement of new U.S. nuclear weapons in West Ger-many, Britain and Italy.”(73) “Bloody as it was, the airlines shootdown was, for Reagan, a political bonus’ and a propaganda blessing,” conclud-ed the Chicago Tribune.(74) “It’s going to make some things easier for us,” a Presidential adviser said.(75) The President “couldn’t have written a better script,” a Democratic Senate aide said. “He [now] looks like the president… “(76)
There was just one problem. Reagan undoubtedly knew consciously that the “massacre” story was a lie. He couldn’t therefore take im-mediate retaliatory action without stirring up too much of his own guilt.
The American people soon objected strongly to Reagan’s lack of strong action. “The people of this country are beginning to question whether we have the moral strength . . . to take concerted action,” said Senator D’Amato.(77) A Conservative movement spokesman put it more strongly: “The President has been talking like Superman, but his policies are more like those of Neville Chamberlain.”(78) Polls showed Americans two to one saying Reagan was not tough enough on the Russians.(79) Car-toonists pictured him as a woman, hitting the Russian bear on the nose with a little slap of his purse. One right-wing columnist reported that “the President’s oldest friends are alternately outraged and demoralized by the timidity of his response.”(80) “This was Ronald Reagan’s Falkland crisis,” said Howard Phillips, Chairman of the Conservative Caucus, and he did not respond appropriately.”(81) Reagan was called by others “a windy wimp . . . a Wizard of Oz . . . a fake “(82)
Once again the American people had to taunt Reagan into more aggressive action. We even told him where to invade. “THE WAY TO ANSWER FLIGHT 007 OUTRAGE: GIVE MOSCOW HELL IN CENTRAL AMERICA,” read a New York Post headline. But Central America was still being uncooperative. So Reagan turned first to two other sacrificial stages already in prepatation-Beirut and Grenada.