Everything old is new again, says the line from the movie “All That Jazz.” And just to underscore that idea, consider the current melee raging around Jade Helm 15, the US Army’s training exercise scheduled for this summer in seven Western states.
Then consider how much this fracas echoes the uproar over a similar exercise, Operation Water Moccasin, from the early 60s. Similar reason for staging the exercise; similar location; and a similar cast of Conservative pundits and elected officials stoking the fires of hatred and xenophobia.
Not everything is the same between the two events, of course. Two large differences pop out right away. One is that the Army cancelled Water Moccasin, bowing to the pressure that the Conservatives stirred up among the civilian population. Thus far, the Army says they have no intention of cancelling Jade Helm 15.
The other shows up in network news coverage. With Water Moccasin, CBS launched an aggressive and extensive investigation of the case. They traced the story back and forth across the country to its roots, putting the contributors on camera and exposing the lies and half-truths in the speakers’ own words.
The story aired in one of the network’s White Paper reports under the title “Case History of a Rumor.”
Journalism on that level is rarely practiced today. Network media coverage on Jade Helm 15 has been tepid, to say the least.
But to understand the comparison better, let’s take a quick look at the two operations.
It was a series of US Army maneuvers scheduled to take place in the deep South. Their purpose was to instruct US soldiers in counter guerilla warfare. It was scheduled to be witnessed by 124 foreign military officers from Canada, France, Great Britain, Indonesia, Italy, Iran, Japan, Liberia, Pakistan, the Philippines, the Republic of China, South Korea, Spain, Thailand, Turkey, and Vietnam.
Conservative religious broadcasters and Conservative elected officials misstated the reasons and details of the operation to fire up their constituents’ basic fears and paranoia; this was the Cold War, remember. They created make-believe issues, like the supposed takeover of the US by the United Nations; or African troops massing in Georgia to invade and occupy that state. This intentional confusion led to elected officials from all areas getting flooded with letters of concern.
One elected official, the late US Senator Tom Kuchel, (R-CA), reported that at the height of this rumor mongering he was receiving100-200 letters a week in his office (this was before email, remember) of what he described as “fright mail.” The letters were, he said, from constituents who were genuinely scared; swindled, as he put it, by “a relative handful of zealots, in the ranks or clutches of self-styled ‘I am a better American than you are’ organizations.”
Some of the letters Sen. Kuchel quoted:
“Yes, we know of the U. N. plans to place Mongolian and Congolese troops over our dear United States.”
“Fifteen thousand United Nations troops already here. Oriental troops in Mexico, waiting to occupy California. Sixteen thousand African troops, already in Georgia, with rings in their noses and ears. A war to invade America. A U. N. takeover. Let’s get out of the U. N. Investigate NATO.”
Reporters Roger Mudd and Gene DePoris traced origins of the rumor to a radio evangelist, C.W. Burpo, whose radio ministry was headquarted in Mesa, Arizona. Burpo insisted he’d gotten the information from California Congressman James B. Utt (R-Santa Ana).
Rep. Utt was interviewed on camera and reluctantly admitted he’d fabricated most of the story, including the parts about foreign invaders. He later filed a libel suit against CBS, claiming that Mudd and DePoris had “’entrapped’ him into giving a television interview that turned out to be a ‘cross examination’ by Roger Mudd, who acted as ‘prosecutor, judge, and jury.’” The case was dismissed. Utt died in office in 1970.
What Is Jade Helm 15?
According to a Pentagon spokesman, Jade Helm 15 is a “routine training event that provides US Army Special Operations Forces the opportunity to practice core special warfare tasks for use overseas to help protect our national security interests. All exercise activities have been precoordinated with federal, state and municipal officials, as well as with volunteer private land owners.”
About 1,200 troops will take part in Jade Helm. They will be mainly Army Green Berets, but also a small group of Navy SEALS and Air Force special operations troops as well as conventional Army infantry.
The area to be used has been divided into four categories: hostile, permissive, uncertain (leaning hostile), and uncertain (leaning friendly). The map explains it succinctly:
In what seems to be a replay of the Water Moccasin uproar, Conservative politicians have already begun stirring up their constituents. Texas Governor Greg Abbott wrote: “During the training operation, it is important that Texans know their safety, constitutional rights, private property rights and civil liberties will not be infringed.” Abbott is demanding “regular updates on the progress and safety of the Operation.”
US Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) told Fox News that the “Jade Helm outcry is the natural consequence of our untrustworthy Federal Government.”
Rep. Louis Gohmert (R-TX 1st District) told the radio program Washington Watch that President Obama was responsible for the conspiracy theories being there in the first place.
The Religious Right has also weighed in, with groups like Christian Patriots proclaiming that “Jade Helm is spiraling out of control. By my reports, this unconstitutional and illegal activity has spread to over 40 states, not the seven states admitted to by Jade Helm personnel.”
And “The United States of America is being occupied by soon-to-be martial law, military forces.” The group has designated July 5, 2015, as National Jade Helm Whistleblowers Day.
Conservative media commentators like radio host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones has told audiences of his Info Wars radio show that the U.S. military is positioning itself to take over the states and declare martial law.
. . . Is New Again
One large difference between the Water Moccasin and Jade Helm 15 turmoil, of course, is the Internet.
The proliferation of web sites, blogs, and social media has given individuals and groups an instant worldwide audience for their opinions, however misguided they might be.
The Oath Keepers website advises its audience that “The Internet is abuzz with speculation these exercises are not designed to prepare U.S. troops for overseas operations, but are actually designed to prepare U.S. troops for aggressive operations against American citizenry.”
Action movie star Chuck Norris posted that “The US government says, ‘It’s just a training exercise.’ But I’m not sure the term ‘just’ has any reference to reality when the government uses it.” He added that Jade Helm 15 was really a plan to take over Texas.
Even Wal-Mart has weighed in on the controversy, debunking the conspiracy theory that the military has already created a system of underground tunnels below five closed Walmart outlets. The stores, located in Brandon, Florida; Pico Rivera, California; Livingston, Texas; Midland, Texas; and Tulsa, Oklahoma; would allegedly serve as ‘food distribution centers’ and will be used to ‘house the headquarters of invading troops from China, here to disarm Americans one by one.’
And even though it’s in a new format, some of what Senator Kuchel called fright mail has a similar ring:
“All Obama needs to invoke martial law in 24 hours is civil unrest. There will be riots across the US this summer. #JadeHelm15 a coincidence?”
“Photo smuggled out of TX showing tunnels built under Walmart being used by our enemies #JadeHelm15 #WalmartClosings”
And, so. . .
One more red meat issue from the politicians to rile up their base voters and hustle a few votes or some more money?
And likewise, the ostensibly religious groups with their vestments in a twist; or the cammo-clad professedly patriotic groups: is it really concerns about our National Security, or more about increasing your web traffic a bit and picking up a few bucks?
You are the ones, after all, who loudly proclaim yourselves the We Support Our Troops people with your Made in China ribbons and flags.
And speaking of media coverage: where are the Roger Mudds and Gene DePorises when we need them?
MORE INFO AT
The Place to Be: Washington, CBS, and the Glory Days of Television News
“The Case History of a Rumor” Pp. 124-125
Public Affairs, 2009. ISBN 1586486934, 9781586486938
The Fright Peddlers
Kuchel, Thomas, 1964
Cleveland State University College of Law
What is Jade Helm 15 (and should Chuck Norris be worried?)
Christian Science Monitor, May 5, 2015
Pentagon: No Texas takeover plot
Starr, Barbara, CNN Pentagon Correspondent
Ted Cruz: Jade Helm Outcry Is ‘Natural Consequence of Untrustworthy Fed Gov’t’
Fox News Insider: The Official Blog of Fox News Channel
Jade Helm Is Proving America to be a Nation of Cowards and Traitors
Cherish, Ashley, May 8, 2015