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NPR's Nationalism


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To the editors:

Thank you for printing Glenn Garvin's article, which attacks National Public Radio's "persistent liberal bias" ("How Do I Hate NPR?," June 25). His criticisms bear a close resemblance to the Chinese government's ideological attacks on "bourgeois liberalism."

Unfortunately, Mr. Garvin commits a serious misrepresentation of a "document in Soviet archives stating that the North Vietnamese held back several hundred American POWs." The document in question states no such thing. It contains an estimate of the number of American POWs held by the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in the early 70s. There is little controversy over the "authenticity" of the document--it appears to be an actual Soviet document. The question is whether the estimate is accurate or not. The document is in no way proof of the theory that American MIAs are alive and being held prisoner in Vietnam. If America really wanted to find out what happened to the MIAs, President Clinton could offer amnesty to all Vietnam-era deserters and defectors. We then might find out about U.S. soldiers who voluntarily switched sides during the war--a phenomenon that was known to occur at the time, but has not been widely discussed since.

But I agree that NPR's reporting on Vietnam has been inadequate. I recall hearing an NPR story on Agent Orange which began, "Agent Orange was used by American forces in Vietnam to clear jungle and brush." First of all, why does NPR refer to Vietnamese forests as "jungle and brush"? Second of all, why does NPR omit the fact that Agent Orange was sprayed on rice fields for the purpose of killing civilians in areas of southern Vietnam controlled by the National Liberation Front, which NPR persists in calling "Viet Cong"? The American use of chemical defoliants in Vietnam is the greatest instance of chemical warfare in history, far crueler than Germany's use of poison gas in WWI. NPR is just as nationalistic as the networks, if we go by George Orwell's characterization of the nationalist: "The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, he also has a remarkable ability not to even hear about them."

One section of Mr. Garvin's article is entitled, "A Herd of Independent Minds." At least when Noam Chomsky used this phrase, he attributed it to its originator, Harold Rosenberg. I'm sorry to be the one to bring the chickens home to roost, but authors who engage in vituperative criticism should not commit plagiarism. Mr. Garvin devotes a lot of energy to denigrating his sister, the NPR fan. A good writer would not allow himself to be so strongly influenced by chronic sibling rivalry.

Bill Hechler

S. Hamilton

Glenn Garvin replies:

Mr. Hechler is correct. The story should have said that the document implied that North Vietnam had held back several hundred American POWs at the end of the war.

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