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The Untold History of Gerald Ford – A Grand Rapids People’s History Project

January 10, 2011

In this GR People’s History Project short we critique the official history of the legacy of former President Gerald Ford. The official version of history on Ford is that he “healed a nation” by pardoning former President Richard Nixon. However, there is plenty of new information and declassified documents that suggest otherwise.

This video argues that Ford actively covered up any serious investigation of the war crimes committed under the Nixon administration and that Ford himself continued the US Imperial Project.

28 Comments leave one →
  1. stelle permalink
    January 10, 2011 5:52 pm

    This video short is EXCELLENT! From the music to the video clips and especially the commentary. I really learned from it, as will other Grand Rapids area folks. Way to go Girbe & Jeff!

  2. Cynthia Melendy permalink
    January 10, 2011 7:44 pm

    This is an interesting accusation unsupported by any factual footnotes, documents, or references. For example, uses of the term “illegal war” should be supported by citations in which you prove that the use of “illegal” is argued.

    The term “imperial” is contested and should also be argued and defined.

    The arguments of the books cited are not explained, footnoted or contextualized.

    Try to avoid the construction of “history” without documentary and citation supported evidence.

    Use of historical methods would go a long way to help a historian take this video seriously.

  3. Jeff Smith permalink*
    January 10, 2011 8:36 pm

    Here is a list of the sources I used, most of which I cite in the video:

    The Washington Connection and Third World Fascism, by Noam Chomsky and Ed Herman
    Safe for Democracy: The Secret Wars of the CIA, by John Prados
    Days That Changed the World: The Presidency of Gerald Ford, by Graeme Mount
    The Trials of Henry Kissinger, by Christopher Hitchens

    The Trials of Henry Kissinger – FIlm (DVD), 2002

    The National Security Archives – US government Declassified documents:

    The Church Committee Documents

    Testimony of East Timorese refugees I heard in the late 1980s

    The illegality of the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are based on work of numerous grassroots activists and international law jurists. Some of their findings are here. and I also attended a war crimes tribunal held in New York in 2006. The proceedings were video taped. I have yet to see a written or online version of the findings, but the conclusion of the international jurists was that the US war in Iraq is illegal.

    As for the use of the term imperialist, I am following the same argument that decades of work by people who were part of the Anti-Imperialist League (such as Mark Twain) and Bertrand Russell, and a more contemporary analysis offered by International Law expert Francis Boyle. He has written numerous books on the subject of US imperialism and I highly recommend Destroying World Order: US Imperialism in the Middle East Before and After September 11.

    Lastly, my own experience doing human rights work in Latin America from 1988 – 2005 also informs my analysis that the US is an imperial power.

  4. A.C. Rose permalink
    January 10, 2011 9:11 pm

    Well, I am really glad to see that finally we get a list of sources. This information should be provided with every production. And no one should have to request it–EVER. That availability is crucial to “information democracy.” We need to know what sources were consulted so that we can go examine them ourselves when we question the work of the producers. Some of these sources, however, are not able to be examined, and that point needs to be made explicit by the producers.

    But the list is so limited. It includes no recent articles from journals that have been scrutinized for the quality of argumentation and evidential praxis. And what appears to be an underlying assumption that what is online is more relevant or more up-to-date or more accurate (I’m not sure exactly what the assumption is because you do not tell us)–well, that really needs to be questioned.

    The problem with your knowledge base for this project, Jeff, is that it is so exceedingly selective that it contradicts (and exacerbates) what “information democracy” is meant to resolve.

    It sounds like it has an agenda rather an argument. Why is that a problem? Because it purports to make an argument.

  5. Kate Wheeler permalink
    January 11, 2011 5:31 am

    Jeff might consider running a list of his sources at the end of the film–but the sources seem ample, in my opinion, for a piece that’s less than 8 minutes long. When exactly was the last time you saw a documentary “footnoted”? And when has historical commentary been anything BUT one author’s or group’s interpretation of a set of facts?

    As for the idea that this piece is more “agenda than argument,” that’s a turn of phrase that sounds more clever on its first impression that it does on examination. I’d say that the posted piece does present an argument, and a well-presented one. The narrative references each source that is used or quoted right in the script–in fact, it’s impressive to me how many sources are cited without making the piece impossible to listen to. The script was based on resources that include a use of primary documents; a biography that was just released in 2005 and which made extensive use of the materials in the Ford Library among other sources; eyewitness testimony; and a definitive book about CIA involvement in foreign countries, the subject of which certainly is no longer a secret or a surprise to anyone unless they haven’t read a newspaper or journal in the past 15 years.

    Yes, the term imperialism represents a specific political viewpoint, just as many commentaries, articles, and books written about presidents are framed in the political viewpoint of their authors. (Compare the two Bush biographies “A Charge to Keep” and “Fortunate Son” to see how far the range can stretch). If Ford’s actions in East Timor don’t at least make it clear why the term “imperialism” was used, perhaps you need to listen to the narrative again.

    Re: the term “illegal war”: Many people feel that Vietnam was an illegal war because it was fought without a declaration of war. Iraq was an illegal war because it was entered into under the false assumption–based on possibly ginned-up evidence–of weapons of mass destruction. The war in Afghanistan is illegal because we were never attacked by Afghanistan and there is no link between either Iraq or Afghanistan and 9/11, as was repeatedly stated at the beginning of both occupations. Again, the choice of the term seems clear given the subject.

    In the National Security Archive website at GWU, you’ll find an analysis of the some of the declassified documents that Jeff cites in his work. A conclusion in the synopsis reads: “Besides confirming that Henry Kissinger and top advisers expected an eventual Indonesian takeover of East Timor, archival material shows that the Secretary of State fully understood that the invasion of East Timor involved the ‘illegal’ use of U.S.-supplied military equipment because it was not used in self-defense as required by law.” Kissinger’s declassified memo to Ford and other documents show that Ford was completely aware and in agreement with the decisions that were made.

    As for war crimes, they are the violations of the laws or customs of war, and include torture, mistreatment of prisoners of war, ill treatment of civilians in an occupied country, the murder of hostages, or wanton destruction of infrastructure, cities, hospitals, or other public resources. It’s a readily accessible definition, and applies in this case both to U.S. actions under Nixon and under George W. Bush, with Bush’s being continued by the current administration. Examples are abundant in all three illegal occupations.

    Surely none of this is news to anyone in this country–not even here in insulated and provincial Grand Rapids. I fail to see what the issue is with usage of these terms in the piece presented.

    As for A.C. Rose’s declaration that he was relieved to “finally” see a list of resources…the piece was posted on January 10 and the list of sources was posted on January 10. Quite a grueling wait!

  6. black dawn permalink
    January 11, 2011 10:29 am

    the only president never elected…..

  7. AC Rose permalink
    January 11, 2011 6:22 pm

    “Surely none of this is news to anyone in this country–not even here in insulated and provincial Grand Rapids. I fail to see what the issue is with usage of these terms in the piece presented.”

    So, Kate, you are saying that the video’s contents is not news to anyone in this country–yet, according to the producers, the video is a part of “people’s history” written to counter “the official version(s) of history”? EXPLAIN THAT.

    And why should anyone have to request a list of sources from a venue that claims to generate “information democracy”? A list should be available with the product itself, not because a viewer asked a question.

    And the question–a simple question–that I asked in my first comment still has not been addressed.
    Instead, we get a lame excuse : “It is difficult to find information that question’s Ford’s policies and the motive for his pardoning of Nixon.”

    Anything is difficult to find if you don’t really look for it, Jeff. And anything is especially “difficult to find” when finding it would discredit the claims you are making about “official history.”

  8. January 11, 2011 6:44 pm

    We’ll we have already establish on another thread that I did look long and hard for information that was critical of the Ford administration’s foreign policy and attempted cover up of the Church Committee hearings. I have been investigating this issue on and off for years, especially since I heard East Timorese provide testimony of the US-back violence perpetrated at the hand of the Indonesian military, which began with Ford’s support – both diplomatic and with military hardware.

    The reason for producing such a video is to provide a very accessible source for people that questions the position that one would get at the Ford Museum, from the government position at the time of Ford’s death and what the commercial media said and continues to say about Ford having “healed the nation.”

    I stand firm that there is adequate sources cited within the video that supports a critical view of the Ford administration – their role in supporting the bloody counter-insurgency war in the Philippines, the support for the Dirty War in Argentina (which led to 30,000 state murders), the continued illegal (the UN has condemned this for decades) US embargo on Cuba, the US support for the UNITA forces in Angola and the genocidal slaughter of East Timorese.

    This is what motivated the production of the video, to shed light on the accepted, State, commercial media, official version of Ford. His administration, like all US administrations since WWII have maintained the US government’s commitment to imperialist policies. If you disagree, fine.

  9. AC Rose permalink
    January 11, 2011 7:26 pm

    What I questioned, Jeff, was your assertion that there exists “official version(s) of history” that are, as you claim, the product of academia. You still have yet to support your claim. Just because you may be ignorant of historical knowledge generated within academia doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. Rather, what it means is that you chose to ignore it. You chose to be ignorant rather doing enough research.

    Your assertion that there is an “official version of Ford” authored by “academia” is nonsense. And as for the assertion that the story about Ford “healing the nation” is propaganda–anyone with half a brain can see that. It is hardly insightful. But the real issue is that you are claiming that the propaganda is at one with the “official version” that, according to you, is a product of “academia.” And that is bullshit. There are plenty of academic historians who do not buy into the propaganda about Ford. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever met an academic historian who does buy it.

  10. January 11, 2011 8:09 pm

    For the 3rd time, I have been looking for academic writing and government sources on this topic for years – online, in libraries – local, state and out of state, the Ford Museum and Ford Library in Ann Arbor and have not found very much that would support a a strong critique of Ford’s foreign policy. Therefore, I don’t think I’m ignorant. In fact, I have done this all on my own time and not as a job. It is because I give a shit about people being brutalized and the state wanting to convince the public that these things did not happen.

    I also didn’t say there was an official version author by academia, I said that “The Ford museum literature says that by pardoning Nixon, Ford helped restore confidence in the office of the presidency that negatively under the Nixon administration. Is this the reality or was it a way to sidestep any serious investigation of the illegal practices of the Nixon administration, which ultimately would lead people to see the very nature of the US Imperial Project? When Nixon’s crimes are mentioned what most people think of was the wiretapping of the Democrats before the election. What are usually omitted from the official record are Nixon’s war crimes in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. This is what “official historians” mean when they say Ford healed the nation, that the American public was protected from the ugly realities of US foreign policy. Well, what are we being protected from?”

    When I say “official historians” I mean the people that systems of power use to further their agendas. Every administration uses “official historians” to justify their policies. Every administration has had them, just as Obama will have his……to justify his continuance of imperialist policies……..Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Cuba, Venezuela, Honduras, Haiti, etc.

    The “official history” was in full force at the local level when Ford died in 2006 since the local news media relied exclusively on people who were close to Ford and wanted to protect his legacy and from GVSU’s Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies, all of which supported the notion that Ford Healed a nation. If there are academic historians who don’t buy this sanitized version of Ford then they are not speaking out when these opportunities arise. Not one of them locally criticized the media coverage or the statements made by several ex-Presidents and then President Bush at his funeral in Grand Rapids, which was broadcast across the country.

    Your point that anyone with half a brain could see that Ford’s pardon of Nixon was propaganda underscores my point. As I stated earlier those who get invited by state power to present history and the commercial news media all at the time of Ford’s death continued the “He Healed a Nation” mantra. I don’t think the people in government or commercial news media are half-brained, they are general smart people who either have an ideological reason to support such a claim or the don’t want to lose their jobs, so they state the “official version.” The problem is that this version is disseminated to millions of people, which helps to normalize that version of history. My feeble attempt to present a different view will reach a few thousand. However, as feeble as it may be I still feel it is important to do this work.

  11. ben permalink
    January 11, 2011 8:30 pm

    West Michigan believes the propaganda AC. This area is controlled by the we love Jesus and bombs away conservatives.

    I never heard East Timor mentioned in high school or college history class.

  12. Kate Wheeler permalink
    January 11, 2011 8:44 pm

    “So, Kate, you are saying that the video’s contents is not news to anyone in this country–yet, according to the producers, the video is a part of “people’s history” written to counter “the official version(s) of history”? EXPLAIN THAT.”

    OK, I will. You, AC (wish you would use your real name, by the way…just once!), took my quote out of context, in the way that trolls so often do when looking for an argument or a method of attack.

    I didn’t say that EVERYTHING Jeff said in his narrative nor his interpretation of events in the Ford Administration nor his information about East Timor was common knowledge to everyone in the country. I made that remark *specifically* about the terms “illegal war”, “imperialism” and “war crimes”. I felt it was disingenuous to call those terms out as if they were inexplicable or unfamiliar. I felt that their usage within the context of Jeff’s narrative was quite clear and it was clear to me why he was using them and chose them.

    When you took my comment out of context, you failed to include this part of my statement: “I fail to see what the issue is with usage of these terms in the piece presented.”

  13. January 11, 2011 8:55 pm

    There is alot of white washing of the former president.When he died the grand rapids press front page dated dec. 27, 2006 headlines read “He saved the nation”. A special pullout section headline read “A man of character.”

  14. pat permalink
    January 11, 2011 9:18 pm

    I think this video provides a good overview of some of the negative aspects of President Ford’s administration, but I don’t think I would call it “people’s history.”

    To me, “people’s history” means looking at the history of social movements and what ordinary folks did to challenge power (as in Howard Zinn’s style) or the social history of academics that looks at the lives of everyday people

    To me this video is more like official history. It’s just another piece of history focusing on dead white guys and those with power in society.

    Rather than focus on folks in Grand Rapids who have challenged the existing power structures in society, this video is fixated on those power structures. There’s really nothing inspiring in this video: Ford got away with his crimes and videos years after the fact aren’t doing much to change that.

  15. Jeff Smith permalink*
    January 11, 2011 9:23 pm

    Pat the Bunny, our project is investigating the history of social movements in Grand Rapids, but we also feel that providing a critique of those in power, a critique from below is part of a people’s history. In fact, Zinn, in his book, besides providing a fabulous account of social movements and people that have been ignored by traditional historical accounts, Zinn also critiques those in power and power structures. This video about Ford will be part of a series of short videos that critiques some of the historical examples of power from above in the GR area.

  16. stelle permalink
    January 11, 2011 10:40 pm

    Kate and Jeff,
    I truly appreciate your point-by-point responses to the negative comments above. I am excited about the work of The Grand Rapids People’s History Project… work that, for me, holds even more resonance because it is not funded by grants, universities or some corporation PR budget. Indeed it is funded by heart, soul and a calling to work for justice and true democracy. And to those who would rather spend their days picking nits, Basta Ya!

  17. AC Rose permalink
    January 11, 2011 11:30 pm

    Jeff, this is pasted from your FB page:

    “Jeff Smith what I mean by official history is what the government, US mainstream media and the bulk of the academic community endorse and promote. Official history is a term that Zinn used and that we have adopted so as to contrast a people’s history or populist history.
    Yesterday at 10:19am · Like”

    Your assertion that “the bulk of the academic community endorse[s] and promote[s]” what you call “official history” is pure nonsense. It is an inaccurate and unsupportable claim. I challenge you to substantiate it.

  18. AC Rose permalink
    January 11, 2011 11:41 pm

    Kate, I did not object to the video’s presentation of “war crimes” or “imperialism” or “illegal war” except insofar as subterfuges thereof are claimed to be linked to some conflation of academic historians with “official” history. Look through what I wrote here and on the FaceBook comments (which I can send you if you don’t have). Rather, I questioned the usage and meaning of “official history” and “official version(s) of history” and specifically what Jeff calls “the bulk of the academic community” as a contributor to “official” anything.

  19. January 12, 2011 12:26 am

    AC said
    “Your assertion that “the bulk of the academic community endorse[s] and promote[s]” what you call “official history” is pure nonsense. It is an inaccurate and unsupportable claim. I challenge you to substantiate it. ”

    Why then, did Grand Valley shut down William James and Thomas Jefferson colleges, which were part of Grand Valley State University?

  20. AC Rose permalink
    January 12, 2011 1:15 am

    This binary negative versus positive is so superficial and unproductive. The whole category of “people’s history” would not even exist were it not for critical assessment of knowledge production. There is nothing “negative” about it, Stelle. That is how knowledge is made, contested and remade–through critical thinking. If you can’t deal with it, you are in the wrong job. And I find it rather disingenuous of a GRIID intern, volunteer, or employee, or fan, or ??? (not sure what your title is) to condemn other readers simply for questioning the website’s products. What are you, a fascist? Are you trying to undermine and/or censor people just for speaking their minds?

  21. Kate Wheeler permalink
    January 12, 2011 1:17 am

    My initial response was both to you and to Cynthia, addressing points that both of you had made.

  22. AC Rose permalink
    January 12, 2011 1:43 am

    Interesting comments, Pat–not only interesting, but thoughtful, provocative, and informative. This GRIID website needs more readers/viewers like you. How can it call itself a venue for “information democracy” if it does not ACTIVELY ENCOURAGE and indeed solicit free expression of multiple viewpoints and free debate and open questioning of the work of its producers? If the “information” produced and delivered on/at this site remains unchallenged, where is the “democracy”?

  23. AC Rose permalink
    January 12, 2011 5:51 am

    to r
    Given that I just arrived here last semester, I am no expert on the history of GVSU and its earlier incarnations. But what is your point? How does your question relate to the passage ouquote? What is the connection? If you are trying to advance a discussion, you need to make your points explicit so that others can understand you.

    Are you disappointed that the colleges you mention were closed? Do you want to have a conversation about the meaning of closing them? If so, could you ask some more specific questions? And could you try to be more direct in asking your questions or making your points? For example, if you already have an opinion on the closing of those colleges, you should directly state that. I can’t read your mind. I should say, though, that it is possible that I may already agree with you if have an opinion, so if you are thinking that you want to have an argument (a debate) about the matter, I might not be the best person to do that with.

    But first, you really need to make clear what you appear to be trying to connect.

  24. AC Rose permalink
    January 12, 2011 7:14 am

    to r (again):
    One other thing–it sounds like you may be confounding academia with the university. Sometimes people confound terms on purpose to confuse their meanings. Hope you aren’t doing that.

  25. batsta ya! permalink
    January 13, 2011 12:38 am

    Just because comments are critical and/or challenge the writing on GRIID, it doesn’t mean that they are automatically “negative.”

  26. stelle permalink
    January 13, 2011 5:26 pm



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