THE SPINE MAY 31, 2007
When you don't know history or forget it you confabulate the past.
Sometimes in grand dimensions. And sometimes in smaller ones. But
even small distortions tell big lies. And that's what, I regret to
say, is what The New York Times has done... again.
On May 28, the Times published an obit for Indar Jit Rikhye, a former
general in the Indian Army and a decorated officer in the British
military during World War II, who died at 86 a week earlier in
Charlottesville, Virginia. The real reason for the paper's substantial
necrologue for Rikhye was that he had been for more than a decade a commander of U.N. peacekeeping
forces on four continents. That's why I recognized his name. He was on
the spot when the United Nations Emergency Forces (UNEF), which had
been placed in the Sinai as a buffer between Israel and Egypt as part
of the settlement of the 1956 Suez crisis, withdrew from the area on
demand from Gamal Abdel Nasser who was mobilizing for war and
desperately wanted UNEF out of his way. Alas, for Nasser and the whole
portentous Nasserist ideology, the war turned out to be the Six Day War.
Here's is how the Times' obituarist, Warren Hoge, describes the
situation: "(Rikhye) oversaw the withdrawal of the United Nations
Emergency Force in Gaza and the Sinai in June 1967, when it found
itself in the path of the advancing Israel Defense Forces and had all
its vehicles wrecked, its communications knocked out and three of its
Actually, by the time the war began on June 5, all but perhaps a
hundred hapless Indians in UNEF were still at headquarters. Three
weeks earlier there had been 6,000 men in the Force. One UNEF base and
then another were deserted until there were none. On May 14 and 15,
the Canadian detachments left... on specific demand of Nasser, who seemed
to have had a special peculiar for them. Around the same time, even
the non-aligned Yugoslavs also left. There was frantic diplomatic
activity at the U.N. in New York, Washington and other world capitals,
in all of which Rikhye was a major participant. None of this appears in Hoge's "newspaper of record"
Please look back again to the paragraph in which I quote Hoge. Is
there anything in his article that even vaguely suggests that the
withdrawal of UNEF was part and parcel of Egypt's war plans? No. Is
there anything to suggest that there had been an orderly, albeit
cowardly desertion begun three weeks before the war and virtually
completed by the time armed hostilities began? No. In fact, what Hoge
and the Times do is to completely distort the narrative, as if the 1967
war was fought at Israel's initiative and the brave U.N. was caught in
its offensive. "All its vehicles wrecked." What fantasy.
Believe me, this perverted reading will enter the footnotes of
scholarly works. After all, the Times is the Times. And Warren Hoge is Warren Hoge or, at least, Jim Hoge's brother.
I am sure that there will be a finicky little correction in tomorrow's New York Times parsing the gross distortion into some minor blur.