The Man Nobody Knew: William Colby

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The Man Nobody Knew: William Colby

Run time 104 minutes.
Not for children.

“The Man Nobody Knew: William Colby.”

This is a fascinating film, a must-see for anyone interested in lots of things that happened from 1945-mid ‘70s, like what actually happened in Vietnam, and why. It’s a prologue for where we are today.

This has enormous verisimilitude because it is produced and directed by William Colby’s son, Carl. It’s not a whitewash of his controversial father. In fact, despite Colby’s near-heroic testimony before Congress, excerpts of which are shown, I came out of the film thinking less of him, mainly because of the way he treated his wife and family.

It’s a straight documentary at the outset, showing how he joined the OSS in World War II and what he did after. It diverts from his story to give great detail about the Kennedy Administration’s involvement in the coup against President Diem of Vietnam, circa 1963. There are fascinating taped conversations among President Kennedy, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, Assistant Secretary of State Averell Harriman, Secretary of State Dean Rusk, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, and Colby about whether or not to support a coup against a staunch ally. Fascinating and damning, it pins the blame on someone other than President Kennedy. In fact, in the tapes we hear Bobby Kennedy arguing passionately against supporting a coup.

Thomas Hughes, former State Dept. exec., in alleging that the Kennedys were interested in secret, covert activity, said “they had an interest in James Bond type activity. They romanticized doing things secretly that couldn’t be done openly.”

The day of the coup, Diem told Ambassador to Vietnam Henry Cabot Lodge that he’d do anything he wants, “we really need to get over this.” The CIA people in Saigon thought that the President had ordered the coup and only later found out that Lodge and a clique in the State Dept. had ordered it. Both Diem brothers were murdered that day in the coup.

Tim Weiner, an author, tells of Colby dropping spies behind enemy lines in North Vietnam, believing they could operate the same way they operated in Europe in WWII. He said as a result of this misguided idea, 217 men were killed, captured, or turned into double agents.

It covers the Colby shepherding of the controversial Phoenix program in Vietnam and shows brutal film of U.S. soldiers torturing Vietnamese who had been captured. Unfortunately, it includes the film of a Vietnamese general shooting a Viet Cong in the head, a still picture of which was taken by Eddie Adams that won him a Pulitzer Prize, and which became one of the bases for the anti-war movement. It’s not identified in this film, however. If you didn’t know what you were watching you wouldn’t know this was an infamous picture. (As an aside not covered in this film, the general who pulled the trigger, Nguyen Ngoc Loan, had been told that the prisoner was a notorious VC operative who had just executed one of Loan’s officers and wiped out his whole family. This never came out until many, many years later, too late to repair the damage the image inspired. Adams felt guilty about what happened and apologized to Loan, saying later, “I . . . found out the guy was very well loved by the Vietnamese, you know. He was a hero to them . . . and it just saddens me that none of this has really come out.”)

This film covers so much it could substitute for an entire semester course in recent American history. But I’ll skip over most of it. That’s the reason to see the movie.

I will, however, close my review with something that is truly telling. George Herbert Walker Bush became President because Ronald Reagan chose him to be his Vice-President. Bush thanked him by firing every Reaganite in the Administration upon becoming President in 1989. This film presents damning evidence about Bush’s character and provides the basis for understanding what happened. When President Ford fired Colby after his truthful Congressional testimony and gave the job to Bush, Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward asked Ford why he picked Bush. Ford said, “I wanted a loyalist.” Woodward asked who the “loyalists“ were. Ford replied, “Rumsfeld, Cheney, Kissinger, and Greenspan.” This is no compliment, but it helps to explain why Bush did everything in his power to destroy the Reagan Revolution. He was loyal to the old Republican power structure so loved by Ford, dominated by the trilateral commission and David Rockefeller’s Council on Foreign Relations, that Reagan defeated, and he put it back in place when Reagan thought it was dead and buried.

This is a movie not to be missed.

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