[sixties-l] Re: sixties-l-Vietnam War Memorial

From: Jeffrey Blankfort (jab@tucradio.org)
Date: Fri Jun 23 2000 - 10:00:40 CUT

  • Next message: Ron Jacobs: "[sixties-l] Re: GI movement"

    > I wrote:
    > There is a point where an individual must take some kind of
    > responsibility. When an invader lands on your beaches or knocks in your
    > door is not the same thing as traveling across the world to land on
    > someone else's beaches, and knock down their doors, their homes and
    > their entire villages. There is NOTHING, absolutely NOTHING honorable
    > about doing that or being in an military that is doing that no matter
    > what nonsense you may believe or what you have been taught to believe.
    > and Jerry West replied:
    > Ergo the British and Americans that landed on Normandy beaches and
    > Sicily beaches and other places were war criminals since they were
    > invading someone else's country. I think that things are a little bit
    > more complicated than your simplistic black and white universe, Jeff.

    The British and American ground troops were responding to an aggressive
    attack by the Nazis, ousting an aggressor that had occupied that land,
    so it is not comparable in any way to our invasion of Vietnam, unless we
    were playing the role of the Germans.
    I wrote:
    > There is something fundamentally wrong and criminal about going into a
    > country that has not harmed you and shooting and killing the people of
    > that country who are defending from you, no matter what you have been
    > told about them. Ignorance is no excuse in our courts of law and it
    > should be the no different for an invading army.
    > JW replied:
    > Ah, now you suppose that soldiers know the real reasons that they are
    > fighting wars as opposed to the official reasons which I guess are never
    > to be believed. And of course, if they have been mislead and sincerely
    > believe in what they are doing it doesn't matter. Sounds kind of like
    > something out of the Inquisition to me. As a matter of fact ignorance
    > is an excuse in our courts of law. Diminished capacity and insanity can
    > be classed as forms of ignorance in the legal sense for one, and the
    > degree of a crime often depends upon one's intent at the time of
    > committing it.

    In what court of law does ignorance count? Diminished capacity or
    insanity maybe, but you would have difficulty exonerating someone from
    war crimes charges on either one of those basis (even though, in a real
    sense, that was indeed the case). But the Nuremberg laws and the Geneva
    Conventions don't, as I recall, accept ignorance as an excuse.
    I wrote:
    > Anyone who actively participated in the massacres such as My-Lai was
    > commiting a war crime (and remember, the only reason we know about
    > My-Lai was because one gutsy war photog took photos of the dead. No
    > photos, no massacre, so we don't hear about the other villanies.
    > JW repiied:
    > Any one participating in events such as My-Lai were in fact committing
    > war crimes, and I think that they all go off too lightly. Even for the
    > most ingnorant in our society there is no defence for shooting down
    > unarmed people, even enemy soldiers. You may want to think that Vietnam
    > was one My-Lai after another, Jeff, but it was not. I spent a lot of
    > time in the field and never saw anything of the nature of My-Lai. In
    > fact, the units that I worked with would have refused to do something
    > like that. No doubt there were other atrocities, and as far as I am
    > concerned I wish that they would come to light and those responsible be
    > punished, as do soldiers like Col. David Hackworth and LtCol. Anthony
    > Herbert who both lost careers because of their opposition to the war and
    > to atrocities. However, I will not condemn young soldiers who did not
    > commit My-Lai like atrocities but did risk their lives (some times for
    > Vietnamese civilians) to do their duty, even though I disagree in the
    > bigger picture about what they were being ordered to do.

    I have never said or implied "that Vietnam was one My-Lai after
    another," but I did point out, with evidence supplied by the North
    Vietnamese/NLF that there were probably close to 40 other villages that
    suffered what My-Lai did. That your unit didn't and wouldn't be
    involved in something like that doesn't mean it didn't happen elsewhere.
     I also wouldn't compare Herbert with Hackworth. While Herbert detailed
    some of the more gruesome episodes that he was aware of, Hackworth has
    become a regular apologist for US military domination in the columns
    that appear regularly in the SF Examiner. I am also not condemning the
    soldiers who didn't commit the My-Lai like atrocities. If I did, I
    wouldn't have worked with them, as well as some who did commit crimes,
    in the California Veterans Movement and the VVAW during and after the war.
    I wrote:
    > Anyone who dropped or participated in the dropping of napalm, white
    > phosphorous or cluster bombs on civilians or soldiers is, in my mind, a
    > war criminal.
    > JW repied:
    > So now attacking opposing soldiers is a war crime? I would have more
    > respect for your position if you would just say that war is wrong and
    > that we shouldn't kill other people. Your above statement makes it
    > sound like there are some nice and acceptable ways to kill and maim.
    > There are not, they are all atrocio

    I consider aggressive war to be a crime, and I consider some weapons to
    be worse than others. The use of cluster bombs, white phosphorus, and
    napalm, which were used on Vietnamese civilians, I view as inexcusable
    under any circumstances. And I haven't mentioned Agent Orange, which
    ended up shortening the lives of a number of US vets on top of what it
    did to thousands of Vietnamese.

    Jerry West asked:
    > Now, a question. Where do you stand on the fire bombing of Tokyo and
    > Dresden by the Allies, or the whole bombing campaign of WWII for that
    > matter? Shall we start rounding up the serviving members from those
    > campaigns and proceed with war crimes trials?

    In another post, I wrote that I consider those to have been war crimes,
    and added Hamburg and Cologne to the list. To defeat the German army,
    bombing of military targets was legitimate.
    I wrote:
    > I actually find myself gagging on your question "what constitutes an
    > atrocity?" since I have seen children who have been victims of US-made,
    > Israeli-dropped cluster bombs, in Israel, and children in Vietnam and
    > Laos are still being blown to bits by ordinance dropped by those US war
    > criminals more than three decades ago.
    > JW replied:
    > No doubt, and by Russian made ordnance, and Chinese, and French, and
    > German, and on and on and on. People all over the world are being
    > maimed and killed daily by all sorts of lethal toys and countries and
    > factions on all sides of these conflicts are to blame for the
    > proliferation. Around here we still have Japanese mines coming ashore
    > from WWII.

    There is no comparison to be made here. The numbers of unexploded
    ordnance that turn up in Vietnam and Laos make the rest pale in
    comparison. Remember, we dropped more bombs on Vietnam than we dropped
    on all of Europe in WW2 and we dropped more bombs on Laos than we
    dropped on Vietnam! What a strange and unnerving experience it has been
    for most of my Laotian and Mien students to learn from me, for the first
    time, what the US had done to their country, and how the CIA field
    director, Tony Po, who has retired and now lives in SF, used to pay
    Laotians for the ears and heads of dead Vietnamese, and how Po bragged
    about wearing a pouch on his belt containing some of those ears. It
    doesn't exactly want to make them rush out and salute the American flag,
    like their fathers were so eager to do.

    JW asks:
    > What exactly is your point? Are napalm and cluster bombs war crimes in
    > themselves, not matter who uses them or why, or does the situation make
    > their use a war crime?

    I consider their use by anyone against anyone to be criminal. No exceptions.
    I wrote:
    > My definition of war crimes is not loose as I have previously indicated
    > and I am sure that most veterans did not commit them, although many of
    > those saw them committed.
    > JW replied:
    > Well, in your case maybe broad is a better term. I also question how
    > many are the many as a percentage of the whole who saw them committed. I
    > am of the opinion that if anyone saw something on the order of My-Lai
    > and did not report it they are accessory to a war crime and should be
    > rooted out and prosecuted too.

    Obviously, peer pressure, which is probably far greater in the military
    than in any aspect of civilian life, has kept people silent. Only
    recently, have we heard about the confessions about what happened at No
    Gun Ri in Korea, which Hackworth disputes, but whose validity has been
    attested to, to me, by a well-known Korean vet who was sent there by
    Wilbur Cohen to investigate the incident. The fact that one of the vets
    who told the story wasn't actually there doesn't diminish the testimony
    of others, particularly the survivors and the families of the victims.
     I wrote:
    > But again, the discussion was whether Vietnam vets should be honored for
    > their participation in that war, not how many of them committed criminal
    > acts in that war. Honor should not be confused with heroism, which one
    > sees in every war and on every side.
    > JW replied:
    > I think that they should be recognized for their sacrifice, which is not
    > the same as honoring the war, and those who refused on principle and had
    > the guts to go to prison for their beliefs should be recognized too, as
    > should others in the anti-war movement who put themseleves at
    > considerable risk and took their lumps for it. Those who hid out in the
    > National Guard, student deferments and what not, they did not make any
    > hard decisions nor give up much, for them, live and let live.

    I think the wall in Washington does that more than any bronze plaque.
    I wrote:
    > The Marines had a history of ruthlessness in suppressing indigenous
    > peoples from Mexico to the Phillipines to Nicaragua to Panama, without
    > even mentioning Vietnam, and the killing was not done by the officers,
    > but by rank-and-file Marines, who were inflamed and imbued with racism
    > and contempt against darker skinned peoples which has made this country,
    > literally, what it is today. Yeah, I am condemning any rank-and-file
    > Marine who did SS like work in those countries.
    > JW replied:
    > Just for your info, today's Marine, as well as the Vietnam Era one, is
    > just as likely to be darker skinned as not.
    > Now for your point. Those Marines you hate for being "inflamed and
    > imbued with racism" came from a society that was likewise. Who are they
    > to know any different? It was also a society where the Army was busily
    > eliminating Native Americans in the west (having already done it in the
    > east in the centuries before). It was also a society that inherited
    > centuries of racism from almost every ethnic portion of its make-up. In
    > fact we still have a world where Moslems oppress Jews and other
    > infidels, Jews oppress Palestinians, Japanese look down on everyone who
    > is not only not Japanese but not the right kind of Japanese, and the
    > list could go on for pages. What is new? I will argue on your side if
    > you want to take on US foreign policy over the last 200 years, but let's
    > put the blame where it is due, at the top, not on the peons.

    It isn't a question of hate. It's a question of facts. When Reagan went
    to Bitburg to visit the grave of dead German SS, we were horrified, and
    rightly so. Was what the SS did any worse than what American soldiers
    did in the Philippines, in Nicaragua, etc.? Again, at some point, and
    Nuremberg backs me up, the individual has a responsibility. When the
    Mexican army massacred over 400 unarmed civilians, most of them
    students, in Tlatelolco in Mexico City, in 1968, are they to be forgiven
    because they were told a number of lies about the students beforehand,
    lies that were innocently repeated to me 30 years later by a son of one
    of those soldiers who happened to be a student of mine? How about the
    Mexican soldiers who massacred the peasant in Acteal and who are about
    to launch an attack on the Zapatistas? Are they to be forgiven for the
    murders they are about to commit under commanders trained, perhaps, at
    our School of the Americas? What about the Chilean army that carried
    out the bloody coup and murdered several thousand of their countrymen?

    Another anecdote: In 1983 I was in Israel interviewing resisters to the
    Israeli invasion of Lebanon, men who had either refused to participate
    in the invasion, or who had done so, and horrified by the crimes they
    saw committed by their comrades and peers there, decided to go to jail
    rather than return to the front. One of these resisters, Gideon Spiro,
    who had been considered a war hero when he parachuted behind the
    Egyptian lines at Mitla in 1973, told me the following story. At a party
    at a kibbutz, whose well-educated members filled Israel's most elite
    units, an army commander was explaining what a difficult choice he had
    to make when Palestinian fighters took refuge in a civilian hospital.
    The commander told of the difficult choice he had to make because the
    Palestinians represented a threat to his men and yet if he attacked, he
    certainly would be harming the civilians in the hospital. In the end,
    he decided in favor of his men, and they attacked and destroyed most of
    the hospital (a case of "shooting and crying," as it came to be known).
    He was trying to justify what he had done. "You are a war criminal!,"
    Spiro shouted at him. "When you made the decision to go to Lebanon, you
    made the decision to attack the hospital."

    II wrote:
    > This all reminds me of the demand by the US government that no American
    > be tried for war crimes by an international war crimes tribunal. It is
    > the highest form of imperial arrogance.
    > JW replied:
    > I agree. All war criminals, whether they be American, IRA, Palistinian
    > or Isarali, Iranian or Iraqi, and so on belong in the docket at the
    > Hague, including the architects of our terror bombing of Serbia and any
    > others back through the decades that can be identified and evidence
    > brought forward against.
    > But, the question remains, which acts are war crimes and who qualifies
    > as a war criminal and who doesn't. A true pacifist might tell you that
    > all wars are crimes and it is just as criminal to resist as a defender
    > as it is to be an oppressor.

    Pacifists who are not living in a country that is occupied by a foreign
    army or who are not directly experiencing oppression may hold any
    opinion they like but they have no business telling folks who are
    suffering under one kind of oppression or another what they should or
    should not be doing. Ireland experienced 600 years of British
    colonization, forced immigration, British-induced potato famine, etc.
    750,000 Palestinians were dispossessed by the creation of the state of
    Israel, and then many found themselves under another occupation for
    another three decades. Hizbollah was created as a resistance movement to
    Israel's invasion and continued occupation of Southern Lebanon. Both the
    Palestinians and Lebanese have repeatedly been subjected to Israeli
    state terror and an unprecedented use of collective punishment as a
    means of suppressing their resistance. The actions of those resisting
    oppression should not be considered by the same criteria as those who
    are doing the oppressing, as unfortunately, seems to be the case in
    South Africa, which is criminal in and of itself.

    JW wrote:
    > One could make a logical case for everyone who voted either Republican
    > or Democrat as a war criminal since they were partly responsible for
    > placing the people in power who odered these acts on their behalf.

    Well, it might make them think twice before they do it again.

    Jeff Blankfort

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