Re: [sixties-l] Vietnam

From: Jerry West (
Date: 10/18/00

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    Is there some reason that you do not stick to the 
    specifics of the issues that I raise in this thread.  
    It seems like you are reading far more into my 
    statements than is really there, then firing back with 
    some templated arguement from thirty years ago.  The 
    fact is that at this distance from the issues we should 
    be able to look at them and at what happened with a 
    more logical approach than the hyperbole that we put 
    forward when we were engaged in a struggle to stop the 
    Jeffrey Blankfort wrote:
    My old friend, Ron Kovic, who I met at the Winter 
    Solider testimonies at KPFK in 1971, has written about 
    incidents in which his unit was involved that involved 
    the torching of Vietnams huts in which women and 
    children were hiding and other Vietnam vets from both 
    the Marines and the Army testified at that hearing and 
    the first one in Detroit both of the atrocities in 
    which they had either participated in or had directly 
    witnessed, and they made no attempt to balance such 
    actions by attributing similar or equivalent actions to 
    either the North Vietnamese or to the NLF.
    JW reply:
    If you remember correctly I made the statement that 
    events like My Lai were exceptions, not a common 
    occurance.  I don't disagree with Ron Kovic nor doubt 
    his recollections, nor do I discount the Winter Soldier 
    testimonies of which I am very supportive.  But, the 
    fact that these things happened does not make them a 
    normal and routine event in comparison to everything 
    else that we did as you and others have implied.
    As for the comparison to the NLF atrocities, why would 
    anyone try to balance their actions by claiming that 
    the other side did it.  My point is that the other side 
    should also come into question for their crimes against 
    humanity as well as the US and it disturbs me that you 
    and others would excuse their willful butchering of 
    children and civilians.
    JB wrote:
     As for your access to Top Secret material after the 
    war, given the US attitude towards the Vietnamese, 
    routinely referred to as Gooks, it is unlikely that 
    many of the atrocities committed by US servicemen were 
    reported therein.
    JW reply:
    My reference to that was not in relation to the 
    atrocities but to a lot of other stuff that was going 
    on that helped to convince me that the system was 
    corrupt and that the only way to uphold my oath of 
    allegience to the constitution was to protest, and I 
    did, and it was not after the war, it was during it.
    JB wrote:
    One did not need even one My Lai to object to the war. 
    The resulting dead, somewhere between one and two 
    million Vietnamese and the dropping of more bombs on 
    that country than had been dropped in Europe in WW 2 
    (and even more were dropped on Laos, which has been 
    generally not discussed) made the whole episode a war 
    crime, and had we had trials subsequent to that war as 
    we had for the Nazis, a  number of US officials, 
    civilian and military. would have ended up on the 
    gallows or serving long prison terms.
    JW reply:
    Who ever questioned your objection to the war?  The 
    original point was that the war was not one long, 
    unending  string of My Lais and you cede it to me 
    obliquely by changing the subject.
    I objected to the war and I objected to some of the 
    practices and I don't disagree with your statement 
    above, but it does not address the narrow topic that 
    was under discussion.
    By the way, if we held all participants of war up to 
    the standards of conduct that you suggest (which I 
    agree with) not only would high placed US officials be 
    doing time, so would a number of Vietnamese from RVN, 
    NVN and the NLF, not to mention a number of US and 
    Allied officials responsible for some of the atrocious 
    acts committed as a matter of policy in WWII.  I could 
    fill a volume with lists of those who should be brought 
    before an iternational tribunal for violoations of 
    human rights.  Let's hold everyone up to the same 
    JB wrote:
    Your efforts to equate the actions of the NLF with that 
    of the invading US forces smacks of similar efforts to 
    equate the actions of anti-apartheid forces in South 
    Africa with those of the apartheid government. Anti-
    Nazi partisans also committed what might be described 
    as atrocities given that war-time situations do not 
    allow for much of a gray zone. What is primary is to 
    determine which forces had any basis for legitimate 
    combat in the first place, and then we see clearly that 
    nothing justified the US presence in Vietnam in the 
    first place, so that one might make the case that every 
    killing of a Vietnamese by an American soldier was a 
    criminal act, whatever the motive. They were fighting 
    for their land. US soldiers were simply obeying orders, 
    killing people in a land thousands of miles away who in 
    no remote way had ever threatened them or the US. Some, 
    too few, in the aftermath of that war, have tried to 
    make amends, making trips to Vietnam to help rebuild 
    the country in whose destruction they participated.
    JW reply:
    You and I differ here Jeff in that seems that you would 
    condone the murder of children and others and who knows 
    what atrocities if it were for the right cause.  And 
    you would freely label almost everything that your 
    enemy did as an atrocity and a crime.  Is that really 
    where you are headed?  If you are saying all of this 
    stuff because you think that I do not think that the US 
    involvement was criminal, then you are making a 
    mistake.  I quit when I saw it as a crime and I took 
    very direct action to help bring it to an end.
    JB wrote:
    I have heard stories of the NLF "using children as 
    shields and as walking bombs," and that this was used 
    as a justification for shooting children who might be 
    potential assassins. Since I have seen children in 
    other areas, such as Lebanon, who have been trained and 
    armed as members of resistance groups--which is sad in 
    the extreme but understandable in the circumstances, I 
    am not ready to accept your description of such usage 
    by the NLF which mirrors the official US line.
    JW reply:
    What exactly do you mean by this?  That you support the 
    use of children in combat and as walking booby traps 
    and human shields for ground troops? 
    JB wrote:
    I do not accept your "exceptionalism" for those who  
    did the killings at My Lai, as if they were a 
    fundamentally different lot than the rest of the those 
    serving there, and others did not shoot down Vietnamese 
    "in cold blood," although the majority probably did got 
    go as far as those did in My Lai.
    JW reply:
    You can't have it both ways.  Either it was exceptional 
    (which in fact it was considering all of the 
    engagements of the war) or it wasn't which then means 
    that the majority or close to did go as far as those in 
    My Lai (which they did not.)  Also note your spin here.  
    You attribute me with saying others did not shoot down 
    Vietnamese in cold blood when in fact I said "almost 
    all combat units killed children indirectly, but most 
    of them not like the scum bags who shot down people at 
    My Lai."  Going from most of them did not to others did 
    not is a twist.
    If it makes you feel any different, the infantry units 
    that I served with probably would have not obeyed an 
    order to shoot down obviously unarmed civilains in clod 
    blood, and most of us would have intervened had anyone 
    tried to do so.  
    JB wrote:
    I don't think I am misinterpreting this comment which 
    seems to imply that judging the US as the bad guy in 
    the Vietnam War is simply a personal political choice, 
    and that the behavior of the US was not immoral. I 
    strongly disagree. 
    JW reply:
    You are misinterpreting the comment referred to, but at 
    least you are consistant.  In your eagerness to condemn 
    the US you seem to uncritcally heap every and all 
    accusations you can find on it while at the same time 
    excusing the excesses of the other side instead of 
    applying a uniform standard of civilized conduct to all 
    concerned.  It has always been my position that the US 
    intervention in Vietnam was a criminal act as well as a 
    foolish one and a few other things.  That you read 
    otherwise into my statements is a knee jerk reaction on 
    your part based on false assumptions.
    JB wrote:
    Moreover, US actions in Vietnam marked simply another 
    inglorious chapter in US military interventions that 
    were purely in behalf of US global interests, as former 
    Marine General Smedley Butler pointed out decades ago.  
    I trust that you will acknowledge that Gen. Butler had 
    more personal experience with this subject than either 
    you or I.
    JW reply:
    Smedley Butler is one of my heroes, and a heroe of the 
    Marine Corps who, at least in my time, covered him in 
    the history classes taught at boot camp.  Another 
    worthy Marine is General David Shoup, who as Commandant 
    in the early 60's advised against intervention in 
    Vietnam and later condemned it.  Then there was Col. 
    Corson who ran the Marine Corps Civic Action Platoons 
    in Vietnam.  While this was still a part of a bad war 
    it was an approach that emphasized building up villages 
    and the welfare of the villagers as opposed to burning 
    them and killing them.  The Marine Corps approach of 
    civic action, however, did not fit the Army model of 
    search and destroy for one, and it was also a threat to 
    the established oligarchy in South Vietnam so you know 
    how it fared.  The Vietnamese leadership was corrupt 
    right down to village chiefs, something I know from 
    JB wrote:
     I am not trying to portray the Vietnamese as 
    primitive, simply that the US had far more sources of 
    JW reply:
    I agree, but the NVA had significant firepower and good 
    weapons and despite all of the air power which had 
    questionable effect in triple canopy jungle, it was not 
    the case as some would portray it as a modern, well 
    armed giant taking on a bunch of rabble, and in the 
    jungle where air power was diminished the NVA's good 
    equipment and superior knowledge of the terrain made 
    them very formidable.  As for your statement on the 
    effectiveness of the M16 all I can say in plain 
    language is that it was a piece of shit and I knew very 
    few infantrymen who would not have traded it back for 
    the M14.  The stories about the M16's faults are true 
    and some of them I witnessed first hand.
    JB wrote:
    Your response here isn't clear. Are you saying white 
    phosphorous wasn't used against Vietnamese troops by 
    the US?  Because, if you are, you are dead wrong. I 
    heard about it too many times, and I don't have the 
    time to go back and check it out again.
    JW reply:
    Save the research, I can tell you first hand that it 
    was used frequently, usually not directly against 
    troops in my experience.  My comment meant that I 
    thought that its use against ground troops was a 
    contravention of the Geneva Convention, but I could be 
    wrong on that.  I also said that it is a common 
    military item and no doubt the NVA and NLF had it too, 
    although I never personally encountered their use of 
    JB wrote:
    Please. Your apologies for US behavior in Vietnam and 
    your attempts to apportion the blame equally to both 
    sides is tiresome, at best, but your speculation as to 
    what the North Vietnamese might have done as a way to 
    mitigate what the military forces of the US actually 
    did, is in a word, disgusting, and you should be 
    ashamed of yourself.
    JW wrote:
    What is disgusting is your acceptance of the killing of 
    children and other atrocities done by the NLF.  Even 
    without proof you should at least say that you would 
    condemn any that were proven.
    What is tiresome is you misreading of my points leading 
    you to jump to conclusions which you then proceed to 
    argue against.  Lots of words, some good points, but 
    off the mark in relation to what I said.
    I am not apologizing for US behaviour, just putting it 
    in perspective rather than buy into your argument that 
    eventually leads to everything from mass murder to 
    pissing in the South China Sea or writing letters home 
    to mom is a war crime and all GI's were brutal thugs 
    somehow a level or two below normal people.  Now I know 
    that you don't mean this, but that is where you are 
    logically leading yourself by failing to consider that 
    things are not all in black and white.
    JB wrote:
    And your attempt to dismiss the moral implications of 
    the use of Agent Orange, the effect of which on humans 
    was already known, sounds like the response of someone 
    in the VA to those vets who complained for years about 
    its effects and only got a positive response when they 
    needed some more young bodies to pursue the next 
    immoral war, the one that continues against Iraq.
    JW reply:
    First, how do you assess the moral implications of 
    Agent Orange when it was basically an across the 
    counter item in US stores commonly used by everyday 
    housewives and gardeners?  I agree that we shouldn't 
    have used it, I told you that I wouldn't have used it, 
    to me all herbicides are immoral, but does that make 
    your friends and neighbors who splash out some weed 
    killer immoral or just stupid?  I am sure that we can 
    find a point of imorallity here, and in the end I will 
    probably agree with you, but what I wanted to point out 
    was that it might not have been as black and white in 
    some peoples' minds as you would suggest.
    Second, I was exposed to Agent Orange and I have good 
    friends who died in their forties from heart attacks 
    and who knows what, and one wonders how much of a role 
    Agent Orange played in their ill health.  If you think 
    that I have any use for anyone in the VA who wants to 
    gloss over Agent Orange, pop yourself in the head a few 
    times and wake up.
    Jerry West
    On line news from Nootka Sound & Canada's West Coast
    An independent, progressive regional publication

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