Re: [sixties-l] Vietnam

From: Jeffrey Blankfort (
Date: 10/19/00

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    Jerry West <> wrote:
    > Jeff:
    > 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
    > war.
    Thirty years doesn't change facts. It doesn't equate the victimizer with
    the victim although this is the way much, if not most of US history has
    been reported in our textbooks, and I have no doubt that other countries
    do the same as well,but few have as much to cover-up as we do over the
    same period of time. I have responded to your allegations and what seems
    to me a desire on your part to make the NVA and the NLF forces into a
    bunch of child killers when the number of dead children at the hands of
    US forces, including the Marines. dwarfs whatever number were killed, as
    you say, by the NVA and the NLF.
    I am not going to bother with another point by point refutation more
    than to deny anything I wrote endorses the killing of children by any
    side.  What I would like to know is what proof you can offer that NVA
    and NLF engaged in the killing of children (and for what reason?) The US
    military clearly had its reasons, but your efforts to rewrite history
    don't make the millions of dead at US hands any less repulsive.  Sorry.
    > 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
    > standard.
    > 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
    > experience.
    > JB wrote:
    >  I am not trying to portray the Vietnamese as
    > primitive, simply that the US had far more sources of
    > firepower.
    > 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
    > it.
    > 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
    > Editor/publisher/janitor

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