Sunday April 29
Analysis: Kerrey Revelation Reopens Old Wounds
By Christopher Michaud
NEW YORK (Reuters) - As the nation marks the 26th anniversary Monday of the
Vietnam War's end, former U.S. Sen. Bob Kerrey's revelation he was involved
in a massacre demonstrates the power that conflict still wields to reopen
The barrage of media interest in the revelation by the former senator and
U.S. presidential candidate shows that the protracted conflict, which
bitterly divided the nation during the tumultuous 1960s, remains a painful
Perhaps Kerrey himself put it best at a news conference he called to discuss
the 1969 incident in Southeast Asia: ``In Laos and Vietnam the war is over;
in the United States, it's not.''
Kerrey told this week of a combat mission he led in Vietnam 32 years ago
during which more than 20 unarmed civilians, mostly women and children, were
killed in the Mekong Delta.
``For more than three decades I have carried this deeply private memory with
a sense of anguish that words cannot adequately convey,'' he said Thursday.
``Others have justified it militarily to me. I haven't been able to justify
it either militarily or morally.''
In most quarters, including Vietnam veterans, editorial writers and
columnists and even the Vietnamese themselves, there has been no rush to
Many, including his former fellow Sens. John McCain of Arizona and John
Kerry of Massachusetts, both Vietnam War veterans themselves, leapt to his
``Bob Kerrey made a mistake in Vietnam,'' McCain wrote in a Friday column in
The Wall St. Journal. ``But unless you too have been to war, please be
careful not to form your judgement of him on your understanding of what
constitutes a war hero.''
``People who weren't there,'' echoed Kerry, ``ought to think twice before
they start second-guessing this 30 years later.''
Vietnam veterans at the Vietnam memorial in Washington, D.C. voiced similar
sentiments. ``I don't think it was murder. It was an unfortunate accident,''
said one, voicing the sentiments of many.
But a pilot who flew on the most notorious U.S. atrocity of a war that
killed nearly 50,000 U.S. troops and one million Vietnamese civilians
Hugh Thompson was a pilot involved in the massacre at the village of My Lai
on March 16, 1968, when troops from the American division killed more than
300 civilians. Vietnamese sources put the death toll at more than 500.
``If he did the murdering, he should receive the maximum punishment...He had
bad judgement, and made a mistake that he will be punished for the rest of
his life,'' he told Reuters.
``If Kerrey did what is supposed to have been done, he will walk free,'' he
said, adding that a war crimes tribunal would not be a bad idea.
``It has been 26 years since the war itself ended, for America if not for
southeast Asia, and to this day the conflict resides in the popular
consciousness as a dishonorable undertaking,'' the New York Post said in an
But the stain of Vietnam has perhaps faded somewhat, as evidenced by the
presidential campaign of McCain who spent several years as POW during the
unpopular war. His ``war hero'' status served him well in the Republican
primaries, when he gave George W. Bush a stronger run than had been
The New York Times reported this week that Kerrey's decision not to run
against Gore in 2000 came only weeks after Newsweek magazine interviewed him
and presented documents about the Vietnam mission. Newsweek never published
Concluded Newsday newspaper in an editorial, ``This revelation may well put
an end to any further political presidential hopes Kerrey might have had.''
Kerrey himself has since stated flat out that he was not running in 2004.
``But,'' Newsday continued, ``he shouldn't be excoriated 30 years later for
what appears to have been a tragic mistake in judgement in a confusing
Even the Vietnamese, both in the U.S. and Vietnam, were largely sympathetic
``We believe that it was an accident,'' said Nguyen Xuan Nghia, the chief
operating officer of California-based Little Saigon Radio, a Vietnamese
station that reaches about 700,000 listeners in California and Texas.
Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Phan Thuy Thanh said ``In the
statements about what happened in the past in Vietnam, Mr. Kerrey had shown
he was remorseful.''
``We think the best way for Mr. Kerrey as well as other Americans who used
to fight in Vietnam to find peace of mind, is to have concrete and realistic
actions to contribute to healing the wounds left by the war.''
But a day later Vietnam's state-run media described the killings as a crime.
``Another painful tragedy has been exposed before the April 30th liberation
date, although no one is still vague about the crimes of the Americans
during the war,'' the Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper said in a story headlined
``Nightmare in Thanh Phong.''
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