[sixties-l] Kerrey Revelation Reopens Old Wounds

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: Sun Apr 29 2001 - 23:53:01 EDT

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    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
    national wounds.

    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
    judge Kerrey.

    Many, including his former fellow Sens. John McCain of Arizona and John
    Kerry of Massachusetts, both Vietnam War veterans themselves, leapt to his

    Veterans Divided

    ``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
    differed sharply.

    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

    Political Fallout

    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
    the story.

    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
    to Kerrey.

    ``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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