[sixties-l] The Guilt of Political Leaders

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: Mon Apr 30 2001 - 19:22:54 EDT

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    April 30, 2001

    The Guilt of Political Leaders



    BATON ROUGE, La. Former Senator Bob Kerrey's admission of his
    involvement in the killing of Vietnamese women and children in February
    1969 is a sobering reminder of the horrible carnage of war. That someone
    like Mr. Kerrey could commit these acts only serves to demonstrate the
    madness that manifests itself in all wars but that particularly
    characterized the latter years of the tragic American experience in Vietnam.
    Mr. Kerrey's disclosure is disturbing, and he should be commended for
    finally acknowledging the truth. Yet I fear this episode might cause us to
    spend too much time examining the misconduct and crimes of individual
    soldiers while ignoring the unconstitutional acts committed by our leaders
    in Washington in the 1960's and 1970's.
    I do not wish to diminish the horror of this or other similar incidents.
    Nonetheless, it is evident to me that a collective calamity occurred in
    Washington in the mid-1960's that, in time, led to tragedies like those Mr.
    Kerrey and others have acknowledged. It was a calamity that might have been
    avoided if President Lyndon Johnson had been truthful with the American
    people and if members of Congress had not been so eager to forsake their
    constitutional responsibilities.
    It began, in earnest, in August 1964, when Congress almost unanimously
    renounced its constitutional role for the making of war by passing the Gulf
    of Tonkin Resolution. That action ratified for Johnson the breathtaking
    powers that he would employ to send the United States military in far
    greater numbers into the Vietnamese quicksand, beginning in 1965.
    Throughout the 1960's, members of Congress most of them understanding
    little about Vietnam and our reasons for fighting supported the American
    policy, many fearing political retribution if they did not. However, most
    leaders of both parties in Congress generally knew the futile and reckless
    nature of our involvement, but did too little to try to stop our headlong
    rush into Southeast Asia.
    In a telephone conversation in May 1964 with Johnson, Senator Richard
    Russell always skeptical of American involvement complained that Vietnam
    was "the damn worst mess I ever saw," a sentiment Johnson confessed that he
    shared. Majority Leader Mike Mansfield privately opposed Johnson's
    escalation of the war, but never forcefully challenged it on the Senate
    floor. J. William Fulbright, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations
    Committee, after managing the 1964 resolution, changed course and opposed
    the conflict, but did not seriously attempt to choke off the funds that
    supported the fighting.
    These were the actions of some of the war's most notable opponents;
    Congressional supporters generally complained that the United States was
    committing too few resources, dropping too few bombs, sending too few
    soldiers into battle. Sadly, it took the deaths of more than 58,000
    American soldiers and between two and three million Vietnamese and the
    erosion of public support before Congress finally mustered the "courage" to
    end a war that it had enthusiastically supported and financed for 10 years.
    More than a quarter-century after the war ended, it seems more apparent
    than ever that our political leaders were culpable in the senseless deaths
    of Americans and Vietnamese perhaps more so than Mr. Kerrey and the
    hundreds of thousands who took up arms. Listening to the debate over Mr.
    Kerrey's individual actions, I am reminded of the powerful condemnation of
    Washington's collective action by George McGovern in the Senate on Sept. 1,
    1970, as he and Senator Mark Hatfield pushed to end funding for the war:
    "Every senator in this chamber is partly responsible for sending 50,000
    young Americans to an early grave. This chamber reeks of blood. Every
    senator here is partly responsible for that human wreckage at Walter Reed
    and Bethesda Naval [hospitals] and all across our land young men without
    legs, or arms, or genitals, or faces, or hopes.
    "There are not very many of these blasted and broken boys who think this
    war is a glorious adventure. Do not talk to them about bugging out, or
    national honor, or courage. It does not take any courage at all for a
    congressman, or a senator, or a president to wrap himself in the flag and
    say we are staying in Vietnam, because it is not our blood that is being
    shed. But we are responsible for those young men and their lives and their
    Mr. McGovern spoke a truth that is worth remembering today. Bob Kerrey's
    conduct resulted in the deaths of more than a dozen civilians. Let us not
    forget that official decisions made in Washington in the White House and
    in Congress resulted in the needless deaths of millions.
    Robert Mann is the author of "A Grand Delusion: America's Descent Into

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