Re: [sixties-l] The Guilt of Political Leaders

Date: Tue May 01 2001 - 10:58:56 EDT

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    There is an extraordinary editorial-page cartoon in today's San
    Francisco Chronicle.
    It shows the Capitol building teetering above a high pyramid of skulls.
    The pyramid has written over it the names: Vietnam, Korea, Iraq, Iran,
    Serbia, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras. A balloon
    pointing from the capital says: "Someone here want to start an inquiry
    into a politican who allowed civilians to be killed during an
    American-led military action?" The cartoonist is Tom Meyer of The
                                                            Bill Mandel

    radman wrote:
    > 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
    > hopes."
    > 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
    > Vietnam."

    Do you teach in the social sciences? Consider my SAYING NO TO POWER 
    (Creative Arts, Berkeley, 1999), for course use. It was written as a
    social history of
    the U.S. for the past three-quarters of a century through the eyes of a
    observer in most progressive social movements (I'm 83), and of the USSR
    from the
    standpoint of a Sovietologist (five earlier books) knowing that country
    longer than any
    other in the profession. Therefore it is also a history of the Cold War.
    Positive reviews
    in The Black Scholar, American Studies in Scandinavia, San Francisco
    forthcoming in Tikkun, etc.

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