There is an extraordinary editorial-page cartoon in today's San
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
> April 30, 2001
> The Guilt of Political Leaders
> By ROBERT MANN
> 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
-- =================================================================== 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 participant 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 Chronicle, forthcoming in Tikkun, etc.
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