[sixties-l] Blame the Killing on Armies of the Silent

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: Fri May 04 2001 - 18:51:38 EDT

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       Friday, May 4, 2001

            Blame the Killing on Armies of the Silent

            By ARIEL DORFMAN

           Where were the people of America on Feb. 25, 1969? Where were they
      on that night long ago when Lt. Bob Kerrey and the men in his Navy SEAL
      unit were killing as many as 20 unarmed civilians in the hamlet of Thanh
      Phong in Vietnam? Where was each and every one of the adults of the
      United States at the moment when women and children halfway across the
      world were dying?

           This is the fundamental question that seems not to have been asked
      thus far as Americans debate what Bob Kerrey did so many decades ago. It
      is true that other doubts currently being voiced are just as important:
      Did Lt. Kerrey deliberately order the slaughter of those civilians or was
      it just one more accidental atrocity in a war that left more than 2
      million Vietnamese dead? Why did Kerrey, who was to become a U.S. senator
      from Nebraska, keep quiet all these years about the deaths that he claims
      have been haunting him since that raid? What was he doing there anyway,
      in a country that was not his, under a sky that he did not recognize,
      closing his ears to the cries of fellow human beings screaming in a
      language that he could not understand?

           And how does this fit into a pattern of American intervention in
      favor of ferocious dictatorships around the world in the fight against
      communism? How many more incidents like this one still lurk in the
      undergrowth of memory ready to surface and corrode the people of the
      United States, this war that they lost and that will not go away. This
      intense focus on Kerrey and what really transpired that night is
      necessary and unavoidable. As someone who has campaigned for
      accountability regarding crimes against humanity in my native Chile as
      well as in so many other unfortunate lands, I would be the last to
      suggest that we dodge the issue of personal responsibility for this kind
      of outrage. At the moment when the United States is demanding that
      Yugoslavia's Slobodan Milosevic be extradited to The Hague to face
      judgment for his possible participation in brutalities carried out by his
      troops, it would be the epitome of hypocrisy to overlook or not
      scrutinize similar offenses committed by the U.S. military. The life of
      one innocent Vietnamese baby is as valuable as the life of one Bosnian or
      Kosovar child or a little girl from Nebraska, for that matter.

           And yet to limit our examination of the past only to the officer who
      gave the order or the soldier who wielded the knife or even to their
      commanders who did not investigate the incident, is to evade the need to
      explore the more elusive complicity of the larger collective in whose
      name those orders were given, those shots were fired, an old man's throat
      was slit. To truly understand what happened during that moonless night in
      the Mekong Delta we need to interrogate the responsibility of the nation
      that sent those young men into war; we need to ask why it took 32 years
      for this story to be told; we need to wonder how many people back then
      did not want to know of this and other crimes; we need to figure out why,
      once the war was over, most Americans--even many of those who had, to
      their honor, magnificently opposed it--could continue to comfortably live
      without that knowledge; we need to dissect the thousands of days of
      silence that piled up like dead photographs inside the American people in
      the years that followed.

           Where were they, those faraway bystanders, on Feb. 25, 1969? Where
      have they been since then, all through the nights that Kerrey was alone
      with his secret? Now that the knowledge is out in the open, what do they
      do with it? Not only with the news of the atrocity itself, but with the
      more terrifying knowledge of their indifference to what was going on,
      that unbearable indifference which could be considered a greater crime
      than murder, because those who violate human rights can always argue that
      there were mitigating circumstances, reasons for losing control. But
      Kerrey's compatriots cannot proclaim that they were under extreme duress
      when so many of them closed their eyes to what was happening. They were
      not in fear of their lives, they did not stumble with loaded guns and
      chaotic minds in the panic of darkness, they were not acting under orders
      when they preferred to remain ignorant of what was being perpetrated on
      their behalf, nobody forced them to leave Kerrey to face his ghosts all
      by himself in the heart of his endless nights.

           Why did a majority of the American people not care back then? Do
      they really care now?

           These are not questions I should ask only of the people of the
      United States and, sadly, they cannot refer only to the past.

           The century we have just escaped was filled with unspeakable acts of
      terror and extermination magnified by technology and the power of the
      state, and all through it, along with the few who protested and refused
      to collaborate and were courageous or lucky enough to save their dignity
      and separate themselves from the madness, there were many more, so many
      countless others, who turned their backs on the remote or nearby
      devastation that was being visited on their fellows, be it in Stalinist
      Russia or Nazi-occupied France or the streets of Jakarta, Indonesia,
      under Suharto or the mountains of Anatolia, Turkey, when the Armenians
      were being annihilated or in a dark cellar in Johannesburg, South Africa,
      or in Buenos Aires where a man walked toward a defenseless woman tied
      naked to a cot holding an electric prod in his left hand.

           My own hand trembles to write this, but I am convinced that it was
      only because of these vast and hushed armies of the silent that such
      violations of our species could be carried out with impunity, only
      because of the shrugged shoulders, the averted eyes, the general apathy,
      that those events of horror could afterward be forgotten and erased. And

           I ask these questions therefore of the damaged brotherhood we call
      humanity. I ask these questions of myself.

           Where was I on May 8, 1994, when I read that 200,000 Rwandans had
      been killed in the last six weeks? Where was I, who calls myself a
      human-rights activist, two months later, on July 28, 1994, when the toll
      in Rwanda had risen to 1 million men, women and children slaughtered?
      What did I do to stop that genocide?

           Heaven help me: Why did I not care? Bob Kerrey and his men were not
      alone, after all, in the hut of death that night long ago in Thanh Phong.

      Ariel Dorfman Is the Author of "Death and the Maiden." His New Novel Is
      "Blake's Therapy" (Seven Stories)

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