[sixties-l] Kerrey's Vietnam - and Ours

From: Marty Jezer (mjez@sover.net)
Date: Sat May 05 2001 - 09:54:20 EDT

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    >From the Brattleboro (VT) Reformer, 5/4/01

    --AND OURS

     by Marty Jezer

        By now everyone knows about Bob Kerrey, the former Senator from
    Nebraska, and his Vietnam War revelation. In February 1969, as a lieutenant
    in the Navy SEALS, Kerrey led his squad on a combat mission against Thanh
    Phong, a village in South Vietnam. Cadre of the National Liberation Front
    were supposedly having a meeting there, and Kerrey's order was to kill them
    all. When the killing was done he discovered, to his horror, that he and his
    men had killed more than twenty civilians. Some were old men, the rest women
    and children. In the military report of this action, Kerry and his squad
    were credited with killing more than twenty "Viet Cong," and Kerrey received
    the Bronze Star for his role in the "battle."

        Kerrey's revelation was first published in the N.Y. Times Sunday
    Magazine (4/29/01). Kerrey was then interviewed by Dan Rather on the CBS
    show, Sixty Minutes II. I urge those who only saw the show to read the
    magazine article as well www.nytimes.com. Rather's interview was a shameful
    assault on Kerrey's veracity. Rather deliberately ignored the larger
    questions about Vietnam in order to badger Kerrey into admitting "war

        There is controversy as to what happened in Thanh Phong. One member of
    Kerrey's squad says that Kerrey knew his victims were civilians and that
    they were killed in cold-blood. His testimony is collaborated by a
    Vietnamese witness. Other squad members support Kerrey's recollection that
    he and his men did not know whom they were firing at. Memory is subjective
    and distorted by trauma. We'll never know what truly happened, and so be it.
    What's important, for me at least, is that Kerrey came home from Vietnam
    and, like many Vietnam vets, spoke out against the war. He learned from his
    experience. As one of a few Senators to vote against the Gulf War, he
    explained, "I hope you understand what we've done here today. This is not
    just some play on the geopolitical chessboard. We are sending boys and girls
    off to risk their lives and to kill people in the name of our country. You
    make sure that the American people understand that." Of his actions in
    Vietnam, he says, "Others have justified it militarily to me. I haven't been
    able to justify it either militarily or morally."

        Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, another Vietnam vet who spoke out
    against the war, has said, "The faults of Vietnam were those of the war, not
    the warriors." As a public advocate of draft resistance and a participant in
    nonviolent civil disobedience against the war, I agree with John Kerry and
    have no judgement to make on what Bob Kerrey and his SEAL squadron did in
    Thanh Phong.

        From start to finish, the war in Vietnam was a lie. The Vietnamese
    Communists were our allies in the war against Japan and, at war's end, pled
    for our support to gain their independence from the French. We not only
    turned them down but supported France in its war against Vietnam.

        In 1954 when the Vietnamese defeated the French, we refused to sign the
    Geneva Accords because they called for free elections which we knew the
    Communist leader, Ho Chi Minh, would win. We then installed a series of
    ineffectual puppet governments in South Vietnam. When they tried to suppress
    the Communist-backed liberation movement, civil war broke out. The North
    Vietnamese came to the aid of their comrades in the South. Americans crossed
    the ocean and intervened. We justified our intervention with a series of
    lies, the most notorious being the 1964 Tonkin Incident in which we accused
    North Vietnamese patrol boats of attacking a navy destroyer. The attack
    never happened and American leaders, including President Johnson, knew it.

        From the beginning, Washington policy-makers knew the fight was
    hopeless. President Johnson escalated the war because, as he himself
    acknowledged, he lacked the courage to admit defeat and end it. Peace
    negotiations in 1968 were sabotaged by Presidential candidate Richard Nixon
    (with the help of Henry Kissinger who was working publicly for the Democrats
    while advising candidate Nixon). Had Nixon not undermined the peace effort,
    Hubert Humphrey would have become President and there might have been a
    cease-fire and no need for Kerrey's SEALS to attack that Vietnamese village.
    This is speculation, but Nixon's subversive activities are not.

        Thanh Phong was within what Americans defined as a "free fire zone."
    Vietnamese residents were ordered to abandon their homes, farms, and
    villages to live in government-created strategic hamlets. Those who refused
    to leave were considered Viet Cong. As such, they could be strafed, bombed,
    napalmed, shot or otherwise killed close-up. This was a politicized version
    of "ethnic cleansing." Serbian leaders who were responsible for ethnic
    cleansing in Bosnia and Kosovo are under indictment for their crimes. The
    architects of the Vietnam War have never had to stand trial?

        In Vietnam, we revived the idea of strategic or carpet bombing, used in
    World War II to bring the horror of war home to Japan and Germany. In
    Vietnam it was really strategic terrorism. The idea was to bomb Vietnamese
    civilians in order to persuade the Vietnamese government to throw in the
    towel. Since we claimed that North Vietnam was a Communist dictatorship, it
    made no sense to bomb civilians who, in our view, had no power to influence
    their government. Nevertheless, B52s bombed a lot of jungle, as well as
    cities, villages, homes, hospitals, and even Catholic Churches. Where we
    didn't bomb, we poisoned. Indiscriminate spraying of the toxic herbicide
    Agent Orange was an act of chemical warfare that caused leukemia, cancers,
    birth defects and skin diseases among those exposed to it - and their
    children. The American manufacturers of Agent Orange settled a lawsuit
    brought by Vietnam veterans for $180 million. Vietnamese victims, however,
    have never been offered restitution.

        "In Laos and Vietnam the war is over; in the United States, it's not,"
    Bob Kerrey says. That is wrong, for the affects of the war, both in physical
    destruction and in personal memories and losses, are still present in
    Vietnam. I don't think Bob Kerrey would argue with that. Like many Vietnam
    veterans, he grapples with the war. I respect him for that. But Kerrey's
    angst is a personal matter. What our country did in Vietnam is public; it's
    a festering wound that won't ever heal until the crimes we committed are
    openly acknowledged.


    Marty Jezer is the author of Abbie Hoffman: American Rebel and The Dark
    Ages: Life in the USA, 1945-1960. He lives in Brattleboro, Vermont and
    welcomes comments at mjez@sover.net

    Visit my web site http://www.sover.net/~mjez
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    Copyright 2001 by Marty Jezer

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