[sixties-l] Bob Kerrey's Nightmare Tells the Story of Vietnam

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: Sat May 05 2001 - 16:37:06 EDT

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    Bob Kerrey's Nightmare Tells the Story of Vietnam

    by Mark Weisbrot

    Published on Thursday, May 3, 2001
    Distributed by Knight-Ridder/Tribune Media Services

    Some people are wondering why the New York Times and CBS'
    60 minutes II would spend two and a half years
    investigating war crimes allegedly committed by former
    Senator Bob Kerrey 32 years ago in Vietnam. But this is
    journalism at its best: it is forcing people to rethink
    some important history, not just what happened on a
    moonless night in the village of Thanh Phong, but
    throughout that horrible war.

    The American people need to know the truth about the
    Vietnam War -- it was not, as former President Ronald
    Reagan described it, "a noble cause." In truth it was a
    vile cause, a dirty, rotten war waged by the most powerful
    nation and military on earth against a poor country
    struggling for its independence. In such a war, where the
    foreign invaders are hated by the vast majority of the
    population, we would expect these invaders to commit
    certain kinds of atrocities.

    The Kerrey story illustrates this very clearly, regardless
    of whose account one chooses to believe. Among the
    undisputed facts: Kerrey's squad was on a mission to
    assassinate a man he describes as a "pro- Communist
    political leader." Along the way they encountered five
    unarmed people who offered no resistance. They killed all
    of them.

    It is also acknowledged that Thanh Phong was within a
    "free fire zone," which meant that anyone living there --
    including the children slaughtered by Kerrey's squad --
    were "the enemy" and could be killed.

    This was truly a war against the people of Vietnam, as its
    history indicates. Vietnam was a French colony until World
    War II, when the French Vichy (pro- Nazi) government
    shared power with the invading Japanese. After the war the
    Vietnamese declared independence, but the French wanted to
    keep their empire and Washington backed them with billions
    of dollars and weapons.

    The French could not win, but managed to get control of
    Vietnam south of the 17th parallel, in a negotiated
    agreement at the 1954 Geneva Conference. This was supposed
    to be a temporary arrangement until elections could be
    held (in 1956) to unify the country. But the elections
    never happened because, as Eisenhower would write in his
    memoirs, Washington knew that "possibly 80 percent of the
    people would have voted for the Communist Ho Chi Minh."

    In order to keep the Vietnamese people from freely
    electing their own government, Washington backed a series
    of dictatorships, and created an army for a "country" --
    South Vietnam -- that was itself a creation of the United
    States. But that army didn't do much better than the
    French, so we had to invade with our own troops to do the
    job. That's how Kerry and his Navy Seals ended up on that
    mission in 1969.

    Fast forward to 2001. There are two main points of dispute
    in the story of Thanh Phong. Kerry claims that their first
    five victims were men, although he does not seem very
    certain in the TV interview. Squad member Gerhard Klann
    recalls that they killed an old man (whom he says he
    killed by slitting his throat while Kerry held him down),
    a woman and three young children. Klann's story is backed
    by a Vietnamese eyewitness, as well as the five graves
    (two grandparents with three little ones) shown on TV.

    In the most chilling part of the story, Klann (and the
    Vietnamese witness) say the squad rounded up about 14
    women and children and shot them all to death. Kerry
    claims they fired into the darkness from a distance of
    about 100 yards after thinking they had been fired upon
    (he's not sure). Here, too, Kerry's story is weak: one
    would not expect to find most of the village dead in a
    cluster, from a volley of shots into fired into the dark
    of night. Kerry's account also suffers from other
    inconsistencies and changes in his story, as documented in
    the New York Times' Magazine article.

    But the more important story is that the whole war was a
    crime. And our political leaders are the ones who should
    bear the blame -- not the soldiers whom they lied to,
    telling them they were defending democracy and freedom and
    their own country when they sent them to war halfway
    across the world.

    But even today, our leaders have yet to face up to the
    facts: their only lesson has been that they shouldn't send
    ground troops. Hence Washington's current support for the
    military and death squads of Colombia, as well as the
    slaughter of hundreds of thousands of civilians in Central
    America in the 1970s and 80s. These are the real costs of
    not facing up to the truth about the Vietnam War.
    Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic
    and Policy Research (www.cepr.net) in Washington, DC.

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