May 10, 2001
issue of Workers World newspaper
KERREY AND VIETNAM:
VETERANS MUST TELL THE STORY IN ALL ITS TRUTHFUL BRUTALITY
By Stan Goff
I don't know whether former U.S. Senator Bob Kerrey of
Nebraska ordered the execution of 15 Vietnamese women and
children in 1969. I suspect he is dissembling with the story
that they were caught in the crossfire.
My own military experience tells me that 15 people don't get
killed outright in the crossfire of a single, short, small-
scale firefight. The odds against it are astronomical. Most
times when everyone on the losing side dies in a combat
engagement--combat veterans who are honest will tell you--
executions likely took place after the outcome of that
combat was already resolved.
On April 23, 1971, as a member of Vietnam Veterans Against
the War, future Massachussets Senator John Kerry, whose name
and background are so similar to Kerrey's that it had me
confused for a day about the Kerrey story, testified to the
U.S. Senate that U.S. troops he knew "had personally raped,
cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable
telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut
off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians,
razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Ghengis Khan, shot
cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally
ravaged the countryside" and that "[t]hese were not isolated
incidents but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with
the full awareness of officers at all levels of command."
(It helps to be there, for it to be tactile, visceral.
Kerry's repugnace for violence against civilians was swept
away by--what? Democratic Party loyalty?--when he supported
the bombing of Yugoslav civilian targets during the NATO
aggression in the Balkans. Life on the inside of bourgeois
politics is a slippery slope for a conscience. Pragmatism
and opportunism become unfocused and indistinct.)
So I don't know whether Bob Kerrey is telling the truth
today, but I can assure you that John Kerry told the truth
on April 23, 1971. I was a machine gunner with the 173rd
Airborne Brigade in a mountain range we called the Suikai on
that day. All that he was describing to the comfortable
white men of the U.S. Senate was still taking place in
Vietnam at the very moment of his description.
Bob Kerrey says he is ashamed. I have to believe that, too.
But I don't think our shame is enough. Military people,
especially that minority who have actually been the
combatants, who take that first baby step of comprehending
the poisonous lies of the American military fetish, have a
duty to go beyond mere shame. We must witness. And we must
interpret. Kerrey's foray into the Mekong, and the My Lai
massacre, and No Gun Ri in Korea, and the current lethal
sanctions against Iraqi civilians, and the violation of
Yugoslav sovereignty, and the financing and advisement of
the bloodthirsty Colombian Army and their drug-trafficking
paramilitary allies.... These are "not isolated incidents
but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the full
awareness of officers [and political officials] at all
levels of command."
The truth has ever been the same. The cover stories have
ever been the same. The job of penitent veterans must be to
assault the denial that these cover stories market to the
public consciousness and conscience.
Even as many of our own people go without, we have
acquiesced before a government in the thrall of corporate
money and power that has appropriated $300 billion for what
is euphemistically referred to as "defense." The U.S.
military establishment is a monstrous thing, put to
monstrous purposes, and we who were the instruments of that
establishment--if we are to reclaim our own humanity--must
come forward and help Americans understand what is done in
We must be the blasphemers, because that gives others
permission to confront the orthodoxy of reverence before
"warriors." Your children who go, as I did, into the armed
services, are being made tools--or worse--for an
organization whose sole purpose is to employ violence
against those who threaten the dominance of those who are
dominant, and against those who would tell the submissive
that they need not submit.
We often worry about sending our children to die, but we
should also worry about sending our children to kill.
I hope Bob Kerrey can find it within himself to explain
this. I hope he can come to terms with it.
The women and children who died in the Mekong on February
25, 1969, do not have the living luxury of shame and
reassessment. The most any of us can do for them now is tell
their story, in all its truthful brutality, and tear down
the walls of denial that stand between a people and their
[Stan Goff is a Vietnam veteran living in Raleigh, N.C. He
served for 24 years in the military, largely in the Special
Operations field. He worked in Vietnam, El Salvador,
Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Colombia, Peru, Grenada,
Somalia and Haiti. He is the author of "Hideous Dream: A
Soldier's Memoir of the U.S. Invasion of Haiti" (Soft Skull Press, 2000)].
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