[sixties-l] Students demand ouster of Kerrey over Vietnam War atrocity

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: Mon May 14 2001 - 17:49:46 EDT

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    New School students demand ouster of Kerrey over Vietnam War atrocity


    By Patrick Martin
    14 May 2001

    Students at the New School University in New York City are demanding the
    resignation of the newly installed president of the college, former US
    Senator Robert Kerrey, over his role in a wartime atrocity in Vietnam.
    A meeting of the Graduate Faculty Student Union May 10 voted by a nearly
    2-1 margin to call for Kerrey's resignation. A second resolution urging a
    congressional investigation into the massacre of 21 women, children and old
    men in 1969 passed overwhelmingly. This action came in defiance of the
    defense of Kerrey offered by the university's board of directors, most of
    the media, and an array of senators and other political figures, especially
    in the Democratic Party.
    The issue is a defining moment in American politics, and the silence or
    indifference that characterizes the response from the New York liberal
    milieu bespeaks the putrefaction of American liberalism. Those who are
    prepared to accept the presence of a war criminal in the top position at
    one of the most prestigious American universities are prepared to accept
    virtually any atrocity.
    The Socialist Equality Party and its organ, the World Socialist Web Site,
    strongly support the action of the Graduate Faculty Student Union and urge
    all students, faculty and campus workers at the New School University to
    join forces in demanding the removal of Kerrey as president. This action is
    a necessary step in a campaign to expose and oppose the forces of
    militarism and reaction that have rallied to his defense.
    It has been two weeks since the New York Times and the CBS program Sixty
    Minutes II made public the events of February 25, 1969 in Thanh Phong, a
    village in the Mekong Delta in territory known to be controlled by the
    National Liberation Front ("Viet Cong"), the guerrilla forces who were
    fighting the American military and the Saigon-based puppet government of
    South Vietnam.
    After the initial exposure of the Thanh Phong massacre, the media has
    largely dropped the issue. There has been little exploration of the
    contradictions in Kerrey's statements about the incident, and the growing
    evidence that supports the account by Gerhard Klann, a member of the Navy
    SEALS unit that Kerrey commanded. Klann has declared that more than a dozen
    Vietnamese women, children and elderly men were rounded up and mowed down
    with machine-gun fire at Kerry's orders, a war crime even by the standards
    adopted by the Pentagon in Vietnam.
    Three significant issues of fact bolster Klann's account and discredit
    Kerrey's as self-serving and false:

                         * All accounts agree that the bodies of 13 victims
    were found at a central location in the village. If the killings were, as
    Kerrey claims, the result of a nighttime firefight, why were the bodies
    clustered together and in the open? Moreover, as the Times article by
    Gregory Vistica points out, it is difficult to see how gunfire from 100
    yards away, no matter how intense, could kill every single person caught in
    the crossfire. The uniformity of the result suggests an attack at
    point-blank range. Asked about this contradiction in his story, Kerrey
    said, "I can't explain. I do not have an explanation for that."
                         * Klann and several Vietnamese witnesses describe Navy
    SEALS slitting the throats of a grandfather, a grandmother and three
    children in the first hut they encountered in the village. The statement
    issued by Kerrey and the other squad members in response to Klann
    essentially concedes this act of murder, admitting that they resorted to
    "lethal methods to keep our presence from being detected."
                         * In an interview with the Times, Kerrey said he and
    his squad entered the center of the village and found the bodies of the
    victims. But the statement issued by Kerrey and five other SEALS a few days
    after the Times article was published provides a diametrically opposite
    account, saying that they "withdrew" from the village "while continuing to

    Additional testimony has emerged from Vietnam to support Klann's eyewitness
    account. While the official comments from Hanoi have been noncommittal,
    avoiding the words "war crime" and noting that Kerrey has supported
    restoration of diplomatic and economic ties between the US and Vietnam, a
    local official in Ben Tre province called the Thanh Phong massacre a major
    atrocity. Pham Di Cu told Reuters news agency, "I think in terms of
    brutality, this was the worst incident in this province during the war.
    Personally, I think it was inhuman. In terms of the way it was done, it was
    a war crime."
    A former NLF guerrilla in the province, Tran Van Rung, gave an interview
    confirming that a meeting of five local NLF officials, the target of the
    SEALS raid, had taken place in an underground bunker outside Thanh Phong.
    The group, including the mayor of the village, who Kerrey's unit was
    assigned to assassinate, were sleeping in the bunker when the gunfire erupted.
    Rung said he and ten other soldiers stayed inside the bunker and did not
    attempt to fire on the American attackers because they were armed only with
    old bolt-action rifles and a few hand grenades. "We didn't leave the
    bunker," he said. "We didn't provoke the Americans." His testimony confirms
    the account given by Klann, who said there was no firefight and the SEALS
    entered and left the village unopposed. There were no casualties among the
    NLF fighters that night, further confirmation that the raid took them by
    surprise and they put up no resistance.
                                        Reviving old myths and slanders
    Unable to explain away the facts of an incident which even Kerrey, the
    chief perpetrator, describes as an "atrocity," Kerrey's defenders have
    begun to revive the same myths and slanders that were employed by the US
    government for a decade to justify its murderous enterprise in Vietnam.
    Some commentaries blamed the Vietnamese themselves for the massacre. Thus
    former Secretary of the Navy, and Vietnam veteran, James Webb, writing in
    the Wall Street Journal, declared, "North Vietnamese troops were
    responsible for such massacres because they concealed themselves in the
    villages and used them as military bases."
    This reproduces the old canard that the Vietnam War was the product of an
    invasion of South Vietnam by North Vietnam, as though the two had been
    separate and independent countries existing from time immemorial. Actually
    the division of the country into two halves was the product of US
    intervention to block implementation of the 1954 Geneva Accord, which
    called for nationwide elections within two years. All sides concede that
    the Viet Minh led by Ho Chi Minh would have won a free vote. Many of the
    "North Vietnamese troops" were native to the villages in the South, just as
    many of the NLF cadres were born in the northern half of the country. None
    of them had traveled from the other side of the world to invade and lay
    waste a small country, like the American forces.
    A Washington Post reporter who visited Thanh Phong echoed this slander in
    an even more inane form, writing, "The Viet Cong were an elusive enemy.
    They wore the same black pajama-like garments as farmers. Their ranks
    included women and children. During the day, they would join other peasants
    toiling in rice paddies."
    The Viet Cong were only pretending to be farmers, dressing like them and
    working among them, but only as a disguise, according to this absurd
    account. The truth, which the American ruling class still cannot concede
    three decades later, is that on the Vietnamese side the war was a genuine
    people's war. Tens of thousands of ordinary peasants and workers took up
    arms against the imperialist forces, first the French colonial troops, then
    the Americans.
    Another Vietnam-era tactic is to attack any journalist who dares to report
    the truth. Here again the Wall Street Journal took the lead, republishing,
    for lack of anything more effective, a 1996 commentary denouncing a book by
    Vistica critical of the US military.
    Vistica has earned the opprobrium of the Pentagon, breaking the story of
    the Tailhook sexual harassment scandal while working as a reporter for the
    San Diego Union-Tribune, then going to work for Newsweek, looking into the
    falsification of decorations by the Navy brass.
    Kerrey himself resorted to the tactic of smearing his critics as disloyal.
    He accused the Times and CBS of "collaborating" in a propaganda campaign to
    discredit America's role in the war. "It's disgraceful," he told the
    Associated Press. "The Vietnamese government likes to routinely say how
    terrible Americans were. The Times and CBS are now collaborating in that
                                               A barbaric war
    The exposure of Kerrey's role in Vietnam has already had the salutary
    effect of focusing public attention, to at least a limited extent, on the
    barbaric character of the US intervention in Vietnam. This has been largely
    concealed from the generation of Americans who have grown up since the war
    ended in the overthrow of the South Vietnamese regime in 1975 and the
    flight of US and puppet government officials from the rooftop of the US
    Embassy in Saigon.
    The war methods employed by successive governments, from Kennedy to Johnson
    to Nixon, combined large-scale destruction, using bombs, napalm, chemical
    defoliants and high-tech weaponry of all sorts, and individual
    assassination, torture and murder. The Allied powers dropped two million
    tons of bombs in the entire course of World War II. The United States
    dropped eight million tons of bombs on Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia alone.
    Much of the Vietnamese countryside was defoliated using poisons like Agent
    Orange, so toxic that even the soldiers who did the spraying suffered
    long-term damage to their health. Napalm, the jellied gasoline that burns
    its way into the human body, was dumped in huge quantities on Vietnamese
    villages and suspected NLF strongholds.
    Until the 1969 exposure of My Lai, the massacre of more than 500 villagers
    by a US unit commanded by Capt. Ernest Medina and Lt. William Calley Jr.,
    there was little or no reporting in the major American media about
    atrocities committed by US forces. But American reporters in Vietnam had
    witnessed Vietnamese prisoners being pushed from airplanes by American
    troops, shot while in captivity, or set upon by Dobermans unleashed by
    Journalist Neil Sheehan recently recalled that in 1966, three years prior
    to the events in Thanh Phong and My Lai, he personally witnessed an
    American operation in which US troops wiped out five fishing villages,
    killing as many as 600 Vietnamese civilians. The raids "seemed
    unnecessarily brutal," but "it did not occur to me that I had discovered a
    possible war crime... I had never read the laws governing the conduct of
    war, though I had watched the war for three years in Vietnam and written
    about it for five ... The Army field manual says it is illegal to attack
    hospitals. We routinely bombed and shelled them ... looking back, one
    realizes the war crimes issue was always present."
    The statements of Kerrey's own defenders have served to confirm the
    brutality of the American war. Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Jack
    Valenti, the longtime chief lobbyist for the movie industry who was an aide
    to John F. Kennedy during the initial intervention in Vietnam, claimed that
    in wartime, "all the normalities of a social compact are abandoned." In
    other words, anything goes once the fighting starts. Yet only two years ago
    the US government charged the Yugoslav government with war crimes for
    allegedly pursuing such a policy in Kosovo.
    Three US senators who are Vietnam veterans, Max Cleland (D-Ga.), Chuck
    Hagel (R-Neb.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.), issued a statement defending
    Kerrey that inadvertently makes the same point. The three opposed an
    investigation into the Thanh Phong incident because it would be part of a
    pattern of blaming "the warrior rather than the war," in effect conceding
    that the war as a whole was criminal in character.
    John Kerry elaborated, in one television appearance, on the thesis that
    soldiers should not be held responsible for actions that were in accordance
    with the policies of the US government. The raid on Thanh Phong was part of
    Operation Phoenix, he said, and "the Phoenix program was an assassination
    program run by the United States of America."
    It is worth recalling what the same John Kerry said in 1971 when he first
    came to prominence as a Navy lieutenant and leader of Vietnam Veterans
    Against the War, in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
    "I would like to say that several months ago in Detroit we had an
    investigation at which over 150 honorably discharged veterans testified to
    war crimes committed in Southeast Asia," Kerry said. "They told stories
    that at times they 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 a fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun,
    poisoned food stocks and generally ravaged the countryside of South
    Vietnam, in addition to the normal ravage of war and the normal and very
    particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this
                                      Vietnam in US politics30 years on
    At a packed meeting on the New School campus the week after the Times
    report, attended by over 500 faculty and students, Robert Kerrey sought to
    defend his conduct, giving an account of the raid by the squad of Navy
    SEALS he commanded, and taking some questions from the floor. He called
    upon former Times reporter and author David Halberstam, who described the
    Mekong Delta region around Thanh Phong as "the purest bandit country."
    Halberstam went on to say that "by 1969 everyone who lived there would have
    been third-generation Vietcong."
    Aside from the absurdity of the claim of "third-generation Vietcong", since
    the NLF was founded in 1960, Halberstam's comments amount to a
    justification of mass murder. If "everyone who lived there" were Vietcong,
    then killing "everyone"men, women and children, was part and parcel of the
    war effort.
    Halberstam's defense of Kerrey is symbolic, since he is well known as the
    author of The Best and the Brightest, a scathing account of the
    decision-making process inside the Kennedy and Johnson administrations that
    led to the Vietnam debacle. A liberal who became a successful author and
    historian thanks to his critical attitude to the Vietnam War, Halberstam
    has evolved into an apologist for the atrocities he once condemned.
    The Kerrey case demonstrates that the fissures within American society over
    the Vietnam War have never been healed, only papered over. Although the
    vast majority of the American people came to oppose the war as immoral and
    unjust, the two big business political parties and the official
    opinion-makers, as part of their general drift to the right, defend the US
    intervention in Vietnam.
    The Republican Party and the far right have long maintained that the
    Vietnam War was fully justified, only complaining that the methods employed
    by Johnson and Nixon were too limited to obtain a victory.
    The Democratic Party has steadily moved away from the adaptation to antiwar
    opinion which it carried out in the late 1960s and early 1970s, in order to
    co-opt popular opposition to the war. A significant section of the
    Democratic Party supported US intervention in a covert war in Central
    America in the 1980s and voted in 1990 to authorize the Persian Gulf War.
    A Democratic president who participated in antiwar protests in the 1960s,
    Bill Clinton, deployed US troops overseas during the 1990s in more
    interventions than any previous president, Somalia, Bosnia, Haiti, Kosovo,
    Iraq, Taiwan, to name only the best known. Democrat Al Gore ran in 2000
    boasting of his support for the Gulf War and calling for a bigger increase
    in military spending than George Bush.
    The defense of Kerrey is essential for both parties in order to
    rehabilitate the Vietnam War in public opinion. It is inevitably associated
    with a right-wing political agenda and the legitimization of war as an
    instrument of US policy.
    Kerrey is not just any former politician turned university president. He
    was a key figure in the Democratic Leadership Council, the grouping headed
    by Clinton and Gore that orchestrated the rightward turn of the Democratic
    Party and its embrace of law-and-order demagogy, attacks on welfare
    recipients, and increased military spending.
    The exposure of Kerrey and the demand for his ouster as president of New
    School University are important steps in opposing American militarism, and
    especially its liberal apologists.
    It is particularly outrageous that such an individual should be placed at
    the head of an institution previously identified with socially conscious
    thought. Among the founders of the New School were several professors
    expelled by Columbia University in 1917 for their opposition to US
    participation in World War I. For decades it remained a center of
    progressive ideas and opposition to fascism and militarism.
    For those who came of age during the 1960s and early 1970s, events like My
    Lai, the incursion into Cambodia, Kent State and the Christmas bombing of
    Hanoi are seared into memory. For the new generations that have grown up
    since then, it is necessary to relearn these lessons of history. The demand
    for Kerrey's removal at New School must become part of a campaign to expose
    the reactionary, bloody character of the Vietnam War and prepare the
    American people to oppose the new plans for worldwide military action being
    developed by the Pentagon and the Bush administration.
    The role of the liberals and the Democrats in defending Kerrey demonstrates
    that such a struggle against American imperialism and militarism can only
    be conducted on the basis of the independent mobilization of the broad mass
    of working people. The working class must build a political party of its
    own, independent of the big business parties and the liberal establishment,
    and based on a socialist and internationalist program.

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