[sixties-l] Robert Kerrey defends Vietnam War in meeting with New School students

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: Thu May 17 2001 - 21:08:44 EDT

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    Robert Kerrey defends Vietnam War in meeting with New School students


    By Jerry White
    17 May 2001

    At a meeting this past Monday, some 200 graduate students confronted New
    School University President and former US Senator Robert Kerrey concerning
    his role in the massacre of Vietnamese civilians in 1969. The meeting
    followed a May 10 vote by the student union at the university's Graduate
    Faculty of Political and Social Science demanding Kerrey's resignation as
    president of the New York City institution and calling for a congressional
    investigation into the atrocity in the village of Thanh Phong, where 21
    women, children and elderly men were murdered.
    At the meeting Kerrey maintained the stance he has taken publicly since his
    role as commander of a Navy Seal unit that carried out a massacre of
    Vietnamese civilians was revealed by the New York Times and CBS television
    nearly three weeks ago. He combined expressions of contrition with
    statements defending the US war in Vietnam.
    Kerrey's avowed regret for his role in the slaughter of civilians did not
    prevent him from opposing the student union's call for a congressional
    investigation into the massacre. The former Democratic senator and
    presidential aspirant lamely told the students that such inquiries "never
    settle doubts."
    He dismissed as "unreliable" the account given by fellow Navy Seal Gerhard
    Klann and Vietnamese eyewitnesses, who assert that Kerrey's squadron
    rounded up and massacred the civilians. Without offering any facts to
    disprove this account, Kerrey restated his position that the civilians were
    caught in a crossfire between his troops and "Viet Cong" soldiers.
    According to students in attendance, reporters were barred, the meeting was
    tightly controlled by Kerrey and the New School administration, whose Board
    of Trustees has publicly declared its "unqualified support" for its
    presidential appointee. The meeting was limited to one hour and the
    majority of the students' questions were left unanswered.
    After the meeting one graduate student, Richard Gilman Opalsky, told the
    World Socialist Web Site, "Kerrey characterized the Vietnam War as a
    freedom fight and a just war and said he was proud to serve his
    country. He talks about Nixon and makes some criticisms of the war, but he
    says that American military force has been successful in keeping the peace.
    He quickly changed the subject when a student talked about ^A'US
    imperialism' in Vietnam.
    "Kerrey says you can never settle doubts about what happened. But in this
    instance, to whom should we give the benefit of the doubt: the Vietnamese
    victims, whose bodies were piled up, or the perpetrators, Navy Seal
    commandos operating in, of all wars, the Vietnam War?"
    Alluding to the 1999 murder of African immigrant Amadou Diallo by New York
    City police, Opalsky asked, "Should we have given the benefit of the doubt
    to the victim who was shot with 41 bullets, or to the police department's
    Street Crimes Unit?"
    Kerrey's continued presence as the university, Opalsky said, "undermines
    the intellectual and political commitment" of the New School. "We shouldn't
    be asking him any more questions, we should be focusing all our efforts
    among the students and faculty to get him out."
    The resolutions of the Graduate Faculty Student Union were passed in the
    face of opposition from the school administration, the news media, which
    has all but dropped the story, and most of New York's liberal
    establishment. The faculty at the New School, which was founded by
    professors who opposed militarism in World War I and was long associated
    with left-wing and progressive ideas, has maintained a deafening silence.
    The World Socialist Web Site spoke with a number of New School students
    involved in the campaign to force Kerrey's resignation. Martin Plot is a
    member of the student union who voted for Kerrey's removal. He said, "The
    president of a university represents you. How can we have someone who is so
    contrary to our values? Throughout history you could not have had war
    crimes without thousands who gave and followed immoral orders. Now, 30
    years afterwards, Kerrey and the Board of Trustees justify his actions by
    saying ^A'war is hell' and he was just following orders.
    "During the military dictatorships in Argentina, Chile and other Latin
    American countries military officers and soldiers were involved in
    kidnapping and killing civilians. In Argentina there is now a sense of
    'never again' in relationship to these crimes. In America, however, there
    is no sense of 'never again' towards Vietnam, no coming to terms with your
    own murderers. But that is the foundation for any democratic regime."
    Charles, another student union member who voted for Kerrey's removal, said,
    "I came to this school because of its humanitarian history. On the one hand
    we espouse human principles, like those advanced by faculty members who
    escaped Nazism, and on the other we have a president who has admitted
    killing innocent people. He cannot run away by saying he was following
    orders. What were the Nuremburg trials all about?"
    Daniel Schneider, a graduate student from Germany, added, "Over the last
    three weeks Kerrey has repeatedly shown that he still supports the Vietnam
    War. But how can the carpet bombing of a people be justified? His speeches
    sound like he is still in the Cold War. His anticommunism is a strange
    thing at the New School.
    "Most members of the faculty opposed the war. Kerrey has no idea how deep
    the feelings are about this. The Board of Trustees thinks it's entitled to
    speak for the whole community when it defends him. It doesn't."
    Priscilla, a graduate student, said, "If you read Kerrey's speeches on the
    New School University web site he talks about the fight for democracy in
    Vietnam. I'm 45 and part of that era. The war was fought for economic and
    political reasons. By 1969 American society was going through a break and
    people began opposing the system and the immoral war.
    "As for the Board of Trustees, all they are concerned with is whether they
    can make the school more
    salable with Kerrey. The education system has moved to a market economy and
    the board is trying to compete in a city that has New York University and
    Columbia. The former president left and after a long search they finally
    got Kerrey, whose name is good for fundraising. That's why they rallied
    around him."
    Jamie Wilson, a fine arts student, said, "It would be intolerable for any
    university to have a war criminal as its president, but it is an absolute
    disgrace for it to happen at the New School, which has long been a bastion
    of progressive thought. It is part of totalitarianism, which this school
    has fought, to eradicate history.
    "Kerrey and the school administration have tried to combat his opponents by
    staging forums, I call them
    love-ins, where he doesn't answer any hard intellectual questions. Instead
    he says, 'We were all part of this great tragedy. It was hell out there.'
    He tries to put a human face on his actions in Vietnam and say he had no
    personal responsibility and was just following orders. And this is at a
    school where Hanna Arendt taught, who denounced as the 'banality of evil'
    the attempt of Nazi killers to use this excuse to cover up their crimes.
    "The US uses war crimes charges for its own purposes. It is total hypocrisy
    to call Saddam Hussein, Noriega and Milosevic, all former puppets of the
    US, war criminals, when Kerrey and others are not held accountable for

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