[sixties-l] Robert Kerrey: War Criminal

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: Tue May 22 2001 - 15:22:34 EDT

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    May 2001

    Robert Kerrey: War Criminal

    By Richard Gibson <rgibson@pipeline.com>

    Like Drowning Cats.....

    Former Senator Robert Kerrey has admitted that as leader of
    a Navy Seal unit he participated in the murder of civilians
    in Vietnam. The Seal unit was part of an assassination
    squad, functioning under the guidance of Operation Phoenix
    which, in the course of the war, killed more than 30,000
    Vietnamese, using what its leader, William Colby, called a
    "scatter-gun approach," in later congressional hearings.
    Villagers on the scene say Kerrey's Seals not only shot more
    than 100 women and children with automatic fire, but slit
    the throats of five people, all judged less than human:
    Gooks, Slants, Slopes, Cong, Charlie, VC.

    Kerrey's admissions came in the New York Times Magazine, a
    story initially quashed by the television networks. Clearly
    indictable under existing war crime statutes, Kerrey
    participated in a cover-up of his unit's killings for nearly
    three decades while he used his claims to valor to promote
    his political career.

    Following the New York Times revelations, though, two
    interesting things happened, both relating to how history is
    constructed, not only as a vision of the past, but as a call
    to action in the future. In that context, Kerrey's thinking
    about his experience in Vietnam, written not too long afer
    he returned, is instructive.

    As the Times article developed, Kerrey and his friends first
    began to commiserate with one another about the tough times
    they had, the strain on their consciences, the difficulty
    they had in living with dirty secrets, how their reputations
    of valor may be imperfect. Besides, what were we to do when
    everyone was an enemy? This experience traces the path of
    many convicted fascist war criminals in Germany who, exposed
    long after WWII closed, said the same thing.

    Second, the debate shifted to who we shall call heroic. The
    mainstream outlook is now at least two-fold: perhaps nobody,
    or maybe people like Kerrey since war is hell. Three kinds
    of heroes are missed altogether.

    Certainly those working-class US youth who found themselves
    enmeshed in a web that led directly to the front lines of
    battle in Vietnam, those of them who refused to go on
    burn-all kill-all missions, those who shot their own
    officers and blew them up in their tents, creating a new
    word in the lexicon, fragging; those who returned to the US,
    joined the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, and, denouncing
    the war, threw their Medals of Honor back at congress; those
    young men and women, black and white, like Bill Marshall and
    Scott Camil, wounded and decorated heroes who rejected the
    war, are mostly unnoticed.

    The working class anti-war movement is almost equally
    opaque, as if the resistance emanated from Harvard and
    Columbia, behind the cavalier lead of rich liberal children
    with bombs like Billy Ayers, whose contempt for people
    sought to substitute explosives for a mass conscious
    movement. In fact the blue-collar student movements at Wayne
    State in Detroit, San Francisco State, Kent State, and
    related schools seriously took up the issues of people who
    had a lot to lose, whose draft deferments were not coming
    from counsel with connected pals in the medical school, and
    who could wield real power by exerting their natural
    influence in their birth-class. Often under the leadership
    of Black and Latin youth, those people then led the mass
    sit-down strikes in auto in Detroit, and the community
    uprisings throughout the US, while the terrorists hid in
    million-dollar homes, returning to academic prominence after
    legal wrist slaps a few years later -- now rich liberals
    without bombs.

    Further outside the imperial gaze, even today, is the
    heroism of the Vietnamese, not only those who Kerrey and
    many other US officers caught up in the genocidal invasion
    sought to exterminate, but those who defeated the empire,
    politically, militarily, and morally, causing imperial
    troops to run away in their helicopters, pushing their
    allies off the struts as they ran. Despite every effort to
    reconstruct that piece of history, whether through
    relentless Hollywood endeavors to recapture the good old
    days of World War II, or the repositioning of responsibility
    to suggest that all US troops in Southeast Asia were war
    criminals, and hence none of them were, nothing ever will be
    the same. The US has never been able to field a reliable
    army ready to fight extended conflicts since the people won
    in Vietnam US citizens have never again trusted the tyrants.

    There are no Vietnamese victors on the Vietnam Wall, yet
    millions of them died -- and changed the world.

    However, for purposes of clarity, it is worthwhile to look
    back on what Robert Kerrey wrote after he returned from
    Vietnam, more than twelve years ago, perhaps when his
    recollections were sharper, less opportunistically censored
    by the polish of electoral success. This is what Nebraska's
    Robert Kerrey said in the opening paragraph of an article
    titled, "On Remembering the Vietnam War:"

    "Around the farm, there is an activity that no one likes to
    do. Yet it is sometimes necessary. When a cat gives birth to
    kittens that aren't needed, the kittens must be destroyed.
    And there is a moment when you are holding the kitten under
    the water when you know that if you bring that kitten back
    above the water it will live, and if you don't bring it back
    above in that instant the kitten will be dead. This, for me,
    is a perfect metaphor for those dreadful moments in war when
    you do not quite do what you previously thought you would

    Such is the choice, drowning cats or universal solidarity
    against despotism.

    *The Vietnam Reader, edited by Walter Capps, Routledge, New
    York (1990)


    Richard Gibson is an associate professor of Social Studies in the College of Education at San Diego State University.

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