[sixties-l] CIA operative Bob Kerrey: The Life and Times of a Throat-Slitter

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: Wed Jun 06 2001 - 16:38:26 EDT

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    CIA operative Bob Kerrey: The Life and Times of a Throat-Slitter


    CounterPunch Online, May 18, 2001

    Bob Kerrey: The Life and Times of a Throat-Slitter

    By Richard Gibson

    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, operating 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 and Newsweek. 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 after 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 whom 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

    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 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 do."*

    Such is the choice, drowning cats or universal solidarity against

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

    [Richard Gibson is a professor of Education at San Diego State

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