Vietnam shadows Iraq: The inevitablity of atrocities

The August 6 Sunday LA Times has a front-page, in-depth, investigative report on thousands of newly declassifed Army documents revealing that the extant of US military atrocities against Vietnamese civilians during the Vietnam War was much greater than previously known (frequently against women, children and elderly; often including rape and torture, along with killings).  Hundreds of massacres/”incidents”, across all Army divisions, involving, minimally, hundreds of deaths, are now part of the public record.

The story features an anti-war medic (last name Henry, a new hero of mine), who reported on atrocities committed by his own unit, including the dreadful day when 19 huddled women and children were executed in cold blood.  His captain–radioing in for his operational command–was told to “shoot anything that moves.” He asked for volunteers, got at least one (a sergeant known as “Crazy”), and, noticing that the women and children huddled in front of him were indeed moving as they begged for their lives, opend fire.  In twenty seconds of endless AK-47 automatic fire, these precious daughters of God were blown into eternity, their bodies shattered by a hail of bullets.  They await the resurrection of the body on the Last Day to restore them to wholeness.

The reportor tracked down various members of the unit, and many different ones confirmed the same basic story, from different angles.  “Crazy”–now a 58-year old hotel worker in Hawaia–says he has blocked out all memories of the ‘Nam, but readily acknowledges such incidents occurred.  He does not remember that day, he says.  The captain refused to comment.  The medic, after being shown the Army documents confirming his memory, said he shook for hours after the reporter left.  He had tried to forget the war after his initial years of courageous vet activism (he worked for years as a lumberjack in the Sierra Nevada range; he was a hippie at Berkely before getting drafted. Sounds like a character from a Grateful Dead song to me!) 

This medic (who was highly decorated for repeatedly risking life and limb on behalf of his wounded brothers in the field) had reported these and other atrocities he had witnessed to Army investigators at the time, while still in the service, told it to the media after coming back from his “tour of duty,” and was one of hundreds of vets who testified at the “Winter Soldier” Congressional hearings of early 1970s made famous again by the leading role played by a young John Kerry.  However, the Army (and most American people) had no stomach to know what was done in Vietnam, and very few of these hundreds of massacres were ever prosecuted.  A few received sentences of less than a year for murder, rape, and pillage in cold blood (a time-honored tradition of warriors through the millennia.) When this medic initially confronted some of his unit-mates about throwing an old Vietnamese peasant man off a cliff, and stabbing some pigs (earlier incidents), they made it clear they would kill him if he didn’t shut up.

The conditions that created these atrocities are many, but easily identified: 1) the on-going American PR obsession with “body counts” of enemy dead, to prove to the folks back home that we were “winning” and unwinnable war; some units consciously padded their body counts by taking out the easiest available targets: women, children, and elderly in the villages. (I have a new-found respect for the chosen immorality of Gen. Westmoreland, the top Vietnam general for a time, who simply fabricated false body counts, that is, bold-faced lied to the American press and people, like Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Bush are currently doing); 2) under constant stress and risk of instant extermination, difficult jungle conditions with buddies dying regularly around them, some soldiers will inevitably cross a threshold of restraint and unleash their fear, rage, and often racist hatred against whoever happens to be “in the wrong place, at the wrong time”; 3) “free-fire zones” and “search-and-destroy” missions were commonplace in Vietnam; the very structure of the rules of engagement frequently allowed soldiers to shoot anything that moved; 4) in guerilla warfare, the distinction between civilian and enemy soldier all but disappears; and 5) Satan will rule, when you worship his ways of domination and destruction. 

What can we learn from these latest revelations?: 1) John Kerry and the Winter Soldiers were telling us the truth (many tried to undermine the veracity of their witness at the time, to their enduring dishonor, including current prominent neo-con “thinkers”); 2) Vietnam vet Oliver’s Stone portrayal of the war in the movie “Platoon” struck close to home (many accussed him of sensationalizing the Vietnam “scene” at the time.  Of course, Stone’s JFK theories are whacked!  He was actually in Vietnam); and 3) most importantly, in their own unique way, all the same conditions are present in Iraq currently, which is why we are hearing about the first 5 or 6 investigations into vicious atrocities (killings, rapes) committed by US soldiers over there. (Obviously there are differences of desert and urban warfare vs. jungle warfare, Shia/Sunni Arab civil war versus communist and capitalist or North/South Vietnamese etc.) 

That is why any American who continues to counsel us to “stay the course” and “finish the mission”–or attacks withdrawal or draw-down proposals as “cutting and running” or “defeatism” or “irresponsible”–is personally endorsing the guaranteed continuation of US atrocities and massacres in Iraq.  This is exactly–emphasis on exactly–the kind of logic that bogged us down in Vietnam for nine long years, when anyone with sense recognized after the Tet Offensive of Jan. 1968 (which my parents and sisters lived through, garnering some great stories!) we were in an intractable, dead-end civil war (as Walter Cronkite fairly immediately recognized, God bless him!) 

Nixon and Kissinger and that cabal are responsible for the needless deaths of ten of thousands of US grunts who died after 1968, partially responsible for the hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese who died after that time, and totally responsible for the (illegal, secret, and vicious) expansion of the war into Laos and Cambodia, where unexploded, people-shredding ordinance still scars the farmers and mars the land today.  Senators Hillary Clinton and Joe Lieberman–to name but two prominent Democrats–will have the same kind of blood on their hands if they don’t change their tune, save their souls (and the bodies of US soldiers.) Though, I guess “Joe must go” may actually be happening (hooray!), though he might still sneak in through the back-door.

 Well, learning this saddened me greatly and also left me a bit angry at those faciliating war crimes currently who will probably never be held accountable (I’m talking mostly about Bush and Cheney).  It was good to hear that Bush is having fun goading his aides into running 3 miles in the 100 degree heat on his Texas ranch, while he rides along on his mountain bike.  What a man!

 Peace in Christ, 

Kent 

  

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One Response to “Vietnam shadows Iraq: The inevitablity of atrocities”

  1. Chris Spinks Says:

    It’s about time you started to blog. Blog on!

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