Thursday, September 2, 2004

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

George Santayana, The Life of Reason, Volume 1, 1905
US (Spanish-born) philosopher (1863 - 1952)


In my April post Time to Smell the Coffee I mentioned that as a child I watched the coverage of the Viet Nam war on the nightly news and hoped that as an adult I would never see this country torn apart like that again.  Sadly that dream did not come true.  After weeks of hearing the ads by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and the rant by Senator Zell Miller at the Republican National Convention, it is clear that this country is just as divided as it was then.  And even more sadly, much of the division is over the same issue, Vietnam.


A topic of recent discussion has been Senator John Kerry’s 1971 testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on behalf of Vietnam Veterans Against the War.  I encourage anyone evaluating John Kerry to read the transcript of his testimony and judge his statements for themselves.  During his testimony Senator Kerry summarized the recollections of a specific group of American soldiers he had heard at an antiwar conference in Detroit a few weeks earlier.  As Jan Barry stated in article for Veterans Against the Iraq War: “What the national news media has not reported in the current controversy—just as was not widely reported in 1971—are the crimes of war that Kerry summarized in his antiwar speech to Congress.” At no time, did Senator Kerry claim that ALL or MOST Vietnam Vets were guilty of war atrocities.  Just as now no sensible person in 2004 would ever claim that ALL or MOST Iraqi Vets are guilty of the types of crimes that occurred at Abu Ghraib prison.


But the truth be told, war crimes did occur in Vietnam just as they have at Abu Ghraib.  For those who are too young to remember here is a documented fact.


“On March 16, 1968 the angry and frustrated men of Charlie Company, 11th Brigade, Americal Division entered the village of My Lai.”This is what you've been waiting for -- search and destroy -- and you've got it," said their superior officers. A short time later the killing began. When news of the atrocities surfaced, it sent shockwaves through the US political establishment, the military's chain of command, and an already divided American public.

My Lai lay in the South Vietnamese district of Son My, a heavily mined area of Vietcong entrenchment. Numerous members of Charlie Company had been maimed or killed in the area during the preceding weeks. The agitated troops, under the command of Lt. William Calley, entered the village poised for engagement with the elusive Vietcong.

As the "search and destroy" mission unfolded it soon degenerated into the massacre of over 300 apparently unarmed civilians including women, children, and the elderly. Calley ordered his men to enter the village firing, though there had been no report of opposing fire. According to eyewitness reports offered after the event, several old men were bayoneted, praying women and children were shot in the back of the head, and at least one girl was raped, and then killed. For his part, Calley was said to have rounded up a group of the villagers, ordered them into a ditch, and mowed them down in a fury of machine gun fire.

Word of the massacre did not reach the American public until November of 1969, when journalist Seymour Hersh published a story detailing his conversations with ex-GI and Vietnam veteran, Ron Ridenhour. Ridenhour learned of the events at My Lai from members of Charlie Company who had been there. Before speaking with Hersh, he had appealed to Congress, the White House, and the Pentagon to investigate the matter. The military investigation resulted in Calley being charged with murder in September 1969 -- a full two months before the Hersh story hit the streets.

As the gruesome details of the massacre reached the American public serious questions arose concerning the conduct of American soldiers in Vietnam. A military commission investigating the My Lai massacre found widespread failures of leadership, discipline, and morale among the Army's fighting units. As the war progressed, many "career" soldiers had either been rotated out or retired. Many more had died. In their place were scores of draftees whose fitness for leadership in the field of battle was questionable at best. Military officials blamed inequities in the draft policy for the often slim talent pool from which they were forced to choose leaders. Many maintained that if the educated middle class ("the Harvards," as they were called) had joined in the fight, a man of Lt. William Calley's emotional and intellectual stature would never have been issuing orders. “

From the American Experience


Therefore, the events of My Lai were known prior to Senator Kerry’s testimony before Congress.  So for anyone to now target Senator Kerry as betraying his fellow vets is an effort in revisionist history based in pure partisan politics.


What we should all learn from this seemingly never ending domestic battle about the Vietnam War is that every war’s impact is more far reaching than can be imagined.  Thirty years after Vietnam men’s actions and integrity are still be questioned.  The real persons of questionable character are those who use one of the most divisive issues in history to once against drive a wedge to separate America’s people.


For those that believe in the concepts of Good & Evil, know this.  The spirits of fear, divisiveness and self-righteousness are not good.  Fear only should never be a justification for war. Wars should only be entered when the facts indicate that military intervention is unavoidable. War is not glamorous and even when it is waged for the most noble of reasons cannot be sanitized to make it more acceptable to the general public. The stresses of war can bring out the darkness in every human soul.  A wise men will consider all of these things before rushing to war. No amount of revisionist history will change the facts.



Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies and tricks of the Devil. For we are not fighting against people made of flesh and blood, but against the evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against those mighty powers of darkness who rule this world, and against wicked spirits in the heavenly realms”. Ephesians 6:11-12 Holy Bible, New Living Translation, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.) 1996.


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