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Thursday, September 02, 2004

Can American Handle the Truth?

I've seen one of the new Swift Boat Vet ads and I'm not sure they're worried too much about "the truth" anymore. John Kerry's voice could be heard throughout the ad, detailing allegations about atrocities by American troops in Vietnam.

Then, one-after-another, Veterans appeared quickly on screen to point out that Kerry was saying things that they refused to say in Vietnam, even when they spent years as POWs inside Vietnamese prisons. Kerry's words, they allege, helped the enemy and undermined the American soldiers fighting in Vietnam. Ann Coulter would probably call it treason.

Nobody, in the part I heard, said that Kerry was lying.

In fact, Kerry wasn't even making the allegations himself. He was talking about statements he had heard other veterans make at some of the anti-war events he had attended, including one large meeting in Michigan that included lots of unhappy Vietnam Vets:
...I am not here as John Kerry. I am here as one member of the group of 1,000 which is a small representation of a very much larger group of veterans in this country, and were it possible for all of them to sit at this table they would be here and have the same kind of testimony....
Here's the part of the testimony that the Swifties are quoting selectively:
I would like to talk, representing all those veterans, and say that several months ago in Detroit, we had an investigation at which over 150 honorably discharged and many very highly decorated veterans testified to war crimes committed in Southeast Asia, not isolated incidents but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command....

They told the stories at times they had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war, and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country.

We call this investigation the "Winter Soldier Investigation." The term "Winter Soldier" is a play on words of Thomas Paine in 1776 when he spoke of the Sunshine Patriot and summertime soldiers who deserted at Valley Forge because the going was rough.
Aren't some of those 150 soldiers around to defend Kerry?

Yes, they are.

If I were a journalist, I'd ask Colin Powell and other Americans who served in Vietnam if the charges Kerry relayed are true. Isn't that what these ads are supposed to be about?

The truth.

The SBVT, however, cannot ask these questions because they already know the answers.

American troops did commit war crimes in Vietnam. Very serious war crimes. And much of it was official policy.

Here's a bit about My Lai, from the PBS website:
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....

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.
Like Abu Ghraib, the army wasn't too eager to report this atrocity to the world:
Word of the massacre did not reach the American public until November of 1969, when journalist Seymour Hersh published a story...
One isolated case, you say? Well, what do you know about the Phoenix Program? Former CIA Director William Colby revealed that US political and leaders ordered Americans to do some very nasty stuff in Vietnam:
In 1967 the CIA's Far East Division of Clandestine Services developed a program that came to be known as Phoenix. The program entailed a coordinated attack by all South Vietnamese and American military, police and intelligence units against the infrastructure of the Viet Cong. CIA funds served as the catalyst for the project. William E. Colby played the key supervisory role in its implementation. In 1971, Colby revealed that between 1968 and May 1971, the Phoenix program led to the death of 20, 587 persons in Vietnam.
Here's what Senator John Kerry told Tim Russert about this program on "Meet the Press" in 2001:
we, the government of our country, ran an assassination program. I mean, Bill Colby has acknowledged it. We had the Phoenix Program, where they actually went into villages to eliminate the civilian infrastructure of the Vietcong. Now, you couldn't tell the difference in many cases who they were. And countless veterans testified 30 years ago to that reality. And I think--look, there's no excusing shooting children in cold blood, or women, and killing them in cold blood. There isn't, under any circumstances.
Kerry said something in this interview that I think his advisors need to take to heart NOW. If the Swifties want to make this election about Vietnam, then the Democrats need to make it about what the lessons of Vietnam mean for today:
People made decisions based on their perceptions of the world at that time. They were in error. They were judgments of error. But I think no purpose is served now by going down that road. I think, you know, the rhetoric of youth and of anger can be redeemed by the acts that we put in place after time to try to move us beyond that. And I think there are great lessons to learn from it. But we would serve no purpose with that now. But we have to be honest about the mistakes we made. We don't have legitimacy in the world, Tim, if we go to other countries, in Bosnia or China or anywhere else, and not say, "You know, we made some terrible mistakes."

And that honesty, that lack of a sense of honesty is part of what is driving people's anger toward the United States today.
This interview was from spring 2001, long before the Iraq war, and the world is much more pissed now.

Remember what Karl Rove said about Abu Ghraib?
Karl Rove, the president's chief political adviser, has told one Bush adviser that he believes that it will take a generation for the United States to live this scandal down in the Arab world
Geez, the Republicans have practically handed Kerry this issue on a silver platter.

Kerry is a smart guy and he's been through these attacks in virtually every election he's ever ran. I think he's a strong closer because voters ultimately connect with what he's saying about these issues once the other side has thrown the mud.

Personally, I hope a talking head asks Kerry and Bush about this stuff in the forthcoming presidential debates. Ask Bush to talk about Abu Ghraib and Kerry to talk about atrocities in Vietnam. I wonder if Bush even knows about the Phoenix Program?

Note: If you have a lot of time, go read some of the Church Committee documents from 1975 and 1976. Senator Frank Church investigated the illegal actions of America and it wasn't a pretty picture. The US did some very nasty things, assassinating leaders, attempting to topple democratically elected governments (Iran, Guatemala, Chile), experimented on Americans with drugs, illegally monitored political enemies inside the US, etc.

A lot of original documents about Phoenix have been declassified as well and are available on the web.

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