Friday, May 07, 2004

On Atrocities in Vietnam

The conservative punditry has recently taken swipes at John Kerry over the various claims he made concerning atrocities committed by U.S. soldiers upon his return from combat in the Vietnam War (I will continue to refer to this conflict as a "war" despite the fact that Congress never designated it as such - it is what it is). Some of the most unfair attacks claim that Kerry said that "all" soldiers committed atrocities. This is not what Kerry said though. He pointed out that atrocities were being carried out by some U.S. military personnel. To counter this point, some conservative pundits have even gone as far as to claim that this was a lie, and that there were not atrocities committed at all. This dangerous brand of historical revisionism is easily refuted by the facts.

The most famous incident of war crimes in Vietnam was the My Lai massacre, in which over 500 unarmed civilians, the majority of which were women and children, were executed by Charlie Company, a unit of the Americal Division's 11th Infantry Brigade.

There were, of course, numerous other incidences of atrocities and war crimes. In a recent piece of investigative journalism, three reporters from the Toledo Blade were awarded the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for their work uncovering the systematic atrocities committed by the Tiger Force, a special unit made up of soldiers from the Army's 101st Airborne's 1st battalion/327th Infantry Regiment. These atrocities were documented and investigated by the Army. A list of articles detailing these far reaching and widespread atrocities can be found here.

The sad truth is that atrocities are inextricably linked to the mental anguish that war creates, and are a thus an ugly component in practically every major armed conflict. Pretending like atrocities don't exist doesn't make it so. In fact, this type of willful ignorance can lead policy makers to overestimate the efficacy of war as a substitute for other less bellicose tactics in foreign policy.

John Kerry displayed great courage and bravery in acting as a spokesman, bringing these horrific events to the knowledge of the American people. His truth-telling helped to convince the majority of Americans of the futility of a war in which you had to raze a village to save it. As a result of his deeds, and the actions of other like-minded individuals, the wall at the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. is that much shorter.

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