End of December in Leningrad, 1983, minus 15 degrees Celsius (they said it was the coldest winter since '44, but perhaps they always say that about cold winters there), walking east on Nevsky Prospekt in late afternoon haze, a man came toward me. He looked like a Tatar and wore a long, fur-trimmed leather jacket and a sheepskin hat, earflaps akimbo. Reminded me of some Indian trappers getting off a train and strapping on snowshoes in the middle of the forest in western Ontario. For a second, which I have never forgotten, among the Leningraders, dressed like Buffalonians, the Steppes stepped through the veil of this sad, corrupted West dissolving in the lime-sprinkled open graves of its hatreds, greed, still denying the question after all these years. Yet, in some miserably over-crowded apartment out of Zoshchenko's stories or in some transparent enclosure from Zamyatin's, a few babies will always be born, stubborn little babies that will never be able to forget how to listen before speaking all their lives; stubborn babies that will not speak in order to dominate or submit, but to ask questions.
Countless times, all my life, I have stood on the beaches of my city on the Pacific and watched red suns set in the West. I first thought of it as the "Chinese" red, because of the color of those little envelopes with money inside we received on birthdays. Later, we had "Red" China, and even sunsets were dragged into the insane ideology of Cold War. Bomb shelters were sold on every vacant corner lot in those times -- location, location! -- before the Red Over There became the color of Vietnamese blood and the ineradicable stain of guilt sold to us by the imperial elites as only a spot of shame -- easily concealed under small -- then larger blood lettings here and there -- from Panama to Baghdad, Fallujah and beyond.
My Lai is just one polyp in the cancerous gut of this vengeful, leprous Pilgrim Leviathan armed to the teeth, whose rotting belly is our brokedown keep.
And so what does lie beyond the denial of denial?
Ask the mad, crippled old soldier eating in your breadlines, sleeping in your doorways, nursing questions you can't answer with his bottle's last drop.
We could have asked the half-naked, bleeding US Army soldier standing on a sidewalk on Haight Street at high noon in the Summer of Love, 1967, facing a crowd of stoned flower children flocking to one of their communal rendezvous in Golden Gate Park. As he sliced his flesh, he yelled at the crowd like a school of herring swarming around him, "Don't you see? Don't you know? Do you care about your brothers? Why? Why not?"
The stoned young lovers, momentarily alarmed by the sight of some dude bleeding on the sidewalk, jostled each other to get quickly around him without blood on their sandals or blouses of the sheerest muslin.
Or you could have asked 19-year-old US Marine Andreas Raya of Ceres CA, why he came back from Fallujah, in his mother's words, "different." But after seriously wounding one Ceres policeman and killing another, cornered and wounded in the ensuing manhunt, he dropped his weapon and rushed police, who killed him.
"Suicide by cop" is only one of the manifold ways our soldiers today are finding to kill themselves in monstrous, abominable numbers. -- wmh
New York Times
Pentagon's web timeline brings back Vietnam and protesters
Sheryl Gay Stolberg
WASHINGTON — It has been nearly half a century since a young antiwar protester named Tom Hayden traveled to Hanoi to investigate President Lyndon B. Johnson’s claims that the United States was not bombing civilians in Vietnam. Mr. Hayden saw destroyed villages and came away, he says, “pretty wounded by the pattern of deception.”
Now the Pentagon — run by a Vietnam veteran, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel — is planning a 50th anniversary commemoration of the Vietnam War. The effort, which is expected to cost taxpayers nearly $15 million by the end of this fiscal year, is intended to honor veterans and, its websitesays, “provide the American public with historically accurate materials” suitable for use in schools.
But the extensive website, which has been up for months, largely describes a war of valor and honor that would be unrecognizable to many of the Americans who fought in and against it.
Leading Vietnam historians complain that it focuses on dozens of medal-winning soldiers while giving scant mention to mistakes by generals and the years of violent protests and anguished debate at home.
The website’s “interactive timeline” omits the Fulbright hearings in the Senate, where in 1971 a disaffected young Vietnam veteran named John Kerry — now President Obama’s secretary of state — asked, “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?” In one early iteration, the website referred to the 1968 My Lai massacre, in which American troops killed hundreds of Vietnamese civilians, as the My Lai Incident.
The glossy view of history has now prompted more than 500 scholars, veterans and activists — including the civil rights leader Julian Bond; Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the top-secret Pentagon Papers; Lawrence J. Korb, a former assistant secretary of defense under President Ronald Reagan; and Peter Yarrow of the folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary — to join Mr. Hayden in demanding the ability to correct the Pentagon’s version of history and a place for the old antiwar activists in the anniversary events.
This week, in a move that has drawn the battle lines all over again, the group sent a petition to Lt. Gen. Claude M. Kicklighter, the retired Vietnam veteran who is overseeing the commemoration, to ask that the effort not be a “one-sided” look at a war that tore a generation apart.
General Kicklighter declined to be interviewed, but a Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Col. Tom Crosson, said in an email that the mission of the commemoration, as directed by Congress, is to “assist a grateful nation” in thanking veterans and their families. He said that the Pentagon was willing to make corrections “when factual errors or potential mischaracterizations are brought to our attention,” and that “there is no attempt to whitewash the history of the Vietnam War.”
The team has already changed some facts: After Nick Turse, the author of a book on Vietnam, noted the My Lai Incident reference in a February articleon the website TomDispatch, the language was revised to read, “Americal Division Kills Hundreds of Vietnamese Citizens at My Lai.” It still does not use the word massacre.
Mr. Hayden, 74, and other 1960s-era activists who helped him gather signatures, say they do not quarrel with honoring the sacrifice of soldiers. But they object to having the military write the story.
“All of us remember that the Pentagon got us into this war in Vietnam with its version of the truth,” Mr. Hayden said in a recent telephone interview from Berkeley, Calif., where he attended a rally to mark another 50th anniversary, that of the free-speech movement. “If you conduct a war, you shouldn’t be in charge of narrating it.”
Vietnam historians are also troubled. Fredrik Logevall, a Cornell University professor whose book on Vietnam, “Embers of War,” won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize, said that the website lacked context and that the timeline “omits too many important developments, while including a significant number of dubious importance.” Edwin Moise, a Vietnam historian at Clemson University, said he found numerous minor inaccuracies on the site.
The presidential historian Robert Dallek, meanwhile, said he would like to see the anniversary effort include discussion of “what a torturous experience” Vietnam was for presidents. “It’s hard to believe this is going to be an especially critical analysis of the military,” he said.
Congress authorized the commemoration in 2008, when it adopted a bill that directed the Defense Department to “coordinate, support and facilitate” federal, state and local programs associated with the 50th anniversary of the war. On Memorial Day 2012, President Obama issued a proclamationestablishing a 13-year program, lasting until 2025, “in recognition of a chapter in our nation’s history that must never be forgotten.” That day, he spoke at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington.
Few details of the plans have been made public. But in a 2012 interview with the website HistoryNet, General Kicklighter said that the commemoration would begin on Memorial Day 2015, when “we will begin to recruit the nation to get behind this effort in a very big way” and that the most active phase would conclude by Veterans Day 2017.
He promised “educational materials, a Pentagon exhibit, traveling exhibits, symposiums, oral history projects and much more.” The mission, he said, is to “help the nation take advantage of a rare opportunity to turn back to a page in history and to right a wrong, by expressing its honor and respect to Vietnam veterans and their families.”
But in antiwar and peace advocacy circles, unease has been percolating for some time. Veterans for Peace, an antiwar group based in St. Louis that includes many Vietnam veterans, has been talking since Mr. Obama’s speech about an “alternative commemoration,” said its executive director, Michael McPhearson.
Mr. McPhearson was unaware of the Hayden petition. “One of the biggest concerns for us,” he said, “is that if a full narrative is not remembered, the government will use the narrative it creates to continue to conduct wars around the world — as a propaganda tool.”
Mr. Hayden said he was particularly incensed at timeline entries like one that describes the Pentagon Papers as “a leaked collection of government memos written by government officials that tell the story of U.S. policy, even while it’s being formed” — without noting the Nixon administration’s effort to prevent their publication, or that Mr. Ellsberg and another leaker, Anthony Russo, were tried as traitors. And while the website does mention some protests, the references are often brief and clinical.
On Nov. 15, 1969 — when 250,000 antiwar protesters jammed Washington in what was then the largest mass march in the nation’s capital — the timeline entry simply states, “Protesters stage a massive protest in Washington D.C.”
Mr. Hayden’s petition grew out of conference calls with others in his antiwar network, including David Cortright, a veteran who protested the war in uniform and is now a scholar at Notre Dame, and John McAuliff, a former conscientious objector who runs a nonprofit organization devoted to reconciliation between the United States and Vietnam.
The effort is also something of a reunion for the group. After scanning the list of signatories, Mr. Ellsberg, 83, exclaimed, “God, I’m glad they’re all alive!”
Many of the longtime activists also see the petition as deeply relevant today.
“You can’t separate this effort to justify the terrible wars of 50 years ago from the terrible wars of today,” said Phyllis Bennis, a Middle East expert who has known Mr. Hayden since the early 1970s. “When I saw this, I thought immediately, ‘We’ve got to stop this.’ ”
Shaping the Vietnam Narrative
By Marjorie Cohn
Controlling the narrative is a key tool for propagandists who realize that how people understand a foreign conflict goes a long way toward determining their support or opposition. So, the U.S. government’s sanitizing of the Vietnam War is not just about history, but the present, as Marjorie Cohn writes.
For many years after the Vietnam War, we enjoyed the “Vietnam syndrome,” in which U.S. presidents hesitated to launch substantial military attacks on other countries. They feared intense opposition akin to the powerful movement that helped bring an end to the war in Vietnam. But in 1991, at the end of the Gulf War, George H.W. Bush declared, “By God, we’ve kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all!”
With George W. Bush’s wars on Iraq and Afghanistan, and Barack Obama’s drone wars in seven Muslim-majority countries and his escalating wars in Iraq and Syria, we have apparently moved beyond the Vietnam syndrome. By planting disinformation in the public realm, the government has built support for its recent wars, as it did with Vietnam.
Now the Pentagon is planning to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War by launching a $30 million program to rewrite and sanitize its history. Replete with a fancy interactive website, the effort is aimed at teaching schoolchildren a revisionist history of the war. The program is focused on honoring our service members who fought in Vietnam. But conspicuously absent from the website is a description of the antiwar movement, at the heart of which was the GI movement.
Thousands of GIs participated in the antiwar movement. Many felt betrayed by their government. They established coffee houses and underground newspapers where they shared information about resistance. During the course of the war, more than 500,000 soldiers deserted. The strength of the rebellion of ground troops caused the military to shift to an air war.
Ultimately, the war claimed the lives of 58,000 Americans. Untold numbers were wounded and returned with post-traumatic stress disorder. In an astounding statistic, more Vietnam veterans have committed suicide than were killed in the war.
Millions of Americans, many of us students on college campuses, marched, demonstrated, spoke out, sang and protested against the war. Thousands were arrested and some, at Kent State and Jackson State, were killed. The military draft and images of dead Vietnamese galvanized the movement.
On Nov. 15, 1969, in what was the largest protest demonstration in Washington, DC, at that time, 250,000 people marched on the nation’s capital, demanding an end to the war. Yet the Pentagon’s website merely refers to it as a “massive protest.”
But Americans weren’t the only ones dying. Between 2 and 3 million Indochinese – in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia – were killed. War crimes – such as the My Lai massacre – were common. In 1968, U.S. soldiers slaughtered 500 unarmed old men, women and children in the Vietnamese village of My Lai. Yet the Pentagon website refers only to the “My Lai Incident,” despite the fact that it is customarily referred to as a massacre.
One of the most shameful legacies of the Vietnam War is the U.S. military’s use of the deadly defoliant Agent Orange/dioxin. The military sprayed it unsparingly over much of Vietnam’s land. An estimated 3 million Vietnamese still suffer the effects of those deadly chemical defoliants. Tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers were also affected. It has caused birth defects in hundreds of thousands of children, both in Vietnam and the United States. It is currently affecting the second and third generations of people directly exposed to Agent Orange decades ago.
Certain cancers, diabetes, and spina bifida and other serious birth defects can be traced to Agent Orange exposure. In addition, the chemicals destroyed much of the natural environment of Vietnam; the soil in many “hot spots” near former U.S. army bases remains contaminated.
In the Paris Peace Accords signed in 1973, the Nixon administration pledged to contribute $3 billion toward healing the wounds of war and the post-war reconstruction of Vietnam. That promise remains unfulfilled.
Despite the continuing damage and injury wrought by Agent Orange, the Pentagon website makes scant mention of “Operation Ranch Hand.” It says that from 1961 to 1971, the U.S. sprayed 18 million gallons of chemicals over 20 percent of South Vietnam’s jungles and 36 percent of its mangrove forests. But the website does not cite the devastating effects of that spraying.
The incomplete history contained on the Pentagon website stirred more than 500 veterans of the U.S. peace movement during the Vietnam era to sign a petition to Lt. Gen. Claude M. “Mick” Kicklighter. It asks that the official program “include viewpoints, speakers and educational materials that represent a full and fair reflection of the issues which divided our country during the war in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.”
The petition cites the “many thousands of veterans” who opposed the war, the “draft refusals of many thousands of young Americans,” the “millions who exercised their rights as American citizens by marching, praying, organizing moratoriums, writing letters to Congress,” and “those who were tried by our government for civil disobedience or who died in protests.”
And, the petition says, “very importantly, we cannot forget the millions of victims of the war, both military and civilian, who died in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, nor those who perished or were hurt in its aftermath by land mines, unexploded ordnance, Agent Orange and refugee flight.”
Antiwar activists who signed the petition include Tom Hayden and Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg. “All of us remember that the Pentagon got us into this war in Vietnam with its version of the truth,” Hayden said in an interview with The New York Times. “If you conduct a war, you shouldn’t be in charge of narrating it,” he added.
Veterans for Peace (VFP) is organizing an alternative commemoration of the Vietnam War. “One of the biggest concerns for us,” VFP executive director Michael McPhearson told the Times, “is that if a full narrative is not remembered, the government will use the narrative it creates to continue to conduct wars around the world – as a propaganda tool.”
Indeed, just as Lyndon B. Johnson used the manufactured Tonkin Gulf incident as a pretext to escalate the Vietnam War, George W. Bush relied on mythical weapons of mass destruction to justify his war on Iraq, and the “war on terror” to justify his invasion of Afghanistan. And Obama justifies his drone wars by citing national security considerations, even though he creates more enemies of the United States as he kills thousands of civilians.
ISIS and Khorasan (which no one in Syria heard of until about three weeks ago) are the new enemies Obama is using to justify his wars in Iraq and Syria, although he admits they pose no imminent threat to the United States. The Vietnam syndrome has been replaced by the “Permanent War.”
It is no cliché that those who ignore history are bound to repeat it. Unless we are provided an honest accounting of the disgraceful history of the U.S. war on Vietnam, we will be ill equipped to protest the current and future wars conducted in our name.
Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and former president of the National Lawyers Guild. A veteran of the Stanford anti-Vietnam War movement, she is co-author (with Kathleen Gilberd) of Rules of Disengagement: The Politics and Honor of Military Dissent. Her latest book, Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral and Geopolitical Issues, will be published in October. She is also co-coordinator of the Vietnam Agent Orange Relief & Responsibility Campaign.Copyright, Truthout.org. Reprinted with permission.
World Socialist Website
“Suicide by cop”: Marine provokes police shootout to avoid return to Iraq
By Kevin Kearney and John Andrews
On January 8, 19-year-old Andres Raya, a US marine, killed one police officer and seriously wounded another before being shot dead in his hometown of Ceres, a small agricultural community near Modesto in northern California. The apparent motive was Raya’s determination not to return to duty in Iraq.
Raya, who fought in Fallujah last spring, returned from Iraq in September for a holiday visit. His mother, Julia Cortez Raya, told the Modesto Bee, “He came back different.”
Raya complained several times to his family that he did not want to return to Iraq. On January 2, Raya reported to Camp Pendleton to reunite with his unit. Last Saturday, January 8, Raya said he was stepping out to get something to eat and never returned. A day later he was back in Ceres with an SKS assault rifle, a Chinese version of the weapon he was trained to use in the military.
According to police, Raya went to a local liquor store in downtown Ceres Sunday evening, wearing a poncho and “talking about how much he hated the world.” He asked the store owner to call the police, and Ceres police officer Sam Ryno responded. Raya pulled the assault weapon from underneath his poncho and shot Ryno, seriously injuring him in the legs and lower back.
When he saw Ceres police officer Howard Stevenson drive into the liquor store parking lot, Raya again opened fire, shooting up the car before Stevenson could get out. Raya ran up to Stevenson, seriously wounded and sprawled out on the pavement, and shot him twice in the back of the head.
According to press reports, Raya calmly walked away, disappearing into a home or backyard. Eventually, three neighboring police departments and the California Highway Patrol responded, closing off a square mile of streets and deploying SWAT officers to search house-to-house for Raya.
Raya emerged from an alleyway and fired on four officers. The officers fired back, wounding Raya. According to the officers, Raya dropped his rifle and charged, motioning as though he was going for another weapon. The officers continued to fire until Raya fell dead.
Much of the shooting was videotaped by a camera outside the store. AModesto Bee article described it as showing Raya “shooting military style at the officers,” using “some of the same darting and dodging techniques we have seen in reports from Iraq.”
Ceres Police chief, Art De Werk, told the newspaper, “It was premeditated, planned, an ambush.... It was suicide by cop,” adding that the police believed that Raya’s concern about returning to combat in Iraq provoked the incident. Stevenson is the first Ceres police officer ever killed in the line of duty.
This tragic event demonstrates the impact of US imperialism’s neo-colonial invasion and occupation of Iraq on its most vulnerable participants. Considering the level of stress and brutality that young men and women are exposed to in Iraq, it is not surprising that they return home with an elevated propensity for violence. Relentless military attacks, the scorn of an Iraqi population that does not want them there, overextended tours and the deaths of friends all contribute to the psychological instability of returning troops.
Last March the Department of Defense released a mental health survey of troops in Iraq which found that almost three quarters of troops were experiencing low or very low levels of morale. Traditionally, the rate of suicides among enlisted men is much lower than that of the domestic male population. However, the rate of suicide in the ranks—at last count, 24 in Iraq and 7 upon return to the US—is nearly a third higher than the Army’s historical average.
In a letter revealing the psychological strain felt by many US troops in Iraq, a soldier and father of two wrote his mother, “I haven’t killed anybody here and I hope to never kill anybody,” before taking his own life.
The Army and the Department of Veteran’s Affairs do not ask returning soldiers about the killing they have done, much less determine how it affected them psychologically. Soldiers returning from Iraq are merely required to fill out a four-page form called a DD-2796. The closest this form comes to an inquiry about the violence of war is the question: “Were you engaged in combat where you discharged a weapon?” If the soldier has fired his weapon, he simply checks a box.
The first Gulf War helped produce its share of damaged human beings. The most notorious of them, Timothy McVeigh, killed 168 people when he detonated a massive bomb in the parking garage of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995.
More recently, in October 2002, John Allen Muhammad, also a veteran of the first Gulf War, carried out a series of sniper attacks in the Washington DC area, killing five people. Like Raya, he used a familiar weapon—a .233 caliber rifle, the civilian equivalent of the M-16 he was trained to use in Iraq—and military tactics in carrying out the attacks.
Robert Lee Yates, Jr., is a Gulf War veteran turned mass murderer. A former helicopter pilot with 19 years of army experience, Yates has been convicted of murdering 15 women in the Spokane, Washington, area, and, like Muhammad, has been sentenced to death.