In August 1980, Ronald Reagan spoke as a candidate for president before the Veterans of Foreign Wars. During his speech he attacked what had come to be called “Vietnam Syndrome,” which was understood to mean a hesitancy on the part of the people of the U.S. to again become involved in the hideous debacle of wars, such as Vietnam. He continued distorting the reality of the brutality and immorality of the war against the people of Vietnam when he said: “It is time we recognized that ours was, in truth, a noble cause.” Of course, Reagan, as vicious a warmonger as has ever lived, was simply using hyperbole to whip the electorate and general public into a frenzy so that he would be able to wage additional immoral wars in Central America and the Caribbean, and especially against the people of Nicaragua and their freely elected government. While an Orwellian dystopian at heart, Reagan was not very different from many of the presidents who would follow him and initiate indiscriminate and grossly lethal forays into other parts of the world, most notably the Middle East and Southwest Asia, either through proxies or through the direct use of U.S. military force.
Now, Reagan’s rewriting of history has come back 50 years later in the Pentagon’s attempt to whitewash the horror of what was done to the people of Vietnam in a website marking the commemoration of the Vietnam War. The website claims that it will “provide the American public with historically accurate materials,” but in reality the accuracy of those materials is as lacking as the U.S. justification for entering that war against a nation that was not a threat to the U.S., and had done nothing to provoke a war that would end by killing millions of innocent people (“Paying Respects, Pentagon Revives Vietnam, and War Over Truth,” The New York Times, October 9, 2014).
Missing from the website are the voices of protest against the war, the war’s many U.S. atrocities, the lying of political leaders and generals, and the debate over the war in the U.S. The My Lai massacre is called the “My Lai incident” at the website, and even the words spoken in front of the Senate Fulbright hearings on Vietnam by John Kerry, then a disaffected Vietnam veteran, and now secretary of state, are omitted from this whitewashed history.
I was a war resister during the Vietnam War. I risked a safe place in the Reserves to make a statement against the insanity of that war that cost me years of my life in terms of the turmoil that resulted from taking on the power of the U.S. government. I learned much about countering distortions of history that this government pedals. That experience benefited me greatly. I never looked back.
Five years ago I met a Vietnam veteran by chance and we sat and spoke at length about the Vietnam War. I told him that I was a Vietnam era veteran, but not about my resistance to the war. He had suffered for years with the physical complications, including cancer, that were the direct result of his exposure to Agent Orange, a defoliant used to deforest the tropical jungles of Vietnam in order to make the so-called enemy more visible to U.S. forces. He had also fought the government for many years before his symptoms and suffering were recognized and treated by the Veterans Administration. The Vietnamese victims of that same poison have never been compensated for their suffering.
I asked the veteran with whom I spoke what he thought so many decades later about those who resisted the war and the motivation for the U.S. involvement in that war. He said that he would have liked to have stood on the U.S.-Canadian border and taken shots at those who resisted the war and sought sanctuary in Canada, but through years of reading widely about the war he had come to see that the resistance to the war had merit.
The government seeks young recruits because they believe that through various kinds of propaganda and relentless military training, the universal admonition against killing can be countered. As can be seen from veteran suicides and post-traumatic stress disorder, the rules of war relating to the killing of civilians in wartime and the admonition against killing in general are not easily or entirely erased from the human mind.
Much of the propaganda that has emerged since the Vietnam War has focused on the Vietnam veteran as victim of the war, and to a degree veterans are also the victims of war and shoddy treatment by the Veterans Administration. This theme has been repeated in popular culture with films such as Platoon (1986) and The Deer Hunter (1978). Almost never are the most obvious victims of that war, the people of Vietnam and the people of Southeast Asia, portrayed as real people. Reagan, in a way, left the rest of us as heirs to his erroneous portrayal of the war by making it easier for U.S. presidents, Congress, and the military to embark on a series of endless wars following Vietnam.
What the veteran with whom I spoke had learned over the decades that followed the disaster that was the Vietnam War, the Pentagon has not learned as the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the war soon begins (The U.S. actually had thousands of so-called boots on the ground many years before the Gulf of Tonkin incident that launched the official U.S. entry into the war in 1964.). The Pentagon seeks to rewrite history in the Orwellian tradition and shove the actual history of that war into a rubbish heap much as Orwell’s character Winston does at the Ministry of Truth in the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer.
In transmitting President Richard Nixon’s orders for a “massive” bombing of Cambodia in 1969, Henry Kissinger said, “Anything that flies on everything that moves”. As Barack Obama ignites his seventh war against the Muslim world since he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the orchestrated hysteria and lies make one almost nostalgic for Kissinger’s murderous honesty.
As a witness to the human consequences of aerial savagery – including the beheading of victims, their parts festooning trees and fields – I am not surprised by the disregard of memory and history, yet again. A telling example is the rise to power of Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge, who had much in common with today’s Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). They, too, were ruthless medievalists who began as a small sect. They, too, were the product of an American-made apocalypse, this time in Asia.
According to Pol Pot, his movement had consisted of “fewer than 5,000 poorly armed guerrillas uncertain about their strategy, tactics, loyalty and leaders”. Once Nixon’s and Kissinger’s B52 bombers had gone to work as part of “Operation Menu”, the west’s ultimate demon could not believe his luck.
The Americans dropped the equivalent of five Hiroshimas on rural Cambodia during 1969-73. They levelled village after village, returning to bomb the rubble and corpses. The craters left monstrous necklaces of carnage, still visible from the air. The terror was unimaginable. A former Khmer Rouge official described how the survivors “froze up and they would wander around mute for three or four days. Terrified and half-crazy, the people were ready to believe what they were told… That was what made it so easy for the Khmer Rouge to win the people over.”
A Finnish Government Commission of Enquiry estimated that 600,000 Cambodians died in the ensuing civil war and described the bombing as the “first stage in a decade of genocide”. What Nixon and Kissinger began, Pol Pot, their beneficiary, completed. Under their bombs, the Khmer Rouge grew to a formidable army of 200,000.
ISIS has a similar past and present. By most scholarly measure, Bush and Blair’s invasion of Iraq in 2003 led to the deaths of some 700,000 people – in a country that had no history of jihadism. The Kurds had done territorial and political deals; Sunni and Shia had class and sectarian differences, but they were at peace; intermarriage was common. Three years before the invasion, I drove the length of Iraq without fear. On the way I met people proud, above all, to be Iraqis, the heirs of a civilization that seemed, for them, a presence.
Bush and Blair blew all this to bits. Iraq is now a nest of jihadism. Al-Qaeda – like Pol Pot’s “jihadists” – seized the opportunity provided by the onslaught of Shock and Awe and the civil war that followed. “Rebel” Syria offered even greater rewards, with CIA and Gulf state ratlines of weapons, logistics and money running through Turkey. The arrival of foreign recruits was inevitable. A former British ambassador, Oliver Miles, wrote recently, “The [Cameron] government seems to be following the example of Tony Blair, who ignored consistent advice from the Foreign Office, MI5 and MI6 that our Middle East policy – and in particular our Middle East wars – had been a principal driver in the recruitment of Muslims in Britain for terrorism here.”
ISIS is the progeny of those in Washington and London who, in destroying Iraq as both a state and a society, conspired to commit an epic crime against humanity. Like Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, ISIS are the mutations of a western state terror dispensed by a venal imperial elite undeterred by the consequences of actions taken at great remove in distance and culture. Their culpability is unmentionable in “our” societies.
It is 23 years since this holocaust enveloped Iraq, immediately after the first Gulf War, when the US and Britain hijacked the United Nations Security Council and imposed punitive “sanctions” on the Iraqi population – ironically, reinforcing the domestic authority of Saddam Hussein. It was like a medieval siege. Almost everything that sustained a modern state was, in the jargon, “blocked” – from chlorine for making the water supply safe to school pencils, parts for X-ray machines, common painkillers and drugs to combat previously unknown cancers carried in the dust from the southern battlefields contaminated with Depleted Uranium.
Just before Christmas 1999, the Department of Trade and Industry in London restricted the export of vaccines meant to protect Iraqi children against diphtheria and yellow fever. Kim Howells, parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Blair government, explained why. “The children’s vaccines”, he said, “were capable of being used in weapons of mass destruction”. The British Government could get away with such an outrage because media reporting of Iraq – much of it manipulated by the Foreign Office – blamed Saddam Hussein for everything.
Under a bogus “humanitarian” Oil for Food Programme, $100 was allotted for each Iraqi to live on for a year. This figure had to pay for the entire society’s infrastructure and essential services, such as power and water. “Imagine,” the UN Assistant Secretary General, Hans Von Sponeck, told me, “setting that pittance against the lack of clean water, and the fact that the majority of sick people cannot afford treatment, and the sheer trauma of getting from day to day, and you have a glimpse of the nightmare. And make no mistake, this is deliberate. I have not in the past wanted to use the word genocide, but now it is unavoidable.”
Disgusted, Von Sponeck resigned as UN Humanitarian Co-ordinator in Iraq. His predecessor, Denis Halliday, an equally distinguished senior UN official, had also resigned. “I was instructed,” Halliday said, “to implement a policy that satisfies the definition of genocide: a deliberate policy that has effectively killed well over a million individuals, children and adults.”
A study by the United Nations Children’s Fund, Unicef, found that between 1991 and 1998, the height of the blockade, there were 500,000 “excess” deaths of Iraqi infants under the age of five. An American TV reporter put this to Madeleine Albright, US Ambassador to the United Nations, asking her, “Is the price worth it?” Albright replied, “We think the price is worth it.”
In 2007, the senior British official responsible for the sanctions, Carne Ross, known as “Mr. Iraq”, told a parliamentary selection committee, “[The US and UK governments] effectively denied the entire population a means to live.” When I interviewed Carne Ross three years later, he was consumed by regret and contrition. “I feel ashamed,” he said. He is today a rare truth-teller of how governments deceive and how a compliant media plays a critical role in disseminating and maintaining the deception. “We would feed [journalists] factoids of sanitised intelligence,” he said, “or we’d freeze them out.”
On 25 September, a headline in the Guardian read: “Faced with the horror of Isis we must act.” The “we must act” is a ghost risen, a warning of the suppression of informed memory, facts, lessons learned and regrets or shame. The author of the article was Peter Hain, the former Foreign Office minister responsible for Iraq under Blair. In 1998, when Denis Halliday revealed the extent of the suffering in Iraq for which the Blair Government shared primary responsibility, Hain abused him on the BBC’s Newsnight as an “apologist for Saddam”. In 2003, Hain backed Blair’s invasion of stricken Iraq on the basis of transparent lies. At a subsequent Labour Party conference, he dismissed the invasion as a “fringe issue”.
Now Hain is demanding “air strikes, drones, military equipment and other support” for those “facing genocide” in Iraq and Syria. This will further “the imperative of a political solution”. Obama has the same in mind as he lifts what he calls the “restrictions” on US bombing and drone attacks. This means that missiles and 500-pound bombs can smash the homes of peasant people, as they are doing without restriction in Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Somalia – as they did in Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos. On 23 September, a Tomahawk cruise missile hit a village in Idlib Province in Syria, killing as many as a dozen civilians, including women and children. None waved a black flag.
The day Hain’s article appeared, Denis Halliday and Hans Von Sponeck happened to be in London and came to visit me. They were not shocked by the lethal hypocrisy of a politician, but lamented the enduring, almost inexplicable absence of intelligent diplomacy in negotiating a semblance of truce. Across the world, from Northern Ireland to Nepal, those regarding each other as terrorists and heretics have faced each other across a table. Why not now in Iraq and Syria.
Like Ebola from West Africa, a bacteria called “perpetual war” has crossed the Atlantic. Lord Richards, until recently head of the British military, wants “boots on the ground” now. There is a vapid, almost sociopathic verboseness from Cameron, Obama and their “coalition of the willing” – notably Australia’s aggressively weird Tony Abbott – as they prescribe more violence delivered from 30,000 feet on places where the blood of previous adventures never dried. They have never seen bombing and they apparently love it so much they want it to overthrow their one potentially valuable ally, Syria. This is nothing new, as the following leaked UK-US intelligence file illustrates:
“In order to facilitate the action of liberative [sic] forces… a special effort should be made to eliminate certain key individuals [and] to proceed with internal disturbances in Syria. CIA is prepared, and SIS (MI6) will attempt to mount minor sabotage and coup de main [sic] incidents within Syria, working through contacts with individuals… a necessary degree of fear… frontier and [staged] border clashes [will] provide a pretext for intervention… the CIA and SIS should use… capabilities in both psychological and action fields to augment tension.”
That was written in 1957, though it could have been written yesterday. In the imperial world, nothing essentially changes. Last year, the former French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas revealed that “two years before the Arab spring”, he was told in London that a war on Syria was planned. “I am going to tell you something,” he said in an interview with the French TV channel LPC, “I was in England two years before the violence in Syria on other business. I met top British officials, who confessed to me that they were preparing something in Syria… Britain was organising an invasion of rebels into Syria. They even asked me, although I was no longer Minister for Foreign Affairs, if I would like to participate… This operation goes way back. It was prepared, preconceived and planned.”
The only effective opponents of ISIS are accredited demons of the west – Syria, Iran, Hezbollah. The obstacle is Turkey, an “ally” and a member of NATO, which has conspired with the CIA, MI6 and the Gulf medievalists to channel support to the Syrian “rebels”, including those now calling themselves ISIS. Supporting Turkey in its long-held ambition for regional dominance by overthrowing the Assad government beckons a major conventional war and the horrific dismemberment of the most ethnically diverse state in the Middle East.
A truce – however difficult to achieve – is the only way out of this imperial maze; otherwise, the beheadings will continue. That genuine negotiations with Syria should be seen as “morally questionable” (the Guardian ) suggests that the assumptions of moral superiority among those who supported the war criminal Blair remain not only absurd, but dangerous.
Together with a truce, there should be an immediate cessation of all shipments of war materials to Israel and recognition of the State of Palestine. The issue of Palestine is the region’s most festering open wound, and the oft-stated justification for the rise of Islamic extremism. Osama bin Laden made that clear. Palestine also offers hope. Give justice to the Palestinians and you begin to change the world around them.
More than 40 years ago, the Nixon-Kissinger bombing of Cambodia unleashed a torrent of suffering from which that country has never recovered. The same is true of the Blair-Bush crime in Iraq. With impeccable timing, Henry Kissinger’s latest self-serving tome has just been released with its satirical title, “World Order”. In one fawning review, Kissinger is described as a “key shaper of a world order that remained stable for a quarter of a century”. Tell that to the people of Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Chile, East Timor and all the other victims of his “statecraft”. Only when “we” recognise the war criminals in our midst will the blood begin to dry.
Follow John Pilger on twitter @johnpilger
In his speech before the meeting of the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly on September 24, U.S. President Barack Obama resurrected yet another turn of phrase used most often by those wishing to make the case for dropping bombs on people and things.In an effort to justify U.S.-led airstrikes in Syria, Obama declared that the militant organization known as ISIS (or ISIL or IS, the ‘Islamic State’) not only commits the “most horrific crimes imaginable,” but is so vicious, violent, and uniquely brutal that it “forces [the international community] to look into the heart of darkness,” adding later:
No god condones this terror. No grievance justifies these actions. There can be no reasoning, no negotiation, with this brand of evil. The only language understood by killers like this is the language of force. So the United States of America will work with a broad coalition to dismantle this network of death.
The rhetoric used by Obama to defend yet another illegal and ill-conceived American air campaign in the Middle East – an undefined, unconstitutional operation designed to inevitably expand and escalate – is well-worn. The very same word salad, notably the “language of force” line, has been routinely served up to justify lethal action against a seemingly intractable foe and it puts the onus on the target of that aggression for bringing such violence upon itself: if they weren’t such barbarians, we too wouldn’t have to resort to barbarism.
So, bombs away. After all, military action was our only choice, we are told, despite the fact that the declared targets of our artillery pose no direct or imminent threat to the United States. The irrational and bloodthirsty comprehend only the heat-seeking and bunker-busting. Diplomacy is impossible, thus destruction is imperative.
In his 2005 book, Writing the War on Terrorism: Language, Politics and Counter-terrorism, Richard Jackson, deputy director at the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Otago in New Zealand, explored this very kind of political messaging:
One of the most noticeable and ubiquitous features of the language of counter-terrorism is its invariable appeal to identity: terrorists are endlessly demonised and vilified as being evil, barbaric and inhuman, while America and its coalition partners are described as heroic, decent and peaceful – the defenders of freedom.
“At its most basic level, the language used by officials is attempt to convince the public that a ‘war’ against all forms of terrorism is necessary, reasonable, inherently good and winnable,” he added.
Over the past few decades, whenever bombing Iraq is on the horizon, we’ve heard much of the same from government officials and their pro-war mouthpieces in the media and think tank establishment.
In late 1990, Martin Indyk, founder and executive director of the AIPAC-launched Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) and later senior advisor to presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, wrote, “Saddam Hussein has demonstrated that he only speaks and understands the language of force.”
In 1991, Maine Representative Olympia Snowe supported the authorization of Operation Desert Storm due to her determination that successfully confronting Saddam Hussein required “a credible military threat be maintained against a brutal aggressor who only understands the language of force.”
Just days before Bill Clinton’s first inauguration as president in January 1993, the George H.W. Bush administration was again bombing Iraq. Utah Senator Orrin Hatch insisted, “Unfortunately, Saddam Hussein knows only the language of force. President Bush has delivered a message that Saddam is certain to understand,” adding, “The air strikes are not enough.”
In September 1996, when the Clinton administration itself was routinely bombing Iraq, Secretary of State Warren Christopher expressed his frustration with Russian condemnation of such attacks. He told the press he was “disappointed” the Russians “don’t understand as we do that the only language that Saddam understands is the language of force.” This became a go-to phrase in the administration’s talking points.
Speaking to members of the group “Seeds of Peace” on September 3, 1996, Christopher made arguments eerily reminiscent of what we’ve heard recently with regard to Obama’s current operation:
The record is, unfortunately, all too clear. Saddam has threatened and invaded his neighbors, developed and used weapons of mass destruction, sponsored countless acts of terrorism, and for the last two decades he has relentlessly persecuted the Kurds and the Shiites. When Saddam tests the will and resolve of the international community, our response must be and will be forceful and immediate.
Time and again we’ve seen that the United States leadership is essential to provide that response. Military action that the United States launched today has made it clear that Saddam will pay a price whenever he engages in aggression. We are answering in the only language he understands, the language of force.
Later that month, on September 12, 1996, former Secretary of State James Baker testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee and encouraged more military attacks, saying, “Iraq under Saddam Hussein only understands force. And more to the point, it seems only to understand overwhelming force. When we respond in a situation like this, I do not believe that it needs to be limited so as to be proportionate to the provocation.”
In their book about the 2003 invasion of Iraq and subsequent occupation, New York Times correspondent Michael R. Gordon and former Marine lieutenant general Bernard Trainor recount the words of a high-ranking officer of the U.S. Army’s Fourth Infantry Division sent to attack the city of Tikrit. “The only thing these sand niggers understand is force,” the officer remarked, “and I’m about to introduce them to it.” General Ray Odierno, who led the 4th ID’s attack, is currently the U.S. Army’s Chief of Staff.
The messaging is clear. As Richard Jackson notes, “In this most rudimentary sense, the language accompanying the ‘war on terrorism’ is a public relations or propaganda exercise; it is designed to ‘sell’ the policies of counter-terrorism.” In order to build support for military action, the public is repeatedly told that “the terrorists are inhuman barbarians who deserve to be eradicated from civilised society; the threat posed by terrorism is catastrophic and it is only rational to respond with all due force; and the American-led war against terrorism is by definition a good and just war.”
Historically, however, this rhetoric has not been reserved solely for justifying American military action against predominately Muslim countries in the Middle East. Nor has this phrase been used only by one side of the conflict.
In a video message allegedly made and distributed on October 20, 2001, al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden declared, “Bush and Blair… don’t understand any language but the language of force. Every time they kill us, we kill them, so the balance of terror is achieved,” according to a declassified report released by British intelligence in November 2001.
Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri, in a 2003 sermon, reportedly announced, “The Crusaders [Americans] and the Jews only understand the language of force, and they only understand the return of coffins and destroyed interests and burned towers and destroyed economy.”
In a statement claiming responsibility for simultaneous suicide bombings that killed 155 people in Baghdad on October 25, 2009, an anti-occupation, al-Qaeda linked group known then as the Islamic State in Iraq explained, “Among the chosen targets were the ministry of oppression known as the Ministry of Justice and the Baghdad provincial assembly… The enemies only understand the language of force.”
Prior to the beheading of American journalist James Foley, on August 12, 2014, ISIS reportedly sent an email to Foley’s family announcing their intention to murder him in retaliation for U.S. airstrikes and delivering a wider message to the American government and people. Claiming to have provided “many chances to negotiate the release of your people via cash transactions” and “prisoner exchanges,” ISIS wrote that it was clear “this is NOT what you are interested in.”
The email went on: “You have no motivation to deal with the Muslims except with the language of force, a language you were given in ‘Arabic translation’ when you attempted to occupy the land of Iraq! Now you return to bomb the Muslims of Iraq once again, this time resorting to Arial [sic] attacks and ‘proxy armies’, all the while cowardly shying away from a face-to-face confrontation!”
“You do not spare our weak, elderly, women or children so we will NOT spare yours!” the email warned. “You and your citizens will pay the price of your bombings!”
In his speech before the United Nations last week justifying expanded airstrikes against ISIS, Obama thus recycled the very phrase used by ISIS to justify its own violence.
Still, the phrase has even older roots.
Zionism and Its Malcontents
In 1891, after one of his frequent travels through Palestine, Ahad Ha’am, the Ukrainian-born Jewish essayist known widely as the founder of cultural Zionism, lamented that Zionist settlers acted like “the only language the Arabs understand is that of force” and “behave towards the Arabs with hostility and cruelty, trespass unjustly upon their boundaries, beat them shamefully without reason and even brag about it, and nobody stands to check this contemptible and dangerous tendency.”
This same, possibly apocryphal, formulation has been credited over the years to Israel’s first prime minister David Ben-Gurion, second prime minister Moshe Sharett, and IDF commander Raphael Petan, and is widely considered the immutable underlying assumption guiding racist, hawkish Israeli attitudes towards Arabs in general and Palestinians in particular.
This linguistic articulation of Zionist sentiment was already so prevalent prior to the establishment of the State of Israel that renowned political theorist Hannah Arendt turned the phrase on its head in her 1948 essay, “Peace or Armistice in the Near East?,” published two years later in the Review of Politics. “All hopes to the contrary notwithstanding,” she wrote, as the Nakba raged on, “it seems as though the one argument the Arabs are incapable of understanding is force.”
In February 1992, following the assassination of Hezbollah leader Sheikh Abbas Moussawi, killed in southern Lebanon in an Israeli airstrike along with his wife and five-year-old son, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Arens boasted, “We’ve learned that terror organizations like Hezbollah only understand one language – the language of force.”
Two weeks after the start of the Second Intifada, when Israel had already fired 1.3 million bullets at Palestinian demonstrators in the West Bank and Gaza, a military spokesman justified Israel actions, saying that force “will be the only language they understand.”
Prior to Israeli parliamentary elections in 2009, supporters of the fascistic Avigdor Lieberman enthusiastically endorsed this narrative. “He’s the kind of leader we’ve been waiting for, he knows how to talk to Arabs in their own language, the language of force,” an Israeli woman who resides in a town close to the border with Gaza told the press.
Predictably, those opposed to Israel policies of colonialism, annexation, occupation, and military aggression have also resorted to such rhetoric. “Our enemy knows only the language of force and negotiations are useless,” Palestinian officials have longed declared. In 1998, a resident of the Jabaliya refugee camp in Gaza said this of Israeli leadership: “They only understand the language of force, not of peace.” A decade later, a Palestinian professor in Gaza said that same of Hamas.
From Stalin to Putin
While the “language of force” has long been used in the West to describe the supposed base nature and unsophisticated lack of humanity of the savage “Oriental” – a colonial, supremacist discourse popularized all the more after the attacks of September 11, 2001 – this discursive process has not been reserved for Arab or Muslim targets alone.
In his famous March 1946 “Iron Curtain Speech,” Winston Churchill expressed his conviction that, for Soviet Russia and its Communist satellites, “there is nothing for which they have less respect than for weakness, especially military weakness.” Thus, he reasoned, “Western Democracies” must “stand together” lest “they become divided or falter in their duty and if these all-important years are allowed to slip away then indeed catastrophe may overwhelm us all.”
68 years later, speaking at a Center for Strategic and International Studies forum in March 2014, New York Times columnist Roger Cohen paraphrased Churchill’s admonition, saying of Russian president Vladimir Putin that “the language he understands is force” and warning that, “unless there is a strong response, and a united response above all,” to Russian actions in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, “from the United States and Europe together to this, and a reassertion of the transatlantic alliance and NATO, then we could be heading in a very worrying direction.”
In May 2014, prior to his election as new Ukrainian president, billionaire confectionery magnate Petro Poroshenko stated that, in order to deal with pro-Russian separatists — whom he called “terrorists” — “we should find out the right language they understand, and that would be the language of force.”
On April 19, 1965, as American bombs fell in Vietnam, conservative columnist Russell Kirk wrote, “Like the Nazis, the Asiatic Communists prefer guns to butter,” and accused North Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh of aggressive “conquest”:
At this stage of affairs, only effective military resistance and retaliation can dissuade Ho Chi Minh from pursuing the war with increased vigor. The language of force, indeed, Communists understand.
General William C. Westmoreland, commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam at the time of the My Lai Massacre, and soon-to-be Army Chief of Staff, often and openly maintained that “meaningful force” was “the only language they [the North Vietnamese] understood.”
As late as March 1975, after nearly all American troops had been withdrawn from the conflict, and following a meeting with President Gerald Ford, the then-retired Westmoreland told journalists that “the culprit in this whole thing is Hanoi,” adding, “The only language Hanoi understands is the language of force and I think it’s too bad that we couldn’t again mine Haiphong harbor and that the President doesn’t have authority to use tactical air and B52 strikes to hit the Communist supply lines.”
Six weeks later, Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese Army.
On the floor of the United States Congress on February 4, 1988, long-serving South Carolina Senator Ernest Hollings advocated for increased military aid sent to the Contras in Nicaragua. Denouncing Congressional Democrats as “not committed to fight for anything” and “only willing to posture and talk,” Hollings declared that “there is no hope in Nicaragua without aid to the Contras.” Dismissing diplomacy, he bellowed, “Peace plans? The Marxists only understand the language of force.”
Later that year, in August 1988, Nicaraguan Contra founder and commander Enrique Bermúdez also made the case for continued military support from the U.S. government. “The only language the Sandinistas understand or respect is the language of force,” he insisted. “If the Sandinistas weren’t receiving massive assistance from the Soviet Union, Cuba and other communist countries, the Nicaraguan people wouldn’t have any need of foreign sources of support.”
The ubiquity of the “language of force” line has rendered the phrase effectively meaningless, levied at one’s enemies in order to silence debate and promote military action.
The same was said of South Africa’s Apartheid regime in the 1980s. Croatian officials, Kosovar separatists, and New York Times columnists said the same of Serbian president Slobodan Milošević in the 1990s. It’s been said about the “leaders of the Axis of Evil,” it was said about Gaddafi and Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh, and it is often said about Assad. It has been said about the Pakistani Taliban, the Somali militant group al-Shabab and the Nigerian Boko Haram.
The same rhetoric is used by tyrants as well to describe dissident, resistance, and revolutionary movements. For instance, in early February 2011, as Cairo’s Tahrir Square swelled with increasing demands for Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak’s resignation, a CNN report noted that the U.S.-backed leader had long “argued that Egypt had to adopt a tight security policy to combat terrorism; that the forces of political Islam do not understand anything but the language of force and a strong government grip.”
A year ago, in a September 20, 2013 article, David Sanger of the New York Times credited Obama’s economic warfare on Iran and threats of military action in Syria with restarting nuclear negotiations and, with the help of Russia, dismantling Assad’s chemical weapons. With regard to “President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, and Iran’s erratic mullahs,” Sanger wrote, Obama was experiencing “the long-delayed fruits of the administration’s selective use of coercion in a part of the world where that is understood.”
Speaking before the United Nations General Assembly two weeks later, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that, “when it comes to Iran, the greater the pressure, the greater the chance” of successfully denying the nation their inalienable right to a domestic nuclear energy program.
For years, however, Iranian officials from three successive presidential administrations have consistently pushed back against this offensive presumption.
Back in June 2003, as U.S.-led pressure over Iran’s nuclear program increased, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi warned that unjust accusations and illegal threats would strengthen the resolve of conservative elements in the government opposed to diplomacy with the West. “Excessive pressure on Iran would untie the hands of those who do not believe in dialogue,” he said, “Even those who favour constructive talks would not accept the language of force and threat.”
Two years later, as dubious allegations, wild predictions, and threats of unprovoked attack mounted, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addressed the nuclear issue in his first speech before the UN General Assembly on September 17, 2005. Western powers and Israel, he said,
have misrepresented Iran’s healthy and fully safeguarded technological endeavors in the nuclear field as pursuit of nuclear weapons. This is nothing but a propaganda ploy. The Islamic Republic of Iran is presenting in good faith its proposal for constructive interaction and a just dialogue. However, if some try to impose their will on the Iranian people through resort to a language of force and threat with Iran, we will reconsider our entire approach to the nuclear issue.
The next year, leading Iranian cleric Ahmad Khatami, a senior member of the Assembly of Experts, noted in a nationally broadcast weekly sermon, “Iran is favourable toward negotiations that are just, logical and without preconditions, but refuses the language of force,” adding, “Using the language of force with Iran is a foolish and clumsy attitude.”
“Resolutions, sanctions and threats have always made the issue more complicated,” Iran’s IAEA envoy Ali-Asghar Soltanieh said in late 2009 before a Board of Governor’s vote on a resolution focusing on the recently-announced uranium enrichment facility at Fordow. “We recommend the IAEA not to refer to such methods and use the language of logic rather than force.”
Throughout 2012, Ahmadinejad reaffirmed his assertion that Iran would never buckle to the West’s “language of force and insult.”
Earlier this year, following a round of nuclear negotiations in Vienna, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif remarked that “the language of force has no place in foreign policy agendas” and that “any state using the ‘all-options-on-the-table’ rhetoric is actually taking outdated measures.”
In late 2009, then IAEA chief and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mohamed ElBaradei concurred with this message. “[U]sing the language of force is not helpful. It leads to confrontation, to the other country taking counteraction,” he said in an interview with The Hindu. “It is better to forget the language of coercion and focus on trying to engage in dialogue.”
The Force of Language
Barack Obama, the drone president who defended perpetual war while receiving his own Nobel prize, disagrees. In his UN speech, Obama has again joined the ranks of those who justify the use of force through the abuse of weaponized language. The appeal to an adversary’s unprecedented “brand of evil” serves not to illuminate the challenges faced, but rather to obfuscate an informed comprehension of current affairs. It is the ultimate conversation-stopper.
As terrorism expert Richard Jackson explains:
… the language of good and evil suppresses questions: we don’t need to ask what the motivations or aims of the terrorists were if they are ‘evil,’ as ‘evil’ is its own motivation and its own self-contained explanation. Evil people do not have any politics and there is no need to examine their causes or grievances. Evil people do what they do simply because they are evil. Clearly, the use of this language is a way of encouraging quiescence and displacing more complex understandings of political and social events. As such, it qualifies as demagoguery by appealing to ignorance and arrogance through a distorted representation of the nature of evil.
As the United States and its coalition partners embark once again on an ill-fated, military misadventure in the Middle East, the recycled language used to promote such policies is predictable. And this time around, as in the past, it’s effectiveness is proven.
A FoxNews poll released this week shows that upwards of 78% of Americans approve of U.S. airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, while 55% believe such action is “not aggressive enough.” Additionally, 57% of respondents are supportive of a ground operation if the bombing campaign proves ineffective or indecisive. A Washington Post/ABC News poll this week produced similar results.
Yet, beyond all the political rhetoric and domestic jingoism, for those on the ground in Iraq and Syria, including the dozens of civilians already killed in U.S. airstrikes against ISIS, bombs drop louder than words.
This article was cross-posted on Wide Asleep in America.
September 21, 2014
50 years after the US military intervention in the Vietnam War, the weapons it used continue to harm the local population. Unexploded mines still take lives and the consequences of “Agent Orange” claim new victims. A defoliant used by the US Air Force to destroy forests where Vietcong guerrilla fighters were taking cover, “Agent Orange” is highly toxic to humans. The chemical not only severely harmed the health of those immediately exposed to it, but also led to birth defects in subsequent generations. Its impact is still being felt in Vietnam, where it is estimated that around 5 million people are suffering from its damaging effects. They call it their “orange pain.”
Richard Nixon was a traitor.
The new release of extended versions of Nixon’s papers now confirms this long-standing belief, usually dismissed as a “conspiracy theory” by Republican conservatives. Now it has been substantiated by none other than right-wing columnist George Will.
Nixon’s newly revealed records show for certain that in 1968, as a presidential candidate, he ordered Anna Chennault, his liaison to the South Vietnam government, to persuade them refuse a cease-fire being brokered by President Lyndon Johnson.
Nixon’s interference with these negotiations violated President John Adams’s 1797 Logan Act, banning private citizens from intruding into official government negotiations with a foreign nation.
Published as the 40th Anniversary of Nixon’s resignation approaches, Will’s column confirms that Nixon feared public disclosure of his role in sabotaging the 1968 Vietnam peace talks. Will says Nixon established a “plumbers unit” to stop potential leaks of information that might damage him, including documentation he believed was held by the Brookings Institute, a liberal think tank. The Plumbers’ later break-in at the Democratic National Committee led to the Watergate scandal that brought Nixon down.
Nixon’s sabotage of the Vietnam peace talks was confirmed by transcripts of FBI wiretaps. On November 2, 1968, LBJ received an FBI report saying Chernnault told the South Vietnamese ambassador that “she had received a message from her boss: saying the Vietnamese should “hold on, we are gonna win.”
As Will confirms, Vietnamese did “hold on,” the war proceeded and Nixon did win, changing forever the face of American politics—-with the shadow of treason permanently embedded in its DNA.
The treason came in 1968 as the Vietnam War reached a critical turning point. President Lyndon Johnson was desperate for a truce between North and South Vietnam.
LBJ had an ulterior motive: his Vice President, Hubert Humphrey, was in a tight presidential race against Richard Nixon. With demonstrators in the streets, Humphrey desperately needed a cease-fire to get him into the White House.
Johnson had it all but wrapped it. With a combination of gentle and iron-fisted persuasion, he forced the leaders of South Vietnam into an all-but-final agreement with the North. A cease-fire was imminent, and Humphrey’s election seemed assured.
But at the last minute, the South Vietnamese pulled out. LBJ suspected Nixon had intervened to stop them from signing a peace treaty.
In the Price of Power (1983), Seymour Hersh revealed Henry Kissinger—then Johnson’s advisor on Vietnam peace talks—secretly alerted Nixon’s staff that a truce was imminent.
According to Hersh, Nixon “was able to get a series of messages to the Thieu government [of South Vietnam] making it clear that a Nixon presidency would have different views on peace negotiations.”
Johnson was livid. He even called the Republican Senate Minority Leader, Everett Dirksen, to complain that “they oughtn’t be doing this. This is treason.”
“I know,” was Dirksen’s feeble reply.
Johnson blasted Nixon about this on November 3, just prior to the election. As Robert Parry of consortiumnews.com has written: “when Johnson confronted Nixon with evidence of the peace-talk sabotage, Nixon insisted on his innocence but acknowledged that he knew what was at stake.”
Said Nixon: “My, I would never do anything to encourage….Saigon not to come to the table…. Good God, we’ve got to get them to Paris or you can’t have peace.”
But South Vietnamese President General Theiu—a notorious drug and gun runner—did boycott Johnson’s Paris peace talks. With the war still raging, Nixon claimed a narrow victory over Humphrey. He then made Kissinger his own national security advisor.
In the four years between the sabotage and what Kissinger termed “peace at hand” just prior to the 1972 election, more than 20,000 US troops died in Vietnam. More than 100,000 were wounded. More than a million Vietnamese were killed.
But in 1973, Kissinger was given the Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating the same settlement he helped sabotage in 1968.
According to Parry, LBJ wanted to go public with Nixon’s treason. But Clark Clifford, an architect of the CIA and a pillar of the Washington establishment, talked Johnson out of it. LBJ’s close confidant warned that the revelation would shake the foundations of the nation.
In particular, Clifford told Johnson (in a taped conversation) that “some elements of the story are so shocking in their nature that I’m wondering whether it would be good for the country to disclose the story and then possibly have [Nixon] elected. It could cast his whole administration under such doubt that I think it would be inimical to our country’s best interests.”
In other words, Clifford told LBJ that the country couldn’t handle the reality that its president was a certifiable traitor, eligible for legal execution.
Fittingly, Clark Clifford’s upper-crust career ended in the disgrace of his entanglement with the crooked Bank of Credit and Commerce (BCCI), which financed the terrorist group Al Qaeda and whose scandalous downfall tainted the Agency he helped found.
Johnson lived four years after he left office, tormented by the disastrous war that destroyed his presidency and his retirement. Nixon won re-election in 1972, again with a host of dirty dealings, then became the first America president to resign in disgrace.
One theme presented by supporters of the American empire is the U.S. military is invincible and can never lose unless stabbed in the back by impatient politicians. They claim the U.S. military never lost a battle during the entire Vietnam war. On August 30, 2011, President Barack Obama proclaimed to a gathering of veterans: “But let it be remembered that you won every major battle of that war. Every single one.” This myth had been disputed by America’s most decorated officer of that war, Col. David Hackworth, in his book “About Face.” The U.S. military had every advantage, yet mistakes were made and battles lost. Internet research turns up these 70 lost battles of the Vietnam war:
1. Attack on Camp Holloway – In 1962, the U.S. Army established an airfield near Pleiku in central South Vietnam, which grew to include logistics elements and a large advisory group. In early 1965, some 300 Viet Cong slipped past ARVN guards and swept through the camp killing 8 Americans, wounding 126, destroying 10 aircraft and damaging 15 more. The Viet Cong withdrew to avoid battling reinforcements, with few losses.
2. Battle of Ap Bac - In January 1963, American advisors launched a battle after they pressured reluctant South Vietnamese officers to use American air mobility assets to destroy the Viet Cong. The attack was a disaster in which the VC mauled a far larger force while shooting down five American helicopters (pictured) and damaging eight, while killing three Americans and wounding eight.
3. The Sinking of the USNS Card - This World War II aircraft carrier was later used as a transport for American military cargo. On May 2, 1964, it was moored in a heavily defended harbor in the Saigon River. Two VC commandos crawled down a sewer pipe and attached explosives to the ship. The explosion knocked a huge hole in the hull and killed five American crewmen, causing the ship to sink 45 feet to the river bed.
4. Attack on Bien Hoa Airbase – On November 1, 1964, Viet Cong squads shelled the airfield at Bien Hoa with mortars. The attack began shortly after midnight and lasted 20 minutes. It was estimated that there were three 81mm mortars. The attack was effective as 27 aircraft were hit, including 20 B-57s (5 destroyed), 4 helicopters, and 3 A-1H Skyraiders. A fourth Skyraider crashed trying to take-off. Five Americans and two Vietnamese were killed, and 43 wounded.
5. The Dragon’s Jaw – On Apr 3, 1965, the U.S. military conducted the first of hundreds of bombing raids to destroy the Thanh Hoa Bridge in North Vietnam. Thousands of bombs were dropped and eleven American aircraft shot down with several more damaged beyond repair until the iron bridge finally fell in 1972.
6. Battle of Dong Xoai – Soon after American combat brigades arrived in South Vietnam, the NVA attacked this large, strategic base defended by ARVN units supported by American Special Forces and airpower. The base was overrun with hundreds of casualties while two dozen Americans died in combat and helicopter crashes, with even more wounded or missing.
7. Sapper Attack on Da Nang Airbase – North Vietnamese Army (NVA) sappers infiltrated this airbase on July 1, 1965. They destroyed three large C-130 transport aircraft, three F-102 fighters, and damaged three more F-102s. The sappers escaped leaving behind one dead.
8. Iron Hand Air Strikes – American aircraft had suffered losses from North Vietnamese Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) systems. On August 13, 1965, the Navy aircraft carriers USS Coral Sea and USS Midway launched 76 low-level “Iron Hand” missions to seek out and destroy SAM sites. Five aircraft and three pilots were lost to enemy guns, and seven other planes were damaged, but no SAMs were discovered.
9. Death of Supply Column 21 – Operation Starlite was the first major Marine Corps operation in Vietnam, and fighting was tougher than expected. A ship landed an armored supply column to support combat forces, which became lost and was attacked in a rice paddy on Aug 18, 1965. Five of the seven armored vehicles were destroyed (including two tanks) during a day long firefight. Five of the 27 Marines were killed and 17 wounded as they held off the enemy until daybreak.
10. The Battle of Ia Drang – This was one of many disastrous airmobile assaults, when infantry helicoptered into a remote area and encountered a larger enemy force with ample ammunition. On Nov 14, 1965, 450 soldiers from the 1st battalion of the 7th Cavalry landed at LZ X-ray and found itself surrounded with little ammunition and no heavy firepower. It was nearly overrun while suffering 79 killed and 121 wounded, and survived only by demanding all available air support in Vietnam. The 7th Cavalry left the area after declaring victory, while survivors pondered the wisdom of an attrition strategy using American foot infantry.
11. Battle for LZ Albany – The 1st battalion of the 7th Cavalry barely survived its now famous 1965 battle in the Ia Drang valley. After saving its 1st battalion, the exhausted 2nd battalion headed for LZ Albany for an aerial extraction. It was in a long column in open terrain when it ran into a concealed NVA battalion, which attacked and shot it to pieces during a bloody battle that claimed the lives of 155 Americans, with 124 wounded.
12. Attack on Marble Mountain – Some 90 Viet Cong sappers infiltrated this huge Marine Corps airfield and destroyed 19 helicopters and damaged 35 (11 of them severely). After this 30 minute rampage, the Viet Cong withdrew, leaving behind 17 dead and 4 wounded. American casualties were 3 killed and 91 wounded.
13. Operation Utah – On Mar 4, 1966, the 2nd battalion of the 7th Marines helicoptered into an area near Quang Ngai to investigate reports of an NVA regiment in the area. They found it dug into fortifications around Hill 50. Their attacked failed and the Marines fell back, but were surprised when the NVA counterattacked. The battalion was in trouble and more Marine units where flown in to join the battle. The enemy withdrew, but only after the Marines lost 98 dead, 278 wounded, with several aircraft destroyed.
14. Battle of Xa Cam My – A battalion from the 1st Infantry Division conducted another “search and destroy” sweep. Its three companies were deployed miles apart in hopes the NVA would attack one. They surrounded and blasted Charlie company, killing 38 and wounding 71 of its 134 soldiers before its other two companies came to the rescue.
15. Operation Paul Revere IV – Two cavalry battalions swept the Cambodian border area in search of the enemy. None were found, until Company C ran into a large force near Duc Co. Details are scarce, but two platoons were overrun and destroyed; only one soldier survived. The American dead were so numerous that they were hauled away in external cargo nets by helicopters.
16. Battle of Cu Nghi – As the 7th Cavalry began Operation Masher, a CH-47 helicopter was shot down. A company of soldiers was flown to the rescue, but they were shot up and pinned down. More units hastily arrived and found two battalions of entrenched NVA fighters firing away at troopers scattered around an area that became known as “the graveyard.” Several helicopters where shot down during this three-day melee that left 140 Americans dead and 220 wounded.
17. Battle of Ho Bo Woods – On July 19, 1966, Company A, 1st Bn, 27th Rgt, 25th Division helicoptered into an LZ with 92 soldiers on a search and destroy mission. There is no account of what happened next, except that 25 were killed and 32 wounded as the company fled aboard helicopters, leaving 16 of their dead behind.
18. Operation Crimson Tide – On Oct 18, 1966 the first mission to rescue an American POW was launched. It ended in disaster, with 12 killed, 17 missing, two helicopters shot down, and no prisoners rescued.
19. “Black Friday“- Strike aircraft losses were common, but on December 2, 1966 the U.S. Air Force lost five aircraft and the Navy lost three aircraft to surface to air missiles or anti-aircraft gun fire. Air Force losses included three F-4Cs, one RF-4C, and an F-105. The Navy lost one F-4B and two Douglas A-4C Skyhawks.
20. Attack at Binh Duong – On Feb 26, 1967, a Viet Cong battalion nearly overran Alpha Company, 4th Battalion, 9th Regiment, of the Army’s 25th Division. The VC slipped past camp defenses in a surprise attack that killed 19 Americans and several ARVN soldiers.
21. Operation Hickory - In May 1967, U.S. Marines were ordered to cross into the DMZ and destroy the NVA. Several days of frontal assaults killed lots of NVA lodged in fortifications, but also killed 142 Marines and wounded 896 until the marines withdrew after ten days of pointless attacks.
22. Battle near Vinh Huy - During Operation Union II, six rifle companies from the 5th Marines swept the Que Son Valley in search of the enemy. They located a large enemy force 1000 yards ahead across an open rice paddy. After some air and artillery strikes, three companies were ordered to charge across the open ground, and were shot to pieces. The bloodied Marines fell back during this June 2, 1967 battle with 71 KIA and 139 wounded.
23. August 1967 Air Battle – This war produced two American “Ace” fighter pilots (i.e. five or more aerial shoot downs), yet the North Vietnamese had 16, including Nguyen Van Coc (right), the top Ace of the war with nine kills. On Aug. 23, 1967, Coc led several MIG fighters to intercept a group of 40 American aircraft on a bombing mission. They shot down three American F-4D fighters and one F-105D fighter-bomber without losing a single MIG. Eight American aviators were killed or captured.
24. Battle of Prek Klok - During Operation Junction City, Company B from the 1st Battalion/16th Infantry went in search of the NVA. Independent accounts cannot be found, yet the Army’s official history notes the company was blasted and nearly surrounded until rescued when another company came to its aid, allowing it to retreat. Company B was extracted by helicopter after suffering 25 dead and 28 wounded. Army Generals declared victory and awarded the company commander a silver star.
25. Kingfisher Battle – In 1967, “Operation Kingfisher” was launched to destroy NVA forces just south of the DMZ. On Sept. 21st, the 2nd battalion, 4th Marines began a “search and destroy” mission and quickly encountered the entrenched 90th NVA regiment. The Marines lacked tank support because recent rains limited road mobility, while the dense vegetation and close proximity of the enemy restricted air and artillery support. After a day-long battle, the Marines had suffered at least 16 dead and 118 wounded while trying to break out of the enemy’s kill zone. The battalion withdrew at dusk, although flee may be a better term since 15 dead Marines were left behind. Details are sketchy, but the battalion didn’t return to collect its dead until three weeks later. Veterans of the battle state they lost 34 KIA that day.
26. Rocket Attack on Da Nang – On July 15, 1967, the NVA conducted a major rocket bombardment on the key U.S. airbase at Da Nang. A total 83 NVA 122mm and 140mm rockets hit the base just before dawn, resulting in 8 killed, 175 wounded, 10 aircraft destroyed and 49 damaged.
27. The Battle of Thon Cam Son – In July 1967, the 2nd battalion of the 9th Marines crossed into the DMZ to find the NVA. They found abandoned base camps and bunkers because the NVA had pulled out and moved around behind them. The Marines had to fight their way back home, and more than half the unit bled as it lost 41 killed and 355 wounded.
28. Battle for Nui Ho Khe (Hill 88) – Marines were concerned that enemy units near their big Con Thien base threatened their main supply route. On Sept 10, 1967, the 3rd battalion of the 26th Marines ventured forward to secure Hill 88. It was surprised to encounter an entire NVA regiment, which counterattacked causing a bloody fight in which 3/26 suffered 300 casualties (40% including 37 KIA) and lost several tanks. It withdrew to Hill 48 where it made a successful last stand. While the NVA suffered more causalities, poor intel resulted in this clumsy assault that failed to reach its objective.
29. Slaughter at LZ Margo – The 2nd battalion of the 26th Marines helicoptered into LZ Margo near the DMZ on a standard search and destroy mission. Contact was light over the next three days as units swept the area. On Sept. 16, 1968, the battalion received an order from higher headquarters to withdraw into the small LZ where they had arrived, because a big B-52 air strike was planned in the area. Marines were worried because they were tightly grouped and the ground was rock hard so they couldn’t dig in. They knew the NVA kept them under observation and were a perfect target for a mortar barrage. A short time later, hundreds of mortar rounds tore into the tightly packed Marines, killing 30 and wounding nearly 200 until the NVA ran out of ammo.
30. Operation Swift - U.S. Marines fought tough battles along the DMZ when NVA units moved across the border to inflict heavy causalities. Marine Generals sent rifle companies with ~140 Marines to search for and destroy the NVA intruders with artillery and airpower. This was effective, but larger NVA units sometimes trapped them in kill zones. In September 1967, they ambushed two Marine companies in the Que Son Valley. Operation Swift was launched to save them from destruction, but the two companies sent to the rescue were mauled. The end result was 127 Marines killed and 362 wounded. The NVA suffered more casualties, but accomplished their mission and withdrew northward.
31. Convoy Ambush near An Khe - In Sept 1967, 39 trucks from the U.S. Army’s 8th Transportation Group were returning home after delivering supplies to Plekiu. They were escorted by two gun jeeps in an area considered mostly secure by the presence of the 1st Calvary Division. A Viet Cong company ambushed this big convoy in broad daylight. Seven Americans were killed, 17 wounded, and 30 vehicles were damaged or destroyed. The VC quickly disappeared and no evidence of enemy casualties were found.
32. Task Force Black Mauled – Half of the 1st Battalion/501st Regiment/173rd Airborne Brigade went in search for the NVA who had recently attacked their base. They ran into two NVA battalions, who shot them up from three directions. The rest of the battalion was sent to save them, and withdrew with 20 dead, 154 wounded, and two missing.
33. Battle near Ap Bac - The U.S. Army’s 9th Infantry Division operated in the marshy delta region of southern Vietnam, often with Navy river patrol boats. During a routine battalion sweep, Alpha company from the 2nd Brigade crossed an open rice paddy and encountered Viet Cong ready to fight from concrete bunkers. Most of the company was wiped out in the first five minutes, and rest pinned down in the kill zone for hours until other companies arrived. This battle left 40 American dead and 140 wounded.
34. Battle for Hill 861 – In 1967, Bravo Company, 1st battalion, 9th Marines went to search for caves on Hill 861. After a skirmish, the company attacked up the hill without knowing that it had encountered a large enemy force. Most of Bravo was wiped out and the survivors were pinned down until rescued by Kilo company that night.
35. Overrun in Happy Valley - During the first two weeks of 1968, 69 soldiers from the 196th Infantry Brigade died in heavy fighting in the Hiep Duc Valley, Quang Tin Province. On January 9-10, Alpha and Delta companies from its 3/21 Infantry battalion were overrun. The Delta company commander and 27 men were killed. Dozens were wounded and eight Americans taken prisoner as survivors held out in small groups overnight until rescued the following day.
36. Ambush at Hoc Mon – In 1968, 92 American soldiers of C Company, 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, 25th Division began a search-and-destroy mission near Saigon. They were looking for a Viet Cong force that had been firing rockets into their Tan Son Nhut Air Base. As they rushed along a road without flank security to catch up with their battalion, they ran into an ambush. Within eight minutes, 49 American soldiers were dead or dying, and 29 were wounded.
37. Battle of Kham Duc – This large Special Forces camp was abandoned as it was overrun, despite reinforcement by an American infantry battalion from the 196th brigade. Hundreds of friendly civilians and militiamen were left behind as Americans escaped aboard helicopters and C-130s.
38. Khe Sahn Village Overrun - A large village three kilometers from the famous Khe Sahn military base was defended by 160 local troops, plus 15 American advisors and heavy artillery from the base. In January 1968, it was attacked by a ~300-man NVA battalion. Reinforcements were dispatched aboard nine UH-1 helicopters, but were wiped out after landing near the NVA, along with one helicopter. A small ground rescue force from the nearby base was repulsed, while the survivors from the village assault fled to the Khe Sahn base.
39. Battle of the Slopes – A company of American paratroopers was searching for the NVA in rough terrain when it was attacked by a large force. It suffered 76 KIA as it was nearly overrun, with two platoons wiped out. Newly arrived airborne officers had ignored warnings that they should maneuver as battalions because the NVA units in that area were larger, aggressive, and would attack a lone rifle company.
40. Battle of No Goi Island - The Viet Cong liked to fortify ambush sites and wait for the Americans to discover them. During Operation Allen Brook, three battalions of Marines swept through No Goi Island and found lots of Viet Cong ready to fight from bunkers near the village of Le Bac. During several days of bloody assaults, the Marines suffered 138 killed and 686 wounded (576 seriously) before the surviving Viet Cong fled. The extreme heat resulted in another 283 Marines evacuated due to heat stroke. Having suffered 50% causalities, Allen Brook was halted until fresh Marine units arrived.
41. Battle at the Ben Cui Rubber Plantation - American mechanized units had the firepower and mobility to rout any NVA force. An exception occurred in 1968 during a routine road sweep when Company C, 1st Bn (Mech), 25th Division ran into an aggressive NVA regiment. It quickly lost 5 APCs (right), with 17 killed (leaving just one officer), and two dozen wounded before it retreated to its home base, leaving most of its dead behind.
42. Battle of Dai Do – A Marine Corps infantry battalion was mauled and forced to retreat after a disorganized attempt to dislodge a large North Vietnamese force near the DMZ. The Marines suffered 81 KIA and 397 wounded while killing hundreds of NVA. Accounts of this action are hidden within reports of operations in region of Dong Ha.
43. Battle of Ong Thanh – After minor enemy contact the previous day, a battalion commander led 155 American soldiers single-file into the bush to destroy the enemy. They ran into an NVA regiment with some 1400 men. Alpha company was wiped out in 20 minutes, and by sundown, 59 American soldiers lay dead with 75 wounded. An excellent documentary is on-line where survivors describe the onslaught.
44. Operation Delaware - In this April 1968 offensive, the U.S. Army learned that mountain jungles allow concealed anti-aircraft weapons to easily shoot down low-flying aircraft. Units of the 1st Cavalry Division helicoptered into rugged terrain and killed hundreds of NVA as they withdrew to Laos. However, the NVA shot down a C-130 transport, two fighter-bombers, eight large helicopters, nearly two dozen UH-1 helicopters, and seriously damaged three dozen other helicopters, whose crashes left 47 Americans MIA. The NVA also killed 142 Americans, wounded 731, and returned to the area as the 1st Cav withdrew after three weeks of fighting.
45. Operation Houston II – In May 1968, as Mike company from the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines moved up a ridge called Hill 1192, they wandered into an NVA base camp and were shot to pieces with 14 killed and dozens wounded. Three helicopters were shot down attempting to rescue wounded Marines. The surviving marines remained pinned down and bleeding for several days until rescued by another company.
46. Battle for LZ Loon – The Marines landed on Hill 672 to build an artillery fire support base. The NVA objected, and sent a battalion to attack the two undermanned companies from the 4th Marines. After a day of heavy fighting that included NVA artillery fire, half the Marines were casualties. It was decided to abandon the hill by helicopter, leaving most of the dead behind. One helicopter was shot down during the extraction after this battle that left 41 Marines dead and over 100 wounded.
47. Battle of Two July – The 1st battalion, 9th Marines went up a road to find the NVA, and found them. Information is vague, but Bravo Company was overrun and the remnants of Alpha Company pulled back, leaving a combined 53 known dead, 190 wounded, and 34 missing.
48. Battle for Hill 875 – or the Siege of Dak To- The 2nd battalion of the 173rd Airborne Brigade with over 300 soldiers advanced up this hill with artillery and air support. They encountered stiff resistance and suffered heavy causalities, but were shocked when the NVA counterattacked. The battalion formed a tight defensive perimeter and was surrounded while chaos ensued after a Marine Corps’ jet dropped a 500 lbs bomb on their position. The brigade’s 4th battalion arrived the following day and broke the siege, then advanced to secure the hill after the NVA withdrew. Of the 570 US troops involved in the attack on the hill, 340 became casualties.
49. Battle for Firebase Mary Ann – Some 50 NVA sappers attacked at night, then slipped away. The U.S. Army suffered 33 killed and 83 wounded among the 231 soldiers at the base. Their brigade commander was relieved of duty and the firebase closed.
50. Battle of Ngok Tavak – On May 10, 1968, an NVA battalion attacked an old French fort manned by a 150 Chinese mercenaries led by eight American Special Force troopers and three Australian advisors, plus 33 U.S. Marine Corps artillerymen with two 105mm howitzers. Helicopters flew in 45 more Marines as reinforcements and evacuated casualties during the day-long battle. The fort was overrun and everyone fled, with some literally clinging to the skids of a helicopter. At least 32 Americans were killed and several helicopters shot down. A book about this lost battle was published, and a short account is here.
51. Battle of Lang Vei – In 1968, the NVA surprised everyone by using light tanks to overrun the well-defended U.S. Special Forces camp at Lang Vei, despite heavy American artillery and air support. Most of the 500 defending Montagnards were killed. Losses among the 24 Americans were 7 KIA, 3 POWs, and 11 wounded.
52. Ambush near Khe Sahn - On Feb 25, 1968, a 41-man platoon from the 26th Marines was sent on a short patrol “outside the wire” to test the strength of NVA units near Khe Sahn village. They pursed three VC scouts who led them into an ambush. The platoon was wiped out during a three-hour battle that left 31 Marines KIA, one taken prisoner, while nine Marines escaped back to their base.
53. Battle of Thon La Chu – The 1968 Tet offensive caught the U.S. military by surprise, and the NVA captured the city of Hue. During this chaos, the cavalry was sent to save the Marines as the Army’s lightly armed 2nd battalion/12th Cavalry flew to the rescue in helicopters. After landing, it charged across an open rice paddy without its customary artillery or air support and suffered considerable casualties. The enemy had superior numbers, superior positions, and enough firepower to encircle the battalion. With 60% casualties, no supplies and little air support, the battalion was lucky to slip away at night and flee total destruction.
54. Fall of A Shau – The NVA sent five battalions to overrun this large Special Forces camp near the Vietnam border. It was defended by 380 local troops led by 17 Americans. After a day of heavy fighting, the defenders faced defeat. Five of the Americans fled by helicopter leaving behind 8 American dead and 5 missing. Most of the local troops were left behind. Another seven Americans died providing air support.
55. Battle near Hill 689 – On April 16, 1968 a Marine Corps company began a patrol near its Khe Sahn base. It wandered into tall vegetation and was decimated by concealed NVA soldiers in bunkers. Two more companies from 1st Battalion, 9th Marines were dispatched to save them, but they became ensnarled in this confusing battle in which dead and wounded Marines were left behind as the battalion retreated back to Khe Sahn in disarray. This resulted in 41 KIA, 32 wounded, with 2 of 15 MIAs later rescued by helicopters. The battalion commander was relieved of duty.
56. Attack on Nui Ba Den – A hundred NVA launched a surprise assault on a poorly defended American signal intelligence station atop Nui Ba Den mountain. The base was quickly overrun and burned to the ground. The NVA killed 24 Americans, wounded 35, and 2 were taken prisoner as the NVA withdrew. Most Americans survived in one bunker or by fleeing the base and hiding among boulders. Some refer to the battle as a massacre because the attack was so sudden that many soldiers had no rifles to defend themselves.
57. Ambush at Ap Nhi - On Aug 25, 1968, a resupply convoy of 81 trucks from the 48th Transportation Group departed Long Binh. Seven drivers lost their lives in an ambush, 10 were wounded, and two taken prisoner as most trucks were destroyed. Drivers held on with air support until a rescue force arrived nine hours later after suffering 23 killed and 35 wounded.
58. Battle of Lima Site 85 – The USAF established a secret navigation site atop a remote mountain in Laos to allow all-weather bombing northward. The NVA learned of this and surprised the Americans with their mountain climbing skills. The site was overrun as seven Americans escaped aboard a rescue helicopter, leaving 12 dead airmen behind while their 42 supporting CIA funded Asian mercenary soldiers perished.
59. Battle of Hamburger Hill – A battalion from the 101st Airborne (3/187) encountered stiff resistance on rugged Hill 937. It was unable to capture the summit due to steep, dense terrain, well-built enemy bunkers, a deadly friendly fire incident, and fierce NVA defenders. A second battalion (1/506) was sent to attack from the south, but it suffered the same fate. Small NVA counterattacks caused confusion and several more deadly friendly fire incidents. Aggressive American commanders ordered repeated attacks for three days until 3/187 had lost 60% of its men and withdrew, while 1/506 remained pinned down.
More battalions eventually arrived to join the attack. ARVN scouts reported the NVA had left the mountain, nevertheless, a two hour aerial bombardment commenced before the American battalions walked up Hill 937 to proclaim victory, and then withdrew a few days later. These frontal assaults resulted in 84 American dead with 480 wounded, and the loss of several helicopters, leading to the nickname “Hamburger Hill” where GIs were ground up. Given the heavy causalities suffered for nothing gained, this was a defeat.
60. LZ East Overrun – On June 11, 1969, the NVA overran a small base called LZ East, killing 17 soldiers of the 169th Infantry Brigade and wounding 34 until reinforcements arrived to retake the base.
61. Attack on Cu Chi – In February 1969, enemy commandos attacked the large U.S. Army airfield at Cu Chi. They destroyed nine large CH-47 helicopters, heavily damaged three more, and caused minor damage to two others. (photos are here) 14 Americans were killed and 29 wounded during the three-hour battle.
62. Battle of Plei Trap – During Operation Wayne Grey, 115 soldiers from Alpha Company of the 4th Infantry Division helicoptered into a remote area in search of the NVA. They found lots of them, and suffered 35 KIA, 51 WIA, and 7 MIA as they were overrun. A lieutenant who heroically led a retreat of the survivors was almost court-martialed by senior officers trying to cover-up this disaster.
63. Firebase Airborne Overrun – There are several short, vague accounts about how this artillery firebase was overrun on May 13, 1969. One veteran believes it was bait to draw the NVA into combat. VC sappers slipped inside its weak defenses and exploded the artillery ammunition dump, killing a dozen and causing confusion. The NVA swept through the base at night killing and wounding most defenders and destroying its big guns. Many Americans managed to hide until the NVA left before dawn, so the base was never officially captured. However, it was wrecked and later abandoned.
64. Operation Lam Son 719 – In early 1971, a major offensive was launched into Laos to sever the Ho Chi Minh Trail supply line. The United States provided logistical, aerial, and artillery support to the operation. American ground forces were prohibited by Congress from entering Laotian territory, but supported the offensive by rebuilding the airfield at Khe Sanh. South Vietnam provided its best units for this month long offensive, and the Pentagon was confident that American firepower would guarantee victory. After a series of lost battles, the South Vietnamese retreated back home after losing nearly 1,600 men. The U.S. Army lost 215 men killed, 1,149 wounded, 38 missing, and lost 108 helicopters while 7 American fighter-bombers were shot down.
65. Battle near FSB Professional – The NVA shot down a big CH-47 helicopter as it delivered supplies to this fire support base. Company A of the Army’s 1/46 Infantry with 91 soldiers was sent outside the wire to eliminate the threat. It was mauled during a 35-hour battle, and its 47 surviving soldiers fled, leaving their dead and some wounded behind.
66. Attack on FSB Henderson - As American troops withdrew from Vietnam, NVA sappers attacked this artillery base. They charged through the hilltop killing 27 soldiers from the 101st division and wounding 40. Most of the howitzers and artillery ammunition were destroyed by satchel charges before the NVA disappeared into the night.
67. Battle for Firebase Ripcord – American Generals made one final attempt to block the Ho Chi Minh trail, and found more NVA troops than expected. As the NVA assaulted remote Fire Support Base Ripcord, Generals decided to evacuate the base. Four American battalions from the 3rd Brigade, 101st Division conducted a fighting aerial evacuation that lasted 23 days, with the loss of at least 75 American KIA and 463 wounded. Dozens of helicopters were shot down or damaged, while several soldiers and all major items of equipment were left behind.
68. June 1972 Air Battle – While superior aircraft of the USA won most air battles, the smaller MIGs flown by North Vietnamese pilots won many battles, which remain mostly hidden from history. An interesting website that documents combat losses sheds some light. It notes that MIGs shot down five American F-4 fighters on June 27, 1972, and cross referencing the date for American air victories shows no MIG kills.
||Nguyen Duc Nhu
||Ngo Duy Thu
||Nguyen Doc Soat
||Pham Phu Thai
||Bui Thanh Liem
It would be interesting to know what happened that day, but the USAF chose not to document this air battle. Vietnamese pilots were more experienced, more familiar with the airspace, flew shorter missions, and could choose their fights, so they sometimes surprised American pilots.
69. Day Three of Operation Linebacker II - Of the 99 huge B-52 bombers in this Dec. 20, 1972 bombing raidon targets around Hanoi, eight were lost to enemy fire, resulting in 36 airmen killed or captured. The Strategic Air Command (SAC) blamed the tactics utilized (flight paths, altitudes, formations, timing, etc.), which had not varied from raids the two previous days. Air Force historian Earl Tilford noted: “Years of dropping bombs on undefended jungle and the routines of planning for nuclear war had fostered a mind-set within the SAC command that nearly led to disaster.”
70. Battle of Koh Tang – This was the last battle of the war. In 1975, Khmer Rouge patrol boats seized the container ship, USS Mayaquez, which was the last American ship to leave Saigon. Surveillance indicated the ship anchored at Koh Tang island, so the U.S. Marine Corps assembled a rescue force. Most helicopters were shot up while landing Marines on the island and were disabled or crashed. The Marines faced stiff enemy resistance and were pinned down. It was then discovered that the Mayaquez crew had already been freed on a small boat, so the landing force was recalled. A total of 18 GIs were killed, 41 wounded, and three left behind in the rescue attempt, while 23 airmen perished in a helicopter accident during the preparation stage.
This Myth is Now Dead
This proves that many battles were lost during the Vietnam war. There were more, but hiding embarrassing losses is standard procedure in any military organization. This is shown in that documentary about the Battle of Ong Thanh, where survivors tell how commanders tried to spin that loss as a victory, while the loss of FSB Ripcord was hidden from the public until 1985, and the slaughter at Ho Bo Woods wasn’t recognized until 2011. This list does not include most battles lost by the Army of South Vietnam, whose forces were supported by American firepower.
Some veterans may be upset by these accounts because the U.S. military won nearly all other battles. However, this destroys the myth that no battles were lost. Some may claim these were too small to be counted as battles, yet the U.S. military and historians note most of these as battles. Others will argue that some were stalemates or incidents, and insist that a larger enemy “body count” meant victory, although it was common to greatly inflate enemy losses. Given our tremendous advantage in artillery and airpower, battles with large American causalities were losses, which led to the decision to withdraw from Vietnam. NVA Generals stated their objective was to inflict casualties on American forces, not to seize ground or avoid casualties themselves. In the late 1990s, American political spinmasters created an urban legend that former North Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen Giap admitted they had lost the war on the battlefield. There is no factual basis for this claim, yet this myth remains.
If attrition losses are important, the USA lost over 3600 fixed-wing aircraft in Vietnam, while the North Vietnamese lost only around 200, so who won the air war? Historical debates are common, but no sane person will claim that none of the 70 engagements listed above were losses. In contrast, the publication of this article is likely to generate more nominations from combat veterans. Wikipedia is often linked for details because it provides concise accounts with notes to sources. One can search the Internet for more information if they doubt what they read there. The point is that myths of American military invincibility may cause future miscalculations, and more lost battles. Ignoring these losses does great disservice to all those brave men who fought and died in these battles, as well as those now dying in Afghanistan.
Ironically, the USA succeeded in Vietnam only after its military left. Billions of dollars in annual aid were no longer required, while American GIs were no longer killed or maimed. There was no Chinese communist takeover of the region. In contrast, traditional rivalries resurfaced leading to a short, yet bloody, war between China and Vietnam in 1979. Without the distraction of fighting a war, the Vietnamese government was forced to address economic problems. It recognized the need for foreign trade and the value of free enterprise and has become a capitalistic economic power. American corporations now operate factories in Vietnam while United Airlines has daily flights. Likewise, the USA will never win in Afghanistan until its troops come home.
Given the ample historical facts available, many historians are amazed this “we never lost a battle” myth persists. Part of the blame lies with certain professors, who published this myth in articles like: “Lessons of History and Lessons of Vietnam” where in 1986 U.S. Army Major David H. Petraeus (left) wrote: “Vietnam planted doubts in many military minds about the ability of US forces to conduct successful large-scale counterinsurgencies. These misgivings do not in all cases spring from doubts about the capabilities of American troops and units per se; even in Vietnam, military leaders recall US units never lost a battle.” Despite this dismal scholarship, Petraeus became a four-star General, partly due to marriage to the daughter of four-star Army General William Knowlton. General Petraeus was in charge of counterinsurgency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and since he failed to learn from the Vietnam war, he failed in those conflicts because of myths of U.S. military invincibility.
Somewhere in the Lester B. Pearson Building, Canada’s foreign affairs headquarters, must be a meeting room with the inscription “The World Should Do as We Say, Not As We Do” or perhaps “Hypocrites ‘R Us.”
With the Obama administration beating the war drums, Canadian officials are demanding a response to the Syrian regime’s alleged use of the chemical weapon sarin.
Last week Prime Minister Stephen Harper claimed “if it is not countered, it will constitute a precedent that we think is very dangerous for humanity in the long term” while for his part Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird declared: “If it doesn’t get a response it’s an open invitation for people, for Assad in Syria, or elsewhere to use these types of weapons that they’ve by and large refrained from doing since the First World War.” The Conservatives also signed Canada onto a White House statement claiming: “The international norm against the use of chemical weapons is longstanding and universal.”
While one may wish this were the case, it’s not. In fact, Canada has repeatedly been complicit with the use of chemical weapons.
During the war in Afghanistan, Canadian troops used white phosphorus, which is a chemical agent that can cause deep tissue burning and death when inhaled or ingested in significant amounts. In an October 2008 letter to the Toronto Star, Corporal Paul Demetrick, a Canadian reservist, claimed Canadian forces used white phosphorus as a weapon against “enemy-occupied” vineyards. General Rick Hillier, former chief of the Canadian defence staff, confirmed the use of this defoliant. Discussing the difficulties of fighting the Taliban in areas with 10-foot tall marijuana plants, the general said: “We tried burning them with white phosphorous — it didn’t work.” After accusations surfaced of western forces (and the Taliban) harming civilians with white phosphorus munitions the Afghan government launched an investigation.
In a much more aggressive use of this chemical, Israeli forces fired white phosphorus shells during its January 2009 Operation Cast Lead that left some 1,400 Palestinians dead. Ottawa cheered on this 22-day onslaught against Gaza and the Conservatives have failed to criticize Israel for refusing to ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention and Biological Weapons Convention.
For decades the massive Suffield Base in Alberta was one of the largest chemical and biological weapons research centres in the world. A 1989 Peace Magazine article explained, “For almost 50 years, scientists from the Department of National Defence have been as busy as beavers expanding their knowledge of, and testing agents for, chemical and biological warfare (CBW) in southern Alberta.”
Initially led by Canadian and British scientists/soldiers, gradually the US military played a bigger role in the chemical weapons research at Suffield. A chemical warfare school began there in 1942 and it came to light that in 1966 US Air Force jets sprayed biological weapons simulants over Suffield to figure out how best to spray potentially fatal diseases on people. Until at least 1989 there were significant quantities of toxins, including sarin, stockpiled at the Alberta base. In 2006 former Canadian soldiers who claim to have been poisoned at Suffield launched a class action lawsuit against the Department of National Defense.
During the war in Vietnam, the US tested agents orange, blue, and purple at CFB Gagetown. A 1968 U.S. Army memorandum titled “defoliation tests in 1966 at base Gagetown, New Brunswick, Canada” explained: “The department of the army, Fort Detrick, Maryland, has been charged with finding effective chemical agents that will cause rapid defoliation of woody and Herbaceous vegetation. To further develop these objectives, large areas similar in density to those of interest in South East Asia were needed. In March 1965, the Canadian ministry of defense offered Crops Division large areas of densely forested land for experimental tests of defoliant chemicals. This land, located at Canadian forces base Gagetown, Oromocto, New Brunswick, was suitable in size and density and was free from hazards and adjacent cropland. The test site selected contained a mixture of conifers and deciduous broad leaf species in a dense undisturbed forest cover that would provide similar vegetation densities to those of temperate and tropical areas such as South East Asia.”
Between 1962 and 1971 US forces sprayed some 75,000,000 litres of material containing chemical herbicides and defoliants in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. One aim was to deprive the guerrillas of cover by defoliating forests and rural land. Another goal of these defoliation efforts was to drive peasants from the countryside to the US dominated cities, which would deprive the national resistance forces of their food supply and rural support.
In addition to assisting chemical warfare by testing Agent Orange, during the Vietnam war Canadian manufacturers sold the US military “polystyrene, a major component in napalm,” according to the book Snow Job. A chemical agent that can cause deadly burns, Napalm was widely deployed by US forces in their war against Southeast Asia.
This deadly chemical agent was also used during the Korean War, which saw 27,000 Canadian troops go to battle. A New York Times reporter, George Barrett, described the scene in a North Korean village after it was captured by US-led forces in February 1951: “A napalm raid hit the village three or four days ago when the Chinese were holding up the advance, and nowhere in the village have they buried the dead because there is nobody left to do so. This correspondent came across one old women, the only one who seemed to be left alive, dazedly hanging up some clothes in a blackened courtyard filled with the bodies of four members of her family.
“The inhabitants throughout the village and in the fields were caught and killed and kept the exact postures they had held when the napalm struck — a man about to get on his bicycle, fifty boys and girls playing in an orphanage, a housewife strangely unmarked, holding in her hand a page torn from a Sears Roebuck catalogue crayoned at Mail Order No. 3,811,294 for a $2.98 ‘bewitching bed jacket — coral.’ There must be almost two hundred dead in the tiny hamlet.”
This NYT story captured the attention of Canadian External Affairs Minister Lester Pearson. In a letter to the Canadian ambassador in Washington, Hume Wrong, he wondered how it might affect public opinion and complained about it passing US media censors. “[Nothing could more clearly indicate] the dangerous possibilities of United States and United Nations action in Korea on Asian opinion than a military episode of this kind, and the way it was reported. Such military action was possibly ‘inevitable’ but surely we do not have to give publicity to such things all over the world. Wouldn’t you think the censorship which is now in force could stop this kind of reporting?”
No one denies that tens of thousands of liters of napalm were employed by UN forces in Korea. The use of biological weapons is a different story.
After the outbreak of a series of diseases at the start of 1952, China and North Korea accused the US of using biological weapons. Though the claims have neither been conclusively substantiated or disproven — some internal documents are still restricted — in Orienting Canada, John Price details the Canadian external minister’s highly disingenuous and authoritarian response to the accusations, which were echoed by some Canadian peace groups. While publicly highlighting a report that exonerated the US, Pearson concealed a more informed External Affairs analysis suggesting biological weapons could have been used. Additionally, when the Ottawa Citizen revealed that British, Canadian, and US military scientists had recently met in Ottawa to discuss biological warfare, Pearson wrote the paper’s owner to complain. Invoking national security, External Affairs “had it [the story] killed in the Ottawa Journal and over the CP [Canadian Press] wires.”
Price summarizes: “Even without full documentation, it is clear that the Canadian government was deeply involved in developing offensive weapons of mass destruction, including biological warfare, and that Parliament was misled by Lester Pearson at the time the accusations of biological warfare in Korea were first raised. We know also that the US military was stepping up preparations for deployment and use of biological weapons in late 1951 and that Canadian officials were well aware of this and actively supported it. To avoid revealing the nature of the biological warfare program and Canadian collaboration, which would have lent credence to the charges leveled by the Chinese and Korean governments, the Canadian government attempted to discredit the peace movement.”
International efforts to ban chemical weapons and to draw a “red line” over their use are a step forward for humanity. But this effort must include an accounting and opposition to Canada and its allies’ use of these inhumane weapons.
To have any credibility a country preaching against the use of chemical weapons must be able to declare: “Do as I do.”
Yves Engler is the author of Lester Pearson’s Peacekeeping: The Truth May Hurt. His latest book is The Ugly Canadian: Stephen Harper’s foreign policy.
The Vietnam War seems to be drawing attention increasingly from researchers born during or after the tumultuous decade in which that deadly drama played out. One sees mostly this generation’s higher profile works, like Fredrik Logevall’s Embers of War; The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America’s Vietnam, winner of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for History, and Nick Turse’s Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam. More in the academic shadows, but perhaps suggestive of a wider trend in the making, is a new study by Penny Lewis, Hardhats, Hippies and Hawks: The Vietnam Antiwar Movement as Myth and Memory, rich in the vistas it surveys, and a seed bed for future scholars to expand on.
A reader will scan this book’s quirky title in vain for a quick fix on what the work undertakes to present. Lewis, an assistant professor at City University in New York, and active in contemporary Labor and antiwar movements, devotes much of her book’s narrative to the project of sharpening an outmoded analysis of the American working class, accomplished in part by locating the class historically within what the late New York Times columnist Tom Whicker once called “a very broad spectrum” of public opposition to the Vietnam War, some of it organized, some of it not.
The distinction is critical, with the organized spheres of Vietnam War opposition, as highlighted in the book’s subtitle, easier to pin down and label. Lewis comes to her interest in the Vietnam antiwar narrative through disappointing efforts in the last decade to mobilize public opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a movement that promised much in its early stages, then, she dryly notes, “faded.” Serving as a representative of her union within a Labor movement far more sympathetic to an antiwar message in 2003 than it was in 1965, Lewis, “staffing tables, working on resolutions, organizing protests… spoke with fellow labor activists about their experiences within the Vietnam antiwar movement.”
Digging through this “buried history,” the author subsequently confirmed that antiwar forces in the US during Vietnam were every bit as “massive” and “dynamic” as the accounts she was hearing from her older comrades. How, then, could a post-Vietnam generation individual with Penny Lewis’ credentials, a committed peace activist, a leader in her union, a solidly grounded career-bound academic, have missed that story? Apparently because, growing up, what she had absorbed about that war and those times, as “fleshed out in numerous movies, TV shows, textbooks, journalist’s renderings, histories, memoirs, political speeches, and personal recollections,” exposed her to what she now accurately identifies as “half truths and, overall … is a falsehood.”
Myth holds sway in the “renderings” of this history earmarked for storage in the “collective memory,” and doled out with the greatest damage, as Lewis chillingly demonstrates, in the vast majority of text books that feed young minds through mainstream scholastic channels with “[h]ostile treatments of the movement… focused on the elite and out-of-touch nature of the protestors… as ‘spitters’ and ‘haters.’” In contrast, “war supporters” during that period “are often imagined as ordinary… people from Middle America… who supported God, country and our boys in Nam.”
Lewis sets about restoring some of the nuance to the record, framed by the sociological ground rules in force where such discussions occur in her branch of the scholarly manufactory. Fortunately she is sufficiently clear headed and graceful in expression, that the speed bumps of jargon, and occasional quoted infomercials from esteemed mentors and colleagues, shouldn’t deter a general reader drawn to this subject from reaping insight and satisfaction from Lewis’ summary, but deft, treatment of the twin themes she brings under investigation, class and protest.
Lewis frames correctly a chronology – too obvious to have been so often overlooked – that recognizes much attributed culturally and politically to the Sixties to have occurred or spread into the Seventies, a point of some significance when Lewis explores the demographic makeup of the opposition farther on. But the most spectacular relic rescued here by Lewis is a shining image of the Vietnam movement’s voluminous mobilization of “6 million” antiwar activists… with another 25 million close sympathizers.” Imagined visually, it’s a perfect snapshot of what sustained mass organizing looks like, and it cannot be over-emphasized by interested parties seeking to defend and replicate this history in the present. Let me put it this way, there wasn’t a corner of the land for a decade where an organizer couldn’t find a welcome crash pad, and a public forum for whatever on-going or up-coming antiwar action he or she had come to herald.
Examining the evolving Vietnam era antiwar movement over time, Lewis could see that, until the mid-60s, when the public was finally being drawn into the debate, most of the vocal opposition had been limited to well-known figures from the Fifties’ ban-the-bomb’ network, like Dr. Ben Spock and A.J. Muste, a leading pacifist. As the American combat role in Vietnam rapidly expanded, opposition soon spread to a vanguard of precocious students on several of the nation’s top campuses, and included, as well, their less privileged counterparts among young black civil rights workers in the South.
Initially, preoccupation with the war on campus was tangential to a rise in student involvement with civil rights, and demands for academic freedom. The Free Speech Movement at Berkeley in 1964 was an act of defiance against in loco parentis that shocked college administrators who for years had expected nothing more rambunctious from their student bodies than cafeteria food fights and panty raids. Student leader Mario Savio’s name became a house hold word overnight, and the actions of the Berkeley students ignited a political charge throughout a budding youth culture that spawned a collective resistance to the draft, and militant opposition to an escalating war.
At the University of Michigan, where it had been discovered that a program to advise the South Vietnamese government served as a front for the CIA, a handful of leftwing students affiliated with the League For Industrial Democracy, broke with their timid work-within-the-system and red-baiting elders, and, in 1962, formed Students for a Democratic Society. Their impulse had a domestic focus, a desire to explore possibilities for what they called participatory democracy, which might in turn help strip some aggression from the nation’s foreign policy. Then, in 1965, SDS organized the first mass anti-Vietnam war demonstration, bringing 25 thousand protestors to Washington, D.C., and, till the end of the decade, the organization inspired independent political action for a draft age generation, mostly white, middle class college students, female and male, who, as a demographic, remained the backbone of the protest movement until the war’s end.
But where were working class youths not bound for college with its privileged four year deferment from conscription in this generational upheaval? The boys at least, or “proles,” as James Fallows once infamously described them, overwhelmingly filled the ranks of the armed services, where their own rebellion, in Lewis’ astute observation, “had as great, if not greater, an effect on the US military’s ability to fight the war than did the more typical protest actions” on the home front.
Lewis is understandably perplexed that an event of such powerful impact like the GI rebellion receives almost no attention in even the best historical accounts of the movement, like Charles DeBeneditti’s An American Ordeal. Lewis has to provide an academic explanation for this mysterious oversight, arguing that studies of “social movements” are too narrowly defined to accommodate anomalous structures that don’t fit this or that discipline’s analytic criteria, and so forth and so on. Lewis, of course, wants to expand the scholarly strike zone. But the fact remains that the bibliography of works addressing the GI movement is so tiny and obscure that even in the heat of the hunt Lewis has failed to cite among the rare treatments two contributions of seminal importance, Matthew Rinaldi’s 1974 essay for Radical America, “The Olive Drab Rebels,” and James Lewes’ Protest and Survive, a book length survey of the scores of underground GI newspapers that circulated during the war.
The GI Resistance combusted from many acts of spontaneous, individual defiance, although civilian organizers who recognized the importance of working with GIs provided indispensable political and logistical leadership through a network of GI coffee houses and counseling centers that sprang up outside virtually every major US military installation at home, and near many bases overseas as well. The movement in the military paralleled the civilian movement, but was in many ways dissimilar, not least in having erupted under the authoritarian environment of military discipline, and in the rice paddies of Vietnam.
Then, home from the war and discharged from the service, ex-GIs rose up en mass in 1970, energized a flagging movement, and helped to further erode whatever lukewarm public support remained for the war. Never before had veterans anywhere opposed war in such numbers, and, even more unprecedented, did so while their war remained very much in progress, its outcome still in the balance. The antiwar veterans have been only slightly less studied by movement historians, Lewis comments, than the GI resisters.
What about the working class as a whole? Where did Middle America stand on the war? Stored in the distorted memory bank described by Lewis, a white male worker stands upon a pedestal on which the word “hardhat, ”is engraved. An unabashed flag waver and pro-war patriot, he appeared briefly in May 1970, and beat up some long hairs demonstrating against the war in the vicinity of Wall Street.
It does not matter that this prevailing caricature obscures the existence of female and minority workers, and fails to sum up fairly where white male production workers stood on the war overall – the antiwar vets and GIs providing the most glaring rebuttal of the hardhat thesis. The bullying behavior of a battalion of jerks from the pampered and manipulated New York building trades is held up as evidence of a false and inverted reality where only elites of a leisured middle class with too much time on their hands opposed the war, while tradition-bound Archie Bunkers expected their sons to serve when called, even at the cost of coming back from Nam in a body bag.
There’s no doubt that class polarization on the war existed, but leaving aside large segments of rebellious middle and upper middle class young people, the well-heeled parents who paid their college tuitions were more likely to support the war than their opposite numbers among the Greatest Generation in the blue collar neighborhoods. According to one comprehensive survey Lewis cites, “Opposition to the war was in fact higher among lower income than among higher income Americans.” By using the term “in-fact,” Lewis explains, this study’s author “acknowledges the common misconception that the opposite was true.” And yet, she muses, “no account… explains why such a misconception exists…”
Grappling with that conundrum, Lewis says, is the essential project of her book, and she casts the net widely. Her extensive exploration of the inadequacy of the tools of contemporary social science to distinguish the structural conditions that define working class realities from contingent forces that contradict leftist notions of objective class interests, and are often manifest by workers in conservative and individualist political behavior, is easier to read than to review. As the Dude would say, it’s complicated… lotta ins, lotta outs. So, around that task I invite the reader to follow Lewis first hand.
But to the degree that misconception erases the rejection of the Vietnam War by a majority of low income Americans, suffice it say that, generational differences notwithstanding, bluecollar opposition was seldom expressed or politicized in any manner resembling movement activism. Much working class skepticism of US military policy in SE Asia centered around the inability of the nation’s leaders to justify the burden in blood and treasure extracted disproportionately from their communities in pursuit of war objectives that could never be adequately explained to their satisfaction. Such attitudes in Middle America, communicated as vox populi, seldom translated into sympathy for the more flamboyant aspects of the protest movement.
In fact, “[t]he countercultural expression of many parts of the movement challenged core values of many workers,” Lewis acknowledges. Or as Notre Dame sociologist, Andrew Greeley, once quipped, “If the white ethnic is told in effect that to support peace he must also support the Black Panthers, women’s liberation, widespread use of drugs, free love, campus radicals, Dr. Spock, long hair and picketing clergymen,” you’re unlikely to find him in the peace movement.
Greeley’s observation, which echoes the witty pen of George Orwell describing eccentric Brit peaceniks of the Thirties, is likewise more parody than picture of a movement that was as eclectic as the society from which it was formed. But you don’t have to be intolerant of cultural diversity to share in a critique of the infinite contradictions that riddled the organized Vietnam antiwar opposition, those which apply personally being currently under display in my work-in-progress. “Useful knowledge,” Lewis proclaims , can be gained by those carrying a “desire for social change” into the future, who study the Vietnam antiwar movement for its “shortcomings” as well as its “achievements.”
In Hardhats, Hippies and Hawks Lewis underscores two constants that link the Vietnam conflict with contemporary US military adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. All are or were driven by similar “economic and political imperatives.” And, ultimately, all three were or are rejected by the overwhelming majority of Americans. Only during Vietnam, however, did a people mobilized by an explicit antiwar agenda exercise a strong hand in bringing the war to an end. Obviously conditions differ from one epoch to the next, but it is still useful to emphasize what distinguishes a “faded” movement from a “dynamic” one.
There’s a contradiction built into every campaign promise about transparent government beyond the failure to keep the promises. Our government is, in significant portion, made up of secret operations, operations that include war-making, kidnapping, torture, assassination, and infiltrating and overthrowing governments. A growing movement is ready to see that end.
The Central Intelligence Agency is central to our foreign policy, but there is nothing intelligent about it, and there is no good news to be found regarding it. Its drone wars are humanitarian and strategic disasters. The piles of cash it keeps delivering to Hamid Karzai fuel corruption, not democracy. Whose idea was it that secret piles of cash could create democracy? (Nobody’s, of course, democracy being the furthest thing from U.S. goals.) Lavishing money on potential Russian spies and getting caught helps no one, and not getting caught would have helped no one. Even scandals that avoid mentioning the CIA, like Benghazigate, are CIA blowback and worse than we’re being told.
We’ve moved from the war on Iraq, about which the CIA lied, and its accompanying atrocities serving as the primary recruiting tool for anti-U.S. terrorists, to the drone wars filling that role. We’ve moved from kidnapping and torture to kidnapping and torture under a president who, we like to fantasize, doesn’t really mean it. But the slave-owners who founded this country knew very well what virtually anyone would do if you gave them power, and framed the Constitution so as not to give presidents powers like these.
There are shelves full in your local bookstore of books pointing out the CIA’s outrageous incompetence. The brilliant idea to give Iran plans for a nuclear bomb in order to prevent Iran from ever developing a nuclear bomb is one of my favorites.
But books that examine the illegality, immorality, and anti-democratic nature of even what the CIA so ham-handedly intends to do are rarer. A new book called Dirty Wars, also coming out as a film in June, does a superb job. I wrote a review a while back. Another book, decades old now, might be re-titled “Dirty Wars The Prequel.” I’m thinking of Douglas Valentine’s The Phoenix Program.
It you read The Phoenix Program about our (the CIA’s and “special” forces’) secret crimes in Eastern Asia and Dirty Wars about our secret crimes in Western Asia, and remember that similar efforts were focused on making life hell for millions of people in Latin America in between these twin catastrophes, and that some of those running Phoenix were brought away from similar sadistic pursuits in the Philippines, it becomes hard to play along with the continual pretense that each uncovered outrage is an aberration, that the ongoing focus of our government’s foreign policy “isn’t who we are.”
Targeted murders with knives in Vietnam were justified with the same rhetoric that now justifies drone murders. The similarities include the failure of primary goals, the counterproductive blowback results, the breeding of corruption abroad and at home, the moral and political degradation, the erosion of democratic ways of thinking, and — of course — the racist arrogance and cultural ignorance that shape the programs and blind their participants to what they are engaged in. The primary difference between Phoenix and drone kills is that the drones don’t suffer PTSD. The same, however, cannot be said for the drone pilots.
“The problem,” wrote Valentine, “was one of using means which were antithetical to the desired end, of denying due process in order to create a democracy, of using terror and repression to foster freedom. When put into practice by soldiers taught to think in conventional military and moral terms, Contre Coup engendered transgressions on a massive scale. However, for those pressing the attack on VCI, the bloodbath was constructive, for indiscriminate air raids and artillery barrages obscured the shadow war being fought in urban back alleys and anonymous rural hamlets. The military shield allowed a CIA officer to sit behind a steel door in a room in the U.S. Embassy, insulated from human concern, skimming the Phoenix blacklist, selecting targets for assassination, distilling power from tragedy.”
At some point, enough of us will recognize that government conducted behind a steel door can lead only to ever greater tragedy.
In an email that Valentine wrote for RootsAction.org on Monday, he wrote: “Through its bottomless black bag of unaccounted-for money, much of it generated by off-the-books proprietary companies and illegal activities like drug smuggling, the CIA spreads corruption around the world. This corruption undermines our own government and public officials. And the drone killings of innocent men, women, and children generate fierce resentment.. . .Tell your representative and senators right now that the CIA is the antithesis of democracy and needs to be abolished.“
Despite what all the media are yammering at you, despite all the fear mongering about Iran’s “nuclear threat” (Iran has been fully verified by the IAEA and ALL the U.S. intelligence community agree and are on record that Iran is not pursuing nuclear weapons), despite talk that Iran is intolerant, despite the daily barrage of bad press and unpleasant innuendo, Iran is a great country, friendly, cultured, fun and spiritually-minded!
The “Powers That Were” are dead set on taking us to war against Iran, but “They lied about Vietnam… Iraq… Afghanistan…” and “Iran Is NOT Our Enemy ! “
Meet the new boss who, upon his inauguration, declared that the right to life is unalienable. Let me be clear, that does not mean he cannot take yours.
In fact, he runs through a list of men, women, and children on Tuesdays, hung over from inaugurations or not, and picks whom to murder and murders them.
We are not supposed to call it murder, of course, because it is properly assassination. Except that no public figures are being assassinated; 98% of those killed are not targeted at all; some are targeted for suspicious behavior without knowing their names; one type of suspicious behavior is the act of retrieving the dead and wounded from a previous strike; and those targeted are not targeted for politics but for resisting illegal occupations. Moreover, an assassination is a type of murder.
We’re not supposed to call it murder, nonetheless, because it sounds more objective to call it killing. But murder is a type of killing, specifically unlawfully killing a person especially with malice aforethought. Killing by accident is not murder and not what the president is doing. Killing legally is not murder and not what the president is doing – at least not as far as anyone knows or according to any interpretation of law put forward. Killing indirectly by encouraging poverty or environmental destruction or denial of healthcare may be things the president is doing, but they are not murder and not drone wars.
Imagine if a non-president went through a list of everyone in your local elementary school, picked out whom to kill, and ordered them killed. You would call it murder. You would call it mass-murder. You would call it conspiracy to commit mass murder. Why would electing that mass murderer president change anything? Why would moving the victims abroad change anything?
KILL ANYTHING THAT MOVES
Kill Anything That Moves is the title of an important new book from Nick Turse, covering the mass-murdering enterprise known in Vietnam as the American War, and in the United States as the Vietnam War. Turse documents that policy decisions handed down from the top led consistently, over a period of years, to the ongoing slaughter of millions of civilians in Vietnam.
Much of the killing was done by hand or with guns or artillery, but the lion’s share came in the form of 3.4 million combat sorties flown by US and South Vietnamese aircraft between 1965 and 1972. Air strikes are President Obama’s primary instrument of foreign relations as well; he ordered 20,000 air strikes in his first term.
The well-known My Lai massacre in Vietnam was not an aberration, but an almost typical incident and by no means the worst of them. Turse documents a pattern of ongoing atrocities so pervasive that one is compelled to begin viewing the war itself as one large atrocity. Something similar could be done for the endless war on everywhere that we are currently living through. Scattered atrocities and scandals in Afghanistan and Iraq are interpreted as freak occurrences having nothing to do with the general thrust of the war. And yet they are its essence.
Kill anything that moves, was an order given to US troops in Vietnam indoctrinated with racist hatred for the Vietnamese. “360 degree rotational fire” was a command on the streets of Iraq given to US troops similarly conditioned to hate, and similarly worn down with physical exhaustion.
Dead children in Vietnam resulted in comments like “Tough …, they grow up to be VC.” One of the US helicopter killers in Iraq heard in the Collateral Murder video says of dead children, “Well it’s their fault for bringing their kids into a battle.”
In Vietnam anyone dead was the enemy, and sometimes weapons would be planted on them. In drone wars, any dead males are militants, and in Iraq and Afghanistan weapons have often been planted on victims.
The US military during the Vietnam War shifted from keeping prisoners toward murdering prisoners, just as the Endless War on Everywhere has shifted from incarceration toward murder with the change in president from Bush to Obama.
In Vietnam, as in Iraq, rules of engagement were broadened until the rules allowed shooting at anything that moved. In Vietnam, as in Iraq, the US military sought to win people over by terrorizing them. In Vietnam, as in Afghanistan, whole villages were eliminated.
In Vietnam, refugees suffered in horrible camps, while in Afghanistan children are rapidly freezing to death in a refugee camp near Kabul.
Torture was common in Vietnam, including water-boarding. But it wasn’t at that time yet depicted in a Hollywood movie as a positive occurrence.
Napalm, white phosphorus, cluster bombs, and other widely despised and banned weapons were used in Vietnam as in the current war.
Vast environmental destruction was part of both wars.
Gang rape was a part of both wars.
The mutilation of corpses was common in both wars.
Bulldozers flattened people’s villages in Vietnam, not unlike what US-made bulldozers do now to Palestine.
Mass murders of civilians in Vietnam, as in Afghanistan, tended to be driven by a desire for revenge.
New weaponry allowed US troops in Vietnam to shoot long distances, resulting in a habit of shooting first and investigating later, a habit now developed for drone strikes.
Self-appointed teams on the ground and in helicopters went “hunting” for natives to kill in Vietnam as in Afghanistan.
And of course, Vietnamese leaders were targeted for assassination.
Then, as now, the atrocities and “war crimes” were committed with impunity as part of the crime that was the war itself. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say: because there was impunity then, it remains today.
Turse discovered that the military investigated numerous accusations, documented incidents, and then buried the reports. So did others in the government. So did the media, including Newsweek which buried a major investigation. Those who engaged in that cover-up don’t have on their hands the blood that had already been spilled, but do have on their hands the blood that has been spilled since in similar wars that might have been prevented. … Full article
By Reverend Martin Luther King | April 4, 1967
Speech delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on April 4, 1967, at a meeting of Clergy and Laity Concerned at Riverside Church in NYC
I come to this magnificent house of worship tonight because my conscience leaves me no other choice. I join with you in this meeting because I am in deepest agreement with the aims and work of the organization which has brought us together: Clergy and Laymen Concerned about Vietnam. The recent statement of your executive committee are the sentiments of my own heart and I found myself in full accord when I read its opening lines: “A time comes when silence is betrayal.” That time has come for us in relation to Vietnam.
The truth of these words is beyond doubt but the mission to which they call us is a most difficult one. Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government’s policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one’s own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover when the issues at hand seem as perplexed as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty; but we must move on.
Some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak. And we must rejoice as well, for surely this is the first time in our nation’s history that a significant number of its religious leaders have chosen to move beyond the prophesying of smooth patriotism to the high grounds of a firm dissent based upon the mandates of conscience and the reading of history. Perhaps a new spirit is rising among us. If it is, let us trace its movement well and pray that our own inner being may be sensitive to its guidance, for we are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness that seems so close around us.
Over the past two years, as I have moved to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart, as I have called for radical departures from the destruction of Vietnam, many persons have questioned me about the wisdom of my path. At the heart of their concerns this query has often loomed large and loud: Why are you speaking about war, Dr. King? Why are you joining the voices of dissent? Peace and civil rights don’t mix, they say. Aren’t you hurting the cause of your people, they ask? And when I hear them, though I often understand the source of their concern, I am nevertheless greatly saddened, for such questions mean that the inquirers have not really known me, my commitment or my calling. Indeed, their questions suggest that they do not know the world in which they live.
In the light of such tragic misunderstandings, I deem it of signal importance to try to state clearly, and I trust concisely, why I believe that the path from Dexter Avenue Baptist Church — the church in Montgomery, Alabama, where I began my pastorate — leads clearly to this sanctuary tonight.
I come to this platform tonight to make a passionate plea to my beloved nation. This speech is not addressed to Hanoi or to the National Liberation Front. It is not addressed to China or to Russia.
Nor is it an attempt to overlook the ambiguity of the total situation and the need for a collective solution to the tragedy of Vietnam. Neither is it an attempt to make North Vietnam or the National Liberation Front paragons of virtue, nor to overlook the role they can play in a successful resolution of the problem. While they both may have justifiable reason to be suspicious of the good faith of the United States, life and history give eloquent testimony to the fact that conflicts are never resolved without trustful give and take on both sides.
Tonight, however, I wish not to speak with Hanoi and the NLF, but rather to my fellow Americans, who, with me, bear the greatest responsibility in ending a conflict that has exacted a heavy price on both continents.
The Importance of Vietnam
Since I am a preacher by trade, I suppose it is not surprising that I have seven major reasons for bringing Vietnam into the field of my moral vision. There is at the outset a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I, and others, have been waging in America. A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor — both black and white — through the poverty program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam and I watched the program broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war, and I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.
Perhaps the more tragic recognition of reality took place when it became clear to me that the war was doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home. It was sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and to die in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the rest of the population. We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem. So we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools. So we watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would never live on the same block in Detroit. I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor.
My third reason moves to an even deeper level of awareness, for it grows out of my experience in the ghettoes of the North over the last three years — especially the last three summers. As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked — and rightly so — what about Vietnam? They asked if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.
For those who ask the question, “Aren’t you a civil rights leader?” and thereby mean to exclude me from the movement for peace, I have this further answer. In 1957 when a group of us formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, we chose as our motto: “To save the soul of America.” We were convinced that we could not limit our vision to certain rights for black people, but instead affirmed the conviction that America would never be free or saved from itself unless the descendants of its slaves were loosed completely from the shackles they still wear. In a way we were agreeing with Langston Hughes, that black bard of Harlem, who had written earlier:
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath–
America will be!
Now, it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war. If America’s soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read Vietnam. It can never be saved so long as it destroys the deepest hopes of men the world over. So it is that those of us who are yet determined that America will be are led down the path of protest and dissent, working for the health of our land.
As if the weight of such a commitment to the life and health of America were not enough, another burden of responsibility was placed upon me in 1964; and I cannot forget that the Nobel Prize for Peace was also a commission — a commission to work harder than I had ever worked before for “the brotherhood of man.” This is a calling that takes me beyond national allegiances, but even if it were not present I would yet have to live with the meaning of my commitment to the ministry of Jesus Christ. To me the relationship of this ministry to the making of peace is so obvious that I sometimes marvel at those who ask me why I am speaking against the war. Could it be that they do not know that the good news was meant for all men — for Communist and capitalist, for their children and ours, for black and for white, for revolutionary and conservative? Have they forgotten that my ministry is in obedience to the one who loved his enemies so fully that he died for them? What then can I say to the “Vietcong” or to Castro or to Mao as a faithful minister of this one? Can I threaten them with death or must I not share with them my life?
Finally, as I try to delineate for you and for myself the road that leads from Montgomery to this place I would have offered all that was most valid if I simply said that I must be true to my conviction that I share with all men the calling to be a son of the living God. Beyond the calling of race or nation or creed is this vocation of sonship and brotherhood, and because I believe that the Father is deeply concerned especially for his suffering and helpless and outcast children, I come tonight to speak for them.
This I believe to be the privilege and the burden of all of us who deem ourselves bound by allegiances and loyalties which are broader and deeper than nationalism and which go beyond our nation’s self-defined goals and positions. We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy, for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.
And as I ponder the madness of Vietnam and search within myself for ways to understand and respond to compassion my mind goes constantly to the people of that peninsula. I speak now not of the soldiers of each side, not of the junta in Saigon, but simply of the people who have been living under the curse of war for almost three continuous decades now. I think of them too because it is clear to me that there will be no meaningful solution there until some attempt is made to know them and hear their broken cries.
They must see Americans as strange liberators. The Vietnamese people proclaimed their own independence in 1945 after a combined French and Japanese occupation, and before the Communist revolution in China. They were led by Ho Chi Minh. Even though they quoted the American Declaration of Independence in their own document of freedom, we refused to recognize them. Instead, we decided to support France in its reconquest of her former colony.
Our government felt then that the Vietnamese people were not “ready” for independence, and we again fell victim to the deadly Western arrogance that has poisoned the international atmosphere for so long. With that tragic decision we rejected a revolutionary government seeking self-determination, and a government that had been established not by China (for whom the Vietnamese have no great love) but by clearly indigenous forces that included some Communists. For the peasants this new government meant real land reform, one of the most important needs in their lives.
For nine years following 1945 we denied the people of Vietnam the right of independence. For nine years we vigorously supported the French in their abortive effort to recolonize Vietnam.
Before the end of the war we were meeting eighty percent of the French war costs. Even before the French were defeated at Dien Bien Phu, they began to despair of the reckless action, but we did not. We encouraged them with our huge financial and military supplies to continue the war even after they had lost the will. Soon we would be paying almost the full costs of this tragic attempt at recolonization.
After the French were defeated it looked as if independence and land reform would come again through the Geneva agreements. But instead there came the United States, determined that Ho should not unify the temporarily divided nation, and the peasants watched again as we supported one of the most vicious modern dictators — our chosen man, Premier Diem. The peasants watched and cringed as Diem ruthlessly routed out all opposition, supported their extortionist landlords and refused even to discuss reunification with the north. The peasants watched as all this was presided over by U.S. influence and then by increasing numbers of U.S. troops who came to help quell the insurgency that Diem’s methods had aroused. When Diem was overthrown they may have been happy, but the long line of military dictatorships seemed to offer no real change — especially in terms of their need for land and peace.
The only change came from America as we increased our troop commitments in support of governments which were singularly corrupt, inept and without popular support. All the while the people read our leaflets and received regular promises of peace and democracy — and land reform. Now they languish under our bombs and consider us — not their fellow Vietnamese –the real enemy. They move sadly and apathetically as we herd them off the land of their fathers into concentration camps where minimal social needs are rarely met. They know they must move or be destroyed by our bombs. So they go — primarily women and children and the aged.
They watch as we poison their water, as we kill a million acres of their crops. They must weep as the bulldozers roar through their areas preparing to destroy the precious trees. They wander into the hospitals, with at least twenty casualties from American firepower for one “Vietcong”-inflicted injury. So far we may have killed a million of them — mostly children. They wander into the towns and see thousands of the children, homeless, without clothes, running in packs on the streets like animals. They see the children, degraded by our soldiers as they beg for food. They see the children selling their sisters to our soldiers, soliciting for their mothers.
What do the peasants think as we ally ourselves with the landlords and as we refuse to put any action into our many words concerning land reform? What do they think as we test our latest weapons on them, just as the Germans tested out new medicine and new tortures in the concentration camps of Europe? Where are the roots of the independent Vietnam we claim to be building? Is it among these voiceless ones?
We have destroyed their two most cherished institutions: the family and the village. We have destroyed their land and their crops. We have cooperated in the crushing of the nation’s only non-Communist revolutionary political force — the unified Buddhist church. We have supported the enemies of the peasants of Saigon. We have corrupted their women and children and killed their men. What liberators?
Now there is little left to build on — save bitterness. Soon the only solid physical foundations remaining will be found at our military bases and in the concrete of the concentration camps we call fortified hamlets. The peasants may well wonder if we plan to build our new Vietnam on such grounds as these? Could we blame them for such thoughts? We must speak for them and raise the questions they cannot raise. These too are our brothers.
Perhaps the more difficult but no less necessary task is to speak for those who have been designated as our enemies. What of the National Liberation Front — that strangely anonymous group we call VC or Communists? What must they think of us in America when they realize that we permitted the repression and cruelty of Diem which helped to bring them into being as a resistance group in the south? What do they think of our condoning the violence which led to their own taking up of arms? How can they believe in our integrity when now we speak of “aggression from the north” as if there were nothing more essential to the war? How can they trust us when now we charge them with violence after the murderous reign of Diem and charge them with violence while we pour every new weapon of death into their land? Surely we must understand their feelings even if we do not condone their actions. Surely we must see that the men we supported pressed them to their violence. Surely we must see that our own computerized plans of destruction simply dwarf their greatest acts.
How do they judge us when our officials know that their membership is less than twenty-five percent Communist and yet insist on giving them the blanket name? What must they be thinking when they know that we are aware of their control of major sections of Vietnam and yet we appear ready to allow national elections in which this highly organized political parallel government will have no part? They ask how we can speak of free elections when the Saigon press is censored and controlled by the military junta. And they are surely right to wonder what kind of new government we plan to help form without them — the only party in real touch with the peasants. They question our political goals and they deny the reality of a peace settlement from which they will be excluded. Their questions are frighteningly relevant. Is our nation planning to build on political myth again and then shore it up with the power of new violence?
Here is the true meaning and value of compassion and nonviolence when it helps us to see the enemy’s point of view, to hear his questions, to know his assessment of ourselves. For from his view we may indeed see the basic weaknesses of our own condition, and if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brothers who are called the opposition.
So, too, with Hanoi. In the north, where our bombs now pummel the land, and our mines endanger the waterways, we are met by a deep but understandable mistrust. To speak for them is to explain this lack of confidence in Western words, and especially their distrust of American intentions now. In Hanoi are the men who led the nation to independence against the Japanese and the French, the men who sought membership in the French commonwealth and were betrayed by the weakness of Paris and the willfulness of the colonial armies. It was they who led a second struggle against French domination at tremendous costs, and then were persuaded to give up the land they controlled between the thirteenth and seventeenth parallel as a temporary measure at Geneva. After 1954 they watched us conspire with Diem to prevent elections which would have surely brought Ho Chi Minh to power over a united Vietnam, and they realized they had been betrayed again.
When we ask why they do not leap to negotiate, these things must be remembered. Also it must be clear that the leaders of Hanoi considered the presence of American troops in support of the Diem regime to have been the initial military breach of the Geneva agreements concerning foreign troops, and they remind us that they did not begin to send in any large number of supplies or men until American forces had moved into the tens of thousands.
Hanoi remembers how our leaders refused to tell us the truth about the earlier North Vietnamese overtures for peace, how the president claimed that none existed when they had clearly been made. Ho Chi Minh has watched as America has spoken of peace and built up its forces, and now he has surely heard of the increasing international rumors of American plans for an invasion of the north. He knows the bombing and shelling and mining we are doing are part of traditional pre-invasion strategy. Perhaps only his sense of humor and of irony can save him when he hears the most powerful nation of the world speaking of aggression as it drops thousands of bombs on a poor weak nation more than eight thousand miles away from its shores.
At this point I should make it clear that while I have tried in these last few minutes to give a voice to the voiceless on Vietnam and to understand the arguments of those who are called enemy, I am as deeply concerned about our troops there as anything else. For it occurs to me that what we are submitting them to in Vietnam is not simply the brutalizing process that goes on in any war where armies face each other and seek to destroy. We are adding cynicism to the process of death, for they must know after a short period there that none of the things we claim to be fighting for are really involved. Before long they must know that their government has sent them into a struggle among Vietnamese, and the more sophisticated surely realize that we are on the side of the wealthy and the secure while we create hell for the poor.
This Madness Must Cease
Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home and death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as an American to the leaders of my own nation. The great initiative in this war is ours. The initiative to stop it must be ours.
This is the message of the great Buddhist leaders of Vietnam. Recently one of them wrote these words:
“Each day the war goes on the hatred increases in the heart of the Vietnamese and in the hearts of those of humanitarian instinct. The Americans are forcing even their friends into becoming their enemies. It is curious that the Americans, who calculate so carefully on the possibilities of military victory, do not realize that in the process they are incurring deep psychological and political defeat. The image of America will never again be the image of revolution, freedom and democracy, but the image of violence and militarism.”
If we continue, there will be no doubt in my mind and in the mind of the world that we have no honorable intentions in Vietnam. It will become clear that our minimal expectation is to occupy it as an American colony and men will not refrain from thinking that our maximum hope is to goad China into a war so that we may bomb her nuclear installations. If we do not stop our war against the people of Vietnam immediately the world will be left with no other alternative than to see this as some horribly clumsy and deadly game we have decided to play.
The world now demands a maturity of America that we may not be able to achieve. It demands that we admit that we have been wrong from the beginning of our adventure in Vietnam, that we have been detrimental to the life of the Vietnamese people. The situation is one in which we must be ready to turn sharply from our present ways.
In order to atone for our sins and errors in Vietnam, we should take the initiative in bringing a halt to this tragic war. I would like to suggest five concrete things that our government should do immediately to begin the long and difficult process of extricating ourselves from this nightmarish conflict:
End all bombing in North and South Vietnam.
Declare a unilateral cease-fire in the hope that such action will create the atmosphere for negotiation.
Take immediate steps to prevent other battlegrounds in Southeast Asia by curtailing our military buildup in Thailand and our interference in Laos.
Realistically accept the fact that the National Liberation Front has substantial support in South Vietnam and must thereby play a role in any meaningful negotiations and in any future Vietnam government.
Set a date that we will remove all foreign troops from Vietnam in accordance with the 1954 Geneva agreement.
Part of our ongoing commitment might well express itself in an offer to grant asylum to any Vietnamese who fears for his life under a new regime which included the Liberation Front. Then we must make what reparations we can for the damage we have done. We most provide the medical aid that is badly needed, making it available in this country if necessary.
Protesting The War
Meanwhile we in the churches and synagogues have a continuing task while we urge our government to disengage itself from a disgraceful commitment. We must continue to raise our voices if our nation persists in its perverse ways in Vietnam. We must be prepared to match actions with words by seeking out every creative means of protest possible.
As we counsel young men concerning military service we must clarify for them our nation’s role in Vietnam and challenge them with the alternative of conscientious objection. I am pleased to say that this is the path now being chosen by more than seventy students at my own alma mater, Morehouse College, and I recommend it to all who find the American course in Vietnam a dishonorable and unjust one. Moreover I would encourage all ministers of draft age to give up their ministerial exemptions and seek status as conscientious objectors. These are the times for real choices and not false ones. We are at the moment when our lives must be placed on the line if our nation is to survive its own folly. Every man of humane convictions must decide on the protest that best suits his convictions, but we must all protest.
There is something seductively tempting about stopping there and sending us all off on what in some circles has become a popular crusade against the war in Vietnam. I say we must enter the struggle, but I wish to go on now to say something even more disturbing. The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality we will find ourselves organizing clergy- and laymen-concerned committees for the next generation. They will be concerned about Guatemala and Peru. They will be concerned about Thailand and Cambodia. They will be concerned about Mozambique and South Africa. We will be marching for these and a dozen other names and attending rallies without end unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy. Such thoughts take us beyond Vietnam, but not beyond our calling as sons of the living God.
In 1957 a sensitive American official overseas said that it seemed to him that our nation was on the wrong side of a world revolution. During the past ten years we have seen emerge a pattern of suppression which now has justified the presence of U.S. military “advisors” in Venezuela. This need to maintain social stability for our investments accounts for the counter-revolutionary action of American forces in Guatemala. It tells why American helicopters are being used against guerrillas in Colombia and why American napalm and green beret forces have already been active against rebels in Peru. It is with such activity in mind that the words of the late John F. Kennedy come back to haunt us. Five years ago he said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”
Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken — the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investment.
I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.
A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. n the one hand we are called to play the good Samaritan on life’s roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say: “This is not just.” It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of Latin America and say: “This is not just.” The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just. A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war: “This way of settling differences is not just.” This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into veins of people normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.
America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing, except a tragic death wish, to prevent us from reordering our priorities, so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. There is nothing to keep us from molding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood.
This kind of positive revolution of values is our best defense against communism. War is not the answer. Communism will never be defeated by the use of atomic bombs or nuclear weapons. Let us not join those who shout war and through their misguided passions urge the United States to relinquish its participation in the United Nations. These are days which demand wise restraint and calm reasonableness. We must not call everyone a Communist or an appeaser who advocates the seating of Red China in the United Nations and who recognizes that hate and hysteria are not the final answers to the problem of these turbulent days. We must not engage in a negative anti-communism, but rather in a positive thrust for democracy, realizing that our greatest defense against communism is to take offensive action in behalf of justice. We must with positive action seek to remove thosse conditions of poverty, insecurity and injustice which are the fertile soil in which the seed of communism grows and develops.
The People Are Important
These are revolutionary times. All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression and out of the wombs of a frail world new systems of justice and equality are being born. The shirtless and barefoot people of the land are rising up as never before. “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light.” We in the West must support these revolutions. It is a sad fact that, because of comfort, complacency, a morbid fear of communism, and our proneness to adjust to injustice, the Western nations that initiated so much of the revolutionary spirit of the modern world have now become the arch anti-revolutionaries. This has driven many to feel that only Marxism has the revolutionary spirit. Therefore, communism is a judgement against our failure to make democracy real and follow through on the revolutions we initiated. Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism. With this powerful commitment we shall boldly challenge the status quo and unjust mores and thereby speed the day when “every valley shall be exalted, and every moutain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight and the rough places plain.”
A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.
This call for a world-wide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all men. This oft misunderstood and misinterpreted concept — so readily dismissed by the Nietzsches of the world as a weak and cowardly force — has now become an absolute necessity for the survival of man. When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality. This Hindu-Moslem-Christian-Jewish-Buddhist belief about ultimate reality is beautifully summed up in the first epistle of Saint John:
Let us love one another; for love is God and everyone that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. If we love one another God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.
Let us hope that this spirit will become the order of the day. We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. History is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate. As Arnold Toynbee says : “Love is the ultimate force that makes for the saving choice of life and good against the damning choice of death and evil. Therefore the first hope in our inventory must be the hope that love is going to have the last word.”
We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked and dejected with a lost opportunity. The “tide in the affairs of men” does not remain at the flood; it ebbs. We may cry out deperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is deaf to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residue of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: “Too late.” There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect. “The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on…” We still have a choice today; nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation.
We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace in Vietnam and justice throughout the developing world — a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act we shall surely be dragged down the long dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.
Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter — but beautiful — struggle for a new world. This is the calling of the sons of God, and our brothers wait eagerly for our response. Shall we say the odds are too great? Shall we tell them the struggle is too hard? Will our message be that the forces of American life militate against their arrival as full men, and we send our deepest regrets? Or will there be another message, of longing, of hope, of solidarity with their yearnings, of commitment to their cause, whatever the cost? The choice is ours, and though we might prefer it otherwise we must choose in this crucial moment of human history.
As that noble bard of yesterday, James Russell Lowell, eloquently stated:
Once to every man and nation
Comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth and falsehood,
For the good or evil side;
Some great cause, God’s new Messiah,
Off’ring each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever
Twixt that darkness and that light.
Though the cause of evil prosper,
Yet ’tis truth alone is strong;
Though her portion be the scaffold,
And upon the throne be wrong:
Yet that scaffold sways the future,
And behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow
Keeping watch above his own.
Source – BRC NEWS