The pornography of Iraqi prisoner abuse reflects the pornography of US Middle East policy. And if you think hacking off some poor bugger’s head, on television, is the pits in human behaviour you’ve forgotten those Vietnam War images of a screaming, naked girl child ravaged by napalm. Thirty-three years ago, on April 22, 1971, former naval lieutenant John Kerry, who served in Vietnam for six months in 1968-69, testified before a congressional committee in Washington.
Here, edited, is part of his opening speech:
“Several months ago, in Detroit, we had an investigation at which over 150 honourably discharged – many highly decorated – veterans testified to war crimes in South-East Asia. These were not isolated incidents. They were crimes committed on a day-to-day basis, with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command. Reliving their experiences relived the absolute horror of what this country, in a sense, made them do.
“They told stories that, at times, they had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside in addition to the very particular ravaging by the applied bombing power of this country.
“We called this investigation the Winter Soldier investigation, a play on words of Thomas Paine’s in 1776 when he spoke of the ‘sunshine patriots’ and ‘summertime soldiers’ who deserted at Valley Forge [in the War of Independence] because the going was rough. We have come here to Washington because we feel we have to be winter soldiers now. This country doesn’t know it yet, but it has created a monster in the millions of men taught to deal in violence and who are given the chance to die for the biggest nothing in history, men who have returned with a sense of anger and betrayal which no one has yet grasped …
“From our experience there is nothing in South Vietnam which could realistically threaten the United States. To attempt to justify the loss of one American life by linking it to the preservation of freedom is, to us, the height of criminal hypocrisy, and it is that kind of hypocrisy we feel has torn this country apart. We rationalised destroying villages in order to save them. We saw America lose her sense of morality. We learnt the meaning of ‘free-fire zones’. We watched the US falsification and glorification of body counts. We fought against ‘oriental human beings’ using weapons I do not believe this country would dream of using were we fighting in a European theatre. Now we are told the men who fought there must watch quietly while American lives are lost so we can exercise the incredible arrogance of ‘Vietnamising’ the Vietnamese.
“Each day, to facilitate the process by which the US washes her hands of Vietnam, someone has to give up his life so that we don’t have to admit something the entire worlds knows, so that we can’t say we have made a mistake. Someone has to die so President Nixon won’t be, in his own words, ‘the first president to lose a war’.
“We are asking Americans to think about that. We are here to say the problem of this war is not just the war, but of everything: of racism, of the weapons used, of the hypocrisy of taking umbrage at the Geneva Conventions when we are more guilty than anyone of violations – in free-fire zones, in search-and-destroy missions, in bombings, in the torture of prisoners. All accepted policy. That is what we are trying to say. It is part and parcel of everything …”
Fifty-eight thousand US troops died in Vietnam. So did 3 million Vietnamese. John Kerry now campaigns to replace a president even more frightening than Nixon.