Some folks responded to my recent article on Sheridan’s 1864 atrocities in the Shenandoah Valley by denying that there was any systemic effort to downplay or bury U.S. military atrocities. The New York Times reports today that the Pentagon’s effort to whitewash the Vietnam War’s 50th anniversary events are sparking controversy:
The website’s “interactive timeline” omits the Fulbright hearings in the Senate, where in 1971 a disaffected young Vietnam veteran named John Kerry — now President Obama’s secretary of state — asked, “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?” In one early iteration, the website referred to the 1968 My Lai massacre, in which American troops killed hundreds of Vietnamese civilians, as the My Lai Incident.
The glossy view of history has now prompted more than 500 scholars, veterans and activists — including the civil rights leader Julian Bond; Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the top-secret Pentagon Papers; Lawrence J. Korb, a former assistant secretary of defense under President Ronald Reagan; … in demanding the ability to correct the Pentagon’s version of history and a place for the old antiwar activists in the anniversary events.
This week, in a move that has drawn the battle lines all over again, the group sent a petition to Lt. Gen. Claude M. Kicklighter, the retired Vietnam veteran who is overseeing the commemoration, to ask that the effort not be a “one-sided” look at a war that tore a generation apart.
The Times noted that “the presidential historian Robert Dallek said he would like to see the anniversary effort include discussion of “what a torturous experience” Vietnam was for presidents.” Ya – Lyndon Johnson claims he lost some sleep over sending tens of thousands of Americans to pointless deaths. He might have even had a few moments where he thought about the hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese killed by the U.S. intervention. And Nixon – who promised to end the war and then dragged it out until after his re-election…. Not exactly sympathetic figures.
David Hackworth, a retired colonel and the most decorated officer in the Army, commented in 2003: ”Vietnam was an atrocity from the get-go…. There were hundreds of My Lais. You got your card punched by the numbers of bodies you counted.” American soldiers faced more legal perils for reporting than for committing atrocities. Rank-and-file whistleblowers would be threatened with criminal charges if they tried to inform higher-ups about a massacre or other abuses.
Here’s a link to an article I wrote on the Daniel Ellsberg’s memoir Secrets, which discussed the deception that permeated U.S. policy on Vietnam from the beginning.