Democratic Underground

What Went Wrong in that Sad, Sad Place
May 9, 2001
by Lois Erwin

The New York Times Magazine recently ran a piece entitled "One Awful Night in Thanh Phong." I would recommend this article to anyone who would like to have a better understanding of WHY many Americans were so vehemently opposed to the Vietnam War.

Just read about the attitudes and words and orders expressed by Kerrey's superior officers, and you may understand what went wrong in that sad, sad place.

We killed women, children and old men because they were, often, all our soldiers found when sent in to "clean out" a village. And then, afterwards, our military brass would designate the dead civilians as Viet Cong and include them in the daily "body count" boasted to American TV news audiences in an effort to gain home support for continuing the war.

Most of us knew better because even then there were alternative ways of learning what the actual story was. There were brave journalists who went to the war zone and wrote articles and books, and spoke out wherever they could be heard.

American troops were sent to Vietnam, supposedly, to spread democracy.

Instead, we waged war on helpless civilians because there was no front line -- as is usual in wars -- with soldiers lined up on either side shooting at one another. We went in to villages, rooted out those we thought not loyal to America and killed the inhabitants. Most of the poor villagers wanted only to farm their ancestral plots of land, grow their rice and be left alone. They were killed, instead, and bolstered our nightly-news "body counts."

Whether Bob Kerrey did or didn't do whatever he is accused of pales in insignificance against the larger point that whatever happened there, in Thanh Phong, on Feb. 25, 1969, was not at all unusual. It happened more than we will ever be told.

There are many tragedies in this story of Vietnam. The lives, villages and families we destroyed in Vietnam with bullets, flame-throwers, napalm and torture are mirrored in the recesses of the souls of the men we sent there to do this dirty work. They came home but most of them will never be able to cleanse their souls of the horror and agony of what we sent them to do there.

Do not blame Bob Kerrey without blaming the political forces that sent him, and hundreds of thousands of decent human beings, over there and then urged and required them to wage inhumane war against those poor people.

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