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The president of New School University is a war criminal. Covered up for 30 years, the war crime was the work of “Kerrey’s Raiders,” a U.S. Navy special forces (SEAL) unit commanded by Lt. Robert Kerrey. Trading on his reputation as a “war hero,” Kerrey went on to become a U.S. senator, a leading liberal Democratic presidential hopeful, and this January was named president of the prestigious New School. Now the truth has been exposed that he is a mass murderer of women and children. Today, an orchestrated campaign from liberals and conservatives alike seeks to carry out damage control. But the facts clearly show: Bob Kerrey is guilty as hell!
On 25 February 1969, Kerrey ordered the massacre of at least 13 to 20 civilians, primarily women and children, at Thanh Phong, a tiny peasant hamlet in the Mekong Delta. “They ordered everybody out from the bunker and they lined them up and they shot them all from behind,” testified a survivor, Pham Tri Lanh. The gung-ho lieutenant did what he was trained for and what was expected by his superior officers. Mass murder was no aberration; it was policy.
In their “rural pacification” program, U.S. forces sought to herd the peasants of Vietnam into “strategic hamlets,” akin to massive concentration camps. Gigantic areas outside these camps were designated “free-fire zones.” Officers were ordered to take their men out and kill anything that moved – men, women, children, old people and livestock. Meanwhile, the CIA-designed “Operation Phoenix” sent death squads to murder suspected Viet Cong members and “VC symps.” As a SEAL commander Kerrey’s mission was to lead assassination raids into the countryside, a key part of the U.S. government’s dirty colonial war in Southeast Asia.
As noted in a Newsday column (April 29), “the Seals, save for the U.S. pilots bombing from chariots at 50,000 feet, were the most cold-blooded of the American assassins. Throat-slitting...was the way the Seals sought to rule the night.” Kerrey’s most experienced commando, Gerhard Klann, told television reporters for “60 Minutes II” how Kerrey himself personally took part in the murders at Thanh Phong. Kerrey joined in as his unit slit several victims’ throats and then machine-gunned another group of unarmed women and children they had “captured,” including a baby. “There were blood and guts spattering everywhere,” Klann is quoted as saying. Klann’s account was consistent with those of Pham Tri Lanh and two relatives of the victims, and on April 28 another Vietnamese witness, Bui Thi Luom, confirmed the massacre. In fact, Pentagon records show the massacre was reported back in February 1969 by an old man from Thanh Phong village.
Kerry has claimed it was the fog of war, his memory was clouded (until he got other members of his death squad to get their stories together and back him up), the women and children somehow grouped together, all got shot from a distance of 100 yards... But the whole shifting mass of falsehoods is torn away by Kerrey’s own words: “Standard operating procedure was to dispose of the people we made contact with.... Kill the people we made contact with, or we have to abort the mission.... We were instructed not to take prisoners.” The New York Times Magazine article cites Kerrey on how his commanding officer, a “classic body-count guy,” made it “quite clear what he wanted.... He wanted hooches [huts] destroyed and people killed.” Now that the backlash against the two-year-long Times/CBS investigation is in full swing, Kerrey states in self-justification that “this was a Viet Cong village,” so “gender and age distinctions” didn’t matter (Newsday, April 30).
Like Captain Medina and Lieutenant Calley, leaders of the much bigger massacre at My Lai about a year earlier (where the victims – women, children, elders, babies – numbered between 400 and 600), Bob (“Kill-’Em-All”) Kerrey is not only a mass murderer, but a liar as well. He got a medal for killing children – the Bronze Star – and never breathed a word about what really happened until two years ago, when the reporters from the Times and 60 Minutes had already pieced together most of the facts. Now Kerrey is lying in high gear, claiming that he was engaged in a full-blown firefight with his defenseless victims! A month after the Thanh Phong massacre Kerrey and his killers did encounter armed fighters of the National Liberation Front of Vietnam, and at that time Kerrey got part of his leg blown off by a hand grenade. Grotesquely, this cold-blooded murderer asserts in the Times story that his restraint in executing more unarmed peasants in that second incident is what led to his unit’s defeat and his wounding!
Now that the story has hit the headlines as the result of a years-long investigation by the Times and CBS, an obscene and heavily-financed campaign is underway to deny what happened. This too is normal procedure every time the truth begins to seep out from one of the countless crimes that make up the bloody history of the American empire. A year and a half ago, when an extensive Associated Press investigation was published on the U.S. massacre of hundreds of civilians at No Gun Ri during the Korean War, Army brass moved heaven and earth to claim it never happened. Their whitewash campaign failed miserably.
As Kerrey lashes out with increasingly open viciousness against those who exposed his massacre, he is now, incredibly, baiting the establishment media as Commie collaborators, saying: “The Vietnam government likes to routinely say how terrible Americans were. The Times and CBS are now collaborating in that effort.” This cynical attempt to take a page from Joe McCarthy’s book – and deny the enormity of U.S. crimes in Vietnam – gives the lie once again to those who present Kerrey the executioner as “another victim.” Make no mistake: he was not some poor guy drafted and sent to a place he didn’t want to be. Bob Kerrey was commander of an elite unit trained precisely to carry out assassinations.
In response to the revelations, some point out that above Kerrey were bigger mass murderers who lived high on the hog ever after, such as Robert McNamara, and Henry Kissinger. (Kissinger attended a fancy dinner party for Kerrey at Le Cirque right before the Thanh Phong revelations broke.) In other words, like other war criminals before him, Kerrey was “just following orders.” Liberals repeat the time-worn refrain that “Vietnam was a mistake.” In fact, some of those same mass murderers retrospectively said the same thing, and Richard Nixon wrote a book titled No More Vietnams. They say this only because they lost!
Like his superiors, Kerrey was part of U.S. imperialism’s failed effort to defeat the Vietnamese Revolution. The peasants and workers of Vietnam struggled for half a century to rid their country of Japanese, French and U.S. imperialism and the murderous puppet regimes that served these overlords. With immense courage and determination, they resisted and defeated the American imperialists – and this was a great and inspiring victory for the exploited and oppressed the world over, from South America to South Africa, from Europe and Japan to here in “the belly of the beast.” While liberals and reformists tried to cut the losses to the imperialist order, revolutionaries called for victory to the Vietnam Revolution, saying “All Indochina Must Go Communist!” and “Two, three, many defeats for U.S. imperialism!”
Making direct war on the entire population of Vietnam and killing between two and three million people, the American ruling class, Democrat and Republican, starkly showed itself to be a depraved and barbaric barrier to human progress. Tens of thousands were tortured and executed by the “Operation Phoenix” assassination program, while horrifying numbers perished at the hands of U.S. Air Force pilots, such as Senator John McCain, who rained down hundreds of thousands of bombs containing TNT, napalm, phosphorus and poisons to kill people and animals, as well as chemical defoliants to kill crops. These butchers dropped more tons of explosives on Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos in eight years (1965 through 1972) than had been expended in all the previous wars of human history combined.
As American bombers blew up hospitals and incinerated villages from the air, specialized kill squads like Kerrey’s Raiders – the Vietnam War equivalent of the SS Einsatzgruppen in WWII – were “inserted” to terrorize, assassinate and massacre the population on the ground. The imperialists unleashed thousands of Kerreys in their war on communism – officers who drove their men to keep the body counts high. This meant systematically fostering a culture of death, inculcating deadly racism against the Vietnamese (and all Asians) with dehumanizing epithets like “gooks” and “dinks.” Kill-crazy commandos collected strings of “VC” ears, and the military brass handed out rewards – citations, medals, weekend passes and even Stateside leave – in exchange for mass murder. Today, the orchestrators of the “pity the poor war criminal” campaign seek to reduce Kerrey’s victims to non-persons once again, to blot out and “dispose of” their memory once and for all.
Many draftees, enlisted men and even some officers returned from Vietnam so horrified by the atrocities they witnessed or participated in that they turned against the U.S. government and sought to publicize these crimes. At the National Veterans’ Inquiry held in December 1970 in Washington, D.C., dozens of vets testified about U.S. war crimes, stressing that mass torture and murder were the official policies of the U.S. war machine in Vietnam. As Charles David Locke, who served in the same Army company that committed the My Lai massacre, put it, “what happened at My Lai is not a special thing; there’s nothing special about it” (quoted in James Simon Kunen, Standard Operating Procedure: Notes of a Draft-Age American, 1971). The massacre at Thanh Phong proves it. Bob Kerrey was decorated for carrying out this slaughter, and for 30 years he let the lies in the citation stand. Meanwhile, like John McCain, he used his service as a decorated imperialist killer to become a successful imperialist politician.
For years after its humiliating defeat in the jungles of Southeast Asia, the U.S. government bemoaned the “Vietnam syndrome”: massive suspicion at home regarding American military adventures abroad. The doctrine of “human rights” imperialist interventions pushed by liberal Democrats seeks to overcome this, as do disinformation campaigns that present as “wars against drugs” the massive counterinsurgency operations designed to shore up United States domination of its neo-colonial “backyard,” such as Plan Colombia. Today, they talk of putting Slobodan Milosevic on trial in The Hague. But the people who would be trying him are the biggest terrorists and war criminals in the world today! When the Clintons and the Bushes talk about “democracy” and “human rights,” it means they are seeking to extend by force the controlling power and privilege of the U.S. capitalist class worldwide.
We say Bob Kerrey should be brought to justice before a court of his surviving victims in Ho Chi Minh City. But to avenge the crimes of the Kerreys and their masters, from Democrat Johnson and Republican Nixon to the CIA chiefs and Pentagon carpet-bombers who have brought death and destruction from Baghdad to Belgrade, Seoul to San Salvador, will take a workers revolution. Only then will the wealth and resources of this country be used for the needs of the working people worldwide rather than the bloody and ruthless pursuit of profit.
The U.S. imperialists were defeated in battle by the courageous fighters of the National Liberation Front and Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam). In hailing their great victory, we of the Internationalist Group stress the debt of gratitude and solidarity that the workers and oppressed everywhere owe to the Vietnamese, who showed it was possible to defeat the most powerful and dangerous ruling class on earth. But today the imperialists are whipping themselves up into a new war frenzy. In the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union and amidst increasing rivalries between competing trade blocs, they want to reclaim for capitalist super-exploitation all the countries where capitalism was kicked out: Cuba, Vietnam, North Korea and above all China.
While apologists for capitalism call these countries “communist,” Marxists understand that socialism and communism – a society based on plenty, not scarcity – can only be established on an international scale, after the working class in the most developed capitalist countries overturn their “own” ruling classes. The overturn of capitalist rule in the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, Vietnam and elsewhere dealt a huge blow to the imperialist order, but remained outside the central core of the world capitalist economy. After the victorious Russian Revolution led by Lenin and Trotsky in 1917, the imperialists went all out to crush communism and they haven’t stopped to this day. The backwardness of Russia and the pressure of this unending war gave rise to Stalinism, whose anti-Marxist dogma of “socialism in one country” reflected the outlook of a privileged, nationalist bureaucracy seeking accommodation with the capitalist powers.
This bureaucratic degeneration of the Soviet workers state paved the way for its ultimate destruction spearheaded by George Bush senior’s man in Moscow, Boris Yeltsin. Today, counterrevolution threatens Vietnam (together with China, Cuba and North Korea), as capitalist investors make increasing inroads symbolized by Nike sweatshops. Against protectionists who seek to turn U.S. workers against their brothers and sisters in Asia, Latin America and elsewhere, we fight to unite the workers of the world against their common capitalist enemy. The fight for a world free of exploitation and oppression is the fight for world workers revolution. This means defending Vietnam, Cuba, North Korea and China – target of the recent U.S. spy plane provocation – against imperialism and counterrevolution. To prevent their remaining gains from being destroyed and their countries from being turned once again into colonies of the West, the workers of these countries must throw out the Stalinist bureaucrats and establish governments of workers democracy and revolutionary internationalism.
Above all, the fight against imperialism requires building a revolutionary
workers party here in the heart of the capitalist system. We Trotskyists,
who carry forward the politics of Marx and Lenin, stress that until this
system is destroyed there will be no end to war, no end to exploitation,
no end to racist terror like the police murder of Amadou Diallo and siege
against black Cincinnati. Enemy No. 1, with its thousands of Bob Kerreys,
and trillions of dollars of advanced weapons of mass destruction, is U.S.
imperialism. The force with the power to defeat it forever is the international
working class led by an international party of socialist revolution. Only
when this revolution is victorious will humanity be free of the terror
and oppression represented by the likes of Robert Kerrey. n
To contact the Internationalist Group and the League for the Fourth International, send e-mail to: email@example.com