On March 16, 1968, approximately 80 unarmed civilians were taken from the village of My Lai, Vietnam and huddled into the plaza. Lt. William Calley of Charlie Company told one of his soldiers, "You know what I want you to do with them." When Calley returned minutes later and found the Vietnamese still gathered in the plaza, he said to Meadlo, " Haven’t you got rid of them yet? I want them dead. Waste them." Meadlo and Calley began firing into the group from a distance of ten to fifteen feet. It was part of the massacre of an estimated 500 civilians that day.
Look at the above photographs. Examine them carefully. You will see that they are old men, women and babies. It is not the type of pictures we see coming from the American media in Iraq today. Indeed, we are not allowed to see the flag draped coffins of our war dead being unloaded at Dover Air Base. If President Bush had his way, National Public Television would not be able to list the names in role call fashion as they have been doing.
Vietnam and Iraq have many common aspects but public exposure is not one of them. The Bush administration, with the shameful cooperation of America’s mainstream media have, for the most part, hidden that face of war behind a veil of jingoism and a meticulous weave of deceptions,lies and secrecy.
A recent AP story told of the death of Hugh Thompson, a former helicopter pilot in Vietnam who was honored in 1998 for his courage in rescuing a number of Vietnamese civilians from that massacre at My Lai. It motivated me to go through my old files on Vietnam and revisit my notes on my time there. I was drawing and reporting from Vietnam and left the country just prior to the Tet Offensive in 1968.
The deja vu is stunning. Vietnam and Iraq are blood brothers at their core.
The U.S. crept into the war in Vietnam on the tunnel vision of its leadership. After the French occupation ended with a humiliating defeat at Dien Bien Phu in May of 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower ( a supporter of French) lobbied to delay a free election in Vietnam out of fear that the expatriate Ho Chi Minh would win. John Kennedy bought into the "communism domino" theory and sent 16,000 troops as U.S. "advisors" to prop up the South Vietnam dictator Ngo Dinh Diem.However, it was the testosterone of Lyndon Johnson that sent over 200,000 troops to Vietnam.
George W. Bush took us to war more directly—using the terrorists attack of 9/11, supplemented by lies, deceptions, and the gutlessness of congressional democrats.
The embedding of the media, dictatorial secrecy and Bush’s imperial presidency—i.e. he is not only above the law (domestic spying), he IS the law (enemy combatant declarations)—have kept Americans from getting an unsanitized look at his war.
Unlike the America of the 60s we do not see beyond the looped yellow ribbons that proclaim the euphemisms "support out troops" and "God bless America". We are not exposed to photographs of the torn and mutilated men, women and children who are victims of our bombs and the terrorist violence that has followed us into Iraq. Our only discomfort is the American body count that the Bush administration is forced to disclose. They do not keep a count of Iraqi bodies except for those victims of Saddam Hussein.
The run up to the Vietnam war was a precursor to Iraq. Does this sound familiar?:
*"We are there (Vietnam) because the people of South Vietnam have the right to remain non-Communist."
* "...if they are allowed to go Communist, all of Southeast Asia will fall like dominoes."
* "First, because a friendly nation has asked us to help against communist aggression. Second, our own security is tied to the peace of Asia."
In 1971, Daniel Elsberg photo copied a secret study of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam war, called the Pentagon Papers, and gave it to 17 newspapers. The Nixon administration asked the courts for a restraining order arguing that its publication would put our national security at risk and jeopardize our future as a free society.
The court rejected that argument and America got an unvarnished look at the truth underlying our involvement in Vietnam—a striking parallel to Iraq.
President Johnson deceived Congress with a disputed North Vietnam attack on a U.S. Destroyer in the Gulf of Tonkin to justify authorization of escalating the war. The U.S. tactical decisions were based on colossal misjudgments. Johnson lied about battle field requests for more troops as did Secretary of Defense McNamara.
Moreover, as the Johnson Administration was publicly putting on a positive we-will-win spin--–they were privately admitting to possible settlements that included a pullout leaving a status quo and a compromise that would result in a unified Vietnam under Ho Chi Mi.
It is unfortunate that we don’t have a Pentagon Papers type leak today, that would shine some convincing light on the truth behind the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld propaganda. It is even more unfortunate that we don’t have a national media willing to get out of bed with the Administration and show us the real face of war. Bill Sanders