Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Colin Powell : We Don't Have to Do This Anymore

Who suggests who our “accepted " heroes are?  Colin Powell, for example, is constantly paraded in front of us and our children as “a man of dignity and integrity”. Sure, were proud he’s black and all, I guess, but - this is the information age, and it is also the age of a shift in human consciousness from lies, greed, war and militarization towards connectedness, peace and universal cooperation.

We don’t have to do this any more. Why confuse the kids? We can choose our own heroes and guides now.

Nick Turse's new book, Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam (2013), is not only one of the most important books ever written about the Vietnam conflict but it captures, as few books on war do, the utter depravity of modern industrial violence.

Turse profiles Maj. Gordon Livingston, a regimental surgeon with the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment.  In 1971, he testified before Congress that he witnessed "a helicopter pilot who swooped down on two Vietnamese women riding bicycles and killed them with the helicopter skids."

A wounded detainee, Turse writes, was dumped into a boat and pushed into a rice paddy where he was riddled with bullets and finished off with a grenade. A wounded woman was covered with a straw mat and set on fire.  Corpses were dressed up and twisted into comic poses for photographs or gruesomely mutilated. Severed heads of Vietnamese were mounted on pikes or poles in Army camps.

Rape was as common as murder. A Marine in the book spoke about a nine-man squad that entered a village to hunt for "a Viet Cong whore." The squad found a woman, raped her and then shot her through the head.
"One marine remembered finding a Vietnamese woman who had been shot and wounded," Turse writes. "Severely injured, she begged for water. Instead, her clothes were ripped off. She was stabbed in both breasts, then forced into a spread-eagle position, after which the handle of an entrenching tool - essentially a short-handled shovel - was thrust up her private parts. Other women were violated with objects ranging from soda bottles to rifles."

This is of course brutal, but what does all this have to do with Colin Powell?

In his book, "My American Journey", Powell recounted his reaction when he spotted his first dead Viet Cong. "He lay on his back, gazing up at us with sightless eyes," Powell wrote. "I felt nothing, certainly not sympathy. I had seen too much death and suffering on our side to care anything about what happened on theirs."(Even though "our side" was a foreign invading force helping France subdue its former colony.)
While success against the armed enemy was rare, Powell's ARVN unit punished the civilian population systematically. As the soldiers marched through mountainous jungle, they destroyed the food and the homes of the region's Montagnards, who were suspected of sympathizing with the Viet Cong. Old women would cry hysterically as their ancestral homes and worldly possessions were consumed by fire.
"We burned down the thatched huts, starting the blaze with Ronson and Zippo lighters," Powell recalled. "Why were we torching houses and destroying crops? Ho Chi Minh had said the people were like the sea in which his guerrillas swam. ... We tried to solve the problem by making the whole sea uninhabitable. In the hard logic of war, what difference did it make if you shot your enemy or starved him to death?"

Turse also profiles Col. John Donaldson, a West Point graduate and former Olympian who organized "gook" hunts from helicopters. One officer is quoted in the book as saying that Donaldson and his chief intelligence officer "flew around in the colonel's chopper with a crate of grenades, 'frags' they were called, and popped them in the rice fields over the 'dinks' who would attempt to run for cover when the chopper swooped down to chase them."

A senior investigator from the Donaldson case recently noted that among the Vietnamese victims were an old man and an old woman who were shot to death while bathing. "They used to bet in the morning how many people they could kill-- old people, civilians, it didn't matter," the investigator said. "Some of the stuff would curl your hair."

For eight months in Chu Lai during 1968-69, Powell had worked with Donaldson and apparently developed a fondness for his superior officer. When the Army charged Donaldson with murder on June 2, 1971, Powell rose in the general's defense. Powell submitted an affidavit dated Aug. 10, 1971, which lauded Donaldson as "an aggressive and courageous brigade commander." Powell did not specifically refer to the murder allegations, but added that helicopter forays in Vietnam had been an "effective means of separating hostiles from the general population."
The colonel was never reprimanded. 
Here's the danger...

He Does It Again

After the Mai Lai massacre* in March, 1968, a letter had been written by a young specialist fourth class named Tom Glen, who had served in an American mortar platoon.  In the letter to Gen. Creighton Abrams, the commander of all U.S. forces in Vietnam, Glen accused the Americal division of routine brutality against civilians.
Major Powell undertook the assignment to review Glen's letter, but did so without questioning Glen or assigning anyone else to talk with him. Powell simply accepted a claim from Glen's superior officer that Glen was not close enough to the front lines to know what he was writing about, an assertion Glen denies.
After that cursory investigation, Powell drafted a response on Dec. 13, 1968. He admitted to no pattern of wrongdoing. Powell claimed that U.S. soldiers in Vietnam were taught to treat Vietnamese "courteously and respectfully.”

Powell's findings, of course, were false, though they were exactly what his superiors wanted to hear. (In his best-selling memoirs, Powell did not mention his brush-off of Tom Glen's complaint.)

In an age where we experience so much violence and abuse directed at humanity, especially toward indigenous people of the world, is this the type of person we want to hold in such high esteem?
To be fair, we could say Powell was simply being a good soldier and following commands, or that he was caught up in the fog of war. However, many U.S. advisers, most notably the legendary Col. John Paul Vann, voiced concerns about the ARVN's brutality toward civilians.
Some soldiers refused to obey the direct orders to kill and some risked their lives to save civilians from the murderous fire.
A pilot named Hugh Clowers Thompson Jr. from Stone Mountain, Ga., was furious at the killings he saw happening on the ground. He landed his helicopter between one group of fleeing civilians and American soldiers in pursuit. Thompson ordered his helicopter door gunner to shoot the Americans if they tried to harm the Vietnamese. After a tense confrontation, the soldiers backed off. Later, two of Thompson's men climbed into one ditch filled with corpses and pulled out a three-year-old boy whom they flew to safety.

He Does It Yet Again
(This time paving the way for an estimated 200,000-1.2 million civilian deaths in Iraq.)


“No matter how fearless a dog is, you catch him out on the street, stamp your foot. He’ll run because you’re only threatening him. His master has never trained him how to defend himself. But that same dog, if you walk through the master’s gate, will growl and bite. Why will he growl and bite over there and not growl and bite over here? Over there, he’s growling and biting for the defense of his master and the benefit of his master, but when his own interests are threatened, he has no growl.”
~ Malcolm X. 

*The Mai Lai Massacre - On March 16, 1968, a bloodied unit of the American division stormed into a hamlet known as My Lai 4. With military helicopters circling overhead, revenge-seeking American soldiers rousted Vietnamese civilians -- mostly old men, women and children -- from their thatched huts and herded them into the village's irrigation ditches.
As the round-up continued, some Americans raped the girls. Then, under orders from junior officers on the ground, soldiers began emptying their M-16s into the terrified peasants. Some parents used their bodies futilely to shield their children from the bullets. Soldiers stepped among the corpses to finish off the wounded.
The slaughter raged for four hours. A total of 347 Vietnamese, including babies, died in the carnage.