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US Government Sanitizes Vietnam War History
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2014-10-21 21:26:29 UTC
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* Truthout | News Analysis 16 October 2014US Government Sanitizes
Vietnam War History *

*It is no cliché that those who ignore history are bound to repeat it.
Unless we are provided an honest accounting of the disgraceful history of
the US war on Vietnam, we will be ill equipped to protest the current and
future wars conducted in our name.By Marjorie Cohn*

For many years after the Vietnam War, we enjoyed the "Vietnam syndrome," in
which US presidents hesitated to launch substantial military attacks on
other countries. They feared intense opposition akin to the powerful
movement that helped bring an end to the war in Vietnam. But in 1991, at
the end of the Gulf War, George H.W. Bush declared, "By God, we've kicked
the Vietnam syndrome once and for all!"

With George W. Bush's wars on Iraq and Afghanistan, and Barack Obama's
drone wars in seven Muslim-majority countries and his escalating wars in
Iraq and Syria, we have apparently moved beyond the Vietnam syndrome. By
planting disinformation in the public realm, the government has built
support for its recent wars, as it did with Vietnam.

Now the Pentagon is planning to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the
Vietnam War by launching a $30 million program to rewrite and sanitize its
history. Replete with a fancy interactive website
<http://www.vietnamwar50th.com/>, the effort is aimed at teaching
schoolchildren a revisionist history of the war. The program is focused on
honoring our service members who fought in Vietnam. But conspicuously
absent from the website is a description of the antiwar movement, at the
heart of which was the GI movement.
More Vietnam veterans have committed suicide than were killed in the war.

Thousands of GIs participated in the antiwar movement. Many felt betrayed
by their government. They established coffee houses and underground
newspapers where they shared information about resistance. During the
course of the war, more than 500,000 soldiers deserted. The strength of the
rebellion of ground troops caused the military to shift to an air war.
Ultimately, the war claimed the lives of 58,000 Americans. Untold numbers
were wounded and returned with post-traumatic stress disorder. In an
astounding statistic, more Vietnam veterans have committed suicide than
were killed in the war.

Millions of Americans, many of us students on college campuses, marched,
demonstrated, spoke out, sang and protested against the war. Thousands were
arrested and some, at Kent State and Jackson State, were killed. The
military draft and images of dead Vietnamese galvanized the movement. On
November 15, 1969, in what was the largest protest demonstration in
Washington, DC, at that time, 250,000 people marched on the nation's
capital, demanding an end to the war. Yet the Pentagon's website merely
refers to it as a "massive protest."

But Americans weren't the only ones dying. Between 2 and 3 million
Indochinese - in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia - were killed. War crimes -
such as the My Lai massacre - were common. In 1968, US soldiers slaughtered
500 unarmed old men, women and children in the Vietnamese village of My
Lai. Yet the Pentagon website refers only to the "My Lai Incident," despite
the fact that it is customarily referred to as a massacre.
"We cannot forget the millions of victims of the war, both military and
civilian, who died in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, nor those who perished or
were hurt in its aftermath by land mines, unexploded ordnance, Agent Orange
and refugee flight."

One of the most shameful legacies of the Vietnam War is the US military's
use of the deadly defoliant Agent Orange/Dioxin. The military sprayed it
unsparingly over much of Vietnam's land. An estimated 3 million Vietnamese
still suffer the effects of those deadly chemical defoliants. Tens of
thousands of US soldiers were also affected. It has caused birth defects in
hundreds of thousands of children, both in Vietnam and the United States.
It is currently affecting the second and third generations of people
directly exposed to Agent Orange decades ago. Certain cancers, diabetes,
and spina bifida and other serious birth defects can be traced to Agent
Orange exposure. In addition, the chemicals destroyed much of the natural
environment of Vietnam; the soil in many "hot spots" near former US army
bases remains contaminated.

In the Paris Peace Accords signed in 1973, the Nixon administration pledged
to contribute $3 billion toward healing the wounds of war and the post-war
reconstruction of Vietnam. That promise remains unfulfilled.

Despite the continuing damage and injury wrought by Agent Orange, the
Pentagon website makes scant mention of "Operation Ranch Hand." It says
that from 1961 to 1971, the US sprayed 18 million gallons of chemicals over
20 percent of South Vietnam's jungles and 36 percent of its mangrove
forests. But the website does not cite the devastating effects of that
spraying.

The incomplete history contained on the Pentagon website stirred more than
500 veterans of the US peace movement during the Vietnam era to sign a
petition to Lt. Gen. Claude M. "Mick" Kicklighter. It asks that the
official program "include viewpoints, speakers and educational materials
that represent a full and fair reflection of the issues which divided our
country during the war in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia." The petition cites
the "many thousands of veterans" who opposed the war, the "draft refusals
of many thousands of young Americans," the "millions who exercised their
rights as American citizens by marching, praying, organizing moratoriums,
writing letters to Congress," and "those who were tried by our government
for civil disobedience or who died in protests." And, the petition says,
"very importantly, we cannot forget the millions of victims of the war,
both military and civilian, who died in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, nor
those who perished or were hurt in its aftermath by land mines, unexploded
ordnance, Agent Orange and refugee flight."
The Vietnam syndrome has been replaced by the "Permanent War."

Antiwar activists who signed the petition include Tom Hayden and Pentagon
Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg. "All of us remember that the Pentagon
got us into this war in Vietnam with its version of the truth," Hayden said
in an interview with The New York Times. "If you conduct a war, you
shouldn't be in charge of narrating it," he added.

Veterans for Peace (VFP) is organizing an alternative commemoration
<http://www.veteransforpeace.org/our-work/vietnam-full-disclosure-campaign/>
of the Vietnam War. "One of the biggest concerns for us," VFP executive
director Michael McPhearson told the Times, "is that if a full narrative is
not remembered, the government will use the narrative it creates to
continue to conduct wars around the world - as a propaganda tool."

Indeed, just as Lyndon B. Johnson used the manufactured Tonkin Gulf
incident as a pretext to escalate the Vietnam War, George W. Bush relied on
mythical weapons of mass destruction to justify his war on Iraq, and the
"war on terror" to justify his invasion of Afghanistan. And Obama justifies
his drone wars by citing national security considerations, even though he
creates more enemies of the United States as he kills thousands of
civilians. ISIS and Khorasan (which no one in Syria heard of until about
three weeks ago) are the new enemies Obama is using to justify his wars in
Iraq and Syria, although he admits they pose no imminent threat to the
United States. The Vietnam syndrome has been replaced by the "Permanent
War."

It is no cliché that those who ignore history are bound to repeat it.
Unless we are provided an honest accounting of the disgraceful history of
the US war on Vietnam, we will be ill equipped to protest the current and
future wars conducted in our name.

Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and former
president of the National Lawyers Guild. A veteran of the Stanford
anti-Vietnam War movement <http://www.a3m2009.org/index.html>, she is
co-author (with Kathleen Gilberd) of *Rules of Disengagement: The Politics
and Honor of Military Dissent
<http://www.amazon.com/Rules-Disengagement-Marjorie-Cohn/dp/0981576923/ref=asap_B001HO7TLG_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1413394349&sr=1-3>*.
Her latest book, *Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral and
Geopolitical Issues*
<http://www.amazon.com/Drones-Targeted-Killing-Geopolitical%C2%A0Issues/dp/1566569893/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1413068738&sr=1-1&keywords=marjorie+cohn>,
will be published in October. She is also co-coordinator of the Vietnam
Agent Orange Relief & Responsibility Campaign
<http://www.vn-agentorange.org/>.
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