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Dedication is dedicated to the American veterans of the Vietnam War, who served with courage and honor.

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Busted by the Historians


As its dominant tactic in their battle against the war, the antiwar movement successfully demonized Vietnam veterans by calling a series of "tribunals" or hearings into war crimes. But... they were packed with pretenders and liars.


After being blocked from holding a ceremony honoring the war dead at Arlington National Cemetery, the veterans marched to the Capitol to present sixteen demands to Congress. At the end of the day; they held a candlelight march around the White House. After a man who said his son died in Vietnam blew taps, the soldiers began flinging their war medals over a high wire fence in front of the Capitol: Purple Hearts, Bronze Star Medals, Silver Stars -- bits of ribbon and metal hurled in the face of the government that had so betrayed them. Some, after throwing away what had cost them so dearly, broke down and cried.

One of them was John Kerry, Vietnam Navy veteran and aspiring politician who had been among those who organized the protest. Kerry flung a handful of medals -- he had received the Silver Star, a Bronze Star Medal, and three Purple Hearts -- over the fence. Kerry spoke later that week before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, putting a face on the antiwar movement far different from the one seen before -- the scruffy hippie or wild-eyed activist. Kerry represented the All-American boy, mentally twisted by being asked to do terrible things, then abandoned by his government.

From start to finish, the public took Dewey Canyon III at face value, not understanding that they were watching brilliant political theater. Kerry, a Kennedy protege with white-hot political aspirations, ascended center stage as both a war hero and as an antiwar hero throwing away his combat decorations. His speech, apparently off the cuff, was eloquent, impassioned.

But years later, after his election to the Senate, Kerry's medals turned up on the wall of his Capitol Hill office. When a reporter noticed them, Kerry admitted that the medals he had thrown that day were not his. And Kerry's emotional, from-the-heart speech had been carefully crafted by a speechwriter for Robert Kennedy named Adam Walinsky, who also tutored him on how to present it. TV reporters totally ignored another Vietnam veteran, Melville L. Stephens, a former aide to Adm. Elmo Zumwalt, chief of Naval Operations, who that same day urged the Senate not to abandon America's allies in South Vietnam. "Peace for us must not come at the cost of their lives," Stephens said in a speech he wrote himself.

-- "Stolen Valor: How the Vietnam Generation Was Robbed of its Heroes and its History" pg. 130-137

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From 31 January to 2 February 1971, the VVAW, with financial backing from actress Jane Fonda, convened a hearing, known as the Winter Soldier Investigation, in the city of Detroit. More than 100 veterans and 16 civilians testified at this hearing about "war crimes which they either committed or witnessed"; some of them had given similar testimony at the CCI inquiry in Washington. The allegations included using prisoners for target practice and subjecting them to a variety of grisly tortures to extract information, cutting off the ears of dead VCs, throwing VC suspects out of helicopters, burning villages, gang rapes of women, packing the vagina of a North Vietnamese nurse full of grease with a grease gun, and the like. Among the persons assisting the VVAW in organizing and preparing this hearing was Mark Lane, author of a book attacking the Warren Commission probe of the Kennedy Assassination and more recently of "Conversations with Americans", a book of interviews with Vietnam veterans about war crimes. On 22 December 1970 Lane's book had received a highly critical review in the "New York Times Book Review" by Neil Sheehan, who was able to show that some of the alleged "witnesses" of Lane's war crimes had never even served in Vietnam while others had not been in the combat situations they described in horrid detail.


The results of this investigation, carried out by the Naval Investigative Service, are interesting and revealing.

Many of the veterans, though assured that they would not be questioned about atrocities they might have committed personally, refused to be interviewed. One of the active members of the VVAW told investigators that the leadership had directed the entire membership not to cooperate with military authorities. A black Marine who agreed to be interviewed was unable to provide details of the outrages he had described at the hearing, but he called the Vietnam War "one huge atrocity" and "a racist plot." He admitted that the question of atrocities had not occurred to him while he was in Vietnam, and that he had been assisted in the preparation of his testimony by a member of the Nation of Islam. But the most damaging finding consisted of the sworn statements of several veterans, corroborated by witnesses, that they had in fact not attended the hearing in Detroit. One of them had never been to Detroit in all his life. He did not know, he stated, who might have used his name. Incidents similar to some of those described at the VVAW hearing undoubtedly did occur. We know that hamlets were destroyed, prisoners tortured, and corpses mutilated. Yet these incidents either (as in the destruction of hamlets) did not violate the law of war or took place in breach of existing regulations. In either case, they were not, as alleged, part of a "criminal policy." The VVAW's use of fake witnesses and the failure to cooperate with military authorities and to provide crucial details of the incidents further cast serious doubt on the professed desire to serve the causes of justice and humanity. It is more likely that this inquiry, like others earlier and later, had primarily political motives and goals.


In April 1971 several members of Congress provided a platform on Capitol Hill for the airing of atrocity allegations. Rep. Ronald V. Dellums of California chaired an ad hoc hearing which lasted four days and took testimony from Vietnam veterans. Some of the witnesses were old-timers. One Peter Norman Martinson had testified before the Russel tribunal, been an interviewee in Mark Lane's book, and appeared before the CCI inquiry. Some new witnesses sounded as if they had memorized North Vietnamese propaganda. Capt. Randy Floyd, a former marine pilot, ended his testimony by telling the committee that he was ashamed to have been "an unwitting pawn of my government's inhuman imperialistic policy in Southeast Asia... And I am revolted by my government which commits genocide because it is good business." For his testimony Floyd drew the praise of Congressman Dellums: I would like to thank you very much for the courage of your testimony and the preparation and details. We are deeply appreciative of the fact that you came forward today."


A certain amount of this guilt feeling was probably encouraged by the leaders of these groups, all staunch opponents of the war, and there is reason to think that at least some of the atrocities confessed at these rap sessions (and perhaps later repeated in public) were induced by group expectations and pressures. Some were the product of fantasy on the part of emotionally disturbed individuals. Robert Lifton, another psychiatrist involved in these sessions who believes in the frequent occurrence of atrocities, recalls the case of one veteran who after a year's attendance in the rap group could "confess that he had been much less violent in Vietnam than he had implied. He had previously given the impression that he had killed many people there, whereas in actuality, despite extensive combat experience, he could not be certain he had killed anyone. After overcoming a certain amount of death anxiety and death guilt, that is, he had much less need to call forth his inner beast to lash out at others or himself."


One of the stories told and retold was that of prisoners pushed out of helicopters in order to scare others into talking. It is, of course, possible that some American interrogators engaged in this criminal practice, though not a single instance has been confirmed. We do know of at least one case where such an occurrence was staged through the use of a dead body. An investigation by the CID identified the soldier who had taken the photograph; it also identified a second soldier who acquired the picture, made up the story of the interrogation and mailed it and the photograph to his girlfriend. She in turn gave them to her brother, who informed the Chicago Sun-Times. On 29-30 November 1969 the picture and the story appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times and the Washington Post and generated wide media interest. A lengthy investigation by the CID, which began on 8 January 1970, established that a dead NVA soldier had been picked up on 15 February 1969 after an operation in Cia Dinh province (III CIZ) and adduced other details of how the picture had been posed. The commander of the helicopter in question was reprimanded; the two crew members who had pushed the body out of the aircraft had since been discharged and therefore were beyond the Army's disciplinary jurisdiction.


-- "America in Vietnam" pg. 316-322

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