This essay was written during an online exchange between author John Boyle and Vietnam War historian Keith Nolan, who wrote, in reference to viewing a tape of parts of the VVAW's Winter Soldier Investigation:
"In any event, I didn't hear any testimony that should have sent John Kerry running for the exit."
I suppose I could write a book on that truly sorry business in Detroit in late January and early February of 1971, for which Jane Fonda helped raise the money and John Kerry dutifully "vetted" some of the witnesses and sat as "Moderator" of one of the "Panels."
In general terms, be mindful that several of the "witnesses" were on a semi-professional tour of many places like Oslo and Moscow, where they were lionized by folks like the Pathet Lao. And that these tribunals were numerous and had been around the world for years, especially in Europe. The permanent one in Oslo was funded by the Soviet KGB.
None of this is particularly difficult to research, because the participants are still happy to brag about it.
Be mindful that several (not all) of the witnesses were fakes. How many more were phonies beyond the known dozen or so has yet to be definitively proven. Be patient.
Be mindful that everyone involved with the enterprise refused to cooperate with any of the several investigative agencies that tried to verify or refute these stories - supposedly because of the suspect motives of all government agencies. But I think much more likely because the stories could not withstand objective investigation. VVAW, at the time, would have us believe that they did not want guilty individuals punished when the overall policy was really at fault. Tell that to the families of the 400 plus American service members executed for war crimes by the U.S. military during World War II. I'm sure they wonder why Eisenhower and Marshall were not shot.
Were some true? No doubt. Does that make a case for anything about government policy, the Vietnam war, the people who served in it? Is everyone in Milwaukee a cannibal because Jeffrey Dahmer was a media sensation?
But one must ask, if VVAW had anything like its claimed 40,000 members, or even the 12,000 it would report if pressed, or even the 7,000 that is more likely accurate; and if they spent considerable time recruiting "witnesses" via "coffee houses" set up outside the front gates of military bases all over the country, using inducements beyond mere coffee; and if this recruiting was helped by free ads in publications like Playboy - - - if, after all this, they were able to produce only 120 witnesses to atrocities in Vietnam, witnesses of alleged military experience in Vietnam, including John Kerry, THEN, one must ask, from this sample, from this dubious collection of people, who in their right mind would conclude not only that this was "evidence" in any rational sense, but that is was representative of the actions of 3.5 million troops over ten years or more?
If anything, all the effort put into this enterprise, and the scant results it was able to produce, strongly argues that the occurrence of atrocities by the troops in Vietnam was rare.
But the opposite conclusion was drawn by VVAW.
And that was Kerry's stated conclusion. It couldn't possibly have been his belief; but it was his stated conclusion.
And VVAW to this day bemoans the fact that the fruits of this event were unjustly ignored by the mainstream media. NO functioning journalistic enterprise with even the minimum standards of ethical behavior could possibly publish anything of the kind and maintain its credibility.
Keep in mind that most testimony regarded as credible by historians (Mr. Nolan) and legal professionals, usually consists of "who, what, where, when" and, if possible, "why." All of the witnesses at Winter Soldier spoke extensively of "what" happened. None specified "who" did it. None specified exactly "where" it happened. Time of event is fuzzy or non-existent. And the general "why" seems to be that "everyone was doing it" or it was just "fun."
Such stories can be heard in any place where veterans gather, especially if the liquor is flowing, and most especially if some of the story tellers are not veterans at all.
How convenient for the brave witnesses to be shielded both from legal actions for libel and/or prosecution for crimes if they themselves did the things they testified to. Just be as vague as possible as to verifiable details, and your butt is good to go.
Now one may assume that all these diverse people could not all employ the same rhetorical limitations entirely on their own. So some kind of coaching had to have taken place, at a minimum.
Some of the events described defy the laws of physics and the ballistic properties of explosive devices (Joe Bangert seemed to be an expert in this sort of pornographic fantasy). Much else is just twisted opinion of commonly occurring war-time events often heard from malcontents in any military organization.
And I have often wondered lately about John Kerry's choice of words in his testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which enshrined this travesty into "truth" for all of American history - and which brings me here today. How he characterized the Winter Soldier investigation was, "They told the stories at times they had personally raped..."
"Stories..." he said. This was perhaps some of his guide Adam Walinsky's best legal foresight.
I wonder, was that one word deliberately used to provide cover some long time hence, if the truth ever got out about the Winter Soldier investigation? "Hey guys, I said they were only stories -- honest!"
Now that would be prime Kerry.
19th Combat Engineers
RVN 11/66 - 2/68
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Last Updated Thursday, June 03 2004 @ 08:03 AM MDT; 6,796 Hits