Mistake Prone
John Kerry as "Pragmatic Choice"
by Mickey Z.

February 2, 2004

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In a recent article, Stormin' Norman Solomon continues his anyone-but-Bush crusade by telling us that John Kerry is "not a progressive candidate" but is "probably the best bet to defeat Bush -- and, as president...would be a very significant improvement over the incumbent." All right, that's Norman's opinion...and in light of his recent articles, it's no surprise. But since he chose to mock Clueless Mikey Moore's love affair with War Criminal Wesley Clark, I have to mention that Solomon went on to offer the following:

Kerry's senatorial vote for the war resolution in October 2002 remains an indefensible part of his record. Kerry included this rhetorical question in his oratory: "Why is Saddam Hussein attempting to develop nuclear weapons when most nations don't even try?"

In a speech on Oct. 9, 2002, Kerry also tried to justify his pro-war vote with the statement that "according to intelligence, Iraq has chemical and biological weapons." Kerry boasted to CNN viewers that he voted for the 1996 "welfare reform" law -- which amounts to class war against low-income mothers.

Paradoxical, huh?

Soloman calls Kerry "a pragmatic choice for the November election," but quickly reminds us that Kerry's political career "has been sustained by largess from such corporate patrons as Time Warner and Fleet Boston Financial Corp." Stormin' Norman urges his readers to not buy into "media spin that depicts John Kerry as an advocate of military restraint or a champion of economic justice."

And this qualifies as "a very significant improvement" over Bush?

It's interesting to note that Stormin' Norman didn't mention Kerry's characterization of the Vietnam War (sic) as a "mistake." (Addressing Congress in 1971, Kerry famously asked: "How do you ask a man to die for a mistake?")

Putting aside the incongruity of Kerry's recent vote for the Iraq war resolution, the "mistake" part is even more noteworthy. Just today, I had an e-mail exchange with an American grad student who challenged my recent assertion that the record of the Democratic Party matched the Republicans in terms of waging war. That student wrote (in part): "While only a fool would argue that Democratic administrations haven't produced their fair share of foreign policy mistakes, I think on the whole those mistakes occur less frequently than in Rep administrations."

I replied (in part): "You use the phrase 'foreign policy mistakes.' What I've listed (in the article in question) were not mistakes. The US government -- with a Dem or Rep as the figurehead -- has pursued a consistent foreign policy from its inception. To call Vietnam or even Iraq a 'mistake' is to imply that 'we' are normally aiming for fairness or altruism."

While there are enough such "errors" to fill volumes, let's take a brief look at the "mistake" specifically cited by Stormin' Norman's "pragmatic choice."

In April 1954, Vice President Richard Nixon explained the need for US intervention in Southeast Asia to the American Society of Newspaper Editors: "The Vietnamese lack the ability to conduct a war or govern themselves."

Over the next two decades, the US (mistakenly) dropped the equivalent of one 500-pound bomb for every person living in Vietnam. (Those doors need better latches.)

In February 1966, David Lawrence, editor of US News & World Report, wrote: "What the United States is doing in Vietnam is the most significant example of philanthropy extended by one people to another that we have witnessed in our times." When challenged with stories of American atrocities in Vietnam, Lawrence corrected his little gaffe, "Primitive peoples with savagery in their hearts have to be helped to understand the true basis of a civilized existence."  (Ah, much better.)

When at war with savages, you can rationalize dumping 400,000 tons of napalm on them. It was all just a big misguided faux pas...ain't that right Senator Pragmatic?

"During the Vietnam War, it was reported that cynical US lawyers working in that country had coined the phrase 'mere gook rule' to describe the very lenient treatment given US military personnel who killed Vietnamese civilians," says Ed Herman. Or, as General William Westmoreland characterized the killing of Vietnamese civilians, "It does deprive the enemy of the population, doesn't it?"

That Westmoreland, he was always quick with a one-liner. Don't "mistake" that for policy now, okay? Let's allow the guy a goof-up or two while he's trying to be philanthropic.

What Americans (by mistake) called the "Viet Cong" was really the National Liberation Front (NLF) and the NLF enjoyed the broad support of the Vietnamese people. In response, the US Army began, as author Mark Zepezauer explains, "destroying villages, herding people into internment camps, weeding out the leaders and turning the countryside into a 'free-fire zone' (in other words, shoot anything that moves)."

Part of this terror campaign was Operation Phoenix, an assassination program put into action by the CIA. "The idea," says Zepezauer, "was to cripple the NLF by killing influential people like mayors, teachers, doctors, tax collectors-anyone who aided the functioning of the NLF's parallel government in the South." (More of a blunder than a mistake, perhaps?)

"Between 1968 and 1972 hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese civilians were rounded up and turned over to the Vietnamese police for questioning," says former CIA agent, Ralph McGehee. "Such interrogation has usually been marked by brutal torture." (Our bad.)

"Some were tossed from helicopters during interrogation," adds Zepezauer. (Surely, they slipped.)

K. Barton Osborn was a US military-intelligence officer in Vietnam who testified that Phoenix suspects were subject to electric shock torture and "the insertion into the ear of a six-inch dowel which was tapped through the brain until the victim died." (C'mon...anyone can mistake a six-inch dowel for a Q-Tip.)

William Colby, who later became CIA director, was the Agency official in charge of Operation Phoenix. Calling the program a "military necessity," he put the death toll at 20,587. (Pardon us.)

Asked by Congress: "Are you certain that we know a member of the VCI (Vietcong infrastructure) from a loyal member of the South Vietnam citizenry?"

Colby replied: "No, Mr. Congressman, I am not." (See: a mistake!)

Phoenix was a joint operation between the US and the South Vietnamese who estimated the operation's death toll at 40,994. (Mea culpa.)

In his book, Nuremberg and Vietnam: An American Tragedy, Telford Taylor, chief United States prosecutor at Nuremberg, suggested that General Westmoreland and others in the (Democratic) Johnson administration could be found guilty of war crimes under criteria established at Nuremberg (unless they use the "oopsy daisy defense").

"The West has never been allowed to forget the Holocaust," says William Blum. "But who hears the voice of the Vietnamese peasant?"

Apparently not Senator Pragmatic, War Criminal Wesley, Clueless Mikey or Stormin' Norman Solomon...

Mickey Z. is the author of two upcoming books: A Gigantic Mistake: Articles and Essays for Your Intellectual Self-Defense (Prime Books) and Seven Deadly Spins: Exposing the Lies Behind War Propaganda (Common Courage Press). His most recent book is The Murdering of My Years: Artists and Activists Making Ends Meet. He can be reached at mzx2@earthlink.net.

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