Copyright © 1972 by Don Luce
“Tell Your Friends that We’re People” by Don Luce
The human consequences of American policy toward Vietnam have not been considered by U.S. policymakers. The private memos, official statements and policy speeches leave out the Vietnamese refugees, children, farmers and slum dwellers ... and the American GI. They are all missing in the Pentagon Papers.
I remember trying to discuss the breakdown of the family structure with Ambassador Bunker in 1967. “Do they [the refugees] need more Bulgar wheat and cooking oil?” he kept asking me. He could not understand, or he did not want to understand, that the Vietnamese did not want, or need, American relief. They wanted to see the end to the defoliation and bombing so that they could return to their farms.
In May 1971, I was ordered to leave Vietnam for “special reasons.” I had taken two American Congressmen to the Tiger Cages of Con Son. Before leaving, I asked the Vietnamese with whom I worked to tell me what they would like me to say to my American friends.
“Tell your friends that we’re people,” they said. “We’re not slants, slopes, gooks or dinks. We’re people!”
The Vietnamese feel that they have been presented by U.S. government officials and the news media for so long as statistics and kill ratios that Americans have forgotten that they are people with many of the same aspirations, dreams and fears that we have. To many Americans, the Vietnamese have become the nonpeople.
How has this happened? In reading the Pentagon Papers I was struck by the fact that none of the writers of the different documents could speak, read, or write Vietnamese. We have never had an ambassador in Vietnam who could say “hello” in Vietnamese. Our decisionmakers have all had to depend on interpreters or the elite class of Vietnamese who speak English for their understanding of that country. The result has been that our officials have learned how the farm people and workers feel from the educated English-speaking community—something like learning about the farmers in Iowa and Nebraska from Harvard professors or about New York City dock workers from Smith College co-eds.
The Vietnamese language is hard to learn. It is tonal and, unlike most European languages, has no similarity to English. (When Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara once tried to shout in Vietnamese “Long Live Vietnam” to a group of Saigonese, he got the tones mixed up. Raising his arms high in a victory gesture, he shouted: “The Southern Duck Wants to Lie Down.”)
We have lost more than 50,000 American lives and $150 billion of our national wealth there. Yet a few months of language study has never been required from our decisionmakers.
Often the Vietnamese see things differently than U.S. officials. For example: —An NLF soldier enters a village, shoots at a U.S. spotter plane, and then runs away. The pilot of the plane sends a message to headquarters and the village is bombed or bombarded. I have discussed this with U.S. army officers. They know the NLF soldiers usually leave the village immediately after shooting at the plane, but, one explained, the village is bombed so that “someday the villagers will learn if they allow Viet Cong in their village they’re going to get bombed.”
The villagers look at it differently. They were bombed by airplanes, they say, and only the Americans have airplanes. Therefore, as long as the Americans are there, they’ll be bombed. The solution, as it appears to them, is to join the NLF.
—In the Ba Long An Peninsula of Quang Ngai province and other areas where the machine-gunning of farm people by U.S. planes has been most prevalent, the farmers have learned to stand still and point their heads at the airplanes so they will make a smaller target as the planes look down on them.
“We used to lie down,” they explain. “But now we stand there and point our heads at the planes. Fewer people are killed that way.”
American pilots explain that they could still hit the farmers, but the fact that they just stand there indicates that they have nothing to hide—they’re not Viet Cong.
Ironically, the farmers have learned this “trick” from the NLF cadre.
Often the villagers are warned before the bombardment. U.S. government officials carefully explain to visitors how much care is taken to prevent innocent civilian casualties.
One method described as “surprisingly successful” by the U.S. Air Force is the “I told you so” approach. Super Skymaster planes drop leaflets or use airrecorded tapes from powerful loudspeakers over suspected NLF areas telling everyone to Chieu Hoi, or come to the side of the Saigon government. A 1971 press release (#4016) by the Directorate of Information, Headquarters Seventh Air Force described the purpose of the psyops (psychological operations) leaflets this way:
The message also contains a warning. A warning of attacks by planes and artillery. As the psyops aircraft moves away U.S. Air Force, Republic of Vietnam Air Force, or Royal Australian Air Force fighter bombers blanket the area with a barrage of firepower. Before the smoke clears the psyops pilot returns with another tape message, promising more of the same to the survivors who do not rally. “This is why we call it the ‘I told you so’ approach,” Lieutenant Loss said.
In Quang Ngai province of Central Vietnam, the Americal Division has used tape recordings from an airplane to warn the villagers. A plane flies over the village a ten- or twenty-second tape tells the villagers to leave immediately. Tape number T7-21A-70, used in 1971, announces:
Attention citizens: You must leave this area immediately. There will be artillery and air strikes tomorrow morning. Evacuate to the east to avoid an accident. There will be artillery and airstrikes tomorrow morning. Evacuate to the east.
If there are NLF in the village, they pick up their guns and leave. Or, as some of the refugees say, the NLF soldiers stay and help the people to pack — perhaps discussing the cruelty of the Americans in making them move!
The villagers gather together their buffalo, pigs, chickens, rice and children. Then the grandparents refuse to leave.
“We’ve lived here for seventy years,” the old people say. “Our parents lived here and are buried here. We will not leave the graves of the ancestors.”
And the only way that the family can get the grandparents to leave is to tell them that if they don’t the grandchildren will be killed.
The family leaves the coconut trees, the rice fields and the graves of the ancestors— all those things that have held the family together and been meaningful. The rice-planting songs and the evening stories told by Grandfather about days gone by are replaced by the thud of bombs. The people are crowded into the city slums and around the air bases. Their houses, if they have any, are built of cardboard, U.S. government cement and tin, or artillery-shell packing boxes. The bewildered, apathetic people sit in front of these dwellings staring at the ground. The six-cent-a-day refugee payments are held up by bureaucracy, or never come at all.
But the Vietnamese are a resilient people. They survive.
The men who once plowed the acre or two of riceland join one army or the other.
The women try to sing the old rice-planting songs as they wash the khaki uniforms of foreign soldiers. In the evenings they no longer shell beans or preserve the food for the dry season as their children crowd around the grandparents, who tell stories of when they were boys and girls. Now they worry about their husbands and when, or if, their children will return from shining shoes.
The seventeen- and eighteen-year-old girls who once helped their mothers plant rice and preserve food receive visits in the refugee camps by madames who offer them lots of money to work in the bars and brothels. The family needs money, so they go and, if they are lucky, they become temporary wives for soldiers. They are paid well—often in Salem cigarettes, Tide soap, and perhaps even a T.V. set. When their soldier goes back to the United States, they are passed on to his buddy or they go back to the bar to find another husband. They have children. They want children because they cannot imagine their soldier leaving them if they have a child. Children, they feel, are the most precious possession that a man can have.
Between 100,000 and 200,000 Amer-Asian children have been born in Vietnam. The French, during their war, provided health care for the mothers and educational benefits for the children. Today, the French/Vietnamese are among the best educated in the country. They are teachers, lawyers and other professional people. The U.S. government has ignored the existence of the Amer-Asian children—they might add fuel to the peace movement in the United States. Vietnamese women who have caught VD from U.S. soldiers must find their own source of penicillin (often outdated and watered-down penicillin from quack doctors). No provisions have been made for the education of the Amer-Asian children in Vietnam. “They should be treated like any other children,” is the position of U.S. officials. This ignores the extra problems that they and their mothers face.
The refugee children who once tended the buffalo and caught fish and shrimp in the canals and rice fields now shine shoes, watch and wash cars, sell peanuts, pimp, steal, and push drugs. Once, in the late afternoon when Dad and the buffalo were tired, they learned to plow. Now their education is learning to exist in the jungle of the city slums. Each day in the late afternoon, they can be seen beginning their rounds of the bars and brothels, pushing their wares and changing money.
Six-year-old boys make more money than their parents and the smallest boys make the most money because they are the cutest and the soldiers pay them more. The children run away from home and sleep on the streets. Often they are picked up by a corrupt policeman. If they can pay the 100-piaster bribe (25 cents), they are released. If they can’t, they are sent to jail for vagrancy. Each day in the Vietnamese newspapers, you can see ads with a picture of a little boy or girl:
Lost child: Our child, Tran Van Be, age seven, ran away from home last year. Please help us to find him.
Between 5 and 6 million Vietnamese people have been moved from their farm homes into the city slums and refugee camps. Most of these people have been forced off their land by Allied firepower. In 1958, less than a million people lived in Saigon; ten years later, its population had tripled to 3 million. Saigon became the world’s most densely populated city with twice the population density of Tokyo, its nearest rival. With the crowding came disease. The U.S. troops brought their goods in tin cans, the rat population increased, and now there is the danger of bubonic plague. Tuberculosis and dysentery are rampant.
There are more Vietnamese doctors in France than in Vietnam. The few doctors that are in Vietnam are usually in the army or treating the very rich. American, British, German, Philippine, and other medical programs have given vaccines and dedicated service. Without them, epidemics would have caused even more havoc. These medical people have worked very hard—there are not only the sick, but, especially, the war-wounded (most of them victims of the U.S. bombardments). Patients are crowded two or three to a bed. Sometimes medicines have been cut off. Dr. Eric Wulff, a German doctor working at the Hue hospital, explained in late 1966 that all the penicillin and sulfa drugs had been cut off to that hospital as a punishment to the Buddhists for their part in the anti-Saigon government Struggle Movement.
Our officials have occasionally voiced concern about the “other war.” In mid- 1965, General Maxwell Taylor, the American ambassador, expressed the fear that the NLF might “swamp the agencies of the Vietnamese government engaged in the care and handling of refugees.” While this has never happened — the villagers are the families and neighbors of the NLF—Allied firepower has driven them in. In Binh Dinh province, thousands of refugees were generated by a Search And Destroy (SAD) mission in 1966. A team from the Ministry of Social Welfare in Saigon went to Binh Dinh and reported back:
The number of refugees increases day by day. Social Welfare Service can’t control because of the lack of personnel. This number will be increased and also belongs to the operations settled by us and the Allied armies in order to seize the land. For example, in Bong Son the Operation Than Phong II created about 5,000 people who took refuge in the city. These people have not received anything as of a week ago. The refugee settlements of the district can’t contain all of them, for that they have to stay under the porch roofs of the school. Many families go to beg, because they miss all things. (1)
In 1966, Robert Komer expressed his ambivalence in one of his famous “Komergrams” from Washington to Deputy Ambassador Porter in Saigon:
We here deeply concerned by growing number of refugees. Latest reports indicate that as of 31 August, a total of 1,361,288 had been processed ... Of course, in some ways, increased flow of refugees is a plus. It helps deprive VC of recruiting potential and rice growers, and is partly indicative of growing peasant desire seek security on our side. Question arises, however, of whether we and GVN adequately set up to deal with increased refugee flow of this magnitude (Gravel edition, 11:569).
But Robert Komer believed in numbers and in mass brute force. Later, he wrote:
Wastefully, expensively, but nonetheless indisputably, we are winning the war in the South. Few of our programs—civil or military—are very efficient, but we are grinding the enemy down by sheer weight and mass ... (Gravel ed., 11:575).
The United States has made more “Viet Cong” than it has killed. When a farmer’s tomatoes or papaya are defoliated, that farmer becomes more sympathetic to the NLF. When families are forced to leave their homes and the burial grounds of their ancestors, they hate the people who move them. The lack of understanding of the Vietnamese and the disregard for Vietnamese life expressed throughout the Pentagon Papers has been militarily self-defeating.
For example, the United States forced the farm people into the refugee camps in order to deprive the NLF of food, intelligence and personnel. But by placing so many people sympathetic to the NLF right in the middle of city slums, the NLF had a base of operations during the 1968 Tet offensive. Guns and ammunition were brought into Saigon prior to the Tet offensive in mock funerals. The “coffins” were buried in the cemeteries, where the refugees had been forced to build their shacks because of lack of any other space. The NLF soldiers moved in with friends, relatives and sympathizers just prior to Tet. And while the children lit firecrackers, the men test-fired their rifles. When the offensive began, there were plenty of refugees to show them the police stations and act as guides through the alleyways that form the jungles of Saigon.
The NLF made a misjudgment too. In their offensive, they did not expect that the Allies would bomb the Allied cities. “We just did not expect that the United States would bomb Saigon, Hue and the other cities,” I was told by one NLF official. The U.S. major who said about Ben Tre, “It became necessary to destroy the town to save it,” was describing in a very real sense what has happened to all. of Vietnam. To the military, there was no other alternative.
When the refugees came into the cities, they were paid well to wash the khaki uniforms, serve the meals, sleep with the soldiers, make souvenirs, build the airports and roads, and shine the big, black shoes. The mamasans, papasans, hootchmaids, and all the others smoldered in anger—but they were paid well. Some became agents for the NLF and some left for the jungle to join NFL units. But mostly, they just existed. As Vietnamization came along, existing became harder.
Take Mr. Vinh, for example. In 1966, his wife and two children moved to Tam Ky, near Chu Lai Air Base, after one of his children was wounded by napalm. Two years later, he and the other three children followed when it became impossible to farm their land because of the military action. In the hills, Mr. Vinh had ten acres of land, two buffalo, several pigs, some chickens, a fruit orchard, and plenty of rice paddy land. Now he makes bamboo mugs to sell as souvenirs to the soldiers at Chu Lai. But now there are fewer soldiers and Mr. Vinh cannot sell all of the bamboo mugs that he makes. Security is no better in the hills of Quang Tin province and he cannot return to his farm.
There is not a single decisionmaker in Vietnam who can talk directly with Mr. Vinh and the millions of poor people like him. So the information is secondhand. The Pentagon and State Department officials have been concerned with the relationships among the Vietnamese generals and politicians and how to bring a coup against Ngo Dinh Diem. But seldom, if ever, have they been concerned about the people. Nowhere is this brought out as clearly as in the Pentagon Papers.
There is a street in Saigon called Cong Ly, which means Justice in English. It so happens that Cong Ly is a one-way street. So the Vietnamese have a saying: “Justice in Vietnam is a one-way street.”
About five years ago, Vu Thi Dung was brought to the United States to study about democracy in an American high school. She was an excellent student and graduated from high school here and went back to Vietnam and went to the university. When the one-man presidential elections were held in October 1971, Miss Dung protested these. One-man elections, she said, are what dictators have —not democracy. She was arrested, interrogated, and finally signed a “confession” saying that she had participated in and encouraged other students to participate in demonstrations against the elections.
There is something ironic about sending a young girl to this country to study democracy, then sending her back to Vietnam and paying the police who arrested and interrogated her for protesting the one-man elections.
There are 100,000 political prisoners in the Vietnamese jails. These include Truong Dinh Dzu, the runner-up in the 1967 presidential elections, Tran Ngoc Chau, the National Assemblyman who received the largest majority of votes in the 1967 Assembly race, and at least four newspaper editors. But mostly they are peasant farm people caught in the middle or politically resisting the Saigon government—though not joining the NLF with weapons.
As the urban unrest grew, the United States responded with more and more aid to the police. In 1963, the Vietnamese police force was 16,000. By 1971, it had reached 113,000. The United States has built the Interrogation Centers, provided the tear gas, and supplied increasing quantities of sophisticated equipment to the police. In April 1970, eleven students were released from Chi Hoa prison. They had slivers under their fingernails, small burns caused by their interrogators extinguishing cigarettes in sensitive parts of the body, and blackand- blue welts all over their bodies. A group of American volunteers who had seen the students were concerned about the use of American money and equipment in the torture of the students. They went to Ambassador Bunker’s office to set up an appointment. They were told that Ambassador Bunker could not see them and were sent to Deputy Ambassador Berger’s office. His office said that the deputy ambassador could not see them and sent them on to Youth Affairs, which sent them to the U.S. AID Public Safety Director. He would not talk to the group and sent them on to the American who advised the Vietnamese prison system. He told them that their problem was at too high a level for him and that they should see Ambassador Bunker.
The Saigon government has used an increasing amount of repression to control the growing urban unrest. Two laws which the Saigon government has used most frequently are:
Article 2 of Decree Law Number 93/SL/CT of 1964, which states: “Shall be considered as pro-Communist neutralist a person who commits acts of propaganda for and incitement of Neutralism; these acts are assimilated to acts of jeopardizing public security.”
Article 19 of Decree Law Number 004/66 of 1966, which states: “Those persons considered dangerous to the national defense and public security may be [without trial] interned in a prison or banished from designated areas for a maximum period of two years, which is renewable... .”
The U.S. government has encouraged the use of the police against all political opposition. In the 1970 Annual Report from the Director of the United States Agency for International Development in Vietnam to Ambassador Bunker, the role of the police is described:
During 1970 the police continued to improve their capability in traditional police functions. Their timely and positive action effectively contained civil disturbances involving war veterans, students and religious groups, thereby preventing the spread of violence.
Assistance to the police and prisons has steadily increased. In February 1970, $20.9 million was spent on the police and prisons; thirty million dollars was budgeted for February 1971. (As a comparison, aid to public health went from $27.8 million down to $25 million and aid to education went from $6.1 million down to $4.5 milHon in the same period.) (2)
After the discovery of the Tiger Cages at Con Son prison island and the subsequent international press coverage, the Saigon government held a press conference announcing that it was doing away with the Tiger Cages. Two months later, they ordered the political prisoners on the island to build new ones as a “self-help project.” The prisoners refused to build their own Tiger Cages and were put back into shackles. On January 7, 1971, the Department of the Navy gave a $400,000 contract to Raymond, Morrison, Knutson-Brown, Root, and Jones to build an “isolation compound” to replace the Tiger Cages. The new cells are six feet by eight feet, or two square feet smaller than the former five by ten foot Tiger Cages. There were 120 Tiger Cages built by the French; now there are 386 “isolation cells” built by the United States.
The Vietnamese have protested the building of “new Tiger Cages” by the U.S. government. On February 25, 1971, for example. Con Ong (The Bee) printed a full-page cartoon of President Nixon unloading a new Tiger Cage for the Vietnamese. The poor people are shouting up to President Nixon as he unloads the boat, “Oh, this is needed more than schools, hospitals, churches, pagodas or clothes for our women!”
There is nothing the Vietnamese can do to protest U.S. policy in Vietnam short of demonstrating or joining the NLF. For example, when Vice-President Agnew went to Vietnam in the autumn of 1970, a group of twenty-one Vietnamese women tried to see him:
“We are the Mothers of the political prisoners detained in the various prisons of South Vietnam,” they wrote. “None of our children is convicted of crime or robbery. All of them are being imprisoned because they have dared spoken of Peace and Independence, a most profound desire of all the Vietnamese People after years and years of war. Our children were arrested and barbarously tortured. They have been denied food and drink, even medicine when they are sick.”
The guards at the U.S. embassy would not allow the leader of the women, Mrs. Ngo Ba Thanh, to enter the embassy to give the letter to Vice-President Agnew. Nor would they take the letter into the embassy or use the phone which they had at the gate to inform anyone inside the embassy that the women had a petition to give to the Vice-President.
“The police forces which arrest and repress our children are being paid by the Americans,” they wrote. “The equipment used by the Police to repress, torture, and jail our children is part of the U.S. aid. The tear gas, the rockets used to repress them are ‘made in U.S.A.’ We actually witnessed the terrible repression being carried out right in front of the U.S. embassy when we and our foreign friends demonstrated against the prison system on July 11th, 1970... . Our children witness the presence of American advisors at the prisons. They know that more aid is being given to build more and bigger prisons.”
The women presented sixteen suggested improvements. These included: No citizen shall be arrested without lawful grounds. All prisoners should be provided proper food and drink and appropriate care when they are sick. The prisoners should be allowed to write to their families. Parents should be notified when children are arrested. Criminal prisoners should not be used to guard political prisoners. Prisoners whose jail terms have expired should be released. Tiger cages, cattle cages, mysterious caves, separate cells, discipline cells and rooms used for inhumane tortures should be abolished. When a prisoner dies, his body should be returned to his family for proper burial.
“The role of the American advisors should be to improve the prisoners’ conditions, not merely watch the tortures done to our children, who suffer from hunger, thirst, disease and survive in agony in jail,” the women argued.
But there is no way for average citizens of Vietnam to indicate how they would like to see U.S. aid given. Nothing is said in the Pentagon Papers about how a farm woman or a market saleslady might indicate how she would like to see American help used. If the Pentagon Papers were translated for the Vietnamese farm people, they would see things being done just as they were while the French were there. They saw no help coming to them then nor was there any way for them to change the “system” when the French were there except for armed revolution. Things have not changed.
One other group of people that the decisionmakers who wrote the memos in the Pentagon Papers ignored is the American soldiers. Most American soldiers go to Vietnam thinking that they are going to help the Vietnamese. When they arrive, they find that the Vietnamese don’t want them there. They are demonstrating against U.S. policy. U.S. jeeps are being burned and signs are painted on the sidewalk walls: “GI go home.” The American soldier goes to Vietnam to fight communism. Yet none of the soldiers knows who the Communists are. Everyone wears black pajamas!
He is frustrated, and often terribly bored. He is looking for help, some kind of escape. His officer tells him to be a man and go on to battle. He finds the chaplaincy as conservative as General William Westmoreland. It’s Christ’s war, he’s told, and given a prayer book:
Guide me, direct me in my military duty. You know what my responsibility is: if I must use force, let it be without hatred for the enemy as a person, but only with greater love of what I believe is better, good, true and necessary to defend so that “Thy will be done. Thy Kingdom come.” Jesus, You are the God of both me and the enemy—You made us both. Because of You, I respect the dignity of all men, even my enemy. If I kill or injure anyone in my duty, I pray You will have mercy on their souls and families. Help me, dear God, to fulfull my military duty in line with genuine Christian principles, honor and true justice. (3)
The American soldier becomes part of the push-button war. If he is a pilot, he drops bombs on a village without any idea of whom he is killing. Through electronic devices called “people sniffers,” or seismic sensors, body heat can be picked up in remote jungle areas. A signal is sent by the electronic “people sniffers” to headquarters and the area is bombed by airplanes or bombarded by 105 or 155 howitzer guns. The “people sniffers” cannot tell the difference between North Vietnamese soldiers, Montagnard women going to market, or farmers getting bamboo to fix their homes. They cannot even tell the difference between people and animals. One soldier told me about following fifty or so “bodies” moving southward on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The area was bombed and he was on the detail sent out to make the body count. They got twentyseven— monkeys.
The American soldier is looking for escape. And he finds more “escape” and solace in heroin than he does from his officers or chaplains. In May 1971, heroin was selling for two dollars a vial. It could be bought from almost any cigarette saleslady and from many of the shoeshine boys (who sometimes got hooked when soldiers would get them to sniff it so that they could watch the boy’s reaction). By mid- 1971, 15 percent of the U.S. soldiers were using hard drugs. One reason for the high number of nonhostile casualties has been the ODs (overdoses). The purity of heroin in Vietnam is about 95 percent. Men who used heroin in the U.S. before going to Vietnam got it in the U.S. at 10 percent purity. When the same amount of powder was used in Vietnam, it killed the soldier. Another problem has been that two dollars’ worth of heroin in Vietnam will cost $50 or $100 in the United States. The returning addict often resorts to stealing or pushing drugs to others. The problem of addiction has almost been ignored by the Veterans’ Hospitals in this country.
The officials who made the decisions that got us deeper and deeper into Vietnam have moved on—McNamara to head the World Bank, McGeorge Bundy to head the Ford Foundation, William Bundy to edit Foreign Affairs. Each has been given a new job in one of the foundations or institutions where our foreign and domestic policies are made. Perhaps it should not surprise us to find that the officials who treated the Vietnamese so callously would treat Americans (or Brazilians, East Pakistanis, Greeks, etc.) any differently.
The similarities to Vietnam are obvious. In Vietnam, the growing police force has not been used to combat the growing crime rate, but to control and repress political opposition. In the United States, where the police and crime are both increasing rapidly, the police and court systems are being used more and more often as political forces. An increasing amount of surveillance is being used; mass arrests in Washington and other large cities have become frequent; the Washington Post, New York Times and other newspapers were censored on the question of the Pentagon Papers.
In Vietnam, one whole organization. International Voluntary Services, was kicked out of that country for being “too political.” The Vietnam director, Hugh Manke, had testified before the Kennedy Senate Subcommittee on Refugees and protested the forced movement of the Montagnards from their mountain homes into the city slums. One of the IVS team members, Alex Shimkin, had told a New York Times reporter about the forced use of farm labor to clear a mine field in Ba Chuc village in the Mekong delta when American officials there refused to act even after some of the farm people were killed and several wounded. In Charleston, West Virginia, a group of volunteers from VISTA, a domestic group which is similar to IVS, were fired for stirring up trouble there. They had helped the mountain people around Charleston get school lunches for their children and to protest the inequalities between elemencary education for mountain children and Charleston children.
Another example can be found in the different standards of justice for the rich and for the poor. In Vietnam, when Pham Chi Thien was caught smuggling a million dollars’ worth of heroin into Saigon, he just continued his job as congressman. When election time came, he was allowed to run for office again (he lost!). But poor people caught stealing ten pounds of rice, or students caught in peace demonstrations, can spend five years in jail. As a parallel, when Bobby Baker was caught at extortion involving hundreds of thousands of dollars at the highest levels of our government, he was sentenced to less time in jail than George Jackson spent when he was charged with stealing seventy dollars’ worth of groceries.
The Pentagon Papers came as a shock to this country. Most people feel powerless, though. We have seen and heard our highest officials lie and violate the international agreement on warfare before. Yet most feel helpless to cope with the actions of high officials.
While Lieutenant Calley was being tried, Vice-President Spiro Agnew appeared on “Face the Nation” (May 3, 1970) to explain the invasion of Cambodia: “The purpose of the strikes into the sanctuaries is not to go into Cambodia,” the Vice-President said, “but to take and reduce these supply depots, the hospital complexes... .” To re-emphasize his point, he added five minutes later: “But they cannot move these facilities such as hospitals... .”
Article 19 of the Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field of 12 August 1959 states: “Fixed establishments and mobile medical units of the Medical Service may in no circumstances be attacked, but shall at all times be respected and protected by the Parties to the conflict.”
In Vietnam some American adventurers managed several small groups of Vietnamese dance girls who went out to the remote American outposts to put on their show. The final act was to auction off the leading lady to one of the U.S. military officers.
The Pentagon Papers show the United States callously pursuing its own selfish motives through the Second Indochina War without regard for the people of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos or concern for America. Perhaps the greatest lesson to be learned is that a person cannot destroy another person without destroying something of himself; a nation cannot destroy another nation without destroying something of itself.
1. Viet Nam: The Unheard Voices, by Don Luce and John Sommer, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York, 1969, pages 181-182.
2. Report to the Ambassador from the Director of the United States Agency for International Development, 1970, pages 42 and 43.
3. From A Soldier Prays in Vietnam, “Prayer for the Enemy,” page 13 (no publisher is listed on the pamphlet). It is passed out by chaplains and at the USO.