Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Different war, same atrocities

Our society is in the midst of a long-simmering debate over the legal use of force and the permissibility of torture. Allegations of atrocities in Iraq and extra-legal actions in the war on terror are forcing us to consider what sort of society we are and what sort of society we want to be.

An article in the August 6th edition of the LA Times by Nick Turse and Deborah Nelson makes us realize that these atrocities are nothing new and neither are military cover-ups of atrocities.

The [recently de-classified] files are part of a once-secret archive, assembled by a Pentagon task force in the early 1970s, that shows that confirmed atrocities by U.S. forces in Vietnam were more extensive than was previously known.

The documents detail 320 alleged incidents that were substantiated by Army investigators - not including the most notorious U.S. atrocity, the 1968 My Lai massacre.

Though not a complete accounting of Vietnam war crimes, the archive is the largest such collection to surface to date. About 9,000 pages, it includes investigative files, sworn statements by witnesses and status reports for top military brass.

The records describe recurrent attacks on ordinary Vietnamese - families in their homes, farmers in rice paddies, teenagers out fishing. Hundreds of soldiers, in interviews with investigators and letters to commanders, described a violent minority who murdered, raped and tortured with impunity.

Abuses were not confined to a few rogue units, a Times review of the files found. They were uncovered in every Army division that operated in Vietnam.

Retired Brig. Gen. John H. Johns, a Vietnam veteran who served on the task force, says he once supported keeping the records secret but now believes they deserve wide attention in light of alleged attacks on civilians and abuse of prisoners in Iraq.

"We can't change current practices unless we acknowledge the past," says Johns, 78. |Truthout| or |LA Times| (emphasis added)


William Tecumseh Sherman once said that war is brutality and you cannot refine it. There's something inherently vicious and taking human life. However, is it too much to ask that warfare be (largely) limited to combatants?

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