except the Vietnamese fighting to drive the American invaders from their country. Obama's inaugural address had much to recommend it, certainly by the standards of the genre, but I practically choked on my pastry when he said:
"For us, they fought and died in places like Concord and Gettysburg, Normandy and Khe Sahn"
Not for me, I thought. Sometimes soldiers fight and die in vain. For instance when their mission is both a losing one and morally indefensible, as it was in Viet Nam.
I didn't give the matter much thought after that. I'm used to blotting out the cant of politicians. I recognized the statement for what it was, the obligatory nod to the patriotic nonsense that no matter how criminal the endeavor, if a US soldier dies in uniform, it is with honor. As the song goes "every corpse is a patriot."
Until today when I read Jay Janson of Vets For Peace, who wrote:
Mr. President, if America is to change in the future, don't Americans have to be honest about their past. As President-elect, you praised an appointee for having "served his country in Vietnam"? Mr. President, three million Vietnamese died in their own country, many killed in their very own homes. Why praise participation in that imperialist war on an innocent colonial people that had looked up their American ally against the Japanese?
Mr. President, what kind of a message were you sending to the Vietnamese in your mentioning the dying in Vietnam was for America? You know we dropped double the tonnage of all the bombs dropped in World War Two on them.
We will see a change in the government's bloody foreign policies, when enough citizens feel properly guilty for their nation's crimes against humanity, put themselves in shoes of the bereaved families of Koreans, Vietnamese, Laotians, Cambodians, Iraqis and Afghanis, Panamanians. Could we even imagine such bombings upon US towns and countryside? We can improve the whole world and ourselves with such imagination, or at least take serious their individual portion of the collective accountability, responsibility for the actions of their government in its unlawful use of America's military power in their name.
That is what we enshrined in the Nuremberg trials. We held Germans responsible and the Germans benefited greatly from accepting responsibility.
Janson is right. Until we face up to the reality of the great crimes committed in our imperial wars, we will see them repeated, as we have been in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Some here will undoubtedly argue that we should put this past behind us and not reopen the old wounds of the Viet Nam era. But of course that is not what Obama did in invoking Khe San. Rather he insisted on demonstrating his capacity to lie in order to maintain the myth of the honor of US intentions in Viet Nam. If we are serious about wanting an end to those sorts of wars we can not silently let such lies pass. Obama's words dishonored those who resisted that criminal war: first the millions of Vietnamese, civilians and combatants, who were killed, then the draft resisters, the GIs who rebelled, the veterans who marched against the war, and everybody else who gave up a piece of their life to stop a war that, in Obama's description of the war against Iraq, "should never have been started."