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Defending VVAW Against Swift Boat Vets' Lies
By Keith Nolan
There exists a website whose sole purpose is to bash VVAW. I took offense at the tactics used at wintersoldier.com and attempted to post a message at the website's message board. The administrator refused to post my message.
NOLAN TO WINTERSOLDIER: Please consider this letter a protest against the one-sided arguments and underhanded tactics deployed at this website in order to bash John Kerry and the Vietnam Veterans Against the War.
It is one thing to disagree with the political philosophy of the VVAW, or to argue that the organization drew false conclusions about genocide-as-policy based on the isolated war crimes its members saw in Vietnam.
It is another thing entirely, however, to defame those combat veterans who joined the VVAW as misfits, frauds, liars, traitors, and dupes of the KGB. What rubbish. You would never know from this website that General David Shoup, USMC (Ret.), who earned the Medal of Honor in World War II, publicly supported John Kerry and the VVAW in 1971.
Every veterans' organization attracts a certain fringe element, and I don't doubt, as is charged here, that a charlatan like Mark Lane included false testimony in his book about Vietnam. It is also charged here, however, that numerous phonies gave false testimony at the VVAW's Winter Soldier Investigation in Detroit, and that only about thirty percent of the men who participated in Operation Dewey Canyon III were genuine veterans of the Vietnam War. This I very much doubt, and I have searched this website in vain for even a shred of proof to back up these very serious charges.
All this website really has to offer are the personal opinions of historians Burkett and Lewy, who seem to have had no personal contact with VVAW members and are instead relying on information from the Nixon White House. For obvious political reasons, the Nixon administration did its best in 1971 to discredit Kerry and the VVAW. They came up with one VVAW leader (Al Hubbard) who had lied about his rank and exaggerated his military service. And that was it. They did not identify any other phony veterans, nor did they identify by name a single fraud who provided testimony in Detroit.
Who were all the liars and frauds in the VVAW? No one seems to know. And what exactly were they lying about in Detroit? One or two possibly-exaggerated stories aside, the great majority of those who testified in Detroit described the exact same kind of abuses and atrocities that show up in the court-martial record of the war, in memoirs written by Vietnam veterans, and in histories written by academics. I don't understand how this website can so blithely dismiss the Detroit testimony when the stories told in Detroit mirror the documented war crimes committed at places like My Lai, My Khe, and Son Thang, and the documented illegal behavior of units like Task Force Barker and the Tiger Force of the 1-327th Airborne Infantry.
I've personally heard the same kind of stories about burned villages, mistreated civilians, and summarily-executed prisoners dozens of times over from Vietnam veterans who have no political sympathy for the left-wing politics of the VVAW. Wars produce atrocities. Frustrating guerrilla wars produce a particularly horrific number of atrocities. That some individual soldiers and certain units responded with excessive brutality in Vietnam shouldn't really surprise anyone. I know many good men who stayed true to their moral compass in Vietnam and served with distinction and honor. I also know many good men who have spent their lives regretting the things they did under the pressure of combat back when they were nineteen- and twenty-year-old grunts in Vietnam.
And why the desire at this website to whitewash the counterproductive brutality of General Westmoreland's search-and-destroy strategy? As has been noted by many disgusted infantry officers, Westmoreland's search-and-destroy strategy resulted in thousands of destroyed villages, tens of thousands of civilian casualties, hundreds of thousands of refugees, and drove the rural population of Vietnam into the arms of the Viet Cong. Kerry was only speaking the truth when he said that "We rationalized destroying villages in order to save them."
Good men are allowed to disagree on something as tragic as the Vietnam War without one side condemning those on the other side of the political line as being liars and frauds. Too bad that VVAW members like Barry Romo, James Duffy, Mark Lenix, Nathan Hale, Charles Stephens, Gary Keyes, Michael Hunter, Mike McCusker, Scott Moore, Donald Duncan, Steve Pitkin, and Kenneth Ruth aren't here to defend themselves against the charge that they never served in combat and invented their stories about Vietnam.
Keith Nolan (author of RIPCORD, OPERATION BUFFALO, SAPPERS IN THE WIRE, etc.)
Here's the response I got from the website administrator:
WINTERSOLDIER TO NOLAN: Sorry, but we feel no obligation to provide space for those who wish to denigrate and marginalize what we're trying to accomplish. Consider writing your own web site. Admin
Keith W. Nolan has been interviewing Vietnam veterans and writing about their experiences since 1978.
He is author of ten books on the war, including "Ripcord," "Operation Buffalo," "Sappers in the Wire," and "The Magnificent Bastards."
He lives near St. Louis, Missouri. He can be reached at: