'Hanoi Jane' and 'Thanh Phong Bob'
By Joe Bangert
Why does The Cape Cod Times see fit to stir up the Viet quagmire by giving "Attaboys" to nutso misogynistic veterans, obsessed with harassing Jane Fonda? In one recent editorial (CCT April 10, 2001), the Cape Cod Times piled on top of the pillory Jane Fonda gang. It editorialized yet another futile campaign in which "the veterans network kicked in, calling for a cancellation and a picket line" of a Texas event in which Jane Fonda was a guest speaker for a truly noble cause - teenage pregnancy prevention. Such brave men you join!
Next comes the issue of "Thanh Phong Bob" Kerrey and the killing of women and children back in 1969. In this instance the CCT editorial (May 5th) mentions its "profound exhaustion of emotional turmoil of the Vietnam experience." What cheek! Maybe your fingers got tired typing your vituperative venom against an Academy award winning actress who emotionally and correctly spoke out against the insanity of the U.S. war against Vietnam and all its people, north, central and south. She traveled under its falling bombs carrying letters and packages to the POWs in Hanoi back in 1972, don't forget.
I remember back in 1969 the attitude of many of the half million plus of us initially was: "Kill them all now and sort it out later." Fonda was not alone as she protested the late ugly war; there were, in fact, veterans by her side as well as many active duty GIs, other famous actors and actresses, many women, youth and workers. Indeed more then half the nation favored giving peace a chance.
For the record, it was the American Nazi Party that first demonstrated against Jane Fonda during the Republican National Convention. I was there, too, when the Nazis attempted to interrupt Miss Fonda's speech to the thousands gathered at Flamingo Park, Florida. Jane's goose-stepping enemies were routed by both VVAW and old Jewish retirees who lived nearby as Nixon prepared to receive his second nomination in 1972. The uniformed stormtroopers attempted to interrupt her powerful speech, I recall, but were thwarted by a grand coalition of hirsute combat Vietnam vets and old folks throwing hot chicken soup on these fascists bent on silencing Miss Fonda, including yours truly. Nixon had begun to bomb the dike system of the Red River Delta.
She was a heroine to visit Vietnam under B-52 bombardment in July, 1972, and this needs to be said aloud. It was during this vicious bitter period that J. Edgar Hoover's FBI ran the counterintelligence program codenamed COINTELPRO which sought to demonize anti-war activists. It was this program that first uttered and connected the words traitor and Hanoi to Miss Fonda's name. And hey, how is it that this same FBI can be home to the biggest spies of the century and only release now what they knew all the time, from their own surveillance files of the KKK mad bombers of children?
The Times seems not to have carried the Fonda flap to its own attic yet. The Times exculpated "Kerrey's Raiders" of atrocity in a spot called Thanh Phong by mentioning gunfire in a "fetid foreign world where no one spoke the language." How fucking arrogant. Did any of your editorial writers ever step foot into a Vietnamese village during the late war? I think not. Had they done so, then they would know that some of us were trained to speak the language; chung toi co the noi tieng Viet (we could speak Vietnamese).
The Times also referred to Kerrey's age of 24 as being a kid. He was the commanding officer, and assumed "command responsibility," period. What he admits to doing was clearly in violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Justice demands further investigation.
The Times called the slaughter at Thanh Phong "one mistake" when sixteen to twenty bodies were left behind. That is an interesting choice of words. Glad you don't count my pay. And you state there is silence at the heart of this matter. You are the one who is letting Kerrey off easy. Your stretch for amnesiac exculpatory relief for Kerrey's Raiders is transparent.
I have yet to see one member of any organized religion speak out in print on this issue. They have remained silent, just as they did for many years during the beginning of our war in Vietnam.
I personally turned against the war while still in uniform in 1969. As my vessel, the USS Bexar, entered San Diego harbor, I proudly displayed a hastily painted peace sign off the starboard side along with hundreds of cheering Marines and sailors flashing peace signs. Within a year, Lieutenant "Rusty" Calley was charged and court-martialled for the My Lai (Pinkville) Massacre. The Pentagon at the time said that My Lai was "an isolated incident of aberrant behavior." We knew better. So some of us returned home and in disgust of what we witnessed, saw, smelled, felt, heard and did in Vietnam. War . . . what is it good for? Absolutely nothing! went the lyrics of a song at the time. I couldn't wait to get home to bear witness to my own truth about Vietnam.
After sailing home on the Pacific, I was warmly welcomed home to Philadelphia, and my family even had flags and bunting around our windows and doors. I was never spit on, nor do I believe many other Vietnam veterans were. I admit that I was one of the "few good men" who volunteered testimony in the Winter Soldier Investigation in Detroit in 1971 about atrocities I personally witnessed in Vietnam. In fact, during Operation Dewey Canyon III I turned myself in along with two other vets from Philadelphia to make a report and even face possible arrest at the front gate of the Pentagon. The military intelligence types in civilian suits took us inside and recorded our statements in a room not far from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Rules are rules! Was Moses not commanded by God in the Sinai that all of the children of Abraham were to abide by ten good rules? Number Five being Thou shall not kill ! It doesn't say that this rule can be suspended when it is in our "national interest" to do so, or even when it would be tactically more convenient to slit innocent throats of Vietnamese to escape detection during a clandestine SEAL or SOG (special operations group) mission. The Geneva conventions on land warfare was taught to most of us in boot camp.
My Memorial Day memories pour out of being in the same world as all of you, but just on the other side of it, in Quang Tri, where all the bombs and firepower exacted against little Vietnam fell. Machine gunning from the air gives one a unique perspective on the war and so did medevacing the dead and wounded; the smells of gas and hydraulic fluid mixing with the ear-piercing thwacking of the rotors and the movement of liquid human viscera at my feet while under enemy fire can never leave me; seeing and hearing "Puff, the Magic Dragon" spew its deadly automatic free-fire-zone saturation bulleting and covering the area of a football field at home in one minute; hearing the battleship USS New Jersey salute the Viet Cong and Pathet Lao and anyone in between with 16-inch rounds over our heads, all the while being shaken by the TPQs of B-52s conducting carpet bombings near or very near our base camp areas and landing zones in 1969.
We were half a million, and when I was there we certainly knew we weren't winning any more hearts and minds. To be honest, in 1969, half of us Marines were getting loaded on marijuana every night to escape our terrible realities; those who couldn't or wouldn't get high got drunk. All we wanted to do is get home alive. And so that is why I joined up with Vietnam Veterans Against the War: to stop more My Lais and Thanh Phongs from happening. To end the slaughter on both sides.
We marched in Boston and Hyannis on the 4th of July in 1972 and in Philly and Harrisburg and Valley Forge - demanding to stop the bombing and stop the war, bring our brothers and sisters home. Are these the acts of traitors and cowards? On April 23, 1971 we marched to the foot of the Capitol, our number less than fifteen hundred. Our comrade, and today our "junior" senator of Massachusetts, John F. Kerry addressed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and said:
"I would like to talk about the feelings these men carry with them after coming back from Vietnam. The country doesn't realize it yet but it has created a monster in the form of thousands of men who have been taught to deal and trade in violence and who are given the chance to die for the biggest nothing in history - men who have returned with a sense of anger and betrayal that no one so far has been able to grasp. We are angry because we feel we have been used in the worst fashion by the administration of this country.
"We are probably angriest about all that we were told about Vietnam and about the mystical war against communism. We found that not only was it a civil war, an effort by people who had for years been seeking their liberation from any colonial influence whatsoever, but also we found that the Vietnamese whom we had enthusiastically molded after our own image were hard put to take up the fight against the threat we were supposedly saving them from. We found most people didn't even know the difference between communism and democracy. They only wanted to work in rice paddies without helicopters strafing them and bombs with napalm burning their villages and tearing their country apart. They practiced the art of survival by siding with whichever military force was present at a particular time, be it Viet Cong, North Vietnamese, or American.
"We found that all too often American men were dying in those rice paddies for want of support from their allies. We saw firsthand how monies from American taxes were used for a corrupt dictatorial regime. We saw that many people in this country had a one-sided idea of who was kept free by our flag, and blacks provided the highest percentage of casualties. We saw Vietnam ravaged equally by American bombs and search-and-destroy missions, as well as by Viet Cong terrorism, and yet we listened while this country tried to blame all of the havoc on the Viet Cong. We rationalized destroying villages in order to save them. We saw America lose her sense of morality as she accepted very coolly a My Lai and refused to give up the image of American soldiers who hand out chocolate bars and chewing gum. We learned the meaning of free-fire zones, shooting anything that moves, and we watched while America placed a cheapness on the lives of Orientals."
"That was then, and this is now, Dad," says my teenaged son. Yet this bears repeating today.
There is no doubt that the racism of "our war" in Vietnam turned me sour to its instinctual inhumanity. On this Memorial Day, 2001 - as Old Glory goes waving by - how can I ever forget a place called Quang Tri, it was there too she waved, some 13,000 miles from my native Philadelphia, and next to her flew a body count flag showing three digits!
And so I too tossed my medals over Nixon/McNamara/Laird Line - the offending wire fence blocking our access to Congress - with fresh memories of Vietnam in '68 and 1969. My veteran's burden was lightened immeasurably by that action, and I will never ever forget the camaraderie found within the exclusive fraternal VVAW compound on the Mall, not far from where the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is located. Come to think of it, who ever heard of Viet vets ever demonstrating for the war?
In Vietnam, it was often said: "Kill them all now, sort it out later." So now 2001 is later and the Cape Cod Times should not place either the burden of Kerrey in Thanh Phong or any other horrible yet-to-be-discovered hamlet horrors solely on the backs of their combatants, but on all of American society, including its editorial writers. Bob Kerrey would do well to unburden himself of his Bronze and blood-caked Star now. Been there, done that, with a terrible mighty joy.
Joe Bangert served with VMO-6 (Marine Observation Squadron 6) in Quang Tri, Vietnam, 1968-1969. Bangert joined VVAW during the summer of 1970, participated in Operation RAW, WSI and Operation Dewey Canyon III in Washington, D.C. He worked with Gator May Day and was not arrested. He was inducted into the Oglala Sioux Warrior Society at Wounded Knee, Pine Ridge Reservation, in Lakota Territory in 1973. Bangert also worked in Hanoi, Vietnam from 1992 to 1997.