The Vietnam War has claimed another victim, Bob Kerrey. There is no question that this war victimized us all, but let's put the blame where it belongs. Kerrey was part of a Navy Seal Assassination squad, which under the infamous Phoenix program targeted the political infrastructure of the Viet Cong. The targets were not necessarily combatants, just as the politicians who sent us there were not. The killing and kidnapping of unarmed civilians was more the rule than the exception for these teams. They were a creation of the CIA. The creation of "free fire zones" in itself invited and sanctioned the killing of unarmed individuals and violated international principles on the conduct of war. The government which put guns and knives in our hands and trained and ordered us to kill without hesitation , and then rewarded us with medals, bears the blame. Let's point the fingers at the MacNamaras and Kissingers , the Johnsons and Nixons who ultimately were responsible for perpetrating this horror. If anyone is guilty of criminal behavior, it is they. Let us examine what went on at that level in an effort to prevent it from ever happening again. The victims were not only the Vietnamese, but we, who were sent to carry out this flawed and brutal policy. In most cases, we were only doing what was ordered and should not be hounded for doing what was ordered from above..
On the other hand, I don't believe the statement Bob Kerrey put out, along with some of the other Seal team members, tells the whole story. We operated in the Delta, often being sent to villages (on the basis of "intelligence" reports) to look for political meetings and finding nothing but women, old men and children. We were soldiers and did not as a rule intentionally kill civilians, Viet Cong sympathizers or not. These Viet Cong controlled villages and their inhabitants (especially in free fire zones) knew they were vulnerable to attack from gunships or the ground at any time day or night and invariably had bunkers built inside the "hooch" or very close by. At the first sign of any trouble, the women, children and old men would seek out this shelter, and that's where we would find them. Firing into a village like that from a hundred yards away would not bring about the kind of casualties that were described. The 12 to 20 women and children were supposedly found shot in the middle of the small village. An old couple and three of their grandchildren, all under 10 years old, had their throats cut. Someone had to bring them out of the bunkers. Mr. Kerrey as team leader was responsible and gave the orders. Perhaps the trauma of the event and the subsequent loss of Mr. Kerrey's leg in another mission have affected his recall. We all have our conscience to deal with.
The brutal and ill-advised nature of this war does not diminish the heroism, diligence and bravery of most of those who served in combat. They did their duty as men in combat always have done. When you were in the middle of the war, there was little time to contemplate the history and chain of events which brought us there. That contemplation often came in hindsight. Mr. Kerrey like me and many other veterans of that time joined the Vietnam Veterans Against the War upon his return in an effort to halt the madness. We did what we could to help those still left behind by trying to end the war. The slogans were "Bring Our Brothers Home" and "Honor the Warrior not the War". The politicians got us into the quagmire in the first place and kept it going long after it was clear that it was a horrendous mistake and WE paid the price. Many of us are still paying the price while the politicians are busy planning for the next war.
There were many songs written relating to the Vietnam experience. In my opinion, Leon Russell's song, "BALLAD OF A SOLDIER" hits the nail right on the head.
CLICK HERE FOR THE TEXT OF THE BALLAD OF A SOLDIER