The Ken Burns Vietnam War Documentary
Glosses Over Devastating Civilian Toll Nick Turse / The Intercept
A US Marine carries a blindfolded woman suspected of Vietcong activities over his shoulder. She and other prisoners were rounded up during the joint Vietnamese-US Operation Mallard, near Da Nang, Vietnam. (Photo: Bettmann Archive/Getty Images)
(September 28 2017) — “I think that when Americans talk about the Vietnam War . . . we tend to talk only about ourselves. But if we really want to understand it . . . or try to answer the fundamental question, ‘What happened?’ You’ve got to triangulate,” says filmmaker Ken Burns of his celebrated PBS documentary series “The Vietnam War.”
“You’ve got to know what’s going on. And we have many battles in which you’ve got South Vietnamese soldiers and American advisors or . . . their counterparts and Vietcong or North Vietnamese. You have to get in there and understand what they’re thinking.”
Burns and his co-director Lynn Novick spent 10 years on The Vietnam War, assisted by their producer Sarah Botstein, writer Geoffrey Ward, 24 advisors, and others. They assembled 25,000 photographs, feature close to 80 interviews of Americans and Vietnamese, and spent con the project. The resulting 18-hour series is a marvel of storytelling, something in which Burns and Novick take obvious pride.
The Vietnam War provides lots of great vintage film footage, stunning photos, a solid Age of Aquarius soundtrack, and plenty of striking soundbites. Maybe this is what Burns means by triangulation. The series seems expertly crafted to appeal to the widest possible American audience. But as far as telling us “what happened,” I don’t see much evidence of that.
Like Burns and Novick, I also spent a decade working on a Vietnam War epic, though carried out on a far more modest budget, a book titled “Kill Anything That Moves.” Like Burns and Novick, I spoke with military men and women, Americans and Vietnamese. Like Burns and Novick, I thought I could learn “what happened” from them. It took me years to realize that I was dead wrong. That might be why I find The Vietnam War and its seemingly endless parade of soldier and guerrilla talking heads so painful to watch.
War is not combat, though combat is a part of war. Combatants are not the main participants in modern war. Modern war affects civilians far more and far longer than combatants. Most American soldiers and Marines spent 12 or 13 months, respectively, serving in Vietnam.
Vietnamese from what was once South Vietnam, in provinces like Quang Nam, Quang Ngai, Binh Dinh, as well as those of the Mekong Delta — rural population centers that were also hotbeds of the revolution — lived the war week after week, month after month, year after year, from one decade into the next. Burns and Novick seem to have mostly missed these people, missed their stories, and, consequently, missed the dark heart of the conflict.
To deprive their Vietnamese enemies of food, recruits, intelligence, and other support, American command policy turned large swathes of those provinces into “free fire zones,” subject to intense bombing and artillery shelling, that was expressly designed to “generate” refugees, driving people from their homes in the name of “pacification.” Houses were set ablaze, whole villages were bulldozed, and people were forced into squalid refugee camps and filthy urban slums short of water, food, and shelter.
I spoke with hundreds of Vietnamese from these rural areas. In hamlet after hamlet, they told me about being rousted from their homes and then being forced to drift back to the ruins, for deeply-held cultural and religious reasons, and often simply to survive. They explained what it was like to live, for years on end, under the threat of bombs and artillery shells and helicopter gunships.
They talked about homes burned again and again and again, before they gave up rebuilding and began living a semi-subterranean existence in rough-hewn bomb shelters gouged into the earth. They told me about scrambling inside these bunkers when artillery fire began. And then they told me about the waiting game.
Just how long did you stay in your bunker? Long enough to avoid the shelling, of course, but not so long that you were still inside it when the Americans and their grenades arrived. If you left the shelter’s confines too soon, machine-gun fire from a helicopter might cut you in half. Or you might get caught in crossfire between withdrawing guerrillas and onrushing US troops. But if you waited too long, the Americans might begin rolling grenades into your bomb shelter because, to them, it was a possible enemy fighting position.
They told me about waiting, crouched in the dark, trying to guess the possible reactions of the heavily-armed, often angry and scared, young Americans who had arrived on their doorsteps. Every second mattered immensely. It wasn’t just your life on the line; your whole family might be wiped out.
And these calculations went on for years, shaping every decision to leave the confines of that shelter, day or night, to relieve oneself or fetch water or try to gather vegetables for a hungry family. Everyday existence became an endless series of life-or-death risk assessments.
I had to hear versions of this story over and over before I began to get a sense of the trauma and suffering. Then I started to appreciate the numbers of people affected. According to Pentagon figures, in January 1969 alone, air strikes were carried out on or near hamlets where 3.3 million Vietnamese lived. That’s one month of a war that lasted more than a decade. I began to think of all those civilians crouched in fear as the bombs fell. I began to tally the terror and its toll. I began to understand “what happened.”
I started to think about other numbers, too. More than 58,000 US military personnel and 254,000 of their South Vietnamese allies lost their lives in the war. Their opponents, North Vietnamese soldiers and South Vietnamese guerrillas, suffered even more grievous losses.
But civilian casualties absolutely dwarf those numbers. Though no one will ever know the true figure, a 2008 study by researchers from Harvard Medical School and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington and a Vietnamese government estimate, suggest there were around two million civilian deaths, the vast majority in South Vietnam.
A conservative killed-to-injured ratio yields a figure of 5.3 million civilians wounded. Add to these numbers 11 million civilians driven from their lands and made homeless at one time or another, and as many as 4.8 million sprayed with toxic defoliants like Agent Orange. “The Vietnam War only weakly gestures at this civilian toll and what it means.
Episode five of “The Vietnam War,” titled “This Is What We Do,” begins with Marine Corps veteran Roger Harris musing about the nature of armed conflict. “You adapt to the atrocities of war. You adapt to killing, dying,” he says. “After a while, it doesn’t bother you. I should say, it doesn’t bother you as much.”
It’s a striking soundbite and is obviously offered to viewers as a window onto the true face of war. It made me think, however, about someone who experienced the war far longer and more intimately than Harris did. Her name was Ho Thi A and in a soft, measured voice she told me about a day in 1970 when US Marines came to her hamlet of Le Bac 2.
She recounted for me how, as a young girl, she’d taken cover in a bunker with her grandmother and an elderly neighbor, scrambling out just as a group of Marines arrived — and how one of the Americans had leveled his rifle and shot the two old women dead. (One of the Marines in the hamlet that day told me he saw an older woman “gut-shot” and dying and a couple of small clusters of dead civilians, including women and children, as he walked through.)
Ho Thi A told her story calmly and collectedly. It was only when I moved on to more general questions that she suddenly broke down, sobbing convulsively. She wept for ten minutes. Then it was fifteen. Then twenty. Then more. Despite all her efforts to restrain herself, the flood of tears kept pouring out.
Like Harris, she had adapted and moved on with her life, but the atrocities, the killing, the dying, did bother her — quite a bit. That didn’t surprise me. War arrived on her doorstep, took her grandmother, and scarred her for life. She had no predefined tour of duty. She lived the war every day of her youth and still lived steps from that killing ground.
Add together all the suffering of all of South Vietnam’s Ho Thi A’s, all the women and children and elderly men who huddled in those bunkers, those whose hamlets were burned, those made homeless, those who died under the bombs and shelling, and those who buried the unfortunates that did perish, and it’s a staggering, almost unfathomable toll — and, by sheer numbers alone, the very essence of the war.
It’s there for anyone interested in finding it. Just look for the men with napalm-scarred or white phosphorus-melted faces. Look for the grandmothers missing arms and feet, the old women with shrapnel scars and absent eyes. There’s no shortage of them, even if there are fewer every day.
If you really want to get a sense of “what happened” in Vietnam, by all means watch The Vietnam War. But as you do, as you sit there admiring the “rarely seen and digitally re-mastered archival footage,” while grooving to “iconic musical recordings from [the] greatest artists of the era,” and also pondering the “haunting original music from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross,” just imagine that you’re actually crouched in your basement, that your home above is ablaze, that lethal helicopters are hovering overhead, and that heavily-armed teenagers — foreigners who don’t speak your language — are out there in your yard, screaming commands you don’t understand, rolling grenades into your neighbor’s cellar, and if you run out through the flames, into the chaos, one of them might just shoot you.
Nick Turse is the author of Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam, one of the books suggested as “accompaniments to the film” on the PBS website for The Vietnam War. He is a frequent contributor to The Intercept.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
Bombs in Our Backyard:
How Military Outsourcing Turned Toxic Fraud. Bribery. Incompetence. The military’s use of
contractors adds to a legacy of environmental damage Abrahm Lustgarten / ProPublica
(September 26, 2017) — In August 2016, an inspector from the US Environmental Protection Agency arrived at Barksdale Air Force base in Louisiana, a nerve center for the US military’s global air combat operations, to conduct a routine look at the base’s handling of its hazardous waste.
Barksdale, like many military bases, generates large volumes of hazardous materials, including thousands of pounds of toxic powder left over from cleaning, painting and maintaining airplanes.
For years, Barksdale had been sending a portion of its waste to an Ohio company, US Technology Corp., that had sold officials at the base on a seemingly ingenious solution for disposing of it: The company would take the contaminated powder from refurbished war planes and repurpose it into cinderblocks that would be used to build everything from schools to hotels to big-box department stores — even a pregnancy support center in Ohio.
The deal would ostensibly shield the Air Force from the liabililty of being a large producer of dangerous hazardous trash.
The arrangement was not unique.
The military is one of the country’s largest polluters, with an inventory of toxic sites on American soil that once topped 39,000. At many locations, the Pentagon has relied on contractors like US Technology to assist in cleaning and restoring land, removing waste, clearing unexploded bombs, and decontaminating buildings, streams and soil.
In addition to its work for Barksdale, US Technology had won some 830 contracts with other military facilities — Army, Air Force, Navy and logistics bases — totaling more than $49 million, many of them to dispose of similar powders.
In taking on environmental cleanup jobs, contractors often bring needed expertise to technical tasks the Pentagon isn’t equipped to do itself. They also absorb much of the legal responsibility for disposing of military-made hazards, in some cases helping the Pentagon — at least on paper — winnow down its list of toxic liabilities.
But in outsourcing this work, the military has often struggled to provide adequate oversight to ensure that work is done competently — or is completed at all. Today, records show, some of the most dangerous cleanup work that has been entrusted to contractors remains unfinished, or worse, has been falsely pronounced complete, leaving people who live near former military sites to assume these areas are now safe.
What the EPA inspector found when he visited Barksdale was an object lesson in the system’s blind spots.
Barrels of the waste hadn’t been shipped off and recycled, but rather were stored in a garage tucked away from the facility’s main operations. Further, shipping documents suggested that what waste had been sent off the base hadn’t gone to US Technology’s recycling plant in Ohio, as an Air Force official first told the EPA, but instead had gone to company warehouses in at least two other states. Storing hazardous waste without a permit — and without immediately recycling it — can be illegal.
The inspection findings triggered an investigation to determine if the Air Force had been storing hazardous waste that it was supposed to have been recycling without a permit. It also suggested broader problems with US Technology, which was already the subject of an inquiry in Georgia into whether it was illegally dumping waste — including material that could have come from Barksdale — near a residential neighborhood there.
Barksdale officials told ProPublica that the base “has never stored” hazardous materials at the request of US Technology. The Air Force and the Pentagon declined to answer any specific questions about US Technology’s work, except to say that the base had been working with the company for at least a decade.
ProPublica pieced together what happened at Barksdale using EPA records, including a 1,000-page document compiled by one of its lead investigators, as well as Air Force correspondence, court files, Pentagon contracts and other materials.
The documents make clear that officials at Barksdale should have been wary of doing business with US Technology from the start. The head of one of its sub-contractors had been sent to prison in 2008 for illegally dumping hazardous waste under another Pentagon contract.
US Technology had been investigated for related wrongdoing — storing or dumping material it claimed to be recycling — in two other states. Indeed, a 2011 Pentagon report to Congress about contractor fraud included US Technology on a list of companies that had criminal or civil judgments against them, but which still received millions of dollars in subsequent contracts.
Neither the Air Force nor the Pentagon would respond to questions about why the various military branches continued to award contracts to US Technology despite its problems.
The EPA also would not say whether it was looking into US Technology’s contracts with other bases — deals involving millions of pounds of toxic powder and tens of millions of taxpayer dollars — but such a step might well be prudent.
In April, US Technology’s founder and president, Raymond Williams, was indicted in US District Court in Missouri for trucking millions of pounds of its hazardous powder waste — from Defense and other types of contracts — over state lines, where, according to EPA documents, the company had been storing it instead of recycling it. In June, Williams was indicted in Georgia on federal charges related to bribing an Air Force official for recycling contracts. Williams has pleaded not guilty in both cases.
Asked about Barksdale and other contracts that have gone awry, one of the Pentagon’s top environmental officials told ProPublica that there is no systemic problem with the military’s approach to cleanup or other environmental contracting.
Maureen Sullivan, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for environment, safety and occupational health, said the military might have thousands of companies under contract at any given time and that the Barksdale case and others like it amount to rare examples of negligence or incompetence.
“Not everybody is an angel,” Sullivan said.
Still, the Pentagon and its various monitors have issued repeated warnings about problems related to environmental cleanup contractors.
In 2001, the Defense Department’s own inspector general discussed the “significant risk of fraud” in environmental cleanup contracts as one of the Pentagon’s “high risk vulnerabilities.” That report did not list recommendations for reform, chiefly because many of the office’s previous efforts imploring changes had been ignored.
A decade later, the US Government Accountability Office concluded that many Pentagon environmental cleanup contracts were vulnerable to corner-cutting, lack of quality review and plain incompetence.
The report made clear that the department relied heavily on performance-based contracts despite federal guidelines which cautioned against using them for environmental jobs, perhaps because doing so furthered the Pentagon’s self-interest in ridding itself of environmental headaches.
“The evidence is in, a contractor is only as good as the oversight that they have,” said Jane Williams, the executive director of California Communities Against Toxics, a watchdog group that has been tracking defense site cleanups across the country since 1989. “The defense department turns a blind eyeâ€¦ They want to write a check and have someone else do it.”
* * * * AIRMEN CALL BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE “The Deuce” — home to the 2nd Bombing Wing of the 8th Air Force, a legendary unit in American aerial bombardment with roots going back to World War I.
The Wing was moved to Barksdale in 1963, with the production of the B-52. In 1991, seven B-52s flew the longest round-trip combat mission in aviation history from Barksdale’s hangers, firing the first cruise missiles of the first Gulf War into Baghdad from their holds beneath the bombers’ gaping wings.
Today, nearly half of the Air Force’s remaining B-52’s fly from this heavily guarded, 22,000-acre base, which has 8,500 airmen stationed there. Those 185,000-pound hunks of aging, flexing metal — still the workhorse of the nation’s strike force more than 55 years after the last one was made — need an extraordinary amount of work to keep them in the air.
At Barksdale, the airplanes’ parts are sanded and painted, corrosion removed, cracks in the fuselage cut out and patched, rivets drilled hollow and replaced. All so the planes can return to flight training over Eastern Europe or bombing raids against ISIS in Syria.
Essential to this unglamorous, but vital work are millions of tiny glass and plastic beads that machinists use to blast against metal parts to strip away paint and corrosion. The process leaves huge amounts of toxic dust, including the flaked paint and bits of pulverized metal from the planes themselves.
US Technology was founded in 1987 by Williams, described by colleagues as an eccentric entrepreneur with a love for historic fighter planes and airplane design. US Technology and its dozen or so affiliated corporations have tried to sell everything from inexpensive prop fighter planes to the United Arab Emirates to concrete blocks. But the core business has always been the bead blasting and recycling.
For years Barksdale handled the waste produced by its airplane maintenance just as it handled any other hazardous material: It catalogued and labeled it, registered the quantities with the EPA and state authorities, and shipped it to a specialized disposal facility in Kentucky that was licensed to burn or bury the stuff.
But in the last decade, the Pentagon began to press Barksdale and other bases to comply with “waste minimization” rules set out in federal regulations. Barksdale officials said they were required to cut the volume of waste the base produced by 10 percent from 2010 levels by 2020, for example. Increasingly, all bases — which compete for funding and whose officers vie for promotions — are judged on meeting or beating quotas for limiting and then promptly handling waste.
Documents make clear US Technology’s pitch spoke directly to Barksdale and was calibrated to help achieve these aims. The company promised to supply all of the base’s blast powder and then retrieve the spent material — thousands of pounds of it a year — to use as fill to make cinderblocks.
The EPA and Ohio environment officials had certified this was relatively safe, so long as the cinderblocks didn’t come into contact with the ground, where they could potentially contaminate food and water supplies.
The deal also promised other benefits.
Because US Technology was a recycler, the toxic material it removed from Barksdale would no longer be classified legally as “hazardous waste.” This semantic end run spared the Air Force from having to meet strict federal regulations for where such waste goes and for protecting people from being harmed by it.
As one company sales document put it, recyclable materials “are exempt from regulation as a waste.” It also meant that, at least technically, Barksdale’s ledger would show that it was producing less waste overall, and thus edging closer to the Pentagon’s goals.
US Technology’s sales documents boasted that its approach offered its military customers “maximum protection” from liability and costs related to cleanups, and could maybe even prevent contaminated areas from becoming Superfund sites.
Still, the presentations left out important bits of the company’s history.
In order to be exempt from hazardous waste laws, federal regulations require waste recycling companies like US Technology to re-purpose at least three-quarters of the hazardous material they collect as part of contracts in any given year. The rule is meant to ensure that waste isn’t simply being stored. Storing hazardous waste requires a highly specialized license and, done wrong, can lead to environmental disaster.
In 2002, however, Ohio and EPA investigators inspected US Technology’s plant and found discrepancies in its inventories of hazardous materials received from the military and other customers.
Of some 3.6 million pounds of material US Technology had accepted in 2000, for example, only 98,000 pounds of it had been used for recycled products, a figure “well short of the required amount,” according to Ohio state records. In an alleyway next to the building, investigators found stacks of unused outdoor patio furniture apparently molded from hazardous powder but never sold.
“There obviously wasn’t a market for the furniture,” wrote Nyall McKenna, the Ohio environment regulator who led the investigation.
The investigators found that US Technology had directly recycled a small portion of the material, but shipped the vast majority of it to a processing company in Mississippi that US Technology had hired to reformulate the material into large blocks that the US Army Corps of Engineers — a Pentagon branch itself — could use in its management of the country’s river systems.
But it turned out the processing company, Hydromex, hadn’t been recycling the material either. Instead, it had been burying US Technology’s waste in trenches it dug underground, and then had used the remaining powder to make a concrete slab that covered the holes.
By the time the EPA and state regulators learned this, more than 11 million pounds of waste from Ohio, and US Technology customers around the country — packed into 25,000 drums — had been stashed at the site in Yazoo, Mississippi.
Hydromex’s owner was sent to prison for more than three years. US Technology and its officials avoided prosecution, saying the company was not aware of Hydromex’s dumping and was itself a victim of fraud. (In a later civil trial, a jury rejected US Technology’s fraud claims against the property owner of the Hydromex plant.)
In the eyes of regulators, though, US Technology remained liable for the waste material under environmental law, and would ultimately be tasked with removing and — again — properly recycling the dumped waste.
EPA documents and emails obtained by the agency show some of the material dumped in Mississippi came from US military bases and that the case had gotten the attention of the Air Force in particular. At least two other bases — Robins Air Force Base in Georgia and Hill Air Force base in Utah — had been working with US Technology, and others were about to start until they were informally warned off by headquarters, pending a review, according to Air Force documents.
In the end, though, any Air Force wariness concerning US Technology proved short-lived. Senior brass, as part of their look at what had gone wrong in 2002, visited the company’s operations in 2005 and came away with a favorable view.
“US Technology has a very impressive recycling operation,” William Hoogsteden, a project manager at the Air Force research laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, wrote in a 2005 memo. The company, the official concluded, “looks to be one of the few legitimate and viable recycling processes using spent plastic media.”
Another 2005 letter pushed US Technology’s appeal explicitly. “Their products help us achieve diversion targets (recycle vs. disposal),” wrote David Fort, an Air Force hazardous waste program manager, in an internal Air Force exchange. “This is something that we simply ought to take advantage of.”
In 2006, various Pentagon branches signed 30 contracts with US Technology worth more than $2.7 million.
* * * * THE VOLUME AND COMPLEXITY of environmental cleanup work has led the Pentagon to rely more and more on contractors like US Technology. According to the GAO, such companies now handle nearly all of the hazardous waste the Defense Department generates annually, and, according to Pentagon data obtained by ProPublica, at least 2,400 contaminated cleanup sites across the country have been outsourced to private firms.
Cleaning up contamination at these sites has already consumed more than $42 billion in taxpayer funds, much of it paid to contractors. By the Pentagon’s conservative estimates, the total cleanup bill is likely to top $70 billion, making Defense pollution one of the most expensive environmental calamities in American history, and a lucrative mainstay for private concerns.
Virtually all Pentagon contracting — for weapons, aircraft, base security, reconstruction in war zones, and more — has come under criticism for cost overruns and, at times, for being open to exploitation. It’s impossible to say how environmental cleanup contractors compare to others in these regards. But experts say environmental work is especially hard to monitor; waste disposal and contamination are easy to hide and hard to track.
Also, with Pentagon officials under pressure to reduce the list of contaminated sites and cut the costs of attending to them, there’s less incentive to question contractors that say problems are fixed or jobs are done well.
A lengthy trail of damning reports from military watchdogs, however, suggests the same problems have cropped up time and again when the Pentagon has delegated environmental cleanups to contractors.
In 2015, calling environmental issues a “longstanding material weakness,” the Pentagon’s inspector general said that despite publishing some 20 previous reports on the issue, little progress had been made in adopting recommendations.
One of those previous reports was the 2001 report to Congress, which noted that environmental crimes committed by hazardous waste contractors warranted the majority of attention from the agency’s criminal investigations division.
Contractors cut corners, falsely certified as done environmental work they hadn’t completed, illegally dumped dangerous materials, or employed workers who weren’t properly trained for their tasks, the report said, describing such incidents as “typical” and “discussed regularly.”
The inspector general noted that across all branches of the Pentagon, environmental contracts were ripe for abuse because remediation relies so heavily on contractors to self-report their progress. And it also noted that the results of the review were “disappointing because the department made limited progress in carrying out numerous agreed-upon recommendations” from the past.
John Arlington, who researched corruption at defense sites as a former chief investigator for the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, said the problems were epic.
“We discovered a very long history of hazardous disposal practices of the worst sort,” said Arlington, who now serves as general counsel for the SIGAR, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.
In many cases, egregious malpractice — or even intentional deception — hasn’t been enough to steer the Pentagon away from particular contractors. In San Francisco, in 2016, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission determined that employees of a prominent global environmental engineering firm hired by the Navy had falsified soil samples from a radioactive experiment site soon to be converted to housing in the nation’s hottest real estate market.
The contractor, Tetra Tech, has received more than $2.3 billion in defense contracts over the past decade, and was being paid more than $300 million for its cleanup in San Francisco.
In a legal petition the San Francisco environment group Greenaction submitted to NRC investigators, several Tetra Tech whistleblowers said that, in order to save money, Tetra Tech managers had ordered them to replace contaminated soil samples with clean soil, dump contaminated soil in trenches on the property, falsify documents certifying the work and manipulate the computer data analyzing radiation levels. Their allegations raised questions about environmental safety across some 420 acres of the site.
Tetra Tech, which conducted an internal investigation and conceded its samples had been swapped, “emphatically denies” that its management was involved or that there was a broader conspiracy at the site, according to a statement the company sent to ProPublica.
The NRC, at first, fined Tetra Tech $7,000, but even that amount was later reduced after an agreement that the company would hold additional training for its employees. A Navy spokesperson said that while Tetra Tech is still under contract, it is no longer doing field work at the site.
At Camp Minden, a former Army ammunition plant now owned by Louisiana and used by its National Guard, a munitions waste recycling contractor’s failures caused a disaster too big to ignore.
As part of a nationwide effort to decommission more than a billion pounds of aging weapons, the Army hired a company called Explo Systems to disassemble 1.3 million artillery charges at Minden. For $8.6 million, the firm would remove the shells and casings and empty an explosive propellant powder called M6. Explo claimed to have industrial facilities to recycle the M6, and said it would safely destroy some of it while converting the rest into blasting charges it planned to sell to the mining industry.
Had the Army ever looked into Explo’s capabilities, it would have learned that it had not yet built two of the processing facilities it would need to destroy and convert the Army’s explosive material. Nevertheless, by mid-2012, Explo documents appeared to show that it had shipped and sold nearly 18 million pounds of the explosives.
That illusion quite literally blew up on Oct. 15, 2012, when a massive explosion rocked the Minden grounds, shattering windows in the town four miles away, toppling 11 rail cars, and sending a mushroom cloud 7,000 feet into the sky. EPA records describe a blast radius of raw explosives landing as close as a few thousand feet from the nearby town.
When Louisiana State police executed a search warrant of the base, they found nearly 18 million pounds of M6 explosives stored haphazardly across the property. Photographs show enormous cardboard boxes overstuffed with explosives, sagging under their own weight with water stains rotting their base.
The boxes teetered in hallways, were stacked in doorways and spilled out in the surrounding yards, where thousands of them were lined up across fields like parked cars at a county fair. Louisiana’s extreme heat and humidity had taken its toll, degrading the chemical stabilizers that bond the explosives, until they verged on spontaneous ignition.
The remaining materials could have blown at any time. Louisiana’s governor declared a state of emergency, and for a week that December, the small community of Doyline along the base’s fence line was evacuated.
“It was a perfect storm,” said J.C. King, the Army’s director of munitions and the chief official responsible for Army explosives cleanups, in an interview at the Pentagon in July.
King says what happened in Minden, though, is no longer the Army’s problem; when Explo signed its contract, it assumed ownership of the explosives and any contamination that might be associated with them, he said. EPA investigators determined Explo had falsified its sales paperwork and, in fact, had few customers; the very premise of its Army contract was a lie.
Six of its executives wound up indicted. They have pleaded not guilty, and are currently awaiting trial in Louisiana. Explo Systems declared bankruptcy the next fall, abandoning the explosives. Its executives did not respond to a request for comment made through their attorney.
Despite the substantial real-world harm that has resulted from misconduct by contractors, the Pentagon continues to rely ever more heavily on them for environmental work even as the budget for that work has been whittled. Experts say the process is flawed, incentivizing shortcuts and outsourcing to save money and preserve the Pentagon’s primary military mission.
But unless the Pentagon substantially tightens oversight to weed out problem contractors, experts say, the Defense Department’s enormous environmental cleanup program — an effort affecting an amount of land larger than the state of Florida — will only become more vulnerable to abuse.
“It’s about priorities; you either pay for a certain result or you end up playing hide the ball,” said William Frank, who for 25 years oversaw Pentagon cleanups at the EPA as a senior attorney in the Federal Facilities Enforcement Office. “The DoD is not accountable and it hasn’t been. But they are complicit. The process itself has this fatal flaw of the necessity of balancing the military warfighter mission and the weapons development industry versus their legal liability” under environmental law. “And it’s not working.”
* * * * WHEN THE EPA’S David Robertson showed up at Barksdale in August 2016, it appears he was there to do nothing more than a pro-forma inspection. It didn’t take Robertson long, however, to figure out the deal US Technology offered the base was less than advertised, and maybe even a complete sham.
His inspection report shows that thousands of pounds of waste from Barksdale hadn’t been shipped to the company’s plant in Ohio, as a Barksdale official initially had said. Instead, shipping documents suggested that much of the waste had been trucked to warehouses in Arkansas and Georgia.
There was no paperwork whatsoever for more than a year, from July 2014 until February 2016. And then there were the 55-gallon drums full of bead blast powder on the base itself — labeled “exempt,” and not as hazardous. Some of the grayish powder was loose, sprinkled across the tops of the drums.
Standard practice for EPA waste inspectors is to examine every link in the chain of custody before they sign off on a site. Robertson — seeking to verify the explanations offered by Barksdale staff — called regulators in Georgia and Arkansas and told them about the manifests indicating Barksdale waste had been shipped into their states. The Arkansas regulators, according to what Robertson wrote in his inspection report, told him they knew nothing about the shipments or about warehouses storing waste.
An EPA official in Georgia, however, was alarmed by the call from Robertson. He alerted Robertson to US Technology’s past legal troubles in Mississippi, and said he’d already been investigating US Technology’s facility in Macon for dumping hazardous waste nearly identical to what Barksdale had produced — and shipped to Macon in 2016 — on the grounds of an old track, called the Middle Georgia Raceway.
The track, which once hosted NASCAR races, hasn’t been used for more than auto shows and test driving events since the 1980s, but the community surrounding it has slowly encroached, turning the once-rural and industrial area into a tightly packed nest of suburban streets and family homes.
According to EPA documents from Georgia, one of US Technology’s affiliated companies, US Technology Aerospace Engineering, loaded the waste into dumpsters and trucked it to the raceway, where it was spread over several access roads and stashed in barrels lined up as an impact barrier for drivers on the oval.
The EPA report does not say directly whether investigators determined the waste came from Barksdale, but it is described as bead-blast waste from the sandblasting of machinery. They found gray piles of loose, dusty material less than 90 feet from people’s backyards.
In June 2016, the EPA sent an environmental contracting firm out to the track to sample the soils. Lab reports show the company found significant levels of chromium, arsenic, lead and cadmium. Only the arsenic exceeded health limits when measured for an industrial area — which the racetrack is zoned as. But the levels of chromium, lead and cadmium would all be considered much more dangerous if judged by residential health standards.
By that measure, the Middle Georgia Raceway contained arsenic at 28 times the EPA’s limit, and cadmium at nearly four times what would be considered safe. High levels of chromium were also present, but there is no federal screening standard.
Robertson makes clear in his report on Barksdale that he suspected both the Air Force and US Technology of what the EPA calls “sham recycling.” The EPA would not comment on the status of its investigation, but its documents show it has assigned an agency criminal investigator and criminal counsel to the case.
The Georgia dumping — which EPA is investigating separately — suggests a potentially larger problem with US Technology.
The company appeared, once again, to be having difficulty turning its powder waste into viable products. According to John Socotch, the company’s long-time director of sales, the market for US Technology’s powder dried up when the construction industry tanked in 2008 and it never fully recovered.
“Ray had to continually find other means, other companies to recycle the material,” Socotch said of the company’s owner in an interview with ProPublica. He said the company tried selling military waste for brick facades and to glass companies, in order “to get rid of the material.”
In Georgia, the raceway’s owner, a local real estate developer who also owns the building in Macon that served as US Technology’s warehouse, told ProPublica that Williams personally appealed to him to dump the waste. “They were asking me about potential sources to get rid of the stuff, because it just accumulates in the warehouse,” said Tim Thornton. Thornton said Williams promised him the material wasn’t hazardous.
Ray Williams did not return repeated phone calls from ProPublica, and his lawyer declined to comment. According to Socotch, Williams sold the company’s patents, contracts and processes in April 2015 to an Ohio businessman named Anthony Giancola. Giancola’s office did not return repeated calls for comment, but arranged for Socotch to speak with ProPublica.
The sale of the company has not distanced Williams from criminal cases related to its military contracts. In June, he was indicted in a US District Court in Georgia on charges of paying a Department of Defense official $20,000 a year to tailor contracts at Robins Air Force base so that only US Technology’s bead blasting and recycling services could satisfy them.
According to the 84 counts in the indictment, between 2004 and 2013 Williams allegedly conspired with the officer, Mark Cundiff, on contracts large and small, including a $25 million supply contract for US bases and NATO members to purchase blasting materials. Cundiff has pleaded guilty in the case.
In a separate case, Missouri officials indicted Williams and US Technology Corp. in April 2017 on charges of conspiracy to illegally dispose of hazardous waste. After the Hydromex case in Mississippi, US Technology acquired Hydromex and Williams promised to properly recycle the material that had been dumped in Yazoo.
Instead, in 2013, Missouri officials determined that US Technology had trucked the material — 9 million pounds of it — over the state border and deposited it in a US Technology warehouse in Berger, Mo. Williams has pleaded not guilty in that case.
Today, US Technology Corp. has reconstituted itself under new leadership, and a slightly revised name.
In April 2015, US Technology Corp. fired all of its employees, according to Socotch. The next day the new owner, who had purchased the patented products and the recycling process from Williams, hired everyone back — including Socotch, the long-time sales director. The company is now called US Technology Media, and is located in one of Williams’ old recycling buildings.
“We’re trying to get people to understand we are not that guy,” Socotch said of Williams. “We are not that company.”
The Pentagon, it seems, is already persuaded.
Between April 2015 and June 2017, the Pentagon awarded 62 contracts to the new company, worth more than $1.9 million. Barksdale officials continued to deal with the new company — and shipped more of its waste to it — in 2016.
In late July, after EPA officials sent federal agencies a letter warning them that US Technology was under investigation, and the Pentagon banned US Technology Corp. — the old company — from any new government contracts, adding them to a list of forbidden companies. Contracts with the new company are still allowed.
Back at Barksdale, records show that the Air Force has promised the EPA it will now handle its waste on its own, registering its barrels of contaminated powder in federal and state hazardous waste databases and likely shipping them to the licensed disposal facility in Kentucky. It says it will no longer work with US Technology Media.
That, of course, leaves the question of what ever happened to decades worth of hazardous materials Williams and US Technology removed from American military installations. Socotch says much of it was properly recycled, but he declined to say how much or to document the effort.
It appears that neither the company nor the Air Force plans to take responsibility for the unprocessed waste. Whatever hazardous waste US Technology had accumulated in its warehouses, Socotch said, is still owned by US Technology Corp., Williams’ apparently now-defunct company.
“I can only speak for the new company, because the new company started fresh,” Socotch said. “I don’t know what the old company continues to do to get rid of recycled material.”
Abrahm Lustgarten is a senior environmental reporter, with a focus at the intersection of business, climate and energy.
Nina Hedevang, Razi Syed, Alex Gonzalez, Lauren Gurley, Clare Victoria Church, Alessandra Freitas, Emma Cillekens and Eli Kurland, students in the NYU Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute graduate studies program, have contributed reporting for the Bombs in Our Backyard project.
This story is part of an ongoing series examining the Pentagon’s oversight of thousands of toxic sites on American soil, and years of stewardship marked by defiance and delay.
Help us Investigate: If you have experience with or information about the military’s use of contractors and environmental cleanups, email Abrahm.Lustgarten@ProPublica.org. For additional coverage, see more from ProPublica‘s Bombs in Our Backyard series.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
Agent Orange and the Continuing Vietnam War Bill Fletcher, Jr. / Full Disclosure (Vets for Peace) & BlackVoiceNews
Various birth defects in children as a result of Agent Orange
(Summer 2017) — In a 2009 visit to Vietnam I asked a retired colonel in the Vietnam People’s Army about the notorious toxin “Agent Orange.” The colonel, who was also a former leader in a Vietnamese advocacy group for Agent Orange’s victims, spoke fluent English and was a veteran of the war with the United States.
I asked him when had the Vietnamese realized the long-term dangers associated with the Agent Orange herbicide used by the USA. His answer was as simple as it was heart-wrenching: “When the children were born,” was his response.
In an effort to defeat the National Liberation Front and North Vietnamese Army (the Vietnam People’s Army), the US concocted the idea that if it destroyed the forests and jungles that there would be nowhere for the guerrillas to hide. They, thus, unleashed a massive defoliation campaign, the results of which exist with us to this day.
Approximately 19 million gallons of herbicides were used during the war, affecting between 2 million and 4.8 million Vietnamese, along with thousands of US military personnel. Additionally, Laos and Cambodia were exposed to Agent Orange by the USA in the larger Indochina War.
Despite the original public relations associated with the use of Agent Orange aimed at making it appear safe and humane, it was chemical warfare and it is not an exaggeration to suggest that it was genocidal.
The cancers promoted by Agent Orange (affecting the Vietnamese colonel I interviewed, as a matter of fact) along with the catastrophic rise in birth defects, have not only haunted the people of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, but also the United States. Those in the US military involved in the dispersal of Agent Orange, and those who were simply exposed to it, brought the curse home.
The United States government has refused to take responsibility for the war of aggression it waged against the Vietnamese. This includes a failure to acknowledge the extent of the devastation wrought by Agent Orange. Ironically, it has also failed to assume responsibility for the totality of the horror as it affected US veterans, thus leaving the veterans and their families to too often fight this demon alone.
Congresswoman Barbara Lee recently introduced House Resolution 2519, “To direct the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to provide assistance for individuals affected by exposure to Agent Orange, and for other purposes.” In many respects, this bill is about settling some of the accounts associated with the war against Vietnam.
The US] reneged on reparations that it promised to Vietnam and to this day there remain those in the media and government who wish to whitewash this horrendous war of aggression as if it were some sort of misconstrued moral crusade.
An image taken of a baby girl 40 years after Agent Orange was last used in Vietnam.
HR 2519 takes us one step towards accepting responsibility for a war crime that was perpetrated against the Vietnamese and that, literally and figuratively, blew back in our faces as our government desperately tried to crush an opponent it should never have first been fighting.
For that reason, we need Congress to pass and fund HR 2519. HR 2519 should be understood as a down payment on a much larger bill owed to the peoples of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, and to the US veterans sent into hell.
[For more information on HR 2519 and the issue of Agent Orange, contact the “Vietnam Agent Orange Relief & Responsibility Campaign” at www.vn-agentorange.org.]
Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum, and national board member of the “Vietnam Agent Orange Relief & Responsibility Campaign.” Follow him on Facebook and www.billfletcherjr.com.
This article was first published by in April 28, 2014.
Stunted Minds and Crippled Bodies Mike Ferner / Full Disclosure @ Veterans For Peace
You may notice that Agent Orange is mentioned in more than one of the articles in this publication. That’s because the deadly killer is woven through the cruel fabric of that war and every generation of living beings that have come since.
About one million Vietnamese, including 100,000 children, are living with the after-effects of Agent Orange, now into a third generation. More than 13 million gallons of the herbicide laced with dioxin were dispersed from 1961 to 1971.
Stunted minds, crippled bodies, a lifetime of pain and social stigma along with impoverishment of families burdened with caring for the stricken are the legacies of a war crime for the ages. Genocide would not be too harsh a term for a strategy that destroyed forests and crops, poisoned water, denied food and shelter to whole regions and goes on killing and crippling generation after generation.
The US government cared no more for its own than it did for the Indochinese in that war, as shown by the decades-long struggle it took for veterans and their families to get recognition and some compensation for the same kinds of disease and deformity that struck those we targeted. More of the “unintended collateral damage” of war?
For more information about children of US veterans suffering from the multigenerational effects of Agent Orange, contact the Children of Vietnam Veterans Health Alliance, cofounded by Heather Bowser, born with webbed fingers and toes and missing her lower right limb; covvha.net.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
In Maria’s Wake,
Could Puerto Rico Go Totally Green? Harvey Wasserman / The Progressive
(September 28, 2017) — The ecological and humanitarian destruction of Puerto Rico has left the world aghast. But there is a hopeful green-powered opportunity in this disaster that could vastly improve the island’s future while offering the world a critical showcase for a sane energy future.
By all accounts Hurricane Maria has leveled much of the island, and literally left it in the dark. Puerto Rico’s electrical grid has been extensively damaged, with no prospects for a return to conventionally generated and distributed power for months to come.
In response Donald Trump has scolded the island for it’s massive debt, and waited a full week after the storm hit to lift a shipping restriction requiring all incoming goods to be carried on US-flagged ships. (That restriction is largely responsible for the island’s economic problems in the first place.)
The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority is a state-owned operation that hosts a number of solar and wind farms, as well as a network of hydroelectric dams. But the bulk of its energy supply has come from heavy industrial oil, diesel and gas burners. It also burns coal imported from Colombia at a plant in Guyama.
The fossil burners themselves apparently were left mostly undamaged by Maria. But the delivery system, a traditional network of above-ground poles and wires, has essentially been obliterated. Power authority officials say it could take at least 4-6 months to rebuild that network.
And of course, there is no guaranteeing such a pole-and-wire set-up would not then be obliterated by the next storm.
Among the most serious casualties have been the island’s hospitals. According to reports, 58 of Puerto Rico’s 69 medical facilities have been blacked out. At least two people died when intensive care units went dark.
But therein lies the opportunity. With solar panels and battery backups, every one of those hospitals could be energy self-sufficient. Throughout the U.S. such technology is now being applied at medical facilities, data processing and storage facilities, and other critical units.
According to Mark Sommer, a California-based energy expert, Puerto Rico could safeguard such critical facilities and far more quickly restore its power by letting go of the old paradigm of central-generated and distributed electricity, and moving instead to a decentralized network of green-based micro-grids.
Micro-grids are community-based networks that power smaller geographic and consumer areas than the big central grids like the one that served Puerto Rico. Mostly they are based on decentralized generation, including networks of roof-top solar panels.
As Sommer puts it: “renewably powered microgrids are a relatively simple and already mature technology that can be deployed in months rather than years and once the initial investment is recovered deliver dramatically lower energy bills.”
Because Puerto Rico is mountainous and hosts many small, remote villages, the island’s best hope for a manageable energy future is with decentralized power production in self-sustaining neighborhoods.
Built around small-scale wind and solar arrays, with battery backups protected from inevitable floods and hurricanes, Puerto Rico could protect its electricity supply from the next natural disaster while building up a healthy, low-cost energy economy.
The island is also a good source of sugar cane and other fast-growing tropical vegetation, making a strong case for bio-mass sources like ethanol. Much of Brazil’s automobile fleet runs at least partly on fuel produced by fermenting bagasse, a by-product of the country’s huge sugar cane crop.
With local financing and ownership, the prospects for a sun-drenched eco-system like Puerto Rico’s to go to renewable-based micro-grids are overwhelming. In terms of cost, immediacy, immunity from the next hurricane and long-term sustainability, this is a tragic but unique opportunity.
There is little precedent for an entire geographic entity to lose 100% of its grid. We can expect a deaf ear on this from a Trump Administration dominated by the fossil fuel and nuclear power industries.
But to rebuild Puerto Rico’s electric grid in a traditional centralized fashion would only prolong Maria’s agony while leaving the island deathly vulnerable to the next big wind storm.
Puerto Rico’s best hope for a safe, prosperous, sustainable energy future is to take control of its power supply with a mix of renewable generation, protected backup storage, and a decentralized, local-based network of community-owned microgrids.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
Hurricane Maria left Puerto Rico Devastated:
Sign the Petition Congress must indefinitely lift foreign ship restrictions on Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands to help get aid to the islands as soon as possible.
(September 30, 2017) â€“ Hurricane Maria left Puerto Rico devastated. A majority of Puerto Rico’s hospitals are without electricity, more than 95% of Puerto Rico’s cell towers are out of service, and 1.5 million people are without drinking water.
Carmen Yulin Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, is desperately pleading for hurricane assistance, saying that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) response has been slow, unorganized, and bureaucratic. Trump’s response this morning was a series of vicious tweets attacking her and Puerto Rico.
After a public outcry, Trump finally announced late this week that the United States will lift foreign ship restrictions to Puerto Rico as it did with hurricanes in Texas and Florida — but only for 10 days. The Jones Act being lifted a week late for ten days is far too little, far too late.
A majority of Puerto Rico’s hospitals are without electricity, more than 95% of Puerto Rico’s cell towers are out of service, and 1.5 million people are without drinking water.
And yet, Trump is only lifting the Jones Act for 10 days? Recovering will take much longer than this, and we must allow the resources people need to survive to arrive in a timely manner — until all recovering is complete.
Since Trump won’t act, we’re turning to Congress.
Sign the petition: Congress must indefinitely lift foreign ship restrictions on Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands to help get aid in as soon as possible.
Add your name to our petition. We will personally deliver your message to Paul Ryan’s district office in Racine and urge him to take up legislation to indefinitely remove foreign ship restrictions on Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.
Whose “Truth” Matters Most
When We Recount the War in Vietnam? Anticipating Ken Burns’ and Lynn Novick’s
forthcoming PBS Documentary, “The Vietnam War” Camillo Mac Bica / Common Dreams & Veterans For Peace
(July 23, 2017) — Much has been written and many documentaries made about the American War in Vietnam including the highly acclaimed 1983 effort by PBS, Vietnam: A Television History. Though not without its shortcomings, this 13-part documentary series was well crafted, meticulously researched, carefully balanced and thought-provoking.
In September 2017, PBS will air the highly anticipated — seemingly touted as the definitive documentary — about the Vietnam War, directed by respected documentarians Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. The goal of this 10-episode, 18-hour project is, according to the directors, to “create a film everyone could embrace” and to provide the viewer with information and insights that are “new and revelatory.” Just as importantly, they intend the film to provide the impetus and parameters for a much-needed national conversation about this controversial and divisive period in American history.
The film will be accompanied by an unprecedented outreach and public engagement program, providing opportunities for communities to participate in a national conversation about what happened during the Vietnam War, what went wrong and what lessons are to be learned. In addition, there will be a robust interactive website and an educational initiative designed to engage teachers and students in multiple platforms.
In an interview and discussion of the documentary on Detroit Public TV, Burns describes what he hopes to accomplish as a filmmaker, “Our job is to tell a good story.”
In response and in praise of Burns’ work, the interviewer offers his view of documentary. “The story that filmmakers like yourself, the story that storytellers create, are the framework that allows us to understand the truth because the truth is too unfathomable to take in all at once.” To which Burns quickly adds, “And there are many truths.”
My hope is that Burns and Novick, in “creating their story” of the Vietnam War, will demonstrate the same commitment to truth and objectivity as did their PBS predecessor. That they will resist the urge and the more than subtle pressure from what many historians and veterans see as a Government sponsored effort to sanitize and mythologize the US involvement in this tragic war, as illustrated in President Barack Obama’s proclamation establishing March 29 as Vietnam Veterans Day.
“The Vietnam War is a story of service members of different backgrounds, colors, and creeds who came together to complete a daunting mission. It is a story of Americans from every corner of our Nation who left the warmth of family to serve the country they loved. It is a story of patriots who braved the line of fire, who cast themselves into harm’s way to save a friend, who fought hour after hour, day after day to preserve the liberties we hold dear.”
Though the documentary has yet to be released in its entirety, based upon Burns’ and Novick’s recent New York Times op-ed, several interviews with the filmmakers, and the “Special Preview” and numerous video clips from the series posted at the Documentary’s PBS website, there is, in my view, serious grounds for concern.
In their op-ed, Burns and Novick expressed their skepticism regarding whether, despite a decade of careful research and analysis and 18 hours of documentary, viewers will come away with a greater, more accurate understanding of the war:
There is no simple or single truth to be extracted from the Vietnam War. Many questions remain unanswerable. But if, with open minds and open hearts, we can consider this complex event from many perspectives and recognize more than one truth, perhaps we can stop fighting over how the war should be remembered and focus instead on what it can teach us about courage, patriotism, resilience, forgiveness and, ultimately, reconciliation.
After nearly 50 years of hindsight, building on the work of previous researchers, as well as having access to new, comprehensive and formerly unavailable information, archives and recordings, to acknowledge that after 18 hours of documentary, “many questions remain unanswered,” is disappointing and does not inspire confidence in the skill, thoroughness and research capabilities of the documentarians.
More troublesome, perhaps, is the claim that “we must recognize more than one truth,” as it smacks of perspectivism, the view that truth is relative and the opinions of individuals with different, even opposing, viewpoints are equally valid. This would explain, I think, why Burns and Novick can claim to have created “a film everyone could embrace.” If the premise of the documentary is that truth is perspectival, relative not objective, then one may argue for the validity of accepting the “truth” that most benefits us, that makes us look just, courageous, patriotic, resilient and exceptional.
And if, as the PBS interviewer notes, truth is “unfathomable” until it is placed in the proper framework, truth becomes the perspective of the filmmakers and how they choose to “create” and fashion the “story.”
Documentary as Therapy
Perhaps I am being overly critical and expecting too much. Documentary is a human endeavor after all, and despite the best of intentions, inevitably expresses the viewpoint and biases, however implicit, of the filmmakers. Expectations of objectivity, therefore, may be unrealistic.
Like with much historical reporting, memoirs and documentaries, there is a tendency on the part of the historian, writer and documentarian, intentionally or not, to tread lightly when recording and analyzing the motives of their political leaders and the actions of their countrymen so as not to offend perspective readers or viewers by appearing unpatriotic and disrespectful of the sacrifices of members of the military who “fought hour after hour, day after day to preserve the liberties we hold dear.”
Burns and Novick, not insensitive to how their nation and countrymen are portrayed, indicated their hope that their documentary will provide the impetus for a much-needed national reconciliation between supporters and critics of the war and, perhaps more importantly, contributes to the healing of veterans who suffered and sacrificed so much on behalf of their country.
“If we are to begin the process of healing, we must first honor the courage, heroism, and sacrifice of those who served and those who died, not just as we do today, on Memorial Day, but every day.”
Burns’ and Novick’s expectation that their documentary be therapeutic and their belief that veteran healing is contingent upon honoring their courage, heroism, and sacrifice is misguided on so many levels. My fear is, of course, that this misunderstanding of the wounds of war, specifically PTSD and Moral Injury,  will inform, influence and bias their presentation of fact.
Documentary and history is not an established therapeutic modality, necessarily suited to effect healing and reconciliation. Rather, the goal and function of the historian and documentarian, as generally understood, is to accurately record the relevant issues and events as they occurred — in this case, the causes and justification for the war, why and how the belligerents became involved, the manner in which the war was conducted, etc.
It may be the case that accurate, historical reporting and clarification of what actually transpired may, as a collateral effect, be therapeutic by putting the war and the experience into perspective and enabling veterans and non-veterans alike to understand what transpired and thereby determine and come to grips with their personal responsibility and culpability, if any, for the horrors of the war. But this therapeutic consequence of documentary and history, should it occur, is a secondary, not the primary, intended effect of such an undertaking.
Part of the Solution or Part of the Problem
In the New York Times op-ed, Burns and Novick set the stage for their discussion of the Vietnam War by referencing an address delivered by President Gerald Ford at Tulane University in New Orleans. They write: “As the president spoke, more than 100,000 North Vietnamese troops were approaching Saigon, having overrun almost all of South Vietnam in just three months. Thirty years after the United States first became involved in Southeast Asia and 10 years after the Marines landed at Danang, the ill-fated country for which more than 58,000 Americans had died was on the verge of defeat.”
Referencing the sacrifice of some 58,000 of its own citizens, ignoring completely the deaths of over 3 million Vietnamese, and the description of the US’s involvement in the war as an ill-fated effort to save South Vietnam from invading hordes of North Vietnamese Communists, illustrates a not so tacit American bias and begs the historical question regarding why the war was fought, its legitimacy, and inevitable outcome.
Objectivity (or at least neutrality) in documentary requires that we not accept without question, assumptions that are fundamental to what the documentary is alleging to ascertain — the legitimacy of South Vietnam as a nation and US’s claim of justification for its involvement in the war.
In truth, South Vietnam was an illegal construct made possible by the intervention of the United States in violation of the provisions of the Geneva Accords that forbade foreign intervention during the interim period of national reconciliation following the defeat of the American funded French colonialists at Dien Bien Phu and required a democratic election to unite all of Vietnam within two years — an election that was prevented from occurring by Saigon’s puppet regime and its US overlords for fear that Ho Chi Minh would emerge victorious. Consequently, rather than to describe the North Vietnamese as “overrunning” an “ill-fated independent country,” it would be more historically accurate, not merely a different perspective, to describe the end of hostilities as the liberation of the occupied south.
Since Burns and Novick chose to quote noted Vietnamese writer Viet Thanh Nguyen in their op-ed, allow me to further illustrate Nguyen’s commentary on remembering the war. He writes: Emotion and ethnocentrism are key to the memory industry as it turns wars and experiences into sacred objects and soldiers into untouchable mascots of memory. 
The validity of Nguyen’s assessment of how the war is remembered and memory appropriated to enhance a political agenda and subvert the historical record is illustrated by one veteran’s testimony posted on the documentary website. Vincent Okamoto, in remembering his experiences as an infantry company commander in Vietnam, extolls the merits of the soldiers under his command.
“Nineteen-year-old high school dropouts from the lowest socioeconomic rung of American society,” he remembered. “They weren’t going be rewarded for their service in Vietnam. And yet, their infinite patience, their loyalty to each other, their courage under fire, was just phenomenal. And you would ask yourself: How does America produce young men like this?”
Okamoto’s admiration for the men he led in combat is certainly understandable. What must be pointed out, however, is that in most cases, the “Nineteen-year-old high school dropouts from the lowest socioeconomic rung of American society” of which Okamoto speaks, did not choose to fight for their survival in a land they never knew existed, for a cause they didn’t (and if they survived probably still don’t) understand.
Nor did their behavior in combat demonstrate nobility and honor as is implied, but, rather, the tragedy of being young and poor in the US. It indicates as well the profound inadequacies of the country’s educational system, the unfairness of conscription (now the economic draft), the effectiveness of military training and of surviving the battlefield in developing small unit cohesion (the brotherhood/sisterhood of the warrior), and in conditioning soldiers who will kill.
Yes, it is true that patience, loyalty to comrades, and courage under fire, may in some instances, as implied by Mr. Okamoto, be character traits to be admired but only in those whose goals and purposes are just and moral. I think it safe to say that the patience, loyalty and courage in a terrorist, for example, would not be considered virtues.
Though I hope otherwise, judging by what Burns and Novick have said in their op-ed and by what is illustrated by the film clips posted on their website, I question whether issues such as these will be explored in any fair and detailed way in the forthcoming documentary despite their relevance to responding to Mr. Okamoto’s question and, perhaps more importantly, to our understanding of the American war in Vietnam and of US’s propensity for war in general.
The filmmakers’ mythological bias and appropriation of memory in “telling their story,” is further corroborated by an interview with the “other,” also featured on the documentary’s website, probably as an attempt to demonstrate balance. A former member of the Vietcong, no doubt after having watched his comrades mutilated and killed by US soldiers, commented upon how, in observing his enemies from a safe distance, he was surprised and impressed by their humanity and compassion, obviously not toward him and his comrades however.
The Legacy of the American War in Vietnam
For more than a generation, instead of forging a path to reconciliation, we have allowed the wounds the war inflicted on our nation, our politics and our families to fester. The troubles that trouble us today — alienation, resentment, and cynicism; mistrust of our government and one another; breakdown of civil discourse and civic institutions; conflicts over ethnicity and class; lack of accountability in powerful institutions — so many of these seeds were sown during the Vietnam War.
While I believe Burns’ and Novick’s assessment of the state of our nation is accurate, what they seem not to realize is that this tragic legacy of the war in Vietnam can be explained in large measure not by a lack of patriotism or the failure of this nation to accord veterans the nobility and honor they so richly deserve. Rather, “the troubles that trouble us today” are a direct consequence of our reluctance to admit the hard truth of US criminality and the appropriation of memory to portray this nation’s involvement and our soldier’s behavior as honorable and noble.  Nguyen observes: Any side in a conflict needs . . . the ability to see not only the flaws of our enemies and others but our own fundamentally flawed character. Without this mutual recognition, a genuine reconciliation will be difficult to achieve.
Tragically, as has been the case, not only does this mythology prevent reconciliation, it may well be counterproductive to veteran healing by providing a refuge of sorts in which veterans may avoid facing the reality of their experiences — healing requires that we move beyond illusion and mythology. Just as tragically, it has allowed our leaders to ignore the lessons of Vietnam, to again portray militarism and war as palatable, to entice another generation of young people to enlist in the military, and to fight perpetual wars of choice in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.
After much research as a philosopher studying the institution of war and even more soul-searching and introspection as a veteran striving to come to grips with the Vietnam War experience, I have realized that to restore the moral character of this nation and to achieve a measure of normalcy in my life — I hesitate to speak of healing as I am not at all certain that healing is possible — what is required is not more of the mythology of honor, nobility, courage, and heroism, as Burns and Novick suggests.
Rather, we must have the courage to admit the truth, however frightening and awful it may be, regarding the immorality and illegality of the war and then to accept national (and perhaps personal) responsibility and culpability for the injury and death of millions of Vietnamese, Laotian, and Cambodian people. We can, as Burns suggests, finally stop fighting over how the war should be remembered and reconcile our differences, but only if we realize that there are not “many truths” and “alternative facts,” with which to make our involvement and our defeat more palatable. This is what history requires and what the documentary should work to clarify.
Despite the reservations I have expressed in this article, my hope is, of course, that, when viewed in its entirety, this documentary will prove more than propaganda and mythology intended to restore patriotism, this nation’s resilience, exceptionalism, and unity of purpose for further militarism and war.
Regardless of whether my hope is realized, I will use this documentary in my course on war this fall semester, whether it is to provide insight and a historical basis for understanding the nature of war in general and of the Vietnam War in particular, or to demonstrate the manner in which historians and artists may contribute to the appropriation of memory and the distortion of truth in behalf of furthering the interests of the corrupt, the greedy, and the powerful. My hope is it will be the former.
 Lien-Hang T. Nguyen has recently been given unprecedented access by the Vietnam Ministry of Foreign Affairs to material from hitherto, secret governmental archives. See “Hanoi’s War: An International History of the War for Peace in Vietnam, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 2012.
 See my “Beyond PTSD: The Moral Casualties of War;” Gnosis Press, New York, 2016.
 Nguyen, Viet Thanh. Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2016, p. 13.
 For a detailed analysis of the conduct of many soldiers, see Turse, Nick. 2013. “Kill anything that moves: the real American war in Vietnam.” New York: Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt and Co.
 “Nothing Ever Dies,” p. 82.
 See my, “Worthy of Gratitude? Why Veterans May Not Want to be Thanked for their “Service” in War,” Gnosis Press, New York, 2015
Dr. Camillo “Mac” Bica, Ph.D., is a professor of philosophy at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. Dr. Bica is a former Marine Corps Officer, Vietnam Veteran, and the Coordinator of the Long Island Chapter of Veterans for Peace. He can be contacted through his website at http://www.camillobica.com.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License
We Can’t Be Silent on Climate Change or
The Unsustainability of Capitalist System George Monbiot / Democracy Now!
(August 31, 2017) — While Houston continues to deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, we look at the media silence on the human contribution to the record-breaking storm. British journalist and author George Monbiot wrote that despite 2016 being the hottest year on record, the combined coverage during the evening and Sunday news programs on the main television networks amounted to a total of 50 minutes in all of last year.
“Our greatest predicament, the issue that will define our lives, has been blotted from the publicâ€™s mind,” he wrote. The silence has been even more resounding on climate-related disasters in areas of the world where populations are more vulnerable — most recently, on the devastating floods across the globe, from Niger to South Asia. Over the past month, more than 1,200 people have died amid flooding in Bangladesh, Nepal and India.
This yearâ€™s monsoon season has brought torrential downpours that have submerged wide swaths of South Asia, destroying tens of thousands of homes, schools and hospitals. Meanwhile, in Niger, West Africa, thousands of people have been ordered to leave their homes in the capital Niamey after several days of heavy downpours. We speak with Monbiot, columnist at The Guardian. His book, “Out of the Wreckage: A New Politics for an Age of Crisis,” will be out this week.
Transcript This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: While Houston continues to deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, we look at the media silence on the human contribution to it. Our next guest writes that despite 2016 being the hottest year on record, with several climate-related disasters in the US alone, the combined coverage during the evening and Sunday news programs on the main television networks amounted to a total of 50 minutes in all of last year.
British journalist and author George Monbiot writes, quote, “Our greatest predicament, the issue that will define our lives, has been blotted from the publicâ€™s mind.”
The silence has been even more resounding on climate-related disasters in areas of the world where populations are more vulnerable, most recently on the devastating floods across the globe, from Niger to South Asia. Following days of torrential rain, at least seven people are dead and as many as 40 feared trapped, after a building collapsed in Mumbai, Indiaâ€™s financial capital.
The storm reached Pakistan Thursday, where a state of emergency has been declared in Karachi, the countryâ€™s largest city, as heavy rains inundated several low-lying areas.
AMY GOODMAN: Over the past month, more than 1,200 people have died in flooding in Bangladesh, Nepal and India. This yearâ€™s monsoon season has brought torrential downpours that have submerged wide swaths of South Asia, destroying tens of thousands of homes, schools and hospitals, affecting up to 40 million people.
Meanwhile, in Niger, West Africa, thousands of people have been ordered to leave their homes in the capital after several days of heavy downpours. More than 40 people have died since the rainy season began in June.
We go now to Oxford in Britain to speak to George Monbiot. Heâ€™s a columnist with The Guardian. His book, Out of the Wreckage: A New Politics for an Age of Crisis, is out this week. His latest article for The Guardian is headlined “Why are the crucial questions about Hurricane Harvey not being asked?” [You can read Monbiot’s complete article following the Democracy Now! report â€“ EAW]
George Monbiot, welcome back to Democracy Now! Well, answer your question.
GEORGE MONBIOT: Well, because to ask those questions is to challenge everything. Itâ€™s to challenge not just Donald Trump, not just current environmental policy. Itâ€™s to challenge the entire political and economic system. And it is to recognize that the system which we tell ourselves is the best system you could possibly have, of neoliberal capitalism, which will deliver the optimum outcomes and the best of all possible worlds, actually is destined to push us towards catastrophe, and unless we replace that system with a better one, with something really quite different, then it will destroy us. Instead of making us more prosperous, more comfortable, it will rip apart everything that makes our lives worth living, and result in the deaths of very large numbers of people.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, quite apart from the fact, George, that the issue of climate change is not mentioned in the media, as you write in your article, you also think that the term “climate change” is misleading, and the term that should be used is “climate breakdown.” Could you explain why that is?
GEORGE MONBIOT: Well, “climate change” is a curiously bland term to describe our greatest crisis, our huge human predicament, that will inevitably lead to catastrophe if we donâ€™t take drastic action to prevent it. Itâ€™s a bit like calling a foreign invasion “unexpected guests.” Itâ€™s that crazily bland, for something which is going to have such an enormous impact on our lives, and, as weâ€™ve just been hearing, has already had such an enormous impact on many peopleâ€™s lives around the world.
And unless you use the right language to describe what youâ€™re talking about, you mislead people as to what the likely implications of that are. And by talking about climate change as if it — “You know, it could be a good thing, could be a bad thing, who knows? It might be a neutral thing. You know, we like a bit of climate change, donâ€™t we? We like it when the winter gives way to summer” — we suggest that this huge catastrophe might not be a catastrophe at all. I donâ€™t think “climate breakdown” is the perfect term. I canâ€™t quite put my finger on the right term, but I think it comes a lot closer to what we need to be saying than “climate change” does.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you say to those who say you cannot link this one hurricane or storm to climate change or climate chaos, climate breakdown, as you describe it?
GEORGE MONBIOT: I would say you cannot not link it. We have, so far, 1 degree centigrade of global warming, and that now affects every single weather event on Earth, just like the 4 degrees centigrade of global warming that followed the Ice Age — it was 4 degrees between the last Ice Age and the 19th century — affects every single weather event on Earth. And we wouldnâ€™t have warm summers without that 4 degree of warming. With that extra 1 degree of warming, that creates further implications for every single weather event on Earth.
And for hurricanes, the link is crystal clear. There are three ways in which the impact of hurricanes is affected by that 1 degree of warming. First of all, sea levels are higher. So coastal cities, like Houston, like Port Arthur, get — are more likely to be hit by storm surges as a result of those higher sea levels, as we were hearing from your wonderful guest Hilton Kelley in the last segment.
Number two, the sea is warmer. The temperature of the sea is higher, and that can enhance the intensity of the storm, because it puts more energy into the storm. The storm is picking up energy from those warmer waters.
And number three, the air itself is warmer. And warmer air holds more moisture than cooler air. And that means that you can have much more intense rainfall events. So, what we see here is that itâ€™s impossible for the hurricane not to have been affected by climate breakdown.
Now, of course, what we canâ€™t say is there would have been no hurricane if it werenâ€™t for climate breakdown; if it werenâ€™t for the human contribution, for the fossil fuels weâ€™ve been burning, there wouldnâ€™t have been a hurricane. Of course there were hurricanes in the past. What we can say is that this hurricane, whether or not it was caused by the human contribution, was affected by the human contribution. That is unequivocal.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, nevertheless, George, youâ€™ve been accused, as, no doubt, have others, of politicizing Hurricane Harvey and events like it, extreme weather events like it, by linking it to climate change.
GEORGE MONBIOT: Yes. And now, in fact, the Environmental Protection Agency itself has accused climate scientists in the U.S. of politicizing it by mentioning climate change or climate breakdown. Itâ€™s an extraordinary thing. Itâ€™s clear to me that by not mentioning it, you are politicizing this issue.
The linkage is so clear, it is so obvious, that when you donâ€™t talk about it, youâ€™re taking a decision, you are taking a position. And the position is, weâ€™re not going to talk about climate change, weâ€™re not going to talk about climate breakdown.
That is a political decision. And itâ€™s a highly charged political decision, which reflects powerful interests. It reflects the kind of interests weâ€™ve just been hearing about, the oil refineries and the oil rigs, which themselves have been hit by Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath — an extraordinary irony, something which pulls up into stark relief the issue that weâ€™re dealing with, but just is not being discussed at all.
And those people, the people who run those companies, they are responsible for shutting down all discussion of climate breakdown so that we donâ€™t go there, we donâ€™t talk about it. And journalists and editors, with the glowing exception of yourselves, they have a powerful instinct not to go there. Itâ€™s not that they wake up in the morning and say, “Donâ€™t talk about climate change. I mustnâ€™t talk about climate change. Whatever I do, donâ€™t mention climate change.”
They donâ€™t need to say that. Itâ€™s already in their guts. They have a visceral sense that if you go there, then you open up everything. You open Pandoraâ€™s box, and you open up a discussion of whether capitalism is working. You open up a discussion of whether the political system is working. You open up a discussion of what the worldâ€™s most powerful actors, including the fossil fuel companies, are doing to the rest of the worldâ€™s people.
And to go there, you put everything at risk. You put your career at risk. You put your piece of mind at risk. You put the good opinion of your colleagues at risk. To challenge everything is to become an outcast.
AMY GOODMAN: Weâ€™re talking to George Monbiot, the British journalist and author. President Trump just went to Texas, and heâ€™s going back. When he landed, he didnâ€™t address the victims at all. He didnâ€™t talk about the victims. But he did say, about the people around him, “What a crowd! What a turnout!”
Now, President Trump is a proud climate change denier, as is the governor of Texas, Governor Abbott. You point out that Trump denying human-driven global warming is interesting given that he built a wall around his golf resort in Ireland to protect it from the rising seas. Talk more about this.
GEORGE MONBIOT: Heâ€™s trying. He hasnâ€™t yet succeeded, but heâ€™s applying for permission. His company is trying to build a sea wall around his golf resort, because it knows that the seas are rising and his golf resort is now at risk. And similarly, in the Gulf of Mexico, the oil companies keep raising the height of their oil platforms.
In the 1960s, they were 40 feet above sea level. Then, in the 1990s, they were 70 feet. Today, they are 91 feet above sea level. And they have raised those platforms because they know the sea level is rising and storms are intensifying. And they have done so to get the oil platforms out of the way of those impacts caused by climate breakdown, caused by the oil companies themselves.
So, though those same oil companies, particularly ExxonMobil, have poured millions of dollars into paying professional liars to deny climate change across the media and across social media, they themselves know that itâ€™s happening, and theyâ€™re taking precautions to protect themselves against it.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, George, Iâ€™d like to turn to another issue that you raise in the piece. You talk specifically about the fact that the U.S. media have failed to cover climate breakdown-related disasters in the U.S. itself, but thereâ€™s even greater silence on climate disasters in the rest of the world. I mean, weâ€™ve just heard, in India, Nepal and Bangladesh, over 1,200 people have died.
There are floods in Niger. Now, in Karachi, a state of emergency has been declared. So, can you talk about that, the media silence on that? And whatâ€™s actually happening in these places where people are so much more vulnerable than here?
GEORGE MONBIOT: Itâ€™s an extraordinary thing to contemplate, isnâ€™t it? That the part of the world worst hit by current flooding is not actually Texas.
Disastrous, catastrophic as it is in Texas, it is now even worse particularly in India and Bangladesh and Nepal, where weâ€™re seeing huge, horrendous levels of flooding, 40 million people affected by it, 1,200 people dead, basically the complete shutdown of the economy, of public life, of private life across a great swathe of those countries. And yet, thereâ€™s almost media silence throughout the rich world.
This week in the U.K., weâ€™ve been hearing a lot about Bangladesh. Bangladesh has been in the headlines for the last two days, and thereâ€™s been loads of commentary written about it. Why is that? Because Bangladesh won the cricket against Australia. Iâ€™m quite serious. This is a country in which 6.9 million people are now displaced by flooding, in which a third of the country is underwater, in which hundreds have died.
We donâ€™t yet know how many, because it will be a long time before that count is ever made, if it is made at all. Loads of children can no longer go to school. Itâ€™s a total disruption, devastation of that country. And finally, it features in the news, because of the cricket.
And again, it is this politically driven silence, because if we were to consider what is going on in the rest of the world, and if we were to consider our contribution to what is going on in the rest of the world — and thereâ€™s this terrible irony about climate change that the main perpetrators of it, with the exception of those refineries and rigs in the Gulf, in the Gulf of Mexico and in Texas — generally, the main perpetrators are those who are hit least and last, whereas people who have made very little contribution to climate breakdown are hit first and worst, like the people of Bangladesh, who have a tiny carbon footprint.
Were we to really bring this to the front of our consciousness, as we should, it would necessitate a major change in the way we run our societies, a major change in the way we run our economies and a major change in the way we live. So that is why we do not talk about it. Or if we talk about it, we do so tangentially, or we relate it as a natural disaster, another act of God, a terrible thing which has happened to those people: “Poor people. Send them some money. We feel so sorry for them, but we wash our hands of it. Thereâ€™s nothing we can do.”
AMY GOODMAN: George Monbiot, Iâ€™m embarrassed to say —
GEORGE MONBIOT: As it happens —
AMY GOODMAN: We just have a minute, but can you give us a hint of what that change would look like?
GEORGE MONBIOT: Right. We need a radical change, driven by the need to prevent this catastrophe, to both politics and economics. And an economic system which depends on perpetual growth on a finite planet is destined to deliver disaster.
We need a new economy built around the commons, built around community ownership of local resources, inalienable ownership of those resources, which are not expected to deliver more and more and more money, but are expected to deliver continued and steady prosperity to the people of those communities and the people of this planet.
The system we have at the moment, which is about accumulation, the accumulation of capital, the continuation of growth, in a planet which does not itself grow, that system is destined to push us over the cliff.
AMY GOODMAN: George Monbiot, we want to thank you so much for being with us, British journalist, author, columnist with The Guardian. His book, Out of the Wreckage: A New Politics for an Age of Crisis, will be out this week. His latest piece for The Guardian, weâ€™ll link to, “Why are the crucial questions about Hurricane Harvey not being asked?” And weâ€™ll have you back on to talk more fully about your ideas and your latest book, George. Thanks so much for joining us from Oxford, England.
Coming up, another suspect in the brutal beating of a young African-American man, Deandre Harris, during the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville has been arrested. Why has it taken so long, when the beating was caught on tape? Stay with us.
The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
(August 31, 2017) — It is not only Donald Trumpâ€™s government that censors the discussion of climate change; it is the entire body of polite opinion. This is why, though the links are clear and obvious, most reports on Hurricane Harvey have made no mention of the human contribution to it.
In 2016 the US elected a president who believes that human-driven global warming is a hoax. It was the hottest year on record, in which the US was hammered by a series of climate-related disasters.
Yet the total combined coverage for the entire year on the evening and Sunday news programmes on ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox News amounted to 50 minutes. Our greatest predicament, the issue that will define our lives, has been blotted from the publicâ€™s mind.
This is not an accident. But nor (with the exception of Fox News) is it likely to be a matter of policy. It reflects a deeply ingrained and scarcely conscious self-censorship. Reporters and editors ignore the subject because they have an instinct for avoiding trouble.
To talk about climate breakdown (which in my view is a better term than the curiously bland labels we attach to this crisis) is to question not only Trump, not only current environmental policy, not only current economic policy — but the entire political and economic system.
It is to expose a programme that relies on robbing the future to fuel the present, that demands perpetual growth on a finite planet. It is to challenge the very basis of capitalism; to inform us that our lives are dominated by a system that cannot be sustained — a system that is destined, if it is not replaced, to destroy everything.
To claim there is no link between climate breakdown and the severity of Hurricane Harvey is like claiming there is no link between the warm summer we have experienced and the end of the last ice age.
Every aspect of our weather is affected by the fact that global temperatures rose by about 4C between the ice age and the 19th century. And every aspect of our weather is affected by the 1C of global warming caused by human activities. While no weather event can be blamed solely on human-driven warming, none is unaffected by it.
We know that the severity and impact of hurricanes on coastal cities is exacerbated by at least two factors: higher sea levels, caused primarily by the thermal expansion of seawater; and greater storm intensity, caused by higher sea temperatures and the ability of warm air to hold more water than cold air.
Before it reached the Gulf of Mexico, Harvey had been demoted from a tropical storm to a tropical wave. But as it reached the Gulf, where temperatures this month have been far above average, it was upgraded first to a tropical depression, then to a category one hurricane.
It might have been expected to weaken as it approached the coast, as hurricanes churn the sea, bringing cooler waters to the surface. But the water it brought up from 100 metres and more was also unusually warm. By the time it reached land, Harvey had intensified to a category four hurricane.
We were warned about this. In June, for instance, Robert Kopp, a professor of Earth sciences, predicted: “In the absence of major efforts to reduce emissions and strengthen resilience, the Gulf Coast will take a massive hit. Its exposure to sea-level rise — made worse by potentially stronger hurricanes — poses a major risk to its communities.”
To raise this issue, Iâ€™ve been told on social media, is to politicise Hurricane Harvey. It is an insult to the victims and a distraction from their urgent need. The proper time to discuss it is when people have rebuilt their homes, and scientists have been able to conduct an analysis of just how great the contribution from climate breakdown might have been.
In other words, talk about it only when itâ€™s out of the news. When researchers determined, nine years on, that human activity had made a significant contribution to Hurricane Katrina, the information scarcely registered.
I believe it is the silence thatâ€™s political. To report the storm as if it were an entirely natural phenomenon, like last weekâ€™s eclipse of the sun, is to take a position. By failing to make the obvious link and talk about climate breakdown, media organisations ensure our greatest challenge goes unanswered. They help push the world towards catastrophe.
Hurricane Harvey offers a glimpse of a likely global future; a future whose average temperatures are as different from ours as ours are from those of the last ice age. It is a future in which emergency becomes the norm, and no state has the capacity to respond.
It is a future in which, as a paper in the journal Environmental Research Letters notes, disasters like Houstonâ€™s occur in some cities several times a year. It is a future that, for people in countries such as Bangladesh, has already arrived, almost unremarked on by the rich worldâ€™s media. It is the act of not talking that makes this nightmare likely to materialise.
In Texas, the connection could scarcely be more apparent. The storm ripped through the oil fields, forcing rigs and refineries to shut down, including those owned by some of the 25 companies that have produced more than half the greenhouse gas emissions humans have released since the start of the Industrial Revolution. Hurricane Harvey has devastated a place in which climate breakdown is generated, and in which the policies that prevent it from being addressed are formulated.
Like Trump, who denies human-driven global warming but who wants to build a wall around his golf resort in Ireland to protect it from the rising seas, these companies, some of which have spent millions sponsoring climate deniers, have progressively raised the height of their platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, in response to warnings about higher seas and stronger storms. They have grown from 40ft above sea level in 1940, to 70ft in the 1990s, to 91ft today.
This is not, however, a story of mortal justice. In Houston, as everywhere else, it is generally the poorer communities, least responsible for the problem, who are hit first and hit worst. But the connection between cause and effect should appeal to even the slowest minds.
The problem is not confined to the US. Across the world, the issue that hangs over every aspect of our lives is marginalised, except on the rare occasions where world leaders gather to discuss it in sombre tones (then sombrely agree to do almost nothing), whereupon the instinct to follow the machinations of power overrides the instinct to avoid a troubling subject. When they do cover the issue, they tend to mangle it.
In the UK, the BBC this month again invited the climate-change denier Nigel Lawson on to the Today programme, in the mistaken belief that impartiality requires a balance between correct facts and false ones. The broadcaster seldom makes such a mess of other topics, because it takes them more seriously.
When Trumpâ€™s enforcers instruct officials and scientists to purge any mention of climate change from their publications, we are scandalised. But when the media does it, without the need for a memo, we let it pass.
This censorship is invisible even to the perpetrators, woven into the fabric of organisations that are constitutionally destined to leave the major questions of our times unasked. To acknowledge this issue is to challenge everything. To challenge everything is to become an outcast.
George Monbiot is a Guardian columnist
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US Foreign Military Bases Aren’t for “Defense” Thomas Knapp / AntiWar.com & CounterPunch
(August 2, 2017) — “US foreign military bases are the principal instruments of imperial global domination and environmental damage through wars of aggression and occupation.” That’s the unifying claim of the Coalition Against US Foreign Military Bases (noforeignbases.org), and it’s true as far as it goes.
But as a signer of the Coalition’s endorsement form, I think it’s worth taking the argument a bit further. The maintenance of nearly 1,000 US military bases on foreign soil isn’t just a nightmare for peaceniks. It’s also also an objective threat to US national security.
A reasonable definition of “national defense,” it seems to me, is the maintenance of sufficient weaponry and trained military personnel to protect a country from, and effectively retaliate against, foreign attacks. The existence of US bases abroad runs counter to the defensive element of that mission and only very poorly supports the retaliatory part.
Defensively, scattering US military might piecemeal around the world — especially in countries where the populace resents that military presence — multiplies the number of vulnerable American targets.
Each base must have its own separate security apparatus for immediate defense, and must maintain (or at least hope for) an ability to reinforce and resupply from elsewhere in the event of sustained attack. That makes the scattered US forces more, not less, vulnerable.
When it comes to retaliation and ongoing operations, US foreign bases are stationary rather than mobile and, in the event of war, all of them — not just the ones engaged in offensive missions — have to waste resources on their own security that could otherwise be put into those missions.
They’re also redundant. The US already possesses permanent, and mobile, forces far better suited to projecting force over the horizon to every corner of the planet on demand: Its Carrier Strike Groups, of which there are 11 and each of which allegedly disposes of more firepower than that expended by all sides over the entire course of World War Two.
The US keeps these mighty naval forces constantly on the move or on station in various parts of the world and can put one or more such groups off any coastline in a matter of days.
The purposes of foreign US military bases are partly aggressive. Our politicians like the idea that everything happening everywhere is their business.
They’re also partly financial. The main purpose of the US “defense” establishment since World War Two has been to move as much money as possible from your pockets to the bank accounts of politically connected “defense” contractors. Foreign bases are an easy way to blow large amounts of money in precisely that way.
Shutting down those foreign bases and bringing the troops home are essential first steps in creating an actual national defense.
Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.
Coalition Against US Foreign Military Bases All US Foreign Military Bases Must Be Closed! No Foreign Bases.org
ACTION: Coalition Against US Foreign Military Bases
We, the undersigned peace, justice and environmental organizations, and individuals, endorse the following Points of Unity and commit ourselves to working together by forming a Coalition Against US Foreign Military Bases, with the goal of raising public awareness and organizing non-violent mass resistance against US foreign military bases.
While we may have our differences on other issues, we all agree that US foreign military bases are the principal instruments of imperial global domination and environmental damage through wars of aggression and occupation, and that the closure of US foreign military bases is one of the first necessary steps toward a just, peaceful and sustainable world. Our belief in the urgency of this necessary step is based on the following facts:
1. While we are opposed to all foreign military bases, we do recognize that the United States maintains the highest number of military bases outside its territory, estimated at almost 1000 (95% of all foreign military bases in the world). Presently, there are US military bases in every Persian Gulf country except Iran.
2. In addition, the United States has 19 Naval air carriers (and 15 more planned), each as part of a Carrier Strike Group, composed of roughly 7,500 personnel, and a carrier air wing of 65 to 70 aircraft — each of which can be considered a floating military base.
3. These bases are centers of aggressive military actions, threats of political and economic expansion, sabotage and espionage, and crimes against local populations. In addition, these military bases are the largest users of fossil fuel in the world, heavily contributing to environmental degradation.
4. The annual cost of these bases to the American taxpayers is approximately $156 billion. The support of US foreign military bases drains funds that can be used to fund human needs and enable our cities and States to provide necessary services for the people.
5. This has made the US a more militarized society and has led to increased tensions between the US and the rest of the world. Stationed throughout the world, almost 1000 in number, US foreign military bases are symbols of the ability of the United States to intrude in the lives of sovereign nations and peoples.
6. Many individual national coalitions — for example, Okinawa, Italy, Jeju Island Korea, Diego Garcia, Cyprus, Greece, and Germany — are demanding closure of bases on their territory. The base that the US has illegally occupied the longest, for over a century, is Guantanamo Bay, whose existence constitutes an imposition of the empire and a violation of International Law. Since 1959 the government and people of Cuba have demanded that the government of the US return the Guantanamo territory to Cuba.
US foreign military bases are NOT in defense of US national, or global security. They are the military expression of US intrusion in the lives of sovereign countries on behalf of the dominant financial, political, and military interests of the ruling elite.
Whether invited in or not by domestic interests that have agreed to be junior partners, no country, no peoples, no government, can claim to be able to make decisions totally in the interest of their people, with foreign troops on their soil representing interests antagonistic to the national purpose.
We must all unite to actively oppose the existence of US foreign military bases and call for their immediate closure. We invite all forces of peace, social and environmental justice to join us in our renewed effort to achieve this shared goal.
Signed (in alphabetical order):
— Bahman Azad, US Peace Council
— Ajamu Baraka, Black Alliance for Peace
— Medea Benjamin, CODEPINK
— Leah Bolger, World Beyond War
— Sara Flounders, International Action Center
— Bruce Gagnon, Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space
— Tarak Kauff, Veterans For Peace
— Joe Lombardo, United National Antiwar Coalition
— Alfred L. Marder, US Peace Council
— George Paz Martin, MLK Justice Coalition; Liberty Tree Foundation*
— Nancy Price, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom
— Alice Slater, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation
— Gar Smith, Environmentalists Against War
— David Swanson, World Beyond War
— Ann Wright, CODEPINK
— Kevin Zeese, Popular Resistance
It is with great satisfaction and commitment that we meet in Guantanamo, continuing the essential initiative of this seminar, organized by the Cuban Movement for Peace and Sovereignty of the Peoples (MovPaz), the Cuban Institute for Friendship with Peoples (ICAP) and the World Peace Council (WPC), in partnership with the Organization of Solidarity with the Peoples of Africa, Asia and Latin America (Ospaaal), the Martin Luther King Jr. Center and the Oscar Anulfo Romero Center of Reflection.
We thank you for the efforts of the Cuban organizations that welcome us back to Guantanamo and the commitment of the delegations that have made the effort to participate in this event in person, or that show their support for our common struggle from their countries.
We have repeatedly denounced that these structures are outposts of US imperialism — which has more than 800 facilities of this type worldwide — and allied powers in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a true war machine.
At the WPC Assembly in 2016, in Brazil, we have strengthened our commitment to the fight against foreign military bases and also against NATO, whose dissolution we see as urgent for the consolidation of peace between peoples, who hope for relations of cooperation and friendship, based on respect for the sovereignty of nations.
That is why, in our Assembly’s Final Declaration, we highlight the militarization of the planet as one of the main threats to humanity, with the spread of military bases by the empire and the expansion of NATO as some of its expressions, besides the modernization of nuclear arsenals and the increased military budget of the major powers.
More specifically, we denounce, in the text, that “the United States maintain 865 military bases in approximately 130 countries, where 350,000 soldiers are equipped with the most advanced weapons, warplanes, missiles and warships. That represents 95% of all foreign military bases in the world and includes US bases on all continents and regions. ”
In addition, we denounce that the “hegemonic powers still threaten life on the planet with their nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction installed in US-NATO military bases”, reaffirming the urgency and necessity of our fight against the two threats.
We are sure that the US goal is to loot and control the natural resources of the countries, as well as to intimidate the peoples and to insure governments submissive to imperialism.
That is why we must continue to denounce the US military base in Guantanamo in 1903 and the imposition of the Platt Amendment, through which the empire has promoted its policy of domination of Latin America and the Caribbean, extended to all the world.
Throughout the 20th century, the interventionist policy of US imperialism has destroyed the democracies being born to implant on the continent, through coups, the military dictatorships and state terrorism.
Tools of this policy were coordinated by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA): the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (TIAR) and other instruments, such as the School of the Americas and Operation Condor, which promoted the torture and murder of thousands and thousands of Latin American patriots and revolutionaries.
That is why, from Guantanamo, we meet to reaffirm our resolute opposition to these expressions and these outposts throughout the world, from Malvinas to Japan, from Guantanamo to Djibouti — which finds itself on an African continent already devastated by imperialist and neocolonialist wars.
The installation of new military bases and the opening of other “Forward Operating Locations” (FOL) in Central America, the Caribbean Sea and South America and, since 2008, the resumption of the Fourth US Naval Fleet in the South Atlantic are pieces of the same game.
The USA and the allied national oligarchies in Latin America are in full offensive to impose reactionary and conservative policies in the region. In this context, the US has reached the agreement of Argentina, since governed by Mauricio Macri, for the installation of two new military bases, one in Ushuaia and one in the triple border with Paraguay and Brazil, near the vast Guarani Aquifer.
In Brazil, whose current illegitimate government is dominated by a coup plot — against democracy and the country — Michel Temer seeks to resume negotiations with the United States for the concession of Alcantara space base, not only contributing to the expansion of US military presence in the region as well as selling Brazilian sovereignty and its autonomy over its space program, which would be subject to US interests.
The USA has also expanded their presence in Central America, creating a “special unit” at the military base of Palmerola, Honduras: the Soto Cano Air Base, which has approximately 600 US troops and the Joint Task Force “Bravo” of the US Southern Command, under the pretext of promoting security and humanitarian cooperation throughout Central and South America.
The history of this Task Force dates back to the 1980s, when the US supported the Nicaraguan Contras and the forces behind the genocide in Guatemala, for example, in addition to the support for the coup against Honduran President Manuel Zelaya in 2009.
According to Argentinean researcher AtÃlio Boron — recently offended by Mexican immigration authorities at the behest of the United States when visiting Mexico — there are almost 80 US military bases installed in Latin America and the Caribbean. According to Boron, Peru is the country with the most US military bases in the continent (nine) and the only one that has authorized the US Fourth Fleet to use three ports to refuel.
In Colombia, in turn, there are seven US military bases, which also have the right to use all the others. The researcher points out that Brazil is the most surrounded, by 25 military bases in neighboring countries, including those of the United Kingdom, but used by the United States, on the Ascension and Malvinas Islands (near the vast Brazilian oil field).
Hence the importance of our persistent meetings in Guantanamo, which has 117 kmÂ² of its territory usurped by the US naval base, where there is also against the Cuban people’s will — a center of torture still holding about 40 people, “suspects”, they say, of involvement in terrorist networks.
In resolute solidarity with the Cuban people, we reiterate, firmly, the irreducible demand for the withdrawal of the US military base and center of torture from Guantanamo, which for more than a century has seen its sovereignty violated by imperialism.
This and all regional threat policies go counter the Proclamation of Latin America and the Caribbean as a zone of peace in 2012 by the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).
The proclamation establishes the principle that peace is a supreme good and a legitimate desire of all peoples. This reflects the conscience of the leaders of Our America that their preservation is a substantial element of regional integration, a common value and principle of CELAC, a condition for development and social progress and even the condition for the humanity’s survival.
Once again, the dissemination of the empire’s military bases around the world is the inverse expression of this effort.
We live in a period of an unprecedented and generalized threat of war, in which many peoples have experienced the tragedy of aggression, military intervention, invasions and imperialist wars in the Middle East and Africa, where millions of victims of the worst atrocities seek to escape only to throw themselves on precarious and risky journeys or refugee camps to await the “blessing” of countries that should welcome and protect them, in accordance with their commitments and in accordance with the principles that guide the relations between peoples, countries often responsible for their ordeal.
As MovPaz pointed out in its call for this seminar, we strengthen our struggle in a time of aggravated threats at regional and international level. The militarization of the planet, the construction of new conventional and nuclear weapons, the installation of US anti-missile systems and annual military exercises in the Korean Peninsula region — also more threatened by the US offensive position, as we have been denouncing — and the expansion of NATO or the implementation of a US military strategy to Asia have been intensifying.
At the same time, provocations against Russia have instigated new sources of conflict in Eastern Europe while Syria, which is devastated but resistant, enters its sixth year of war, where imperialist interference and the advance of terrorist groups strengthened by US and its allies’ regional destabilization have killed thousands of people and forced millions to flee.
We also cannot overlook the US military base in Djibouti, East Africa, one of the Pentagon’s largest structures of this type, established there in 2001 under the pretext of fighting terrorism. Djibouti, whose population is less than one million, is inhabited by at least six groups of foreign forces — the United States, Japan, Italy, the United Kingdom and France, the former colonial power.
From the base Camp Lemonnier, formerly used by the French Foreign Legion and where today the United States keeps about 4,000 troops, operations are being carried out in the Arabian Peninsula and North Africa — for example, drone attacks in Yemen and other covert operations, according to Western media.
In Japan, with more than 80 bases and other military facilities in the United States, the Okinawa islanders’ demonstrations showed that it is possible to defeat this threat. One-fifth of its territory was under US military control, where nearly half of the 50,000 US troops are deployed, but the United States has finally returned more than four thousand hectares to the Japanese town due to the protests. The struggle is ongoing, however, since Japan is seen as an essential “part” in the US geostrategic interests in Asia.
We must also continue to denounce the spread of these outposts of imperialism in Europe, where the bases of the United States and NATO are abundant, harboring even dozens of US nuclear weapons, through the nuclear exchange program in Turkey, Italy, Belgium, Holland and Germany, while the belligerent alliance continues to advance towards the Russian border under pretext of “ensuring the security” of the continent. In addition, the recent US bombing of Syria, in clear violation of international law, used these European bases.
All this adds up, as the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) points out, to the amount of $ 209.7 billion profited by US arms companies in 2015, when the country also spent $ 595,000 millions in the military sector — more than double China’s spending of $ 215 billion.
We need to continue informing that the maintenance of a generalized threat by US imperialism, self-appointed the role of world police, is costly to its victims, to the nations it devastates or destabilizes and peoples around the world, because it perpetuates a belligerent logic of violation of national sovereignties, interference in the internal affairs of nations, swelling spending on war as peoples struggle for peace, development and progress of humanity.
Therefore, the permanent struggle of the World Peace Council and other peace movements is strengthened in solidarity among peoples and in firm resistance to the threats of the empire. In defense of sovereignty and resolute, determined rejection of the dissemination of foreign military bases throughout the planet, we reject an imperialist order of threat and bullying, blackmail, looting and destabilization.
To thank once again the Cuban organizations that created the conditions for the success of this event, we salute the heroic Cuban people and their leaders, who participate in the struggle against the blockade, in enormous efforts for the economic progress of the country, in defense of the social accomplishments of their Revolution, and the progress of their system of government and model of economic and social development.
On this occasion, when we raise our voices against the military bases, these spearheads of war and the interventionist policy of imperialism in the world, we also express our solidarity with the Venezuelan people, attacked by the obscure and violent forces, and their threatened Bolivarian Revolution, a bastion of peace, of the integration of peoples and the struggle for sovereignty in Latin America.
The peoples, united, will defeat the war machines and outposts of imperialism, in their struggle for justice, freedom and peace.
John Marciano / Peace in Our Times @ Veterans For Peace – 2017-09-30 17:59:02
The Noble Cause Principle and the Actual History Far from being a moral actor on the world stage,
the United States has a history of expansionism and genocide John Marciano / Peace in Our Times @ Veterans For Peace
Excerpted from “The American War in Vietnam: Crime or Commemoration?”
As he escalated the American War in Vietnam in the 1960s,
President Lyndon Johnson defended it in Noble Cause terms:
‘We have no territory there, nor do we seek any . . . .
We want nothing for ourselves . . .
we fight for values and we fight for principles.’
A powerful and fundamental belief has marked US history: it is the Exceptional Nation chosen to lead the world. This belief is the essential foundation for the Noble Cause principle that justifies US foreign policy, and the American War in Vietnam in particular. The fundamental lessons of the American War should be viewed within the context of this principle.
The actual history of this nation, however, reveals it as a total lie. This principle has dominated political views about this country, however, as reflected below by the following proclamations of this faith, beginning with the great American writer Herman Melville.
In the mid-19th century, the Noble Cause principle was articulated by the narrator in Melville’s novel, WhiteJacket: “We Americans are the peculiar chosen people — the Israel of our time; we bear the arc of liberties of the world. . . .
God has predestined, mankind expects, great things from our race; and great things we feel in our souls . . . . We are the pioneers of the world; the advance-guard, sent on through the wilderness of untried things, to break a new path in the New World that is ours.”
In 1900, Sen. Albert Beveridge proclaimed the principle during the US imperialist war against the Philippines: “We are the ruling race of the world. . . . We will not renounce our part in the mission of our race, trustee, under God of the civilization of the world. . . . He has marked us as his chosen people. . . . He has made us adept in government that we may administer government among savage and senile peoples.”
As he escalated the American War in Vietnam in the 1960s, President Lyndon Johnson defended it in Noble Cause terms: “We have no territory there, nor do we seek any. . . . We want nothing for ourselves . . . we fight for values and we fight for principles.” The United States, “uniquely blessed with surpassing riches and an exceptional history, stands above the international system, not within it. Alone among nations, she stands ready to be the bearer of the law.”
Henry Kissinger, National Security Adviser to Richard Nixon during the American War in Vietnam, stated that the United States acts for “the well-being of all mankind. . . . Americans have always seen their role in the world as the outward manifestation of an inward state of grace.”
President Ronald Reagan was a true believer in the Noble Cause. Americans “have never been aggressors. We have always struggled to defend freedom and democracy. We have no territorial ambitions. We occupy no countries.”
Reagan’s Vice President George H.W. Bush stated: “A world once divided into two armed camps now recognizes one sole and preeminent superpower: the United States of America. And they regard this with no dread. For the world trusts us with power — and the world is right. They trust us to be on the side of decency. They trust us to do what’s right.”
Bush’s successor, Bill Clinton, continued the Noble Cause celebration: “America’s ideals . . . are more and more the aspirations of people everywhere in the world. It is the power of our ideas . . . that makes America a uniquely trusted nation.”
Madeleine Albright, Clinton’s secretary of State, proclaimed: “The United States is good. We try to do our best everywhere.”
After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, President George W. Bush stated: “America was targeted for attack because we’re the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world.”
In 2011, President Barack Obama stated: “America remains the one indispensable nation, and the world needs a strong America. . . . We’re a nation that brings our enemies to justice while adhering to the rule of law, and respecting the rights of all citizens. We protect our own freedom and prosperity by extending it to others.”
In 2013, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton echoed her President: “We are the indispensible nation. We are the force for progress, prosperity, and peace.”
What if someone with a documented history of violence against others thought of himself as exceptional, chosen by destiny or God? People would rightfully reject this self-proclaimed greatness and justice toward others, and reasonably conclude that the person making such claims was dangerous or unstable. Many citizens, however, seem incapable of applying this common sense to this nation’s leaders.
The Actual History
Matthew Rothschild, editor of The Progressive, offers a reality check to the propaganda that the US government is a benevolent and shining beacon for the world — with a focus on the recent past.
“Well, let’s see: The United States led the world to the cliffs of nuclear annihilation during the Cold War. The United States invaded one Latin American country after another, and subverted other governments there covertly. The United States helped overthrow governments in Ghana and the Congo, and supported racist forces in southern Africa.
“The United States plunged into the Korean War, and then supported one dictator after another in South Korea. . . . And the United States supported Suharto in Indonesia, who killed nearly a million people, some at the behest of the CIA, after taking power in 1965.
The United States also supported Suharto’s invasion of East Timor 10 years later, which took another 200,000 lives . . . . Obama can call that ‘global security,’ if he wants to, but it’s dripping red . . . . The United States has invaded or overthrown dozens of countries in the last six decades, and it doesn’t need to occupy them if it can install a puppet regime instead.”
Commenting on the commonsense view about Noble Cause claims, scholar and activist Robert Jensen questions the dominant story about the United States, “the model of, and the vehicle for, peace, freedom, and democracy in the world.” This story can only be believed, however, “by people sufficiently insulated from the reality of US actions abroad to maintain such illusions.”
Vietnam veteran and historian Andrew Bacevich challenges the guiding premises of the Noble Cause principle in US foreign policy, particularly the political leaders “who have demonstrated their intention [to] reshape the world in accordance with American interests and values.”
The Noble Cause principle, promoted by presidents and other powerful government officials, the corporate mass media, influential intellectuals, and the educational system, is at the heart of the Commemoration of the American War in Vietnam [a $65 million 13-year Pentagon campaign to rewrite the history of the Vietnam War]. But it is long on passionate beliefs and empty on evidence.
Its supporters, therefore, can only maintain their allegiance to American benevolence by omitting or rejecting the evidence, since the false story unravels from the start.
According to historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz: “US history cannot be understood without dealing with the genocide that the United States committed against Indigenous peoples. From the colonial period through the founding of the United States and continuing in the 21st century, this has entailed torture, terror, sexual abuse, massacres, systematic military occupations, removals of Indigenous peoples from their ancestral territories, and removals of Indigenous children to military-like boarding schools.
“The absence of even the slightest note of regret or tragedy in the annual celebration of the US independence betrays a deep disconnect in the consciousness of US Americans.”
Essentially, she argues, the United States has been “fundamentally imperialist” from its origin, “rather than imperialism being a divergence from a well-intentioned path.”
The European settlement in America from the colonial period, writes historian Richard Drinnon, is based on the philosophy of “Indian-hating,” a form of “white hostility that for four centuries had exterminated ‘savages’ who stood in the path of Anglo-American expansion.”
The massacres that were committed “in Vietnam’s ‘Indian country’ in the 1960s [at] My Lai and all the forgotten My Khes” followed logically from those committed against Native Americans here and against Filipinos in the early 20th century.
What has been referred to as “Indian removal,” therefore, is the foundation of ethnic cleansing upon which US history is based. The atrocities that are part of this “defining and enabling experience” are not exceptions to an otherwise humane and Noble Cause history, they are essential to it.
At the time of the US War of Independence in the late 1770s, for example, aggression into what is now the northeast United States was blocked by the nations of the Iroquois Confederacy. Scholars have pointed out that the confederacy’s democratic governance structure “not only predated the United States Constitution but also influenced the evolution and development of the ideas that shaped the document, as well as other fundamental expressions of the American character.”
Evidence of this influence “is clearly present in the colonial, revolutionary, and early records of the United States and in the oral and written traditions of the Iroquois.”
Despite this rich history and culture, Gen. George Washington, in May 1779, instructed Maj. Gen. John Sullivan to attack those nations of the confederacy that sided with the British during the US War of Independenceâ€“the Seneca and Mohawk — and those that tried to remain neutral, the Cayuga, Tuscarora, and Onondaga. Only “the Christianized Oneidas” supported the colonial “separatist settlers.”
Washington instructed Maj. Gen. Sullivan “to take [preemptive] action against” these nations. He told Sullivan to: “lay waste to all the settlements around . . . that the country may not be merely overrun but destroyed . . . . You will not by any means, listen to any overtures of peace before the total ruin of their settlements. . . . Our future security will be in their inability to injure us . . . and in the terror with which the severity of the chastisement they receive will inspire them.”
“The immediate objects are the total destruction and devastation of their settlements, and the capture of as many prisoners of every age and sex as possible. It will be essential to ruin their crops now in the ground and prevent their planting more.”
How many students, teachers, and citizens know about Washington’s scorched-earth campaign against the Iroquois? Vietnam veteran S. Brian Willson writes that Washington’s direct orders to Gen. Sullivan “established imperial US military principles for centuries to come.”
1) total war/genocide targeting all inhabitants for elimination;
2) preventing peace;
3) pre-emptive war;
5) crime of self-defense;
Willson points out that Sullivan’s campaign has been called “‘the most ruthless application of a scorched-earth policy’ in US history,” on a par with Sherman’s Civil War march to the sea, Gen. Curtis LeMay’s re-bombing of North Korea, and the American search-and-destroy missions in Vietnam.
According to historian David Stannard, the aggression against Native Americans who lived in North America (excluding Mexico) was a genocidal assault without parallel in human history. From the first European arrival in North America to the Wounded Knee massacre in 1890, “between 97 and 99 percent of North America’s native peoples were killed.”
Most political leaders supported this horrific assault, but “few did so with such evident glee” as President Andrew Jackson, who once ordered his troops “to slay all the Indian children they could find, once they had killed the women and men”; who once “supervised the mutilation of 800 or so Creek Indian corpses — the bodies of men, women, and children that he and his men had massacred.”
Jackson ordered his troops “specifically seek out and systematically kill Indian women and children who were in hiding in order to complete their extermination.”
In what is known as the Trail of Tears, President Jackson ordered the forced removal of tens of thousands of Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muskogee, and Seminole from their homes in the Southeast to the Indian Territory — now Oklahoma.
Although the US government granted this land to the Five Nations forever after they had been brutally removed from their original homes, this was just another promise that was broken as thousands of white settlers rushed in and claimed Native American lands.
The Trail of Tears ethnic cleansing opened up some 25 million acres of land for white settlement, slavery, land speculation, and cotton production. The overall death toll from this “presidentially ordered death march . . . was almost as destructive as the Bataan Death March of 1942. . . .” More than eight thousand Cherokee “died as a result of their expulsion from their homeland. The death rate for the Creeks, Seminoles, and Cherokee was equal to that of Jews in Germany, Hungary, and Romania between 1939 and 1945.”
Jackson is the preeminent gure in the early US history of genocide, “the archetype Indian killer, slave trader, speculator, merchant and then president, . . . as whites took over much of present southern states.”
His murderous and genocidal brutality clearly contradicts the Noble Cause principle. He claimed that the Indian Removal Act of 1830 that led to the Trail of Tears would advance the Native Americans “from barbarism to the habits of enjoyments of civilized life,” as if he were a deeply concerned and humane person: “Toward the aborigines of the country no one can indulge a more friendly feeling than myself, or would go further in attempts to reclaim them from their wandering habits and make them a happy, prosperous people.”
After a particularly brutal attack that killed Cherokee who had resisted removal, Jackson told Congress: “Severe as is the lesson to the Indians, it was rendered necessary by their unprovoked aggression.”
This rationale would be repeated in later US violence around the world, as resistance became “aggression” that would later de ne the victimizer-victim relationship in Vietnam: Those who resisted US aggression were called “terrorists,” while the US forces that invaded that country were defending themselves and the “Free World.”
Alongside the imperial destruction of Native American nations came economic, political, and military aggression against Latin America that began very early in US history and has continued to the present with more than 50 years of economic embargo and terrorism against Cuba — condemned by virtually every state in the United Nations.
Journalist-scholar Juan Gonzalez, former State Department official William Blum, and historian Greg Grandin document this violent, imperial history. Gonzalez points out that US presidents such as Jefferson, Jackson, and Theodore Roosevelt, all firm believers in white supremacy, “regarded [US] domination of the region as ordained by nature.
The main proponents and beneficiaries of this empire building, however, were speculators, plantation owners, banks, and merchants, who bankrolled armed rebellions in those Spanish-speaking lands by white settlers.”
Historian Greg Grandin points out that by the mid20th century alone, the United States had sent its warships into Latin America more than 6,000 times, invaded numerous countries; engaged in long guerrilla wars in the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, and Haiti; annexed Puerto Rico; and stolen part of Colombia “to create both the Panamanian nation and the Panama Canal.”
Added to these, “American corporations and financial houses came to dominate the economies of Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America, as well as large parts of South America,” commencing “their overseas expansion before they headed elsewhere, to Asia, Africa, and Europe.”
In his analyses of US history, Andrew Bacevich has exposed a central premise of the Noble Cause principle: “The restless search for a buck and the ruthless elimination of anyone — or anything — standing in the way . . . have been central to the American character.”
This “American character” applies to European settlers and their descendants, however, not Native Americans, since this “restless search” has not been central to their culture. “If the young United States had a mission,” writes Bacevich, “it was not to liberate but to expand.”
From the beginning, the United States compulsively expanded and “the historical record leaves no room for debate” on how this was done: ” . . . by any means necessary,” including “full-scale invasions [and] ethnic cleansing.” This record totally contradicts the mythical Noble Cause view we have been taught about post-independence expansion.
Moving ahead into the mid-20th century and the present, it is clear that the beliefs about Washington’s Noble Cause principle after the Second World War do not match the facts. William Blum has compiled the extensive and factual list of US imperial violence during this period. It includes an extraordinary number of unprovoked invasions and covert actions against sovereign nations — what is now called “regime change.”
Excluding his list of Latin American countries above, it includes Afghanistan, Angola, Cambodia, Congo, Greece, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Laos, Libya, the Soviet Union, Syria Vietnam, and Yugoslavia. As he states: “It would, moreover, be difficult to name a single brutal dictatorship of the second half of the 20th century that was not supported by the United States; not only supported, but often put into power and kept in power against the wishes of the population.”
There is overwhelming evidence to support the scholars’ assertions made above; however, historian and political activist Michael Parenti argues that the dominant class and its allies in the corporate media, political system, and universities refuse to admit that US leaders “have been the greatest purveyors of terrorism throughout the world.”
The facts are quite clear: the United States and its “surrogate mercenaries have unleashed terror bombing campaigns against unarmed civilian populations . . . in scores of countries, causing death and destruction to millions of innocents.”
Since the Second World War, the greatest US violence has been in Asia — concluding with Vietnam. This included crushing the Huk (Hukbalahap) rebellion in the Philippines, a peasant-led guerrilla movement that led resistance against the Japanese in the Second World War and continued the struggle against a government elite that had collaborated with the Japanese during that conflict.
Using Cold War propaganda that the Huk were communists, the US military aided the campaign to destroy them by 1954. This period also witnessed the occupation of South Korea and support for the repressive anticommunist Syngman Rhee, whose policies were similar to the US-installed Ngo Dinh Diem in South Vietnam and helped trigger the devastating Korean War that included bombing North Korea “back to the Stone Age.”
In 1965, the very same year the United States escalated the war in Vietnam, the United States through the CIA aided in the massacre of perhaps 500,000 Communists, alleged Communists, and other progressive activists during a military coup in Indonesia, one of the greatest mass murders in history.
The late historian Gabriel Kolko writes that it was “certainly one of the most barbaric acts of inhumanity in a century that has seen a great deal of it; it surely ranks as a war crime of the same type as those the Nazis perpetrated.”
Not one act by the US after 1945 “was as bloodthirsty as its role in Indonesia, for it tried to initiate the massacre, and . . . to see the physical liquidation of the PKI [Communist Party of Indonesia] was carried through to its culmination. Not a single one of its officials in Washington . . . questioned the policy on ethical or political grounds.”
Similarities between Korea and Vietnam include the racist attitudes and actions against people there that helped fuel massacres by US forces in both wars, e.g., at No Gun Ri in Korea and My Lai in Vietnam. . . . Too few US citizens know this documented record, having been disabled intellectually and politically — first in their schools, then by the corporate mass media and leading political officials.
During the Cold War, for example, US violence across the world, always masked as a Noble Cause, strengthened the military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned of in his January 1961 Farewell Address. Five years earlier, however, the prominent sociologist C. Wright Mills analyzed this complex in his groundbreaking and powerful book, The Power Elite — a scathing critique of the institutions that later concerned the former President.
The influence of this complex, which Mills identified as an “economic-military” link, encompassing the all-embracing connection between the Pentagon, industry, Congress, and the academy, has increased dramatically since Eisenhower’s address, devouring trillions of public funds to support the ever-increasing power of the National Security State.
Decades before Eisenhower’s Farewell Address, Medal of Honor recipient and former Marine Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler addressed the nature of the US imperial violence and the military-industrial complex of his time, including his own role.
“I spent 33 years and four months in active military service as a member of . . . the Marine Corps. . . . And during that period I spent most of my time being a high-class muscle-man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism . . .”
This actual history is, and remains, the essence of US policy abroad — always hidden by the Noble Cause principle. According to the late writer and activist Mike Marqusee, public belief in this principle “obstructs knowledge and understanding of United States history and the pattern of its involvements abroad,” especially the fact that it acts “like any other imperial power, on the basis of self-interest.”
US interventions abroad are “presented as an altruistic response to a crisis. Since there is no American empire, no pattern, no habit, or system of extraterritorial domination, the motive for each intervention is assessed at face value,” thus denying the actual record. Marqusee laments the US Noble Cause: “Culturally, emotionally, [belief in this principle] curtails human solidarity. More than ever, ‘America’ is a prison that the US citizenry needs to break out of — in its own interest and in the interests of the victims of US policy.”
The Noble Cause principle cannot stand up to the facts of endless violence that spans nearly 240 years of US history, or more than 400 years if the count begins with colonial settler wars against Native Americans. This history is the context within which to understand the American War in Vietnam.
John Marciano, professor emeritus at SUNY Cortland, is an antiwar and social justice activist, author, scholar, teacher, and trade unionist. He is the author, with William L. Griffen, of Teaching the Vietnam War.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
Trump to Roll Back Limits on
Drone Strikes and Commando Raids Julia Manchester / The Hill
WASHINGTON, DC (September 22, 2017) — The Trump administration is set to roll back various limits on drone strikes and commando raids put in place under former President Barack Obama, The New York Times reported Thursday.
Under the policy, strikes would be expanded to include “foot-soldier jihadists” who do not necessarily have leadership roles, instead of allowing strikes only if militants are considered “continuing and imminent threat” to US citizens.
The proposed strikes would also no longer have to go through high-level vetting, according to the Times.
The roll backs would apply to commando raids and drone strikes outside of conventional battlefields, and would affect missions in countries where the US has not targeted active Islamic militants, as well as countries such as Yemen, Libya and Somalia where the US are taken aim at militants, according to the report.
The proposal, which has taken shape over the past few months, will leader an intensified fight against terror organizations such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Al-Qeada.
The proposal is likely to enrage human rights groups advocating for increased limits and bans on drone strikes to avoid civilian casualties.
However, the Trump administration will keep the requirement that there needs to be “near certainty” that no civilians will be killed during an attack.
The reported policy illustrates President Trump’s promise to go after jihadists with increased force, which he repeatedly advocated for on the campaign trail.
Trump reaffirmed this mission in his speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, vowing to crush “loser” terrorists.
“The United States and our allies are working together throughout the Middle East to crush the loser terrorists and stop the re-emergence of safe havens they use to launch attacks on all of our people,” he said.
WASHINGTON (September 21, 2017) — The Trump administration is preparing to dismantle key Obama-era limits on drone strikes and commando raids outside conventional battlefields, according to officials familiar with internal deliberations. The changes would lay the groundwork for possible counterterrorism missions in countries where Islamic militants are active but the United States has not previously tried to kill or capture them.
President Trump’s top national security advisers have proposed relaxing two rules, the officials said. First, the targets of kill missions by the military and the C.I.A., now generally limited to high-level militants deemed to pose a “continuing and imminent threat” to Americans, would be expanded to include foot-soldier jihadists with no special skills or leadership roles. And second, proposed drone attacks and raids would no longer undergo high-level vetting.
But administration officials have also agreed that they should keep in place one important constraint for such attacks: a requirement of “near certainty” that no civilian bystanders will be killed.
The proposal to overhaul the rules has quietly taken shape over months of debate among administration officials and awaits Mr. Trump’s expected signature. Despite the preservation of the protections for civilians, the other changes seemed likely to draw criticism from human rights groups.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
Ridding Vietnam of Unexploded Ordnance Chuck Searcy / Conversations on Vietnam Development & Peace in Our Times (Veterans for Peace)
An unexploded MK82 is recovered by a Project RENEW crew in Quang Tri Province in 2014.
Photo: Project RENEW
(Summer 2017) — For most Americans, the Vietnam War ended in 1975. But for too many Vietnamese, the war didn’t end then. They continued to suffer death, injury, and lifetime disabilities from munitions that remained on the surface or just under the soil. These weapons posed a constant danger to unsuspecting residents throughout the country — but especially along the former demilitarized zone.
In 2001, when Project RENEW was launched, Quang Tri Province had been experiencing 60 to 80 accidents involving unexploded ordnance (UXO) every year since the war ended. Vietnam’s Ministry of Labor, Invalids, and Social Affairs reported that more than 100,000 Vietnamese had been killed or injured nationwide by bombs and mines.
Fifteen years later, Project RENEW’s efforts — with the cooperation of other NGOs and provincial government agencies — have paid off. In 2016 there was only one accident in Quang Tri Province.
In 2000, a delegation from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund (VVMF) visited Vietnam. By the end of that trip, VVMF’s leadership decided to help Vietnam recover from the consequences of the war. The government of Quang Tri Province urged VVMF to come up with a different and more effective approach to the UXO problem in the province. A decision was made to broaden and improve upon the conventional efforts already under way involving international mine action organizations and Vietnamese military units.
The government suggested that VVMF design a “comprehensive and integrated” plan to deal with bombs and mines. The focus would be on clearance and safe cleanup of ordnance, on teaching children and adults how to be safe and protect their families and their communities, and on helping amputees and people with other disabilities caused by bomb and mine accidents.
I returned to Vietnam in January 1995 after serving in the US Army as an intelligence analyst in Saigon in 1967-68. The Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation (VVAF) had received a grant of $1 million from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to upgrade and equip a workshop at the Swedish Children’s Hospital in Hanoi.
President Bobby Muller offered me the job of program manager. The mission was to improve and expand production of orthopedic braces for children with polio, cerebral palsy, and other mobility problems.
We had to rebuild and renovate a large section of the rehab department at the Children’s Hospital, install routers, band saws, ovens, and work benches, and arrange suf cient ventilation, while training Vietnamese in the fabrication of lightweight polypropylene braces designed and custom-made for disabled children.
When the workshop opened in 1996, the doctors and technicians quickly reached full capacity in treating patients, who came from far and wide to be examined and fitted with assistive devices. Soon the staff was treating 30 to 40 patients a month, providing them with high-quality orthotic devices that enabled many of them to walk without assistance for the first time.
During those early years, there was discussion among my Vietnamese doctor friends and medical staff about bombs and mines and the damage such explosives were continuing to cause throughout Vietnam. We read newspaper accounts every week of accidents and casualties throughout the country.
The Vietnamese military, given the job of cleaning up ordnance from the war, was inadequately equipped and insufficiently funded. Besides, it was not a priority. Many Vietnamese, including some officials, seemed to accept that this was a problem that would never go away, because the challenge was overwhelming.
The war’s destruction was immense. I knew that unexploded ordnance, even decades later, was a lethal threat to farmers, schoolchildren, and villagers going about their daily tasks. The reports were too frequent to ignore.
The Deadly Legacy of Agent Orange
I also came to understand that Agent Orange was an insidious legacy of the war. US veterans were becoming painfully aware of the health consequences that seemed to be directly linked to Agent Orange exposure. But the US government was in denial, and the Vietnamese government seemed reluctant to push either issue.
We asked why the US was not accepting more responsibility for these legacies of war that threatened the lives of generations of Vietnamese born long after the war ended. Some members of Congress — and increasingly vocal veterans and organizations — pushed for greater US involvement. One of the leading advocates was Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT).
The War Victims Fund, which he helped set up and later was renamed the Leahy War Victims Fund, provided funding for humanitarian projects run by VVAF and other nonprofit organizations. The Department of State’s Office of Humanitarian Demining showed sharper interest in the possibility of US cooperation with Vietnam in cleaning up UXO contamination.
Gradually, the door opened to some funding from the United States to Vietnam’s Ministry of Defense. Technical equipment was provided, and more funds became available for NGOs with expertise in demining and UXO mitigation.
A few NGOs in Hanoi with a shared interest in these problems formed the Landmine Working Group to explore ways to collaborate. The provincial government in Quang Tri was eager to have help in dealing with the problem.
PeaceTrees, a Seattle-based organization, had planted trees around the world in areas of former conflict, disaster, and environmental degradation. Founders Jerilyn Brusseau and Danaan Parry came to Vietnam to propose a similar project. I encouraged them to visit Quang Tri.
The provincial government welcomed the idea, but noted that any tree-planting effort would first require a very careful clearance of bombs and mines in that area. That opened the door for the first US involvement in the cleanup of bombs and mines: the safe clearance of six hectares of land by the Vietnamese military, funded by PeaceTrees, and followed by the planting of more than a thousand trees.
Soon afterward a German organization, SODIGerbera, got involved, followed by the large British demining organization, Mines Advisory Group (MAG), Clear Path International, and Golden West Humanitarian Foundation. The situation was now ripe for the introduction of the concept that became Project RENEW.
Taking a Stand
The decision to launch Project RENEW depended on raising $500,000 to guarantee at least two years of adequate funds to make the project a reality. Jan Scruggs, VVMF’s president, convinced Christos Cotsakos, a Vietnam veteran who had been wounded in Quang Tri, to come up with half the funding. Cotsakos had been very successful with E*Trade Online Financial Services. I approached the Freeman Foundation, which matched Cotsakos’s donation with another $250,000. Project RENEW was under way.
A bright young staff member, Hoang Nam, and I took the lead in establishing Project RENEW. We hired core staff, allocated some of our budget to bring in a technical expert, Bob Keeley from European Landmine Solutions, to help us structure the project and train staff. We focused on risk education — teaching people how to be safe, to avoid accidents and injury, and to report ordnance as they found it.
We soon learned that without trained personnel to safely destroy or remove dangerous ordnance when calls for help came in, our effort was quickly losing credibility with local people. We had to intensify our efforts to raise funds to deploy Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) teams to answer urgent calls for help.
Project RENEW struggled for funding, from sources ranging from the US Department of State to the Norwegian government, which became one of Project RENEW’s strongest assets.
In 2008 a team from Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) came to Quang Tri, looking to expand into Vietnam with its impressive global mine work, and entered into a partnership with Project RENEW. The Norwegian government provided substantial funding and critical technical support. This was at a time when the future of Project RENEW was uncertain because of a decision by VVMF in 2011 to pull out of the 10-year partnership. VVMF wanted to focus on its $100 million Education Center.
The Norwegian funding was crucial. Soon afterward, the State Department pledged additional funds, through NPA, with complementary funding to Mines Advisory Group and PeaceTrees. Project RENEW and NPA received $7.8 million for a three-year period. MAG received more than $8 million.
We are now following a plan developed by NPA’s country director at the time, Jonathon Guthrie, which is an evidence-based Cluster Munitions Remnants Survey (CMRS). That initiative combines surveying UXO-contaminated areas, interviewing local residents, comparing bombing records turned over by the Department of Defense, and using that data to deploy teams that remove or destroy ordnance in those areas.
As the footprints of cluster munitions strikes are reduced and eliminated and all other ordnance in the area neutralized, this evidence-based information goes into a comprehensive database available to all who need the information.
The Current Situation
There is broad cooperation in Quang Tri Province among all key actors, including NGOs and the Vietnamese military. That level of cooperation is unprecedented and is a positive indicator that we are moving toward the date, in a few short years, when the problem will be managed and can be turned over completely to the Vietnamese. The United States can then claim, with some truth and satisfaction, that we finally did the right thing.
The shift in strategic thinking has been slow and difficult. At Project RENEW we believe that it is impossible to clean up every bomb and mine. The United States dropped at least 8 million tons of ordnance during the war, of which the Pentagon has said about 10 percent did not detonate. That’s a massive amount of ordnance still in the ground — impossible to clean up in a generation.
However, it is possible to make Vietnam safe. We are demonstrating that every day in Quang Tri Province. A combination of trained, equipped, professional clearance and EOD teams, a reliable database, and an educated and aware local population can keep everyone safe.
It is being done in Germany and other European countries, which still clean up thousands of bombs every year from World War I and World War II. In Quang Tri Province, going back to 1996, Project RENEW and other NGOs have destroyed more than 600,000 bombs.
Last year, EOD teams managed by Project RENEW and NPA conducted 723 spot tasks in response to call-ins from local people, resulting in 2,383 items of UXO being destroyed. Altogether, more than 18,000 items were found and destroyed during survey and quick response to UXO callouts. Of those, 61 percent were cluster munitions.
Agent Orange Effects Linger
The other painful legacy of the war in Vietnam is Agent Orange. The Vietnamese still have not come close to any meaningful assistance in dealing with horrendous medical, health, and rehabilitation challenges that are attributed to dioxin poisoning.
The US government is spending more than $100 million to clean up the dioxin contamination at the Da Nang International Airport, and there are indications that the former airbase at Bien Hoa may be next, with a higher price tag.
But other than some expansion of funding for disability assistance in Vietnam, there has been little or no US funding to help families suffering with two, three, or more severely disabled children, now in their 20s or 30s, whose physical and cognitive deficiencies are so serious that they can do nothing for themselves.
With sponsorship from Veterans for Peace (VFP), Project RENEW tried to get funding from USAID to reach out to 15,000 Agent Orange victims in Quang Tri Province. That proposal was rejected. RENEW staff have not made a decision about whether to again seek US government support for these families.
Why I’m Still Here
People ask me, after all these years, why are you still here? I’m not needed, really; the Vietnamese staff of more than 180 Project RENEW and NPA personnel are far more capable than I will ever be.
However, if I can make a small contribution to keep the effort on track, helping us focus on the eventual outcome of making all of Vietnam safe, then I’m committed to that mission. The Quang Tri model is working. If I can help keep the constructive and mutually respectful channels of communication open among US veterans, Vietnamese veterans, Vietnamese government of cials, and US Embassy staff and Washington officials, then I’m happy to try to help for a while longer.
It will not be many more years, I’m convinced, until we can put an end to all the tragedy, pain, and sorrow of the past. Then Vietnamese can live with confidence and go about their daily tasks without fear of bombs and mines. They will know that they are managing the situation in the best way possible. And American veterans can say we helped bring a final end to the war in Vietnam.
Chuck Searcy enlisted in the US Army from 1966 to 1969. He was assigned to the 519th Military Intelligence Battalion in Saigon from June 1967 to June 1968. After a varied professional career in Georgia and in Washington, D.C., Searcy moved to Vietnam in 1995 as representative of Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation (VVAF). In 2001 he became representative of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund (VVMF) and helped launch Project RENEW in Quang Tri Province. In 2003 Searcy was awarded Vietnam’s National Friendship Medal.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.