Monday, June 20, 2005

A Tolerance for Atrocity

This excellent analysis was written by Mike Davis:

The Toledo Blade's brave unearthing of the story of the Tiger Force's murderous sojourn in the Song Ve Valley in Vietnam back in 1967 has been smothered in silence and indifference just as was the Associated Press revelation in 1999 that an American massacre of hundreds of Korean civilians had taken place at No Gun Ri in 1950. And because we are unmoved by the war crimes of the past, we are passive in the face of the monstrous acts being committed in our names today. Where are the congressional investigations, the public outcries, and the campus protests in the wake of the revelations about the torture regimes at Abu Ghraib, Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, and Guantánamo?

Part of the answer, I think, has to do with the failure of progressives -- especially anti-war activists of my generation -- to sustain a public fight over the moral legacy of U.S. genocide in Southeast Asia. After Nixon brought the boys back home, the antiwar movement disarmed unilaterally. In contrast, pro-war forces, organized through powerful veterans' organizations and a caucus of warrior politicians, have never ceased to refight the war on the terrain of memory and public history. The open sore of Vietnam, never lanced, has become the Republicans' most prized symbolic property.

When the Democrats eventually realized that Vietnam -- their war, after all -- would not go away, they became patriotic revisionists as well. Indeed, a major goal of the Democratic Leadership Council -- the principal group driving the party rightward through the 1980s and 1990s -- has been to put the shields and spears back in the hands of its candidates. Vietnam -- according to John Kerry and even Bill Clinton -- was an American tragedy and it was finally time to honor our heroes.

This kind of solipsistic thinking has erased the Vietnamese people from history. Not even the Japanese ruling party has gone as far as the American Democrats in the rehabilitation of war crimes and war criminals. (New School President Bob Kerrey -- whose reputation seems to have suffered little damage from testimony that he massacred unarmed villagers in Vietnam -- is a case in point.)

On the other hand, this may be nothing new. Our ancestors made heroes out of Indian killers and built statues to scalping parties. Why should we be any different?