They were led by Ho Chi Minh. Even though they quoted the American Declaration of Independence in their own document of freedom, we refused to recognize them. Instead, we decided to support France in its reconquest of her former colony. Our government felt then that the Vietnamese people were not ready for independence, and we again fell victim to the deadly Western arrogance that has poisoned the international atmosphere for so long.
With that tragic decision we rejected a revolutionary government seeking self-determination and a government that had been established not by China—for whom the Vietnamese have no great love—but by clearly indigenous forces that included some communists. For the peasants this new government meant real land reform, one of the most important needs in their lives. For nine years following we denied the people of Vietnam the right of independence.
For nine years we vigorously supported the French in their abortive effort to recolonize Vietnam.
Before the end of the war we were meeting eighty percent of the French war costs. Even before the French were defeated at Dien Bien Phu, they began to despair of their reckless action, but we did not. We encouraged them with our huge financial and military supplies to continue the war even after they had lost the will. Soon we would be paying almost the full costs of this tragic attempt at recolonization. After the French were defeated, it looked as if independence and land reform would come again through the Geneva Agreement. But instead there came the United States, determined that Ho should not unify the temporarily divided nation, and the peasants watched again as we supported one of the most vicious modern dictators, our chosen man, Premier Diem.
The peasants watched and cringed and Diem ruthlessly rooted out all opposition, supported their extortionist landlords, and refused even to discuss reunification with the North. When Diem was overthrown they may have been happy, but the long line of military dictators seemed to offer no real change, especially in terms of their need for land and peace.
The only change came from America as we increased our troop commitments in support of governments which were singularly corrupt, inept, and without popular support. All the while the people read our leaflets and received the regular promises of peace and democracy and land reform. Now they languish under our bombs and consider us, not their fellow Vietnamese, the real enemy. They move sadly and apathetically as we herd them off the land of their fathers into concentration camps where minimal social needs are rarely met. They know they must move on or be destroyed by our bombs.
So they go, primarily women and children and the aged. They watch as we poison their water, as we kill a million acres of their crops. They must weep as the bulldozers roar through their areas preparing to destroy the precious trees. They wander into the hospitals with at least twenty casualties from American firepower for one Vietcong-inflicted injury.
So far we may have killed a million of them, mostly children. They wander into the towns and see thousands of the children, homeless, without clothes, running in packs on the streets like animals. They see the children degraded by our soldiers as they beg for food.
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They see the children selling their sisters to our soldiers, soliciting for their mothers. What do the peasants think as we ally ourselves with the landlords and as we refuse to put any action into our many words concerning land reform? What do they think as we test out our latest weapons on them, just as the Germans tested out new medicine and new tortures in the concentration camps of Europe?
Where are the roots of the independent Vietnam we claim to be building? Is it among these voiceless ones? We have destroyed their two most cherished institutions: the family and the village. We have destroyed their land and their crops. We have supported the enemies of the peasants of Saigon.
We have corrupted their women and children and killed their men. Now there is little left to build on, save bitterness.
Could we blame them for such thoughts? We must speak for them and raise the questions they cannot raise. These, too, are our brothers. Perhaps a more difficult but no less necessary task is to speak for those who have been designated as our enemies. What must they think of the United States of America when they realize that we permitted the repression and cruelty of Diem, which helped to bring them into being as a resistance group in the South? What do they think of our condoning the violence which led to their own taking up of arms?
How can they trust us when now we charge them with violence after the murderous reign of Diem and charge them with violence while we pour every new weapon of death into their land? Surely we must understand their feelings, even if we do not condone their actions. Surely we must see that the men we supported pressed them to their violence. Surely we must see that our own computerized plans of destruction simply dwarf their greatest acts.
How do they judge us when our officials know that their membership is less than twenty-five percent communist, and yet insist on giving them the blanket name? What must they be thinking when they know that we are aware of their control of major sections of Vietnam, and yet we appear ready to allow national elections in which this highly organized political parallel government will not have a part? They ask how we can speak of free elections when the Saigon press is censored and controlled by the military junta.
And they are surely right to wonder what kind of new government we plan to help form without them, the only real party in real touch with the peasants. They question our political goals and they deny the reality of a peace settlement from which they will be excluded. Their questions are frighteningly relevant.
Is our nation planning to build on political myth again, and then shore it up upon the power of a new violence? For from his view we may indeed see the basic weaknesses of our own condition, and if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brothers who are called the opposition. So, too, with Hanoi. In the North, where our bombs now pummel the land, and our mines endanger the waterways, we are met by a deep but understandable mistrust. To speak for them is to explain this lack of confidence in Western worlds, and especially their distrust of American intentions now.
In Hanoi are the men who led this nation to independence against the Japanese and the French, the men who sought membership in the French Commonwealth and were betrayed by the weakness of Paris and the willfulness of the colonial armies. It was they who led a second struggle against French domination at tremendous costs, and then were persuaded to give up the land they controlled between the thirteenth and seventeenth parallel as a temporary measure at Geneva. After they watched us conspire with Diem to prevent elections which could have surely brought Ho Chi Minh to power over a unified Vietnam, and they realized they had been betrayed again.
When we ask why they do not leap to negotiate, these things must be considered. Also, it must be clear that the leaders of Hanoi considered the presence of American troops in support of the Diem regime to have been the initial military breach of the Geneva Agreement concerning foreign troops. They remind us that they did not begin to send troops in large numbers and even supplies into the South until American forces had moved into the tens of thousands. Hanoi remembers how our leaders refused to tell us the truth about the earlier North Vietnamese overtures for peace, how the president claimed that none existed when they had clearly been made.
Ho Chi Minh has watched as America has spoken of peace and built up its forces, and now he has surely heard the increasing international rumors of American plans for an invasion of the north. He knows the bombing and shelling and mining we are doing are part of traditional pre-invasion strategy.
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Perhaps only his sense of humor and of irony can save him when he hears the most powerful nation of the world speaking of aggression as it drops thousands of bombs on a poor, weak nation more than eight hundred, or rather, eight thousand miles away from its shores. For it occurs to me that what we are submitting them to in Vietnam is not simply the brutalizing process that goes on in any war where armies face each other and seek to destroy.
We are adding cynicism to the process of death, for they must know after a short period there that none of the things we claim to be fighting for are really involved. Before long they must know that their government has sent them into a struggle among Vietnamese, and the more sophisticated surely realize that we are on the side of the wealthy, and the secure, while we create a hell for the poor. Surely this madness must cease. We must stop now.
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I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroy, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor in America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home, and dealt death and corruption in Vietnam.
I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as one who loves America, to the leaders of our own nation: The great initiative in this war is ours; the initiative to stop it must be ours.
This is the message of the great Buddhist leaders of Vietnam. Recently one of them wrote these words, and I quote:. Each day the war goes on the hatred increased in the hearts of the Vietnamese and in the hearts of those of humanitarian instinct. The Americans are forcing even their friends into becoming their enemies.
It is curious that the Americans, who calculate so carefully on the possibilities of military victory, do not realize that in the process they are incurring deep psychological and political defeat. The image of America will never again be the image of revolution, freedom, and democracy, but the image of violence and militarism. If we continue, there will be no doubt in my mind and in the mind of the world that we have no honorable intentions in Vietnam.
If we do not stop our war against the people of Vietnam immediately, the world will be left with no other alternative than to see this as some horrible, clumsy, and deadly game we have decided to play. The world now demands a maturity of America that we may not be able to achieve. It demands that we admit we have been wrong from the beginning of our adventure in Vietnam, that we have been detrimental to the life of the Vietnamese people. The situation is one in which we must be ready to turn sharply from our present ways.
In order to atone for our sins and errors in Vietnam, we should take the initiative in bringing a halt to this tragic war. I would like to suggest five concrete things that our government should do to begin the long and difficult process of extricating ourselves from this nightmarish conflict:. Number two: Declare a unilateral cease-fire in the hope that such action will create the atmosphere for negotiation. Three: Take immediate steps to prevent other battlegrounds in Southeast Asia by curtailing our military buildup in Thailand and our interference in Laos.
Four: Realistically accept the fact that the National Liberation Front has substantial support in South Vietnam and must thereby play a role in any meaningful negotiations and any future Vietnam government. Five: Set a date that we will remove all foreign troops from Vietnam in accordance with the Geneva Agreement. Part of our ongoing [ applause continues ], part of our ongoing commitment might well express itself in an offer to grant asylum to any Vietnamese who fears for his life under a new regime which included the Liberation Front.
Then we must make what reparations we can for the damage we have done. We must provide the medical aid that is badly needed, making it available in this country if necessary. Meanwhile [ applause ], meanwhile, we in the churches and synagogues have a continuing task while we urge our government to disengage itself from a disgraceful commitment. We must continue to raise our voices and our lives if our nation persists in its perverse ways in Vietnam. We must be prepared to match actions with words by seeking out every creative method of protest possible.
We are at the moment when our lives must be placed on the line if our nation is to survive its own folly. Every man of humane convictions must decide on the protest that best suits his convictions, but we must all protest.
Now there is something seductively tempting about stopping there and sending us all off on what in some circles has become a popular crusade against the war in Vietnam. I say we must enter that struggle, but I wish to go on now to say something even more disturbing. They will be concerned about Guatemala and Peru. They will be concerned about Thailand and Cambodia.
They will be concerned about Mozambique and South Africa. We will be marching for these and a dozen other names and attending rallies without end unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy. In a sensitive American official overseas said that it seemed to him that our nation was on the wrong side of a world revolution. During the past ten years we have seen emerge a pattern of suppression which has now justified the presence of U.
This need to maintain social stability for our investments accounts for the counterrevolutionary action of American forces in Guatemala. It tells why American helicopters are being used against guerrillas in Cambodia and why American napalm and Green Beret forces have already been active against rebels in Peru. It is with such activity that the words of the late John F. Kennedy come back to haunt us. I am convinced that if we are to get on to the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values.
We must rapidly begin [ applause ], we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered. A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies.
True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death. America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing except a tragic death wish to prevent us from reordering our priorities so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war.
Of course, we got away lightly compared to the fate of Jewish-German families, but still, the war lingers in almost every German home. Six years later, more than 60 million people were dead.
In West Germany, the vast majority of Nazi judges, scientists and bureaucrats simply stayed in office. When Chancellor Konrad Adenauer was asked in early if there should be an official event marking the 10th anniversary of the liberation from the Nazis he answered, tellingly: "You don't celebrate your defeats. Only in the s, did rebellious teenagers like me start to question their parents and grandparents: What were you doing between and ?
What did you know about the killing of the Jews? We did not accept the collective amnesia regarding the Nazi crimes. We also refused to buy the popular legend of an evil demon called Hitler who single-handedly seduced and betrayed an innocent German people who knew nothing about the atrocities the Wehrmacht and the SS committed. In the s, young teachers introduced the Nazi period into the school curriculum and historians began more intensely documenting and researching the rise of the Nazis. The American TV series "Holocaust" also had a strong impact.
Then, on May 8, , President Richard von Weizsaecker -- once a Wehrmacht officer -- gave a historical speech to the German parliament in which he declared the day the "Deutsche Reich" submitted to an unconditional capitulation a "Tag der Befreiung," a "day of liberation" for Germans. This was especially resonant considering Weizsaecker's own family war story. His father Ernst served as Nazi deputy foreign secretary and in signed deportation orders that sent about 6, French Jews to extermination camps.
In his speech, Weizsaecker Jr. AP Nazi war criminals tried after the war in Nuremberg. Respected British historian Ian Kershaw -- who wrote what I believe is the best Hitler biography -- recently praised the Germans for having done much more to come to terms with their fascist past than the Austrians, Italians or Japanese. This is encouraging to hear, though it does not offer an excuse to indulge in complacency. In the last few years, books on the Allied bombing campaign and the brutal expulsion of Germans from Poland and Czechoslovakia in have focused on how Germans suffered during the war.
Leftists have warned that this shift could lead to a moral levelling and suppression of the fact that it was Nazi Germany which, after all, began the war and that their goal was to enslave Europe and ultimately achieve world supremacy. AP Neo-Nazis are becoming more brazen and visible in Germany.
Many unabashedly honor Hitler as a great German statesman. And calm rationality is what is desperately needed on all sides when it comes to confronting Germany's Nazi past. Unfortunately, such even-temperedness is often sorely lacking. Whenever a right-wing extremist provokes controversy -- like last month, when a prominent Neo-Nazi called the Allied attacks on Dresden in February a "Holocaust of bombs" -- German politicians immediately start to moralize in grand style instead of discussing and analyzing the historical facts. The truth is that after the Dresden air attacks, even British Prime Minister Winston Churchill looked at the rubble and ordered a review of what he called the "bombing of German cities simply for the sake of increasing terror, though under other pretexts".
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There are other good arguments to support the conclusion that the relentless bombing of German cities did, indeed, conflict with international law and therefore can be judged a war crime. Of course, one must not leave out the bombing attacks perpetrated by the German Luftwaffe against Guernica, Warsaw, Rotterdam or Belgrade, which were also war crimes. But out of fear they might nurture nationalistic ideas or be misunderstood and criticized by the foreign media, German politicians continue to evade a detailed discussion of the historical facts.
Instead, they prefer to loudly lament the popularity of neo-Nazis who dare to insult Holocaust victims. Again, emotionalism and moralizing beat out rationalism. DPA Allied bombers left Dresden in ruins in Historians still debate if the attacks can be justified militarily. Even Winston Churchill questioned them.
Meanwhile, my year-old son has started to ask me about the Nazis. While we were living in London, his schoolmates sometimes greeted him mockingly with a "Heil Hitler.