Reclaiming the Truth about Vietnam

 by Robert C. Koehler | Common Wonders – TRANSCEND Media Service

20 Sep 2017 – “From Ia Drang to Khe Sanh, from Hue to Saigon and countless villages in between, they pushed through jungles and rice paddies, heat and monsoon, fighting heroically to protect the ideals we hold dear as Americans. Through more than a decade of combat, over air, land, and sea, these proud Americans upheld the highest traditions of our Armed Forces.”

OK, I get it. Soldiers suffer, soldiers die in the wars we wage, and the commander in chief has to, occasionally, toss clichés on their graves.

The words are those of Barack Obama, five-plus years ago, issuing a Memorial Day proclamation establishing a 13-year commemoration of the Vietnam War, for which, apparently, about $65 million was appropriated.

Veterans for Peace calls it money allocated to rewrite history and has begun a counter-campaign called Full Disclosure, the need for which is more glaring than ever, considering that there is close to zero political opposition to the unleashed American empire and its endless war on terror.

Just the other day, for instance, 89 senators quietly voted to pass the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, signing off on a $700 billion defense budget, which ups annual military spending by $80 billion and, as Common Dreams reported, “will dump a larger sum of money into the military budget than even President Donald Trump asked for while also authorizing the production of 94 F-35 jets, two dozen more than the Pentagon requested.”

And of course there’s no controversy here, no media clamor demanding to know where the money will come from. “Money for war just is. Like the tides,” Adam Johnson of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting tweeted, as quoted by Common Dreams.

Oh quiet profits! The Full Disclosure campaign rips away the lies that allow America’s wars to continue: GIs slogging through jungles and rice paddies to protect the ideals we hold dear. These words are not directed at the people who put Obama into office, who did so believing he would end the Bush wars. The fact that he continued them mocks the “value” we call democracy, indeed, turns it into a hollow shell.

The U.S. Air Force dropped over 6 million tons of bombs and other ordnance on Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia between 1964 and 1973, more than it expended in World War II, Howard Machtinger notes at the Full Disclosure website. And more than 19 million gallons of toxic chemicals, including the infamous Agent Orange, were dumped on the Vietnam countryside.

“Accurate estimates are hard to come by,” he writes, “but as many as three million Vietnamese were likely killed, including two million civilians, hundreds of thousands seriously injured and disabled, millions of internally displaced, croplands and forests destroyed: incredible destruction — physical, environmental, institutional, and psychological. The term ecocide was coined to try to capture the devastation of the Vietnamese landscape.”

And: “All Vietnamese, as a matter of course, were referred to as ‘gooks.’ So the distinction between combatants and non-combatants, which had been eroding throughout 20th century warfare, virtually disappeared.”

And then there was the war’s effect on the soldiers who fought it and the “moral damage” so many suffered: “To date,” Machtinger writes, “estimates of veteran suicides range from a low of 9,000 to 150,000, the latter almost triple the number of U.S. deaths during the actual conflict.”

So I pause in the midst of these numbers, this data, letting the words and the memories wash over me: Agent Orange, napalm, gook, My Lai. Such words link only with terrible irony to the clichés of Obama’s proclamation: solemn reverence . . . honor . . . heads held high . . . the ideals we hold dear…

The first set of words sickened a vast segment of the American public and caused the horror of “Vietnam Syndrome” to cripple and emasculate the military-industrial complex for a decade and a half. Slowly, the powers that be regrouped, redefined how we fought our wars: without widespread national sacrifice or a universal draft; and with smart bombs and even smarter public relations, ensuring that most of the American public could watch our clean, efficient wars in the comfort of their living rooms.

What was also necessary was to marginalize the anti-war voices that shut down the Vietnam War. This was accomplished politically, beginning with the surrender of the Democratic Party to its military-industrial funders in the wake of George McGovern’s 1972 presidential campaign. Eventually, endless war became the new normal, and blotting the shame of our “loss” in Vietnam from the historical record became a priority.

The Full Disclosure campaign is saying: no way. One aspect of this campaign is an interactive exhibit of the 1968 My Lai massacre, in which American soldiers rounded up and killed more than 500 villagers. The exhibit was created by the Chicago chapter of Vets for Peace, which hopes to raise enough money to take it on a national tour and rekindle public awareness of the reality of war.

A slice of that reality can be found in a New Yorker article written in 2015 by Seymour Hersh, the reporter who broke the story some four and a half decades earlier. In the article, Hersh revisits the story of one of the GI participants in My Lai, Paul Meadlo:

“After being told by (Lt. William) Calley to ‘take care of this group,’ one Charlie Company soldier recounted, Meadlo and a fellow-soldier ‘were actually playing with the kids, telling the people where to sit down and giving the kids candy.’ When Calley returned and said that he wanted them dead, the soldier said, ‘Meadlo just looked at him like he couldn’t believe it. He says, “Waste them?” When Calley said yes, another soldier testified, Meadlo and Calley ‘opened up and started firing.’ But then Meadlo ‘started to cry.’”

And that’s the war, and those are our values, buried with the dead villagers in a mass grave.

Reprinted from TMS PEACE JOURNALISM, 25 September 2017


Robert C. Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based peace journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound (Xenos Press) is still available. Contact him at


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Begging for War

(Photo: (stephan)/Flickr/cc)

By Robert C. Koehler

“There are no good options,” Brian Williams said the other night on MSNBC, launching a discussion about North Korea with the implication that war—maybe nuclear war—is the only solution to the problem it represents.

We’ve been cradling our own suicide for seven decades. The baby’s eyes open…

And Williams was right, though not in a way that he understood. When war—forceful domination, victory through threat, carnage and, if necessary, annihilation—is the ultimate limit of one’s consciousness, there are no good options. Even the peace negotiated in the context of war is bound to be temporary and grudging and therefore a bad option—sort of like the “peace” achieved at the end of the Korean War, after which both sides still, as Reuters reports, “have thousands of rockets and artillery pieces aimed at each other across the world’s most heavily armed border.”

Only beyond the context of war are there any options at all. Only beyond the context of war does humanity have any hope of avoiding suicide. And contrary to the consensus viewpoint of mainstream politicians and reporters, this is not completely unexplored territory.

Because Donald Trump is president, reaching for this trans-war consciousness is as crucial as it has ever been.

Maybe the best place to begin is by noting that there are some 22,000 nuclear weapons on the planet. This fact is almost never part of the news about North Korea, which has, as of this week, when it detonated an alleged hydrogen bomb, conducted six nuclear tests. The fact that Kim Jong-un’s tiny, unpredictable country is a member of the nuclear club is disconcerting, but the fact that there’s a “nuclear club” at all—and that its members are spending as much as a trillion dollars a decade to modernize their nuclear weapons—is even more disconcerting. And the fact that the modernization process is happening so quietly, without controversy or public debate (or even awareness) exacerbates the horror exponentially.

North Korea may be “begging for war,” as U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley exclaimed, but it’s not alone in doing so. None of the planet’s nuclear-armed nations have abided by the 1970 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which explicitly calls for complete nuclear disarmament. How easy this has been to ignore.

As Simon Tisdall wrote recently in the Guardian: “…the past and present leaders of the U.S., Russia, China, France and the U.K., whose governments signed but have not fulfilled the terms of the 1970 nuclear non-proliferation treaty, have to some degree brought the North Korea crisis on themselves. Kim Jong-un’s recklessness and bad faith is a product of their own.”

Preparing for war produces, at best, obedience, which usually comes with hidden resentments. Because North Korea has displayed defiance rather than obedience, the mainstream media have portrayed the country and its leader as, essentially, evil cartoon characters: a crazy country that doesn’t know its place and is therefore begging for war.

To reach beyond war, to reach toward the future and create the possibility that it will arrive—to create sensible options—first of all requires dealing with one’s enemy with respect and understanding. In the case of North Korea, this means revisiting the Korean War, in which some 3 million North Koreans died and, as Anna Fifield pointed out recently in the Washington Post, “the U.S. Air Force leveled the North, to the extent that American generals complained there was nothing left to bomb.

“Ever since,” she writes, “North Korea has existed in a state of insecurity, with the totalitarian regime telling the population that the United States is out to destroy them—again.

“It is in this context that, following the collapse of its nuclear-armed benefactor, the Soviet Union, the Kim regime has sought weapons of its own.”

She points out that this is not irrational behavior—certainly not for a small, isolated country in the crosshairs of the United States. On a planet with no good options, North Korea’s capacity to produce a little mutually assured destruction may be its best bet to curtail invasion. Indeed, no nuclear-armed nation has ever been invaded.

With that understanding in place, John Delury, a professor at the Yonsei University Graduate School of International Studies in Seoul, has some further advice to offer: “Now is the time,” he wrote in the Washington Post in April, “to jump-start a diplomatic initiative that reopens channels, lowers tensions and caps North Korea’s capabilities where they are. Then, working closely with the new government in Seoul and others, the United States should support a long-term strategy that integrates North Korea into regional stability and prosperity….

“By simply inflicting economic pain, threatening military strikes and keeping tensions high, the United States is playing into the worst tendencies of the North Korean system. Kim’s nuclear intentions will harden and North Korea’s capabilities will only grow. It’s time to reverse course.”

The time is now: to stop pretending that war will keep us safe, to stop cradling humanity’s capacity to commit suicide.

And the United States is not Donald Trump. Our collective consciousness is bigger than that of a bully. That means we have the capacity to understand that the threat posed by North Korea is a reminder that nuclear disarmament for the whole planet is long overdue. There are no good nuclear weapons.

Published on Thursday, September 07, 2017, by Common Dreams.

Robert C. Koehler

Robert C. Koehler

Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His new book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound is now available. Contact him at or visit his website at

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Buddhist Social Democracy, Part 2

by Stefan Schindler

In Buddha’s worldview, “each life is precious, endowed with freedom and opportunity.” The Buddhist social democratic path to peace offers widespread time and place for deconditioning.

Buddha says the institutions of society ought to serve schools, not the other way around.

Buddha’s politics entail an educational revolution, inspired by Whitehead’s maxim: “Boring teachers should be brought to trial for the murder of young souls.”

The heart of Buddhism is the fusion of wisdom and compassion: the enlightenment adventure, individually and socially. This includes reverence for language, and constant cultivation of the critical thinking skills necessary to combat sophistry in all its nefarious forms.

Buddha understood the perverse impact of sophistry on the welfare of the multitude. Socrates did too, saying at his trial that, actually, Athens was on trial. Socrates today would say King’s quaternity includes a fifth: “Wealth, poverty, racism, war, and sophistry always go together; and we cannot solve one without solving the others.”

As political discourse becomes just another form of the curse of advertising, the more a society sinks to what Thomas Hobbes called “the war of all against all.”

Socrates was condemned to death for his battle against the sophists. In modern America, the brightest lights of two generations – John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King and John Lennon – were assassinated.

A national pedagogy of Socratic-Buddhist insight – with beneficent influence on the world – could slow contemporary America’s repeat of the self-engendered social implosion of classical Athens’ march of folly.

All the wars in the world are sophistically engendered, sustained by citizens seduced by schools and news-media that ignorate instead of edify.

Buddha’s emphasis on respect for language – and for knowing relevant information – is part of his therapeutic approach to healing the world’s woes. “Right speech” is another spoke on Buddha’s eightfold Dharmachakra.

Buddha’s political vision is heart-centered rationality, where the power of the state and all social institutions promote communal well-being. Communal well-being includes each individual’s freedom for self-discovery and creative evolution. Buddha’s politics are educational, pragmatic, organic. A community is a web of life.

The word Buddha means awake. Buddhist social democracy neither intends nor promotes religious conversion.

Tenzin Gyatso, the fourteenth Dalai Lama, daily declares he is a socialist, while saying also that the point is not to become a Buddhist but awake. He urges “a common religion of kindness.”

Buddhist social democracy blends holistic education, egalitarian economics, and a culture-wide primacy of cooperation over competition. Pope Francis – igniting a Renaissance humanism to redeem our spirit – echoes the Dalai Lama’s call to awakening.

If humans are walking question marks – and if philosophy is the journey from the love of wisdom to the wisdom of love – then this is what Buddhism teaches, and what the sangha practices.

Groucho Marx said: “Blessed are the cracked, for they will let in the light.”

Now here’s a Kenneth Patchen poem.

The scene of the crime which is also known as civilized living.

Until the Sun’s Wound is healed in our own hearts.

Love (which includes poetry) is to science

as the free and beautiful catchings of a child are

to the vile and unreturning throes of the hangman.

A feeling of passionate mercy. The rest doesn’t matter a damn!

                                                                                           Hallelujah Anyway



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The Continuing Horror of 9/11

9/11 Memorial logo. Author: National September 11 Memorial & Museum. In the public domain.

Monday, September 11, 2017

By Barbara Kidney

The Continuing Horror of 9/11

Sixteen years later, and tragically, the horrific legacy of 9/11 lives on. Manhattan is my home town. My Mom, like her own Mom, had been born in Manhattan.  My Dad (the the Irish-American Brooklynite) worked on Maiden Lane, in lower Manhattan. He had been retired for many years at the time of 9/11, and I had left even more years ago.

At the time of the 9/11 attack, I was living in the Hudson Valley, with friends & neighbors working in Manhattan, including possibly my own husband, working as courier driver.  Eventually I found out that no one close to me had died in the attack, but the brother of an acquaintance (the brother had been a Manhattan chef) was killed, and the young adult son of a lovely, typically cheerful friend of mine, on his way to visit his fiancé across the country, was on board one of the planes that hit the towers.

People caught in the attack, NYC Transit workers, police, firefighters, EMT and other emergency personnel, exerted heroic efforts to prevent further deaths and to otherwise respond to the tragedy. As a native of NYC, I certainly was not at all surprised to hear of the various stories of sudden heroism by ordinary New Yorkers, who typically rise to such occasions with down-to-earth decency, humble and amazing courage, and competence.  Many of these have had their lives impeded and shortened by harm to their health, from the asbestos and toxins they breathed in, from the lack of protective equipment, and from our nation’s unique failure to provide adequate healthcare to all but the wealthy and the electeds.

And, I am proud to say, like so many of my fellow New Yorkers, including those who lost loved ones in the attack, the very last thing I wanted to have happen after 9/11 was for more civilians to be violently attacked and killed.  The last thing we wanted to have happen is for normal humans doing normal activities – people caring for their babies, caring for each other, caring for their pets, going to their jobs, taking their kids to school, growing crops (and flowers), creating art, healing the sick, making music, pursuing scientific enquiry, falling in love- the last thing we wanted after that hellish day, was to have some Americans choose to continue the work of the devil, and go around bombing people, who are just trying to live their lives in their own communities.

However, the very thing we most abhor, the killing of other humans, just trying to live their own human lives, was what those Americans with the most decision-making power chose to do.  After arranging for Bin Laden’s family in the U.S to be flown safely out of the US without questioning right after 9/11, W. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Rice, chose to violently kill, maim, torture Afghanis and Iraqis.

Had the governments of Afghanistan or Iraq declared war on us or even attacked us? No, they had not.  Which country, besides possibly our own, was most responsible, for 9/11?  Our dear friend, Saudi Arabia, to whom we give billions of US tax money for their weapons of terrorism – W. Bush, Obama, Trump…one thing these presidents all have in common is that. Many self-identified liberals and progressives opposed the invasion of Iraq during the W. Bush years, but then supported the US war on the Middle East during the Obama years.

According to well-respected human rights institutions such as Amnesty International, Reprieve, and Human Rights Watch, US military violence in the Middle East has killed hundreds of thousands of civilians, displaced millions, and under Obama, sneak drone murders of civilians in several countries has increased about tenfold compared to W., resulting in thousands of civilians being murdered, and Trump continues the dronings.  I use the word “murders” advisedly – bombing people with drones operated across the world, and then bombing the first-responders who come to render aid to the victims, is officially a crime according to international courts of justice, as well to anyone with the least exacting of moral compasses.

US presidents have much decision-making power, but it takes the many to empower their decisions. So many ways to enable US military terrorism.  Even though US wars and other military actions have been unjust and often illegal according to international standards, join the military or the National Guard, encourage young people to do so, and thank military members for their service (to Commanders-in-Chief with track records of violently sociopathic policy decisions).

Repeat the malarkey that the US military defends our freedoms (no, we do not have the freedom to kill people in other countries.  Are they invading us? No, we are invading them.  Are they threatening our Bill of Rights? No, we are doing that to ourselves, with, for example, the “Patriot” Acts, NSA, and Border Patrol allowed to do whatever they want to whomever they want, whenever). Repeat the malarkey that US military are all heroes.  Keep silent when others mouth the malarkey.  Never speak up about the blatant immorality of US declared and undeclared wars and the drone murders. Never join or support a peace group. Call violence “patriotic” and call failure to support mass murder “unpatriotic,” call those who try to protect their communities against US military violence “insurgents” like that’s a bad thing (hey, remember 1776 – who were the insurgents then?).  And when you hear others speak this way, be sure to remain silent. Never write a letter to the editor against US military decisions, never contact your electeds to protest US military actions.

Because fact is, those who can decide to initiate violent militaristic activities, would be utterly helpless to enact them, if it weren’t for all the myriad enablers making all those atrocities possible.

Special acknowledgement to all who remain silent about all that- the ongoing hellish legacy of 9/11 would be impossible without you. So, about three thousand people killed on 9/11/01, and since then, via military actions, the US has killed or otherwise adversely impacted well over a million people, who had, incidentally, nothing to do with 9/11.

To those who did have something to do with 9/11, we continue to give heaps of our tax money and weapons.  Can we stop yet?  Can we stop the hellish legacy of 9/11?   A reminder – in sharp contrast to the Democratic Party, as well as to the Republican Party, the Green Party accepts no corporate (think arms and drone manufacturers) funding, and the official political platform of the Green Party clearly supports peace.  Thou shalt not kill.  Is this really such a hard directive to follow? What will you do?

Barbara Kidney HVGP Co-Chair

Reprinted from Hudson Valley Green Party Blog, with permission of author.

Barbara Kidney, Ph.D., a counseling psychologist in private practice, resides in the Hudson Valley of NYS and does what she can to promote the welfare of Earth and Earthlings. She is a member of American Psychological Association’s Division 48, the Society for the Study of Peace, Conflict, and Violence, and a founding member of Hudson Valley Green Party and of the Drone Alert – Hudson Valley project 2012 – 2015.


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