When I first heard of My Lai it was during the 2004 Presidential campaign. I saw clips of the things John Kerry said about how massacres were routine. Limbs are cut off for sport. Women and children slaughtered in a way reminiscent of Genghis Khan. I somehow convinced myself that he was lying. But I did go on to discover My Lai. It was very bizarre to me. I wondered how this could have happened. I chalked it up to fog of war and a few bad apples.
Around the same time I think I saw bits of an interview with Bob Kerrey where he discussed his own involvement in war crimes in Vietnam. It might have been this interview. I recall him looking very uncomfortable, and I wasn't quite sure if he believed what he was saying as he justified his actions. I had a hard time processing this because it was in deep conflict with the vision of America that I had.
Fast forward to today and I've come to accept that these myths I've been fed are nonsense. In fact what we see coming from the US is grotesque violence in service to wealth and power. I did hear Noam Chomsky say that My Lai was a completely ordinary incident during the war. It was so commonplace that at the time it happened the anti-war movement paid little attention to it. Somehow later it became well known and widely discussed for reasons I won't go into, so the anti-war movement then sought to exploit it, but prior to that there was no reason to regard it as exceptional. I always assumed Chomsky's characterization was right. I assumed that the so called radicals, the war protestors, were telling the truth. People like John Kerry at the Winter Soldier hearings.
But what we now have is the documentation proving that the radicals were right. Nick Turse has the evidence complied in "Kill Anything that Moves". Hat tip to Vinny for the heads up. Culled from the National Archives and sworn testimony he shows that really the scorched earth wanton destruction was official policy. The evidence comes from Pentagon research. For an overview it's worth checking out this interview with Bill Moyers.
A couple of take aways on all this for me. Number 1, it's bizarre that Americans don't know what Vietnam was. Germany did some awful things during WWII. It was terrible. But at least they know it. They admit it. They have done a lot in terms of reparations. If they didn't acknowledge it and didn't compensate the victims we'd think there was something wrong with them.
The second point is we need to recognize who knew their stuff in the past and who didn't. Mainstream sources were totally wrong. Radicals, particularly radical leftists, were spot on. If we continue to listen to the "respected" authorities and mainstreamers, blithely assuming that they are right because they aren't considered radical, we'll get it wrong, with disastrous consequences.
What are these same radicals saying today about the climate, about what is happening in places like Egypt, Iraq, and Afghanistan? What do they say about surveillance, about the corporate environmental devastation and human devastation? It's worth listening to them even though they are portrayed as radical.