- WASHINGTON -- Ordinarily,
our boats patrolled Vietnam's rivers in pairs. But on this night we had
several teams operating together as we launched the Pentagon's latest ingenious
scheme for winning the war in the Mekong Delta.
- The concept was simple enough: Instead of surprising
people with conventional gunfire during raids, the boats would first set
the houses and buildings on fire with bows and arrows. The brass called
this early version of "shock and awe" Operation Flaming Arrow.
- Of course, the flimsy huts burned like matchbooks, leaving
the families homeless and destitute.
- The next day, civil action teams of soldiers would arrive
bearing sheets of corrugated tin for new roofs and bags of rice to help
the villagers get started again. There would also be bars of soap and clothing
from church groups in the states.
- I remember a particular time when, with the fires still
smoldering in the stultifying heat of a Delta morning, the teams distributed
boxes of heavy sweaters.
- I'm sure the church folks back home felt good about their
gifts. But we shared with the villagers a sense of absolute mystification
at a policy that would burn down people's homes in the middle of the night,
then give them tin and soap and sweaters to rebuild their lives.
- Our government called it "pacification." We
called it madness. It all has come back to me while watching the news from
Iraq, where we should be applying more of the lessons so painfully learned
in Vietnam. Instead, we seem to be repeating our mistakes.
- What I remember most from those nights are the faces
- and the eyes. The children would be terrified, but also oddly fascinated
in that way that kids have.
- The mothers, beyond ordinary fear, would be wildly angry,
often unleashing a flood of invective that, of course, none of the Americans
could specifically understand because no one spoke the language.
- The old widows - there seemed to be one in every hut
- would look at you with the cold, dead eyes of people who had been violated
forever and seemed to expect always to suffer.
- But mostly I remember the men, who, if they hadn't slipped
away when the mess began, would be taken by the American troops for interrogation.
- Usually, several young soldiers would throw the man down
while yelling the few Vietnamese phrases they knew. At least one would
hold a rifle to his head. Another might stand on his neck. His hands would
be bound behind his back. He would be wrenched up into a kneeling position.
Many times he would be blindfolded.
- Eventually a "pacification" team member would
come along and question the man in Vietnamese. He would be asked to show
his papers - documents which, more often than not, had been lost in the
fire. He would be yelled at, cursed at, and sometimes spit on. Many times
he would be kicked and punched.
- Those lucky enough to have the right kind of documents
and otherwise convince the Americans of their innocence (of what?), would
- Then you would see it. In the eyes. The clean, white
fury of men who have been reduced to abject humiliation and powerlessness
in front of their families. The hatred in their eyes would be as pure as
any you would ever see. It would last forever. You would never forget it.
- I saw those eyes again the other day on the evening news.
A group of young US soldiers, sent by their government to go house to house
in a sweltering Baghdad suburb, had kicked in a door and rousted a family.
The children were terrified, crying. The mother was furious, screaming.
The eyes of the US soldiers were filled with confusion and shame at what
they were being made to do by their government.
- And the father, down on the ground in front of his house
with a kid from Arkansas or Detroit or California standing on his neck,
showed in his eyes the kind of white-hot hatred that will take a thousand
years to extinguish.
- President Bush, who spent almost all of his military
service out of uniform and involved in political campaigns in the South,
and Vice President Dick Cheney, who never served at all (he had, in his
words, "other priorities"), would do well to consider the lessons
- We did not win the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese
people because we occupied their country while we burned down their homes
and killed them and brutalized and abused them.
- We will not win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people
by wrecking their towns and cities, destroying their homes, terrorizing
their families and humiliating their men. Incredibly, we have again become
an occupying army, out of touch with the realities of the lives and culture
of the people we are there to save. Not surprisingly, the Iraqi people
are striking back.
- Recently, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the chief commander
of allied forces in Iraq, said that "maybe our iron-fisted approach
to the conduct of ops is beginning to alienate Iraqis."
- Perhaps today's army is remembering the eyes.
- James L. Larocca, a professor of public policy at Southampton
College, was a naval officer in Vietnam during 1967-68.
- 2002-2003 Copyright © aljazeerah.info & aljazeerah.us.
All Rights Reserved.