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Winter Soldier

Testimony given in Detroit, Michigan, on January 31, 1971, February 1 and 2, 1971

Sponsored by Vietnam Veterans Against the War, Inc.

Part III

MODERATOR. Ron, I'd like to ask you a question on the drug situation again. What was the attitude in your unit on drugs? Were the senior NCOs and officers aware that you and other men might be using hard drugs and, if so, could you relate some incidents as to how they reacted?

MCSHEFFREY. Well, they knew all about it. Like one day my first sergeant walked in on our bunker and there were at least seven or eight of us shooting up. He walked in the doorway and he just stood there. He had a big nothing in his eyes. He turned around and walked away and never said anything again.

MODERATOR. He never said anything. He never asked you what you were doing? He just turned around and walked out?

MCSHEFFREY. Well, I think he seen what we were doing.

LIFTON. Let me make one point about a few things we've been saying the last few minutes that I think has to be said. There's a lot of effort on the part of various people, many of them in the government, to prove things statistically about Vietnam. They've been doing it ever since the war began. The statistics now, and of course they always turn out to be false, but one of the new statistics now, is that all this talk about disturbances or dehumanization of disturbance in Vietnam GIs doesn't apply because they have statistics that show that the psychiatric cases have diminished in percentage as compared with the Korean War or World War II. I want to expose that statistic for what it is. In other words, it doesn't really tell us anything. In fact, it's another one of those sort of technician's misleading efforts to really get away from the heart of the matter. Most of the harmful behavior that occurs in Vietnam is due to the malignant environment we create there, an environment of murder. The aberrant behavior. For instance, the men who killed others at My Lai, let's say, had no discernible or diagnosable psychiatric disease.

They were, I would say, in an advanced state of numbing and brutalization and under enormous pressures. The kind of thing that could happen to any one of us, were we put under similar training and that kind of situation. But they don't have any nameable psychiatric impairment; they'll never be diagnosed. The same is true for many who have various forms of drug addiction. As you know, many people with drug addiction don't come into medical facilities even in this country and don't fit into any statistics. So when one begins to examine the extraordinary impairment and destructiveness of the Vietnam War on all levels of American society, one shouldn't be led by these narrow statistics about psychiatric cases.

MODERATOR. Dr. Peck, I'd like to ask you a question. We've been hearing a lot about the veterans the use of drugs, the problems. Most of the men that came here have come from working class families. How are their fathers taking all this? We're kind of like the sons of the hard-hats, and what's the American public saying about all of this? At least from your point of view.

PECK. Well, one of the things I wanted to comment on was this whole question of dehumanization, and a certain kind of presentation of the dehumanization process, as one that begins with Army training then one that proceeds further in terms of the brutalization of warfare itself. I think that what we have to come to grips with is that, fundamentally speaking, the working class youth in our society, white, black, brown, red, yellow, and so forth, serve fundamentally as the father for this kind of neo-imperialist venture in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. And being the father for that kind of military intervention, their programming doesn't begin in the Marine training camp or in the Army base or at Great Lakes, but the programming to be a bullet and a bomb, begins in that working class household. That's where the dehumanization process initiates, because if you come out of a working class background family, and that's my situation also, you come into a situation where your father, as the provider for that family, is in fact a very powerless figure.

Your family itself is a very powerless kin unit. The neighborhood that you grow up in is a neighborhood that is without power in terms affecting the very fateful decisions of life in the society. And so the one dominant characterization of that kind this seems to me like profound truth of culture that you live in, in a working class area, is a characterization of profound powerlessness. Of not being able to really determine your own future in your own way. To that extent you're constantly involved in an effort to prove otherwise. To prove that you really are something. That you really do count. That you really represent some sense of power. Often times this relates to one's own kin unit, a tremendous sense of what we might call kin chauvinism, ethnic chauvinism and fundamentally for the male working class youth, a pattern of intense male chauvinism. That male chauvinism is one that focuses primarily on penis power. That's where you become powerful, through your penis. By literally not only expressing your dehumanization in a profound way, but by brutalizing other persons, primarily women in your neighborhood. Just as your old man brutalized your mother. And so you grow up in a household, and in a neighborhood, that is oppressive, that is fundamentally oppressive. Yet you're trapped and the only way you can get out of it, in addition to this kind of penis power, is through a sort of entertainment route. You know, like you can join the Golden Gloves and get your face smashed in or smash somebody else's face so that you eventually get into a prizefighting ring. Or you become an all-star, all-city quarterback in football, which I was, and at each moment you have to prove and demonstrate your male prowess and your male power and your masculinity, which involves brutalizing other persons. That's reinforced fundamentally in the basic socializing agency in the working class area, namely the working class school. See, that's your first Marine Training Camp. That's where you do what you're told. That's where you learn to be an automaton, and it doesn't necessarily come from loss of sleep. It comes out of a very rigid custodial jail, that is termed an elementary school, and that is termed a high school. You're trying to break out at all times. Where can you break out to? You can't be a man hero; you can't be a football hero; you can't be the leading outstanding boxer; you join the service.

You join the military. And what has happened fundamentally in Vietnam, that I think relates to a certain kind of awakening and a sense of liberation, a certain kind of struggle on the part of the GI, is that they were placed in the midst of fighting a people, fighting working people like themselves, fighting people who are struggling for a certain kind of dignity of person, fighting a people who were struggling against a similar kind of oppressiveness. I was in Vietnam recently, as recently as last November, but I was North, and I visited working class families. I visited women working in textile factories. I visited workers working in the factories in the caves. I visited working class and peasant homes. I saw men in Vietnam walking down the street hand in hand. I saw then embracing one another in public. I saw them hitting one another's heads. I saw them touching one another tenderly and they were soldiers. I think what I'm trying to say is that the oppression, the dehumanization is very, very deep, extremely deep. It is not a question of becoming somehow dehumanized as though you left the States as a humanized person and somehow you become dehumanized and now we have to put you back to where you were. The fundamental normal characterization of people of our society who suffer this oppression is a form of dehumanization. That may not necessarily make you psychotic in terms of some kind of category of syndromes, but the fact of the matter is, that all of us, each in our own way, have been brutalized and dehumanized and we're already bullets before we go into the military.

MODERATOR. One of the problems that this country faces is the fact there's been 2 1/2 million men that have served in Vietnam and that's an awful lot of manpower whether it's going into factories or just dropping out of society. Some of us are coming back with physical scars and some are coming back with emotional scars. Sitting beside me is Charlie Stephens. Charlie was in the 101st Airborne, and he's brought back maybe some of those invisible scars that I think a lot of us have. Charlie, why don't you talk to us for a couple of minutes and tell us about what is _____ coming down man? Why can't you get any help?

STEPHENS. When I came back to the United States in 1967, I know that some of the things I did in Vietnam I wouldn't have done prior to going over there. At least I don't think I would have done it. But I knew something was wrong because I could still do those things now that I was back here. I had thirty minutes of debriefing, a steak dinner, and a guy patted me on the back and said, "Well, you did a good job in Vietnam. Now you're back home, forget it." It just didn't work that way because when I was on leave I would get uptight, I'd get very irritable. If someone says something to me, I get real excited sometimes.

I can't answer a person. Maybe we'll get into an argument or something, and I can't give them the answer that they want. They start to, you know, like really pressure me for an answer. I'll get uptight, and I might swing at them. I won't think twice about it 'cause I was taught it's better to give than to receive. A chaplain told me that: "Do unto others before they do unto you." I don't know 'cause like I came back here, I went to a psychiatrist. Where was the first one? Well, before I went over, I went to a psychiatrist at Fort Campbell, Kentucky because after my paratroop training I thought it was all over. When I got to my unit I was still a cherry, so they threw me out of the window twice with a poncho and told me to make my cherry blast. I went to a psychiatrist the next day because a sergeant reported that he saw me jump out of a window twice. Well, when I came back from Vietnam, I went to a psychiatrist again because of the things I did, cutting off ears, castration. I was a medic, but we did all this. They wanted to get an accurate body count so you cut the right ear off everyone you had killed. Now, I was taught in Fort Sam Houston that we just supposed to carry our weapons for our personal protection and our patients' protection and that we were supposed to treat the enemy the same way we would like, treat an American soldier. Several times I had to leave like women lying in hammocks dying, one lady suffering from a chest wound. I know the lady died and there were two babies left unconscious. The lieutenant told us to just go sit up on this hill, and the next day when they were burying the dead, they were burying these two babies too. They were alive when we left that village. We had guys up on top of the hill firing down with machine guns at these people, and at that time it didn't, you know, it really bothered me, but I was afraid to speak on it. And before I realized it, I was doing the same thing. When I came back here, well, now I'm out of the service, I've been going to the VA for treatment since 1968, and every time I go to a doctor, he says, "Well, you'll be all right in a couple of years, six or seven years, you'll be all right, so don't worry about it." So finally I got one psychiatrist that seemed to like really be interested like in treating the guys. But this guy he's so busy that you can never see him, and then if you go down, I have a peptic ulcer also that I got in the Army, if you go downstairs for medical treatment like for my feet or for my ulcer, if I go downstairs for medication, they say, "Well, you don't need any medication because it's all in your mind. It's all psychogenic," they tell me. And that's the ball game. You get no treatment from the VA, and the doctor that you have like he's so busy, if you're working, you can't see him when you want to.

MODERATOR. I want to ask a question of the panel in general. Where are we going nationally? Men like Charlie and lots of others can't get help. Guys are coming back as drug addicts. They're coming back and finding unemployment, inflation. They can't adjust and relate to the life they had before, and I think every vet here can swear up and down that he could never go back to being the way he was before. Are we going to go through a national guilt complex? Is this country ever going to wake up and realize what the _____ we've done? And if it does, what are the effects going to be? Not just on the 2 1/2 million vets that have already realized this, but I mean on the whole nation and that's open for anybody that thinks they can answer it.

MCSHEFFREY. I think there's another thing which guilt has something to do with. That's when you get out and try to get a job 'cause like we see what our system is doing. You know how they survive with this system by mass genocide and stuff like that. How can a guy come back here and really want to make a lot of money?

BJORNSON. I'm sure none of us can answer your question. The war isn't the only conflict, but the war has a lot of secondary conflicts or maybe parallels. This includes certainly the ecological problem, the problem of racism, the problem of oppression and repression. Our federal government is attempting to try to control what they consider a monster they've created. It's hard to say. You know, Marx once said that this country would change without a revolution. Maybe it will.

GALICIA. I think we've all sat here, and we've pondered your question and its magnitude. I think that maybe the answer's really simple. That we're just going to have to get the _____ out of there. And that we're going to have to stop doing the things that we as veterans all know we do. And treat the ones that are among us now who are actively seeking it. I think that in time it would go away, like all other natural things, including floods and fires. It would just disappear. I feel compelled to end my part of this thing by saying just this. One of my severest critics brought up a point to me, my wife. She said, while we were out for supper, that she had some fear in her mind that because of the presentation of some of the panels, the words that were being used, the appearance of the people here, that maybe what they were trying to do would have a dampening effect upon the people who were here, who represented the people that they were trying to get to, and that person is the middle American, whatever the devil that means I think we've all got our concept of it. I'm not back long enough to not identify with these people. I identify with them tremendously, and we haven't used such terms up here as "_____" and so on. We all know they exist. And even the kids to my left and right have refrained from this. But I would like to come to these people's defense only from the standpoint that they are trying to tell you what it was really like. And for the most part, I know they are telling you the truth. And that was the language of Vietnam; that was one of the few avenues of expression open to them. You can't try to express an idea without that kind of thing coming back, I think that the thing that impresses me most is not that a man will come up here and tell you about the things he's done. I think that takes some courage. But I think the real courage is for a man to come up here with the gall he's experiencing and tell the things he's done with the definite knowledge in mind that he might not be believed.

CLOKE. I'd like to try and follow up on the question, if I could. And also try and follow up on some of the things that Sid mentioned because I think they're quite relevant. I think this discussion has been interesting so far because a large number of things have, I think, been presented to us both in terms of what has been talked about and what hasn't been talked about. I'd like to try and find a way of tying those things together because I think they tie together. I think the framework that we have to work from is expressed in a very famous statement by the Baron von Clauswitz, who everybody knows is a master strategist of war, who said that "war is a continuation of politics by other means." And I think that that's a fundamental fact that has to be appreciated about war. You cannot separate the problems of individual psychology and the individual psychological problems of people in a wartime situation, or the individual problems whatever they are, that are faced in that wartime situation from the problems of the society as a whole. So, what has not been talked about, except there was one mention of it, are the thousands of different forms of chauvinism and bias and prejudice which we manifest in every aspect of our daily life. The thousand different forms of self-doubt, of self-hatred, of social schizophrenia, which take place not just individually among individual Vietnam GIs, but among everybody in the population. There's not a single person in the United States today who feels like a whole human being. Not a single individual who feels creative, or loved, or worthwhile; or all of those things. And I think that that's a terribly fundamental fact, and it's not just the individual who's involved in that understanding. It's the total society that we live in. So I think that what has to be gotten to is a kind of social psychology of imperialism. A social psychology of the relationship between colonizer and colonized; between racist and the subjects of racism, and in terms of sexism. Another fact that was not mentioned is just the mere simple fact that GIs are in a totally male environment, which encourages and increases all of the natural forms of male dominance and male chauvinism that exists in the society as a whole. The other thing that I think has to be gotten to is some attempt at definition to understand what we're talking about; to begin to put it in some kind of a context so that chauvinism doesn't just appear like an abstract word coming down from the mouths of professionals, but has a reality to it. The same thing is true of the question of atrocities.

What attempts have been made to define the question of atrocity. And I think that that's an important thing that has to be done. The reason it's important is because of the fact that all of those things have subjective meanings, if you will. Subjective, not in terms of the individuals involved, but also in terms of the social classes involved, also in terms of where people are coming from in terms of their attitudes. One does not trust the white colonizer, in Algeria, to make decisions as to what is a colonialist type of behavior. One does not trust a white American to be able to understand all of the different forms of racism within the society, or a male to be able to talk about the question of chauvinism in terms of really defining the ways in which it works, the ways in which it has to be understood. The reason for that is because the facts are just not available to them. We've been raised in an environment which is oppressive in a thousand different ways. And I think that we have to begin to understand the ways in which we have been affected, the ways in which all of our thinking has been affected by that. For example, and this is a problem throughout this whole discussion, I think, is to begin to try and differentiate between form and content, between phenomenon and essence, between the structure of things and the reality, the essence of things. And, on the superficial level, the violence between the United States and the Vietnamese is identical; they both kill one another. They both shoot one another. They deprive each other of human life. But, in fact, the violence between Vietnam and America, on the part of the National Liberation Front and on the part of the American forces in Vietnam, is not at all identical. It's totally different. And the reason it's totally different is the reason behind the violence. The same thing is true with respect to atrocities. That is, that atrocities are subjective; each side defines atrocities in a different way. And it's not just a question of balancing out the atrocities on one side against the atrocities on the other side. It's a question of understanding why they occur; what caused them to occur in the first place. For example, the wiping out of water buffalo in Vietnam which is considered by the Vietnamese to be an atrocity. Americans don't consider it to be an atrocity because they don't particularly care for water buffalo in the first place. The same thing is true with defoliation.

The same thing is true on a number of different levels. While the sides are at different points in time able to come together and engage in agreements as to what constitutes an atrocity, nonetheless, the major atrocity in the war in Vietnam is the war itself; is the fact of imperialism. Is the fact of exploitation and oppression in Vietnam. One of the reasons why people feel guilt about the use of violence is not just because of the fact that they've used violence, but because they used meaningless violence, violence without any sense, without any direction, without any purpose or cause. So, therefore, for example, the poll that was taken by the Harvard Crimson, I believe, among black veterans in Vietnam, found that 53% of the veterans in Vietnam, while opposing the war, believed that they would use the techniques that they learned in the Unites States military to fight against racism and for Black Liberation in the United States. I think that the question of why My Lai happened is a very important question, and, again, everyone here knows that My Lai was not an isolated incident, that it didn't just happen at some single point in time, but has happened throughout the war. But the reason that My Lai happened is not because we're winning the war, but because of the fact that we're losing it, because of the nature of guerilla warfare, because of the inability to resolve the basic conflict that the United States military and, through the form of basic training, prepares people for. The same source of dissatisfaction, you know, "can't get no satisfaction" and all of that, is true for everyone in this society, and we've got to begin to understand the ways in which the problems that the Vietnam veterans face in Vietnam are relevant to us here at home. We aren't just going to learn at this conference of Winter Soldier Investigation from Vietnam veterans about what happened in Vietnam, I hope. I hope that we will also learn about our own lives, about our own problems, about our own sources of oppression within this society as a whole. And that's the thing that we have to begin to pick up on, to see the interrelationships between all of these different forms of oppression at home and abroad. It's impossible to think about, or to look at, a situation where someone commits an atrocity without attempting to examine the reason that that atrocity was committed in the first place. There's a law which says that internal contradictions are reflected externally. I think the same is true in reverse.

Not only is it true in reverse in the sense that external contradictions are reflected internally, but also the resolution of those contradictions is reflected both internally and externally. And, therefore, we can through meetings of this sort, through gatherings of this sort, through protest, through struggle, through the use of every apparatus available to us, engage in an attempt to discuss these things. Maybe we can begin to see some ways in which we can begin to resolve that problem internally and externally. But you cannot nearly treat the problem of the war in Vietnam in abstract. The only solution, to answer the question that you asked is a total solution and what that total solution amounts to is not decided by us. We are aware of the problem. We're aware of the nature of the sources of oppression within the society. But it's basically up to the ruling class of the United States, including several gentlemen residing here in the city of Detroit, to attempt to give an answer to that basic problem. If we can solve the problems of this country by running people for office, then I think we ought to do that. But, all you have to think about, I think, is what would happen if Huey Newton were elected President of the United States (and how that would be accepted by various people in the United States) to understand that violence is not a problem that is only going to happen in Vietnam. The struggle in the United States, the movement against racism, against war, against repression, against sexism, against militarism, against imperialism in the United States, is a struggle which is already violent. We saw what happened already at Kent State. We have seen the numerous different forms through which violence has affected people in the military, and I think that we have to begin to turn this discussion inward and to deal with our own problems in that respect. The last thing that I want to say primarily is that the solution to the problem is people, and the phrase about "Power to the People" ought not to be just abstract rhetoric. It has a real meaning and people ought to think about the meaning and try and understand that meaning. Brecht I think summarized it very well--and I don't have a copy of the poem with me so I'll have to try and paraphrase what he said. He said, "General, your tank is a mighty vehicle. It can crash through forests and tear down buildings. It has only one defect. It needs a driver. General, your airplane is a mighty instrument. It can fly thousands of miles and drop bombs from thousands of miles above and wreak terror on whole populations. It has one defect. It needs a driver. General, your army is a mighty institution. It has conquered whole peoples and subjected whole peoples to your oppression. But your army has one defect and your soldier has one defect. He can think."

MODERATOR. Thank you, Ken.

MCSHEFFREY. I have one short thing to say. I don't know how they can call all these things atrocities because really it's nothing but an All-American with a "Kan" [?] way of living.

MODERATOR. Dr. Lifton?

LIFTON. I'd like to add something also. I agree with much of what's been said, but I guess I've got my additions and qualifications, too. I'm a little wary of the phrase "total solution." It's been used badly in the past. We do need fundamental solutions and I guess we all agree on that. We can't, it's true, we cannot separate My Lai from the rest of American society, and we've got to dig deep into American society and into ourselves about My Lai. But, if you really believe the solution is people, as I think all of us on this panel and in the audience are committed to, then we've got to really consider the people in that solution, and what they become and what they are and how they behave as human beings. In that regard clearly one has to be militant. And I think one has to, in this regard, distinguish, as has been done, between forms of violence and motivations for violence. But I think we should beware of, rather than welcome, the use of lessons in violence learned in Vietnam, in our own society, and elsewhere.

MODERATOR. Dr. Bjornson?

BJORNSON. I thoroughly agree with that. I would also like to point out that one of the major problems in the United States is obviously its economics. Two-thirds of our federal budget goes to this war or past wars. We're paying now about a 14 billion dollars per year interest debt, mostly for past wars. One of the solutions is very simple; no more wars anywhere, anytime.

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