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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 IV

MODERATOR. I would like to open this up to the people in the audience. I imagine we've stimulated their thought a little bit and I'd like to throw it open for questions. This gentleman here had a question.

EGENDORF. I asked for the microphone because although I thought I had testimony to give, for quite some time I was scared and I didn't want to give it. And I didn't come forward until today. They couldn't fit me in, but I wanted to be on this panel. My name is Arthur Egendorf. I served with the 525 MI Group in Saigon, later with a group called the Field Support Group in Washington. I got particularly interested in this discussion because they were talking about the working class, as well as part of the solution being no more war. But people began to hint about institutions, and I think I have some things to say from my own experience in intelligence as to what extent the institutions of this society are very much a part of the phenomenon that we're discussing tonight. It's not something we can deal with just by treating veterans, or by getting the government out of the war in Vietnam, or by proposing a moratorium on future wars, but by looking at all these institutions that the radicals are saying are all wrong. In fact, those of us who came from my background never suspected to be actually involved in the things that we later found out we were involved in. I went to Harvard, majored in economics, worked on a project studying multi-national corporations, did research in Europe on them before being bothered by the draft board, and I enlisted in intelligence. I was told that I would be in area studies because people with my background should be in area studies and not with the infantry. And I found out in the first day of intelligence school that area studies is spying. I was later sent to Vietnam, and because I speak French, I was set up in Saigon in a position I really wanted. I didn't want to be out in the field. I didn't want to have to be under fire. I ran French spies back and forth into Cambodia. And one of the first things that I had to do there was to arrange to get press cover for my spies.

This, some of the people in the press corps might have heard about, and they might also have heard last year the Army's denial of this fact--that press cover was need for espionage operatives. But it's been a standing policy, covert, of course, since the beginning of the war. Later I found out about Esso Standard Oil being used to provide cover for people in Cambodia; that was a proposed operation. Later when I was sent back to Washington, I found out about x-hundred different companies working through the CIA with Army Intelligence and providing cover and accommodation addresses. About how Internal Revenue Service documents were falsified in order to hide income paid to spies, as well as Treasury Department and Immigration Department documents falsified to aid operatives overseas. And, in fact, a large number of the institutions that I had studied in college, believing that these were things that were going to help toward world peace, the multi-national corporation was going to weld the world together--were in fact working for Uncle Sam; not totally, not everybody committed to Uncle Sam, but the institutions provide a cover for things that are not published in this society. Not because it would be a threat to our national security, but because the people of this country, if they found out about it would probably feel what I feel now. Which is quite a bit of desperation. The feeling that Dr. Lifton talked about--the word is rotten (It's not articulate enough), but that's what I feel. It's rotten. All these old alternatives are no longer there. They have the same taint that the Army has. They're not viable alternatives. I don't know where the new ones are to come from. People who are not only just working class or not the great middle America, but are shining elites are faced by the same problems. We're all in the same boat.

MODERATOR. One of the situations we face in this investigation is that as publicity has kind of got out about what we're doing people such as this gentleman have come forward at the last minute, we've found out we're not alone. And maybe that's the good thing about it. A lot of men at the last minute have come forth and said they'd like to testify. They have something to offer us. There are an awful lot of people who are in the same boat. I'd like to open it now to more questions.

QUESTION. The question is do the gentlemen of the panel feel that there is something about the United States which more or less predestined and preordained that the course of this war, the policies of this war, the way it was prosecuted, would go the way they have gone, or do you feel that perhaps with wiser leadership, with a different sort of policy making procedure and so forth, it might have been different? Was this an inevitable tragedy, or was it a tragedy that could have been avoided?

BJORNSON. All right, Tim, I can answer this. I would like to answer this very quickly from personal experience. When I was in Vietnam they had seven changes of government. We were on red alert twice for removal of all U.S. troops because we were in danger of possible take-over of the government by a South Vietnamese government self-appointed which we could not get along with. We were ready to pull out all American troops as early as August 1964. I'm sorry we didn't.

LIFTON. I'll say something as long as we, he asked the two of us at this end of the table, whatever his reason. I'm willing to use the word genocide for what we're doing in Vietnam. I think it's an appropriate word. Because genocide means killing of whole population groups. It also involves moving and destroying the land or as a colleague of mine used the term, ecocide, meaning destroying the entire ecology with defoliation and bombing and the various fire power that we're using in Vietnam. Even though it's true that a sizable population still exists and lives in South Vietnam and North Vietnam too. I think the word genocide, given the extent to which things have gone, is not excessive. I think it's a reasonable word and here, incidentally, I'm willing to follow Jean Paul Sartre when he says that you create a situation, that almost inevitably leads to genocide under certain conditions. These are: a country from an alien but highly developed technology, moving into the area of an alien country with a very low developed technology in a situation of revolution and counterinsurgency. Given that situation, and I must agree with my colleagues here, we must look at this historical and political situation along with the psychological issues, some kind of genocide is very, very likely to result. But, in terms of the second question, inevitably, I think one has to be careful about inevitability about anything. Whenever you study human behavior it's hard to say anything is inevitable, but you can have certain conditions where things are more likely. And given a lot that's been said about the institutions in American life, things that happen in Vietnam have been all too likely. Therefore, I think that we should not, on the one hand, take a position of absolute inevitability; then we wouldn't be able to change things. We've got to change things. Nothing is absolutely inevitable. On the other hand, the war was not a simple accident that we blundered into through some foolish leadership. But rather has to do with a lot of things. Yes, it's a kind of neo-imperialism. It's also a kind of remnant of cold war ideology that has to do with pure American virtue and absolute Communist evil, no matter where these arise. And even though this particular revolution we're ostensibly combatting happens to be over 40 years old and arises from deep national aspirations, as well as being Communist, as you know. So these illusions are a source that run deep into American foreign policy, in the fabric of American life and yes, into the American class structure. But I don't think we should take a position of absolute inevitability, rather of making fundamental changes in institutions that take a very different course and avoid that kind of outcome.

PECK. Well, I would just like to follow up that comment first of all by stating that the evidence for genocide is clearly there. Whether one looks at the use of biological and chemical means of warfare as Professor Messleman has at Harvard, in terms of the genocide that has taken place; whether we look at the indiscriminate use of napalming, the use of anti-personnel pellet bombing, or whether we take a look at the bomb tonnage that has been dropped in Vietnam during this period, greater than all the bomb tonnage in World War II, an average of bomb tonnage equivalent to nearly three Hiroshima bombs a week in Vietnam. Now I was in Hiroshima and Nagasaki last August and I talked to the survivors and victims of the atomic bomb. I saw and visited the museum at Hiroshima. And yet in Vietnam that means every 2 1/2 days a Hiroshima bomb is dropped. Now why does that take place? Why is the United States doing that? Why is the United States in Vietnam? That's just a very, very simple question. One could say that we stumbled into Vietnam; that we sort of tricked ourselves into it by a series of miscalculations, a series of errors, a series of misjudgments on the part of the State Department during the Truman Administration and from then on into now. But the fact of the matter is that the United States emerged as the dominant world power in the immediate post-World War II situation. And we emerged in that way because our whole industrial, political and social base was unscathed in this horrible international holocaust. I mean, we were not bombed, we were not destroyed here, but the fact of the matter is that the industrial base in England, in Japan, in Germany, in Italy, in the Soviet Union, in every major industrial power was destroyed, except the United States. In addition, we had attained the use of nuclear power and we proclaimed in initiating our ascendancy to a position of preeminence in the world, the introduction of the American Century, Pax Americana. Gar Alprovitz, in his very, very important work on atomic diplomacy has documents in a very definitive way, that the dropping of the bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki were primarily for political and diplomatic reasons and, in fact, initiated the cold war. Now you can read the evidence if you like. The point is we entered Vietnam because Vietnam is part of our whole Pacific rim strategy, our whole effort to maintain presence in the mainland of Asia and to effect control over what we consider to be an important market resource area. And when the French, in their colonial rule, a kind of graft-ridden colonial control based on the uses of a coastal elite in oppressing and exploiting the Vietnamese peasantry, when the French finally, through the continued perseverance of the Vietnamese movement for a national independence, were in the throes of defeat, we went in there with everything we could. From 1950 to 1954 we poured in nearly 3 billion dollars. Even prior to the defeat at Dien Bien Phu, our now president, Mr. Nixon, along with Admiral Radford and others, was floating the Operation Vulture program, which would have meant American expeditionary intervention at that time including possible use of a nuclear strike. Now, what we are trying to say is that there is a history to our involvement and those of us who never knew where Vietnam was in February of 1965, when LBJ, our peace candidate (of course we all wore buttons, you know, "part of the way with LBJ"), initiated unilateral bombing of North Vietnam.

We didn't know anything about Vietnam or Indochina and we had to teach ourselves right from scratch; and that's what the teach-in movement was about. And we learned plenty. We learned that the war was not a mistake, that it was not an error. But, it was a calculated expression of American neo-imperialist policies. What went wrong? What went wrong, my friend, is that we could not pull off the Dominican Republic. If we could have pulled it off in five days, there would have been no protest movement. There would have been no struggle against the war. But what we did not expect in Vietnam and what the Secretary of Defense, who was esteemed for his use of computer programming could not program at that time, was the deep will to resist on the part of the Vietnamese people and the fact that their struggle for national independence was rooted not only in an immediate forty year period, but went throughout their centuries of history of struggling against foreign oppression. That it was rooted in their very culture. Therefore, we were immediately faced in fighting a people. We were fighting against a people's war. And, where does our strategy come from? It comes from one of the, I assume, instructors of our young brother here, Samuel Huntington at Harvard and Kissinger, too, no doubt. But, I mean, what did Huntington say? What you have to do to defeat a people engaged in a people's struggle against foreign intervention and oppression is to dry up the ocean so that the fish don't have any water. That's to say, destroy the logistic base of a movement struggling for national independence.

And, if you want to destroy the military arm of that movement, then you must destroy the people. You must destroy their social fabric. You must destroy their very infrastructure. You must uproot them from their land, you must move them into concentration camps and you must kill them indiscriminately so that a sufficient number are so destroyed, so uprooted, so demoralized, so broken apart that the rest will submit. But if there's anything that I've learned from the Vietnamese, they will never, never submit. Never! I think that what all of us are saying here is that we are fundamentally appreciative of the Vietnamese for that struggle because in the process they save us, as human beings. They give us the opportunity to struggle for our own freedom, our own independence, and our own liberation here.

MODERATOR. I'd like to simply add that if anybody doesn't believe the gentlemen that have participated in the panels today and the panels that will be given the next two days about the question of genocide, that he simply take a trip to Vietnam and go ask a rice farmer how he feels about having his crops blown away; that he ask a Vietnamese mother who has borne a deformed child how she feels about the question of genocide, and you'll get a pretty good answer.

PECK. When I was in Vietnam, I did have a chance to visit some of the bomb victims. We're under the impression, of course, that bombing of Vietnam has really ended north of the 19th parallel since the April Fool's speech of LBJ. Also, we think that that's the case since October 1968. But, I carry with me, and I always will these photographs of three bomb victims that I met. I asked the attending physician to have these photographs made after I met with them. This is the young woman, aged 21, Miss That who was the victim of a napalm bomb in December 26, 1969; and you see her leg. It's as though she's resting it on a bench. Well, the fact of the matter is, that's the permanent position of her leg. The napalm has so shriveled up that skin that the leg cannot stretch out at all. And they've done innumerable skin grafting already and they will continue to do it. She just doesn't have use of that leg and it will retain itself in that permanent position. The next one is a 22 year old saleswoman, who was struck by a pellet bomb, on March 28, 1970 and only survived because a person, who was killed by the pellet bombs, fell on top of her. But she has six pellets embedded in her body and they can't be removed. One is on the back of her neck and, as a consequence, the arm is completely paralyzed and subject to every whim and change of the temperature and to touch.

I just sort of reached out to her hand, and she just retreated in pain. And then here is a young farmer, aged 26, who was bombed in late '68. And he was bombed by a phosphorus bomb. Phosphorus makes for intense burning of the skin and his whole body is disfigured. You can see his arms and his whole face was blinded by it. He has one of his eyes restored. And I don't believe that I am responsible for that bombing. I mean I'm trying to say that to myself. But when you look and when you talk to Vietnamese and you see what is being done to a whole people (and this is just three of a whole number of people, every family in Vietnam no longer has members of it and I think you just have to understand how deeply loyal and close they are to their own kin and to their own family) you know what this means. I can only tell you when you ask is there genocide in Vietnam, I've seen the villages that have been leveled. I've seen the fantastic bombardment that has taken place there. I haven't seen it in the South as the GIs and others have seen it. But anybody going to Vietnam can tell you that the people are being destroyed and it's summed up in that horrible, absurd, dehumanized, brutalized phrase that in order to save the village we had to destroy it.

GALICIA. I think that each of us comes home with this kind of thing. I offer you a picture that was sent to me by a good friend of mine of a young Vietnamese girl. This was a 2nd Lt. who did my work for me down in the Delta. He's written off the back, "In the eyes of a child one can see what to most of us is a memory of life and love and being free. A child again can I ever be? Signed, Steven." And he says, "This child's sister was just killed by wounds inflicted by misdirected U.S. artillery fire. Pray for peace."

GEYMANN. How many times on television at night can you see John Wayne killing dirt yellow _____ on television? It happens every day. I dare somebody in this city, in Detroit to go to a TV network during the day and not find at least one war movie where they're killing yellow _____. That's genocide on just more than the Vietnamese. That's on the whole yellow race. You don't see them killing Germans because they're white. You don't see them killing Italians 'cause they're white. But something from the Orient's yellow, and it's not to be trusted.

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