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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

EMENY. When Dr. Spellman was speaking my head started going wild with memories and all the time Jim's been talking I've been writing down things. One of the things I have been thinking about an awful lot lately is the whole concept of genocide. Genocide, it seems to me, is just the ultimate extension of a policy of population control. I think in terms of three kinds of levels of control. There's physical, there's economic, and then there's psyochological and political. We've heard a lot about physical control in all the stories we've heard and I can tell you just examples of my own, but I won't now. Economic control: there has been a 300% inflation in the last four years. But there is the psychology or the political, and in Vietnam there is an incredible will to live. This is, I guess, what I would like to talk a little bit about. We think of Vietnam in terms of the Vietnam that we have experienced, which is the Vietnam of maybe ten years, twelve years ago. Well, we've been there for longer than that. But we've been actively involved for ten or twelve years. But the history of Vietnam, the history that the Vietnamese know, is a history of 4,000 years or more. That whole history is a history of struggle. A struggle for suvival, and most of it a struggle for survival against outside people, outside invaders. Home for me was a Buddhist orphanage and there was a song that kids in the orphanage sang. Kids all over Vietnam sing it, you know, five year old kids, which sums up their history in a nutshel. It goes like this: "A thousand years as slaves to the Chinese, a hundred years a colony of France, twenty years of this war. The inheritance that the mother gives on to her child is the inheritance of the sad Vietnam." And it goes on. But that's one side of the history; the other side is this incredible will to live, which is summed up in another song that I would just like to read the translation from. This is a song by a young many who lives in Saigon, who is in prison for writing songs like this, because in South Vietnam today it is illegal to be for peace. Literally, it's illegal. But his song goes like this:

From the untilled rice fields today, we still sing together these words, even though a thousand lives are hard and sad, still life carries joy. From two exhausted dry hands, pray that effort still rises one more hour. Though today the rice fields are untilled, we still move one step towards tomorrow. Our ruined wasteland, our dry bare earth. Earth bears ardent flowers, our future is here. Our earth is sick, our earth is wretched, our earth is in rags, our earth sits. Our earth gives us life, our homeland carries us, our earth gives us death, to our homeland we return. Tomorrow our land will stretch out fragrant with the smell of new rice. Tomorrow flowers will grow, red lips will smile. Tomorrow the country will grow green with the color of the river in the hills, because today our people are determined to live

And this is what's happening in Vietnam, also.

Dr. Spellman talked about self-employment and creativity. This is really evident in Vietnam. As I said, home for me as a Buddhist orphanage. And the kids ran the orphanage. I was sort of attached to the staff you might say; but learning more from the kids than from anybody else. There were two nuns on the staff and two other young fellows; there were three older women who did most of the cooking. But everything was done by the children. The older people were there as advisors. And anybody who has spent any time in Vietnam can see what people of all ages, but especially the children, do make with our leavings. There are, I don't know, how many rings made out of American metal floating around. All kinds of things are made with leftovers of American goods. This kind of creativity is everywhere. Dr. Spellman talked about self-employment and creativity. This is really evident in Vietnam. As I said, home for me was a Buddhist orphanage. And the kids ran the orphanage. I was sort of attached to the staff you might say; but learning more from the kids than from anybody else. There were two nuns on the staff and two other young fellows; there were three older women who did most of the cooking. But everything was done by the children. The older people were there as advisers. And anybody who has spent any time in Vietnam can see what people of all ages, but especially the children, do make with our leavings. There are I don't know how many rings made out of American metal floating around. All kinds of things are made with leftovers of American goods. This kind of creativity is everywhere. There's poetry everywhere, and the people are encouraged in this kind of creativity. But an extension of this is the awareness, total awareness, that our own survival is in us. For Vietnam that means that their survival is in their own history--their seed for survival, their strength for survival--is in their own history, in their own culture and it's going back to that. It's in that they get the strength to keep going. So you see what things are very central to the culture of Vietnam: the whole concept of the family, and the central object in the home of the Vietnamese is the altar, the family altar. Now when the people are made refugees, everything's taken and they can't take the altar with them because it's usually a permanent structure. But when they go, they'll build a new one. I'm sorry that I don't have slides of these here. I have pictures and anyone who's interested in looking can see afterwards. But I have here a picture taken in Hue, shortly after Tet, and the house is completely destroyed, but the family is moving back. The first thing they do is set a chair in the corner and put the family altar on it. And another one of the camps just south of the demilitarized zone where again there are no materials, nothing to make anything out of. The first thing they do is to build the family altar with the only available materials, which happen to be ammunition boxes supported on mortar tubes. It's this kind of creativity in maintaining their own culture that the Vietnamese keep insisting is their own survival. And it comes out in all their songs; it comes out in the poetry; it comes out in the daily way of living.

CRAVEN. I was on a delegation of students that went to Vietnam. From the time we arrived in Vietnam till the time we left, I must very honestly say that I had the most incredible human experience that I have ever had. Before our plane landed in North Vietnam we had been flying over Laos, and much of the landscape in Laos looked very barren. In some places you could see the results of the American bombing, and parts of Laos looked like the surface of the moon. It was reported that there are between 800 and 1,200 bombing sorties flown every single day. But as our plane descended beneath the clouds over North Vietnam, we were all very struck with the lush vegetation and with the whole fertility of the land. And as we came closer to the ground, we saw peasants and water buffalo working the fields in the kind of sight that I've never seen before, and nobody in our delegation had ever even conceived of before. We arrived at the airport and were met by 75 Vietnamese who were holding flowers. When we came to the airport, we were embraced very warmly. During the time that we were in Vietnam this became a very kind of commonplace occurrence. The Vietnamese themselves expressed tremendous solidarity and tremendous love for one another. And it is not an uncommon sight, in the streets of Hanoi, to see people walking down the street, young girls, or even soldiers, women and men, embracing each other, holding each other's hands--all of them always very happy. At the airport, we went into a side room, and we met the group that was hosting us; a group called the Committee for Solidarity with the American People. We had several toasts; we were introduced to each other, and we were told roughly what our itinerary would be for our stay in Vietnam. We were asked to make any requests for things that we would like to do. We were asked to mention any kinds of people that we would like to see, and what particular interest we might have where we could understand better how similar kinds of people live and work in Vietnam. We got into our bus to go to our hotel in Hanoi and, as we traveled on the road to the Long Binh Bridge, we saw the shells of a bombed train depot and an old factory, as well as the millions of Vietnamese who were riding their bicycles, or riding in water buffalo or horse carts, with whatever goods they might be taking to the market in Hanoi. When we got to the river right outside of Hanoi, we found that the Vietnamese were repairing the Long Binh Bridge. We had to go over a floating bridge that the Vietnamese have become very skillful at assembling and disassembling, as they repair the bridges which have been destroyed by American bombers.

It took us about an hour and a half to get across the bridge, waiting for a long time as traffic went one way. Finally we crossed the river to Hanoi in sort of single file, with the water buffalo carts, the people walking, the people on their bicycles and the people on their pony carts. It was just incredible to see the patience of everybody just moving right across that river on this floating bridge. We arrived in Hanoi and went to our hotel; we were very well accommodated. Almost embarrassingly well accommodated, compared to the way we knew the Vietnamese live. Vietnam is very obviously a poor country. It is very obviously a very strong country. The people are not poor to the extent that there is any kind of poverty, to the extent that there is any kind of hunger, or to the extent that there is any kind of poverty that is shown through people not having sufficient clothing to wear. The first night we were in Vietnam we were taken to see the Vietnamese circus, which is right on the outskirts of Hanoi. And it was just an incredible, incredible thing. The circus was under a big top, and there were magicians and clowns and acrobats, and all the kinds of things that you would expect to see at a circus. There was also an anti-American imperialism skit. It was just so incredible in the way that it did not show hostility to the American presence in Vietnam, but showed kind of a humorous insight and humorous perception into the nature of the American presence, and the nature of the Saigon complicity with the Americans. The skit was about a South Vietnamese shoe-shine boy who was sitting on his shoe box waiting for somebody to come along. He was sitting next to a sign that said "Yankee Go Home." Well, an American soldier came by, saw the sign and was immediately outraged. He started to harass the shoe-shine boy. He asked for his papers, began kicking him around, and as the soldier turned to look at the papers, the shoe-shine boy took his shoe-shine brush and hit him over the head and knocked him out. Well, the shoe-shine boy then saw a Saigon troop coming and was very afraid. So he put the American soldier in his shoe-shine box with the top half of his body inside the box and his feet hanging outside. Then he sat on the box with his own feet curled underneath him so that it looked like the feet of the American soldier were his own legs. The Saigon troop came, saw the "Yankee Go Home" sign, was immediately afraid that an American soldier would see him not doing anything about it, so he began to harass the shoe-shine boy. He then tied a rope round his legs to haul him away from the place. Well, the shoe-shine boy had put something over on the Saigon puppet.

That was perfectly clear. And as the skit ended, the Saigon puppet was hauling the shoe-shine box away with the American soldier lying in the box and the shoe-shine boy was sort of scampering off. The American soldier came to consciousness and you can imagine what happened then. I think it's significant to show this kind of feeling among the North Vietnamese people. I think it's significant to show the kind of impression that I got from the Vietnamese, going there not knowing what to expect and being so warmly received. The Vietnamese will tell you time and again, almost everywhere you go, that they always distinguish between the American people and the American government. And they knew that they are not at war with the American people, they know that there are no people on the face of the whole earth that would wage the kind of war against their country that is currently being waged. Often before breakfast a couple of us would walk in the streets of Hanoi. By the time we would get to the market place, there would be as many as two or three hundred small children who would have followed us and come around us by that point, who would sing songs and whistle. And they would find somebody that could speak English and they would say that they were singing the songs for their American friends. At one point, I was walking in Hanoi and I heard one of the young children whistling an American movie theme. I really can't remember the name of it, but he was very proud of the fact that he knew it. One day during our stay in Vietnam, we visited a place called the Revolution Museum, which is in Hanoi. This museum traces the entire history of Vietnamese struggle against foreign aggression and depicts, through various paintings and pictures, significant hallmarks of Vietnamese history. The Vietnamese will tell you that they have spent three-quarters of their entire history under foreign domination, but they have never been unsuccessful in expelling the aggressor. They will tell you about the French having been there for eighty years. About the French being overthrown by the Japanese, the Japanese being overthrown by the Vietnamese, the French coming back nine months later. The French being overthrown by the Vietnamese and the Americans coming only a year later. They will tell you of how in the twelfth century Kubla Khan had defeated and conquered all of Asia and most of Europe, and had never been defeated, but that when he came to Vietnam he was defeated for his first time.

They will tell you how he made three successive attacks on Vietnam, and on the third attack the Vietnamese ambushed him and defeated him so badly that his entire naval fleet was completely destroyed. They have these paintings in their Revolution Museum; one of the ambush of Kubla Khan's ships coming into the Haiphong River and another which they explain as the Mongolian troops standing on the shore really not knowing what to do next. They will explain to you that the Vietnamese then gave the Mongolians their entire naval fleet to transport them back to Mongolia. Also, at the Revolution Museum, we were shown a restaging of the entire battle of Dien Bien Phu. We sat in a room where there was a pit, that was about the size of the middle section of this room, which had a whole land scale of the battleground of Dien Bien Phu, with the valley in the middle, the mountains surrounding it, and the French fortress right in the middle. Through a narration they show you how the Vietnamese progressed and advanced against the French fortress, and, through colored lights on the ground, they will show the various advances, the couple of setbacks, and the renewed advances against the French fortress. Finally, when the Vietnamese conquered the French fortress in the last moments of the monologue, the French flag on top of the French fortress is electronically lowered, and the Vietnamese flag is raised. We also were able to visit the art museum in Hanoi. The Vietnamese are very proud of their art.

They have a long tradition of art, music, and of very beautiful poetry. A third of their museum is devoted exclusively to discussion and portrayal of the minority groups that live in North Vietnam. They have the costumes, the dress, the houses and the architecture of these minority groups and different representations of their culture. It is interesting to compare how the North Vietnamese perceive their minority groups as compared to the South Vietnamese, especially the South Vietnamese Christians, the South Vietnamese ruling class. The South Vietnamese have been noted for their systematic racism; their systematic oppression of their minority groups--Montagnards--and the Cambodians who are from the same kind of ethnic extraction as these groups. On the other hand, in North Vietnam, the minority groups have been consciously incorporated and made an active part of the society. In the colleges, where education is a very valued and a very treasured thing, the minority groups constitute a greater proportion of the percentage of college students than they actually constitute as a proportion of the society. Everywhere you go in North Vietnam, you can see the effects of the destruction. I don't think it's really necessary to elaborate too much on that. It's very interesting how the Vietnamese have dealt with the situation of aerial bombardment.

Many of the schools and many of the hospitals which have been destroyed by American bombs have been rebuilt. You will see great craters in many of the fields where bombs have been dropped. These craters create a problem with drainage from the rice paddies, from the fields. Unless they are filled up, there can be no crops grown in these fields. Where the craters have been too big for the Vietnamese to be able to refill, they have filled them with water and made them into fish breeding ponds. The Vietnamese have also adapted to the situation of bombardment and war by being able to totally decentralize their entire country. Every province is self- sufficient and any province, when it is cut off from the rest of the country during bombardment, can be sufficient medically, can provide enough food for its people, and can begin immediately, when something is destroyed, to rebuild it. The Vietnamese talked of their leprosy research and treatment center that was at Nui An in southern North Vietnam. They talked of how this leprosy treatment center was the most sophisticated leprosy research treatment center in all of Southeast Asia. They tell you that during the air war, between 1964 and 1968, this leprosarium was bombed by American planes on thirty-nine different occasions. All of the 160 buildings making up this leprosy center were destroyed; 117 lepers and medical workers were killed; all of the research documents and records were destroyed. This gives you some idea of the kinds of setbacks in terms of production, in terms of accomplishment, that the Vietnamese have had to suffer. North Vietnam is very different from South Vietnam in that they have been able to advance, in that they have been able to solve the problems of starvation. They have been able to solve these problems by increasing production and developing more sophisticated facilities. Yet the air war destroyed almost all of this. The Vietnamese will tell you, as Nixon again makes threats against North Vietnam to renew bombing, that what seems to be happening is that the facilities they have rebuilt are again being threatened and will again be destroyed. The Vietnamese dealt with had a very astute kind of insight into the situation in America. They would talk about the recent Senate elections. They talked about what they felt to be the significance of the GM strike, for example. They talked of the anti-war movement with great love and with very great confidence. They talked about their American friends they read about. They talked about the books that they had read by American authors, and the kinds of cultural accomplishments that they saw as being significant in this country.

When we met with a group of musicians, artists, and poets in Vietnam, they described to us in great length, how before their revolution their culture and their society had been undergoing a period of decadence. They talked about how the Vietnamese, when they tried to represent in their art, for example, love, found that they could represent only a very desperate kind of love. They talked about the sort of preoccupations represented in their art, with the use of opium, and that much of the art and much of the music had to do with opium dreams and opium experiences. They will tell you how, after the revolution, there was a resurgence of feeling; there was a resurgence of spirit. The people felt a renewed capacity to express their feeling for one another, to pull together as a people, to begin working toward the kind of solidarity that now exists in Vietnam. Our delegation during this meeting presented to the Vietnamese a copy of the screenplay SATYRICON. We told them that many of us felt that this movie, and this play, represented the same kind of decadence that existed in a great society--Rome during its fall--and that we experience many of these same kinds of conditions in this country. About a week later, as we were getting ready to leave, about five or six Vietnamese came to me and told me that they had read the entire screenplay from Satyricon. They asked me to sort of graphically portray the various scenes. There was one movie in Hanoi when we were there that dealt with the battle between the American Indians and the American Cavalry, in which the Cavalry was totally wiped out. One day we were going to the coast, to a place called Ha Long Bay. This is a tremendous bay right on the Gulf of Tonkin where there are 6,000 mountain islands with monkeys, caves, grottos, and all kinds of things. We were crossing the river near Haiphong on a ferry boat with our Vietnamese friends. Our buses had been put on the ferry. One of the Vietnamese took out his pipe and offered us some Thoc La which is what the Vietnamese smoke as a kind of tobacco. It is very strong kind of tobacco. It gives the Vietnamese people the sensation of being kind of stoned. He brought out the pipe and we sort of smoked the pipe. We were going across this river and one of the Vietnamese friends pointed down the river to the cliffs where Kubla Khan had been wiped out and said, "You know this is where it was. We're very proud of those cliffs."

As we were going along, just sort of sitting there watching the river, just enjoying the beauty of the countryside, a man named Mr. Xuan Oanh, who was one of the leading musical composers in all of North Vietnam (he wrote and composed the Vietnamese national anthem and was also a member of the Paris delegation) brought out his cassette recorder and started playing the Jefferson Airplane's "Volunteers." So I think you can understand what I mean about the ease with which we were able to relate to the Vietnamese. We were able to feel so much at home in this country. When we would greet each other in the morning or when we would say goodnight, we would always embrace and there would always be a very genuine feeling of love between us. We saw that the Vietnamese had been pulled together by the kind of progress they have been struggling to make together, and the kind of suffering they have had to suffer together. They feel not at all desperate. They feel very determined to deal with the renewed threats that are being made against their country, to deal with the suffering that is being leveled against their South Vietnamese brothers and sisters. We understood very clearly that they have a great deal of confidence in the American people to be able to stop the kind of technology, the kind of death machine that comes from the air. But they will continue to resist until the American people stop it once and for all.

EMENY. One thing they say about Thoc La is that, after a long morning, you sit down (Thoc La you smoke through a water pipe) and you take one long, slow drag. It knocks me flat on my back. What they say is, they take one long, slow drag and they can do seven more rounds on that field.

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