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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.


Don Duncan. Before we bring these three days to a close, I would like to pass on some thoughts relative to the testimony to which we have been listening for the last three days. As most of you know, the purpose of this investigation, of course, was to bring some sort of reality as to what the war in Vietnam really means to people that must fight it to the people that must suffer in it, to the Vietnamese, to the Americans, to all the mothers, fathers, sisters, wives, brothers. To let them know, in fact, what people do in Vietnam, and what it is doing to their sons, as well as to the Vietnamese. It's tremendously important that this testimony be brought out, and that it be as widely disseminated as possible, to remove once and for all the blinders and the blinds from in front of America's eyes. No president could have sent us, soldiers and others, to Vietnam, had there not been some sort of cooperation or concurrence, passive or active, on the part of a large segment of this country. How that consent was come by is rather irrelevant. The fact is they had it. Whether it was because we were bent by the media, bent by propaganda, or whatever, the point is now the blinders must be removed.

This meeting here today has been tremendously important. If it ended here today it would be important. I hope it doesn't because there is still a lot of important work to be done, namely, to get this information out to the rest of the country. It seems that we're not going to be able to count on the mass media to do that, so it is incumbent on those who were present here over these past three days, to do it. It has been important for another reason. We have had an unprecedented number of veterans from the Vietnam War come in contact with each other for the first time. And many of the revelations to which we have been witness for the past three days have come from these contacts. Men who otherwise never would have stepped forward, knowing that they had company, did step forward. It wasn't an easy thing. I can assure you for most of these people, it was probably as difficult as anything they have ever done in Vietnam--I would say more difficult than anything they ever did in Vietnam.

In the introduction to these hearings, you were told that we were going to prove that, in fact, war crimes in Vietnam are not the result of individual, personal aberrations, but are, in fact, policy of this country. We have presented testimony for three days covering a wide range of war crimes. We have covered a period by actual firsthand testimony from 1963 to 1970--seven years. We find: that in 1963, we were displacing population, we were murdering prisoners, we were turning prisoners over to somebody else to be tortured. We were committing murder then, and in 1970 we find nothing has changed. Every law of Land Warfare has been violated and been testified to here in the past three days. It has been done systematically, deliberately, and continuously. It has been done with the full knowledge of those who, in fact, make policy for this country. No active step has ever been taken to curtain those acts in Vietnam. The argument could be made that we have not shown policy, all we have shown is pattern and practice.

I think the argument to that is best displayed not by the testimony of the man who holds the rifle on the ground, but think of the bombings, think of the decisions that are behind the man that is carrying that rifle. We built forts in Vietnam to protect villages, or so we told the Vietnamese. And at the first shot fired at Tet in 1968 we destroyed the villages to protect the fort. District Eight in Saigon was leveled brick by brick, to the ground, to secure an area where Vietnamese, North Vietnamese, and Catholics, had come to the south because that was something the Church had told them in 1954. We leveled that area to protect a bridge. We have listened to some terrible stories here. We have found there are some wondrous ways indeed to inflict pain upon each other. We will call them atrocities, and we will call them war crimes. And to talk about those acts, I'm sure, has been almost as painful for those who have had to listen as for those who have talked about them.

I would, personally, at this point, like to thank those who have been sitting here for the last three days. I would like to thank you for the respect that you have shown the material that has been presented here. I think the way that you received it is admirable. I only hope you will do something with that knowledge now. In Vietnam, we have a situation where never has there been such a disparity of power since the days when Mussolini and Count Ciano went in to Abyssinia to slaughter the spear-carrying troops of Haile Selassie. We have brought wondrous tons of ordnance, hundreds of thousands of men, Dr. Strangelove weaponry. We have used an air force against a country that has none. We have used a navy against a country that has none. And it still wasn't enough, and still the war goes on, and still the Vietnamese fight. It has been called a war of arbitration. All wars are wars of attrition. A war of attrition in an industrial society means, in fact, destroying the means of waging war, the factories, communication lines, the roadways, bridges, the iron factories, and so on.

In a nonindustrial society--in an agrarian society--such as Vietnam, when you talk of a war of attrition, you're talking only of one thing. You're talking about destroying the means to resist--that is killing people. Our country has set out very systematically to kill whatever number of people are necessary in Vietnam to stop them from resisting whatever it is we are trying to impose on that country. This, I think, is policy. I think we have established that policy here at these hearings; for those of you who have never been in service and have listened to this testimony, you might well be amazed at how our people, our men, our boys, our sons, could do some of these things that they described in this room. Otherwise normal individuals, creating terror, torture, destruction, wanton. How could they have done this? How could they have been changed that dramatically in eight short weeks of basic training? I think the fact that so much can be done to so many men by so few people is the greatest testament to the fact that our colleges, our high schools, our everyday life is nothing but pre-basic training. We are well prepared.

Whatever it was that was in these men, that allowed them to do the things they did, is in all of us. We start taking it in, if by no other process, at least by osmosis, from the day we are born in this country. The men did not become racists when they entered the service. They grew up with it. It was taught to them and it was taught to them in our schools. The idea that the United States has a God-given right to go into any country and take out its raw materials at an advantage to ourselves is not something that they learned in Vietnam. They learned it in our schools. They learned it from their mothers, fathers, their sisters and their brothers, their uncles. They learned it from all of us. We did a terrible thing to a lot of men in Vietnam and we're still doing it. I don't know who the ultimate victim in Vietnam will be. Will it be those who went from the United States to fight in it or the Vietnamese that tried to resist? I do know this, having met and talked with many Vietnamese who have gone through worse hardships than anyone in this room who has been here these three days, that they, at least, do not seem to have lost their humanity in the process. But I fear that many of us, if we don't shorten up and get the message out, we will have lost our humanity beyond redemption.

If I can give you a specific example of the insanity of this policy, I think it might explain something. In 1967 (and this deals with this business about what was in these men that might have horrified you and what is in all of us) Dean Rusk went before the Senate of the United States trying to explain why we were in Vietnam and what we were doing there, and he made the statement that the reason that we were killing Vietnamese and engaged in a war of attrition against the Vietnamese was because Red China was a threat to the security of the world--meaning us. And one hundred eighty some odd million Americans sat in front of the TV tubes and nodded their heads. At last we had the reason why we were in Vietnam. We were in Vietnam to kill Vietnamese because China was a threat to us. He also went on to say that he was not going to allow wars of liberation to succeed, anywhere in the Third World. It's an interesting statement--that it could have been accepted by this country.

In fact, I heard very few voices raised against that statement. One of the few that heard was, of all people, Curtis LeMay. Curtis LeMay said we should go and bomb China. Everybody said Curtis LeMay was a madman. But who was the madman? He, having accepted that China was the enemy, thought at least it made sense to go and bomb the enemy. Dean Rusk wanted to bomb the Vietnamese. What a shock this must have been for a lot of soldiers who thought about that statement. Having been told they were going to Vietnam to fight for peace and freedom, they were suddenly told they were going to have to keep fighting Vietnamese until the Bolivians and the Peruvians learned their lesson. And Curtis LeMay was mad. The terrible thing we did to so many men in this country--and ultimately to the Vietnamese because of it--we sent them to fight a war without a reason to fight it. I don't know how many of you have experienced standing up in front of bullets, exposing your flesh to shrapnel, to hand grenades, and so on. It's a _____ of a thing to do, to send out somebody and tell them to make their body a target, and never give them a _____ reason to do it.

From 1963 through 1965, the war was fought by professionals, which is to say it wasn't fought at all. Things were going to _____ in a bucket. And so they started sending over the draftees, and large units, the people who had to enlist in the military reasons, or for whatever reason. And they threw them in. For them, taking orders wasn't enough. They wanted a reason. They wanted to believe the reasons they were given. And they accepted those reasons. In fact they urged and begged for a reason. And so they accepted the reasons of freedom and democracy. The reality of Vietnam, I believe, was a little too much. Anybody in Vietnam for three months, especially in a combat zone, who still believes he's fighting for freedom and democracy, should become a professional. The progress was given. Progress seemed to be enough. Large numbers of troops were sent to various areas of Vietnam, and after three days of battle and God knows how many killed, they would be in possession of that ground. And it was called a victory. The operation was called search and destroy. Quite appropriately. A series of these so-called victories, because we were in possession of the ground, albeit we left it the following day, was called progress. And progress for most, but many, was enough. And then came Tet of 1968. And in one night, the illusion of progress was gone. Tet could not have taken place without the active or passive cooperation of even the friendly Vietnamese. And who was the enemy? The slopes, the dinks, the zips--the Vietnamese. And all Vietnamese were gooks, sloops, slopes, dinks, and whatever. And yet they still had to go out and fight. There was nothing left, not even an illusion of progress. The light at the end of the tunnel turned out to be just what that implies--tunnel vision. And then we had to keep fighting. For what? We were told, "So...[unreadable] ...slaves." This isn't the road...[unreadable]...when you go to fight and kill for absolutely no cause, real or imagined. But in the end, the men keep getting killed. And every day the rage builds up, and the hate grows a little harder. And that rage must vent itself. And who do we blame this rage upon? The captain that gave the order to attack? The people that sent them over there so the captain could give them that order? Or the people who are shooting at you? The Vietnamese are shooting at you, and _____ it, you'll kill Vietnamese, and that's what you're in Vietnam for. So that terrible hatred spills out. And the whole thing not only destroys Vietnamese. It destroys the people who are destroying the Vietnamese. And I feel that it is probably destroying us at a greater and faster rate than it is destroying the Vietnamese. This country needs scapegoats. It needs a Lieutenant Calley. How can we admit it's policy? We need Negroes in this country. Who else are we going to kick? Chicanos? Our whole system is built on a principle of racism. To believe that you have the right to go into another country, and take from that country, at an advantage to you and a disadvantage to them you first of all have to believe that those people are something less than you are. Otherwise you'd be guilty of something.

And, of course, we're not guilty of anything. Because they are lesser people. When we got tired of the Indians, and there weren't too many of them left to exploit, we went and did it to somebody else. The move westward in this country has moved into Asia. And we're doing it to the Vietnamese, what we did to the Indians. It's oversimplified, but I think it's accurate. We are born with it; we live with it. We have heard testimony relating to another terrible thing. We heard testimony relating to electronic battlefields. Now we're going to kill Vietnamese without using people. And so that the only people who die in this war will be Vietnamese. We're in Vietnam for a very simple reason. We're in Vietnam, as Dean Rusk says, to prevent wars of liberation from happening in the Third World, anywhere. And why do we have to have that? It is not because the United States is against taking over a country by force.

We have proved, time and time again, that we have no objection to anybody of any political hue taking over another country by force. Just so long as the power that comes into power is cooperative with us on trade relations, etc. to supply the sinews of American industry, to supply the people of this country with all the things they never needed. To eliminate a nation, to engage in a war of attrition against a people, any people, for such ends as this can only be described adequately with one word; and it's a word that I think falls very harshly on American ears, because we relate it to another incident, and the word, of course, is genocide. Any time you engage in the systematic destruction of a people, that is genocide.

The London Agreement and Charter describes war crimes (this is the basis for the Nuremberg Tribunal) as crimes against peace, namely, planning, preparation, initiation or waging of war, a war of aggression or a war in violation of an international treaty, agreements, or assurances, or participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the foregoing. War crimes, namely, are a violation of laws or customs of wars. Such violations shall include, but not be limited to, murder, ill treatment or deportation of slave labor or for any other purpose of civilian population of or in occupied territory, murder or ill treatment of prisoners of war, or persons on the seas, killing of hostages, plunder of public or private property, wanton destruction of cities, towns or villages, or devastation not justified by military necessity. And under the definition of the Charter, we tried the leaders of another nation for war crimes at Nuremberg.

We have heard much testimony to all of those things, here in the last three days. Again, there is much to be done. And we have to get this information out. I don't want anybody here to carry away a feeling of guilt with them. I want them to carry away the realization of what you have done, and I have done, and why we did it. And I want us all to do something with that. It may look like a hopeless struggle. I remember in 1966, February, I testified to many of the things that have been testified to the last three days. I was very lonely. Thank God, I'm not lonely anymore. But still it's a terrible way to gain company--to have men do these things. We have to get it out.

Our country has given us very definite proof within the last couple of days while we have been sitting in this room that our policies in Vietnam have not changed; that nothing is acceptable to the United States except victory. The Vietnamese have made it quite plain, for almost 2,000 years now, that they won't accept victory from an outside power. The policy has not changed. We must change the policy for them. We must get out and talk to these people. To the veterans who came out here today, from myself personally, and I hope from all the rest of you, a _____ of a big thank you, and a sincere thank you. But again, this for many of you, is a first step. There are many things that you, as veterans, with this experience, can do. You must not forget that, in fact, there are still 3,000,000 men in uniform. A _____ of a lot of them still in Vietnam and a _____ of a lot of them to end up in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. Start working with them. Start working with those who have not yet been drafted, and talk to them, and make the reality of the war known to them. And talk to your families. Over 40% of all the adult males in this country are veterans. That's something we have to turn around. We have to stop producing veterans. And for many of you who have spoken out for the first time and become involved in something for the first time, stay with it. For those of you who are veterans and are working and have been working for some time, keep working. And some day, you will be ex-veterans and we'll just be people again. Thank you.

Updated Thursday, January 28, 1999

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