Nobody Gets Off the Bus:
The Viet Nam Generation Big Book
Volume 5 Number 1-4
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The International War Crimes Conference, Oslo, June, 1971:
Excerpts from the Diary of One of the Witnesses
Kenneth J. Campbell
The following are excerpts from a diary I kept while traveling with a delegation of Americans and a Canadian to the International Commission of Enquiry into U.S. Crimes in Indochina, held in Oslo, June 20-25, 1971. The delegation consisted of Dorothy Forman, of Women Strike for Peace; Claire Culhane, a Canadian hospital volunteer in Vietnam; Frank Browning, a writer for Ramparts magazine; and six members of Vietnam Veterans Against the War: Danny Notley, former Army infantryman; Nathan Hale, former Army interrogator; Randy Floyd, former Marine fighter-bomber pilot; K. Barton Osborn, former Army intelligence agent and CIA "Phoenix Program" operative; Larry Rottmann, former Army information officer; and myself, former Marine artillery forward observer. Early in the trip, Danny's wife Karen joined us and remained as an important part of our group. A little later, Bart's cousin Jim, a West Point cadet on his way to Germany for summer training, joined us and quietly and honestly observed. The delegation was put together by Tod Ensign and Jeremy Rifkin of the Citizens Commission of Inquiry, based in New York. Tod Ensign accompanied us to Oslo.
The significance of this trip was that, for the first time during the Vietnam war, a broad group of veterans of Vietnam were able to provide to an international audience firsthand evidence of routine American policies which undercut the myth that the war was a "noble cause" worth fighting for. (The official record of the conference can be found in The Wasted Nations, edited by Frank Browning and Dorothy Forman, Harper & Row, 1972).
The value of this diary is that it provides the only record of an amazing odyssey of a group of political neophytes who were committed to telling the world their story of what was actually happening in Vietnam. The diary has been extensively edited, however, because of space considerations.
Day 1: Wednesday, June 16, 1971, Philadelphia/New York
Left Philly on the Metroliner for New York City; met Bart when he got off the same train. We took a taxi to CCI office where we met Tod and Danny. We were briefed and taken to the airport where we met Larry, Nathan, Dorothy, Claire and Frank. After several hours wait, we boarded Aeroflot (Soviet airline) and flew to London. We stopped in London for about an hour, then flew on to Moscow.
Day 2: Thursday, June 17th, Moscow
Arrived in Moscow, met Boris and Tamara (reps from Soviet Peace Committee) and waited 3-4 hours. Finally caught taxis to our luxurious Hotel Russia (6,000 rooms!). World Petroleum Congress was meeting there and this upset everyone in our party. We got rooms and had dinner. (Drank too much vodka!) Later, we all went for a ride on the Moscow subway, and then we saw the changing of the guard at Lenin's tomb in Red Square, before returning to our hotel and going to bed.
Day 3: Friday, June 18th, Moscow
Up early for breakfast. I went with Tamara to get a photo for my visa. Had a good personal talk with her. Then all of us met with the Chargé d'Affairs of North Vietnam (DRV) at his office. Very good meeting. Returned for lunch. Many of us had been requesting to go to the countryside and this was promised but never fulfilled. Instead, we met with Comrade Tarasov who is the Assistant Head of the International Department of the Soviet Peace Committee. He was very cold and formal, unlike our Soviet guides and translators, Boris and Tamara. We had dinner, then went to the Kremlin on Tarasov's insistence. We met some Russian student vaudeville performers and exchanged gifts and song. Very moving for all! In the evening we went to the ballet. Returned and had supper. Then we went for a walk in Red Square.
After walking Tamara to the subway stop, Larry, Nathan and I decided to see if we could take off unattended. We walked about a half-mile from our hotel but got tired and stopped in the Hotel Metropol for a drink. Met a Scandinavian pilot and had a short, good talk. He invited us to Stockholm for the 28th of June to his yacht. Went into the bar, had a drink and took in the entertainment. Went back to the hotel and crashed.
Day 4: Saturday, June 19th, Moscow/Helsinki/Stockholm/Oslo/Utoya
Left the hotel with the DRV and Pathet Lao delegation on the same bus. Went to the airport and flew out on the same flight during which we met General Sinkapo who led the counterattack on Lam Son 719. (U.S. invasion of Laos, Operation "Dewey Canyon II").
We arrived in Helsinki about one and a half hours later without my blue bag. Nothing of great value in it, luckily. We went on a sight-seeing tour of Helsinki and established a deeper friendship on the bus with the Laotians. There were three beautiful Lao children with them. Had dinner at a hotel in Tapiola.
We returned to the airport and boarded a plane for Stockholm and were there just long enough to catch a plane for Oslo. Arrived in Oslo and were met by reps from Norway Antiwar Movement. We were whisked off (just the American vets and Frank) to the Island of Utoya. Utoya is about thirty miles north of Oslo, in the middle of a fjord and it is a picturesque "Democratic-Republic Socialist State." It's maybe one-half mile long and one-quarter mile wide. About fifty guys and girls were waiting for us and they had an entire pig roasting over a pit, named "Nixon II." ("Nixon I" was the year before.) Much beer, vodka, food, song and dance.
Day 5: Sunday, June 20th, Utoya
Awoke about 10am, had breakfast at the big house, played football with mostly Americans and some Norwegians. We used a soccer ball. Later, Nathan, Larry, Danny, Karen, Greta, Trina, another girl and I went down to the fjord and went skinny-dipping. The water was like ice!
I returned to the cottage with a headache and napped. Greta woke me with pleasant singing and guitar playing (Norwegian folk songs). I listened for about one hour then asked three Norwegian girls to take me around the island. It was a nice walk, especially on the rocks of the cliff. We stopped to have a beer with Stal, then the girls left the island.
By this time, almost all Norwegians (except for our large male "guides") were gone from the island. Stal, Nate, Bart, Phil, Danny, Karen, two Norwegian "heavies" and myself took a sauna, drinking cold beer and then running naked into the icy fjord. We did this twice. It was great!
That night we all sat around the fire in our cottage, played the guitar, sang folk songs and drank beer.
Day 6: Monday, June 21st ("Escape from Utoya!")
We were alone on the island (except for our guides who acted more like guards!) Up until now all our questions about the conference had gone unanswered; all requests to go to Oslo frustrated. We were assured that we would be permitted to leave the island by 11am and that transport would be provided. About 1pm, faced with continued stonewalling by our hosts, we began a discussion among ourselves of our growing concerns. By 2pm we began to get a feeling of confinement and we couldn't understand why we were not at least briefed. We were told by our hosts that we could not go to the conference in Oslo yet, because of fears for our safety. We felt this was bullshit and began to get angry. By 3pm we decided to go ashore one way or the other. We got our bags, went down to the dock, and demanded the boat. We were prepared to take it. One of the "heavies," not happy, complied. When he got us to the other side, we told him when we reached Oslo we would notify the conference organizers where we were.
There were six of us ("Oslo Six") and we decided to take the bus. We took all recognizable buttons off. The bus came in fifteen minutes and we headed for Oslo. The bus trip took about an hour. We got off in Oslo and decided to get a hotel room, eat, then contact the conference organizers. We knew they must be climbing the walls over our disappearance. We wandered around getting directions until we found the Hotel Regina, where we got rooms for the night. Then we went to eat at the big station by the waterfront. Nice meal; we were starved!
We then went for a walk while Larry went to the conference organizers with our demands. They were: 1) a briefing; 2) explain who the "International Commission of Enquiry" is; 3) tell us what will happen to our testimony; 4) explain why we were isolated from the conference; 5) give us open return airline tickets so that we can get off the plane at London to visit the Vietnamese in Paris. We wanted a meeting that night or no testimony in the morning. We walked around town abut an hour, then returned to the hotel. About fifteen minutes later, Larry returned with the answer: They were upset but would have all the biggies of the conference meet with us at our hotel at 9pm. Tod Ensign arrived and we explained our situation to him. Gradually, all people concerned arrived and we held the meeting. Results: we were briefed, all written materials concerning the conference were provided, we were allowed to attend the conference whenever we pleased, all questions were answered, an apology was given for lack of communication, etc. Also, tickets for open flight to London/Paris promised, if possible to persuade the Soviets.
We were satisfied and agreed to testify. It all seemed like a big misunderstanding. We also arranged another meeting for lunch with Hans Frank (Commission President) for the next day to work out any final problems before we testified. The meeting adjourned, and I returned to my room and worked on my testimony, then retired.
Day 7: Tuesday, June 22nd, Oslo
Awoke early, had breakfast, then we all checked out of the hotel. We went to the conference, listened to the Vietnamese witnesses, Don Luce, then our own testimony. First Danny, then Nate, me, then Randy, it went well.
Our group then had a meeting with the DRV delegation in the conference room. One of the members of the PRG delegation, Nguyen Van Tien, and the President of the DRV Supreme Court, Pham Van Bach, were there. Meeting was good and we were invited to meet with Madame Binh in Paris on our way home.
We then went to check into a hotel for the rest of our stay in Oslo. After settling in we went to meet with the Pathet Lao. We soon confronted an American who followed us into Danny's hotel and sat in the lobby with us. I asked him if he worked for the CIA, CID, FBI or the American Embassy. He looked surprised and uneasy, but replied that he was a deserter and studying in Oslo. We left, but Larry hung back and noticed him leave the hotel and get into a Norwegian police car up the street and drive away!?
The meeting with the Pathet Lao delegation was intense and emotional. General Sinkapo welcomed us; we exchanged gifts and they gave us pictures of two American pilots killed in Laos so that we could notify their families. General Sinkapo told us we were his "little brothers" and promised to help us whenever we needed him. After the meeting we went back to our hotels and slept.
Day 11: Saturday, June 26th, Utoya/Oslo/Moscow
Got up about 7am to leave the island. Said a difficult good-bye to Norwegians. We went by car to Oslo where we met the rest of the Americans, the Vietnamese and the Laotians; then boarded a bus to the airport. After a short stop in Stockholm, we arrived in Moscow and were met by Boris and Tamara. At the airport, we held a press conference concerning the success of the Oslo conference. Chief Justice Smirnoff of the Soviet Supreme Court spoke for the Soviet delegation and I spoke for the American delegation.
We then went to the Hotel Ukraine in the center of the city. After a nice dinner, Randy and I went for a walk and ran into two hawkers trying to exchange money. We also ran into a right-wing artist, which surprised us a little. We returned and slept well.
Day 12: Sunday, June 27th, Moscow
Awoke, ate breakfast, then went on a tour of the economic, scientific, and cultural exhibit. I was tired and bored. We had lunch there and after our return I napped. At 7 PM we went for a meeting with the PRG and the DRV at the DRV Embassy. It was a very moving meeting. Each delegation sang songs. Randy, Bart and I sang "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" The Vietnamese loved it! After about one-and-a-half hours, we returned to our hotel and had dinner. In the hotel restaurant, after dinner, we and some Canadians sang folks songs and some "oldies." The Russian patrons weren't sure what to make of us. Then we went to the Canadian's room for a little party until about 1am, when I went back to my room to get some sleep.
Day 14: Tuesday, June 29th, London
We had breakfast and caught the train to Dover. At Dover we boarded the ferry for Calais. On the ferry, two Frenchmen in suits kept an eye on us and took pictures of us. At Calais, we boarded the train to Paris. Once on the train and in our compartment, we noticed an American hanging around just within earshot of our door. He had a short, military-style haircut, wore a sports coat and slacks, standard military-issue black dress shoes, and military-issue sun glasses. Bart, our resident ex-agent, struck up a conversation with him and he told Bart that he was studying in Paris during the summer. Bart returned to our compartment entirely convinced, based on some glaring inconsistencies in his story, that this American listening at our door was a bumbling U.S. military intelligence agent assigned to keep us under surveillance.
A bit later, we secretly convinced a young Spanish woman, who we had earlier met on the train, to approach our suspicious American and strike up a conversation. She did, and returned to tell us that he gave her a completely different story: he was an executive traveling to Germany to visit an industrial plant.
From that time on, for our own amusement, we turned the tables on our American agent by staying very close to him and taking his picture. When we reached Paris, he gathered his bags in each hand and ran from the train and through the station to get away from us.
Day 15: Wednesday, June 30, Paris
Woke, had breakfast, and called the PRG delegation only to find out our meeting with Madam Binh would have to be postponed because of imminent developments in the peace talks. That evening we went to hear Sartre speak to a large audience at a meeting to protest the impending destruction of Les Halles. Larry wrote a note expressing our support for the students' and workers' struggle to retain Les Halles and when it was read aloud from the podium, we were asked to stand and we received a prolonged, enthusiastic standing ovation.
Later, accompanying three French students to the site of the Les Halles demonstration, I just barely escaped the French riot police when they closed in to violently break up the crowds.
Day 16: Thursday, July 1st, Paris
Went to the hotel where the Peace Talks were being held. I had coffee in a cafe across the street and was soon joined by Larry, Nathan, Karen and Danny. Ambassador David Bruce arrived and the American tourists clapped and waved. Madam Binh arrived, we clapped, she waved, and we were seized by the French police.
After ten minutes of questioning in a side alley, Larry and I were released (we had reacted calmly), Danny and Karen were taken away (they had reacted with verbal hostility), as was Nathan (he didn't have his passport with him).
Representatives of CBS TV filmed the incident and later offered Larry and me their help. We explained who we were and why we were there, but thanked them and declined their help. Later, Bart showed up at the French police station with Nate's passport and all three were released.
Day 18: Saturday, July 3rd (my birthday), Paris
Got up, had breakfast, and went with Ian to straighten out my hotel problem. Ian lost the argument and I paid seven-and-a-half francs compensation. We went to Holly's for lunch. Larry and I got into an argument that almost came to blows. (We are all getting on each other's nerves!) Later, we all went to the Quaker Center and met with a group of American deserters. One of them, John (a bit drunk), mentioned sarcastically how well our group gets along. We replied that we had our shortcomings, but we worked well together.
The deserters then presented their requests: 1) help them establish contact with the U.S. movement; 2) get GI papers to them; 3) get VVAW literature to them; 4) distribute their newspaper; 5) get word to the States that they need help. The meeting went well, and later, at Kathy's apartment, Larry, Nathan, Danny, Karen, Laurent, Kathy and Kathy's parents presented me with a birthday cake. (Chocolate, two layers, chocolate icing. Great!) We had a nice little party and then several of us went to an African folk dance; then returned to Kathy's and slept.
Day 20: Monday, July 5, Rome
Had a very pleasant breakfast. We then had an interview with an Italian communist newspaper. Later, we addressed a large meeting of the Italian Vietnam Movement. I walked back to the hotel the long way to see the city. We had dinner around 7pm, after which we sang Happy Birthday to Karen and gave her a cake Danny had bought for her earlier in the day. I showered and took a nap, then about midnight I went for a walk, a burger and a beer.
Day 21: Tuesday, July 6th, Rome
Bart and his cousin Jim arrived this morning. We met our translator and guide, Martha, and she took us to the Vatican and the Coliseum. We had lunch with an Italian senator (nice guy!) then I went for a walk. At 7pm we had dinner, then went to a conference with Socialist and Communist party leaders of parliament. We made a good presentation which was followed by a lively discussion. The meeting lasted about two hours, then we returned to the hotel and crashed.
Day 22: Wednesday, July 7th, Rome
Went to the Italian Vietnam Movement building for a large press conference. We were joined by a popular Italian actress (Jane Fonda of the Italian Movement?). Martha then took us to the Catacombs and the Forum. Because we stepped out of a limousine and looked like hippies, some American tourists concluded that we must be a famous rock group and they started taking pictures of us. We smiled for them.
We returned to the hotel, had dinner and then went back to the Movement building where we addressed a youth group meeting.
Day 23: Thursday, July 8th, Rome/Bologna
Official government cars arrived from Bologna about 9am, with Laura as our guide. After about two hours on the road, we stopped in a hilltop village, toured a museum and a church, had a terrific lunch, and we were off again. The cars were new Alfa-Romeo 1750s, and the crazy drivers insisted on fully testing them out on the open road. We hit speeds of close to two-hundred kilometers an hour a couple of times as the three drivers, laughing like little boys with new toys, raced against each other and we screamed at them to slow down.
We arrived in Bologna about 6pm and washed up and napped. At 8pm we gathered to go to the city's main square. We were led to a side court for our protection (we were told fascists had made threats against our lives). When it was 9:30pm and dark, we were led out onto a stage and took our seats with an Italian Nobel laureate, a senator, the mayor of Bologna and our translators, Laura and Silvans. The square was filled with several thousand people. We delivered what turned out to be our best, most moving presentation, and the crowd responded by clapping, shaking our hands and hugging us. One police officer, with tears streaming from his eyes, took his badge from his uniform, pressed it into Larry's hand and hugged him. The entire event was intensely moving for all of us.
After the meeting we went to the hotel for dinner, drinking and singing. The Italians--some of them former WWII partisans--sang "Bella Ciao!"
Day 24: Friday, July 9th, Florence
Attended a cocktail party thrown for us by some wealthy (somewhat snobby) supporters of the Movement. Later we made our presentation at the Congress Hall. Despite a cold beginning, we did a good job. (Must be our nerves.) We met a couple of American girls who were having trouble understanding why we were doing what we were doing. I walked and talked with them until almost dawn and then I returned to my hotel and slept.
Day 25: Saturday, July 10th, Florence/Paris
Our drivers on the way to the industrial city of Prato were packing pistols. We nervously asked about this and were told that additional fascist threats against us had been made. We were put up in a hotel and had dinner with our guide, Roberto, and other members of the Movement. They sang "Bella Ciao!" for us and wrote down the words at our request. We went to the meeting, made a strong, emotional presentation, and brought the house down.
We invited an American woman, Connie, and her Italian husband, Sergio, to join us at our hotel. Our bodyguards strongly disapproved, but we insisted. After some drinking and talking, Connie and Sergio left, and our faithful guards, two armed with pistols on each of our floors, and one with a submachine gun in the parking lot in front of the hotel, stayed up all night waiting for the fascists.
The next day, Larry, Nathan, Randy, Danny and Karen went back to Paris and met with Madame Binh. They then returned to New York where U.S. government agents seized all of their materials relating to the Oslo Conference and related political meetings. Bart, his cousin Jim, and I rented a car and drove north, over the Alps and into Germany to deliver Jim to his military base. After visiting my sister and brother-in-law outside of Frankfurt, Bart and I drove on to Belgium, where we boarded the Dover ferry, then took a train to London, and a plane to New York. On the ground in New York, having learned of our compatriots' experience, we slipped into a line of passengers from a Madrid flight and avoided the waiting government officials. That is how this diary survived.