Two-Faced Tiger

Do you know what the Tiger Force was, the American one during the war with Vietnam? If not, perhaps it's because the major media haven't spent as much time on it as they did on Bush's carrier landing. It is possible to locate articles on the topic, but the Gray Lady noticeably played down the story. As if it weren't a big deal that “elite” American soldiers had gone on a rampage—though of course that isn't the choice of words in the Times. Here's how Joe Strupp described it in Editor and Publisher:

The records related to a four-and-a-half year government investigation into the actions of a platoon of soldiers from the elite 101st Airborne known as Tiger Force who allegedly killed and mutilated dozens of Vietnamese civilians during a seven-month period in 1967. The investigation apparently concluded that at least 18 soldiers committed war crimes, according to Royhab, but nothing was ever publicly disclosed, no charges were filed, and the documents have remained classified since 1975.

The Blade's investigation, adding to the military's findings, and based on interviews with Tiger Force soldiers and Vietnamese civilians, concluded that the unit killed hundreds of unarmed people.

Okay, so Americans do commit war crimes, just like everyone else. I once worked with a citizen of Germany, who disagreed with some of my antiwar positions because, he said, look what the Americans do when they win: they don't gas entire populations, they institute the Marshall Plan. True, we learned something from the First World War: don't screw up the peace agreement so badly that you guarantee another war (apparently one British general walked out of the Versailles talks, saying “This is not a peace; it's an armistice for twenty years.”; his prediction was off by a year).

But what we learned was not altruism, it was slightly-enlightened self interest. We learned, to put it in a nutshell, how much money our corporations can make off a nice war, especially if it happens overseas. And after all, we've only had one that touched the contiguous forty-eight, though of course there weren't forty-eight then. The War of 1812, in which the British burned the White House, is the only defensive war the United States has ever fought. Back in those days, we called the people who fought wars the War Department. In these days of pre-emptive attacks by the US military, we call the same people the Defense Department. Which you can't blame on the military; they would probably tend to come up with a fairly straightforward description. It's the politicians, who want to start a war because their friends will grow rich, and who don't have any children in the military, who think “Defense” sounds less distasteful. Honesty? What's that?

It's particularly interesting to hear about this now, as the public discussion comes around to the similarities between our involvements in Iraq and in Vietnam. Of course there are many differences. But the similarities are significant, and it's precisely those similarities that the Administration wants no one to think about. In particular, as Ray McGovern, a 27-year veteran of the CIA, points out:

But, many protest, we can't just withdraw! Sure we can, and better now than ten years from now, as in the case of Vietnam. If it is true that we are not in Iraq to control the oil or to establish military bases with which to dominate that strategic area, we can certainly withdraw. As in Vietnam, the war is unwinnable... hear that? Unwinnable!

This is the point that matters. Will anyone hear it?

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