What is 'Winter Soldier' all about? In the words of the veterans themselves:
"Tom Paine spoke of the summer soldiers and sunshine patriots of the American Revolution., those who do battle when the climate was relatively pleasant. Our greatest debt is to the men who served during the cold winter at Valley Forge. After service in Vietnam we face our greatest responsibility now in telling the American people of the war crimes being committed every day in their name and as the result of national policy.
"No one knows more than we do how those policies established in Washington DC, sanitized with bloodless euphemisms by public relations phrase makers, presented to America as "free fire zones' and 'strategic hamlets' are in their cumulative effects in the field, little more than genocide.
"In this the winter of service to our country, we shall not shrink from our responsibilities to our fellow Americans.
And so, as a beginning, from Jan 31 to Feb 2, over 100 veterans of the Vietnam War testifiued in Detroit about war crimes committed against the people of Indochina, whioch they had either taken part or witnessed. Whether it was a bad conscience, feeling of guilt, political awareness or anger - for any and all of these reasons, the men who carried out this government's policy of "kill it if it moves and burn it if it doesn't" are now telling the American public what is really being done in their name.
Typical of the press in this country, the hearings were largely ignored, even after Sen. George McGovern and Rep. Conyers called for a Senate investigation of the testimony brought forth. It was the same kind of news-think that was imposed on the escalation of the Southeast Asian war into Laos. It's ironic and frightening, when one pro-war veteran can command extensive news coverage, while nearly 150 vets, backed by Vietnam Veterans Against the War, an organization comprised of several thousand honorably discharged vets are practically ignored. The public will know the truth whether it can accept it or not. The truth came through all too clear during these three days of testimony, that MyLai was not an isolated incident but rather standard operating procedure in Southeast Asia (SEA).
THe vets came from all over the country, most at their own expense. They were organized into panels according to their units in order to support each others testimony. Some were there in 1964, some had just returned, but the stories were always the same. The 1st and 3rd Marine Divisions, 1st Air Cavalry, ... 82nd Airborne ... and the Americal Divisions were represented by many persons. I addition there were specialk panels on weapons, many outlawed by the Geneva Convention, prisoners of war, press censorship, medical policy and racism, both in the military and in relation to the war.
Testimony concerning the torture of prisoners and killingof civilians was extensive. One point brought home by a number of vets was that a 'free fire zone' was exactly that. Anything living is faikr game. One incident related by an ex-member of the Americal Division was : "we spotted two Vietnamese drawing water from a well and we fired at them. We missed and they got away. A short while later we came across a couple of huts with underground shelters nearby. One guy, as he yelled 'is anyone down there' in Vietnamese, simultaneously dropped a grenade into the shelter. The bodies we pulled out .. were of a 5 or 6 yr old boy, a girl of about the same age and an old woman." Rape and torture were commonplaace. One ex-Marine told of a woman being stabbed in both breasts and a weapon being shoved up her vagina. Another told how he calmly gunned down a woman with a baby in her arms who was running from a village.
Mthods used to obtain information from 'Vietcong suspects' (VCS) or from civilians included: the 'bell telephone hour' - wiring any part of the subjects body (usually genitals) to field telephone wires or jeep batteries and shocking him or her, the most widespread technique in the fieeld; yanking a string around a suspects testicles; beatings, burning the peenis or the breats with a cigarette; applying leeches till a suspect faints; disemboweling live prisoners in front of others; throwing prisoners out of helicopters; threatening rape, especially when parents were suspects.
Another subject disscussed was trhe use of weapons which have been outlawed by the Geneva Convention. Several vets testified to using white phosphorous grenades routinely. Phosphorous is a chemical. Once it gets on the skin it can't be put out. It simply eats away at the victim till he she dies from fright or it reaches a vital organ and causes death. The use of antipersonnel bombs is commonplace. An example is the 'firecracker bomb', which on impact explodes and shoots out hundreds of pellets which are designed to maim. Another weapon described was the CBU or cluster bomb unit, which leaves the plane as a single bomb, then explodes apart into numbers of oval grenades, which in turn explode individually to create a blizzard of steel... The best known and most damaging of these weapons is the defoliation chemicals used on the countryside, manufactured by your friendly neighborhood Dow Chemical Co. A country that was ten years ago known as the rice capital of the world must now import rice to feed its starving populace. The number of children still born or born deformed is rising at an astronomical rate.
A medical panel chaired by a doctor who served in Vietnam as a captain brought to light the racist nature of the war. It was forbidden to use certain drugs on South Vietnamese troops. Medics testified thaat wounded Vietnamese were not atken toi the better American hospitals and that when they were issued a small bottle of serum albumen, they were told "This bottle is worth $25; never use it on a gook." One medic testified that he witnessed one doctor operate on Vietnamese patients at least ten times without anastesia, or even sterile procedures. Most of the medics said that prisoners received literally no medical treatment at all.
One wonders why these young men came and testified.. One veteran's answer was : "I'm here because I have nightmares about things that happened to me and my friends. Even my parents didn't want to know - thaat told me they HAD to know." Another vet stressed the importance of the truth being told to the American people. "Everything (what the American people are told thru the press) is a bunch of lies. And you get people sitting back here and they believe this stuff, and thaat's what we're going to stop. I think that is being a true American. I think it's sticking up for your country. Damn it I love this country and I can't see itr being run by fascist pigs."
The greatest danger that now faces this country is that there are too many people reading this andother accounts of the hearings who will refuse to believe what these men have come home to tell us. Ther are those who will hear what they have to say and reject it, aand retreaat into their 'American Dreamworld.' There are sceptics who will say that it's all a propaganda stunt. For those, the entire transcript will be available in a couple of months and they can check and find that all the men who testified were honorably discharged and that many of them were testified for their service in Vietnam. Those who say it's an act should have been there to experience the emotions of these men as they faced what they'd done, as many of them broke down and cried. And there are many of you who are still hiding from the memopries of World War II, Korea and Vietnam, who are afraid that listening to these men may be a personally painful experience, one you don't want to deal with. It doesn't take any nerve to pull the trigger on an unarmed civilian, to torture a helpless prisoner, or to drop a bomb from thousands of feet overhead. It does take nerve to admit to yourself that what you did was wrong, and it takes a hell of a lot of guts to stand up in front of America and say "I did these things, and I was wrong."
What the Winter Soldier Investigation is trying to do is trying to tell America was best summed up by a veteran who concluded the testimony of the Americal Division panel: "We all belong to the unit that Lieutenant Calley belonged to. What's been brought out during this whole testimony is that it's a general policy and not an isolated incident. We're trained from basic training, AIT and OCS, to kill and that's what we're out there to do. It is not the fault of Lieutenant Calley. It is not the fault of the infantryman in his platoon, but the fault of the U.S. government and the U.S. military establishment. The whole system is nothing. It is set up to dehumanize us and to make everybody we see a nonhuman so that we can kill them. It would be impossible with our background to go into a village and kill a woman and child unless we looked at those people as nonhumans. And because of the service and because of the military establishment, that's how we look at the Vietnamese. "
These are the sons of America. They are telling the American people what is going on in Vietnam and pleading with thee to help bring this atrocity to an end. The vital question now is, will the American people listen, and more than that, will they respond to that plea?