Fwd: Hitchens on Kerrey

Rob Schaap rws at comedu.canberra.edu.au
Sat May 5 00:30:41 PDT 2001

Here's the way I see it at the moment ...

Kerrey in context:

- he's in an area designated by his superiors as a free fire zone; - this confers permission to use every weapon you've got to kill as many people as you can; - From McNamara down, the word is that military evaluations (and, implicitly, personal professional reward) are to made on the strength of body counts; - Those bodies will not be in uniform (nor will they necessarily be those of grown men) anyway as the enemy don't wear uniforms in this part of South Vietnam; - he's been taking sporadic fire; he doesn't quite know who's firing but he knows they'd be dressed just like those people over there, and that even if those are not the people doing the firing, they might well be informing the shooters of their whereabouts - and they could certainly be armed. - and he's the man in charge on the spot; he's twenty-five - he has to answer if any of his lads are killed (you can be court-martialled for abrogating your duty of care to your squaddies), and he'll be congratulated if anyone else is.

The man says 'welcome to Vietnam' but I don't think that quite captures it. 'Welcome to war' is what he should have said. And anyone who deliberately starts a war, knowingly starts shit like this.

And another point: Remember the bombing, and the return bombing a few minutes later, of that bridge (was it Novi Sad?) in Serbia? That pilot had easier decisions to make than Kerrey. He knew he was killing innocents who couldn't harm him if they'd wanted to, and straight after that, he knew he was killing their would-be rescuers (and then there was the infamous sped-up train footage, too). I think it's the difference between the Kerrey incident and the Novi Sad incident we should be investigating. Kerrey, and no doubt ten thousand like him, operated and injudiciously killed in a chaotic and insufficient state of information - the Novi Sad pilot coolly, safely, and deliberately killed civilians. The only grey issue there is that he was doubtlessly ordered to do what he did. Do we revise the Nuremburg conclusion on that? And if we do, how do we justify hunting down Mladic, and especially his subordinates?

Focussing on such outrages decades down the track is a way of seeming morally consistent without actually being obliged to do anything about it, and certainly without having to change policy mid-stream. Why aren't we talking about Novi Sad? Coz the evidence is too fresh, too damning, and part of an essentially ongoing policy strategy.

The White House and the General Staff stand equally condemned in both cases, but, whether Kerrey is personally guilty of a war crime or not, that pilot is certainly all the more, and all the more certainly, so.

Am I missing anything here?

Cheers, Rob.

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