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Iraq is the issue of the age
If we can force the Western armies out of Iraq then we will have put a halt to the gallop of those who are using the might of the US military to impose their brute agenda on the world.
Eamonn McCann, 14 Jun 2004
When it comes to elections, the North doesn’t bother its head about issues like Iraq. Or, at least, it doesn’t take them seriously enough to influence how we vote.
In this neck of the woods the assumption runs, we have far more important things to be thinking about.
Which is what prompted Noel Thompson to hit me with an opening wobbler, live on Hearts And Minds. “This is just a suicide note, isn’t it?”, he asked, rhetorically, referring to my election slogan – neat, I’d thought – “Vote Iraq the number one issue.”
Noel’s been long on the road and he’s probably right. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t make the effort to put the issue of the war onto the agenda.
The argument is rock-bottom basic. Iraq is the issue of the age. Upon its outcome will depend the political shape of the world we inhabit for as long as most of us will live. If Iraqi resistance, and world opposition, compels the Western armies out, we’ll have put a halt to the gallop of the Cheneys and Rumsfelds, who dream of US military might imposing their brute agenda across the earth.
I don’t doubt that Northern people know and feel this as sharply and deeply as people anywhere else. But it’s taken for granted that we screw on our petty provincial heads as we enter the polling booths, reverting to considerations of the real world only when voting is over and there’s a new tribal chieftain in place.
From a political point of view, things have come full circle for me. The Vietnam war was still grinding on, the last time I stood for election prior to the Assembly poll last November, in June 1970 – so long ago it’s scary. But what has been happening in Iraq brings the memory of that era, and of My Lai, in particular back into sharp focus.
Word of the massacre at My Lai had emerged a few months previously when Seymour Hersh published a story in the New Yorker based on conversations with Vietnam veteran, Ron Ridenhour. Ron Ridenhour revealed how Charlie Company of the 11th Brigade of the American Division had entered the village in the district of Son My on March 16 1968 and conducted a massacre. The story prompted a Senate investigation. One key witness was Vietnam veteran John Kerry (pictured above).
Last month the Democratic presidential candidate explained how “shocked” he had been at the torture revelations from Abu Ghraib – behaviour “absolutely contrary” to the “traditions and values of the US military,” he claimed. John Kerry knew that nothing could be further from the truth.
During the inquiry into events Kerry told the Senate committee that in My Lai, they were not “isolated incidents but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command.” He recalled soldiers telling stories of how “they had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in a fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war.”
The savage attack on My Lai happened between mid-morning and lunchtime. Soldiers spent three hours in an orgy of rape, mutilation and murder. Five hundred civilians died. Families were shot huddled together in huts. Girls, some under 10, were raped before being shot or bayoneted to death. Many had “C” (for C Company) gouged into their bodies with knives.
The process of exposing the atrocity began when a soldier called Tom Glen wrote to General Creighton Abrams, commander of US forces in Vietnam, describing in visceral detail what had unfolded. Abrams passed the letter to a young officer at Army HQ in Saigon for further inquiries. The young offer in question was Colin Powell.
A few months later, Powell submitted a report, based, he said, on a thorough investigation of what had taken place. The report criticised Glen, and concluded: “In direct refutation of Glen’s portrayal is the fact that relations between American soldiers and the Vietnamese people are excellent.”
There the matter might have rested, had not Hersh found another honourable GI and broken the story. This prompted the official investigation, which recommend charges against 28 officers and two NCOs. But only one soldier, C Company’s CO, Lt. William Calley, was convicted. He was sentenced to life, and served three days before being released on the orders of the then President of the United States, Richard Nixon.
Three days imprisonment in all for such a huge crime. I recall wandering the highways and boreens of Derry and Tyrone with Bernadette Devlin, looking for votes and proclaiming that My Lai and Vietnam was the issue of the age.
In his memoirs, Powell makes no mention at all of his involvement in the My Lai affair. Kerry has contrived to forget his Senate testimony. Seymour Hersh was the man who broke the Abu Ghraib story in the New Yorker last month.
Round and round it goes, until enough of us together shout stop. The time to do it is now.