Sunday, June 5, 2016

A Plea for Common Sense

On his recent trip to Vietnam and Japan, Pres. Obama announced the founding of an American university, to be called "Fulbright University", in Vietnam. Bob Kerrey is  set to be its president.  Kerrey, was most recently the president of the New School in New York, previously a senator and governor of Nebraska. But as a young lieutenant during the Vietnam War he was involved in an incident in which he and the men under his command deliberately massacred more than 20 civilians, old people as well as children. Kerrey has admitted to being involved in this episode of murder of civilians. "I have been haunted by it for 32 years" he is quoted as saying by the newspaper.

Some Vietnamese have protested against his appointment on account of this episode of civilian murder. One can understand that. But during the 20 years of the Vietnam War, almost 600,000 Vietnamese civilians died. To this day there are hundred thousand Vietnamese seriously deformed by Agent Orange which we sprayed on the jungles in order to deny cover to the enemy. The United States has ravaged Vietnam in spectacular ways but it's government is willing to accept an American university.

It is genuinely puzzling to hear all the objections to Kerrey being the president but no one, apparently, objecting to the establishment of the university itself.

Kerrey's willingness to be the president is also not quite straightforward. The United States government put him in a position of murdering civilians, of killing innocents. But while he is "haunted" by that event he is perfectly happy to be the representative of the US government in Vietnam at the new University. We don't hear him complain about having been put in a position which compelled him to act really brutally.

Even more puzzling is the reaction of Pres. Obama to these controversies in Vietnam and, then, on his visit to Hiroshima in Japan where one small atomic bomb killed  140,000 civilians. Today there are close to 2000 survivors recognized by the Japanese government as suffering from radiation disease as a consequence of the atomic bomb attack.

Both wars claimed large numbers of victims but there is one important difference. The Japanese war was started by the Japanese, the Vietnam War was taken over by us from the French in 1955 and we fought it deliberately, doggedly for 20 years. One would have expected some recognition on the part of the President or of Bob Kerrey that the US was the aggressor in Vietnam.

The responsibility of the US for the injuries done to the Vietnamese and to their land are especially grave. Our leaders should finally acknowledge that in public. But the injuries we did to ourselves by involving ourselves in the war in Vietnam and, since then, in a series of other foreign wars also need to be acknowledged. Since World War II our foreign policy has been aggressive. We have not hesitated to use our military to attack and invade other countries. Without exceptions these adventures have ended badly.

In his speech in Hiroshima, Pres. Obama condemned war and especially war using atomic munitions. But we would have liked to hear him pledge that the US would end its history of aggressive war making. We attacked Vietnam and left it in a shambles from which the country still has not recovered. We attacked in Korea. We attacked in Afghanistan and Iraq. We sent Marines to Somalia. We are allies with aggressive war makers such as Israel and Saudi Arabia. Despite the fact that all these wars we started have become major debacles, that we failed in every case to reach all objectives--if we had any clear ones-- our president in Hiroshima was not willing to promise that we would no longer go to war unless clearly and unmistakably attacked from the outside, unless foreign troops in substantial numbers had invaded our country.

That would not only have been a morally admirable commitment. It would have been the sensible conclusion to be drawn from the last 60 years of American military adventures. Imagine only the American lives that would have been saved, imagine the money we would have saved that would have enabled us to provide educations for all, that would have made it unnecessary for any American to live in poverty, that would have enabled us to find good work for everyone. There would have been resources to see that no one was forced to be homeless. We could see to it that our bridges are safe

Seeing the terrible damage we have done abroad and the suffering we have inflicted on ourselves in the process, a declaration that we would not ever again wage aggressive war, that we would never start a war would only  be plain common sense.

We wish that Pres. Obama had displayed some of this plain common sense on his trip to Vietnam and Japan.