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As we hear the horrifying and sickening reports of the atrocities in Gaza by the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), and as ardent Israel backers predictably justify each one or contest the facts it's worth reading a new book ("The War Behind Me: Vietnam Veterans Confront the Truth about US War Crimes"), by a former Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington bureau investigative reporter of the LA Times named Deborah Nelson.
Nelson with the help of war historian Nick Turse, got hold of a 9000-page secret report by the Pentagon's own people, stored in the National Archive and dating to the Nixon era. Compiled in the wake of a flood of charges from returning GIs and Marines about US atrocities which began appearing following the expose of the My Lai massacre, it sought to investigate and repudiate those claims.
Nixon's people, following the My Lai scandal, had made an enormous effort to discredit those returned soldiers, like John Kerry of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, who came forward to report that the war was a massive series of atrocities against civilians. What this remarkable and well-documented book shows is that the Pentagon's exhaustive investigation actually ended up concluding that most of the reports--which were often of massacres on the same scale as My Lai--were true. As a result it was labeled top secret and buried for thirty-plus years.
Nelson and Turse took this study, released following a Freedom of Information Act request, and proceeded to track down the actual soldiers who had filed the reports. They brought the complete investigative records to these guys and had them go over their own old stories in view of what evidence the investigators had found. The vets in question, now in their 50s and 60s, had had no idea that their protests had been secretly taken seriously or investigated, or that they had been found to be telling the truth. Many, at the time they came forward, had been spied on, called out as liars, and intimidated into silence.
The conclusion can only be that these atrocities--things like just herding 20 women and small children into a ditch and machine gunning them, and then calling them all VC "killed in action"--were really just the tip of the iceberg, and that many many more such incidents were simply never reported by anyone. In Vietnam, atrocities and massacres of civilians by American forces were not aberrations, they were part of the battle plan.
This should come as no surprise. My father, who was a marine in WWII, tells of how at boot camp at Camp LeJeune, he and his comrades were trained systematically to consider the "Japs" to be subhuman, and to be ready to kill at a moment's notice and without mercy. The same was done to the draftees being sent to Vietnam, and it is true of the troops trained to "liberate" Iraq in the 2003 invasion of that country.
The point is, Israel's IDF is no better or worse than America's military. Given the level of mutual hatred between Israeli and Palestinian, I have no doubt that while there may well be humanists among IDF draftees, who manage to maintain their humanity despite their situation, many in the IDF are as ready to blow away women and children in Gaza without a moment's remorse as Hamas rocketeers are happy to hit a kindergarten in Israel. That is what soldiers get conditioned to do. It is not even their fault. It is the fault of a leadership that wants this to happen.
Of course there are atrocities being committed in Gaza by the IDF. That is the point of the invasion, which is to terrorize the 1.5-million people of Gaza into turning against Hamas. It is the same policy as the American "pacification" program in Vietnam. It didn't work there, and it won't work in Gaza, but in the process, many, many innocent civilians, including little children, will die horrible deaths.
As of today, nearly 900 people are known to have been killed by Israeli forces. At least half of these are reported to be civilians, but since in fact only children and women are "known" to be civilians, what this really means is that the IDF has killed nearly 500 women and children. Undoubtedly, many of the other dead, who are adult males, are also civilians. And the actual number of dead is certainly much higher, because many bodies have not been recovered from the rubble. They cannot be because the IDF is shooting at anyone who attempts a rescue.
In all this, it is important for us in the US to remember that Israel is the number-one recipient of US foreign aid and military aid.
Without US support--military, financial and diplomatic--this war would not be happening. It is, in the final analysis, as much America's fault as Israel's.
The irony is that even as Israel pounds Gaza and slaughters the inhabitants of this modern-day Warsaw-like ghetto, it is gaining nothing. Year by year, Israel's security situation worsens.
In 1967 it fought a brilliant and decisive war against multiple attackers and triumphed. It won decisively again in 1973. Since then, however, it has had a harder and harder time winning its battles and in the last instance, against Hezbollah, the IDF arguably lost.
Now it is in a fight against a really pitiful opponent in Gaza--a bunch of poorly trained guys with guns and RPGs vs. one of the most modern and heavily equipped military forces in the world--and yet there are many who say the IDF will fail, and will end up leaving Gaza in ruins but with Hamas still not only in control but more popular than ever for having "stood up" to the IDF.
Now the thing Israel and its backers need to bear in mind that the US itself is a power in the midst of a historic decline. The US military is weaker than at any time since the Vietnam era: over-extended, its equipment wrecked and top heavy with bureaucracy. And with the US economy in ruins after two decades of de-industrialization, and deliberate creation of economic bubbles designed to hide the general decline in Americans' incomes and keep the consumer spending frenzy going artificially, it is not coming back.
The "Ebay economy" of virtual wealth we Americans thought we had in our homes and our 401(k) funds will not bounce back in coming years, because it was all a fake. When this recession finally ends, we Americans will find that recovery will mean a much lower standard of living than we have become used to. (Just one example of the problem: The Fed has printed $2 trillion of new dollars over the last two months. When you do that, you inevitably debase the currency. We are doomed to see the dollar plummet in value over the next few years, and because the US doesn't make anything anymore, all the goods we need, including even the bulk of the things that go into making our cars, are imported and will soar in price. It will be even worse if, as is likely, oil producers stop pricing oil in dollars.)
It all points to a major pull-back, probably sooner rather than later, I in America's role in the world.
There can be no restoration of the American economy, even marginally, without an end to this country's decades-long obsession with militarism. The US spends more on its military--a trillion dollars a year counting veterans benefits and interest on the borrowed money) than the rest of the world combined. That situation cannot continue, for objective reasons even aside from the moral ones.
When the public finally realizes this, the politicians will have to respond, and we will see a dramatic shrinking of the military budget and of America's militarism abroad.
At that point, Israel will have to face the music, and either settle with the Palestinians, or try to soldier on on its own (and good luck to that).
It would make much more sense for Israel, which still has solid, if shrinking, public US support, to work out a permanent solution through the creation of a genuinely viable Palestinian state, right now, than to wait until such a solution is forced on it when it is in a much weaker bargaining position.
DAVE LINDORFF is a Philadelphia-based journalist and columnist. His latest book is "The Case for Impeachment" (St. Martin's Press, 2006, available now in paperback edition). His work is available at www.thiscantbehappening.net