In defence of a civilian's right to judge the military

From: "Russell D. Hoffman"


by: Russell D. Hoffman
Concerned Citizen
Carlsbad, CA

To Whom It May Concern,

People wonder about Kerrey's recent forced Vietnam revelations. Should we condemn him?

What about the nuclear-disaster-in-waiting Greeneville sub commander Scott Waddle, who behaved SO strangely on Larry King Live last week, answering Larry's lousy, lame questions like a heavily sedated robot, as the Navy "hangs him out to dry" (with full pension)? Who are these men?

They are both criminals. Kerrey is the small-time crook. Shucks, I mean, everyone was doing it back then! His worst crime seems to be that he hid his past. I mean, to condemn someone for killing civilians in Vietnam is like condemning the Nazis for killing Jews during WWII, isn't it?

Hey, wait a minute! We did that! We (the people; i. e., the civilians) didn't just hang those guys out to dry, either. We hung 'em. We hung their leaders anyway, even fairly low-level commanders in charge of just a concentration camp or two, and we wouldn't let the others into the country and would kick 'em out whenever we found them teaching school in Indiana for 30 years or whatever. Yep, we were tough on them, thanks to the CIA's helpful files.

Or, uh, no, the CIA didn't help much with that. Too busy with the Cold War. Well anyway we condemned them roundly and hung a few of them publicly.

I suppose we're supposed to believe that Kerrey's crimes are forgivable. I'd rather let a war crimes tribunal, with lawyers in suits and judges in gowns, and court reporters and the media -- the whole bit -- decide that one. I don't think the sway of today's public opinion should decide the issue.

Commander Scott Waddle on the other hand, was the cream of the crop. The diamond thief. The reckless and negligent commander of America's Ugly Pride of the Deep, a nuclear attack sub. Silent, deep and deadly, with poisons beyond human comprehension aboard, in the form of radioactive isotopes kept ever so slightly cooler than a runaway -- a meltdown -- hardly impervious to enemy actions, but acting as though they were benign sailing ships simply out to gently enforce the rules of the land and sea with nuclear-tipped warheads, these are America's most prestigious military jobs. These guys don't blink. Damn the torpedoes. These guys don't even think.

YES, CIVILIANS HAVE A RIGHT, a DUTY, to condemn military atrocities. As an act of mere survival it is vital that we do so. Otherwise the military will use Depleted Uranium bullets or something and poison the countryside, they will go for the infrastructure of a country when a spanking is all that is called for, they will level a city rather than risk one life among their own men.

Oh yeah, they do all these things already. Fellow civilians, we have missed the boat. It's time to reign in the military. An atrocity against any civilian is an atrocity against all civilians, and destruction of the environment anywhere is destruction of the environment everywhere -- it's a closed system, and a small one. Civilized society, and earth itself, is being destroyed by the military. By the Nuclear Navy, by the D.U.-firing, water-treatment-plant-busting, Chinese Embassy-blasting American armed forces. By our soldiers.

The Taliban blow up Budda statues and we condemn them. But the United States Military irradiated dozens of previously-inhabited tropical paradise islands, lost 2 nuclear subs to what one ought to call routine accidents, has lost or dumped at least 5 nuclear reactors at sea, and dumps countless Curies of radioactive waste into the oceans, bays and rivers, and we say nothing. NOTHING. Commander Scott Waddle hits a Japanese fishing school training boat, killing 9 people through sheer recklessness, does the typical submarine thing and does nothing to help the survivors of the sunken surface ship -- and gets what? He get's called a patriot by Larry King Live in an interview on CNN, right at the start of the show, lest there be any question how the interview is going to go.

I condemn both of these men!

Here's an article (shown below) by a guy who thinks he's got the answers. But he doesn't. In fact, this guy's got it about 180 degrees backwards. He's forgotten who is in charge. He's forgotten that the military serves the civilian population according to rules we (the people) have laid down over the millennia and throughout American history. We condemn atrocities large and small.

Hackworth thinks civilians can't judge whether or not a warrior's acts are gallant, necessary, criminal, or an atrocity. He's crazy. In fact, I believe there is no one who is better-equipped mentally than a civilian to judge such things, because I believe that only a complete and true civilian can really view war as merely the extension of politics that it is. As such, there is no room for atrocities large or small.

And if I can't handle the truth, I'll find someone who can. But a civilian court should be judging our military for consideration of the atrocities they commit against civilians and against the environment. Not a military court and not the court of public opinion.

Russell Hoffman
Concerned Citizen
Carlsbad, California USA


Washington Times
May 5, 2001
Pg. 12
Horror That Will Never Go Away
By David Hackworth

Former Sen. Bob Kerrey's admission about a 1969 Vietnam atrocity might have generated a media feeding frenzy, but it's not news to me.

Nine years ago at Newsweek, I got a call from a man who claimed he was a "former SEAL" and whispered last week's headline news. But after some picking and shoveling, editor Maynard Parker and I walked away. Years later, another Newsweek reporter, Gregory Vistica, came up with the same story, and it, too, was spiked. We never ran with my story because:

The allegation couldn't be backed up. Participants had conflicting recall, common among warriors even immediately after a fight and especially decades later. No big surprise. Most eyewitnesses to a traumatic experience - battle-related or civilian - remember it differently. The whisperer couldn't explain why, since military law was on his side, he didn't stop the massacre. You know, "Lt. Kerrey, cease/desist or I'll shoot you." Or why he didn't immediately report the "war crime" per Navy regs. Or why he then sat on it for so many years.

Another reason was based on my almost five years in Vietnam, where, during that shameful war, there were thousands of such atrocities. My parachute battalion's first big "kill" in 1965 was a night ambush at An Khe that destroyed a tribal family who hadn't gotten the word about the curfew. The draftee unit I skippered in 1969 - as I've recently discovered while doing interviews for a new book - had at least a dozen such horrors. Most were reported at the time as "enemy killed." Thirty-two years later, the participants say: It was the easy way out; we couldn't handle the shame; the command was constantly pushing the body-count figure.

Everywhere our young men fought in Vietnam, where there were civilians, there was carnage. Especially in the Mekong Delta - where Mr. Kerrey's commandos were hunting and being hunted by an armed enemy who was everywhere.

Most of us have heard of William Calley's My Lai massacre, where hundreds of noncombatants were cut down in a bloodbath led by a madman. But ask anyone who fought in the Delta, where 35 percent of Vietnam's population lived, if civilians got caught in the middle of the cross fire - and the answer has to be yes.

Few innocents were killed on purpose. But it was a war with no front, and few of the enemy in the Delta wore uniforms or fought by the rules of war. Also, many women, children and old men were "freedom fighters," not unlike Americans during our War of Independence.

My division in the Delta, the 9th, reported killing more than 20,000 Viet Cong in 1968 and 1969, yet fewer than 2,000 weapons were found on the "enemy" dead. How much of the "body count" consisted of civilians?

John Paul Vann told me in April 1969 when he was in charge of pacification in the Delta that "at least 30 percent were noncombatants" and that he had spoken to President Nixon about having the 9th immediately pulled out of the Delta. A month later, the division got its marching orders.

Gen. Julian Ewell, who commanded the 9th, never ordered his soldiers to kill civilians. Nor did I. Nor, in my judgment, did Bob Kerrey. Nor did most of the scared young men - lying out in the mud night after night thinking every sound was an enemy who would soon take their lives - purposely kill civilians.

The Vietnam War was a 25-year running sore in which more than 5 million Southeast Asians died, nearly half a million Americans bled and millions of others still bear the pain and the shame and the scars.

This week, Mr. Vistica finally presents his sensational story of events long ago in print, followed by Dan Rather on television. But neither was on that operation; neither has been a combat grunt. Mr. Vistica never served; Mr. Rather did have a go at becoming a Marine but never completed boot camp. As far as I'm concerned, neither is qualified to pass judgment on soldiers or sailors.

Matter of fact, neither of these frequent military bashers is fit to shine Mr. Kerrey's one jungle boot - the other having been left behind in Vietnam with his foot in it while he bravely answered his country's call.

David Hackworth, a retired colonel in the U.S. Army, is an author and a nationally syndicated columnist.


Hackworth is an ass..... He thinks he is the only guy who ever wore a uniform.

The trouble with the military is the UCMJ. The innocent can't get a fair trial and the guilty [all officers] walk from any crime that favors the point of view of the military.

Military men in a democracy should be tried in civilian courts. I don't give a shit what the crime is.

The military cannot police itself just as the DOE, the NRC, FBI,CIA, local cops, etc. cannot police themselves.

Jack Shannon


re Military Tribunal,

I think that a reasonable alternative would be to have a civilian judge and a jury consisting of 1/2 civilian, 1/2 military and where over 50% guilty is required to convict and 50/50 verdicts being decided by the judge. I think that a total civilian jury may not understand the psychology of war where clearly the normal civilian laws do not apply and while it is wrong to knowingly kill unarmed civilians, one can not always know they are civilians or unarmed in a combat situation. Wars are never fought without some amount of civilians being killed in the crossfire. (Actually it seems that modern warfare continues to increase the peril to civilians)

One other issue when one is dealing with combat is the matter of evidence. In most cases the evidence being presented is simply peoples statements as to what occurred. One has to consider that those giving testimony may have their own agendas which a court may never be able to determine. The accused may have little more to offer in their defense then their version of an event. Considering how many officers were "fragged" by their men would it be all too surprising that there would be those equally willing to ruin them in a courtroom?

Just a thought




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First posted May, 2001.

Last modified May, 2001.

Webwiz: Russell D. Hoffman