By the Berkeley Vietnam Day Committee
Anti-recruitment leaflet distributed in October, 1965.
You may soon be sent to Vietnam. You have heard about the war in the news; your officers will give you pep talks about it. But you probably feel as confused and uncertain as most Americans do. Many people will tell you to just follow orders and leave the thinking to others. But you have the right to know as much about this war as anyone. After all, it’s you-not your congressman-who might get killed.
We are supposed to be fighting to protect democracy in Vietnam, and yet our own government admits that South Vietnam is run by a dictatorship. General Ky, the latest military dictator, is as bad as they come. In a recent interview he said: “People ask me who my heroes are. I have only one-Hitler. I admire Hitler because he pulled his country together when it was in a terrible state.” (London Sunday Mirror, July 4, 1965).
General Ky doesn’t mean much to us; we’re not even sure how to pronounce his name, but the South Vietnamese have lived under men like him for years. As far as the Vietnamese are concerned, we are fighting on the side of Hitlerism; and they hope we lose.
U.S. military spokesmen have often said that their greatest problem is finding the enemy. The enemy, they say, is everywhere. The old woman feeding her chicken may have a stock of hand grenades in her hut. The little boy who trails after the American soldiers during the day slips out to give information to the guerrillas at night. The washerwoman at the American air base brings a bomb to work one day. It is impossible, say the military, to tell which are the Viet Cong and which are the civilians.
And so, because the whole Vietnamese people seem to be the enemy, the military is taking no chances. They use tear gas-a weapon designed for use against civilians. They order American troops to fire at women and children-because women and children, after all, are firing at American troops. American fighter planes destroy civilian villages with napalm; American B-52’s are flattening whole regions. That is why the war in Vietnam is so often called a “dirty war.”
When the South Vietnamese people see you in your foreign uniform, they will think of you as their enemy. You are the ones bombing their towns. They don’t know whether you’re a draftee or a volunteer, whether you’re for the war or against it; but they’re not taking any chances either.
The Vietnamese would like to vote the foreigners out of their country, but they have been denied the chance. According to the Geneva Agreement of 1954, there were supposed to be elections throughout Vietnam in 1956. But the U.S. government was certain that our man in Vietnam, Premier Diem, would lose. So we decided not to allow any election until we were sure we could win. Diem set up a political police force and put all political opposition-Communist and anti-Communist-in jail. By 1959, it was clear there weren’t going to be any elections, and the guerrillas known as the Viet Cong began to fight back. By 1963 our government was fed up with Diem, but still wasn’t willing to risk elections. Our CIA helped a group of Vietnamese generals to overthrow Diem and kill him. Since then there have been a series of “better” military dictators. General Ky-the man who admires Hitler-is the latest one.
Your job as a soldier is supposed to be “to win the people of South Vietnam.” Win them to what-democracy? No, we keep military dictators in power. What then? The American way of life? But why should they care any more about our way of life than we care about theirs? We can’t speak their language or even pronounce their names. We don’t know anything about their religion or even what it is. We never even heard of Vietnam until Washington decided to run it.
We are supposed to be fighting “to save the Vietnamese people from Communism.” Certainly Communist influence is very strong in the National Liberation Front, the rebel government. Yet most of the people support the NLF. Why? Many of the same people who now lead the NLP led the Vietnamese independence movement against the Japanese during World War II, and then went on to fight against French colonial rule. Most Vietnamese think of the NLF leaders as their country’s outstanding patriots. In fact, many anti-Communists have joined the guerrilla forces in the belief that the most important thing is to get rid of foreign domination and military dictators. On the other hand, very few Vietnamese support the official government of General Ky. His army has low morale and a high desertion rate.
The newspapers and television have told us again and again what a tough fighter the Vietnamese guerrilla is. Short of ammunition and without any air cover, he can beat forces that outnumber him five or ten to one. Why do they have such high morale? They are not draftees; no draftees ever fight like that. They are not high-paid, professional soldiers. Most of them are peasants who work their fields; they can’t even spare the ammunition for target practice. Their secret is that they know why they are fighting. They didn’t hear about Vietnam in the newspapers; they’ve lived there all their lives. While we were in high school, they were living under the Diem regime and hating it. Now American planes are bombing their towns and strafing their fields; American troops have occupied their country; and if they complain out loud, an American-supported dictator sentences them to jail or the firing squad. Is it any wonder that they fight so fiercely? The war in Vietnam is not being fought according to the rules. Prisoners are tortured. Our planes drop incendiary bombs on civilian villages. Our soldiers shoot at women and children. Your officers will tell you that it is all necessary, that we couldn’t win the war any other way. And they are right. Americans are not more cruel than any other people; American soldiers don’t enjoy this kind of war. But if you are going to wage war against an entire people, you have to become cruel.
The ordinary German soldier in occupied Europe wasn’t especially cruel, either. But as the resistance movements grew, he became cruel. He shot at women and children because they were shooting at him; he never asked himself why they were shooting at him. When a certain town became a center of resistance activity, he followed his orders and destroyed the whole town. He knew that SS men were torturing captured resistance fighters, but it wasn’t his business to interfere.
As a soldier you have been trained to obey orders, but as a human being you must take responsibility for your own acts. International and American law recognize that an individual soldier, even if acting under orders, must bear final legal and moral responsibility for what he does. This principle became a part of law after World War II, when the Allied nations, meeting in London, decided that German war criminals must be punished even if they committed war crimes under orders. This principle was the basis of the Nuremburg trials. We believe that the entire war in Vietnam is criminal and immoral. We believe that the atrocities which are necessary to wage this war against the people of Vietnam are inexcusable.
We hope that you too find yourself, as a human being, unable to tolerate this nightmare war, and we hope that you will oppose it. We don’t know what kind of risks we are taking in giving you this leaflet; you won’t know what risk you will be taking in opposing the war. A growing number of GIs have already refused to fight in Vietnam and have been court-martialed. They have shown great courage. We believe that they, together with other courageous men who will join them, will have influence far out of proportion to their numbers.
There may be many other things you can do; since you are in the service, you know better than civilians what sorts of opposition are possible. But whatever you do, keep your eyes open. Draw your own conclusions from the things you see, read and hear. At orientation sessions, don’t be afraid to ask questions, and if you’re not satisfied with the answers, keep asking. Take every chance you get to talk to your fellow soldiers about the war.
You may feel the war is wrong, and still decide not to face a court-martial. You may then find yourself in Vietnam under orders. You might be forced to do some fighting-but don’t do any more than you have to. Good luck.