Whatever happened to 'never again'?
When John Kerry appeared on CSPAN a couple weeks ago, a caller — a woman from Lubbock, Texas, who averred that she had voted for him and wanted the U.S. out of Iraq — raised a delicate point: "I remember the horrible killings after Vietnam and the boat people coming over here, and I really hate to go off and leave our allies in Iraq, and I am concerned about that..."
Not to worry, replied the senator. There was no massive bloodbath in Vietnam after the war. The exact quote is as follows:
"Let me just say to the first part of your question with respect to boat people and killing — everybody predicted a massive bloodbath in Vietnam. There was not a massive bloodbath in Vietnam. There were re-education camps, and they weren't pretty, and, and, you know, nobody likes that kind of outcome. But on the other hand, I've met a lot of people today who were in those re-education camps who are thriving in the Vietnam of today."
No "massive bloodbath," huh? Well at the risk of sounding Clintonian — Bill, not Hillary — I suppose that depends on how you define the word "bloodbath."
But here's what did happen.
According to the Historical Atlas of the 20th Century (http://users.erols.com/mwhite28/20centry.htm), a website that has an exhaustive list of casualties in 20th-century conflicts drawn from multiple sources, approximately 1 million people were sent to the "re-education" camps, and 165,000 died in them.
However, re-education camp deaths are not the only post-war deaths in Vietnam. There were also 65,000 outright executions following the communist takeover.
And then there's the matter of the boat people. The Historical Atlas says 1 million people tried to flee Vietnam in boats and 200,000 died trying.
That adds up to 430,000 post-war deaths in Vietnam. Sen. Kerry evidently doesn't think this constituted a "massive bloodbath."
Why on earth not? Well, it's probably because of what took place next door in Cambodia — 1.6 million murders between 1975 and 1978, or more than 20 percent of Cambodia's population. And that's not counting the 225,000 who died subsequently in the civil war that followed the Khmer Rouge's ouster from power by the Vietnamese army in 1978.
Compared to the killings in post-war Cambodia, the killings in post-war Vietnam might not seem "a massive bloodbath" — at least to Sen. Kerry. Still, at the risk of being literal minded (and bloody minded), think of it this way: Assume 430,000 men, women and children average a gallon of blood each. That's enough blood to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool and a third of a second one.
Sen. Kerry is indulging in a bit of holocaust denial when he asserts "there was not a massive bloodbath in Vietnam" following the war. More than a bit, in fact, because such a denial relies on maintaining the pretense that the genocide in Cambodia was not part and parcel of the aftermath of the Vietnam War. The truth is that the post-war killings in Vietnam and the post-war killings in Cambodia were consequences of the same American decision to abandon the fight.
Sen. Kerry's refusal to acknowledge the bloody aftermath of the America's abandonment of Vietnam and Cambodia (and Laos, where 200,000 to 300,000 died after the war) is not just a matter of self-serving intellectual dishonesty. The senator is using the denial of what happened post-Vietnam to justify cutting and running in Iraq, where a quick American withdrawal would almost certainly result in a bloodbath of Vietnam proportions.
Barak Obama has a more honest — but equally execrable — view. Asked by the Associated Press about the prospect of genocide in Iraq if America pulled out its troops, he allowed as how even preventing genocide was insufficient reason for keeping them there.
"Well, look, if that's the criteria by which we are making decisions on the deployment of U.S. forces, then by that argument you would have 300,000 troops in the Congo right now — where millions have been slaughtered as a consequence of ethnic strife — which we haven't done," he said. "We would have deploying unilaterally and occupying the Sudan, which we haven't done. Those of us who care about Darfur don't think it would be a good idea."
Well, he's got a point there. America can't police the whole world. But there's a big difference between intervening in someone else's war to prevent genocide and allowing genocide to happen by withdrawing from a war in which we are already engaged.
Given the insouciance with which Sen. Obama views genocide and the ease with which Sen. Kerry denies it, I have a question for both of those worthies, and, if I could, I would ask it the same way the global-warming question was asked during the YouTube/CNN candidate debate.
I would have a little cartoon red blood corpuscle dance out on stage and ask, "Whatever happened to 'never again'?"
© 2007 Boulder Weekly. All Rights Reserved.