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January 24, 1990 - Image 4

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The Michigan Daily, 1990-01-24

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OPINION

Page 4

Wednesday, January 24, 1990

The Michigan Daily

El

Salvador

1S

spanish

for

Vietnam

by A. Hernandez Lozano
Twenty one years ago President Lyndon
Johnson presented me with the Air Medal
(1st Strike/Flight Award) for meritorious
achievement in aerial flight as a helicopter
gunner during combat support missions in
support of the Republic of Vietnam.
On January 22, 1990 I returned my Air
Medal to President George Bush for three
reasons:
(1) I am hoping that it will lift the
heavy burden of shame and guilt I have
felt over the years as a result of having
been a member of the U.S. armed forces,
which while assisting a brutal and corrupt
military dictatorship in South Vietnam,
committed senseless barbaric atrocities and
war crimes against the Vietnamese people.
(2) I am returning my medal to express
the indignation and outrage I feel to see
our leaders behaving more like Nazi war
criminals rather than statesmen worthy of
our respect, as they gloat and cheer over
the illegal invasiop of Panama. This inva-
sion, undertaken without consulting
Congress, is a violation of the Constitu-
tion of the United States, Article 1, sec-
tion 8 which clearly states that Congress,
not the President, has the power to declare
war. Worse, somewhere between two and
four thousand Panamanians, most of them
innocent civilians, were killed by invading
U.S. troops. The total number will never
be known since American authorities
hastily ordered that the victims, men,
women and children, be secretly buried in
mass graves. And all this carnage just so
they could arrest General Manuel Noriega,
a CIA crony gone astray.
(3) I do not want a medal from a nation
that has for the past ten years been en-
gaged in committing atrocities against the
poor people of El Salvador by giving un-
conditional military assistance to the Sal-
vadoran government and its death squads.
Even after the latest round of massacres, in
which six Jesuit priests and many other
Salvadoran citizens were murdered by
members of the U.S. trained Atlacatl bat-
talion, your administration continues to
lavish weapons and our hard earned tax
dollars (1.4 million dollars a day) on the
perpetrators of these abominable atrocities.
The murder of the priests is only the
latest in a bloody trail of brutal crimes
against civilians committed by Salvadoran
troops "advised" by U.S. military person-
nel. In 1981 this same battalion was re-

sponsible for the grisly murders of more
then 700 men, women and children in the
Salvadoran province of Morazan. It was
also responsible for the killing of at least
68 unarmed civilians in Cabanas province
in 1984 and was involved in the massacre
of at least 50 peasants in Chalatenango
province the same year.
It is time that our leaders, who have of
late been acting as apologists for the per-
petrators of these heinous crimes, recog-
nize that the Salvadoran military and the
right wing paramilitary death squads re-
sponsible for the murders of thousands of
Salvadoran civilians are'one and the same.
And the time is long overdue for our gov-
ernment to stop funding those atrocities.
As a veteran of the Vietnam fiasco I can
only say that it is sad and tragic to see our
leaders still have not learned that in the
kind of power struggle such as is taking
place in El Salvador, dollars and bombs
are a poor substitute for constructive polit-
ical ideas.
What disturbs me is the endless list of
grotesque human rights abuses committed
by the Salvadoran military and its death
squads. But what outrages me even more
is the fact that over the past ten years the
U.S. has given nearly four billion dollars
in aid and weapons to a brutal regime that

In the Vietnamese village My-Lai
the elite Americal Division of the
U.S. Army massacred over 400
civilians. The My Lai massacre
represents the real character of
U.S. intervention in Vietnam.

has turned on its own people, killing
70,000 men, women and children with
bombs and bullets paid for with our tax
dollars.
I was outraged to see another $85 mil-
lion dollars appropriated even in the midst
of the latest carnage in mid November
1989 in which U.S. trained pilots indis-
criminately bombed Salvadoran civilians
living in the poor areas of the densely
populated capital of San Salvador. Of
course when the fighting spread to neigh-
borhoods where the rich live, the Salvado-
ran military meticulously avoided bomb-
ing those areas. It was an inescapable les-
son that clearly illustrates the criminal
contempt with which the U.S. supported
military regards the poor people of Sal-
vador.
Returning my Air Medal at this time is
my way of voicing the strongest condem-
nation possible of present U.S. policy in
El Salvador. Plain and simple, it is a pol-
icy that supports a military regime which
is guilty of committing unspeakable hu-
man rights abuses against its own people.
By returning my medal I hope to distance
myself from an evil policy I personally
saw bring untold human misery and death
to so many in Southeast Asia, and which I
now see being brutally applied against the
people of El Salvador and Central Amer-
ica.
Still, perhaps President Bush and the
American people would better understand
my returning the Air Medal if I provided a
backdrop for my actions by recounting
some of the tragic, eye opening experi-
ences I had in Vietnam. They are experi-
ences which have had a profound impact
on my perceptions of present U.S. policy
in El Salvador and Central America, and
point out why I view that policy as being
misguided, immoral and indeed criminal.
What follows are insights that touch at
the very core of what was wrong with
U.S. policy in Vietnam at a time when I
see our leaders engaged in pursuing an
equally disastrous and bloody conflict in
El Salvador.
I volunteered to go to Vietnam because
initially I believed my government's stated
objectives that we were there to help the
Vietnamese people in their struggle for
peace and democracy.
However, once there, I realized that
nothing could have been further from the
truth. It was the experience of living for a
year among the Vietnamese people and my
participation in the savage and ruthless
war against them which finally made me
realize that what the U.S government was
doing in Vietnam was morally reprehensi-
ble and constituted crimes against human-
ity.
The first incident to point that out took
place in late March 1968 just outside the
Marine air base at Phu Bai in Thua Thien
province. About 200 marines, including
myself, had just been issued new M-16 ri-
fles and were sent outside the base for the
specific purpose of test-firing the
weapons. At first it was like watching a
bunch of kids having fun playing with
their new war toys; but then it got ugly.
An old man came out running from be-
hind a line of trees about a hundred yards
down range, chasing three water buffalo
that were heading towards the line of fire.
In the midst of the constant automatic
weapons fire I saw some of the marines
closer to me take aim and shoot at the wa-
ter buffalo, some of them laughing at the
old man as they fired their weapons. The
old man was desperately running back and
forth, trying to save his animals by get-
ting them out of the line of fire, but to no
avail. Two of the beasts were quickly shot
dead and the troops kept on laughing and
shooting, as several officers just watched
and snickered at the old man's futile at-
tempt to save the last water buffalo.

"Get out of the way old man, or you're
next," one of the marines yelled out, aim-
ing his weapon, trying to shoot the re-
maining water buffalo. Then, in quick
order, someone shot the last water buffalo
and then the old man went down. He rolled
over and tried to crawl, but only made it a
few feet before a volley of automatic
weapons fire put him out of his misery.
Infuriated by what I had just seen I ap-
proached one of the officers and asked why
he did nothing to stop it. His reply was
that the "old gook" was not worth my
concern and to "forget about it." Then, in
a weak attempt to justify the killing, he
made an off-the-cuff remark about how the
old man was "probably a commie." Angry
and disgusted by the contemptible incident
I started walking back to the base without
firing my weapon. But as I looked back,
the troops continued firing away with their
new toys and having a jolly good time, as

- 1fiTNE'IE -
OKOK N ET
and shoot unarmed Vietnamese men,
women and children who were running out
from their thatched roof dwellings for the
cover of the surrounding jungle. It was
customary to
test-fire the machine guns shortly after
take off. But on that particular occasion
the pilot's instructions were that we could
take advantage of live targets and "use the
gooks for practice." As if to justify his ac-
tions he then proceeded to point out that
we were in a "free-fire zone" where every-
thing and everybody was game.
At first I hesitated, then flatly refused,
replying that I would rather wait and take
target practice somewhere else. It was a
very big decision that had to be made in
literally seconds; but at the same time it
was easy for me to reject the pilot's in-
structions. Growing up in rural Mexico I
had lived and worked on our small farm
and I simply couldn't bring myself to
shoot and kill other people I had come to
know as being just poor peasant farmers
like myself. I distinctly recall the anger
and sadness I felt at the thought that I had
come half way around the world to sup-
posedly help the Vietnamese people, and
instead, had just received instructions to
murder children by using them for target
practice. s
But for each one of us who refused to
participate in committing atrocities there
were many trigger happy U.S. soldiers
who were eager to "up the body count" by
shooting their share of "gooks." It was
common to hear the other gunners return
from a mission bragging about their ex-
ploits and boast about how many "gooks"
they had "wasted." In short, I quickly
found myself in a war in which a racist ha-
tred of the Vietnamese people proved to be
pervasive among U.S. troops, and seemed
to be the dominant reason for waging a
bloody war against them. As far as the
majority of American troops were con-
cerned, the Vietnamese were "everybody's
nigger" and like Native and African Amer-
icans n our own country, they paid a very
heavy price for the racist war waged
agaist them by duped trigger-happy
young men and misguided U.S. leaders.
In subsequent flying missions I looked
out from my lofty perch, hovering over
the magnificent, tropical landscape and
watched as U.S. war planes mercilessly
fire-bombed and obliterated entire villages
with napalm. This was followed by the
dropping of anti-personnel cluster bombs
and deadly white phosphorus explosives
on the people fleeing the area. I watched in
horror as thunderous napalm explosions
mushroomed into huge fireballs that de-
voured the landscape. Billowing dark
clouds of flaming smoke rose from the
ashes heere only seconds before a group
of thatched roof huts had stood.

Air strikes on civilians became a matter
of routine; and the killing of innocent
people from a distance, with massive
bombing strikes, had become standard
practice in the northern provinces. Every
man, woman and child was seen as an ac-
tual or potential enemy. U.S. bombing
raids, and the war in general, had reached
the point where the full impact of Ameri-
can fire-power was not directed at a distin-
guishable army, or against a particular
group in the population, but rather,
against the population as a whole.
The sick lyrics of a song often sung by
beer guzzling marines at the Phu Bai NCO
club epitomized this tragedy:
Bomb the schools and the churches.
Bomb the rice fields, too.

burned and the inhabitants not killed on
the spot were put in concentration camps
called "settlement camps," where thou-
sands died of starvation and disease.
According to the Indochina Resource
Center in Washington, 40,994 civilians
were tortured and murdered by the CIA
through its "Operation Phoenix" assassi-
nation program. By 1968, the last year I
spent in Vietnam, Phoenix Committees
had been set up in each of South Viet-
nam's forty-four provinces and were under
the direct supervision of the Central Intel-
ligence Agency. Those arrested were takep
to the Provincial Interrogation Center*
(PIC) where they were tortured and eithor
imprisoned or killed. Many civilians
whose loyalty to the U.S. backed regime
was suspect were simply killed on th
spot. The sad fact remains that a con-
stantly misled American public never
knew the true scope of the barbaric atroci-
ties committed by U.S. troops in Viet-
nam.
Today the same murderous strategy is
being applied in El Salvador. The one m'-
jor difference being that in Vietname
sent our own soldiers to kill and be kille4,
whereas in El Salvador the U.S. pays tie
Salvadoran military and its death squads o
carry out its campaign of terror and deah
against the peasant population.
As was the case in Vietnam, those r-
sponsible for the present policy and te
bloody violence that it supports, contine
to pursue a course based on flagrant distor-
tions of the truth, in what is a shameless
and desperate attempt to gain the support
of the American people for a morally
bankrupt policy in Central America.
In El Salvador, as was the case in Vie-
nam, the civilian population has becom
the target of daily bombing raids, in wh4t
is part of a deliberate strategy to rid the
countryside of its inhabitants, most f
whom are peasant farmers that just want
to plant their crops and feed their childre.
The rationale for carrying out a scorchell
earth policy is identical to the U.S. strat-
egy in Vietnam: by killing the people or
forcing them to flee, those resisting the
U.S. backed Salvadoran military will b
deprived of a civilian population fro$
which they can obtain food and other ne-
cessities.
In Vietnam I saw peasants wage a lon*
and courageous struggle that ended in the
defeat of a brutal, corrupt and inept mil-
tary dictatorship that was backed by
550,000 U.S. troops. They withstood the
massive firepower of U.S. Navy and Air
Force bombers, which together droppe
more than 7 million tons of bombs on th
people of Vietnam. An astronomical fig-
ure when you consider that it was thre
times the amount dropped by the allies
during WWII on all enemy countries.
Qnly when U.S. leaders, who have beei
entrusted with the future of this natio,
adopt and implement a foreign policy
based on the realization that people must
be afforded dignity, freedom and the right
to self-determination will there be true
peace in Central America.
The time is long overdue when thosl
who lead our nation acknowledge tha
U.S. policy is flawed and immoral, an
take the courageous action required t
bring about a new way of thinking.

be £rbi:u .fig
Edited and managed by students at The University of Michigan
420 Maynard St.
Vol. C, No.78 Ann Arbor, MI 48109
Unsigned editorials represent a majority of tne Daily's Editorial Board. All other
cartoons, signed articles, and letters do not necessarily represent the opinion
of the Daily.
ritin on the wall

NOW THAT eight members of the
Salvadoran military have been arrested
for the November murder of six Jesuit
priests in El Salvador, the Bush Ad-
ministration is thrilled to have the op-
portunity to present itself once again as
a crusader for all that is good and just
in the region. A Bush Administration
official was quoted in the Sunday New
York Times saying, "Our position was
:motivated by moral outrage and hard-
,boiled politics. This Administration is
pragmatic. We saw the handwriting on
the wall. We recognized that the con-
tinuation of U.S. aid would depend on
;El Salvador's response to this bench-
-mark case."
What both the Times and the Bush
Administration seem to forget is that it
is not, administrative outrage that has
forced any action on the part of the
Cristiani regime but rather the outrage
of 'the thousands of people across the
United States who have taken to the
'streets to express their outrage at the
U.S. funded murders of over 70,000
Salvadoran civilians.
Though the U.S. told Cristiani that
we would accept nothing less than a
thorough investigation," there has been
:no official admission or recognition of
the reality of life in El Salvador and the
U.S. role in the creation of that reality.
Salvadoran life is characterized by vio-
lence and brutality and the crimes that
government commits against its own
citizens are made nossible only through

the Salvadoran military have taken the
fall for Cristiani the U.S. feels com-
fortable in continuing its aid to the ter-
rorist ARENA party. Congress, in
spite of its professed "morality" re-
cently passed a new aid package to El
Salvador of $85 million.
Yet in spite of its ability to arrive at
one conclusion from a seemingly con-
tradictory premise, the Times article
does indicate that people organized and
in the streets can have an impact on
U.S. foreign policy. Not since the anti-
Vietnam war movement has their been
such pressure put on the creators of
U.S. foreign policy to reconsider the
wars they wage in the name of this
country.4
Though the movement to stop the
U.S. war in Salvador has neither the
size nor scope of the anti-Vietnam war
movement, there are definite signs that
a political consciousness is developing
around the extensive human and civil
rights.violations perpetrated and spon-
sored by the U.S. military. In response
to a huge public phone campaign, the
coffee company Hills Brothers stopped
imports of Salvadoran coffee. And in
dozens of cities around the country,
activists have returned again and again
to protest the war.
The anti-Vietnam war movement,
which was supported by students,
clergy, workers and local officials,.
showed the power of organization.
This is an imnortant lesson for those of

Conducted under CIA auspices, tho
Operation Phoenix is responsible,
for the torture or murder of 40 ,04
civilians.

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