‘Is ‘Winter Soldier 2008’ another snow job?

Terry Garlock's picture

I’ll admit for starters I did not attend the gathering last week in Silver Springs, Md., titled “Winter Soldier: Iraq & Afghanistan — Eyewitness Accounts of the Occupations.”

This was an event for veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts to rail against the war and testify to American racism and atrocities. I don’t even know what happened at those meetings, but I will raise a warning flag nonetheless.

I hope you think instead of letting yourself feel when you hear news reports from Winter Soldier 2008, and study what really happened at the first Winter Soldier event in Detroit in 1971. I’ve always wondered if Detroit was chosen for its proximity to Canada where many draft-dodgers fled, but I don’t know.

That gathering in early 1971, funded by Jane Fonda and organized by Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW), was planned as a forum for anti-war veterans to speak out against the war.

It sounds so credible on the surface, actual veterans of a war taking a stand against it. The problem was VVAW was a group of radicals, just a tiny percentage of Vietnam Veterans, desperate enough in their anti-war zeal that they voted in a November 1971 Kansas City meeting whether to undertake assassinations of Southern U.S. senators who supported the war, specifically Sen. John Tower (R-TX), Sen. John Stennis (D-MS), and Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-SC).

John Kerry was one of the VVAW officers who voted “no” and the motion to assassinate these senators was defeated.

But what about the 1971 Winter Soldier testimony? One after another, men told stories of rape, murder and other atrocities in Vietnam. Some of their testimony was filmed.

Shortly thereafter, in April 1971, John Kerry, VVAW officer and leader at Winter Soldier, appeared before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, chaired by Senator Fulbright, who was desperately searching for leverage to end the Vietnam war. Kerry told the Senate Committee some fantastic lies, and his words took the nation by storm:

“... several months ago in Detroit, we had an investigation at which over 150 honorably discharged and many very highly decorated veterans testified to war crimes committed in Southeast Asia, not isolated incidents but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command. They ... had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in a fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam ...“

Kerry went on to tell the committee that the South Vietnamese people didn’t care whether they lived under democracy or Communism, that America was “more guilty than any other body” of violations of Geneva Conventions, that America had created a ‘generation of monsters” in its own troops and that he was ashamed of his service in Vietnam.

We who served in Vietnam in combat know what Kerry said was preposterous, a pack of egregious lies engineered to further an anti-war agenda. But the news media, and the American public, weary of the war and primed to believe the worst, lapped it up like starved puppies without realizing they had devoured a masterful piece of political theater.

What about all that testimony? Ordered by the senators on the Foreign Relations Committee, U.S. Army Criminal Investigations Division and the U.S. Navy investigated to identify and follow up on atrocity claims, as did independent reporters.

All but one case was closed as unsubstantiated, demonstrably untrue, or for lack of evidence.

Just as interesting to me, and perhaps feeding my curiosity about proximity to Canada, many of those who testified at Winter Soldier were found to have never been in combat, or never been to Vietnam or never even been in the military. Some real Vietnam veterans discovered their name had been used by impostors.

Maybe some of the atrocity stories had grains of truth; bad things happen in every war where passions run hot. But the whole of Winter Soldier was a fraud.

What’s worse, John Kerry, who launched his political career with his testimony, knew these outlandish tales were a pack of lies.

Steve Pitkin, who now lives in Ft. Lauderdale, stood before a crowd of Vietnam veterans in 2004 and, while his hands were shaking with his inner turmoil, he asked them to forgive him because he lied about atrocities at Winter Soldier in 1971.

Pitkin was new to VVAW and had not figured out the radical organization it was. John Kerry recruited Pitkin to go to Winter Soldier “... because you’re one of the few with combat experience, man ...” and they rode together from Baltimore in a van. On the ride, Kerry pressed him to testify to atrocities in Vietnam while Pitkin told him several times, “But I didn’t see any atrocities in Vietnam!”

When they arrived, Kerry and several others pressed Pitkin further with arguments, “Don’t you want to help end the war, man?” and, “It’s a long walk back to Baltimore!”

Pitkin caved and agreed to testify. He tells how Kerry took him aside to coach him on what to say about rape, indiscriminate artillery fire on civilians, etc. Then Pitkin took his turn before the cameras to tell his “story.”

This is just one small part of how myth became history of the Vietnam War, how the truth was lost. That’s a shame because the truth is not all that pretty and America could learn from it if we took the political blinders off.

That war started with the noble purpose of stopping the spread of Communism and became screwed up to a fair-thee-well. We had insane rules of engagement that tied the hands of U.S. troops, borders we could not cross to chase an enemy whose sanctuary and supply line was across the border, bombing targets selected in the White House with a goal of not being provocative, the Pentagon rotated officers too quickly so they could get their combat experience ticket punched, and so on.

But American troops were not the bad guys in Vietnam.

The truth is your fathers, husbands, uncles and sons fought in Vietnam with honor, skill and courage, they won every significant battle against a very tough enemy, and the U.S. Congress gave away the war after it had been micromanaged into a mess.

The one group of people who deserved the nation’s gratitude were smeared by John Kerry and his anti-war zealots. America bought it hook, line and sinker.

In 2004 during the presidential campaign, a group of Vietnam POWs and Swift Boat crews tried to tell this story, but were always drowned out by the claims they were playing politics.

Some day when heads are cool, America will look back and recognize these were a most honorable group of men who gave a “full measure” of service to their country. They deserved to be listened to with care, but were dismissed as political hacks. For now, the starving puppies in the American public are lapping up how “swift-boating” is a pejorative term.

When the reports come out from Winter Soldier 2008, when you hear claims from Iraq Veterans Against the War of the terrible things American troops are doing, I hope you get past the feelings those reports will deliver to you, put on your thinking cap, be skeptical and maybe read some quality newspapers over time trying to separate truth from fiction, fact from political theater.

It is possible this time reporters without an agenda, neither pro-war nor anti-war, will do their best to deliver a true account of the events and what they mean.

Maybe this time America will give the benefit of the doubt to their own sons and daughters in uniform.

But somehow I doubt it.

[Terry Garlock was a Cobra gunship helicopter pilot in the Vietnam War. His email is tgarlock@mindspring.com.]

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Submitted by Instantly on Sun, 04/27/2008 - 1:59pm.

If he is, he's ripping off whoever's paying him. He admits to knowing nothing about the putative subject of this article - the 2008 Winter Soldier hearings - but uses the topic to launch into a near cut and paste from his earlier articles on WSI 1971, which were pretty much cut and pastes from wingnut sites.

Even though commenters took the time to point out his mistakes in the other articles, he simply repeats them here. Now there's diligence!

Let's see, Garlock admits he has no idea why Detroit was chosen for the 1971 hearings, even though that information was widely publicized at the time and is easily available now (ever heard of Google?). No, he'd rather introduce his own ludicrous and totally unsupported theories.

Next he claims that the Army CID and Navy investigated "to identify and follow up on atrocity claims, as did independent reporters. ...
All but one case was closed as unsubstantiated, demonstrably untrue, or for lack of evidence."

Oh my, he can't even get his Scott Swett talking points straight. Even Swett admits that the Army CID only interviewed 13 WSI participants, and the fact is that the interviews reveal very few discrepancies from the testimony.

Now see, here's one of the most blatant examples of Garlock's dishonesty and/or sheer laziness: despite being corrected every time he posts it, he STILL repeats the canard that "many of those who testified at Winter Soldier were found to have never been in combat, or never been to Vietnam or never even been in the military. Some real Vietnam veterans discovered their name had been used by impostors."

Of course no such thing has EVER been shown. The purported NCIS investigation cited by Gunther Lewy to that effect has never been seen by any other historian, nor can the Navy find it. Lewy himself had to admit in 2004 that he didn't even know if he'd ever even seen such a report.

The fact is that not a SINGLE vet who testified at WSI has ever been shown to be a fraud. Not a single vet has ever come forward over the last 37 years to say his name was used by an imposter.

Yet Garlock fills up column after column with this sort of garbage. Why?

Of course no Garlock piece would be complete without the obligatory cut and paste of dishonest Steve Pitkin claims. Contrary to what Garlock claims, Pitkin was NOT "one of the few with combat experience" - the fact is they were turning away combat vets who wanted to testify - and Pitkin never testified to any atrocities at all. And far from being "coached" or coerced, he is on film insisting it would "take a book" to tell everything he saw.

Garlock does his best to rehabilitate the sleazy Swift Boat liars as well: "They deserved to be listened to with care, but were dismissed as political hacks."

Well, no. After their claims were investigated, they were dismissed as liars.

Maybe Garlock should "put on his thinking cap" before he writes another article. Stranger things have happened.

other_side_trax's picture
Submitted by other_side_trax on Wed, 03/19/2008 - 10:42am.

Superb insights and well written perspective on Kerry's Congressional testimony. Enormous application to current events. Well done.

And many thanks for your military service. Your thoughts on this topic are sincerely appreciated. God speed.

From the other side of the tracks

Submitted by lion on Wed, 03/19/2008 - 5:43pm.

The anti-war protesters were right about the Vietnam War and are right today about the war in Iraq.

Both are unjustified wars with unnecessary deaths and destruction. The national security of the United States was not at stake in either war.

This is not a criticism of those who served honorably in these wars. Most Americans stand up and serve when their country asks them to.

But patriotism does does not begin and end with support of U.S. troops.

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