The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Remembering Colin Powell

Colin Powell was the first black secretary of state. He was the consummate insider, who climbed the military bureaucracy with great skill and vigor. A man who always knew what had to be done to get ahead and get along. In Vietnam, for example, he understood his role perfectly:

his time as a young U.S. Army Major posted in Saigon, when, after the My Lai Massacre, he was asked to investigate a soldier’s letter describing atrocities against the Vietnamese people. Powell rejected the charges and famously wrote, “In direct refutation of this portrayal is the fact that relations between American soldiers and the Vietnamese people are excellent.”

Most famously, Powell understood that when it’s time to lie in order to attack a country which is no threat to you, that’s what you do: Powell used his high prestige to help sell the Iraq WMD lies. While we’ll never know how many Iraqis died in the ensuring war, because America sure as hell didn’t want to count, we can round it at a million with reasonable justification. Events like the war with ISIS would also never have happened without the Iraq war, and while it doesn’t bother me, it might bother Americans that the Iraq war actually made the US’s international position substantially weaker, and turned Iraq from an Iranian enemy into an ally.

Powell was also “in the room” during the discussions about what sort of torture was acceptable.

Colin Powell’s Legacy

We have a norm in our society that one shouldn’t speak badly of the dead, but it applies to private citizens, not to war criminals. In a just world Colin Powell would have been tried for his war crimes, then hung from the neck till dead, just like America hung Nazis who had nothing to do with the Holocaust, simply for starting aggressive war, because all the deaths and rapes and orphans and torture and other horrors of war come from the simple decision to have one.

Powell certainly wasn’t the worst criminal. He’s a fair bit below Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld. One can argue if he was more guilty than Senators who voted for the war like Clinton, but no matter one’s all-star team of war criminals, Powell’s in the deck.

It shouldn’t have been a surprise, though it was to many. Powell got where he got by being a yes-man, who did what he had to do for his career. Like many such men he reaped the reward he wanted. It only cost him his soul, and the respect of every decent human.

I don’t like the idea of hell, and even someone like Powell doesn’t deserve eternal torment. So I hope, if there is an afterlife, he simply goes somewhere where he comes to understand what he did wrong, and why.

But none of us who remain on this world should excuse his war crimes; doing so makes other men and women more likely to follow in his footsteps.

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Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – October 17, 2021


The Destruction of the United Kingdom


  1. J Reeves

    Honest and courageous column. If only more than 0.001% of the population knows and acknowledges his history. Powell gave the appearance of being a decent, honorable man. I even sort of liked him until that ridiculous charade of an explanation of where Hussein was supposedly hiding WMD’s. You could sense Powell’s soul disappearing from him as the words were coming out of his mouth. He knew it too as he disappeared from the scene immediately after. I suspect the guy may have been in a living purgatory for the rest of his days.

  2. someofparts

    Headline from Jacobin – “Colin Powell, politely anguished war criminal, dead at 84”

  3. Plague Species

    From that Jacobin article:

    Defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld wanted to go to war with Iraq even though the administration had no good reason for doing so, because, he said, Iraq, unlike Afghanistan, had “a lot of good targets.”

    What? Is he serious? Afghanistan didn’t have good targets? What does he call goat herders and wedding celebrations if not good targets?

    No good targets in Afghanistan yet America remained for twenty years settling for the boring mundane targets available.

    Haiti’s looking more appetizing every day. Good or bad targets in Haiti depends on who you ask. No need to worry, the FBI is on it. It can’t find Brian Laundry and it couldn’t find Eric Rudolph but you can be sure it will bring these pesky Haitian kidnappers to justice.

  4. Plague Species

    Deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz, similarly, argued for the invasion because it was “doable,” at one point saying he didn’t care about “allies, coalitions, and diplomacy.”

    This is what Hitler said about invading the world. Birds of a feather. Wolfowitz is just another Hitler without the handsome stylish mustache.

  5. John

    My wish is that Colin Powell is able to quickly purify his negative karma, relieve his own suffering and attain liberation as he transits from this life.
    That being said, his was the problem of the house slave in plantation America, or the administrators drawn from the ranks of the conquerors in every empire the world has known (India under the Mughals or Brits), or at a much more evil level the kapos of the 3rd Reich. It’s an artifact of imperialism.
    And as a veteran of the era, I expect his soul had been generously served up to the overlords early days in VietNam.
    We used to call that type “true believers” and would marvel at how they could compartmentalize sale of the soul from some perverted sense of duty to God and country.
    May he attain peace and happiness in some life or another.

  6. Plague Species

    Dick Cheney was literally the mastermind of a global torture apparatus, which is not something your average evil psychopath can say. In 2006, Cheney shot one of his hunting buddies in the face, permanently disfiguring and disabling him, an accident for which he has apparently never apologized.

    These ghouls exuded what we now call “toxic masculinity,” and hating them has always been easy. Bush’s secretary of state, Colin Powell, who died today at eighty-four of complications of COVID-19, had quite a different vibe, exuding quiet dignity, deliberative reason, and calm. Yet he was also a war criminal responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of human beings. In that way he was no better than Rumsfeld, Cheney, or Wolfowitz.

    Powell relied on so-called “evidence” evinced from this torture apparatus to make the case that there was a nexus between Hussein and al Qaeda and thus a nexus between Hussein and 9/11. As well, this same torture apparatus provided much of the evidence in the Moussaoui trial which was a farce on the face of it.

    By 2008, the official story of 9/11 was imploding. An authoritative study of the 9/11 Commission process showed that Commission director Philip Zelikow had been a key White House associate in promoting post-9/11 wars and had collaborated with top Bush aide Karl Rove during the Commission’s inquiry. Furthermore, the Commission co-chairs, Lee Hamilton and Thomas Keane, in a New York Times article denounced the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A.) for obstructing their inquiry and for destroying interrogation records. It was shown that nearly all the Commission’s evidence of hijacker activities around time of the 9/11 events had come from interrogations that involved physical torture. “NBC News analysis shows 441 of the more than 1,700 footnotes in the Commission’s Final Report refer to the CIA interrogations [involving torture]. Moreover, most of the information in Chapters 5, 6 and 7 of the Report came from the interrogations. Those chapters cover the initial planning for the attack, the assembling of terrorist cells, and the arrival of the hijackers in the U.S. In total, the Commission relied on more than 100 interrogation reports produced by the CIA. The second round of interrogations sought by the Commission involved more than 30 separate interrogation sessions.”

  7. John

    Correction. “Administrators drawn from the ranks of the conquerored” on my comment above.

  8. anon

    I think the living have every right to speak ill of the dead, whether they are public figures or private individuals. I’m not a religious person and don’t believe in an afterlife. I don’t think any of us will get our just desserts in the afterlife. If someone was a criminal or did harm to others during their time on earth, they should be called out on it.

    Colin Powell and his other war criminal friends lived very privileged and long lives on earth at the expense of countless lives, both foreign and American, who were snuffed out in the most horrific ways. Their family members will be assured privileged lives in the lap of luxury due to generational wealth built on the crimes they committed. I don’t care about their family’s feelings because they certainly don’t care about ours.

  9. Ché Pasa

    The hagiography of Colin Powell seems to be sputtering a bit in the media due to the fact that he lied at the UN about Iraq and WMD and for most of (all of?) his career in the military he was a monster. Yes, as a war criminal — for decades — he should have faced judgement no less so than the Nazis and others have, but that doesn’t happen to Generals of the Empire, no matter what they do, so we have to settle for a “stained legacy.”

    Iraqis are headlined to “still” be miffed about his lies and all the corpses left in the wake of them.

    I’m not seeing much from Vietnam, though. Do the Vietnamese hold him accountable for his lies about My Lai and all the other massacres and horrors of that long ago conflict?

    My guess? No.

  10. Sid Finster

    I note that the rule about not speaking ill of the dead is applied in practice only to perpetrators, not victims.

  11. Hugh

    Colin Powell was an Establishment guy. He wasn’t born that way but it is what he pre-eminently became. Members of the Establishment seldom or never ask if what they are involved with is nuts or evil. They say rather that they can do it better, more efficiently, more reasonably, more acceptably. Long after the s–t has hit the fan and others have paid the price, they may even express a certain measured regret for the disasters they created and perpetuated. But importantly it wouldn’t keep them from doing the very same thing again. So after Vietnam and in the run up to the first Iraq war, Powell came up with his Powell Doctrine for what conditions the US should fulfill before it went to war again. File it under lessons learned by the Establishment but not really because in 2003 in the run up to the second Iraq war, he did it again. And afterwards he again expressed a certain regret for the hogwash he peddled at the UN about Iraq’s WMD, but being an honorable man and duty and all that. So it goes. So it always goes with the Establishment.

  12. coloradoblue

    Another spot-on post, Ian. And I hadn’t heard about the Vietnam shit; thanks for that.

    As Charles Pierce said, Powell had a chance to be a great man regarding Iraq, and he failed. Read his post.

  13. Temporarily Sane

    “We burned down the thatched huts, starting the blaze with Ronson and Zippo lighters,” Powell recalled in his memoir, My American Journey. “Why were we torching houses and destroying crops? Ho Chi Minh had said the people were like the sea in which his guerrillas swam. … We tried to solve the problem by making the whole sea uninhabitable. In the hard logic of war, what difference did it make if you shot your enemy or starved him to death?”

    From Consortium News via NC

    Link to original article:

  14. Temporarily Sane


    That is a terrible article that conveniently leaves out Powell’s pre-Iraq War activities and humanizes the man more than he deserves.

    The war criminals of our time die in comfort at a ripe old age surrounded by loved ones, with political celebrities (including “progressives”) and the establishment media issuing hagiographic eulogies while their crimes are scrubbed from public consciousness.

    Ironic that all this is happening as the ‘demonize China’ campaign ramps up and psychologically prepares the masses for the next war the Pentagon is planning.

    What a sick society we live in.

  15. someofparts

    That Charlie Pierce link was good. I expect us to treat China the way we have Russia, using every insidious trick in the book but nothing direct. We only launch direct attacks against countries too small to fight back.

  16. Astrid

    Max Blumenthal tweeted a reminder that Powell was also deeply involved in the School of the America’s and anti-left actions in Latin America in the 70s and 80s.

    I’m a contented atheist but I would happily adopt religion if Powell and people like him get their just desert’s.

  17. somecomputerguy

    I remember Powell for his work regarding gays in the military, which had nothing to do with gays in the military.

    Don’t ask don’t tell (DADT) was about setting the precedent right at the start of Bill Clinton’s first term, for the military telling the President what was going to happen instead of vice versa. It was a blatant assault on civilian control.

    I assure you, Powell didn’t give a shit what the troops thought. I was a ‘troop’ (an army reservist at time) and I could think of specific units that needed as many gay soldiers as they could get, since all the gay people they were ejecting seemed to be super-soldiers.

    I wished I could have gotten Powell on television, and asked what he would have done to me, if he had given me an order, and I said; “I think I’ll have a chat with my buddies in congress, and see if I really have to first”.

    In execution, DADT was deliberately carried out in a way that accomplished the exact opposite of it’s stated purpose and intention. More gays were forced out under DADT than before.

    There is no legal loophole that makes this regrettable but legitimate. Legal loopholes like that aren’t a thing in the military. I can’t remember the military legal term, but If I had done this with an order Powell gave me, I would absolutely have been prosecuted. Powell would have had me fucking shot if he could.

    I am with Charles Moskos; the real underlying problem with gays in the military was the expanded potential for sexual exploitation, both downward, and upward. This was a Rubicon the military had already crossed with the expanded role for women, and it looked like the military was handling it.

  18. StewartM

    Thanks for bringing up My Lai, Ian (I’ve been there).

    My visit there drove me to do more research on that massacre, and what happened at My Lai was truly horrible, in many ways worse than the atrocities we hung Nazis over after WWII. And no one, from Lt Calley to Col Medina up the command chain, was ever held responsible. When the US Army was finally admitted by Seymour Hersh’s NYT article and Ron Haeberle’s photos to admit to the massacre, it then proceeded to both lowball the death count and also to blame four very junior officers for it all, all of whom were conveniently already dead. The young Colin Powell had lots of company in the coverup.

    Nor was it an isolated incident. The Pentagon held its own investigation and found at least five or six more My Lai-sized killings of civilians, and dozens or more of small-scale group killings.

  19. StewartM


    I’m not seeing much from Vietnam, though. Do the Vietnamese hold him accountable for his lies about My Lai and all the other massacres and horrors of that long ago conflict?

    My guess? No.

    I can’t speak on Powell in particular, but I can speak on the general subject.

    There is a standing invitation from the village of Sơn My, the name of the village where most of the killings occurred, for anyone who participated in the 1968 massacre to come back…as one woman told Hugh Thompson (the helicopter pilot whose helicopter crew stopped the massacre by *threatening to open fire on American troops if they did not stop* and saved several dozen Vietnamese, many of them children)….”so we can forgive them”. Only one US serviceman who was there that day has taken that offer up, and he was met by the museum curator, who was 11 years old and was there on that day in 1968 and saw all his family killed (he was wounded but survived) who asked him….”why?”

    The US serviceman did not answer, but broke down saying he could not say any more. That reminded me of what Solzhenitsyn said about the value of holding trials; “we won’t do to you what you did to us” but simply to make the accused face the undeniable reality of what they did. Solzhenitsyn says they react just like that serviceman, they bury their head in their hands and just can’t watch it anymore. As for what that woman told Thompson, Thompson remarked “that woman has a bigger heart than I, because I can’t forgive them”.

    In our topsy-turvy moral world, Lt Calley (the lowest ranking officer present; Col. Medina, his superior, was also present and was observed bayoneting a pregnant woman but got off scot-free) became a martyr. No one else saw any punishment, Calley only served house arrest until he was fully pardoned by Nixon. Hugh Thompson and his helicopter crew? They got death threats.

    The day I was there, there were only two other people there (Germans with an interest in history). I had hoped to meet the curator but he wasn’t there. Sơn My is a small place, it’s hard to imagine so much mayhem happening in such a small area. All the houses that were burned down to the foundations are left that way, with a placard with the names of all the people in that household who were murdered that day. There was one house that has been restored so people like me can see how villagers in rural Vietnam lived at that time. The ditch that Haeberle photographed filled with bodies is still there; the American GIs stopped to eat lunch next to it while the Vietnamese were making death rattles (though Calley finished off a six-year old boy climbing among the bodies who was searching for his mother). Over 40 % of the victims were under the age of 12.

  20. different clue

    Some people may remember this National Lampoon poster from way back when. It pertains to the Vietnam War and so, tangentially, to Powell. The caption, unavailable in this version, reads . . . ” What, My Lai?”

  21. somecomputerguy

    Last paragraph should have read;

    I am with Charles Moskos; the real underlying theoretical issue with gays in the military was the expanded potential for sexual exploitation, both downward, and upward. This was a Rubicon the military had already crossed with the expanded role for women, and it looked like the military was handling it.

    Further; “underlying” because corrupt exploitation of authority doesn’t begin or end with sexual exploitation, and is something the military normally deals with by stridently denying it’s existence.

  22. Ché Pasa

    @Stewart M

    Thank you for your presence at My Lai and testimony of what you experienced there.

    Vietnamese have always amazed me. Americans, not so much.

    If Americans ever get right with what happened there, Vietnamese will show the way.

    Meanwhile, “culprits must live with their crimes.”

  23. Rebecca

    In a just world Colin Powell would have been tried for his war crimes, then hung from the neck till dead, just like America hung Nazis who had nothing to do with the Holocaust, simply for starting aggressive war, because all the deaths and rapes and orphans and torture and other horrors of war come from the simple decision to have one.

    How is holding a man accountable who knowingly got up on stage and lied to the world in order to invoke the Iraq war (among many other atrocities) – how is this the same as hanging someone who had nothing to do with a war or atrocity?

    Should every American who fought in the Iraq war be hung, let alone those who had nothing to do with the war? How do we determine such things?

    While we’re at it, we should probably also hang all the “allies” for what they did to the entirety of the German population “in response” to the Nazis. Russian soldiers in particular raped anything that moved, including their own women.

    Who gets hung when Israel and the United States gets their comeuppance?

    I guess the Canadians get a pass, because they’re just U.S. vassals who can’t make their own decisions.

    Powell should have been hung. That’s easy. The rest of that sentence is frightening.

  24. Mark Pontin

    @ StewartM —

    I also thank you for your wise, perceptive comment.

  25. bruce wilder

    Powell always saw to it that he had good PR I think — he managed his image assiduously. I skimmed the Wikipedia article about him and it is truly remarkable how many instances are recounted there of the good advice he gave supposedly in private (!) as well as in public (the “Powell Doctrine” is always trotted out). Apparently, he knew the art of being an anonymous source of information for journalists about himself.

    I saw him once on television touting an ego-driven motivational book with the title, It Worked for Me, Lessons in Life and Leadership. He loved to see himself as working in charity to build the character and competence of young people. Such an example he thought he was!

    I am glad to see Ian and so many commenters take a negative view of Powell. I have used him as an example to friends of prominent political leaders who should be treated as disgraced — would be disgraced in a healthy polity where the discourse was not dominated by critics and commenters faking outrage, respect and regard. I use Powell because the pinnacle of his career was lying to the Security Council of the United Nations in justifying in advance a war crime in the making. The extremity of what he did to disgrace himself bears any hyperbole, to my mind. But, most people I have argued this with have basically shrugged it off.

    In real life, he was honored. Wikipedia reports his “civilian awards included the Presidential Medal of Freedom (twice), the Congressional Gold Medal, the Presidential Citizens Medal, the Secretary of State Distinguished Service Medal, and the Secretary of Energy Distinguished Service Medal.”

  26. bruce wilder


    . . . corrupt exploitation of authority doesn’t begin or end with sexual exploitation, and is something the military normally deals with by stridently denying its existence.

    DADT kind of said the quiet part out loud: the objection was not to the service of homosexuals or bisexuals, it was to being open about it. Denial and pretending feel essential to many actors in an authoritarian power structure. Thinking about why that is . . .

  27. someofparts

    Reading what Stewart M wrote about Vietnam, I think of all the times we grind our teeth around here about the heartless evils of our lizard overlords. But seriously, how can we be surprised that the men capable of those crimes in Vietnam would hesitate to perpetuate the evils that have emerged here. I hope some kind of world infused with living spirit survives us, but even dreams of such things are beyond people as evil as we are.

  28. Trinity

    StewartM, I add my thanks as well for sharing your story and background.

    “I hope some kind of world infused with living spirit survives us.”

    Me, too. I hate to think they will win by burning everything that is beautiful about the world.

  29. Plague Species

    Oh Jesus, now we’re going to sanctify the Vietnamese. I have met quite a few Vietnamese Americans who are, for lack of a better word, disgusting people in every way. Craven con artists looking out for number one. It’s all about the money. I’m sure there are exceptions to that rule but from my experience, it is the rule.

    Perhaps the Vietnamese of Vietnam are different, so the point is, Vietnamese are not some monolithic group and therefore the Vietnamese cannot and should not be sanctified. That stands for any nationality or ethnicity.

    As far as an afterlife, give me a break. It makes no sense. If there is one, who’s responsible for throwing us into this sh*thole called life before we can experience the bliss of an afterlife? The only answer can be a twisted psychopathic sadist. As such, the afterlife won’t be bliss but is instead yet another more pernicious hell for which this life was just a warmup.

  30. Ché Pasa

    Many of those who left Vietnam for the United States and other destinations were ethnic Chinese. Not to disparage them in any way.

    After the war ended, ethnic Chinese in Vietnam, some of whom had lived there for generations, were under suspicion because of their relative wealth, their suspected collaboration with the French or the Americans, and because they were considered colonialist, counter-revolutionary, reactionary, and foreign.

    So. Many left. They live outside the country now, and I’m not sure the Vietnamese people would be inclined to forgive them… yet. But if the Americans can be forgiven by the Vietnamese people, perhaps the ethnic Chinese former residents can be, too.

  31. Willy

    Most of the Vietnamese I’ve known were decent people. Maybe they were ethnic Chinese only speaking Vietnamese as their mother tongue. Maybe I don’t get out enough. Most came from families with money to come to America with little more than the clothes on their backs, to become regular American working folks ranging from hair stylists to stress engineers.

    I’ve known a lot of guys with the Colin Powell mindset, from whatever race. From a distance, the appearance of a competent technocrat. Up closer, a nice and reasonable guy. Yet in league with evil.

    I’d thought it was only psychopaths who could sleep perfectly well at night after a day doing evil because of how they’re hardwired. But I’ve become aware that in many more then just that 1-3 percent, the ability to go along to get along, with evil, is seen as a necessary life skill.

    I’m talking about people who should know better, who’ve proven that they do know better, yet who somehow rationalize, cognitively bias, self-medicate or whatever… all that away. They stand in stark contrast with the Vietnam War vets I’ve known who were clearly permanently messed up by that experience.

    In a just world we might’ve taken those people aside and dissected them, in a psychological sense, to get a better understanding about why personal ambition in “nice and reasonable guys” becomes personal irresponsibility apparently overtopping most feelings of social responsibility. At least to the point where they seem to sleep well at night.

  32. Plague Species

    I have a Vietnamese physician. He and his staff are very nice. That’s one of the exceptions. My son’s friend and his family on the other hand, not nice. A bunch of hustlers. The mother is a tyrant who owns a beauty salon. The father was an engineer who quit many years ago to manage their rental properties. They’re slumlords. Lots of money. The oldest daughter is a slut who apparently plays up the Asian Girl theme on the internet for extra side money. She is in finance and works from home doing nothing, or so her brother says since he lives with her. She is screwing her boss, that’s verified since the brother says she and her Indian boss are an item, so her job is secure. She makes more than double what my wife makes and she is only two years out of college.

    Anyway, a great Vietnamese movie for those who haven’t seen is the following. Mesmerizing. It was Colin Powell’s favorite movie. Mùi is glorious.

    The Scent of Green Papaya

  33. Purple Library Guy

    Powell was a man who wanted it both ways. He wanted to go boost his career by aiding and abetting all the evil. But he also wanted, by being personally pleasant and allowing himself the luxury of some regrets, to somehow evade responsibility, including moral responsibility, for the evil he did. He failed.

    I will grant him one classic line, though. At some point he was on TV, along with one of the other top war criminals, and the host was asking them if all the death and so on gave them any trouble sleeping at night. And the other war criminal snapped, “I sleep like a baby.”
    Powell said, “I sleep like a baby too. Every two hours I wake up screaming.”

  34. anon

    Trump criticized Powell’s record on the Iraq War and derided the news media for treating the former secretary of state “so beautifully” after his death.

    “Hope that happens to me someday,” Trump said.

    “He made plenty of mistakes, but anyway, may he rest in peace!” he said.

    This is why millions of Americans are still like Trump. I have not and will never vote for Trump, but I can see his appeal given that so few people in power are willing to speak the truth about war criminals in our establishment.

  35. Hugh

    Trump could care less about Iraq. It was just a stick to hit Powell with because Powell had committed the unpardonable sin of criticizing and not voting for Trump. Trump has no concept of right and wrong, good or bad. Everything with him is for or not for Trump.

  36. bruce wilder

    still it was truth he spoke and none of the many, many “powells” will do so. they speak in a code, a hypernormalized code that ignores reality, corruption and consequences — and responsibility.

    it does not make trump any less absurd to acknowledge as much

  37. Hugh

    Trump doesn’t speak truth. He speaks Trump. It’s like praising a stopped clock for being right twice a day.

  38. Jim Harmon

    Sometimes he does speak truth. He just doesn’t mean it.

  39. StewartM

    Plague Species

    Perhaps the Vietnamese of Vietnam are different, so the point is, Vietnamese are not some monolithic group and therefore the Vietnamese cannot and should not be sanctified.

    The relatively few Vietnamese here I have known (one’s a good friend and former coworker) are ok. The Vietnamese in Vietnam are well, just like everyone else. They have their share of squabbles, and family drama, there are saints and sinners among them.

    But still murdering them and the way we acted in Vietnam is beyond the pale An estimated 250,000 of Southern Vietnamese civilians died in that war (you know the ones we were “helping”). Ian talked about the post-WWII war crime trials, say at Lidice:

    There, as retribution of to resistance to Nazi rule and for the assassination of SS leader Reinhard Heydrich, the Nazis murdered all the menfolk and deported the women and children. Some of the women and children later were murdered in German hands. For this, SSS leaders like Karl Hermann Frank were tried and executed.

    At My Lai?

    All the buildings were burned.
    All the livestock were shot.
    All the wells were poisoned.
    EVERYONE–men, women (pregnant women), children, babies–were shot. Some were tortured before being shot. Some of the women were raped before being shot.

    Varnado Simpson’s recollection:

    In 1989, in an interview for the British documentary Four Hours in My Lai, Simpson claimed to have killed about 25 people and added scalping and bodily mutilation to his description of events. “The baby’s face was half gone, my mind just went…and I just started killing. Old men, women, children, water buffaloes, everything… I just killed… That day in My Lai, I was personally responsible for killing about 25 people. Personally. Men, women. From shooting them, to cutting their throats, scalping them, to…cutting off their hands and cutting out their tongues. I did it.”, he said.[5] At this point, Simpson was heavily medicated for his severe psychological disorders.[6]

    For years, Simpson had lived with all his doors and windows locked and shuttered.[7]

    After three unsuccessful attempts, Simpson took his own life in his home on Sunday, May 4, 1997, at the age of 48, with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.[7]

    Then “Charlie Company” went back and LIED about what they had done, claiming a great victory in a “battle” against the 48th Viet Cong battalion, with medals being passed out and General William C. Westmoreland himself congratulating Charlie Company for its “outstanding action” “dealing the enemy a heavy blow”.

    By almost every conceivable standard, what happened at My Lai was worse than what the Nazis did at Lidice. Yet none of our fine, outstanding boys in uniform ever had really face any consequences for what they did, save for those who had a conscience. From day one, there was a coverup. Even when the Army had to admit guilt, they downplayed the death toll and moreover lied that this was against US policy–but it wasn’t, because only Vietnamese civilians in areas considered “friendly” were off-target (though the women could be raped or abused, one veteran recalled “what fun!” he had beating up a Vietnamese girl after sex). Those living in areas considered to be under Viet Cong or NVA control were considered fair game. What Charlie Company did at My Lai was in fact not against US Army policy in Vietnam.

    Moreover, My Lai was not an isolated event. There were at least five more My Lai-sized killings the army found. And there were countless smaller events, in smaller groups or individually–helicopter crews having “fun” by buzzing and shooting at Vietnamese farmers, then when they ran in terror gunning them down as “VC”; boys gunned down riding their bikes to school, and more. When I was young, returning Vietnam War veterans told me what they had seen–like torture techniques, or interrogating prisoners in a helicopter than pushing them out to their deaths one by one. Two of those vets later committed suicide.

    Some Vietnam Vets against the war members used to go out into neighborhoods with toy M-16 rifles and hand out flyers that said:

    “A US Infantry Company Just Came Through Here!
    If You Had Been Vietnamese-

    We might have burned your house.
    We might have shot your dog.
    We might have shot YOU.
    We might have raped your wife and daughter.
    We might have turned you over to your government for torture
    We might have taken souvenirs from your property
    We might have shot up things a bit
    We might have done ALL these things to you and your whole TOWN

    If that doesn’t bother you that American soldiers do these things every day to the Vietnamese simply because they are “gooks”….then picture yourself as one of the silent victims.”

  40. StewartM

    I should follow up my post, and add at My Lai there were soldiers there who tried to do the right thing, to the extent they could. There were US soldiers there who, when Calley or Medina wasn’t looking, shooed Vietnamese into the forest. And one, Herbert Carter, deliberately shot himself in the food to get out of participating in the massacre:

    Carter was the only casualty of Charlie Company that day.

    On the other hand, there were those who participated enthusiastically, whooping it up after they shot one hapless civilian after another, as this were just kills in friggin’ video game. Calley himself chased down a small boy tried to escape and killed him with a pistol.

    My Lai was one big Milgram experiment. As I said, I read a fair amount about the massacre, and some of the military publications mentioned how Charlie Company was green, it had never seen combat before (and many of the higher-ups were more interested in the next promo than in actually commanding), that discipline was lax (some of its members were holding competitions with each other over how many Vietnamese women they could rape). Still, some publications said that if there had been even one or two lower-ranking officers or NCOs (probably veterans) who had had the courage to hold his/their ground and maintain “THIS IS NOTHING BUT GODDAMN BULLSHIT!!” My Lai might never have happened.

  41. Willy

    The Mai Li dynamic is seen in a wide variety of situations. Assholes are better at seizing power, and nobody wants to cross powerful assholes.

    I’d hoped that the popularizing of knowledge about the Dark Triad would’ve helped, but as an old adage goes: “Everybody’s a detective but only a few are any good at it.” In such a world almost anybody can be tagged a psychopath with just a few spurious evidences or even outright lies.

  42. somecomputerguy

    What everyone should know about commissioned officers in the U.S. army. Talk about “true believers” misses the mark.

    A many years ago personality test found that a the senior officers most resemble corporate executives.

    I can’t speak about the other services, my expertise is far from current, but, this is the system Powell prospered in;

    The officer corps advertises that it requires the highest standards of moral integrity, patriotism, etc. 

    The ability to fake adherence to those standards, is the most important career skill an army officer can cultivate.
    If you can give a rousing heart-felt speech about loyalty, integrity, sacrifice, while you are throwing the people listening under a bus, as you look them in the eye, you are absolutely service-chief  material.

    There is a severe tension between stated values, and the fact that an army officer’s entire career consists of taking credit for other peoples work (If you make them do more “work” you get more credit).

    Once they get to Powell’s level, the only way to tell if they are serious about integrity is by their actions.

    The two most important factors in an army officers career, are the up or out system, and the OER.

    Up or out means that If you are not promoted according to set timetable, you are kicked out.  There is no finding the level you like and staying there.  Let’s say Powell started his career in a class of 2000 other people.
    When Powell made major, there might have been 300 (just for examples sake) of Powell’s classmates promoted to major with him. All the rest were out of the service. If you have spent 15 years as an infantry officer, I’m not sure what civilian job that easily transitions to.
    When Powell made general, its possible that he was the only one left of his original class who was still in the army.
    The higher the rank, the longer the time you have invested, and the the fewer the number of available jobs.
    The OER, or officer efficiency report is basically an assessment by your superior officer of the job you are doing. A single bad OER is the end of your career. Commissioned officers change jobs and postings every 3 to 4 years. That means they basically change bosses as well. All it takes is one boss who doesn’t like you. I view it as hopeful for human nature that most officers are as good as they are.

    Surviving this process to the level of general means a ridiculous level of ambition, a devotion to service politics. Single-minded focus on career.
    It’s not about soldiering, and it is emphatically not about skill in war-fighting (I doubt any of the generals we finished WWII with would make it).
    It’s about promotion points. Checking off the right boxes on the schedule they need to be checked off. Making sure you don’t piss anyone off.

    Once they make it; an army general is someone who has not had their views seriously challenged in at least 10 years, but thinks they have.

    Here is the limit of my understanding; I can see how a small number of good people might get through by random chance. I don’t understand how nutcases survive this process, but some evidently do.

  43. Plague Species

    StewartM, I agree, nothing can justify what America did in Vietnam. My comment wasn’t meant as apologia for American war crimes committed during an illegal war. It was meant to point out that we know quite a few Vietnamese Americans who have fit rather well with America’s money-centric culture. It didn’t take much for them to assimilate — they already had the attributes.

    Why do Vietnamese Americans support Donald Trump?

    The Eden Center in Falls Church, Virginia, is a typical American strip mall, with more than 120 tiny restaurants, beauty salons and electronic retailers. Most of the stores in this mall are run by Vietnamese Americans. In the middle of the parking lot hang two gigantic flags — one American, and the other of South Vietnam, a country that ceased to exist with the fall of Saigon in 1975.

    The political views of many Vietnamese Americans are shaped by the loss of their country. After communist forces from North Vietnam captured South Vietnam, many with close ties to the southern country feared reprisal and fled to the US.

    At present, more than 2 million Vietnamese Americans live in the US, and approximately 1.3 million are eligible to vote in the country. Many have been loyal Republican supporters for decades and believe the party is a stronger force against communism. Even after President Donald Trump’s defeat in the November 3 election, they have not lost faith in him.

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