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Jul-12-2006 01:33printcomments

Op-Ed: Forgetting History Means Repeating the Mistakes of Vietnam

America’s Memory Span Doesn’t Account for 40 Years, if it did our nation's leaders would never have allowed criminals into the U.S. military.

Villagers at My Lai moments before being murdered by U.S. soldiers
under the command of Lt. William Calley
Photo by: Ron Haeberle

(SALEM) - Increasing numbers of war crimes in Iraq equate to a tragic lesson in history repeated, history that should have been learned in Vietnam.

The Southern Poverty Law Center and the New York Times released the news this week that the United States now allows convicted criminals, racist nazi gang members, to join the U.S. military. This news comes as Americans reel from one report after another about U.S. soldiers and Marines committing acts of rape and murder in Iraq.

People like to remember the strong points of American military history. We talk about Washington crossing the Potomac, gallant generals at Gettysburg, and the immense casualties at places like Normandy and Iwo Jima.

But we don’t like to talk about the slaughter of protesting WW1 veterans and their families at the nation’s capitol during the depression, or My Lai, or Son Thang, or a new name in our western world; Haditha.

So now we pay for it because we didn't talk about it before. I can’t count the times I have brought up My Lai, the Vietnamese hamlet in the Quang Ngai province where U.S. Army soldiers massacred several hundred civilians in a single day, to have people tell me it is just too hard of a subject to deal with. Veterans get resentful and I understand that My Lai does not represent the actions of most who served, but it still accounts for the acts committed by far too many Americans in our nation's longest war.

The newly exposed recruiting tactics of the federal government; removing sanctions that blocked criminals, nazis and gang members from serving in the American armed forces, is not just a bad political move, it is one that compromises every lingering aspect of our integrity as a warring nation, which we have become.

And it surely isn’t going to bolster support for the troops when they start filling the ranks with criminals and racists.

If our presidential administration applied lessons gleaned from history, they would recall the disastrous effects following a decision by the nation’s leaders in October 1966 that led to countless war crimes in Vietnam.

That decision by Congress in late ’66 directed the Department of Defense to enlist 100,000 persons annually in the "category four" intelligence category. These were people who tested so low that they had previously been banned from service. A large percentage were convicted criminals. Many were described by people at the time as “borderline mentally retarded” and many more were minorities, primarily African-American kids from inner-urban neighborhoods, who lacked the educational skills to score well on tests.

In fact, many people at the time charged that the motivation behind the whole move was simple; to put more black kids in the fight, because too many white ones were dying. And if you think the word kid is ill placed, I don’t agree, since the average age of the combat soldier in Vietnam toward the end of the conflict was 19.

The African-Americans that entered into the service through the acceptance of Category fours served honorably in case after case. The significantly larger percentage of war criminals in Vietnam were white, not black. A large amount of war criminals in Vietnam were from the mental category four though.

I had a fellow stop me across from the Oregon capitol one day a couple of years ago when I was a photojournalist/reporter for KATU Channel-2 News in Portland, and engage me in a conversation about the current war and Vietnam.

He said he was an active protestor in Florida during the Vietnam War, associated with the Vietnam Veterans for Peace. He told me that the thing nobody talks about anymore, is how the majority of the true villans in Vietnam who raped and murdered civilians hailed from one part of the United States; the place Neil Young sang about, you guessed it, the deep south.

He talked about hillbillies and hardcore southern racists who were do deeply ingrained with hatred and violence that they considered the villages of Vietnam little more than a playground where they could kill at will in the “free fire zones” that the United States established.

Just think about it for a second. While there are wonderful people who hail from states like Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas, that is also the place that has an entire culture of racism still in place. The larger cities and even some smaller towns have managed to progress with the rest of the United States, but venture into the boonies and you will find an entirely different environment and it often isn’t what you would describe as tolerant.

The Vietnam War started with an honest U.S. military service in late 1964. Increasing difficulty came about through a number of reasons, the war grew more unpopular year after year, but nothing equaled the problems that the United States seemingly asked for when it dropped the bar nearly to the ground, allowing into the service criminals and idiots that did little in terms of waging an honest fight on behalf of the people of South Vietnam.

There is a great deal that history can teach us, but people all too often want to remain in their comfort zones. Now our commander-in-chief and his band of hawks that never quite earned their wings have opened the playing field to those who previously were denied, and it seems that the bad decisions being made about the war in Iraq may actually be a dirtier list than any of us ever imagined.


Tim King in 2008, covering the Iraq War

Tim King: Editor and Writer

Tim King has more than twenty years of experience on the west coast as a television news producer, photojournalist, reporter and assignment editor. Tim is's Executive News Editor. His background includes covering the war in Afghanistan in 2006 and 2007, and reporting from the Iraq war in 2008. Tim is a former U.S. Marine.

Tim holds awards for reporting, photography, writing and editing from The Associated Press the National Coalition of Motorcyclists, the Oregon Confederation of Motorcycle Clubs, Electronic Media Association and The Red Cross In a personal capacity, Tim has written 2,026 articles as of March 2012 for since the new format designed by Matt Lintz was launched in December, 2005.

Serving readers with news from all over the globe, Tim's life is literally encircled by the endless news flow published by, where more than 100 writers contribute stories from 20+ countries and regions.

Tim specializes in writing about political and military developments worldwide with an emphasis on Palestine and Sri Lanka, Iraq and Afghanistan, and the U.S. Marines. You can write to Tim at this address: Visit Tim's Facebook page (

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Internal Comments are Closed on this story.

Sonia Ruiz August 19, 2006 9:12 am (Pacific time)

I don't think that the solders should be going around killing people. That is just wrong.

Hedda Ledus July 13, 2006 7:57 am (Pacific time)

All military in all countries are criminals. There are not rules in war. In the U.S. the military are just the puppets and fools of the multi-nationals like big oil. The U.S. is no longer a country(maybe we never were). We are owned by the global elite. If you have not disconnected your television by now you are a fool. T.V. is used by the government and multi-nationals to brainwash and lie. The bubble-head newscasters are only parrots that squawk with conviction because that is what they are trained to do. They look credible but are part of the problem of misinformation. Until you know what the C.I.A. is doing, you are only kidding yourself if you think that you are "in the know."

Kief S. July 11, 2006 6:33 am (Pacific time)

More information on Robert McNamara's "Project 100,000" as it relates to African-Americans in Vietnam can be found here:

Joe W. July 10, 2006 1:12 pm (Pacific time)

Accepting anything that comes from Morris Dees or the NYT, both proven liars, as fact cost you much in credibility. After all, the bigger and more inflammatory the headline, the more the NYT sells papers. Their politically correct stance is plain for anyone to see. Thus their credibility is, at best, suspect. Morris Dees and his Southern Poverty Law Center are even worse than the NYT. They deliberately lie for the purpose of lining their pockets. Morris Dees depends on fanning the flames of racism to keep himself enriched and nowhere near the impoverished he claims to "help." If he walked in soaking wet, said it was raining, and I could hear thunder, I would still walk outside to check it for myself. I'm not saying that there aren't criminals in the military. I'm only saying before you begin telling how bad the problem is, you should check with more reliable sources than those who have a vested interest in making it seem worse than it may be.

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Sean Flynn was a photojournalist in Vietnam, taken captive in 1970 in Cambodia and never seen again.