Misunderstanding of facts from Vietnam mar Hersch column
Matthew H. Hersch '94 has finally revealed the full breadth and depth of his ignorance, arrogance, and racism. In a recent column Hersch makes the unusual claim that the Vietnam War is not over ["Still confused by Vietnam," Sept. 17]. To support this claim he gives a brief discussion of photographs that surfaced over the summer, claimed by some to reveal US soldiers still being held captive in Vietnam.
Hersch says, innocently enough, that "There is still a lot I don't understand about Vietnam." This being the case, perhaps there is some information that would help him to understand a little more. Hersch probably knows that 58,000 US troops were killed in the Vietnam War and that tens of thousands more have since either committed suicide or suffered from severe mental and physical health problems.
I am not so sure if he is aware that almost two million Vietnamese were killed, and that the so-called "secret wars" against Laos and Cambodia took the lives of 200,000 and 100,000, respectively, mostly through large-scale bombing of villages. By 1975 there were over 14 million refugees from the three Southeast Asian countries.
Despite Hersch's claim of ignorance and lack of understanding, he judges himself knowledgeable enough to assert that "If there are Americans still being held, I believe we are both internationally justified and ethically obligated to use all necessary means to secure the release of the prisoners. They should not be the subject of committee debates of international negotiations. Their enslavement would be a crime against humanity, a crime the United States should respond to with the familiar clatter of helicopter gunships and the bellowing roar of an angered nation." The photographs in question, as far as I know, purported to show a handful of US servicemen. Should the US government try to ascertain the authenticity of such photographs, and if authentic, try to secure the safe release of the servicemen? Certainly. But Hersch's assertion that we should "use all necessary means," including "the familiar clatter of helicopter gunships" to secure their release, shows a complete lack of knowledge of the Vietnam War.
Most troubling, though, is Hersch's underlying racism. His readiness to believe in the existence of captive American soldiers in Vietnam based on several photographs and press hype, and the great ease with which Hersch seems to be able to make the decision to kill potentially thousands of innocent Vietnamese, are extremely disturbing. I wonder, if photographs were released tomorrow of US servicemen supposedly being held in Great Britain, would Hersch's reaction be the same? I have the feeling that he would at least pause before deciding to kill light-skinned, English-speaking people who look more like Hersch and his friends than the Vietnamese do.
I am not sure why Hersch stresses the point that there "is a lot [he] still [doesn't] understand about Vietnam," and yet proceeds anyway to write a column on US-Vietnam relations in the most widely distributed newspaper on the MIT campus. I think he should take his responsibility as a journalist a little more seriously, and resist the temptation to use the exposure provided to him by The Tech to reinforce feelings of nationalism, racism, and xenophobia.
Robert Plotkin '93->
In addition to the 4.6 million tons of bombs and the 400,000 tons of napalm the United States dropped on Vietnam, 11.2 million gallons of Agent Orange and 8 million gallons of other herbicides were sprayed. By the end of the war there were 25 million bomb craters, and 8,000 out of 15,000 South Vietnamese hamlets had been destroyed. A total of 37 million acres of forest and farmland were destroyed in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia [Z Magazine, March 1991]. I ask Hersch to compare this with the amount of land destroyed in the US by the war.
On Sept. 2, 1966, U Thant, then secretary general of the United Nations, said that "The cruelty of this war and the suffering it has caused the people of Vietnam are a constant reproach to the
conscience of humanity. . . . In my view the tragic error is being repeated of relying on force and military means in a deceptive pursuit of peace." [Corliss Lamont, in a letter to US Ambassador to South Vietnam Henry Cabot Lodge,
October 6, 1966, reprinted in Voice in the Wilderness, Prometheus Books, 1974 Buffalo, p. 243.] He called the war against Vietnam "one of the most barbarous in history," and said that if Americans "only knew the true facts and the background to the developments in South Vietnam," they would agree that "further bloodshed is unnecessary." [Ibid.] Journalist Walter Lippman pointed out that the US government specifically violated the Geneva
agreements of 1954, which provided for free elections and the unification of North and South Vietnam, when "it opposed free elections [after] it realized that Ho Chi Minh (President of North Vietnam) would win them. General Eisenhower states this frankly in his memoirs." [Ibid., p. 236.] After this initial intervention, the US supported no less than nine military dictatorships
in Vietnam. No mere listing of a few facts such as these take into account the history and complexity of the Vietnam War, but I do think that they can help to put
the War in a perspective other than the one Hersch sees it in.