On War Heroes, Pilots, and Civilians (American Values/1)
Imagine reaction in the United States to the following scenario: An ambitious, tough-talking Russian politician is vying for greater political power and influence. Twenty years ago, he served his country as a pilot in the air force during the Soviet Union’s occupation in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, for his sake, his aircraft was shot down by the Afghan resistance (think of some of those scenes of Russian pilots and the mujahedeen in Charlie Wilson’s War). He was taken prisoner, tortured, but ultimately found his way back to freedom and his homeland. Now many years later, his popularity in ascendency, his ardent aspiration is to “serve the Russian people” and restore “pride” in Russia as a “world power.” His supporters, intellectuals and ordinary Russians on the street, gush with rapt devotion over their “war hero.”
The following is from photojournalist Philip Jones Griffiths’ last volume of his Viet Nam trilogy, Viet Nam at Peace: In human terms millions had died and many more disabled. Everything that could be bombed had been—often more than once. As one American pilot claimed: “We made the rubble bounce!” Nothing was spared (except for parts of Ha Noi and the port city of Hai Phong for fear of angering the Soviets by sinking their ships). Schools, hospitals, pagodas, churches, factories, bridges, dykes and any building that could house anyone or anything were relentlessly attacked. North Viet Nam was little more than a mass of ruins, while much of South Viet Nam had its agricultural base destroyed by bombs, Napalm, and the defoliant Agent Orange.
Mr. Nguyen Duc Hanh, head of the War Crimes Investigation Commission of Hanoi: Of the 102 villages in the suburbs of Hanoi, all were bombed. One hundred and sixteen schools and thirty kindergartens and nursery schools were bombed. One hundred and fifteen pagodas, churches and temples were bombed. One hundred and ten factories and businesses were bombed. One hundred and fifty warehouses were bombed. One hundred and six streets and sixty neighborhoods were bombed. Fifty three hospitals and clinics were bombed. The dikes were bombed in seventy-one places—they are very important for flood control. All systems of transportation, communication, railway stations, bridges, and airports were bombed. Fifteen embassies were bombed.
President Richard Nixon to Henry Kissinger: I just want you to think big, Henry, for Christ sakes the only place where you and I disagree is with regard to the bombing. You’re so goddmaned concerned about the civilians and I don’t give a damn. I don’t care.