Mar 3, 2003
Over the last months, the Bush administration's point man in trying to prepare public opinion for the imminent U.S. war against Iraq has been Colin Powell. This role was marked by Powell's February 5 performance before the U.N. Security Council, where all Powell's charges against Iraq turned out to be filled with obvious lies, distortions and half-truths. And this has led some commentators to ask how Powell – the supposed one voice of moderation and sanity in a cowboy administration hell-bent on its drive to war against Iraq – could allow himself to be used in this way.
In fact, Powell has never acted any differently.
This was demonstrated in Powell's second tour of duty in Viet Nam in 1968-69. At that time, he was the deputy assistant chief of staff for operations at Americal Division headquarters. He was given the job of responding to a young soldier, Tom Glen, who called for an investigation into the rumors about a massacre by Americal Division soldiers in the hamlet of My Lai in South Vietnam.
Now known as the My Lai massacre, this was the infamous action carried out in May 1968. In a period of four hours, a U.S. infantry unit rounded up old men, women and children, herding them into the village's irrigation ditches. Some U.S. soldiers raped the girls. Under orders from junior officers on the ground and most likely senior officers in the air, the soldiers emptied their M-16's into the terrified peasants. As some parents desperately used their bodies to try to shield their children, the soldiers stepped among the corpses to finish off the wounded. A total of 347 Vietnamese, including babies, were killed.
Powell refused to carry out an investigation. Instead, in a memo to the adjutant general, Powell branded Glen's charges false, asserting that "relations between American soldiers and the Vietnamese are excellent."
Of course, it was Powell's findings that were false. And it took the efforts of an infantryman named Ron Ridenhour to piece together the truth about what happened at My Lai from interviews with infantrymen who had been there. Only after government officials decided that news of U.S. army massacres at My Lai, as well as other places, was spreading so fast that they could no longer control it, did the army inspector general finally step in to carry out an official inquiry. Despite all of Powell's efforts, news of the My Lai massacre finally came out, becoming one of the most damning symbols of the barbaric U.S. war against the people of Viet Nam.
It should be noted that Powell did not bother to mention his role in the attempted cover-up of the My Lai massacre in his best selling autobiography, My American Journey. For Powell to have made his "journey," that is, his way up through the ranks of the military and the government to its highest reaches, he always had to be the "good soldier" and "team player."
This is the role Powell is playing today – trying to prepare world opinion for new massacres by the U.S. military in Iraq.