The Long Shadows of My Lai

Evie Salomon, at 60 Minutes Overtime:

This past week marked the 46th anniversary of the My Lai massacre, in which 504 unarmed Vietnamese civilians were massacred by U.S. troops in 1968. It’s one of the most shameful chapters in American military history, and now documents held at the Nixon Presidential Library paint a disturbing picture of what happened inside the Nixon administration after news of the massacre was leaked.

The documents, mostly hand-written notes from Nixon’s meetings with his chief of staff H.R. “Bob” Haldeman, lead some historians to conclude that President Richard Nixon was behind the attempt to sabotage the My Lai court-martial trials and cover up what was becoming a public-relations disaster for his administration.

One document, scribbled by Haldeman during his Dec. 1, 1969, meeting with Nixon, reads like a threatening to-do list under the headline “Task force – My Lai.” Haldeman wrote “dirty tricks” (with the clarification that those tricks be “not too high a level”) and “discredit one witness,” in order to “keep working on the problem.”…

The question is, was anyone actually on the receiving end of those “dirty tricks” in Haldeman’s My Lai action plan? According to Trent Angers, author of newly updated book “The Forgotten Hero of My Lai,” Nixon’s targets were the star witnesses of the My Lai court-martial trials: pilot Hugh Thompson and gunner Larry Colburn. They were the two surviving members of a U.S. helicopter crew that was flying a reconnaissance mission over the South Vietnam village of My Lai when they saw the massacre in progress that March day in 1968.

If not for the actions of the helicopter crew, the death count at My Lai could have been far higher. Thompson and Colburn were so horrified by the sight of American soldiers slaughtering unarmed civilians, they put their own lives at risk to try to stop it, even saving a wounded boy from a corpse-filled ditch and delivering him to the hospital…

Mike Wallace told the helicopter crew’s story in the gut-wrenching 60 Minutes segment called “Back to My Lai”… which was first broadcast in 1998. That same year, the U.S. military officially honored the crew’s actions in My Lai. Not present was the crew’s third crew member, Glenn Andreotta, who was shot and killed in action three weeks after the massacre. It had taken 30 years for the U.S. government to recognize the three men.

But when Thompson and Colburn first returned home after Vietnam, it was a much different story. They weren’t received as heroes, but as traitors.

Thompson testified about the massacre in the U.S. government’s court-martial trials, but according to author Trent Angers, two Congressmen who were working in concert with Nixon, managed to seal that testimony in order to damage the cases against the culprits of My Lai. Whether it was one of the “dirty tricks” Nixon prescribed in Haldeman’s 1969 meeting note is a matter of debate for historians…

Thompson died in 2006, and Colburn says he was in the room with him during his final moments. With his friend gone, Colburn says he feels an obligation to carry the torch, and speak publicly about what happened in My Lai that day. But he misses having Thompson at his side.

“There were times you start thinking, ‘Why are so many people against what we did? What we did was morally correct– why don’t they understand?’ It was always nice to have one other person who did understand,” says Colburn. “We were therapeutic for each other.”…

The complete “Back to My Lai” video segment is at the link; I’d consider it NSFW, unless you have a stronger stomach than I do.

I had just entered high school in 1968, and can attest from memory that the Nixon cabal’s dirty tricks would’ve been — not for the first or last time — politically unnecessary, since the infamous Silent Majority was already loud in its support of killing “gooks, slopes, or slant-eyes” in defiance of any rules or restraint. Calley would’ve been exalted, Thompson and Coburn reviled, with no further assistance from the White House. All their “self protection” provided was a permanent record of an ongoing criminal conspiracy.

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71 replies
  1. 1
    Just Some Fuckhead, Thought Leader says:

    I stopped watching 60 Minutes after the NSA Tribute show.

  2. 2
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    What we did was morally correct

    Ah, but it certainly was not politically correct.

  3. 3
    gene108 says:

    since the infamous Silent Majority was already loud in its support of killing “gooks, slopes, or slant-eyes” in defiance of any rules or restraint. Calley would’ve been exalted, Thompson and Coburn reviled, with no further assistance from the White House. All their “self protection” provided was a permanent record of an ongoing criminal conspiracy.

    A lesson the right-wing learned, as seen by Ollie North having a steady radio gig for a number of years, plus guest spots on Fox News, as well as Bush & Co. making sure they never wrote anything down to be used against them later.

    But I think the cabal of remaining Nixonites are getting too old to take back power again, so despite the right-wing being crazier than ever before, they do not have the “evil genius” fortitude folks like Cheney, Rumsfeld, Bush, Sr., etc. learned from Nixon and employed later on.

  4. 4
    ulee says:

    War is a terrible thing. It makes people kill when in ordinary life thay would not think of killing. If I had George W. in front of me I would kick his ass. Worthless hunk of nothing.

  5. 5
    bemused says:

    How incredibly sad that Thompson and Colburn felt alone and were treated badly for being decent humans. I remember My Lai, I was in high school then. I thought it was deeply shameful then and now. I couldn’t imagine how it could be defended. I sure don’t know how anyone could have been a teen in the Vietnam war years with kids you knew being drafted and not become cynical from then on.

  6. 6
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @ulee: There’s a reason guys like the deserting coward and the Dark Lord avoid war zones.

    They’d be killed by their own troops.

  7. 7
    somethingblue says:

    Today the Republicans would be running Calley for Congress.

  8. 8
    Ruckus says:

    @bemused:

    I sure don’t know how anyone could have been a teen in the Vietnam war years with kids you knew being drafted and not become cynical from then on.

    Time does help. Sometimes a lot.
    It can make you a lot less trustworthy of politicians, which never seems to be a bad thing.

  9. 9
    Mike in NC says:

    I was pretty young at the time but do recall that “Rusty” Calley became quite the hero in some quarters. I’ve gone to the local VFW hall with a Vietnam vet neighbor, and everybody in there is hardcore Tea Party.

  10. 10
    Ruckus says:

    @Villago Delenda Est:
    Bet there would be a pool on which day of the first week it would happen.

  11. 11
    bemused says:

    @Ruckus:

    Time can also make people forget what went down and turn into Foxbots.

  12. 12
    Rock says:

    Colburn and Thompson are heroes.

  13. 13
    LanceThruster says:

    I wrote this here and later saw it in a Vietnamese language publication —

    LanceThruster December 6, 2010 9:34 am (Pacific time)

    The horror and sadness of Mr. Duc Tran Van’s recounting of the massacre of beloved family members and neighbors while so very young is heart-wrenching. He too was one of the heroes of that day as his actions prevented his brother and himself from becoming fallen victims of the slaughter. His survival allowed him to be there for his remaining family and share his story with others in a most poignant and graphic way. Armed conflict always involves senseless death and destruction, but what he experienced at the hands of those who believed their own sacrifices were for the good of his people was beyond the pale. I became draft age in ’75 as America’s direct military involvement in the conflict had essentially ceased. I had considered enlisting but did not feel I could trust my government with regards to those it might determine warranted killing. I was reminded of this when my friend’s son Adam, part of Marines 1/5 for the fall of Baghdad in the second Gulf War, returned home from Iraq. When I cautiously asked him about his experiences in a combat zone, the first words out of his mouth were, “We killed people for no reason.” I learned from him that even with very specific rules of engagement, innocent people would die. A vehicle would approach his checkpoint too fast, too erratic, and not heed signals to stop or slow down, and he and his fellow Marines would fire upon the vehicle and its occupants. He told me about the time he did just that, and when he went to inspect the vehicle, it was full of dead and wounded women and children, some of whom were screaming or crying or moaning, in terror or pain or anguish. He bears no physical scars from his tour of duty, but is on PTSD status. I was traumatized by merely hearing of some of his encounters over there. I can only imagine the toll it takes actually living them. To Mr. Duc Tran Van; I am truly so very sorry you and your family and your country suffered so as a brutal war was waged across your land. I have tried to remain informed and active politically so that I could do whatever I can to help prevent my country from inflicting further such tragedies on others. As you might imagine, sometimes I too feel very helpless in this regard. You and Tim King have done much to remind me that sometimes courage can be as simple a thing as to just keep moving forward. And for that, you have my sincere gratitude.

  14. 14
    Cassidy says:

    @Mike in NC: The local VFW I joined asked me why I wasn’t renewing my membership. I told them that a Soldier supports the CoC, regardless of personal beliefs and maybe they should remember that. They haven’t called me back.

  15. 15
    ulee says:

    And Dick Cheney is still on Fox expousing his view on the world and how Obama is doing it wrong. Hemingway would have this killer in the village square with his head cut off.

  16. 16
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Rock: Absolutely. Without a fucking doubt.

  17. 17
    Ruckus says:

    @bemused:
    It always amazes me how some people can walk around with their heads so far up their own ass.

    But you are correct of course.

  18. 18
    Snarki, child of Loki says:

    @somethingblue: “Today the Republicans would be running Calley for Congress.”

    Didn’t they already do that with Allen West?

  19. 19
    bemused says:

    @Ruckus:

    Some I went to school with turned into Tea Party morons.

  20. 20
    Ruckus says:

    @Rock:
    Absolutely they are.

  21. 21
    Ruckus says:

    @bemused:
    Were they males of draft age in 65-73 and without deferments?

    Not that that would necessarily make a lot of difference. I know people I went to school with who are so far to the right they could be relatives of darth.

  22. 22
    Liquid says:

    Gawker (I know) has a decent article about this — http://gawker.com/new-research.....1550455253

  23. 23
    p.a. says:

    Worked with a Charlie Company vet (same civilian company different department). Someone came up with the investigation/trial transcripts. He was a prosecution witness, never charged with murder. Defense accused him of serial rape both before My Lai and there. He denied. (Just refreshed my memory from the transcripts; won’t include link, too disgusting. They’re online if you feel up to it.) Can’t remember what his discharge status was. No one I know of ever talked to him or confronted him about it; he was a manager and could make life unpleasant for us peons. Retired about 10 yrs. ago.

  24. 24
    Baud says:

    I wish we had a different word for anniversary when the anniversary is of a horrible event.

  25. 25
    bemused says:

    @Ruckus:

    Sure and unlucky in draft numbers. My friend found out her cousin had died in Vietnam in class when a teacher came in very upset and announced it. The teacher wouldn’t have done that if he/she had known a close relative was in the class but was stunned by the news and not thinking.

  26. 26
    joel hanes says:

    @bemused:

    Time can also make people forget what went down

    Apparently.

    No on on this thread has yet mentioned Colin Powell, who was given the assignment of “investigating”
    My Lai (making it go away) as a 31-year-old Army Major.

    Good practice for his Iraq WMD testimony, I wot.

    And no one has mentioned Seymour Hersh, without whom all this would have disappeared down the memory hole

  27. 27
    IowaOldLady says:

    @ulee: The only question anyone of TV should ever ask Dick Cheney is “Why aren’t you in jail?”

  28. 28
    Commenting at Balloon Juice since 1937 says:

    @somethingblue: They tried it near me. An immoral piece of sh*t declared himself a hero for bravely terrorizing Iraqi families by raiding their homes at night. Unfortunately for him, he wasn’t the legacy who was promised the seat so the party crushed him.

  29. 29
    lol says:

    Kind of darkly humorous, but if you don’t follow @dick_nixon on Twitter you should. It’s a scarily accurate take on what a still-living Richard Nixon’s twitter feed would look like without really veering into parody.

    You can guess what many tweets today are about.

  30. 30
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    Charlie Pierce has a few choice words as well.

    @Baud:

    I wish we had a different word for anniversary when the anniversary is of a horrible event.

    Jahrzeit?

  31. 31
    Cacti says:

    @Mike in NC:

    I was pretty young at the time but do recall that “Rusty” Calley became quite the hero in some quarters. I’ve gone to the local VFW hall with a Vietnam vet neighbor, and everybody in there is hardcore Tea Party.

    Governor Jimmy Carter was a big public supporter of Calley, and instituted “American Fighting Man’s Day” in his honor.

    Probably the one true black mark on JC’s public service career.

  32. 32
    Peter says:

    What’s especially horrifying is that there were something like seven other similar operations to the one that lead to My Lai planned. The only reason they didn’t happen is that Thompson reported My Lai to the man in charge, who suspended the other operations.

    He didn’t just save the lives of the people he piled into his helicopter. He probably saved hundreds to thousands of lives. A true goddamn hero, and it took thirty years for the military to admit it.

  33. 33
    WaterGirl says:

    @Baud: I think Mr. Rogers talked about that once.

  34. 34
    Just Some Fuckhead, Thought Leader says:

    @Cacti: Make it two black marks with the whole mainstreaming born again nonsense.

  35. 35
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    @Cassidy:

    Good for you. And fuck them.

  36. 36
    OzarkHillbilly says:

    Rough.

  37. 37
    Judge Crater says:

    I was in the military when My Lai occurred. I was shocked but not surprised. I had heard so many stories of the killing of Vietnamese civilians by American troops and the indifference, even contempt, we Americans had for their lives and property that My Lai was completely believable.

    It was an object lesson in what these “savage wars of peace” produce. When we undertake these military adventures we really do go into the heart of darkness. The stain of My Lai, and all the other atrocities committed in foreign lands, never gets washed away. Thompson and Colburn were heroes who said, “enough.” Sadly, American leaders have rarely had the courage to say the same.

  38. 38
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    @ulee:

    I know I have mentioned before, ad nauseum, probably, that Ernest Hemingway and I are from the same home town, so I grew up kind of saturated in Hemingwayiana. When you think what he did with WWI and the Spanish Civil War, it’s wonderful-scary to think what he might have done with Vietnam.

  39. 39
    Long Tooth says:

    “Calley would’ve been exalted, Thompson and Coburn reviled, with no further assistance from the White House”.

    Under no circumstance whatsoever would Calley have been “exalted” in the San Francisco Bay Area of 1969. That much I know. Or most other places in the country that year (that I guess).

    Those that rallied around Calley way back then are the cats that took over the GOP.

  40. 40
    raven says:

    You can watch the local Atlanta news report after the Calley verdict here. Of special interest is the fucking moron who obviously works in the PS ” A white commissary employee strongly disagrees with Calley’s conviction and declares he would have helped Calley if he had been in Vietnam with him.”

    I was at still in Korea when My Lai happened and shipped over in to Vietnam on August. One of my best buddies from high school was was killed in November and that was the final nail for me. I had been leaning anti-war for quite some time but that pushed me over the edge.

  41. 41
    Chris says:

    It’s one of the most shameful chapters in American military history,

    That we know of.

    Like I said a few days ago on another thread (and as this article mentions)… the thing that struck me about My Lai wasn’t what happened, so much as the way the entire institution reacted to it. First cover it up, then when the story breaks in the entire national media, attack Thompson and Coburn as liars and traitors. And this, mind you, was in Vietnam, an era of unusually high pushback against the MIC.

  42. 42
  43. 43
    raven says:

    @Chris: And it continued with the Swift Boat fuckers.

  44. 44
    ulee says:

    @SiubhanDuinne: I like to think that Hemingway would punch Cruz in the nose. I don’t know about Hemingway’s politics, but it seems he did not suffer fools gladly.

  45. 45
    Chris says:

    @Judge Crater:

    I was in the military when My Lai occurred. I was shocked but not surprised. I had heard so many stories of the killing of Vietnamese civilians by American troops and the indifference, even contempt, we Americans had for their lives and property that My Lai was completely believable.

    I got into a conversation with an Iraq veteran on IMDb, of all places, where the subject somehow came up and he insisted that there was so much good going on in Iraq. All these places rebuilt, all this humanitarian aid, all these children he’d handed out candy to, all these wonderful people freed. Me: “You know, I’ve talked to a few Iraqis who were there during the invasion or had family that was. They… really don’t remember it that way.” Him: ::immediate 180 to explain that I should never believe what these fucking people were saying, all of them are scumbags and terrorists, all plotting behind the U.S. soldiers’ backs::

    Sadly, American leaders have rarely had the courage to say the same.

    American leaders who object to the war like to stick with the “think of the troops” narrative. Talking about whether some of “the troops” might have committed war crimes is venturing into much riskier territory, touching what’s considered a third rail that most of them won’t go near until they have photographic evidence plastered on the front page of the New York Times above the fold. And those of “the troops” who, like Thompson, stood up against these things… well, sucks to be them.

  46. 46
    MikeJ says:

    @ulee:

    I don’t know about Hemingway’s politics,

    Premature anti-fascist.

  47. 47
    raven says:

    @Chris: That’s funny. I watched “The Pacific” with great interest because my dad fought there and I had read EB Sledge’s “With the Old Breed at Pelilu and Okinawa”. I knew that Sledge had not pulled punches in his book and wanted to see what they did with the HBO mini-series. Part of the series included online discussion boards and it was stunning how some people went ape shit because the series showed Americans basically killing everything that moved. There are a series of Stud’s Terkel interviews with Sledge (who became a Botany Professor) where he explained that they simply turned into animals out of necessity. He said “I’m not telling you the way I wanted it to be, I’m telling you the way that it was”.

  48. 48
    ulee says:

    @MikeJ: Yeah, that’s right. He certainly did not like fascists. He was willing to die to keep them from taking power.

  49. 49
    Roger Moore says:

    @Chris:

    That we know of.

    I don’t even know how high it is on the list of things we know of. The strategic bombing campaigns in WWII killed orders of magnitude more civilians and have never been seriously challenged as the atrocities they were. Is My Lai more shameful than all the times we overthrew Latin American governments to help out US businesses? More shameful than invading Iraq on false pretenses? More shameful than The Trail of Tears? Maybe it’s one of the most shameful things that could be claimed to be the result of subordinates doing things on their own, but there are plenty of things that have been done as a deliberate policy that are far more shameful.

  50. 50
    raven says:

    @Roger Moore: ” Maybe it’s one of the most shameful things that could be claimed to be the result of subordinates doing things on their own, ”

    Calley went off the reservation but there was plenty of culpability from above starting with Medinah.

  51. 51
    raven says:

    @Roger Moore: ” Maybe it’s one of the most shameful things that could be claimed to be the result of subordinates doing things on their own, ”

    Calley went off the reservation but there was plenty of culpability from above starting with Medinah.

  52. 52
    raven says:

    multiple dupes.

  53. 53
    Roger Moore says:

    @raven:

    Calley went off the reservation but there was plenty of culpability from above starting with Medinah.

    Which is why I put the “could be claimed” in there; maybe I should have said they could be pinned on somebody relatively junior. I still stand by my major point, which is that there are plenty of high-level strategic decisions that are far more shameful, both in terms of the harm they did and that they were clear policy that can’t be dismissed as the wrongdoing of a relatively junior officer.

    (I considered using “off the reservation” but thought it was potentially offensive, especially since forcing the Native Americans onto the reservations in the first place is one of the items on my list of shameful high-level decisions.)

  54. 54
    raven says:

    @Roger Moore: Yea, I shouldn’t have used that.

  55. 55
    Chris says:

    @raven:

    There is an absolute mind block in the American public against the notion that U.S. troops could ever be anything other than Eagle Scouts behaving at all times like absolute embodiments of Truth, Justice and the American Way… never mind the environment they’re forced to operate in or what it does to you. And when something like My Lai or Abu Ghraib finally breaks through the headlines, you often as not get a reaction that amounts to “well, can’t judge,” no matter what the context.

  56. 56
    Chris says:

    @Roger Moore:

    True. I was sticking to military behavior that, as you said, “could be claimed” as subordinates’ actions, but you’re right that in the grand scheme of U.S. policies… we’ve done plenty worse. (The Indian Wars probably take the cake, ethnic cleansing and all that).

  57. 57
    LanceThruster says:

    @raven:

    I read Sledge’s book too. It was brutally frank. Could tell the influence it had on “The Pacific” screenplay.

  58. 58
    Chris says:

    The comments over at the article as a piece of work. To be fair there’s not just bad ones, but the bad ones… “both sides do it because Lyndon Johnson,” “why are we talking about this instead of Benghazi,” “we only hear about crimes by Republicans it’s not fair!” (paraphrasing not direct quotes but pretty much exactly that). This is why we can’t have nice things.

    ETA: oh yes, and of course, it wouldn’t be a Vietnam thread without the obligatory “the war WAS winnable it’s the Democrats who lost it by micromanaging from the White House!”

  59. 59
    raven says:

    @LanceThruster: He was a wonderful man. I made contact with someone that had him as a prof in the 70’s and they could not say enough good things about him. Auburn has a nice site with his work.

    Here is the link to Stud’s Terkel “The Good War” that includes the audio of his interviews with Sledgehammer.

  60. 60
    mclaren says:

    As Lt. Calley said at his trial: “What, My Lai?”

  61. 61
    mclaren says:

    @Roger Moore:

    The strategic bombing campaigns in WWII killed orders of magnitude more civilians and have never been seriously challenged as the atrocities they were.

    Not sure about that. Gen. Curtis LeMay remarked to a subordinate that if they lost WW II, they all would have been indicted as war criminals.

    U.S. General Curtis LeMay, who commanded the firebombing of Tokyo, said “I suppose if I had lost the war, I would have been tried as a war criminal. Fortunately, we were on the winning side.”

    Obligatory source.

    Then there’s the testimony of Bridagier General Smedley Butler of the U.S. Marine Corps:

    War is a racket. It always has been.

    It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.

    A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small “inside” group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.

    In the World War [I] a mere handful garnered the profits of the conflict. At least 21,000 new millionaires and billionaires were made in the United States during the World War. That many admitted their huge blood gains in their income tax returns. How many other war millionaires falsified their tax returns no one knows.

    How many of these war millionaires shouldered a rifle? How many of them dug a trench? How many of them knew what it meant to go hungry in a rat-infested dug-out? How many of them spent sleepless, frightened nights, ducking shells and shrapnel and machine gun bullets? How many of them parried a bayonet thrust of an enemy? How many of them were wounded or killed in battle? (..)

    The normal profits of a business concern in the United States are six, eight, ten, and sometimes twelve percent. But war-time profits — ah! that is another matter — twenty, sixty, one hundred, three hundred, and even eighteen hundred per cent — the sky is the limit. All that traffic will bear. Uncle Sam has the money. Let’s get it.

    Of course, it isn’t put that crudely in war time. It is dressed into speeches about patriotism, love of country, and “we must all put our shoulders to the wheel,” but the profits jump and leap and skyrocket — and are safely pocketed. Let’s just take a few examples:

    Take our friends the du Ponts, the powder people — didn’t one of them testify before a Senate committee recently that their powder won the war? Or saved the world for democracy? Or something? How did they do in the war? They were a patriotic corporation. Well, the average earnings of the du Ponts for the period 1910 to 1914 were $6,000,000 a year. It wasn’t much, but the du Ponts managed to get along on it. Now let’s look at their average yearly profit during the war years, 1914 to 1918. Fifty-eight million dollars a year profit we find! Nearly ten times that of normal times, and the profits of normal times were pretty good. An increase in profits of more than 950 per cent.

    Take one of our little steel companies that patriotically shunted aside the making of rails and girders and bridges to manufacture war materials. Well, their 1910-1914 yearly earnings averaged $6,000,000. Then came the war. And, like loyal citizens, Bethlehem Steel promptly turned to munitions making. Did their profits jump — or did they let Uncle Sam in for a bargain? Well, their 1914-1918 average was $49,000,000 a year!

    Or, let’s take United States Steel. The normal earnings during the five-year period prior to the war were $105,000,000 a year. Not bad. Then along came the war and up went the profits. The average yearly profit for the period 1914-1918 was $240,000,000. Not bad.

    There you have some of the steel and powder earnings. Let’s look at something else. A little copper, perhaps. That always does well in war times.

    Anaconda, for instance. Average yearly earnings during the pre-war years 1910-1914 of $10,000,000. During the war years 1914-1918 profits leaped to $34,000,000 per year.

    Or Utah Copper. Average of $5,000,000 per year during the 1910-1914 period. Jumped to an average of $21,000,000 yearly profits for the war period.

    Let’s group these five, with three smaller companies. The total yearly average profits of the pre-war period 1910-1914 were $137,480,000. Then along came the war. The average yearly profits for this group skyrocketed to $408,300,000.

    A little increase in profits of approximately 200 per cent.

    Does war pay? It paid them. But they aren’t the only ones. There are still others. Let’s take leather.

    For the three-year period before the war the total profits of Central Leather Company were $3,500,000. That was approximately $1,167,000 a year. Well, in 1916 Central Leather returned a profit of $15,000,000, a small increase of 1,100 per cent. That’s all. The General Chemical Company averaged a profit for the three years before the war of a little over $800,000 a year. Came the war, and the profits jumped to $12,000,000. a leap of 1,400 per cent.

    International Nickel Company — and you can’t have a war without nickel — showed an increase in profits from a mere average of $4,000,000 a year to $73,000,000 yearly. Not bad? An increase of more than 1,700 per cent.

    American Sugar Refining Company averaged $2,000,000 a year for the three years before the war. In 1916 a profit of $6,000,000 was recorded.

    Listen to Senate Document No. 259. The Sixty-Fifth Congress, reporting on corporate earnings and government revenues. Considering the profits of 122 meat packers, 153 cotton manufacturers, 299 garment makers, 49 steel plants, and 340 coal producers during the war. Profits under 25 per cent were exceptional. For instance the coal companies made between 100 per cent and 7,856 per cent on their capital stock during the war. The Chicago packers doubled and tripled their earnings.

    And let us not forget the bankers who financed the great war. If anyone had the cream of the profits it was the bankers. Being partnerships rather than incorporated organizations, they do not have to report to stockholders. And their profits were as secret as they were immense. How the bankers made their millions and their billions I do not know, because those little secrets never become public — even before a Senate investigatory body.

    But here’s how some of the other patriotic industrialists and speculators chiseled their way into war profits.

    Take the shoe people. They like war. It brings business with abnormal profits. They made huge profits on sales abroad to our allies. Perhaps, like the munitions manufacturers and armament makers, they also sold to the enemy. For a dollar is a dollar whether it comes from Germany or from France. But they did well by Uncle Sam too. For instance, they sold Uncle Sam 35,000,000 pairs of hobnailed service shoes. There were 4,000,000 soldiers. Eight pairs, and more, to a soldier. My regiment during the war had only one pair to a soldier. Some of these shoes probably are still in existence. They were good shoes. But when the war was over Uncle Sam has a matter of 25,000,000 pairs left over. Bought — and paid for. Profits recorded and pocketed.

    There was still lots of leather left. So the leather people sold your Uncle Sam hundreds of thousands of McClellan saddles for the cavalry. But there wasn’t any American cavalry overseas! Somebody had to get rid of this leather, however. Somebody had to make a profit in it — so we had a lot of McClellan saddles. And we probably have those yet.

    Also somebody had a lot of mosquito netting. They sold your Uncle Sam 20,000,000 mosquito nets for the use of the soldiers overseas. I suppose the boys were expected to put it over them as they tried to sleep in muddy trenches — one hand scratching cooties on their backs and the other making passes at scurrying rats. Well, not one of these mosquito nets ever got to France!

    Anyhow, these thoughtful manufacturers wanted to make sure that no soldier would be without his mosquito net, so 40,000,000 additional yards of mosquito netting were sold to Uncle Sam.

    There were pretty good profits in mosquito netting in those days, even if there were no mosquitoes in France. I suppose, if the war had lasted just a little longer, the enterprising mosquito netting manufacturers would have sold your Uncle Sam a couple of consignments of mosquitoes to plant in France so that more mosquito netting would be in order.

    Airplane and engine manufacturers felt they, too, should get their just profits out of this war. Why not? Everybody else was getting theirs. So $1,000,000,000 — count them if you live long enough — was spent by Uncle Sam in building airplane engines that never left the ground! Not one plane, or motor, out of the billion dollars worth ordered, ever got into a battle in France. Just the same the manufacturers made their little profit of 30, 100, or perhaps 300 per cent.

    Source: “War Is A Racket,” Smedley Butler, 1935.

    Sound familiar?

  62. 62
    Chris says:

    @mclaren:

    Gen. Curtis LeMay remarked to a subordinate that if they lost WW II, they all would have been indicted as war criminals.

    I remember people absolutely opening up with both barrels on Jon Stewart a few years ago over his notion that Truman was a war criminal for Hiroshima and Nagasaki, prompting a retraction. The outrage was absolutely surreal in light of the fact that Curtis LeMay, who of all people should know, said basically the same thing (granted, not about the atomic attacks specifically).

  63. 63
    Chris says:

    @mclaren:

    Smedley Butler is one of these people who makes me wonder how the hell he ever made general with a mouth like that. Maybe he kept it shut until late in the game.

    As an aside – this is also why I find the whole story of the Business Plot (a cabal of businessmen who tried to get Butler to lead a coup against FDR) so hard to believe. Depending on Butler, of all people, who had made no secret of his absolute contempt for them?

  64. 64
    Soonergrunt says:

    My Lai was a huge miscarriage of justice.
    Calley, his Platoon Sergeant, and his Squad leaders should have been hung for what they did. His men should have faced lengthy prison terms.

  65. 65
    LanceThruster says:

    @raven:

    Great links and refs. Thx.

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  67. 67
    Paul in KY says:

    @Rock: Glenn Andreotta was a hero too. Please don’t forget him.

  68. 68
    Paul in KY says:

    @ulee: I fantasize about handing Cheney over to the 18th Century Iroquois (master torturers) or to Ramsey Snow.

    Would be sure to tell them about his bad heart & to take that into consideration.

  69. 69
    Paul in KY says:

    @Cacti: Being an ambitious politician means doing some nasty things. I would expect & hope that Pres. Carter really regrets that.

  70. 70
    Paul in KY says:

    @Soonergrunt: Capt.Medina should have been hung too, IMO.

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    CONGRATULATIONS! says:

    No on on this thread has yet mentioned Colin Powell, who was given the assignment of “investigating” My Lai (making it go away) as a 31-year-old Army Major.

    @joel hanes: No fear. He is literally the first person I think of every time My Lai comes up.

    I think he would have liked to have been president but didn’t dare run. Too much just sitting there waiting for him.

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