BOB KERREY'S WAR : U.S. Policy Condoned Atrocity

By Pfaff, William | Commonweal, May 18, 2001 | Go to article overview

BOB KERREY'S WAR : U.S. Policy Condoned Atrocity


Pfaff, William, Commonweal


You can never really be rid of the past. Events of the past can resurface and change the orbits of people's lives, as former U.S. Senator Bob Kerrey has now learned. His experience is part of America's Vietnam past, which is still an open account. The burden of Vietnam has been written about and discussed endlessly, and filmed and analyzed and explained.

But no one--except the Bob Kerreys of the war--has paid a price for the fact that U.S. forces in Vietnam repeatedly committed atrocities because of the demands made upon them by civilian authorities in Washington.

The United States is not the only country with a problem about the past. It has made an effort to confront the truth, principally through congressional initiatives, and done more than France, for example, with respect to its war, from 1954 to 1962, against popular insurrection in Algeria.

Until very recently, the French government was unwilling even to call that war a war. Mere "events" in Algeria supposedly were responsible for the national crisis that returned General Charles de Gaulle to power in 1958 and prompted him, two years later, to resolve to leave Algeria to the Algerians--even at the price of mutiny by a part of the French army.

There had been torture, summary execution, and crimes against civilians in Algeria before de Gaulle's return. He regarded torture as stupid, and ordered it ended. His predecessors had considered it indispensable. This was widely known, or assumed, at the time; but it was never acknowledged by the army or government until last November, when two retired senior officers admitted their responsibility for torture--one with candor and repentance, the other with cynicism and defiance. Even then, both Prime Minister Lionel Jospin and President Jacques Chirac opposed demands for a parliamentary inquiry.

Now the officer who defended his crimes has written a book. General Paul Aussaresses, aged eighty-three, says he will take his chances on being brought to trial. He tortured "out of patriotism," he writes, and adds that Francois Mitterrand--who was then France's minister of justice, later its president--had a representative at the Algerian headquarters "who covered us, and knew exactly what went on."

A historian of the period calls this book "the memoirs of a murderer." Jospin has expressed "total moral condemnation." Editorial writers say that the record of atrocities committed in Algeria must now be wrenched out of the closet in which the government has them locked away.

General Aussaresses and (allegedly) former Senator Kerrey, were executants of atrocities that were implicit in the policies of two governments. …

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