WHAT? NO Annual Chutzpah Awards for 1999?
You should hope that you would get off that easy. I've given out the awards annually since 1995 to those folks who committed the most brazen acts of audacity for a given year. Most years there have been nine place winners and a number one prize given. Bill Clinton was tops in 1998 (who else could have been?) and Central Intelligence Agency director John Deutch got the nod in 1996 for his self-righteous denial that his organization had any knowledge of cocaine smuggling by two Nicaraguan contras involved in CIA covert operations.
The San Jose Mercury News, the newspaper which broke the story, so distinguished itself in 1997 by backtracking from the story and giving the boot to reporter Gary Webb, who wrote it, that the paper was the sole winner that year. But 1999's winner so distinguished himself that he qualifies for the Chutzpah Award of the entire decade. He could have won it for the entire century, but the 20th century isn't over yet.
Past Chutzpah Awards columns have had a spice of humor, but believe me, there's nothing funny about what the winner of the 1990's did. His name is Carroll Case. In 1998, his book called "The Slaughter" was published. In his work, Case charged the U.S. Army with committing one of the most heinous atrocities of this or any other century.
It didn't happen on foreign soil in Germany or Korea or Vietnam. Case alleges the atrocity took place here, in southwestern Mississippi in late 1943. The victims, according to Case, were some 1,200 black American soldiers who were machine-gunned to death by Army military police on orders from their superiors. The slain black soldiers were members of the 3,000-strong 364th infantry stationed at Camp Van Dorn. The other 1,800 members were shipped out to some islands near Alaska until the end of the war.
Case says he investigated the matter for more than 13 years. What proof does he offer that "The Slaughter" actually happened? Pitifully little. He trots out some guy named Bill Martzell, who, for reasons not made clear, told all to Case in 1985. The only other "eyewitnesses" Case mentions, for all his research, are two local guys who remembered "the night we killed all those niggers."
Their unconfirmed testimony -- and some Department of Defense documents confirming there were racial problems at Camp Van Dorn -- plus Case's hunch ("the following is what I believe took place at Camp Van Dorn, Mississippi in 1943," he writes at one point) -- form the bulk of his evidence.
Mind you, that takes only 54 pages of a 300-page book. The remaining 246 pages -- and here's where Case wins his Chutzpah, hands down -- is a novel, for heaven's sake! Over 70 percent of the book is Case's fictionalized account about an alleged massacre more than 50 years ago that, so far, no one has substantiated.
But he's taken to going on some radio talk shows to pump up his book as the gospel truth. He's urged the NAACP to pressure the Pentagon into investigating the alleged atrocity. Some blacks, eager to believe anything that proves the unremitting evil of the white man, have accepted Case's version of events without bothering to ask him for a shred of proof.
It bears repeating what Case is alleging. He's not saying some KKK-types operating in the vicinity of Camp Van Dorn massacred 1,200 black soldiers. Case implies that the U.S. Army transferred the 364th from Phoenix, Ariz. -- where the unit had discipline problems -- to Camp Van Dorn for the explicit purpose of carrying out the massacre.
So this wasn't a case of innocent civilians being killed in the heat of battle as happened in No Gun Ri during the Korean War or at My Lai in Vietnam. Case charged the Army with the premeditated murder of 1,200 of its own unarmed troops.
Thankfully, the Department of Defense finally responded to this lunacy in the latter part of 1999. Lt. Col. Cathy Abbott, a DOD spokeswoman, said the Army thoroughly investigated Case's allegations and issued a press release on Dec. 23.
"The Army did an extensive study and totally discredited Mr. Case's story," Abbott said. Of the 364th's 3,868 members, the Army traced all but 20 from the time they entered the service until their discharge at the end of the war.
"We fully support the Army study and are quite confident in their findings," Abbott concluded. The NAACP was asked to comment but had not returned a call by deadline.
The curious can read the press release on the Army's Web site. Then, in case you need proof that some people simply have no shame, try a perusal of Case's book. That's if you can find it. If there's any justice in the world, the screed should be out of print.