Soldiers in Vietnam had to view everyone as a potential...


May 11, 2001

Soldiers in Vietnam had to view everyone as a potential enemy

David D. Perlmutter's column "Who commits a war crime?" (Opinion

Commentary, May 3) angered me. I surmise that he spent no time in Vietnam but, like many who speak from ignorance, is willing to judge those who lived the experience.

The combatant in Vietnam who assumed that any "civilian" did not have the capability to kill was a fool. Doing so placed his life and his comrades' lives in danger. When a unit took fire, everyone was suspected as an enemy. If a soldier hesitated, it could be fatal.

Does this mean soldiers lack morality? No. The majority of those who experience combat come to grips with their actions. There are questions: "What if?" "Could I have?" "Was I correct?" But none of these questions changes a thing; no amount of self-reproach will alter the past.

As difficult as it is to remember and question one's own actions, it is unconscionable for someone with no experience to heap guilt on the soldier.

Mr. Perlmutter said, "former Sen. Bob Kerrey should have met my grandfather," because his grandfather, in another time and place, had threatened to execute anyone who mistreated civilians.

If Mr. Kerrey had done as Mr. Perlmutter's grandfather suggested, perhaps be would not have to answer questions today. He might be dead.

R. Devereux Slingluff


The writer served in the 1st Marine Division in the Vietnam War.

Outsiders have no right to judge combat soldiers ...

John V. Chamberlain wrote simply and movingly of a combat experience in Okinawa in World War II during which some civilians were killed ("Dedication to others redeems wars horror," letters, May 5).

A combat soldier is placed by his country in a situation a very small proportion of the population ever occupies -- one in which every situation, every action, every moment carries the threat of death or dismemberment. How many of us would remain cool and compassionate?

Without spending time in his shoes, it is either ignorant or arrogant to judge what a man did in the heat of battle.

Mr. Chamberlain's letter concluded, "May God forgive my failures." I believe God has indeed forgiven his failures and those of others who acknowledge and regret them. And, for some of our failures, the ultimate responsibility is shared by many who never faced them.

Spencer Gulick


... or to treat Kerrey as a war criminal

I am dismayed by Gordon Living- ston's assertion that Bob Kerrey should be tried for war crimes ("We cared little for the Vietnamese," Opinion

Commentary, May 7). There is no "persuasive evidence" that war crimes were committed.

I agree that most of us, myself included, treated the Vietnamese with scorn and derision.

But Mr. Livingston's decision to be judge and jury for Mr. Kerrey seems very unpsychiatric and very much political.

Richard Kelly

Middletown, Pa.

Democrats should block poor judicial nominees

While Sen. Orrin G. Hatch professes that "The president has the constitutional power and duty to appoint nominees... Nowhere in the Constitution does it allow one single senator to veto this presidential prerogative," the fact is that former Sen. John Ashcroft continually invoked his senatorial privilege to do just that, nixing enough of former President Clinton's choices to help result in a meager 61 percent confirmation rate for his appointees ("Battle looms over judges," May 6).

Now that President Bush is preparing his first slate of judicial nominees, I hope at least one Democratic member of the Senate Judiciary Committee has the resolve to "go Ashcroft" and block any appointment he or she finds fundamentally objectionable.

Mr. Bush would be well-advised to present candidates acceptable to both sides, so long-delayed cases don't languish any further in our courts.

Robert Kass

Owings Mills

Programs to stop drugs can make a difference

Those who would legalize or decriminalize drugs would be wise to read Jim Williams' words before claiming nothing is working in the fight against drugs ("More can be done in war on drugs," Opinion

Commentary, May 1).

When a program such as the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign does so much with so little, it's worth asking how much it could do with more.

Laura S. Cline


Hoke Smith should garner credit for Towson's growth

As alumni of Towson University we resent The Sun's article regarding Dr. Hoke L. Smith, president of Towson University ("At Towson U., a bittersweet parting," April 30). In the 5 1/2 years we attended TU and the three years since we graduated, we have witnessed the tremendous growth of the university under Dr. Smith's guidance. This growth is not only reflected in added students, but in the addition of wonderful facilities at the university.

This growth did not occur by happenstance; it transpired through the leadership and dedication of Dr. Smith and his highly motivated staff of professionals.

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