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McCain, “Mexican-Americans” and the Vietnam War

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(By Arnold August, June 28, 2008) On Saturday, June 28, Republican candidate for the US presidency John McCain addressed the National Association of Latino Officials in Washington, D.C. He said, amongst others things that “Mexican-Americans” and other “Latino-Americans” contributed greatly to the US war effort in Vietnam. He related how he met and knew many of them in Vietnam, some of whom were killed in action and/or imprisoned with McCain.

It is true that many Americans of Mexican origin were recruited into the US army at the time of the war. However what McCain did not mention - and is kept from public opinion in the US Latino communities - is the specific role that the US military reserved in Vietnam for the Latinos especially those of Mexican origin.

At the height of the Vietnam War, during the 1967-1968 period, I was a university student in Montreal. Like many others across the world I was very much involved in the struggle to oppose US aggression in Vietnam and provocations against Cuba and other countries. In January 2007 (40 years later), I realized a life-long dream and visited Vietnam. My goal was to further enhance my understanding of Euro centrism and how it applies to “Third World” countries, to delve into the Vietnam War, to witness the progress and accomplishments more than 30 years after liberation, as well as to pay homage to Ho Chi Minh in Hanoi.

Regarding the war, amongst other visits, I travelled to the Chu Chi tunnels 75 kilometres (47 miles) northwest of Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon). The tunnels (one of several networks in Vietnam) were a key element in the defeat of the US army and their allies. These tunnels consisted of 250 kilometres (155 miles) of underground tunnels. Visiting the tunnels one can witness first-hand an amazing engineering accomplishment. They were dug out with the most rudimentary tools and by hand. The tunnels were very narrow with extremely low hanging ceilings. Some 10,000 Vietnamese lived there. Some parts of the tunnels cover three stories including underground food and supplies storage, medical areas (including operating rooms), kitchens, schools, rest and recreation areas. They also housed the military command and Vietnamese patriotic soldiers and people who were able to carry out surprise attacks against the US invaders.

The US attempted everything to try and destroy the tunnels, the area being acknowledged as one of the most bombed zones in the war (one can now see the remnants of the bombs launched by the B-52s and the resulting craters). This massive bombing proved to be unsuccessful. Throwing hand grenades into tunnel opening they had found also proved to be to no avail. Our local guide told us on January 13, 2007, that the US military specifically used American soldiers of Mexican origins to send them into the tunnels. Why? The Americans of Mexican origin in general are much shorter and slimmer (like the Vietnamese) than other US soldiers. The plan consisted of the following - the Americans soldiers of Mexican origin were to introduce themselves into those few tunnel entrances discovered by the US Army and thus attempt to make their way deep into strategic underground areas otherwise inaccessible to the other US soldiers. In general, the soldiers of Mexican origin were not successful and many of them were killed.

It is important, in my view, that the peoples of the world become more and more conscious regarding the cynical and self-serving use that the US and other governments employ when it comes to their own populations in general including immigrants and their families. The Chu Chi tunnel story shows once again that the White House has only one interest, and that is to use immigrants and their off springs as well as the American population in general for wars of aggression and economic exploitation.

Arnold August, author of Democracy in Cuba and the 1997-98 Elections, has spent considerable time in Cuba observing its unique electoral system. He returned to Cuba last September to witness the first stage municipal general elections, and visited again last January/February for the secton stage National and Provincial Assembly elections. His findings were published on Canadian Dimension in January. August spoke with Deputies on the functioning of the National Assembly between elections in preparation for his upcoming book, Cuba: Participatory Democracy and Elections in the 21st Century.

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