On the Sixties “Russell Tribunal” — the International Tribunal on U.S. War Crimes in Indo-China — A Response to Carol Brightman and Carl Ogelsby

An introduction from Ernie Tate

Ralph Schoenman asked me to post this on the list; I think subscribers will find it interesting. I hope it circulates widely, if only to remind us of the horrors American imperialism inflicted upon Vietnam. I think Schoenman effectively eviscerates Brightman and Ogelsby on the matter of the review and the book. The Russell War Crimes Tribunal, loosely modeled on the Dewey Commission which was headed up by the American philosopher and educationist, John Dewey in the thirties to deal with Stalin’s infamous Moscow Trials, was a very important part of the world-wide campaign against the Vietnam War, and we should pay tribute to what it was able to accomplish. When I was in Britain in the Sixties, I worked briefly for the Russell Foundation and later our small forces in the International Marxist Group and in the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign, including people from New Left Review, provided the personnel to help carry out the day-to-day activities of the Tribunal’s secretariat. This was very difficult work trying to hold together this politically diverse group of some of the world’s major intellectuals and personalities, all living in different countries to bring the Tribunal to a successful conclusion, and Ralph was essential to it. You get a sense of this in his reply to Brightman and Ogelsby. You have to remember that Russell was already in his late nineties and already quite physically weak when the Tribunal was being organized.

Much of the left in Britain, I’m sad to say, was sectarian on the war and towards Russell, Healy and the Socialist Labour League being the prime example. I think the left has learned a lot since then as we can see from the opposition to the war in Iraq. Over the years, I’ve seen what I consider puerile criticisms of Schoenman from time to time, some from the ultra-left, often repeating crap from the yellow press. Russell and Schoenman worked tirelessly to defeat the Americans, at considerable cost to their own well being. Russel was continually vilified by the British media and very much isolated. Schoenman sacrificed everything and was finally booted out of the country, and not permitted to return. For example, virtually all the money from the first volume of Russell’s biography was used for the work of the Tribunal, which was especially hated by the Wilson Labour Government.

Wilson’s line on the war was “to use its good offices to bring about a settlement”, in other words, asking the National Liberation Front to give up its right to self-determination while backing the Americans. Russell and the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign took the lead in opposition to this, calling for solidarity with those who were fighting their oppressors, and remarkably, got a mass response for this message, especially among the youth. There was also a good response from the working class — when you organize over 100,000 people in the streets, that’s who’s there. We also had the Communist Party ranks with us, but not the party leadership.
The miners’ union supported us, and Lawrence Daly, its general secretary was on the Tribunal and went on one of the investigative missions to Vietnam.

The imperialist security forces, especially the CIA did everything in their power to prevent the Tribunal hearings from taking place in any country, through their dirty tricks and sabotage. Hall rentals would be mysteriously cancelled and the luggage of the participants in the Tribunal would be often lost at the airports. I received several visits from the British Special Branch, as did others, checking my documents. We learned not to check luggage when we travelled, for example. Even the Russians were hostile, because Russell was pointing out that they were giving less material aid to Vietnam than to Egypt. And Ralph Schoenman bore the brunt of this more than any other, with great courage, intelligence and determination. You get a small sense of this when you read his reply to Brightman and Ogelsby.

Ernie Tate


Truth as Casualty - A Response to Carol Brightman and Carl Ogelsby on the Sixties

By Ralph Schoenman, January 21, 2008

In an article entitled “Carol Brightman on the Sixties” (Truth-Dig, January
6, 2008) Ms. Brightman reviews three books, including Ravens In the Storm: A Personal History of the 1960¹s Anti-War Movement by Carl Oglesby.

The article is replete with falsehoods and disinformation concerning the
work of the International Tribunal on U.S. War Crimes in Indo-China, of
which I was Secretary-General, and of my role within it.

Ms. Brightman’s errors, large and small, embellish the pattern of distortion
in Mr. Oglesby’s book. The most egregious of these fabrications concerns the
views of Jean-Paul Sartre, Executive President of the Tribunal and of other
Tribunal members on the question of genocide.

Ms. Brightman’s claims regarding her own role are instructive, not merely
for their petty misrepresentations but for what she conceals. She writes,
"Early in 1967, I had gone on the second of the tribunal’s two fact-finding
teams to North Vietnam, the only American and only woman."

In fact, not two but six investigative teams were sent to Cambodia and North
Vietnam, with supplemental investigative work carried out in the liberated
zones of South Vietnam. Ms. Brightman was not the sole American on the
second team, but one of three.

She omits to mention that members of these teams had been briefed about the sensitivity of our work, notably in countries under agonizingly massive and continuous attack by overwhelming U.S. air and ground assault.

Each potential participant had been vetted for their qualifications to
examine evidence pertaining to the issues at hand and, in particular, for
responsible discretion with respect to U.S. intelligence efforts to obtain
information about Vietnamese, Cambodian and Laotian logistics on the ground.

Visas for members of these teams were arranged with the authorities in these
countries based upon such assurances. To our dismay, when we boarded the
plane in Paris for Phnom Penh, accompanying Ms. Brightman was a man unknown to us who carried an ABC television camera.

Ms. Brightman stated that this was her boyfriend, whom she had invited to
join our investigative team and participate in its work. We explained that
this was not possible, that he was unknown to us, had not been placed on the
team and had not been approved for visas by the governments of Cambodia and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. We advised her that he would not be
admitted to Phnom Penh unless he had a visa arranged by ABC and that,
regardless, he would have no part in our work.

On arrival, he gained entry by representing falsely that he was a late
inclusion in our investigative team. He shared quarters with Ms. Brightman,
who attempted daily to insinuate him in our work.

This was refused by the team collectively. Members of the investigative team
met to decide how to deal with this situation. The abiding sentiment was to
remove Ms. Brightman from the team and exclude her from its work; there were concerns that we were in the presence of a provocation intended to discredit the team itself.

It was agreed that I would consult the Cambodian and Vietnamese authorities
and describe the situation fully. We learned that Ms. Brightman’s friend had
attempted to interview officials and individuals, presenting himself as
“Bertrand Russell’s representative.”

He was asked by the Cambodian authorities to leave. He showed up in Saigon
where he conducted interviews with U.S. soldiers, later shown on U.S.
television. These were interviews sympathetic to U.S. policy.

The Vietnamese representatives in Phom Penh alerted Hanoi to the situation
and it was agreed that to avoid a public dispute deployed by U.S. media to
undermine the work of the Tribunal, Ms. Brightman would continue with us to
Hanoi, but that she would not be allowed access to any sensitive zone or
area.

In her article, Ms. Brightman, describes “drinking and swapping stories” at
the Metropole Hotel in Hanoi. "Schoenman, it was said, had stood up at a
dinner with North Vietnamese leaders and rebuked them for thinking of peace. He raised his glass in a victory salute; no one responded."

The story is risible. I had been meeting with Ho Chi Minh, Pham Van Dong and party and governmental figures over a period of four years to discuss how
most effectively to wage resistance to the U.S. war internationally,
including our preparations for the Tribunal that had been ongoing since
1963.

I was chair at the time of the Vietnamese Solidarity Campaign in Great
Britain, with sixty member organizations. Our public view, and that of
Bertrand Russell during those years, was that we must face U.S. rulers with
the demand “Out Now,” not pressure the Vietnamese victims of onslaught to
make concessions to U.S. imperial policy in the name of “peace.”

The occasion of these remarks by Ms. Brightman is an ostensible review of
Carl Oglesby’s memoir. Ms. Brightman quotes extensively from "Oglesby’s
account“which, she states,”gives a vivid portrait of Ralph Schoenman, the
American expatriate and Russell’s representative.“Mr. Oglesby writes as follows:”Schoenman was about thirty, a tall man with
broad shoulders. He wore his black hair combed straight back and varnished
down. His skin was pale, his dark eyes nervous and darkly shadowed. He was
always in a black turtleneck sweater and dark blue blazer, always stiffly
erect with his chest out...“Mr. Oglesby’s self-description to the Tribunal was as”a playwright and
political essayist" and perhaps he thinks of himself as entitled to dramatic
license.

My height is under 5’ 10’’ and I am of slender build. My shoulders are not
broad nor does my chest protrude. My weight was in the 150’s in 1967. It is
145 today. My hair is not black, but medium brown. I have never combed it
straight back nor plastered it to my scalp. My hair was combed loosely
forward, Beatles style.

My color now as then is pretty good. I have never been accused of suffering
from pallor. My eyes are light hazel with a touch of green, not black or
even dark. I have never owned a black turtleneck sweater nor attempted to
wear one. My standard dress was a suit or a jacket, dress shirt and necktie.
My preference in pullovers, worn occasionally in less formal settings, has
been those of light colors.

Mr. Oglesby may have someone else in mind. He writes, however, to Ms.
Brightman’s delectation:

"In one closed meeting of the tribunal during our second session in late
November in a town called Roskilde, about twenty miles from Copenhagen,
Schoenman announced that Russell wanted the tribunal to take an affirmative position on the genocide question, one of several questions the tribunal was examining.

"The practical question was whether the United States was specifically
targeting Vietnamese population centers. Attacks on civilians constituted a
crime of war, technical genocide. Schoenman told us that Russell believed
such attacks were happening and that the United States was therefore guilty
of genocide.

"Sartre disagreed. He saw American attacks on population centers as a
consequence of the fact that Viet Cong and North Vietnamese combat units
often stationed themselves in cities and villages. As Sartre saw it, such
attacks were deplorable but nonetheless did not constitute genocide. In
Sartre’s view, one could not use that term without evoking memories of
Hitler’s assault on the Jews. Compared to the Holocaust, what the United
States was doing in Vietnam was just fighting an ugly war in an ugly way. If
the United States was in the wrong, he felt, that was because its effort to
subdue the Vietnamese resistance was in itself wrong, not because the United
States was trying to exterminate the Vietnamese people."

The claim by Mr. Oglesby that U.S. saturation destruction of the civilian
population of Vietnam only occurred as an ancillary consequence of the
deliberate placement by the Vietnamese of their soldiers and armed forces
inside population centers is not merely a deeply reactionary and dishonest
claim. It was the lying rationale of the U.S. State Department and of the
Pentagon.

Ms. Brightman writes that "Oglesby was a great admirer of Jean-Paul Sartre,
who together with Simone de Beauvoir and Vlado (sic) Dedijer, a World War II adjutant of Tito¹s and a hero of the Yugoslav anti-Nazi resistance, presided
over the tribunal. Schoenman represented Lord Russell, who remained a
ghostly figure in Wales."

Fathering this contemptible lie upon Jean-Paul Sartre is a strange form of
admiration. Mr. Oglesby, cheered on by Ms. Brightman in her review, imputes
to Sartre a defense of U.S. imperialism against the “baseless” charge of
genocide.

He places in Sartre’s mouth the revolting rationale of U.S. rulers
themselves that the mass death of civilians in Vietnam was really the fault
of the callous Vietnamese communists who hid their armies within population
centers to deploy massive civilian deaths (now called “collateral damage”)
as cynical propaganda.

Mr. Oglesby elaborates upon these presumptive views of Sartre, which he
claims Sartre set forth in indignant opposition to my assertions that
genocidal attacks on the Vietnamese population were taking place.

"All day long Schoenman would say, on the one hand, things like, ’Lord
Russell says he expects the tribunal to find the United States guilty of
genocide,’ where the subtext was that Russell was paying for this damned
thing and did not want to be unhappy with its findings. And then on the
other hand, when Sartre challenged him on the genocide issue, Schoenman
would say, ’Don’t expect me to defend Lord Russell’s positions because I
would not think of speaking for him."

This is bizarre. I had been speaking and writing for six years on the
subject. The Student Peace Union in the United States had published Bertrand Russell¹s writing on the genocidal war in Vietnam in 1963.

Bertrand Russell’s book War Crimes In Vietnam, written before the Tribunal
took place, set forth evidence we had made public since 1962. The first
chapter, entitled “The Press and Vietnam March-July 1963” contains our
exchanges with the New York Times regarding our documented evidence of U.S. saturation bombing of the civilian populace and of insidious chemical
weapons, including gases that explode the pupil of the eye.

It cites our letter to the New York Times referencing "a year’s study ... of
the chemicals sprayed in South Vietnam and their effect upon the health of
human beings, animals and crops.“It sets forth data concerning the use of”white arsenic, various kinds of arsenite sodium and arsenite calcium, lead
manganese arsenates, DNP and DNC (which inflame and eat into human flesh);
and calcic cyanamide ... which has seriously affected thousands of the
inhabitants of South Vietnam; with having spread these poisonous chemicals
on large and densely populated areas of South Vietnam.

“... The use of these weapons,” we stated, "napalm bombs and chemicals,
constitutes and results in atrocities and points to the fact that this is a
war of annihilation."

This chapter describes how the New York Times published this letter, while
excising the cited evidence and then accused Russell in an editorial of
“spreading communist propaganda, as he in his heart must know.”

It is instructive to note that Mr. Oglesby imputes to Jean-Paul Sartre the
view that Bertrand Russell and I were “following the line of North Vietnam”
on the subject of genocide.

War Crimes in Vietnam was published in 1967 by Monthly Review Press and by George Allen & Unwin, Ltd. It included a 48 page essay of mine containing a detailed eye-witness account of the weaponry used and the effects on the
population of North Vietnam.

It lists the members of the Tribunal. (Mr. Oglesby was not among them.) It
describes the planned convening of the Tribunal in London on November 13,
1966 “to announce its structure, statement of aims and time table.” It
specified five areas of inquiry for which evidence would be assembled.

The fifth was "the pursuit of genocidal policies, including forced labor
camps, mass burials and other techniques of extermination in the South."
This issue and the evidence pertaining to it was on the agenda in Roskilde,
near Copenhagen.

As I described our work in Against The Crime of Silence, "We proclaimed our conviction that terrible crimes were occurring and that we were in
possession of evidence of such magnitude that it was essential to
investigate the charges of this accusation.

"Our evidence established that eight million people were placed in barbed
wire internment camps by U.S. and South Vietnamese forces. It showed the
systematic destruction of hospitals, schools, sanatoria, dams, dikes,
churches and pagodas. It demonstrated that the cultural remains of a rich
and complex civilization representing the legacy of generations had been
smashed in a terror of five million pounds of high explosives daily.

"Every nine months, this destruction is roughly equivalent to the total
bombardment of the Pacific theater in World War II. It is as if the Louvre
and the cathedrals had been doused in napalm and pulverized by 1000 pound
bombs."

Mr. Oglesby does not rest at fathering upon Jean-Paul Sartre a rejection of
my presumptive dogmatic insistence, allegedly without concern for evidence,
that genocide was occurring in Vietnam. Mr. Oglesby attributes a fundamental
division on these matters to the Tribunal members at large:

"Apart from the existential problems between Sartre and Schoenman, this
split over the question of genocide was the one serious split among the
members of the tribunal. In crudest terms, Russell wanted a guilty verdict
on this question, but Sartre was determined to let the evidence speak for
itself. And as Sartre saw it, the evidence did not prove genocide. He
thought it essential that the tribunal demonstrate its independence by
voting to satisfy its own conscience. And he had let it be known that he
thought Russell in the wrong to push North Vietnam’s line.“Ms. Brightman, typically, cannot resist embellishing this citation. The word”propaganda" is not Mr. Oglesby’s but Ms. Brightman’s, who slips it into her
citation of his text, writing “North Vietnam’s propaganda line.”

Mr. Oglesby resumes his breathless account of a supposed envenomed exchange
on the subject between Jean-Paul Sartre and myself:

"Schoenman didn’t seem to care terribly about the quality of the evidence.
He had already harangued several closed sessions about this and was now
doing it again.“Ms. Brightman picks up the theme eagerly from Mr. Oglesby:”Lord Russell was unhappy to hear of the recent attacks upon him by certain
tribunal members,“Schoenman said,”He is all the more distressed by these
attacks in that they are occasioned by large differences within the tribunal
on the issue of genocide.“” ... No one has attacked Russell," said Dellinger, who acted as the tribunal’s
secretary and occasional peacemaker. We simply disagree with him on this
question. Why does he consider disagreement a personal attack?“” ... That is for Lord Russell to say," said Schoenman, ... I would not presume to
speak for him. I am here only to say that Lord Russell believes the United
States guilty of genocide in Vietnam, and that he will be disappointed if
the tribunal continues to attack him for this view. He believes it
imperative that ... “” ... Premier!" thundered Sartre. ... Our findings will be significant only if
they are supported by facts. Deuxieme! It is you who are under attack,
Schoenman, not Lord Russell! Troisieme! You cannot both stand behind Lord
Russell and put him in your pocket!“Ms. Brightman then writes as follows:”Schoenman bowed his head slightly but kept his composure. ... will see that
Lord Russell receives a faithful account of your statement.“”It was not a
... knockout“as Oglesby puts it.”

Revealingly, Ms. Brightman tampers with a quotation once again. Mr. Oglesby
had written actually, “It was not a knockout” with regard to the putative
denunciation of my views by Jean Paul Sartre.

Ms. Brightman alters Oglesby’s text and places his “knockout” comment after
my presumptive rejoinder!

Mr. Oglesby’s breathless, blow-by-blow dramatization of this imputed
conflict between Jean-Paul Sartre and myself, unfolding as he recounts it in
Roskilde, near Copenhagen during the second session of the International War Crimes Tribunal, has one fatal flaw to which your readers should be alerted.

I was never there!

The entire drama in Roskilde set forth by Mr. Oglesby never happened. Nor
was my inability to enter Denmark for the session of the Tribunal that Mr.
Oglesby purports to describe, something known only to insiders.

After my imprisonment in Bolivia immediately after the execution of Che
Guevara during October 1967, and following upon a five months sojourn in
Nuancahuazu during the time of Che Guevara’s Bolivia campaign, I had
escaped, was recaptured and imprisoned again.

After being deported to Peru, Panama and the U.S., my passport was
nullified. The State Department refused to issue another, despite legal
intervention by Leonard Boudin, General Counsel of the Emergency Civil
Liberties Committee.

I secured an international travel document from the Democratic Republic of
Vietnam in a vain attempt to get to Copenhagen and Roskilde to resume my
duties as Secretary General of the Tribunal and to be present at the
session.

My flight first landed in Amsterdam where I was taken into custody by
airport police. My Swedish lawyer, Hans-Joran Franck, who was an active part
of the preparatory team of the tribunal in Stockholm, arranged with the
Swedish government to allow my entry into Stockholm, whose good offices it
was assumed would be invoked to facilitate my admission into Denmark, albeit on a North Vietnamese travel document.

Instead, the Swedish police took me off the flight and into jail where I was
roughed up, my sternum fractured. I was then placed on a plane bound for
Hamburg. Swedish supporters called in a bomb threat to the plane and it was
compelled to return to Stockholm, to much fanfare in the European press.

From there, I was placed on a flight that stopped in Helsinki, where the
police took me into custody. The name of the interrogating officer was Kafka
a touch, one would think, that would suit the theater of the absurd that
so tempts Mr. Oglesby.

For several days I was a “flying Dutchman,” unable to land in any European
country, placed finally on a flight back to New York sandwiched between two
U.S. federal agents.

All of this received ongoing notice in the media, particularly in Sweden and
Denmark. I was not permitted to enter Denmark and did not attend the Danish session of the Tribunal nor engage in dialogue with any of its members.

Mr. Oglesby is not fazed. Describing further his “adventures” in Copenhagen,
he writes:

"Also sitting on the tribunal was the Polish historian Isaac Deutscher,
author of major biographies of Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin..."

Unfortunately, my close friend, Isaac, died of a heart attack in Rome the
previous August 18th and, like me, was absent from the tribunal session in
Roskilde.

The second session of the Tribunal alone examined the sixth question, on
which evidence was presented during that meeting, namely: "Whether the
combination of the crimes imputed to the government of the United States met the general qualification of genocide."

This issue was discussed in Copenhagen, but without me.

What then of the actual opinions of Jean-Paul Sartre on the subject of
genocide and on the judgment appropriate to the Tribunal?

Did he espouse the views ascribed to him by Mr. Oglesby?

Fortunately, although Sartre is no longer with us, his views on the subject
are memorialized in his presentation On Genocide, published in Against The
Crime of Silence: Proceedings of the Russell International War Crimes
Tribunal Stockholm and Copenhagen
(Ohare Books, 1968), pages 612 to 626 and expanded upon by tribunal member Lelio Basso in his Summation on
Genocide
, pages 626-643. They are entirely consonant with those of Russell
and myself.

Sartre’s On Genocide states, "The Americans want to show others that
guerrilla war does not pay: they want to show all the oppressed and the
exploited nations that might be tempted to shake off the American yoke by
launching a peoples’ war, at first against their own pseudo-governments, the
compradors and the army, then against the U.S. Special Forces and finally
against the G.I.s. ... To Che Guevara, who said “... We need several Vietnams,”the American government answers "They will all be crushed the way we are
crushing the first.“He continues,”They do offer an alternative: Declare you are beaten or we
will bomb you back into the stone age. The fact remains that the second term
of this alternative is genocide. They have said: "genocide, yes, but
conditional genocide.“Is this juridically valid? Is it even conceivable?”... An act of genocide, especially if it is carried out over a period of
several years, is no less genocide for being blackmail. ... And this is all
the more true when, as is the case here, a good part of the group has been
annihilated to force the rest to give in.²

Sartre is clear, specific and passionate:

"In the South, the choice is the following: villages burned, the populace
subjected to massive bombing, livestock shot, vegetation destroyed by
defoliants, crops ruined by toxic aerosols and everywhere indiscriminate
shooting, murder, rape and looting. This is genocide in the strictest sense:
massive extermination. ... What are the Vietnamese people to do to escape this
horrible death? Join the armed forces of Saigon or be enclosed in strategic
or ’New Life’ hamlets, two names for the same concentration camps.“Jean-Paul Sartre continues:”As the armed forces of the United States entrench themselves firmly in
Vietnam, as they intensify the bombing and the massacres, as they try to
bring Laos under their control, as they plan the invasion of Cambodia, there
is less and less doubt that the government of the United States, despite its
hypocritical denials, has chosen genocide."

Despite the claims by Ms. Brightman, pace Mr. Oglesby, that Sartre rejected
the evidence of genocide marshaled at the International Tribunal, his actual
words demonstrate where their half-truths lie.

Jean- Paul Sartre was unambiguous.

"The genocidal intent is implicit in the facts. It is necessarily
pre-meditated. ... The anti-guerrilla genocide that our times have produced
requires organization, military bases, a structure of accomplices and budget
appropriations. Therefore, its authors must meditate and plan out their
act.“He continues as follows:”When a peasant falls in his rice paddy, mowed down by a machine gun, every
one of us is hit. The Vietnamese fight for all men and the American forces
against all. Neither figuratively nor abstractly. And not only because
genocide would be a crime universally condemned by international law, but
because little by little the whole human race is being subjected to this
genocidal blackmail piled on top of atomic blackmail, that is, to absolute
total war.

"This crime, carried out every day before the eyes of the world, renders all
who do not denounce it accomplices of those who commit it, so that we are
degraded today for our future enslavement.“Here is how Sartre concludes his exposition”On Genocide“:”In this sense, imperialist genocide can only become more complete. The
group that the United States wants to intimidate and terrorize by way of the
Vietnamese nation is the human group in its entirety."

Mr. Oglesby and Ms. Brightman have imputed to Sartre an embrace of the
rationale of U.S. rulers for their genocidal war. In the process, they
reinvent me as a catspaw in furthering this farrago.

Late in 1968, well after the conclusion of the Tribunal sessions, the
Stalinist regime of Brezhnev invaded Czechoslovakia to crush the students
and steel workers who fought to reclaim the socialist ideal during the
Prague Spring.

I flew to Rome to meet Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir at the Hotel
Nazionale. We prepared a petition together to summon people to a defense of
socialism with democratic control and content.

Together, with Bertrand Russell, Antonin Liehm, C.L.R James and prominent
others, we prepared an international conference of socialists and
anti-imperialists to defend the Czech worker and student resistance.

That conference also took place in Stockholm in early Spring 1969.

It is not the evil that is new; nor is it the crisis that has changed.

Today, forty-one years later, Ms. Brightman and Mr. Ogelsby, reprise their
political role in these matters. In making truth a casualty to their
predilections and petty ambition, they evince, now as then, the dishonest
lengths to which they are prepared to go and, in the process, the limits of
liberalism.

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