VIETNAM/THAILAND REFLECTION: The unspeakable

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 CPTnet
17 March 2012
VIETNAM/THAILAND REFLECTION: The unspeakable

 by Lorin Peters

 [Note: The following reflection has been edited for length.  Those wishing to see the original may
contact Peters at (insert “at” symbol)yahoo(insert period)com.>]

 In 1963, Gene Stoltzfus went to Vietnam as a Conscientious
Objector with IVS (International Voluntary Services.)  Six months later, when Gene unintentionally wandered into a
Special Forces camp, he was welcomed as a fellow American.   He asked two men who had come in
from patrol where they had been.  When
they would not tell him, except to brag that they had made several kills, he
found himself wondering, “If I speak some Vietnamese but can’t tell who are the
VC (Vietcong), how can these men, who speak no Vietnamese, tell?”

 By 1966, several IVS volunteers had been killed in ambushes
and by other means. When one of his colleagues, David, was killed in the delta
under strange circumstances by soldiers dressed in VC black, he received
messages suggesting it might not have been the VC. 

 The following spring, someone from the American Embassy
amiably described to Gene his highly confidential work, including training and
supervising teams of soldier VC lookalikes.  Gene did not sleep that night.  He gradually decided that this war was actually a massive
underground operation that included assassination and terror on both sides, and
that his friend David had been killed by one of those U.S. secret teams in the
delta.

 Massacres like My Lai were occurring regularly.  Other volunteers working in Vietnam
began to encourage Gene and others to go home and speak out.  Dozens of IVS volunteers resigned in
1967.  When Gene chained himself,
in protest, to the gate of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon, many Vietnamese began to
trust him, and to share their experiences and details about relatives who were
either killed or had disappeared.             

 When Gene got to Washington, DC, he began speaking out and
eventually, decades later, became the founding director, and a guiding spirit,
of Christian Peacemaker Teams, where I got to know him. 

***

In 1966, J. volunteered with Vietnam Christian Service
(VCS).  I met him for the first
time in January 2012, at the Small Arms Trade Treaty conference here in
Bangkok.  J. had been born
Quaker.  In Vietnam, J. had
lived, with nine other volunteers, in an old French village hotel.  But one year later, after the Tet
Offensive, he had decided it was time to move on to Thailand.  He had fallen in love with and married
Elizabeth Chamnan Panyathiwat, who graduated with my wife Lacksana from St
Joseph High School in Bangkok. 

 After exchanging stories for three hours, I asked, “Did you
get to know Gene Stoltzfus?”

 “Yes.”

 “Did you know that Gene suspected that US Special Forces
assassinated some of the IVS volunteers?”

J. paused a long moment, then finally began, “A year
after I left Vietnam, one of the other volunteers in my old French hotel was
assassinated.  His name was
Studebaker. [A Church of the Brethren volunteer.]  As usual, there were no witnesses.  I was haunted by this, and finally decided to write a story
about it.  It was published by one
or two of the churches who were sponsoring me.

 “Many years later, I went on a spiritual retreat.  I was sharing a room with a PhD student
in Psychology, who had also served in Vietnam.  I mentioned that I had written this story about Studebaker.  He asked to read it. 

 “After an hour or more of silence, he suddenly started
shouting, ‘I didn’t do it!  I
didn’t do it!  I didn’t kill
Studebaker!’ 

 “He did, however, admit that he had been part of the Phoenix
Program, and that it did assassinate Americans [and more than 26,000
Vietnamese]. 

 “It was very hard to share a room with him for the rest of
that week.”

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