I understand that Donald Trump is considering pardoning troops tied to war crimes. This would be a shameful gesture to all of us who have served in any war, in any capacity: humanitarian worker, military service member, or medical personnel.
During the Vietnam War, I worked for two years as a director for a humanitarian Quaker project. I was 28. The site of the My Lai massacre was five miles away. There is an iconic My Lai photo that is still seared in my mind. A Vietnamese woman is struggling to close the snaps on her blouse because an American soldier just attempted to rape her. She is trying to maintain her dignity with one hand and cradle a child with the other. The older woman in front had been trying to protect her. Moments later, American soldiers murdered them all.
One of the men Trump is considering pardoning is Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher, who has been charged with killing unarmed civilians and as well as a wounded teenage prisoner. I couldn’t even weep, the pain is too much.
Why am I anguished that killers might be pardoned? Because I witnessed, recorded, and photographed some of the atrocities I saw during my time in Vietnam. Amnesty International sponsored me to travel across the United States to share my eyewitness accounts so as to alert other Americans to the military’s abuses of power and the systematic torturing and killing of innocent people.
I know that Trump has no firsthand experience of war, but let me instruct him. War is a place where people are challenged. Some are brave and ethical. Some are destroyed by the experience. Some are cruel bullies. The Vietnam War and the My Lai killings deeply affected many of my generation, and the horrors and ghosts of that war follow us. Most of us did our best and learned good from bad.