Bob Kerrey, The New School, Iraq and Vietnam


posted to on Nov. 5, 2002


Former Senator Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.), president of the New School University, described the committee as "a group of people who will talk to Americans about why the liberation of Iraq is something the United States ought to do." (NY Times, Nov. 5, 2002)



What a fucking disgrace. I got my masters degree from the New School in 1967 when the place still enjoyed the presence of scholars who had fled Nazi Germany. It was founded as the The New School for Social Research in 1919 by Charles Beard, Thorstein Veblen, and John Dewey among others. In the earlier period Harold J. Laski, Lewis Mumford, Franz Boas, Bertrand Russell and W. E. B. DuBois all gave courses.


In the 1930s, the school responded positively to new cultural and political initiatives. Leftists Josť Clemente Orozco and Thomas Hart Benton painted murals for the building. The Orozco mural was in the cafeteria where I used to hang out before classes in the evening. You can see a snippet of this mural, with Lenin prominently displayed, at: In contrast to Diego Rivera's mural at Rockefeller Center, nobody at the New School even raised an eyebrow.


In 1933 the University in Exile is founded. Among the 167 scholars it rescues are Max Wertheimer, a founder of the Gestalt school of psychology and a Frankfurt socialist. The graduate faculty is launched the next year. It becomes one of the most progressive in the country. One of my philosophy professors was Hans Jonas. Jonas, a Jew, was influenced by Heidegger whose romantic critique of modern industrial society lent itself to both reactionary and progressive interpretations. Under that influence, Jonas wrote "The Imperative of Responsibility" in 1979 as a foundation the "Ethics for the Technological Age". It became a major ideological influence on the German Greens.


The school continues to be hospitable to Marxist scholarship. Anwar Shaikh is in the economics department and the philosophy department includes a number of left-of-center figures, including Jay Bernstein, a neo-Frankfurter.


My only interest in the New School was staying out of the war in Vietnam. After graduating college in 1965, I went out to San Francisco in order to write the Great American Poem. When the Vietnam war finally impinged sufficiently on my consciousness, I hightailed it back to NYC in order to find some graduate school that would take me. By this time, the New School had deteriorated academically to such an extent that an application made in August 1965 would virtually entitle you to be enrolled in the Fall semester as long as you were alive and breathing and a college graduate. As I was.


The New School was not really a place that you could develop strong alumnus ties to, especially for somebody like myself who saw it simply as an escape valve from the war in Vietnam. So I really didn't pay attention to alumnus affairs.


One couldn't help but take notice when they installed this knucklehead Bob Kerrey as president. Kerrey was a Kansas Senator who typified the party's drift to the right in the 1980s. Along with John Kerry of Massachussetts and John McCain of Arizona, Kerrey, who lost a leg in combat, capitalized on his Vietnam era military record to get elected.


In all his years of campaigning, Kerrey never revealed what readers of the NY Times Magazine finally discovered on April 29, 2001, namely that Kerrey was a war criminal. His was a member of the Navy Seals, a type of commando unit that along with the Green Berets had reputation for brutality. The article relies heavily on the testimony of Gerhard Klann, who was a fellow commando who participated in the raid on the village of Thanh Phong. When confronted by Klann's account of the events, Kerry told the NY Times that the killings were carried out in self-defense. Looking for a possible excuse, Kerry wrote an email stating, "Please understand that my memory of this event is clouded by the fog of the evening, age and desire."


Klann's memory was much better evidently, since Kerrey finally confessed that crimes did take place and that he was responsible. The NY Times reports:


About 15 minutes later, the team arrived at the cluster of hooches. But here, again, Klann's and Kerrey's versions diverge markedly. Kerrey says that they were shot at and returned fire from a distance of 100 yards or more. But Klann says that the squad rounded up women and children from a group of hooches on the fringes of the village. Klann says that they questioned them about the whereabouts of the village secretary. A quick search of the hooches turned up nothing.


Klann says that the commandos were in a quandary over their captives. They were deep in enemy territory with 15 or so people they felt they could not take prisoner. Yet, if they let the people go, they might alert enemy soldiers. "Our chances would have been slim to none to get out alive," Klann says.


They debated their options, Klann says, and finally decided to "kill them and get out of there." Lanh, who had been checking to see that her children were safe, says she crept close enough to witness what happened next. Klann says that Kerrey gave the order and the team, standing between 6 and 10 feet away, started shooting -- raking the group with automatic-weapons fire for about 30 seconds. They heard moans, Klann says, and began firing again, for another 30 seconds.


There was one final cry, from a baby. "The baby was the last one alive," Klann says, fighting back tears. "There were blood and guts splattering everywhere." Klann does not recall the men firing at the people who, in Kerrey's memory and the after-action reports, tried to run away after the initial massacre.


Klann, a large man at 6-foot-2 and about 230 pounds, pauses a moment, once again reliving the night's events. Pointing to his heart, he says: "I have to live with this in here. I still can't get it out of my mind. I'd take it back if I could, everybody would."


In clear anticipation of his defection from the left, Christopher Hitchens, who was a faculty member at the New School at the time, had a rather tepid reaction to the news that his boss was a war criminal in contrast to his crusade against Kissinger:


Fox TV: What's your view on Bob Kerrey?


Hitchens: Of Bob Kerrey? Well, he's my president, in fact, since I teach at the New School, and I think he wouldn't -- he wouldn't have made that bad a president. I know him slightly. I like him very much. But look, none of the people he killed were raped. None of them were dismembered. None of them were tortured. None of them were mutilated, had their ears cut off. He never referred to them as gooks or slopes or afterwards. So it --con -- for one day's work in a free-fire zone in the Mekong Delta, it was nothing like as bad as most days."


(This exchange is part of an article on Bob Kerrey on the Counterpunch website: