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Philosophy and Public Policy

To the Editors:

During the recent annual meeting of the American Philosophical Association the following statement on the Songmy massacre and the conduct of the war was circulated among our membership and was endorsed by one hundred and fifty of our membership:

THE SONGMY MASSACRE AND THE CONDUCT OF THE WAR

Reports of the Songmy massacre, and of official evasion and suppression in connection with it, have elicited expressions of outrage and demands for investigation. We share this outrage, and we endorse these demands. It is our conviction, however, that the indiscriminate killing of Vietnamese civilians is a direct consequence of the weaponry and tactics employed in this war. The regular use of napalm and anti-personnel weapons, and the practices associated with free-fire zones and search and destroy missions, systematically ignore the distinction between civilians and combatants and constantly involve us in violations of international law and moral principles. We believe, therefore, that moral outrage cannot be confined to the Songmy “incident” and that investigations should not be confined in this way. We endorse the idea of parallel investigations by Congressional committees, presidential commissions and also by international bodies. We do so not only because the issues involved are complex, but also because there is reason to doubt the willingness of our government to confront these issues honestly. We will not understand the implications of present political and military policies if we treat Songmy as a mere lapse.

The signatories included:

Prof. Stanley Cavell, Harvard University

Prof. Sidney Morgenbesser, Columbia University

Prof. Richard Rorty, Princeton University

Prof. Kai Nielson, New York University

Professor Walter Kaufmann, Princeton University

Prof. James Walsh, Columbia University

Prof. Charles Parsons, Columbia University

Prof. David Savan, University of Toronto

Prof. Marshal Cohen, Rockefeller University

Kai Nielsen

Professor of Philosophy

New York University

and President of the New York chapter of the Society for Philosophy and Public Policy

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