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CCAR President Charges Calley Scapegoat to Cover Up Army Atrocities, Corruption

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Rabbi Roland B. Gittelsohn, president of the Reform Central Conference of American Rabbis, charged here yesterday that Lt. William Calley was being used as a “scapegoat” to cover up atrocities and corruption by the United States military forces in Vietnam. Speaking from his pulpit at Temple Israel, he drew a parallel between the case of Lt. Calley and Capt. Alfred Dreyfus, who in 1894 was unjustly accused by the French army of revealing military secrets to the Germans. Championed by Emile Zola, the charges against Capt. Dreyfus were dropped after 12 years. Rabbi Gittelsohn told the congregation that a major difference existed between the two cases in that “Calley is guilty” of the murder charges on which he was tried while “Dreyfus was innocent.” The Reform leader said that “the French army at the end of the 19th century needed a scapegoat to disguise its own incompetence and corruption. Let us not forget, however painful the remembrance, that our American army too suffers from typical military corruption.” Rabbi Gittelsohn also charged that the Defense Department has connived unconscionably to assure exhorbitant profits for the manufacturers of weapons at a time when young Americans are being asked to sacrifice their careers and even their lives.”

The CCAR president, a longtime critic of the American involvement in Vietnam, said “such an army can well use a convenient scapegoat. It may need one even more desperately after the war in Vietnam is finally ended and the American people realize at last how much it paid for so little.” Citing another “scapegoat” area, the Reform leader said he believed that many officers and men were guilty of atrocities not only at My Lai, the site of the murders for which Lt. Calley was convicted, but during other campaigns in Vietnam. Declaring that Lt. Calley had “a right to expect that such individuals also would be tried by military tribunals, the rabbi declared that “he has no right, however, to pretend that because others were indeed involved, and because thus far only he has been convicted, therefore he should be exonerated. That kind of causitry makes a mockery of morality.” He asserted that “the one way to insure that William Calley does not indeed become a scapegoat, indeed the only way to redeem what is left of our country’s honor, is to see that every American military man who committed atrocities against civilians anywhere is apprehended and tried.”

Rabbi Gittelsohn also accused President Nixon of using the Calley case for personal political gain, declaring that the Nixon administration had repeatedly stressed the need for law and order in this country. He added: “Seldom has any President of the United States been confronted with so sharp and incisive an issue involving the sanctity of the law. The trial of William Calley, unlike that of Alfred. Dreyfus, was the very epitome of justice. Every right to which the defendant was entitled was safeguarded scrupulously. His right to appeal was denied by no one. The machinery for appeal is open and available. The President’s intervention in the case, “before the law has pursuded its full and proper course, is to make a travesty of all law,” he asserted. “The President scented an opportunity to ride the crest of political popularity and just could not resist.” He explained the outpouring of protest on Lt. Calley’s behalf as really exposing the “guilt feelings” of many regarding the Vietnam war. “As the testimony against Calley mounted,” the rabbi declared, “the man in the street started to realize his own culpability. Had he not so blithely approved and applauded the American policy in Vietnam, there might never have been a Calley or a My Lai. In short, it was no longer so surely he who stood in the dock. Perhaps it was really we.”

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