Thursday, May 7, 2009

Nam and Now - Same shite, different war?'

Torture is not - an abberration of American military: it has been the norm for half a century. A pity the Americans of today are not as informed as the students of the 1960s (tho admittedly, if torture would have been halted by this generation, it would not be an issue today) - there seems to be an entire new crop of the populace that remains clueless as to what history says about USA military operations in Viet Nam.

This week, I posted another story on torture, of Alyssa Peterson who 'killed' herself rather than be part of torturing Iraqis. Below David Kenneth Tuck testifies to the war crimes he witnessed in Viet Nam at the Russell-Sartre Tribunal.

Photo from the War Remnants Museum, Saigon, Vietnam. The caption on the photo in the museum states that this is water torture being used by USA personnel in the Vietnam war.On the 4th of July 2008 I had an email from a Jolyon Stephenson who stated that this picture is "actually a victim of a burn wound being nursed back to health with water, I know, I am the man in the background on the left. I remember the picture being taken." This seems an odd sort of nursing. I leave it to the reader to decide the truth. Source
So maybe Bush and Cheney were just continuing an American tradition?

Torture will never stop until we refuse to tolerate it. Will our children be lamenting over the same issue 40 years from now because we did not stop it? To stop it, we must acknowledge it has been sanctioned normatively in US aggressions against other nations. David tells the story so matter of factly. In 1967.

In 2006 - Compare Tuck's words with the testimony from Iraq veterans against the war (Videos).
"If certain acts and violations of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them. We are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us."
-US Supreme Court Judge Robert Jackson,
speaking at the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal

A look at the testimony in the following International War Crimes Tribunal - 1967, forward by Noam Chomsky, commentary by Jean Paul Sartre.


Testimony and Questioning

Vladimir Dedijer: And you were in the US Army in Vietnam? In which unit were you?

I was part of the 3rd Brigade of the 25th Infantry Division. My smaller unit was A Company, 1st Battalion, 35th Infantry Regiment.

Dedijer: And when did you go to Vietnam?

I was in Vietnam from 8 January 1966 to 9 February 1967.

Gisele Halimi: I would like you to tell me about your having witnessed, one day in the month of October 1966, how American soldiers killed South Vietnamese prisoners with machetes. Is it possible that you can confirm this to me before the Tribunal?

Yes, I can confirm this. But the only thing inaccurate as to this question that you asked me was the date. This did not happen in October of 1966. It happened 2 March 1966 at a place about fifty miles north of Ban Me Thuot, near a Special Forces camp - Ham Brain.

On this date, in the 3rd Brigade of the 25th we had our first casualties. We lost eleven men that day and the enemy lost 100 men. After the battle was over there were several wounded North Vietnamese, you know, laying around on the ground, see, so everyone was angry because this was our first battle and we had lost a lot of our friends, see.

So one Japanese-American, his name was Sergeant Takahatchi, I believe he was a staff sergeant, he took his machete and beheaded this wounded soldier. The soldier was wounded in the chest but he was still alive. So after he beheaded the man, he threw his head down the hill to serve as warning to other NVA elements, if they were still in the area, that we meant business. And I was standing near by when this occurred.

Halimi: Can you witness about other cases that are analogous about war prisoners or civilians that were killed by the American forces or by the South Vietnamese in the presence of American forces?

Yes, I could also testify to other incidents of mistreatment of {236} prisoners by US and South Vietnamese forces. Shortly afterwards, after we got over there in February 1966, I happened to be on a work detail to a place called Camp Hollaway which is right outside the town of Pleiku, and while I was there I saw a VC being tortured by the South Vietnamese under the direction of US forces. When I got there they had the man tied on the ground; he was spreadeagled. They were using a knife to sort of pry under his toenails and the soles of his feet. When this got no results they went on to other more sensitive parts of the body.

Well, this still got no results, because evidently this man was, as we say in America, a tough nut to crack. So then after that they put the knife under his eyeball in another endeavour to make him talk, and he still would not talk. So then what they did, they put him in a barbed-wire cage in which he was on his hands and knees. And if he made any moves the barbs of the barbed wire would press into his flesh, so they kept him there for two days. And I had to go back on another detail, and when I got back the man was gone. I assume that they had turned him over to the South Vietnamese to execute him.

Now all of this torturing was done by the South Vietnamese, because there were very few US forces who were able to speak Vietnamese, so a US officer, I believe it was a captain at that time, he was giving orders to the Vietnamese interpreter and he was relaying them on to the man who was doing the actual torturing. It is common procedure over there to turn over all prisoners to the South Vietnamese for later disposal and I believe invariably they execute them after they get the information that they receive.

Other acts of mistreatment of prisoners that I saw was in November 1966. We were operating in an area near Plei Jrirang Special Forces camp. Now it was the practice of our outfit to rotate men back and forth to base camp to give them a few days’ rest. So on that day, I believe it was about at 1400 hours, on that day I boarded a ‘Huey’ helicopter. On this helicopter there was the pilot, the co-pilot, the machine-gunner, myself. There were also two dead American soldiers and two North Vietnamese prisoners. Well, while we were on there, one of the North Vietnamese pointed to one of the US dead and started to laugh about it, see.

So the shotgunner, he saw this, and he told the pilot about that, and the pilot said: ‘Throw that SOB out.’ So he picked up the man, the man was tied anyway, bound, and threw him out of the {237} helicopter. Well, immediately after, the other North Vietnamese soldier kept quiet.

So then when we got back to base camp, you know, such a thing is an everyday thing. You know, we did not think too much about it. Another time was near the Cambodian border. It was called Duc Co. We had surrounded this village and we noticed that there was this one woman that had not lined up with the others, see.

So, this officer who was with me said that this woman looked suspicious. So he went up to the woman and said something to her, and she reached into a pile of wood. We did not know what she was reaching for, so then he ordered me to shoot her, which I did. I am very sorry that I had to do this, but I was acting under orders.

Halimi: I would like to return to your testimony about the helicopter... I would like to know if the officer responsible had to make a report on the missing prisoner?

Well, yes, it is true that he would have to write a report saying that one of the prisoners had disappeared. But, you could always get around this by saying that the man attempted to escape and we had to shoot him or the man was suicidal and he jumped out of the helicopter. Even if one prisoner was missing, it would not have mattered all that much because, unless the prisoner was an officer or something like this, no one would really have cared anyway. It was standard policy in my outfit not to take any prisoners. We were told by the officers that we had better not take any prisoners unless it was a North Vietnamese officer.

Halimi: Can you specify for the Tribunal the orders that you had? Did you have orders to shoot prisoners when they became obnoxious?

No! We were ordered to shoot, to take no prisoners just as a matter of standard operating policy, especially wounded prisoners anyway, because a lot of our officers were sort of fanatical on this. They believed that the only good Vietnamese was a dead Vietnamese, and so forth. And a wounded man stood very little chance of being evacuated to medical aid anyway.

Halimi: I would like to inform the Tribunal that in the testimony of the witness Campbell, whose deposition you have, he speaks of similar actions - that is, the ejection of prisoners from his helicopters. I hope you will be able to hear Mr Campbell’s deposition on these actions, if you follow up these questions.{238}

The ears of Vietnamese, for certain Montagnard tribes, are reputed to be valuable. Can you confirm instances of American bounties paid for Vietnamese ears?

Well, ah, as far as the cutting off of the ears, when I was over there it was a practice for a while of the 173rd Airborne Brigade to, after the battle was over, to cut the ears off of dead Vietnamese and to use them as a souvenir. Also this was a practice of the 1st and 14th of the 3rd Brigade of 25th. This was more or less a passing fad. The person who had the most ears was considered the number one VC killer, and also when we would get back to base camp the one who had the most ears would get all the free beer and whisky that they could drink. But it was more or less the passing fad, but they did cut the ears off of dead VC to show as souvenirs.

Halimi: Mr Tuck, you have told me of seeing refugee camps. Can you specify for the Tribunal the conditions of life inside them?

Most of the refugee camps that I saw were invariably near a Special Forces camp. From what I could see from these people they looked just like they were starving; they were in rags. Shortly after we got over there I was on a work detail to dump some garbage into a sump, which is a hole dug in the ground for that purpose. As soon as we had dumped this these refugees - a whole lot, a horde of children, it seemed - literally jumped into this sump and fought like animals for the garbage. The refugees - I got the impression from what I saw - were left to eke out their own living. They also had to be in their refugee camps at a certain time, because if they showed up outside our perimeter or outside the South Vietnamese perimeter they were liable to be shot as VC. A lot of the women in the refugee camp had to turn to prostitution to earn a living.

Halimi: Mr Tuck, do you know how they separated the population? That is, how did you decide who was Viet Cong, who was a civilian, and so on, and what did you do after you had distinguished them?

It was standard operating policy when in what we call VC country, that is, areas which were under control of the VC, to surround a village and to go in and assemble the inhabitants in a bunch in the centre of the village. All young men who looked like {239} they were able to bear arms we sent them away in helicopters to be interrogated by the South Vietnamese. The women and the children we sent to a refugee camp. Also it was common practice that if we received any shots from a village to have what we call a ‘mad minute’. This means that for one minute everybody would cut loose tanks, machine guns and everything that they had into this village, because the way we had assumed that until proven otherwise every Vietnamese was a VC.

Halimi: Mr Tuck, you have spoken of helping American troops spray gas into tunnels. Can you specify what you mean?

It was frequently when we were on an operation we would find a whole lot of tunnels, and a lot of times we did not know whether there were VC in there or not. My outfit did not have such men as they have farther south as they call the ‘tunnel rats’. So what we would have to do, we would have to use tear gas to bring them out. A lot of times it would be women and children besides the VC in there. But most but then again a lot of times it would only be women and children. The tear gas does not kill anyone as long as they can get out to the fresh air, it just irritates them. Uh - as far as I know, tear gas was the only chemical agent being used to bring these people out of the tunnels.

Halimi: You are black, and I would like you to tell the Tribunal if you sensed, during operations, a segregation - a discrimination between yourself and the white soldiers in the American army.

I would say that while there was not any segregation, if anything it was overintegrated. What a lot of people do not realize is that most of the soldiers fighting in the infantry over there are black soldiers. In my particular outfit it was 117 out of 156 were black soldiers. It is a common practice to put the people whom they consider expendable in the infantry. This is the black soldier, the Puerto Ricans and the hillbillies.

The reasoning behind this I believe is that if these people are killed no one is going to miss them, because after all black people are always complaining, so if they complain about being used in the infantry, no one in the US is going to listen to them. The war is very popular in the United States and if the Johnson administration use the middle-class white people, then the parents of these people when they sustain casualties would be complaining about this and would demand that the war be over with.

So, therefore, they put the expendables, {240} the black people, the Puerto Ricans and our poor rural whites that we call ‘hillbillies’. They put the expendables in the infantry, but I noticed that when I came back from the war and saw on TV, I saw very few black soldiers. It always seems to be mostly white, but I know with my own eyes this is not true.

But other than that, there was not any segregation. There was discrimination as far as lining up men to be the point man. The point man is the man who always goes some yards ahead of everyone else. He leads the way and is always on the look-out. He is usually the man who first gets killed. And invariably it seems like the soul brothers - or the Negroes - were the ones who were on the point. And so that is one way in which they discriminate.

Halimi: Can you say if, before battle, your officers’ words indicated that they wished you to fight a purely defensive war, or that they wished you to exterminate the Vietnamese people?

My outfit was stationed in Hawaii before we went to Vietnam. Shortly after we heard we were going to Vietnam, we were given orientation - little pamphlets saying that we were fighting to save the Vietnamese from Communism. We should always treat the Vietnamese as our equals. When it came time to giving them the right of way we should always give the Vietnamese the right of way. Everyone went along with this, but then when we got to Vietnam it was a different story.

All at once the officers referred to the Vietnamese as ‘gooks’. When we got there, we were told not to associate with the Vietnamese, whereas before we got over there we were told to make friends because unless we win the hearts and minds of the people we will lose the war. But, once we got over there our officers told us otherwise: that the only good Vietnamese was a dead Vietnamese, that they were not good, that they would not fight. So, on 23 March, when we first went into our first really combat operation, the commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Saul A. Jackson, gave us what he considered an inspiring speech. He said, ‘I want you to keep these Vietnamese on the run so much, so hard that I want to see Vietnamese blood flowing upon the earth.’

Everyone was surprised because before then we thought we should distinguish between Vietnamese and Viet Cong. After all, we were supposed to be saving the Vietnamese people from the Viet Cong. So, everyone remarked on how bloodthirsty that man was. The officers referred to them as {241} ‘gooks’, and we were told to consider all of them no good, and the only good one was a dead one.

I was very shocked because I had assumed we were fighting to save these people from Communism, and now all at once it came to me that perhaps these people were going to practise genocide after all, because here we are lumping all Vietnamese together. I thought we were only to fight the Viet Cong, who were supposedly preventing the South Vietnamese from having their freedom.

Dave Dellinger: You spoke about a ‘mad minute’, that is, after there were shots from a Vietnamese village, everybody would let loose with everything that they had. I wondered if, for example, how many shots it took to provoke such a ‘mad minute’. I mean, if there was an isolated shot from a village, could this happen?

Well, no. It would have to be more than one shot. If we got a series of rounds fired at us and if the bullets came close to someone or they hit somebody, we would do this more or less as an act of revenge. Then, after the ‘mad minute’ we would move into the village and see how much damage we had done and whether we had gotten anybody. But usually in most cases the VC was gone anyway. So we never caught them.

Dellinger: Was there any attempt to find out if there were women or children?

We knew there were civilians in the village, but as I say, we did not give a damn. We just intended to show them that we were not playing.

Peter Weiss: Mr Tuck, referring to the incident when the prisoner was thrown out of the helicopter. You say this was an ‘everyday incident’, and it could happen often, and nobody was really seriously concerned about that. And the person who threw this prisoner out of the plane would not be punished and perhaps he would not even be asked about what happened. Could you from your experience tell the Tribunal an approximate figure of incidents of the same kind that you have witnessed? Other cases where prisoners were just sort of killed, or left to a certain death, with nobody caring for them?

Well, in the first place I would like to say that the enemy prisoners were never left to die by themselves, they were always executed, but they were never left to die of their wounds. I have {242} also seen other cases in which a wounded prisoner was laying there supposedly waiting for an evacuation helicopter, and I have seen several GIs just go over and shoot him in the head just to be done with it.

Weiss: Without any special order?

No, well, in some cases they had orders, and in other cases, since it was the standard policy in my outfit not to take any prisoners, that is what we did. Occasionally, if we had a wounded officer and there was an American officer around, then he would tell us, do not kill the man, but to send him on a Medevac, to be later interrogated. But if the man was not an officer and he was wounded, we just got rid of him.

Weiss: And this happened several times?

This happened all the time in Vietnam, it is a common thing.

Weiss: Is it a rule?


Weiss: Mr Tuck, you were speaking about the villages. When it was lust a wild shooting, afterwards what happened to the villages? Were they torn down by bulldozers, or what happened to the villages when you landed, when the troops landed in the village, the population was sent away? Could you tell us a bit more specifically what happened around this event?

Immediately after a ‘mad minute’ we would surround a village and then we would send a party in. We would always have a Vietnamese interpreter with us. He was assigned to our outfit. And then we would line the villagers up and interrogate them, and depending on the battalion commander, we would have to radio back in for instructions whether to turn in all the villagers, whether to destroy or just warn the villagers about such activities. In some cases we would send for helicopters to evacuate these people and send them to a refugee camp and we would burn the village.

Weiss: Have you seen people from a village being sent to a refugee camp?

Yes, I have.

Weiss: Could you describe the refugee camps?

Well, the refugee camp as I said before is usually located near a Special Forces camp. You have a lot of wooden and tin huts, you know, just built together haphazardly. Usually the ground is {243} bare: no vegetation or anything, no trees. So there is also a barbed-wire fence surrounding them, and only one entrance. And as I said before, at night they have to be in before dark, you know, before about 1800 hours anyway. And they eke out their living as best as they can.

Weiss: They lie on the ground, they have no beds?

No, no, I am not saying that. They have beds, but what I mean is, the ground around, in the little village, is usually the poorest type of ground. It is just mud; in other words, all the grass and vegetation has been worn away. In other words, the soil is not fit for farming and so forth.

Weiss: How do they get their food?

Well, like I said, they have to beg from the US troops. In other words, they have to eat a lot of the food that we throw away: our garbage and so forth.

Weiss: So there are not immediately afterwards coming special troops with supplies, with food, to help the people who are being driven away from their villages?

Not that I know of. If they get any food, they certainly do not show it, because all the ones that I have seen they looked like they were starving, and they were dressed in rags.

Weiss: So it is the American soldiers who might give them food if they want to, but it is not necessarily done?

No, it is not necessarily done.

Weiss: May I ask one more question?

Dedijer: Yes, please.

Weiss: Mr Tuck, you spoke about the speech which a General Jackson - a fiery speech - which he gave to the troops before entering into the battle. Have you witnessed other speeches like that by other officers?

Right, I would like to say that these speeches ... usually we were getting them when we were going on a combat operation. And after a while, such things sink into the minds of the men, because then I noticed that a lot of my fellow GIs started referring to the Vietnamese people as ‘gooks’. This a derogatory term.

Laurent Schwartz: Mr Tuck, you have said that you had the order to shoot prisoners and that you could not oppose it. Now, the American soldiers who are sent to Vietnam - do they know about the judgements of the Nuremberg Trials; that is, that they {244} have the right - or even the duty - to resist inhuman orders? Do you know of any soldiers who have been punished for committing war crimes?

Well, I would like to say I have never heard of any GIs who were punished because they committed acts of war. Most of us had heard of the Geneva Convention of war. We knew that we were not supposed to do certain things. On the other hand, we realized that we had to be realistic, because if you disobey an order, sooner or later they will get rid of you. I mean, what I am saying is, like for instance if I had decided to refuse to fight the Viet Cong, my friends, my own friends, and the officers would get rid of me. I mean, they would have killed me - there is no doubt about that. Therefore you go along with the programme.

Schwartz: You have told us about eating conditions in the refugee camps. Have you seen people who died of starvation in these camps? Have you seen sick people who were refused medical care? What were the medical and sanitary conditions in these camps?

I would say that the medical and sanitary conditions are very primitive. I mean by anyone’s standards. I could not say that I ever saw anyone die of starvation, but I saw people who looked as though they were about to die of starvation. People who looked like they were on their last legs, and every now and then the US forces were sent, the S-5 section, this is the section which is involved in civil affairs. We would send a medic to give out pills and shots and so forth. But this only occurred about once a month anyway. Most of the time our S-5 section was in the field anyway.

Schwartz: There could have been regular medical visits, but there were not?

As far as I know, no.

Schwartz: You just told us that most of the time, or quite often, that you gave prisoners to the South Vietnamese for interrogation. But on the other hand, Mr Martinsen told us yesterday that there was usually an American interrogator along with a South Vietnamese [interpreter]. In your opinion, did the Americans do most of the torturing, or the South Vietnamese?

Well, I cannot dispute what Mr Martinsen says, I am only going on what I saw. In the case that I saw it was an American who gave {245} the orders, who asked the questions. He passed it on to a South Vietnamese interpreter and then he was the one who interrogated the man, but the actual torture that I saw was being done by people in the South Vietnamese army.

Gunther Anders: Repeatedly you quoted the sentence, ‘the only good Vietnamese is a dead Vietnamese’. Did you vary the famous words, ‘the only good Indian is a dead Indian’, or was this sentence generally known, was it like an order given to you by the officers?

Well, I mean, this was a statement which the order, which the officers gave to us, and a lot of the men, as I said before, this indoctrination sank in. They also believed this because after all most Americans have heard that saying, you know, ‘the only good Indian is a dead Indian’.

Anders: Yes. The same applies to, ‘Don’t take prisoners’. Was this an order or was it an anonymous custom everybody knew, that this had to be applied, or did you ever hear the command, the order, ‘Never take prisoners’?

Well, I would like to say this. The order was ‘Never take prisoners’ as well as ‘Don’t take prisoners’, because there had to be exceptions if there was an enemy officer - because we considered the officers more important than the enlisted men. Therefore there had to be exceptions. This was not a written order. This was an order, but it was a spoken order; it was not a written order.

Anders: Yes, that is just what I wanted to know. And I have a third question. You spoke about this terrible collection of ears, and there I would like to know if you would say that this is a crime which everybody would recognize as a crime. Was there anyone among the American soldiers who objected to this crime or who refused to cooperate in this sad sport to collect ears?

Well, I am quite sure that there were individuals who did not go along with it. If they did not want to take any ears they were not under any pressure to do so. This was something dreamed up by the brass to inspire the men, to help the morale.

Mahmud Ali Kasuri: You have referred to a distinct change in indoctrination while you were in Hawaii and after you reached Vietnam. Would you say that its object was that people in the USA should not know what the American forces in Vietnam were {246} doing, and that is why in Hawaii the ordinary practice was being taught and in Vietnam the actualities were being brought before the troops?

I would say that this was precisely the case.

Kasuri: Now, you referred to this ‘mad minute’. In how many cases while you were present in Vietnam was this practice indulged in? Three, four, five, twenty?

Well, I would like to say that this practice was indulged in so many times that you might say it’s numerous, you know. This is a common practice. You know, everyone starts firing for one minute - approximately one minute.

Kasuri: So it is not an unusual thing to which you are referring, this is the ordinary thing?

Yes, this is an ordinary thing.

Kasuri: This is the ordinary thing. Now you said many times that ‘the good Vietnamese were the dead Vietnamese’, and on another occasion you said this sentiment had evolved out of a sentiment that the Vietnamese were not good soldiers. Then do I take it that, in killing, some discrimination was made between men and women or children and adults?

Well, I would like to put it this way: a lot of times when you have to assault a village you shoot at the first thing that moves. In some cases, inevitably, it was women and children that got killed...

Kasuri: Would it then be right to assume that in the US casualties the majority would be black?

That is correct to assume.

Kasuri: Now, would it be right to assume that the things you are referring to: namely, that the Vietnamese should be shot, that the only good Vietnamese was a dead Vietnamese, or that it was common to cut the ears off the killed Vietnamese or that the practice of the ‘mad minute’ existed - is within the knowledge of the higher military officers of the US Army?

There is no doubt that it is within the knowledge of the higher US authorities.

Kasuri: Thank you.

Carl Oglesby: On the question of the executing of prisoners I’d just like to follow a little more Anders’s line of questioning on the way in which you knew that it was standard practice to execute {247} prisoners. Did you find out that that was standard practice to execute prisoners? Did you find out that that was standard practice from speeches made to your unit by your superior officers, or was it more of a matter of word-of-mouth circulation among the soldiers?

Well, it was circulated among the soldiers but it was also what our company commander told us, you know. He didn’t put it in writing, of course, but he told us this. He said, ‘You better not take prisoners.’ You see, that’s the way he said it, in that spirit.

Oglesby: What would happen if an American officer, a veteran of Vietnam, would come and testify to this Tribunal that he knew nothing about this? Would there be any way to settle an argument between ...?

Well, it depended upon what type of outfit the officer’s was, what his experiences were. You know, I couldn’t say yes or no. If he was in an infantry outfit I would say and he denied it - I would say the man was lying.

Oglesby: How did you first find out that it was standard practice to take no prisoners?

Well, you see, shortly after we got over there we heard from these other outfits, the 1st Air Cavalry, 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne, they told us the same thing and then our officers, they told us that would be our policy. That we weren’t going to take any prisoners unless we happened to capture an officer and then there was an American officer there to decide that he should be saved: otherwise we were to get rid of him.

Kinju Morikawa: I have information from a press correspondent that if there happens to be an explosion of a mine, the American soldiers usually kill almost all villagers that could be seen near by. Is that true or not?

Yes, yes, this a common practice, but I would like to say that all the time they wouldn’t kill all the people, but they would go into the village shooting, better say this, and if any innocent people got killed, well, the attitude was, ‘That’s war.’

Weiss: Mr Tuck, you said that if you disobeyed an order they will get rid of you. You mean, have you seen any cases where American soldiers were shot because they disobeyed orders?

Well, you would be surprised at the number of people who are killed by their own troops. Now, I know two sergeants who happened {248} to get drunk while they were out in the field, see, so they set these men farther out with the artillery outfit that had just been hard hit, see, hoping that they would get knocked off. And when they came back alive the brass were unhappy about it, see.

Weiss: This was deliberately done?

Right, and also in my own case I was sent to a line outfit for punishment anyway. When I first came to Vietnam I was the battalion mail clerk, but myself and a sergeant-major did not get along so they sent me out with the infantry as an RTO, hoping that I would get killed of course. That is the way they punish you in a lot of cases.

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