Michael Heck graduated from Whittier College and entered the U. S. Air Force in 1966. By 1973, Captain Michael Heck had hundreds of bombing missions behind him, mostly piloting B-52s, and was highly and much decorated therefore. But when Capt. Heck carried out his orders on December 24, 1973, continuing to bomb northern Vietnam as part of Operation Linebacker II, ordered by Commander-in-Chief and fellow Whittier College alumnus Richard M. Nixon, Heck reached his breaking point. Bombing on Christmas Eve finally awakened Michael Heck's conscience, and, although other USAF officers had refused to participate in such bombing missions before Capt. Heck's refusal, the media was interested in the Nixon alma mater grad's action, which he made official on December 26th.
"I can't be a participant. The goals do not justify the mass destruction and killing," Captain Heck said of Operation Linebacker II.
Henry Kissinger and the northern Vietnamese had come to basic terms by October of 1973. However, southern Vietnamese President Thieu objected to the terms negotiated and talks broke down. On December 14th, Kissinger warned the northern Vietnamese of "grave consequences" if they didn't resume talks, and that same day then-President Nixon ordered northern Vietnamese ports mined. On December 16th, Nixon ordered massive bombing of the north, which continued until December 29th, by which time there weren't anymore ready targets worth bombing in the north. Nixon then pressured the southern Vietnamese to agree to terms, and the north then agreed to resume talks.
President Nixon ordered Operation Linebacker II, usually called simply the Christmas Bombings, to we were told get the northern Vietnamese back to the negotiating table, although Nixon was careful not to make any public statement let alone televised address on the very expensive campaign, as he had done in relation to much less costly or controversial campaigns. Operation Linebacker II was the biggest SAC operation to that time and the biggest air campaign waged by the United States since WWII. The northern Vietnamese launched thousands of SAMs and tens of U. S. planes and crews were lost.
In the end, then Kissinger assistant John Negroponte summed up: "We bombed the North Vietnamese into accepting our concessions." The final agreement signed in Paris by the parties continued the 1954 Geneva Accords, which defined the DMZ between northern and southern Vietnam as that, not as a border (between two countries).
A Hanoi hospital was accidentally bombed. A nuclear power plant was bombed on purpose. Hanoi, and Haiphong, the capitol's port, were practically destroyed. Casualties, however, were greatly minimized by northern Vietnamese prudence; civilians were evacuated from likely target areas. The ineptness and companion heavy-handedness, and always dishonesty, of Richard Nixon is clear. Nixon told the American people he had a secret plan to get us out of the conflict in southeast Asia. Nixon did not have any such plan.
The northern Vietnamese had made many concessions in an effort to achieve a new accord before Nixon's reelection. When Nixon bungled handling Thieu and negotiations stalled, it appeared to the northern Vietnamese a better tactic to appeal to the increasingly anti-war Congress after the election. One reason Nixon played down the Christmas Bombings was not only the campaign's next-to-pointlessness and inhumanity, but also its cost. Having to request additional funding for the conflict would be to open the door to Congressional anti-war sentiment being translated into possible election problems and certainly greater control of the undeclared war by Congress.
And what about Michael Heck? Not only was Captain Heck the President's fellow Whittier College alumnus, but he had by that time been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal and eleven oak clusters, and received two Presidential Citation awards. Heck was compelled to resign from the USAF, but he was not subjected to a court martial, which would have focused anti-war sentiment and action.
For many Americans opposed to our misadventure in southeast Asia, Michael Heck was a day late and a dollar short, but, so far, his act of conscience is the closest a Whittier College alumnus has come to being an American hero. As Michael himself humbly said of his act of conscience in the theater of war on his return to the United States, "I should have done it earlier."
There's a memorial on campus to honor Richard M. Nixon, a Whittier alumnus we know to have had little if any conscience, and with nothing of the hero in him, and who lost everything therefore. There most certainly should be a memorial to Whittier College alumnus Michael Heck on campus...to honor a man who discovered his conscience, and the courage to act on that voice, and thereby gained a whole new world.
A school's spirit is determined in part by the alumni the school honors. No wonder it's so difficult to find Poet spirit true and honorable. Whittier College needs to be Denixonized. Replace the Nixon monument with a Heck memorial. Replace the Nixon Fellowship with a Michael Heck Fellowship. Establish a Michael Heck Peace Institute. Free Whittier College from the corrupt and corrupting dark shadow of its most infamous graduate.
Down with Nixon! Raise Heck!!
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