Bernie Sanders in 1972: U.S. Actions in Vietnam 'Almost as Bad as What Hitler Did'

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) / Getty Images
January 31, 2020

As antiwar sentiment spread across the country in the early 1970s, a young Bernie Sanders accused the United States of committing atrocities on par with those of Nazi Germany, saying U.S. military action in Vietnam was "almost as bad as what Hitler did."

Speaking to a class of ninth graders during his 1972 gubernatorial run in Vermont, Sanders accused the United States of committing atrocities the students would not believe and defended the communist North Vietnamese fighters, according to reporting in the Rutland Herald, a Vermont newspaper. Sanders compared U.S. actions in Vietnam to those of Adolf Hitler, who murdered some six million Jews.

The American military undertook actions that were "almost as bad as what Hitler did," the paper quoted Sanders as saying to the class of around 30 students at Rutland Junior High School.

Sanders, who declared himself a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War, said during his remarks to the class that the North Vietnamese were not his enemy. "They're a very, very poor people. Some of them don't have shoes," Sanders said. "They eat rice when they can get it. And they have been fighting for the freedom of their country for 25 years. They can hardly fight back."

More than 58,000 American military members died or went missing in the Vietnam War.

Sanders's past is facing increased scrutiny as he has surged to frontrunner status ahead of the Iowa caucus next week. Sanders has already courted controversy for hiring several individuals who have espoused anti-Israel views. The Washington Free Beacon reported on Tuesday, for instance, that a top Sanders campaign surrogate had claimed the United States orchestrated the 9/11 terror attacks in New York City.

Sanders prefaced his remarks to the students with a warning, according to the paper. "Some things I'm going to say may upset you," he said. "But I have to say them."

These "things" included a defense of North Vietnamese fighters and accusations that "a few rich, powerful individuals control many events in the country," according to the report.

The students are reported to have objected to Sanders's assertion that the United States acted as a conquering force in Vietnam, as well as his position that those who evaded the draft should be granted amnesty, saying that it would not be fair to parents of soldiers killed in the war.

The Oct. 19, 1972, Rutland Herald article can be viewed in full here.

Sanders, then running as a member of the Liberty Union party, was an inconsequential actor in the 1972 election—he received 2,175 votes, amounting to just over 1 percent of the vote, according to Vermont election records.

Sanders is currently running on an antiwar platform that includes opposition to the use of U.S. military force against Iran and other regional state sponsors of terrorism.

Sanders's antiwar activism is well documented and has been raised as a concern during past elections. During the 2016 cycle, a Des Moines Register column by a Vietnam veteran questioned whether someone who views the military as Sanders does could be trusted as commander in chief.

"How on earth could a person claiming to be a conscientious objector become the commander in chief of the most powerful military in the world?" wrote Steve Wikert, a Vietnam veteran.

The Sanders campaign did not respond to a Free Beacon request for comment on the senator's remarks.