Gary Kulik: Double Standards about Vietnam

tags: war crimes, atrocities, Nick Turse, Vietnam War, The Weekly Standard



Gary Kulik, who served in Vietnam as a medic, is the author of War Stories: False Atrocity Tales, Swift Boaters, and Winter Soldiers.

Nick Turse wants us to know that the killing of civilians during the war in Vietnam was “widespread, routine, and directly attributable to U.S. command policies,” that “gang rapes were a .  .  . common occurrence,” that the running-over of civilians by American vehicle drivers was “commonplace,” and that the American military visited upon South Vietnam an “endless slaughter .  .  . day after day, month after month .  .  . [that] was neither accidental nor unforeseeable.” It was “A Litany of Atrocities,” as one of his chapter headings has it—a litany recited by Turse with the fevered prosecutorial zeal of an ideologue....

Make no mistake: Americans committed war crimes in Vietnam, and officers covered them up. General William Westmoreland’s search-and-destroy policies and the profligate use of air and artillery fire put Vietnamese peasants at risk, and far too many died—though not all at our hands. We still await a history of war crimes committed by the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army—the “revolutionary forces,” according to Turse. And now, more than 40 years after the war, we still have no way of knowing the relative prevalence of war crimes in Vietnam as compared with other wars. Though, thanks to Rick Atkinson’s work, we now know far more about American war crimes in World War II: Berber tribesmen shot for sport, the egregious killing of German prisoners, the atrocious behavior of French colonial troops raping their way up the Italian peninsula while under Allied command.   

War brings out the best and the worst in us. Former Marine commandant Peter Pace told a Citadel audience in 2006 that, as a young platoon leader in Vietnam, he called in an artillery strike on a village from which a sniper had killed a young Marine—the first man he lost. Pace’s platoon sergeant “didn’t say a word, he just looked at me.” The look was sufficient. Pace called off the strike and ordered a sweep through the village, finding only women and children. Pace’s story, as the literature of Vietnam memoirs makes clear, could be told many times over. Any fair and balanced account of American war crimes demands attention to those stories, too. 

Nick Turse, however, has no interest in such stories. His unmeasured effort at exposé—relentless, indiscriminate, and cocksure in its judgment that American military policy made the killing of innocents inevitable -- exacts a high moral price....



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