The Vietnam War Crimes You Never Heard Of
Mr. Turse is a Columbia University graduate student completing a dissertation on American war crimes during the Vietnam War.On October 19, 2003, the Ohio-based newspaper the Toledo Blade launched a four-day series of investigative reports exposing a string of atrocities by an elite, volunteer, 45-man "Tiger Force" unit of the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division over the course of seven months in 1967. The Blade goes on to state that in 1971 the Army began a four and a half year investigation of the alleged torture of prisoners, rapes of civilian women, the mutilation of bodies and killing of anywhere from nine to well over one hundred unarmed civilians, among other acts. The articles further report that the Army's inquiry concluded that eighteen U.S. soldiers committed war crimes ranging from murder and assault to dereliction of duty. However, not one of the soldiers, even of those still on active duty at the time of the investigation, was ever court martialed in connection with the heinous crimes. Moreover, six suspected war criminals were allowed to resign from military service during the criminal investigations specifically to avoid prosecution.
The Toledo Blade articles represent some of the best reporting on a Vietnam War crime by any newspaper, during or since the end of the conflict. Unfortunately, the articles tell a story that was all too common. As a historian writing his dissertation on U.S. war crimes and atrocities during the Vietnam War, I have been immersed in just the sort of archival materials the Toledo Blade used in its pieces, but not simply for one incident but hundreds if not thousands of analogous events. I can safely, and sadly, say that the "Tiger Force" atrocities are merely the tip of the iceberg in regard to U.S.-perpetrated war crimes in Vietnam. However, much of the mainstream historical literature dealing with Vietnam War atrocities (and accompanying cover-ups and/or sham investigations), has been marginalized to a great extent -- aside from obligatory remarks concerning the My Lai massacre, which is, itself, often treated as an isolated event. Unfortunately, the otherwise excellent reporting of the Toledo Blade draws upon and feeds off this exceptionalist argument to a certain extent. As such, the true scope of U.S.-perpetrated atrocities is never fully addressed in the articles. The men of the "Tiger Force" are labeled as "Rogue GIs" and the authors simply mention the that Army "conducted 242 war-crimes investigations in Vietnam, [that] a third were substantiated, leading to 21 convictions... according to a review of records at the National Archives" facts of dubious value that obscure the scope and number of war crimes perpetrated in Vietnam and feed the exceptionalist argument.
Even an accompanying Blade piece on "Other Vietnam Atrocities," tends to decontextualize the "Tiger Force" incidents, treating them as fairly extraordinary events by listing only three other relatively well known atrocity incidents: former Senator, presidential candidate and Navy SEAL Bob Kerrey's raid on the hamlet of Thang Phong; the massacre at Son Thang -- sometimes referred to as the "Marine Corps' My Lai"; and the war crimes allegations of Lt. Col. Anthony Herbert -- most famously chronicled in his memoir Soldier. This short list, however, doesn't even hint at the scope and number of similar criminal acts.
For example, the Toledo Blade reports that its "review of thousands of classified Army documents, National Archives records, and radio logs reveals [the "Tiger Force"] ... carried out the longest series of atrocities in the Vietnam War [from May and November, 1967]...." Unfortunately, this seven month atrocity-spree is not nearly the longest on record. Nor is it even the longest string of atrocities by one unit within its service branch. According to formerly classified Army documents, an investigation disclosed that from at least March 1968 through October 1969, "Vietnamese [civilian] detainees were subjected to maltreatment" by no less than twenty-three separate interrogators of the 172d Military Intelligence (MI) Detachment. The inquiry found that, in addition to using "electrical shock by means of a field telephone," an all too commonly used method of torture by Americans during the war, MI personnel also struck detainees with their fists, sticks and boards and employed a form of water torture which impaired prisoners' ability to breath.
Similar to the "Tiger Force" atrocities chronicled by the Blade, documents indicate that no disciplinary actions were taken against any of the individuals implicated in the long-running series of atrocities, including 172d MI personnel Norman Bowers, Franciszek Pyclik and Eberhard Gasper who were all on active duty at the time that the allegations were investigated by Army officials. In fact, in 1972, Bowers's commanding general pronounced that "no disciplinary or administrative action" would be taken against the suspected war criminal and in a formerly classified memorandum to the U.S. Army Chief of Staff, prepared by Colonel Murray Williams on behalf of Brigadier General R.G. Gard in January 1973, it was noted that the "...determination by commanders to take no action against three personnel on active duty who were suspected of committing an offense" had not been publicly acknowledged. Their crimes and identities kept a secret, Bowers, Pyclik and Gasper apparently escaped any prosecution, let alone punishment, for their alleged actions.
Similarly, the Toledo Bladepays particular attention to Sam Ybarra, a "notorious suspect," who was named in seven of the thirty "Tiger Force" war crimes allegations investigated by the Army -- including the rape and fatal stabbing of a 13-year-old girl and the brutal killing of a 15-year-old boy. Yet, Ybarra's notorious reputation may well pale in comparison to that of Sergeant Roy E. "the Bummer" Bumgarner, a soldier who served with the 1st Cavalry Division and later the 173d Airborne Brigade. According to a former commander, "the Bummer" was rumored to have "personally killed over 1,500 people" during a forty-two week stretch in Vietnam. Even if the number was exaggerated, clues on how Bumgarner may have obtained high "body counts" came to light in the course of an Army criminal investigation of an incident that took place on February 25, 1969. According to investigation documents, Bumgarner and a subordinate rounded up three civilians found working in a rice paddy, marched them to a secluded area and murdered them. "The Bummer" then arranged the bodies on the ground with their heads together and a grenade was exploded next to them in an attempt to cover-up their crime. Assorted weapons were then planted near the mutilated corpses to make them appear to have been enemy troops.
During an Army criminal investigation of the incident, men in Bumgarner's unit told investigators that they had heard rumors of the sergeant carrying out similar acts in the past. Said one soldier in a sworn statement to Army investigators:
"I've heard of Bumgarner doing it before -- planting weapons on bodies when there is doubt as to their military status. I've heard quite a few rumors about Bumgarner killing unarmed people. Only a couple weeks ago I heard that Bumgarner had killed a Vietnamese girl and two younger kids (boys), who didn't have any weapons."
Unlike Sam Ybarra, who had been discharged from the military by the time the allegations against him came to light and then refused to cooperate with investigators, "the Bummer" was charged with premeditated murder and tried by general court martial. He was convicted only of manslaughter and his punishment consisted merely of a demotion in rank and a fine of $97 a month for six months. Moreover, after six months, Bumgarner promptly re-enlisted in the Army. His first and only choice of assignments -- Vietnam. Records indicate he got his wish!
Military records demonstrate that the "Tiger Force" atrocities are only the tip of a vast submerged history of atrocities in Vietnam. In fact, while most atrocities were likely never chronicled or reported, the archival record is still rife with incidents analogous to those profiled in the Blade articles, including the following atrocities chronicled in formerly classified Army documents:
- A November 1966 incident in which an officer in the Army's Fourth Infantry
Division, severed an ear from a Vietnamese corpse and affixed it to the radio
antenna of a jeep as an ornament. The officer was given a non-judicial punishment
and a letter of reprimand.
- An August 1967 atrocity in which a 13-year-old Vietnamese child was raped
by American MI interrogator of the Army's 196th Infantry Brigade. The soldier
was convicted only of indecent acts with a child and assault. He served seven
months and sixteen days for his crime.
- A September 1967 incident in which an American sergeant killed two Vietnamese
children -- executing one at point blank range with a bullet to the head.
Tried by general court martial in 1970, the sergeant pleaded guilty to, and
was found guilty of, unpremeditated murder. He was, however, sentenced to
- An atrocity that took place on February 4, 1968, just over a month before
the My Lai massacre, in the same province by a man from the same division
(Americal). The soldier admitted to his commanding officer and other men of
his unit that he gunned down three civilians as they worked in a field. A
CID investigation substantiated his confession and charges of premeditated
murder were preferred against him. The soldier requested a discharge, which
was granted by the commanding general of the Americal Division, in lieu of
court martial proceedings.
- A series of atrocities similar to, and occurring the same year as, the "Tiger Force" war crimes in which one unit allegedly engaged in an orgy of murder, rape and mutilation, over the course of several months.
While not yielding the high-end body count estimate of the "Tiger Force" series of atrocities, the above incidents begin to demonstrate the ubiquity of the commission of atrocities on the part of American forces during the Vietnam War. Certainly, war crimes, such as murder, rape and mutilation were not an everyday affair for American combat soldiers in Vietnam, however, such acts were also by no means as exceptional as often portrayed in recent historical literature or as tacitly alluded to in the Blade articles.
The excellent investigative reporting of the Toledo Blade is to be commended for shedding light on war crimes committed by American soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division in 1967. However, it is equally important to understand that the "Tiger Force" atrocities were not the mere result of "Rogue GIs" but instead stem from what historian Christian Appy has termed the American "doctrine of atrocity" during the Vietnam War -- a strategy built upon official U.S. dictums relating to the body count, free-fire zones, search and destroy tactics and the strategy of attrition as well as unofficial tenets such as "kill anything that moves," intoned during the "Tiger Force" atrocities and in countless other atrocity tales, or the "mere gook rule" which held that "If it's dead and Vietnamese, it's VC." Further, it must also be recognized that the "Tiger Force" atrocities, the My Lai massacre, the Herbert allegations and the few other better-known war crimes were not isolated or tangentially-related incidents, but instead are only the most spectacular or best publicized of what was an on-going string of atrocities, large and small, that spanned the entire duration of the war.
The headline of one Blade article proclaims, "Earlier Tiger Force probe could have averted My Lai carnage," referring to the fact that the 101st Airborne Division's "Tiger Force" troops operated in the same province (Quang Ngai), with the same mission (search and destroy) months before the Americal Division's men committed their war crimes. But atrocities were not a localized problem or one that only emerged in 1967. Instead, the pervasive disregard for the laws of war had begun prior to U.S. buildup in 1965 and had roots in earlier conflicts. Only by recognizing these facts can we hope to begin to understand the "Tiger Force" atrocities and the history of American war crimes in Vietnam, writ large.
Seymour Hersh, "Uncovered" (New Yorker) ABC News Report
This article was first published by http://www.zmag.org/ and is reprinted with the permission of the author.
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Fred G Welfare - 7/23/2009
Does anyone have any idea of whether the interrogation techniques used in Vietnam or Iraq have any validity in terms of effectiveness? Is valid intelligence being gathered with these interrogation techniques?
frank hillier - 12/22/2008
vietnam was an unexcusable and disgusting stain on american history.
a mass of young,afraid and angry men, many of which were using drugs, punted into an alien land with alien people.
as with any race,nation or group thier are a proportion of vile harmful people.
in times of war especially in vietnam these people are armed with countless available victims coupled with a feeling of no law or infact being the law attrocites will occur.
it is the responsibility of the government and commanding officers to find and remove then punish, but ultimately it should be the the fellow soldiers who are on the ground standing up for what they know is right and being brave enough to stop it.
i fear iraq may be viewed in a simalar light in years to come
tim baker allen baker - 11/15/2008
I certainly hope people take these comments seriously. Our standing in the world is affected by such charges, and I for one do not want to see my country having a reputation as being a bunch of hippocrites, going after war criminals in other parts of the world and then giving war criminals in our country accepted status. I'm E-mailing ministers all over the country and requesting they read these and other writings such as "Tiger Force: Men at War". And I would think that all men of honor would be involved in some meaningful capacity. Best of luck to the author. Tim Baker
tim baker allen baker - 11/14/2008
We know what happened "wasn't right" to paraphrase a Nam vet's words. But but vet's killing vet's to prevent the occurances from going to the US Army's War Crimes Command Division is certainly as bad as atrocities themselves. Yet, there has been only a wisp of an indication as to those likely events.
Mackubin Thomas Owens - 10/24/2006
I wrote a number of piece about Kerry and his post-war claims for National Review and NRO. I believe that Turse's methodology is flawed for the reasons I laid out in this piece from a couple of years ago.
John Kerry’s decision to run for president on his record in Vietnam has ripped the scab off of the wounds that war inflicted on the American body politic. Some of Kerry’s defenders have laid this charge at the feet of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (SBVT), but the fact is that they were responding to what they perceived as an affront to their honor. This is why all the attempts to paint them as Republican stooges are so far off of the mark.
I believe my own motivation in publicizing Kerry’s actions after the war is typical of most anti-Kerry veterans, including the Swifties. I would never have written my first NRO piece back in January had Kerry chosen to run on his Senate record. But to coin a phrase, his April 1971 testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is “seared in my memory” and I believed his attempt now to surround himself with people he had once described as war criminals represented the height of cynicism and hypocrisy.
Of course, the Kerry campaign and most of the press blew off the pieces I wrote for NRO in January and for National Review in February as an attempt to question his service in Vietnam. The volume of e-mails and phone calls I received from Vietnam veterans agreeing with me demonstrated that I was far from alone. But due to a lack of media interest, the issue dropped off the scope, permitting Kerry and his apologists to avoid addressing the issue.
Enter the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. They were motivated not only by Kerry’s actions after the war but by the portrayal of his Vietnam service in Douglas Brinkley’s hand job, Tour of Duty. Despite a desperate attempt to dismiss the Swifties as Republican goons, Kerry and his defenders in the media were forced to deal with the substance of the Swifties’ charges. This they did with varying degrees of success, owing to the fact that men in battle often perceive the same event differently. It does seem clear that Kerry did not spend Christmas of 1968 in Cambodia as he claimed on numerous occasions. There are also legitimate questions about the circumstances surrounding his first Purple Heart and his rescue of Jim Rassmun.
But there would seem to be no argument about Kerry’s actions after the war. He did leave the Navy early to pursue a political career; he did join the Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW); he did claim during his 1971 Senate testimony that American soldiers committed atrocities in Vietnam on a regular basis; he did participate in numerous instances of “political theater” put on by the VVAW, including Dewey Canyon III; and he did meet with representatives of the North Vietnamese communist government. These events may have brought him to political prominence in the United States, but at the cost of alienating a substantial number of Vietnam veterans who believed he besmirched their honor and whose resulting anger has simmered for three decades.
The first attempt to defend Kerry on the substance of the charge that he had dishonored all of those who fought in Vietnam with his 1971 Senate testimony was a series of arguments claiming that he really didn’t mean to include everyone in Vietnam when he made his claim of widespread atrocities. He was, so the argument went, merely relating stories told by others. But if so, he should have chosen his words more carefully. The common-sense meaning of the statement that "over 150 honorably discharged and many very highly decorated veterans testified to war crimes committed in Southeast Asia, not isolated incidents but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command" seems to be that these accounts represent only the tip of the iceberg and more importantly, that such actions represented US policy against the Vietnamese.
So indeed, the second attempt to defend Kerry is now in play. His defenders claim that he was telling the truth—atrocities did take place in Vietnam. Of course, as anyone who has read my articles knows, there is no controversy about this point. But the trick here, most on display in Peter Beinart’s “Apocalypse Redux” in the September 6 issue of The New Republic, is to suggest that that those who criticize Kerry are somehow denying that atrocities occurred in Vietnam at all. Beinart argues that the second Swift Boat ad (recounting Kerry’s Senate testimony) doesn’t claim that Kerry’s charges were false, but “merely suggests he was unpatriotic for leveling them.” Beinart then goes on to cite a number of historians who, sure enough, assure us that atrocities did occur in Vietnam.
But this is missing the point—whether intentionally or not I cannot say. This is now my eighth piece on this topic since January for National Review, NRO, The Weekly Standard, and the Jerusalem Post. In every one of those pieces as well as many others I have written over the years about the Vietnam War, I have stated unequivocally that Americans committed atrocities in Vietnam. I have never tried to whitewash the record, as one of my correspondents claimed.
As is often the case, Jim Webb, a Marine hero of the Vietnam War (Navy Cross) and best-selling author whose novel, Fields of Fire is the best book about Vietnam, got to the crux of the matter in a recent NPR commentary when he said that the “stories of atrocious conduct, repeated in lurid detail by Kerry before the Congress, represented not the typical experience of the American soldier, but its ugly extreme” (emphasis added)
Some of us who believe that the American soldier did not typically commit atrocities have called into question the credibility of many of the accounts upon which Kerry based his testimony—the “Winter Soldier Investigation” (WSI), an early 1971 event in Detroit organized by the VVAW and sponsored by Jan Fonda, Dick Gregory, and conspiracy theorist Mark Lane. I had read Lane’s 1970 book, Conversations with Americans and was struck by how implausible most of the atrocity claims were. I was not alone. Lane’s book was panned by James Reston, Jr. and Neil Sheehan, not exactly known as supporters of the Vietnam War. Sheehan in particular demonstrated that many of Lane’s “eye witnesses” either had never served in Vietnam or had not done so in the capacity they claimed.
The transcripts of the WSI struck me the same way. My own beliefs were reinforced several years later by the publication of Guenter Lewy’s America in Vietnam, in which he related the difficulty that military investigators faced trying to get particulars. As I wrote in the 23 February issue of National Review, paraphrasing Lewy, when the Naval Investigative Service (NIS) attempted to interview those who allegedly had witnessed atrocities, most refused to cooperate, even after assurances that they would not be questioned about atrocities they may have committed personally. Those that did cooperate never provided details of actual crimes to investigators. The NIS also discovered that some of the most grisly testimony was given by fake witnesses who had appropriated the names of real Vietnam veterans.
The same thing happened with Army investigators. As Lewy wrote, “the refusal of [those who claimed to have witnessed atrocities] to give substantiating factual information in support of their atrocity allegations created a situation in which the accusers continued to reap generous publicity for their sensational charges while the Army in most cases could neither investigate nor refute them…As of April 1971, the CID (the Army’s Criminal Investigative Division) had determined that [in one case] 7 of 16 allegations…which could be investigated were unfounded or unsubstantiated. Most of the allegations were so general as to defy investigation.”
My skepticism about the WSI was further strengthened by the publication of Stolen Valor by H.G. Burkett and Genna Whitley. In the course of trying to raise money for a Texas Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Burkett discovered that reporters were only interested in homeless veterans and drug abuse and that the corporate leaders he approached had bought into the popular image of Vietnam veterans. They were not honorable men who took pride in their service, but whining welfare cases, belly-aching about what an immoral government did to them.
Fed up, Burkett did something that any reporter worth his or her salt could have done: he used the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to check the actual records of the “image makers” used by reporters to flesh out their stories on homelessness, Agent Orange, suicide, drug abuse, criminality, or alcoholism. What he found was astounding. More often than not, the show case “veteran” who cried on camera about his dead buddies, about committing or witnessing atrocities, or about some heroic action in combat that led him to the current dead end in his life, was an impostor.
Indeed, Burkett discovered that over the last decade, some 1,700 individuals, including some of the most prominent examples of the Vietnam veteran as dysfunctional loser, had fabricated their war stories. Many had never even been in the service. Others, had been, but had never been in Vietnam.
Lewy’s account recently has been called into question and Burkett has been criticized for simply accusing everyone who talks about atrocities as a phony or imposter. In the August 30 TNR Online, historian John Prados writes regarding the WSI atrocity accounts that “a handful of individual stories may have been called into question, but the main thrust of the [WSI] testimonies--that American atrocities were widespread in Vietnam--is today beyond dispute. Indeed the emergence of new evidence during the last 30 years has only solidified the winter soldiers' overall case.” He then criticizes Lewy’s account of the WSI:
Lewy's primary evidence consists of noting that VVAW members refused to give depositions. When the Naval Investigative Service tried to pull VVAW members into an inquiry, it found one Marine who either could not or would not give details of what he had seen and allegedly located several other veterans who said they had never gone to Detroit. (O'Neill had cited this same information in his televised debate with Kerry.) But even if true, these incidents were far too limited to establish anything in particular about the Winter Soldier Investigation; the fact that some of the winter soldiers declined to give depositions does not prove or disprove the legitimacy of the entire project. The VVAW leadership left it up to individual members to decide how to respond to requests for depositions. And veterans had good reasons to decline. For one thing, they argued that their purpose was to protest U.S. policy, not to draw attention to individual soldiers. What's more, with the VVAW under direct assault from the Nixon administration, it's understandable that the group's members were loathe to cooperate with government investigators.
The debate turns, it seems to me, on Prados’ assertion that it is today beyond dispute that “American atrocities were widespread in Vietnam.” Again I stipulate that they did occur. Recent revelations include the Son Thang event described by Marine Corps veteran Gary D. Solis in his book Son Thang: An American War Crime and the more troubling “Tiger Force” story broken earlier this year by The Toledo Blade, which reported that members of an elite unit of the 327th Airborne Infantry in the Central Highlands in 1967 committed war crimes ranging from murder and assault to dereliction of duty.
Of course the best known incident was the admission several years ago by Bob Kerrey, the highly respected former senator from Nebraska and Medal of Honor recipient, that the Navy SEAL team he led in Vietnam killed women in children during a nighttime mission some 32 years ago.
Mr. Kerrey's admission was prompted by a lengthy New York Times Magazine story by Gregory Vistica that went farther than the charge that civilians died during this action. It contained the explosive claim that then-Lieutenant (j.g.) Kerrey had ordered the civilians to be rounded up and then shot point blank to facilitate the SEAL team's escape. If this allegation is true, what happened that night in the Mekong Delta village of Thanh Phong was more than a terrible tragedy of war--it was a war crime.
These are all troubling events. But they do not prove that atrocities in Vietnam were more widespread than in previous wars. Additionally, there is no evidence that atrocities were a matter of policy, as suggested in this September 1970 VVAW flyer issued in conjunction with one of its stunts:
If you had been Vietnamese—
We might have burned your house
We might have shot your dog
We might have shot you
We might have raped your wife and daughter
We might have turned you over to the government for torture
We might have taken souvenirs from your property
We might have shot things up a bit
We might have done all these things to you and your whole town
Let’s put things in perspective. Some three million men served in Vietnam. Since the logistics tail of US forces is fairly large, only about twenty-five percent, 750,000, served in combat units. If we add up all of the atrocities, both proven and alleged, and multiply them by two as a hedge against under-reporting, the percentage of American combat soldiers who might have committed atrocities is still less than one percent of the total. I doubt that many armies in history could match that record.
I have tried on many occasions to get to the heart of why some Americans committed atrocities in Vietnam and others didn’t. The fact is that anyone who has been in combat understands the thin line between permissible acts and atrocity. The first and potentially most powerful emotion in combat is fear arising from the instinct of self-preservation.
But in soldiers, fear is overcome by what the Greeks called thumos, spiritedness or righteous indignation. It is thumos, awakened by the death of his comrade Patroclus that causes Achilles to quit sulking in his tent and wade into the Trojans, slaughtering them in great numbers. But unchecked, thumos can engender rage and frenzy. It is the role of leadership, which provides strategic context for killing and enforces discipline, to prevent this outcome. Such leadership was not in evidence at My Lai, or most of the other cases of atrocities.
In the May 3 issue of National Review, I suggested three reasons that explain the belief on the part of so many that atrocities in Vietnam were more frequent than in other wars and that they were a part of policy: 1) Soviet propaganda; 2) the belief on the part of the veterans who related atrocity stories that they were telling their listeners what they wanted to hear; and 3) liars and phonies.
In America in Vietnam, Lewy noted the establishment of a veritable war-crimes industry, supported by the USSR, as early as 1965. As Ion Mihai Pacepa, a former Romanian intelligence chief, has recounted, the Soviets set up permanent international organizations — including the International War Crimes Tribunal and the Stockholm Conference on Vietnam — "to aid or to conduct operations to help Americans dodge the draft or defect, to demoralize its army with anti-American propaganda, to conduct protests, demonstrations, and boycotts, and to sanction anyone connected with the war." Pacepa claims to have been responsible for fabricating stories about U.S. atrocities in Vietnam and "flacking" them to Western news organizations. Lewy writes that "the Communists made skillful use of their worldwide propaganda apparatus . . . and they found many Western intellectuals only too willing to accept every conceivable allegation of [American] wrongdoing at face value."
The VVAW, a small, radical group that never exceeded a membership of 7,000 (including John Kerry) from a pool of nearly 3 million Vietnam (and 9 million Vietnam-era) veterans, essentially "Americanized" Soviet propaganda. When he testified before the Senate in 1971, Kerry was merely repeating charges that had been making the rounds since 1965.
To the anti-war Left, atrocities revealed the Nazi-like character of "Amerika." But, unlike their Nazi counterparts, U.S. soldiers could be redeemed: By confessing atrocities, the Vietnam veterans, once denigrated as "baby killers," were able to receive absolution from the Left, and were transmuted into innocent victims of a brutal war. American military sociologist Charles Moskos has suggested that atrocity stories out of Vietnam were the functional equivalent of heroic war stories from World War II: They provided a meaning to participation in Vietnam that resonated with those who opposed the war and were now judging the returning soldiers. Some atrocity claims were the product of outright fantasy, on the part of soldiers who returned from the war emotionally disturbed. The (anti-war) psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton wrote of a veteran who, after some time in group therapy, could "confess that he had been much less violent in Vietnam than he had implied. He had previously given the impression that he had killed many people there, whereas in actuality, despite extensive combat experience, he could not be certain he had killed anyone."
Third were the phonies: In response to the claim that some if not many of those who testified at the WSI event were exaggerating or even imposters, Prados writes that “every veteran who presented in Detroit had to show a copy of his military papers (the military form known as DD-214) to demonstrate that he had actually been present at the places and times he was speaking about.”
Let me be clear. Not all atrocity stories can be pawned off as the work of phonies. But one of the most striking revelations of Stolen Valor is how easy it is to produce fraudulent records, including the DD-214. And anyone who served in Vietnam has no doubt at one time or another confronted a wannabe Vietnam vet. It has always amazed me how many people want to claim to have served in such an unpopular war.
I would add a fourth reason—the passing down of a story from soldier to soldier. According to FactCheck.org., Keith Nolan, author of 10 published books on Vietnam, says he's heard many veterans describe atrocities just like those Kerry recounted from the Winter Soldier event. Since 1978, Nolan has interviewed roughly 1,000 veterans in depth for his books, and spoken to thousands of others. "I have heard the exact same stories dozens if not hundreds of times over," he said. "Wars produce atrocities. Frustrating guerrilla wars produce a particularly horrific number of atrocities. That some individual soldiers and certain units responded with excessive brutality in Vietnam shouldn't really surprise anyone."
Let me recount a personal anecdote that makes me question the idea that story heard many times validates it. I didn’t commit or witness atrocities during my tour as a Marine infantry platoon leader. As far as I know, neither did the other officers in my regiment and battalion. But I heard of an atrocity just after I joined the unit. A Marine who was scheduled to rotate very shortly recounted an incident that he claimed had occurred shortly after he had arrived in the unit about a year earlier.
According to the story, members of a sister company had killed some North Vietnamese soldiers after they had surrendered. Some months later, I heard another Marine who had joined my platoon after I took it over relate exactly the same story to some newly arrived men, only now it involved me and my platoon. I had a little chat with him and he cleared things up with the new men. But that little episode has always made me wonder how many of the stories have been recycled and how many account of atrocities are based on what veterans heard as opposed to committed or witnessed. Of course, an account based on hearsay may be true. After all, the soldier who broke the My Lai story was not present during the massacre.
Unfortunately for the body politic, this issue is not going to go away. Too many veterans have long memories and they believe that Kerry sacrificed their honor on the altar of his political ambitions.
Mackubin Thomas Owens is a professor of national security affairs at the Naval War College in Newport, RI. He led a Marine infantry platoon in Vietnam in 1968-69.
Robert Destatte - 10/23/2006
Mr. MacKenzie wrote:
"The absence of detailed research on NVA/VC atrocities during and after the war is one of the great black holes in modern Vietnamese historiography."
This is a "great black hole" only for those Americans who have chosen to either ignore or dismiss the available data.
I am not inclined to do Mr. MacKenzie's homework for him; however the data exists if he should chose to look for it.
Robert Destatte - 10/22/2006
It seems to me that Nick Turse's article, "The Vietnam War Crimes You Never Heard Of," (a) is misleading, and (b) illustrates a number of logical fallacies.
Although I cannot refute Turse's description of the half-a-dozen or so incidents he cites in this article, I am 100% certain, based on my five years of wartime service in Vietnam, that he has grossly--and possibly consciously--exaggerated the number of crimes committed by American soldiers during the VN war. If he has researched this issue as thoroughly as he claims to have, I would have to conclude that he calculatingly misled his audience by falsely implying that American military authorities were unwilling to prosecute, convict, and harshly sentence, whenever possible, soldiers who committed war crimes.
On this latter point, there is no question that some unit commanders tried to cover up "bad news;" however, once an allegation of a possible crime was exposed senior American military authorities and their civilian superiors ensured the allegation was investigated and that appropriate action was taken.
In this regard, I would expect that a person of Turse's education and credentials must be aware of the manner in which the rules of evidence influenced the ability of military commanders and prosecutors to successfully bring an accused person to trial and, when brought to trial, to gain a conviction. His failure to mention this factor suggests to me that he was not interested in presenting his readers an honest and balanced view of this issue.
Writers such as Turse are free to cite hearsay, isolated examples, and conjecture as evidence with which to smear persons and institutions they dislike, disapprove of, or simply know nothing about. Fortunately our system of justice holds our courts to a higher standard.
It seems to me that Turse is guilty of committing at least the following fallacies of logic in this article:
Appeal to popular authority ('climb on the bandwagon'). It is popular among academics and mainstream journalists to accuse members of our armed forces of regularly committing heinous crimes. Climbing on this bandwagon likely is a sure way for an academic researcher and writer to gain popularity and acclaim from many of his colleagues.
Hasty generalization. Turse generalized about a group--American soldiers and their commanders in Vietnam--based upon a sample that is too small to be representative. Three and a half million or more Americans served in Vietnam. With rare, but widely publicized, exceptions all served honorably.
Appeal to emotions. Turse described incidents in which American soldiers allegedly killed children and raped women. Here he arouses the readers' emotions in a manner apparently intended to influence the readers' beliefs about American soldiers and military authorities--whether consciously or unconsciously, Turse seems to wish to undermine public support for the American armed forces and system of justice. "Appeals to emotion are always fallacious when intended to influence our beliefs,..." (http://www.fallacyfiles.org/emotiona.html).
Anecdotal fallacy. It is easy for the reader to imagine that some soldiers will commit war crimes when engaged in armed conflict. Turse described a few examples of such acts from which, he might expect, based on the ease with which readers can imagine such acts could have been committed, that many readers will conclude (mistakenly) that American soldiers commonly committed war crimes for which they were rarely prosecuted or punished.
On a subjective (and, I admit, logically fallacious) level--I find myself wondering if it is reasonable that I should expect accurate and balanced reporting from an academic outfit that calls itself the "Center for History and the New Media." It is the sort of name I would expect to see for an institution in the old Soviet Union.
Grant Jones - 11/24/2003
No, the U.S. was not the aggressor in Vietnam. The U.S. never had any territorial ambitions there. The Geneva Accords were not signed by either the U.S. or the Diem government. The worst mistake the U.S. made was supporting the French in their attempt to re-colonize the place.
As to the 1957 elections that didn't happen, that the Minh would have won is debatable. but if they did that would have been the last election, if they lost they would have waged war. If Hanoi is so enamored with elections, what is preventing them from having one tomorrow? Ho's agenda was to unify Indo-China under his rule, regardless of the cost. That was the cause of the war.
During the period of 1965-75 rice production increased in the South along with the standard of living. It really did, look up the numbers. Killing Diem was another blunder of the American government, but it is clear the South did not want to be ruled from Hanoi. My main objection is to the charactorization of the American war effort as some sort of Genocidal frenzy. This is crap, pure and simply. The war in Korea claimed as many lives, and more destruction, in a shorter period of time. Many of the attacks on America's efforts in Vietnam could be use in reference to the Korean War. The results fifty years later speak for themselves.
Maybe I am blinded by love of country, Patriotism. But that is still better than being blinded by anti-patriotism, hatred of America and all it stands for, which is what motivates the Vietniks. And is why the Left is always on the side of America's enemies. The Western left and the Islamofascists agree on one thing; America is the Great Satan.
I will note that despite how terrible the war of 1965-75 was, it was only after the Commie victory that nearly a million Vietnamese found it necessary to flee their country by any means avaliable. More Indo-Chinese died during the first two years of the commie "peace" than during the ten years of American involvement.
Cram - 11/23/2003
Your points about democracies going to war were well taken. I should have specified that liberal democracies have not gone to war with other liberal democracies since WWII.
(On a side note however, I would argue that Britain was not really a democracy in the modern sense of the word, nor was Prussia even though it technically had a Constitution. The Confederacy was more of a rebellion then a war, and the Kaiser was essentially a king.)
F.H. Thomas - 11/23/2003
Thanks for a good post with many fine, amusing points.
I must take issues with the democracy vs democracy point. What about Athens vs Corinth, UK vs USA (twice), USA vs CSA, France vs Prussia, and UK/France/USA vs Weimar Germany?
It seems to me that democracy has a special insidiousness, in that it posits the presumption of legitimacy.
Santayana, paraphrasing Plato, contradicting Wilson's "War to end all wars":
"Only the dead have seen the end of war".
F.H. Thomas - 11/23/2003
I increasing appreciate your take on things, though our core beliefs may at times diverge somewhat.
Just to make a complex subject more so, Vietnam was incontrovertably separated into four main philosophical groups: the communists, who believed in no God but dialectical materialism, the animists who believed in a world soul, manifested in millions of sub-souls in every thing, whether rock, tree, or dog, the Buddists (Therevada) who believed that all wisdom was in denying the world, at least in their 18th year, and the Catholics, strongest of all, who were the bulwark against the communists in all but numbers.
The Ap Loc incident I referred to above involved communists as persecutors, and animists as victims. The battle of Song Mao, (May '70) involved Catholics against (perhaps, nominally, maybe-kinda-sorta) communists, in which 5,000 of the latter, recently marched down from North Vietnam, perished in a mini-Cannae.
It was not possible to consider any incident without its ethnic component being involved. This was often missed in contemporaneous analysis, and is invisible today. I wanted you to have this background information for future discussions.
F.H. Thomas - 11/23/2003
At times I wonder whether the internet might foster a paradigm shift in the power relationships in society, in favor of small "d" democracy. In 1970 this type of reportage and reaction could not be possible. I can tell you that, in 1969, it felt pretty damned cut off out there.
Thanks for being on message.
F.H. Thomas - 11/23/2003
It's hard at times to get a meaningful discourse when so many are so inexperienced in the subject.
But then, when one is...
Dave Livingston - 11/23/2003
As F.H. Thomas said, "War coarsens and diminishes all its participants..." But the degree to which it does may be limited by certain factors, i.e., one's religious faith or culture, i.e., my native gentle small-town America.
Indeed, it is my conviction that probably I was permitted by our Lord to survive an ordinarily killing wound in part because during my two tours in 'Nam during which I was nearly daily, flying Aero-Scout missions (even when troop Ops officer & X.O.)presented with the temptation to kill unnecessarily I not only never did so, never even considered doing so.
F.H. will perhaps understand, if armchair warriors do not, why I remain proud of having never murdered in 'Nam, as bitter
and brutal as that war was at times. Likewise, I think I can understand a little something of the factors that led him to quit the Army in face of his experiences in exotic Indochina.
All that said, I take strong issue with Michael Meo's smug assummption that it is necessarily wrong to do what must be done to win a war, to protect one's hide. War isn't for the faint of heart. By the same token, it isn't much fun. Oh Lord, it becomes mighty tiresome being constantly terrified for weeks & months on end.
Brian Kelly - 11/21/2003
As a number of people have pointed out, the permanent frustrations of operating in a general context where occupying troops are resented, hated by a civilian population is what creates the conditions under which the kinds of crimes Turse chronicles take place, or even become part of the routine. This does not excuse the actions of individual GIs, but the response to the question of whether there is documented evidence that similar crimes are occurring in Iraq is that the detereriorating relationship between occupation forces and the Iraqui people makes such a scenario inevitable.
I attach this article, from the pro-war _Times_ of London, on the dynamic on the ground at Nassiriyah. This piece is six months old, and it is likely that the situation has grown much worse rather than better.
"The Iraqis are sick people and we are the chemotherapy," said Corporal Ryan Dupre. "I am starting to hate this country. Wait till I get hold of a friggin' Iraqi. No, I won't get hold of one. I'll just kill him."
The Times (London)
March 30 2003
US Marines turn fire on civilians at the bridge of death
Mark Franchetti, Nasiriya
THE light was a strange yellowy grey and the wind was coming up, the beginnings of a sandstorm. The silence felt almost eerie after a night of shooting so intense it hurt the eardrums and shattered the nerves. My footsteps felt heavy on the hot, dusty asphalt as I walked slowly towards the bridge at Nasiriya. A horrific scene lay ahead.
Some 15 vehicles, including a minivan and a couple of trucks, blocked the road. They were riddled with bullet holes. Some had caught fire and turned into piles of black twisted metal. Others were still burning.
Amid the wreckage I counted 12 dead civilians, lying in the road or in nearby ditches. All had been trying to leave this southern town overnight, probably for fear of being killed by US helicopter attacks and heavy artillery. Their mistake had been to flee over a bridge that is crucial to the coalition's supply lines and to run into a group of shell-shocked young American marines with orders to shoot anything that moved. One man's body was still in flames. It gave out a hissing sound. Tucked away in his breast pocket, thick wads of banknotes were turning to ashes. His savings, perhaps.
Down the road, a little girl, no older than five and dressed in a pretty orange and gold dress, lay dead in a ditch next to the body of a man who may have been her father. Half his head was missing. Nearby, in a battered old Volga, peppered with ammunition holes, an Iraqi woman - perhaps the girl's mother - was dead, slumped in the back seat. A US Abrams tank nicknamed Ghetto Fabulous drove past the bodies.
This was not the only family who had taken what they thought was a last chance for safety. A father, baby girl and boy lay in a shallow grave. On the bridge itself a dead Iraqi civilian lay next to the carcass of a donkey. As I walked away, Lieutenant Matt Martin, whose third child, Isabella, was born while he was on board ship en route to the Gulf, appeared beside me. "Did you see all that?" he asked, his eyes filled with tears. "Did you see that little baby girl? I carried her body and buried it as best I could but I had no time. It really gets to me to see children being killed like this, but we had no choice." Martin's distress was in contrast to the bitter satisfaction of some of his fellow marines as they surveyed the scene. "The Iraqis are sick people and we are the chemotherapy," said Corporal Ryan Dupre. "I am starting to hate this country. Wait till I get hold of a friggin' Iraqi. No, I won't get hold of one. I'll just kill him."
Only a few days earlier these had still been the bright-eyed small-town boys with whom I crossed the border at the start of the operation. They had rolled towards Nasiriya, a strategic city beside the Euphrates, on a mission to secure a safe supply route for troops on the way to Baghdad. They had expected a welcome, or at least a swift surrender. Instead they had found themselves lured into a bloody battle, culminating in the worst coalition losses of the war - 16 dead, 12 wounded and two missing marines as well as five dead and 12 missing servicemen from an army convoy - and the humiliation of having prisoners paraded on Iraqi television.
There are three key bridges at Nasiriya. The feat of Martin, Dupre and their fellow marines in securing them under heavy fire was compared by armchair strategists last week to the seizure of the Remagen bridge over the Rhine, which significantly advanced victory over Germany in the second world war.
But it was also the turning point when the jovial band of brothers from America lost all their assumptions about the war and became jittery aggressors who talked of wanting to "nuke" the place. None of this was foreseen at Camp Shoup, one of the marines' tent encampments in northern Kuwait, where officers from the 1st and 2nd battalions of Task Force Tarawa, the 7,000-strong US Marines brigade, spent long evenings poring over maps and satellite imagery before the invasion. The plan seemed straightforward. The marines would speed unhindered over the 130 miles of desert up from the Kuwaiti border and approach Nasiriya from the southeast to secure a bridge over the Euphrates. They would then drive north through the outskirts of Nasiriya to a second bridge, over the Inahr al-Furbati canal. Finally, they would turn west and secure the third bridge, also over the canal. The marines would not enter the city proper, let alone attempt to take it.
The coalition could then start moving thousands of troops and logistical support units up highway 7, leading to Baghdad, 225 miles to the north. There was only one concern: "ambush alley", the road connecting the first two bridges. But intelligence suggested there would be little or no fighting as this eastern side of the city was mostly "pro-American".
I was with Alpha company. We reached the outskirts of Nasiriya at about breakfast time last Sunday. Some marines were disappointed to be carrying out a mission that seemed a sideshow to the main effort. But in an ominous sign of things to come, our battalion stopped in its tracks, three miles outside the city. Bad news filtered back. Earlier that morning a US Army convoy had been greeted by a group of Iraqis dressed in civilian clothes, apparently wanting to surrender. When the American soldiers stopped, the Iraqis pulled out AK-47s and sprayed the US trucks with gunfire.
Five wounded soldiers were rescued by our convoy, including one who had been shot four times. The attackers were believed to be members of the Fedayeen Saddam, a group of 15,000 fighters under the command of Saddam's psychopathic son Uday. Blown-up tyres, a pool of blood, spent ammunition and shards of glass from the bulletridden windscreen marked the spot where the ambush had taken place. Swiftly, our AAVs (23-ton amphibious assault vehicles) took up defensive positions. About 100 marines jumped out of their vehicles and took cover in ditches, pointing their sights at a mud-caked house. Was it harbouring gunmen? Small groups of marines approached, cautiously, to search for the enemy. A dozen terrified civilians, mainly women and children, emerged with their hands raised. "It's just a bunch of Hajis," said one gunner from his turret, using their nickname for Arabs. "Friggin' women and children, that's all."
Cobras and Huey attack helicopters began firing missiles at targets on the edge of the city. Plumes of smoke rose as heavy artillery shook the ground under our feet. Heavy machinegun fire echoed across the huge rubbish dump that marks the entrance to Nasiriya. Suddenly there was return fire from three large oil tanks at a refinery. The Cobras were called back, and within seconds they roared above our heads, firing off missiles in clouds of purple tracer fire. There were several loud explosions. Flames burst high into the sky from one of the oil tanks. The marines believed that what opposition there was had now been crushed. "We are going in, we are going in," shouted one of the officers.
More than 20 AAVs, several tanks and about 10 Hummers equipped with roof-mounted, anti-tank missile launchers prepared to move in. Crammed inside them were some 400 marines. Tension rose as they loaded their guns and stuck their heads over the side of the AAVs through the open roof, their M-16 pointed in all directions. As we set off towards the eastern city gate there was no sense of the mayhem awaiting us down the road. A few locals dressed in rags watched the awesome spectacle of America's war machine on the move. Nobody waved.
Slowly we approached the first bridge. Fires were raging on either side of the road; Cobras had destroyed an Iraqi military truck and a T55 tank positioned inside a dugout. Powerful explosions came from inside the bowels of the tank as its ammunition and heavy shells were set off by the fire. With each explosion a thick and perfect ring of black smoke ring puffed out of the turret. An Iraqi defence post lay abandoned. Cobras flew over an oasis of palm trees and deserted brick and mud-caked houses. We charged onto the bridge, and as we crossed the Euphrates, a large mural of Saddam came into view. Some marines reached for their disposable cameras.
Suddenly, as we approached ambush alley on the far side of the bridge, the crackle of AK-47s broke out. Our AAVs began to zigzag to avoid being hit by a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG). The road widened out to a square, with a mosque and the portrait of Saddam on the left-hand side. The vehicles wheeled round, took up a defensive position, back to back, and began taking fire. Pinned down, the marines fired back with 40mm automatic grenade launchers, a weapon so powerful it can go through thick brick walls and kill anyone within a 5-yard range of where the shell lands.
I was in AAV number A304, affectionately nicknamed the Desert Caddy. It shook as Keith Bernize, the gunner, fired off round after deafening round at sandbag positions shielding suspected Fedayeen fighters. His steel ammunition box clanged with the sound of smoking empty shells and cartridges. Bernize, who always carries a scan picture of his unborn baby daughter with him, shot at the targets from behind a turret, peering through narrow slits of reinforced glass. He shouted at his men to feed him more ammunition. Four marines, standing at the AAV's four corners, precariously perched on ammunition boxes, fired off their M-16s. Their faces covered in sweat, officers shouted commands into field radios, giving co-ordinates of enemy positions. Some 200 marines, fully exposed to enemy fire and slowed down by their heavy weapons, bulky ammunition packs and NBC suits, ran across the road, taking shelter behind a long brick wall and mounds of earth. A team of snipers appeared, yards from our vehicle.
The exchange of fire was relentless. We were pinned down for more than three hours as Iraqis hiding inside houses and a hospital and behind street corners fired a barrage of ammunition. Despite the marines' overwhelming firepower, hitting the Iraqis was not easy. The gunmen were not wearing uniforms and had planned their ambush well - stockpiling weapons in dozens of houses, between which they moved freely pretending to be civilians. "It's a bad situation," said First Sergeant James Thompson, who was running around with a 9mm pistol in his hand. "We don't know who is shooting at us. They are even using women as scouts. The women come out waving at us, or with their hands raised. We freeze, but the next minute we can see how she is looking at our positions and giving them away to the fighters hiding behind a street corner. It's very difficult to distinguish between the fighters and civilians."
Across the square, genuine civilians were running for their lives. Many, including some children, were gunned down in the crossfire. In a surreal scene, a father and mother stood out on a balcony with their children in their arms to give them a better view of the battle raging below. A few minutes later several US mortar shells landed in front of their house. In all probability, the family is dead.
The fighting intensified. An Iraqi fighter emerged from behind a wall of sandbags 500 yards away from our vehicle. Several times he managed to fire off an RPG at our positions. Bernize and other gunners fired dozens of rounds at his dugout, punching large holes into a house and lifting thick clouds of dust. Captain Mike Brooks, commander of Alpha company, pinned down in front of the mosque, called in tank support. Armed with only a 9mm pistol, he jumped out of the back of his AAV with a young marine carrying a field radio on his back.
Brooks, 34, from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, had been in command of 200 men for just over a year. He joined the marines when he was 19 because he felt that he was wasting his life. He needed direction, was a bit of a rebel and was impressed by the sense of pride in the corps. He is a soft-spoken man, fair but very firm. Brave too: I watched him sprint in front of enemy positions to brief some of his junior officers behind a wall. Behind us, two 68-ton Abrams tanks rolled up, crushing the barrier separating the lanes on the highway. The earth shook violently as one tank, Desert Knight, stopped in front of our row of AAVS and fired several 120mm shells into buildings. A few hundred yards down ambush alley there was carnage. An AAV from Charlie company was racing back towards the bridge to evacuate some wounded marines when it was hit by two RPGs. The heavy vehicle shook but withstood the explosions.
Then the Iraqis fired again. This time the rocket plunged into the vehicle through the open rooftop. The explosion was deadly, made 10 times more powerful by the ammunition stored in the back. The wreckage smouldered in the middle of the road. I jumped out from the rear hatch of our vehicle, briefly taking cover behind a wall. When I reached the stricken AAV, the scene was mayhem. The heavy, thick rear ramp had been blown open. There were pools of blood and bits of flesh everywhere. A severed leg, still wearing a desert boot, lay on what was left of the ramp among playing cards, a magazine, cans of Coke and a small bloodstained teddy bear.
"They are f****** dead, they are dead. Oh my God. Get in there. Get in there now and pull them out," shouted a gunner in a state verging on hysterical. There was panic and confusion as a group of young marines, shouting and cursing orders at one another, pulled out a maimed body. Two men struggled to lift the body on a stretcher and into the back of a Hummer, but it would not fit inside, so the stretcher remained almost upright, the dead man's leg, partly blown away, dangling in the air.
"We shouldn't be here," said Lieutenant Campbell Kane, 25, who was born in Northern Ireland. "We can't hold this. They are trying to suck us into the city and we haven't got enough ass up here to sustain this. We need more tanks, more helicopters." Closer to the destroyed AAV, another young marine was transfixed with fear and kept repeating: "Oh my God, I can't believe this. Did you see his leg? It was blown off. It was blown off."
Two CH-46 helicopters, nicknamed Frogs, landed a few hundred yards away in the middle of a firefight to take away the dead and wounded. If at first the marines felt constrained by orders to protect civilians, by now the battle had become so intense that there was little time for niceties. Cobra helicopters were ordered to fire at a row of houses closest to our positions. There were massive explosions but the return fire barely died down. Behind us, as many as four AAVs that had driven down along the banks of the Euphrates were stuck in deep mud and coming under fire.
About 1pm, after three hours of intense fighting, the order was given to regroup and try to head out of the city in convoy. Several marines who had lost their vehicles piled into the back of ours. We raced along ambush alley at full speed, close to a line of houses. "My driver got hit," said one of the marines who joined us, his face and uniform caked in mud. "I went to try to help him when he got hit by another RPG or a mortar. I don't even know how many friends I have lost. I don't care if they nuke that bloody city now. From one house they were waving while shooting at us with AKs from the next. It was insane."
There was relief when we finally crossed the second bridge to the northeast of the city in mid-afternoon. But there was more horror to come. Beside the smouldering wreckage of another AAV were the bodies of another four marines, laid out in the mud and covered with camouflage ponchos. There were body parts everywhere. One of the dead was Second Lieutenant Fred Pokorney, 31, a marine artillery officer from Washington state. He was a big guy, whose ill-fitting uniform was the butt of many jokes. It was supposed to have been a special day for Pokorney. After 13 years of service, he was to be promoted to first lieutenant. The men of Charlie company had agreed they would all shake hands with him to celebrate as soon as they crossed the second bridge, their mission accomplished. It didn't happen. Pokorney made it over the second bridge and a few hundred yards down a highway through dusty flatlands before his vehicle was ambushed. Pokorney and his men had no chance. Fully loaded with ammunition, their truck exploded in the middle of the road, its remains burning for hours. Pokorney was hit in the chest by an RPG. Another man who died was Fitzgerald Jordan, a staff sergeant from Texas. I felt numb when I heard this. I had met Jordan 10 days before we moved into Nasiriya. He was a character, always chewing tobacco and coming up to pat you on the back. He got me to fetch newspapers for him from Kuwait City. Later, we shared a bumpy ride across the desert in the back of a Humvee.
A decorated Gulf war veteran, he used to complain about having to come back to Iraq. "We should have gone all the way to Baghdad 12 years ago when we were here and had a real chance of removing Saddam." Now Pokorney, Jordan and their comrades lay among unspeakable carnage. An older marine walked by carrying a huge chunk of flesh, so maimed it was impossible to tell which body part it was. With tears in his eyes and blood splattered over his flak jacket, he held the remains of his friend in his arms until someone gave him a poncho to wrap them with.
Frantic medics did what they could to relieve horrific injuries, until four helicopters landed in the middle of the highway to take the injured to a military hospital. Each wounded marine had a tag describing his injury. One had gunshot wounds to the face, another to the chest. Another simply lay on his side in the sand with a tag reading: "Urgent - surgery, buttock."
One young marine was assigned the job of keeping the flies at bay. Some of his comrades, exhausted, covered in blood, dirt and sweat walked around dazed. There were loud cheers as the sound of the heaviest artillery yet to pound Nasiriya shook the ground. Before last week the overwhelming majority of these young men had never been in combat. Few had even seen a dead body. Now, their faces had changed.
Anger and fear were fuelled by rumours that the bodies of American soldiers had been dragged through Nasiriya's streets. Some marines cried in the arms of friends, others sought comfort in the Bible. Next morning, the men of Alpha company talked about the fighting over MREs (meals ready to eat). They were jittery now and reacted nervously to any movement around their dugouts. They suspected that civilian cars, including taxis, had helped resupply the enemy inside the city. When cars were spotted speeding along two roads, frantic calls were made over the radio to get permission to "kill the vehicles". Twenty-four hours earlier it would almost certainly have been denied: now it was granted. Immediately, the level of force levelled at civilian vehicles was overwhelming. Tanks were placed on the road and AAVs lined along one side. Several taxis were destroyed by helicopter gunships as they drove down the road.
A lorry filled with sacks of wheat made the fatal mistake of driving through US lines. The order was given to fire. Several AAVs pounded it with a barrage of machinegun fire, riddling the windscreen with at least 20 holes. The driver was killed instantly. The lorry swerved off the road and into a ditch. Rumour spread that the driver had been armed and had fired at the marines. I walked up to the lorry, but could find no trace of a weapon. This was the start of day that claimed many civilian casualties. After the lorry a truck came down the road. Again the marines fired. Inside, four men were killed. They had been travelling with some 10 other civilians, mainly women and children who were evacuated, crying, their clothes splattered in blood. Hours later a dog belonging to the dead driver was still by his side. The marines moved west to take a military barracks and secure their third objective, the third bridge, which carried a road out of the city. At the barracks, the marines hung a US flag from a statue of Saddam, but Lieutenant-Colonel Rick Grabowski, the battalion commander, ordered it down. He toured barracks. There were stacks of Russian-made ammunition and hundreds of Iraqi army uniforms, some new, others left behind by fleeing Iraqi soldiers.
One room had a map of Nasiriya, showing its defences and two large cardboard arrows indicating the US plan of attack to take the two main bridges. Above the map were several murals praising Saddam. One, which sickened the Americans, showed two large civilian planes crashing into tall buildings. As night fell again there was great tension, the marines fearing an ambush. Two tanks and three AAVs were placed at the north end of the third bridge, their guns pointing down towards Nasiriya, and given orders to shoot at any vehicle that drove towards American positions. Though civilians on foot passed by safely, the policy was to shoot anything that moved on wheels. Inevitably, terrified civilians drove at speed to escape: marines took that speed to be a threat and hit out. During the night, our teeth on edge, we listened a dozen times as the AVVs' machineguns opened fire, cutting through cars and trucks like paper.
Next morning I saw the result of this order - the dead civilians, the little girl in the orange and gold dress. Suddenly, some of the young men who had crossed into Iraq with me reminded me now of their fathers' generation, the trigger-happy grunts of Vietnam. Covered in the mud from the violent storms, they were drained and dangerously aggressive. In the days afterwards, the marines consolidated their position and put a barrier of trucks across the bridge to stop anyone from driving across, so there were no more civilian deaths. They also ruminated on what they had done. Some rationalised it. "I was shooting down a street when suddenly a woman came out and casually began to cross the street with a child no older than 10," said Gunnery
Sergeant John Merriman, another Gulf war veteran. "At first I froze on seeing the civilian woman. She then crossed back again with the child and went behind a wall. Within less than a minute a guy with an RPG came out and fired at us from behind the same wall. This happened a second time so I thought, "Okay, I get it. Let her come out again". She did and this time I took her out with my M-16." Others were less sanguine.
Mike Brooks was one of the commanders who had given the order to shoot at civilian vehicles. It weighed on his mind, even though he felt he had no choice but to do everything to protect his marines from another ambush. On Friday, making coffee in the dust, he told me he had been writing a diary, partly for his wife Kelly, a nurse at home in Jacksonville, North Carolina, with their sons Colin, 6, and four-year-old twins Brian and Evan. When he came to jotting down the incident about the two babies getting killed by his men he couldn't do it. But he said he would tell her when he got home. I offered to let him call his wife on my satellite phone to tell her he was okay. He turned down the offer and had me write and send her an e-mail instead. He was too emotional. If she heard his voice, he said, she would know that something was wrong.
Fritz Janko - 11/20/2003
Worse than war? Come on. What have you been smoking?
Cram - 11/20/2003
I happen to think that war is very much a part of human nature. It has always existed and always will exist. However, to date, no democracy has ever gone to war against another democracy. That should give us some hope.
After all, there is nothing more natural than having sex and defecating, and we have managed to have some control over where and when we do those things, why not war, which is not nearly as much fun? :)
Crazy Bigot - 11/20/2003
Here's a Crazy Bigot special question. Actually two.
What if war part of human nature? What if attempts to suppress that part of human nature lead to even worse consequences than war?
It is incumbent upon all of us crazy bigots to ask these questions of the sages who populate this board.
And, my final Crazy Bigot question of the day:
How many history professors does it take to change a light bulb? Special bonus points to anybody who can put the right Marxist spin on their answer.
Cram - 11/20/2003
The aggressors were US! There was suppossed to be free elections in Vietnam in the late 1950's, but we prevented it from happening because we knew that Ho Chi Mihn would have won.
Now, I don't ignore the attrocities the communists committed once we pulled out '75, but that will never erase the crime we committed in going into another country, imposing a puppet leader, devestating the country side, disrupting people's way of life, murdering innocent Vietnamese, poisoning the land, and so forth simply because we thought Mihn was a Soviet tool (which he was not).
I would like to think the the United States could never do what we did, but Vientnam happened and we cannot simply re-write history to confrom to our own patriotic beliefs.
Marianne - 11/19/2003
come on stevie, You wrote:
It took 30 years for the Tiger Force atrocities and those in the above article to surface. Why would it be any different now.
Among other possible reasons reports of atrocities might surface faster now...
The presence of more international human rights observers in the thick of war zones?
The past thirty years have seen massive changes in the average citizen's access to all kinds of data and discourse.
Marianne - 11/19/2003
Actually, I posted the item to demonstrate that human rights organizations observing Iraq have weighed in on their concerns about the state of affairs between the Iraqi civilians and the military and that there is nothing in their report that resembles the Tiger Force atrocities.
But then we have this piece from the LA Times piece which can be found here:
It begins with a quote from a "senior official closely involved in the search for an exit strategy." who says:
"We are one stressed-out reservist away from a massacre."
Again, not offering this as proof of such atrocities occurring now--there's no proof of that here-- but rather as evidence that people watching the situation up close--inside and outside the military--sound like they're expecting it. Or certainly won't be surprised when it happens.
Grant Jones - 11/19/2003
"What we did to that country,needlessly." If the Hanoi Communists hadn't set out to destroy what little freedom there was in the South there would have been no war. Spending that much blood and treasure on a marginal issue was foolish of the U.S. Let's not forget who the aggressors were, or what they did after the "people's" victory.
Jerry West - 11/19/2003
A thoughtful post with good points. The first step to preventing these kinds of problems in the future is to realize that everybody has dirty hands, then concentrate on the failings of one's own country and clean it up before wagging accusing fingers at others.
MacKenzie - 11/19/2003
The core ideas in Turse's article are right on the mark. There is no question that large amounts of archival (as well as other media) material concerning the conduct of the war in Vietnam remains unchecked, unanalyzed, and generaly ingored. As a fellow historian of Vietnam (albeit of a different period: colonial history) I am equally concerned about the long-term tendency in American historical circles to skirt such unpleasantries. War crimes make troubling stories, and even more troubling complications for macro-historical explanations of national interest and national behavior. But pause and consider a different set of facts that further colors grey an already murky subject.
The conduct of NVA (main force Northern Vietnamese - DRV - units), as well as 'local' communist irregulars (VC units) throughout the southern area of operations for these respective forces was just as atrociously colorful as any conduct by US, Australian, Korean, Filipino, or indeed Southern Vietnamese troops (ARVN).
The absence of detailed research on NVA/VC atrocities during and after the war is one of the great black holes in modern Vietnamese historiography. There are literally thousands of anecdotes about mass killings, lime-pits filled with bodies, NVA units using hammers on local teachers and others working for the 'Southern Regime'. There is no shortage of stories from Southerners concerning mass rapes by NVA/VC units, nor the abduction and forced conscription of young men and women, many of whom simply never returned. Estimates for the number of people killed by Northern units after 1975 runs as high as 60,000. These are all thought to be extra-judicial killings in prison-camp environments.
Nearly any story of war is certain to contain such horrors. In the case of Vietnam what historians must come to terms with is the unpleasant fact that almost every angle of approach contains a nearly constant problematic of unresolved or unacknowledged atrocities. There are very few 'good guys' in this story.
Kudos to Turse for working in the 'dirty' areas of our past!
Steve Brody - 11/19/2003
Hey, brody o’grady, read- the- news, Steve-O, or whatever nom-de plume you’ll use next,
Why would I debate someone who can’t remember his name from post to post? I don’t know, maybe it’s not your fault. Maybe you’ve got Multiple Personality Disorder.
At any rate, if you can’t keep your name straight, how you gonna follow an argument?
Steve Brody - 11/19/2003
Sure thing, Steve-o, read- the- news, brody o'grady, or whatever name you’ll pick next. But you got to agree to shut yours. And that includes all of your various personalities
scram - 11/19/2003
"The crimes of America in Vietnam (real and imagined) have been studied in detail"
Cram - 11/18/2003
I agree with your point that too many attrocities in history, and well lets face it, right now, are ignored.
I believe that Vietnam was a human rights crime, and we need to never forget what we did to that country, needlessly. This article is especially germane to the current debate over history, as many conservatives now argue that Vietnam was (as Reagan called it) a "noble war" and the only reason we lost was because of the liberals at home (I seriously heard that this morning on talk radio).
I also oppose this current war with Iraq. These things should be studied, and debated. However, we should also not be so selective in our condemnation.
The largest conlfict in world history since WWII is currently being fought right now. No, it is not Iraq, but in the Congo, where millions have been killed.
Today, an ethnic minority faces brutal occupation by a religious majority who rutinely murders innocent women and children in an attempt to convert them. No, I am not talking about Israel, but Sudan.
Over 200 civilians have been killed in the last three weeks alone, tortured to death, with over 1.3 million left as refugees... not in the West Bank, but in Uganda.
The list goes on and on and on, and yet the international community is relatively silent (non-profits and NGO's notwithstanding). I point these things out (among many) simply to remind everyone that there is a lot of evil and death in this world, and to focus solely on us and Israel does a diservice to the value of human life on this planet.
Grant Jones - 11/18/2003
Why not, because attacking America is just too much fun. A little context goes a long way. The crimes of America in Vietnam (real and imagined) have been studied in detail, the Genocide of our enemies is swept under the nearest rug. I guess you are OK with that, I'm not. That's why I bring up what some would prefer to forget. Mass murder was the official, sanctioned policy of Hanoi.
It would be like writing an article on the 45th Infantry Division's killing of several dozen SS guards at Dachau and not mentioning all those dead bodies in cattle cars. Selective indignation, raises questions, that's all.
Trent Locke - 11/18/2003
"Yellow rain" in Laos? Turse dosen't mention this bee dung/ chemical agent incident so why do you mention it. what does it have to do with anything?
"Why not study BOTH sides of the conflict?"
somebody stated it eloquently above, why not write the history of the world on the back of a napkin. heck ---- why not also inclde a biography of FDR and Ho Chi Minh in it too?
Grant Jones - 11/18/2003
Slander, or when a footnote becomes a dissertation.
"Yellow rain" in Laos, or how about this:
"Once the North Vietnamese were in control [of Hue], agents systematically fanned out, searching for South Vietnamese soldiers, government officials, American sympathizers, and foreigners in general. Somewhere between 4,000 and 6,000 were rounded up. Most of those were clubbed or shot to death. Doctors, priests, and teachers were expecially targeted. Three thousnad bodies were eventually found in mass graves." Victor Davis Hanson, _Carnage and Culture_ Hanson goes on to relate how the omnipresent Western media missed this story. The kind of omission that continuies.
This sort of thing is typical of what commies do when they take control of an area. The Red Army did the same thing as they rolled through Eastern Europe, culminating in their notorious sacking of Berlin.
As to the crimes of American soldiers in other wars, it has been duly noted. For example, "Almost 19,000 men, more than a division, were plundering supplies needed by their comrades in the Ardennes...In one Paris detention barracks alone, there were 1,308 Americans under arrest...'This place is getting to be like Chicago in the days of Al Capone,' said Colonel E.G. Buhrmaster, provost marshal of the Seine base section." John Toland, from his classic, _Battle: The Story of the Bulge_ Toland spents a few paragraphs on this subject before he moves onto weightier matters, like the Malmedy Massacre
The crimes that Nick Turse relates are inexcusible. But let's not forget that the real mass-murder started after the Communist "victory."
Gus Moner - 11/18/2003
I agree with Mr Brody and as for the difference here, we have three Iraqi factions who are not happy as cobbled together anyway. Vietnamese were all one group, north and south.
That is a big difference with regard to V. Still, the result seems headed towards Iraqisation as an exit strategy, with the likely sequel being a three way conflict.
Gus Moner - 11/18/2003
One more analogy. When we couldn't defeat the resistance as foreigners in V, we trained and used the natives to fight each other. These, as you point up, collapsed when attacked due to their leader's corruption and the troops own lack of commitment, interest and will. We are doing the same thing in I.
Gus Moner - 11/18/2003
I agree with Mr Brody here, there's no comparison to make - yet, and let's hope never.
Steve-O - 11/18/2003
sure... as long as you agree to shut your mouth for the next 30 years!
brody o'grady - 11/18/2003
nice cop out. I knew you couldn;t debate.
come on stevie... - 11/18/2003
It took 30 years for the Tiger Force atrocities and those in the above article to surface. Why would it be any different now. History shows that it takes time for these reports to appear, but appear they do.
Steve Brody - 11/18/2003
Marianne, I've read the report and agree that the soldiers could do things better.
My problem is with unsupported, over-the-top comparisons to the atrocious conduct described in this article and how our troops are conducting themselves now, in Iraq.
Nothing in the Human Rights Watch report bears any resemblance to what the "Tiger Force" is alledged to have done.
Marianne - 11/18/2003
In fact, Human Rights Watch published a report critical of the coalition command for not counting the civilian casualties that have occurred in Baghdad.
The liink is here:
The report and other things I read on their site seems pretty balanced to me. It suggests things the military could do to decrease the possibility of some of these kinds of engagements between civilians and the military--like staffing raiding parties with an interpeter so Iraqis stand a better chance of cooperating and responding with less confusion and dread when soldiers crash through their doors in the middle of the night.
Likewise, having better illumination and posting signs in Arabic at checkpoints (and probably having an interpreter there would be a good idea.)
They also acknowledge the edginess of the situation where combat forces are being asked to perform policing duties.
Steve Brody - 11/18/2003
Brodywatcher, Steve-o, Read the News or whatever name you’re now using, I’m not inclined to educate someone like you, who is to lazy to read the newspaper and to dishonest to accurately summarize it when you do.
Steve Brody - 11/18/2003
Okay, "Steve-O", "Read the News" or whatever name you're using this time, Check back in 30 years when you have some evidenc
Steve-O - 11/18/2003
Give it 30 years and then the truth will come out. Just like it is in the above article! It always does Brody!
Brody-watcher - 11/18/2003
"outside of the 'Sunni triangle', there seems to be relative peace and tranquility"
prove this little lie of yours!!!
Game Over - 11/18/2003
It is you that gives the "typical" trite response. Next time don't play! Instead, crawl into a hole!
Alec Lloyd - 11/18/2003
Mr. Meo is typical of many: he sees the US as a force for evil. We kill people for sheer joy, and when our enemies violate human rights on a consistent basis, it is again our fault.
In short, we are the cause of all evil. Were our troops to quietly go home, the Khmer Rouge, Fedayeen Saddam and every other group dedicated to torture and oppression would magically disappear.
Thanks for playing.
Steve Brody - 11/18/2003
There are similarities. Perhaps the most striking is the endgame. Nixon’s “secret plan” to end the war was “ Vietnamization”, ie having Vietnamese troops take over the fighting. Bush appears to be employing the same strategy, “Iraqization” of the war. Pray it is more successful than “Vietnamization”
There are also great differences. Mainly there is no well-equipped and supplied great military, like the NVA, breathing down the necks of the Iraqi government. Also, outside of the “Sunni triangle”, there seems to be relative peace and tranquility.
Cram - 11/18/2003
I am all for historical analogies, but we have to be very careful in the specific event being analogized. The US in Iraq (and certainly Israel in the West Bank) is nothing like the motived for going into Vietnam, possibly the largest foriegn policy mistake in the post WWII era, and maybe even in American history.
Our treatment of Vietnamese civilians, as mentioned in the article, was criminal, but I see no evidence that American soldiers are treating Iraqis anything like the same way at all.
However, there are some similarities between Vietnam and Iraq that I see:
1) The American people overwhelmingly supported Vietnam (V) and Iraq (I) at the start of the war.
2) Both V and I were justified on evidence that turned out to be incorrect (Gulf of Tonkin/WMD)
3) Neither LBJ nor GWB was/is willing to admit any mistake in judgement or deceit on their part, both saying that their predicessors would have done the same thing.
and perhaps the most important similarity to me:
4) Both V and I were never popular enough to do what was neccessary to win. Instead of simply pulling out OR investing enough money to finish the job, we decided in both V and I to take the half-assed middleroad, investing enough money just to prevent the place from collapsing, but not enough to win the war.
It remains to be seen if both events will end the same, but just as Saigon fell as soon as American protection left, I fear the fall of Baghdad to terrorists as soon as we pull our troops out.
Steve Brody - 11/18/2003
If this is the best you can do, no wonder you won't use your real name
Steve-O - 11/18/2003
deflect, deflect, deflect... hahaha!
Steve Brody - 11/18/2003
“Another reason for my suspicion is the unprecedented exclusion of journalists from the active collection of news: I am impressed that the Boston Globe, the Associated Press, and 30 other news-gathering organizations have protested, in writing, the "harassment"--their word--of their reporters by the American military authorities in Iraq.”
I read about this, Mike, and what was clear is that most of the reporters “harassed” were approaching and filming US soldiers immediately after Guerrilla attacks. Let me give you a piece of advice, Mike, if you go to Iraq, don’t approach soldiers right after they’ve been fired on with a video camera on your shoulder. To a scared soldier, it might look like a weapon and he might not treat you very well.
“One item which I consider evidence is the fact that our military authorities are not interested even in counting the number of civilians killed, let alone in determining how they were killed or with what justification.”
This is evidence of nothing, Mike. You know that Human rights organizations operate in Iraq and if there were anything like what was going on with the “Tiger Force”, those organizations would be screaming from the rooftops.
“ third reason is the visible tip of the iceberg that we can see. A mother and child are machine-gunned in a car, with no reason and with no consequences to the soldier who did it. We've even shot and killed one of our own governing council-members.”
Mike, this is a combat zone, with suicide bombers. When a car refuses to stop at a checkpoint, the outcome is predictable. It’s a tragedy, but it is predictable. It is in no way comparable to the activities included in the Vietnam article. As for the Governing Council member, he was a city council member in Sadr City and got into an altercation with a US soldier when he tried to park his car in an area off limits to vehicles due to car bombing dangers. He wrestled the GI’s gun away from him and got shot for his trouble.
Mike, let me be clear: I don’t think you’re unpatriotic. I think you made a despicable comment about our soldiers, are unable to support it and lack the decency to withdraw it.
Steve Brody - 11/18/2003
Deflection hell, I’m just setting the record straight.
You summarized the situation as “Three Iraqis were killed and at least four wounded when US troops fired on shoppers at a Baghdad market”. You forgot to include “The Market“ was an illegal weapons market, the “ shoppers” were buying illegal weapons and test firing them and the US soldiers, understandably on edge, were in the area and fired on them.
And you wrapped this into some kind of an argument that our troops were treating Iraqi civilians in a manner comparable to the way the Vietnamese civilians were treated by the “Tiger Force”.
“Read the News”, “Read this Brody”, “Steve-O” or whatever your name is, if you intend to keep distorting the record, expect to get called on it.
Steve-O - 11/17/2003
nice deflection, now why bother?
Michael Meo - 11/17/2003
One item which I consider evidence is the fact that our military authorities are not interested even in counting the number of civilians killed, let alone in determining how they were killed or with what justification.
Another reason for my suspicion is the unprecedented exclusion of journalists from the active collection of news: I am impressed that the Boston Globe, the Associated Press, and 30 other news-gathering organizations have protested, in writing, the "harrassment"--their word--of their reporters by the American military authorities in Iraq.
A third reason is the visible tip of the iceberg that we can see. A mother and child are machine-gunned in a car, with no reason and with no consequences to the soldier who did it. We've even shot and killed one of our own governing council-members.
You may not find any of this persuasive. The primary grounds for my suspicion is, that our army engaged this sort of free-floating murderous violence in the past, and protesting it was regarded as unpatriotic. So it is reasonable to suppose that it is still going on.
Steve Brody - 11/17/2003
“RTB”, if you should go to Iraq, I suggest that you do not go to any illegal weapons markets. If you do, don’t test fire any weapons.
If you break both of these rules, please, make sure there aren’t any American soldiers around. Soldiers that are likely to be somewhat jumpy and on high alert.
Failing to heed any of this advice, whatever you do, don’t try and shoot it out with the soldiers.
Now, what does this have to do with beheading Vietnamese children, anyway?
read this brody - 11/17/2003
US troops kill three Iraqi civilians: report
Three Iraqis were killed and at least four wounded when US troops fired on shoppers at a Baghdad market, according to witnesses and relatives of the casualties.
Steve Brody - 11/17/2003
I do read the news. Nothing like what was described in this article is alleged in the Marine Courts martial.
By the way “read the news”, why don’t you “read the comments”, before you spout off. Meo said he suspected that our present government is repeating this kind of treatment of CIVILIANS now, in Iraq. The Marines are being court martialed for mistreating POW’s.
read the news - 11/17/2003
how about the courts martials for abusing POWs?! why don't u read the news before spouting off Brody!
Steve Brody - 11/17/2003
“I said that I suspect that what our troops did in Vietnam, they are now doing in Iraq.”
Do you have any evidence for your suspicions, Mike? Absent that, I suspect that you’re just engaging in what psychologists call “projection”.
Michael Meo - 11/17/2003
I said that I suyspect that what our troops did in Vietnam, they are now doing in Iraq.
If that, to your mind, means I am accusing them of impaling pregnant women, then you said it.
maybe baby? - 11/17/2003
maybe he is. how do you know he is not? present your evidence!
why not? - 11/17/2003
hell, why dosen't he write the history of the entire world on the back of a napkin??!?!?!?!?! perhaps that is not his focus. why don't you write the history you want and let him write his.
Garry Perkins - 11/17/2003
US GIs engaged in even worse acts in Europe and Asia during the Second World War. American soldiers raped thousands of women in China, Japan, Germany, Italy, France, and the UK, yet no one even discusses these crimes. I have spoken with miltary historians who have told me that Viet Nam probably had the best behaved US soldiers of any conflict up to that time.
It amazes me that everyone focuses on one small conflict. Viet Nam never suffered the kind of atrocities that the German and Japanese people were forced to bear. North Viet Nam's heavily populated cities were never even bombed. The US military actively tried to avoid civilian casualties.
Why doesn't Mr. Turse broaden his research to soldiers' crimes in the 20th century, rather than one small, largely irrelavent conflict.
out of my subfield - 11/17/2003
it shoudln't, but it does. where is the discussion of atrocities in Karnow or other popular readers?!
Alec Lloyd - 11/17/2003
Are you accusing our troops of impaling pregnant women?
Michael Meo - 11/16/2003
Allow me express the concern that our present government is repeating this kind of treatment of civilians now, in Iraq.
F.H. Thomas - 11/16/2003
The "Phoenix Program" was quite publicly discussed, even at the time, and was widely in effect across Vietnam, by 1969, when I arrived there. The public rationale for this was to identify and "neutralize" VC civilian cadres and irregulars.
Almost all Phoenix units, in my understanding, in 1969, were primarily Vietnamese, with a sprinkling of US advisers. It is surprizing to me, and disturbing, that the unit described here was apparently all American, and professional Army - shameful!
For professional soldiers, this was anathema, and for this reason, the "US advisers" were not based with regular US forces, at least not that I was aware, and they operated by themselves. How much had changed, apparently, between 1966 and 1969. I had friends in the 101st, and it was definitely not happening then.
This was going on on both sides, of course. I cannot forget an incident at a hamlet called Ap Loc, in March 1970, in which the VC version of terrorism and targeted assassination took place. The pregnant wife of the village chief was vaginally impailed, by VC Commissars, and left to die over several hours. The other villagers were threatened with death not to aid her. The next morning, we found the rest of the village in shock, and the poor victim had not even been buried. I had never seen, not could I imagine, an act as inhuman and degenerate as this.
War coarsens and diminishes all its participants, which is the main reason why I came back a pacifist, and got out of the service. (God, how I wish we could roll back to 1900 and do the whole damned century over again.)
For those others who hate this kind of thing, there is work to do. The same kind of torture, terrorism, abuse of civilians, and targeted political assassination continues today in Israel, and we Americans are paying for it, in treasure and in moral standing in the world.
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