"Exterminate All the Brutes"
Apropos of the war-and-human-nature discussion going on these past weeks, here's the Toledo Blade's four-part series on war crimes by"Tiger Force," an elite U.S. Army unit in the Vietnam War. (The series earned the Blade a Pulitzer this year). Links to the whole thing can be found here. There's so much in it that's horrific, it's hard to figure out what to excerpt. But here's the broad outline of the story, followed by some details:
The platoon - a small, highly trained unit of 45 paratroopers created to spy on enemy forces - violently lost control between May and November, 1967.
For seven months, Tiger Force soldiers moved across the Central Highlands, killing scores of unarmed civilians - in some cases torturing and mutilating them - in a spate of violence never revealed to the American public.
They dropped grenades into underground bunkers where women and children were hiding - creating mass graves - and shot unarmed civilians, in some cases as they begged for their lives.
They frequently tortured and shot prisoners, severing ears and scalps for souvenirs.
... William Doyle, a former Tiger Force sergeant now living in Missouri, said he killed so many civilians he lost count.
"We were living day to day. We didn't expect to live. Nobody out there with any brains expected to live," he said in a recent interview."So you did any goddamn thing you felt like doing - especially to stay alive. The way to live is to kill because you don't have to worry about anybody who's dead."
Time and again, Tiger Force soldiers talked about the executions of captured soldiers - so many, investigators were hard pressed to place a number on the toll.
In June, Pvt. Sam Ybarra slit the throat of a prisoner with a hunting knife before scalping him - placing the scalp on the end of a rifle, soldiers said in sworn statements. Ybarra refused to talk to Army investigators about the case.
Former platoon medic Larry Cottingham told investigators:"There was a period when just about everyone had a necklace of ears."
Records show soldiers began another gruesome practice: Kicking out the teeth of dead civilians for their gold fillings.
As the Blade establishes, much of this was known--and known at the highest levels. The Army undertook a 4 1/2 year investigation--an investigation that the White House, including John Dean, received briefings on. But the Army purposely squelched any attempt at disciplinary action.
I keep hearing about what a disloyal jackass John Kerry is for telling lurid tales of wartime atrocities when he returned from Vietnam. But for all the tall tales and amplified rumors he traded in, it's worth remembering that things like this went on. If what we've seen so far at Abu Ghraib is the worst prisoner-abuse to emerge from this war, we can count ourselves and the Iraqis lucky.
I don't mean to wax Chomskyite. There's no military force on the planet I'd feel safer surrendering to in wartime. We are and have nearly always been better than our wartime enemies. But at bottom, we're made of the same raw material.