Welcome Nick Turse (NickTurse.com) (TomDispatch.com) and Host Gareth Porter (Inter Press Service) (AntiWar.com)

Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam

Writing about war crimes in an American war fought nearly 50 years ago is a thankless task for a journalist. But it is a subject that is more relevant than ever as the United States gears up for permanent global war in which U.S. troops may be sent to fight simultaneously in several Islamic countries. What really happened in Vietnam holds profound significance for understanding how the U.S. military operates.

That is why Nick Turse’s new book “Kill Anything That Moves” deserves the attention of activists in particular. It is the first real scholarly book on this subject, combining first-hand experiences interviewing the villagers who survived U.S. and South Korean massacres with research in the previously unknown files of the Vietnam War Crimes Working Group, a secret Pentagon task force set up after My Lai. And it is the first to fully reflect the cumulative horror of the U.S. assault on millions of South Vietnamese.

Most Americans still think My Lai was an isolated case of American atrocity. Turse’s book documents the reality that My Lai was only the tip of the gigantic iceberg of war atrocities. He gleans from those Pentagon files the shocking fact that army investigators actually substantiated more than 300 atrocities by U.S. troops, including “massacres, rapes, murders, torture, assaults, mutilations….” They included 141 cases of torture of noncombatants.

But the same files show that there were another 500 allegations of atrocities that were never seriously investigated, including the murders of dozens and perhaps hundreds of Vietnamese civilians by the 101st Airborne’s Division’s Tiger Force.

As he read case after case of wanton killings by U.S. troops, Turse recalls, he “began to get a sense of the ubiquity of atrocity during the American War.” That ubiquity of U.S. atrocity in Vietnam raises questions that remain highly relevant in this era of acute American militarism: why did the U.S. military command allow such atrocities to flourish in Vietnam? Was it a matter of military culture? Was it a virulent form of racism that ran through not only the military but also U.S. society? Or was it part of a conscious military plan?

Turse shows that it was all of the above, but he puts primary emphasis on the conscious military plan that essentially authorized atrocities in advance, as long as they were committed against the residents of long-term Viet Cong base areas. He refers to “search-and- destroy tactics, loophole-laced rules of engagement and ‘free fire’ zones”.

And he has managed to ferret out a crucial incriminating document issued by Gen. William Westmoreland, the top U.S. commander in Vietnam, in 1965, which explicitly stated that “free strike zones” were to exclude populated areas “except those in accepted VC bases”. In other words, Westmoreland’s directive was saying that the civilian population of those areas was fair game.

In a final chapter, Turse tries to convey through important anecdotal evidence the way in which the military and the news media conspired to minimize or deny the prevalence of war crimes in the post My-Lai period. It features an account of how Newsweek correspondents Alex Shimkin and Kevin Buckley wrote a scathing investigative report on the months-long murderous rampage of U.S. forces in heavily populated Mekong Delta in late 1968 and the first half of 1969 called “Speedy Express” – only to have the story eviscerated by editors in New York and ignored by the rest of the media.

Writing a book about American war crimes poses an obvious challenge: how to hold the reader’s interest while reciting multiple litanies of murder. Because Turse is first-rate writer, and because he has personalized the story of U.S. war crimes, he has surmounted that challenge. The writing involves a great deal of narrative and it includes passages and even pages that are beautifully written. The epilogue of the book draws a connection between the “bad death” the Vietnamese believe their war dead suffer — trapped in a limbo between our world and the land of the dead” and the “bad death” of U.S. war crimes which “continue to haunt our society in profound and complex ways”.

Turse’s book invites a discussion of the significance of war crimes in Vietnam for the policies and politics of present era of the “permanent war state”. What does that bloody chapter in American foreign and military policy tell us about the nature of the military and civilian institution that spawned those crimes – and those political and media institutions that have covered them up for half a century? How does the issue of war crimes – both past and present-day – play in efforts to educate and organize about the folly of U.S. wars?

[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]

145 Responses to “FDL Book Salon Welcomes Nick Turse, Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam”

BevW January 19th, 2013 at 1:53 pm

Nick, Welcome back to the Lake.

Gareth, Welcome back to the Lake and thank you for Hosting today’s Book Salon.


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Nick Turse January 19th, 2013 at 1:58 pm

It’s great to be back here at FDL. I want to express my gratitude to Bev for setting this up and especially thank Gareth for that exceptionally flattering introduction.

Nick Turse January 19th, 2013 at 1:58 pm

Few people are as well-versed on America’s wars as Gareth Porter. From his time covering war in Vietnam, as Bureau Chief for Dispatch News Service, to his ground-breaking work on the war in Afghanistan that won him a Martha Gellhorn Prize last year, he continually raises the bar for those of us who cover “national security” issues. It’s a privilege to have him hosting today.

dakine01 January 19th, 2013 at 2:01 pm

Good afternoon Nick and Gareth and welcome back to FDL this afternoon

Nick, I have not had an opportunity to read your book but have to say I am not all that surprised, having read many of the earlier Vietnam books from over the years. I managed to avoid service during the war thanks to being in ROTC (with a lottery number of 6) and well remember my officer basic summer camp where there was a lot of discussion of “killing Charlie” and “offing g**ks”. I also had numerous friends both from my home town and from college who had served who stated that My Lai was not an aberration.

Thanks Colin Powell for thatnice cover-up! /s

Gareth Porter January 19th, 2013 at 2:02 pm

Hi, Nick. Great to have you on the FDL Book Salon for such an important book. I have a very personal connection to this subject, because it was reading Jonathan Schell’s The Military Half was the key to my deciding to become a Southeast Asia specialist. So I believe in the centrality of war crimes as a personal as well as political issue.

Gareth Porter January 19th, 2013 at 2:03 pm

So I’d like to ask you how the war crimes issues relates to your personal political concerns in a broader sense. Do you see this issue as one that you would continue to work on in relation to more recent US wars?

Nick Turse January 19th, 2013 at 2:04 pm

Schell’s “The Military Half” and “The Village of Ben Suc” had a great effect on me too. They truly are indespensible to understanding the war…

Elliott January 19th, 2013 at 2:05 pm

Hi Welcome to the Lake

I remember hearing stories about a unit(?) that went around vilely mutilating Vietnamese corpses and leaving an Ace of Spades with the body. Eventually the VC retaliated in kind – but I have no actual proof of this but was told the crew was notorious?

Nick Turse January 19th, 2013 at 2:06 pm

I’ve actually been looking into the issue of civilian casualties in Afghanistan in some depth for an upcoming special issue of The Nation…

DWBartoo January 19th, 2013 at 2:06 pm

Thank you, Nick and Gareth, for joining us this evening at Firedoglake.

DW

Nick Turse January 19th, 2013 at 2:07 pm

so I am continuing this type of research, grim as it is…

Nick Turse January 19th, 2013 at 2:07 pm

While it’s still early, I want to apologize in advance for my rather lackluster typing speed… I’ll do my best to keep up…

Gareth Porter January 19th, 2013 at 2:08 pm

Are you satisfied with the way anti-war activists have dealt with war crimes in the Afghanistan context? Has it been given adequate attention in your view?

Elliott January 19th, 2013 at 2:09 pm
In response to Elliott @ 8

I guess my point is, there was a lot of talk around of war crimes commited by our soldiers – I think it warped a generation of men, I worry we are doing the same to this generation who served in Iraq and Afghanistan

Nick Turse January 19th, 2013 at 2:09 pm

While there may be more NGOs and others looking at civilian casualties in greater depth these days, it’s still a very difficult subject to grapple with. That is, the information is hard to come by…

dakine01 January 19th, 2013 at 2:10 pm
In response to Nick Turse @ 11

As a technical note, there is a “Reply” button in the lower right hand of each comment. Clicking “Reply” pre-fills the commenter name and comment number being replied to and makes it easier for folks to follow the conversation.

Note: Some browsers do not like to let the Reply funciton correctly after a hard page refresh if the page has not completed loading

Nick Turse January 19th, 2013 at 2:11 pm

I don;t think the issue of war crimes, or civilian suffering writ large has received adequate attention…

Nick Turse January 19th, 2013 at 2:12 pm
In response to Gareth Porter @ 13

I don;t think the issue of war crimes, or civilian suffering writ large has received adequate attention, either in activist circles or in the mainstream or not so mainstream media. While you, Gareth have done an admirable job, you’ve been the acception…

Gareth Porter January 19th, 2013 at 2:13 pm

I wonder if you would agree that there are stunning parallels between the excuses offered for treating Vietnamese civilians as enemy and the excuses for civilian casualties in the drone war.

Nick Turse January 19th, 2013 at 2:13 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 16

got it. Thanks!

BevW January 19th, 2013 at 2:13 pm
In response to Nick Turse @ 15

While there may be more NGOs and others looking at civilian casualties in greater depth these days, it’s still a very difficult subject to grapple with. That is, the information is hard to come by…

Nick, is it the information on so many NGOs now or the details of the casualties?

DWBartoo January 19th, 2013 at 2:14 pm

Nick, it has finally, in recent years, been acknowledged that the “Gulf of Tonkin Incident” was total fabrication.

Do you imagine that, at some future time, when no consequence might befall the “authors” of the lies used to launch the attack on Iraq, that similar, quiet and low-profile, “news releases” will acquaint any members of the public who are paying attention with the nature and intent of those more recent fabrications?

DW

CTuttle January 19th, 2013 at 2:15 pm

Aloha, Nick and Gareth…! I’m a big fan of both of your tireless works…!

I’ve not read the book yet, but do you touch on some of Sam Adam’s work, and, how complicit(or not) was Colin Powell in covering up My Lai…?

Nick Turse January 19th, 2013 at 2:15 pm
In response to Gareth Porter @ 19

I do. The U.S. military has long had problems discerning between guerrillas and the general population and all too often has resorted to treating them the same. Your own work on the astonishing numbers of innocents rounded up in night raids is the most damning evidence of this…

pastfedup January 19th, 2013 at 2:16 pm

Welcome Gareth and Nick and thank you for being here. I’ve been looking forward to this book salon all week! As a veteran of that era who served stateside, I’m extremely interested in the mindset that allowed those atrocities to take place.

Question: who decided which villages were “VC bases?” Was it on an ad-hoc basis by 1st Lieutenants while on patrol, or was it pre-determined by higher-ups?

Nick Turse January 19th, 2013 at 2:17 pm
In response to BevW @ 21

Well, various NGOs have taken a stab at numbers of the years and the UN has its counts, but I think that many civilian casualties in the countryside — due to all actors in the conflict — are missed…

Nick Turse January 19th, 2013 at 2:19 pm
In response to pastfedup @ 25

This was generally accomplished at a higher level. But a 1LT could declare “contact” that is enemy fire and call in heavy firepower, like artillery shelling, on a hamlet even if the maps back at HQ showed it as a “friendly” population center

Gareth Porter January 19th, 2013 at 2:20 pm
In response to pastfedup @ 25

That’s a very important question. The designation of longterm VC base areas was done at higher command levels. They had maps showing the VC base areas, which were used to designate free fire zones and which clearly underlay the strategy of “draining the sea”

Nick Turse January 19th, 2013 at 2:20 pm
In response to CTuttle @ 23

There were a lot more officers more senior than Powell implicated in the My Lai cover-up. But in Kill Anything that Moves, I try to shed a little light on another atrocity scandal that Powelll found himself involved in…

Nick Turse January 19th, 2013 at 2:21 pm
In response to Nick Turse @ 29

it involved a “gook-hunting” general who was taking pot-shots and killing Vietnamese noncombatants from his helicopter

BevW January 19th, 2013 at 2:23 pm

Nick, Gareth, Were the numbers of atrocities committed, increasing as the war drug on, or was it a constant event all through the war?

Gareth Porter January 19th, 2013 at 2:24 pm

What are your thoughts on the nature of the U.S. military in relation to war crimes. Should activists be taking the position that this is an inherently evil institution? It’s political difficult, but isn’t it the truth?

tjbs January 19th, 2013 at 2:24 pm

After the ’63 coup this was expected. Any American who reads the constitution and serves in an undeclared war isn’t very American. I see these wars as a excuse to off a couple of humans without consequences now though karma will catch up and run over you. I was a proud kill dodger back in the day.

Peterr January 19th, 2013 at 2:25 pm

Nick, what kind of reactions have you gotten to the book from (a) former Vietnam-era US military folks, (b) current DOD people, and (c) lawyers?

Nick Turse January 19th, 2013 at 2:26 pm
In response to Gareth Porter @ 32

I think the U.S. military has to be viewed as a deeply flawed institution that, like many other large institutions, has a deep aversion to confronting hard truths about its actions

Bindo January 19th, 2013 at 2:27 pm

A mighty thank you, Gareth and Nick, for your work.

It seems to me that awareness of the criminality of American aggression was acute in the ’60′s. O Stone’s recent series, “The Untold History …”, if one reads between the lines, is damning. It seems that “public diplomacy” works.

Are you resigned to being token dissidents in this kingdom of fraud?

Gareth Porter January 19th, 2013 at 2:27 pm
In response to BevW @ 31

I I think it got worse with each successive year, but that’s only an impression. Nick knows the answer better.

Nick Turse January 19th, 2013 at 2:27 pm
In response to Nick Turse @ 35

The military has never been held to account for actions nor is it willing to confront them in any honest and meaningful way.

Gareth Porter January 19th, 2013 at 2:29 pm
In response to Bindo @ 36

What a difficult but central question. Yes, I’m afraid that in my lifetime, I will be in that position of being marginalized, although I’m determined everything within my power to change that.

Nick Turse January 19th, 2013 at 2:30 pm
In response to Gareth Porter @ 37

It’s a question I grappled with for a long time and its very hard to tease out. Heavy firepower began to be applied early in the war, so macro-level atrocities — destruction of villages and the like — may have be even more common earlier in the war. But micro-level crimes — face-to-face murder — may have been more common later.

Nick Turse January 19th, 2013 at 2:31 pm
In response to Gareth Porter @ 39

I feel much the same. I don’t see much chance of meaningful change, but feel the necessity to do what I can…

Gareth Porter January 19th, 2013 at 2:32 pm
In response to Bindo @ 36

I would add, though, that there is a difference between being marginalized, by which I meant that one doesn’t have access to truly mass media, and being a “token”, which seems to connote somehow just going through the motions.

pastfedup January 19th, 2013 at 2:32 pm
In response to Nick Turse @ 27

I’ve read and listened to reports about villages where the army forced villagers out of their huts and then set everything on fire, purportedly because villagers were suspected of supporting or even just knowing about local VC. How extensive was this practice?

Gareth Porter January 19th, 2013 at 2:33 pm
In response to Bindo @ 36

It is important to keep hammering at the truth, because individuals are touched and changed by it, just as Nick and were by Jonathan Shell.

DWBartoo January 19th, 2013 at 2:34 pm
In response to Gareth Porter @ 32

That is an especially critical question, Gareth, as many Americans are taking the “position” that the use of drones, for example, is a “good thing” as it “saves American lives” …

Basically, there is no questioning of perpetual war, merely the “means” by which it will be waged. Until and unless, the public may begin to question the very notion of “organized mayhem”, the MICC (Military-Industrial-Congressional-Complex) will not suffer any meaningful embarrassments or major reductions to its bloated and obscene “budgets” … and especially not the black opts now so favored by this administration and the CIA.

Even here, at FDL, your suggestion that “this is an inherently evil institution”, would find no favor among a certain few front pagers and would be attacked as cowardly, fearful posturing.

DW

Kevin Gosztola January 19th, 2013 at 2:34 pm

The book is an incredible read and an excellent effort to prevent a critical history of American atrocities from being excused or forgotten. Reading about torture, taking body parts as trophies, the culture of impunity for war crimes, the exaggeration of “enemy” casualty counts or the policy of not counting civilian casualties, one sees a great continuity between the Vietnam War and the wars and occupations in the so-called Global War on Terrorism today.

How would you compare the use of targeted assassinations or summary executions during the Vietnam War to the use of this tactic during wars/occupations during the past decade?

Nick Turse January 19th, 2013 at 2:35 pm
In response to Peterr @ 34

The reactions to the book have been, as you might expect, across the spectrum. I’ve received some very flattering responses from some veterans and angry ones from others. Much like when I was conducting interviews for the book. When you show up on the doorstep of an accused perpetrator (or a confessed one) and start asking questions about war crimes, you have to be prepared for any number of reactions…

CTuttle January 19th, 2013 at 2:35 pm
In response to Nick Turse @ 38

In my 20 yrs of service I’ve never seen the Military held to account for anything…! Suicides, rapes, etc., all swept under the rug…! I did have the blessed fortune, never to have fired my weapon in anger…!

tjbs January 19th, 2013 at 2:35 pm

Claymore mines capture the age of mechanized death at your leisure. For those not familiar with claymore they were remote controlled, so you actively engaged in timing the death of someone with remote control.

One tragedy, or war crime, is how the country was divided like at no time since the civil war and continues till this day..

maa8722 January 19th, 2013 at 2:35 pm

Thanks, Nick!

It’s worthwhile revisiting the Vietnam era from our later century. At this late date, though, Vietnam is half way back to World War 1.

I expect the Vietnam-like atrocities are more business as usual in military conflict, rather than the exception. The miscreants are more likely to skate than not. This would be borne out by what has happened since Vietnam as well as before. The exception would be a war having been lost and where the offending party was entirely sacked and destroyed (e.g., Nazi Germany) — only that would lay the groundwork for accountability.

So how are the enablers to be apprehended and stopped most of the time? I don’t think there is an answer. What appears to be justice seems anecdotal and scarce — usually it’s just invoking protection for the remaining PTB after the dust settles.

Am I off base here?

Gareth Porter January 19th, 2013 at 2:37 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 45

Your succinct analysis begs the question of how one breaks out of this system. My own answer is to have ever growing circles of activists who adhere to a similar framework of analysis to address the system itself. We are still very far from that. I’d love to see FDL play a role in this, but I don’t know if that is feasible,,

Nick Turse January 19th, 2013 at 2:38 pm
In response to pastfedup @ 43

This was exceptionally common. Burning down homes, hamlets or whole villages was a day-to-day reality of the war. I conducted many heart-rending interviews with Vietnamese who told me about having their homes burned down 4,5,6 or more times during the war. Many eventually gave up and ended up living a semi-subterranean existence in their bomb shelters — which posed its own unique problems.

Bindo January 19th, 2013 at 2:39 pm
In response to Gareth Porter @ 42

Yes, sorry for my dysphemism, I couldn’t get through without it. From the diplomat’s viewpoint, the dissidents are essential. Just looking at the big picture.

tjbs January 19th, 2013 at 2:40 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 45

I think you have to place the Media right behind the unspoken “congressional” as in the Military ( CIA) Industrial Congressional Media Complex a five sided beast . The media controls the message weather it’s atrocities, peace marches or drone deaths to grease the Military control.

Gareth Porter January 19th, 2013 at 2:41 pm
In response to maa8722 @ 50

Inevitably, the main thrust of any movement to change the militarist system of the US is going to have to be about why it harms the interests of Americans. But there has to be a way to keep linking that to what we are doing to others. The issue of the war on terrorism as a perpetual war certainly forces us to do that.

Matthew Detroit January 19th, 2013 at 2:42 pm

Hello Mr. Turse, and thanks for your work; I will read this book. I remember reading long ago that US special forces, of whom our new Secretary of State may have been one, killed as many as 200,000 SOUTH Vietnamese village administrators, teachers, intellectuals, and other leaders in a campaign (perhaps part of Operation Phoenix) designed to prevent South Vietnamese villagers from BECOMING Viet Cong or coming to sympathize with/aid them. I may have read this in Howard Zinn, in fact, but the shocking part of the account, for me, was the idea that the military was killing the South Vietnamese rural intelligentsia predicated on the idea that such better-educated people were more likely to sympathize with Communism, and for no other reason. Was this something that you also got wind of? Is there some truth to this half-remembered account? What was the extent of US killing under the special forces aegis? Thanks in advance for your answer. . .

CTuttle January 19th, 2013 at 2:42 pm
In response to Gareth Porter @ 51

I had the distinct pleasure of hearing Col. Anne Wright give a lecture about Killer Drones on thursday nite at my Alma Mater…! Last week she was in Istanbul, testifying in court about the Mavi Marmarra, and, next week she’ll be in Oxford for the Sam Adams Award ceremony for Thomas Fingar…! ;-)

DWBartoo January 19th, 2013 at 2:43 pm
In response to Gareth Porter @ 51

I concur with your answer, as I see no other way to change awareness, and agree, unhappily, with your assessment of this site’s potential or likely role, under present circumstances, in the very necessary shifting that larger awareness, Gareth.

DW

Kit OConnell January 19th, 2013 at 2:43 pm

Nick:

Thanks for writing this book. It was one of the hardest books I read in 2012. Not because of the quality of writing (which is very high) but because it was such grim reading.

What was it like to spend so long compiling this study? did you take any special steps to maintain your sanity?

Nick Turse January 19th, 2013 at 2:43 pm
In response to Gareth Porter @ 55

It’s so difficult to get Americans to focus on what is done to civilians overseas in their name. There are simply no easy answers to how to do it effectively…

DWBartoo January 19th, 2013 at 2:45 pm
In response to tjbs @ 54

Absolutely, tjbs, the media is a part of the political class and the major means through which political class “PR” is used to shape public opinion and understanding. Clearly, the role which the media played in bringing the reality of Vietnam, home, runs little danger to the PTB of being repeated …

DW

Matthew Detroit January 19th, 2013 at 2:46 pm
In response to Bindo @ 36

I am in love, in a completely miserable way, with this beautifully-put question.

Nick Turse January 19th, 2013 at 2:46 pm
In response to Kit OConnell @ 59

It was a very difficult project. I would immediately recommend anyone immersing themselves in the subject of civilian suffering for 10-12 years. That said, in some very counter-intuitive ways, the project was quite heartening. I began the project by discovering an archive of files of a secret Pentagon task force that tracked war crimes. In these documents, the Vietnamese were…

Nick Turse January 19th, 2013 at 2:48 pm
In response to Nick Turse @ 63

nameless, faceless victims and were almost always dead. Once I went to Vietnam to conduct interviews, things changed for me. Even though people were telling me about the most horrific traumas imaginable, about the worst days of the lives, it was inspiring to see people who lived through it and carried on to live rich and fulfilling lives. Their resilience was heartening.

Kit OConnell January 19th, 2013 at 2:51 pm
In response to Nick Turse @ 64

Are there any people or specific encounters with the people you interviewed that really stand out for you now? Or any stories you had to cut from the book but wish you’d been able to share?

DWBartoo January 19th, 2013 at 2:51 pm

These Book Salons, MD, tend to bring out the very best … and Bindo’s comment is certainly among that very best. “Token Dissidents”, and “Kingdom of Fraud”, will reverberate, meaningfully, for quite some considerable time …

DW

Gareth Porter January 19th, 2013 at 2:52 pm

I would draw a parallel between the “Phoenix Program” in Vietnam and “Night Raids” by SOF in Afghanistan. THe same witless approach to eliminating as many of the adversaries organization as possible through assassination and detention, without any real knowledge of the society and without understanding how criminal the endeavor was and is.

Nick Turse January 19th, 2013 at 2:55 pm
In response to Gareth Porter @ 67

It looks much the same to me. The same claims of excellent, modern methods of intelligence-gathering yielding the same dismal results with innocents swept up in it paying the price

Bindo January 19th, 2013 at 2:56 pm
In response to Gareth Porter @ 55

the main thrust of any movement to change the militarist system of the US is going to have to be about why it harms the interests of Americans.

It seems to me that the decline in benefits to Americans of war, neoliberalism, etc. is evident. One diagnosis of the right-wing emphasizes self-sacrifice as an explanation of their “voting against their self interest”. How much validity does that diagnosis have in your mind?

RevBev January 19th, 2013 at 2:57 pm

I hope this is not off topic….when I was reading the intro last night, I kept wondering if there may be something that could elicit an energetic outrage from the public. Are we so morally dead or exhausted that we can no longer express total disgust at what is being done in the name of “our” country? O,r is there something we can do to galvanize a moral voice?

Nick Turse January 19th, 2013 at 2:57 pm
In response to Kit OConnell @ 65

One particular interview that will be forever seared into my mind, and that I mention briefly in Kill Anything that Moves, was with a woman named Ho Thi A.

I had read about a massacre in a tiny little hamlet in rural central Vietnam and traveled there to find a survivor mentioned in the documents. After some searching I located this woman, who had been a young girl when the Marines marched into her hamlet.

She had been inside a bomb shelter with her grandmother and an elderly neighbor and emerged to find a Marine standing there. He leveled his rifle and shot one of the old ladies and then the other. Ho Thi A wheeled around and scrambled back into the bunker. Its angled walls saved her from grenades hat were tossed in. When she emerged she found that a total of 15 people had been killed in the massacre.

She told me this story rather calmly…

CTuttle January 19th, 2013 at 2:58 pm
In response to Gareth Porter @ 67

Would you draw a similar parallel between Laos and our illicit Drone pogram in Pakistan, Gareth…?

Gareth Porter January 19th, 2013 at 3:00 pm
In response to Nick Turse @ 71

Nope, Laos was much more savage bombing by comparison with far great killing than Pakistan.

Nick Turse January 19th, 2013 at 3:00 pm
In response to Nick Turse @ 71

Maybe she teared up, but nothing out of the ordinary. But later in the interview, when I turned to more mundane questions – about, say, what the hamlet looked like in the immediate aftermath of the war – she broke down. She didn’t just cry or sob. She had a complete emotional break. She began convulsively bawling. For five minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes, 20 minutes. I’ve done a lot of hard interviews and reduced a lot of people to tears, but never quite like this. It was heartbreaking to watch her total emotional breakdown and, due to cultural barriers and professional distance, I simply sat and watched what I had done to this woman.

I hope that Kill Anything that Moves justifies the heartache I put her and many others through. And I hope that the stories can touch readers and help them to better understand the plight of those that live with America’s wars.

Nick Turse January 19th, 2013 at 3:02 pm
In response to RevBev @ 70

I wish I had a good answer. I hope that some here at the Lake do!

Gareth Porter January 19th, 2013 at 3:02 pm
In response to CTuttle @ 72

Sorry my last comment was of course in response to your question.

RevBev January 19th, 2013 at 3:03 pm

Is there a connection to be made between the nature of atrocities currently and the number of suicides we are hearing reported?

Bindo January 19th, 2013 at 3:04 pm
In response to Nick Turse @ 74

Thank you, Nick.

Nick Turse January 19th, 2013 at 3:06 pm
In response to RevBev @ 77

A very good question. There isn’t, to my knowledge, much good research into witnessing or taking part in atrocities and PTSD, suicide, etc. But anecdotal evidence suggests that committing or witnessing “harm to others” as its termed in the clinical literature is a prime stressor and there is likely a significant correlation.

Kit OConnell January 19th, 2013 at 3:07 pm
In response to Nick Turse @ 74

Thank you. I remember that story from the book. So heart-wrenching !

The two things which stuck out for me about the Vietnamese people which shone through in your book were their incredible will to survive and keep on despite the horrors we inflicted and further how we as somewhat rootless Americans in a foreign country could never understand the strength of the the ties they had to their land.

pastfedup January 19th, 2013 at 3:07 pm

I think that to the extent that the military allows itself to be used for offensive purposes, that it is serving the purpose of evil. The Constitution provides for militias/military for the Common Defense, not for offensive wars, nor “police actions”, nor whatever pretty words our politicians wish to call it these days.

Those who commit war crimes should be prosecuted and severely punished, from the lowest ranking offender on up to the highest, including civilian leaders and civilian perpetrators.

Gareth Porter January 19th, 2013 at 3:07 pm

The one thing that I have to add to Nick’s book in regard to war crimes in Vietnam is the role that the Peers Commission played in whtiewashing Westmoreland’s strategy of treating the entire population of Viet Cong base areas as the enemy. Peers deliberately misrepresented the key document that Nick cites from Westy and, the reason is that he wanted to be promoted to higher command and needed Westy’s support (as Chief of staff of the Army). I’ve done a book chapter on that subject which I hope will be published soon.

DWBartoo January 19th, 2013 at 3:07 pm
In response to Gareth Porter @ 67

Ah, it ain’t a “bug”, ’tis a “feature”, Gareth. One thinks of the time when “by the grace of Providence”, as Mark Twain put it, the US became a full fledged empire with the “liberation” and “Christianization” of the Philippines, which great campaign began what certain historians would happily term … “the American Century”.

DW

CTuttle January 19th, 2013 at 3:09 pm
In response to Gareth Porter @ 76

I suppose Fallujah would be a better example…? And instead of Agent Orange, DU munition residue…! 8-(

Gareth Porter January 19th, 2013 at 3:10 pm
In response to pastfedup @ 81

I’d love to see a movement organized to call for the reduction of the U.S. military to truly defensive roles and missions, and cutting manpower to a small fraction of its present level. That’s a personal objective of mine for the future.

Nick Turse January 19th, 2013 at 3:11 pm
In response to Kit OConnell @ 80

I was often amazed at Vietnamese resilience both during and since the war. The Vietnamese were so tied to their land — a spiritual connection which has a great deal to do with the graves of ancestors being there. People would endure a tremendous amount of suffering to stay in their villages. Of course, many went to urban slums or refugee camps, but these were squalid and the privation was great. As a result, many filtered back into the countryside — preferring to lives with bombs and artillery shells and helicopter gunships than in camps or slums.

Nick Turse January 19th, 2013 at 3:11 pm
In response to Gareth Porter @ 82

Can’t wait to read it! Where can we look for it?

Gareth Porter January 19th, 2013 at 3:12 pm
In response to CTuttle @ 84

Fallujah=Saigon district 8 and Hue (both described so well by Nick).

CTuttle January 19th, 2013 at 3:14 pm
In response to Nick Turse @ 87

*heh* So Nick will you host Gareth’s Book Salon…? ;-)

Gareth Porter January 19th, 2013 at 3:14 pm
In response to Nick Turse @ 87

It’s a book that was supposed to be published several years ago but got hung up because the editor got ill and also had problems getting a publisher. I can’t even tell who is publishing now. But I”ll let you know soon.

Bindo January 19th, 2013 at 3:14 pm
In response to RevBev @ 70

Are we so morally dead or exhausted that we can no longer express total disgust at what is being done in the name of “our” country?

We are morally distorted, by consequence. Exhausted yes, but moreover, “we” are corrupt.

RevBev January 19th, 2013 at 3:15 pm

Do you hear any voices advocating in strong voices for a peace movement or for the “defensive” stance? Seems to me that voice is very silent.

pastfedup January 19th, 2013 at 3:17 pm
In response to pastfedup @ 81

Edit (meant to add): Seems to me to be that mostly, our military has been, and continues to be used for offensive wars. The moral decay and rot in our military originates at the top (and this includes the civilian command), and by osmosis trickles all the way down to many at the bottom.

Nick Turse January 19th, 2013 at 3:17 pm
In response to pastfedup @ 81

Unfortunately, the record of the war demonstrates that only very, very few Americans who committed violations of the laws of war were ever charged, much less court martialed or convicted. Even those who were rarely got more than a slap on the wrist.

According to the records of the secret Pentagon task force I relied on — the Vietnam War Crimes Working Group files — the stiffest sentence went to a military intelligence interrogator convicted of committing indecent acts on a 13-year-old girl. He served 7 months of a 20-year term.

DWBartoo January 19th, 2013 at 3:18 pm
In response to CTuttle @ 89

Sounds like an excellent plan, CTut.

;~DW

Nick Turse January 19th, 2013 at 3:18 pm
In response to CTuttle @ 89

;)

BevW January 19th, 2013 at 3:19 pm

Nick, the pictures in your book are hard to look at, especially of the children killed by US troops. How many pictures did you have to evaluate for the book? Did you take the current photos of the survivors?

Gareth Porter January 19th, 2013 at 3:20 pm

Nick, I’m curious to know if you got acquainted with Kevin Buckley and if so, why you think he was such an exception to the rule of media compliance with military interests in Vietnam. Or was it Alex Shimkin who really forced the issue of coverage of “Speedy Express”?

Bindo January 19th, 2013 at 3:21 pm
In response to Nick Turse @ 86

Out of curiosity, did you get any commentary from Vietnamese on their betrayers within? Any class analysis or communist perspective?

CTuttle January 19th, 2013 at 3:22 pm

Nick or Gareth, what lessons did the Pentagon learn from Nam, about reporters down range, and, what implications has it had on the current crop…?

eCAHNomics January 19th, 2013 at 3:23 pm

Gareth, wanted to mention how much I appreciate your interviews on Scott Horton.

Nick Turse January 19th, 2013 at 3:25 pm

The photos entailed a long negotiation with my publisher. I have, unfortunately, many more era photos that are MUCH more graphic. I felt that it was important to _show_ readers exactly what I was talking about and wanted to include them. My publisher believed they would be too graphic and harrowing for readers and I think they were right. I hope that the current assortment offer a glimpse of the horror without being too traumatic.

I’m simply not talented enough to have taken the current photos. They were shot by my wife, photojournalist Tam Turse. She reported alongside me. Her poignant photos did something all my words could never do — put faces to victims, rescuing them from anonymity. I’m awed by her work. And the book is, I think, immeasurably better for those photos.

pastfedup January 19th, 2013 at 3:28 pm
In response to Nick Turse @ 94

Yeah, just read in Thursday’s newspaper about one of the marines, a SSgt who urinated on Afghan corpses, was facing 6 mos confinement, heavy fine, demotion to private plus dishonorable discharge. All he got because of a plea bargain was a demotion of one rank, and nothing else.

That kind of shit really pisses me off.

eCAHNomics January 19th, 2013 at 3:28 pm

Did Kerry’s iconic winter soldier cong testimony put the kaibosh on in-depth investigation? In the sense of, oh well, I guess if everyone does it, it’s just the normal consequences of war.

Gareth Porter January 19th, 2013 at 3:30 pm

One strand in the military learned the lesson that the Army should never go to war when there was doubt about popular support, but that only lasted until Desert Storm. Then they were back to simply manipulating opinion to ensure that the had homefront support for wars.

The other lesson was the one that Petraeus learned — control the media by making sure that you get your intepretation to them early and often and directly through interviews –not the “5 o’clock follies” of the VN war.

Of course there were others who said the press were the enemy and had to be treated more harshly, but it was the Petraeus viewpoint that has obvious predominated since Iraq began

Nick Turse January 19th, 2013 at 3:30 pm
In response to Gareth Porter @ 98

Newsweek stringer Alex Shimkin first recognized something very dark had occurred in the Mekong Delta but as soon as he brought the story to his bureau chief, Kevin Buckley, Kevin recognized it was big and important.

I have gotten to know Kevin and I think that after spending four years in Vietnam, he had seen enough to know that the story that Alex had found was, in essence, the real story of the war as he had come to understand it from reporting all over the country.

Am I right in remembering that you knew Alex?

CTuttle January 19th, 2013 at 3:33 pm
In response to pastfedup @ 103

About the only one that is faced with any serious Jail time, from either Afghanistan or Iraq, is Bradley Manning…! *gah*

Gareth Porter January 19th, 2013 at 3:34 pm

Thanks! So nice of you to mention it!

Nick Turse January 19th, 2013 at 3:34 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 104

I don’t think Kerry’s testimony had that effect, but after the exposure of My Lai many editors seemed to think that atrocities were old hat. A been-there-done-that story. For years, hardly anyone in the mainstream wrote about atrocities as such, then My Lai, then the discussion was over.

There was, in my estimation, a year-long window in 1971 for the full story of the war to break wide open, but the Pentagon effectively managed the situation and the story faded away. I think that the story “Speedy Express” — the story Gareth just mentioned — was the last, best chance for the real war to be exposed.

Gareth Porter January 19th, 2013 at 3:36 pm
In response to Nick Turse @ 106

Yes, I knew Alex in 1971, just before he died in the 1972 SPring offensive. He never told me about “Speedy Express”, though.

Gareth Porter January 19th, 2013 at 3:37 pm
In response to CTuttle @ 100

Thanks!, so nice of you to mention it!

Nick Turse January 19th, 2013 at 3:38 pm
In response to Gareth Porter @ 110

I think it was a rather “close hold” story. And he and Kevin had a very hard time getting it into print. Newsweek was so resistant for fear of causing trouble for the Army and the Nixon administration!

Gareth Porter January 19th, 2013 at 3:39 pm

Nick, do you have any final thoughts on how a country that has committed multiple episodes of massive war crimes involving hundreds of thousands of victims pays a price for what it did in the long run

RevBev January 19th, 2013 at 3:40 pm

I think the reluctance of the press is sadly met with a denial or “don’t want to know” or maybe even tolerance in the public. Readers do not want these stories, in my POV, to taint the glory of the USA. A kind of racism, maybe, that makes all things tolerable.

But where are the brave voices of candor or anti-war chorus? I do not think we even hear from the religious community anymore.

Gareth Porter January 19th, 2013 at 3:41 pm

Sorry I should have said millions of victims.

eCAHNomics January 19th, 2013 at 3:41 pm
In response to Nick Turse @ 109

Knightly’s First Casualty was my eye-opener. Didn’t read it bef all the embeddedness BS, wh I distrusted from the starting gate. All the reporters were so eager to dress up in costumes and ride in tanks. How could they be effective reporters. Later I read Knightly and intellectually recognized the pattern. Victoria Clarke, of no real talent, was fluent in talking points.

There were some reporters during VN who got out a realistic pic, and there have been some in Iraq & Afghanistan. Gotta search them out.

Nick Turse January 19th, 2013 at 3:41 pm
In response to Gareth Porter @ 111

The military has always blamed everyone else for their loss in Vietnam — politicians back home, the anti-war movement and, of course, the press. And the “lesson” they took away was more effective information management (embedding would be a prime example) and taking control of the narrative in various other ways.

The military’s many methods haven’t made it easy on reporters like Gareth — although you wouldn’t know it from his incredible coverage.

eCAHNomics January 19th, 2013 at 3:42 pm
In response to Gareth Porter @ 113

My observation, only outright war losers get prosecuted. Except for a few penny ante scapegoats.

Bindo January 19th, 2013 at 3:44 pm
In response to RevBev @ 114

I do not think we even hear from the religious community anymore.

Too afraid of The Great Lawn Mower.

Nick Turse January 19th, 2013 at 3:46 pm
In response to Gareth Porter @ 113

Well, I think that a failure to come to grips with what our country actually did during Vietnam has had rather disastrous results. Americans, by and large, don’t understand what war means for millions overseas, perhaps if we did, we might not rush to war so rapidly and frequently. I hope that Kill Anything that Moves can help to open a few more eyes in this regard

Gareth Porter January 19th, 2013 at 3:47 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 118

Calley, of course, was as close to a “loser” getting prosecuted as we came in Vietnam.

CTuttle January 19th, 2013 at 3:48 pm
In response to Gareth Porter @ 115

Do you think we’ll Iraq, Iran…? It seems we’re well down that sordid path, in which Madelaine Albright had infamously quipped “What’s 250k children?” 8-(

RevBev January 19th, 2013 at 3:48 pm

Bindo, Im pretty sure that’s very clever in some way in do not understand.

eCAHNomics January 19th, 2013 at 3:48 pm
In response to Nick Turse @ 120

I’ve read 8 books on VN. I was in college at the time. I’ll certainly read yours.

Matthew Detroit January 19th, 2013 at 3:48 pm
In response to Gareth Porter @ 67

Forum doesn’t really seem to provide for at-length responses to questions like mine. . . I have heard similar stories about such campaigns of pre-emptive mass murder in other places, sometimes with the connivance of local officials, including Iran. To a real extent, such calculated political murder–if it really has taken place–is as or more chilling and reprehensible than the wanton murder that Vietnam seemed to trigger in many of our soldiers. But Vietnam was, clearly, a murderous orgy on the part of the US military, which reached right up to the gleeful approval of Richard Nixon. . .

eCAHNomics January 19th, 2013 at 3:49 pm
In response to Gareth Porter @ 121

Ya got it. Scapegoat.

Gareth Porter January 19th, 2013 at 3:49 pm

Is everybody satisfied that we’ve exhausted our questions and commets?

pastfedup January 19th, 2013 at 3:49 pm

Did the war crimes decrease in number in the final few years of the “war?” I’ve read that towards the end, that American patrols and NOV/VC were actively avoiding each other. Some units actually refusing to go on patrol too! Is any of this true, and was this due to the fragging of officers that was taking place, or just a general feeling of futility on the part of enlisted men (as opposed to officers and NCO’s)?

tjbs January 19th, 2013 at 3:49 pm
In response to Nick Turse @ 120

Thanks for doing your part , what you expose.

The cost of war is what we’re seeing right now, Where did the money go ?

eCAHNomics January 19th, 2013 at 3:50 pm
In response to CTuttle @ 122

Another Aldim quote: What’s the point of having a military if you don’t use it.

RevBev January 19th, 2013 at 3:51 pm

Thanks for a great discussion….Nothing to give us heart or pride other than your very good work. Thank you for being here. Good luck with the book. I have to check out…

Bindo January 19th, 2013 at 3:51 pm
In response to Nick Turse @ 120

Am looking forward to your future work as well.

Nick Turse January 19th, 2013 at 3:51 pm

Thanks to all of you who took part in this salon! I really appreciate all the thoughtful questions and comments and apologize for all that I missed or simply couldn’t respond to.

Thanks again to Bev and to Gareth for being such an excellent host!

BevW January 19th, 2013 at 3:51 pm

As we come to the end of this great Book Salon discussion,

Nick, Thank you for stopping by the Lake and spending the afternoon with us discussing your new book and the atrocities of the Viet Nam War.

Gareth, Thank you very much for Hosting this great Book Salon.

Everyone, if you would like more information:

Nick’s website and book (Kill Anything That Moves)

Gareth’s website (AntiWar.com)

Thanks all, Have a great weekend.

Tomorrow: Marcus Rediker / The Amistad Rebellion: An Atlantic Odyssey of Slavery and Freedom; Hosted by Dr Nicholas Guyatt

If you would like to contact the FDL Book Salon: FiredoglakeBookSalon@gmail.com

FDL Book Salon has a Facebook page too

Gareth Porter January 19th, 2013 at 3:53 pm
In response to CTuttle @ 122

I sincerely doubt it. One thing about the U.S. war machine is that they always pick on countries that they figure they take on at low risk and cost. Iran doesn’t qualify on those counts.

pastfedup January 19th, 2013 at 3:53 pm

Thank you so much Nick and Gareth. and BevW for setting this up! I’ll definitely be purchasing your book!

Bindo January 19th, 2013 at 3:55 pm
In response to Gareth Porter @ 127

Would appreciate a response to my #99.

tuezday January 19th, 2013 at 3:55 pm

Thanks Nick and Gareth. Great Salon!!

Nick Turse January 19th, 2013 at 3:55 pm

Thanks again to all! I really appreciate your interest and insights!

DWBartoo January 19th, 2013 at 3:55 pm

Superb Book Salon!!!

Thank you, Nick and Gareth.

Thank you, Bev, as always.

Thanks to all the freedom fighters who meet here to share truth and hopes of creating a better, more civil society, more accountable and honest future.

DW

maa8722 January 19th, 2013 at 3:56 pm
In response to Bindo @ 69

Re: #60, #65, #69, #70

I’d agree, but it’s not a new initiative to save the day which we are just discovering now.

I’m 65 and recall hearing “voting against one’s self interest” so many times before. It would be the same for efforts to spur alarm among the citizenry about what we are doing to civilians overseas.

It’s hasn’t mattered much which party ends up in power, either, since the 1960s. Maybe there aren’t enough genuine pacifists to tip the scales at any given time.

So about the outrage — for too many is it merely a proxy escape hatch from responsibility, that is, get mad in order to disassociate from the larger population? Or is outrage a tool to change the national course?

Isn’t the second better? If so, why hasn’t it gone anywhere or been successful for so many years?

CTuttle January 19th, 2013 at 3:58 pm
In response to Gareth Porter @ 135

I fervently hope so, Gareth…! *g*

Mahalo Nui Loa, Gareth, Nick, and, Bev for another excellent Book Salon…!

I follow y’all religiously, and totally appreciate all your efforts at exposing the truth…!

Elliott January 19th, 2013 at 3:59 pm

Best of luck with your book Nick

Thanks Gareth, Thanks Bev

Bindo January 19th, 2013 at 4:10 pm
In response to maa8722 @ 141

It seems to me that a “proxy escape hatch from responsibility” would be encouraged up to a point. A pressure relief valve, so to speak. So, how should an individual with that understanding then express his outrage?

Is outrage a tool to change the national course? Certainly. It must be boosted and mitigated accordingly.

Why hasn’t it gone anywhere or been successful for so many years?

Fatigue, distraction, confusion, DISINFORMATION.

juliania January 20th, 2013 at 11:14 am
In response to Nick Turse @ 64

This is a lovely, inspiring comment, Mr. Turse. Thank you so much, and thank you for doing this important work.

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