on December 25, 2013
Enough has been said, here and elsewhere, about the content of KATM and the meticulous archival and field research on which it is based. It is a brilliant (a word I use sparingly) work about one of the most tragic periods of Vietnamese and American history. It is also without a doubt the most painful book I have ever read. This might have to do with the fact that the subject matter is intensely personal for me. I still have vivid recollections of many of the scenes Nick Turse describes in excruciating detail. I am haunted by them.
Many of the comments in the 1 and 2 star category are eminently predictable and also reflect the views of some veteran Vietnam observers and scholars who should know better. The categories into which they fall are presented here in A-Z order.
Atrocities Committed By The "Other Side"
They did it, too! Whenever I hear this sophomoric comment, the first thought that comes to mind is that the Americans and their allies, including the Australians, South Koreans and others, had no right to be there in the first place. This is not an issue of moral equivalence. The "other side" was fighting against yet another foreign invader and its collaborators in the name of national liberation. It's that simple.
Fallacy of Generalizing from Personal Experience
If I had a nickel for every time I've read "I didn't witness any atrocities during my tour"... So because you didn't witness it first-hand means it didn't happen, right? Turse does not claim that every US combat soldier was a war criminal who was out raping, torturing and killing civilians. I know many veterans who, if they didn't know before they went, quickly realized after they arrived that the war was a colossal mistake. From that point on their goal was to stay alive and not go home in a body bag. There were many others, however, who were involved in the wholesale abuse and murder of civilians. You know who you are. Some of you are tormented by what you did or did not stop, others - the minority? - have no conscience. Perhaps justice will be meted out to you in the next life.
KATM/Turse Bashes Veterans!
It's fairly easy to dispense with this old canard. Since I have many friends and acquaintances, both in Vietnam and the U.S., who are veterans, I know that many have welcomed KATM. While the truth sometimes hurts, it can also be liberating. Those who were there, whether they participated in the acts Turse describes, observed them or heard stories about them, know the score, as do the survivors. KATM is not an indictment of all veterans who served in Vietnam only of those who were involved in the abuse, torture and murder of civilians and the "kill anything that moves" policy of the U.S. military and their superiors who oversaw the implementation of this brutal policy. Why do you think so many veterans are so troubled, dysfunctional and worse? What do you think many of them see and hear at night when the demons come?
Nothing New Here
According to whom? What Turse tells his fellow Americans and the rest of the world is breaking news to most of them. Most are not Vietnam scholars who have read hundreds of books and thousands of primary source documents. I am more familiar than most with the information Turse presents yet KATM fills in many gaps and connects a lot of dots that - collectively - form a damning indictment of the U.S. policy du jour.
Shooting from the Hip
I'm not gonna read da book `cause I read da summary and already know what he's gonna say. He's un-American, anti-American, and anti-military. (And besides, I'm blinded by the ideology of U.S. nationalism - as distinct from patriotism). Even tho I didn't read da book I'm gonna put my two cents on Amazon anyhoo. The lament of the close-minded and the refuge of the intellectually lazy. Next...
Sin of Omission?
Groundless criticism about what he supposedly left out: It's about war crimes committed by US soldiers in Vietnam as a frequent occurrence and the policies/conditions that led to those war crimes being committed. Turse proves it using U.S. government documents and stories from U.S. veterans and Vietnamese survivors. It was widespread and officially sanctioned. Therefore, there is really no basis on which to criticize him for not including everything you wanted him to include. If someone were to write a book that included everything Turse left out, it wouldn't be the first.
The True Place the American War Holds in the Memory of South Vietnamese vs. North Vietnamese? It Ain't that Simple...
This is a claim that some make. To which South Vietnamese are they referring? The ones who hitched their cart to the American (war) horse? The ones who benefited financially and in other ways from the U.S. occupation and the influx of billions of dollars? The ones who left in the nick of time with the assistance of their American benefactors? Or the ones Turse writes about - the targets of bombs, bullets, torture and other forms of abuse, the ghosts and the survivors?
Turse Wasn't There!
He was born in 1975; what does he know about the war in Vietnam? Most historians weren't around in the eras that they've studied and on which they are experts. Does that make them any less knowledgeable? (That's a rhetorical question, folks.) Turse's age is irrelevant. He was able to use U.S. government documents, travel to Vietnam to interview Vietnamese survivors of U.S. military attacks and interview U.S. veterans. Therefore, even though he never smelled the smoke or heard the artillery fire, he knows more than most people who were there. So much for this lame and illogical critique.
War is Hell
All wars are the same. Civilians suffer, are caught in the cross-fire, become "collateral damage." As the bumper sticker says "S*** happens." Read about "kill anything that moves" as a policy that was conceived of and implemented at the highest levels of the U.S. military and political establishment. That, combined with hatred for the Vietnamese and the fear and frustration of not knowing when or where the next attack would occur, the essence of guerrilla warfare, created the conditions for the perfect (war) storm in which millions of civilians suffered grievously. Then there's the argument that the Americans had no right to be in Vietnam in the first place, which would have prevented the deaths of 3.8 million Vietnamese, including 2 million civilians, and a long list of war legacies.
on September 8, 2013
A comment about the review by MAA. I agree with most of his comments. I think however he
Fails to give due and measured credibility to observations of veterans like myself and those like myself who did not see the kind of horrific abuse Turse reported is not valid and a disservice to soldiers like myself. No doubt the body count was BS, but I still maintain the rape, baby and women killings etc. is quite overstated. See my comments below.
There is some evidence for his proposition. He greatly overstates the incidence of rape and deliberate murder of civilians however. He makes it sound as if this was a routine/daily occurrence. In my year there in combat, I did not see one incident such as this.
I've been doing a lot of thinking about my experience in Vietnam as a result of reading this book. It has some elements of truth to it, especially concerning the inflated body counts and influence from the chain of command for bodies. However, from my experience he has looked for (and found) many individual instances of abuse of civilians in that war and made it seem that was much more of a regular occurrence than it was.
He doesn't point out the danger we were in from women and children who would set booby traps or shoot at us. It was a nightmare scenario and I'm sure many soldiers lost their lives because they were not cautious enough with women and children.
To some degree, I think he takes the worst instances of a 12 year war and expounds on them making it sound like all units did this every day. In my experience that was not the case. I was a forward observer with a maneuver company in Vietnam in 1967. I patrolled the length of the An Lao Valley many times. His descriptions of what happened there have some merit. Now that I have reread the entire book many of his general descriptions are often overstated and the overall impression he gives of the deliberate violence to civilians is probably overstated to reach the conclusion he is looking for.
I am particularly skeptical of the rape and abuse of women and children. I saw no incidents of that kind my entire year in country and my contemporaries in other units across the division did not see that either. I think this is a major flaw in his reporting. He may have had a few soldiers report incidents of that, but I guarantee you that was not anywhere near as prevalent as he describes.
I have personal first hand knowledge of some incidents similar to what he describes. I can only speak with authority on what happened in the An Lao Valley and Bong song plain for the entire year of 1967. What I experienced there is pretty much as he described it as far as destruction of property, H & I fires, inflated body counts and emphasis on body counts was concerned.
I saw very little of the deliberate cruelty to women and children and sexual assault he describes. I suspect that occurred, but not in my unit or my contemporaries units, and not to the degree he alleges.
Since he is relying on written reports for his information, he may only be looking for information that confirms his conclusions. The report on the an Lao Valley and Bong song Plain has the ring of truth to it, but not when it comes to rape and abuse of women and children.
Still it was pretty terrible and what I did see could be considered an atrocity? It does not have to be a My Lai, there were few of those. However, designating the entire An Lao valley a free fire zone and then forcing people from there homes and destroying there huts, livestock and food supplies is an atrocity in my view and that is what I viewed there in person.
Too soon old, too late smart.
LTC FA (Retired) 4 Bronze Stars, Vietnam
on November 29, 2013
This book seems to bring out the worst in a lot of reviewers. Either they give it 5 stars because it finally "reveals the truth" about the evil U.S. involvement in Vietnam, or they give it 1-star because it ignores the evil North Vietnamese involvement in Vietnam and slams U.S. soldiers. At the risk of sounding wishy-washy, I give it 3 stars.
Mr. Turse documents the abuses of SOME units and the emphasis on body counts that encouraged such abuses. It appears to me that his documentation is MOSTLY limited to areas near the DMZ and parts of the Delta, where a lot of the population did in fact support the North. (Please note the limitations mostly and some; I don't want a lot of comment posts telling me I said something more or less than I actually said). Other units in other places and times faced different challenges, and when soldiers say Mr. Turse doesn't reflect their experience, I accept their statements.
Of course civilians died, and of course some soldiers went off the rails. None of that is news. The author is trying to prove that U.S. policy in Vietnam practically guaranteed massive civilian casualties. He claims that by emphasizing body count as the metric for successful engagements, the U.S. government encouraged units to inflate their kills. One way to do this was by killing indiscriminately and then claiming that the victims were Viet Cong or sympathizers. Other policies also devastated the civilian population, such as free-fire zones, resettlement, and institutionalized racism.
One aspect that I don't think the author covers adequately concerns the soldiers themselves. This was not a professional army of volunteers. It was an army of very young, often unwilling, draftees. Units were not rotated in and out together as happened in Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead an individual draftee was rotated into an existing unit as the new kid without a group for social support. The new kid quickly absorbed the ethos of the unit veterans, for good or ill. A professional army would likely have acted differently, and in fact it has acted differently (that is why Abu Graib (spelling?) is an aberration).
In short, the book offers an indictment and presents evidence. It is a very hard book to read, and even harder if you believe what he says. The evidence is voluminous and often gruesome. The charges are difficult for Americans to accept. It is up to you, the reader, to be the jury and decide the probity of the evidence and the logic of his argument. I think the author's evidence is good, but I think it proves somewhat less than he hoped. (edited for legibility and some spelling)
on January 27, 2013
Nick Turse exposes, and expands upon already known, atrocities committed by US troops throughout Vietnam, throughout the war, sometimes in very graphic detail. From the documentary record through firsthand accounts from victims as well as perpetrators, the details are here. My Lai was one of the few mass murders of civilians that reached the mainstream press, but there were many many more atrocities. Mr. Turse's book attempts to reveal some of them and succeeds in doing so.
That a culture of contempt for the Vietnamese people existed at all military ranks is clearly revealed here through thorough investigation. However, readers may not be aware of the military's obsession with body counts, which essentially propped up this culture.
For "reviewers" who rip Turse for "cherry picking" and not being a veteran of the war himself, let me say this: first, as is well known, more than 30,000 books have been written about the Vietnam war - Turse acknowledges this much himself. The book is concise, but could easily be twice three times as long with factual interviews and records. Turse chose the most reliable, documented examples available. Second, good journalists and historians are able to view, investigate, and present findings on an issue, objectively, from reliable source material from all sides of the issue.
I read the book on my Kindle. When I finished a chapter about 3/4 of the way through, I noticed the last "chapter" seemed enormous, but I was ready to grind through it. It turns out that last "chapter" was probably 75-80 pages of footnotes and source material. That was impressive and amazing. The proof is in the pudding. And the accolades from people like Daniel Ellsberg and Andrew Bacevich are to be taken seriously. Turse's other books, as well as his amazing contributions to TomDispatch.com well worth investigating for readers who found thus book interesting, educational, and enlightening.
on March 11, 2013
First let me say that I lived through the era of our Vietnam war. I had been in the U.S. Army Reserves from 1959 to 1965 where we knew little or nothing about the real war, only what you were saturated with later on whenever you turned on your TV. I lived through the part where young men were going off to protect us and we cheered, don't know why we cheered, I guess WWII was still pretty fresh in our minds and we had glossed over our little war in Korea. It had not ended the way American's were used to. I lived through the anti-war demonstrations and political assassinations. I remember things getting so bad servicemen were told not to wear their uniforms in public. Long ago I was aware of the bogus "Gulf of Tonkin Resolution" and finally I remember turning against the war because it seemed to make no sense at all. I am an avid reader and I have read my share of books on the U.S. involvement in Vietnam and the French before that and the Japanese before them. I as an individual began to loose faith in our politicians and military leaders, "Light At The End of The Tunnel," We got them licked, We never lost a battle, what nonsense, but through all of this I still respected the U.S. fighting men. Oh sure there were some bad apples, but I remember the GI's handing out candy in WWII newsreels, we were the good guys, Most of the books on the subject explained the so-called non strategy of the war, the booby traps, kids throwing hand grenades, slogging through heavy jungle, rice paddies, the infamous Huey's always hovering overhead. O.K. everyone. Wake up and smell the napalm. It turns out that the original mission to save that little piece of democracy known as South Vietnam was a sham. Firstly, it never was a democracy and secondly we basically did most of our damage in the south. I was surprised when earlier on I learned that we dropped more bomb tonnage on North and South Vietnam,than we dropped in all of WWII. A third world area with farmers and villages fighting basically a civil war. The ingenious baloney handed our by Johnson, McNamara, Nixon, Westmoreland, etc. All lies and deceit. Meanwhile our military became discouraged, originally trained to fight a European ground war, they were all but lost in the hot fetid jungles. Than General Westmoreland a WWII artillery officer came up with the bright idea of a war of attrition, we'll kill more of them than they can kill of us so we now have a BODY COUNT, every unit went into competition, it was the way for an officer to make his bones and it came down to "Kill Anything That Moves." Body parts were individually counted, units would send in 80 enemy KIA, but retrieved only two rifles and a pitchfork. So now the war turned really nasty, men, women, children, livestock, goodbye, burn the hutches. But to Westmoreland's surprise he wasn't getting anywhere fast, his so-called strategy was not only cold blooded murder, looting, rape and mayhem that the South Vietnamese were more afraid of the American's than the Viet Cong or the NVA. This book is very well written and clearly explains why we never should have become involved, listening to the nonsensical stupid reasons given for our involvement and the reasons we were embarrassingly forced out of the country. This book should be read by every American, especially the ones who think the U.S. has the means and foresight to bring democracy to the four corners of the globe. It's all an illusion fostered by politicians that were never in uniform. This book comes out at the right time and should be read by our servicemen and women sitting on some ragged hill in Afghanistan and wondering, what the hell am I doing here?
on July 2, 2013
This is an important book, but not really one to like. We really always DO kill the messenger, don't we. Often literally. There have been 30,000 books written about the Viet Nam conflict (they call it the American War) but this might be the first to rely on meticulous and massive research, interviewing 100s of veterans and pouring through military records retrieved through the foia, which probably no one ever expected to be looked at again.
Anyone who's experienced combat pretty much knew what to expect to have happened in Viet Nam, only it was much MUCH worse than I (Korea) ever imagined. We, tragically, lost 58,000 dead Americans! And we killed 4,000,000 (maybe more) Vietnamese, the vast majority women, children and the elderly out of a nation of about 18,000,000. Unworthy leaders sent our combatants into a conflict that never should have happened, and caused our nation to deliver its' soul to Satan, and it changed us, almost certainly forever. Now our White House can just pour out a stream of lies, Congress will jump on board and we will attack anyone anytime we damn feel like it. How much longer before "Proud to be American" requires us to first be delusional?
on September 10, 2014
This was a very difficult book to read because it is about atrocities and their cover-up from beginning to end. On page two of the Introduction the author describes My Lai the best known (and to many people the only known atrocity) of the Vietnam War:
"Advancing in small squads, the men of the unit shot chickens as
they scurried about, pigs as they bolted, cows and water buffalo lowing
among the thatch-roof houses. They gunned down old men sitting in their
homes and children as they ran for cover. They tossed grenades into
homes without even bothering to look inside. An officer grabbed a woman
by the hair and shot her point blank with a pistol. A woman who came out
of her home with a baby in her arms was shot down on the spot. As the
tiny child hit the ground , another GI opened up on the infant with his M-16
Over four hours, members of Charlie Company methodically slaughtered
more than five hundred unarmed victims, killing some in ones and twos,
others in small groups, and collecting many more in a drainage ditch that
would become an infamous killing ground.. They faced no opposition.
They even took a quiet break to eat lunch in the midst of the carnage.
Along the way, they also raped women and young girls, mutilated the
dead, systematically burned homes, and fouled the areas drinking water."
The author, Nick Turse, has verified through extensive documentation, that My Lai was not an aberration nor an isolated event. "Kill anything that moves" was "STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURE," in Vietnam. In many areas iI was the way that we waged this war from beginning to end.
A barbarity such as this can only be accomplished if you de-humanize your enemy. "The notion that Vietnam's inhabitants were something less that human was often spoken of as the "mere gook rule." or, in the acronym-mad military, the MGR. This held that all Vietnamese - northern and southern, adults and children, armed enemy and innocent civilians - were little more than animals, who could be killed or abused at will. The MGR enabled soldiers to abuse children for amusement; it allowed officers sitting in judgment at courts-martial to let off murderers with little or no punishment; and it paved the way for commanders to willfully ignore rampant abuses by their troops while racking up "kills" to win favor at the Pentagon."
The Chapter headings pretty much tell the story recorded here: An Operation, Not and Aberration; The Massacre at Trieu Ai; A System of Suffering; Overkill; A Litany of Atrocities; Unbounded Misery; The Bummer, the Gook Hunting General and the Butcher of the Delta; and Where Have All the War Crimes Gone.
All things considered the Vietnam War was probably the worst atrocity ever committed by the United State of America. History will decide whether it has been surpassed in brutality by Mao's China, Stalin's Russia or Hitler's Germany
on February 13, 2013
I commanded a troop of 205 armored cavalrymen in Vietnam. 134 of them were draftees who were SP4 and below. I have never been associated with a finer group of men and know the experience of knowing and being so close with them could never happen in a different environment. They were ALL good men. But we had our moments of hate and fear to overcome - fortunately we did. Had we not we'd have lived with the guilt forever. It's the problem we have today in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some few of our soldiers and marines have done some pretty awful things. But do they deserve condemnation by us? Some of them probably do but some of them probably don't. I think when we run around the world bombing people from drones and we invade a country just because we have determined the country is a haven for "terrorists" we create a mindset that our "enemy" is less than human. I know that's what happened in Vietnam.
That's why I think this book is not a condemnation of individual or groups of soldiers. I think it shines a light on what we have become - a nation that is so powerful and has such an unbeatable military that we find it easier to make war than to at least attempt to make peace. We are again in places where we don't belong doing things we can't justify with neither a goal nor a hope of doing anything really good. We are again placing young men in places they don't want to be doing things that pander to the inner demons of some of them and repeating it many times for all of them. Our government is to blame but most of the blame should be heaped on the public who has decided to simply ignore it. Vietnam vets complain they were treated badly on returning to the US. The current vets are treated just as badly minus the alleged spitting and other indignities. They have no jobs, many are grievously wounded and will require a lifetime of medical care. But the public says, simply, they are heroes and then forgets the whole mess until the next news bite. And so we commit atrocities by drone and invasion. We yammer and yap about the soldiers who pulled the triggers atrociously as being "aberrations" and send them off to jail. We have wholly ignored what we saw at Abu Ghraib - that the problem isn't young soldiers thrust into a situation created by those who should know better. Until we see the problem clearly and for what it really is, the atrocities committed by our troops in our names will continue. Books like this one might help but only if people recognize the writing for what it is and is not. This book is not an attack on soldiers. It is a spotlight on what our country has become in conducting warfare.
on December 6, 2014
There are some who think Vietnam was okay and appropriate response during the "Cold War" i guess the propaganda of patriotism is a hard thing to shake. We had an incredible opportunity after WW II, and sadly the ignorant politicos like Johnson and Nixon along with their gangs couldn't undo what the warmongers started. America could have remained a beacon of progress and hope but chose a path of regression and oppression. And as you point out too many in the world are suffering "for no good reason" other than the maintenance of power and greed. What has befallen our world is nothing short of organized tyranny and accomplished with subtle skills of the finest puppet masters in control of knowledge, emotions, public opinion, elections, money, through well organized crack teams hidden in the guise of legitimate law enforcement entities. We only need to peruse through the book "Economic Hitman" by Perkins to see what modern government is capable of. "We the people" has been squashed quite effectively and the worst nightmares of America's enlightened thinkers-both past and present-has manifested and come to pass. A scourge upon the earth and people who have been numbed, dumbed, propagandized, bought, sold and threatened in to submission least they should have any effective response. May those who suffered and continue to suffer from the impact and destruction of war find peace, in this life or beyond this existence. And may the world someday rise up together against ignorance, manipulation, and tyranny.
on August 28, 2015
I grew up as a kid with the Vietnam War as a constant news item.
As much as I have tried to research it, it has always been hard to put the pieces together.
Between this book and the Wiki entry, I am finally beginning to understand this war decades later.
The American campaign was nothing short of genocidal!
Sadly, some 57k American troops died but this is dwarfed by the 2 million troops and civilians from Vietnam and its surrounding countries who were killed.
Make no mistake about it, when we won WW2 we learned everything we could from the Nazis as spoils of war.
Many American actions since WW2 have had a Nazi influence. No doubt about it!
You need to dig and research this.
Do you think your government is going to openly tell you???