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Vietnam: A War on Civilians

Few Americans born after the Tet Offensive know even the barest facts about the Vietnam War. I aim this generalization not at the oft-underrated Joe Sixpack but at graduates of our finest universities. I remember getting coffee with an old friend, then fresh out of Yale, right after she had backpacked through Vietnam. Whenever she mentioned the war she referred to the former South Vietnam as “the democratic side.” It was immediately clear that she, like virtually everyone else of her and my generation, had never heard of the Geneva Accords of 1954 to guarantee free elections in South Vietnam, elections scuttled after the CIA predicted that Ho Chi Minh would win. My friend had had no sense that the U.S. invaded (a word rarely used, but what else can you call sending 500,000 troops to a foreign nation?) South Vietnam to prop up an authoritarian government with little popular legitimacy. We launched a ruthless pacification campaign; it failed—but not before Washington spread the war into Laos and Cambodia and ultimately killed some two million civilians. This was the war, and there was no “democratic side.”

By contrast, my interlocutor—an intelligent and cultured person—did show a sure command of the political history of Tibet, which had been the next stop on her Asian tour.

From Generation X on down, there is a gaping lack of knowledge about the most foolish and brutal of our postwar wars. (Yes, worse than Iraq.) But this is not a vacant lot ready for intellectual development. Instead this block of nescience is something dense, opaque, and fenced off with barbed wire. Why is there so much socially reinforced ignorance about our bloodiest war since World War II?

One reason is that uttering any less-than-flattering account of the war is likely to make one feel, even in 2013, like a bit of a traitor. By airing unpleasant facts about the war am I smearing my Uncle G—, an avid gardener, terrific father, husband, and all-around great guy who was an Army Ranger in Laos? Am I blood-libeling my brother’s beloved high-school English teacher who served in the Special Forces advising and fighting with the Khmer Khrom ethnic minority and wrote a memoir about it? I don’t doubt this man’s courage any more than I believe that our war in Southeast Asia can be recast as a “Lost Crusade”—his book’s title—to protect Vietnam’s ethnic minorities.


Nobody wants to be called out for “spitting on the troops.” Not that historians have found a single instance of people actually expectorating on returning Vietnam soldiers. That this piece of revanchist folklore has taken such firm root shows how hypersensitive America remains to any hint that the war was anything less than noble. Even after four decades, you don’t make friends by implying that the personal sacrifice of members of your community was for nothing.

Or worse than nothing. Because the main reason we don’t want to know about Vietnam is that it gave so much to not want to know about. Yes, Vietnam was a military defeat that killed some 58,000 American soldiers and left 75,000 severely disabled—reason enough, for many, to stuff it down the memory hole. But as scholar and journalist Nick Turse shows in a new book that is scrupulously documented, what makes the memory of this war so worthy of repression is that its defining feature was mass atrocities against civilians. Rape; the massacres of women, children, and the elderly; military vehicles running over civilians for sport; “Zippo raids” that burned down villages; indiscriminate shelling and aerial bombardment; despoliation of crops and drinking water; routinized torture—this was the unredeemable essence of our Vietnam War, not American teenagers coming of age and bonding against a bamboo backdrop, not “good intentions” in Washington leading us into a “quagmire.”

Of the 33,000 books about the Vietnam War, all but a few eagerly sidestep the atrocious carnage inflicted on hundreds of thousands of civilians. Nick Turse’s scholarly mission is to haul it into the center of historical inquiry and public memory, where it belongs. Kill Anything That Moves offers neither argument nor a new narrative—it simply aims to make violence against civilians “the essence of what we should think of when we say ‘the Vietnam War’.”

The war was “a system of suffering.” Turse is sick of hearing about My Lai—the programmatic slaughter of over 500 Vietnamese women, children, and elderly men carried out on March 16, 1969 by Americal Division’s Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry—not because it wasn’t an appalling war crime but because the event, now fashioned as a horrific one-off anomaly, has perversely absolved the rest of the war, obscuring for instance the massacre of 118 civilians at Dien Nien or of 68 civilians at Phuoc Binh; of 200 civilians at An Phuoc; of 86 killed at Nhon Hoa; 155 killed at the My Khe (4) hamlet.

Turse’s book is sometimes repetitive, by design: “I thought I was looking for a needle in a haystack,” he says about embarking on his research, “what I found was a veritable haystack of needles.” There was nothing exceptional about My Lai. In the words of Ron Ridenhour, the former helicopter door-gunner who did more than anyone to expose that particular massacre, it “was an operation, not aberration.”

The numbers are numbing. According to study by Harvard Medical School and the University of Washington, there were 3.8 million violent war deaths, of which two million were civilian, with similar estimates reached by the Vietnamese government and Robert McNamara himself. Up to 500,000 Vietnamese women turned to sex work. 14,000 South Vietnamese civilians were killed, mostly by U.S. firepower, during the Tet Offensive. 70 million liters of herbicidal agents, notably Agent Orange, were dumped across the countryside. (“Only you can prevent forests” was the travestied Smokey the Bear slogan.) 3.4 million combat sorties were launched by the U.S. and South Vietnam between 1965 and 1972. The amount of ammunition fired per soldier was 26 times higher than in World War II. In the northernmost province of South Vietnam, Quang Tri, only 11 out of 35,000 villages were not damaged by bombing or artillery. A survey found that 96 percent of Marine Corps second lieutenants said they would torture prisoners to obtain information.

Turse paints a fresco of casual cruelty and the wholesale destruction of an agrarian society relocated at gunpoint into “strategic hamlets” (a plan dreamed up by Harvard professors like Samuel Huntington) and urban slums. He tells the stories of dozens of individuals, mostly Vietnamese, whose lives were ruined by the war. Pham Thi Luyen, 13 years old on October 21, 1967, when American members of Company B, 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment came to her village of Trieu Ai and massacred a dozen civilians, including her father. Nguyen Thi Lam, a villager from the Mekong Delta, who was gunned down by U.S. helicopters on the morning of May 20, 1968 while at work in the rice paddies; she lost her left leg, her sister-in-law lost her life. (As Turse reports, “Even a U.S. Senate study acknowledged that by that by 1968 some 300,000 civilians had been killed or wounded in free-fire zones.”) Bui Thi Houng, gang-raped by five members of a Marine unit as other Marines shot dead her unarmed husband, mother–in-law, and sister-in-law in Xuan Ngoc hamlet on September 23, 1966.

It was a great big homicidal carnival. Sergeant Roy Bumgarner of the Army’s 1st Cavalry Division, then the 173rd Airborne Brigade, achieved celebrity within the ranks for his slaughter of Vietnamese civilians, and when in 1969 he was finally court-martialed for the murder of three civilians, his only penalty was a reduction in rank and a monthly fine of $97, which lasted only half a year. Bumgarner stayed on active duty throughout, quickly rose back from private to sergeant, and was one of the last U.S. infantrymen to leave the country. One civil affairs lieutenant involved in the case—and outraged by its lack of consequence—chalked up the light sentence to “the M.G.R.–the Mere Gook Rule” which granted free rein to homicidal violence.

But the relentless violence against civilians was more than the activity of a few sociopaths: it was policy. This was a war fought along Fordist principles—Robert McNamara had gone to the Department of Defense straight from the helm of the auto giant—and the slaughter was industrial in scale. Victory over the Viet Cong was to be achieved by quantifiable “kill ratios,” to reach that elusive tipping point where the insurgency could no longer replenish its troops. This approach hard-wired incentives to secure a high “body count” down the chain of command, with the result that U.S. soldiers often shot civilians dead to pad their tallies and thereby move up the ranks.

It was Gen. Julian Ewell who made the killing of Vietnamese civilians into standard operating procedure. Ewell assumed the military command of the Mekong Delta region in early 1968 and immediately upped the requisite body count to 4,000 a month, then to 6,000. At the end of the year, he started Operation Speedy Express, a six-month infantry assault on the delta region, killing thousands of Vietnamese, a great many of whom were civilians. (Civilian war casualties were 80 percent of all patients at provincial hospitals.) Air power raised the killing to industrial scale, with a total of 4,338 gunship sorties, 6,500 tactical air strikes dropping at least 5,078 tons of bombs and 1,784 tons of napalm. One American regional adviser described it as “nonselective terrorism.” As another veteran recalled, “A Cobra gunship spitting out six hundred rounds a minute doesn’t discern between chickens, kids and VC.”

Ewell, known by his men as “the Butcher of the Delta,” was awarded a third general’s star and made a top U.S. military adviser at the Paris peace talks. His book about the operation was taught at West Point.

Some readers (and many more non-readers) in the United States will reject this knowledge and accuse Turse of beating up the troops, hating America, etc. In fact, Turse shows quite a bit of empathy for the American grunt, a heavily armed teenager in a wholly foreign environment. But he does not look away from the senseless destruction U.S. troops perpetrated, “fueled by a toxic mix of youth, testosterone, racism, anger, boredom, fear, alienation, anonymity, impunity and excitement.” Turse will not have Lt. William Calley alone made the fall guy for My Lai, “as if the deaths of more than five hundred civilians, carried out by dozens of men at the behest of higher command, were his fault alone.” As the files of the Pentagon’s own War Crimes Working Group show, “atrocities were committed by members of every infantry, cavalry and airborne division, and every separate brigade that deployed without the rest of its division—that is, every major army unit in Vietnam.”

Telford Taylor, a retired brigadier general and former Nuremberg prosecutor, daringly argued in 1971 for war crimes tribunals that would try American officers—this idea went nowhere. Throughout the war there was a veneer of law regulating the soldiers, but impunity for war crimes was close to absolute. Even when atrocity allegations (usually made in the face of heavy peer pressure and intimidation) did result in investigations, there were few convictions, and such sentences as did get handed down were generally minimal—and then usually reduced further. Most cases were allowed to flounder until collapsing upon the soldier’s discharge. (The pattern of impunity is redolent of Central American state violence in the 1980s—except the perpetrators have jarringly non-Latin surnames like Duffy, Cushman, Bowers, Parker.) The War Crimes Working Group, whose files are the backbone of Turse’s research, was formed not to investigate and prosecute but to perform damage control: after the My Lai story broke, never again would the military be caught off-guard when an atrocity hit the news.

The main effect of the My Lai news was to provoke a wave of sympathy for Lieutenant Calley, with state legislatures from Mississippi to New Jersey passing resolutions in support of the man, who was under house arrest at Fort Benning. (In Georgia, Calley had a vigorous defender in the young Democratic governor, Jimmy Carter.) Newsweek’s Vietnam correspondents, Kevin Buckley and Alex Shimkin, fought a losing battle to make their magazine publish a long story about the systematic nature of wartime atrocities, arguing, like Turse today, that My Lai massacres were widespread and “normal.” The magazine eventually published a heavily edited version shorn of its most important findings.

A book with such an elevated atrocity-per-page ratio demands the greatest rhetorical finesse, lest chapters like “A Litany of Atrocities” and “Unbounded Misery” become mere litanies of atrocities of unbounded misery. Turse is up to the task: he doesn’t rant, doesn’t scold, and his writing never raises its voice. His research is a triumph of the historian’s craft, with sources including hundreds of interviews with American veterans and dozens with civilian survivors of atrocities, conducted over several trips to Vietnam. More impressive still is his mastery of archival resources: Turse was bequeathed the copious notes of Newsweek’s Buckley and Shimkin, and he has broken new ground with the previously unexplored files of the Army’s War Crimes Working Group—which he happened upon in the National Archives and photocopied for several days straight while sleeping in his car in the parking lot. And a good thing he made copies because the drive to suppress memories of Vietnam has entered even the archives: the files were later removed from the shelves.

But the word is out. Turse’s book has shifted the focus of the Vietnam War from the stories of American soldiers to the stories of the civilians whose suffering was orders of magnitude higher. It will be the work of others to unpack the implications of this seminal work, which raises so many questions. Do counterinsurgency and pacification campaigns unavoidably lead to rampant slaughter of civilians? (The New York Times marked the 10th anniversary of the Iraq invasion with an op-ed from counterinsurgency guru John Nagl attempting to salvage his pet tactic from blood-soaked ignominy of Afghanistan and Iraq.) Can armies “control” and “protect” a population without routinized atrocity?

July/August 2013 [1]And how much of the slaughter was, according the laws of armed conflict, legal? Turse generally sticks to the non-legal term “atrocity” rather than “war crime”—which is very wise, given that the two terms don’t overlap as closely as many would like to believe. There is no doubt that American, South Vietnamese, and Viet Cong soldiers violated the laws of armed conflict in their treatment of civilians. The Geneva Conventions on the treatment of enemy prisoners weren’t so much flouted as shot in the temple, a finding confirmed by the Pentagon’s own investigations and the International Committee of the Red Cross. But how much of the carnage, particularly that stemming from aerial bombardment, was perfectly legit under international humanitarian law? The point is still argued, with military lawyers like W. Hays Parks contending that the “Rolling Thunder” campaign that dropped 640,000 tons of bombs on North Vietnam and killed tens of thousands of civilians was in strict compliance with international law.

Many humanitarian-minded lawyers will bristle at this, but why not admit that the law is on the side of the B-52s, not that of the civilians below? Who do you think wrote the law in the first place? We urgently need to see how the laws of war work in practice, given that so many hawks of both left and right insist that law and lawyers are a viable means of fashioning military force into a precise, therapeutic instrument. But as this book suggests throughout, the primary function of the Rules of Engagement and military law in general is not to restrain lethal force but to authorize it. In Vietnam, the overriding principle of International Humanitarian Law, the current preferred euphemism for the laws of war, turned out to be the Mere Gook Rule.

War puts incredible stress on the rule of law—when not putting it through the shredder—and beneath the law, our sense of justice and morality. Consider the example of U.S. Army Major Carl Hensley, charged with investigating war-crime allegations. Under pressure to suppress his findings, he blew his brains out with a shotgun on the day of April 15, 1971. The military came instantly and removed every piece of paper in the Hensley home. “They pulled the trash cans. They left nothing behind,” remembers his daughter Karla Hensley, then a child.

What happens when no honest memories of atrocity get left behind? We learn nothing and repeat the carnage in new places with names like Fallujah, Haditha, and Helmand. We cover ourselves with the “fog of war” like a thick fleece blanket, and those who would lift it from us do not get our thanks. But Nick Turse and his disturbing and necessary book deserve our deepest gratitude.

Chase Madar is an attorney in New York and the author of The Passion of Bradley Manning [2].

Follow @chmadar [3]

135 Comments (Open | Close)

135 Comments To "Vietnam: A War on Civilians"

#1 Comment By Eli Smith On August 27, 2013 @ 10:27 pm

….most of this Chomsky wrote about 20-30 yrs ago.

#2 Comment By Tom On October 29, 2013 @ 10:01 pm

You pissed away what little credibility you had when you stated that historians haven’t been able to find one case of people spitting on troops during/after Vietnam.

#3 Comment By Black Eagle On November 25, 2013 @ 2:18 am

Nick Turse, a “Fellow” at The Nation Institute, being the communist organization that published The Nation, the most leftist outfit in the USA. Why no mention of the massacre at Hue? The millions who tried to flee North Vietnam to escape the slaughter in the North, the death camps (oops, “re-education” camps), the boat people, etc. Why no mention of NVA spraying of “yellow rain” chemical war poison on the Laotians, which killed everyone in minutes, not just a statistical percentage as with Agent Orange, which had no deliberate purpose of harming humans, only as a defoliant which harmed as many Americans who sprayed it as Vietnamese who were exposed. Hell, we still use it on road-sides in the USA to remove obstructing vegetation. Or how about a few words on the VC program of massacring the entire families of South Vietnamese villages who dared to resist communism, or anyone who was outspoken, and which was the reason why Operation Phoenix was established. Or the many entire villages wiped out by the VC in the South. Or the very large number of North Vietnamese civilians killed by Ho’s Viet Minh in the collectivization schemes. Turse’s book basically paves over such things, and he uses NLF (Viet Cong) propaganda for some of his references. You want to trust this guy? Now I cannot trust you or him.

Yes, many young people don’t know beans about the Vietnam War, but what Turse writes, and what you report here is a shameful pack of communist propaganda.

#4 Comment By thomas campbell On March 20, 2014 @ 5:11 pm

you basters like to drag people through themud need to tell the hole truth and not what you want people to hear.i met roy in korea,we were together in the scout plt. 1/31 inf. 2nd div.the no.of kills was wrong it was over a poeid of 48 mos. not 42 weeks.he didn’t retired in 1981,he retired in 1984 with 35 years of service.to bad we don’t have more men like him and less people like you bastered.

#5 Comment By Carter On March 23, 2017 @ 4:52 pm

Why is the only thing you people say is that this writer is “communist”. and that nothing he says is true. Lots of it is true. The military did abuse its power when they were in Vietnam. There is no going around that fact. So he is not wrong and stop saying he is.

#6 Comment By Howard Marks On May 18, 2017 @ 7:26 am

Well done. Excellent article.

#7 Comment By Alowishus On May 22, 2017 @ 7:07 am

Correct. We propped up an authoritarian government. Soldiers (and people in general) are capable of cruelty and governmental policies were cruel and capricious in our view. War is Hell, I have lived it. The problem is that Americans are in the habit of criticizing America as the “bad guy” as though we are the reason for all the world’s ills. Take us out of the equation and the world would be a peaceful village, a nirvana, no war, no exploitation, no slavery, no prejudice, a completely color/gender/politically neutral world order. I encourage anyone who believes that we are the “Great Satan” to travel the world (not a Bohemian, European, backpack, Youth Hostel, cafe tour) and tell me this is really true. Oh one last question. I request that the author give us some data on the extrajudicial (even judicial) imprisonments and deaths of Vietnamese North and South at the hands of Communist Vietnam before and since the war. You know just to be objective…if possible.

#8 Comment By Jeff On September 19, 2017 @ 12:43 pm

I have no problem with people who point out the atrocities committed by US soldiers as long as they don’t seek to romanticize the Viet Cong, who were just as if not more brutal. Interesting to note this article (like so many others) mentions the My Lai massacre but not the massacre at Hue. Leftists have not really come to grips with the fact that their beloved North was in fact a quasi-Stalinist hellhole

#9 Comment By james R. Olson On September 19, 2017 @ 6:03 pm

The moron apologists will never learn. they are far too cowardly to face the truth. For the weak minded, the reason the author doesn’t spend more time documenting the atrocities of the V.C., A fact which no one denies, Is precisely because he is documenting the atrocities of the U.S., the only ones we are responsible for.

#10 Comment By Tim Driscoll On September 19, 2017 @ 11:12 pm

We, the so-called “good guys” committed so much evil
during the Cold War, that I can’t help but wonder if
the problems we’re now having with Islamic terrorism is a form of divine retribution.

#11 Comment By Nelson On September 20, 2017 @ 8:45 pm

Pat Buchanan wrote that the Vietnam War was justified if you accepted that the Soviet Union and International Communism were existential threats to America and the West.

A man could rightly see that as justification for our entrance into the war. But a wise man will see it as an admonition against letting our fears control us and lead us into grave mistakes. If we had faith that our system was the better one then patience would have accomplished what millions of dead and billions of dollars couldn’t.

#12 Comment By Jerry Briardy On October 2, 2017 @ 2:22 am

Yes, the VC did bad stuff too. We have heard that excuse time and again. But how does that justify what Americans did? And when you murder, torture and rape the people you are supposedly protecting, how does that “win hearts and minds”? If the US ever had a chance to win that war, it wasn’t by terrorizing the population. These policies did far more to recruit soldiers for the communists than anything Hanoi dreamed up.

#13 Comment By Howard Marks On October 8, 2017 @ 1:22 pm

One correction the United States and its mercenary client murdered over 5 million people in Indochina.

#14 Comment By Daniel Baker On March 16, 2018 @ 10:30 am

“My friend had had no sense that the U.S. invaded (a word rarely used, but what else can you call sending 500,000 troops to a foreign nation?) South Vietnam.”

Wow. So the Marquis de Lafayette invaded the American colonies during the Revolution. Britain invaded France and Belgium during the 1914 German offensive. America invaded England during the buildup for Operation Overlord. America and half of NATO invaded Saudi Arabia in 1990 to defend it from Iraq.

To start an article dedicated to distinguishing truth from propaganda about civilian deaths in Vietnam with such a childishly obvious lie is counterproductive. It does the book under review (which, for all I know, may be scrupulously accurate) a disservice.

#15 Comment By LarsX On March 16, 2018 @ 10:32 am

Americans are Manichaean: there must be a good guy and a bad guy. For some, the Americans could do no wrong; for others, the Communists can’t. Turse is of the latter type. That’s why you’ll hear nothing from him of the Hue massacres or any other like it. Most of the people who dislike the article are simply demanding balanced reporting.

And wars are all the same: they are conducted by people who don’t fight in them and are reported by people who don’t fight in them. When the people who do fight in them realize they’re suckers, who will fight in them?

#16 Comment By Centralist On March 16, 2018 @ 10:35 am

I hate the old “he is Marxist” line. Just because he disagrees with you or points out facts you hate does not make him a Marxist or anything of the such. It shows a general mental closures on the accuser’s part. The accuser is not trying to engage in debate just shut it down with insult or name calling by putting his opponent in a place that in the accuser’s mind can not be defended. Though

I am just one of those “snowflake millennials” though who happened to have graduated from one of the Six Senior Military Colleges and lives in the Rust Belt/Coal Country so what do I know about “real” America and it’s history.

I live by the rule if your argument starts or ends with an accusation: you lose because you lack an actual argument.

#17 Comment By Fran Macadam On March 16, 2018 @ 10:59 am

Nothing has changed. The beat goes on, and it’s a war march to occupy the world. The imperialists renamed themselves Globalists. Civilians aren’t important, at home or abroad, except for financial elites. Just War Theory, in the end, just means war.

#18 Comment By Mr_Mike On March 16, 2018 @ 1:43 pm

It’s interesting to me that many “conservatives” claim to be anti-government in domestic policy, but are the opposite in foreign policy. They are suspicious of the agents of the government here, but go out of their way to assert the goodness of agents over there, especially in war.

#19 Comment By ScottA On March 16, 2018 @ 3:59 pm

An especially nasty war with a lot of nastiness on both sides. The most important thing now is to take lessons learned from the conflict and apply them to what is happening now, which the powers that be seem incapable of doing.

A good paperback about the nastiness of the conflict is “The Tunnels of Cu Chi: A Harrowing Account of America’s “Tunnel Rats” in the Underground Battlefields of Vietnam”.

In my opinion the most psychologically frightening booby traps in the tunnels involved the use of various indigenous scary critters.

A particularly creative booby trap the VC came up with, although it was done above ground, was to use long poles to hang a large number of nests of a large and hyper aggressive type of wasp over an area of a trail. Then ARVN or US soldiers would walk under the nests and be attacked by large numbers of giant wasps. They would then run around trying to get away from the wasps and fall into camouflaged punji pits and be impaled on the punji stakes. So they would be impaled on the punji stakes in the pits while be attacked by huge numbers of giant wasps. A really nasty way to die.

As one example of a VC atrocity, there was a young woman who lived in a village near a US base. She got a job at the US base and eventually became engaged to a US serviceman. So the VC cut off her head, impaled it on the end of a long stake, and stuck it in the ground near the entrance of the American base with a sign warning that this is what happens to you when you get too friendly with the Americans.

So yeah, an all around especially nasty conflict.

#20 Comment By One Guy On March 16, 2018 @ 5:22 pm

Wow. Look at all the Whataboutism, probably by Vietnam vets. Yes, the Viet Cong was horrible. That doesn’t give American soldiers the right to kill Vietnamese civilians. Maybe some people have problems with the truth.

#21 Comment By Will Austin On March 16, 2018 @ 5:24 pm

Odd that the writer, and his defenders, don’t seem to be concerned with the type of people who won the war. What type of people were/are they?

They were nothing less than power hungry, just as power hungry as Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot and the Kim dynasty of North Korea. In his book ‘Red Holocaust’, Steven Rosefielde writes about a land reform program that Communist North Vietnam undertook in the early 1950’s. Rosefielde writes that anywhere from 200,000 to 900,000 died as this “program” was implemented. That was the early 1950’s. Over the years I’ve been surprised at what many people assume is the greatest threat to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to be Fascism. Yet, the historical record is very clear when it comes to which type of philosophy has caused, either directly/indirectly, more humans to die. Communism/Marxism has a ratio of ten to one in that category. And the North Vietnamese had no reservations about killing as many people as they could in order to beat and finally subjugate South Vietnam.
Who started the war?
Did South Vietnam invade North Vietnam in order to impose their will on them? Did South Vietnam clothe their regular army troops in black and declare that they were a North Vietnamese grassroots force fighting to free North Vietnam from a corrupt government? Did South Vietnam, when the war started to go against them, publicly want “Peace talks” until they were able to launch a new round of attacks against the North, and then break off the “Peace talks” because the North really wasn’t interested in peace?
If one is opposed to a free press, free elections, the freedom to petition their government because they see injustices and the freedom to publicly criticize their government without the fear of imprisonment, then they’re probably happy with the way that war ended.

#22 Comment By Donald On March 16, 2018 @ 5:35 pm

Scott A— I agree. I don’t doubt the other side was vicious. This is the criticism I have of some of my fellow lefties. It should be enough to oppose our own intervention without putting a halo on the heads of the other side.

But a lot of Americans don’t want to face up to the atrocities of our own side.

#23 Comment By Arthur Granville On March 16, 2018 @ 7:17 pm

I am really surprised that a Pat Buchanan organ would allow such articles as this. Is the American Conservative now pandering to liberal/leftist writers? It sure seems as such. Anybody who knows anything about the Vietnam War, knows what that war did to America. Why, after 40+ years, does a liberal author have to dredge up atrocities of the War? Hasn’t the Vietnam Veteran suffered enough, during combat, and his reception from an extremely ungrateful nation after his return?

Art Granville
Vietnam Era Marine Veteran(1968-70) and amateur historian on the Vietnam War

#24 Comment By Patrick Moore On March 16, 2018 @ 10:51 pm

“you basters like to drag people through themud need to tell the hole truth and not what you want people to hear.i met roy in korea,we were together in the scout plt. 1/31 inf. 2nd div.the no.of kills was wrong it was over a poeid of 48 mos. not 42 weeks.he didn’t retired in 1981,he retired in 1984 with 35 years of service.to bad we don’t have more men like him and less people like you bastered.”

“He delighted to tread upon the brink of meaning.”

#25 Comment By Patrick Moore On March 16, 2018 @ 11:12 pm

I think you overstate the case. It has been a commonplace now for a generation at least that our war in Vietnam was a mistake, and that the good and even noble intentions that were at least a small part of our motive were swallowed up in politics and bureaucratic ineptitude and foolishness. But it is also a commonplace, I think, that, for all our outrages, the principal cruelty was the bureaucratic and political stupidity that got us in there in the first place, and then, in second place, made us slog on after it quickly became clear that the war was not winnable in any conditions we could bring ourselves to impose.

The biggest lesson of Vietnam for the US, the same lesson needlessly repeated in Iraq and Afghanistan, is that the US does very badly as a world policeman. Young and strong and rich, the Allies and the Entente begged us to intervene when Germany seemed poised to win, and we nobly did; but WW II was our moral high point, and certainly, from Korea on, we ought to have thought more carefully about the purpose and the potential results of our interventions. Just because we are rich and powerful doesn’t mean that we are equipped to police the world — ** especially** when the objects of our righteous indignation have little to do with our real, national security.

The real nobility of the United States is, or was, the self sufficiency, independence, and fraternal charity of its everyday citizens, virtues largely lost in our big cities where everyone works as a dependent wage slave for the corporation, and where more and more we look to the fed govt not only to solve our problems but define our values. We ought to regain some of this internal self-sufficiency, fraternal charity, and ideological independence, instead of relying on foreign adventures to prove our worth.

#26 Comment By Joseph R. Stromberg On March 17, 2018 @ 11:08 am

In aid of Siarlys Jenkins’s point that, a very long time ago, some conservatives were not that keen to get bogged down in the great muddy, I submit the following:

In his last major speech before his death, delivered for him by his son in May 1953, Senator Robert A. Taft (R., Ohio) said, “I have never felt that we should send American soldiers to the Continent of Asia, which, of course, included China pro¬per and Indo-China.” Indeed, historian Leonard P. Liggio believed that with respect to Indo-China, Taft’s influence survived his death, since President Eisenhower, “with the advice of the Taft supporters in the cabinet such as Treasury Secretary George Humphrey, insisted that there would be no direct use of American soldiers, naval forces or bombers without the prior approval of Congress, as Taft had consistently demanded.” In 1954 Congressional debate neutralized proposals by Vice President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles that the United States become the partner of French colonialism in Vietnam. (Leonard P. Liggio, “Why the Futile Crusade,” Left and Right, I, 1, Spring 1965, 60-62.)

(Absent any former Taft supporters in their ranks, the Kennedy liberals who took power in 1961 had no sense of restraint in Indo-China.)

During Old Right journalist John T. Flynn’s final months, as American involvement in Indo-China grew, he might have recalled his radio talk of February 14, 1954, in which he called on President Eisenhower to say “that we’re not going to get involved in any kind of war in Indo-China, hot or lukewarm…” (Ted Galen Carpenter, “The Dissenters: American Isolationists and Foreign Policy, 1945-1954” PhD. Dissertation, University of Texas, 1980, 462 note).

In mid-1954, Old Right journalist Garet Garrett noted that the United States had lately defined the French cause as “vital to the security of the United States.” The President spoke of “sending American troops to Indo-China” and of “a row of dominoes” and wondered “what should we do for raw rubber and tin,” if Indo-China fell. Unfazed by the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu, Secretary Dulles wanted (as before) an Asian NATO, but with an adjusted defense perimeter. None of this mattered, said Garrett, since Asians still wanted freedom from Western domination. (Garet Garrett, “Exit the White Man,” Human Events, July 21, 1954, 2-4.)

#27 Comment By Youknowho On March 17, 2018 @ 7:39 pm


You have to make a distinction between awful things done to an enemy with whom you are engaged, and awful things done to the civilian population which are supposed to be protected by those who commit those awful things.

As for the unfortunate lady whose head was cut off, do yo know what happened in France to women who had slept with the Germans after WWII? No decapitation, but they were sheared of all their hair and made to parade half naked through town.

Moral equivalence is no help. You might as well say about abuses by the FBI “The Mob does worse things”

#28 Comment By Trump is a neocon On March 17, 2018 @ 11:24 pm

I accept that the communists committed countless atrocities. It’s well documented and we have heard about these atrocities for the last 70 years. We haven’t heard much about the atrocities committed by USA armed forces. It was a brutal war where few prisoners were taken. Let’s not start every account w communist abuses. Let’s hear about what has been hidden by our own government and military.

#29 Comment By Furbo On March 18, 2018 @ 9:17 am

History doesn’t repeat – but it does rhyme. Mass civilian casualties began in the WWII bombing campaigns and continue today as we take out 15 extended family members for one Haji in the drone wars.

Was gobsmacked by the naivete in this “Geneva Accords of 1954 to guarantee free elections in South Vietnam, elections scuttled after the CIA predicted that Ho Chi Minh would win.” Thank god the US government had the good sense to do so. How much trouble would’ve been saved if we’d encouraged Hosni Mubarak to chose a successor rather than elect the Muslim Brotherhood to power in Egypt! And Afghan ‘democracy’ has been such a huge success.

As to Mr. Turse. I’ve read a good bit of his writings – he’s a good read! But I have 1st hand knowledge of many of his subjects and there is no one better at taking genuine facts and spinning a wildly immaginative narrative.

#30 Comment By Mia On March 18, 2018 @ 6:55 pm


So are you saying this book has no basis in fact?


#31 Comment By EliteCommInc. On March 19, 2018 @ 7:43 pm

Ohhhh what tom foolery nonsense. Sure there were crimes against civilians. It is accurate that civilians experienced their fare share of collateral damage.

But it is utter nonsense to state that the US made war on civilians in Vietnam. It’s like counting up all of ones blue marbles are claiming that my marbles are all blue.

Sure if you ignore the other ninety-nine marbles of other and various combination of colors. This is the “alt-right” universe turned side ways. Sprinkle some truth into a huge vat, and then claim the sprinkles represent the whole. Whenever that band of Vietnam guilt mongers find themselves with their back against the wall concerning Vietnam, they rehash old horrors and dress it up in new clothes so as ignore one simple reality.

North Vietnam were the aggressors in every way concerning Vietnam. And had they wanted peace they could have stop killing their fellows sought re-unification minus the mayhem and murder.

And the level of ignorance that the supposed educated in the US did not know that it was the North making war just belies their utter brainless childish, ignorant complaint to avoid the draft. They should have been yelling give peace a chance to North Korea instead of berating US forces for defending the right of self determination.

The need to force some kind of self flagellating mea culpa on US troops that actually won the conflict and upon leaving were forced to stand by as the North once again among many times violated an agreement of peace and with the aide of communist China and Russia proceeded to massacre the people they claimed they want to embrace in the “make love not war” silliness.

No US servicemen serving in Vietnam need experience an once of shame for their service, barring any criminal act against his fellows or civilians. We should have secured that victory — you fought hard to accomplish.

#32 Comment By EliteCommInc. On March 19, 2018 @ 7:50 pm

“I played a role in helping restore normal relations between the US and Vietnam. An extended period of American sulking took place after the forced reunification of the country.”

Laugh. You bet there’s sulking. If you beat the other fellow ion the ring and when you leave he starts beating up on you ally and then declares victory —–

You better believe there’d be sulking. That’s a very normal response to betrayal. And this article like so many is full of nonsense. The reason the elections were postponed had everything to do with the acts of terror against civilians by the Vietcong — conveniently ignoring that fact, just reminds me why I stay the course —-

liberals forever justifying their errors.

Hey, not all the marbles are blue.

#33 Comment By EliteCommInc. On March 19, 2018 @ 7:54 pm

We did not invade S. Vietnam, we were welcome guests and allies.

Note: South Vietnam was a recognized independent state as acknowledged by the UN. Our efforts was one of the few acts of generosity on behalf of S. Vietnam.

Want to understand Vietnam, just listen to Pres. Jonson’s misgivings via audiotape. That was it in a nutshell.

“Just when I thought I was out — they pull me back in.” The God Father.

#34 Comment By Robin Hufford On April 21, 2018 @ 3:39 pm

It would be pointless to argue details with a kind of mind capable of such grand factual dishonesty, likely sincere at that, as both the writer of this book and his babbling reviewer here demonstrate. That these two are incapable of understanding or comprehending even the largest datum, for example, the draconian implications of the mass migration of people, estimated to range from six to nine millions of individuals, desperate, and running for their lives to the south, in front of the advancing North Vietnamese army as the “democratic” South collapsed in 1975, is evident.
Of course, this does not go directly to the ludicrous claim that Americans as a rule callously butchered hundred of thousands of innocent civilians. Where grown men are fighting by the thousands to kill one another, an experience which an insufficiency of resolution has no doubt denied to either writer or reviewer, one should be at a remove of dozens of miles due to the nature of the horrific firepower involved in modern war in order to avoid those inevitable unintended events which spill over and bring war to civilians and unintended targets. That tragic killing of innocents occurred is, of course, indisputable as well as lamentable but the American policy in Vietnam was to avoid civilian injuries at all costs, both for humane reasons, and, as well, if for no other reason, than as being counterproductive to the intent of the political system that sent American troops there.
The general misrepresentation, ignorance of the facts and mendacity evident in the views of the people that make such claims of willful slaughter were useful at the time as self-justifications for cowardice; now these individuals castigate the public for lacking a true “understanding” of the sublteties which only they comprehend and thus lament the march of history as misdirected. Such individuals greedily hold on to certain details of incidents for self-serving emotional reasons and conveniental forget others. For example,a resolute horror over the My Lai massacre, of course justifiable, and other disgraceful outrages, which, in their minds, corroborates their moral “superiority” but they lack the honesty to look at the larger picture. A good example is the seldom reported fact that, in order, to stop the killing, an American helicopter pilot put his chopper down in between the civilians and their murderers with orders to his gunners to open fire on the renegade troops if they did not stop firing at the civilians. This act saved a significant number of lives and has meaningful implications but, unfortunately it is a fact that is inconvenient to the calculus of mendacity and, thus has, poorly reported. That Calley and his henchmen should have been executed is evident and a criticism of the outcomes of their trials is in order; but this is not what these kinds of books and reviews aspire to. Unfortunately, rogue incidents do occur but the great distinction between the “democratic” allies and the communists was, among other things, just this: that policy forbade such things and implied and delivered severe punishments for such behavior in the case of the Americans, other allies, and, to a lesser degree the South Vietnameses and on the other hand, a policy of calculated disregard and widespread, arbitrary mass killing of civilians for political purposes and reasons of intimidation and retribution. That such was the policy on the part of the communist side, is a fact which, to an astute observer of history is nothing new, but which, evidently,has been either too subtle or indistinct for these two to grasp. The view of the writer of this email is that the war, its conduct, and its aftermath was undeniably a tragedy that should have been avoided but, given, the temper of the times this was probably not possible. RH

#35 Comment By Lewis M Black On June 26, 2018 @ 7:39 pm

Some of the responders here seem to think that the colonization of Southeast Asia by the French was an act of goodwill. Why do you think de Gaulle wanted his colony back? So he could bring democracy to Vietnam? I don’t think so and neither should you. The communists were vicious, but so were the colonizers. Those Vietnamese who collaborated with the French gained some benefits, but that didn’t help the rest of the country, especially the rural people. Don’t glamoroize our efforts there. There were no “good guys.”