Readers note: The following was written in 2007 in response to a series of articles in the Los Angeles Times discussing American atrocities in Vietnam. The author is a founding member of VVFH and a Vietnam Veteran and has given his permission to reproduce the article here.
The article was originally published here and included graphic photos of Viet Cong violence.
By Bill Laurie
The recent Los Angeles Times article on U.S. Military atrocities in Viet Nam should only be the beginning of a comprehensive investigation of war crimes and unwarranted brutality in Viet Nam, Laos, and Cambodia. This has never been done and is long over due. Culmination of such a study would produce results not expected by the American public, misinformed as they have been about Viet Nam.
It should be noted as a preface that this Viet Nam veteran neither excuses nor justifies actual war crimes committed by American forces. I would not stand in a long line to argue any American serviceman guilty of murder should not be spending the rest of his life in Leavenworth, breaking rocks. These vile events did happen, and are inexcusable and seen as such by Viet Nam veterans themselves. I have personally heard any number of Viet Nam veterans state forthrightly that they never did or saw anything like My Lai, and that Lt. Calley should be executed as a war criminal.
That said, let’s consider the report the L.A. Times examined. It reports 7 massacres resulting in 137 civilians killed, along with 78 other attacks killing 57 civilians, and 141 instances of torture. A total of 320 incidents are in the Army report, and another 500 alleged atrocities that were either unproven or were otherwise discounted. Altogether, there are 820 cited instances, and at least 194 civilians killed. These exclude My Lai so the total civilian atrocity death toll is presumably about 694. This is far less than the 36,000 Viet Namese assassinated by the communists, and that is an absolute minimum, exclusive of combat fatalities.
During the American involvement there were approximately 900 infantry platoons in Viet Nam at the high point, excluding Naval riverine, combat engineers, artillery, armor, and other units exposed to combat. These infantry platoons, excluding other unit types cited above, spent in the order of 729,000 platoon-days in the field, involving about 22 million man days in the field. In other words, 729,000 daily opportunities for platoons to commit war crimes, and a total of 22 daily million opportunities for an individual to commit an atrocity. The Army report cited by the L.A. Times suggests 820 atrocities occurred and even if these extended over a two-day period, meaning 1,640 “atrocity days,” it would represent 0.22% of total platoon days, or 2 out of 1000. Most vile atrocities, even My Lai, took place in one day, so the ratio is somewhere between 1: 1,000 and 2:1,000. For individuals the incidence is similarly low. Presuming 15 people were involved with each of the 820 atrocities, and these occurred on one day, the individual atrocity-day equals 12,300, or .0006, 6 out of 10,000. If riverine, engineer, artillery and other were included, the “atrocity rate” would plunge even further. No apologies made for what might appear to be obscene McNamarian number-juggling; it is simply a means to show that barbaric behavior, as measured by the report’s own data, was not a common occurrence and these disgusting examples do not come close to representing the whole. It’s also called “analysis,” something reporters are supposed to do, and most often do not. In the interest of honesty and historical integrity, it must be added that atrocities, per se, were not the full extent of the problem. There were simply too many, however much a minority, Americans who behaved with crass rudeness and sometimes drunken-or stoned-grotesque idiocy. The US government is culpable, as is the military, for not properly training troops on Viet Nam’s intricacies(it is doubtful if many in government knew enough to teach anything) and the utmost importance of dignified and civilized behavior in dealings with the people of Viet Nam.
This was and is not a mere rhetorical statement. The Viet Namese people were and are my friends. In two instances of inexcusably rude and disgusting American behavior I physically threatened the American perpetrators with instant violent retribution; they stopped their rancid and utterly intolerable obnoxiousness. I, along with several others, also initiated an investigation of wrong-doing which we knew would destroy the career, deservedly so, of a U.S. Army “lifer” NCO whose actions were a disgrace to the uniform he wore, and to his country.
American forces went on literally thousands of MEDCAPs-Medical Civil Action Projects and DENTCAPs-Dental Civil Action Projects, bringing welcome relief to Viet Namese rural people suffering from disease, infections, broken bones, or decayed teeth. Lives were saved, faces were saved from ravaging skin disease, scalded feet from an upturned caldron of boiling water were saved from possible amputation. Hundreds of schools and maternity clinics were built, a number of which would be burned or destroyed by the VC. This is not to say ALL U.S. forces were involved with such programs, but it is a far greater number than those involved with or committing atrocities.
This writer spent almost three years in Viet Nam. At one time or another I was in 18 of the former RVN’s 44 provinces. VC/NVA war crimes and atrocities were a daily -DAILY- routine occurrence, whether in the form of rocketing civilian areas(a war crime acknowledged by anti-war activist Richard Falk), assassinating civilians, raping women, etc. At Cai Lay district town the NVA put a mortar round into a school yard, killing 23 children and wounding 40 or 50. NVA artillery slaughtered thousands of Viet Namese on QL(Highway) 1 and on QL 13 south of An Loc in 1972; this was deliberate, observed and aimed fire, not accidental carnage.
Allied malfeasance and atrocities were rare exceptions, most due to simple human idiocy rather than policy. Rude behavior was all too common however. Since returning to the U.S., and utterly amazed and disgusted at inability of U.S. public to comprehend the most elemental aspects of the war, I’ve continued the quest for more information. Having talked with and interviewed scores of veterans, having talked with scores of Viet Namese(I speak the language), having read scores of personal memoirs and battlefield accounts, having plodded through reams of operation reports and declassified material, the inescapable conclusion arises: U.S. war crimes, as vile and disgusting and treasonous as they were, simply were not a common occurence. This is not said as a light dismissal, as one war crime is far, far too many, and a vile betrayal of what was arguably honorable cause in Viet Nam, Laos, and Cambodia(and along the Thai border where Hanoi’s war spilled over). To repeat what has been mentioned above: anyone guilty of outright, clearcut murder should have been punished severely by either a multi-decade or life prison sentence, or execution. Those committing war crimes, atrocities, rapes, etc. were providing aid and comfort to the VC/NVA, whose deceitful propaganda was given undue credibility because of the actions of morons and sub-humanoid scum. They shamed and vilified the uniform worn by better people than they. They were traitors.
One point seldom discussed: Under Secretary of Defense McNamara’s “Project 100,000,” almost 300,000 people, who would normally have been rejected for military service by virtue of mental or psychological deficiencies, or sociopathic tendencies, were allowed into the military, against the military’s wishes and preference. Research shows these “Project 100,000” people caused a disproportionate number of problems, sustained higher casualties, and it can be safely assumed were involved in a disproportionate amount of uncivilized behavior if not atrocities and war crimes.
What is the purpose of the L.A. Times expose? What is to be achieved by these revelations? Is it a concern for the people of SE Asia? A concern for justice? When all is considered, there seems to be no purpose beyond the desire to wallow in habitual masochism and national flagellation regarding U.S. involvement in SE Asia. It can’t be a concern for the SE Asian people or justice. A content survey of the L.A. Times internet archives, extending from 1 Jan 1985 to the present, shows the following:
• My Lai-695 entries
• Dak Son Massacre(where 250 Montagnards were killed and burned alive in 1967 by NVA using flamethrowers-NO entries.
• VC/NVA Assassinations(over 36,000 South Viet Namese teachers, district chiefs, agricultural extension advisors, civil servants were killed, often in hideously brutal fashion, by the VC. Another 60,000 or so were abducted with only several thousand returning, indicating tens of thousands others were assassinated. The 36,000 figure alone, given Viet Nam’s 17 million population, represents a national mortality proportion that would equal about 420,000 Americans assassinated, exclusive of combat fatalities, of which South Viet Nam’s military sustained 275,000)-NO entries
• Mrs. Nguyen Thi Thu, a Hoa Hoa Buddhist widow who immolated herself in 1999 to protest Hanoi’s religious oppression-NO entries
• Mr. Ho Tan Anh, a Buddhist who immolated himself in 2001 to protest Hanoi’s religious oppression- NO entries.
• Thich(Venerable) Chan Hy, a Buddhist monk who immolated himself in 2003 to protest Hanoi’s religions oppression-NO entries.
• The 2004 fatal beating of Buddhist Monk Thich Duc Chinh in a Hanoi prison-NO entries
• Hue Massacre, 1968, when the VC/NVA systematically executed as many as 5,000 civil servants, teachers, etc. who were systematically rounded up and executed, some buried alive in mass graves, some tied up and shot in the back of the head, around Hue City during 25 day NVA occupation of the city-NO entries.
• Oppression of Montagnards-systematic cultural genocide of the indigenous highland people, resulting in scores dead, scores jailed, scores beaten in past 2-4 years-NO entries
• Decimation of Hmong people in Laos by Pathet Lao and North Viet Namese troops
(See factfinding.org and http://www.huntingtonnews.net/national/060708-staff-laos.html)-NO entries
• Recent republication of North Viet Nam dissident poet Nguyen Chi Thien’s book, “Flowers from Hell/Hoa Dia Nguc.” Mr. Thien, dubbed the “Solzhenitsyn of Viet Nam” by author Michael Lind, spent 27 years in Hanoi prisons(12 years in solitary confinement) for writing anti-communist poetry. He recently in Garden Grove and spoke before a crowd of about 600 people-NO entries
• Egregious Hanoi Human Rights violations, documented by Human Rights Watch(hrw.org), Free Viet Nam Alliance(fva.org), Amnesty International (amnesty.org), Transparency International (transparency.org), Mother Land(queme.net), Global Witness(globalwitness.org), and scores of others.- NO entries.
• Hanoi economist Le Dang Doanh’s revelation that Viet Nam’s per capita income, 80% of Thailand’s in 1950, was only 20% of Thailand’s in 2000, all due to smothering dictatorial communist policies and endemic corruption-NO entries.
• Inimical result of communist economic policies producing average infant and maternal mortality rates, for the three communist Indochina countries, twice that of the average for the nearby non-communist countries of Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand(UN and World Bank data for 2002)-NO entries
The pattern is clear and evident: L.A. times stories for the past 21 years dwell disproportionately, and hence dishonestly, with American atrocities, and ignore far more lethal and wretched established behavior patterns, in the form of VC/NVA atrocities committed as a matter of routine. Were the L.A. Times, or readers sanctimoniously gloating over the recent article, even remotely concerned with the well-being of the Viet Namese, Laotian and Cambodian people, these topics would have been discussed, in excruciating detail. They have not been, and the fetish of obsessing over what is demonstrably unrepresentative behavior of U.S. forces must be attributed to a presumed ecstasy of psycho-political masochism and perverted sadistic voyeurism. It also reflects a craven, vile hypocrisy of the worst order. Make no mistake about it, many people ENJOY the fact that hundreds of Viet Namese were murdered at My Lai. It validates their presumed, and quite vicarious, sense of “revolutionary” righteousness. Conversely, it’s not FUN to talk about honorable U.S. and South Viet Namese behavior and performance. This leads to a parallel conclusion: the L.A. Times, and those reading this article with smug righteousness, do not want to hear anything that might nullify their perceptions of virtuous superiority.
They do not want to hear of either admirable U.S. or South Viet Namese or Australian troop performance or squalid VC/NVA atrocities, atrocities routinely committed as a matter of policy, not as a despicable breakdown of leadership as characterizes U.S. atrocities. It is interesting to note that Viet Nam and SE Asia veterans outnumber former “anti-war” people among the ranks of those concerned with human rights in Viet Nam, Laos, and Cambodia.
So, hats off to Nick Turse and Deborah Nelson for for STARTING a thorough examination of the subject of atrocities in Viet Nam(and Laos, Cambodia). Now let’s follow through with a thorough, comprehensive, documented, complete and no-holds-barred look at the entire picture. After all, half the truth, or one-tenth of it, is still a lie. Mr. Turse and Ms. Nelson, or anyone else, can start by examining this data:
and reviewing this brief article:
The completion of such a study will lead to the conclusion that America’s biggest “war crime” was Washington’s refusal to adopt and implement an appropriate strategy(NEVER done), properly train its troops, and then ultimately abandoning the people of Southeast Asia to a bigoted and ignorant collegium of near-medieval thugs who were, in essence, the Taliban of Southeast Asia, responsible for the death of millions for no valid reason. It will reveal that more Indochinese people died violent deaths after 1975, when the war was supposedly over, than during the war. It will discover names of many Viet Namese who once ardently supported Ho Chi Minh, only later to discover to their terror and disgust, that Ho Chi Minh was, as Nguyen Chi Thien called him, “the devil king,” and his followers were ruthless adherents to an ideological cult. Reporters willing to earn their pay will research the lives, and shattered hopes, of Nguyen Chi Thien, Duong Thu Huong, Chan Tin, Hoang Minh Chinh, Phan Khoi, Truong Nhu Tang, Hoang Cam, Doan Van Toai, Nguyen Cong Hoan, Duong Quynh Hoa, and scores of others whose faith in the communist cause was brutally betrayed, and who now denounce the power-hungry goons running Viet Nam. Further research will also show the news media’s abject failure to report the war in comprehensive depth and detail, leaving the American public abysmally mis-reported and under-informed, a deplorable situation that continues today (Of note is fact that former L.A. Times Viet Nam reporter Jacques Leslie admits to sitting around at night in his Saigon apartment, getting loaded on marijuana, hoping to come up with a good idea for a story). Yes, there is much for the voyeuristic sadists to gloat over: American idiocy in Viet Nam contributed to the eventual conquest by even more primitive vengeful idiots, and a total inability of this country to comprehend what took place, how, why, with what effect, and at whose expense. Now, the final question remains: why do some people actually LIKE this?