Book painstakingly recounts Vietnam War atrocities
By JIM HIGGINS | Milwaukee Journal Sentinel | Published: August 3, 2013
Nick Turse's "Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam" (Metropolitan Books) is one of the most sobering books of the year, a detailed and thoroughly sourced account of the murder, torture and rape of Vietnamese noncombatants during the war.
The My Lai massacre, far from being an isolated incident, was part of a pattern of behavior exemplified by the title of Turse's book. As far back as 1971, Vietnam veteran Charles McDuff wrote to President Richard Nixon, "Maybe your advisors have not clued you in, but the atrocities that were committed in Mylai are eclipsed by similar American actions throughout the country."
Turse will speak about his research during a book-signing event Aug. 7 at Milwaukee's Boswell Book Company. He also will speak Aug. 8 at the Veterans for Peace national convention at the Madison Concourse Hotel & Governor's Club.
Turse believes, he writes in the book, that "the crimes committed in America's name in Vietnam...have never been adequately faced. As a result, they continue to haunt our society in profound and complex ways."
While Turse had minimal cooperation from American military authorities during the decade he spent researching the book, he interviewed more than 100 American veterans who had either taken part in such incidents or witnessed them, as well as Vietnamese witnesses and victims.
"It's a tough subject," Turse said in a telephone interview. When he began contacting American veterans for interviews, Turse braced himself for refusals and hostile responses. But he found many veterans who wanted to speak up.
"They were glad someone was coming forward with the truth. It validated them," he said.
Some veterans had been trying to tell these stories for decades. Turse cites Jamie Henry, a former medic who tried to report atrocities committed by his unit. Henry talked to the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command. Military investigators interviewed soldiers and corroborated what Henry reported, then the Army buried the report. Henry didn't learn his own Army proved his allegations until Turse showed him the photocopied report decades later.
While Turse tells the story of one veteran who has never regretted torturing Vietnamese and would do it again in the same situation, he said the more typical response was from veterans who had experienced a change of heart over the years, "really troubled, bothered by what they had done and what they had been ordered to do."
Remember, Turse said, typical American soldiers in Vietnam were 18 to 20 years old: "They went to boot camp as boys, were put in untenable situations by officers they were told to put all their trust in."
As for his Vietnamese subjects, Turse said: "I was always shocked, even after many trips, I would go and talk to people about the worst events, horrific days in their lives. At the end of it, they would thank me.
"They couldn't believe there was an American who knew something of the war they experienced and was willing to travel halfway around the world" to talk to them, he said.
Even in Vietnam, Turse said, "the story of civilian suffering doesn't have a place in the history of the war."
"While the U.S. military attempted to quantify almost every other aspect of the conflict -- from the number of helicopter sorties flown to the number of propaganda leaflets dispersed -- it quite deliberately never conducted a comprehensive study of Vietnamese noncombatant casualties." He cites varying estimates of the number of South Vietnamese civilian deaths from 195,000 to 415,000 to the Vietnamese government's 1995 estimate of 2 million.
IF YOU GO
Who: Nick Turse, author of "Kill Anything That Moves"
When: 7 p.m. Aug. 7
Where: Boswell Book Company, 2559 N. Downer Ave.