The American Bear


In 1968, the going rate for adult lives was thirty-three dollars, while children merited just half that. In one instance, after two members of Huynh Van Thanh’s family were crushed to death by cargo dropped from a US helicopter, the American military paid him about sixty dollars and gave him some surplus food, a bottle of liquid soap, two coloring books and a box of crayons. … By failing to accept responsibility for deaths and attempting to buy off Vietnamese grief over dead children for absurdly low amounts - about what a radio cost in America at the time - the United States explicitly commodified and devalued Vietnamese life. As James William Gibson put it, the solacium system was ‘the most perverse exercise of turning people’s lives and deaths into ledger entries.’ Nick Turse, from his book Kill Anything That Moves