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
To this day, antipersonnel weapons––the technologically refined version of the primitive pressure cooker fragmentation bombs exploded in Boston––maim and kill farmers and their children in the Southeast Asian killing fields left over from our country’s past experiment in genocide. An experiment that as a sideshow to our obsession with replacing French colonialism in Vietnam involved dropping 277 million cluster bomblets on Laos between 1964 and 1973.
The whole point of a cluster weapon is to target an area the size of several football fields with the same bits of maiming steel that did so much damage in Boston. The International Committee of the Red Cross, which has been active in attempting to clear land of remaining bomblets, estimates 10,000 Lao civilian casualties to date from such weapons. As many as twenty-seven million unexploded bomblets remain in the country, according to the committee.
Back in 1964 at the start of that bombing campaign, I reported from Laos, an economically primitive land where a pencil was a prize gift to students. It is staggering to me that the death we visited upon a people, then largely ignorant of life in America, still should be ongoing.
The technology to manufacture the cluster bombs and the deadly bomblets they contain has since expanded to most of the world, and they have been used by at least 15 nations. As a recent Congressional Research Service report noted:
“Cluster munitions were used by the Soviets in Afghanistan, by the British in the Falklands, by the Coalition in the Gulf War, and by the warring factions in Yugoslavia. In Kosovo and Yugoslavia in 1999, NATO forces dropped 1,765 cluster bombs containing approximately 295,000 submunitions. From 2001 through 2002, the United States dropped 1,228 cluster bombs containing 248,056 submunitions in Afghanistan, and U.S. and British forces used almost 13,000 cluster munitions containing an estimated 1.8 million to 2 million submunitions during the first three weeks of combat in Iraq in 2003.”
Israel is said to have dropped almost 1 million unexploded bomblets in Lebanon in the 2006 war against Hezbollah, which fired 113 cluster bombs filled with thousands of bomblets at targets in northern Israel.
I list all those dreary statistics to drive home the point that the horror of two pressure cooker bombs in Boston that has so traumatized us should help us grasp the significance of the 1.8 million bomblets dropped in Iraq over a three-week period.
Obama was right to blast the use of weapons that targeted civilians in Boston as inherent acts of terrorism, but by what standard do such weapons change their nature when they are deployed by governments against civilians?
On Aug. 1, 2010, the Convention on Cluster Munitions, banning such weapons, became a matter of international law for the 111 nations, including 18 NATO members, that signed the agreement. The U.S. was not one of them. Current American policy, according to the Congressional Research Service report, is that “cluster munitions are available for use by every combat aircraft in the U.S. inventory; they are integral to every Army or Marine maneuver element and in some cases constitute up to 50 percent of tactical indirect fire support.”
However, there is new legislation pending in Congress that would require the president to certify that cluster munitions would “only be used against clearly defined military targets” and not deployed “where civilians are known to be present or in areas normally inhabited by civilians.” Lots of luck with that.
Even as the conflict dragged on, year after year, the Pentagon’s war managers never gave up their conviction that American technological prowess would ensure victory. … The United States would not deploy its nuclear arsenal, but it would nonetheless assault Vietnam with the destructive power of hundreds of Hiroshimas. In other words, it would wage a war of overkill. … [O]n average, between 1965 and 1968, thirty-two tons of bombs per hour were dropped on the North. It turned out, however, that of the munitions unleashed by the United States in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War - which added up to the equivalent of 640 Hiroshima-sized atomic bombs - the lion’s share was dropped not on the North but on South Vietnam, America’s own ally. There, around 19 million people would be subjected to the most lopsided air war ever fought. … The Vietnamese revolutionary forces never yielded to American firepower. But overkill did succeed in producing misery on an epic scale, especially for Vietnamese civilians.
Nick Turse from his book Kill Anything that Moves
[T]he ‘grunts’ in the field also had a plethora of incentives to produce dead bodies. These ranged from ‘R&R’ (rest and recreation) passes, which might allow a soldier several days of fun in the sun at a beach resort, to medals, badges, extra food, extra beer, permission to wear non-regulation gear, and light duty at base camp. According to Wayne Smith, a medic with the 9th Infantry Division, the body-count system led to ‘a real incentivizing of death and it just fucked with our value system. In our unit, guys who got confirmed kills would get a three-day in-country R and R. Those guys got sent to the beach at Vung Tau.’ Another veteran echoed the same sentiments: ‘They would set up competition. The company that came in with the biggest body count would be given in-country R and R or an extra case of beer. Now if you’re telling a nineteen-year-old kid it’s okay to waste people and he will be rewarded for it, what do you think that does to his psyche?’ As the war went on, some Americans racked up huge personal body counts—up to a thousand or more for a select few who served numerous tours. … Entire units were sometimes pitted against each other in body-count competitions with prizes at stake. This helped make the body-count mindset even more pervasive, lending death totals the air of sports statistics.
Nick Turse from his book Kill Anything that Moves
On August 31, 1969, a rape was committed in Vietnam. Maybe numerous rapes were committed there that day, but this was a rare one involving American GIs that actually made its way into the military justice system.
And that wasn’t the only thing that set it apart.
War is obscene. I mean that in every sense of the word. Some veterans will tell you that you can’t know war if you haven’t served in one, if you haven’t seen combat. These are often the same guys who won’t tell you the truths that they know about war and who never think to blame themselves in any way for our collective ignorance.
The truth is, you actually can know a lot about war without fighting in one. It just isn’t the sort of knowledge that’s easy to come by.
There are more than 30,000 books on the Vietnam War in print. There are volumes on the decision-making of Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, grand biographies of Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh, rafts of memoirs by American soldiers — some staggeringly well-written, many not — and plenty of disposable paperbacks about snipers, medics, and field Marines. I can tell you from experience that if you read a few dozen of the best of them, you can get a fairly good idea about what that war was really like. Maybe not perfect knowledge, but a reasonable picture anyway. Or you can read several hundred of the middling-to-poor books and, if you pay special attention to the few real truths buried in all the run-of-the-mill war stories, you’ll still get some feeling for war American-style.
The main problem with most of those books is the complete lack of Vietnamese voices. The Vietnam War killed more than 58,000 Americans. That’s a lot of people and a lot of heartache. It deserves attention. But it killed several million Vietnamese and severely affected — and I mean severely — the lives of many millions more. That deserves a whole lot more focus. [must read]
[On] this anniversary, I think of all the My Lais that most Americans never knew existed and few are aware of today. I think about young American men who shot down innocents in cold blood and then kept silent for decades. I think about horrified witnesses who lived with the memories. I think of the small number of brave whistleblowers who stood up for innocent, voiceless victims. But most of all, I think of the dead Vietnamese of all the massacres that few Americans knew about and fewer still cared about. I think of the victims in Phi Phu and Trieu Ai and My Luoc and so many other tiny hamlets I visited in Vietnam’s countryside. And then I think of all the villages I never visited; the massacres unknown to all but the dwindling number of survivors and their families; the stories we Americans will likely never know. I wonder if, 45 years hence, someone might be writing a similar op-ed about civilian lives lost these past years in Iraq or Afghanistan, Pakistan or Yemen; about killings kept under wraps and buried in classified files or simply locked away in the hearts and minds of the perpetrators and witnesses and survivors. Four and half decades from now, will we still reserve only this day to focus on these hard truths and hidden histories? Or will we finally have learned the lessons of the My Lai massacre and the many other massacres that so many wish to forget and so many others refuse to remember.
“[No] senator will ask Chuck Hagel about his presence during the machine-gunning of an orphanage in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta or the lessons he might have drawn from that incident. Nor is any senator apt to ask what Hagel might do if allegations about similar acts by American troops emerge in Afghanistan or elsewhere. Nor will some senator question him on the possible parallels between the CIA-run Phoenix Program, a joint U.S.-Vietnamese venture focused on identifying and killing civilians associated with South Vietnam’s revolutionary shadow government, and the CIA’s current targeted-killing-by-drone campaign in Pakistan’s tribal borderlands. Nor, for that matter, is he likely to be asked about the lessons he learned fighting a war in a foreign land among a civilian population where innocents and enemies were often hard to tell apart.”
… Chuck Hagel and his younger brother, Tom, fought together in Vietnam in 1968. The two are believed to be the only brothers to have served in the same infantry squad in that war and even more remarkably, each ended up saving the other’s life. “With Chuck, our troops will always know, just as Sergeant Hagel was there for his own brother, Secretary Hagel will be there for you,” the president said.
Largely unnoted was the falling out the brothers had over the conflict. After returning home, Tom began protesting the war, while Chuck defended it. Eventually, the Hagel brothers reconciled and even returned to Vietnam together in 1999. Years before, however, the two sat down with journalist and historian Myra MacPherson and talked about the war. Although their interpretations of what they had been through differed, it’s hard not to come away with the sense that both witnessed U.S. atrocities, and that Chuck Hagel’s vision of the war is far more brutal than most Americans imagine. That his experience of Vietnam would include such incidents should hardly be surprising, especially given the fact that Hagel served in the 9th Infantry Division under one of the most notorious U.S. commanders, Julian Ewell, known more colorfully as “the Butcher of the Delta.”
A chunkier China is certainly something to dread, as it has already knocked aside its first victims, the Southeast Asian flyweights bordering the South China Sea, or what is called “the East Sea” by Vietnamese. This oil rich and strategically important territory has been claimed entirely by China, including islands just off the Vietnamese coast, explored, mapped and exploited by the Nguyen Dynasty since the 17th Century. By contrast, the official Chinese map from 1904 still showed Hainan, much further North, as China’s southernmost point. Whatever. With its much improved navy, China sees precious oil within reach, so it simply shoves Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei out of the way. No profit sharing agreement here. Everything will go to the new boss, same as the old boss, what East Asia has had to contend with for millennia. If the American Empire can claim the Persian Gulf as a key territory to be defended and exploited, what’s stopping China from doing the same to the South China Sea? But this is not really about logics, only might. One does what one can get away with. America has also inserted itself into the South China Sea fracas, and has even conducted joint military exercises with its former enemies, Vietnam and Cambodia, all to counter China.Linh Dinh | World War in Asia?
For half a century we have been arguing about ‘the Vietnam War.’ Is it possible that we didn’t know what we were talking about? After all that has been written (some 30,000 books and counting), it scarcely seems possible, but such, it turns out, has literally been the case. Now, in Kill Anything that Moves, Nick Turse has for the first time put together a comprehensive picture, written with mastery and dignity, of what American forces actually were doing in Vietnam. The findings disclose an almost unspeakable truth. Meticulously piecing together newly released classified information, court-martial records, Pentagon reports, and firsthand interviews in Vietnam and the United States, as well as contemporaneous press accounts and secondary literature, Turse discovers that episodes of devastation, murder, massacre, rape, and torture once considered isolated atrocities were in fact the norm, adding up to a continuous stream of atrocity, unfolding, year after year, throughout that country.
As I have walked among the desperate, rejected, and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through non-violent action; for they ask and write me, ‘So what about Vietnam?’ They ask if our nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without first having spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government.Martin Luther King, April 30, 1967. (via letterstomycountry)
Exporting violence is not, of course, simply a post-9/11 phenomenon. It’s been an American tradition, from the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli, from Haiti to Hiroshima. When the U.S. exported war to Southeast Asia, it eventually engulfed Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos in utter carnage. One way civilians there were frequently killed resulted from what historian David Hunt has trenchantly called ‘the sin of running.’ A Vietnamese villager frightened by the roar of a helicopter or a door-gunner pointing an M-60 machine gun at her would bolt in fear or a young military-age man would take flight when armed American teenagers, who might detain, beat, or kill him, approached. As Vietnam veterans would later tell me, ‘running’ branded Vietnamese as guilty, and so as enemies, in the minds of many U.S. troops and led to startling numbers of noncombatants being gunned down.