Saturday, Jul 04th, 2020 - 15:02:09


Nick Turse Interview - U.S. War Crimes in the Vietnam War

“American culture has never fully come to grips with Vietnam,” Turse tells Bill, referring to “hidden and forbidden histories that just haven’t been fully engaged.”

+ Nick Turse Describes the Real Vietnam War:


NICK TURSE: I really stumbled upon this project. I was a graduate student when I began it. I was working on a project on post-traumatic stress disorder among U.S. Vietnam veterans. And I would go down to the National Archives. Just outside of D.C. I was looking for hard data to match up with, you know, self-report material, what veterans told us about their service. And on one of these trips, I was down there for about two weeks. And about every research avenue that I had pursued was a dead end. And I finally went to an archivist that I worked with there.

And I said to him, "I can't go back to my boss empty-handed. I need something, at least a lead." And he, you know, said a few words to me that really changed my life. He said, "Do you think that witnessing war crimes could cause post-traumatic stress?" And I said, "You know, that's an excellent hypothesis. What do you have on war crimes?"

And within an hour, I was going through a collection of boxes, thousands and thousands of pages of documents. To call it, you know, an information treasure trove is the wrong phrase. It was a horror trove. These were reports of massacres, murders, mutilation, torture. And these were investigations that were carried out by the U.S. military during the war. A collection of documents called The Vietnam War Crimes Working Group Collection. And this was a taskforce that was set up in the Pentagon. And it was designed to track war crimes cases in the wake of the exposure of the My Lai Massacre.

BILL MOYERS: Where 500 men, women, and children were murdered by American G.I.s.

NICK TURSE: That's right. The military basically, what they wanted to do was make sure they were never caught flatfooted again by an atrocity scandal. So in the Army Chief of Staff's Office, there were a number of Army colonels who worked to track all war crimes allegations that bubbled up into the media that GIs and recently returned veterans were making public. And they tracked all these. And whenever they could, they tried to tamp down these allegations.

BILL MOYERS: But let me play for you what John Kerry said back in 1971, when he returned from Vietnam and he joined with other Vietnam veterans to talk about the kind of war they had experienced. Here's what he said.

JOHN KERRY TALKING BEFORE THE SENATE: Not isolated incidents, but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis, with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command. It is impossible to the feelings of the men who were reliving their experiences in Vietnam. They relived the absolute horror of what this country, in a sense, made them do. They told stories that, at times, they had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam.

BILL MOYERS: All these years later, this book you've been working on for ten years, based upon these documents buried at the National Archives, confirmed what John Kerry was saying then.

NICK TURSE: All the atrocities that Kerry mentions by name there I found evidence of all of those types of crimes represented in the records of this Vietnam War Crimes Working Group in the government’s own files. So at the same time that-- you know, that Kerry and the veterans that he was referring to there were being smeared as fake veterans or as liars, the military had all these records that proved that these were just the very crimes that were going on in Vietnam.

BILL MOYERS: And the military had these records in 2004, when John Kerry was being swiftboated.

NICK TURSE: That's right. You know, these records existed then. There was proof at the time that the military they knew about it and they didn’t disclose it to the public. And it was still, you know, under wraps when he was running. The military definitely didn't want these records out there. I talked to several members of this Vietnam War Crimes Working Group, this Pentagon taskforce.

And I asked one of the colonels, who he ended up retiring as a general. And he says that, at the time, he thought it was right that these records need to be kept secret. It was for the good of the country, for the good of the war effort, but in the years since, he recognized that he thought it was the wrong thing to do.

I talked to him during the Iraq War. And he said, you know, "Perhaps if these things had been aired at the time, if we had been honest with the American people and open with these records, then maybe we wouldn't have had Abu Ghraib-- you know, the torture scandal there." He came to see it as a real failing on his part.

BILL MOYERS: There was a medic, Jamie Henry, who seems to epitomize the stories of everyone else with whom you've talked. Tell me about Jamie Henry.

NICK TURSE: Yeah, Jamie had a tremendous impact on my life. And-- you know, I found him through this collection of records to begin with. And then I sought him out. And Jamie was a self-described hippy living in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury District before the war. But he was drafted. And became a medic and a very good one.

The men who served with him said that he was among the best soldiers that they had served with. He saved a lot of American lives. And they really lauded his performance in the field. But Jamie saw things in Vietnam that really disturbed him. He told me that on his first day in the field, he watched as the point man, the lead man of his patrol stopped a young girl on a trail and molested her right there. And, you know, Jamie said to himself, you know, "My God, what's going on here?" And over the next-- several months, he just saw a litany of atrocities take place.

He watched a young boy who was just-- you know, detained and beaten and shot dead for no reason-- an old man who was used for target practice, a prisoner who was beaten up and then thrown off a cliff-- another man who was taken and held down to be run over by an armored personnel carrier, basically a small tank.

And Jamie saw these things. And when he first spoke up about brutality his life was threatened by fellow unit members. And even his friends came to him and said, "Look, you have to keep your mouth shut or you're going to get shot in the back during a firefight and no one's going to be the wiser." So Jamie did keep his mouth shut, but he kept his eyes open. And he kept cataloguing everything he saw.

And this culminated in-- it was February 8th, 1968. And his unit moved into a small hamlet. And his commanding officer, a West Point trained captain-- ordered all the civilians there rounded up. It was about 19 civilians, women and children. And Jamie was taking a break, smoking a cigarette. And over the radio he heard this captain give an order. And it was to kill anything that moves.

And Jamie heard this. And he jumped up. And he went to go try and intervene. But he was just seconds late. He showed up just as five men arrayed around these civilians, opened up on full automatic with their M-16 rifles, and shot them all dead. And Jamie told me that 30 seconds after this took place, he vowed that he would make this public.

And he made it, you know, his duty to do so. As soon as he got home from Vietnam, he sought out an Army lawyer. And he told them everything that he saw. And this Army lawyer told him that he needed to keep quiet, because there were a million ways that the Army could make him disappear. He went to spoke to an Army criminal investigator. But that man threatened him. He went and sought out a civilian lawyer who told him to get some political backing.

He wrote to two congressman. Neither of them returned his letters. Then he started speaking out. He went on the radio. He went to public forums. And even the winter soldier investigation He spoke out there. But he could never get any traction. And finally, you know, it was years later that Jamie just gave up. And you know, he decided that he just had to move on with his life.

BILL MOYERS: So this is where you got the title for your book, “Kill Anything that Moves”? That's what he overheard?

NICK TURSE: Yes, this was-- this was the order that his commanding officer, the West Point trained captain gave. And this was the first time that I really took note of the phrase. But then as I continued, you know, working on this topic, I noticed it coming up again and again. I realized that this was the order that was given out by Captain Medina, the commanding officer, to the troops who carried out the My Lai Massacre, that was his order to them to kill anything the moves.

And I found it listed in court-martial documents from a Marine Corps massacre that took place in 1967. And it seemed that everywhere I looked, there were variations on it. "Shoot anything that moves. Kill anything that breathes." And I came to see it as really a shorthand for the war.

BILL MOYERS: Do you think this will strike some people as old news?

NICK TURSE: Well, I think that in some ways the story of atrocities in Vietnam is kind of a half-known history. People have, you know, maybe some inkling of it. They know a little bit about My Lai. Or they've seen glimpses of civilians suffering in “Apocalypse Now” or “Platoon” or “Casualties of War”, these movies.

But I think that, you know, this society and the American culture has never fully come to grips with Vietnam. It's this half-known history there. These hidden and forbidden histories that just haven't been fully engaged. So while I think people might know a little bit of it, I doubt that they know the full story as I came to know it.

BILL MOYERS: It's not just a litany of atrocities, you reach some very significant conclusions about the way the war was fought, how it was not just some bad apples that were conducting these brutal acts, but that it was a pattern which was inevitable given the pressures from the top.

NICK TURSE: I talk about individual micro-level atrocities, things like murders and massacres. And they do punctuate the book. But really I'm telling the story of civilian suffering. And the sheer number of Vietnamese who were killed or wounded in Vietnam or became refugees-- this wasn't due to simply bad apples, simply-- troops on the ground. It was command-level policies, things like the use of unrestrained bombing and artillery shelling on heavily-populated areas of the countryside, policies that were promulgated at the highest levels of the U.S. military. This is what made it inevitable that there would be this much civilian suffering, that there would be, you know, an estimated two million Vietnamese civilians killed.

I mean, the Vietnam War in Vietnam took such a tremendous toll. It's almost as I came to understand, it was almost unfathomable suffering on the part of the Vietnamese people. You know, the best estimates that we have are 3.8 million Vietnamese deaths overall, combatants and noncombatants, two million of them civilians. 5.3 million civilians wounded using a very conservative method of estimation.

NICK TURSE: The U.S. government came up with a number of 11 million Vietnamese who were made refugees during the war. And the latest studies show that up to four million Vietnamese were exposed to toxic defoliants like Agent Orange. So this is-- it's suffering on a scale that I don't think that most Americans can fully wrap their head around.

BILL MOYERS: I was struck by your writing that by the mid-'60s, the American military-- the American military had turned war making into "a thoroughly"-- I'm quoting you, "thoroughly corporatized, quantitatively-oriented system known as techno war." And you say that became, in Vietnam, the American way of war. And this led to what you call the indiscriminate death of civilians, as well as the atrocities that occurred against individuals.

NICK TURSE: That's right. You know, the military fought this war with an attrition strategy. The U.S. was fighting a guerilla war. And they were looking for a metric to show that they were winning. And the attrition strategy provided that by making body count the way that you could tell. Basically, you would kill your way to victory. You would pile up Vietnamese bodies. You would kill more enemy guerillas than the enemy could put into the field.

BILL MOYERS: That was the crossover point?

NICK TURSE: That was the famed "crossover point?

BILL MOYERS: So this crossover point that-- that we were supposed to reach when we were killing more Vietnamese than could be replaced led, as you point out here, step by step, to the whole notion focus the body count as the measure of success in Vietnam?

NICK TURSE: That's right. Sometimes I found that-- you know, American troops would take prisoners in the field. And they'd call in, you know, "I have a prisoner." And the commander would call back, "Well, I want a body count." And then the prisoner would be killed and then called in as an enemy who was shot while fleeing or shot during a firefight.

BILL MOYERS: You say, "So entire units would be pitted against each other in body count competitions with prizes at stake."

NICK TURSE: Yes. You know, one veteran that I talked to, he said there was a great-- he called it an "incentivization of death". And I talked to many veterans who talked about this. They said that that this really messed with their value system, that they were told to-- you know, if they brought in a dead Vietnamese, that they proved a body count, they would get three days of R&R at a beach resort-- in Vietnam or they would get extra beer or light duty when they were back at basecamp or medals, badges.

So there were all these incentives that were pushing them to produce bodies. And then there were disincentives. There were-- along with those carrots, there were sticks. They knew if they didn't produce bodies that they'd be that they'd have it tougher. They'd be kept out in the field longer. They wouldn't-- they'd have to march out instead of getting an airlift and a helicopter. So there were real reasons to produce bodies.

BILL MOYERS: And you describe, you know, almost a sporting event, sport statistics, box scores-- and those scores being padded by including civilians?

NICK TURSE: Yeah, there were-- you know, everywhere in Vietnam, there were kill boards, they were called, up that showed each unit's number of kills. Some men talk about it-- you know, the being like box scores up in the mess hall in military publications. This idea of body count was just drilled into them at every turn. And they really couldn't get away from it. I mean, this was the way the war was fought. And it turned out to be disastrous for Vietnamese civilians.

BILL MOYERS: How were you affected when you went to Vietnam for the first time?

NICK TURSE: Well, I was. It really changed-- you know, the project that I was working on. And I think it changed me in profound ways. I went to--


NICK TURSE: I went to Vietnam-- you know, with these stacks of documents. And I was looking for witnesses and survivors to individual atrocities, the cases that I had read about. And I went to these villages. And I talked to Vietnamese. And I was asking them about one specific spasm of violence.

But what I'm-- what they kept telling me, the stories that I kept hearing, what it was like to live for 10 years under bombs and shells and helicopter gunships and how they had to negotiate their live around the American war, what it was like to have your home burned down five, six, seven times, and to finally give up rebuilding it and start to live a subterranean or semi-subterranean existence in a bomb shelter and have to-- you know, to make all these calculations about how to survive, when to leave the bomb shelter to forage for food or to find water or to relieve yourself, when to farm.

And all these decisions could have a profound affect that your life depended on it and the life of your family. You had to know-- to get into the bomb shelter in time, when artillery started raining down. But you had to get out of there before the American troops came through and started grenading the bunkers because Americans didn't see these as bomb shelters, they saw them as enemy bunkers that could be hiding guerillas. And the Vietnamese lived with this war for 10 years straight. And as they told me these stories again and again, I realized that this was really the story that I needed to tell, the one of Vietnamese civilian suffering, the one of--

BILL MOYERS: You called it a system of suffering.

NICK TURSE: Yeah, I-- you know, with the way that the American war was engineered, I think it turned it into a veritable system of suffering.

BILL MOYERS: Why are we talking about this? Do you we think any good is going to come out of resurrecting the skeletons in the closet and bringing them out and exposing them in your book or in a conversation like this?

NICK TURSE: Well, I'm hoping that it will have some bearing on the present. You know, the U.S. is, of course, involved has been involved in constant warfare in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia. There's you know military interventions taking place all over the world, over the last decade plus.

But I don't think that Americans really have a clear picture of those wars. And what they've meant for people overseas, what they've meant to civilians around the world. So I hope that my book might be able to, you know, to add to that conversation, to open America's eyes to what wars mean for people overseas. And if we're asked to send our brothers and sisters and sons and daughters to war, I think we should have some idea of what it means for the sons and daughters of people overseas.

+ Nick Turse Describes the Real Vietnam War:

'Turse received a Ph.D. in Sociomedical Sciences from the Columbia University's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS). As a graduate student, Turse was a fellow at Harvard University's Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study in 2000-2001 and at New York University's Center for the United States and the Cold War. He also worked as an associate research scientist at the Mailman School’s of Public Health Center for the History and Ethics at Columbia University. In 2001, while researching in the U.S. National Archives, he discovered records of a Pentagon task force called the Vietnam War Crimes Working Group that was formed as a result of the My Lai massacre. These records became the focus of his Ph.D dissertation, "Kill Anything That Moves: United States War Crimes and Atrocities in Vietnam, 1965-1973"... Turse has described "Kill Anything That Moves" (2013) as a history of Vietnamese "civilian suffering" at the hands of U.S. troops during the Vietnam War. The book is based on archival materials Turse discovered and interviews he conducted with eyewitnesses in the U.S. and Vietnam, including a hundred American Vietnam War veterans. Writing in the Huffington Post, Peter Van Buren called the book "one of the most important books about the American War in Vietnam." John Tirman of the Washington Post wrote, "Turse forcefully argues the narrower question of how the government failed to prosecute crimes committed in Vietnam or Cambodia." Writing in Proceedings Magazine, the official publication of the U.S. Naval Institute, Richard Ruth, a professor at the U.S. Naval Academy wrote: "Turse argues that the enormous toll of civilian victims was neither accidental nor unpredictable. The Pentagon's demand for quantifiable corpses surged down the chain of command, through all branches of the U.S. military, until many units had become fixated on producing indiscriminate casualties that they could claim as enemy kills. Under this system, killing was incentivized: those with high body counts not only got promoted more quickly, their units were treated better and enjoyed greater safety than those who missed their 'killing quotas'... The incentivizing of death encouraged some U.S. soldiers to rack up thousands of kills over multiple tours. In a telling detail repeated in many of the case studies examined, the alleged Viet Cong eliminated by these American super killers often had no weapons on them when they were gunned down. Turse makes it clear that such high numbers would have been all but impossible without the inclusion of innocent bystanders."'

  • Turse, Nick. "The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives". New York: Metropolitan Books, 2008.
  • Turse, Nick. "The Case for Withdrawal from Afghanistan". London: Verso, 2010.
  • Turse, Nick, and Tom Engelhardt. "Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050". Lexington, KY: Dispatch Books, 2012.
  • Turse, Nick. "The Changing Face of Empire: Special Ops, Drones, Spies, Proxy Fighters, Secret Bases, and Cyberwarfare". Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2012.
  • Turse, Nick. "Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam". New York: Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt and Co., 2013.

+ Nick Turse (Managing Editor of the blog

'Everywhere, every kind of sex was for sale. “At the entrance to the MACV compound in Qui Nhon, a six-year-old girl is offering blow jobs,” wrote one journalist sizing up the sex-work scene. “One night early on in my stay,” he reported, "I found myself with a thirteen-year-old girl on my lap insisting 'we go make lub now' in the bordello her mother had thrown up opposite an American construction site. The bordello is made of sheets of aluminum somehow extricated from a factory just before attaining canhood. You can read the walls of the structure from a distance. They say 'Schlitz, Schlitz,' in rows and columns, over and over again. The girl wants $1.25. With some difficulty I refuse."

Later in the war, even walking as far as the camp entrance would become unnecessary, as certain bases began allowing prostitutes directly into the barracks. “Hootch maids,” who washed and ironed clothes and cleaned living quarters for U.S. servicemen, were also sometimes sexually exploited. As one maid put it, “American soldiers have much money and it seems that they are sexually hungry all the time. Our poor girls. With money and a little patience, the Americans can get them very easily.” And other women working on bases fell victim to sexual blackmail. One such case was revealed in an army investigation of Mickey Carcille, who ran a camp mess hall that employed Vietnamese women. By threatening to fire them if they did not comply, Carcille forced some of the women to pose for nude photographs and coerced others into having intercourse with him or performing other sex acts.

In addition to sexual exploitation, sexual violence was an every-day feature of the American War -- hardly surprising since, as Christian Appy observed, “the model of male sexuality offered as a military ideal in boot camp was directly linked to violence.” From their earliest days in the military, men were bombarded with the language of sexism and misogyny. Male recruits who showed weakness or fatigue were labeled ladies, girls, pussies, or cunts. In basic training, as army draftee Tim O’Brien later wrote in his autobiographical account of the Vietnam War, the message was: “Women are dinks. Women are villains. They are creatures akin to Communists and yellow-skinned people."

While it’s often assumed that all sexual assaults took place in the countryside, evidence suggests that men based in rear areas also had ample opportunity to abuse and rape women. For example, on December 27, 1969, Refugio Longoria and James Peterson, who served in the 580th Telephone Operations Company, and one other soldier picked up a nineteen-year-old Vietnamese hootch maid hitching a ride home after a day of work on the gigantic base at Long Binh. They drove her to a secluded spot behind the recreation center and forced her into the back of the truck -- holding her down, gagging, and blindfolding her. They then gang-raped her and dumped her on the side of the road. A doctor’s examination shortly afterward recorded that “her hymen was recently torn. There was fresh blood in her vagina.”

On March 19, 1970, a GI at the base at Chu Lai, in Quang Tin Province, drove a jeep in circles while Private First Class Ernest Stepp manhandled and slapped a Vietnamese woman who had rebuffed his sexual advances. According to army documents, with the help of a fellow soldier Stepp tore off the woman’s pants and assaulted her. The driver apparently slowed down the jeep to give the woman’s attackers more time to carry out the assault, and offered his own advice to her: “If you don’t fight so much it won’t be so bad for you.”

Again and again, allegations of crimes against women surfaced at U.S. bases and in other rear echelon areas. “Boy did I beat the shit out of a whore. It was really fun,” one GI mused about his trip to the beach resort at Vung Tau. The sheer physical size of American troops -- on average five inches taller and forty-three pounds heavier than Vietnamese soldiers, and even more imposing in comparison to Vietnamese women -- meant that their assaults often inflicted serious injuries. Sometimes, Vietnamese women were simply murdered by angry GIs. One sex worker at a base in Kontum, known as “Linda” to the soldiers there, was gunned down after she laughed at a customer who, according to legal documents, “thought she was going to go out with another G.I.” On March 27, 1970, in Vung Tau, several Vietnamese prostitutes became embroiled in an argument with a soldier over payment. He assaulted a number of them and stabbed one to death.

Most rapes and other crimes against Vietnamese women, however, did take place in the field -- in hamlets and villages populated mainly by women and children when the Americans arrived. Rape was a way of asserting dominance, and sometimes a weapon of war, employed in field interrogations of women captives to gain information about enemy troops. Aside from any such considerations, rural women were generally assumed by Americans to be secret saboteurs or the wives and girlfriends of Viet Cong guerrillas, and thus fair game.

The reports of sexual assault implicated units up and down the country. A veteran who served with 198th Light Infantry Brigade testified that he knew of ten to fifteen incidents, within a span of just six or seven months, in which soldiers from his unit raped young girls. A soldier who served with the 25th Infantry Division admitted that, in his unit, rape was virtually standard operating procedure. One member of the Americal Division remembered fellow soldiers on patrol through a village suddenly singling out a girl to be raped. “All three grunts grabbed the gook chick and began dragging her into the hootch. I didn’t know what to do,” he recalled. “As a result of this one experience I learned to recognize the sounds of rape at a great distance . . . Over the next two months I would hear this sound on the average of once every third day.”

In November 1966, soldiers from the 1st Cavalry Division brazenly kidnapped a young Vietnamese woman named Phan Thi Mao to use as a sexual slave. One unit member testified that, prior to the mission, his patrol leader had explicitly stated, “We would get the woman for the purpose of boom boom, or sexual intercourse, and at the end of five days we would kill her.” The sergeant was true to his word. The woman was kidnapped, raped by four of the patrol members in turn, and murdered the following day.

Gang rapes were a horrifyingly common occurrence. One army report detailed the allegations of a Vietnamese woman who said that she was detained by troops from the 173rd Airborne Brigade and then raped by approximately ten soldiers. In another incident, eleven members of one squad from the 23rd Infantry Division raped a Vietnamese girl. As word spread, another squad traveled to the scene to join in. In a third incident, an Americal GI recalled seeing a Vietnamese woman who was hardly able to walk after she had been gang-raped by thirteen soldiers.139 And on Christmas Day 1969, an army criminal investigation revealed, four warrant officers in a helicopter noticed several Vietnamese women in a rice paddy, landed, kidnapped one of them, and committed “lewd and lascivious acts” against her. The traumatic nature of such sexual assaults remains vivid even when they are couched in the formal, bureaucratic language of mili tary records. Court-martial documents indicate, for instance, that after he led his patrol into one village, marine lance corporal Hugh Quigley personally detained a young Vietnamese woman -- because “her age, between 20 and 25, suggested that she was a Vietcong.” The documents tell the story.

After burning one hut and the killing of various animals, the accused with members of the patrol entered a hut where the alleged victim was. The accused, seeing the victim, grabbed for her breast and at the same time attempted to unbutton her blouse. As the victim held her child between the accused and herself, she pulled away. At this time, the accused pulled out his knife and threatened to cut the victim’s throat. The baby was taken from the victim and then the accused took the victim by the shoulders, laid her on the floor and then pulled her blouse above her breast and lowered her pants below her knees. The accused then knelt by the head of the victim, took his penis out of his pants and made the victim commit forced oral copulation on him. After a few minutes of this act the accused then proceeded to have non-consensual intercourse with her . . . The same witnesses who saw the accused commit these alleged acts will testify that the victim was scared and trembling. Quigley was found guilty of having committed forcible sodomy and rape.'

+ Gang Rapes and Beatings, Brothels Filled with Teenage Prostitutes -- The Depths of American Brutality in Vietnam:

'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 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... 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."'

+ Stars & Stripes - Book Painstakingly recounts Vietnam War Atrocities:

'This was the biggest, bloodiest bombardment conducted by the US Air Force since the end of World War II, on the pretext of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam “refusing” to resume the Peace Conference in Paris. During the 12-day-and-night campaign, codenamed Operation Linebacker II, starting on December 18, the US Air Force and Navy dispatched 729 B-52 sorties and nearly 4000 tactical aircraft sorties to drop 80,000 tonnes of bombs onto military and industrial targets in North Vietnam, especially Hanoi and Haiphong. Hanoi alone suffered 40,000 tonnes of bombs, many of which hit the centre and densely populated areas.. On December 22, American bombs hit Bach Mai hospital, the largest medical facility in North Vietnam, killing many patients and health staff. Dr Nguyen Luan was quoted by the BBC as recalling the date:

“Cries and moans filled the dark night. We had to use knives, hammers and shovels to break through the concrete walls in order to get to the victims trapped inside. As a surgeon, I operate on people to save their lives. Now I was using my surgical knife not to save people but to cut apart the corpses in the bomb shelter so we could rescue those still alive.”

At 10.47 pm on December 26, 90 tonnes of B-52 bombs razed to the ground the large Kham Thien residential area in Hanoi, killing 287 civilians, wounding 290 others and destroying 2,000 houses. The next morning, people could see burnt bodies lying on the ground next to the piles of coffins provided by the state. Nguyen Van Cau, an inhabitant in this area, said emotionally about the fateful night:

“Bombs struck a shelter accommodating 40 inhabitants. I found my wife dead, with only her upper torso left. The bombs pulverized my son, my brother and many others into the soil. Blood and pieces of shredded human flesh remained here and there.” 

Some people believe these incidents were just accidental errors made by the US pilots. The Nixon administration also attempted to persuade the public that they attacked civilian targets unintentionally.

However, there is evidence against this statement:

1. In the campaign, the experienced US pilots employed precision-bombing tools and techniques. Many of them later revealed that they had been told to attack a number of sites, which turned out to be civilian targets.

2. Nearly all major population areas, including Kham Thien, An Duong, Yen Vien, Gia Lam and Uy No, were attacked, especially after the great losses of B-52s on the initial nights of Operation Linebacker II.

3. The North Vietnamese intelligence and other sources affirmed that the Nixon administration conspired to bomb the North Vietnamese population in the most bloody way possible in order to cause high numbers of civilian casualties, so that they would strongly protest the North Vietnamese government for not submitting to the Americans.

  • An announcement by South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu, sent to his generals on December 19, 1972, said that Operation Linebacker II had three aims, one of which was to destroy residential areas to trigger an anti-government wave among the North Vietnamese.
  • A State Department official once said in December 1972 that “we’ll hit the cathedral in Hanoi on Christmas Eve,” according to a TIME magazine article.
  • Meanwhile, US National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger said that the B-52 was chosen for Linebacker II due to its “ability to shake the mind and undermine the spirit.”

4. According to the declassified documents published by the National Security Archive at The George Washington University, Richard Nixon seriously considered the use of nuclear weapons against Vietnam at least twice (as US Vice President during the Vietnamese war against the French and as US President in April 1972). It’s common sense that a nuclear bomb or missile can claim much more lives than conventional weapons. And Nixon did threaten to press the “button.”

5. If Nixon did not intend to bomb the Vietnamese population, then was it possible to justify the deployment of half of the US total number of B-52s and one third of its tactical aircraft to achieve purely political ends without regard to the lives of innocent people? He must have been wise enough to know civilians would be affected anyway.

Protests and abhorrence worldwide:

The massive bombing campaign in Hanoi was denounced by the press and political leaders around the world, including the Pope.

“This is a crime scattering death and unforgivable horror and is an action which is irrespective of conscience.” – The Los Angeles Times

“By this action, the President had made the American civilization collapse. The US is at risk of returning to the Stone Age and becoming a country of barbarity.” – The New York Times

Nixon “ordered the most pulverizing saturation bombings against the wretched Vietnamese people… This is not the conduct of a man who wants peace very badly.” – The Times of London

“In this poker game of life, Nixon is a master. By means of this nearly blind monster, the B-52, he has discarded forever an assumption. Mr Nixon is no longer, and will never again be, a respectable man. That is, if he ever was one.” – L’Express, a weekly based in France

Nixon’s bombing was “nothing but terror and torture; torture with a method in order to make the North Vietnamese pliable. The bombs fall on military targets, but they also hit hospitals and schools, women and children… Even allies must call this a crime against humanity… The American credibility has been shattered.” – Die Zeit, a German nationwide weekly

Sweden’s Prime Minister Olof Palme criticized: “This crime by the Americans can be compared with the most barbaric massacres by the Nazis in World War II.”

The British Labour Party’s national executive committee said: “This continued slaughter of the Vietnamese people is a complete contradiction of the statements made by both Mr Nixon and Dr Kissinger.”

Indira Gandhi’s New Congress Party drafted a resolution condemning the bombing: “Vietnam is witnessing the most horrible tragedy in man’s recorded history. A small country whose valiant people desire nothing more than achieving their national identity is being subjected to indiscriminate bombing of its civilian population in a senseless desire to impose the will of an outside power.”'

+ The Christmas Bombings of Hanoi in Retrospect (U.S. War Crimes vs. Crimes Against Humanity):

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