By DOUGAL MACDONALD
Forty-seven years ago, the U.S. imperialists were resoundingly defeated by the heroic Vietnamese people, who had suffered greatly at the hands of the French colonialists and then the U.S. imperialists. Historic photos show the last of the U.S. invaders scrambling frantically to escape Viet Nam by helicopter, trying to save their worthless skins from the wrath of people’s war.
After years of courageous resistance against every form of criminal aggression by the U.S. invaders, the people of Viet Nam succeeded in chasing the imperialists from their land and won total victory in 1975. In 1954, the Vietnamese people had already completely defeated the French colonialists, only to have the U.S. and its agents begin operations against them as early as 1956. For their huge contribution to world revolution, the people of the world will forever hold in highest regard the Vietnamese resistance, the great leader of Viet Nam, Comrade Ho Chi Minh and the other revolutionary Vietnamese fighters.
One of the notorious incidents of the U.S. war against the Vietnamese people was the My Lai Massacre, the mass murder of 504 unarmed civilians including women, children and infants in the My Lai and My Khe hamlets of Song Mai village on March 16, 1968. The perpetrators were U.S. Army soldiers from Company C of the 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 11th Brigade of the 23rd Infantry Division. After the atrocity was first revealed to the U.S. public by journalist Seymour Hersh in November 1969, twenty-six U.S. soldiers were eventually charged with criminal offenses, but only platoon leader Lieutenant William Calley was convicted. Found guilty of killing 22 villagers, he was originally given a life sentence, but served only three and a half years under house arrest.
The U.S. Secretary of the Army, Howard Callaway, was quoted in the New York Times as stating that Calley’s sentence was reduced because Calley believed that what he did was a part of his orders, a rationale that contradicts the standards the U.S. agreed to at Nuremberg and Tokyo, which stated that the Nazi claim of only following orders was not a defence for committing war crimes.
Once it became public, the U.S. ruling circles and their monopoly media deliberately and widely publicized the My Lai Massacre as an aberration, an isolated incident carried out by a few “bad apples.” But a recent book by U.S. journalist Nick Turse confirms what many have long believed, which is that My Lai was not exceptional but rather was part and parcel of official U.S. policy in Viet Nam, which Turse sums up as, “kill anything that moves”, the title of his fact-finding book. In fact, Turse’s first chapter, which is about My Lai, is entitled, “An operation not an aberration.”
To reach his conclusions, Turse conducted a decade of research into secret Pentagon archives and conducted many interviews with U.S. military personnel, the majority of whom participated in the war. His book clearly exposes the sinister workings of a U.S. military machine that deliberately and systematically caused death and injury to millions of Vietnamese civilians, what one soldier he interviewed aptly called, “a My Lai a month.”
Turse begins by pointing out that the U.S. troops in Viet Nam, drafted or volunteer, were mainly in their teens or barely out of them. They endured weeks of boot camp experiences designed to strip away their previous years of learning “through shock, separation, and physical and psychological stress, creating a tabula rasa on which a military imprint could be stamped.” Frequent punishments were meted out for simple infractions. Recruits were “indoctrinated into a culture of violence and brutality which emphasized above all a readiness to kill without compunction.” One common training camp chant was “Kill! Kill! Kill! To kill without mercy is the spirit of the bayonet.”
Explicit racism was part of the indoctrination. The Vietnamese were referred to as “dinks, gooks, slopes, slants, rice eaters…That they were less than human was clearly the message.” Once in Viet Nam, soldiers were told that all Vietnamese were enemies, including women and children. Anyone who tried to leave or run when U.S. troops arrived in a village was a legitimate target. Blind obedience to U.S. commanders was paramount at all times, even if ordered to threaten, torture, burn villages, or execute prisoners.
The Pentagon conducted the war itself as a murderous “numbers game.” “Success” would be when U.S. soldiers were killing more Vietnamese than could be replaced, at which point the Vietnamese would supposedly surrender. Everything came down to “body count”, both the military’s scorecard and its raison d’etre, a concept applied as early as 1950 in the Korean War. “Enemies killed in action” became the primary indicator of military success.
The pressure for high body counts impacted on those in the field. “Producing a high body count was crucial for promotion in the officer corps.” While officers chased body counts in the field, incentives were provided to soldiers who got “confirmed kills.” “Box scores” were displayed all over Viet Nam. The pressure inevitably led to inflated numbers, both by fabrication and by cold-blooded killings of civilians and prisoners. Weapons were planted on dead civilians as standard operating procedure. Murdered children morphed into guerillas and uniformed enemy soldiers and were added to the count. In 1965, U.S. General Westmoreland issued a directive establishing “free-fire zones” which declared open season on millions of Vietnamese.
To increase body counts the U.S. routinely used numerous weapons of mass destruction, including B-52 bombers, fighter-bombers, assault helicopters and ground-based artillery. The weapons included not only conventional high-explosive bombs and shells but also napalm, white phosphorus and cluster bombs. “In all, the United States expended close to 30 billion pounds of munitions in Southeast Asia over the course of the war.”
The cratering of Viet Nam directly killed untold numbers of people. It also produced a cascade of damaging environmental effects. Rice paddies, orchards, farms and gardens were destroyed. The U.S. military “deliberately sprayed more than 70 million litres of herbicidal agents – most notably Agent Orange – across the countryside.” These defoliants still cause human casualties today. Children born decades after the war still suffer aftereffects. The U.S. military deliberately set fires which wiped out whole villages as well as 100,000 acres of forest. The program of destruction included the wholesale slaughter of farm animals. Violence against civilians greatly increased during the U.S. counteroffensive after the Vietnamese resistance launched the successful Tet Offensive. The brutality of the counteroffensive only became front page news when a U.S. news photographer snapped a photo of the puppet national police chief executing an unarmed bound prisoner on a Saigon street.
The pervasiveness of U.S. brutality during the Vietnam War “went hand in hand with a culture of defensiveness, denial, and ultimately impunity.” Standard operating procedure was not only to “kill anything that moves” but also to conceal the resulting atrocities, suppress investigations, release false information and drag out “investigations” as long as possible. Those charged could count on military juries or friends in high places to let them off with little punishment or none at all, especially when witnesses suddenly and mysteriously decided not to testify. Numerous offenders flouted the rules of engagement and violated the rules of war again and again without paying a significant price, even receiving plaudits for doing so. Turse provides several specific examples and names of perpetrators who both received military medals and promotions up the military food chain. One became a brigadier general and a top strategy planner under the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
As time passed, some coverups began to crumble but, in general, both the ruling circles and the monopoly media prevented publication of any serious revelations until the exposure of My Lai in November 1969. On November 29, U.S. Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird, sent an urgent message to U.S. President Nixon warning that “the My Lai case could develop into a major trial almost of the Nuremburg scope and could have a major effect on public opinion.”
Immediately, U.S. Commander of Operations General William Westmoreland ordered an inquiry, which from the beginning “centred on portraying My Lai as a one-off aberration rather than part of a consistent pattern of criminality resulting from policies set at the top.” In early 1971, Nuremburg prosecutor Telford Taylor publicly suggested that the war crimes committed in Viet Nam could put Westmoreland himself in the dock. Westmoreland immediately ordered a task force to investigate the overall conduct of the war which invested “more than 5,000 public hours putting together its whitewash of a report, which predictably concluded that war crimes allegations against the U.S. commander were unfounded.”
Turse’s thoroughly-researched book not only reveals much more truth about the official U.S. policy in Viet Nam of “kill anything that moves” but also conveys a strong warning that such U.S. policies continued after Viet Nam and still continue today. Brutal U.S. aggressions have also been launched against other peoples of Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as the former Soviet Union and the peoples’ democracies, leaving behind hundreds and thousands of victims. In addition, covert dirty wars have been carried out which have left millions of victims in Greece, Iran, Indonesia, Cuba, Guatemala, the Congo, Brazil, Chile, Nicaragua, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Grenada, Panama, Colombia, Venezuela, Libya, and Syria, to name only a few.
The U.S. ruling circles arrogantly declare that the crimes they committed in Viet Nam and continue to commit in other places around the world are all justified in the name of “opposing communism”, “fighting terrorism”, “humanitarian intervention”, “national security” and other such bogus excuses. At the same time, first the Korean people and then the Vietnamese people defeated the U.S. imperialists, inspiring the peoples of Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean to base themselves on their own strength and mobilize the human factor whose organized power will always be greater than the weapons of mass destruction used by the imperialists and their reactionary henchmen.
Today, on the occasion of the 43rd anniversary of the heroic victory of the Vietnamese people, the peoples of Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean continue to courageously resist the U.S. imperialists and other contenders for world domination, fighting to defend their right to be and to defeat the great powers who think they can act with impunity.
(Note: All references are to Turse, Nick (2013). Kill Anything That Moves: The Real U.S. War in Viet Nam. New York: Henry Holt and Company.)
First published in TML Information Project, April 26, 2014 and last posted on this blog on April 30, 2018. Slightly updated by the author. Photos and captions have been added by TS.
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