Moving pictures.

Quote

No single news source did more to document the bitter and costly struggle against North Vietnamese Communist regulars and Vietcong insurgents, and to turn the home front against the war, than The A.P.

via Images of the Vietnam War That Defined an Era – NYTimes.com.

 

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‘Kill Anything That Moves’

Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in VietnamKill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam by Nick Turse

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Uncomfortable. Seemingly well-researched, if not comprehensive.

Basically, the author Nick Turse stumbled across a rich vein of government documents that described a series of incidents during the Vietnam War, many of which can be fairly called atrocities. (All of them are horrible.)

Way led onto way, of course, and after the opening of many file cabinets, Mr. Turse has constructed over the course of 200-some pages a broad and readable sketch of such incidents underscored by a well-reasoned analysis of possible explanations.

He anchors some of his reporting to the well-known My Lai massacre of 1968 — in which 347 people were killed, according to the Army — pointing out the probably-not-surprising fact that similar, smaller-scale events were widespread, if not widely reported by the news media, before (and after) that time.

What he doesn’t do is try to list them all. Probably, there are too many. But meaningful records exist for only a small fraction of the incidents.

…this book is almost guaranteed to reveal something that will drop your jaw…

via A Nation Unhinged: The Grim Realities of “The Real American War” |.

I was not surprised by anything I read in the book — even though, I am led to understand, it breaks considerable new ground.

And I am not a historian, or even that world weary. Still, my collective, limited experience of the war — taken mostly from movies of probably dubious authenticity, like “Platoon” and “Hamburger Hill,” but also countless television shows and the fictional recollections of a friend of mine, who claimed for years to have been in the Green Berets — jibes neatly with the extraordinary stories recounted by Mr. Turse.

I had no trouble picturing some of it in my head; many of the quotes came to life in imaginary drawls. I am not sure if that is more about pop culture or my own cynicism. And I am not sure what it says about the potential reception of this book. I am guessing it will be well-regarded by a few commentators, but ignored by the public.

In any case, it is not exactly the kind of ready-for-the-History-Channel title that can be seen on The Times’s hardcover nonfiction best-seller list.

Mr. Turse reckons more than seven million civilian casualties in Vietnam, from the end of World War II to the withdrawal of the United States’ military. That includes more than two million dead in a country of not-quite 20 million.

It says here, that’s a lot.

That is so many that a person has to wonder how many more unreported incidents like My Lai there still are. In one part of the book, Mr. Turse is recalling a trip he made to Vietnam to find the site of a particular incident. He is told the village is just up the road. When he gets there, he finds a memorial to a massacre by American troops — but realizes after talking to the locals that he has the wrong place. The village he wants is up the road, the locals tell him. When he gets there, after finding another memorial, he realizes, again, that he has the wrong place. Lather, rinse, repeat.

If the number is even close to being true, it is the only evidence Mr. Turse needs to back up his assertion that the war was a keenly-managed slaughter. That many dead people is one of those Facts in Plain Sight that can’t be explained away by a government’s propaganda machine.

Not that anyone is really trying, anymore. In all the digging that Mr. Turse did, he never reports any obstinence from the authorities. He finds evidence of it, in missing and presumably destroyed files, and in some uncooperative former G.I.’s. But by now, most of the principal figures are too old to fight.

Mr. Turse contemplates military training in an early chapter. This is one part of the book that particularly interested me, though not because of his thesis that American troops were being “brainwashed” as killers.

“That bastard stood right in front of me,” said Haji Mohammed Naim, 60, his voice rising as he gestured toward Sergeant Bales. “I wanted to ask him: ‘What did I do? What have I done to you?’ ”

via Villagers Tell of Slaughter by a Soldier in Kandahar – NYTimes.com.

I get it. But what else would you expect?

I was more interested in Mr. Turse’s seeming alarm over those methods, and how it served as a broader indictment of war making. I mean, if it is distressing that some men are transformed by basic military training, then isn’t their existence as an organization in peace time appalling? On some level, the idea of a war crime is an absurdity.

With his training chapter, Mr. Turse is filling in the blanks for a bigger theme of his book, that is that a combination of the training techniques, the overwhelming firepower of American forces and a systematic dehumanizing of the Vietnamese people by government and military authorities added vastly to the body count. In other words, My Lai wasn’t the exception, it was part of a well-planned rule.

The natural thing is to reflect now on how these corrosive elements could have been ameliorated, how the massacres could have been mitigated. Is it possible to train soldiers to be cerebral and discriminating in the flash and grind of combat? And what does it say about the American way when so much of our national production is devoted to conducting exactly such an enterprise?

Somewhere out there is a courageous historian who is building, file folder by file folder, a similar book focusing on the so-called Allies in the Second World War.

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‘Embers of War,’ by Frederik Logevall

In 1968, a colleague of his went to see Henry Kissinger, who was then the incoming architect of the Vietnam War, and he urged Kissinger to meet Kellen. But Kissinger never did. Maybe if he had, the course of history would be different.

via BBC News – Viewpoint: Could one man have shortened the Vietnam War?.

To the question, “Could one man have shortened the Vietnam War,” the answer is, obviously, Yes. Really, a person could start anywhere. And much earlier than 1968. Inside or outside Vietnam. But how about we limit ourselves to presidents?

To wit, President Johnson, in 1964, noted to himself that “there ain’t no daylight in Vietnam, there’s not a bit.” That’s before the Army even had full combat units in the area. And it was not a passing thought. Such gloom permeated the Defense and State Departments at the time.

But you can go back to President Kennedy. He was in Vietnam in 1951 as a young senator on, I guess, a fact-finding mission. He interviewed numerous people and rankled French officers with his probing questions. “Foredoomed failure” is how he described it when giving a speech that year in Boston.

How about President Roosevelt? During the war, he was adamantly opposed to France’s proposed return to so-called Indochina, and many of his adviser feared a continuing war in Asia. So much so that it led to minor rifts with Winston Churchill, who was afraid the Hyde Park sentimentality for colonial peoples would bleed over into British Malaya and India. Had Mr. Roosevelt lived a few months longer, he might have blocked the slow, stuttering consolidation of French power in Vietnam at the end of 1945.

But there were many others, like Konrad Kellen, who were merely advisers or were outside government altogether. Bernard Fall’s book “Street Without Joy” came out in 1961 with gloomy lessons, albeit too late for the French.

In short, “the skeptics had been there all along,” writes Frederik Logevall in “Embers of War.” The Vietnam War, for both sides, never seems to have been about trying to win.

Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America's VietnamEmbers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America’s Vietnam by Fredrik Logevall
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Indulgent, especially with the Graham Greene references. But thorough, engaging and complete. Recommended.

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