After thousands of books in many different languages, is it possible to learn anything new about United States involvement in the Vietnam War? Yes, and the new information is tremendously depressing for anyone who believes in the integrity of the U.S. military, the Defense Department, the presidency of Richard Nixon, the U.S. Congress and the judiciary.
In his new book, "Kill Anything That Moves," reporter Nick Turse has proven, after a decade of mind-boggling research, that U.S. air and ground troops killed civilians in North Vietnam and South Vietnam as a matter of policy -- over and over, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year.
The massacre of civilians by U.S. troops at the Vietnam village of My Lai has received lots of publicity, thanks in large part to investigative journalist Seymour Hersh. Many readers educated about the Vietnam War have come to believe that My Lai was an isolated incident, perpetrated primarily by a young officer named William Calley. Not so, Turse demonstrates. My Lai was representative of many such slaughters, some of them involving infants and the elderly, unarmed civilians. Before the killings, rape and other forms of torture occurred, without any U.S. military personnel being punished.
Turse, currently a senior fellow at the Nation Institute and an editor at www.TomDispatch.com, did not set out to expose war crimes. In 2001, he was a graduate student researching post-traumatic stress disorder among Vietnam veterans who had served in the U.S. military. At the National Archives, Turse attracted the attention of a staff member, who asked, "Could witnessing war crimes cause post-traumatic stress?" Turse did not know the answer, so he began looking at the records presented to him by the friendly archivist. Those records emanated from the Vietnam War Crimes Working Group, defined by Turse in his book as "a secret Pentagon task force that had been assembled after the My Lai massacre to ensure that the army would never again be caught off guard by a major war crimes scandal."
Building on the files from the Working Group, Turse found other information, then used the documents to locate perpetrators of the alleged atrocities as well as witnesses, including a few who had become whistleblowers.
Although it is generally accepted that the United States "lost" its war in Vietnam, many who fought in that war and many inveterate supporters of U.S. military might continue to believe that a certain amount of honor was attached to the overall effort. Based on Turse's meticulously documented findings, nobody can ever again state convincingly that the U.S. invasion of Vietnam was honorable.
Steve Weinberg is the author of eight nonfiction books. He lives in Missouri.