Viet War Remains
From Alison.Rapoport@pomona.edu Sat Oct 16 15:44:36 2004
I am currently writing a senior-thesis at Pomona College about the unrecovered remains of Vietnam's war dead and the questions of spirituality and memory that spring from this issue. I have some sources, as well as having spent several weeks in Vietnam looking at the subject, but I was wondering if members of the group had further advice/leads for me?
From: "Lara J. Iverson" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Hope that this helps.
From email@example.com Sun Oct 17 12:38:38 2004
Alison and list,
Shaun Malarney's ethnographic work on ritual and revolution may be the best source on "war dead and spiritual concerns" in VN. Tran Van Thuy's 1993 documentary "A World of Spirits" (Mot Coi Linh Tam) contains some intriguing remarks about recovery of war dead-remains and spiritual concerns. In terms of memory, an obvious place to start is Tai's (2001) book "The Country of Memory" (reviewed in this month's Journal of Asian studies, by the way).
Perhaps others on the list have further suggestions.
Margaret Barnhill Bodemer
From firstname.lastname@example.org Mon Oct 18 08:08:35 2004
There is a film "Mrs. Nam" (2000) by director Lai Van Sinh that shows the life of a woman in the south whose life is devoted to going into the jungle to retrieve unclaimed remains and caring for them. Perhaps you could find it through UCLA?
From email@example.com Mon Oct 18 10:34:36 2004
Patricia M. Pelley's "Postcolonial Vietnam: New Histories of the National
From Alison.Rapoport@pomona.edu Wed Oct 20 09:32:46 2004
Thank you to all members of the list who have responded to my query about Viet war remains with suggestions. I have successfully located many of the sources recommended, but UCLA does not in fact have the films "World of Spirits" or "Mrs. Nam." Does anyone else have suggestions for how I may locate these films?
From firstname.lastname@example.org Wed Oct 20 11:16:52 2004
You might try identifying "World of Spirits" as "Tolerance for the
I have copies of both, but am using them for a class at the moment--
From email@example.com Fri Oct 29 15:06:18 2004
Could someone recommend sources that provide verifed accounts of atrocities committed by any, preferrably all, sides during the American military involvement in Vietnam?
Thanks a million,
From firstname.lastname@example.org Sun Oct 31 09:36:48 2004
Last year, the VSG featured some information on the Tiger Force, a US army unit that went guerilla and committed war crimes. The Toledo Blade, which dug out this story, carried a series of articles on that particular unit in October 2003.
On 29 December 2003, the International Herald Tribune carried an article on the Tiger Force. It also mentioned someone who might provide you with further information, though probably just on the American side (I paste the rest of the article at the end of this message):
QUOTE: Nicholas Turse, a doctoral candidate at Columbia University, has been studying government archives and said they were filled with accounts of similar atrocities. "I stumbled across the incidents The Blade reported," Turse said by telephone. "I read through that case a year, year and a half ago, and it really didn't stand out. There was nothing that made it stand out from anything else. That's the scary thing. It was just one of hundreds."
In a later e-mail message, he elaborated: "Unfortunately, the articles tell a story that was all too common. As a historian writing his dissertation on U.S. war crimes and atrocities during the Vietnam War, I have been immersed in just the sort of archival materials The Toledo Blade used in its pieces, but not simply for one incident but hundreds if not thousands of analogous events. I can safely, and sadly, say that the Tiger Force atrocities are merely the tip of the iceberg in regard to U.S.-perpetrated war crimes in Vietnam." END OF QUOTE
I hope that helps you to cover the American side. (If you get in contact with Nicholas Turse, could you let me know whether he has finished his Ph.D. and already published some material?)
Copyright © 2002 The International Herald Tribune | www.iht.com
Quang Ngai and Quang Nam are provinces in central Vietnam, between the mountains and the sea. Ken Kerney, William Doyle and Rion Causey tell horrific stories about what they saw and did there as soldiers in 1967.
That spring and fall, U.S. troops conducted operations there to engage the enemy and drive peasants out of villages and into heavily guarded "strategic hamlets." The goal was to deny the Viet Cong support, shelter and food.
The fighting was intense and the results, the former soldiers say, were especially brutal. Villages were bombed, burned and destroyed. As the ground troops swept through, in many cases they gunned down men, women and children, sometimes mutilating bodies - cutting off ears to wear on necklaces.
They threw hand grenades into dugout shelters, often killing entire families.
"Can you imagine Dodge City without a sheriff?" Kerney asked.
"It's just nuts," he said. "You never had a safe zone. It's shoot too quick or get shot. You're scared all the time, you're humping all the time. You're scared. These things happen."
Doyle said he lost count of the people he killed: "You had to have a strong will to survive. I wanted to live at all costs. That was my primary thing, and I developed it to an instinct."
The two are among a handful of soldiers at the heart of a series of investigative articles by The Blade, based in Toledo, Ohio, that has once again raised questions about the conduct of U.S. troops in Vietnam.
The report, published in October and entitled "Rogue G.I.'s Unleashed Wave of Terror in Central Highlands," said that in 1967, an elite unit, a reconnaissance platoon in the 101st Airborne Division, went on a rampage that the newspaper described as "the longest series of atrocities in the Vietnam War."
"For seven months, Tiger Force soldiers moved across the Central Highlands, killing scores of unarmed civilians - in some cases torturing and mutilating them - in a spate of violence never revealed to the American public," the newspaper said.
At other points it described the killing of hundreds of unarmed civilians.
"Women and children were intentionally blown up in underground bunkers," The Blade said. "Elderly farmers were shot as they toiled in the fields. Prisoners were tortured and executed - their ears and scalps severed for souvenirs. One soldier kicked out the teeth of executed civilians for their gold fillings."
In 1971, the newspaper said, the army began a criminal investigation that lasted four and a half years, "the longest-known war-crime investigation of the Vietnam conflict." Ultimately, the investigators forwarded conclusions that 18 men might face charges, but no courts-martial were brought.
In recent telephone interviews with The New York Times, three of the former soldiers quoted by The Blade confirmed that the articles had accurately described their unit's actions.
But they wanted to make another point: that Tiger Force had not been a "rogue" unit. Its members had done only what they were told to do and their superiors knew what they were doing.
"The story that I'm not sure is getting out," said Causey, then a medic with the unit, "is that while they're saying this was a ruthless band ravaging the countryside, we were under orders to do it."
Burning huts and villages, shooting civilians and throwing grenades into protective shelters were common tactics for U.S. ground forces throughout
The tactics - particularly in "free-fire zones," where anyone was regarded as fair game - arose from the frustrating nature of the guerrilla war and, above all, from the military's reliance on the body count as a measure of success and a reason officers were promoted, according to many accounts.
Nicholas Turse, a doctoral candidate at Columbia University, has been studying government archives and said they were filled with accounts of similar atrocities. "I stumbled across the incidents The Blade reported," Turse said by telephone. "I read through that case a year, year and a half ago, and it really didn't stand out. There was nothing that made it stand out from anything else. That's the scary thing. It was just one of hundreds."
In a later e-mail message, he elaborated: "Unfortunately, the articles tell a story that was all too common. As a historian writing his dissertation on U.S. war crimes and atrocities during the Vietnam War, I have been immersed in just the sort of archival materials The Toledo Blade used in its pieces, but not simply for one incident but hundreds if not thousands of analogous events. I can safely, and sadly, say that the Tiger Force atrocities are merely the tip of the iceberg in regard to U.S.-perpetrated war crimes in Vietnam."
Yet there were few prosecutions.
Besides the My Lai massacre of Vietnamese civilians in 1968, only 36 cases involving possible war crimes from Vietnam went to army court-martial proceedings, with 20 convictions, according to the army judge advocate general's office.
Guenter Lewy, who cited the army figures in his 1978 book, "America in Vietnam," wrote that if a soldier killed a civilian, the incident was unlikely to be reported as a war crime: "It was far more likely that the platoon leader, under pressure for body count and not anxious to demonstrate the absence of good fire discipline in his unit, would report the incident as '1 VC suspect shot while evading.'"
Causey, now a nuclear engineer in California, said: "It wasn't like it was hidden. This was open and public behavior. A lot of guys in the 101st were cutting ears. It was a unique time period."
Kerney, now a firefighter in California, agreed that the responsibility went higher.
"I'm talking about the guys with the eagles," he said, referring to the rank insignia of a full colonel. "It was always about the body count. They were saying, 'You guys have the green light to do what's right.'"
While Causey and Kerney became deeply troubled after they returned from Vietnam, Doyle, a sergeant who was a section leader in the unit, seemed unrepentant in a long, profanity-laced telephone conversation.
"I've seen atrocities in Vietnam that make Tiger Force look like Sunday school," said Doyle, who joined the army at 17 when a judge gave him, a young street gang leader, a chance to escape punishment.
"If you're walking down a jungle trail, those that hesitate die," said Doyle, who lives in Missouri. "Everybody I killed, I killed to survive. They make Tiger Force out to be an atrocity. Well, that's almost a compliment. Because nobody will understand the evil I've seen."
David Hackworth, a retired colonel and much-decorated veteran of the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam who later became a journalist and author, said that he created the Tiger Force unit in 1965 to fight guerrillas using guerrilla tactics. Hackworth was not in command of the unit during the period covered by the Blade articles because he had rotated out of Vietnam.
"Vietnam was an atrocity from the get-go," Hackworth said in a recent telephone interview. "It was that kind of war, a frontless war of great frustration. It was out of hand very early. There were hundreds of My Lais. You got your card punched by the numbers of bodies you counted."
Lieutenant Colonel Kevin Curry, an army spokesman, said the army had compared the Blade articles with the written record of the earlier investigation and did not intend to reopen the case.
"Absent any new or compelling evidence, there are no plans to reopen the case," Curry said. "The case is more than 30 years old. Criminal Investigation Command conducted a lengthy investigation when the allegations surfaced four years after they reportedly occurred."
The New York Times
Copyright © 2002 The International Herald Tribune
From email@example.com Sun Oct 31 20:14:59 2004
If the British invented Concentration Camps to win the Boer war, then what was invented to create the targeted killings that we see as a technique of applied violence throughout large parts of the Western/US global 'sphere of influence'? Phoenix program, anti-Communist 'list' killings in Thailand, and so on? Since this was clearly taught, and so 'formal', the answers are obvious. What is not obvious, like the concentration camp, is just what the methods can be adapted for.
From firstname.lastname@example.org Sun Oct 31 20:45:33 2004
On the allied side it is also said that the RVN prisons were not good and I have heard this from former inmates and witnesses. I'd also like to know if this information is recorded somewhere.
Treatment of allied prisoners (soldiers and aid workers) has been published and some of this is on the Internet as well. I once read in the Time/Life seriess of books on the war that the targeted killings Phoenix and its equivalent on the other side was about 25,000 people.
There is good recorded evidence for the 1968 massacre in Hue where NVA killed about 1250 residents. I read of a massacre at Dak Sut (in the above books) where over 500 people were said to have died but I don't know of substantiating evidence.
Among the overseas Vietnamese community a number of stories have emerged about supposed autrocities and also inhumane treatment in re-education centres. It would be good to know how much this can be substantiated.
From email@example.com Sun Oct 31 22:19:30 2004
I should also say that the issue of attrocities should be considered rather broadly. In a Communist perspective, the whole of society is mobilised in the revolution. Hence, the distinction between civilians and 'military' becomes blurred.
For allied forces during this (and following) wars, the issue is one of what has been called 'collateral damage'. But, given the use of conscripts as military, there is a question whether people in uniform actually are volunarily in that position. That s, are they military or civilians forced to wear a uniform (which side doesn't matter).
For the Communist side, Mass involvement meant that children could be involved directly in military action. For US soldiers, there was apocryphal story of the child bringing a live hand grenade to give to the foreign soldier. Whether true or not this common story caused many allied soldiers to be highly prejudicial of anyone coming to meet them.
Most of you know of the story of Kim Dong, the boy who diverted a French contingent from Viet Minh forces and so died. Many middle shhools, including one next to my house, are named after Kim Dong. One can argue that this enforces the use of children in war.
Some years ago I visited tenth graders at a school. The year ten English textbook - hence the official government pubulication had a story that ran something like this:
A young boy becomes friendly with French troops and gains their confidence. He watches their movements. One day he douses himself with petrol, runs into the French compound and dies blowing up the motor pool.
This clearly invites children to participate directly in military action, an behavour which I hope that Viet Nam now renounces as inconsistent with human rights conventions.
Viet Nam was once very much on 'revolutionary' footing. It now aspires to be a partner with its neighbours. I sincerely hope that it succeeds in this.
From firstname.lastname@example.org Tue Nov 2 15:20:12 2004
Thank you all for providing information on this topic. It has been very helpful.
I've long been tired of listening to, reading about such events. It only makes my heart sadden. This time, I was motivated by a discussion among Vietnamese Americans regarding "Kerry's lies." It is amazing how easily swayed people are on mere allegations when it comes to such emotional issues. I wanted to inject some balance and rationality into the discussion. The information that you provided has helped me do just that.
Vern, I especially appreciate your comments below. Do you know, in ancient Vietnamese history, back in the Hung Vuong King, before the Chinese thousand year domination, there was a 3 year old boy named Giong, who ate he could get his hands on and grew instantly to a giant size and went off to fight the A^n invaders. So, the concept that when invaders come, everyone fights goes way way back.
Again, my heartfelt thank to all.
From email@example.com Wed Nov 3 06:01:05 2004
During the Vietnam War, I worked for a private civilian agency chartered to evacuate and treat the most severely war-injured children at hospitals in the United States, after it was deteremined by a medical commission in South Vietnam that these children could not be treated in Vietnam. After the war, I gave Senate testimony on civilian casualties with information from my visits to regional hospitals through the South and, in particular, from data given me by USAID officials in Saigon and U.S. military doctors at those hospitals. I don't think anyone has adequately researched the issue of civilian casualties. The numbers often quoted are usually those of military dead, although it may well be that more civilians (North & South) died in the ten years of warfare than total combatants of either side. Perhaps 2 million civilians. This is the great atrocity of the war that one forgets when speaking of the massacres at My Lai or those executed by the U.S. Ninth Division in the Mekong Delta.
I have some of this information filed in my computer and can email it to anyone interested. This is not my field of study, but perhaps some scholar on this listserv might find this information useful. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
From email@example.com Wed Nov 3 06:38:34 2004
As a point of reference, a recent study of civilian mortality in Iraq, using hospital surveys, found that mortality had increased by a huge factor and that civilian fatalities in the last year may have been as much as 100,000, in other words, at least an order of magnitude more than military fatalities on both sides.
From firstname.lastname@example.org Wed Nov 3 09:14:32 2004
As a single anecdote, maybe not relevant to the discussion and Vern’s comments about civilians and child conscripts under the Communists, but nonetheless true: the U.S. (and maybe Australian and other allies, I don~Rt know) were also guilty of conscripting, or at least enticing, child soldiers. I have a friend who has has returned to Vietnam after years in the U.S., he was a Montagnard boy when brought into service by the American Special Forces (Green Berets) at age 14 in the Central Highlands, and he lost one arm and one leg in an attack on the Special Forces camp. He later managed to reach the U.S. and he became a successful university graduate and businessman, and has now returned to Vietnam to live.
Was he a ~Scivilian~T or was he a ~Ssoldier~T recruited by the U.S. Special Forces? Though now a U.S. citizen, he has never received any medical benefits or military or government recognition of his sacrifice, although his injuries and disability clearly were the result of his service with an American unit in wartime.
From MGilbert@ngcsu.edu Wed Nov 3 10:03:08 2004
For those on the list who do not already know, Don Luce (with John Sommer, author of Vietnam; the Unheard Voices) and Fred Branfman, both IVS, offered personal testimony and witness about the impact of the war on civilians in Vietnam/Laos.respectively. Luce testified at length before Congress. Their reward was to be denounced by Amb. Graham Martin, who told Congress that these two then young men were to blame for losing the American War in Vietnam. Don and John's book addresses Vietnamese concerns about American businesses in wartime Vietnam that make interesting companion reading to tales of Haliburton/Dynacorp.
Title: Vietnam : The Unheard Voices
From email@example.com Wed Nov 3 11:12:45 2004
From firstname.lastname@example.org Wed Nov 3 11:17:05 2004
Sophie, didn't realize you are at Temple. I was a research librarian there once for the CCC (Contemporary Culture Collection), part of Temple University Libraries' special collections department. CCC has underground and alternative press material, as well as manuscript material, on the 1960s, including anti-war material. When I was there we got Dave Dellinger's 7-Days (magazine) collection.
Daniel C. Tsang
From email@example.com Wed Nov 3 16:57:45 2004
I wonder if someone remembers the name of a video from the late 1970s or early 1980s, that may be of special interest to Sophie in Philadelphia and to the issue of memnory which Hien raises.
It is a documentary of two, maybe three exemplary figures from the war, talking in specific terms about destruction they witnessed. I would rather use the French "assister", which gives an apt sense of both witness and playing a role.
The two people definitely in the film are Lady Borton and Bill Ehrhart, who publishes as W.D. Ehrhart. Bill lives in Phillie and Lady's home base was there with AFSC forever. There may be a third, and maybe it is John Balaban? That would be appropriate.
I don't remember what Bill talks about, but he is one of the best veterans for narrating the war crimes. He is very good on crimes by the individual, as well as on structural matters like Agent Orange, harassment & interdiction artillery fire, and free-fire zones.
His memoirs, such as Vietnam-Perkasie, are a quiet pedagogy in seeing the violence of that war. So I expect he does something like that in the film, and he may also talk about the two occasions on which he shot an old man in the head, from behind, because he was ordered to. This kind of testimony is rare in print. Even the Winter Soldier transcripts in the Congressional Record use a lot of passive constructions and indirect speech.
But it is Lady's testimony that stays with me. If you have ever found yourself wondering why Lady is Lady, you should track down this documentary. She sits rocking on her porch, on the subsistence farm she bought when she came home from the war so she would never ever have to pay taxes to the United States again. She talks about the deaths that John brought up, those of the internal refugees. Infants would come into the camp where she worked who simply had not eaten for too long. There was nothing to do but lie them on a blanket and watch them die.
This was in the heart of the war, in the middle of the country. I think of it as a place where human life stopped happening and history has difficulty intruding. I know about it because I know several people like Lady and Bill, and a great many less decent. That part of the war isn't in that many books. Le Ly Haslip's first book stands out in this regard.
The very fact of Hien's project, explaining and documenting the savagery to Vietnamese, is an instance of something else I have noticed in Ha Noi and Paris as well as in the US. A lot of Vietnamese honestly don't know about this part of the war.
A lot of the Northerners who went South to see it never came back. The folks at home in Ha Noi think the air war over the North was bad, and it was, but it was nothing like the 17th parallel. There has never been in Viet Nam any book at all like Le Ly's in its unending portrayal of murder from every side. It wouldn't be allowed, and in any case the witnesses were seldom literary people. In Saigon during the war the writers themselves talked about how they weren't writing about the real war, because nobody they knew went there.
This changed as time went by, but still I find it unusual to meet a Vietnamese here in the US who has heard about what happened in the center of the country, about how truly awful it was. In Paris I would meet those who worked against the war, and they would know about it in the sense of the view from 30,000 feet, the reality of the sheer numbers of munitions used and people dead. But they wouldn't know about it in the sense of having initimate friendships with people who pulled the triggers or watched the babies die of hunger and thirst. Ngo Vinh Long, an anti-war Vietnamese intellectual back in the States, is an exception to this generalization, but he had an unusual job that got him out and about. The general run of Vietnamese here, given that they want to talk about the war at all, seem to me honestly not to know what happened in I Corps. The hard cases know, but like their American counterparts, they aren't writing books.
Bravo to Hien for the outreach.