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Kill Anything That Moves
Posted on Mar 12, 2013
By Chris Hedges
“All that suffering,” Turse, writes, “was more or less ignored as it happened, and then written out of history even more thoroughly in the decades since.”
Turse, in one of many accounts, describes a string of atrocities committed in the Duc Pho/Mo Duc border region in spring 1967 by Charlie Company, 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry under the command of Capt. James Lanning. A wounded detainee, Turse writes, was dumped into a boat and pushed into a rice paddy where he was riddled with bullets and finished off with a grenade. A wounded woman was covered with a straw mat and set on fire. Paul Halverson, a soldier and military combat correspondent who accompanied the unit, when asked about the total number of civilians killed by Lanning’s force, stated in the book: “The entire time I was over there—just by Charlie Company—I’d say it would be in the hundreds.”
Maj. Gordon Livingston, a regimental surgeon with the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, in 1971 testified before Congress that he witnessed “a helicopter pilot who swooped down on two Vietnamese women riding bicycles and killed them with the helicopter skids.” The pilot, after being grounded briefly and investigated, was soon exonerated and allowed back in the air.
Soldiers and Marines, as is common in all wars, collected body parts of dead Vietnamese—heads, noses, scalps, breasts, teeth, ears, fingers, genitals—and displayed them or wore them in necklaces. “There was people in all the platoons with ears on cords,” Jimmie Busby, a member of the 75th Rangers during 1970-1971, told an Army criminal investigator. Corpses were dressed up and twisted into comic poses for photographs or gruesomely mutilated. Severed heads of Vietnamese were mounted on pikes or poles in Army camps. The dead were lashed onto Army vehicles—which at times ran over Vietnamese civilians for sport—and driven through villages.
Rape was as common as murder. A veteran from the 198th Light Infantry Brigade is quoted by Turse as saying that he knew of 10 to 15 rapes of young girls by soldiers from his unit “within a span of just six or seven months.” A Vietnamese woman in an Army report Turse quotes said she was detained by troops from the 173rd Airborne Brigade and “then raped by approximately ten soldiers.” “In another incident,” Turse writes, “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 American GI recalled seeing a Vietnamese woman who was hardly able to walk after she had been gang-raped by thirteen soldiers.” A Marine in the book spoke about a nine-man squad that entered a village to hunt for “a Viet Cong whore.” The squad found a woman, raped her and then shot her through the head.
“One marine remembered finding a Vietnamese woman who had been shot and wounded,” Turse writes. “Severely injured, she begged for water. Instead, her clothes were ripped off. She was stabbed in both breasts, then forced into a spread-eagle position, after which the handle of an entrenching tool—essentially a short-handled shovel—was thrust up her vagina. Other women were violated with objects ranging from soda bottles to rifles.”
Vietnamese who were detained in the country’s “massive incarceration archipelago” were slapped, punched, kicked, sexually assaulted, given electric shocks and subjected to the “water-rag” treatment, or waterboarding.
“They tried to force me to confess that I was involved with the Viet Cong,” one detainee said of her South Vietnamese and American interrogators. “I refused to make such a statement and so they stuck needles under the tips of my ten fingernails saying that if I did not write down what they wanted, and admit to being Viet Cong, then they would continue the torture.” When she did not comply “they tied my nipples to electric wires, then gave me electric shocks, knocking me to the floor every time they did so. They said that if they did not get the necessary information they would continue the torture. Two American soldiers were always standing on either side of me.”
Military commanders and politicians were seduced by the destructive fury they could call down on the enemy. Walls of automatic rifle fire, hundreds of rounds of belt-fed machine-gun fire, 90 mm tank rounds, endless sheets of grenades, mortars, artillery shells and claymore mines saturated the countryside while gigantic 2,700-pound explosive projectiles were fired from battleships along the coast. Canisters of napalm, daisy-cutter bombs, anti-personnel rockets, high-explosive rockets, incendiary rockets, cluster bombs, high-explosive shells and iron fragmentation bombs—including the 40,000-pound bomb loads dropped by giant B-52 Strarofortress bombers—along with chemical defoliants and chemical gases were dropped from the sky. The ceaseless assault would, the generals and politicians believed, ultimately ensure victory. The gleeful tally of the dead was captured in the perverse practice of body counts, a macabre scorecard to “prove” that our side was winning.
The official license granted to soldiers and Marines to kill anyone came in the form of the free fire zone—a term later changed by the military to the more neutral sounding “specified strike zone”—which had at its core the Orwellian logic of military institutions. In these zones, troops were informed, there were no civilians because everyone in a “free fire zone” was the enemy. Women. Children. The elderly. They were all legitimate targets. “You could not be held responsible for firing on innocent civilians since by definition there were none there,” an infantryman said. And when patrols shot and killed groups of unarmed civilians outside of officially designated free fire zones they unilaterally decided to designate their killing sites as free fire zones.
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