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Mortal Sins of Omission

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Posted on Mar 18, 2011

By Nick Turse

(Page 2)

In May 1970, a whistle-blower from within the division wrote a letter to Army Chief of Staff William Westmoreland (who had previously been the top American commander in Vietnam) charging that he had “information about things as bad as My Lay.” He reported, however, not one massacre like My Lai, where U.S. troops slew more than 500 civilians, or even a handful of mass killings, but, instead, official command policies that had led to the slaughter of thousands of innocents:

Sir, the 9th Division did nothing to prevent the killing, and by pushing the body the [sic] count so hard, we were “told” to kill many times more Vietnamese than at My Lay, and very few per cents of them did we know were enemy. ....

In case you don’t think I mean lots of Vietnamese got killed this way, I can give you some idea how many. A batalion would kill maybe 15 to 20 a day. With 4 batalions in the Brigade that would be maybe 40 to 50 a day or 1200 to 1500 a month, easy. (One batalion claimed almost 1000 body counts one month!) If I am only 10% right, and believe me its lots more, then I am trying to tell you about 120-150 murders, or a My Lay each month for over a year. …

In that letter and two more sent the following year to other high-ranking generals, the whistle-blower reported that artillery, airstrikes and helicopter gunships had wreaked havoc on populated areas. He also singled out Ira Hunt as one of the prime reasons for civilian casualties. “Hunt, who was our Brigade Commander for awhile and then was an assistant general ... used to holler and curse over the radio and talk about the goddamn gooks, and tell the gunships to shoot the sonofabitches, this is a free fire zone,” he wrote. He said that Hunt “didn’t care about the Vietnamese or us, he just wanted the most of everything, including body count” and that “Hunt was ... always cussing and screaming over the radio from his C and See [Command and Control helicopter] to the GIs or the gunships to shoot some Vietnamese he saw running when he didn’t know if they had a weapon or was women or what.”

 

book cover

 

The 9th Infantry Division in Vietnam: Unparalleled and Unequaled

 

By Ira A. Hunt

 

The University Press of Kentucky, 216 pages

 

Buy the book

Maj. William Taylor Jr., an officer in the 9th Division headquarters under Ewell, had a similar recollection of Hunt from his days in the Mekong Delta. Now a retired colonel and senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Taylor told me, during a 2008 interview, about flying over rice paddies with Hunt. “He said something to the pilot, and all of a sudden the door gunner was firing a .60-caliber machine gun out the door, and I said, ‘What the hell is that?’ He said, ‘See those black pajamas down there in the rice paddies? They’re Viet Cong. We just killed two of them.’ ” Immediately afterward, Hunt spoke again to the pilot. “He was talking body count,” Taylor said. Later he questioned Hunt about how he could identify guerrillas from the helicopter, without seeing weapons or receiving ground fire. “He said, ‘Because they’re wearing black pajamas.’ I said, ‘Well, sir, I thought workers in the fields wore black pajamas.’ He said, ‘No, not around here. Black pajamas are Viet Cong.’ ”

In multiple interviews, retired Lt. Gen. Robert Gard, who commanded the 9th Division’s five artillery battalions during his 1968-69 tour, talked to me about Ewell’s heavy emphasis on body count. When asked if Hunt also pressed for the same, Gard responded, “Big time.” “Jim Hunt dubbed himself ‘Rice Paddy Daddy,’ ” Gard recalled, referring to Hunt’s radio call sign. “He went berserk.”

I’ve recounted these allegations against Hunt and the 9th Division in print and questioned him about them in person—and I’m hardly alone. Hunt, who denied the allegations against him when I questioned him in 2006, addresses none of these long-public accusations against him or Ewell or even mentions his division’s whistle-blower and instead opts for a startlingly disingenuous, stunningly contemptuous and thoroughly dismissive nod to such criticisms. More than 140 pages into “The 9th Infantry Division in Vietnam,” Hunt offers a single paragraph that begins:

Despite the great success of division’s pacification efforts, there were some who decried the collateral damage resulting from military operations. … One correspondent bemoaned that the tranquility of the peasants living in VC base areas was disturbed by attacks. …

Hunt’s reference to the loss of “tranquility” makes it sound as though the worst of the war in the Mekong Delta was the jarring sound of artillery being fired or the scream of jet aircraft streaking across the sky. It was anything but. Those artillery shells and the bombs those planes dropped landed somewhere. Too often they killed civilians.

The use of the phrase collateral damage, perhaps the phoniest euphemism in military-speak, indicates an author unwilling to confront hard truths as they really are. Moreover, with no citation we’re left to guess who this lone correspondent was. It could well have been the Associated Press reporter whose April 1969 article not only quoted Hunt as defending the body count, but also a senior officer who admitted to civilian carnage. (“ ‘Have we killed innocent civilians?’ [the senior officer] asked rhetorically during an interview. ‘Hell yes,’ he replied, ‘but so do the South Vietnamese.”

It could have been a reporter from the Saigon daily Tin Sang or its publisher, South Vietnamese legislator Ngo Cong Duc, who criticized “indiscriminate” U.S. airstrikes in the Mekong Delta and the “careless and insensitive behavior” of 9th Infantry Division troops.

It could also have been the combat correspondent from United Press International who, in December 1969, reported on U.S. advisers’ dismay over what the indiscriminate killing of civilians, in order to achieve a high body count, did to pacification efforts. “We have made progress but you can’t exactly expect people who have had parts of their family blown away by the U.S. 9th Infantry Division to be wholeheartedly on our side,” said one American official. (Other advisers made similar complaints about operations in the delta in print and through official channels, a fact that Hunt also ignores.)

Most likely, however, the correspondent in question is Kevin Buckley, who served in Vietnam as a reporter and then Saigon bureau chief for Newsweek magazine from 1968 to 1972. What Buckley—working alongside Newsweek stringer Alex Shimkin, who first discovered the story—did was not “bemoan the loss of tranquility” in Delta hamlets, but meticulously document how Operation Speedy Express killed thousands of innocent civilians and wounded countless others.

 


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UreKismet's avatar

By UreKismet, March 22, 2011 at 1:51 am Link to this comment

The ninny that wrote “Had we not invaded Iraq, Hussein would still be slaughtering his Shiite citizens and the Taliban still in power in Afghanistan” deserves to be shocked & awed himself.
Setting aside the fact that even the most over the top exaggerations of Saddam Hussein’s victims fall several orders of magnitude short of the 1 million dead & 4 million refugee Iraqis which amerika inflicted on that country, what goddamned business was it of a bunch of flabby braindead whitefellas on the other side of the world who was running Iraq?

Most Afghans were perfectly happy with the Taliban who had finally bought peace and security to their nation, but amerika needed a scapegoat for 911, and couldn’t attack Saudi Arabia where al Quaeda funding was sourced (don’t wanna get offside with mr Oil) & were told by their zionist bosses (where the 911 perps came from) that any attack on Egypt would cause israel problems so they bulldozed a mandate for an invasion of afghanistan through the UN by using a mixture of extortion (hence the interception of all UN delegates mail and phones) and abusing the goodwill of other nations who were sympathetic after 911.
If there is one thing worse than a neo-con warmonger it is a sad sack liberal warmonger.  At least the neo-con practices what he/she preaches - the liberal is just an out and out hypocrite.  Slug-faced, combed-over dems voted for those invasions just as eagerly as any slobbering, slack-jawed rethug, so don’t be trying to make amerika’s murdering and raping ways a partisan thing, you are all equally culpable.

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By msgmi, March 20, 2011 at 10:57 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Like Alexander the Great et al , glory has no bounds.

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mitchum22's avatar

By mitchum22, March 20, 2011 at 7:54 pm Link to this comment

What an appropriate cover photo for this flyspeck of a book: a soldier who looks like he’s about to take it up the ass.

Which is exactly where the US military took it—a force run by bitches who never fight anyone without a 1000-1 firepower advantage—from the NLF and North Vietnamese army.

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By gerard, March 20, 2011 at 7:43 pm Link to this comment

Are the high school and college drop-outs and numb skulls any better than the
Ivy League nitwits? 

The nitwits usually have more money to promote themselves into politics and
other positions of power.

The high school and college drop-outs and numbskulls vote to put the nit=wits in
office and then when they do mean, stupid things, the drop-outs and numbskulls
find a hundred reasons why they are only victims, not perpetrators—why there’s
“nothing they can do” and why it’s “all the fault of the Ivy League nitwits..”

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By frecklefever, March 20, 2011 at 3:05 pm Link to this comment

SORRY FOR TAKING UP SO MUCH SPACE…BUT I FORGOT TO THANK NICK FOR A GREAT
ARTICLE…AND ALSO FORGETTING TO INCLUDE OBAMA AS ANOTHER IVY LEAGUER THAT
CONTRIBUTED TO AMERICAS STAGGERINGLY INEPT FOREIGN POLICY RECORD…IVY LEAGUE
ECONOMICS AND FOREIGN POLICIES DESERVE A GRADE OF F…

Report this

By Star Thrower, March 20, 2011 at 1:04 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“A surge is nothing more than a directive to apply a “no holds barred” tactic
which embraces the “kill anything that moves” strategy which has produced so
many burnt out and mentally disturbed U.S. soldiers. Consequently we should not
be surprised at the number of suicides over the recent years.”

From Harper’s Index, April 2011

Number of American soldiers who died in combat last year: 455
Minimum number who committed suicide: 407

Report this

By JSand, March 20, 2011 at 9:21 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“WAR IS HELL”  True, but not for the MIC suppliers & contractors.  I don’t think Cheany is worried about war being hell.

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Lafayette's avatar

By Lafayette, March 20, 2011 at 2:57 am Link to this comment

NINTENDO NERDS

ML: Our U.S. Military indiscrimately kills innocent men women and children.

Yes, so what is different from any other combat activity that any ground or air forces have fought for centuries? Do you think the Revolutionary War was fought without civilian casualties? 

Collateral civilian deaths in war is an historical fact. Such casualties from WW2 are higher than combat casualties. The civilian to combatant fatality rate in World War II lies somewhere between 3:2 and 2:1.

THE POINT

The point is to not make war. Which is an easy notion to hold near-and-dear to one’s heart but difficult to interpret into foreign policy.

Sh*t happens and not necessarily because Uncle Sam provokes it - though he’s gone out of his way more than once to do so. And always, it seems, out of “national interest”. (What in heaven’s name was the “national interest” in invading Grenada?)

More so, it is entirely possible that violence is ingrained in America as a cultural attribute. It is difficult to imagine otherwise how the Army/Marines can recruit addle-headed teenagers to put their asses in the line of fire. Which seems dumber-than-dumb to a more adult individual who would more likely seek “due cause” before doing so.

Do these Nintendo Nerds think it’s like playing some video-game? If so, why do we never ever see the body-bags on such games?

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Lafayette's avatar

By Lafayette, March 20, 2011 at 1:52 am Link to this comment

JUST THE FACTS, MA’AM

The US is not “at war” anywhere on this planet. We are skirmishing in Afghanistan and providing “technical assistance” in Libya.

Launching Tomahawks and drones controlled by twenty-year olds from some bunker in Montana is NOT war. It is more like Ninentdo “Battle Stations”.

So let’s not stretch the word “war” beyond its breaking point. The UN vote did not declare war on Libya. It authorized a No Fly Zone along the Eastern Libyan coast. The first operations were to assure that the Libyan Air Force remains blinded and grounded.

Kadaffi had first announced a Cease Fire and his Air Force broke it immediately by flying over Benghazi. The guy’s a certified nutter.

Any further combat will be undertaken by Libyan ground forces (both mercenaries and rebels), since any international intervention by land combat forces is expressly forbidden by the UN motion voted on Friday.

Down boys ...

POST SCRIPTUM

Let’s not forget that Afghanistan is the only combat theatre in which US ground combat forces are engaged. This combat was not Obama’s but Bush’s legacy to the new Administration.

The corrupt present Afghan administration is lead by an Afghan exile (and his family) hand-picked by the Bush Cronies. Karzai had fled to the US when the Taliban came to power and was selected by Zalmay Khalilzad (a naturalized American of Afghan origin) who was working for the Rand Corpoation - which was close to the Bush Administration.

Had we not invaded Iraq, Hussein would still be slaughtering his Shiite citizens and the Taliban still in power in Afghanistan.

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By frecklefever, March 19, 2011 at 7:43 pm Link to this comment

PETRAEUS IS AN IVY LEAGUER AS WAS THE LITTLE BUSH AND JOHNSONS ADVISERS…THEIR
BATTING AVERAGE IS PATHETIC…GETTING A PHD ON THE VIETNAM WAR THEN USING THOSE
TACTICS THAT FAILED MIGHT INDICATE A SLOWNESS..BEING IN AN ARMY STOCKADE IN 1970
WAS UPLIFTING BECAUSE THE AWOLS EACH HAD THEIR OWN UNIQUE WAY OF OPPOSING THE
VIETNAM WAR…THEIR INTUITION WAS MORE INTUNE WITH REALITY..THEN THE TOME READERS
AND THEIR EXAGGERATED POSTURING…THINKING IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN
SCHOLARSHIP..CHRIST AND BUDDHA ARE GOOD EXAMPLES OF THAT ASSERTION..

Report this

By frecklefever, March 19, 2011 at 7:14 pm Link to this comment

BEING IN AN ARMY STOCKADE IN 1970……WITH AWOLS FROM ALL CLASSES AND RACES WAS
AN UPLIFTING EXPERIENCE BECAUSE EACH IN THEIR OWN UNIQE WAY OPPOSED THAT GREAT
AMERICAN TRAGEDY THAT WAS THE VIET NAM WAR..PETRAEUS GETTING A PHD ON THE
VIETNAM WAR DOESN’T SEEM TO HAVE LEARNED MUCH FROM IT…USING THE SAME TACTICS
THAT DIDN’T SUCCEED VIETNAM MIGHT INDICATE HE IS SLOW…IVY LEAGUERS WERE JOHNSONS
ADVISERS ON VIETNAM..AND WASN’T LITTLE BUSH A IVY LEAGUE CHEERLEADER..THE AWOLS
HAD MORE OF A GRIP ON THE REAL WORLD..THEN THE TOME READERS AND THEIR
EXAGGERATED PRETENSES…THINKING IS SUPERIOR TO READING…I THINK CHRIST AND BUDDHA
PROVED THAT..

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By M L, March 19, 2011 at 4:44 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Our U.S. Military indiscrimately kills innocent men women and children. They bombed Iraq destroying not only their infrastructure but their libraries, museums and artifacts simply destroying the history of the Arab people. Military men,  like Petraeus, have no empathy for the people they kill or respect for their history. Paetraeus uses macho words so people will think he is tough, stong and courages but we all know he is simply a man with a “small penis complex” I say put Paetraeus on the “front line” to assess his courage. Military “talk” is cheap and cowardly”

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By gerard, March 19, 2011 at 1:06 pm Link to this comment

War is Hell.  Everybody knows this, instinctively if not “in the flesh,” so to speak. 
Will this book help stop war?  If not, why not?  What will stop war?  Answer: 
People (meaning you and me and Joe Sick Pack and Jane Lame Brain by the tens of
thousands.

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By Aarky, March 18, 2011 at 9:19 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The one comment that Petraeous doesn’t use is, “We can see the light at the end of the tunnel”. So he and all the many Generals use the phrase, “We have reached a tipping point”. This is a very fine and properly scathing review of the bloodthirsty actions of one Army division In Viet Nam. There have been some studys done of the Phoenix Program from Viet Nam and I would suggest this is the model that has been adapted to Afghanistan. It was designed to capture or kill the top cadre of the Viet Cong. There are estimates that 50,000 people were killed. The people were seized and a lie detector was used to try to determine guilt or innocence. Any suspects were killed. The nighttime raids on the Afghans are quite similar to the techniques in Viet Nam. As a Federal cop, I took a Lie detector test administered by a private detective in San Diego. As I was leaving his office, I noticed a plaque on the wall, “Best Wishes to (???Can’t remember the name) Deputy Director, Phoenix Program” and a date. I’m damned glad I passed the test.

Report this

By TDoff, March 18, 2011 at 5:37 pm Link to this comment

Seems to me that an officer in battle has two priorities, Win the conflict, Protect his men. Depending on the officer and the immediate situation, either of these priorities can take precedence over the other. In any situation, either of these priorities should take precedence over any other consideration. War is not a humane enterprise.

If one is given an order, an added priority to Protect the indigenous population, that will be, and should be, the far lesser priority than protecting our own troops, especially in a conflict in which the enemy is part of, and indistinguishable from the indigenous population. So many of the indigenous folk, both enemy and non-enemy, if any, will die. Killing non-enemies is not a good way to win Hearts and Minds. But, again, war is not a humane enterprise.

Which is why we should not engage in other folk’s civil wars or revolutions, or start other folk’s civil wars by ‘Nation Building’.

Nowhere in the bible does it say that ‘god’ made US ‘god’, despite what the CrazyChristianConservative EvangelicalFundamentalist WhackoBornAgainBoobs say.

Report this

By Mike Strong, March 18, 2011 at 5:01 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Another missing-info book is the above-mentioned “Petreaus” COIN Field Manual. Missing are genuine solutions. When it first came out, and in each update, I looked in particular for even one way in which counter-insurgency efforts in history worked. There should have been detailed and well evidenced and researched lessons/analyses.

I found none. I did find some of the old mis-information about both Algeria and Malaysia with claims that these worked because, followed by not much in the way of “because.” Then, of course a few smart-sounding pithy sound bytes to make Petraeus seem a sharp and forward thinking commentator.

Just remember, even if we are there a 100 years, sooner or later we go “home” to somewhere else. They are home. They live there. They will be there. Unless we massacre all of them (like so many biblical accounts of what the “good guys” did).

And as far as all our efforts, struggles and so-called heroic exploits (at slaughter) the fact remains we lost. Or, as General Giap told Harry Summers after Summers made the statement to Giap that US forces never lost a battle (implying that the military left alone, no politics, no “backstabbing” [shades of Nazis and “Jew backstabbers”], would have won) and Giap said, “that is irrelevant.”

Irrelevant. Indeed. No wonder they won with someone like General Giap. He counted.

We were irrelevant.

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By Big B, March 18, 2011 at 3:44 pm Link to this comment

I am afraid to say that I will probably read it. The methodology used to fight the war, and its subsequent conclusion have turned us into the nation we are today.

Every time I read another account of Vietnam I am reminded of my mother, sitting at the dinner table in 1968, watching the news on a black and white zenith television (with a coat hanger for an antenna) and muttering about that “son-of-a-bitch Johnson!” Although I was only 6, I have been a peace-nik ever since.

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By RiverRat2U, March 18, 2011 at 3:35 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

As a son of the South it is easy to empathize with civilians caught up war . I grew up with the Southern perception of Shermans burned earth policy through Georgia. Even after a hundred years of revisionist history he and his troops were still hated. One can expect the same in Viet Nam, Iraq and Afgan.  The wounds heal slowly.

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By Jim Yell, March 18, 2011 at 11:59 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Remember the flap over calling him General Betray-us? I think it is obvious that was very close to who he is. The word used to be a Military Martinet. It works for me.

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By Steve E, March 18, 2011 at 5:46 am Link to this comment

Terrific work Mr. Turse, I’m sure Hunt and other ambitious blood thirsty military
honchos will gloss over your great piece and remark, “your either with us or
against us”. This mentality if you can call it that, can be applied to most any
corporate mindset. One that comes to mind at the domestic level is the on-going
rape of our financial system with so many casualties around the world. Petraeus is
a corporate stooge and has applied the so called “surge” tactics made famous in
Iraq. A surge is nothing more than a directive to apply a “no holds barred” tactic
which embraces the “kill anything that moves” strategy which has produced so
many burnt out and mentally disturbed U.S. soldiers. Consequently we should not
be surprised at the number of suicides over the recent years. I applaud your
article for getting the facts straight and comparing the insanity used to spread
“democracy” in Vietnam and spreading “democracy” by U.S. forces in other
countries. The body count goes on and on perpetually.

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