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Whom Did You Rape in the War, Daddy?

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Posted on Mar 19, 2013
Glyn Lowe Photoworks (CC BY 2.0)

By Nick Turse, TomDispatch

(Page 3)

Veterans don’t tell these stories.  They almost never offer up accounts of murder, assault, torture, or rape unsolicited.  They don’t want you to know. Such realities need to be mined out of them.  I’ve done it for the last 10 years, and believe me, it can be exhausting.

Veterans, their advocates, and their defenders often tell us it’s never okay to ask if a soldier or marine killed somebody “over there.”  But if veterans refuse to offer up unsanitized accounts of their wartime experiences and it’s improper for us to ask what they did, how can civilians be faulted for failing to understand war?

To set the historical record straight, I’ve traveled across the globe, walked into people’s homes, and asked them questions to which, in a better world than ours, no one should have to know the answers.  I’ve asked elderly Vietnamese to recount the most horrific traumas imaginable.  I’ve induced rivers of tears.  I’ve sat impassively, taking notes as an older woman, bouncing her grandchild on her knee, told me what it was like to be raped with an American weapon.

As I said, war is obscene.

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I also asked these questions of American veterans because—some notable and iconic exceptions aside—too few have had the courage of that Vietnamese grandmother.  After all, some American raped her with that weapon, but as far as I know—and if anybody knew, it would probably be me—he never leveled with the American public about the true nature of his war.  He never told the truth, publicly apologized, voiced regret, or even for that matter boasted about it, nor did he ever make a case for why raping a woman with a weapon was warranted in wartime.  He kept it a secret and, if he’s still alive, continues to do so today.  We all suffer for his silence.

On a single day in August 1969, on one base, three GIs raped a fellow American soldier.  Three rapes.  One day.  What does that mean?  What does it say about men?  About the military?  About war?  We can’t know for sure because we’ll never know the whole truth of sexual assault in Vietnam.  The men involved in wartime sex crimes—in raping Vietnamese women, in sodomizing them, in violating them with bottles and rifle muzzles, in sexually assaulting American women, in raping American men—have mostly remained silent about it.

One of the rapists in this case may have passed away, but at least one is still apparently alive in the United States.  Maybe even on your street.  For decades we knew nothing of their crimes, so we know less than we should about the Vietnam War and about war in general.

Maybe it’s time to start asking questions of our veterans. Hard questions. They shouldn’t be the only ones with the knowledge of what goes on in armies and in war zones.  They didn’t get to Vietnam (or Iraq or Afghanistan) on their own and they shouldn’t shoulder the blame or the truth alone and in silence.  We all bear it.  We all need to hear it.  The sooner, the better.

Nick Turse is the managing editor of TomDispatch.com and a fellow at the Nation Institute.  An award-winning journalist, his work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Nation, and regularly at TomDispatch. He is the author most recently of the New York Times bestseller Kill Anything that Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam (The American Empire Project, Metropolitan Books). You can watch his recent conversation with Bill Moyers about that book by clicking here. His website is NickTurse.com. You can follow him on Tumblr and on Facebook.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch book, Nick Turse’s The Changing Face of Empire: Special Ops, Drones, Proxy Fighters, Secret Bases, and Cyberwarfare.

Copyright 2013 Nick Turse


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