Below is another Vietnam Studies Group exchange about Nick Turse’s new book Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam (KATM). I responded to a colleague from the University of Arizona whose main criticisms are that Turse “tells us nothing new” and that he commits a sin of omission by excluding information that contradicts this colleague’s theory – hypothesis – argument. Here’s the article by Nick Turse that launched this thread: The Hagel Hearings – The Last Best Chance for the Truth About a Lost War and America’s War-Making Future. As always, read from the bottom up.
Subject: RE: [Vsg] Hagel Hearings & The Vietnam War/Kill Anything That Moves (KATM)
Date: Mon, 4 Feb 2013 06:44:44 -0500I was about to hit send when Christina’s excellent review and analysis arrived in my inbox. I believe that she addresses most of the criticisms leveled against Nick Turse and KATM by some VSGers, including Ben. Some comments about his post:
Nothing New to Whom?
You’ve read enough of Turse’s book “to conclude that he tells us nothing new”? Who is “us”? What Nick Turse tells his fellow Americans and the rest of the world is breaking news to most of them. Most are not VN scholars who have “read hundreds of books and thousands of primary documents…” Most don’t have the breadth and depth of knowledge and experience that you and some others on this list have.
The Fallacy of Generalizing from Personal Experience
Turse does NOT claim that every US combat soldier was a war criminal who was out raping, torturing and killing civilians. I know many veterans like your father who, if they didn’t know before, quickly realized after they arrived that the war was a huge mistake. From that point on their goal was to stay alive and not go home in a body bag. There were many others, however, who were involved in the wholesale abuse and murder of civilians.
About what he supposedly left out: Why don’t you reread the description on Amazon, the reviews, or whatever part(s) of the book you read? It’s about war crimes committed by US soldiers in VN as a frequent occurrence and the policies/conditions that led to those war crimes being committed. Turse proves it using USG documents and stories from US veterans and survivors here. It was widespread and officially sanctioned. Therefore, you really have no basis on which to criticize him for not including everything you wanted him to include. Why don’t you write a book that includes everything Nick Turse left out, in your opinion, that “contradicts his theory/hypothesis/argument”? It wouldn’t be the first.
The True Place the American War Holds in the Memory of South Vietnamese vs. North Vietnamese? It Ain’t that Simple…
Finally, regarding your point about the “true place the American War holds in the memory of the South Vietnamese” and how it is “quite often much different than that in the memory of the Hanoian?” – To which South Vietnamese are you referring? The ones who hitched their cart to the American (war) horse? The ones who benefited financially and in other ways from the US occupation and the influx of billions of dollars? The ones who left in the nick of time with the assistance of their American benefactors? Or the ones Nick Turse writes about – the targets of bombs, bullets, torture and other forms of abuse, the ghosts and the survivors?
Having a father who served as an E5 in the Tay Ninh region in 1970, I cannot plead objectivity in this matter. Given that, I can say I’ve read hundreds of books and thousands of primary documents, compared official stories to rumors, spent time with Vietnamese from Trang Bang to Ben Cui to Dau Tieng to the crest of Nui Ba Den and on up into the former DMZ all the way up to Ha Noi. I’ve interviewed my father, who spent the better part of his tour simply trying to keep his squad away from what he came to see as worthless fighting and rarely saw Vietnamese civilians, VC, NVA, or even ARVN troops. When they were dropped into Cambodia, they neither raped nor pillaged. They found bunkers, took inventory, blew them up, and were generally in more danger from friendly fire than anything else. They walked into occasional ambushes and were shot by snipers here and there, but their reaction–at least my father’s–was to blame the lifers and slink farther away from the fighting each time they walked back into the jungle on s and d missions.
I’ve read enough of Turse’s book to conclude that he tells us nothing new. And in fact, he leaves out–I have to imagine intentionally–most anything that contradicts his theory? Hypothesis? Argument? Like too much scholarship these days, what I see in Turse’s book is a string of anecdotes. Anyone can throw together a string of anecdotes to prove a point. But what is the question? Do these anecdotes help him or his readers come to a deeper understanding? Does Kill Anything that Moves really tell us anything Four Hours in My Lai does not? Is anyone unfamiliar with the Phoenix Program or the consequences of the “Body Count” policy likely to read this book? If so, what are they likely to retain? Knowledge of the consequences of emotionless decisions made by millionaires in suits or the more shocking images of GIs running like savages through villages, raping and torturing everything in sight? Will they know what it means that the vast majority of civilian deaths were caused by the bombing of cities like Ha Noi and Hai Phong from B-52s thousands of feet in the air? Will the casual reader come away knowing that relations between American men and Vietnamese women involved more than rape? That Sai Gon was more than a brothel of trafficked women serving American REMFs? Will they learn the true place the American War holds in the memory of the South Vietnamese, and that this place is quite often much different than that in the memory of the Hanoian?
University of Arizona