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?
Date: Thu, 31 Jan 2013 23:46:07 -0700
Subject: Re: [Vsg] Hagel Hearings & The Vietnam War
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
2 thoughts on “Hagel Hearings & The Vietnam War/Kill Anything That Moves (KATM)”
In reading your review, and coming from what seems to be the same background and experience I am surprised that your take on the work is 180 degrees different than mine. The main thrusts of the book include the information contained in the War Crimes Working Group files. The investigations and proofs contained in these US government files, for the first time in wide spread publication vindicate the true Heroes of the book the soldiers and reporters who tried to end future atrocities by reporting ones they had been witness to. The 30,000 books on the Vietnam War already written many with iconic historical standing have established the conditions faced by the American Soldiers. Scores of these books detail accurately the heroic actions of our brothers in arms; many bring tears to our eyes with tales of sadness and loss and still others warm our souls and validate our memories with selfless acts for the people of Vietnam and their fellow soldiers. None of that is denied or belittled in this book it is part of the established and documented history of the war.
The other perspective making this work worth reading is another not fully appreciated in the thousands of works previously penned is the focus on the suffering of the Vietnamese civilian population. The author offers only a glimpse of the day to day calculus of life in a free fire zone, life trying to deal with H&I (harassment and interdiction fire), life for a peasant agricultural population to survive Agent Orange defoliation of their land. He lets the reader feel the trepidation of a mother not knowing if the armed foreigners marching into her village will pass out candy to her children or burn down there home and destroy their stores.
It is in these two areas Kill Anything That Moves adds to the knowledge and understanding of the War.
In the little over 250 pages we learn some horrifying truths, but we are never asked to forget established copiously well documented history of valor, daring and kindness.
Your “war is hell” analogy might hold water had the US invasion and occupation been the unavoidable last straw to stop the invasion of our country, by the Vietnamese. It would be true if the assets being stolen from our people by the Vietnamese could not be resolved otherwise. It would be true if perhaps the number of Americans that were being killed by or might be killed by the marauding Vietnamese people could only be staunched by the use of more bombs and munitions than the entirety of World War 2 by all sides. It might even be true if the continuous onslaught of the people of Vietnam so threatened our allies that our hand was forced.
Certainly volumes could be written and excellent researchers like Mr. Turse could be kept working for decades on the tragedies and horrors as far back in the history of warfare we would endeavor to go. But to understand fully the impact of this one snap shot in time the author does his job well.
I’m going to steal from another contributor to this discussion I read earlier that sums up this book better than I could have done on my own.
“ Finger pointing, HOWEVER is not the purpose of the author. It is clear that through increased understanding of the actions and consequences of how our war, waged largely on an illiterate peasant population with little political acumen, or preference in any direction, the author believes we might become wiser. We might understand what and who “collateral damage” is. That we would not repeat strategies and policies that rained terror on an occupied people for over a decade. That the thousands of self-inflicted fatal gun shots by Vietnam Vets, That the thousands fatal single vehicle accidents involving Vietnam vets, that the thousands of Vietnam Vet drug overdoses and the countless Vietnam vets who live on or died trying to live on the streets of our cities, will be avoided in the future.
Told in a humane yet gripping narrative Turse pins medals on the chest of courageous Veterans long, long overdue. Men who risked, reputation, liberty and even life, because they believed in the America of our highest ideals, the America they learned about in school, The America of the Saturday afternoon double feature matinee. These men are the HEROS of Kill Anything That Moves. “
Thank you for your comments and review. I think we’re in complete agreement re KATM. You may be confusing me with my distinguished University of Arizona colleague.