Haunting. This is the title of a “review” I recently posted on Amazon about Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam by Nick Turse, which is available in paperback today. Actually, it’s not so much a review as it is a rebuttal to every criticism – or at least all of the ones I have encountered since the book’s publication almost a year ago – leveled against the author and the book. If there any criticisms I’ve overlooked, please let me know and I’ll post them here. ‘Tis human to err.
Enough has been said, here and elsewhere, about the content of KATM and the meticulous archival and field research on which it is based. It is a brilliant (a word I use sparingly) work about one of the most tragic periods of Vietnamese and American history. It is also without a doubt the most painful book I have ever read. This might have to do with the fact that the subject matter is intensely personal for me. I still have vivid recollections of many of the scenes Nick Turse describes in excruciating detail. I am haunted by them.
Many of the comments in the 1 and 2 star category are eminently predictable and also reflect the views of some veteran Vietnam observers and scholars who should know better. The categories into which they fall are presented here in A-Z order.
Atrocities Committed By The “Other Side”
They did it, too! Whenever I hear this sophomoric comment, the first thought that comes to mind is that the Americans and their allies, including the Australians, South Koreans and others, had no right to be there in the first place. This is not an issue of moral equivalence. The “other side” was fighting against yet another foreign invader and its collaborators in the name of national liberation. It’s that simple.
Fallacy of Generalizing from Personal Experience
If I had a nickel for every time I’ve read “I didn’t witness any atrocities during my tour”… So because you didn’t witness it first-hand means it didn’t happen, right? 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 who, if they didn’t know before they went, quickly realized after they arrived that the war was a colossal 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. You know who you are. Some of you are tormented by what you did or did not stop, others – the minority? – have no conscience. Perhaps justice will be meted out to you in the next life.
KATM/Turse Bashes Veterans!
It’s fairly easy to dispense with this old canard. Since I have many friends and acquaintances, both in Vietnam and the U.S., who are veterans, I know that many have welcomed KATM. While the truth sometimes hurts, it can also be liberating. Those who were there, whether they participated in the acts Turse describes, observed them or heard stories about them, know the score, as do the survivors. KATM is not an indictment of all veterans who served in Vietnam only of those who were involved in the abuse, torture and murder of civilians and the “kill anything that moves” policy of the U.S. military and their superiors who oversaw the implementation of this brutal policy. Why do you think so many veterans are so troubled, dysfunctional and worse? What do you think many of them see and hear at night when the demons come?
Nothing New Here
According to whom? What Turse tells his fellow Americans and the rest of the world is breaking news to most of them. Most are not Vietnam scholars who have read hundreds of books and thousands of primary source documents. I am more familiar than most with the information Turse presents yet KATM fills in many gaps and connects a lot of dots that – collectively – form a damning indictment of the U.S. policy du jour.
Shooting from the Hip
I’m not gonna read da book `cause I read da summary and already know what he’s gonna say. He’s un-American, anti-American, and anti-military. (And besides, I’m blinded by the ideology of U.S. nationalism – as distinct from patriotism). Even tho I didn’t read da book I’m gonna put my two cents on Amazon anyhoo. The lament of the close-minded and the refuge of the intellectually lazy. Next…
Sin of Omission?
Groundless criticism about what he supposedly left out: It’s about war crimes committed by US soldiers in Vietnam as a frequent occurrence and the policies/conditions that led to those war crimes being committed. Turse proves it using U.S. government documents and stories from U.S. veterans and Vietnamese survivors. It was widespread and officially sanctioned. Therefore, there is really no basis on which to criticize him for not including everything you wanted him to include. If someone were to write a book that included everything Turse left out, 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…
This is a claim that some make. To which South Vietnamese are they referring? The ones who hitched their cart to the American (war) horse? The ones who benefited financially and in other ways from the U.S. 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 Turse writes about – the targets of bombs, bullets, torture and other forms of abuse, the ghosts and the survivors?
Turse Wasn’t There!
He was born in 1975; what does he know about the war in Vietnam? Most historians weren’t around in the eras that they’ve studied and on which they are experts. Does that make them any less knowledgeable? (That’s a rhetorical question, folks.) Turse’s age is irrelevant. He was able to use U.S. government documents, travel to Vietnam to interview Vietnamese survivors of U.S. military attacks and interview U.S. veterans. Therefore, even though he never smelled the smoke or heard the artillery fire, he knows more than most people who were there. So much for this lame and illogical critique.
War is Hell
All wars are the same. Civilians suffer, are caught in the cross-fire, become “collateral damage.” As the bumper sticker says “Shit happens.” Read about “kill anything that moves” as a policy that was conceived of and implemented at the highest levels of the U.S. military and political establishment. That, combined with hatred for the Vietnamese and the fear and frustration of not knowing when or where the next attack would occur, the essence of guerrilla warfare, created the conditions for the perfect (war) storm in which millions of civilians suffered grievously. Then there’s the argument that the Americans had no right to be in Vietnam in the first place, which would have prevented the deaths of 3.8 million Vietnamese, including 2 million civilians, and a long list of war legacies.