Vietnam War Atrocities Committed by the US Army

Hits: 875

Atrocities and war crimes are subjectively defined as acts of violence that exceed military necessity. All war includes atrocities. The stress of combat includes a build up of emotion during action that leads to vicious attacks on the enemy when the opportunity arises. American military units are trained and indoctrinated to avoid inhuman treatment of enemy combatants. Soldiers who violate the norms are prosecuted. This reduces but does not eliminate the problem.

Photo of Vietnamese civilians killed by an American unit 

Atrocities During the Vietnam War

The actions of armies in war have seldom been as humane as the modern American military — in the 20th Century alone there are boundless documented examples of horrific acts by the Germans, the Japanese and the Soviet Red Army in World War II, or by North Korea in the 1950s, and others later than that. Before the 20th Century, ugly butchery was common in war.

In Vietnam specifically, the Communist forces regularly perpetrated atrocities on Americans as well as the Vietnamese civilian population. A few examples:

    • In battles at Ia Drang (23 October to 20 November 1965), NVA troops slaughtered U.S. wounded. Most bodies recovered were shot in the head or back. At other locations, wounded American soldiers were tied to trees, tortured, and then murdered
    • On 6 December 1967, Viet Cong massacred 252 civilians in a vengeance attack on Dak Son, an anti-communist Montagnard village
  • During the 1968 Tet offensive, the North Vietnamese massacred 5,800 civilians at Hue
  • Terrorism was an integral part of Communist strategy in Vietnam; terrorist attacks in Saigon regularly killed innocent women and children
  • Khmer Rouge (Cambodian Communists) were particularly brutal; as guerrillas they slaughtered whole villages — after gaining power estimates of dead from their actions run into millions
  • Treatment of prisoners in Communist camps included routine brutality along with torture and psychological abuse

In total, from 1957 to 1973, the Viet Cong assassinated 36,725 South Vietnamese and abducted another 58,499. The VC death squads focused on leaders at the village level and on anyone who improved the lives of the peasants such as medical personnel, social workers, civil engineers, and schoolteachers. For the Communist forces, atrocities were a matter of policy and were not hidden or punished.

Despite continuous commission of such atrocities, and many more small scale sadistic acts designed to terrorize U.S. troops and punish cooperating Vietnamese, many people cling to the belief that U.S. troops were barbaric while the Communist forces were noble freedom fighters. This is partially a media-created paradigm, based on over-reporting of U.S. or South Vietnamese faults while under-reporting the others. It is also based on endless repeating of a few true stories of U.S. transgressions along with the creation of myths about other events that did not happen or were wildly exaggerated.

The 1971 “Winter Soldier” hearings organized by the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, portrayed Vietnam as the locus of continuous atrocities and sub-human behavior by American soldiers. Serious doubts have been raised about the credibility of the testimony and some of the presenters at the Winter Soldier meeting. Researchers have pointed out that some presenters used false identities and all refused to give military investigators the dates, sites, and names of perpetrators of atrocities that they had reported. A series of falsehoods and half truths were widely publicized as reality, and made the theme of popular books and movies, making it harder to appreciate what really did happen in Vietnam.

American Atrocities in Vietnam

Unfortunately American soldiers did commit atrocities and lesser acts of cruelty in Vietnam. Any city containing half a million young men will have rapes, murders, and assaults. When that city is made up of military men engaged fighting a tough, brutal and determined enemy the “crime rate” will be higher.

The overwhelming majority of civilian deaths in Vietnam were the result of the basic tactics and weapons used. Artillery and aerial bombardment was often used in Vietnam to minimize troop losses, a strategic choice that caused suffering and death for civilians. But there were proportionally fewer such casualties than in either World War II or the Korean War. In WW II for example, American firepower doctrine regularly leveled towns, villages, and cities, causing large numbers of civilian as well as military casualties. In Vietnam, where many civilians were cooperating with the enemy, the Communist NVA/VC infiltrated the civilian population making discrimination during bombardment difficult or impossible to practice.

During the period 1 January 1965 to 31 August 1973, there were 241 cases which involved allegations of war crimes by United States Army troops (excluding My Lai). One hundred and sixty of these cases, upon investigation, were determined to be unsubstantiated. Substantiated allegations of war crimes violations committed in Vietnam by U.S. personnel were prosecuted. From January 1965 through August 1973, 36 cases involving war crimes allegations against Army personnel were tried by court-martial. Between 1965 and 1973, 201 U.S. soldiers and 77 Marines were convicted of serious crimes against the Vietnamese. All in all, this is a very small number given the size of the force and length of time involved. While critics say the number is small because crimes were not prosecuted, the truth is that American soldiers in Vietnam for the most part behaved well.

The Phoenix Program

 On 9 May 1967, National Security Action Memorandum 362, “Responsibility for US Role in Pacification (Revolutionary Development),” established Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support (CORDS) unambiguously placing the military in charge of pacification in Vietnam. Within CORDS were scores of programs designed to enhance South Vietnamese influence in the countryside. At the root of pacification’s success or failure was its ability to counter the Communist insurgents’ grip on the population.

In December 1967 an existing program was given new emphasis and renamed Phoenix. The South Vietnamese side was called Phung Hoang, after a mythical bird that appeared as a sign of prosperity and luck. CORDS made Phoenix a high priority and within weeks expanded intelligence centers in most of South Vietnam’s provinces. Phoenix attacked the Viet Cong Infrastructure (VCI), covert operatives within South Vietnam who were the most important component of the Viet Cong movement.

Virtually every village in South Vietnam had a VCI cell made up of a Communist Party secretary, a finance and supply unit, information and culture, social welfare, and proselytizing sections to gain recruits from among the civilian population. They answered up a chain of command, with village cadre answering to the district, then to the province, and finally to a series of regional commands which, in turn, took orders from Hanoi (North Vietnam).

To counter the VCI, Phoenix relied on local militia and police rather than the military as the main operational force of the program. Provincial Reconnaissance Units (PRU), recruited and trained by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), were the best action arm available to Phoenix.

Phoenix has been portrayed as a rogue operation, a shadowy nexus of torture and assassination. But a more accurate picture of Phoenix reveals a wartime organization with a difficult mission that operated within a system of rules. Special laws, called An Tri, allowed the arrest and prosecution of suspected Communists, but only within the legal system. Moreover, to avoid abuses such as phony accusations for personal reasons, or to rein in overzealous officials who might not be diligent enough in pursuing evidence before making arrests, An Tri required three separate sources of evidence to convict any individual targeted for neutralization. If a suspected VCI was found guilty, he or she could be held in prison for two years, with renewable two-year sentences totaling up to six years. While this was probably fair on its surface, hardcore VCI were out in six years at most and then rejoined the guerrillas.

Between 1968 and 1972 Phoenix neutralized 81,740 Viet Cong, of whom 26,369 were killed. This was a large piece taken out of the VCI; the program was quite successful in destroying the VCI in many important areas. These statistics have been used to suggest that Phoenix was an assassination program, but it was not. People were killed, but statistics show that more than two-thirds of neutralized VC were captured, not killed. Indeed, only by capturing Viet Cong could Phoenix develop the intelligence needed to net additional Viet Cong. Abuses did occur, such as torture, which US advisers could not always halt, but most advisers understood the adage that dead Viet Cong do not tell about live ones.

Phoenix was also accused of sometimes targeting civilians, because the VCI did not wear military uniforms. But the VCI was an integral aspect of the Communist insurgency and a legitimate target.

Material in this section based on the comprehensive review article: CORDS/Phoenix: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Vietnam for the Future by Dale Andrade and LTCOL James H. Willbanks, US Army, Retired, Ph.D, Military Review, March-April 2006.

The My Lai Massacre

The worst case of an American war crime was the massacre at My Lai, on 16 March 1968, in the aftermath of the Tet Offensive. The village and surrounding area were assaulted to clear Viet Cong known to be operating in the area. A company of soldiers from Americal Division, following ill-defined orders and rules of engagement, murdered 400 to 500 Vietnamese civilians. The court martial transcripts are sickening to read as they include the indiscriminate execution of men, women, babies and children along with sexual assault and other brutality perpetrated upon the victims, individually and in groups. A second massacre of ninety to one hundred civilians occurred in the neighboring hamlet of Co Luy at the same time.

The action at My Lai was initially classified as a victory with a claim that 128 enemy combatants had been killed. After reports of atrocities were filed by military witnesses, an informal investigation amounted to a cover-up, finding that a small number of civilian deaths had occurred, but that they had been unavoidable. The investigating officer stated, “The allegation that US Forces shot and killed 450-500 civilians is obviously a Viet Cong propaganda move to discredit the United States in the eyes of the Vietnamese people.” Nothing further was done until after 2 April 1969, when a soldier-witness mailed a letter detailing the My Lai Massacre to thirty prominent people in Washington, D.C. — including President Nixon, the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Senators and Congressmen. The media latched onto the story and a public firestorm began as the U.S. was subjected to worldwide criticism. On 24 November 1969, the Secretary of the Army ordered an independent inquiry into the massacre that eventually brought all the facts to light.

The despicable acts were done by average American boys in a normal unit. What explanation can there be? Several factors have been suggested by investigators:

  • Command responsibility: inexperienced leadership, ambiguous orders, lack of control during the operation
  • Callousness and fear developed from experiences of cruelty and deviousness at the hands of enemy combatants or civilians cooperating with them
  • Dehumanizing of Vietnamese by racial attitudes
  • Insensitivity due to high civilian casualties caused by bombardment
  • Misplaced objectives due to “body count” as a success metric

All of these and more contributed to the My Lai Massacre, but cannot excuse it.

The story is not all bad. Command policy was clear: MACV directives established that, “a war crime is the business of the United States, regardless of the nationality .. of the victim,” and required every service member in Vietnam to report incidents which might constitute war crimes. Another directive stated, “Firing on localities which are undefended and without military significance, is a war crime.” At My Lai, many individuals showed moral and physical courage, as well as compassion and humanity, in their attempts to intervene on behalf of the victims. Some refused orders to shoot civilians, others came to their senses during the action and withdrew. A helicopter pilot who observed apparent atrocities landed in front of a group of fleeing villagers, and ordered his gunner to point his weapon at the pursuing American soldiers while requesting assistance over the radio. This pilot and others reported what they saw to officers and chaplains, stimulating the first investigation. Others wrote to officials in the U.S. to get the story out.

My Lai is a shameful stain on the history of the U.S. military. The Secretary of the Army’s investigation led to courts-martial of many participants, for the civilian deaths or the cover up, most of which had to be dismissed for lack of evidence. Lt. Calley, the platoon leader at the center of the atrocity, was the only participant at My Lai found guilty and imprisoned.


Source: Olive Drab

Read our Disclaimer/Legal Statement!

Donate to Support Us

We would like to ask you to consider a small donation to help our team keep working. We accept no advertising and rely only on you, our readers, to keep us digging the truth on history, global politics and international relations.

24
READ MORE!
How Britain Helped Create ISIS
Britain is gripped by fear, panic and anger, after being struck by three terror attacks in the space of three months. Innocent men, women and children have been killed in the terror rampage, filling many homes with tragedy and despair. Martial law has practically been declared in many regions of the country, with troops now being a common site on the streets of Royal Britannia. Many are looking for someone or something to blame, as rage is increasingly triumphing over reason.  Lost in all this hysteria however, there sits a glaring connection that needs to be illuminated: the connection between these ...
READ MORE
The Pentagon’s “Ides of March”: Best Month to Go to War
Is it a coincidence? In recent history, from the Vietnam war to the present, the month of March has been chosen by Pentagon and NATO military planners as the “best month” to go to war. With the exception of the War on Afghanistan (October 2001) and the 1990-91 Gulf War, all major US-NATO and allied led military operations over a period of more than half a century –since the invasion of Vietnam by US ground forces on March 8, 1965– have been initiated in the month of March. The Ides of March (Idus Martiae) is a day in the Roman calendar which broadly ...
READ MORE
Basic Introduction to the Kosovo Problem
Figure 1. Ethnic Albanian refugees at the Lion airport, April 18, 1999 A French magazine published a couple of photos from the Lion airport on April 18th, 1999, at the time when NATO bombers were pouring their lethal burden over Serbia (and partly over Montenegro), in the course of their “preventing humanitarian catastrophe” at Kosovo. One picture showed the French weaponry ready to be transported to Kosovo, the other presented an ethnic-Albanian family from Kosovo, refugees just arrived to France. The photo deserves well our attention, for it speaks very much indeed; it exposes vividly the very crux of the ...
READ MORE
Human Rights Violations: North Korea vs the U.S.
UN Third Committee Resolution L.23 IN, Legitimizes Stranglehold Economic Sanctions., Used as a Means to "Obliterate" North Korea On November 15, 2016 the United Nations Third Committee adopted the resolution:  “Situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea". Among the co-sponsors of the Resolution were United States, United Kingdom, Ukraine, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, etc. Disassociating themselves from the resolution, which they denounced as invalid, were China, Russia, Cuba, Venezuela, Syria, and three other countries opposed to the biased character and double standards that typify “country-specific” resolutions.  The so-sponsors of this resolution are themselves guilty of  criminal human rights violations. The very ...
READ MORE
Weapons of Mass Destruction
  Read our Disclaimer/Legal Statement! Donate to Support Us We would like to ask you to consider a small donation to help our team keep working. We accept no advertising and rely only on you, our readers, to keep us digging the truth on history, global politics and international relations. Save
READ MORE
The Real Reason America Used Nuclear Weapons against Japan
Like all Americans, I was taught that the U.S. dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in order to end WWII and save both American and Japanese lives. But most of the top American military officials at the time said otherwise. The U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey group, assigned by President Truman to study the air attacks on Japan, produced a report in July of 1946 that concluded (52-56): Based on a detailed investigation of all the facts and supported by the testimony of the surviving Japanese leaders involved, it is the Survey’s opinion that certainly prior to 31 December 1945 and in all ...
READ MORE
America’s Role in the Creation of the State of Israel
Review of Alison Weir's "Against Our Better Judgement: How the U.S. was used to create Israel". Relevant to recent developments pertaining to the US-Israel alliance is this article first published on GR in May 2014. Weir’s fascinating history focuses on how the State of Israel came into existence through a cynical using of the United States and how it was defended from American critics who saw the support for Israel as violating US principles and damaging US interests. The significance of the 1917 Balfour Declaration, the British “gentleman’s agreement” between the British government and Lord Rothschild that pledged British support for a Jewish ...
READ MORE
Criminal Kosovo: America’s Gift to Europe
U.S. media have given more attention to hearsay allegations of Julian Assange’s sexual encounters with two talkative Swedish women than to an official report accusing Kosovo prime minister Hashim Thaci of running a criminal enterprise which, among almost every other crime in the book, has murdered prisoners in order to sell their vital organs on the world market.The report by Swiss liberal Dick Marty was mandated two years ago by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). Not to be confused with the European Union, the Council of Europe was founded in 1949 to promote human rights, the ...
READ MORE
New Old World Order? The Foreign-Policy of the George W. Bush Administration
Will the election of Republican George W. Bush as President usher in changes in foreign policy with regard to Serbia, Yugoslavia, and the Balkans? Will there be a continuation of „humanitarian interventionism“, „military humanism“, „economic globalism“ and „globalization“? The Bush Administration foreign policy team has rejected the selective humanitarian interventionism of the Bill Clinton/Al Gore Administration, as espoused by Madeleine Albright and James Rubin. John Hulsman, Balkans adviser to Bush, announced that Bush was concerned about „imperial overstretch“ and has rejected a foreign policy that uses the US military in „nation building“. Hulsman has announced a „philosophical sea change“ in Balkans ...
READ MORE
Fighting against the U.S. Corrupted Administration: Chronology of Events in the Case of Ronald Thomas West
Fighting against the U.S. Corrupted Administration: Chronology of Events in the Case of Ronald Thomas WestRepublished by permission by the author.Origins of images: Facebook, Twitter, Wikimedia, Wikipedia, Flickr, Google, Imageinjection & Pinterest.Read our Disclaimer/Legal Statement!Donate to Support UsWe would like to ask you to consider a small donation to help our team keep working. We accept no advertising and rely only on you, our readers, to keep us digging the truth on history, global politics and international relations.
READ MORE
9 of the World’s 10 Least Peaceful Nations were all Targeted by U.S. Intervention
The 2017 Global Peace Index has declared Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and South Sudan to be among the “least peaceful” countries in the world. Incidentally, all four have been targets of U.S.-led destabilization efforts that were used to pursue economic interests that suit the U.S. MINNEAPOLIS– The annual Global Peace Index, recently released for June 2017, has found that while the world is more peaceful now than last year, violence has increased significantly overall in the past decade. Although the situation has improved in many countries, the ten lowest-ranking nations – known as the world’s “least peaceful” countries – have shown little change ...
READ MORE
Kosovo: Heroin Transport Corridor
US-NATO military control of Kosovo serves several purposes for Washington’s greater geo-strategic agenda. First it enables greater US control over potential oil and gas pipeline routes into the EU from the Caspian and Middle East as well as control of the transport corridors linking the EU to the Black Sea. It also protects the multi-billion dollar heroin trade, which, significantly, has grown to record dimensions in Afghanistan according to UN narcotics officials, since the US occupation. Kosovo and Albania are major heroin transit routes into Europe. According to a 2008 US State Department annual report on international narcotics traffic, several key ...
READ MORE
“Humanitarian Imperialism”: US, NATO Lie to Justify Genocide and Destruction in Yugoslavia
Seventeen years ago today, on March 24, 1999, NATO began a 78-day deadly and devastating U.S.-backed intervention of Yugoslavia. It was the first time in history that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization decided they would attack a country without the approval of the U.N. Security Council. Nineteen countries took part in the aggression led by the United States that was supposed to stop the repressive activities of the Slobodan Milosevic government and to establish a framework for its Southern province, Kosovo, under international law. Milosevic was president of Serbia from 1989 to 1997, and of Yugoslavia from 1997 to 2000. The attack was ...
READ MORE
Ukraine: Fascist Dictatorship Masquerading as Democracy
For the first time since WW II, overt fascists hold real power in Europe. Radicalized ultranationalists. Anti-Semites. Hate-mongers. Cold-blooded killers. Whitewashing high crimes. A puppet regime. America’s newest colony. Mocking democratic values. Violating fundamental rule of law principles. Unaccountably. Western leaders won’t explain. Nor will the media. Hard truths are buried. Ukraine’s government usurped power forcibly. Putschist rule has no legitimacy. Especially regimes waging war on their own people. Murdering them in cold blood. Committing horrendous human rights abuses. Tolerating no opposition. Ruling by intimidation. Force-feeding neoliberal harshness on impoverished people. Making life unbearable overall. More on this below. On December 4, Wall Street Journal editors published ...
READ MORE
Close Bonsteel in Kosovo and Metohija!
Rising tensions in the global relations and hot beds of old and new crisis call for unity and efforts of all peace forces for closing foreign military bases, particularly U.S. and NATO foreign military bases, around the globe. The peace forces are obligated to send clear message that U.S. and NATO foreign military bases represent the tools of hegemonism, aggression, occupation, and that as such must be closed. Peace and inclusive development, elimination of hunger and misery require redistribution of spending for maintence of military bases in favor of development needs, education and heath services. After the end of the Cold ...
READ MORE
“Going After” the Islamic State: Guess Who is Behind the Caliphate Project?
Author’s note and Update The following article was first published in September 2014 at the outset of the air campaign “against the ISIS”. In recent developments Russia has officially joined the campaign against the Islamic State (ISIS). What are the implications? Amply documented but rarely mentioned in news reports, the ISIS is a creation of US intelligence, recruited, trained and financed by the US and its allies including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, Israel and Jordan.   What this means is that the ISIS terrorists are the foot soldiers of the Western alliance. While America claims to be targeting the ISIS, in reality it is protecting the ISIS. The air campaign is intent upon ...
READ MORE
US Propaganda Campaign to Demonize Russia in Full Gear over One-Sided Dutch/Aussie Report on Flight 17 Downing
If the danger of the anti-Putin, anti-Russian disinformation propaganda campaign out of the Pentagon and promoted by the US corporate media weren’t so serious, the effort itself might be laughable. I did laugh. In fact, listening last night to a discussion by an NPR host with a government spokesperson about the latest propaganda effort to blame the downing of a Malaysian jumbo jet over Ukraine on July 17, 2014 on Russia. After hearing the government official, whose name I didn’t catch, say that Dutch prosecutors had found “solid evidence” that it was a “Russian-made” BUK antiaircraft missile launched from “pro-Russian” rebel ...
READ MORE
Ethnic Cleansing in Kosovo and the Rights of Serbian Minority: Ten Years after the “March Pogrom 2004”
Editor's note: This article was written and originally published in March 2014 Introduction This article deals with the question of political and human/minority rights in the region of Kosovo & Metohija ten years after the „March Pogrom 2004“ and fifteen years after the NATO’s military aggression on Serbia and Montenegro and occupation of the region. An importance of this research topic is in a fact that for the first time in the European history a terrorist-style and mafia-ruled (quasi)independent state was created by a full diplomatic, political, economic, military and financial sponsorship by the West under the umbrella of the NATO’s ...
READ MORE
The Lie of the 21st Century: How Mainstream Media “Fake News” Led to the U.S. Invasion of Iraq
The mainstream media (MSM) has declared war on alternative media websites labeling them “Fake News” ever since Hillary Clinton lost the election to Donald Trump. The New York Times editorial board expressed their frustration in an article calling for the censorship of alternative and social media‘Facebook and the Digital Virus Called Fake News’ which claimed both social media platforms (Facebook and Google) has not been aggressive enough in blocking fake news sites: Most of the fake news stories are produced by scammers looking to make a quick buck. The vast majority of them take far-right positions. But a big part of the responsibility for this scourge ...
READ MORE
The Dark Side of the Empire
One of rock's greatest albums is Pink Floyd's 1973 Dark Side of the Moon. This somber, surrealistic album paints a picture of what society has become, both 44 years ago and now. Such is this present American Empire, replete with our phony wars, excessive militaristic mindset and of course the drive for super wealth by greedy corporations and equally greedy individuals. Those of us who "knew better" foresaw the economic bubble burst of 2008 years before it occurred. So many of our friends and neighbors cared not a damn about the phony wars on Iraq and Afghanistan, and later on against Libya and now proxy ...
READ MORE
How Britain Helped Create ISIS
The Pentagon’s “Ides of March”: Best Month to Go to War
Basic Introduction to the Kosovo Problem
Human Rights Violations: North Korea vs the U.S.
Weapons of Mass Destruction
The Real Reason America Used Nuclear Weapons against Japan
America’s Role in the Creation of the State of Israel
Criminal Kosovo: America’s Gift to Europe
New Old World Order? The Foreign-Policy of the George W. Bush Administration
Fighting against the U.S. Corrupted Administration: Chronology of Events in the Case of Ronald Thomas West
9 of the World’s 10 Least Peaceful Nations were all Targeted by U.S. Intervention
Kosovo: Heroin Transport Corridor
“Humanitarian Imperialism”: US, NATO Lie to Justify Genocide and Destruction in Yugoslavia
Ukraine: Fascist Dictatorship Masquerading as Democracy
Close Bonsteel in Kosovo and Metohija!
“Going After” the Islamic State: Guess Who is Behind the Caliphate Project?
US Propaganda Campaign to Demonize Russia in Full Gear over One-Sided Dutch/Aussie Report on Flight 17 Downing
Ethnic Cleansing in Kosovo and the Rights of Serbian Minority: Ten Years after the “March Pogrom 2004”
The Lie of the 21st Century: How Mainstream Media “Fake News” Led to the U.S. Invasion of Iraq
The Dark Side of the Empire
Policraticus

Written by Policraticus

SHORT LEGAL DISCLAIMER: The website’s owner & editor-in-chief has no official position on any issue published at this website. The views of the authors presented at this website do not necessarily coincide with the opinion of the owner & editor-in-chief of the website. The contents of all material (articles, books, photos, videos…) are of sole responsibility of the authors. The owner & editor-in-chief of this website is not morally, scientifically or legally responsible for any inaccurate or incorrect statement in the contents of all material found on this website. The owner & editor-in-chief of this website is not responsible for the content of external internet sites. No advertising, government or corporate funding for the functioning of this website. The owner & editor-in-chief and authors are not morally, scientifically or legally responsible for any inaccurate or incorrect statement in the text and material found on the website www.global-politics.eu

Website: http://www.global-politics.eu