Vietnam War Atrocities Committed by the US Army

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!
The Origins of Latvian, Lithuanian and Estonian Nations
"The main part of the population of Baltic cities up to the 19th century consisted of ethnic Germans, and also Poles and Jews, but not at all Baltic people. In fact, the “old” (pre-revolutionary) Baltic region was completely built by Germans. Baltic cities were German cities – with German architecture, culture, and system of municipal management. ... in the cities of the Baltic region there were almost no Estonians and Latvians." Now, the Baltic states consist of three countries – Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, which received sovereignty in the course of the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Each of these states position themselves, respectively, ...
READ MORE
America’s Secret Planned Conquest of Russia
The U.S. government’s plan to conquer Russia is based upon a belief in, and the fundamental plan to establish, “Nuclear Primacy” against Russia — an American ability to win a nuclear war against, and so conquer, Russia. This concept became respectable in U.S. academic and governmental policymaking circles when virtually simultaneously in 2006 a short-form and a long-form version of an article endorsing the concept, which the article’s two co-authors there named “nuclear primacy,” were published respectively in the world’s two most influential journals of international affairs, Foreign Affairs from the Council on Foreign Relations, and International Security from Harvard. (CFR got the more popular ...
READ MORE
Memorial Day Hypocrisy
America is a warrior state, a serial aggressor, unaccountable for unparalleled high crimes against peace because of public ignorance and indifference. Americans are sublimely unaware of their nation’s history. Its so-called war of independence substituted new management for old. Everything changed but stayed the same. Civil war had nothing to do with freeing slaves, everything to do with keeping the nation intact, maintaining business as usual. Imperial America enslaved Black Africans, exterminated its native people, stole their land and resources, stole half of Mexico, followed by Cuba, the Philippines, Guam, Samoa, Hawaii, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Canal Zone, Puerto Rico and other territories. Peace ...
READ MORE
Kosovo: An Evil Little War (Almost) All US Candidates Liked
Although the 2016 presidential election is still in the primaries phase, contenders have already brought up America’s failed foreign wars. Hillary Clinton is taking flak over Libya, and Donald Trump has irked the GOP by bringing up Iraq. But what of Kosovo? The US-led NATO operation that began on March 24, 1999 was launched under the “responsibility to protect” doctrine asserted by President Bill Clinton and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair. For 78 days, NATO targeted what was then the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia – which later split into Serbia and Montenegro – over alleged atrocities against ethnic Albanians in the ...
READ MORE
America and the Great Abdication: Don’t Mistake Donald Trump’s Withdrawal from the World for Isolationism
When great powers fade, as they inevitably must, it’s normally for one of two reasons. Some powers exhaust themselves through overreach abroad, underinvestment at home, or a mixture of the two. This was the case for the Soviet Union. Other powers lose their privileged position with the emergence of new, stronger powers. This describes what happened with France and Great Britain in the case of Germany’s emergence after World War I and, more benignly, with the European powers and the rise of the United States during and after World War II. To some extent America is facing a version of this—amid ...
READ MORE
Five, Still Alive US Warmongering Presidents
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.
READ MORE
Remember the Golan Heights?
During the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, Syrian forces had surprised Israel and were fast approaching the edge of the steep Golan Heights, captured by Israel during the 1967 war. It seemed as if Syrian armor and infantry would retake Golan, then pour down into Israeli Galilee. Soviet recon satellites observed Israel moving its nuclear-armed, 500km-range Jericho missiles out of protective caves and onto their launch pads. At the same time, Israel was seen loading nuclear bombs on their US-supplied F-4 fighter-bombers at Tel Nof airbase. Believing Israel was about to use nuclear weapons against Syria and Egypt, Moscow put huge pressure on both ...
READ MORE
Islamic State Top Dog from Kosovo Returns to Europe with 400 Jihadis
What could possibly go wrong? Refugees welcome! Not to allow these enemy combatants to return would be “Islamophobic”! “Disguised as refugees and able to cross borders without being identified: ISIS general who blew up a hostage with a rocket and decapitated another prisoner is ‘back in Europe with 400 soldiers’ after fleeing Syria,” by Julian Robinson, MailOnline, December 29, 2016: An ISIS general once pictured decapitating a prisoner is back in Europe with up to 400 of his most trusted soldiers after fleeing the war zone in Syria, it has been claimed. Ex-NATO soldier Lavdrim Muhaxheri and his men are among thousands who ...
READ MORE
The Albanian Question in the Balkans
Since the fall of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Albanians are among the main actors of instability in the Balkans. At the same time they are the most loyal servants of the US in the Balkans. The Greater Albania project, which dates back to the 19th century is an idea of the unification of all Albanians into one state. Namely, the Prizren League then demanded the recognition of the national identity of Albanians and the autonomy of Albania within the Ottoman Empire. Today, Albanians live in two countries Albania and Kosovo (Serbian breakaway southern province) and in neighboring countries. The scenario ...
READ MORE
The Geopolitics of American Global Decline: Washington vs China in the 21st Century
For even the greatest of empires, geography is often destiny. You wouldn’t know it in Washington, though. America’s political, national security, and foreign policy elites continue to ignore the basics of geopolitics that have shaped the fate of world empires for the past 500 years. Consequently, they have missed the significance of the rapid global changes in Eurasia that are in the process of undermining the grand strategy for world dominion that Washington has pursued these past seven decades. A glance at what passes for insider “wisdom” in Washington these days reveals a worldview of stunning insularity. Take Harvard political scientist ...
READ MORE
Albanian Terrorists as Official NATO Peacekeeping Mission in Kosovo Members
Remember watching ancient Orthodox Christian monasteries in flames in Kosovo dozen times. Old, noble constructions, spiritual and historical testimonies of past times. I also remember that majority of Orthodox Christian monasteries, churches and relics has been attacked and destroyed after NATO forces (officially: KFOR) took full control of the Serbian province. It amazed me to see how Western soldiers, under full equipment and heavy armament, often didn’t make a single move to stop Albanian violence; over 200 000 Serbs had to flee, in order to save their bare lives, bearing whole their lives in few suitcases if they were lucky enough. It turned out ...
READ MORE
US Had a ‘Pretty Supportive Attitude’ Toward Fascism in 1930s
While the typical narrative of American history positions the United States as a supporter of democracy and opponent of fascism which helped to defeat the Nazis, key figures in Washington also supported dangerous dictators in Italy and Germany in their early days of power. Noam Chomsky, the renowned political philosopher, historian and scholar, examined the flip side of U.S. opposition to dictatorship in a conversation with Zain Raza, a senior editor at the independent media outlet acTVism Munich. An excerpt from the conversation was published Sept. 30 as part of acTVism Munich’s “Reexamining History” series. Speaking to Raza about Italian dictator Benito ...
READ MORE
Serbia’s Sovereignty as a Nation State: Serbia does not need a ‘Dialogue’ on Kosovo
“Now that the global circumstances have changed, and when the United States and NATO are losing their influence, and while the powers that are in favor of preserving Kosovo and Metohija – such as Russia and China – are strengthening, we are nevertheless pursuing a policy of complete surrender.” The aim of the internal dialogue conducted by the Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, should be to distribute responsibilities and to be the cover for the final surrender of Kosovo and Metohija. The government constantly assures us that it will never recognize Kosovo as an independent State, but here we must point out the ...
READ MORE
The Basic Guidelines Through the Kosovo Question
The Kosovo Question recently once again became an important issue of global politics and international relations for two reasons: 1) The Albanian “government” of the “Republic of Kosovo” announced to officially proclaim the existence of the Kosovo Army (that is a violation of the 1244 UN Resolution in 1999), and 2) The “president” of the “Republic of Kosovo”, a war criminal Hashim Tachi, participated on November 11th (2018) in Paris to the world leaders’ celebration of a centenary anniversary of the end of the WWI (the signed armistice with Germany) as the official representative of an “independent” Kosovo. He was ...
READ MORE
The Dirty War on Syria
The following text is the introductory chapter of  Professor Tim Anderson’s forthcoming book entitled The Dirty War on Syria. Although every war makes ample use of lies and deception, the dirty war on Syria has relied on a level of mass disinformation not seen in living memory. The British-Australian journalist Philip Knightley pointed out that war propaganda typically involves ‘a depressingly predictable pattern’ of demonising the enemy leader, then demonising the enemy people through atrocity stories, real or imagined (Knightley 2001). Accordingly, a mild-mannered eye doctor called Bashar al Assad became the new evil in the world and, according to consistent ...
READ MORE
A Look at “Kill Anything that Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam”
In Kill Anything that Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam (Metropolitan Books. New York. 2013), Turse writes that the US military’s official position, and the popular understanding in the US, is that leadership “has never condoned wanton killing or disregard for human life.” (2) On the rare occasions when atrocities are brought to light, they are blamed on low-level individuals and are said to be aberrations having nothing to do with official policy. The My Lai massacre, for example, was blamed on Lieutenant William Calley, who is said to have gone “crazy” (4,5) – although he and his unit ...
READ MORE
The 6 Reasons China and Russia are Catching Up to the U.S. Military
Why the Gap In Military Superiority Is Closing? China and Russia are still behind the U.S. militarily. But they are both showing surprising breakthroughs that – sometime down the road in the future – could threaten U.S. hegemony. The Washington Times reported last month: Defense Secretary Ashton Carter on Wednesday warned Russia and China are quickly closing the military technology gap with the U.S. as inconsistent military budgets and slower innovation threaten America’s lead in the military world. *** “It’s evident that nations like Russia and China have been pursuing military modernization programs to close the technology gap with the United States,” he continued. “They’re ...
READ MORE
Obama’s ‘Big Lie’: US has Supplied Ukraine with Arms from the Start
President Obama is still considering arming Ukraine in case the latest ceasefire is breached and the conflict escalates; but political analyst Stephen Lendman told Sputnik in an exclusive interview that the US leader is lying, and that the US has been supplying arms to Kiev from the very start of the military operation. The ceasefire between Kiev forces and independence supporters of Donetsk and Luhansk is generally holding, shelling in Donbas has stopped as the truce came in force on midnight, a spokesperson at the Kiev special operations headquarters said Sunday.But a day earlier Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and US President Barack Obama, during a meeting by phone, agreed on the ...
READ MORE
Afghanistan: The War That Shames America
After 17 bloody years, the longest war in US history continues without relent or purpose in Afghanistan.There, a valiant, fiercely-independent people, the Pashtun (Pathan) mountain tribes, have battled the full  might of the US Empire to a stalemate that has so far cost American taxpayers $4 trillion, and 2,371 dead and 20,320 wounded soldiers.  No one knows how many Afghans have died. The number is kept secret.Pashtun tribesmen in the Taliban alliance and their allies are fighting to oust all foreign troops from Afghanistan and evict the western-imposed and backed puppet regime in Kabul that pretends to be the nation’s ...
READ MORE
The Origins of Latvian, Lithuanian and Estonian Nations
America’s Secret Planned Conquest of Russia
Memorial Day Hypocrisy
Kosovo: An Evil Little War (Almost) All US Candidates Liked
America and the Great Abdication: Don’t Mistake Donald Trump’s Withdrawal from the World for Isolationism
Five, Still Alive US Warmongering Presidents
Remember the Golan Heights?
Islamic State Top Dog from Kosovo Returns to Europe with 400 Jihadis
Save Donbass People from Ukrainian Euromaidan Army
The Albanian Question in the Balkans
The Geopolitics of American Global Decline: Washington vs China in the 21st Century
Albanian Terrorists as Official NATO Peacekeeping Mission in Kosovo Members
US Had a ‘Pretty Supportive Attitude’ Toward Fascism in 1930s
Serbia’s Sovereignty as a Nation State: Serbia does not need a ‘Dialogue’ on Kosovo
The Basic Guidelines Through the Kosovo Question
The Dirty War on Syria
A Look at “Kill Anything that Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam”
The 6 Reasons China and Russia are Catching Up to the U.S. Military
Obama’s ‘Big Lie’: US has Supplied Ukraine with Arms from the Start
Afghanistan: The War That Shames America
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