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 Legacy of Slobodan Milosevic
Slobodan Milosevic was faced with an extremely serious and deadly situation in the 1990s. Indeed, that applied to all Serbs at that time in the Balkans, and still does to this very day. Mr Milosevic was up against the West, led by America and followed by the European Union. After realising that the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia could not be saved, Milosevic did everything he could to safeguard the newly created Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and protect Serbs living in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo and Metohija. And because of that, the West imposed crippling and merciless sanctions on 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
Impending Threat to Canadian Democracy: Harper Government’s “Anti-Terrorism Act”
The Harper government’s Bill C-51, or Anti-Terrorism Act, has been in the public domain for over a month. Long enough for us to know that it subverts basic principles of constitutional law, assaults rights of free speech and free assembly, and is viciously anti-democratic. An unprecedented torrent of criticism has been directed against this bill as the government rushes it through Parliament. This has included stern or at least sceptical editorials in all the major newspapers; an open letter, signed by four former Prime Ministers and five former Supreme Court judges, denouncing the bill for exposing Canadians to major violations of ...
READ MORE
De-Recognition of Kosovo: US Tries to Stem the Tide
The international community is accustomed to the so-called “checkbook diplomacy” that has been used by China and Taiwan to pilfer each other’s diplomatic allies by exchanging diplomatic recognition for generous financial assistance packages. However, this same battle for diplomatic recognition and de-recognition is being played out between Serbia and its breakaway province of Kosovo. The United States and much of NATO has not only granted Kosovo diplomatic recognition over the objection of Serbia but has also pressured other countries to recognize Kosovo’s independence. This process has hit a major stumbling block amid charges from various parties that fake diplomatic letters ...
READ MORE
Who is Profiting from the Rise of Fascism?
On October 21, 2016 a typical Estonian school witnessed an opening ceremony of the bronze bust of Harald Nugiseks. He was an SS-Oberscharführer (Sergeant) in World War II, who served voluntarily in the 20th Waffen Grenadier Division of the Waffen SS. According to the director of this education institution, the memory of Harald Nugiseks will lead to the increase in feelings of patriotism among students and must increase their willingness to protect their country in case of external aggression. So who is this Nugiseks? – During the Second World War, he was awarded with the second highest military award in the ...
READ MORE
America’s Culture War Mercenaries
USAID is spending $300,000 to fight traditional Christian morality in the Republic of Macedonia (a href=”http://www.shutterstock.com/pic-367912520/stock-photo-puzzle-with-the-national-flag-of-macedonia-and-dollar-banknote-concept.html?src=1NQf52M43o22eQ682DptgQ-1-66″>esfera/Shutterstock). A reader passes along a government document putting out bids for a contract. Here’s the top of the document:   Apparently the (former Yugoslav) Republic of Macedonia, a small Balkan nation that emerged from the breakup of Yugoslavia, is insufficiently progressive on LGBT issues. So the American government is spending $300,000 to undermine the traditional Orthodox Christian culture of the country. Excerpts from the document (emphases mine): Macedonia has ratified the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Human Rights Convention. Through ratification of these human rights treaties, ...
READ MORE
Thank You, Edward S. Herman (1925-2017) – Tireless Champion of Peace
Edward S. Herman died on November 11, 2017, at the age of 92. Fortunately, it was a peaceful death for a supremely peaceful man. In all he did, Ed Herman was a tireless champion of peace. Ed Herman could be considered the godfather of antiwar media critique, both because of his own contributions and because of the many writers he encouraged to pursue that work. Thanks to his logical mind and sense of justice, he sharply grasped the crucial role and diverse techniques of media propaganda in promoting war. He immediately saw through lies, including those so insidious that few dare ...
READ MORE
The Painful Truth: War is a Racket on Behalf of Wall Street and the Bankers
“We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth…For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it might cost, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst, and to provide for it.” —Patrick Henry, Virginia Convention, 23 March, 1775 “The completeness of the victory is established by this fact: that of the six hundred Moros (Muslims living in the southern Philippines at the beginning of the 20th century) not one was left alive. The brilliancy of the victory is established by this other fact, to wit: that of our six hundred heroes only fifteen lost their ...
READ MORE
NATO’s War against Yugoslavia was Based on Lies
Germany joined the war against Yugoslavia under the pretense of fabricated facts. Sensational confession of German policeman Henning Hentz who served in the OSCE in Kosovo in the 90s confirmed that.The reason here is that photographs taken by Hentz in late January 1999 were used by then German Defence Minister Rudolf Scharping to justify the immediate interference of NATO in the Kosovo conflict. He presented the photographs of the militants killed in Rugovo as photos of innocent Albanian victims.What did really happen in Kosovo in late January of 1999, several months before NATO launched its operation against Yugoslavia?According to Serbian ...
READ MORE
Crimea: Was it Seized by Russia, or did Russia Block its Seizure by the U.S.?
Both before and after Crimea left Ukraine and joined Russia in a public referendum on 16 March 2014, the Gallup Organization polled Crimeans on behalf of the U.S. Government, and found them to be extremely pro-Russian and anti-American, and also anti-Ukrainian. (Neither poll was subsequently publicized, because the results of each were the opposite of what the sponsor had wished.) Both polls were done on behalf of the U.S. Government, in order to find Crimeans’ attitudes toward the United States and toward Russia, and also toward Ukraine, not only before but also after the planned U.S. coup in Ukraine, which occurred ...
READ MORE
Chile: September 11, 1973
Forward Forty-three years ago on September 11, 1973, the Chilean military led by General Augusto Pinochet, crushed the democratically elected Unidad Popular government of Salvador Allende. The objective was to replace a progressive, democratically elected government by a brutal military dictatorship. The military coup was supported by the CIA. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger played a direct role in the military plot. (Nixon and Kissinger, image right) For details see: http://globalresearch.ca/articles/KOR309A.html  and references below. In the weeks leading up the coup, US Ambassador Nathaniel Davis and members of the CIA held meetings with Chile’s top military brass together with the leaders of the National Party and the ...
READ MORE
US, UK, & EU, are Now Dictatorships
How can it be that in virtually all of the Presidential-candidate head-to-head Democratic versus Republican polling that was done of both Democratic and Republican candidates during the primaries, the preferred Democratic candidate against any one of the Republican candidates was Bernie Sanders, but he almost certainly won’t be that Party’s nominee (and there’s more on that here); and the preferred Republican candidate against either one of the Democratic candidates was John Kasich, but he certainly won’t be the Republican nominee? Sanders and Kasich also scored the highest in his respective Party for net favorability rating, but almost certainly neither candidate will ...
READ MORE
The Real Reasons Why FBI Director James Comey Reopened the Hillary Email Investigation
This last Friday it became public record that FBI Director James Comey reopened the Hillary Clinton email server investigation after repeatedly testifying before Congress and the world up to last July that he’d closed the case, after in his words not finding sufficient evidence of “any criminal wrongdoing” to indict her in spite of her four years as Secretary of State egregiously breaching our national security:’  -committing obstruction of justice and willful tampering with evidence, -deleting 30,000 emails after receiving a court subpoena constituting destruction of evidence, -not to mention repeatedly engaging in perjury before Congress and the FBI. But obviously a federal investigation still in process in late June never stopped Bill Clinton’s illegal ...
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
Democracy
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 Save
READ MORE
Where do Matters Stand? Does the U.S. Intend to Wage War on Russia?
On the eve of World War II the United States was still mired in the Great Depression and found itself facing war on two fronts with Japan and Germany. However bleak the outlook, it was nothing compared to the outlook today.  Has anyone in Washington, the presstitute Western media, the EU, or NATO ever considered the consequences of constant military and propaganda provocations against Russia? Is there anyone in any responsible position anywhere in the Western world who has enough sense to ask: “What if the Russians believe us? What if we convince Russia that we are going to attack her?” The ...
READ MORE
US Human Rights Violations: Geneva Centre for Justice
Universal Periodic Review reveals longstanding unwillingness to fully commit to obligations of pertinent human rights treaties. On 11 May 2015, the United States of America participated in its second Universal Periodic Review (UPR). The Universal Periodic Review is meant to be a mechanism by which all UN Member States are periodically assessed on their human rights record. The process allows countries to present a report of their efforts to promote and improve human rights within their country. It also affords the Working Group of the UPR, comprised of member countries of the Human Rights Council, the opportunity to assess the human ...
READ MORE
Living Under Libyan “Dictator” Muammar Gaddafi
Origins of images: Facebook, Twitter, Wikimedia, Wikipedia, Flickr, Google, Imageinjection & Pinterest. 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
November 22, 1963: Remembering JFK’s State-Sponsored Assassination
I won’t ever forget hearing the news – working in Pittsburgh as a marketing analyst, returning from lunch with colleagues when we it was announced. November 22, 1963 was a Friday. The working day ended once the news broke, everyone in my department stunned, unable to focus on anything else. It was too early to know what evidence later revealed. Lee Harvey Oswald was a convenient patsy, uninvolved in what happened, a state-sponsored assassination, CIA and secret service dirty hands likely responsible. Killing him mattered. Things might have been different had he lived, at least for a time. November 22, 1963 remains a ...
READ MORE
Bearing the Burden
This article about the Untied States bearing the burden with allies first appeared in the Fall 2016 issue of Providence‘s print edition that was released last December. To read the original in a PDF format, here. To receive a complete copy of future issues as they are published, subscribe here. “It’s important to make sure our alliances are as strong as they possibly can be,” a presidential candidate declared not long ago. He promised to “work with our European friends” and explained that “building a durable peace will require strong alliances.”[i] Striking a similar theme, another candidate promised “to work in concert with ...
READ MORE
The Legacy of Slobodan Milosevic
America and the Great Abdication: Don’t Mistake Donald Trump’s Withdrawal from the World for Isolationism
Impending Threat to Canadian Democracy: Harper Government’s “Anti-Terrorism Act”
De-Recognition of Kosovo: US Tries to Stem the Tide
Who is Profiting from the Rise of Fascism?
America’s Culture War Mercenaries
Thank You, Edward S. Herman (1925-2017) – Tireless Champion of Peace
The Painful Truth: War is a Racket on Behalf of Wall Street and the Bankers
NATO’s War against Yugoslavia was Based on Lies
Crimea: Was it Seized by Russia, or did Russia Block its Seizure by the U.S.?
Chile: September 11, 1973
US, UK, & EU, are Now Dictatorships
The Real Reasons Why FBI Director James Comey Reopened the Hillary Email Investigation
Human Rights Violations: North Korea vs the U.S.
Democracy
Where do Matters Stand? Does the U.S. Intend to Wage War on Russia?
US Human Rights Violations: Geneva Centre for Justice
Living Under Libyan “Dictator” Muammar Gaddafi
November 22, 1963: Remembering JFK’s State-Sponsored Assassination
Bearing the Burden
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