"Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam"
By Nick Turse
Metropolitan Books (Henry Holt and Co.), 372 pages. Hardcover, $30.CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The infamous My Lai Massacre, where the U.S. Army's Charlie Company methodically killed more than 500 unarmed civilians and burned down their homes on March 15, 1968, actually distorts our views of what happened in Vietnam.
At My Lai, the Vietnamese killed were almost exclusively women, children and old men, according to a military investigation. Women and young girls in the town were also raped.
Reporter Seymour Hersh won a Pulitzer Prize in 1970 for his central role in uncovering what happened in My Lai.
But paradoxically, focusing on that horrible event and treating it as unique, has distorted public understanding of what actually happened, limiting the exposure of thousands of other war crimes in Vietnam.
"Today, histories of the Vietnam War regularly discuss war crimes of civilian suffering only in the context of a single incident: the My Lai massacre," Nick Turse writes in his new book, "Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam."
The Pentagon, Turse added, portrayed My Lai as an "aberration, rather than part of a consistent pattern of criminality resulting from policies set at the top."
Year after year, the U.S. military routinely murdered, imprisoned, tortured and raped civilians. Troops routinely destroyed fields, polluted rivers, burned down homes and religious pagodas.
Between 1965 and 1967, 100,000 acres of forests were destroyed. Planes dropped Agent Orange to poison rice fields. Water buffalos and pigs were routinely killed in their fields and pens. Fishermen and young boys on riverbanks were shot to death.
American soldiers typically found it nearly impossible to distinguish the "enemy" -- members and allies of the National Liberation Front, or the "Vietcong," as well as the North Vietnamese -- from South Vietnam's general population.
When U.S. military leaders placed a greater emphasis on increasing "body counts," tens of thousands of innocent civilians were killed.
Soldiers responsible for those deaths were routinely exonerated or praised. And the American press routinely ignored violent acts against innocent Vietnamese.
"Throughout the early years of the Vietnam War, civilian suffering was everywhere and yet nowhere in the American media."
Deliberate killings, Turse writes, "were widespread, routine and directly attributable to U.S. command policies."
"The Americans turned this peaceful countryside into a land of endless carnage. A whole village could be completely wiped off the map in minutes by a single aircraft sortie or in a few hours by ground troops," Turse writes, "Few reporters were around to witness the annihilation, so what went on in Vietnam's killing fields often stayed there."
When terrified peasants ran from American troops, they were routinely treated as "legitimate targets."
Destruction of the countryside destroyed jobs, limiting the ability of local families to support themselves. By the end of the war, up to 500,000 Vietnamese women turned to prostitution to make money.
"Kill Anything That Moves" exhaustively documents "deliberate killings of noncombatants" by American and South Korean soldiers in Vietnamese villages and hamlets, such as: