Posted 5 years ago on Feb. 14, 2013, 5:08 p.m. EST by LeoYo
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Nick Turse Describes the Real Vietnam War
Thursday, 14 February 2013 10:29 By Bill Moyers, Moyers & Company | Interview and Video
Journalist Nick Turse describes his personal mission to compile a complete and compelling account of the Vietnam War’s horror as experienced by all sides, including innocent civilians who were sucked into its violent vortex.
Turse, who devoted 12 years to tracking down the true story of Vietnam, unlocked secret troves of documents, interviewed officials and veterans — including many accused of war atrocities — and traveled throughout the Vietnamese countryside talking with eyewitnesses to create his book, Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam.
“American culture has never fully come to grips with Vietnam,” Turse tells Bill, referring to “hidden and forbidden histories that just haven’t been fully engaged.”
BILL MOYERS: Just like Susan Crawford, my next guest has been driven to tell a story the powers-that-be would rather we forget. He found it by chance in documents buried deep in the recesses of the National Archives in our nation’s capital. The discovery led him on a journey of twelve years that has now concluded with this beautifully written account of ugly horrors, "Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam," by Nick Turse.
There have been many memorable accounts of the terrible things done in Vietnam – memoirs, histories, documentaries and movies. But Nick Turse has given us a fresh holistic work that stands alone for its blending of history and journalism, for the integrity of research brought to life through the diligence of first-person interviews. Those interviews skillfully unlock the memories of American warriors and expose the wounds that to this day still scar the hearts and minds of villagers who survived the scorched earth of Vietnam. Here is a powerful message for us today, a reminder of what war really costs. Ironically, Nick Turse wasn’t even around as the Vietnam War raged. He was born in 1975, the year it ended. Not until 25 years later, while pursuing his PhD in sociomedical sciences, did he discover the secret trove of documents that sent him on this long search. In addition to two earlier books and countless articles and essays, Nick Turse is managing editor of TomDispatch.com – the indispensable website if you want the news powerful people would prefer to keep hidden.
Nick Turse's highly praised account of the atrocities committed by the US in Vietnam - "Kill Anything That Moves" - sets the precedent for today's war on terror. Get this important new perspective on the Vietnam War directly from Truthout for a minimum donation of $35.00 (including shipping and handling). Nick Turse, welcome.
NICK TURSE: Thanks so much for having me on.
BILL MOYERS: Of the more than 30,000 nonfiction books that have been published since the end of the war, this is one of the toughest. How did you come to write it? You weren’t even born until the year the war ended in 1975.
NICK TURSE: I really stumbled upon this project. I was a graduate student when I began it. I was working on a project on post-traumatic stress disorder among U.S. Vietnam veterans. And I would go down to the National Archives. Just outside of D.C. I was looking for hard data to match up with, you know, self-report material, what veterans told us about their service. And on one of these trips, I was down there for about two weeks. And about every research avenue that I had pursued was a dead end. And I finally went to an archivist that I worked with there.
And I said to him, "I can't go back to my boss empty-handed. I need something, at least a lead." And he, you know, said a few words to me that really changed my life. He said, "Do you think that witnessing war crimes could cause post-traumatic stress?" And I said, "You know, that's an excellent hypothesis. What do you have on war crimes?"
And within an hour, I was going through a collection of boxes, thousands and thousands of pages of documents. To call it, you know, an information treasure trove is the wrong phrase. It was a horror trove. These were reports of massacres, murders, mutilation, torture. And these were investigations that were carried out by the U.S. military during the war. A collection of documents called The Vietnam War Crimes Working Group Collection. And this was a taskforce that was set up in the Pentagon. And it was designed to track war crimes cases in the wake of the exposure of the My Lai Massacre.
BILL MOYERS: Where 500 men, women, and children were murdered by American G.I.s.
NICK TURSE: That's right. The military basically, what they wanted to do was make sure they were never caught flatfooted again by an atrocity scandal. So in the Army Chief of Staff's Office, there were a number of Army colonels who worked to track all war crimes allegations that bubbled up into the media that GIs and recently returned veterans were making public. And they tracked all these. And whenever they could, they tried to tamp down these allegations.
BILL MOYERS: The book, your book is very important to me. I was there at the White House in the 1960s, when President Johnson escalated the war. My own great regret is that I didn't see the truth of the war in time didn't see what was happening there. And yet, as I said, you didn't even come to the experience until after it was all over. And yet you have become obsessed with telling this story. You had no money. You had no advance. You didn't, you had no means of support when you left graduate school to do this.
NICK TURSE: That's right. But I thought that this story was, I really thought it was just too important. And one Vietnam War historian that I, you know, really respected recommended that I pursue it. And once I did, once I got involved with it, you know, I could never get those records out of my head. And, you know, then I went you know, I traveled the country. I spoke to a lot of American witnesses and perpetrators.
BILL MOYERS: There are 80 pages of notes in here, tiny little notes. You seem almost determined that nobody would accuse you of not having sourced the information.
NICK TURSE: Well, I know that this it's not a popular narrative of the war. And you know, it's they're hard truths. And I know it's you know, there are a lot of people who are predisposed to disbelieve this. It is in many cases, it's shocking. And it's hard to believe. This isn't the type of warfare that most Americans think that their fellow Americans pursue.
So I wanted to make sure that it was documented as meticulously as I could. And this is the story of Vietnam veterans told by Vietnam veterans. I used you know, hundreds of sworn statements, sworn testimony that active-duty GIs and recently-returned veterans gave to army criminal investigators. So it's the veterans in their own words.
BILL MOYERS: But let me play for you what John Kerry said back in 1971, when he returned from Vietnam and he joined with other Vietnam veterans to talk about the kind of war they had experienced. Here's what he said.
JOHN KERRY TALKING BEFORE THE SENATE: Not isolated incidents, but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis, with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command. It is impossible to the feelings of the men who were reliving their experiences in Vietnam. They relived the absolute horror of what this country, in a sense, made them do. They told stories that, at times, they had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam.