New York City
Your lead editorial, “The First 100 Days” [Dec. 1], issues a welcome list of ambitious initiatives that would “get a real start on repairing our nation,” including a renewed war on poverty. No mention, however, of race and racism, despite the fact that a mobilized black community provided the margin between victory and defeat. A colorblind approach will not address the distinct problems African-Americans confront: occupational apartheid that leaves almost half of black men in cities like Chicago and Washington without jobs; the evisceration of affirmative action by all branches of government; mass incarceration that exceeds 2 million, two-thirds of them black or Latino, often for violation of drug laws; rampant discrimination in housing; a scurrilous lack of enforcement of civil rights laws, especially Title VIII. Can we “repair our nation” without confronting the legacy of slavery? Is the colorblind left going to participate in the charade of using Obama to sidestep racial issues? And is the Democratic Party willing to risk a backlash from blacks who feel betrayed by the election of “the first black President”?
What We Did in Vietnam
Laguna Woods, Calif.
Nick Turse’s “A My Lai a Month” [Dec. 1] is the best I’ve ever read regarding the truth of what we did in Vietnam. I served as an Army medic in Vietnam at a place called Bearcat from February to October 1969. I was attached to a unit that supported one of the main assault helicopter companies that did so much of the murder in the Delta for the 9th Infantry operations during the time of Operation Speedy Express. That unit was the 240th Assault Helicopter Company. I recall a door gunner who was known to have killed at least 500, and I recall talk about atrocities committed by the unit. I have many memories.
Shelter Island, N.Y.
I have never heard of Speedy Express, but I do not doubt this report. I was an officer in the 3/47th of the 9th Infantry from December 1967 to June 1968 in the 2nd Brigade under General Ewell. Body count was very important, as was the number of patients we treated as part of the Medical Civil Action Program. The counts were never very accurate, and the numbers were more important than the help we tried to provide to the locals.
I sent this article out to my VFP/IVAW list. Robert McNamara, in the film The Fog of War, says we killed 3.4 million Vietnamese. They died somewhere, and we were the ones who killed them.
In 1993 I published Then the Americans Came, a book of interviews with Vietnamese victims of the war. I am so encouraged to see that an American historian is documenting the atrocities we committed there. I hope one day Nick Turse’s work will be required reading in schools (mine too, for that matter). His information was not news to me–and shouldn’t be news to anyone who had a TV set in the 1960s and ’70s. But the specifics (the perps, the cover-up, etc.) are so important, and so horrifying. I visited many “My Lais.” Everyone I encountered in Vietnam knew about or survived the slaughter that occurred everywhere the Americans and their allies touched down, and the bombing slaughter everywhere else. This article made me furious all over again. Thank you.
I recall my 1968-69 experience with the 196th LIB. As the liaison with the 196th in Hiep Duc, my biggest challenge was stopping the atrocities by US troops in the village. I finally stopped using the crypto device on my radio to call in reports and begging for intervention. When I called these in in the clear, the killing of civilians diminished. Our fire base saw the daily use of a scope to spot movement in the valley and the use of the quad 50 or other weapons to kill whatever moved. A My Lai a month in the Delta? A My Lai a week throughout Vietnam. I’ve been back dozens of times in my work. It is always in my memory (see www.AgentOrangeChildren.org).
KEN HERRMANN JR.
I was a hanger-on at the Newsweek office in Saigon in 1971-72. One small extra note: I remember Alex Shimkin concluding from his “captured documents” that the peak killing hour was the time when school let out every afternoon in the Delta.
Port Angeles, Wash.
I hope Nick Turse will cover Linebacker 1, a shelling and bombing operation off Quang Tri province, April to September 1972. I was in the Navy, a cook on the destroyer Hamner, DD-718. The North Vietnamese Army had overrun the province, and we were ordered up from the South to shell them. We lobbed in 11,000 forty-pound, five-inch rounds–shrapnel, white phosphorous and lead. The range of our twin mount was five miles. Almost every civilian (rice farmers) in the province lived within five miles of the coast.
The NVA dug in among the civilians so that when we shelled and bombed we’d kill and maim civilians as well, thus undermining the morale of the South Vietnamese Army. It became a one-way, open-ended slugging match, with the civilians caught in the middle. I believe the Hamner killed between 600 and 6,000 civilians. There were twenty other destroyers and cruisers involved, according to my ship’s yearbook. I’ve read our Air Force ran daily bombing missions. Altogether I believe we killed 50,000-100,000 civilians in Linebacker 1, mostly women, children and elderly. It still haunts me, every day.
New York City
During the late ’60s I was friends with an ex-ranger who told me of his Vietnam experiences. As a scout he witnessed a group of Phoenix program members directed by plainclothes Americans enter a village and massacre its people, cutting open pregnant women, etc. Later his unit was brought to the scene and told it had been the work of the Vietcong! Another story concerned the Nungs. He came into a clearing and saw a group of Nungs and Vietcong prisoners. The prisoners were tied up with their weapons pointed at themselves so that any movement would put pressure on the triggers. The Nungs were smoking opium, watching their prisoners slowly kill themselves. The Phoenix and Nung operations were both CIA run. General Ewell was in the fine tradition of the US Cavalry and European colonial warfare, but the Nung and Phoenix programs were something special.
The relevance of Operation Speedy Express to our own time cannot be overlooked. When did the US military undertake a culture of murder against innocents, versus conducting a war where deaths in the heat of battle are expected?
I am not in a position to judge what happens in a firefight, but it is obvious that this same culture of murder seems to have matriculated to private contractors who have been all too satisfied with the way they do business in “protecting” US interests. That contractors such as Blackwater seem to behave with apparent immunity and impunity belies attempted constraints on a culture passed on to its successor. A firefight obligates one to self-defense; however, murder by any other name is still…