Anything that moves

There was an interview on Fresh Air yesterday with a guy who’s written a book about civilian massacres and other atrocities in the Vietnam War, Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam. Apparently the received wisdom is that My Lai was an aberration. I actually didn’t know that – I thought My Lai was just the one that got a lot of publicity but that there were plenty of others. It’s the nature of that kind of war, and of that particular war. I even thought I remembered reporting on it from the time (yes I’m that ancient!), but the author, Nick Turse, says there wasn’t much in the US. (But there was in the foreign press, he says. Hmm. In that case surely at least lefty outlets picked up on it, in which case I probably would have seen some of it, in which case maybe I am remembering correctly. Ramparts, In These Times, Mother Jones – I remember them as paying attention.)

There was a huge archive, and Turse grabbed it, just in time.

When I first found these records I was a graduate student. I was working on another dissertation at the time, and I was about 200 pages in, so I contacted a couple Vietnam War historians that I knew and tried to get them to work on it. … And one of them told me that he thought I should do this, that he was burnt out on the war. He had moved on to another project. … But this was something that I should do … that I should get down there right away.

So I went to my dissertation adviser and I said, ‘Do you think that I can write a book and my dissertation at the same time?’ And he told me that he thought I was crazy, but he said, ‘You know, if it’s that important, then you should shift to this topic.’ And I said to him, ‘OK, but I’ll have to put together a grant proposal.’ … I was a grad student at the time; I didn’t have the funds for this project. He wrote me out a check on the spot and said to get down there right away before these records disappear.

So within 24 hours I was in my car, and I drove down to the National Archives. And I put every cent that he gave me into copying, and I would copy from the moment the Archives opened in the morning until they kicked me out at night. And because I put all the money into copying, I went and slept in my car in the Archives parking lot.

And I did this for a couple of nights, and by the end of it, I had the whole collection. And I thought my adviser was being a little paranoid, but it turned out to be excellent advice, because sometime after I published my first article on this, the records were pulled from the Archives’ shelves. And they haven’t been on the public shelves since.

Well done, good and faithful graduate student.

That’s on the must-read list.


  1. flex says


    So the title of the book is: Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam.
    Authored by: Nick Turse

    Added to the wish list, but my current interests lie elsewhere so it may be awhile before I get to this one.

  2. Pteryxx says

    excerpt of the excerpt:

    In the files of the War Crimes Working Group, for example, I located an exceptionally detailed investigation of a massacre of nearly twenty women and children by a U.S. Army unit in a tiny hamlet in Quang Nam Province on February 8, 1968. It was clear that the ranking offi cer there had ordered his men to “kill anything that moves,” and that some of the soldiers had obeyed. What was less than clear was exactly where “there” was.

    With only a general location to go by — fifteen miles west of an old port town known as Hoi An — we embarked on a shoe- leather search. Inquiries with locals led us to An Truong, a small hamlet with a monument to a 1968 massacre. But this particular mass killing took place on January 9, 1968, rather than in February, and was carried out by South Korean forces allied to the Americans rather than by U.S. soldiers themselves. It was not the place we had been looking for.

    After we explained the situation, one of the residents led us to another village not very far away. It, too, had a memorial — this one commemorating thirty-three locals who died in three separate massacres between 1967 and 1970. However, none of these massacres had taken place on February 8, 1968, either. After interviewing villagers about these atrocities, we asked if they knew of any other mass killings in the area. Yes, they said: not the next hamlet down the road but a little bit beyond it. So on we went. Daylight was rapidly fading when we arrived in that hamlet and found a monument that spelled out the basics of the grim story in spare terms: U.S. troops had killed dozens of Vietnamese there in 1968. Conversations with the farmers made it clear, though, that these Americans were marines, not army soldiers, and the massacre had taken place in August. Such is the nature of investigating war crimes in Vietnam. I’d thought that I was looking for a needle in a haystack; what I found was a veritable haystack of needles.

  3. Simon says

    Ophelia you are correct. The atrocities and the mass genocide that the US inflicted on Indochina, were absolutely reported at the time (because it wasn’t confined to Vietnam).

    Pentagon Papers anyone? Jesus.

    You’re also right about the leftie press. Dissident publications featured highly credible reports as far back as 1964.

    Today, one has only to look at Wikipedia for a few of the gory stats on the million+ Vietnamese casualties (nobody really cared to count in the US it seems) which make the 58,220 meticulously documented US casualties pale in comparison:

    I highly recommend the second half of Manufacturing Consent by Herman/Chomsky which discusses this period with a specific focus of how it was portrayed in the US media. The first half is great too but discusses US involvement in Central America.

  4. F [nucular nyandrothol] says

    Apparently the received wisdom is that My Lai was an aberration.

    Well, there was a lot of denial at the time, and since, but there has been backlash from multiple directions every time atrocities of the Vietnam war are brought forth. Sometimes it is ex-policy makers, sometimes veterans who claim “I wasn’t like that” or “None of that ever happened, never saw it.” (Including vets who weren’t, in fact, terrible soldiers, but who are in denial or simply don’t want to be collateral damage to the idea the atrocities were committed, and it is simply expedient to deny them wholesale.)

    I think it cycles around, and depends on where you get your info, your political/social leaning, and what stories/opinions you listen to.

    This also make me wonder what the facts are about Vietnam vets returning home to face a lot of shit from the public.

  5. anthrosciguy says

    “This also make me wonder what the facts are about Vietnam vets returning home to face a lot of shit from the public.”

    They were mostly treated fine. The “spit on vets” thing is a myth, and that’s been looked into. However, Vietnam vets were treated like shit by some: the Veteran’s Administration denied them treatement and benefits and treated them horribly, and what’s even worse is that the VFW, for many years, fought against Vietnam vets as well, denying them the chance to create VFW posts etc. and siding with the VA on every iussue against Vietnam vets. It was one of the worst instances of vet abuse we’ve seen, from people who should have been sympathetic.

  6. says

    I don’t know WTF people expect from people barely into adulthood. when they are scooped up out of a relatively peaceful life, handed weapons, dropped in a country where they don’t speak the language*, and told that there’s people just over the next rise and lurking in every shadow who want them dead. I was in the Marines, and while I never went to war I worked with and was trained by people who were just back from Desert Storm. They taught us the standard “don’t commit war crimes” thing, and then taught us to sing “napalm sticks to kids.” And the training was intense enough even short-term that people would beat the living shit out of each other over nothing and consequences be damned. Those same people in a combat zone under that mush higher level of stress, and given a target to vent those feelings again? How can systematic atrocities NOT happen?

    I predicted bad shit in the gulf back in 2002-2003 and people accused me of being against the troops. I was just being realistic: you train people to be killers, you can’t expect them to act like cops let alone like “peacekeepers”.

  7. GregB says

    What do I expect? I expect 25-year-old men to not do things like this:

    “His actions would have been inexcusable even if he really had only killed ‘men’ but among the 22 people – at a very conservative estimate – whom he personally shot was a child of about two, who was trying to run away.

    According to a fellow soldier, Calley caught the infant by the arms, swung him into the ditch, and despatched him with a single bullet.”

    I would further expect that someone like this would not merely serve a few years of house arrest, and then have his sentence commutted, and further still I’d prefer that the general public not give free passes to monsters simply because they are acting in war zones–particularly when the claim is made that the reason we are fighting is due to the horrible nature of our enemies (nowever stupidly bogus that claim might be).

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