The Vietnam War was worse than most people think

by on August 15, 2013 at 6:53 am in Books, History, Political Science | Permalink

That is the central message of the new and excellent Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam, by Nick Turse.

For the entire course of the war, Turse considers an estimate of 2 million civilian Vietnamese dead and 5.3 million civilian wounded.  Of course by no means were all of those the result of U.S. military action but many were.  Here is a staggering estimate:

…between 1965 and 1968, thirty-two tons of bombs per hour were dropped on the North.

And yet, in fact, even more tonnage was dropped on the South, the ostensible ally!  The total quantity of explosives dropped is estimated to have been equal to 640 Hiroshima-sized atomic bombs.

There is a very good review of this book here.

Andrew' August 15, 2013 at 8:02 am

As a wise man once said, if you didn’t assume such, shame on you. It’s the simplest of principal-agent problems.

Clayder August 15, 2013 at 8:09 am

This is not new or even hard to find information on the Vietnam War.

That it is perceived to be so … reveals much about American (and human) culture.

The costs, tragedy and lessons of individual wars are soon forgotten– paving the way for the next war, that will also be forgotten.

Few Americans know the general cost and body-count of any major war, even fewer care. The Internet-Age of instant information has not affected this ignorance.

The vast treasure and blood expended in Vietnam accomplished nothing. But those in Federal power who drove us to the equally pointless Iraq War… had lived through the Vietnam War period — but had learned absolutely nothing about war.
The cycle seems perpetual.

Ted Craig August 15, 2013 at 8:36 am

Even when they know the body count, it usually only the military body count. The civilians who died when Atlanta or Dresden burned are rarely counted.

Nigel August 15, 2013 at 8:54 am

Have you read the book ?
There is a considerable amount of relatively new information in it – which was indeed hard to find because the military buried it for thirty years.

The bombing is fairly well known.
Less so is the regularity of incidents like My Lai, which was far from an aberration.
http://www.thenation.com/article/my-lai-month#

BenSix August 15, 2013 at 12:39 pm

Less so is the regularity of incidents like My Lai, which was far from an aberration.

I suspect that similar discoveries will be made in the decades after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Crimes such as those in Haditha were widely denounced but atrocities elsewhere seem to have been quietly obscured.

Ian Maitland August 15, 2013 at 8:43 pm

“Less so is the regularity of incidents like My Lai which was far from an aberration”

Can you support this claim with facts — either in this book or elsewhere.

Given the intense media scrutiny of the war I doubt many such incidents escaped being caught.

Barry August 16, 2013 at 6:58 am

Read the book.

“Given the intense media scrutiny of the war I doubt many such incidents escaped being caught.”

If somebody were to sweep through a village and systematically kill everybody there, where would this ‘intense media scrutiny’ come from?
Press would have to be there to get pictures; the troops involved would have incentives to keep quiet, and anything they did report would be investigated/denied by the chain of command.

Barry August 16, 2013 at 6:56 am

I had heard the the reason that Haditha wasn’t investigated earlier is that it wasn’t an aberration for a ‘skirmish’ to result in dead ‘terrorist’ women, children, old men – but men of military age.

mm August 17, 2013 at 8:35 am

did you hear it at a “winter soldier” reunion?

rjs August 15, 2013 at 8:57 am

how many afghani mountains did we Tomahawk at a half billion a crack in an attempt to drive bin ladin out of his cave?

T. Shaw August 15, 2013 at 11:07 am

Now I get it!

The high cost of missiles is the reason they couldn’t zap Usama in 2002.

That would be $500,000,000.00 per missile. Say, the pentagon budgte in 2002 was $500,000,000,000.00. The Pentagon could have shot 1,000 missiles and it wouldn’t have any money left to pay Private Snuffy.

Vietnam was a shiity war,. But, it was the only one we had, you economist.

Don’t ask how you could shoot women and children.

A. Edwards August 15, 2013 at 2:27 pm

You’re only off by 3 orders of magnitude. The actual cost of a Tomahawk missile is approximately $570,000.00 (five hundred seventy thousand dollars). A 1,000 missiles would have been just over half a billion dollars.

I think the missiles are more accurate than this comment.

Mike August 16, 2013 at 10:10 am

Being intimately involved with various cruise missle projects, i can assure you that the actual on-target cost of a cruise missile is no where near $500,000K or $570K. Always amusing to see people pull numbers out of their butt only to be contradicted by people randomly pulling numbers off the internet; i’m not sure which is more pathetic.

The bottom line is that killing people in a predictable and repeatable manner is far more expensive than almost anyone realizes. That’s especially true when they’re expecting you to try.

Renaud August 15, 2013 at 8:57 am

At least that war was official. More bombs were dropped over Laos or Cambodia during the course of the Indochina conflicts than over Vietnam, or for that matter than during the whole of WW2. Check this presentation on the case of Laos and the economic impact to this day: http://www.slideshare.net/rdavout/uxo-visualization

Nigel August 15, 2013 at 9:02 am

Have you read the book ?

There is much that is “new” in it, based on years of research into unpublished documents. You can get a flavour of it here:
http://www.thenation.com/article/my-lai-month#

I thought I was pretty well informed about Vietnam, but there was much in the book which surprised me.

Crossi August 16, 2013 at 11:11 pm

Actually, there is not much that is new. Much of this was known and documented by the GI resistance movement. See the critical review of the book by someone who was there at the creation of the GI resistance to the war in Viet Nam.

http://www.inthemindfield.com/2013/04/05/an-enfant-terrible-stumbles-upon-the-vietnam-war/

Mm August 15, 2013 at 9:51 am

If it is positively reviewed in the Nation & has anything to do with the Cold War, you can safely assume it is garbage. The Nation has continued to provide only hack coverage on Cold War issues. I stopped listening to them after they tried to slime the returning Vietnam war POWs who recounted the torture they suffered.

Z August 15, 2013 at 10:47 am

The irony is Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor and part owner of The Nation, is the daughter of Bill vanden Heuvel was the top aide to Wild Bill Donovan, the father of the CIA. He later went on to run a CIA front group that funded groups fighting various Cold War battles. Katrina is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

As is always the case with our elites, the gap between what they say and what they do is often very large.

athEIst August 15, 2013 at 10:51 am

Like the “hero” McCain. They were so mean to him and he had only been dropping bombs on them. I would have eviscerated him in public in Hanoi and sent video of it. But I’m so mean.

Cliff August 15, 2013 at 1:05 pm

He was a prisoner of war. Are you suggesting that we rescind the Geneva convention and that all prisoners of war be tortured and executed?

J1 August 15, 2013 at 7:15 pm

NVN honored the Geneva convention rights of American POWs?

Barry August 16, 2013 at 7:00 am

What sort of stuff did we hear for the past decade?

The Geneva Convention is quaint.
This is a new kind of war.
We can save countless lives through torture.

Foster Boondoggle August 15, 2013 at 1:52 pm

No need to trouble yourself with the facts of history (as documented in US military archives) when you can just turn up the volume on Fox and drown out whatever it is the commies are saying.

albert magnus August 15, 2013 at 11:19 am

When I read things like this, I see no context for the violence. The North Vietnamese army and the Viet Cong were not nice people. They could have stopped the war by not going back to North Vietnam and disarming. This seems not to come up. We did have allies in South Vietnam who did not want the Viet Cong or North Vietnamese to run their country.Those people don’t come up either. The US seems to be doing all this killing because its bored.

Also, the review seems to say there aren’t enough memoirs about Vietnam when there are many excellent ones. Not sure what he is saying there.

I would like to see a review by someone like Pat Lang, who was a Vietnam vet and a very knowledgeable person about military affairs.

athEIst August 15, 2013 at 12:47 pm

Yes, armies and guerillas are not nice people.
Yes, the enemy can always stop the war by surrendering
Yes, our allies wanted to run(loot) the country themselves.
Yes, these things did not come up, because they are obvious and stupid.
Yes, The US seems to be doing all this killing because its bored.
Forgot your apostrophe there, chap.

mm August 15, 2013 at 1:27 pm

forgot your ethics earlier, athEIst- John McCain’s actions in the Vietnam war are nowhere near as reprehensible as the North Vietnamese gov’t use of torture on POWs as a matter of policy. Next, I suppose you will say “Bush did it etc”-not equivalent. Lawful American combatants, held as POWs, were tortured & systematically abused for propaganda reasons alone. In almost all cases, the POWs held no actionable intelligence-therefore you can’t invoke the ticking time bomb analogy- furthermore many were tortured long after capture when it would be clear they had no current information.. Your lack of (at least moral) seriousness is demonstrated by accusing the US of engaging in combat d/t boredom.

Barry August 16, 2013 at 7:02 am

mm August 15, 2013 at 1:27 pm

” forgot your ethics earlier, athEIst- John McCain’s actions in the Vietnam war are nowhere near as reprehensible as the North Vietnamese gov’t use of torture on POWs as a matter of policy. Next, I suppose you will say “Bush did it etc”-not equivalent.”

Actually, it’s 100% equivalent, by law and morality.

And in addition, the US used torture on pretty much random guys, for random reasons – read up on Abu Ghraib.

mm August 16, 2013 at 10:32 am

not at all equivalent- read about illegal vs legal combatant status. The Gitmo detainees etc, are ILLEGAL combatants & hence have fewer “rights” than legal combatant POWs. While many in the Euro left want to remove the differences they are wrong to try to do so. You can debate the US use of “enhanced interrogation” but it is totally separate from what the NVA did. The attempt to conflate them is improper-altho common.

mm August 16, 2013 at 10:16 pm

in addition, Barry Abu Ghraib was not official policy sanctioned by the national command authority- but the mistreatment of Vietnam war POWs was-and that is a crucial distinction. No NVA officer was punished b/c of their actions unlike the US Armies actions against Gen Karpinski. That is the difference between My Lai and Katyn etc- we punished the transgressors.

Cliff August 15, 2013 at 2:25 pm

But North Vietnam was the aggressor. We couldn’t just end the war unilaterally, they could. I mean, we could (and did) pull out and let our allies be slaughtered, but our allies couldn’t stop it. They were trying to stop it by defending themselves.

Foster Boondoggle August 15, 2013 at 3:08 pm

Yes of course. We had to kill the villagers in order to save them. Also torture those terrrists in Abu Ghraib.

Cliff August 15, 2013 at 4:44 pm

Really? What part of my post made you think I condone killing innocent people?

mpowell August 20, 2013 at 5:06 pm

By allies I suppose you are referring to the puppet government that we installed to forestall a popularly elected communist government ruling a united Vietnam. This is no Korean War scenario. Calling North Vietnam the aggressor and leaving it at that is just bad history.

sourcreamus August 15, 2013 at 11:42 am

In WW2 civilians casualties are estimated at over 40 million, but people remember that as a just war.

athEIst August 17, 2013 at 12:56 pm

Assume Germany wins WWII
In WW2 civilians casualties are estimated at over 40 million, but people remember that as a just war.
It was a just war because Germany had to respond to Britsh and French aggression to deny Germany its rightful Hegemony in Europe and to defeat the Bolshevik hordes to the East.
The winners write the history—A. Hitler.

Bryan Willman August 15, 2013 at 12:19 pm

North Vietnam “won” in the sense they expelled us. Kind of a canonical proof that you can’t really “win” a war…

So here’s another set of upsetting statistics:

Number of people killed in the september 11th terrorist raids? About 3,000.

Number of US soldiers who have died in the retaliatory fighting in Iraq and Afganistan? More than 5,000.

Number of Iraqis and Afgan’s, both nasty terrorists and innocent bystanders killed? Hard to know but 10′s of thousands to hundreds of thousands.

So I am paying taxes to have my brothers and sisters tromp around in these hell holes at great cost in life and money and destruction. Yet if we bring them home, the Taliban, surely about the nastiest group of nut jobs since the NAZI party will likely end up ruling Afganistan. How many young cousins can we lose in such a fight? How many Afgan girls can we watch be murdered for attending school?

Does everything have to be so stupid?

None of this is really news…..

athEIst August 15, 2013 at 12:52 pm

the retaliatory fighting in Iraq .

You can’t retaliate against someone who did not “taliate” you. There is no evidence that Iraq “taliated” us and much that it did not “taliate” us.

Steve Sailer August 15, 2013 at 2:01 pm

“You can’t retaliate against someone who did not “taliate” you.”

+1

Mike August 16, 2013 at 10:18 am

Thanks. Absolutely blows me away how many people, still, probably have no clue what you just said.

Techreseller August 15, 2013 at 12:22 pm

Clayder,

Remember the two main people driving the Iraq war avoided(evaded?) the Vietnam war. They had no personal experience with it. One was drinking and drugging thru that period. The other was staying in whatever school he could to maintain his draft deferment. Mr. Cheney was asked why he did not serve in Vietnam. His response “I had more important things to do at the time”. Made my blood boil then makes it boil now.

For sourcreamus: We had little choice in WWII. That was an existential war. It decided how most of humanity would be governed and treated for the foreseeable future. It was also as close to total war as it gets. Vietnam we had a choice. Did not have to go in. Did not have to stay.

mm August 15, 2013 at 1:50 pm

a load of….. all wars are wars of choice- you can always choose to surrender. GWB served in the AN Guard & tried to transfer to an active unit- but was denied since he was trained in intercepter aircraft-of no use in Vietnam-all withdrawn 1971. How is that dishonorable? The death rate from flying F102s was significant- almost 1/3 of them were lost to accidents (F102 13.69 serious mishaps per 100,000 flight hours-triple the F16). The overall death rate for US servicemen in Vietnam was less than 2%- GWB’s risk of a class A accident was approx 4%. Surely more dangerous than Al Gore’s military service.

Barry August 16, 2013 at 7:04 am

“… all wars are wars of choice- you can always choose to surrender. GWB served in the AN Guard & tried to transfer to an active unit- -…”

Anybody with the thesis that a healthy American man graduating in 1968 just couldn’t get into the war is lying, pure and simple.

The Anti-Gnostic August 15, 2013 at 2:24 pm

We had little choice in WWII. That was an existential war. It decided how most of humanity would be governed and treated for the foreseeable future.

Yes, because the last thing we wanted was the destruction of the classical liberal order and its replacement with managerial super-states, and a united Germany dominating Europe.

Cliff August 15, 2013 at 4:45 pm

Um, what?

Careless August 16, 2013 at 9:36 am

It’s a “they told me if I voted for ______ [something bad that did happen] would happen” joke

Marie August 16, 2013 at 11:40 am

The point’s real overstated, particularly since there’s no reason to think a winning Germany wouldn’t have become even worse than it already was.

But still, can’t deny it’s a good point.

I wonder if it’s easier to fight the good fight than it is to toe the line.

J1 August 15, 2013 at 8:10 pm

Several Air National Guard units were activated and sent to Vietnam, joining an Air National Guard unit was not a reliable way to stay out of the war. Also, F102s were used in Vietnam, including in some unusual roles they weren’t designed for. I don’t know about Cheney, but you really can’t accuse W of “evading”. He may have been drinking a lot though.

Mm August 15, 2013 at 8:34 pm

But all f102s were withdrawn BEFORE GWB would have been able to serve

J1 August 15, 2013 at 11:47 pm

The 102 didn’t cease to exist in 1968 (I think they were pulled in 1968, not 1971. ICBW). Units and aircraft can be sent back into theater as necessary. Again, being in an Air National Guard unit during the Vietnam war was not a reliable way to stay out of the war.

mm August 17, 2013 at 8:33 am

GWB graduated flight training in June 1970-all F102s left Vietnam before then

sourcreamus August 15, 2013 at 11:09 pm

The Vietnam war decided how Vietnam would be governed for the foreseeable future. The wrong people won and the result was concentration camps, hundreds of thousands of people murdered, the boat people, and economic stagnation. It is likely many more civilians were killed in the peace after the war than in the war.

Alan H. August 16, 2013 at 3:11 am

Absolutely. While I was in RVN Mao and his core cadre were still running the Cultural Revolution just over the Chinese border. The Chinese (by recent Vietnamese report) had more than 360,000 forced laborers working the fields of North Vietnam, to free up conscripted Vietnamese to be sent south, The violence subsequent to the US withdrawal is not a secret, was astounding, but did not seem to interest the US media much. My own experiences during the war incline me to believe that Turse’s statement about My Lai-type atrocities being common is a libel. I’m shocked Tyler so blithely endorsed the book.

Of course now Americans are in love with the reality of hundreds of millions of Chinese laborers making life on the dole affordable for a large swath of US non-labor, by containing inflation. Academia seems to support this new love of totalitarian states, which makes sense since academia is prospering, relatively, thanks to more than a trillion dollars of student loans, debt subsumed within our vast national debt by, among others, China. Rare is the day when the NYT features the continuing travels of Chinese “death vans,” or China’s standard abuse of minorities. Several million Tibetans and many many West China Muslims can be brutally oppressed, but that’s apparently a small matter. Sell it enough and people will buy into any narrative. Even Turse’s. The notion that Vietnam was not a proxy war with two sets of committed opponents is absurd.

Marie August 16, 2013 at 3:00 pm

Wow. That was a strong response. Thanks for the impressive perspective.

drycreekboy August 23, 2013 at 2:01 pm

I’m surprised Tyler so blithely endorsed it too. Especially when a knowledgeable scholar of the subject like Gary Kulik has taken the book so much to task.

Part of the reason the NYT set doesn’t talk much about non-American deeds in Asia, both during and after the war, is that the typical, in-the-streets-with-the-masses, anti-war narrative is a primary wellspring of moral authority for what used to call itself the New Left, and it pretty quickly merged with bourgeois, James Restonesqe liberalism during the mid-1970s. Any honest discussion of the relevant facts is naturally uncomfortable.

athEIst August 16, 2013 at 5:17 pm

One was drinking and drugging thru that period.
No he was defending us. He was in the Alabama Air Force reserve(or so it was said). The Viet Cong never invaded Alabama and if they had George W. would have bombed the fuck out of them!

mm August 16, 2013 at 7:40 pm

try a fact- he was in the Texas ANG. You have no proof for he was drinking & drugging thru the period.

Matt Young August 15, 2013 at 12:43 pm

I have LBJ at sixth place among the great genociders.

Roy August 15, 2013 at 1:41 pm

Yet communism, through the labor camps of the 70s and economic retardation killed too. If the RVN had survived and turned into a economic equivalent of Thailand, who would care all these years later.

I don’t actually like to believe the ends justify the means, but it always seemed to me that our real crime in SE Asia was our incompetence. Maybe it is because I grew up with so many Vietnamese refugees, but the cost of losing that war was atrocious, and modern Vietnam is depressing. I can’t help but believe any conceivable noncommunist regime no matter how morally bankrupt and corrupt would be better than how VN and Laos turned out. But then I am someone who looked at the cluster of stupidity and hubris that was Sukarno and has to think that Suharto was the lesser evil, and that is coming from someone whose Indonesian friends and acquaintances are all Overseas Chinese.

Alistair August 15, 2013 at 4:19 pm

+1 Indeed. The biggest losers of Vietnam were the South Vietnamese.

Arjun August 16, 2013 at 1:40 am

Not surprising that many Vietnamese refugees would be rather bitter that the South lost the war. But having said that, most all of the Vietnamese folks I know are pretty incensed at the chaos and carnage that the US sowed during the war.

But I think its specious to argue that “any non-communist country” would be better than a communist one, no matter how corrupt. North Vietnam wasn’t even all that communist; they were more nationalist than anything, as evidenced by their rather rapid transition to markets and liberal policies in the 70s, after experiencing the rather stagnant nature of their attempt at socialism and state planning.

It’s also a massive massive assumption that VN would be so much better if the South had won. It’s more than likely that the cost of “victory” would have been even more bombs, even more bloodshed, and even more economic chaos, and the consolidation of an unpopular, authoritarian junta (not unlike Burma).

Chris August 16, 2013 at 1:41 pm

Really? It’s specious to argue a non-communist country would be better than a communist one? All available evidence we have suggests otherwise. In every single historical “test case” we have, the non-communist version handily beats down the communist version in almost any measure. In every case where a country has gone communist, it has created a worse version of that country, even when the previous rulers have been terrible. Certainly there was a lot of corruption in the South, but there was always incredible corruption in the North as well. It’s just that there were not reports of it given the tremendous censorship and oppression in Hanoi.

It is also a complete fabrication to say that North Vietnam wasn’t all that communist, but nationalist. It was a common statement during the war itself, but after the North Vietnamese won, it became quickly apparent that was not true. Radical communist measures were immediately implemented which is what caused the tragedy of the Vietnamese boat people (over half a million people fled, with tens of thousands tragically drowning). The Communist government murdered over 400,000 people after 1975 and sent 1 million people to gulag/re-education camps. Of course, these kind of measures had already existed in the northern half of the country for twenty years earlier. Stating that the Vietnamese Communists weren’t communist is simply wrong.

The Vietnamese government did initiate some reforms after 1986 (Doi Moi). I suspect your stating of the 70s instead of 80s was a typo, but you are wrong to characterize it as a “rapid transition”, and it was primarily economic, not politcal. The reason they did that is because it was obvious the Communist policies were not working and were destroying the country. Of course, the worse Communist crimes did stop, but that simply moved it from the normal Leninist-Stalinist-Maoist mode og ongoing murder to the Khruschev-Brezhnev mode of mere repression. There was certainly an abandonment of Communist economic policy that lead to an economic revival, but Vietnam is still not a true market economy today. The Vietnamese government has refused further liberalization in the past decade which is one reason why the country has performed poorly in comparison to China which continued its reforms. The government retains a great deal of state economic control and still insists their purpose is to create socialism. Politically, the country is still illiberal with political censorship and allowing no challenge to the ruling party.

Comparison of a theoretical South Vietnamese survival to Burma is weird. While there would obviously be some kind of authoritarian government in South Vietnam similar to pre-democratic South Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Singapore, it’s unlikely it would have ever become anything like Burma. The generals who ran Burma were committed to isolating the country, economic autarky, and committed to “the Burmese Way to Socialism” which was a mix of extreme nationalism, Marxism, and Buddhism. It is hard to see how an American backed South Vietnamese government would be similar. Most likely, it would follow the same path as other American East Asian allies with internal investment, export oriented economy, and gradual democratization. At worst, it might perform like the Philippines, which while comparatively bad to Korea, Taiwan, etc. is still much better than Vietnam today despite having a whole host of issues that Vietnam has never had such as the challenge of dealing with so many islands, various ethnic groups, and ongoing insurgencies.

Alan H. August 16, 2013 at 5:25 pm

Yes.

Steve Sailer August 15, 2013 at 2:23 pm

One of the ironies of history is that the U.S. introduced laser-guided bombs just at the very end of the war, which radically reduced the tonnage of bombs needed to destroy a given target. The history of bombing from roughly 1939 to 1971 is largely that of the bombers trying to blow up, say, a ball-bearing factory, only to wipe out random neighboring orphanages, hospitals, and barbershops, while the actual target is rapidly fixed and comes back online.

Following the North Vietnamese tank offensive of March 1972, the U.S. resumed bombing North Vietnam for the first time in four years. The crucial Dragon’s Jaw railroad bridge south of Hanoi, which had survived 871 sorties in the 1960s and cost 11 American aircraft, was brought down the first time the Air Force got clear enough weather to use laser bombs.

http://www.airforcemag.com/MagazineArchive/Pages/2010/March%202010/0310bombs.aspx

At the strategic level, the U.S. could finally attack Haiphong harbor with less danger of blowing up Soviet supply ships

Thus, the North Vietnam armored invasion of South Vietnam was defeated with only 300 American combat deaths for the entire year.

Ian Maitland August 15, 2013 at 8:48 pm

It is worth mentioning that LBJ personally reviewed the proposed bombing targets and seems to have nixed many of them.

athEIst August 16, 2013 at 5:24 pm

Thus, the North Vietnam armored invasion of South Vietnam was defeated with only 300 American combat deaths for the entire year.
And then we triumphantly liberated the entire country……..

Widgetmaker August 15, 2013 at 2:59 pm

An ill wind blows someone good – lots of profit in them thar bombs.

Marie August 15, 2013 at 3:46 pm

We will never be able to fully evaluate the Vietnam conflict, because the point (many forget) was containment, and there’s no way to know what Asia would have looked like if we’d never set a soldier down in that region. It might look better today, it might have gone much worse. All sources like these can reliably do is document our choices. They can’t tell us definitively whether those choices were in the service of a good or a bad outcome.

In the case of Vietnam, unfortunately, even hindsight isn’t 20/20.

Alistair August 15, 2013 at 4:18 pm

The bomb numbers are not too scary to Operational Analysts with a better grasp of killing by numbers than poor Mr Turse.

You’ll kill one civilian for approximately every ton of dumb bombs from high altitude in an urban area (>2,000 persons sq km). The bombs dropped in the south would be :

1) Overwhelmingly in rural areas with much lower densities
2) Lower altitude / better deliver for tighter TLE and CEP.

I don’t honeslty think they’ll account for more than a few hundred thousand civilians, as opposed to the combatents they were intended for. Of course, thats still lots, but there’s no need to exagerate these things…

Barry August 16, 2013 at 7:06 am

That assumes that you’re not *trying* to kill civilians. Review you numbers for, say, several tons of napalm on a village of several hundred people, at a random time, with no warning.

Foster Boondoggle August 16, 2013 at 3:17 pm

“The bomb numbers are not too scary to Operational Analysts with a better grasp of killing by numbers than poor Mr Turse.”

Get me that binder of “Target Values in Megadeaths” please, General. http://i.imgur.com/N5gmUVJ.jpg

Brandon August 16, 2013 at 3:57 pm

Mr. President, I’m not saying we wouldn’t get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops. Uh, depending on the breaks.

Ralph Hitchens August 15, 2013 at 4:53 pm

If Turse is right, which many of my “grunt” friends on the Vietnam Veterans’ Discussion List doubt, it would seem that something like a quarter of the total Vietnamese population (North & South) became casualties during the war. And My Lai-type events were regular & frequent, even though hardly any Army or Marine Corps veterans have come forward to confirm this supposition.

And let’s be clear about one thing — the North Vietnamese did not eject us from Vietnam. Most American ground forces were withdrawn by President Nixon by the end of 1971 under his “Vietnamization” policy. North Vietnam’s “Easter Offensive” of 1972 failed at a heavy cost to the NVA, supplemented by a skillful bombing campaign (noted above). Two years later the USA stood aside while Hanoi completed its march of conquest, after Nixon had self-destructed and Congress had deeply slashed military aid to South Vietnam. They won the war, no argument there, but we played no military role in the last act.

And gosh, for all the killing and damage we inflicted, it’s remarkable what a forgiving people those Vietnamese are! Americans are welcome over there, veterans in particular, while they don’t have much use for the Russians and Chinese who helped them.

You can’t fight statistics, I guess, but Turse’s war is not the one most veterans remember, I believe.

Cliff August 15, 2013 at 6:20 pm

How many of the vets you know were in the 9th Division? The claim isn’t that massacres were common, but that civilians or people of unknown status were killed casually every day by the 9th Division in the Mekong Delta. All casualties were considered enemy troops in the “Free-fire zone”. Anyone running away was killed. Civilians were forced to trigger mines. Etc.

lxm August 15, 2013 at 7:46 pm

I believe it’s true that to this day birth defects are still being caused by agent orange.

What I have learned from the Vietnam War, at least in hindsight, is that our leaders are willing to send young men and women to their deaths fighting a war that has more to do with esoteric theories, (domino theory), and ego (McNamara) than anything else. As far as I can tell there was no compelling United States interest in fighting in south east Asia.

I am so sorry to see that the United States has decided to unlearn these lessons.

But I am pleased to hear about Nick Turse’s book, even if it is an overstatement. Perhaps some day soon we can stop engaging in such destructive behavior. War should be a last resort, not a first resort.

A Gen Y Worker August 16, 2013 at 1:46 pm

This is because the world is chock-full of esoteric theories, as no one has yet quite figured out how the world works to a perfect degree of certainity.

The US was operating on the assumption of containment and the Soviet Union was doomed to collapsed as long it was not permitted to expand, thus the solution was to deter the USSR EVERYWHERE. There was not a calm, cohesive strategy with set objectives, but a general idea that lent itself to mission creep.

In retrospect, dumb war.

Foster Boondoggle August 16, 2013 at 3:29 pm

Not just in retrospect. A hell of a lot of people right here in the US understood at the time that the South Vietnamese government was corrupt and incompetent. (Does that ring a present-day bell for another place we’ve stupidly gotten ourselves tangled in?) But they were “our bastards”. Plus with the very recent red hysteria (which you can find lingering evidence of right on this comment thread) no Democratic president could extricate the US once we’d gotten involved.

So, yeah, dumb war. Also evil. Is there a better word to suit what Turse describes?

mm August 17, 2013 at 2:47 pm

I dunno- we won the real war- ie the cold war didn’t we? Perhaps Vietnam was a necessary campaign in the larger picture- ie assure the NATO allies that we would fight when needed- also show the Soviets that if we would fight 10 yrs and lose 50K in a secondary theatre -so how much more would we be willing to fighting to save NATO? Turse and similar authors operate from a “monday morning quarterback-fanatsy” world view- in which since we won the Cold War we should have done much less during it. Just like the common refrain from the left if we had known the USSR’s economy was as weak as it actually was (we consistently overestimated its size) than we we would (should have) have spent less on defense-while in truth if we knew that the Soviets were actually spending approx 20% of their GDP on weapons we would have spent MORE- b/c we would have assumed they were gearing up for a war.

Foster Boondoggle August 17, 2013 at 9:12 pm

Read The Book! He’s not “monday morning quarterbacking”. He’s revealed documented first-person evidence of extensive atrocity – of the sort that got Germans and Japanese military leaders executed after WWII – by the US in Vietnam, all the way from grunts up to those directing the action from far away. This is not about the fight against communism. It’s about getting rid of the illusion – shattered again, inevitably, in Iraq and Afghanistan – that American troops are on the side of the angels. The facts from Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and even Korea are that when we get involved in wars half way around the globe involving people whose language and customs are unfamiliar, our troops commit what can only be called atrocities. And the evidence from Vietnam and Iraq is that this is sanctioned right from the top. The only possible conclusions are: (1) continue to get involved in wars all over the world, and accept the reality that we will be sending soldiers to do things that most civilized humans find utterly atrocious, or (2) stop getting involved in wars all over the world.

mm August 17, 2013 at 11:51 pm

reply to the below (since there is no reply feature to the section)–Mr Turse’s crusade to pin atrocities on US forces is well known & long term- and has been rebutted by others (Gary Kulik provides an excellent critique). It is certain that in war abuses & crimes occur- but that is not what Mr Turse alleges- he claims systematic, centrally directed, routine atrocities as a matter of policy- and that is bunk. Many of his alleged atrocities are of the Winter Soldier Investigation variety and are based on exaggerated claims and fails to note US prosecutions. You will note the uniformly leftwing nature of the positive Amazon editorial reviewers- Bill Moyers, Frances FitzGerald, Daniel Ellsberg-heck must have been the editorial board of The Nation. As noted below the ultimate proof that the US was far from the scourge of the earth is Vernon Walter’s famous observation that the massive exodus of refugees started AFTER we were gone. I would not buy the book as it is a dishonor to many men who served honorably. Propaganda attempting to masquerade as serious historical research.

William Sjostrom August 15, 2013 at 9:28 pm

It was Vernon Walters who noted that throughout all the bombings, the South Vietnamese didnot in en masse flee the country. They did that only when the communists took over.

Tom August 15, 2013 at 9:49 pm

Ralph, you’re not quite right: “They won the war, no argument there,”
Remember Paris, 1973 — Peace accords, peace with honor, Nobel Peace Prize for Kissinger.
For Kissinger AND the N. Viet guy, who didn’t show, since he knew the commies were lying, and the Peace Accords were just to get the US Congress to stop supporting the S. Viet people who had been US allies and, after many years, were finally just able and willing to defend themselves, if given external support.

The US and S. Vietnam won the war — but lost the peace. That’s all the fighting AFTER the signed Peace Agreement. Since, unlike Germany (where there are still US troops 70 years later), the US agreed to leave — and the US Congress agreed to NOT honor Nixon’s promises of military aid to the South, immediately after the big Dem win in 1974 (seated and voting in 1975).

The Killing Fields of organized gov’t troops murdering their own people, by the millions in Cambodia, but by the 10s and 100s of thousands into re-education camps by the lying N. Viet commies; those killing fields and reeducation camps caused more of the problems than the whole war. Look at news reports of what Saigon was like in 1974.

In Slovakia, the pre-WW II promise-breaking is called the Munich Betrayal.
What the US needs to remember is the Democratic Party betrayal of S. Vietnamese anti-communists, in favor of lying, murdering, communists.

Had America continued to support capitalism & S. Vietnam, there is little doubt in my mind that the S. Viet people would have followed S. Korea and become another Asian Tiger.

America was in Vietnam fighting against communists, a war against commies. How many innocents must the commies murder before you support fighting them?

The big lesson of Vietnam should probably be: if a people cannot fight for independent democracy themselves, but they are rescued from a dictator, the next few years should probably be with quite limited democracy with an emphasis on developing capitalist, non-gov’t services and a civil societ of agreements (contracts), which the gov’t must enforce when one side violates the terms.

Adrian Turcu August 16, 2013 at 12:45 pm

I have read a lot of books at your recommendation, Tyler, but I don’t know about this one. The author seems to be very ideological, and I am not competent enough to research his every assertion. On the Vietnam war I have read assessments that are very different then his.
Here’s a quote of Turse on the Columbine massacre, on his wiki page (and yes I know it has nothing to do with his book, but it’s not unimportant either):

“Who would not concede that terrorizing the American machine, at the very site where it exerts its most powerful influence, is a truly revolutionary task? To be inarticulate about your goals, even to not understand them, does not negate their existence. Approve or disapprove of their methods, vilify them as miscreants, but don’t dare disregard these modern radicals as anything less than the latest incarnation of disaffected insurgents waging the ongoing American revolution.”

It was probably said, like these things are, in the immediate aftermath, but I don’t trust someone who can utter such immensity to do complicated research on a complicated issue, without considerable bias.

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