Category Archives: Vietnam

Kill Anything That Moves Nick Turse Describes the Real Vietnam War

Video

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.”

Posted February 11, 2013
Read the introduction from Nick Turse’s book, Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam.

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Reflections on the Vietnam War: The Things a Warrior Knows

By Ron Kovic
January 20, 2013 “Truthdig” — There is nothing in the lives of human beings more brutal and terrifying than war, and nothing more important than for those of us who have experienced it to share its awful truth.
As the 45th anniversary of my being shot and paralyzed in the Vietnam War approaches, I cannot help but reflect upon those years and the many lessons I have learned. Nearly half a century has passed since I left my house in Massapequa, N.Y., to join the United States Marine Corp and begin an extraordinary journey that led me into a disastrous war that changed my life and others of my generation profoundly and forever.
The nightmares and anxiety attacks for the most part have disappeared, but I still do not sleep well at night. I toss and turn in increasing physical pain. But I remain positive and optimistic. I am still determined to rise above all of this. I know, like so many of my fellow veterans, that my pain and the horrors of my past will always be with me, but perhaps not with the same force and fury of those early years after the war. I have learned to forgive my enemies and myself.
It has been difficult to heal from the war, and I have often dreamed of moving to neutral ground—another country. Yet I have somehow made a certain peace, even in a nation that so often still believes in war and the use of violence as a solution to its problems. There has been a reckoning, a renewal. The scar will always be there, a living reminder of that war, but it has also become something beautiful now, something of faith and hope and love.
I have been given the opportunity to move through that dark night of the soul to a new shore, to gain an understanding, a knowledge, an entirely different vision. I now believe I have suffered for a reason and in many ways I have found that reason to be my commitment to peace and nonviolence.
My life has been a blessing in disguise, even with the pain and great difficulty my physical disability continues to bring. It is a blessing to speak on behalf of peace, to be able to reach such a great number of people. The one gift I was given in that war was an awakening. I endured; I survived and understood. I became a messenger, a living symbol, an example, a man who learned that love and forgiveness are more powerful than hatred, a man who has learned to embrace all men and women as my brothers and sisters.
No one will ever again be my enemy—no matter how hard he or she tries to frighten and intimidate me. No government will ever teach me to hate another human being. I have been given the task of lighting a lantern, ringing a bell and shouting from the highest rooftops, warning the American people and citizens everywhere of the deep immorality and utter wrongness of this violent approach to solving our problems, pleading for an alternative to this chaos and madness, this insanity and brutality. We who have taken our wounds and our sorrows and chosen to make them stand for something better have an obligation to rise above our pain and anguish, to turn the tragedy of our generation into a triumph and learn from the errors of our fathers and ourselves.
No one knows peace or the preciousness of life better than the soldiers who fought in war, or those who have been affected by it directly—the mother of a son who has died, a wife who will never see her husband again, a child who will never have a father, a father who will never hold his son—for it is we who have lived with the physical and emotional scars of war, we who have lived with these wounds every day and felt every morning their weight and pain. It is we who have walked and wheeled through the streets of our country and watched children stare at us and wonder why. And it is we who cry out now for the future, for a world without war. We are the reminders of what war can do, of how it can wound and hurt, and diminish all that is good and human.
We struggle every day to believe in a life that was almost taken away from us. We know that even though we have lost, though parts of our bodies may be missing, though we might not be able to see or feel, we are important men and women with important lessons to teach.
I know war very well. I know it at night when I am sleeping and nightmares still come or in the morning when I wake up and transfer into my wheelchair to start my day. I am happy to be alive, and recently bought a piano and hope to learn to play it someday. I love to play the high notes; they are gentle and soothing to me, almost like the sound of raindrops on my window when I was a boy. Just to touch the keys from time to time helps me to forget the war. The music of the piano fills the air with healing. The past recedes. And sometimes even the nightmares disappear for a while. The sound of a single note gives hope. Somehow we must begin to find the courage to create a better world even if it is with one note or one step.

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"Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam."

By Democracy Now
We’re joined by Nick Turse, managing editor of TomDispatch.com and author of the new book, “Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam.” The title is taken from an order given to the U.S. forces who slaughtered more than 500 Vietnamese civilians in the notorious My Lai massacre of 1968. Drawing on interviews in Vietnam and a trove of previously unknown U.S. government documents — including internal military investigations of alleged war crimes in Vietnam — Turse argues that U.S. atrocities in Vietnam were not just isolated incidents, but “the inevitable outcome of deliberate policies, dictated at the highest levels of the military.”

January 16, 2013  — AARON MATÉ: We are less than a week from President Obama’s second-term inauguration. Two of the leading figures nominated to head the foreign policy establishment have their political roots in the Vietnam War. Chuck Hagel, tapped by President Obama to be secretary of defense, is a former Army sergeant and, if confirmed, will become the first Vietnam War veteran to head the Pentagon.
Obama’s nominee for secretary of state, John Kerry, became one of the most prominent veterans to oppose the Vietnam War after his return. Testifying before the Senate in 1971. Kerry discussed the atrocities unearthed in the Winter Soldier investigation, where over 150 veterans testified to war crimes committed in Southeast Asia.
JOHN KERRY: They told the stories of times that they had personally raped, cut off the 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 a fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country.
AARON MATÉ: That’s John Kerry testifying in 1971 after he returned from Vietnam. Although the Vietnam War is far behind them, Kerry and Hagel will now have to contend with the longest-running war in U.S. history, Afghanistan. President Obama has announced plans to speed up the transfer of formal military control to Afghan forces, but it’s unclear how the new timetable will change operations on the ground as tens of thousands of U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan until the withdrawal deadline of late 2014 and possibly even beyond.
Speaking on Monday after meetings with President Obama, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Afghanistan would be better off without foreign troops.
PRESIDENT HAMID KARZAI: [translated] The main question is that whether by the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan will the situation become insecure. No, by no means. It’s the other way around. Afghanistan will be a secure and better place. We should remove this idea from our mind that if there are no foreign troops in our country, we will not be able to protect the country. That is wrong.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined right now by author and journalist Nick Turse, managing editor of TomDispatch.com. His most recent book is _Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam.” The title is taken from an order given to the U.S. forces who slaughtered more than 500 Vietnamese civilians in the notorious My Lai massacre of 1968. But drawing on interviews in Vietnam and a trove of previously unknown U.S. government documents, including internal military investigations of alleged war crimes in Vietnam, Turse argues that U.S. atrocities in Vietnam were not just isolated incidents but “the inevitable outcome of deliberate policies, dictated at the highest levels of the military.” Nick Turse’s other books include The Case for Withdrawal from Afghanistan and The Complex.
Welcome to Democracy Now!
NICK TURSE: Thanks for having me on.
AMY GOODMAN: So, the foreign policy establishment, if confirmed—Chuck Hagel and John Kerry—both fought in Vietnam. When John Kerry came home, he famously talked about the atrocities that were going on in Vietnam. So, it’s decades later, Nick. There have been tens of thousands of books written about Vietnam. Why did you choose to go there, as well, and write Kill Anything That Moves?
NICK TURSE: Well, you know, as you said, there have been 30,000 books or so written on the war, but none that I found that truly addressed what I believe is the signature aspect of the war, which was Vietnamese civilian suffering. This isn’t just atrocities, the types of things that we heard John Kerry just talking about, but also the systematic use of heavy firepower in the countryside, unrestrained bombing, the use of helicopter gunships, artillery fire—they called it “harassment and interdiction fire,” which was basically just blanketing the countryside with heavy artillery. This was where people lived and people worked, and tremendous numbers of Vietnamese dies as a result.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to My Lai for a minute, the My Lai massacre that took place on March 16th, 1968. But wasn’t until November 12th, 1969, that the world found out about it, when investigative journalist Seymour Hersh broke the story about the massacre and its cover-up. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for the exposé. Democracy Now! spoke to Sy Hersh on the 40th anniversary of the My Lai massacre about what happened.
SEYMOUR HERSH: The analogy with Iraq is pretty acute. Basically, it’s a group of soldiers that landed. They were mostly uneducated high school graduates and dropouts who were told they were fighting communism, going to save America. They got to Vietnam. They spent 10, 11 weeks in the—you know, humping it in the boonies and in the villages and paddies of South Vietnam and never saw the enemy. Maybe they lost 15 or 20 percent of their company through snipers, land mines, etc., but they never engaged. And over the period of 10, 11, 12 weeks, between the period they landed around New Year’s Day of ’68 until March 16th, they became increasingly brutal, so randomly going through a village and whacking people, sometimes an old man they saw. One soldier would just hit him with a rifle butt, and nobody said anything, because what happens inevitably is when you don’t see an organized enemy and you lose people, you lose your buddies and your mates, and you’re angry, you take it out on the villagers, you take it out on the civilian population.
AARON MATÉ: That’s Sy Hersh speaking about the My Lai massacre. And, Nick Turse, in your book, you talk about the testimony of soldiers who actually spoke of a My Lai each month for a year and actually saying that these types of atrocities were carried out by every single unit that was deployed in Vietnam. Can you talk about what you found in the U.S. government archives that speak to this level of killings that you discuss in your book?
NICK TURSE: Sure. This was—when I was a graduate student, I found these records. They had been sitting on the—in the National Archives for years, but no one had worked with them. And it was a secret Pentagon task force called the Vietnam War Crimes Working Group. It was set up in the wake of the My Lai massacre to make sure that the Army was never caught flatfooted again by an atrocity scandal. This was run out of the office of William Westmoreland in the Pentagon, who at the time was the chief of staff. He had previously been the supreme U.S. commander in Vietnam. So he a real stake in finding out what atrocity allegations might bubble up and then tamping down whenever possible.
And this working group put together records of hundreds and hundreds of horrific atrocities. We’re talking about massacres, murder, assault, rape, torture. It was really just—to call it a treasure trove of records is the wrong phrase. It was a horror trove. And when I looked at this, I realized that these records weren’t in the literature anywhere, and I saw that it showed a systematic use of atrocity throughout the countryside. These were atrocities committed by every U.S.—major U.S. Army unit that was involved in the conflict.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to Westmoreland now. Let’s turn to a 1974 American documentary film about the Vietnam War called Hearts and Minds, that was directed by Peter Davis, very well-known film. In this clip, General William Westmoreland, the former commander of the American military operations in the Vietnam War, reveals his views about the Vietnamese people.
GENWILLIAM WESTMORELAND: Well, the Oriental doesn’t put the same high price on life as does the Westerner. Life is plentiful, life is cheap in the Orient. And as the philosophy of the Orient expresses it, life is—is not important.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s General William Westmoreland. Nick Turse?
NICK TURSE: Yes, you know, and the filmmaker, Peter Davis, I actually asked him that question a number of times, to make sure that Westmoreland was—was expressing his views. And this is exactly what he meant to say. And this was—this was the type of mindset that suffused the U.S. military at the time. There was an acronym used, MGR; it was—stood for the “mere gook rule.” This was what the U.S. military was steeped in at the time, a type of racism and dehumanization of the Vietnamese, that they weren’t real people, that they were subhuman, mere gooks who could be abused or killed at will.
AARON MATÉ: Now, meanwhile, Nick Turse, there were soldiers at the time, not just John Kerry, who were trying to publicly reveal the atrocities that were taking place. And you mentioned this Vietnam War Crimes Working Group, and in your book you actually talk about taking these secret documents that hadn’t been released before, taking them to the veterans that had tried to speak out way back then. And one of them is Jamie Henry. I’m wondering if you can talk about him.
NICK TURSE: Sure. The records that I found on Jamie Henry’s case really—they stuck with me, and I knew I had to find—find this man. They were several phone-book-sized files. A major investigation was done.
And, you know, Jamie was a reluctant draftee, but he went to Vietnam. He was a medic. He saved a lot of American lives. And—but once he got over there, he saw things that really disturbed him. On his first day in the field, he watched as the point man, the lead man of his patrol, stopped a young girl on a trail and molested her. And Jamie said to myself, “My god, what’s going on here?” And day after day, he saw things that really disturbed him—a young boy who was captured and beaten up and then executed, an old woman who was shot down, a man who was used for target practice, a prisoner who was beaten and thrown off a cliff. On and on he saw these things.
And it culminated one day on February 8th, 1968—that’s about a month before the My Lai massacre. His officer, while they were in a village, gave an order to kill anything that moves. And Jamie heard this over the radio, and he set out to go to the scene to try and stop it. Well, there were 20 women and children who were rounded up, and by the time Jamie got there, the men opened up on them, on—an automatic, with their M-16 automatic rifles, and killed them all. And Jamie watched this happen, and he told me that 30 seconds later he vowed that he would make sure that this story got out, no matter what it took. So, Jamie’s life had been threatened in Vietnam, so he kept his mouth shut ’til he got back home, stateside. But he immediately went—
AMY GOODMAN: Told that he would have a bullet in his back, if—
NICK TURSE: Yes, you know, his—he was warned when he—the first time he spoke up about brutality, that he’d better watch himself. And his friends came up to him after and said, “It’s so easy to be killed in a firefight, you know, look like you were killed by the enemy. You’d better shut up.” So, you know, Jamie did, but once he got back, he went and met with a Army lawyer. And this guy told him, “Look, there’s a million ways that the Army can make you disappear. So you better keep your mouth shut.” He went and spoke to an army criminal investigator, and this man threatened him. He went to a private attorney and asked for advice, and this guy said, “You should get some political backing.” He wrote to some congressmen, but no one wrote him back.
So, he went public. He spoke out at the Winter Soldier investigation, among other public forums, on the radio. He published an article, had a press conference. But he just couldn’t get any traction. And eventually, you know, years later, he just gave up.
What Jamie didn’t know was that the Army conducted a very thorough investigation, interviewed all the other members of his unit. They corroborated exactly what he said. And they even painted a more chilling picture, because some of them saw things that Jamie hadn’t. And—but Jamie didn’t know, until I called him up and then knocked on his door and brought those investigation files.
AMY GOODMAN: Where did he live?
NICK TURSE: He was in northern California. He was a skyline logger. And, you know, he just never knew that these records existed, that anyone knew that he was actually telling the truth.
AMY GOODMAN: So when you brought him these phone-book-sized investigations into his allegations, what did he do?
NICK TURSE: Well, I mean, he was shocked. He did feel vindicated. There was a little trepidation there, because, you know, it was a lot of years later to dredge all this up, and he was a little scared. But he told me that, you know, if it was right back then, then it was right to expose now. And it wasn’t easy on him. After the first day that I spent talking with him and going through the records, he told me that that night, after I had left, he went and sat in his easy chair, and he shook uncontrollably for an hour. He said, you know, “I had some sort of stress reaction,” he said. But he thought about it. He talked to his wife, and he said that this was—it was important to go on the record again and make sure that the people knew that this is really what happened in Vietnam.
AMY GOODMAN: And you wonder where so many cases of post-traumatic stress disorder come from, that everything you learn is wrong in this country when you’re growing up, you then either commit, see others commit, are forced to cover up or choose not to cover up. Now, today in our headlines, we just read, this year, the worst year for suicides, almost one a day, and that’s just active-duty soldiers right now in the wars now. That doesn’t even include the record number of veterans who kill themselves.
NICK TURSE: That’s right. And, you know, one thing also to keep in mind about Vietnam-era veterans like Jamie, I mean, this was a largely draftee army, and these were—I mean, these were mostly teenage boys, 18, 19, 20 years old. Today, some of the troops are a little older. At that time, these men were even less psychologically able to deal with the types of things that they were seeing and called upon to do.
AARON MATÉ: Now, Nick Turse, you’ve also written a book called The Case for Withdrawal from Afghanistan. What is that case? And can you talk about the significance of having now Kerry and Hagel, Vietnam veterans, now heading U.S. foreign policy, which is of course overseeing the longest war in U.S. history, in Afghanistan?
AMY GOODMAN: If confirmed.
AARON MATÉ: If confirmed, of course, yeah.
NICK TURSE: Right. Well, you know, I guess there are reasons to be hopeful. I mean, these men have actually seen combat. You know, John Kerry did speak out at one time. It seemed like he began backing away from that almost immediately, and by the time, you know, he made his presidential run in 2004, he—you know, he really wouldn’t address the topic in any serious way. But, you know, I think they at least do bring a realization of what war is about. You know, Chuck Hagel, he saw—he’s never—I don’t know that he’s ever been completely honest about what he’s seen. If you read the accounts of his brother, who served in the same unit as him during the war—
AMY GOODMAN: Which is very unusual.
NICK TURSE: Very unusual, maybe the only time in Vietnam. But his brother paints a very brutal picture of the war, very similar to the one that I talk about in Kill Anything That Moves. And they served under one of the most notorious commanders in Vietnam, a general named Julian Ewell, who was—became known within the military, and also outside of it, as the “Butcher of the Mekong Delta.” And Ewell was a—what they called a body count fanatic. And he demanded Vietnamese bodies, and he wasn’t very discerning about who they belonged to. So, just about any Vietnamese who was called in as a enemy casualty was counted up as “enemy dead.”
But, you know, just as the Hagel brothers were leaving Vietnam, Ewell kicked off an operation called Speedy Express, which I talk about in the book, which led to 11,000 Vietnamese casualties, but only resulted in around 750 weapons being recovered. Some Newsweek reporters looked into this a couple years after Speedy Express ended and came up with an estimate of 5,000 civilians killed during that operation. And when I went into the archives, I found the military’s own secret reports that the Newsweek reporters didn’t know about, and the estimates were—they show that the Newsweek estimates were low. The military estimated about 7,000 civilian casualties. So, I mean, this is the type of war that Chuck Hagel saw down there, and John Kerry operated in roughly the same area down in the Delta, so they do know something about the brutality of war.
AMY GOODMAN: Nick Turse. His book is Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam.
This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I want to let people know of two upcoming Democracy Now!specials. On Monday, we’ll be covering the inauguration from 8:00 Eastern time in the morning to 1:00 in the afternoon. We’ll be in Washington, D.C. And from Tuesday to Friday, we’ll be at the Sundance Film Festival—it’s the 10th anniversary of the documentary track of that festival—speaking with documentary filmmakers, covering issues, domestic and abroad.

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Heeding the Call

Rewriting History: US War On Vietnam


By Michael Uhl 

June 29, 2012 “Information Clearing House” — The message of John Grant’s article, “The Vietnam War and the Struggle for Truth”, should be heard as an alarm bell by all who were blind-sided and unsettled upon learning of the Defense Department initiative announced by the President this past Memorial Day to “commemorate” the Vietnam Era by rewriting its history.
The projected duration of the Pentagon’s mandate for this exercise stretches from 2012 to 2025. Let’s leave aside for the moment that this actuarial calculation has the macabre feel of a death watch in the countdown of who, in the fading ranks, will one day wear the laurel as the “Last Vietnam War Veteran.” What should trouble especially those whose histories and identities are embedded in their opposition and resistance to that war, is what the Pentagon is tasking itself to accomplish during these unpropitious thirteen years: first, to create, and then, to sustain, a positive legacy for the Vietnam War.
That sow’s ear can never be transformed into a silk purse. This is a draconian and despicable undertaking, whatever its eventual reach, and a topic I shall return to often as this revisionist plot unfurls, if only to defend my own identity and memories as but one actor among the waves of soldiers and veterans who rose up to oppose our filthy war, even as it was still being fought.
It’s hard to imagine that the unpopularity, and eventual rejection, of the Vietnam War by the American public could ever be excised fully from the historical record. But the specific history of the organized opposition to the war is more vulnerable, since it becomes, in the absence of repetition in popular media, more and more abstract and remote to younger generations as it recedes into the past.
The GI Resistance and antiwar Vietnam veterans’ movements of the Sixties and Seventies, so unique in the annals of warfare, become prime targets for erasure in this new and approved version of the war the Pentagon hopes to fashion. Even if it were only these unprecedented chapters of the whole anti-Vietnam war saga that the DOD project succeeded in obliterating by 2025, what an immeasurable loss of inspiration this would represent for later generations who must continue to organize and struggle against the plague of American militarism for the ungodly and unforeseeable future.
The first blow to the memory of our antiwar GI and veteran struggles in this revisionist farce was delivered by President Obama himself in his Memorial Day launch of the neutered sounding “Vietnam War Commemoration Project.” Obama’s myth-drivenspeech is a testament to his abysmal ignorance of this period of our history; or he was simply pandering to a selected audience of true-believer vets gathered at the Wall, who have succumbed to the pernicious view that the war they could never have defended in youth had become, with the salve of passing years, a noble cause.
By reinforcing the one-dimensional image of returning Vietnam vets universally ill-treated by an ungrateful nation, Obama exploits the repressed feelings of anger, guilt and shame that unbalanced so many of us. We suffered the burden of fighting in a war widely opposed at home, not least among our better informed generational peers. But the deeper wounds resistant to time’s cure for thousands of us were rooted in the horrifying awareness of daily acts of violence that we aimed in Vietnam relentlessly, not only at an armed foe, but at a whole people.
Obama glibly conjures, and bathes in glory, the ambiguous battles of Khe Sanh and Hue, but ignores My Lai. In doing so he prepares the ground for sanitizing the judgment once commonplace throughout the world — to include vast numbers in the U.S. — that atrocities in Vietnam, while mostly on a lesser scale, were not in any sense exceptional. “My Lai,” as my generation of Winter Soldiers always emphasized in our public testimonies, “was just the tip of the iceberg.”
Obama now implies that this brush tars too broadly and prefers the consoling fiction that Vietnam veterans as a whole “were blamed for the misdeeds of a few.” But I am too wedded to my own truths about the evils of that war to ever be consoled, and Obama’s lies on this particular occasion infuriate me. I went to Vietnam. I lived the war. It horrified me. I came home and actively opposed it. Like tens of thousands of other Vietnam veterans, I witnessed or participated in atrocities. I saw the routine use of torture. These were not the “misdeeds of a few;” they were the essence of that war.
*****
As I wish to make clear, this active dialog, leading to a major push-back against the Pentagon re-write of our history, must emerge rapidly and engage many voices, if, ultimately, it is to blunt the impact of this revisionist assault. I also want to make a tangential observation here concerning a parallel I see between the campaign in contemporary Brazil to defend the historical truths surrounding that country’s decades of military dictatorship, and the militant and popular resistance to it, and the similar campaign we must now undertake.
The similarity lies in the shared moment that requires a defense of resistance to illegitimate authority, and of the peoples’ right to historical memory itself. But there’s also a major difference. In Brazil, the defense of truth is being led by that country’s president, while in the U.S. we have a president who is bent on obstructing it. I have included below a short article that I translated from a Brazilian newspaper to demonstrate how an enlightened leader deals with a barbaric practice long outlawed by modern societies, but still glaringly visible throughout the world, and an acknowledged fixture as well of American wars since Vietnam, the widespread use of torture. Although Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was herself once subjected to such brutality, she now chooses to treat torture not as the “misdeeds of a few” but as a policy of State.
Dilma Never Wants to Know the Identities of her Torturers
(Dateline Rio, June 22, 2012. From O Globo)
In a restrained voice, choking back her emotions, President Dilma Rousseff told the assembled media during the closing session of Rio+20 — an international conference on the environment — that she never wanted to know the identities of her torturers.
Dilma Rouseff at the time of her arrest and torture and as the current president of Brazil
Commenting about the recent publication of depositions she gave under torture in the Seventies during her imprisonment by Brazil’s military dictatorship, Dilma noted that many of her torturers didn’t use their real names, but she nonetheless has suspicious as to their identities.
Dilma chose to emphasize, however, that the critical question isn’t the torturer, but the torture, because the torturer was always an agent of policy. “The problem is the conditions under which torture is established and performed. This everyone knows,” she said..
“With the passage of time, the best thing that happened for me, personally, was to not become fixated on these identities, and not harbor toward these agents feelings of hatred, bitterness or revenge … but not forgiveness either. To want vengeance, or to feel hatred or bitterness, is to remain dependent on those whom we wish to revenge ourselves upon. This is not a healthy state of mind for anyone,” said Dilma, struggling to avoid tears.
That’s why the [Brazilian] Truth Commission was created, Dilma reminded her audience in conclusion, to turn that page of this country’s history, and not permit that it ever happen again.
Michael Uhl’s writing has appeared in national magazines like Forbes, GEO, House Beautiful, Travel and Leisure, the Nation, and the Progressive. He has contributed regularly to the Sunday Boston Globe Book Review. Uhl holds a PhD in American Studies. He is the author of Vietnam Awakening, and is now working on a second memoir. His website is at: www.veteranscholar.com .
Thomas Brinson says:
Excellent Michael, let the war of words begin . . .
Your comparison of our vastly compromised President with the honorable President of Brazil is especially notable and telling. As it happens, this morning I happened to see this 1965 DOD-produced piece of PR flack justifying Vietnam:

Subtly titled (NOT), “Why Vietnam?”, it’s an early attempt seeking to justify the unjustifiable, our long military involvement on the losing side in the civil war between the North Vietnamese and our “allies,” the South Vietnamese. Sad for me personally to reflect that this DOD propaganda was produced the same year I graduated from college as a newly commissioned ROTC shavetail 2nd Lieutenant, who was determined, and did, volunteer to serve in that dirty little war.
It’s almost 30 years since the time of George Orwell’s dystopian novel, 1984, and with the DOD/Obama initiative to revise the history of Vietnam, no doubt we can expect to counteract a doubling down of doublespeak about the legacy of Vietnam.
This article was originally published at In The Mind Field
Copyright © 2012 In The Mind Field

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‘Napalm Girl’ Photo From Vietnam War Turns 40

PHOTO: Crying children, including 9-year-old Kim Phuc, center, run down Route 1 near Trang Bang, Vietnam after an aerial napalm attack on suspected Viet Cong hiding places as South Vietnamese forces from the 25th Division walk behind them, June 8, 1972.

Crying children, including 9-year-old Kim Phuc, center, run down Route 1 near Trang Bang, Vietnam after an aerial napalm attack on suspected Viet Cong hiding places as South Vietnamese forces from the 25th Division walk behind them, June 8, 1972. (Nick Ut/AP)
By MARGIE MASON Associated Press
TRANG BANG, Vietnam May 31, 2012 (AP) — In the picture, the girl will always be 9 years old and wailing “Too hot! Too hot!” as she runs down the road away from her burning Vietnamese village.
She will always be naked after blobs of sticky napalm melted through her clothes and layers of skin like jellied lava.
She will always be a victim without a name.
It only took a second for Associated Press photographer Huynh Cong “Nick” Ut to snap the iconic black-and-white image 40 years ago. It communicated the horrors of the Vietnam War in a way words could never describe, helping to end one of America’s darkest eras.
But beneath the photo lies a lesser-known story. It’s the tale of a dying child brought together by chance with a young photographer. A moment captured in the chaos of war that would serve as both her savior and her curse on a journey to understand life’s plan for her.
“I really wanted to escape from that little girl,” says Kim Phuc, now 49. “But it seems to me that the picture didn’t let me go.”
It was June 8, 1972, when Phuc heard the soldier’s scream: “We have to run out of this place! They will bomb here, and we will be dead!”
Seconds later, she saw the tails of yellow and purple smoke bombs curling around the Cao Dai temple where her family had sheltered for three days, as north and south Vietnamese forces fought for control of their village.
The little girl heard a roar overhead and twisted her neck to look up. As the South Vietnamese Skyraider plane grew fatter and louder, it swooped down toward her, dropping canisters like tumbling eggs flipping end over end.
“Ba-boom! Ba-boom!”
The ground rocked. Then the heat of a hundred furnaces exploded as orange flames spit in all directions.
Fire danced up Phuc’s left arm. The threads of her cotton clothes evaporated on contact. Trees became angry torches. Searing pain bit through skin and muscle.
“I will be ugly, and I’m not normal anymore,” she thought, as her right hand brushed furiously across her blistering arm. “People will see me in a different way.”
In shock, she sprinted down Highway 1 behind her older brother. She didn’t see the foreign journalists gathered as she ran toward them, screaming.
Then, she lost consciousness.
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Ut, the 21-year-old Vietnamese photographer who took the picture, drove Phuc to a small hospital. There, he was told the child was too far gone to help. But he flashed his American press badge, demanded that doctors treat the girl and left assured that she would not be forgotten.
“I cried when I saw her running,” said Ut, whose older brother was killed on assignment with the AP in the southern Mekong Delta. “If I don’t help her — if something happened and she died — I think I’d kill myself after that.”
Back at the office in what was then U.S.-backed Saigon, he developed his film. When the image of the naked little girl emerged, everyone feared it would be rejected because of the news agency’s strict policy against nudity.
But veteran Vietnam photo editor Horst Faas took one look and knew it was a shot made to break the rules. He argued the photo’s news value far outweighed any other concerns, and he won.
A couple of days after the image shocked the world, another journalist found out the little girl had somehow survived the attack. Christopher Wain, a correspondent for the British Independent Television Network who had given Phuc water from his canteen and drizzled it down her burning back at the scene, fought to have her transferred to the American-run Barsky unit. It was the only facility in Saigon equipped to deal with her severe injuries.
“I had no idea where I was or what happened to me,” she said. “I woke up and I was in the hospital with so much pain, and then the nurses were around me. I woke up with a terrible fear.”
Thirty percent of Phuc’s tiny body was scorched raw by third-degree burns, though her face somehow remained untouched. Over time, her melted flesh began to heal.
“Every morning at 8 o’clock, the nurses put me in the burn bath to cut all my dead skin off,” she said. “I just cried and when I could not stand it any longer, I just passed out.”
After multiple skin grafts and surgeries, Phuc was finally allowed to leave, 13 months after the bombing. She had seen Ut’s photo, which by then had won the Pulitzer Prize, but she was still unaware of its reach and power.
She just wanted to go home and be a child again.
For a while, life did go somewhat back to normal. The photo was famous, but Phuc largely remained unknown except to those living in her tiny village near the Cambodian border. Ut and a few other journalists sometimes visited her, but that stopped after northern communist forces seized control of South Vietnam on April 30, 1975, ending the war.
Life under the new regime became tough. Medical treatment and painkillers were expensive and hard to find for the teenager, who still suffered extreme headaches and pain.
She worked hard and was accepted into medical school to pursue her dream of becoming a doctor. But all that ended once the new communist leaders realized the propaganda value of the ‘napalm girl’ in the photo.
She was forced to quit college and return to her home province, where she was trotted out to meet foreign journalists. The visits were monitored and controlled, her words scripted. She smiled and played her role, but the rage inside began to build and consume her.
“I wanted to escape that picture,” she said. “I got burned by napalm, and I became a victim of war … but growing up then, I became another kind of victim.”
She turned to Cao Dai, her Vietnamese religion, for answers. But they didn’t come.
“My heart was exactly like a black coffee cup,” she said. “I wished I died in that attack with my cousin, with my south Vietnamese soldiers. I wish I died at that time so I won’t suffer like that anymore … it was so hard for me to carry all that burden with that hatred, with that anger and bitterness.”
One day, while visiting a library, Phuc found a Bible. For the first time, she started believing her life had a plan.
Then suddenly, once again, the photo that had given her unwanted fame brought opportunity.
She traveled to West Germany in 1982 for medical care with the help of a foreign journalist. Later, Vietnam’s prime minister, also touched by her story, made arrangements for her to study in Cuba.
She was finally free from the minders and reporters hounding her at home, but her life was far from normal. Ut, then working at the AP in Los Angeles, traveled to meet her in 1989, but they never had a moment alone. There was no way for him to know she desperately wanted his help again.
“I knew in my dream that one day Uncle Ut could help me to have freedom,” said Phuc, referring to him by an affectionate Vietnamese term. “But I was in Cuba. I was really disappointed because I couldn’t contact with him. I couldn’t do anything.”
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While at school, Phuc met a young Vietnamese man. She had never believed anyone would ever want her because of the ugly patchwork of scars that banded across her back and pitted her arm, but Bui Huy Toan seemed to love her more because of them.
The two decided to marry in 1992 and honeymoon in Moscow. On the flight back to Cuba, the newlyweds defected during a refueling stop in Canada. She was free.
Phuc contacted Ut to share the news, and he encouraged her to tell her story to the world. But she was done giving interviews and posing for photos.
“I have a husband and a new life and want to be normal like everyone else,” she said.
The media eventually found Phuc living near Toronto, and she decided she needed to take control of her story. A book was written in 1999 and a documentary came out, at last the way she wanted it told. She was asked to become a U.N. Goodwill Ambassador to help victims of war. She and Ut have since reunited many times to tell their story, even traveling to London to meet the Queen.
“Today, I’m so happy I helped Kim,” said Ut, who still works for AP and recently returned to Trang Bang village. “I call her my daughter.”
After four decades, Phuc, now a mother of two sons, can finally look at the picture of herself running naked and understand why it remains so powerful. It had saved her, tested her and ultimately freed her.
“Most of the people, they know my picture but there’s very few that know about my life,” she said. “I’m so thankful that … I can accept the picture as a powerful gift. Then it is my choice. Then I can work with it for peace.”
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