A new book lays bare the grisly logic of mass killing in Vietnam
Kill Anything That Moves:
The Real American War in Vietnam
by Nick Turse
$30.00 List Price
One dark night in South Vietnam in mid-1969, I stopped for a beer at the rickety shack that served as an officers’ club for the First Marine Division, based a few miles outside of Da Nang, on the central coast. I had just delivered an intelligence report warning of an enemy rocket attack on the city.
I found myself sitting next to a guy with a war-weary, thousand-yard stare. He turned out to be a navy doctor assigned to one of those medical teams that (along with other “hearts and minds” civic projects) were supposed to bring the locals over to our side. He started telling me about days spent taking peasants’ blood pressures, cleaning sores, listening to tubercular chests, giving shots, and so forth. And then I noticed his cheeks were moist with tears. He took a drag on his cigarette.
“We fix ’em up,” he said softly, wiping the tears away, “and then they”—he nodded at the distant sound of outgoing artillery—“then they blow ’em away.”
It was called “H & I fire,” short for “harassment and interdiction”: willy-nilly artillery barrages into the dark night to terrorize Communist units in the area. The problem was that people—civilian people—lived in those “free fire zones,” too. By night, the doctor told me, the marine gunners vaporized the very people he’d spent the day “helping.”
In truth, you only needed a few weeks in Vietnam to know the place was seriously fucked up. A few more weeks in, you just wanted to survive the madness. “Mistakes were made,” it was always said—and it still is, in many quarters—about the conduct of the war: The civilian slaughter wasn’t deliberate,