August 11, 2006
Written by C.N.
As the U.S. prepares to begin prosecuting several high profile incidents of atrocities against Iraqi civilians by U.S. soldiers, CBS News reports that new unclassified government data from the Viet Nam War documents that atrocities committed against Vietnamese civilians were much more numerous than previously thought:
The abuses were not restricted to one rogue Army division, but were committed by soldiers in every Army division operating in Vietnam, the Times reported Sunday. Among the incidents documented in the files:
- Seven civilian massacres from 1967 to 1971 that left at least 137 dead.
- Seventy-eight additional attacks on unarmed civilians that left at least 57 dead, 56 wounded and 15 sexually assaulted.
- 141 incidents in which U.S. soldiers tortured civilian detainees and prisoners of war.
In one incident detailed in the report, members of one company in February 1968 rounded up and gunned down a group of villagers that included women and children after being ordered by a lieutenant to “kill anything that moves.” Retired Brig. Gen. John H. Johns, who was part of the task force that gathered the files, said he no longer thought the atrocities should remain in the dark.
“We can’t change current practices unless we acknowledge the past,” said Johns, 78. The files show investigators found enough evidence to charge 203 soldiers with crimes related to the mistreatment of Vietnamese civilians and prisoners. But only 57 soldiers were court-martialed and 23 convicted, the Times reported. Fourteen soldiers received prison sentences ranging from six months to 20 years, but most served much less time.
This new evidence only confirms what many of us have suspected all along — that war crimes and atrocities committed by U.S. troops against Vietnamese during the war were much more common than the U.S. was willing to admit. So what does this new information teach us?
First, it’s pretty sad that it took more than 30 years for this information to come to light. As the article notes, everybody wanted to just forget the Viet Nam War immediately after the U.S. pulled out, and focusing attention on these war crimes would have opened even more new wounds for American society. But what about the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Vietnamese who were needlessly tortured, raped, and murdered? What about their wounds and their deaths? Their suffering should not have been so easily discarded.
Second, why haven’t we (or more specifically, the U.S. military) learned from these incidents? Just because these documents have not been publicized until now doesn’t mean that the military did not already know about them. In fact, there were over 9,000 pages documenting these atrocities. The point is, despite having this information, the U.S. military apparently has done little to implement its lessons and to teach its soldiers and personnel that torture, rape, and murder are not acceptable means to conduct a war.
Whether it’s the Abu Graib scandal, recent charges of rape and murder against Iraqi families, or several other incidents of war crimes committed by U.S. troops, the ultimate tragedy is that these atrocities continue to happen, perpetrated over and over again by under-trained troops in the midst of a controversial and divisive war, engineered by an arrogant and cavalier presidential administration.
What will it take and how many more innocent civilians are tortured, raped, and murdered before we learn our lesson?
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Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "New Evidence of Atrocities in Viet Nam" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <http://www.asian-nation.org/headlines/2006/08/new-evidence-of-atrocities-in-viet-nam/> ().
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