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Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American…
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Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam

by Nick Turse

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Kill Anything That Moves is based on previously unused archival material and interviews, and tells the tale of American systematic disregard for Vietnamese lives and the atrocities that were committed during the Vietnam war.

In some of the first pages, Turse recounts the well known story of the My Lai massacre from 1964, in which American soldiers murdered around 400 unarmed South Vietnamese civilians, both men, women-many of whom were raped, children and infants. Only one soldier, Second Lieutenant William Calley, was convicted, and he ended up servicing only a few years under house arrest. Contrary to what is oftentimes thought today, however, the My Lai massacre was the rule of American warfare in Vietnam, and not an abhorrent exception. The rest of the book reads a descent into more and more indiscriminate violence and successively increasing depravity. Although the book at times becomes a catalogue of violence and horror, we are never brought out of context.

Turse traces the various factors that contributed this culture. He starts with boot camp, which consciously dehumanized the soldiers and taught that obedience was paramount. Illegal orders were common, and soldiers, who did not have extensive training in the legality of war, often had to be uncertain about how to respond. Often those who gave the orders did not themselves know what was legal and not.

"Body count"- enemies killed, is term that runs through the book. The ubiquitous focus on body counts seems to have been partly an effect of the system's priorities, but became also a driver itself, since both honor and more tangible rewards were distributed on the basis of that measure. This lead to a practice in which any killed civilian (or even water buffalo) was labelled as Viet Cong, and also incentivized the killing of those civilians. A part of this was Pentagon pursuit of the "crossover point", at which enemies were killed faster than they were replaced. The "mere gook rule" said killings of Vietnamese were nothing to worry about.

"Free fire zones," special areas of dubious legality in which everyone could be killed, were instituted.

A number of actions by the US army served only to alienate the Vietnamese population: people were driven away from their homes, villages, hamlets and crops were burnt, animals were killed, people were shot at, collective punishment enforced, corpses were mutilated. Sometimes the population starved and raided the garbage of the soldiers for food. Some soldiers started making adornment of their victims, e.g. ears on cords.

In the chapter on torture, the practices initially described bears a sinister resemblance to the revelations of the maltreatment of prisoners that occurred in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq in the early 2000's: Electricity to body parts, water torture, beatings, humiliations. The torture was not restricted to these practices, though, Turse goes on to list among other things, hanging people upside down, inserting needles under fingernails, ripping out nails, shackling people tightly in tiny "tiger cells", severe beatings, and free reign being given to Vietnamese interrogators, and claims that all this was widespread. Even applied to the enemy, these practices are controversial, to say the least. In a context were those in the field had huge discretion, soldiers often did not know who were the enemy and were constantly in danger, and proper trials were not held, a large number of innocents had to be harmed.

A chilling question is whether also the graver torture that is documented for the Vietnam war have occurred in recent wars, in particular in Afghanistan and Iraq. Given the similarity of at least some of the practices, there is perhaps no good reason not to suspect that there may be more.

Turse allocates much time to "Speedy Express," an operation that took place in a few months from December 1968 to May 1969. This operation condoned massive deadly force on a previously unseen scale, with possibly thousands of civilians killed.

A bipartisan delegation visited, two members saw some mistreatment, etc. and reported on it, but were suppressed in the final report. Whistle blowers were not listened to.

In general resistance to the war not in the news to begin with. A little more after a while, much with My Lai, then more. Veterans started to come forward and make the atrocities known. These were often harassed. Daniel Ellsberg leaked "the pentagon papers," partly about American disregard for Vietnam lives, etc. Pentagon fought against publication. Conference in Oslo just a week after publication of the pentagon papers, about warfare in Indo-China. Damning statement from commission.

Turse does not offer any quick fixes for current or future war-makers to avoid the atrocities of Vietnam, he seems content to document how bad the war really was. It is a worthwhile endeavor. ( )
  ohernaes | Sep 5, 2013 |
“Kill anything that moves” suffers from the shrill marketing of its author. Perhaps that is necessary to gain the attention of a wider audience. While it refreshes or even creates the public memory that the Vietnam War was devastating to the Vietnamese, the claim that the atrocities were not known or were distinctive are not actually true.
Extreme violence against indigenous people is as American as apple pie. From the early settlement to the conquest of the West, “only a dead Indian was a good Indian”. US imperial efforts in the Philippines and Central America produced a steady stream of atrocities that continues to this day with the largely unpunished war crimes in Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen as stark reminders. The United States is nothing special, however. Other empires like the Spanish, the French, the British, the Russians and other were not squeamish either in destroying other people’s lives and fortunes. At the very heart of the idea of an empire lies the concept that some are more equal and their lives much more valuable. Official propaganda, however, requires doublespeak and acquiescence to actions such as destroying the village in order to save it.

What makes the Vietnam War different, is the scale of the American force to distribute punishment and violence. While the Italians could send biplanes to bomb insurgent Libyans and the French shelled the compounds of unruly Syrians with artillery, the economic might of the United States and the power of its military meant that they could bomb and set up free-fire zones in areas which lesser empires would not have had neither the potential nor the incentive to do. The American corporate media is also highly proficient in shielding the general public from learning about the damage inflicted (see Manufactured Consent).

Apart from reminding the public about the horrors the Us military inflicted upon Vietnamese civilians (and has not paid reparations for), the value of Turse’s book is showing how the leadership protected and protects the blackest of its black sheep. The recent failure to prosecute war crimes has a long history in Vietnam, from the George Zimmermann spiel of eliminating all survivors in order to make prosecution difficult to the lenient punishments of the perpetrators and even quiet admiration by the public (Dick Cheney’s torture specialist in Iraq is now a “motivational speaker” in Texas). The failure to look back promotes future crimes, especially if the idea of empire continues to be pursued. ( )
  jcbrunner | Aug 31, 2013 |
This is an important book. I always had a somewhat vague knowledge that things did not go well for the civilians living in Vietnam during the time of the Vietnam War, but I had no idea it had been this bad. The author lays out the evidence showing systematic, pervasive, and horrifying brutalization, torture, rape, murder, and general mistreatment of civilians all over that nation during the war at the hands of American troops. This book will open your eyes. If only a fraction of the crimes alleged in this book are true, and I think more than that are indeed true, you will want to take action in whatever ways you can. I know I will. ( )
  trinkers | Aug 3, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I don't even know how to begin this review as this book was a startling read. It is hard to believe that our military leaders had so little regard for human life as reported by author Nick Turse. According to this book, millions of innocent civilians were killed and wounded during the Vietnam War. Turse describes many instances of this occurring and shows that My Lai was not an isolated incident as we had been told for years. I am sure there are many people who will not believe this book, but I find it hard to discount. Turse did more than a decade of research and extensive interviews with American veterans and Vietnamese survivors. He provides extensive notes documenting his research and interviews. I would recommend this book as an important piece of the history of the Vietnam War as fought by the United States. ( )
  EMYeak | Jul 28, 2013 |
'Kill Anything That Moves,' by investigative journalist Nick Turse, is one of the first books to thoroughly examine the massive civilian casualties during the Vietnam War. This excellently written and researched book uses classified government and military investigations, interviews with victims as well as soldiers, and former high level commanders, and weaves a tale of murder, torture, and mass destruction, rape, and details the massive cover-ups that followed.

The book details dozens of atrocities by American forces in Vietnam: gang rapes, mass murder, torture, wanton destruction of Vietnamese towns, homes, livestock, pets, and even one of their main sources of food, rice paddies.

A main theme of this book is that these atrocities were not committed by mere “bad apples” or disturbed soldiers, but were the result of policies that came from the very top of the command structure: “Kill anything that moves,” the title of the book, was a common command given to soldiers, and the soldiers did exactly as they were told, which results in thousands of innocent civilian deaths.

'Kill Anything That Moves' is a damning expose' of the failures of the U.S. military and should be required reading for anyone who has an interest in the Vietnam war. ( )
  PrimeTruth | Jul 25, 2013 |
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But however horrific the many, many individual acts of brutality are to read about, Turse's larger conclusion is even worse. Turse comes to understand that most of the atrocities were committed with official sanction, in fact, were committed because of U.S. policy that demanded body counts, number of "enemy" killed, as the borderless war's only metric of accomplishment. He writes, "U.S. commanders wasted ammunition like millionaires and hoarded American lives like misers, and often treated Vietnamese lives as if they were worth nothing at all."
 
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0805086919, Hardcover)

Based on classified documents and first-person interviews, a startling history of the American war on Vietnamese civilians

Americans have long been taught that events such as the notorious My Lai massacre were isolated incidents in the Vietnam War, carried out by "a few bad apples." But as award‑winning journalist and historian Nick Turse demonstrates in this groundbreaking investigation, violence against Vietnamese noncombatants was not at all exceptional during the conflict. Rather, it was pervasive and systematic, the predictable consequence of orders to "kill anything that moves."

Drawing on more than a decade of research in secret Pentagon files and extensive interviews with American veterans and Vietnamese survivors, Turse reveals for the first time how official policies resulted in millions of innocent civilians killed and wounded. In shocking detail, he lays out the workings of a military machine that made crimes in almost every major American combat unit all but inevitable. Kill Anything That Moves takes us from archives filled with Washington's long-suppressed war crime investigations to the rural Vietnamese hamlets that bore the brunt of the war; from boot camps where young American soldiers learned to hate all Vietnamese to bloodthirsty campaigns like Operation Speedy Express, in which a general obsessed with body counts led soldiers to commit what one participant called "a My Lai a month."    

Thousands of Vietnam books later, Kill Anything That Moves, devastating and definitive, finally brings us face‑to‑face with the truth of a war that haunts Americans to this day.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:03:57 -0400)

Based on classified documents and interviews, a controversial history of the Vietnam War argues that American acts of violence against millions of Vietnamese civilians were a pervasive and systematic part of the war.

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