So it ah you know one couldn’t help notice this
disparity between the VC and
. Ah. And, that was one of
the first things that that caught my attention and ah again almost
simultaneously I also began to notice it—it seemed, it seemed distinctly
clear that the Vietnamese civilian population didn’t like us very much.
Ah. In fact, was basically hostile to us. Ah. And, this you could pick
up in all sorts of subtle kinds of ways. Ah. And, I, and that seemed
odd, you know.
All this...of course, you have to figure it’s going
through this very unsophisticated eighteen year old brain that’s
expecting to, has visions in its head of the liberated villages in
France in 1944. Ah. But that began to work on me, you know, hey wait
we’re supposed to be here... We’re here to help these people. I thought
they wanted our help and—and ah they don’t like us. Well, of course,
again simultaneously the longer one stayed there the more I began to
realize that they had all sorts of reasons for not liking us. Ahm. I
I can I hardly even know where to begin on something
like that. We used to do these things called country fairs. They were
part of the pacification program where you’d... Theoretically, you’d go,
you’d take a company or two and you’d sweep through a village. Their
villages were—were ah more like a small country. It would incorporate
and embody a number of small hamlets and then a lot of rice fields. It
could be several thousands of people and you’d go out and—and set up a
blocking force behind the village and then ah another force would come
sweeping through the village rounding up everybody.
Man, woman and child. Ah. You’d do this in the early
morning hours and, of course, the theory was you’re gonna do two things.
You’re gonna round up all these people and you’re gonna give them
medical attention and ah and food, and at the same time you’re gonna
search out VC infrastructure.
VC political cadre. Ah.
And, this would be a good thing. Ah. The end result would be a positive
thing. In fact, what would happen is you’d go through these villages at
ah come in at the pre dawn hours. Ah. Sweeping on line a company of
marines and roust
everybody out of bed.
Ah. If you didn’t, if people didn’t get up fast
enough, if a door didn’t open, you kicked the door in. You dragged
people out bodily. Ah. You’d, ah, everybody had these bunkers that they
built under the ground ah to protect themselves from American artillery.
But, ah, we’d see these bunkers and we’d go oh a place to hide a VC and you’d throw in ah some
dynamite, blow it up, blow the house up with it. Any extra rice they’d
have laying around, big bags of rice, confiscate that so they can’t give
it to the VC. You know, like
somebody has a refrigerator full of food...in this country you don’t
think twice about it.
If they have any spare food it was food for the VC. You’d take, collect it. In
the meantime all these civilians are being rounded up as you go along
and ah in a few hours you’ve swept through the whole village and you
have a big barbed wire compound at one end of the village where all
these people get herded. And, I mean, literally they were herded like
cattle. Ah. And, there they sit in the hot sun with no protection, no
shade for the rest of the day and you get a few corpsmen in there who
put on Band-Aids and ddd—administer the most primitive primary first aid
and in the meantime the Vietnamese National Police...
There would be several national policemen who would
go with us and an interrogation ah ah usually an ARVN
solder and an American interpreter or rather
I mean an American interrogator and—and ARVN
interpreter ah would go through this crowd picking
people out and if you had a beat ID card or—or if the national police
had a grudge against you you’d get pulled out and taken into a tent ah
where folks were generally ah roughed up pretty badly. Ah. Beaten,
tortured, trying to get information about the VC. Ah.
And, then these folks would be turned over to the
national police, the Vietnamese police, and taken off to the jail at Hoi
An. God knows what happened to them there. And, it, you know, at the end
of the day you’d turn all these people loose. Let ‘em go back to their
homes. Many of which had been destroyed. Their cattle had been
destroyed, their chickens had been shot, their rice had been confiscated
and folks would go away. You’d have a civil affairs officer, S5 officer.
He’d go away and write a report about how much rice
we gave, fed the Vietnamese and how many Band-Aids we applied and—and ah
how many Viet Cong suspects we
detained and on paper this would look like a wonderful thing whereas in
fact if the people in that village were not Viet Cong when we got there they sure as
hell were by the time we left. Ah.
That kind of thing. You’d get sniped at from a
village and ah the response to snipers is to call in an air strike. Ah.
I ah you know one could go on for just hours and hours and hours ah ways
in which we did everything almost as though it was calculated to have
exactly the opposite effect of winning the sympathy of the Vietnamese.
Ah. The Viet Cong...
I think when people try to understand what—what went
wrong with American policy in Vietnam, American tactics. Why is it that
we failed to win the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese people that
catchy point which we used? At one point the Pacification Program was
called “Winning hearts and minds”. Ah. It’s real
easy to look at something like the My Lai Massacre and—and understand oh
this is a bad thing.
This is, this is certainly not going to win anybody’s
hearts or minds ah but I spent thirteen months in a marine infantry battalion. I was in the ah
in the intelligence section and so was knew what the battalion was up
to. Ah. Spent a lot of time in the field myself and in that whole
thirteen months I never witnessed or heard of anything on the order
of—of a My Lai
I think the most popular atrocity story is the ah the
idea of American GI’s collecting ears. Ah. Cut off the ears of the VC. I never saw anyone do that
and I never saw a dried Viet
Cong ear. Ah. I think there were much more subtle things going
on. Some of them weren’t so subtle, but things that we wouldn’t think of
initially as atrocities but which in fact were the kinds of things which
over the long haul—the day to day dealings with the Vietnamese—had far
more impact on the Vietnamese attitude toward Americans. Things like the
I mean try to imagine a bunch of armed people. Ah.
You know I don’t want to use the word gangsters just come barging into
your house one day and drag you out into the street and beat you up and
empty out your freezer and maybe blow up your house cause it has a
cellar. Ah. That’s an atrocity, and—and ah even littler things. No one
ever told us, one of the things we did for—for kicks almost on a boring
afternoon when you’re driving down the road was to see how close you
could get to Vietnamese on bicycles along side the road. We would run
them off the road and we thought that was great fun. Ahm.
And no one told us, for instance, that in Vietnam
in—in their culture it’s perfectly proper for two men to walk down the
street holding hands or two women, whereas for a man and a woman to do
that is outrageous social behavior. People didn’t tell us that ah so
when we saw Vietnamese men doing this, and you saw it all the time, we
thought oh these people are queer. These are homosexuals ah and we let
them know it. Ah.
They took a great deal of verbal abuse for that kind
of thing and—and that you don’t think of it as an atrocity but that’s
the kind of thing which alienated people. Ah. Hundreds and thousands of
tiny day to day contacts like that which were just guaranteed to ah to
make sure that that we made it as hard as possible for the Vietnamese to
support anything that we were doing. Ah. Why do we go around
Beep. Beep. Beep.
(voices in background - quietly speaking)
Now is it somehow that ah my generation just somehow
turned out to be a bunch of ah ah crazy irresponsible hoodlums and I
don’t think that’s the case at all. Ah. Ahm. We were, we treated the
Vietnamese the way that we did because we were operating in an area, as
I said, that was heavily ah heavily populated with civilians, rice
farmers, fishermen, ah, most of our enemy contact at that time was not
contact at all. It was mines and snipers. Mostly mines.
Our battalion, if I recall correctly had something on
the order of seventy five mining incidents per month. Ah. Most of
them—many of them producing casualties. And, so, you day after day you
had ah dead marines, wounded
marines and nobody to
fight back at. Ah. In the meantime, you’ve got guys, you know, you go
out, you run a patrol, somebody hits a mine.
There’s a couple of dead people and here’s—here’s Joe
the rice farmer out in his field just he don’t’ even stop. He don’t
even, it’s like he didn’t’ even hear the blast. Ah. And, after a while,
you start thinking you—you start thinking boy these people must know
where these mines are. How come they never step on them? They must,
they—they must be ehh they must be VC’s. They must be sympathizers. Ah.
And, so, over a relative short period of time you
begin to treat all of the Vietnamese as though they are the enemy. If
you can’t tell you—you shoot first and ask questions later. Ah. There
was a tremendous frustration in the whole tempo of the war. Of the, this
particularly the mines and snipers were just deadly in terms, not just
physical terms, but in the impact on your head. Ah.
So, it was pretty easy after a while to develop a
very callous attitude about the Vietnamese civilian population, and of
course, nothing in our ah ah in the military chain of command, you know,
discouraged us from doing that kind of thing. I mean when you went in
and you blew up a Vietnamese house because it had a bunker under
it—it—it you didn’t get punished for that. You—you got rewarded for it.
That’s what you were supposed to do. Ah. In retrospect now, it seems
clear to me that ah the American chain of command had couldn’t possibly
have had any serious regard for the—the Vietnamese population and in
spite of all their disclaimers that were—were there to help the
Vietnamese ah it certainly didn’t appear that way and we certainly
didn’t help them.
Ah. All this stuff, you know, the difference between
the VC and the ARVN
ah our conduct in the field, the way in
which the Vietnamese treated us. The hostility they had for us. You
know, I’m trying to explain things in some rational order which, in
fact, were all happening at once. Ah. You get dropped into this
environment and—and nothing made any sense.