Book Reviews

Book Review: ‘Kill Anything That Moves’

We shoot the sick, the young, the lame
We do our best to kill and maim
Because the kills all count the same,
Napalm sticks to kids.

Ox cart rolling down the road,
Peasants with a heavy load,
They’re all VC when the bombs explode,
Napalm sticks to kids.

(Song popularized by the GIs of the First US Air Cavalry in Vietnam)

‘Kill Anything That Moves’ sickens you to the core from the very first pages. Rape – often of children, torture, mass-killings, and sexual slavery are just some of the few extremely common occurrences that Turse documents in his study of American War-crimes in the Vietnam War.

Far from the seemingly commonplace view of American crimes in the war as ‘the result of a few bad-apples’, Turse points to literal hundreds upon hundreds of examples of US crimes that were part of Government policy – carried out remorselessly across the battered-nation. Turse notes that:

“the War Crimes Working Group files alone demonstrated that atrocities were committed by members of every infantry, cavalry, and airborne division, and every separate brigade that deployed without the rest of its division—that is, every major army unit in Vietnam.”

Perhaps most interestingly, Turse’s account isn’t based on the ‘hearsay’ of Vietnam veterans, or on unsubstantiated accounts from the litany of anti-war student papers and magazines. Rather, it was based on the robust investigations carried out in secret by the US Government at the height of the war. The result? They were buried away in the National Archive, with the conclusions deemed ‘too devastating’ to be released to the general public.

Turse progresses methodically through the gruesome accounts of murder, arson, and widespread rape with an unflinching attention to details – evidently to provide solid evidence for each horrific act of terror. All show the same pattern as the infamous and supposedly ‘singular’ Massacre of over 500 civillians in My Lai: Indiscriminate murder, Rape, Torture, and Arson, often with entire villages suffering. Turse notes that at the exact same time that children were getting bayoneted in My Lai, US soldiers were massacring the elderly inhabitants of a village only a few miles away.

In just one horrific, and verified account, Nick Turse documents US soldiers bartering in severed ears, labia, and fingers – cut off Communist fighters as a macabre trophy. Notably, this is just one incident, with Turse noting it’s one of hundreds of documented accounts of US soldiers trading in Vietnamese remains.

Similarly, Turse interviews survivors of US massacres, with one particularly poignant episode described where a young woman lost her entire family, as well as 12 others from the Village, when US Marines conducted a night-raid in this dubbed ‘friendly zone’. The resulting orgy of violence was reported by a US serviceman, who was “accidentally” killed mere days later in an “unfortunate incident” of friendly fire.

Atrocities weren’t just the actions of a few (or rather, large amount of units). From the deliberate ecocide of Vietnamese farmland and water supplies (to weaken the morale of the supposedly ‘Vietcong friendly locals’), to deliberate bombing campaigns with the specific aim to ‘flood as many refugees as possible to Saigon’ – allegedly to weaken the links between the Vietcong and Peasantry, civilians weren’t just caught up in the War, they were deliberately targeted by the US Military. A US-government report towards the end of the conflict concluded that the majority of Vietnam casualties were the result of US bombing – with a significant proportion of those casualties children under 12. Something quite believable, considering Laos and Vietnam are the most-bombed countries on Earth.

Turse argues that these atrocities were largely the result of an aggressive Military ethos that focused on ‘bodycount’ as the means to win the War, with the majority of senior commanders in Vietnam constantly demanding higher and higher kill-counts – an attempt to placate the ravenous desire from the US Government for a quick and easy end to the fighting. Alongside this, years of official training dehumanized the Vietnamese for a significant amount of young US soldiers (note: all of the Vietnamese, including supposed “allies” South Vietnam), with senior officials and commanders frequently labelling the Vietnamese people as a ‘medieval race’, ‘uncivilized’, and ‘mere gooks’, incapable of complex thought.

In Vietnam, lies and official secrets condemned many to grizzly end. Military commanders lied to their subordinates, who lied to the soldiers on the ground. This ranged from the progress of the War, to the real purpose of individual military operations. In turn, the troops responded by lying about body counts, and the details of enemy encounters.

With such a culture, the average US serviceman frequently chose between either following their platoon into the hot, dense jungle to provoke a fight with the stealthy Vietcong – often losing many men in the process, or shooting rice-farmers from a helicopter, claiming they were Vietcong fighters, and returning back to base for a commendation and an easy tour of duty. Unsurprisingly, there exists thousands of documented incidents of the latter.

Turse covers in detail the methodical coverups by the US Government, with blackmail, threats of violence, and actual violence used frequently, and with success to bury these accounts. Whistleblowers and journalists ended up dead with an alarming frequency – often the result of “friendly fire”. Even the US servicemen who somehow ended up in front of a military court (usually the result of doing something truly extreme, or due to severe pressure from South Vietnamese officials) in the majority of cases were let off with a simple demotion – with the worst offenders jailed usually for mere months.

Turse’s work is a brutal blow to American exceptionalism, and serves as a poignant, graphic reminder of what supposedly ‘spreading freedom’ actually means for the inhabitants of the country invaded.

From Vietnam, to Iraq, to Libya, US intervention (or rather, Imperialist Invasion) has come with a Pandora’s Box of carnage. Far from the idea of US forces being the stalwarts of good, Turse’s account of Vietnam demonstrates the Racist violence many US servicemen ennacted on an impoverished Vietnamese populace. Far from ‘liberation’, the War against Communism exposed the true nature of Capitalist Imperialism – the use of extreme violence, most often against civilians, in order to protect Capitalist interests, and fight off the advance of Socialism.

Taking over fifty years for just some of these horrific war-crimes to emerge, one wonders what will be said of the current conflicts the US and its Allies engage in – and how much bloodshed and misery will be uncovered.

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