Seemingly for most of the war, Turse writes, the military largely ignored its own investigations into war crimes, ignored or downplayed the testimony of up-standers and whistle-blowers who spoke out for Vietnamese victims of American murders, rapes and massacres, and ignored huge numbers of “enemy” kills taken with no weapons, which had to be turned over to the military.
The pressure for kills led officers like Julian Ewell to train his underlings in the no-risk, relatively sterile if brutal practice of killing from the air. Ewell’s body-count binge in one of the most populated parts of the country, the Mekong Delta, was code-named Operation Speedy Express. It would culminate in a ratio of 134 KIAs (or killed in action) to every American soldier killed. The problem was that even according to the military’s own findings, and Ewell’s own soldiers, easily more than half of these thousands of KIAs were civilians.
What it all amounted to — as Turse makes clear, and as reporters for Newsweek would find — was essentially an official policy of ongoing My Lais on a monthly, if not weekly basis. By the time Newsweek ran its highly edited follow-up to the courageous Times Book Review piece, the U.S. military had mastered the art of intimidating whistle-blowers, of punishing rank-and-file soldiers in courts-martial but then unilaterally dismissing the charges, of abridging or trivializing punishments, and of disparaging honest reporters and whistle-blowers.
Kill Anything That Moves is a paradigm-shifting, connect-the-dots history of American atrocities that reads like a thriller; it will convince those with the stomach to read it that all these decades later Americans, certainly the military brass and the White House, still haven’t drawn the right lesson from Vietnam — which was that billions were spent to wantonly slaughter as many as 2 million civilians, and that this slaughter was the official policy.
“Whatever remains unconscious emerges later as fate,” wrote psychoanalyst Carl Jung. Given today’s killings from the air, whole zones made up of enemies who are enemies for simply living in a certain area, the impunity of it, Jung was clearly onto something.
Joel Whitney reviewed this book for The San Francisco Chronicle.