USA & eternal war

                                   Ex-G.I.'s tell of Vietnam brutality

                                   John Kifner/NYT
                                   Monday, December 29, 2003

                                   Quang Ngai and Quang Nam are provinces in central Vietnam,
                                   between the mountains and the sea. Ken Kerney, William Doyle
                                   and Rion Causey tell horrific stories about what they saw and did
                                   there as soldiers in 1967.

                                   That spring and fall, U.S. troops conducted operations there to
                                   engage the enemy and drive peasants out of villages and into
                                   heavily guarded "strategic hamlets." The goal was to deny the Viet
                                   Cong support, shelter and food.

                                   The fighting was intense and the results, the former soldiers say,
                                   were especially brutal. Villages were bombed, burned and
                                   destroyed. As the ground troops swept through, in many cases
                                   they gunned down men, women and children, sometimes mutilating
                                   bodies - cutting off ears to wear on necklaces.

                                   They threw hand grenades into dugout shelters, often killing entire

                                   "Can you imagine Dodge City without a sheriff?" Kerney asked.

                                   "It's just nuts," he said. "You never had a safe zone. It's shoot too
                                   quick or get shot. You're scared all the time, you're humping all the
                                   time. You're scared. These things happen."

                                   Doyle said he lost count of the people he killed: "You had to have
                                   a strong will to survive. I wanted to live at all costs. That was my
                                   primary thing, and I developed it to an instinct."

                                   The two are among a handful of soldiers at the heart of a series of
                                   investigative articles by The Blade, based in Toledo, Ohio, that has
                                   once again raised questions about the conduct of U.S. troops in

                                   The report, published in October and entitled "Rogue G.I.'s
                                   Unleashed Wave of Terror in Central Highlands," said that in
                                   1967, an elite unit, a reconnaissance platoon in the 101st Airborne
                                   Division, went on a rampage that the newspaper described as "the
                                   longest series of atrocities in the Vietnam War."

                                   "For seven months, Tiger Force soldiers moved across the Central
                                   Highlands, killing scores of unarmed civilians - in some cases
                                   torturing and mutilating them - in a spate of violence never
                                   revealed to the American public," the newspaper said.

                                   At other points it described the killing of hundreds of unarmed

                                   "Women and children were intentionally blown up in underground
                                   bunkers," The Blade said. "Elderly farmers were shot as they
                                   toiled in the fields. Prisoners were tortured and executed - their
                                   ears and scalps severed for souvenirs. One soldier kicked out the
                                   teeth of executed civilians for their gold fillings."

                                   In 1971, the newspaper said, the army began a criminal
                                   investigation that lasted four and a half years, "the longest-known
                                   war-crime investigation of the Vietnam conflict." Ultimately, the
                                   investigators forwarded conclusions that 18 men might face
                                   charges, but no courts-martial were brought.

                                   In recent telephone interviews with The New York Times, three of
                                   the former soldiers quoted by The Blade confirmed that the
                                   articles had accurately described their unit's actions.

                                   But they wanted to make another point: that Tiger Force had not
                                   been a "rogue" unit. Its members had done only what they were
                                   told to do and their superiors knew what they were doing.

                                   "The story that I'm not sure is getting out," said Causey, then a
                                   medic with the unit, "is that while they're saying this was a ruthless
                                   band ravaging the countryside, we were under orders to do it."

                                   Burning huts and villages, shooting civilians and throwing grenades
                                   into protective shelters were common tactics for U.S. ground
                                   forces throughout Vietnam, they said. That contention is backed
                                   up by accounts of journalists, historians and disillusioned troops.

                                   The tactics - particularly in "free-fire zones," where anyone was
                                   regarded as fair game - arose from the frustrating nature of the
                                   guerrilla war and, above all, from the military's reliance on the
                                   body count as a measure of success and a reason officers were
                                   promoted, according to many accounts.

                                   Nicholas Turse, a doctoral candidate at Columbia University, has
                                   been studying government archives and said they were filled with
                                   accounts of similar atrocities. "I stumbled across the incidents The
                                   Blade reported," Turse said by telephone. "I read through that
                                   case a year, year and a half ago, and it really didn't stand out.
                                   There was nothing that made it stand out from anything else. That's
                                   the scary thing. It was just one of hundreds."

                                   In a later e-mail message, he elaborated: "Unfortunately, the
                                   articles tell a story that was all too common. As a historian writing
                                   his dissertation on U.S. war crimes and atrocities during the
                                   Vietnam War, I have been immersed in just the sort of archival
                                   materials The Toledo Blade used in its pieces, but not simply for
                                   one incident but hundreds if not thousands of analogous events. I
                                   can safely, and sadly, say that the Tiger Force atrocities are merely
                                   the tip of the iceberg in regard to U.S.-perpetrated war crimes in

                                   Yet there were few prosecutions.

                                   Besides the My Lai massacre of Vietnamese civilians in 1968, only
                                   36 cases involving possible war crimes from Vietnam went to
                                   army court-martial proceedings, with 20 convictions, according to
                                   the army judge advocate general's office.

                                   Guenter Lewy, who cited the army figures in his 1978 book,
                                   "America in Vietnam," wrote that if a soldier killed a civilian, the
                                   incident was unlikely to be reported as a war crime: "It was far
                                   more likely that the platoon leader, under pressure for body count
                                   and not anxious to demonstrate the absence of good fire discipline
                                   in his unit, would report the incident as '1 VC suspect shot while

                                   Causey, now a nuclear engineer in California, said: "It wasn't like it
                                   was hidden. This was open and public behavior. A lot of guys in
                                   the 101st were cutting ears. It was a unique time period."

                                   Kerney, now a firefighter in California, agreed that the
                                   responsibility went higher.

                                   "I'm talking about the guys with the eagles," he said, referring to
                                   the rank insignia of a full colonel. "It was always about the body
                                   count. They were saying, 'You guys have the green light to do
                                   what's right.'"

                                   While Causey and Kerney became deeply troubled after they
                                   returned from Vietnam, Doyle, a sergeant who was a section
                                   leader in the unit, seemed unrepentant in a long, profanity-laced
                                   telephone conversation.

                                   "I've seen atrocities in Vietnam that make Tiger Force look like
                                   Sunday school," said Doyle, who joined the army at 17 when a
                                   judge gave him, a young street gang leader, a chance to escape

                                   "If you're walking down a jungle trail, those that hesitate die," said
                                   Doyle, who lives in Missouri. "Everybody I killed, I killed to
                                   survive. They make Tiger Force out to be an atrocity. Well, that's
                                   almost a compliment. Because nobody will understand the evil I've

                                   David Hackworth, a retired colonel and much-decorated veteran
                                   of the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam who later became a
                                   journalist and author, said that he created the Tiger Force unit in
                                   1965 to fight guerrillas using guerrilla tactics. Hackworth was not
                                   in command of the unit during the period covered by the Blade
                                   articles because he had rotated out of Vietnam.

                                   "Vietnam was an atrocity from the get-go," Hackworth said in a
                                   recent telephone interview. "It was that kind of war, a frontless
                                   war of great frustration. It was out of hand very early. There were
                                   hundreds of My Lais. You got your card punched by the numbers
                                   of bodies you counted."

                                   Lieutenant Colonel Kevin Curry, an army spokesman, said the
                                   army had compared the Blade articles with the written record of
                                   the earlier investigation and did not intend to reopen the case.

                                   "Absent any new or compelling evidence, there are no plans to
                                   reopen the case," Curry said. "The case is more than 30 years old.
                                   Criminal Investigation Command conducted a lengthy investigation
                                   when the allegations surfaced four years after they reportedly

                                   The New York Times

USA & eternal war