I never thought I would be a little embarrassed to have been a Marine. Kill Anything That Moves, by Nick Turse is a very disturbing account of American actions in Vietnam.
Mai Lai Massacre is just the tip of the iceberg of American atrocities in Vietnam. This book goes beyond the most famous massacre and beyond napalm and beyond Agent Orange. Day to day murders of civilians for the “body count”, killing everyone in the village including women and children along with all the animals, were not just isolated incidents. It happened too many times to be isolated incidents of a few bad leaders. Misinterpretation of the rules went deep. Search and Destroy was not meant to be destroy everything yo find. Free Fire Zones were not meant to be shoot anything that moves, yet many in leadership roles believed this to be true. If your body count is low…shoot some prisoners to bring it up. Murder and rape were dismissed under the unofficial “Merely Gook Rule”
It is sad that people look back to World War II and ask how backward was man’s thinking then to let those atrocities happen back then. United States being a liberator and “the good guy” fighting evil, only twenty years later to turn it around and become the “bad guy.” It wasn’t just the soldiers and Marines in the field committing massive war crimes. It was American leadership doing it too. America came to war with weapons that were primarily intended to severely would the enemy; cluster bombs, flechettes, napalm. The idea was it was more demoralizing to the enemy to see it’s soldiers painfully wounded, burned, disfigured, or crippled than simply just dead.
My first thoughts, being a Marine and of course learning the long and proud tradition of the marine Corps was to consider Turse’s book hyperbole or plain sensationalism. I imagine this would be close to how the Soviets would have written about America’s imperialistic war in Vietnam. Of course, there were a few mistakes most of us have heard of from Born on the Fourth of July to any number of “based on a true story” Vietnam movies. A few not hundreds of “mistakes.” Turse backs up his writing with almost one hundred pages of documentation. Almost a third of his book (not counting index) is documentation. He makes a compelling and well documented case. A very worthwhile, but disturbing read.