Journalists Sallah and Weiss expand their Pulitzer Prize–winning account of American atrocities in Vietnam to book length.
Tiger Force was a Special Forces–like unit made up of men who had already passed tough paratrooper training. Founded by David Hackworth—reputedly the model for Marlon Brando’s character in Apocalypse Now—the unit was intended to “outguerrilla the guerrillas,” scrapping the techniques of conventional warfare to take the fight to the enemy in the jungle. Along the way, it also scrapped the rules of war; as Sallah and Weiss show, every soldier received written instructions over what was and was not allowed but just as quickly threw them away. Unlike Special Forces, Tiger Force was made up of a mixed lot, elite only in the fighting sense. Many had done jail time, and many Tiger Force veterans died young, of cancer or cirrhosis or suicide; one of the most violently inclined, an Apache Indian always close at hand at the book’s darkest moments, died at 34. But commanders set the tone, and Tiger Force’s leaders were close to psychopathic in their hatred for Vietnamese people, no matter what side they were supposed to be on: The most damning passages point to a breakdown of discipline and dangerous, murderous incompetence at the top. In that climate, many of Tiger Force’s soldiers took to killing indiscriminately while trying desperately to “minimize the emotions associated with the events”—and thereby justifying their actions, even as some of the soldiers tried to steer their comrades back on course. Said one, “The valley was a shitty place for all of us. But we didn’t have to pick on civilians. We were the Tigers. We were above that.”
It took years of tireless research on the part of an Army investigator to bring this appalling story to even the barest glimmer of light. Sallah and Weiss do a solid job of unearthing the rest of it.