An investigative journalist indicts the leadership of the American military for war crimes in Vietnam.
Turse (The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives, 2008, etc.) has a reputation for rooting out perceived misdeeds on the part of the U.S. government and has plied his trade investigating drone strikes, arms sales and operations by Special Forces. Here, the author attempts to fold more than a decade of research about the Vietnam War into a not-so-neat package, with mixed results. His thesis is that incidents like the shameful My Lai massacre were not isolated anomalies, but rather the inevitable result of a systemized, operational directive to slaughter the population of Vietnam. In reconstructing the 1967 blood bath at Trieu Ai, Turse finds common elements. “Here was the repeated aerial bombing and artillery fire, pounding the rural population on an almost daily basis and forcing them into underground bunkers,” he writes. “Here was the deliberate burning of peasant homes and the relocation of villagers to refugee camps, where their movements were strictly controlled by the government. And here, too, was the inevitable outcome of the soldiers’ training: all the endless chants of ‘kill, kill, kill,’ the dehumanization of the ‘dinks, gooks, slopes, slants,’ and the constant insistence that even women and small children were to be regarded as potential enemies.” Turse’s research is thorough enough to warrant more than 80 pages of notes, but his assembly of the data available has a manipulative sheen to it. The book also treads a lot of previously covered ground, like the 1969 “Operation Speedy Express,” during which the military claimed more than 10,000 enemy combatants dead but recovered less than 800 weapons—an incident that drew fire as early as 1972. Relying heavily on declassified documents and interviews with survivors, the book reads more like the extension of a predisposed agenda than straight-up journalism.
The imperfect defense of a controversial perspective on the hell that is war.