From A World to Win News Service

Murderers: The U.S. Army from Vietnam to Iraq

Revolutionary Worker #1220, November 23, 2003, posted at

We received the following from A World to Win News Service:

October 17, 2003. A World to Win News Service . Murder is what the U.S. armed forces do. They did it in Vietnam, and they're doing it in Iraq.

Few recent articles in the world press have been more shocking than a recent series in the U.S. daily Toledo Blade (see They describe in detail a seven-month killing spree by the Tiger Force, an elite, all-volunteer unit of 45 U.S. soldiers, as they moved through Vietnam's Central Highlands. The newspaper concludes, "At least 81 civilians and prisoners were fatally shot or stabbed between May and November 1967, according to classified Army records. But based on more than 100 Blade interviews with former Tiger force soldiers and civilians, the platoon is estimated to have killed hundreds of unarmed villagers."

Atrocities of the Tiger Force

Among the incidents recounted today by soldiers (some repentant, some not) and Vietnamese survivors:

A 12-year-old boy grabbed and led away by U.S. troops, never to be seen again. A 15-year-old killed because a soldier wanted his trainers (sneakers). An old man shot in the head because a soldier wanted to test his new handgun. An assault on a group of elderly peasants working their fields in Dao Hue, leaving four dead and others wounded. "We knew the farmers were not armed to begin with," a GI told the Blade , "but we shot them anyway."

Two partially blind men, found wandering in a valley, seized and executed. Soldiers seeing women and children crawling into a bunker to take shelter from them, and throwing grenades in. All night long the soldiers ignored the pleas and groans of the wounded until they all died.

Prisoners tortured and executed, their ears cut off for souvenirs, their teeth kicked out of their head for the gold fillings. A soldier slitting the throat of a prisoner with a hunting knife, scalping him and hanging the scalp on the end of his rifle. A prisoner ordered to dig a bunker, then beaten with his shovel and shot to death. A Buddhist monk who protested these deeds and was then beaten to death himself.

When the Army questioned Tiger Force soldiers some decades ago, 27 of them said, "The severing of ears was an accepted practice." Platoon members wore necklaces of ears on shoelaces around their neck. "There was a period when just about everyone had a necklace of ears," a medic recently recalled.

The medic counted 120 villagers killed in just one month. "We would go into the villages and just shoot everybody. We didn't need an excuse. If they were there, they were dead."

The platoon was part of the 327th battalion, so it set a goal of 327 "kills". It reported that it had met this quota. They received medals for this achievement, becoming one of the more decorated units in the U.S. armed forces during the Vietnam war. The most vicious soldiers got the most medals.

Responsibility Lies at Top Levels of the U.S.

At one point the Blade calls these men "rogue soldiers," as if they were acting on their own and contrary to orders. But to the report's credit, it documents a truth that is just the opposite: they were doing exactly what they were supposed to do. Soldiers in the unit who protested were told to shut up. The officers made sure everyone had blood on their hands so that no one could tell on the others. And the medic says there was no way anyone could leave the unit alive unless they were wounded in battle. These officers, in turn, were in frequent radio contact with their superiors at headquarters, who called for more and more murder.

The responsibility goes all the way up to the top. The Army investigated four years later and concluded by not charging anyone. In 1975, the case reached the Pentagon and the White House, who decided to ignore it and seal the records. After the Blade series was published, the U.S. military still said it would do nothing, even though it would be legally possible and not unprecedented to press charges at this date.

In fact, the main effect of the Army's 1970s investigation seems to have been to silence the men involved.

At that time, the U.S. government sought to empty vast areas of the Vietnamese countryside of peasants, so that the Vietnamese fighting the American occupation would have no people to rely on and no rice to eat. Before the Tiger force entered the region, U.S. warplanes dropped defoliants to kill off all plant life and deprive the guerrilla fighters of natural cover. The Americans air-dropped leaflets ordering the peasants to move into what the Pentagon called relocation centers, or "strategic hamlets," where they would be kept under guard to make sure they didn't help the anti-invasion fighters.

The Tiger Force's mission was to terrify the peasants into moving into the U.S.-controlled camps. The random violence and even the public display of mutilated human flesh had a strategic political purpose: to terrorize the people, drive them away from the revolutionary fighters, and get them to follow U.S. orders.

From Vietnam to Iraq Today

Fast forward, past the American invasions of Grenada, Panama, Sudan, the first Gulf War and Afghanistan, to Iraq today.

In what was almost an echo of the Blade series the same week, Human Rights Watch issued a report exposing the murder of civilians by the U.S. military in Iraq. Based on on-the-spot investigations and interviews with victims' families, witnesses, and officials, the human rights organization compiled a list of 94 civilians killed by American soldiers in Baghdad from May 1 to September 30, 2003 in "questionable circumstances," according to "credible reports." The NGO said that its investigators had "confirmed" these reports in 20 cases.

These unarmed men, women, and children were shot down or otherwise murdered mainly in three kinds of incidents: military home invasions; American soldiers shooting wildly into markets, crowded sidewalks and so on; and people killed in their cars at U.S. roadblocks.

There are 19 "case studies." For instance: with no warning, U.S. soldiers set up a checkpoint in a dark street. A carload of three teenagers blasting music and apparently unaware of the checkpoint fails to stop. The driver is killed. The soldiers also open fire on the car behind them, even though it has not yet reached the roadblock. The mother and two of the children survive, the father and two other children are killed.

There are many, many eyewitness accounts of similar incidents. With a few adjustments, they could be descriptions of police in the ghettos and poor neighbourhoods of American cities. In Iraq, the Human Rights Watch report points out, all "dark-skinned people in civilian clothes" are considered the enemy.

The report does not claim to be a comprehensive view of American atrocities in Iraq. It simply documents some incidents in the capital.

The massacre at Falluja, west of Baghdad, where U.S. troops killed up to 20 civilians, is not included in the report because it took place on April 28 and 30, before Bush declared the war in Iraq over. Falluja was the scene recently of a successful ambush of a U.S. convey. Teenagers danced and shouted for joy in the light of the burning vehicles, and drivers honked their horn in celebration.

Anti-invasion guerrillas attacked American troops six times in six days. On October 24, resistance forces fired on a patrol, wounding three soldiers. As they have been doing all along, the U.S. military retaliated. "Immediately after the attack, which damaged a Humvee, troops fired randomly and two helicopters hovered overhead," a witness recounted. The Guardian wrote, "After the attack, troops detained several Iraqi civilians, including one who was dragged from his vehicle and punched repeatedly in the kidney as he fell to the ground."

Maybe that man was lucky. On October 20, 30 U.S. soldiers were searching a Falluja intersection for bombs when a booby trap went off, killing one of them. The Americans began to spray gunfire blindly all around, killing a truck driver. Then, according to what the family told an Associated Press correspondent, the soldiers stormed into a home, handcuffed the father and led him outside, and then shot him dead.

Once again, these are not just spontaneous acts of brutality. Those who need proof that the U.S. military and government want such things to happen should think about this: these crimes are what everyone knows about, not the hidden murders and the mass killings that leave no witnesses. Yet American authorities have brought soldiers to trial for only five incidents. In four of them, the military determined that its soldiers were doing the right thing. In only one incident was there any (very minor) punishment, not for killing but for the helicopter pilot who pulled down a Shia flag in Baghdad, committing what the occupiers deemed a political error. That was a violation of orders.

Vietnam and Iraq have in common being totally unjust U.S. invasions. All of the fighting by American soldiers was and is in an evil cause. But more, the nature of these wars meant and still means that killing civilians in cold blood is the signature of the U.S. armed forces.

If the killings in Vietnam seem, so far at least, to have been on a bigger scale, that may be because the war was on a bigger scale. Despite half a million troops, whose officers tried to make as much like Tiger Force as possible, the U.S. completely failed to separate the "fish from the water," the revolutionary fighters from the people. The more the U.S. found itself in the shadow of defeat at the hands of the Vietnamese people, the more desperate and vicious it became.

Although many people around the world may think otherwise, Americans are not born with a murder gene. The method of the U.S. ruling class, like all reactionary rulers, is to send young people on a mission of oppression, and then, when the people resist that oppression, to use the deaths of the soldiers that these reactionaries are responsible for as a means to freak out and spur on their soldiers to commit atrocities.

One factor in forcing the U.S. to end the Vietnam war was the rebellion of its own troops, who resisted in countless ways--from avoiding battle to killing their officers to joining the mass movement against the war. Some were awakened to the nature of the imperialist system in the course of that war and came to side with the Vietnamese people and the people of the world.

Many of those ex-soldiers marched in the demonstrations against the Iraq occupation in Washington and other U.S. cities on October 25, along with the families of soldiers presently in Iraq. Of the 1,300 or so soldiers who have come home on leave from this war so far, 27 have refused to go back to Iraq.