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NPR FOR THE DEAF: We Hear It Even When U Can’t

FRESH AIR

On March 16, 1968, between 347 and 504 unarmed Vietnamese civilians were gunned down by members of the U.S. Army in what became known as the My Lai Massacre. The U.S. government has maintained that atrocities like this were isolated incidents in the conflict. Nick Turse says otherwise. In his new book, Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam, Turse argues that the intentional killing of civilians was quite common in a war that claimed 2 million civilian lives, with 5.3 million civilians wounded and 11 million refugees. And as Turse tells Fresh Air’s Dave Davies, “as many as 4 million [were] exposed to toxic defoliants like Agent Orange.” “It’s suffering on an almost unimaginable scale, and it was generally due to heavy firepower,” Turse says. “It’s not these microlevel atrocities in most circumstances.” Turse wrote the book after stumbling on a previously unexplored cache of documents in the basement of the National Archives that detailed allegations of atrocities in Vietnam. The cases, says Turse, “were closed with little or seemingly no investigation done.” “I asked the archivist, I said, ‘Who’s worked with this before?’ And he told me that people had looked at one or two individual case files, but that no one had really worked with the records in total. And when I looked at them, I realized that these weren’t in the secondary literature anywhere. Most of these cases had never been written about by historians, so I knew that this was a significant collection. And it took me a while, but I knew that I needed to work with it.” Turse eventually interviewed more than 100 veterans, and says that the killings “stemmed from deliberate policies that were dictated at the highest levels of the U.S. military” — and that those policies prioritized body count. “They had only this one metric really to go by — body count,” says Turse. “And they really never rethought how to fight the war. So when they weren’t able to achieve victory through attrition — through the body count, basically — the only recourse was to increase the firepower, and this was just turned loose on the Vietnamese countryside.” MORE

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