“Vietnam: American Holocaust” Documentary Review
Written by Will Porter.
Review of the Documentary – “Vietnam: American Holocaust”
Narrated by Martin Sheen, this 2008 film documents many American war crimes and atrocities committed during the Vietnam War. Although most of us are well aware of the grizzly treatment afforded the county’s inhabitants, it’s often useful to refresh one’s memory, especially for those of us who are too young to remember, or weren’t yet born. So before we get to the content of the documentary, let’s briefly sketch out some context:
American involvement in the conflict began in 1950, when military advisers were sent to what was then known as French Indo-China, and continued to escalate into the 1960s. U.S. troop levels tripled in ’61, and again in ’62. From 1963 to 1968, American military personnel increased from 16,000 non-combat advisers, to 550,000, many with combat roles.
In 1964, the “Gulf of Tonkin Incident” took place, which involved two alleged North Vietnamese attacks on American destroyer USS Maddox, on August 2 and 4, 1964, in waters off the coast of North Vietnam. The first skirmish, while there remains disputeabout who initiated it, is recognized to have actually happened.
The second attack, on the other hand, almost certainly did not occur. Radar “phantoms” were mistakenly interpreted as hostile torpedo boats, and for about 3 hours the Maddoxand the Turner Joy took evasive actions and attempted a “counter-attack,” yet to no avail. There was nothing to attack.
Hours after the incident, Commander of Destroyer Division 192, Captain John Herrick, who was aboard the Maddox at the time, reported “Review of action makes many reported contacts and torpedoes fired appear doubtful. Freak weather effects on radar and overeager sonarmen may have accounted for many reports. No actual visual sightings by MADDOX. Suggest complete evaluation before any further action taken.”
Strangely, Herrick later changed his mind, and decided an attack did indeed take place on August 4. Navy Commander James Stockdale, who was ordered to prepare an airstrike on the North Vietnamese after the incident, lent support to Herrick’s earlier report when he subsequently said “We were about to launch a war under false pretenses, in the face of the on-scene military commander’s advice to the contrary.”
In a phone conversation recorded August 4 between President Lyndon Johnson and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, reference is made to the “second attack,”before it allegedly took place, as well as to what kind of reaction it would elicit from U.S. armed forces. Here there seems a fairly clear intent to maneuver the North Vietnamese into an overt act of war (a plan not without precedent), in order to justify escalated U.S. involvement in the burgeoning conflict.
Despite the confusion and uncertainty surrounding the second attack that never was, on August 10, 1964, the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was signed into law, granting Johnson broad war making “authority,” without an official declaration of war from the Congress. Afterward, Johnson is alleged to have enthusiastically said that the Resolution “. . . was like Grandma’s nightshirt. It covers everything.”
Apparently “everything” doesn’t include the very foundation of American law. But I, of course, am a patriot. I would never expect the President to worry his already-fatigued mind with any such triflings as constitutions, or limitations on his own power. What are you, a communist?
So there we have it—we were in. Commence the bloodbath.
The war quickly, and illegally, bled over into neighboring countries Laos and Cambodia. Between 1964 and 1973, the U.S. flew approximately 600,000 bombing missions over Laos, where about 2.5 million tons of bombs were dropped.
2.4 tons of bombs were dropped on the Ho Chi Minh Trail alone, almost twice the amount the U.S. air force dropped on Germany during World War 2.
19 million gallons of herbicide was sprayed across some 30,000 square miles of South Vietnam—enough to blanket about 24% of the entire country (North and South combined)—with just under 8,000 square miles of jungle defoliated. Vietnam’s Red Cross recorded 4.8 million people affected, and others estimate 400,000-500,000 children born with birth defects from the use of Agent Orange alone. This likely does not include the effects of Agents White, Blue, Green, Purple, and Pink, however, which were also used during the war.
The general M.O. of this conflict seems to have been: “Kill anything that moves,” or “Kill ’em all, let God sort ’em out.” Indeed, this is affirmed countless times throughout “American Holocaust,” wherein many veterans recount their experiences of burning entire villages to the ground, as well as bearing witness to, or taking part in, the rape, plunder, murder, and ultimate expulsion of the rest of their inhabitants.
The My Lai Massacre took place March 16, 1968, involving the mass killing of up to 504 human beings in the South Vietnamese village of My Lai (pronounced “Me Lie”). 26 soldiers from the Army’s 23rd Infantry Division were eventually charged with criminal offenses, but Lt. William Calley Jr. was the only one convicted.
Highly decorated soldier of the Korean and Vietnam Wars, Colonel David Hackworth,stated in a 2003 interview that “Vietnam was an atrocity from the get-go… There were hundreds of My Lais. You got your card punched by the numbers of bodies you counted.” [Emphasis added]
The Winter Soldier Investigation of 1971, sponsored by anti-war group Vietnam Veterans Against the War, sought to spread knowledge of American war crimes and atrocities committed during the conflict. Over a period of 3 days, 109 war vets, as well as civilian contractors and medical personnel, gave testimony concerning the war crimes they had either witnessed, or took part in. Unfortunately, the event wasn’t covered much outside of Detroit, where it was held, however a film documenting the affair was made and released in 1972.
All in all, somewhere between 3 and 5 million Vietnamese were killed during the war, with over 58,000 American military personnel dead (the youngest were just 16 years old), thousands MIA.
I have hardly even begun to scratch the surface here, this blog post does not do the conflict justice (if I may use such a term). The Vietnam war remains one of the darkest stains on America’s already-black historical record. It is a significant landmark on America’s path to global hegemony, a taste of the now-common disregard for the Constitution and Bill of Rights, for international law, and for the laws of war.
Men, women, children, elderly—virtually no distinction was made during much of the war. All were treated as enemies. American soldiers cursed the countryside of Southeast Asia like a plague, destroying countless lives, inflicting unfathomable suffering and despair upon a population of largely innocent people. America, once the beacon of freedom, prosperity, and civilization for the rest of the world, committed genocide in Vietnam, there is absolutely no question about that.
The 1975 fall of the city of Saigon marks the end of America’s involvement in the conflict, after which the country moved toward reunification under the rule of the Communist Party of Vietnam. Communism didn’t go anywhere, yet a veritable ocean of blood and bile were spilled for the purpose of containing it.
Millions of people dead, their families in grief, the destruction of entire societies, and for what? A few fat fucks got to revel in their own political legacy, while others reaped immense profits from fascistic (not capitalistic) military contracting work.
Yep, sounds about right.
War, a wise man once said, is a racket.
Note: This post could have been 10, 20, 30,000 words or longer. I know that a lot of important information was left out, I know this doesn’t give a very complete picture of the conflict, but this is a blog, I can’t let these posts get too long. Despite its brevity, though, I hope it can offer some valuable resources for further research, maybe a few facts you didn’t know before.
“Cover-Up” – Seymour Hersh
“Kill Anything that Moves” – Nick Turse
Although these are still on my own To-Read list, I know they’re good. Check ’em out.
If you enjoyed Will’s writing, you can find him at his blog, The Market Radical