Based on classified documents and first-person interviews, a startling history of the American war on Vietnamese civilians
Americans have long been taught that events such as the notorious My Lai massacre were isolated incidents in the Vietnam War, carried out by "a few bad apples." But as award-winning journalist and historian Nick Turse demonstrates in this groundbreaking investigation, violence against Vietnamese noncombatants was not at all exceptional during the conflict. Rather, it was pervasive and systematic, the predictable consequence of orders to "kill anything that moves."
Drawing on more than a decade of research in secret Pentagon files and extensive interviews with American veterans and Vietnamese survivors, Turse reveals for the first time how official policies resulted in millions of innocent civilians killed and wounded. In shocking detail, he lays out the workings of a military machine that made crimes in almost every major American combat unit all but inevitable. Kill Anything That Moves takes us from archives filled with Washington's long-suppressed war crime investigations to the rural Vietnamese hamlets that bore the brunt of the war; from boot camps where young American soldiers learned to hate all Vietnamese to bloodthirsty campaigns like Operation Speedy Express, in which a general obsessed with body counts led soldiers to commit what one participant called "a My Lai a month."
Thousands of Vietnam books later, Kill Anything That Moves, devastating and definitive, finally brings us face-to-face with the truth of a war that haunts Americans to this day.
After a decade of scouring Pentagon archives and interviewing Vietnamese survivors and American vets, Turse (The Complex) offers this detailed, well-documented account of the "real" Vietnam War, "the one that so many would like to forget." The author shows that, contrary to popular belief, the massacre at My Lai was not an isolated incident; one soldier wrote in a 1971 letter to President Nixon that "the atrocities that were committed at Mylai are eclipsed by similar American actions throughout the country." The bulk of the book is devoted to a grueling recounting of these killings, and Turse leaves little room for doubt that "urder, torture, rape, abuse, forced displacement, home burnings, specious arrests, imprisonment without due process" were encouraged by body count minded war managers and badly trained junior officers, and abetted by Gen. William Westmoreland's search-and-destroy strategy. Turse maintains a one-sided historicism regarding the innumerable American war crimes, and while this tight focus allows for an in-depth take on a horrific war, it's hard to imagine what kind of readership the author had in mind when he began his gruesome project. Nevertheless, the whistle-blowers chronicled attest to the voices of reason that spoke up in the midst of carnage.