The Vietnam War–Horror, Hypocrisy and Heartbreak–2/3

Enter the B-52


The Boeing B-52 Stratofortress is a gigantic, eight-engined, American long-range, subsonic, jet-powered strategic bomber, which also doubled as a tactical bomber supporting American troops in Vietnam. The B-52, which came into service in 1955, was designed to carry nuclear weapons for Cold-War deterrence missions. Fortunately, it never had to drop any atomic bombs. Capable of carrying up to 70,000 pounds (32,000 kg) of weapons (compared to the B-17 on a long range bombing mission over Germany during World War II carrying a 4,000-pound payload), it is capable of previously-unthinkable devastation whether dropping napalm, anti-personnel cluster bombs, chemical defoliants or the dreaded white phosphorous, which burned its way to the bone. Mass bombing was the Americans’ “ace in the hole” that would, in theory, guarantee victory, even in the worst of circumstances. Operation Rolling Thunder, the American’s first massive bombing campaign in Vietnam, began in 1965, with the objective of bombing North Vietnam into submission, something they never achieved, even after the biggest bombing campaign in history. The work horse of these missions was the B-52. (B-52 Source: Wikipedia)

The B-52 is capable of flying so high that, despite its gargantuan size and power, it can neither be seen nor heard from the ground. Its deliveries came as a terrifying surprise, except to North Vietnam’s radar-guided Soviet anti-aircraft installations, featuring the V-75 (“SA-2 GUIDELINE” in NATO-speak) missile system,  which brought a lot of B-52s down, some of which can be seen today at Hanoi’s military museum. The bombardment of North Vietnam and its neighbors began shortly after the Gulf of Tonkin incident in August 1964, and continued until the last American was airlifted out of Saigon over a decade later. All told, the U.S. Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps together conducted at least 2.8 million combat missions against ground targets, while the air forces of South Vietnam, Laos, Australia, and South Korea added an additional 360,000 missions to the tally. (Source: globalsecurity,org)

By the time the United States ended its Southeast Asian bombing campaigns, after the last American was evacuated from Saigon in 1975, the total tonnage of ordnance dropped on Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia approximately tripled the totals for World War II, with more bombs dropped than in all previous wars. The Indochinese bombings amounted to 7,662,000 tons of explosives, compared to 2,150,000 tons in the Second World War. The effects of this unprecedented volume and density of aerial bombing of both military and, unavoidably, civilian objectives, were nothing short of diabolical, comparable only with the use of American atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the fire bombing of Tokyo. The American air campaign during the Vietnam War was the largest in military history. Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force, General Curtis LeMay, (portrayed by George C. Scott as the insane General Buck Turgidson in Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb), stated “We’re going to bomb them back into the Stone Age”. (Source:

American Atrocities and Their Effects on the Vietnamese People

The Vietnam War was a textbook example of War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity, defined as follows:

war crime is an act that constitutes a serious violation of the laws of war that gives rise to individual criminal responsibility. Examples of war crimes include intentionally killing civilians or prisoners, torturing, destroying civilian property, taking hostages, performing a perfidy, raping, using child soldiers, pillaging, declaring that no quarter will be given, and seriously violating the principles of distinction and proportionality, and military necessity. (Source: Wikipedia)

Crimes against humanity are certain acts that are deliberately committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian or an identifiable part of a civilian population. The first prosecution for crimes against humanity took place at the Nuremberg trials. (Source: Wikipedia)

The atrocities of the American military in Vietnam, besides the bombing, include the killing of civlians–men, women and children–at close range, burning their villages and herding them into virtual concentration camps where they could be effectively isolated from the Viet Cong. This Nazi-style forced-displacement initiative was referred to as the “Strategic Hamlet Program.” The most egregious example of textbook atrocity, which came to light thanks to the legendary American investigative reporter, Seymour (Sy) Hersh, was the My Lai massacre.

The My Lai massacre was one of the most horrific incidents of violence committed against unarmed civilians during the Vietnam War. A company of American soldiers brutally killed most of the people—women, children and old men—in the village of My Lai on March 16, 1968. More than 500 people were slaughtered in the My Lai massacre, including young girls and women who were raped and mutilated before being killed. (Source:

By the time the My Lai massacre ended, 504 people were dead. Among the victims were 182 women—17 of them pregnant—and 173 children, including 56 infants. Although the events and actors at My Lai are lavisly documented, the legal repercussions for the participants–notably the officers involved–were ludicrously mild. According to, only 14 men were charged, including Lt. William Calley, the unit commander; Captain Ernest Medina; and Colonel Oran Henderson. They were all acquitted except for Lt. Calley, who was convicted of premeditated murder for ordering the shootings, despite his contention that he was only following orders from his commanding officer, Captain Medina. In March 1971, Calley was given a life sentence for his role in directing the killings at My Lai. Many saw Calley as a scapegoat, and his sentence was reduced upon appeal to 20 years and later to 10; he was paroled in 1974. That’s three years’ imprisonment for the premeditated rape and murder of an entire village, including toddlers and babes in arms.

My Lai Was Not an Accident

Nor was My Lai an “isolated incident.” According to a report published on, investigative journalist Nick Turse has uncovered convincing evidence that war crimes in Vietnam were common. In late 1968, the 9th Infantry Division, under the command of Gen Julian Ewell, was engaged in a large-scale operation in the Mekong Delta, the densely populated deep south of Vietnam. Ewell, who became known as the Butcher of the Delta, was notorious for his body-count fixation. He chastized subordinates who killed insufficient numbers and turned loose hellish firepower on civilians.

One of the soldiers present at My Lai wrote to William Westmoreland, US Army Chief of Staff, requesting an investigation. He reported that artillery called in on villages had killed women and children. Helicopter gunships had frightened farmers into running and then cut them down. Troops on the ground had done the same thing. The result was industrial-scale slaughter, the equivalent, he said, to a “My Lai each month.” (Source:

A My Lai Photo Album

(Click to enlarge)



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Author: Michael Booth

Michael Booth, the creator of, is a US-born publicist, author and online publisher who has lived in a Spanish village in the foothills of Sierra Nevada for the past five decades. Though better known abroad for his fine-art printmaking sites and online magazine, Booth's day job for the past decade and a half, until recently, was his communications agency, dedicated principally to designing and implementing Internet strategies for Spanish companies and institutions. It took him a long time to get out of publicity and into writing but it was worth the wait.

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