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

The Frosting on the Cake: An Egregious Lack of Justice

Russell Tribunal figures.
Members of the Russell Tribunal: Jean Paul Sartre, Bertrand Russell, and Simone de Beauvoir.

The United States actions in Vietnam arguably constitute both war crimes and crimes against humanity. Why, then, have they not been brought before an international court to account for their crimes. There are two reasons, each more absurd than the other.

  1. They’re too big to try.
  2. They don’t recognize the jurisdiction of any international court.

The one notable exception to this universal reluctance to prosecute the United States wasRusselltribunal1 the Russell Tribunal, also known as the International War Crimes Tribunal, a private body organised in 1966 by Bertrand Russell, British philosopher and Nobel Prize winner, and hosted by French philosopher and writer Jean-Paul Sartre.

Though it lacked legal validity, this symbolic gesture by two of the world’s grand old men, performed a valuable service by merely naming and shaming the United States, along with their running-dog allies, for their heinous crimes in Vietnam.

There Were Black Ops, Too

Setting aside the fact that, since the United States never declared war on Vietnam, everything they did in Indochina can be considered “black ops,” the Phoenix Program merits separate treatment. Phoenix was a counterinsurgency operation executed by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), United States special operations forces, and the Republic of Vietnam’s security apparatus, in which a conservatively-estimated 26,000 Vietnamese patriots suspected of being VC operatives and informants, were murdered outright. Some sources elevate that number to more than 40,000 “suspects.” This is what happened in Hitler’s Germany, Franco’s Spain, Pinochet’s Chile and countless other places. All of those countries, including Vietnam, were thus deprived of valuable leadership in their post-dictatorship societies.

The Metastases of the Vietnam War, Laos and Cambodia

Vietnam was not the only tiny Asian country damned by American intervention during the Second Indochina War. So were Laos and Cambodia, particular victims of intense and extended American bombing

From 1964 to 1973, as part of the Secret War operation conducted during the Vietnam War, the US military dropped 260 million cluster bombs – about 2.5 million tons of munitions – on Laos over the course of 580,000 bombing missions. This is equivalent to a planeload of bombs being unloaded every eight minutes, 24 hours a day, for nine years – nearly seven bombs for every man, woman and child living in Laos. It is more than all the bombs dropped on Europe throughout World War II, leaving Laos, a country approximately the size of Utah, with the distinction of being the most heavily bombed country in history. The problem of some 78 million unexploded cluster bomblets littering rice fields, villages, school grounds, roads and other populated areas in Laos, remains a serious problem today. (Source:
Cambodia was another victim of the American Vietnam war adventure. In 1969, the US air war against Cambodia escalated drastically as part of Nixon’s Vietnamization policy. President Nixon decided to launch a secret bombing campaign there from 18 March 1969 until 26 May 1970. This was Operation Menu. These bombings were an escalation of what had previously been mere tactical air attacks. Newly inaugurated President Richard Nixon authorized for the first time use of long range B-52 heavy bombers to carpet bomb Cambodia.The invasion was under the pretext of disrupting the North Vietnamese supply lines but the goal was to wipe out Vietnamese communist forces located in Cambodia in order to protect the US-backed government of South Vietnam. The United States dropped upwards of 2.7 million tons of bombs on Cambodia, exceeding, again, the amount it had dropped on Japan during WWII (including Hiroshima and Nagasaki) by almost a million tons. During this campaign, about one third of the country’s population was internally displaced. (Source: Wikipedia)

On April 30th of 1970, after his massive bombing campaign had failed in everything except devastating eastern Cambodia, President Richard Nixon declared to a television audience that the American military, accompanied by the South Vietnamese People’s Army, were to invade Cambodia in order to bomb and destroy the Viet Cong base camps, that were backing up the other operations in South Vietnam. (Source:

Unfortunately for him, President Nixon collapsed before Cambodia and Vietnam did, though at the same time Laos was abandoned to the authority of the communist Pathet Lao, which allegedly went on to kill three million of their countrymen.

Summing Up

What methodology does one employ to sum up the Apocalypse? There are no words. What concerns me most about that savage and depraved war the Americans took to a tiny, backward far-off country in the Far East is its utter heartlessness. There was a blanket of unconcern covering every outrage visited on Vietnam, both North and South. No concern for innocent normal people doing normal things: cultivating their crops, raising their children, struggling to put food on their tables. Suddenly they’re expelled from their villages, which are torched (“We had to destroy the village in order to save it.”) and herded into barbed-wire enclosures, or worse. We’re talking here about five million Vietnamese peasants. Nowhere in my research did I come across any hint of humanitarian concerns on the part of the American officials neither military nor civilian while they were busy planning and prosecuting the Vietnam War. Presumably all of them but one could allege they were “just following orders,” a pathetic defense that had been invalid since the Nuremberg war trials.

As for the Commander in Chief, President Richard Nixon, who was ultimately responsible for everything since taking office in 1969, perhaps his most egregious decision of the war was Operation Linebacker II, the so-called “Christmas bombings,” the ruthless strategic bombing of North Vietnam. Begun on December 18, 1972, and lasting until December 29, American B-52s and fighter-bombers dropped over 20,000 tons of bombs on the cities of Hanoi and Haiphong. The United States lost 15 of its B-52s and 11 other aircraft to Russian anti-aircraft missiles before they desisted. North Vietnam claimed over 1,600 civilians killed. (Source:

After 20 years of murderously abusing the Vietnamese people, the only indication of remorse on the part of the Americans that we have is indirect but telling: the estimated 50,000-150,000 suicides of American Vietnam War veterans since the war ended.


The Documentary

The definitive documentary, The Vietnam War, is a 10-part American television documentary series written by Geoffrey C. Ward, directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, and narrated by Peter Coyote, available on Netflix and YouTube.

The Vietnam War–Horror, Hypocrisy and Heartbreak–1/3


More Horrific and Unjustified Than You Can Imagine

The Americans’ active intervention in Vietnam didn’t start with President Kennedy in the early 60’s. It began in 1954 on the heels of France’s historic defeat in the battle of Dien Bien Phu by North Vietnam’s supposedly-inferior army. The score was 1,500 French dead, 10,000 captured. Such a victory over a well-established colonial power–backed, furthermore, by American arms and financing–was unthinkable, but it happened and it prompted the French to pull their troops out of that feisty little southeast Asian country. That was the perfect moment for the Americans not to stick their heads into the Indochinese beehive. So why did they do it? There were a few reasons, all of them specious, in retrospect. They entered the fray with a scant 1,000 “advisors” in 1954, then a few regiments to protect their bases, and wound up with more than half a million combat troops in the country, 68,000 of whom did not make it home alive.

What were they thinking?

  1. The first reason/pretext for going in sounds almost comically lightweight today, but in the mid-’50s, when Americans were building bomb shelters in their backyards, and school children were being trained to take cover under their desks–I remember it well–it was considered of vital importance. The American power structure considered the communist threat to be imminent and deadly serious. Their “domino theory” held that the reds would take small countries one after another, like a line of dominos falling, until they were capable of threatening San Francisco. This imagined scenario had little credence in reality, but it fitted in nicely with American Cold War paranoia of the time.
  2. Then there was the perceived necessity to buoy up Western colonialism in the Far East. Churchill had a lot to say on this subject. He actually proposed to Roosevelt that they should invade the Soviet Union immediately after the war, in order to head off the spread of Communism. If Indochina fell, Malaya, Indonesia and India would be next. Then the Philippines? Who knew? Ironically, the Vietnam war was no deterrent to the inevitable de-colonization that ensued.
  3. The American penchant for “having a go,” for flexing their muscles, trying out new armaments and strategies–though none of them enabled the Yanks to win–was also a factor. Didn’t Bob Dylan say, “…they got a lot of forks and knives, and they gotta cut something.”
  4. As always, there was American overconfidence, the disbelief among US political and military leaders that they could be defeated by a tiny country’s army of tiny soldiers. They had already forgotten that the Vietnamese army, against all odds, had just annihilated the well-dug-in French paratroopers who defended Dien Bien Phu. It was just one more instance of the US military underestimating their enemies.  There are the cases of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, to name just a few.

American “Victories,” Vietnamese Advantages

Unfortunately, at that time, nobody in the American chain of command foresaw the götterdämmerung that loomed ahead of them. Despite their massive advantages in arms and technology, and their claims to have “won every battle,” they were thwarted at every step of the way by the humble, under-equipped and ill-technified little enemies. The principal advantages the Vietnamese enjoyed were superior leadership and a top-to-bottom iron-clad determination not to be subjugated by the Americans. There was another major advantage the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese army enjoyed, and it was a gift from the Americans. It was the extreme ham handedness with which they  treated everything Vietnamese, starting with the terminology itself, “Gooks” and “Slants,” and ending with indiscriminate carpet bombing of their country.

The Vietnamese had seen enough colonial humiliation under the French. That said, the Vietnamese–along with their neighbors, the Cambodians and the Laotians–paid a terrible price in human lives, some 1,5 million dead in Vietnam alone. But they prevailed and made history in the process. Did the Americans learn the lessons of that history? Their entry into Afghanistan a few years later suggests that perhaps they didn’t. That Afghan war, the longest, along with Vietnam, in American history, is just now winding down, and is just another ignominious defeat. Recent research suggests that the Afghan invasion may have had less to do with bin Laden and more with Afghanistan’s massive mineral wealth and the American necessity for bases in central Asia.

Before going into the details of some of the mournful events of the second Vietnam War, the Americans’ war, I cannot overemphasize the fact that it never should have happened. It was based on faulty ideology, wrong-headed ambition and massive cynicism. It was a classic case of unprovoked aggresive war against a grossly weaker “enemy” who had no enmity whatsoever against the United States.  As we will see below, the attack on the American destroyer in the Gulf of Tonkin that set off the open season on the Vietnamese was a lie calculated to justify American escalation. The Second Vietnam War was led, during its most cruel and sanguinary period, by a pair of borderline inhuman politicians: President Richard Nixon and his Secretary of State, Nobel Peace Prize winner, Henry Kissinger, both of whom had dubious psychological profiles. (Let me recommend a book: The Price of Power, Henry Kissinger in the Nixon White House, by Seymour Hersh. There you will find 700 pages of fascinating details on the subject.) Ironically, but in keeping with recent American history, both Nixon and Kissinger have been meticulously rehabilited in the American political folklore.

Some Details, Some Numbers

I would like to review here some of the ill-remembered details and statistics from the United States’ 20-year war on Vietnam. The numbers are so staggering–and represent such a brutal accounting of the American violation of Indochina–that they are seldom cited these days. But I think the Vietnamese people, and all the other people around the world who have been blessed by American intervention in their countries, deserve a modest gesture of respect, so I’m going to note here just a few of the gravest American outrages.

Unsurprisingly, when you begin to research what happened during the Vietnam war, the stories are almost always told from the American point of view: American innovations, American casualties, American POWs, American superiority in everything… Presumably the Vietnamese fought and suffered, too, but they don’t post on Facebook, nor were they supported by the biggest misinformation behemoth in human history, the mainstream media. To find their stories you have to dig a bit deeper or winnow them out of their enemies’ accounts.

Business as Usual; It Began with a Lie

On August 4, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson alerted America on national television that North Vietnam had attacked the American destroyer USS Maddox in the Gulf of Tonkin. Not long after, Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, authorizing Johnson to begin military operations against North Vietnam. What Congress did not know was that President Johnson and his Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, had lied about the Tonkin Gulf incident. North Vietnam never attacked the USS Maddox as the Pentagon had claimed, and the falseness of the attack is now acknowledged–by the National Security Agency (NSA), no less. So the aggression that set off the Vietnam War never happened. It was carefully-contrived propaganda exercise devised to manufacture consent for all-out war, a war that remained undeclared from its dubious beginning to its bitter end. (Source:

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