WAR STORIES: False Atrocity Tales, Swift Boaters, and Winter Soldiers—What Really Happened in Vietnam

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Greiner fails to meet these standards. In trying to frame unassailable arguments, he simply dismisses the legitimacy of views contrary to his own.

When he states that war crimes in Vietnam cannot be understood by comparing them to those committed in other conflicts, he robs the reader of the proper context in which to make sound judgments. War and combat are so extremely divergent from the experiences of peace and security as to constitute their own distinct environment. It is misguided to think we can fairly and rationally analyze human behavior without considering its moral setting.

Historical evidence adduced in War without Fronts is another matter.

Connecting History

William R. Peers's investigation of the My Lai massacre and trial.

For example, he repeatedly cites testimony given during the Winter Soldier Investigation with little indication of the highly-questionable motives or proven falsehoods of many of those who testified. He devotes three pages to a list of anti-communist forces' atrocities compiled by the Provisional Revolutionary Government Information Bureau—the propaganda arm of the National Liberation Front, or Viet Cong—asserting that "It cannot be proven from the divisional files that in this phase of the war [] American units were carrying out massacres in I Corps Tactical Zone but it would be premature, if not negligent, to dismiss out of hand the reports published by the NLF [National Liberation Front] or the North Vietnamese Communist Party about atrocities and war crimes as enemy propaganda and deliberately misleading" He exhibits little compunction in accepting at face value communist reports filled with unsubstantiated, purely propagandistic statements.

This is not to deny that some American units deliberately misreported the number of civilian deaths—they almost certainly did—but one should apply the same standard of skepticism to all sources. Unsupported sweeping generalizations abound. For example, Greiner states that in Vietnam there was an "unspoken rule of thumb A number of questions arise: who exactly followed such an "unspoken rule of thumb?

How did "violent ringleaders" dominate some soldiers?

Ghost Patrol

There can be no answers to these questions without looking at each individual case, which Greiner blithely fails to do. Greiner repeatedly uses charged words and unnecessarily provocative, emotional language.

American soldiers were "zombies" , "terrorists" , "cannon fodder" , and "cowardly marauders" 13 , willing to talk about their participation in war crimes because they were "returning home as losers, wanting to rid themselves of the stigma of defeat" Soldiers suffered from a "rage at their own army" In the wake of the Tet Offensive of , "The unprepared US Armed Forces had disgraced themselves and could only retake [cities and towns] at the cost of civilian casualties" In a final indictment of American society, he adds: "[Vietnam veterans] were to be sure of returning to a society which did not punish, but rewarded, them for their service to the community" Many Vietnam veterans would disagree.

Finally, Greiner is simply wrong about very many aspects of the Vietnam War, both large and small.

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Of IV Corps Tactical Zone, he writes, "in the provinces near the capital Saigon the fighting was over a symbolic presence and a claim of both sides to be in control" He misunderstands the concept of "soft targets" in warfare, noting that their existence "implies a brutalized military strategy" 35 and wrongly states that the Americans' "superior weapons were useless in the jungle" American commanders saw no value in capturing prisoners of war, according to Greiner, because "what mattered was the body count" He writes of "search and destroy" missions as a "strategy," and makes the outrageous claim that the American "objective was to lure as many North Vietnamese soldiers as possible to the South to annihilate them there" The sheer volume of such errors of fact is most distressing in a purportedly scholarly work.

Greiner provides a touch of unintended irony when discussing pacification in Vietnam: "A factual basis was not important to the critics of pacification and accordingly there was no question of discussion, but rather a barrage of emotionally charged verdicts" One may reach the same conclusion about his efforts in writing this book.


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It is true that American service personnel committed atrocities in Vietnam. Some were prosecuted and punished for their actions.

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Without question, many brutal crimes were purposely downplayed at all levels and many more never even came to the attention of military authorities and the American public. Dedicated, dispassionate researchers will uncover more information about this terrible, but very real, side of warfare. Sensationalistic and contentious works like War without Fronts obscure vital truths but sometimes offer a point of departure for serious historians seeking a better understanding of the Vietnam War and of the human condition in general.

On the day she arrived, Rhoads started her work as an emergency room nurse.

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She recalls the mass-casualty events the most. For her small unit, mass-casualty was anything more than ten wounded at a time. Mass-casualty situations often taxed supplies such that not enough supplies remained to save everyone. It was the code of the medical staff to try to save, or at least make comfortable, all injured patrons at the clinic including Americans and Vietnamese prisoners of war.

Rhoads experienced personal conflict when she could not save an American mine victim, but she saved the Vietnamese man who had laid the mine. The ethical distribution of medical supplies was a constant issue during the Vietnam War. The code of ethics for medical staff in Vietnam required staff to help anyone that needed aid.



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