A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam
Random House, 1988
“Soldiers respect a leader who is competent. They admire a leader who is competent and bold. When he is an accomplished student of war, leads boldly, and also savors gambling his own life, he acquires a mystique. Cautious officers shake their heads at this love of danger and condemn it as dare-deviltry, which it often is. They secretly admire it and wish they had as much faith in their luck and the power to lead lesser men that the mystique confers. John Paul Vann’s luck was so good it was called ‘the Vann luck.’”
Early in the Vietnam War, Vann and others saw South Vietnamese peasants as essentially apolitical. They didn’t have philosophical sympathies with Communists or anybody. All they wanted was to till their land in peace. So they scurried toward whoever seemed dominant in their area at a given time. Vann’s solution to South Vietnamese harboring of North Vietnamese guerrillas: remove the reason. Remove the signs that Communists would be kinder to peasants them Saigon was. Win the peasants with kindness and prosperity so that Communism looked unattractive and insurgents couldn’t get a village base. Let the U.S. drill wells for clean drinking water, help farmers build solid ground latrines to eliminate the parasites and intestinal problems that plagued them, set up medical dispensaries and elementary schools. Ship in “fat Yorkshire hogs” and improve rice yields with fertilizers. In ten years you could get the peasants so happy they’d never give comfort and aid to Communist insurgents. But Vann could never sell the idea to higher-ups. All they wanted to do was to fight. The idea of waging peace didn’t appeal to them at all.
In My Lai, March 16, 1968, Second Lieutenant William Calley, Jr. and his troops killed 347 people. “The American soldiers and junior officers shot old men, women, boys, girls, and babies. One soldier missed a baby lying on the ground twice with a .45 pistol as his comrades laughed at his marksmanship. he stood over the child and fired a third time. The soldiers beat women with rifle butts and raped some and sodomized others before shooting them. They shot the water buffalo, the pigs and the chickens. They threw the dead animals into the wells to poison them. They tossed satchel charges into the bomb shelters under the houses. A lot of the inhabitants had fled into the houses. Those who leaped out to escape the explosives were gunned down. All of the houses were put to the torch. Only Calley was convicted of a crime. He was charged with personally killing 109 Vietnamese. A court-martial convicted him of the premeditated murder of at least twenty-two, including babies, and sentenced him to life in prison at hard labor. President Nixon intervened for him. Calley was confined for three years, most of the time under house arrest in his apartment at Fort Benning with visitation rights for a girlfriend.”
pp. 625, 673-74
Massive corruption of South Vietnam was discovered by U.S. and contributed to by members of the U. S. armed forces: The sanitation services collapsed in Saigon, “because the workers quit en masse to work for the wealthier Americans.” Vietnamese secretaries and housemaids often had to give sexual favors or lose their jobs. Taxi drivers no longer wanted to pick up Vietnamese because they couldn’t overcharge them. Saigon had 56,000 registered prostitutes, let alone the amateurs and semi-pros. “The bar girls and their less fortunate sisters who worked the brothels and the streets were pathetic creatures. They flaunted themselves in makeup and clothes they did not know how to wear and swelled their small Vietnamese breasts with injections of silicone to attract bosom-conscious Americans. White collar Vietnamese, especially the generals and politicians, made millions by graft and by leasing space to the American army. Corsican and Chinese gangsters paid off generals and others so as to protect their flourishing heroin and marijuana trade to U.S. soldiers just outside bases.” (P. 673-74) Thousands of American children were fathered by U.S. soldiers in the war. Many thousands were also born during the war, “mother and child almost always casually abandoned when the man went home.” An American’s Vietnam was a “sexual cornucopia.”