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Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Subject of Unnecessary Force and Brutality in Vietnam

Again, I am saying my thing before I post this scene to try to decrease the chances of anyone taking the scene itself or the fact that I wrote it at all in the wrong way. When guys started coming home from Nam stories started circulating about instances where villages full of civilians were burned to the ground, all of the residents slaughtered, and all for nothing. There were hearings on war crimes galore throughout the end of the war. And then, when the story finally broke about the massacre in My Lai long after it took place and the attempted cover up of it was reveled, it seemed to make many wonder what else had been swept under the rug during the course of the war. Here is how I feel about it. I believe there probably were times when villages were burned and civilians were killed. It was a WAR. I think it would be impossible to fight a war without civilian casualties. I think that the most common reason for this was probably the fact that in Vietnam most of the time it was hard as hell to discover who were your allies and who would blow your fucking head off first chance they got. If the soldiers mistook an enemy for a friend, they were killed or wounded. If they mistook a friend for an enemy, civilians died. The price for being wrong is usually human life one way or the other in war. However, just like any other position with power, I am sure there were probably a small number of cases where the guy in charge was sadistic and he killed in cold blood, ordering his men to do the same, or he just didn't give a shit and he killed in cold blood ordering his men to do the same. Any position with power can attract a sociopath so imagine how much sweeter it could be for someone who is truly screwed up if that position gives you power over life and death. Every war has probably seen its share of men in command like that and every war to come will probably be no different. This is, in my opinion, the exception, though...not the rule. In Castles Made of Sand, when Eric came home he was a total wreck. Mentally and emotionally, the war damaged him in a life altering way. Giving him a crazy platoon leader seemed to be a good explanation for why Eric was messed up beyond the "norm". The reason behind this scene is as simple as that. It isn't because I think this sort of thing was common in the war. It was simply an explanation for my character's state of mind.

     'For a moment we sat in silence just looking at one another. I tried to picture the seventeen year old boy who only wore black turtle necks and black boots, the boy who wore glasses he didn’t need because he thought he looked sophisticated with them. He was gone. He was as long gone as the eighteen year old girl who left Ohio a scared cat in an old Chevy. In their places sat the soldier and the hippie. Both of us had gotten more than we bargained for out of life and both of us were changed by what we saw. “What were you thinking of, Eric? Tonight, I mean. Do you remember?”
     I felt his grip on my hand tighten as if to keep him to the spot. “Ah, you don’t want to hear that shit, cuz.” He replied with a grimace.
     “Yeah I do.” When he said nothing I added softly, “What happened over there, whatever you had to do, it was not your fault! You did what you were told to do by the government that sent you there! No matter how many lives you think you took, you are not a murderer! You, and all of the guys that were with you, are victims the same as those you were ordered to kill. All of you were used and all of you have suffered so much. I am not going to judge you no matter what you tell me.”
     Always the thoughtful one, Eric seemed to ponder this. Sighing, he said, “There was this village by the Ma Cong River that was full of civilians. One day…I don’t know, the commanders got orders to raid this place. All of us were told that the VC had been using the village as a hide out, that they were using the people as spies. We were told as soon as we got there to kill everyone. Men, women, babies, it didn’t fucking matter. I couldn’t do it, Lizzy. There was this young girl, about fifteen or so, holding a new baby in her arms and she was pleading with me not to spare her but to spare her child. I could not do what they told me to do.”
     “So what happened?” I asked when Eric paused.
     “My commander came over and he blew her fucking head off. Then he picked up that baby, that little baby, and he just snapped his little neck like it wasn’t shit to him. The mother fucker put me through hell after that day and from then on out I did whatever he fucking told me to do!”
     Eric looked drained suddenly, like he needed peace, sleep, those things he couldn’t find. “It wasn’t your fault!” I whispered, standing up and bending down to kiss the top of his head. “You need to go back in there with Julie and go to bed and dream pleasant dreams. Don’t let what happened over there haunt you because you are not to blame.”
     He stood up, apparently intent on taking my advice. “Thanks, cuz.”
     “For what?” I asked, switching off the light. Ross slept soundly, oblivious to the fear that had just hung over the living room.
     “For everything you said to me. You are the first person since I came home that has said I’m not to blame and I really appreciate it. I would also appreciate it if we could keep this between us for a while. I don’t want to freak Julie out and I am going to tell her…just not yet.”
     “You need to tell her soon. She’ll understand, Eric. She’s loved you for a long time.” I let that observation slip out without thinking but his face showed no hint of surprise. “But when she finds out it won’t be from me.”
     We were standing in the hallway, him at Julie’s door and me at mine. “Thanks. And, uh, I love you, long hair.” He chuckled.
     “I love you too, solider boy. Now go and get some sleep.”'
Perhaps the most talked about example of such hearings and testimony on this was that of John Kerry talking about what happened at My Lai:
A short video just giving an overview:
And again, I want to restate the fact that what happened at My Lai and in similar cases was not typical, it wasn't how things occurred on a daily basis, and in my opinion, instances like this should in no way have been blamed on the men taking orders but rather on those who are giving the orders. In the military, soldiers are taught discipline and to take orders without question. Our military depends on this. The men who were doing what they were trained to do were never the guilty ones in my book.

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