Tag Archives: Vietnam

Two wrenching views of the U.S. military at war, Part 1: Vietnam

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A review of Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam, by Nick Turse

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This is the first of two reviews of recent books that deal with the U.S. military at war. In a subsequent post, I’ll review The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor by Jake Tapper, which presents a dramatically different perspective on the subject by focusing on one small American unit in the field in Afghanistan four decades later. 

If you were following the news in 1971, chances are you were aware at least dimly of the Winter Soldier investigation, when American soldiers, sailors, and marines testified to the atrocities they had witnessed, or even participated in, during their service in Vietnam. You may also have come across reports in newspapers and magazines from time to time about other war crimes committed by the U.S. military there. However, like most of us who followed news of the war only sporadically, you probably thought only about the 1968 My Lai Massacre whenever the subject of U.S. war crimes in Vietnam saw the light of day.

The frenzy of reporting and commentary on that single event was so voluminous that you may remember some of the names of those involved: Seymour Hersh, whose fame as an investigative reporter began with his disclosure of the massacre; Ron Ridenhour, the soldier whose persistent efforts finally succeeded in gaining a hearing; and Lt. William Calley, the only person convicted of criminal acts in connection with the massacre of more than 500 Vietnamese villagers.

My Lai was characterized by the Pentagon and the Nixon Administration as an aberration, the result of “a few bad apples” such as Calley. But it was nothing of the sort, as Nick Turse reminds us in his shattering new book, Kill Anything That Moves.

The sheer scope of the Vietnam War was far greater than that of the U.S. military efforts in Iraq or Afghanistan. More than 10 times as many Americans died in Vietnam than in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. Even more significantly, some 3.8 million Vietnamese died in that conflict, according to the best available estimate, while Iraqi and Afghan casualties are measured in hundreds of thousands. In 1969, the peak of U.S. engagement in Vietnam, more than 540,000 troops were serving there. As Turse notes, “Over the entire course of the conflict, the United States would deploy more than 3 million soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen, and sailors to Southeast Asia.”

As Turse illustrates, the reality of the war they experienced was far worse than even the most lurid mainstream reporting disclosed. Far from being an outlier, the My Lai Massacre was typical of the daily experience in much of the country for years on end, although no instance came to light in Turse’s research with nearly as many dead as the 500 who perished at My Lai. As Turse notes, “I’d thought I was looking for a needle in a haystack; what I found was a veritable haystack of needles . . . [A]trocities were committed by members of every infantry, cavalry, and airborne division, and every separate brigade that deployed without the rest of its division — that is, every major army unit in Vietnam.”

Turse displays his findings in heart-wrenching and ultimately numbing detail. However, his major contribution in Kill Anything That Moves is to explain why so very many U.S. troops participated in the virtually indiscriminate murder of Vietnamese civilians. It was all a matter of policy set at the highest levels. 

The war, and war planning, were grounded in the racist assumptions underlying the emphasis on the “body count.” Turse: “[E]verything came down to the ‘body count’ — the preeminent statistic that served in those years as both the military’s scorecard and its raison d’etre.” When senior officers rated junior officers on the numbers of “enemy” dead they reported, junior officers demanded that enlisted men “kill anything that moves” in the belief that it made no difference whether the dead Vietnamese were “Viet Cong”, supporters of the allied U.S. government in the South, or simply peasants who couldn’t care less —  didn’t “they all look the same”, anyway? “While officers sought to please superiors and chased promotions, the ‘grunts’ in the field also had a plethora of incentives to produce dead bodies. These ranged from ‘R&R’ (rest and recreation) passes . . . to medals, badges, extra food, extra beer, permission to wear nonregulation gear, and light duty at base camp.”

Kill Anything That Moves is an indispensable contribution to the enormous body of writing about one of the most significant — and most tragic — episodes in the history of the United States.

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The CIA, the mistress, and JFK’s assassination: An astonishing but true story (Part 4)

Part 2 of a review of Mary’s Mosaic: The CIA Conspiracy to Murder John F. Kennedy, Mary Pinchot Meyer, and Their Vision for World Peace, by Peter Janney

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This is Part 4 of a 4-part series on Mary’s Mosaic. Click here for Part 1. 

It’s difficult for anyone who didn’t experience that time in our history to appreciate the high stakes in politics at the top in Washington, D.C. then:

  • Early in Kennedy’s Presidency, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spearheaded by a notoriously bellicose Air Force general named Curtis LeMay, presented a plan to launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike against the USSR in June 1963. Kennedy disgustedly rejected the plan out of hand — and thereafter was deemed “dangerous” by the Chiefs and their allies in the CIA. For its part, the CIA essentially ignored orders from the White House from that time on.
  • Ever since 1953, when Allen Dulles was named Director of the CIA, the agency had been compiling an astonishing record of illegal behavior. The agency had overthrown the governments of at least six nations, not just Iran and Guatemala (which are so well known). CIA agents and contractors had attempted to assassinate a number of world leaders in addition to Fidel Castro, and the agency had undertaken extensive surveillance of U.S. citizens within the borders of the country. All this, too, has been well documented.
  • Following the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, President Kennedy was incandescent with fury at the CIA, and they with him. Kennedy wanted to break the agency up into “a thousand little pieces” and scatter them about the government. He fired Director Allen Dulles and replaced him with an inexperienced outsider, effectively leaving the agency under the control of counterintelligence chief Jim Angleton and his inner circle, a handful of other wealthy sons of Yale, Princeton, and other Ivy League colleges who held high-ranking posts in the agency.

Given this set of facts, is it any wonder that the CIA would kill the President?

After reading Mary’s Mosaic, my mind is awash with a hundred other facts and factors, but I won’t reveal any more. Although the focus is on Mary Pinchot Meyer’s murder, the book contains extensive information, much of it revealed only within the last 12 or 13 years, about JFK’s assassination. It makes the case convincingly.

According to the book’s website, author “Peter Janney grew up in Washington, D.C. during the Cold War era of the 1950s and 1960s. His father Wistar Janney was a senior career CIA official. The Janney family was intimately involved with many of Washington’s social and political elite that included the family of Mary and Cord Meyer, as well as other high-ranking CIA officials such as Richard Helms, Jim Angleton, Tracy Barnes, Desmond FitzGerald, and William Colby.”

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The CIA, the mistress, and JFK’s assassination: An astonishing but true story (Part 3)

Part 3 of a review of Mary’s Mosaic: The CIA Conspiracy to Murder John F. Kennedy, Mary Pinchot Meyer, and Their Vision for World Peace, by Peter Janney

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This is Part 3 of a 4-part series on Mary’s Mosaic. Click here for Part 1. 

Why all the skullduggery surrounding the murder of a Washington socialite, you might ask? Well, it transpired that:

(a) Mary had been sleeping with JFK for several years, and the two were in love with each other. JFK was a sex addict and continued having sex with an untold number of other women, but Mary was special. By 1963 he was planning to divorce Jackie on leaving the White House and marrying Mary. His brother Bobby and his closest male friend, and Mary’s closest friends, all were aware of these facts.

(b) Mary came from a family of suffragists and pacifists and was unalterably opposed to war. She was also a free spirit who had sought out Timothy Leary at Harvard to experience LSD, which she introduced to the President. Under Mary’s influence and the influence of the drug, and in the wake of the nearly catastrophic Cuban Missile Crisis that came so close to incinerating the planet, JFK resolved to sidestep the Pentagon and the CIA and seek world peace in a serious way. In fact, he was already engaged in secret negotiations with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev about a test ban treaty and other confidence-building measures that, they agreed in writing, would lead to an end to the Cold War. He had also dispatched a personal envoy to Cuba who was meeting with Fidel Castro about similar measures on the day he was murdered. And, weeks before his assassination, JFK issued an executive order to bring back 1,000 troops from Vietnam in 1963 and all the rest by 1965. All this has been documented.

(c) When President Kennedy was murdered, Mary was convinced that the CIA was involved. She was close to many prominent CIA officials, including her ex-husband and Jim Angleton, who had been the godfather of their three sons. She had been making the rounds in Washington and elsewhere, asking questions about the assassination and making no secret of her suspicions. She was determined to learn the truth and make it widely known.

(d) Mary had been a life-long diarist who wrestled with her most intimate thoughts in writing. Her diary, which has never publicly surfaced, was thought by all her friends as well as the CIA to contain revelations not just about JFK’s turn toward peace but about his murder as well. The few who had seen it confirmed those suspicions.

Tomorrow: Part 4

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The CIA, the mistress, and JFK’s assassination: An astonishing but true story (Part 2)

Part 2 of a review of Mary’s Mosaic: The CIA Conspiracy to Murder John F. Kennedy, Mary Pinchot Meyer, and Their Vision for World Peace, by Peter Janney

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This is Part 2 of a 4-part series on Mary’s Mosaic. Click here for Part 1. 

The central subject of this extraordinary book is the murder of Mary Pinchot Meyer in October 1964. Mary was the niece of Gifford Pinchot, a Teddy Roosevelt confidante, the first head of the U.S. Forest Service, and a former two-term Governor of Pennsylvania. Previously a journalist, she was a practicing artist in middle age in the early 1960s and prominent in Washington social circles. She was also so striking that practically everyone who spoke about her commented on her beauty.

What the public knew at the time was merely that Washington D.C. police had arrested a terrified young African-American man whom two witnesses identified as standing over her body as it lay on the tow-path by the Potomac Canal in Georgetown. When the alleged killer finally went to trial in 1965, he was acquitted as the result of unusually skillful courtroom work by his pro bono attorney.

Later — in many cases, decades later — it became clear that the man arrested for the killing had been elaborately framed. Here are just some of the salient facts that prove Mary Pinchot Meyer was murdered by the CIA:

  • The first witness testified at the trial that the man standing over Mary’s body was stocky, between 5’8″ and 5’10” in height, and weighing approximately 185 pounds. The accused stood barely 5’3-1/2″ and weighed 130. In other words, he was a scrawny little guy. There were many other holes in the police’s case against the man, but it was this discrepancy that seemed to have won the day with the jury.
  • Mary was murdered around 12:30, her body discovered soon afterward, and declared dead at 2:05. However, her identity wasn’t known until after 6:00 pm, when her brother-in-law, Ben Bradlee (yes, the managing editor of the Washington Post), went to the morgue to confirm it was she. Meanwhile, Mary’s ex-husband, Cord Meyer, a senior officer at the CIA, received a call in New York at around 2:30 that Mary had been killed. The caller was a fellow senior CIA official who also phoned the news around the same time to James Jesus Angleton, the CIA’s head of counterintelligence. In other words, top officials at the CIA learned that Mary was dead hours before anyone else, even the police, knew who she was.
  • The night of Mary’s murder, Bradlee and Angleton entered Mary’s art studio and carried away her diary and a number of other personal papers, which Angleton kept.

Tomorrow: Part 3

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The CIA, the mistress, and JFK’s assassination: An astonishing but true story (Part 1)

Part 1 of a review of Mary’s Mosaic: The CIA Conspiracy to Murder John F. Kennedy, Mary Pinchot Meyer, and Their Vision for World Peace, by Peter Janney

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Part 1 of 4.

If, like me, you were alive and aware on November 22, 1963, you’ve never forgotten the day. It was mid-afternoon in New York, and I had just arrived for a graduate course in international relations at Columbia University, only to discover a small number of my classmates aimlessly milling around, most of them in tears, some hugging one another, as one informed me that President Kennedy had been shot. The class had been canceled, and I wandered away with a classmate to learn more from TV news at his nearby apartment. He and I remained glued to that small, black-and-white screen the rest of the day and the following. The unthinkable had happened, and it seemed that nothing would ever be the same.

In the months that followed, as Lyndon Johnson claimed the Presidency for his own, the war in Vietnam quickly heated up, and the Warren Commission hastily assembled, eventually reporting that Lee Harvey Oswald had single-handedly assassinated the President, as all the news reports had suggested. However, almost since the day of Kennedy’s murder, conspiracy theories began to swirl about, those from the Right finding connections with Fidel Castro and the KGB, those from the Left claiming the participation of the CIA, the Mafia, the Pentagon, Big Business, and sometimes Lyndon Johnson. However, like many Americans, I paid little attention to all the speculation. Leave it to the Commission, I thought. They’ll find out the truth. For years afterward the books came out, spinning elaborate tales of skullduggery in high places. I ignored them all.

Now I know better. The Warren Commission was a sham. The CIA did it. Probably not alone, but the CIA was at the center of the plot. And if you doubt those statements, I suggest you read Mary’s Mosaic, by Peter Janney. It’s not only a treasure-house of shocking revelations about recent U.S. history — many of which have come to light only in recent years — but a story far too strange for fiction.

Tomorrow: Part 2

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