Misrepresenting Atrocities: "Kill Anything that Moves" and the Continuing Distortions of the War in Vietnam
Nick Turse, Kill Anything that Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam. New York: Picador, 2013. 416 pp. $30 (cloth); $17 (paper); $10 (e-book).
While recounting a punishing accumulation of atrocity stories, Kill Anything That Moves advances four relatively straightforward arguments. First, it asserts that this grim dimension of the Vietnam War was ignored at the time, has been neglected in the scholarship, and is today forgotten in popular memory. Second, it claims that American atrocities were pervasive in Vietnam, perpetrated on a massive scale by every military unit, in every theater of battle, during every period of the war. Third, it contends that the proliferation of atrocities and war crimes was largely caused by command policies devised at the highest levels of the U.S. military and government. And fourth, as its subtitle indicates, it suggests that the atrocious record of the U.S. military in Vietnam reveals both the “true nature of the war” (16) and the “true history of Vietnamese civilian suffering” (262) that it left in its wake.
In addition to being untrue, these arguments point to the isolation of Turse’s approach from current trends in the historical study of military violence against civilians. For example, most recent work on military atrocities—such as John Horne and Alan Kramer’s magisterial German Atrocities, 1914: A History of Denial (2001)—insist that primary and secondary sources on the topic must be treated with special care since they are notoriously vulnerable to politicization and distortion. Turse’s misleading estimate of the size and significance of the existing literature on Vietnam War atrocities flies in the face of this advice. As we will show, academics, lawyers, journalists, activists, and creative artists have been agonizing over American atrocities and war crimes in Vietnam for almost fifty years...