The U.S.’s Brutal Atrocities in Vietnam


Bush denounced the abuse at Abu Ghraib as the actions of rogue soldiers, claiming torture is anathema to “America’s soul.”

While absolutely true for most of us, American corporate and political leaders have a long history of promoting atrocities and violent repression. From genocide of Native Americans to CIA subversion of democratically elected governments and support for brutal dictatorships across the world, the U.S. government has committed or directly sponsored an incredible amount of barbarism.

The U.S. Army’s School of the Americas in Georgia, for instance, was formed to protect U.S. corporate interests in South and Central America by training Latin American soldiers in counterinsurgency techniques, that is, civilian-targeted warfare. For more than 50 years, SOA graduates have used torture and murder to enforce the political repression of educators, student leaders, religious workers, and especially union organizers and workers.

From My Lai to Abu Ghraib
The Vietnam War stands as a prime example of U.S. state-sponsored brutality. Rape, murder, and torture were standard practices in this war that killed over 2 million Vietnamese people.

The 1968 My Lai massacre is probably the most famous case of U.S. savagery there. As reported later by soldiers involved, U.S. troops spent hours killing everyone in the village despite the fact that there was not “one military-aged male in the whole place.” (i)

Teenage girls were brutally raped and then murdered. Women, children, and the elderly were rounded up into groups, forced to squat close to the ground, and then shot and stabbed in the back one by one. In all, as many as 500 were killed.

Like Bush, President Nixon claimed that My Lai was an “isolated incident.” But none other than John Kerry debunked this lie. Representing Vietnam Veterans Against the War, Kerry testified in 1971 before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, explaining that U.S. war crimes were “not isolated incidents but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with full awareness of officers at all levels of command.” (ii)

Kerry described how U.S. soldiers “raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blew up bodies, randomly shot civilians…and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam.” Demonstrating extreme hypocrisy, Kerry supports Bush’s war on Iraq and promises to maintain the occupation if elected president.

Such widespread, hateful violence exposes the complete fraud of so-called humanitarian foreign interventions. The U.S. has always exerted its power abroad to repress challenges to its global corporate empire. Colonial wars of subjugation require a racist, dehumanizing attitude among the occupying forces towards the colonized peoples. In Iraq, as in Vietnam, this attitude pairs with the extreme stresses of battle to inevitably produce horrific incidents.

(i) Prof. Doug Linder, School of Law, University of Missouri.