Many My Lais





Villagers, acting as human minesweepers, walked ahead of troops in dangerous areas to keep Americans from being blown up. Prisoners were subjected to a variation on waterboarding and jolted with electricity. Teenage boys fishing on a lake, as well as children tending flocks of ducks, were killed. “There are hundreds of such reports in the war-crime archive, each one dutifully recorded, sometimes with no more than a passing sentence or two, as if the killing were as routine as the activity it interrupted,” Deborah Nelson writes in “The War Behind Me.”

The archive, housed at the University of Michigan, holds documents from Col. Henry Tufts, former chief of the Army’s investigative unit, that reveal widespread killing and abuse by American troops in Vietnam. Most of these actions are not known to the public, even though the military investigated them. The crimes are similar to those committed at My Lai in 1968. Yet, as Nelson contends, most Ameri cans still think the violence was the work of “a few rogue units,” when in fact “every major division that served in Vietnam was represented.” Precisely how many soldiers were involved, and to what extent, is not known, but she shows that the abuse was far more common than is generally believed. Her book helps explain how this misunderstanding came about.


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