The Uglier Side of America During Vietnam War: Rape By American Soldiers


The act of raping women is largely understood to be an inevitable consequence of war. As General George S. Patton predicted during World War II, "there would unquestionably be some raping." Rape and the mutilation of women's bodies are evidently part of the usual military fare in war. During the Vietnam war, rape was in fact an all too common occurrence, often described by GIs as SOP--standard operating procedure. "That's an everyday affair... you can nail just about everybody on that--at least once," offered a squad leader in the 34d Platoon of Charlie Company when questioned by a reporter about the rape that occurred at My Lai. Another GI, Joe Galbally, when testifying for the Winter Soldier Investigation, concluded his report about a specific incident of gang rape by American soldiers by saying, "This wasn't just one incident; this was the first one I can remember. I know of 10 or 15 such incidents at least." Galbally was in Vietnam for one year, from 1967-1968.
In fact, very few American GIs were "nailed" for rape in Vietnam. Despite the fact that it is a crime according to international law, prohibited under the Geneva Convention and punishable by death or imprisonment under Article 120 of the American Uniform Code of Military Justice, acts of rape were rarely reported and seldom convicted during the Vietnam war. The number of rape cases tried did not nearly reflect the rampancy of rape in Vietnam. The conviction rates were low and the sentences extremely light. In Against Our Will, Susan Brownmiller provides Army court-martial statistics for rape and related charges: only fifty-eight percent of those tried between 1965 and 1973 were convicted. Information on sentencing was difficult to come by, according to Brownmiller. She writes, "a sentence of two to eight years at hard labor might be typical for rape, even in cases in which the victim had been murdered; sodomy, attempted rape and attempted sodomy were preferred as charges because they carried lesser penalties; and sentences were routinely cut in half by a board of review."

On October 19, 2003, the Ohio-based newspaper the Toledo Blade launched a four-day series of investigative reports exposing a string of atrocities by an elite, volunteer, 45-man "Tiger Force" unit of the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division over the course of seven months in 1967. The Blade goes on to state that in 1971 the Army began a four and a half year investigation of the alleged torture of prisoners, rapes of civilian women, the mutilation of bodies and killing of anywhere from nine to well over one hundred unarmed civilians, among other acts. The articles further report that the Army's inquiry concluded that eighteen U.S. soldiers committed war crimes ranging from murder and assault to dereliction of duty. However, not one of the soldiers, even of those still on active duty at the time of the investigation, was ever court martialed in connection with the heinous crimes. Moreover, six suspected war criminals were allowed to resign from military service during the criminal investigations specifically to avoid prosecution.

The Toledo Blade articles represent some of the best reporting on a Vietnam War crime by any newspaper, during or since the end of the conflict. Unfortunately, the articles tell a story that was all too common. As a historian writing his dissertation on U.S. war crimes and atrocities during the Vietnam War, I have been immersed in just the sort of archival materials the Toledo Blade used in its pieces, but not simply for one incident but hundreds if not thousands of analogous events. I can safely, and sadly, say that the "Tiger Force" atrocities are merely the tip of the iceberg in regard to U.S.-perpetrated war crimes in Vietnam. However, much of the mainstream historical literature dealing with Vietnam War atrocities (and accompanying cover-ups and/or sham investigations), has been marginalized to a great extent -- aside from obligatory remarks concerning the My Lai massacre, which is, itself, often treated as an isolated event. Unfortunately, the otherwise excellent reporting of the Toledo Blade draws upon and feeds off this exceptionalist argument to a certain extent. As such, the true scope of U.S.-perpetrated atrocities is never fully addressed in the articles. The men of the "Tiger Force" are labeled as "Rogue GIs" and the authors simply mention the that Army "conducted 242 war-crimes investigations in Vietnam, [that] a third were substantiated, leading to 21 convictions... according to a review of records at the National Archives" – facts of dubious value that obscure the scope and number of war crimes perpetrated in Vietnam and feed the exceptionalist argument.

Even an accompanying Blade piece on "Other Vietnam Atrocities," tends to decontextualize the "Tiger Force" incidents, treating them as fairly extraordinary events by listing only three other relatively well known atrocity incidents: former Senator, presidential candidate and Navy SEAL Bob Kerrey's raid on the hamlet of Thang Phong; the massacre at Son Thang -- sometimes referred to as the "Marine Corps' My Lai"; and the war crimes allegations of Lt. Col. Anthony Herbert -- most famously chronicled in his memoir Soldier. This short list, however, doesn't even hint at the scope and number of similar criminal acts.

For example, the Toledo Blade reports that its "review of thousands of classified Army documents, National Archives records, and radio logs reveals [the "Tiger Force"] ... carried out the longest series of atrocities in the Vietnam War [from May and November, 1967]...." Unfortunately, this seven month atrocity-spree is not nearly the longest on record. Nor is it even the longest string of atrocities by one unit within its service branch. According to formerly classified Army documents, an investigation disclosed that from at least March 1968 through October 1969, "Vietnamese [civilian] detainees were subjected to maltreatment" by no less than twenty-three separate interrogators of the 172d Military Intelligence (MI) Detachment. The inquiry found that, in addition to using "electrical shock by means of a field telephone," an all too commonly used method of torture by Americans during the war, MI personnel also struck detainees with their fists, sticks and boards and employed a form of water torture which impaired prisoners' ability to breath.

Similar to the "Tiger Force" atrocities chronicled by the Blade, documents indicate that no disciplinary actions were taken against any of the individuals implicated in the long-running series of atrocities, including 172d MI personnel Norman Bowers, Franciszek Pyclik and Eberhard Gasper who were all on active duty at the time that the allegations were investigated by Army officials. In fact, in 1972, Bowers's commanding general pronounced that "no disciplinary or administrative action" would be taken against the suspected war criminal and in a formerly classified memorandum to the U.S. Army Chief of Staff, prepared by Colonel Murray Williams on behalf of Brigadier General R.G. Gard in January 1973, it was noted that the "...determination by commanders to take no action against three personnel on active duty who were suspected of committing an offense" had not been publicly acknowledged. Their crimes and identities kept a secret, Bowers, Pyclik and Gasper apparently escaped any prosecution, let alone punishment, for their alleged actions.

Similarly, the Toledo Blade pays particular attention to Sam Ybarra, a "notorious suspect," who was named in seven of the thirty "Tiger Force" war crimes allegations investigated by the Army -- including the rape and fatal stabbing of a 13-year-old girl and the brutal killing of a 15-year-old boy. Yet, Ybarra's notorious reputation may well pale in comparison to that of Sergeant Roy E. "the Bummer" Bumgarner, a soldier who served with the 1st Cavalry Division and later the 173d Airborne Brigade. According to a former commander, "the Bummer" was rumored to have "personally killed over 1,500 people" during a forty-two week stretch in Vietnam. Even if the number was exaggerated, clues on how Bumgarner may have obtained high "body counts" came to light in the course of an Army criminal investigation of an incident that took place on February 25, 1969. According to investigation documents, Bumgarner and a subordinate rounded up three civilians found working in a rice paddy, marched them to a secluded area and murdered them. "The Bummer" then arranged the bodies on the ground with their heads together and a grenade was exploded next to them in an attempt to cover-up their crime. Assorted weapons were then planted near the mutilated corpses to make them appear to have been enemy troops.

During an Army criminal investigation of the incident, men in Bumgarner's unit told investigators that they had heard rumors of the sergeant carrying out similar acts in the past. Said one soldier in a sworn statement to Army investigators:

"I've heard of Bumgarner doing it before -- planting weapons on bodies when there is doubt as to their military status. I've heard quite a few rumors about Bumgarner killing unarmed people. Only a couple weeks ago I heard that Bumgarner had killed a Vietnamese girl and two younger kids (boys), who didn't have any weapons."

Unlike Sam Ybarra, who had been discharged from the military by the time the allegations against him came to light and then refused to cooperate with investigators, "the Bummer" was charged with premeditated murder and tried by general court martial. He was convicted only of manslaughter and his punishment consisted merely of a demotion in rank and a fine of $97 a month for six months. Moreover, after six months, Bumgarner promptly re-enlisted in the Army. His first and only choice of assignments -- Vietnam. Records indicate he got his wish!

Military records demonstrate that the "Tiger Force" atrocities are only the tip of a vast submerged history of atrocities in Vietnam. In fact, while most atrocities were likely never chronicled or reported, the archival record is still rife with incidents analogous to those profiled in the Blade articles, including the following atrocities chronicled in formerly classified Army documents:

* A November 1966 incident in which an officer in the Army's Fourth Infantry Division, severed an ear from a Vietnamese corpse and affixed it to the radio antenna of a jeep as an ornament. The officer was given a non-judicial punishment and a letter of reprimand.

* An August 1967 atrocity in which a 13-year-old Vietnamese child was raped by American MI interrogator of the Army's 196th Infantry Brigade. The soldier was convicted only of indecent acts with a child and assault. He served seven months and sixteen days for his crime.

* A September 1967 incident in which an American sergeant killed two Vietnamese children -- executing one at point blank range with a bullet to the head. Tried by general court martial in 1970, the sergeant pleaded guilty to, and was found guilty of, unpremeditated murder. He was, however, sentenced to no punishment.

* An atrocity that took place on February 4, 1968, just over a month before the My Lai massacre, in the same province by a man from the same division (Americal). The soldier admitted to his commanding officer and other men of his unit that he gunned down three civilians as they worked in a field. A CID investigation substantiated his confession and charges of premeditated murder were preferred against him. The soldier requested a discharge, which was granted by the commanding general of the Americal Division, in lieu of court martial proceedings.

* A series of atrocities similar to, and occurring the same year as, the "Tiger Force" war crimes in which one unit allegedly engaged in an orgy of murder, rape and mutilation, over the course of several months.

While not yielding the high-end body count estimate of the "Tiger Force" series of atrocities, the above incidents begin to demonstrate the ubiquity of the commission of atrocities on the part of American forces during the Vietnam War. Certainly, war crimes, such as murder, rape and mutilation were not an everyday affair for American combat soldiers in Vietnam, however, such acts were also by no means as exceptional as often portrayed in recent historical literature or as tacitly alluded to in the Blade articles.

The excellent investigative reporting of the Toledo Blade is to be commended for shedding light on war crimes committed by American soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division in 1967. However, it is equally important to understand that the "Tiger Force" atrocities were not the mere result of "Rogue GIs" but instead stem from what historian Christian Appy has termed the American "doctrine of atrocity" during the Vietnam War -- a strategy built upon official U.S. dictums relating to the body count, free-fire zones, search and destroy tactics and the strategy of attrition as well as unofficial tenets such as "kill anything that moves," intoned during the "Tiger Force" atrocities and in countless other atrocity tales, or the "mere gook rule" which held that "If it's dead and Vietnamese, it's VC." Further, it must also be recognized that the "Tiger Force" atrocities, the My Lai massacre, the Herbert allegations and the few other better-known war crimes were not isolated or tangentially-related incidents, but instead are only the most spectacular or best publicized of what was an on-going string of atrocities, large and small, that spanned the entire duration of the war.

The headline of one Blade article proclaims, "Earlier Tiger Force probe could have averted My Lai carnage," referring to the fact that the 101st Airborne Division's "Tiger Force" troops operated in the same province (Quang Ngai), with the same mission (search and destroy) months before the Americal Division's men committed their war crimes. But atrocities were not a localized problem or one that only emerged in 1967. Instead, the pervasive disregard for the laws of war had begun prior to U.S. buildup in 1965 and had roots in earlier conflicts. Only by recognizing these facts can we hope to begin to understand the "Tiger Force" atrocities and the history of American war crimes in Vietnam, writ large.


The Ugly American (Source:Wikipedia)

The Ugly American is the title of a 1958 political novel by Eugene Burdick and William Lederer. The novel became a bestseller, it was influential at the time, and it is still in print. The book is a quasi-roman à clef; that is, it presents, in a fictionalized guise, the experience of Americans in Southeast Asia (that is, Vietnam) and allegedly portrays several real people, most of whose names have been changed.

The novel, taking place in a fictional nation called Sarkhan (an imaginary country in Southeast Asia that somewhat resembles Burma or Thailand, but which is meant to allude to Vietnam) as its setting and includes several real people, most of whose names have been changed. The book describes the United States's losing struggle against Communism - what was later to be called the battle for hearts and minds in Southeast Asia, because of innate arrogance and the failure to understand the local culture. The title is actually a double entendre, referring both to the physically-unattractive hero, Homer Atkins, and to the ugly behavior of the American government employees.

In the novel, a Burmese journalist says "For some reason, the [American] people I meet in my country are not the same as the ones I knew in the United States. A mysterious change seems to come over Americans when they go to a foreign land. They isolate themselves socially. They live pretentiously. They're loud and ostentatious." Ultimately, the phrase "ugly Americans" comes to be applied to Americans behaving in this manner, while the positive contributions of the Homer Atkins character are forgotten.

But despite the dual meaning, the "ugly American" of the book title fundamentally does refer to the plain-looking engineer Atkins, who lives with the local people, who comes to understand their needs, and who offers genuinely-useful assistance with small-scale projects such as the development of a simple bicycle-powered water pump. It is argued in the book that the Communists are successful because they practice tactics similar to those of Atkins.

According to an article published in Newsweek magazine in May 1959, the "real" "Ugly American" was identified as an ICA technician named Otto Hunerwadel, who served in Burma from 1949 until his death in 1952.

1963 film

The story of this novel was made into a film in 1963 starring Marlon Brando as Harrison Carter MacWhite. Its screenplay was written by Stewart Stern, and the film was produced and directed by George Englund.

The late Kukrit Pramoj, a Thai politician and scholar, played the role of Sarkhan's Prime Minister "Kwen Sai". Later on, in 1975, he really did become the 13th Prime Minister of Thailand.


Amazing Vietnam war pictures

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Quotes about war....

"War grows out of the desire of the individual to gain advantage at the expense of his fellow man."
--Napoleon Hill

"We have failed to grasp the fact that mankind is becoming a single unit, and that for a unit to fight against itself is suicide."
--Havelock Ellis

'Politics is war without bloodshed while war is politics with bloodshed."
--Mao Tse-Tung (1893 - 1976)

"I'm fed up to the ears with old men dreaming up wars for young men to die in."
--George McGovern

"The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic."
--Joseph Stalin

It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.
--Voltaire, War

In war, truth is the first casualty.
-- Aeschylus

"The ability and inclination to use physical strength is no indication of bravery or tenacity to life. The greatest cowards are often the greatest bullies. Nothing is cheaper and more common than physical bravery."
--Clarence Darrow, Resist Not Evil

"The victor will never be asked if he told the truth."
--Adolf Hitler

"To walk through the ruined cities of Germany is to feel an actual doubt about the continuity of civilization."
--George Orwell

"Patriots always talk of dying for their country and never of killing for their country."
--Bertrand Russell

Men are at war with each other because each man is at war with himself.
--Francis Meehan

Snippets From History

German Soldiers in Russia: Part 1

Hubert Menzel was a major in the General Operations Department of the OKH (the Oberkommando des Heers, the German Army headquarters), and for him the idea of invading the Soviet Union in 1941 had the smack of cold, clear logic to it: 'We knew that in two years' time, that is by the end of 1942, beginning of 1943, the English would be ready, the Americans would be ready, the Russians would be ready too, and then we would have to deal with all three of them at the same time.... We had to try to remove the greatest threat from the East.... At the time it seemed possible.'

Battle for Berlin, 1945

'We started to fire at the masses,' says one former German machine gunner. 'They weren't human beings for us. It was a wall of attacking beasts who were trying to kill us. You yourself were no longer human.'


Berlin after it fell to the Russians, 1945

"Vladlen Anchishkin, a Soviet battery commander on the 1st Ukrainian Front, sums up the horror of the whole event, when he tells how he took personal revenge on German soldiers: 'I can admit it now, I was in such a state, I was in such a frenzy. I said, 'Bring them here for an interrogation' and I had a knife, and I cut him. I cut a lot of them. I thought, 'You wanted to kill me, now it's your turn.'
Read More


Dramatic Pictures: Battle For Stalingrad
"...Effective command no longer possible... further defense senseless. Collapse inevitable. Army requests immediate permission to surrender in order to save lives of remaining troops."
General Paulus' radio message to Hitler on January 24, 1943

"...Capitulation is impossible. The 6th Army will do its historic duty at Stalingrad until the last man, the last bullet..."

Hitler's response to General Friedrich Paulus' request to withdraw from the city


Points To Ponder....

The fall of France was shocking. It reduced France to virtually a non-player in the Second World War. The efforts of Charles de Gualle were more symbolic than material. But the martial instincts of the French must never be doubted. Under Napoleon they were a formidable military power. The French definitely have more iron in their blood then say, the Italians [I do not mean it in a derogatory sense. War never makes sense]


Bias Of Western Historians

Soviet resistance made possible a successful Allied invasion of France, and ensured the final Allied victory over Germany.

It can hardly be called mere 'resistance'! If it hadn't been for the Russians, Hitler would have made mincemeat of British forces in Africa and landed on British shores in no time. Hitler attacked Russia first because it had more land and resources than Britain. It is as simple as that.

Eastern Front: Bias Of Western Historians