The American War (what the Vietnamese call it)

[letter sent to NPR--December, 1999]


During the week of Nov 8, you aired a Talk of the Nation with Melinda Penkava and two gentlemen discussing the 'rules of war'--a fine oxymoron if there ever was one. At one point, there was an exchange between a German and a British gentlemen--the latter in high dudgeon about 'how dare he compare the Vietnam involvement to the Nazi's in World War II', set off initially by a discussion of lack of war crimes tribunals for the Vietnam-era My Lai massacre.

What I found appalling in this whole program was the lack of mention of even the most basic, generally accepted facts about Vietnam.

An objective assessment of the situation would have described our involvement as "the failed US invasion of South Vietnam". Most of the war was fought there and most of the bombs were dropped there.

The human costs of this terribly wrong, utterly criminal adventure by the US were horrifying. And they have been conveniently forgotten by the country--the US--that perpetrated them. They have certainly not been punished-- even a symbolic way.

The US killed approximately 1 million Vietnamese soldiers and a staggering 2 million Vietnamese civilians, primarily in the South. Perhaps another 1 to 2 million people (mostly civilians) perished if missing persons and persons in surrounding countries (Laos, Cambodia) are included. Finally, about 60,000 Americans were killed and an equal number of Vietnam veterans committed suicide in the intervening years. The US action created 5 *million* Vietnamese refugees, out of a total South Vietnamese population at the time of 15 million. The US destroyed about 25% of the forests and mangrove swamps in the country with carcinogenic defoliants, thousands of tons of which remain there to this day. We scraped 10% of the countryside down to the mud with battalions of giant bulldozers. We dropped fiberglass anti-personnel bombs because the glass fragments were harder to find with X-rays after they had sliced into living human bodies.

The US/Vietnam war was a horrible US war crime. The large majority of people we killed were innocent civilians--millions of them. We tore the limbs off of millions of others who survived anyway. To this day, 10,000 people a year die in Laos from unexploded cluster bombs. For comparison, this was a thousand times worse (in simple numbers of people killed) than anything done by Slobodan Milosevic and the Serbs.

I find it embarrassing and disgusting to have this horrible US crime again humanity swept under the carpet year after year, by the supposedly civilized commentators in the country that was responsible for it.

And we didn't even win. So the 'moral' of the story is not that winners never get accused. It's that the world's richest country has no morals.

Martin I. Sereno, Associate Professor
Cognitive Science Department 0515
University of Calif., San Diego
La Jolla, CA 92093-0515