Crimes of War: A Legal, Political-Documentary, and Psychological Inquiry into the Responsibility of Leaders, Citizens, and Soldiers for Criminal Acts in Wars

By Richard A. Falk; Gabriel Kolko et al. | Go to book overview

Peter Bourne is unique among American psychiatrists in having had the opportunity to investigate the basic-training as well as the combat experience. The special nature of both, he tells us, contribute directly to My Lai.


FROM BOOT CAMP TO MY LAI

Peter G. Bourne, M.D.

"American boys would never do something like that," was the response of many people in the United States to the first reports of the My Lai massacre. Obsessed with the inviolate image of the all-American boy, the notion of wholesale wanton murder of women and children posed an irreconcilable contradiction that was intolerable for many people. This cognitive dissonance was dealt with in a variety of well-recognized and by now all too familiar mental maneuvers. One segment of the population denied the validity of the reports, saying that there was no real evidence that the massacre had taken place, although clearly there was. Others argued that it was best to ignore any such incidents because publicizing them only provided comfort to the enemy. A variation on this theme was to respond to accounts of American atrocities by talking only of Viet Cong atrocities, as though this both explained and justified acts by Americans. A further group sought to reidentify or relabel the victims in such a way as to make their slaughter more acceptable. They were really Viet Cong; women and children in the village had previously thrown grenades and shot at GIs, or constant enemy attacks had been mounted from this village--all were statements without foundation that were used to justify what had occurred. Perhaps the most bizarre rationalization of all is that some of the men at My Lai had smoked pot the night before the massacre, and that this was responsible for their acts.

Some members of the peace movement have also been guilty of not facing the real issue. In completely absolving the individuals actually involved and in placing the blame exclusively on the policymakers and field commanders, they have ignored

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Crimes of War: A Legal, Political-Documentary, and Psychological Inquiry into the Responsibility of Leaders, Citizens, and Soldiers for Criminal Acts in Wars
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page vii
  • Editors' Statement xi
  • Contents xiii
  • The Question of War Crimes: A Statement of Perspective 3
  • On the Avoidance of Reality 11
  • Beyond Atrocity 17
  • A Legal Framework 29
  • 1 - Standards and Norms 31
  • 2 - The Experience of World War II 73
  • 3 - Focus on Vietnam 177
  • The Political Setting: Documents 263
  • American Atrocities in Vietnam 265
  • Chemical Warfare in Vietnam 285
  • Pacification in Vietnam 291
  • A Doctor Reports from South Vietnam 309
  • Testimony of Don Luce 338
  • Testimony of Roger Hilsman, Former U.S. Official 344
  • Over Vietnam: An Eyewitness Report 345
  • Terror for Helicopters 357
  • Son My Mothers Call for Vengeance 360
  • The Tombs of Ben Suc 363
  • Repression in South Vietnam 371
  • Anti-Vietcong Cordon Disrupts Life of a Village 386
  • The Balang an Massacre 389
  • The Face of War, December, 1969 393
  • Letters to His Parents - Captain William H. Miller 395
  • Precision Bombing Not Very Precise 397
  • Saigon "Falsifying" Casualty Figures 401
  • War Crimes and the Nature of the Vietnam War 403
  • Contributors 415
  • The Psychological and Ethical Context 417
  • Victims and Executioners 419
  • Healing in Vietnam 430
  • It Didn't Happen and Besides, They Deserved It 441
  • Cover Your Ass 445
  • The Changing Climate of Atrocity 459
  • From Boot Camp to My Lai 462
  • The Gift 469
  • The Age of Abdication 473
  • German Guilt 476
  • On Responsibility for Evil 486
  • Gandhi versus the Policing Mind 502
  • On Killing 513
  • On Dying 528
  • On Genocede 534
  • A Victory 550
  • Deadly Paradoxes 555
  • Absurd Technological Death 559
  • Contributors 576
  • Recommendations for Further Reading 577
  • Index 579
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