Terrorism as a Weapon
The enemy's use of terrorism has been generally glossed-over in the US popular media and their use of it given little notice. From my point of view and experience the Viet Cong's use of murder and intimidation on their own countrymen far exceeded the evil and horror evident in My Lai or any of the other My Lai's of the American War in VN. For the VC terrorism of the innocent civilian was a formal Weapon willingly and openly exploited and applied with great frequency and terrible result throughout the war.
What differentiates American "murders" or "massacres" apart from that inherent in armed combat in general (and I am aware of the irony in these words) was that My Lai and its cousins were aberrations that erupted in the heat of battle or the anguish of losing comrades, and were not planned as strategic or tactical exercises. I think it was rare that US Soldiers actually planned the intentional execution of innocent civilians apart from the terrible and unfortunate collateral damage caused by the enemy's use of civilian populations as shields for their operations.
I don't even think the vastly exaggerated Phoenix Program even fit into that stereotype as its victims were in theory enemy agents.
During my tour south and west of Hue, I never saw a civilian harmed by our troops. In fact, I never saw a captured or wounded VC or NVA mistreated by our troops. For the life of me i cannot imagine what motivated Medina's men and Lt Calley to do what they did and would speculate that such a thing would never happen in our unit because our commanders and platoon leaders would never had let it happen. In that regard, I hold Capt. Medina responsible for the actions of his men. Lt Calley was simply fool and a murderer and should have been executed for his part right after Capt. Medina.
My point is these men were acting as criminals, not as soldiers They had not been sent to My Lai 4 to murder civilians, they just took it upon themselves to do so and they should have all been punished.
On the other hand, I witnessed a revolting amount of civilian mistreatment at the hands of the VC and NVA. They would murder village officials who cooperated with the allies of SVN government in any way...March them out in front of their families and fellow villagers, then behead or disembowel the leaders as an example to the village. This was normal VC behavior and their ability to rationalize it has always puzzled me in the light of the VCs vigorous references to My Lai. By comparison, the VC tortured and murdered tens of thousands of civilians.
I saw the results with my own eyes, so I know it is the truth.
My Company, Delta 1st/502d and C Company of the same battalion discovered what we called "The Bone Yard" on the morning of 19 Sep 69. It was located on a creek called Khe Ke creek that ran from between Nui Khe (Hill 618) and Nui Hoan Gay (Hill 434) Mountains, about 15 kilometers South of Hue and 5 km SW of Nam Hoa district HQ over on the Song Ta Trach (south branch of the Song Huong) Perfume River. Scattered along that small creek under about a 50' canopy and for hundreds of yards both east and west were the bones and remains of perhaps 3,000 to 6,000 civilians who had been marched from Hue by the VC/NVA who'd kidnapped them during the Tet 68 Battle for Hue.
For whatever reason, those poor souls were marched to that haunting location and executed. Most or all had their hands tied behind backs and they were laid out along both banks of that sorrowful creek bed, side by side and in almost perfect order for as far as your eyes could see. It was simply beyond our comprehension anyone could have committed such an atrocity. But the fact remains they did, and they did it throughout the war and without remorse.
Whatever the American soldier was, he did not commit "atrocities" on the civilians (apart from the atrocity of war itself) as a matter of policy. Terrible things happened and what I'm saying is no excuse for them, but they happened as a result of rage and poor leadership at the platoon and company level, not as a matter of US or military policy and certainly not as a matter of course for the men I served with in the 101st Airborne.
Were we gentle heroes? Hardly. But we weren't murderers either.
On the other hand, I would be much less generous with my assessment of VC Behavior. Any effort to rationalize it on their part would be very hypocritical and I caution anyone researching American Atrocities to give equal effort to those committed by our "noble" enemies.
Michael Kelley D Company, 1st 502d Infantry 101st Airborne Division 69-70 From:firstname.lastname@example.org (Mike Kelley)