Nick Turse

In 2010, I arrived at Harvard University with a mess of a manuscript — 10 years worth of research on American war crimes in Vietnam patchworked together in such a way that it was comprehensible to only one person on the planet: me. But I was lucky. I had a year to do something about it, and by something, I mean write the book again. From scratch. It was a daunting task, but the alternative was to declare the project a lost cause — and I wasn’t ready to do that.

At the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, I was given an office, financial support, access to one of the world’s great libraries, and everything else that comes with a fellowship at an elite institution like Harvard. I couldn’t have asked for more, but as it happened, I needed more. I needed help, direction, advice. I needed a sounding board. I needed the counsel of someone with an intimate knowledge of war, of violence, of atrocity. Presumably, there was someone at Harvard with such credentials. But where among the brick and ivy, could I find such a person?

It turned out that she was indeed at Harvard — and conveniently located in an office about three feet distant from mine. Radcliffe, in its infinite wisdom, had made Ann Jones my neighbor for the year and her guidance helped transform that mess of a manuscript into my book Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam.

Day after day, I would flop into a chair in her office and we would talk through various quandaries I faced: how to write up a particular incident, where to locate a key chapter, how to convey the horror I’d uncovered without traumatizing the reader. In the midst of this, she began to share snippets of her latest interviews with damaged war veterans, their family members, and the American military personnel tasked with mitigating their physical injuries and psychological issues. In the midst of our mutual fellowship stays, Ann borrowed some body armor and jetted off to Afghanistan to bear witness to the wounded and the work of the men and women who attempted to save them. From there, she flew to Germany with the grievously injured and finally back to the U.S. where she began to keep tabs on their recovery and what has become of them.

As I listened to Ann, as I watched her office fill up with articles on combat, killing, and post-traumatic stress, as I saw her bookshelves strain under the weight of innumerable volumes on war, military training, and veterans’ issues, as I began to grasp just where her interviews and research were taking her, as we talked about all of this in detail, I became ever more certain that hers would be a special, even unprecedented volume, an “untold story” in the recent annals of American war. I knew that, as she was helping me, she was also writing a book which anyone interested in understanding the cost of war for soldiers and veterans, as well as their families and those who treat them, would need to read. I knew that her book would change the way we understand America’s recent wars.

I had no idea, at the time, however, that I would eventually have the opportunity to play a role in bringing They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars — The Untold Story into being. It’s a beautifully written, devastatingly poignant piece of reportage, and an instant classic on the hidden reverberations of our distant wars — from triage that goes on unseen behind hospital doors to the long, private struggles that occur anonymously in suburban neighborhoods and rehabilitation centers across the U.S. As with so many works that are ahead of their time, They Were Soldiers had difficulty finding a home. I was delighted then that Tom Engelhardt and I had a fledgling imprint, with Haymarket Books behind us, that last week made Ann’s book a reality.

My role in They Were Soldiers has been modest. Ann did the heavy lifting and it was, indeed, heavy. At 73, she strapped on body armor and headed to war so you didn’t have to. She watched the sort of “meatball surgery” that would have left you doubled over and retching. She asked the hard questions of soldiers, veterans, and their family members that you never could. And she wrote it all up with passion, eloquence, and unsparing clarity.

I spent the last 10 years interviewing veterans and intensely studying war and I still find They Were Soldiers to be revelatory. Just as our conversations did at Harvard, now her book has altered my outlook on American war and its aftermath. Today, she’s offering to do the same for you. If you haven’t already done so, I urge you to pick up a copy of They Were Soldiers. It’s the next best thing to having Ann as your neighbor.

'The Oriental doesn’t put the same high price on life as does the Westerner,' [U.S. commander, General William] Westmoreland famously said. 'Life is plentiful, life is cheap in the Orient.'

Having spoken to survivors of massacres by United States forces at Phi Phu, Trieu Ai, My Luoc and so many other hamlets, I can say with certainty that Westmoreland’s assessment was false.

Decades after the conflict ended, villagers still mourn loved ones — spouses, parents, children — slain in horrific spasms of violence. They told me, too, about what it was like to live for years under American bombs, artillery shells and helicopter gunships; about what it was like to negotiate every aspect of their lives around the “American war,” as they call it; how the war transformed the most mundane tasks — getting water from a well or relieving oneself or working in the fields or gathering vegetables for a hungry family — into life-or-death decisions; about what it was like to live under United States policies that couldn’t have been more callous or contemptuous toward human life.

It is said, Lewis Lapham tells us, that Abbot John Trithemius of Sponheim, a fifteenth-century scholar and mage, devised a set of incantations to carry “messages instantaneously… through the agency of the stars and planets who rule time.” In 1962, Lapham adds, Bell Labs “converted the thought into Telstar, the communications satellite relaying data, from earth to heaven and back to earth, in less than six-tenths of a second.” Magic had become science. Today, the Pentagon is picking up the centuries old gauntlet, asking the brightest minds in academe — through its far-out research arm, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency or DARPA — to come up with a means for a 20-something-kid-cum-lieutenant or perhaps the military’s much-lauded “strategic corporal” to be wired into unprecedented amounts of information beamed down from the heavens above.

At some level, even the language of DARPA’s solicitation for its SeeMe program seems to conjure up the visions that danced in Trithemius’s head. Its goal, we are told, “is to provide useful on-demand imagery information directly to the lowest echelon warfighter in the field from a very low cost satellite constellation launched on a schedule that conforms to DoD [Department of Defense] operational tempos.” Those heavenly-sounding constellations are, however, tempered by the reality of what the Pentagon is really after.

Yesterday’s future of high-tech satellites that would allow our thoughts to slip “the surly bonds of Earth,” while connecting the far reaches of the planet and linking minds globally in ways even Trithemius couldn’t imagine, is now being exchanged for a low-bid, low-rent system of military satellites. These will be capable of allowing a kid just out of high school to more efficiently target a kid who probably never went to high school — all courtesy of a well-educated university scientist who never bothered to think of the implications of his tenure-producing, tax-payer-funded research. This can’t be what Trithemius had in mind. And yet, that’s where we’re at.

If the Pentagon has its way, SeeMe will eventually fill the skies with cheap, disposable “satellites at very low altitudes, networked to existing fielded communications systems and handheld platforms.” So much for the “the high untrespassed sanctity of space.” But let Lewis Lapham explore further the borderlands of science and magic that have somehow been fused into the very center of our lives. The famed former editor of Harper’s Magazine now edits Lapham’s Quarterly, which, four times a year, brilliantly unites some of the most provocative and original voices in history around a single topic. (You can subscribe to it by clicking here.) TomDispatch thanks the editors of that journal for allowing us to offer an exclusive online first look at Lapham’s elegant history of unreason in this techno-age of ours. To read it, click the link below

The drone had been in the air for close to five hours before its mission crew realized that something was wrong. The oil temperature in the plane’s turbocharger, they noticed, had risen into the “cautionary” range. An hour later, it was worse, and it just kept rising as the minutes wore on. While the crew desperately ran through its “engine overheat” checklist trying to figure out the problem, the engine oil temperature, too, began skyrocketing.

By now, they had a full-blown in-flight emergency on their hands. “We still have control of the engine, but engine failure is imminent,” the pilot announced over the radio.

Almost two hours after the first signs of distress, the engine indeed failed. Traveling at 712 feet per minute, the drone clipped a fence before crashing.

This latest installment of my favorite finds from The Strand’s 48-cent bargain bin is no book at all.  Instead, I decided to show you the treasure trove itself.  What fantastic mass market paperbacks lie within?  You’ll have to head to Strand Book Store to see for yourself… 

This latest installment of my favorite finds from The Strand’s 48-cent bargain bin is no book at all.  Instead, I decided to show you the treasure trove itself.  What fantastic mass market paperbacks lie within?  You’ll have to head to Strand Book Store to see for yourself… 

Who knows the hidden history of the Vietnam War better than Daniel Ellsberg?  Not only did he observe the conflict firsthand from the field, but he read the the military’s secret documents and then allowed us all to do the same by releasing the “Pentagon Papers.”  As such, I was a little shocked by the mind-blowing blurb Ellsberg offered for my next book, Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam.  I’m a little overwhelmed.
“No book I have read in decades has so shaken me, as an American. Turse lays open the ground-level reality of a war that was far more atrocious than Americans at home have ever been allowed to know. He exposes official policies that encouraged ordinary American soldiers and airmen to inflict almost unimaginable horror and suffering on ordinary Vietnamese, followed by official cover-ups as tenacious as Turse’s own decade of investigative effort against them. Kill Anything That Moves is obligatory reading for Americans, because its implications for the likely scale of atrocities and civilian casualties inflicted and covered up in our latest wars are inescapable and staggering.” —Daniel Ellsberg, author of Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers

Who knows the hidden history of the Vietnam War better than Daniel Ellsberg?  Not only did he observe the conflict firsthand from the field, but he read the the military’s secret documents and then allowed us all to do the same by releasing the “Pentagon Papers.”  As such, I was a little shocked by the mind-blowing blurb Ellsberg offered for my next book, Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam.  I’m a little overwhelmed.

“No book I have read in decades has so shaken me, as an American. Turse lays open the ground-level reality of a war that was far more atrocious than Americans at home have ever been allowed to know. He exposes official policies that encouraged ordinary American soldiers and airmen to inflict almost unimaginable horror and suffering on ordinary Vietnamese, followed by official cover-ups as tenacious as Turse’s own decade of investigative effort against them. Kill Anything That Moves is obligatory reading for Americans, because its implications for the likely scale of atrocities and civilian casualties inflicted and covered up in our latest wars are inescapable and staggering.” —Daniel Ellsberg, author of Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers

nickturse:

Blurbs are coming in for my next book, Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam and I can’t help but share this one from Tim O’Brien, author of The Things They Carried, Going After Cacciato, and If I Die in a Combat Zone, among others.  I’m left speechless. 

“This book is an overdue and powerfully detailed account of widespread war crimes — homicide and torture and mutilation and rape — committed by American soldiers over the course of our military engagement in Vietnam. Nick Turse’s research and reportage is based in part on the U.S. military’s own records, reports, and transcripts, many of them long hidden from public scrutiny. Kill Anything That Moves is not only a compendium of pervasive and illegal and sickening savagery toward Vietnamese civilians, but it is also a record of repetitive deceit and cover-ups on the part of high ranking officers and officials. In the end, I hope, Turse’s book will become a hard-to-avoid, hard-to-dismiss corrective to the very common belief that war crimes and tolerance for war crimes were mere anomalies during our country’s military involvement in Vietnam.” —Tim O’Brien, author of The Things They Carried

Blurbs are coming in for my next book, Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam and I can’t help but share this one from Tim O’Brien, author of The Things They Carried, Going After Cacciato, and If I Die in a Combat Zone, among others.  I’m left speechless. 

"This book is an overdue and powerfully detailed account of widespread war crimes — homicide and torture and mutilation and rape — committed by American soldiers over the course of our military engagement in Vietnam. Nick Turse’s research and reportage is based in part on the U.S. military’s own records, reports, and transcripts, many of them long hidden from public scrutiny. Kill Anything That Moves is not only a compendium of pervasive and illegal and sickening savagery toward Vietnamese civilians, but it is also a record of repetitive deceit and cover-ups on the part of high ranking officers and officials. In the end, I hope, Turse’s book will become a hard-to-avoid, hard-to-dismiss corrective to the very common belief that war crimes and tolerance for war crimes were mere anomalies during our country’s military involvement in Vietnam.” —Tim O’Brien, author of The Things They Carried

This latest installment of my favorite finds from The Strand’s 48-cent bargain bin is no book at all.  Instead, I decided to show you the treasure trove itself.  What fantastic mass market paperbacks lie within?  You’ll have to head to Strand Book Store to see for yourself… 

This latest installment of my favorite finds from The Strand’s 48-cent bargain bin is no book at all.  Instead, I decided to show you the treasure trove itself.  What fantastic mass market paperbacks lie within?  You’ll have to head to Strand Book Store to see for yourself… 

This latest installment of my favorite finds from The Strand’s 48-cent bargain bin is no book at all.  Instead, I decided to show you the treasure trove itself.  What fantastic mass market paperbacks lie within?  You’ll have to head to Strand Book Store to see for yourself… 

This latest installment of my favorite finds from The Strand’s 48-cent bargain bin is no book at all.  Instead, I decided to show you the treasure trove itself.  What fantastic mass market paperbacks lie within?  You’ll have to head to Strand Book Store to see for yourself…