Fact or Fiction in Vietnam

Peanuts

In preparation for the October 25, 2014 (9:00 a.m.) book club discussion of Cologne No. 10 For Men at Busboys and Poets in Hyattsville, MD, I thought I would prepare a detailed breakdown on what is fact and what is fiction in the novel, and in my opinion, in the war. It has occurred to me that approximately fifty years after the Vietnam War took place, readers of the novel increasingly may be too far removed in age to fully appreciate the satire because they don’t know which part is fact and which part is fiction. Here is a summary:

FACT:

  • Camp Radcliff, Vietnam, 1967

    Camp Radcliff, Vietnam, 1967

    The Last (First) Cavalry Division Base at Onkay (Ankhe)—Camp Vassar (Camp Radcliff)—had a swimming pool, officers club, NCO club, PX [store], commissary [grocery store], chapel, and library). No one carried a gun. LZ German (LZ English)

  • Sin City was a real off-base facility built and protected by U.S. Army. The girls were regularly inspected by army doctors

    Sin City - Ankhe, Vietnam, 1967

    Sin City – Ankhe, Vietnam, 1967

  • 95% of troops were on relatively secure rear-area bases; 5% were in the “field”, searching for the enemy, camping on the ground
  • The Tonkin Gulf Incident occurred, although details about this incident continue to be disputed and debated even now
  • Tactics and strategy described in Part Two were real
  • “Cordon and search” tactic; prepping Landing Zones (LZs) with artillery, gunship helicopters firing on perimeter, Huey troop carriers landing, red smoke displayed on “hot” LZs where enemy shoots at landing troops, “green” where our troops were not shot at; “fall back and call in the artillery” was widely followed when troops came under fire.
  • Combat Assault

    Combat Assault

    The change from “Search & Destroy” to “Search & Clear” happened in 1967; Pacification program in 1967 (to bring peaceful submission, security, economic, political, and social development to the people)

  • There was no “take and hold ground” strategy. Ground was returned to the VC when our troops left the area (like Iraq)
  • Nine-to-five war (nighttime is defensive); two beers, mail, hot meals, packs were flown in to the field troops at 4:00 pm (not always)

    Chinook loads troops, mail, mermite cans, beer

    Chinook loads troops, mail, hot food, beer, packs

  • Two-man shelter half tents, sleeping holes 6-inches deep, chest-deep foxholes, night ambushes, night listening posts
  • Shelter Half Tents

    Shelter Half Tents

    H&I fire (harassment and interdiction): “hit ‘em where they ain’t”

  • The emphasis on body counts and kill ratios was real, but high kill ratios didn’t prove that we were winning
  • “The mission of the Infantry is to kill” was taught in U.S. infantry training
  • Confusion over who was VC: enemy troops looked similar to friendly Vietnamese
  • Burning excrement vs rural Vietnamese defecating in rice paddies
  • Rockpile Prisoners

    Rockpile Prisoners

    Description of “rockpile” siege (loudspeaker, Le [Peanuts], cold and hot periods, dropping grenades and C-4, Spooky, night illumination, napalm from naval jet). However, actions and thoughts of trapped enemy soldiers are imagined (Google: “Richard Morris Nick Turse”) as are depictions of Vietnamese spies.

  • Guarding the Bong Son Bridge
    M42 Duster

    M42 Duster

    Bong Son Bridge

    Bong Son Bridge

  • Soldiers lining up for penicillin shots for VD
  • Joshua Henry character is based on a legendary soldier
  • The military industrial complex
  • “He saw artillery rounds disintegrating the village, like specks of black falling on cities of children in roaring, exploding storms of fire, pushed out of bomb bays in endless chains by rational men, packs of animals, warring tribes.”
  • Atrocities (p. 140) are committed in anger, close up, without any rational justification or blessing of a legal authority.
Atrocity

Atrocity

[Training Officer] “What’s the difference between pushing a button and killing a hundred thousand Japanese with an A-bomb—a legitimate act of warfare—and the atrocity of shooting one Vietnamese infant between the eyes with your pistol? Well, first, the atrocity is emotional—it’s done in anger or retribution. Second, it’s…unpremeditated—done on the spur of the moment. Third…it’s done without any rational justification or, as they say, sufficient military end. Fourth, without the blessing of any legal authority. And fifth, it’s done real close up—face to face. The A-bomb killings were committed without passion, carefully planned, rationally justified by the saving of lives of American and Japanese soldiers, sanctioned by the highest authority in the U.S.—the President of the United States, Harry Truman—and done by a machine which couldn’t see the faces or smell the charred flesh, vomit, or diarrhea.

B52 bombing

B52 bombing

“So what does that mean for you? Well, if you get pissed off at some village, ’cause they zap one of your buddies, and you want to take revenge on innocent civilians, think first. Then fire a few rounds into the air, call battalion and tell them you’re under heavy fire, pull back, call in the artillery, and wipe that village off the face of God’s earth. Then you’re covered. You haven’t acted rashly, you’re justified by a ruse of self-defense, you’ve received permission from a higher authority—in fact, you’ve gotten someone else to push the button and do the dirty work—and you’ve killed them from a distance with an impersonal machinistic device. You’re beyond reproach. And the innocent civilians are all just as dead as if you blew their brains out with your own pistol. Any more questions? O.K. On your feet! Ready?” See “Cuts from Cologne” –  https://wordpress.com/page/richardmorrisauthor.wordpress.com/4612

FICTION:HookerSonny Williams (pimp): The army did not go so far as to provide order-on-demand sex in the barracks

  • U.S. armed forces = a socialist dictatorship: Exaggerated (?) for humor, although most of the items provided by the military are facts (“free chow, rags, public housing, socialized medicine, two or three paid vacations a year, to Bankok, Hong Kong, Singapore. Even free entertainment.”)
  • Faking body counts; Recycling bodies – counting them more than once: Faking was probably rare, and recycling unheard of.
  • “The Army’s my shepherd. I shall not hope. . . .”  The author is the author.
  • Terrence Khoo,

    Terrence Khoo,”Dean of     Vietnam Cameramen,”  died in action in 1972

    TV News: Frank Storp, newsman, wanting blood and gore for the evening news “chronic”, troops acting for the camera. Exaggerated for humor, although bringing the war into living rooms on nightly news was standard.                   FYI: Newsmen were not embedded in units: they traveled to where the action was and were not censored.

  • Reasons for war (p. 165) – having veterans to fight the next war and being able to test new equipment under real combat Having wars so people in the military can get medals:  May belong in the FACT section. As with most other wars, “why” varies according to who is answering: Domino Theory or fear of Communist Expansion, containment of China, resources (rice, tin, rubber, oil)
  • Cologne No. 10 For Men

    Cologne No. 10      For Men

    Cologne (to cover up the stink of war) = a metaphor for our illusions (collateral damage [killing innocent civilians], dying to prevent communism from getting 1000 miles closer to the U.S. [Robert Kennedy, p. 150], dying for freedom, dying for our country)

  • VC targeting individual U.S. soldiers like Wilfred (very unlikely)
  • Chaplain

    Chaplain

    Chaplain Stewart: “Thou shalt not kill“. . . . “Man! If you’re so smart, why can’t you stop your God-damned killing?” . . . “What, in the name of God, am I doing here? Helping my country kill.  Assuaging the guilt.  Offering the excuses.  Comforting men so they have strength to kill again.  Piously promising them eternal life if they get killed!”

  • “If you want to change reality, you’ve got to change the illusion of reality” [perhaps this should go under FACT]
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