HOW WE WIN THEIR HEARTS AND MINDS
Or why people tend to grow unfriendly when you drop napalm n them: some random images of a cruel war
THE AMERICAN SITS in the tea shop of a roadside village between Dien Ban and Hôi An. Outside, it is raining, and the Vietnamese hurry past the open front of the shop with plastic sheets over their heads and shoulders. Inside, it is dirty and the small wooden stools are hardly big enough for the American to sit on. By the charcoal cooking fire a little girl squats beside a bucket in which she rinses tin cups, then sets them on the grimy floor. The American cats his two fried eggs, served in a battered tin bowl, with a discolored spoon. But he long ago got used to all this and, besides, this afternoon he is enjoying himself. He is talking in Vietnamese with his friend, the best friend he has made since coming to this country 1 8 months ago.
They are talking about the Vietnamese sense of humor. The friend explains that when a Vietnamese laughs at someone else’s discomfort it is not necessarily hard-hearted; more likely it is to cover up the other person’s embarrassment. And the talk goes on like that. The other Vietnamese in the teashop pay no attention to the foreigner. The noise of their talking washes over him and in the background someone is playing a transistor radio.
About 20 minutes go by and the American is so engrossed he doesn't realize that it has stopped raining and everybody has fallen silent. His friend turns to sec what everybody is staring at.
Earlier that morning the U. S. Air Force made a napalm strike in support of a unit of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam caught in a guerrilla ambush three miles to the south. Now. the civilians caught in that strike arc straggling through the village, trying to make it to the civilian hospital in Hôi An. It is a grotesque procession. They are mainly women, children and old men. The wounds are still undressed and the flies swarm around
the horrible mutilating burns. A few ride in small carts, others are carried in litters, the rest walk, helping each other along. There are, perhaps, 50 of them. Except for the crying and whimpering of the children, they are quiet as they shuffle past.
The silence in the tea shop is terrible. All the customers are staring at the American. His Vietnamese friend stares at him. too, then with a short derisive laugh he gets up and walks out. The American is paralyzed. He wants to explain that he is not a military man, that he's a refugee worker, that . . . But there is nothing to say. He leaves some money on the table and walks out to his Jeep.
In a few minutes he catches up with the sad column. An old man and a young boy are resting beside a litter on which a woman of about 30 is lying. She is terribly burned over her breasts and stomach. There is the smell of charred flesh. The American tells them to put the litter in the Jeep and that he will take her to the Hôi An hospital. The woman whispers to the old man. “She says it is enough that you have killed her. She wants you to leave her alone so she can die with her own people.” The woman’s face is grey, bur her eyes glitter with unmistakable hatred. The American insists. The man and the boy are apathetic. They have burns, too. They finally get the litter into the Jeep. It has to lie diagonally so that the woman’s head lies between the two front seats, just short of the gear shift. The man and the boy get in the back.
The American drives as carefully as he can over the ruts and potholes. The woman cries out only once. All the time her eyes never leave his face. He starts to shout over the noise of the engine that he hates this war, that it is not his war. that he's sorry. But his words are drowned out by the grinding noise of a military convoy going the other way. By the
n them: some random images of a cruel war
time the convoy has passed them the young ¿vornan is dead.
THE DRAGON FI.IES drone lazily over the plowed *arth. Some of the Korean soldiers lie dozing «ánder the meagre green shade of a hillock to the left. They are bored and hot. Nobody talks. They have been waiting since daylight for an American intelligence officer to come Five miles from the U.S. Air Force base at Qui Nhon. It is 10 a.m. and the sun is already Unbearable. Just two miles to the north the fosh*green fields fade into a delicate blue heat haze around the foothills to the mountains. And in the field in front of us, the three crumbled bodies in their bloodstained underwear are already beginning to smell.
The 30-calibre machine gun that hacked .them to death still stands perched above the irrigation ditch. The expended shell casings jie glinting in the mud at the bottom. Beside the machine gun lies the small untidy pile of
Íiossessions stripped from the three dead men: heir North Vietnamese Army uniforms, three ^2 carbines, a small string-wrapped bundle ¿folding vials of malaria and salt tablets, a Hürachute flare, and a tiny plastic radio that Pus a Lack compartment stuffed with maps. There's a little bundle of personal letters. An Ant wa ks across a small stained snapshot of Ho Ch' Minh writing at a table in a garden. The photo was carried by the NVA lieutenant who led the group. On the back he had written à dedication in Vietnamese, “To my three chil-
Ircn Tai, Thianh and Lan, a picture of Uncle Jo. This picture was given to me by my closest
friend just before leaving for the south on my new mission." It is dated the 20th of January l<J66. Below, the man who had given the picture had simply written, “To the brother of Duang.”
For the brother of Quang his mission and
his life came to an end at exactly 22 minutes past midnight when the Korean ambush squad caught him and his two comrades without cover in the open field and opened up at 50 yards. There was an insane few seconds of the machine gun's heavy hammering, tracers slicing the darkness, screaming, then silence. A groan came out of the darkness. The Korean sergeant ordered a grenade flare to be thrown behind the place where the three had fallen. In its eerie sputtering light a man was writhing in the dirt. They gave him a burst of M16 fire, just to make sure he didn't throw any grenades. Then everybody waited for dawn.
The Koreans, who are from the Tiger Division stationed north of Oui Nhon, had been expecting the NVAs. An informer in a nearby village reported that an NVA group were expected that night to pick up rice and medical supplies. They had been that way twice before.
Now the Korean sergeant gives a guttural one-word command and his men are on their feet. A small group of men appear out of the tree line 500 yards behind us. They are being guided around the booby traps and mines in the fields. Among them are a Korean major and the U.S. intelligence officer. The major is angry that the bodies are not buried and orders his men to bury them. “They are men. Soldiers like us. They should not be left like that,” he explains in short bursts of speech. The air-force intelligence officer, who is dressed in fatigue pants topped with a flowered sport shirt, runs over to take a picture of the corpses. “Hey, they look pretty sick, don't they?” he asks of nobody in particular.
Three pairs of Korean soldiers drag the dead over to where the grave is being dug. An arm falls off one of the bodies. Without a change in expression the soldier goes back to pick it up and put it beside the body.
The intelligence / continued overleaf
The people plant ríce. The troops bury
HOW WE WIN THEIR HEARTS continued
officer is accompanied by a little Vietnamese interpreter who is nattily decked out in a camouflage suit with tight tailored pants, a red-silk scarf around his neck, and mirror sunglasses. The officer, who is over six feet tall, leans down and hugs the interpreter: “Louie, you’re doing a great job, baby. But get those goddam PFs away from the captured equipment, will va?" The interpreter grins and shouts at the men from the local village militia who arc quietly going through the pathetic pile of belongings. They back off, and stand there, stone-faced, dressed in black pyjamas, carrying their Ml carbines across their shoulders much in the same way they would carry a hoe.
Another Korean major arrives and wants to take a picture of the first major with the platoon commander and the squad leader. Then the squad leader wants to take a picture of the three officers. Then the first major wants to take a picture of the others including the intelligence officer. A bizarre scene follows in which everybody seems to be taking pictures of everybody else. And behind the sound of the clicking shutters you can hear the dull thunk, thunk of the trenching tools being used to dig the common grave for the three dead men.
NHA THA DÚC BA, the Basilica of Mary, is an enormous, ugly brick building that sits tall at the top of Tu Do street, which in Vietnamese means Freedom, but in Saigon means gin-mill and bar-girl row. The city's traffic moves around the church in a noisy confusing whirl. A few beggars clog the main doorway. Inside, the high walls are a dirty ochre, giving the interior a pale yellow light. But the walls must be very thick, for there is a kind of bleak silence here. The benches, brown and splintered, run in endless rows down to the altar where the statue of the Virgin wears a halo of white and blue neon. A few Vietnamese are scattered around the rear of the church, praying in oriental postures. Up front an old priest, a Frenchman, slowly rocks back and forth in meditation. He looks old and broken.
Around the sides of the church, the stations of the cross are arranged in little chapels. At the ninth station, a young Vietnamese woman with a white stricken face is lighting the nine candles. She is dressed in a beautiful blue trailing duo and long white silk pants. With her is an older man. He places a small block
of white tile against the wall. Inscribed in blue on the white block is the name of the man they mourn. It is not the only name. Behind the flickering candles the walls of the chapels arc covered with the little white plaques. And because there is no room left on some walls, the survivors have started to stack them in piles on the floor. Some plaques have been knocked over and left to lie in the dust.
The young woman gets up from praying and, leaving, crosses the dirty floor. She pauses at the door. For a moment her duo flutters out like a mourning veil. Behind her a black iron fence is silhouetted against the hot yellow sunlight outside. Then she is gone, and there is a line, a line that floats across the mind. It is from Ezra Pound's cantos: “Yes, dear God, my veil caught against the wall, and turn-
ing I saw spiked upon it my lives all crucified."
LIEUTENANT PHAM-HÔNC. THAÏ has the round moon-face of a peasant, which he is. He is also an officer of the North Vietnamese People's Army. And until he was captured he commanded the 2nd Company of the 313 Battalion, 42nd Regiment, Brigade 350 of the NVA 5th Division.
Now he spends his days sitting crosslegged on the plank floor of a bare open-sided hutBeside him is a green army blanket and a small pile of personal clothing. At his feet, a tiny flea-ridden puppy chases its tail. He is alone because he is the only officer currently in captivity at the divisional headquarters of the Korean Tiger Division, just north of Oui Nhon The Koreans have captured more NVA officers
the peasants. The harvest is hatred
and men than any other combat group in Vietnam.
This afternoon Lieutenant Thai has visitors and he looks up almost eagerly, stands and salutes, then shakes hands with the two Korean officers in the traditional Asian manner, using tfwo hands, the second closing over the back of the other person’s. Everyone squats down. Thái is barefoot and has extremely long toe nails, probably because in confinement he has nothing to trim them with. Now he picks away at them somewhat nervously with his fingernails. There are a lot of flies. The temperature is 95, and inside the hut, the roof of which consists of heavy tarpaulins, the atmosphere is
stifling. The military-police commander asks one of the guards why there is such a bad smell and tells him to get busy with a can of disinfectant. The other Korean officer. Major Kim, offers Thái a cigarette. The lieutenant is grateful, his attitude seemingly one of compliance.
He says that he is 27. a farmer, and originally comes from a farming district just north of Hanoi. He was a sergeant and a platoon leader. Then his company commander was killed. Thái was sent to an officer-training school for three months where he was made a 2nd lieutenant and commander of his company. In February 1967 his brigade left Haiphong to
begin a four-month march to reach their tactical area of operation in South Vietnam. They came down the Ho Chi Minh trail, through Cambodia and Laos, infiltrated across the border into South Vietnam and across the country to the coastal area of Phu Yeng Province, where the brigade arrived at the end of May.
Thai has slowly smoked half his cigarette. Now he carefully butts the end and puts it in a small plastic container.
The Vietnamese interpreter, who originally comes from Hanoi and carries a year-old rolledup issue of the English magazine Encounter under his arm, carefully examines his boots, saying, “He tells me / continued overleaf
Prisoners, profiteers, VC: They’re what
HOW WE WIN THEIR HEARTS continued
that when they arrived only half the brigade was left.”
How was he captured?
“On the march he contracted malaria. They had no medical supplies left. On July 5th he was captured wandering along the road to An Hoa village. He was delirious and does not know if he wandered away from his unit or if his comrades left him on the road because they could do no more for him."
Does he know who the president ol the United States is?
Have the Koreans treated him well?
“Yes, well. Only he has no one to talk to. For a long time he wanted to hear somebody speak in his own language and to talk to them. But now he knows there will be nobody to speak to, so he does not think about it anymore.”
It's time to go. Thái gets up, shakes hands, a little reluctant to see everyone go. Major Kim gives him another cigarette, which he puts away.
Outside, the interpreter drops back and out of earshot of the officers. What will happen to Thai?
“Oh,” says the interpreter, “when Intelligence is finished with him, he will be turned over to a prison camp run by the South Vietnamese government.”
Conditions there will be a lot worse.
“Yes.” says the interpreter, again looking down at his boots, “but then the opportunities to escape will probably be excellent.”
THERE IS A SPECIAL kind of despair that is unique to wartime military airports in the early hours of the morning. It is 3 a.m. and there are no more flights out of Cam Ranh Bay until 8 a.m. The stranded troops are sprawled on green wooden benches, trying to sleep, shielding their eyes from the light with their caps. Others lie on the grey concrete floor. One of the “cowboy” photographers of the war, complete in camouflage suit, gun belt and ivory-handled Colt .45, spreads a poncho under a bench and goes to sleep. On one area of concrete two rows of men are lying head to head, dozing. One man, an army captain, recognizes another man lying opposite him. Talking softly, they quietly exchange greetings. They're army advisers to Army of the Republic of Vietnam units and they haven't seen each
other for a long time. The second man asks about a mutual friend, Sam, also an officer and adviser.
“He got hit south of Hôi An.”
“Yeah, I know, but what happened?”
“He was out with two ARVN companies. It was getting dark and they were pulling back to a perimeter around a church. All of a sudden he looks around and realizes that everyone has gone. The only ones left moving around out there are his own two sergeants and the VC. We had our radio tuned in on his frequency. We heard the whole thing. As the three of them pulled back into the church
they were hit by mortar fragments. Sam an<J one sergeant made it into the church and the other guy hid outside in some bushes. He was lucky. The VC ran right into the church and grabbed Sam and the sergeant. They nailed Sam up on the wall.”
“What do you mean they nailed him?” “They crucified him, man. Then they got his sergeant and put him on the radio. A Marine company on a hill was laying 105s around the church. The VC wanted the sergeant to tell the Marines to hold off. He said, ‘They've got us in the church. For Christ's sake, hit the church.' Then they grabbed the
the war’s about. They’ve already lost it
sergeant and nailed him up beside Sam. They eut them both up. cut their guts out. '1 he guy Riding outside heard it all. Then the VC pulled out and left them hanging there.”
After a few minutes' silence the two officers talk about other things, their standby numbers for the morning's flight, where to get their travel orders in Saigon. After a while they roll -•*ver on their backs, but the captain keeps twitching around in his sleep.
THE TEA IN THE rusty tin can tastes brackish, bitter. The man who gave it to me is dressed in an ARVN uniform. Now he lies back on
the bed and through the interpreter asks how old 1 am and if I have children, ln turn, I ask what happened in the village of Lê So n last night. But there are only evasions. “It was dark, raining, everything was confused, a few houses were burned down by the VC, that is all. Why do you want to know about this? There are more important things going on in Vietnam.”
One old man in the corner of the crowded hut keeps trying to say something, but every time he opens his mouth a representative of the National Security Police, dressed in civilian clothes that include a nylon camouflage scarf
and a plastic-covered pith helmet, says something to stop him. The corrugated-iron roof makes the hut like an oven, but outside it is worse. The sun beats down on the white sand with an intensity that is almost a physical blow.
Lê So'n is a Peace Hamlet, less than 10 miles from Da Nang. Over the past nine months the people have been forcibly brought to live in this treeless sandy waste. In a series of operations the 51st ARVN Regiment destroyed their old homes in the verdant rice fields by the Song Yên, brought them here and promised peace and security.
The people of / continued on page 60
continued from page 19
Lé So'n are not alone in not wanting to talk today. Just a mile up the road, is the command post of the 5th Marine Regiment. Across the road is the command post of the 51st ARVN Regiment and the 7th Marine Engineers. Everyone up there is too embarrassed to say very much.
The reason is that just after midnight a company of VC guerrillas with a sapper attachment blasted their way through the barbed wire that surrounded the hamlet, killed two ARVN soldiers and captured two others. The other ARVN soldiers providing security for Lé So'n fled. The VC then systematically marked off 42 houses for destruction. The householders were those who had shown cooperation with the enemy, which to the VC can mean anything from being a hamlet official to a hapless woman whose husband is an ARVN soldier.
The sappers threw satchel charges into the houses. Twenty-seven were destroyed, the rest seriously damaged. The VC must have been in a hurry, because they didn't even bother to loot houses for precious stocks of rice. The grain was burned, too. Then the VC company marched the more than 400 villagers off into the nearest tree line where they were interrogated and lectured for the rest of the night. It was a had night for the military of South Vietnam. The VC had cut all the phone lines and for some reason the 51st ARVN and the 5th Marines couldn't seem to establish radio contact. The VC had attacked during a monsoon storm and nobody had much ambition to go out looking for guerrillas on a black night in a heavy rain. As it was, the 51st and the Marines had a had enough time stumbling around in the rain trying to find each other.
Shortly after dawn the released villagers started trickling back into the village. For them it was really only one more move in a game in which they are the pawns.
The midnight raid was a reprisal for what had happened a month earlier. An ARVN patrol had found two 17-year-old girls by the banks of the Sông Y6n. The ARVN soldiers tortured the two girls. They used the ancient Chinese water torture of holding a rag over the girls’ faces and then pouring water over the nose and mouth — it's like drowning, hut very slowly. One broke down and revealed that they were message carriers for the VC. They would meet a woman from Lé So'n on the outskirts of the village, then they would carry any information she had given them to the local VC post. The girls gave the location of the post, a small underground cave, and the identities of three informers in the village. An ARVN patrol found the post and killed the five guerrillas manning it. Then they arrested the informers in the village.
The ARVN commander felt it was the best retaliatory blow he had been able to strike since the night the VC had come into the village and assassicontinued on page 62
HOW WE WIN THEIR HEARTS continued
Down an alley, up steep steps, and a burbling opium pipe
nated the 14 men who were running the village for the South Vietnamese government. In 15 minutes the group, which was called the Revolutionary Development Cadre, was wiped out. It's hard to recruit new RD workers when that happens.
And so it goes on. and so there's no wonder, really, that the villagers of Lc So'n don't want to talk today.
IT IS 9 P.M. in Da Nang. Except for a couple of streets of brightly lighted and noisy bars playing Beatle records, the city is in a warm, murky darkness, broken only by dim pools of light from widely spaced street lamps. Three men stand at the entrance of an alley. One of the men is French, the other two are American. A passing cycloman. the operator of a pedal-driven rickshaw, stops by the group anti in broken English offers to take them to a brothel. One of the Americans, who speaks fluent Vietnamese, curtly dismisses the pimp.
When the cyclo-man has disappeared, the American starts down the alley. The two other men follow at intervals of 20 yards. The alley becomes a labyrinth, giving off into backyards and dimly lighted rooms where groups of Vietnamese men. gathered talking round a table, look up startled. A young woman squatting inside a doorway calls out softly to the men as they pass. Through another window, two women are sprawled on a bed, watching TV. Over everything is the overpowering stench of an Asian back alley — smells of spiced food, human excrement, rotting fruit, cheap perfume. burning incense, all mingle with the smell of the damp, steaming earth.
Stairway to danger
The man who is leading stops and makes one last turn that brings them into a courtyard. The Frenchman stumbles and knocks over an earthenware jug. which rolls over the ground through the darkness. A mongrel runs out snarling and biting at their ankles. The leader is having a whispered conversation with an old Chinese woman. She calls up to someone on a gallery above. Her voice is high, almost a whine. The person upstairs manipulates a lever and a gate made out of metal cans beaten flat is opened. Ahead is a flight of incredibly narrow and steep steps. The men grope their way up in the darkness. A tiny Chinese girl of about 10 leads them along the gallery into a small room where the men are greeted by an old and emaciated Chinese man.
In the room there are two sleeping platforms. One is covered with a mosquito net and under it a woman sleeps. On the other a Vietnamese of about 40 holds the long stem of an opium pipe over the flame of an oil lamp. He inhales and there is that peculiar burbling sound as the opium burns around the hole of the pipe bowl. The first American takes off his boots and lies down beside the Vietnamese, who hands him the pipe. The Chinaman rolls out a sleeping mat for the other two men. He gives them little wooden headrests and places a lamp between
them, and then prepares a pipe by smearing the dark sticky substance around the pipe bowl. He shows them the distance they must hold it from the flame and how to inhale steadily, deeply.
The atmosphere in the room is fragile. The light comes only from the oil lamps the smokers use. The old
man is very gentle. The people talk quietly, almost tenderly to each other. The opium they smoke comes from the famous poppy-growing area in the central highlands of North Vietnam. It is smuggled in through Laos. For more than 20 years. Ho Chi Minh has used the proceeds from the illicit sales of opium in Southeast
Asia to pay for all those very efficient and deadly Chinese-Communist weapons. That's why it is very dangerous to smoke opium in South Vietnam.
After an hour, the old man gets nervous. He wants the foreigners to leave. They have to leave anyway — it will soon be curfew time. They pay him 100 piastres, about a dollar, for each pipe they have smoked and stumble down the narrow stairs.
Back in the streets they quietly pass
the bars where USAID Jeeps are lined up. The American USAID workers are picking up their shackups. the bar girls who have put in a long day's work in little dungeonlike establishments called such names as the New' Yorker, the Paradise Bar. the Blue Angel. In front of one of them a merchant seaman slaps away what at first he thought was just a friendly kid. until he found a hand groping around for the bundle in his pocket.
The three men leave the bars, then
quietly separate. And the only sound that can be heard over their soft footfalls in the dark streets is the sporadic crack of rifle fire from the Marine sharpshooters stationed on the bridge across the Sông Hàn. They have orders to shoot at every piece of debris that comes floating down the river, just in case it is a VC camouflaged high-explosive charge intended to blow the bridge away. It took the Americans a long time to build that structural-steel bridge, more than a year.
They had everything up but the last span, then somewhere between Hong Kong and Da Nang somebody sold it on them. It took another three months to replace the missing span.
MANZINI IS a medical corpsman and so he is allowed to carry only a .45. And right now he has that .45 in his hand, with the magazine in and the hammer back. He holds it pointing slightly up in the air as he follows the line of the sw'eep his squad is
making through a grove of banana trees. Manzini is unhappy. It's getting dark and starting to rain again. And though this is his first combat operation, he has been in Vietnam long enough to know the platoon should have been dug in an hour ago on a secure perimeter. He is a little shaky, too. Earlier in the afternoon the squad lost four men. wading across a river, to sniper fire. One of them went under from the weight of the pack on his back and the current carried him away. Manzini patched up the other three as he had been trained to do. and the Medevac helicopter lifted them out. Now Manzini knows that if any men are hit they are going to be with him all night. At that moment he trips the translucent plastic line hidden in the grass at his feet.
Out of the corner of his eye he sees the movement at shoulder height and realizes in that split second it is a Bouncing Betty, a Viet Cong booby trap that is rigged to blow up at head height. Manzini yells and dives forward. A heavy object drops in the undergrowth. Nothing seems to be happening as he scrambles on his hands, knees and belly through the grass. Then the grenade explodes, blowing off his legs. And Manzini is screaming in agony, his teeth biting into the earth.
Death in the rain
At his first yell the squad dropped to the ground. Now everybody is yelling. “What's happening?" A couple of Marines loose off bursts of M16 fire into the trees beyond Manzini. “Hold your fire! Marines to the right." somebody yells. The Marine closest to Manzini crawls up and yells. “Manzini is hit. pass it on." The squad leader immediately changes it to. “The corpsman has been hit. pass it on." The corpsman from the next squad comes up and tries to patch Manzini up a bit. There's not much to do. He punches a syrette of morphine into Manzini's shoulder. But even intramuscularly, morphine takes 20 minutes to get there. And all the time Manzini is dying.
His buddy has come up and is lying beside him in the rain, holding what is left of Manzini's shattered body in his arms. He is trying to talk to him about things, small things, about it being okay, about going home. But Manzini is scared and crying all the time, clutching at his friend. He keeps saying, “I thought I was okay. I thought I was okay.” In about 15 minutes, which seems forever, he is dead.
The platoon digs in around the grove of banana trees. They put Manzini's body beside a shelled house. Then his friend covers Manzini with his own rain poncho. Later, a Marine who is trying to build a shelter for himself to keep out the rain, comes over and pulls off the poncho. Manzini lies out there in the rain and in the morning the ants are all over him. The sergeant asks who took the poncho. Nobody says anything.
The sergeant pulls a bamboo curtain down out of the shelled house. They wrap Manzini up in that and two combat engineers are assigned to carry him out to where the helicopter will take him away. ★