Destroying the Village in Vietnam

It seems the Vietnam War may as well be the Punic Wars for most Americans, i.e. ancient history. Yet it was a scant 50 years ago that America finally pulled out of that disastrous war, leaving a horrific legacy of towns and villages bombed, burned, and poisoned.

High explosive, napalm, Agent Orange, and other ordnance was dropped in massive quantities by U.S. warplanes, yet North Vietnam remained unbowed. The self-serving lesson the U.S. military took from this was twofold. First, it obviously couldn’t be the military’s fault.  Blame was most often pinned on alleged civilian micro-management; more bombing, with fewer limits, would have worked, so airpower enthusiasts argued. The second lesson was to hide or otherwise obscure or deny civilian casualties in future wars, a cynical approach lacking in integrity but one we’ve seen used with considerable success in Iraq and Afghanistan, among other places.

These were not the lessons that leaders with integrity would have drawn. But they are the lessons that a system designed to protect itself did draw.

U.S. leaders refuse to consider the costs of war, not only on foreign peoples but also on ourselves. The words of James Hildreth remind us of the costs of war as well as the seductiveness of destruction and of lies.

It’s a lesson to bear in mind, whether with the Russia-Ukraine War or possible future wars, e.g. current talk of a possible war with Iran.

Bracing Views

W.J. Astore

One day, a village of roughly 1200 people in South Vietnam ceased to exist. The U.S. Air Force destroyed it, and the report read “Target 100% destroyed, body-count 1200 KBA (killed by air) confirmed.”

It wasn’t an “enemy” village. It was a village that had failed to pay its taxes to a South Vietnamese provincial commander, a lieutenant colonel and ostensibly a U.S. ally. He wanted the village destroyed to set an example to other recalcitrant villages, and the U.S. Air Force did what it does: It put bombs and napalm on target.

At Seventh Air Force headquarters, the brass knew this village’s “crime.” As a brigadier general said to then-Lieutenant Colonel James Robert “Cotton” Hildreth, “Damn, Cotton, don’t you know what’s going on? That village didn’t pay their taxes. That [South Vietnamese] lieutenant colonel … is teaching them a lesson.”

It’s a “lesson” that made Cotton Hildreth…

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55 thoughts on “Destroying the Village in Vietnam

    1. Cotton is a super hawk that’s for sure. Ever since McCain died in office Senators have been jockeying for who is the next super hawk. I figure it’s Cotton vs Graham on the Republican side. The Democrat side? Schumer may be in the running. Who else?


  1. When i saw the headline, Colonel, i thought this was going to be the story of Ben Tre: the Village we Did indeed and in deed destroy during the 1968 Tet festivities in order to ~ as somebody at some higher HQ put it ~ “Save It.”

    Thank You for that Tale from the War that most Americans would like to pretend never happened. Just like they like pretending that the so-called “Global” so-called “War On” so-called “Terrorism” ~ aka “The Forever War” ~ never happened. Especially in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Syria, and so forth.

    Just like they like pretending that we and the Ukrainian oligarchy are the Good Guys in that little Goatrope.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. i was an assault helicopter door gunner in the Mekong Delta during Tet 68, and saw first-hand, up close, and personally several villages and significant parts of major Mekong towns destroyed by American and South Vietnamese firepower in order to “save” them from Viet Cong seizure and occupation.

    My guess is that the Vietnamese living in those villages and towns would have much preferred for Uncle Sam to have focused on “saving” someplace and somebody else. Like maybe Uncle Sam, himself.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Maybe that also explains this:


        A majority of Americans say the U.S. government is corrupt and almost a third say it may soon be necessary to take up arms against it, according to a new poll from the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics.

        Two-thirds of Republicans and independents say the government is “corrupt and rigged against everyday people like me,” according to the poll, compared to 51 percent of liberal voters.

        Twenty-eight percent of all voters, including 37 percent of gun owners, agreed “it may be necessary at some point soon for citizens to take up arms against the government,” a view held by around 35 percent of Republicans and around 35 percent of Independents. One in five Democrats concurred.



        1. Of course, the results of the “Is this government corrupt?” question would have probably been completely reversed if the poll was taken when Trump ruled the roost, eh?


        2. You have been preaching this Jeff – The more you pay attention the more you realize we are absolutely screwed.
          As a commenter to this video says: There’s a difference between being proud and blinded by exceptionalism. History shows us that “pride” comes before fall. There are plenty of factors involved, but simply put, jingoism is a product of exceptionalism and a form of tribalism.

          Liked by 1 person

        3. The United States is not pre-Revolution France. There is no organized resistance. Where will the organization and leadership come from? The Proud Boys? Donald Trump? Steve Bannon? Americans make all kinds of ridiculous statements in polls and “man in the street” interviews because they haven’t been threatened by anything or anyone since Appomattox. And no matter how many guns the civilian rabble comes up with, the government will have more. Plus tanks and other armored vehicles, helicopter gunships and – yes – drones.
          As The Beatles once sang, “you say you want a revolution, well, you know … we’d all love to see the plan.”
          Piss ants on their way to a picnic would be better organized.

          Liked by 2 people

  3. In World War II the Brits started bombing Germany in the daytime, so as to “relatively” sure of their targets. Losses to their air fleet were severe so they switched to night bombing where no one could see anything. Americans took up the slack and bombed during the day.


    1. And ALEX I have read accounts, I can’t recall where now, that claimed that the bombing of Germany by the Brits and Yanks in WW2 actually had no affect on ending the war sooner. I think it is nowadays acknowledged that this carpet bombing in a conflict is militarily pointless. I wonder if any other of Bracing Views readers can comment on this?


      1. And opening the biggest can or worms of all: was it militarily necessary to drop two atomic bombs on Japan? My position is that it was not. Let the debate begin!


        1. Nagasaki wasn’t necessary.

          Hiroshima wasn’t “militarily necessary,” though the sheer shock of it, combined with Soviet entry into the war, may have together convinced the Japanese to “bear the unbearable” and to surrender.

          Japanese militarism was extremely strong. Those two shocks may, just may, have shortened the war and saved lives.

          Liked by 2 people

        2. The battles for Okinawa and Iwo Jima had resulted in heavy American casualties. To die for the Emperor in battle was an honor and a duty for the Japanese soldier. It was estimated that an invasion of the Japanese mainland would result in a million American casualties. They needed something to shock them into surrendering. The A-bombs provided just that. The US also added a threat – we had many more such bombs and would obliterate all their cities (it was a bluff – the two bombings had used up our inventory). In the event the Emperor decided enough was enough and gently pressured the military to surrender. It was highly unusual for the Emperor to take such an action but that’s what happened. Under the circumstances I don’t think Truman really had an alternative to using the bombs.


          1. Many respected historian on this subject have disagree with the last sentence in your post ALEX….”Under the circumstances I don’t think Truman really had an alternative to using the bombs.”

            They argue that the Japanese were on their knees and ready to surrender.

            The U.S. had already intercepted communications from Japan showing that the emperor had asked the Russians to mediate a surrender. And almost every top U.S. military leader from the time later came forward saying that Japan was already defeated before the bombs were dropped.

            The debate between historians is less about whether Japan was already going to surrender, and more about why the U.S. used the atomic bombs at all. Many argue that the actual purpose was to intimidate the Russians, and secure the U.S. as the winner at the beginning of the Cold War. To achieve these goals these thousands of Japanese civilians had to give their lives.


            1. Maybe so. History is always subject to reinterpretation. Especially as more information becomes available. Who knows, for instance, what’s going on behind the scenes on the Ukraine/NATO/Russia war? I certainly don’t. I’m not on their e-mails lists. If you find a link to sign up for those let me know.


              1. I guess my point is ALEX that many say this whole story, propaganda if you like, that it was to save the life’s of many American soldiers who would have been killed if Japan had been invaded – is just a story that was told to the American people after the war to justify the horrendous killing of so many Japanese with these inhumane dropping of A-bombs on innocent civilian populations. To make us feel less guilty.


                1. It’s entirely possible. If that was a propaganda effort it looks like it worked. Fog of war and propaganda. During WW II the US had drives to gather pots and pans among the civilian population. The story was they would be melted down and turned into battleships, etc. To those who knew something about the steel industry the story never made sense. Iron ore was readily available to feed the steel mills and the pots and pans were often made from mixed metals anyway so there would have to be some sort of pre-sort before being used. So the pots and pans were gathered and then put in large piles where they oxidized away in the sun. Turns out the effort was just an attempt to get the citizenry more involved in the war effort, including the youth organizations who went door to door seeking pots and pans. So there you go. War is not the right time to expect honesty from government. Actually it would be nice if we had honesty from government in peacetime. Except we almost never really are at peace are we?

                  Liked by 1 person

                2. Such propaganda is not so much to assuage our guilt. Rather it’s to build support for the actions government has already taken. So we bomb Japan with the A-bomb and then say the fighting would otherwise have gone on for a long time and a million American casualties would have resulted so of course we were justified in bombing Japan. Observe how that works in present tense. Russia invades Ukraine. Washington and the EU supply Ukraine weapons and throw up economic sanctions against the whole Russian society followed by a propaganda effort to convince people that Putin is some kind of monster and so that’s how you treat monsters anyway. That how it works. As the propaganda master Joseph Goebbels used to say you can’t have a powerful state without a powerful propaganda.

                  Liked by 2 people

          2. Personal opinion, without factual data to back up.

            By the summer of 1945 I doubt that there was any serious debate or question about using the A-Bomb.
            It was a new weapon that had been developed at great cost. We, and the rest of the world, had long since blown past considering sparing civilian lives of the enemy. It was total war, we had this weapon, pretty much ‘of course we’ll use it’.
            A quote from John Hersey I believe was accurate in this regard:
            “Let these words be a reminder. The step from one degree of violence to the next is imperceptibly taken and cannot be taken back.”


            1. Americans were weary of war and used anything to shorten it: firebombing, starvation blockade, a proposed invasion, and, yes, the atomic bomb.

              A few scientists suggested a demonstration, but most simply assumed that if it was built, it would be used “to contribute to the war effort.”


        3. BTW I highly recommend the movie “Letters From Iwo Jima” which attempts to show the battle from the Japanese perspective. With an (almost) all Japanese (or Japanese-American) cast, it was nominated for four Academy awards, winning one.


          1. wiki- “CNN’s Tom Charity in his review described “Letters from Iwo Jima” as “the only American movie I won’t hesitate to call a masterpiece.”[21]

            The movie was critically acclaimed, and well noted for its portrayal of good and evil on both sides of the battle.”

            And as much flak as Clint Eastwood gets nowadays for being a right-wing nutjob – he did a fantastic job with this movie. wiki again – “previous Hollywood movies describing Japan were based on the stereotypical images of Japanese society, which looked “weird” to native Japanese audiences. “Letters from Iwo Jima” is remarkable as the movie that tries to escape from the stereotypes.[26] Owing to the lack of stereotypes, “Letters from Iwo Jima” was appreciated by Japanese critics and audiences.[27]”


        4. And of course – “the clandestine bombing campaign over Laos and Cambodia conducted by the United States during the Vietnam War was arguably one of the biggest tragedies of the second half of the 20th Century. The relentless bombing missions took a terrible toll on both countries regarding life, property and resources, and many were staged from air bases on Thai soil.”



          1. From the above link….

            “According to an article published by The Irish Times, the US conducted 580,344 bombing missions over Laos. It’s estimated that adjusting for inflation, the cost of this prolonged shock and awe campaign would be US$3.1 billion. A total of around two million tons of ordnance was dropped, including around 270 million cluster munition bomblets. Of these, around 80 million didn’t detonate upon impact and still pose a serious threat to the civilian population.

            Packed with the dozens or hundreds of bomblets per canister, cluster bombs are designed to explode in mid-air, scattering small explosives across a radius of up to several hundred yards. About a third of Laos is contaminated with unexploded ordnance today.

            The Irish Times says that 50,000 Laotians were killed during the nine years of bombing and 20,000 have been killed or maimed since the bombing ended in 1973, with 300 casualties reported every year due to unexploded ordnance. Curious children make up about 40 percent of the victims. Some sources give even higher estimates of human carnage.”

            A human tragedy for sure!


      2. It’s like anything else. Some may have been justified. Some not. The bombing of Dresden by the British/US was considered by many to be beyond the pale. Many allies (including Churchill himself) questioned whether they should continue what they called the “terror” war against German cities. Air Chief Marshal Arthur Harris, head of RAF Bomber Command, in response said as far as he was concerned all the rest of the German cities were not worth the bones of a one British Grenadier.


    2. There’s a big debate about this. Of course, the Air Force argues that the CBO (combined bomber offensive) did help to shorten the war. It created a “second front” in the air. But the bombing itself wasn’t as accurate or debilitating as the RAF and USAAF believed.

      My take: The CBO did lead to the destruction of the Luftwaffe and to the diversion of resources to defend the German homeland. In that sense, it made it easier for the Soviets, who did the bulk of the fighting on land against the Wehrmacht.

      Thus, the CBO did contribute to Germany’s defeat in WW2, but I wouldn’t say it was decisive. And the importance of bombing was often exaggerated and overhyped in the aftermath of the war.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. In WW2 there were about 2-million tons of bombs dropped. In Vietnam there were about 7-million tons dropped.
        Of all of the bombs dropped from the US aircraft it is believed that about15 percent of bombs dropped on Vietnam didn’t exploded, while in Laos it is thought that around 30 percent never detonated.

        A B-17 Flying Fortress (WWII) had 10 crew and (17) bombs.
        A B-52 Stratofortress (Vietnam War) held 6 crew and (108) bombs. Equal to about (6) B-17's
        A F-4 Phantom (Vietnam War) with 2 crew could carry as many bombs as the B-17.


  4. THANK YOU for sharing this.

    The realization that the Vietnam war was illegal, immoral, and a danger to anyone in the line of fire is why I opted OUT of being a direct victim by joining the Army Reserves in 1970 when my Draft Lottery number was eight. I am proud of being a “legal draft evader” because I honored the Constitution by not contributing to the criminal US activities.

    The problem with the US is that it is still operating on the basis of the Golden Rule which is the downfall of all Authoritarian societies where “those who have the Gold make the Rules.”

    The Golden Rule destroyed Judea. It destroyed Rome. It destroyed Islam when the Fundamentalists took over and said that belief was more important than Science. It fractured Christianity when different cultures wanted to keep their “share” of the Gold.

    The Golden Rule destroyed Communism when the Chief Communists became Oligarchs to preserve their share of the gold, except the Communists were replaced by the Criminals of the Russian Mob where the profits of the society go to the Oligarchs rather than the Society. The 40% of Russian revenue from oil and gas is only followed by the 20% of Russian revenue from the global distribution of heroin (sourced from Afghan poppies where heroin production is 80% of the Afghan GDP).

    The Golden Rule is also currently destroying the US where 45% of the voters prefer the Authoritarian lies of Trump rather than the truth that we are getting screwed by our Oligarchs and the Congress which it owns.

    Biden may not be the brightest or most competent person to ever be President, but at least Biden is not intentionally dishonest as is Trump and ALL of his minions.

    And if you REALLY want to understand how and why someone can become a gullible supporter of Authoritarianism, see for the videos, detailed explanation, and screening test.


    1. That re-definition of the Golden Rule has truth in it. Anyone who has any wealth wants to at least preserve it and the greater the wealth the greater the ability to arrange things for that preservation.

      The 1% will never yield power and those who don’t have great wealth, but enough to live comfortably, will not rise up against the 1% if it means risking what wealth they have. This leaves two sides, the literal conservatives (most Americans) who want to hold things as they are against those who have nothing to conserve and stand to gain at least something from any change at all.

      In history, this confrontation meant the national army vs the rabble and almost inevitably the rabble lost from not having the leadership or the armament to prevail. In modern America the only thing that has changed is that some on the bottom are well armed, but, despite their fiery rhetoric, would still be put down.

      There is a difference from historical uprisings. In those, the monarchy was maintained. In America, our democracy is already corrupt, but an uprising could destroy even that shadow of the real thing. The appeal of authority and demand for it to put down any uprising.

      My point is that the radical right can’t prevail in the heroic, simplistic way it imagines, but it can make everything come crashing down by forcing the hand of power. Threatening armed violence is foolish having no chance of getting the change we need, offering only to destroy what we have. There would be no phoenix arising from the ashes.

      The challenge is to wrestle control politically from those who hold power, to make our captured democracy a real one. This change from the bottom up, demanded by the many against the few, can theoretically happen with the vote. That requires a concerted resolve while avoiding the emotionally satisfying rush of self-righteousness from waving guns and flags.


  5. I’m thinking that the role of the Defense Department in Americas wars has been declining ever since Vietnam. Wars have become more civilian and political. In particular our war on Russia via Ukraine is being brought courtesy of the Treasury Department and the State Department. Just a thought.


      1. Hillary was worried about States’ “overseas developmental funds”. Hmm. Sounds like screwing around with other countries to me. Like their election systems? Like Libya? Like Ukraine? Anyway they’ve gotten a lot more money for it now, whatever it is.


  6. As the owner of a local bookstore for 30 years I got to know a number of Viet Nam vets; oddly a majority of them were marines, some officers, but mostly grunts. What I will say is that every single one of them was badly emotionally damaged – damaged to the point where their lives were not anything close to what they might have been if they hadn’t been sent there. None of the delightful promise each young man brought with him to the recruiting station existed any more, many were semi – suicidal just trying to get through the day. Each one coped in a different way – some had good jobs, some were homeless, almost none had married and settled down. The suicide rate after Nam was pretty high, and now I understand that the suicide rate for those who spent tour after tour in Afghanistan and Iraq is even higher. The son of a close friend served in Iraq for one tour as a radio operator who went with a fighting troop. He didn’t shoot any one, but he still came back with major PTSD and although he is much better now, he still carries residues of that. What we have done in these wars to our children as well as to the “enemy” is beyond contemplation. We need to realize that, and stop it. I wish you would write more about that. We also need to understand that unlike WWII the wars we have fought had no enemy, just us (America) telling people how they should live and what they should think regardless of their culture, and oft times it was simply commercial, the country had something we wanted to own.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Huh? I must be misreading this remark: “… it obviously wasn’t the military’s fault. There was too much civilian micro-management; more bombing, with fewer limits, would have worked.” You’re being arch, right? Or ironic. More is not better. Calls to mind the infamous Vietnam era nonsequitur “in order to save the village we had to destroy it.” Not being a military historian like you, the only parallel I would draw between the Vietnam War and the Russia-Ukraine War is that it didn’t need to be fought, yet there we are/were pushing them forward.


    1. Perhaps I could have been clearer. My point here is that the U.S. military drew two lessons, both self-serving. The first was the idea that more bombing, with fewer constraints, i.e. less civilian meddling, would have worked. In other words, they refused to face the fact that bombing alone doesn’t win wars. The second was to suppress, as much as possible, all the deadly SNAFUs and excesses of bombing.

      Again, these were the wrong lessons, but I suppose from a twisted point of view they were the “right” ones if you were a true believer in bombing.


    1. So much for America having a MYOB (Mind your own business) foreign policy eh Lt. Col and Alex!


    2. Mainland China’s fighters accompanying Nancy Pelosi’s plane over Taiwan. What could possibly go wrong? he asked naively.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Why it is 100% essential that Iran gets nuclear weapons. Its their only defense from being attacked by the great Satan’s – the US and Israel!


    1. No current taxpayer-provided money is being used to finance America’s War with Russia in Ukraine.

      It’s all being put on Uncle Sam’s credit card, and piling on to America’s national, sovereign Debt that stands at $30.6 TRILLION and counting, 130% of this nation’s GDP [ ].


  8. Every People of every Nation gets the system of politics and the politicians that they deserve.

    And with these governors, thus, every People of every Nation gets the system of government and governance that they deserve, as well.

    For our sins, the American People were given the choice of The Donald or The Hillary as their next Supreme Leader in 2016. And in 2020, for our sins we were given the choice of POTUS MAXXIMMUSS XLV or Comatose Joe.

    One can only imagine what the choices will be in 2024; assuming that there is an election. Which of course assumes that there will be an election in 2022.

    The most troubling thing about Trump’s speech in DC on Tuesday was not what he said, but that a numerically very significant number of Americans agree with him 150%, and are prepared to do whatever it takes to give him ~ or his designated heir ~ the power to do exactly what he says he wants and promises to do if returned to the throne.

    Trump, his Trumpatismo and Trumpatistas, and the whole “MAGA” meme are not the Disease. Any more than Biden, Pelosi, Obama, the Clintons, Bernie and The Squad, and what’s left of America’s so-called “liberal, progressive Left” are the Disease.

    The whole festering bunch of them are but Symptoms of the Disease: America’s $1 = 1 Vote system of politics, government, and governance, and the various and sundry “Special Interests” who own, operate, script, handle, and control the politicians and bureaucrats running that system.

    Unless and until THAT is realized, recognized, acknowledged, accepted, and effectively acted upon, NOTHING is going to change except to get worse for Everybody but the politicians and their owners, operators, and controllers.


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