- Responses to Bernd Greiner on U.S. Conduct in Vietnam
Andrew J. Bacevich
Responding to Bernd Greiner’s rebuttal becomes difficult because he has now effectively disowned the English-language translation of his book. My review included seventeen quotations taken from that text, offered to illustrate my concerns with the author’s approach and overall interpretation. Greiner dismisses several as mistranslations of no consequence and then ignores the rest. For example, amid much fulmination he leaves standing these two substantive charges: (1) that War without Fronts draws specific conclusions that Greiner’s own evidence does not support; and (2) that War without Fronts reaches very broad general conclusions based on a limited data set. I illustrated my concerns with examples drawn from the text. He chose not to address them. That is his privilege. As for “Win. Win at any price”: I remain unconvinced that this motto, even as revised by Greiner, qualifies as “the famous Kennedy clan mantra.” Be that as it may, Greiner’s text identifies it not as a clan mantra but as “[John F.] Kennedy’s own mantra”—an assertion for which Greiner presents no evidence whatsoever. But perhaps that is another one of those unfortunate errors to be blamed on nameless translators.
Bernd Greiner believes that I misrepresented his study of atrocities in the Vietnam War, War without Fronts. His reply to me deals more with my general comments on his book than with any specifics.
I argued that Greiner portrays U.S. forces in Vietnam as having had a generalized inclination to commit atrocities. Greiner denies having presented such a picture even by implication. In my review I quoted from Greiner’s listing of U.S. units he considers “typical of the ground war” in Vietnam (p. 23 of his book). These were Task Force Barker (the unit that perpetrated the My Lai massacre); Tiger Force (a reconnaissance unit that went on an extraordinarily murderous rampage lasting for months in 1967); and the 9th Infantry [End Page 111] Division (which killed thousands of Mekong Delta peasants in Operation Speedy Express). To label as “typical” the three units that committed glaring atrocities does seem to imply that atrocities were extremely widespread. The book seriously exaggerates the pressures that it says pushed U.S. combat soldiers toward atrocities, and it discusses at great length the atrocities that resulted. Its reference to the existence of combat units that did not behave atrociously are so rare, and so brief, that Greiner does not even think to mention them in his rebuttal to my review. Instead he writes that in his book he repeatedly points “to the fact that even within rogue units about half the members did not participate in war crimes.” I do not think my statement that he portrayed U.S. forces as having had a generalized inclination to commit atrocities implied that he was suggesting every individual soldier had committed atrocities. Perhaps more important, I do not recall his having said anything about “rogue units” in his book. If he had described Tiger Force and Task Force Barker as rogue units, violating the general norms of the U.S. troops in Vietnam, War without Fronts would have been a different book, and I would have written a different review.
I also said that the book contains many inaccuracies, and I gave more than a dozen specific examples of statements that seem wildly exaggerated or simply false. Greiner, in his reply, offers a specific response to only two of these. In one case, regarding the U.S. bombing of North Vietnam in Operation Linebacker (1972), he says that the original German text of his book was accurate but was mistranslated.
In the other case, I quoted the following statement from page 186 of War without Fronts: “As William Peers stressed in his report on the My Lai (4) massacre, since Tet commanding officers no longer had to worry about sanctions—not even if they had unduly strained the limits of their powers of discretion or completely ignored the Rules of Engagement.” I said I had been unable to find this, or anything like it, in the...