Myth: Almost all US troops committed atrocities against civilians.

Fact: Atrocities were rare and punishable offenses. The vast majority of troops acted honorably and professionally.

  • This lie has been told repeatedly, most recently in Nick Turse's Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam.
  • Turse's book is filled with inaccuracies, flawed assumptions and gross generalizations as well as communist agitprop typical of the NVA.
  • The lie is based on three things; the US dropped a lot of bombs in Vietnam, artillery was used extensively and that the military was reluctant to report atrocities like My Lai.
  • Although a lot of ordnance was expended in Vietnam, the vast majority of it was spent in the sparsely populated northern provinces of Quang Tri and Thua Thien and northwest of Saigon, where the heaviest concentrations of communist forces were.
  • The Rules of Engagement for artillery use were very strict and required the approval of South Vietnamese officials in every case except confirmed active combat operations.
  • Bombing and artillery were not allowed in populated areas unless troops were directly engaged in combat. Even then approval from above was required except in extreme circumstances.
  • Throughout the war three major incidents were confirmed by investigators; My Lai, Son Thang and the Tiger Force operations.
  • Approximately 2.6 million personnel served in Vietnam. If each of the 320 documented incidents involved an average of a company of 350 men, 4.3% of American personnel were confirmed as involved in or at least aware of atrocities.
  • Investigations found enough evidence to formally charge 203 men with crimes. 57 were court-martialed, and 23 were convicted.
  • The worst known atrocity, My Lai, involved a company of 350 men. 26 were charged with crimes. Between 350 and 520 civlians died.
  • The only reason we know about atrocities committed in Vietnam is because eyewitness servicemen reported it and the military investigated.
  • Total civilian mortality attributable to American operations in Vietnam is estimated to be about 70,000 people, of which 1500 were attributable to crimes.
  • Many atrocity stories were told by soldiers who either never even set foot in Vietnam or never saw any combat.
  • To put these in perspective, North Vietnam killed more civilians in the North alone during the "land reform" massacres of the 50's and 60's than the American military did during the entire war.

Confirming Evidence

Photo of old Vietnamese man killed by American troops.

Vietnam War Studies, Field Artillery, 1954-1973

STATISTICS OF DEMOCIDE, Chapter 6, Statistics Of Vietnamese Democide, Estimates, Calculations, And Sources

VC/NVA Terrorist Doctrine

Civilian Killings Went Unpunished

The Long Run Impact of Bombing Vietnam

Verified Civilian Slayings

Memorandum from John Dean to the Judge Advocate General requesting details of investigations into war crimes

Toledo Blade: Special - Tiger Force


Vietnam's anniversary of horror

Vietnam War Atrocities

Mark Lane: Smearing America's Soldiers in Vietnam

Stolen Valor - a list of phony soldiers, many of whom claim Vietnam service


Vietnam Vet: I Lied About Atrocities

Vietnam Atrocities

Battlefield atrocities by the NVA


America in Vietnam