Old myths (or lies) about the Vietnam War die hard. One such is quoted by Miller Hudson in your April 6 edition.
He says “A half-century has elapsed since a long forgotten American Public Information Officer in Viet Nam declared, ‘We had to destroy the village in order to save it.’” According to B. G. Burkett and Glenna Whitley, the authors of Stolen Valor: How the Vietnam Generation Was Robbed of Its Heroes and Its History, no American officer ever made that remark. It comes from an article written by Peter Arnett on the Battle of Ben Tre during the 1968 Tet Offensive. Arnett later became known in some circles as “The Voice of Saddam Hussein” for his biased reporting during the first Gulf war, and was fired by CNN after producing a documentary that falsely claimed that Army Special Forces soldiers had used nerve gas during an operation in Laos. Arnett attributed the “destroy the village” quote to an unidentified U.S. Major. There were two Majors interviewed after the fight at Ben Tre — an Army officer and an Air Force officer.
Neither made the statement Arnett quoted, although the Army Major commented on the destruction caused by the Viet Cong attack on a U. S. advisory compound located in Ben Tre.
Lots of things are wrong with the quote. Ben Tre was not a “village.” It was a provincial capital in the Mekong river delta. It had a population of around fifty thousand at the time. In fact, the original “quote” as reported by Arnett was, “It became necessary to destroy the town to save it.” The damage done to the town was not inflicted by the U.S. forces, but by the Viet Cong during their prolonged attack on the advisory compound. Arnett’s story made it seem that the destruction was the result of U.S. air and artillery bombardment, neither of which occurred. But the madeup quote allows some to depict the military as both brutish and stupid. That’s probably why it has lasted so long.
Joseph A. Davies