I must confess that I am not feeling terribly patriotic today having just finished Nick Turse's Kill Anything that Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam. The book makes a persuasive case that the My Lai Massacre was not an aberration, but simply one egregious example of the kind of atrocity that occurred with regularity in a war where American commanders made "body count" the only performance standard. Consider for example Operation Speedy Express which ran from December 1968 through May 1969, where the 9th Infantry Division reported killing 10,899 enemy troops, but only recovered 748 weapons. During one week in April 1969, the division reported killing 699 guerrillas while losing only one man and capturing only nine weapons. The book is well sourced and well written, but hard to get through.
For someone who would like to understand the Vietnam War better, but is not eager to slog through 260 pages of America's war crimes, I would recommend Fredrik Logeval's Pulitzer Prize winning Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America's Vietnam. The book deals with France's ill-fated attempt to reestablish its empire in Indochina after World War II, which America backed in order to assure French support in the developing Cold War in Europe. The book makes clear just how fucked up the situation in Vietnam was long before the United States decided to put troops on the ground and why it was so unlikely that things would ever turn out any better than they did.
Whenever I go to the library, I browse through the new non-fiction section and grab whatever I think might be interesting. By coincidence, the other book I grabbed last week also concerned the U.S. Army behaving badly; this time in Colorado in 1864. In A Misplaced Massacre: Struggling Over the Memory of Sand Creek, Ari Kelman examines the various ways that America and Americans have coped with the memory of one particularly troubling incident from the time it occurred through the dedication of the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site in 2007. I'm just getting started on that one though.