In response to Macallan's illuminating post on the passing of Hugh Thompson (the whistleblower who helped expose Lt. James Calley and the My Lai massacre), I wrote in comments that the war crimes we committed at My Lai were atrocious, but they paled before the atrocities of the North Vietnamese, citing as an example the slaughter of 5,500 civilians by the North Vietnamese at Hue during the Tet offensive. The American people have heard plenty of our war crimes but little of the war crimes committed against the Americans and the inhabitants of South Vietnam by the North Vietnamese communists and their southern fellow travelers. A commenter disputed my claim on the number of civilian casualties so, using the free Internet sources I could muster, I investigated.
James Wilbanks has a thorough take on the battle for Hue, which began 30 January 1968 and lasted 26 days. The centuries-old, three-mile-square Citadel in the center of town proved formidable and, from this, Americans tasted their first real bit of urban guerilla warfare in Vietnam. According to Wilbanks, 116,000 were homeless (out of 140,000) and 40% of the buildings in town were destroyed in the process of retaking Hue. Jack Shulimson also wrote in detail of the struggle for Hue. Wikipedia has a pretty good and evenhanded piece on the massacre, putting the civilian death toll closer to 3,000. Because of the passage of time and the fog of war, we'll never know the actual number. Also interesting was the sometimes heated wikipedia discussions here and here. Accuracy in Media provides a timeline on how the Hue massacre was reported here.
After Hue was retaken, one of the first reporters on the scene was Stewart Harris, and his visit was summarized by Accuracy in Media thus:
Stewart Harris for The Times of London wrote the first story with any detail on the massacre. The New York Times printed it on page 4 on March 28, 1968. Harris had actually taken the trouble to look at some of the graves and see the mutilated bodies. He reported for the first time that some of the victims were said to have been buried alive. However, Harris used a very conservative figure for the number executed-only 200.
In his 1983 book Vietnam: A History, Stanley Karnow writes the following on pages 530-531:
The Communists executed hundreds of civilians during their Tet offensive, but the slaughter was particularly marked in and around Hue, where estimates of those put to death range from 200 to 400[.] British Journalist Stewart Harris, who opposes U.S. policy in Vietnam and declares that "my instinct is not to sustain it by writing propaganda," recently visited Hue and vicinity to investigate the executions. Last week he reported his findings in the Times of London:
The North Vietnamese army and the Viet Cong executed many Vietnamese, some Americans and a few other foreigners during the fighting in and around Hue. I am sure of this after spending several days in Hue investigating allegations of killings and torture. I saw and photographed a lot for myself, but inevitably I relied on many civilians and soldiers, Vietnamese, Americans, Australians and others. All seemed honest witnesses, telling the truth as they believed it.
On a lovely sunny afternoon in the green valley of Nam Hoa, about ten miles southwest of Hue, I was with Warrant Officer Ostara, an Australian adviser with the South Vietnam army standing on the sloping sides of a recently dug hole. In the bottom were rush mats over sheets of plastics. Ostara drew them back and I saw two bodies, dead Vietnamese, with their arms tied behind their backs just above the elbows. They had been shot through the back of the head, the bullet coming out through the mouth. The faces would have been difficult to recognize, but the day before 27 women from the village walked out three miles carrying mattocks to dig for their missing husbands and sons, having heard about this patch of disturbed earth near the roadside. Ostara told me that the enemy had come through on their way to Hue. They had taken 27 men. Some were leaders and some were younger strong enough to be porters or even ancillary soldiers.
"Men were simply condemned by drumhead courts and executed as enemies of the people," said Bob Kelly, the senior province adviser in Thua Thien province. "These were the leaders, often quite small men. Others were executed when their usefulness ceased, or when they didn't Cooperate they were shot for their trouble. Some of my staff were badly mutilated, but I am inclined to believe this was done after they were killed. Their hands were tied and they were shot behind the head I helped to dig one body out, but I have been told by Vietnamese whom I respect that some people were buried alive."
Lieut. Gregory Sharp. an American adviser with the Vietnam 21st Ranger Battalion, told me that his men had come across about 25 new graves in a cemetery five miles east of Hue on March 14. From half a dozen of the graves the heads were sticking up out of the sandy soil and, according to Sharp, "there wasn't much left of them-buzzards and dogs, I suppose. Some had been shot in the head and some hadn't. They had been buried alive. I think. There were sort of scratches in the sand in one place, as if someone had clawed his way out." At Quan Ta Ngan three Australian warrant officers saw seven men in one of three graves they found. The seven. I was told, had been shot one after the other, through the back of the head, hands tied.
Soon after arriving in Hue' I went in a Jeep with three Viet Nam officers to inspect sites where the bodies of executed men were said to have been found. We went first to Gia Hoi high school in District Two, east of the citadel. Here 22 new graves had been found, each containing between three and seven bodies. It is still a horrifying place. The officers told me that the bodies had been tied and, again. Most had been shot through the head, but "some had been buried alive."
There are about 40,000 Roman Catholic Vietnamese in Hue'. What happened to them? About three-quarters of the Roman Catholics in Hue' live in Phu Cam, on the southern outskirts of the city. They resisted strongly when the enemy came in, and some were executed. Four Viet Nam priests were taken away and three foreign priests were killed. Two French priests were actually given permission by the Viet Cong to return to Phu Cam and help the sisters-and then they were shot on the way back. Another French priest was executed, perhaps because he was chaplain to the Americans.
Summing up all this evidence about the behavior of the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese army in Hue one thing is abundantly clear and ought to surprise no one. They put into practice, with their usual efficiency the traditional Communist policy of punishing by execution selected leaders who support their enemies. In Hue, as elsewhere, they were unable on the whole to capture and execute the more important officials, because these men were careful to protect themselves in heavily fortified compounds, defended by soldiers and police. In Hue, as elsewhere, the more defenseless "little people' were the victims-the village and hamlet chiefs, the teachers and the policemen. Already most of these positions have been filled again, and I find it impossible to write adequately about the courage of men who succeed the executed.
Hue was occupied for twenty-five days before the North Vietnamese were ousted. During that time, the troops and the political officers who came with them ruled over large parts of the city. One of the central objectives of the occupation, according to a written plan prepared in advance, was to "destroy and disorganize" the administrative machinery that the South Vietnamese regime had established since Vietnam was divided by international agreement in 1954. The effort to root out "enemy" functionaries, according to the plan, was to extend "from the province and district levels to city wards, streets and wharves." The political officers arrived with a carefully prepared "target list" of 196 places, organized on a block-by-block basis, to be given priority attention, including U.S. and South Vietnamese offices and the homes of the officials who worked there, as well as the homes of those who were deemed to be leading or cooperating with their efforts, including foreigners. Once in charge, the occupation forces set about expanding its target lists with the assistance of local sympathizers.
So many were killed. Le Van Rot, the owner of the most popular Chinese soup restaurant in the city, was the government block chief of his area. Four armed men, two from Hue and two from North Vietnam, came to his shop and arrested him, accusing him of being a spy. They bound his arms behind his back with wire and began to tug him toward the door. When he resisted, one of them put a bullet through his head.
Then there was Pham Van Tuong. He worked part-time as a janitor at the government information office. Four men in black pajamas came to his house, calling on him by name to come out of the bunker where he and his family had taken refuge. But when he did come out, along with his five-year-old son, his three-year-old daughter, and two of his nephews, there was a burst of gunfire. All five were shot to death.
Dr. Horst Gunther Krainick was a German pediatrician and professor of internal medicine who had worked for seven years with teams of Germans and Vietnamese to establish a medical school at Hue University. Krainick stayed in his university apartment after the fall of the city, believing he and his wife would not be harmed. Unknown to them, they were on the original target list. On the fifth day of the occupation, an armed squad arrived and put the Krainicks and two other German doctors into a commandeered Volks-wagen bus. Their bodies were found later in a potato field, all victims of an executioner's bullets.
The same day, North Vietnamese troops came in force to the Roman Catholic cathedral, where many people had taken refuge from the fighting. Four hundred men were ordered out, some by name and others apparently because they were of military age or prosperous appearance. When the group was assembled, the political officer on the scene told people not to fear; the men were merely being taken away temporarily for political indoctrination. Nineteen months later, three defectors led U.S. soldiers to a creekbed in a double canopy jungle ten miles from Hue where the skulls and bones of those who had been taken away had lain ever since. Those killed included South Vietnamese servicemen, civil servants, students, and ordinary citizens. The skulls revealed they had been shot or brained with blunt instruments.
Altogether, South Vietnamese authorities counted about twenty-eight hundred victims of deliberate slaughter during the Tet Offensive in Hue. The fate of some was known immediately. The bodies of others emerged later from mass graves in nearby jungles or the coastal salt flats. Like those taken from the cathedral, they had been shot to death, bludgeoned, or buried alive.
After Hue was retaken, the South Vietnamese authorities were reported to be guilty of some of the same practices. I learned from a U.S. team that "black teams" of South Vietnamese assassins were sent in to eliminate those who were believed to have aided the enemy during the occupation. On March 14, three weeks after South Vietnam regained control, more than twenty prisoners, including some women and schoolboys, were brought to provincial military headquarters with burlap bags covering their heads and hands tightly wired behind their backs. After being taken into a stone building that was reputed to be a place of execution, all the prisoners disappeared.
Friend or foe, Oberdorfer does not excuse those who violated the Geneva Conventions. Wikipedia also describes Oberdorfer's reportage:
Don Oberdorfer spent five days in late 1969 with Paul Vogle, an American English professor at the local Hue University, going through Hue interviewing witness of the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong occupation. Oberdorfer classified all the killings into two categories: the planned execution of government officials and their families, political and civil servants, and collaborators with Americans; and those civilians not connected to the government who ran from questioning, spoke harshly about the occupation, or the occupiers believed "displayed a bad attitude" towards the occupiers. While unable to confirm this with first-hand accounts, Oberdorfer reported that in the Catholic area of Hue, Phucam, virtually every able bodied man over the age of 15 who took refuge in the cathedral was taken away and killed. In an interview with Ho Ty, a Viet Cong commander who took part in the advanced planning of a general uprising, Oberdorfer reported that Ty stated that the Communist party "was particularly anxious to get those people at Phucam... The Catholics were considered particular enemies of ours."
In 1968: The Definitive Year, Jack Shulimson wrote the following:
Once in Hue, the North Vietnamese were there to stay. The Communists established their own civil government and their cadres rounded up known government officials, sympathizers, and foreigners including American civilians and military personnel in the pans of the city they controlled. After the recapture of Hue, South Vietnamese authorities exhumed some 3,000 bodies thrown into hastily dug graves. In all probability, these were the victims of the Communist roundups. Although the North Vietnamese admitted the tracking down and punishing of 'hoodlum ringleaders,' they claimed most of the reported civilian deaths were the result of happenstance, exaggerations by the South Vietnamese, or caused by the allies. The true sufferers in the battle were the people of Hue.
Some estimates held that over 80 percent of the structures in the city sustained damage or were destroyed. Out of a population of about 140,000, more than 116,000 people were homeless and 5,800 were either dead or missing. According to most reports, Hue was a devastated city.34*
34. MACV ComdHist, 1967, pp. 75, 98; Telfer, Rogers, and Fleming, U.S. Marines in Vietnam, 1967, pp. 132-39; Palmer, Summons of the Trumpet, pp. 167-9; Oberdorfer, Tit! [sic], pp. 107-8; Westmoreland, A Soldier Reports, pp. 236-9.
* Former Washington Post reporter Peter Braestrup, an eyewitness to the battle, cautioned in his book against overdramatic comparisons that appeared in the media of the Hue battle with World War II battles. According to Braestrup, "to the uninitiated or imaginative observer on the ground, it [Hue) suggested Seoul or Stalingrad. . . . Actually Hue got off fairly lightly by World War II or Korean War standards for three-week urban battles." Braestrup, Big Story, vol. l, p. 202. For contrasting views of the Hue "massacres," see Douglas Pike, "Viet Cong Strategy, New Face of Terror," and D. Gareth Porter, "The 1968 Hue Massacre" in Hue Tet Folder, A&S Files, Indochina Archives. William D. Ehrhart a former Marine who served with the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines in Hue and has written extensively on the Vietnam experience, commented that he personally saw a lor of dead civilians, killed not by intent, "but only because they were in the midst of some of the fiercest fighting of the war." While admitting he did not know "what actually happened," Ehrhart believes "there is more room for doubt than your account (and most others suggest)." William D. Ehrhart, Comments on draft, dtd 23Nov94 (Vietnam Comment File). The authors of this work feel no need to change the description in the text.
In October 1969, twenty months after the Battle for Hue--and after numerous hidden mass graves were found and unearthed--Time magazine came out with the following:
"At first the men did not dare step into the stream," one of the searchers recalled. "But the sun was going down and we finally entered the water, praying to the dead to pardon us." The men who were probing the shallow creek in a gorge south of Hue prayed for pardon because the dead had lain unburied for l9 months; according to Vietnamese belief, their souls are condemned to wander the earth as a result. In the creek, the search team found what it had been looking for--some 250 skulls and piles of bones. "The eyeholes were deep and black, and the water flowed over the ribs," said an American who was at the scene.
The gruesome discovery late last month brought to some 2,300 the number of bodies of South Vietnamese men, women and children unearthed around Hue. All were executed by the Communists at the time of the savage 25-day battle for the city during the Tet offensive of 1968. The dead in the creek in Nam Hoa district belonged to a group of 398 men from the Hue suburb of Phu Cam. On the fifth day of the battle, Communist soldiers appeared at Phu Cam cathedral, where the men had sought refuge with their families, and marched them off. The soldiers said that the men would be indoctrinated and then allowed to return, but their families never heard of them again. At the foot of the Nam Hoa mountains, ten miles from the cathedral, the captives were shot or bludgeoned to death.
Shallow Graves. When the battle for Hue ended Feb. 24, 1968, some 3,500 civilians were missing. A number had obviously died in the fighting and lay buried under the rubble. But as residents and government troops began to clean up, they came across a series of shallow mass graves just east of the Citadel, the walled city that shelters Hue's old imperial palace. About 150 corpses were exhumed from the first mass grave, many tied together with wire and bamboo strips. Some had been shot, others had apparently been buried alive. Most had been either government officials or employees of the Americans, picked up during a door-to-door hunt by Viet Cong cadres who carried detailed blacklists. Similar graves were found inside the city and to the southwest near the tombs where Viet Nam's emperors lie buried. Among those dug out were the bodies of three German doctors who had worked at the University of Hue.
Search Operation. Throughout that first post-Tet year, there were persistent rumors that something terrible had happened on the sand flats southeast of the city. Last March, a farmer stumbled on a piece of wire; when he tugged at it, a skeletal hand rose from the dirt. The government immediately launched a search operation. "There were certain stretches of land where the grass grew abnormally long and green," Time Correspondent Wllllam Mormon reported last week from Hue. "Beneath this ominously healthy flora were mass graves, 20 to 40 bodies to a grave. As the magnitude of the finds became apparent, business came to a halt and scores flocked out to Phu Thu to look for long-missing relatives, sifting through the remains of clothes, shoes and personal effects. "They seemed to be hoping they would find someone and at the same time hoping they wouldn't," said an American official. Eventually, about 24 sites were unearthed and the remains of 809 bodies were found.
The discovery at the creek in Nam Boa district did not come until last month--after a tip from three Communist soldiers who had defected to the government. The creek and its grisly secret were hidden under such heavy jungle canopy that landing zones had to be blasted out before helicopters could fly in with the search team. For three weeks, the remains were arranged on long shelves at a nearby school, and hundreds of Hue citizens came to identify their missing relatives. "They had no reason to kill these people," said Mrs. Le Thi Bich Phe, who lost her husband.
Negligible Propaganda. What triggered the Communist slaughter? Many Hue citizens believe that the execution orders came directly from Ho Chi Minh. More likely, however, the Communists simply lost their nerve. They had been led to expect that many South Vietnamese would rally to their cause during the Tet onslaught. That did not happen, and when the battle for Hue began turning in the allies' favor, the Communists apparently panicked and killed off their prisoners.
The Saigon government, which claims that the Communists have killed 25,000 civilians since 1967 and abducted another 46,000, has made negligible propaganda use of the massacre. In Hue it has not had to. Says Colonel Le Van Than, the local province chief: "After Tet, the people realized that the Viet Cong would kill them, regardless of political belief." That fearful thought haunts many South Vietnamese, particularly those who work for their government or for the Americans. With the U.S. withdrawal under way, the massacre of Hue might prove a chilling example of what could lie ahead.
There was no byline in the Time article, but it looks like the report was by Wllllam [?] Mormon. A month after the above report, news of the My Lai massacre hit the front pages.
In 1998, Kim Nguyen wrote a remembrance of Hue, excerpting from Stanley Karnow:
The world renown historian, Stanley Karnow, and an authority in the Vietnam War History has revealed many details of the Tet offensive and the Hue massacre.
Five months before, as they began to prepare for the assault planners and their intelligence agents inside the city compiled two lists. One detailed nearly two hundred targets ranging from such installations as government bureaus and posts to the home of the district chief's concubine. The other contained the names of "cruel tyrants and reactionary elements," a rubric covering civilian functionaries, army officers, and nearly anybody else linked to the South Vietnamese regime as well as uncooperative merchants, intellectuals and clergymen. Instructions were also issued to arrest Americans other foreigners except for the French-presumably because President de Gaulle had publicly criticized U.S. policy in Vietnam.
Vietcong teams, armed with these directives, conducted house to house searches immediately after seizing control of Hue, and they were merciless. During the months and years that followed, the remains of approximately three thousand people were exhumed in beds, coastal salt flats, and jungle clearings. The victims had been shot or clubbed to death, or buried alive. Paradoxically, the American public barely noticed these atrocities, preoccupied as it was by the incident at Mylai-in which American soldiers had massacred a hundred Vietnamese peasants, women and children among them. Revisiting Vietnam in 1981, I was able to elicit little credible evidence from the Communists clarify the episode.
Captured in the home of Vietnamese friends, Stephen Miller of the U.S. Information Service was shot in a field behind a Catholic seminary Dr. Horst Gunther Krainick, a German physician teaching at the local medical school, was seized with his wife and two other German doctors and their bodies were found in a shallow pit. Despite their instruction to spare the French, the Communists arrested two Benedictine missionary, shot one of them, and buried the other alive. They also killed Father Buu Dong, a popular Vietnamese Catholic priest who had entertained Vietcong agents in his rectory, where he kept a portrait of Ho Chi Minh -telling parishioners that he prayed for Ho because "he is our friend too." Many Vietnamese with only the flimsiest ties to Saigon regime suffered as well Pham Van Tuong, a part-time janitor at a government office, was gunned down in his front yard along with his two small children. Mrs. Nguyen Thi Lao, a cigarette vendor, was presumably executed because her sister worked in a government bureau. Anyone resisting arrest was promptly killed, but those who surrendered to the Communists often fared no better. Five South Vietnamese officers, who emerged from their hiding place without a fight, were taken to a high school playground and each shot in the head. Many people disappeared after submitting to Vietcong promises of a quick release, as one woman later recalled: "The Communists came to our house and questioned my father who was an elderly official about to retire. Then they went away returning afterward to say that he had to attend a study a study session that would last only ten days. My mother and I were worried because the Communists had arrested his father in just that way in 1946. Like his father my father never came back."
Nguyen also pulls some words from Battle for Hue, written by Keith William Nolan, who fought in battle for Hue:
Soon after the battle, the South Vietnamese government initiated Operation Recovery, a 90-day relief and reconstruction effort aimed at the entire I Corps, but focused primarily on Hue. It brought food, clothing, shelter, and medical attention to that city's estimated 116,000 refugees (out of a population of 140,000). By the end of the year, life in Hue was relatively back to normal. As Major Swenson noted, "My final duties as liaison officer entailed taking visitors to Task Force X-RAY through the city on a guided tour. The city was not destroyed in the Tet Offensive. It was damaged, but still beautiful."
The war had finally come to the people of Hue - and they paid the price. As Hue pulled itself out of the mess, one bloody sidelight of the battle was uncovered, something worse than refugees and cross-fire deaths: the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese had massacred many of the people of Hue during their occupation. Over the years, the evidence was collected in bits and pieces; the discovery of mass graves, captured communist documents, statements by prisoners of war. It was learned that with the typical cold-blooded efficiency of the Communists, the VC had gone into Hue with lists of so-called Enemies of the People. Those marked included government officials, city administrators, intellectuals, teachers, college students, soldiers, foreigners - and their families - all those suspected of being potential enemies of the communist cause. There was one other category: all those who could identify the VC infrastructure now that it had surfaced for the Tet Offensive. That could include any innocent bystander. The people were rounded up and some were executed in the city. When the fight was obviously being lost by the VC, they marched their political prisoners outside the city to different sites and killed them. Some were buried alive. Great pains were taken by the Communists to conceal their work, and it took a year for the allies to put the pieces together. The South Vietnamese government finally recovered three thousand bodies in mass graves around Hue. Another two thousand people were still unaccounted for.
Also from Nolan's book, but taken from this source:
Sargent Dye was standing in front of a pit in an area recaptured by the 2/5. Other grunts stood by muttering “Jesus Christ”. An incredible stench rose from it, a stomach turning putrid smell, that seemed to press down on them all the more with all the clouds and drizzle. There below their boots were hundreds of bodies. They were South Vietnamese civilians, all tangled and twisted, as if they clung to each other when the machine guns were turned on them. Dye had heard the rumors of Communists massacring civilians in Hue- but he had never expected to see anything like this.
It was a scene Dye never forgot, and he though about it one year later when the My Lai killings hit the paper. It was incredible he thought that the press made such a fuss about My Lai, but never said much about the NVA massacre in Hue.
Nguyen also talks about Le Minh, who was a colonel and one of the top four officers in charge of the Hue operation:
Information sources concerning the Tet Mau Than are ample to find from the American and South Vietnam side. However, most of materials coming from Hanoi are carefully prepared propaganda that does not reflect the truth. In fact, Vietcong intentionally present the Mau Than event as a civilian "uprising" to oppose the government of South Vietnam. More over, they bluntly deny the massacres and skilfully conceal the names of the perpetrators.
From the memoirs "Victory at Mau Than" (Chien Thang Mau than) by Le Minh printed in Vietnam 10 years ago , it clearly illustrates the chronically deceitful image of Vietcong. Le Minh who ranked Colonel was one of the four top officers in charge of the attack of Hue. The commander in chief was General Tran Van Quang, Le Chuong was Political Commissar and Generals Nam Long and Le Minh were field commanders.
An excerpt from "Victory at Mau Than" shows that the circle of power in Hanoi had carefully plotted out their offensive plan in Mau Than; to attack Hue immediately after the truce agreement that they had signed.
"The preparation tasks for the battle fields are going well until February 67, Headquarters called upon one of us three (Mr. Tran Van Quang, Mr. Le Chuong or myself) to go North to receive the order. Mr Chuong went. I thought the order would include the instruction to overtake Hue in 5 days (as planned by the "Zone Party Committee"), I therefore carry on with what had been planned. A month later Mr. Chuong returns and informs that the new order is to attack Hue simultaneously with the general uprising in whole South Vietnam. The timing was "around Tet". This infers that the attack will be for many days, everything has changed completely, things will have to be planned carefully and differently."
Considering later official documents, it was July 1967 that the Communist Politburo in Hanoi started to plan for the Mau Than offensive.
Another passage of Le Minh's memoirs shows their plan to set-up a puppet government in Hue that consists of their cadres. "To set up government in the whole province of Thua Thien and Hue city; from there we form the People's Democratic and Peace Alliance in Hue. At the moment, there is plan to invite Professor Le Van Hao, Venerable Thich Don Hau and Mrs. Nguyen Dinh Chi and a few other well-known people in Hue."
In addition, Vietcong's top secret documents, were later seized, contradict with Hanoi's alibis. The findings include layout plans for the Tet offensive such as a document prepared by the "Province Party Committee" Binh Tri Thien dated October 1, 1967 (photograph of document included). Apart from plans to attack the document order to assassinate, and by all means kill all "reactionaries groups". These facts reject the cover up themes and reasoning by Vietcong that the victims massacred at Hue were only to settle personal vendettas.
The accounts I read of Hue’s experience with revolutionary rule, were unsettling to say the least.
Large numbers of people had been executed, most of them associated with the government or opposed to the revolution. But others had been killed as well, including some captured American soldiers, and other foreigners who were non combatants. I had questioned Huynh Tan Phat in private about these atrocities. He had expressed his sorrow and disappointment at what happened, and explained that discipline in Hue had been seriously inadequate. Fanatic young soldiers had shot people and angry local citizens sympathetic to the cause had taken justice into their own hands.
I was there when some of the graves were opened. That was in mid March 1968 and the three graves I witnessed were in the middle of almost a months worth of discoveries of similar graves.
That linked article [written by Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman, which I'll get to further down] is as propagandistic as anything it accuses the US and South Viet Namese of. About 2,500-3,000 bodies were discovered by units from both nations in fourteen (IIRC) large mass graves. Many were obviously victims of the combat to clear Hue. Many had also been shot at close range with wounds not consistent with the vagaries of war but from being deliberatelty executed. One estimate at the time was about 15% for such killings from the three graves I saw. I know the Canadians and the Poles were invited to come look, no idea what their reports said. But I do know Chomsky et.al are wrong.
The Bulldozer tracks were US SeaBee bulldozers used to scrape the top cover of about three feet away from the hand cleared graves.
Another source who writes about the Hue massacre is Douglas Pike, who was with the U.S. Information Office at the time of his writings in late 1969. In Viet Cong Strategy of Terror, Pike wrote of the finds:
In the chaos that existed following the battle, the first order of civilian business was emergency relief, in the form of food shipments, prevention of epidemics, emergency medical care, etc. Then came the home rebuilding effort. Only later did Hue begin to tabulate its casualties. No true post-attack census has yet been taken. In March local officials reported that 1,900 civilians were hospitalized with war wounds and they estimated that some 5,800 persons were unaccounted for.
The first discovery of Communist victims came in the Gia Hoi High School yard, on February 26 ; eventually 170 bodies were recovered.
In the next few months 18 additional grave sites were found, the largest of which were Tang Quang Tu Pagoda (67 victims), Bai Dau (77), Cho Thong area (an estimated 100), the imperial tombs area (201), Thien Ham (approximately 200), and Dong Gi (approximately 100). In all, almost 1,200 bodies were found in hastily dug, poorly concealed graves.
At least half of these showed clear evidence of atrocity killings: hands wired behind backs, rags stuffed in mouths, bodies contorted but without wounds (indicating burial alive). The other nearly 600 bore wound marks but there was no way of determining whether they died by firing squad or incidental to the battle.
The second major group of finds was discovered in the first seven months of 1969 in Phu Thu district-the Sand Dune Finds and Le Xa Tay-and Huong Thuy district-Xuan Hoa-Van Duong-in late March and April. Additional grave sites were found in Vinh Loc district in May and in Nam Hoa district in July. The largest of this group were the Sand Dune Finds in the three sites of Vinh Luu, Le Xa Dong and Xuan 0 located in rolling, grasstufted sand dune country near the South China Sea. Separated by salt-marsh valleys, these dunes were ideal for graves. Over 800 bodies were uncovered in the dunes.
In the Sand Dune Find, the pattern had been to tie victims together in groups of 10 or 20, line them up in front of a trench dug by local corvee labour and cut them down with submachine gun (a favourite local souvenir is a spent Russian machine gun shell taken from a grave). Frequently the dead were buried in layers of three and four, which makes identification particularly difficult.
In Nam Hoa district came the third, or Da Mai Creek Find, which also has been called the Phu Cam death march, made on September 19, 1969. Three Communist defectors told intelligence officers of the 101st Airborne Brigade that they had witnessed the killing of several hundred people at Da Mai Creek, about 10 miles south of Hue, in February of 1968. The area is wild, unpopulated, virtually inaccessible. The Brigade sent in a search party, which reported that the stream contained a large number of human bones.
By piecing together bits of information, it was determined that this is what happened at Da Mai Creek: On the fifth day of Tet in the Phu Cam section of Hue, where some three-quarters of the City's 40,000 Roman Catholics lived, a large number of people had taken sanctuary from the battle in a local church, a common method in Vietnam of escaping war. Many in the building were not in fact Catholic.
A Communist political commissar arrived at the church and ordered out about 400 people, some by name and some apparently because of their appearance (prosperous looking and middle-aged businessmen, for example). He said they were going to the "liberated area" for three days of indoctrination, after which each could return home.
They were marched nine kilometres south to a pagoda where the Communists had established a headquarters. There 20 were called out from the group, assembled before a drumhead court, tried, found guilty, executed and buried in the pagoda yard. The remainder were taken across the river and turned over to a local Communist unit in an exchange that even involved banding the political commissar a receipt. It is probable that the commissar intended that their prisoners should be re-educated and returned, but with the turnover, matters passed from his control.
During the next several days, exactly how many is not known, both captive and captor wandered the countryside. At some point the local Communists decided to eliminate witnesses: Their captives were led through six kilometres of some of the most rugged terrain in Central Vietnam, to Da Mai Creek. There they were shot or brained and their bodies left to wash in the running stream. The 101st Airborne Brigade burial detail found it impossible to reach the creek overland, roads being non-existent or impassable. The creek's foliage is what in Vietnam is called double-canopy, that is, two layers, one consisting of brush and trees close to the ground, and the second of tall trees whose branches spread out high above. Beneath is permanent twilight. Brigade engineers spent two days blasting a hole through the double-canopy by exploding dynamite dangled on long wires beneath their hovering helicopters. This cleared a landing pad for helicopter hearses. Quite clearly this was a spot where death could be easily hidden even without burial.
The Da Mai Creek bed, for nearly a hundred yards up the ravine, yielded skulls, skeletons and pieces of human bones. The dead had been left above ground (for the animists among them, this meant their souls would wander the lonely earth forever, since such is the fate of the unburied dead), and 20 months in the running stream had left bones clean and white.
Local authorities later released a list of 428 names of personswhom they said had been positively identified from the creek bed remains. The Communists' rationale for their excesses was elimination of "traitors to the revolution." The list of 428 victims breaks down as follows: 25 per cent military: two officers, the rest NCO's and enlisted men; 25 per cent students; 50 per cent civil servants, village and hamlet officials, service personnel of various categories, and ordinary workers.
The fourth or Phu Thu Salt Flat Finds came in November, 1969, near the fishing village of Luong Vien some ten miles east of Hue, another desolate region. Government troops early in the month began an intensive effort to clear the area of remnants of the local Communist organization. People of Luong Vien, population 700, who had remained silent in the presence of troops for 20 months apparently felt secure enough from Communist revenge to break silence and lead officials to the find. Based on descriptions from villagers whose memories are not always clear, local officials estimate the number of bodies at Phu Thu to be at least 300 and possibly 1,000.
The story remains uncompleted. If the estimates by Hue officials are even approximately correct, nearly 2,000 people are still missing. Re-capitulation of the dead and missing.
|Wounded (hospitalized or outpatients) with injures attributable to warfare||1,900|
|Estimated civilian deaths due to accident of battle||844|
|First finds-bodies discovered immediately post battle, 1968||1,173|
|Second finds, including Sand Dune finds, March-July, 1969 (est.)||809|
|Third find, Da Mai Creek find (Nam Hoa district) September, 1969||428|
|Fourth Finds-Phu Thu Salt Flat find, November, 1969 (est.)||300|
|Miscellaneous finds during 1969 (approximate)||200|
|Total yet unaccounted for||1,946|
|Total casualty and wounded in Hue||~7,600|
Some or most of the estimates could very well have been inflated, which is why Wikipedia reported on 3,000 civilians found in mass graves. The actual number missing may be lower than 1,946, but it also remains likely mass graves remain undiscovered. The dead bodies at Da Mai Creek may never have been found without the aid of Communist defectors, for example.
The primary source from which all dissents flow is a Marxist named D. Gareth Porter, who began his career promoting massacre-denial in Hue and then graduated to genocide-denial in Cambodia. Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman used Porter-Hildebrandt as a cornerstone for their defense of the Khmer Rouge. In detailed takedowns, Bruce Sharp and Sophal Ear shred all credibility from Chomsky-Herman and, by extension, Porter-Hildebrandt. If states required licensing for practicing history, Porter would have had his certificate yanked. In a 2005 book review of Porter's Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam, Stephen L. Morris of Johns Hopkins University in typical academic understatement writes:
One consistent underlying defect in Mr. Porter’s scholarship is his reliance upon published Vietnamese Communist Party histories as credible evidence of Vietnamese leaders’ actual intentions, motives or actions. He does not seem to grasp that such sources are meant as retroactive justifications for past actions, not honest analysis. This element of his writing goes back more than three decades, and is connected to his political sympathies.
Gareth Porter’s Perils of Dominance is so deeply flawed that no scholarly reader should take him seriously, let alone gush over his amazing misconceptions. All the more so since Mr. Porter’s extensive resume of being wrong about great historical events in Southeast Asia is a matter of public record. Too bad some of America’s more prominent academics and publishers didn’t check that record before buying such damaged goods.
Ouch. Not to get too ad hominem here, but if so many of his other works are incurably flawed, then common sense dictates the same for Porter piece on Hue. Porter's conclusion on Hue:
The available evidence -- not from NLF sources but from official U.S. and Saigon documents and from independent observers -- indicates that the official story of an indiscriminate slaughter of those who were considered to be unsympathetic to the NLF is a complete fabrication.
I don't want to waste too much time on a person with a long track record of Spock-with-a-beard alternative universe historical writings, but I wanted to touch on a couple of areas in his piece. First, his use of South Vietnam's "Tenth Political Warfare Battalion". A Google search of "political warfare battalion" shows that the term originates from Porter himself. What is the Tenth Political Warfare Battalion and what happened to the first nine? Porter applies the Chomskyesque tactic of denigrating the sources he doesn't like--applying stern tests of rigor and skepticism--and uncritically accepting at face value the claims made by his communist allies.
Another interesting section is his analysis of the tally of dead people buried near Gia Hoi High School. Stewart Harris reported a higher number and Dr. Alje Vennema reported a much lower figure. This does indicate that Douglas Pike's numbers, taken straight from U.S. and South Vietnamese authorities, were likely overstated, but does not disprove a massacre. Also, if Dr. Vennema's word is golden, then Porter must also agree with the contents of Dr. Vennema's book, titled The Viet Cong Massacre at Hue.
More recently, hardline left-winger Scott Laderman is along the Chomsky-Porter axis with his take on the Hue "massacre", relying heavily on Porter. Not long after 9/11, Laderman wrote several blame-America-first pieces in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and we got into several testy e-mail exchanges. As far as I'm concerned, he's about as extreme as Porter and Chomsky.