Thursday, March 21, 2013

Tom Epperson

Tom Epperson is the cowriter, with Billy Bob Thornton, of A Family Thing (starring Robert Duvall and James Earl Jones), One False Move (named as one of the year’s best films by a number of top critics), and The Gift (directed by Sam Raimi, and starring Cate Blanchett, Keanu Reeves, and Hillary Swank). Epperson’s first book, The Kind One, was nominated for an Edgar and a Barry Award in 2009. His latest novel is Sailor.

Earlier this month I asked Epperson about what he was reading. His reply:
I finished reading Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam by Nick Turse about 20 minutes ago, and feel compelled to write about it. I was shocked and angered by it in equal measure. Turse convincingly shows that the Vietnam War was basically just one big war crime. As many as two million civilians were killed in South Vietnam during the war, and the vast majority were the victims of a brutal, racist, and out-of-control American military. Villages were burned, rice paddies were poisoned, domestic animals were killed, and old people, women, children, and babies were shot, stabbed, blown to pieces, beaten, drowned, tortured, and raped by savage soldiers and marauding marines.

The slaughter was the direct result of the American policy of measuring progress in the war by body count. Intense pressure was put on the troops in the field by their commanding officers to kill, kill, kill, and any dead body was considered to be a Viet Cong, be it that of an 80-year-old woman or a three-year-old boy. The one atrocity everyone knows, the massacre at My Lai, was exceptional only in its magnitude. Over 500 civilians were killed there by American soldiers, but smaller mass killings, ranging from a dozen or two up to over a hundred, were daily occurrences.

Virtually no one was punished for any of these crimes. There were a few court-martials of lower-ranking personnel, but defendants were either found not guilty or given very light sentences. The military did its best to hide the terrible truth about what it did in Vietnam, and for the most part succeeded. During the early 1970s, due to the efforts of some dedicated reporters and courageous servicemen who were trying to expose the horrors they had witnessed, the American people began to learn a little about what was actually happening in Vietnam, but when the war ended in ignominious defeat for the U.S. in 1975, Americans were more than ready to move on. "Buried in forgotten U.S. government archives," writes Turse, "locked away in the memories of atrocity survivors, the real American war in Vietnam has all but vanished from public consciousness."

And now we are at war again, in faraway foreign lands, whose impoverished dark-skinned people, we are told, represent some kind of existential threat to the "homeland." Every American concerned about the increasingly imperiled soul of his or her country should read Nick Turse's startling book.
Visit Tom Epperson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue