Friday, February 22, 2013

Antoine Roy on Religion and Atrocities in Vietnam

I think I've finally found something useful for my dissertation in an Oral History interview - I'm looking for the reactions of guys that witnessed, but didn't participate in atrocities.  This is the first of the oral histories I've dealt with to even deal with the issue at all.  If this one hand't been so long, I never would have gotten it.  This is from Antoine Roy's 4th interview sessions with Dr. Richard Verrone, and runs from pages 141-144 in the 328-transcript.

RV: Okay. How did you reconcile as a strong Catholic there in your initial time in Vietnam and in your other tours with being in a war and seeing so much death and doing killing and having men killed beside you? 
AR: Well, my experience, Catholicism is not a pacifistic Christian sect. To kill in defense of somebody innocent or in defense of your own life is not considered a sin. Outright murder is. I mean, if you had a prisoner and he was unarmed and unresisting, you had him right there and you just shot him down, yes the church would have considered that a murder, but I had no problems. I’m not one that could murder without—I couldn’t murder. It would have to be a very, very, very unique situation. I couldn’t cold bloodedly murder. Like I explained once in assaults, if you’re going forward and there’s two North Vietnamese stand up in a trench with their arms up and you’ve got more North Vietnamese you have to fight beyond them, you have no choice but to shoot them, because everybody’s got keep going. If one person stops to take prisoners that’s less bullets going out and that’s a gap in the line. So you really have no choice. That’s not murder. But like I said if you have unarmed, unresisting and you know you can take them prisoner and you just murder, you just shoot them, that’s murder. I’m not the kind of person that could just murder somebody. Sometimes I have these feelings that certain individuals in the world should be killed for the good of the herd, like Saddam Hussein or somebody like that you know, but to get angry at somebody and to come out and kill them, no that’s not in my ethics at all. Self-defense certainly is. I will admit ever since I’ve gotten back that I carry a knife. I use it for all kinds of things, but I also know, deep down, subconsciously the reason I carry that knife is for a defensive weapon, even though I’ve never run into a situation where I’ve had to use it. That’s one of the old—that’s one of the symptoms I think. Most guys, the vast, vast majority of guys I know, we were not murderers. You do what you have to do. There were a couple, there always are a few. I mean, our jails are filled with people who commit murder and you’re going to get a couple of those bad apples in the bushel, but it definitely wasn't respected. Our guys would kind of stand away from that. If it got out of hand then somebody would talk to an officer, say you know, “This is just too much.” Even My Lai, that whole company did not participate in the murders. When the people in that large ditch were shot and killed, there were only four people who did the firing. The rest of the troops, I mean if you read the records and the like, the rest of the troops stood there kind of stunned because they didn’t normally do this kind of thing and didn’t quite know what to do. They were given an order—actually they were given the order initially and Calley went off on a patrol. They thought, he said to waste them. They thought he was kind of kidding. They spent the next couple of hours actually interfacing with these people, playing with the kids, I mean we always played with the kids. Sometimes we got these military chocolates, tropical chocolates. They didn’t melt that easily and they weren’t that good. We called them gorilla bars, but the kids not having any, or very little access to sugar, they loved them. We were always playing with the kids and the like and kidding around with—there were no young men there. These were families of Viet Cong, but still, to kill them, no it doesn’t make—we keep an eye on them and we check them to make sure they weren’t carrying any weapons or the like because some of them were a little radical. Once they’re in custody, no, it’s just, it’s unthinkable to me. We interacted—whenever I was in an area where there were civilians, and I wasn't all the time—places like Dak To, there’s hardly anybody there, its all primeval jungle, except for Montagnards now and the. I mean it was a lot of interaction, some trading, things like that. There were some guys who were kind of bullying or some guys who just didn’t care or stop and think as teenagers do that what they’re doing is offensive. We have that— every society has that problem with teenagers. Aristotle complained about, or Socrates complained about teenagers, real pain in the ass. I can see how the South Vietnamese civilians must have been a little nervous when you got these young men acting like that and they’re all armed to the teeth. Then you really don’t want to offend them. Sometimes the South Vietnamese villagers would act very, very submissive, until they saw that we weren’t going to do anything like that, but there always were a few people who were uncaring or unthinking, especially the young. That’s kind of common actually. 
RV: Would those of you who didn’t really participate in that or believe in that, would you try to restrain those around you who? 
AR: I only saw one murder. I would classify it as a murder. Another one happened right after I left my first unit and it happened by a guy that I wasn’t surprised to hear about it. I think I told you about this guy that was going to kill our officer. 
RV: Mm-hmm. Yes. 
AR: Okay, that was him. After I left, they’d run into, I don’t know, one North Vietnamese or something. They chased him down the trail and these two guys captured him. When you captured somebody you got a three day R&R (rest and recuperation). The reason for that wasn’t just so that you’d capture them, but that you be willing to take more of a risk because you do have to take more of a risk sometimes, to take them alive. Well, they’re both—well, they’re standing there kind of arguing—this poor North Vietnamese soldier is standing between them—arguing over who captured him and who gets the three day R&R. So this guy that I was talking about just walks up and just shoots him in the chest. 
RV: Both of them? 
AR: No, one, one North Vietnamese. 
RV: It was just one, one soldier. 
AR: Yeah, the two guys arguing were Americans. The other one I know of was a
guy, when I was in helicopter unit my second tour. 
RV: Did you hear about that or did you see it? AR: I heard about it afterwards, but I wasn't surprised when they said who it was. The second tour, we were doing a, landing troops in rice paddies between two villages. I was further back. I was maybe the fifth ship in a five ship stick landing in this big open area. This guy that didn’t usually gun, he volunteered to be a gunner for the day. A lot of times they’ll like do that, if you can put in a certain number of hours you get flight pay, but he was normally sort of a mechanic kind of guy. Normally I liked him. We landed, and where we landed, walking along the rice paddy dyke was this, I don’t know, probably eighteen, nineteen year old Vietnamese guy. He’s walking along and all of a sudden these helicopters come out of the sky and land right next to him in a long line. He’s standing there kind of surprised and this guy just lifted up his gun and gunned him down. I remember he was laughing about it and everything that night. I wasn’t impressed at all because number one, who’s to say this wasn’t a South Vietnamese soldier on leave. Number two, even if he was North Vietnamese or Viet Cong we were discharging a whole company of infantry and the first thing they would have done is checked him for ID and weapons and stuff like that. He just gunned the guy down. I was further back in the ships, and we didn’t fire. Usually when we come in the first wave the gunners are firing in every direction, but since there were large villages on either side we didn’t. So you’re always ready. Your finger’s on the trigger waiting for it. When he fired, the instinct just goes right down the line without even thinking and you pull the trigger. I was over one of the villages when the firing started up, when he fired, which caused everybody else to fire. I fired probably ten, fifteen rounds and stopped right away. I suddenly realized I was over the village. I felt a little guilty about that and I’ve always hoped that I never hit anybody, because I didn’t hear any rounds coming our way. That’s a snap or a crack or a pop. Everybody else had stopped firing. When we landed I looked over towards the front and I could see this guy lying on one side of this little rice paddy dyke. I didn’t know the exact situation. For all I knew he had a weapon or something that I didn’t see. So we dropped off the company, or part of it, went back, picked up the rest of the company, came in. Later on that night the pilots were having a little party in their tent. He was in there, kind of laughing and boasting about it. A couple of guys were laughing with them, but everybody else just kind of ignored it. It was not considered a brave thing to do or, nobody really come out and took him to task for it. It was just kind of a turn off. But, those are the only two. I mean off the top of my head, those are the only two murders I can think of. I have heard of a couple sort of like this first guy I was telling you about, but I also know that during all wars it happens unfortunately. I’ve even seen films from the Second World War German—snipers during the Second World War were considered very immoral. I remember seeing films of snipers surrendering and then all the GIs, just shooting them down. To us a sniper was a fact of life in a guerilla war. So we didn’t have that hatred, but during the Second World War they did. Again it’s unfortunate. The North Vietnamese did it to us constantly, I mean just constantly, shoot prisoners, kill them, but generally, except for one reaction one time, after that company was wiped out in June 18th, ’67, generally we got angry, but officers and sergeants made sure we didn’t lose control of ourselves. 
RV: Why do you think there’s a big misconception about this idea of American atrocities in Vietnam, where you guys are running around burning down every other village, shooting civilians? 
AR: Because the people don’t realize why that was happening. I mean to clear an area out so that the enemy can’t get sustenance and support and shelter and influence over the population is very important. This has happened before in a lot of wars. You just clear that area out. You move the people closer to where your forces are, in your static positions and you can deny the enemy a lot of the support and shelter and they had to get a lot of their food and the like from it and intelligence information. You had to do it. If you don’t understand why, and if you’ve never really had your life in danger, you especially don’t understand why, it looks cruel. The My Lai affair, oh geez, what that did to guys like me was just devastating because all of us got identified with that. It’s like the North Vietnamese would do atrocities constantly. These throwing rockets indiscriminately into cities, murdering government officials, teachers, everything in villages. It’s like the press just—well, you know, they’re guerillas. They’re expected to do that. That hurt too, because that was standard operating procedure for the communists, terrorism, for most tyrannies, not just communist, but most tyrannies. I get frustrated but—and I still get frustrated after all these years. Some guys can brush it off, I can’t because I guess I still feel, hear that echo of those times that things were said to me and feeling it being just so very unfair and very misunderstood. It’s like friendly fire incidents, people just don’t understand, but they don’t stop and look. When you get in your car and go out on the highway, how many accidents take place? The press always has this tendency to well, “Who’s to blame for this?” and somebody’s got to be punished, but they just don’t understand the situation. If there’s gross negligence, that’s another matter. If a guy in the battery fire direction control was drunk back at the fire support base and he put the rounds in the wrong place, that’s gross—that’s gross negligence and yes, he should go to prison for that, but if, you know, you’re pinned down by bullets, you know, don, dada donot, and you miss one number on that six digit or eight digit coordinates and the rounds come in on top of you, I mean you can’t blame somebody for negligence, because things have to be done so quickly. A lot of times you don’t even know. They didn’t have GPS (global positioning system) systems. I know I’m somewhere on this ridgeline. They happen now too, Afghanistan they’ve had some issues, but people just don’t understand. Sometimes if I run into it I may try and explain it, but generally I look very much down my nose at people like that. I figure these are people that are ignorant and not stopping to think. 
Interview with Antoine Roy,  No Date, Antoine Roy Collection, The Vietnam Center and Archive, Texas Tech University. Accessed 3 Jan. 2013. .

No comments:

Post a Comment