Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Dewitt Roberts on Abuse of Viet Cong Prisoners by CIDG

This item peripherally relates to my dissertation because it occurred before Dewitt Roberts served in the 173rd Airborne Brigade.  His portrayal of how the CIDG operated is both interesting and troubling.  I pulled this out because it illustrates his reaction to abuse of prisoners by allied forces, and because it also illustrates the attitude of another U.S. Army soldier who witnessed abuse.  The second soldier's reaction seems to confirm part of Joanna Bourke's assertion that soldiers who did not engage in atrocities didn't do so out of a sense of moral ambiguity rather than out of some greater philosophical or religious motivation.

This portion of the interview comes immediately after Roberts helped capture a suspected Viet Cong nurse while working as a combat tracker with CIDG.  His unit proceeded to a nearby village to search it for more guerillas.

We got them in the village, in the middle of the village, and another soldier came up and asked me, “Do you want a souvenir?” I said, “Souvenir?” He said, “Yeah, do you want the scalp of the nurse you just caught?” I said, “Scalp?” He said, “Well, we cut her hair off real close and she had a pony tail,” and he handed it to me and 2he said, “I had to leave because that scalp was bleeding so bad I couldn’t stand to watch it.” So I went up to see it myself because I felt bad because I had captured these two Viet Cong nurses; one that talked and the other one didn’t. The one that wouldn’t talk got 31 beaten severely. The Kit Carson scout had her off to the side, a little on the side of out commander, and he was beating her; doing side kicks to the boob, elbows to the boob, knees to the boob, the crotch, her face was swollen and bruised badly, her hair was cut off. She was laying against a hay stack around a telephone pole...not a telephone pole, but a hay pole and she had fallen into this stack so many times she kind of wore out a hole where he had beat her into this hole and she locked eyes with me, contact, like, “Are you happy? You caught me.” But, she wouldn’t take her eyes off of me while he was beating her. She had a large breast and he was hitting her in her boobs and in the face and all that. Then he drug her...I had to leave because I didn’t want to see it and I began to wonder if what I just did was the right thing even though they kill us and they were probably doing it and that’s the reason we caught them. This is not the way I’d intended for it to wind up. I walked away and I had to come back again later and I saw her standing in a little stream that ran through the village, its kind of...reeds growing out of the stream about 3 foot high above the water and he was holding her under the water with both hands between his legs and he’d hold her for a long period and pull her out and push her back down again. I told one of the soldiers, “Why don’t you stop him?” He said, “I don’t get involved.” So, I had to walk away. I stuck the hair in my sock and stuck it in my clothes as we returned to the United States when we came and I kept it for years because I wanted to remember the details of the actual facts and I knew a lot of stuff people wouldn’t believe if you told them...
Roberts follows this up later with these observations about American behavior toward Vietnamese civilians, and the possible effect it had...
I don’t think we understood that these people had no concept of politics; of a democrat or republican or what was going on here. They would see us as personalities and as individuals, of course, and then they saw us as a whole. But if they saw us do something that was offensive towards them, irregardless of which was they were leaning for, they could easily become a Viet Cong sympathizer which may mean the difference between telling you something with the promise of confidence, or not telling you or telling you the wrong thing and that’s why I did not like seeing GI’s do things - degrading people they were interrogating. If the village that they definitely saw these people being abused; beaten, hair cut off, and beaten in the boobs, held underwater, and if they weren’t a Viet Cong sympathizer, they would have been one when it was over and we didn’t place enough emphasis on that. I’ve seen them kill Viet Cong and ask the village if there was any more in the village, if there’s any there and they’d say, “No.” Then they would pull out the bodies and say, “Do you know these people, because they came from your village last night? We killed them here,” knowing that they’re probably the son of some of the villagers that grew up in the village and is known by all of them. “Well, if you don't know them then you shouldn’t mind,” and they would hang them over the side of the tank with the heads tied to one end and the feet tied to the other, hang it over the side and run through the villages and, “Well, it shouldn’t offend you because these are Viet Cong and we don’t like them, do we? One of those things.” This is an American thing; you don't hear about this. People don’t talk about it, they try to cover up for it, but this is stuff that was wrong. We did it. It was 3 bodies at a time being drug...hung over the side of the tank. Now I understand animosity for people who had 11 their buddies killed, like some things happened to them and we were told before we went over even in the regular Army, “Don’t get off into cutting X’s on the front of your bullets with a knife, putting an X on it, because if you do that’s called dumb-dumb. When that bullet hits a body it’ll split 4 different directions; it’ll tear them all up. Its like shooting a [?]. If they catch you with dumb-dumb bullets and stuff like that and your body is retrieved by them, they’ll mutilate you. They’ll cut your guts open and sit your head down inside your guts and they’ll leave you for the Americans; that’s one of the things they do. So, don’t get off into that.” Well, we did little things like that. We did little things; every unit did it, but nothing near as bad as special forces, you know. 

Interview with Dewitt Roberts,  19 June 2000, Dewitt Roberts Collection, The Vietnam Center and Archive, Texas Tech University. Accessed 3 Jan. 2013. .

No comments:

Post a Comment