Wednesday, February 27, 2013

More Dewitt Roberts: Religion and Cannibalism in Vietnam

This next item is one of the stranger things I've come across while doing research on the war in Vietnam.  In relates to one of the justifications for mutilations of dead Vietnamese by soldiers who had served with CIDG - during his Winter Soldier testimony, SP4 Ronald Palosari (1/6, 198 LIB, Americal Division) had testified that:
And they had spotted (they were like our point men, more or less) an NVA, presumably carrying a weapon, I guess it must have been. And they had fired on him. They had blown off the top of his head. And then one of the CIDG had cut off one of his ears. And I understand, that according to Buddhism, unless your body is complete, you cannot go wherever it is that the Buddhists go to after they die. So, they had done this. And as we walked by, you know, everyone thought it was, you know, kind of cool, to see this head there that was, you know, half gone to begin with and have the ear sliced off and there it was just like a, you know, it was flat--with a small hole left in the side of the head. This feeling that we had that it was, you know, a rather humorous incident, or, you know, looked upon as being a good thing, and we were really men because, not that the CIDG had done this, but because, you know, it was an act that we would have liked to have perpetrated ourselves, I think. It's something, you know, it's, it's more or less condoned over there. And the feelings that you have are the policies of the military--that this is really, you know, a thing to be manly about. 
In his interview about the time he spent with CIDG, Dewitt Roberts discussed a different type of mutilation of the dead that he had witnessed that also had religious overtones:

We landed at a base camp A-Team called Treku. The person calling in the chopper that I came in on was my stick leader in special forces when I was a trainee and my squad leader. We ran missions with special forces. Every member of that special forces team died before leaving Vietnam and this probably could tell you the kind of action we received while we were with them and many of the team members on my team experienced this during the early periods and we became involved with certain aspects that was not experienced by any other military force in Vietnam, probably any other tracker team in Vietnam. We experienced ritualistic cannibalism by the CIDG forces which are volunteers in the green beret A teams. The A team members, the green berets, performed the duty of advisors. They appointed lieutenants for company commanders. They appointed platoon sergeants and they hired the regular soldiers. To my understanding, they were paid 6 dollars a month per soldier, 6 dollars per automatic weapon that they captured, and so much per kill. They wore tiger fatigues and they were organized in the south. They were made up of all types of outlaws that were given immunity for prosecution for their volunteered as CIDG force which stood to my understanding was Civilian Indigenous Defense Group forces, but local, and it was to their advantage to capture as many weapons and kill as many Viet Cong as possible. Many of these people were double agents. They were known to be double agents by the green berets. They were on whichever side was winning and they would switch sides depending on who was winning. 
RF: In the tracker teams, you worked with the CIDGs? 
DR: We worked with the CIDGs and the green berets. To my understanding my team was the only team that did this. I experienced, while out with the green berets, the CIDGs would take their kills and I’d seen this many times, I have photographs which I will show you in a couple of minutes, whereas the CIDGs would take the north Vietnamese kills, stab them in the stomach, rip them to the side, on the right side below the rib cage. They would pull out their livers and their hearts and they would take their machetes and they would cut the top of heads off and take the brains along with the livers and the hearts. They would take parachute silk that they could obtain from [?] that was kicked out of choppers during the night, we call them aerial flares which had a large parachute attached to it, and it was like a can of white phosphorous gas, like a gallon can, that was ignited and kicked out of a chopper and it would light the sky up like daylight and these buckets would fly over your head at night during battles and the Vietnamese CIDGs would run out of their fox holes and trenches and retrieve these parachutes. I’d seen the CIDGs run for the parachutes. Other CIDGs would point a carbine rifle at him and shoot over his head, yelling to him in Vietnamese, “Leave it alone! The lieutenant wants it!” and make him retrieve the parachute, bring it back, and give it to the lieutenant which was the company commander. The green berets were only advisors. They could not order these people to do anything; they could only advise them that the team commander was given the ultimate authority of taking his advice or refusing it, and it was usually his platoon support, radio operator or somebody close to him that enforced when he said, “I want that parachute,” and if the guy didn’t bring it back he would have shot him. The parachute was cut into little squares and used for various things but one purpose they used it for they would cut it in squares approximately a foot and a half square and they would take these brains and livers and hearts and lay them in it like a handkerchief and tie them into a pouch and they would tie it on their side. They would also use them for carrying ammunition, the little pouches, and once they returned back to the base camp, the A team, they would take rice wine which looked like vodka, it was clear in appearance, and they would dice the liver into little pieces and put it in the wine to pickle it and they would lie in hammocks and drink it. I have observed them with the hearts and the livers sticking on a sharp stick by their hooch being dried. I asked the green beret, “What is happening here?” He told me that this is a ritualistic way they have of obtaining control over their kill, the adversary; you eat his brain, you gain his conscious in the afterlife because the Vietnamese have various religions that is somewhat intact with Christianity, Buddhism, and their relatives. They believe they worship their relatives, their ancestors, and this is all tied together. I’ve observed in different ways in the past in my future experiences in Vietnam other things that fit into this type of ritualistic beliefs which I’ll explain later, but this eating the liver would give a person courage, stamina. The heart would give a [?] would perform a similar function as the heart and the liver and the brain and the person that had the brain would become the slave of this person in the afterlife. I observed outside each village, Vietnamese village, there will be a pagoda which is similar to an old fashioned bath tub sticking out of the ground with the round end pointed up with a picture of Mother Mary or a statue, only theirs it was a little box sitting on legs resembling some type of Buddhist temple with a Buddha sitting inside a little building maybe 3 or 4 feet square with Buddha in an open end in the front. In the back it closed, and a place to burn incense. This little pagoda would be on the outskirts of a village outside a cemetery. Almost every village had a cemetery on the outskirts of the pagoda and the Vietnamese worshiped their ancestors... 
Interview with Dewitt Roberts,  19 June 2000, Dewitt Roberts Collection, The Vietnam Center and Archive, Texas Tech University. Accessed 3 Jan. 2013. .

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