Library - Investigations
Supporting Materials for Sir! No Sir!
Dellums Committee Hearings on War Crimes in Vietnam
Testimony of Robert B Johnson (Capt, U.S. Army, West Point, Class of 1965)
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Wounded Americans, as you know, are flown directly to large military hospitals with full surgical facilities. In my unit it was the practice to fly wounded VC and NV to regimental command posts for questioning before they could be evacuated, and it was my responsibility as surgeon to provide whatever medical care I could with very limited facilities at my disposal to them while they were awaiting that evacuation.
This brought me to a constant conflict with the regimental St-2 or intelligence officer in the unit, who was virtually never satisfied that he had achieved all the information possible from the POW, and it was only by the flat statement that the POW was likely to die in front of him that I was able to achieve evacuation.
I took this problem with one badly wounded POW directly to Col Patton in the hopes that his intercession would allow me to evacuate this man who I felt very badly that he needed surgery. Patton's reply was a flat statement, which I remember very well, that my job was just to keep that man alive for a few moments so he could be questioned, and after that he could die, it didn't matter to him.
The pervasiveness of the attitude of the Americans over there is, I think, the key to this understanding. That is, what I am trying to do is not point to General Patton as an ogre or somehow uncharacteristic. I am trying to illustrate that the attitude is so widespread that there are none of us here in this room sitting comfortably talking about this issue who faced with the situation themselves could, I believe, with certainty, predict how they would react.
I was never more impressed by this than by the involvement that I found within MITCHELL: You actually never witnessed that?
LIVINGSTON: I actually never witnessed that, although there have certainly been a number of people at various tribunals who have testifyed that they have. There is no doubt of its existence in my mind.
DELLUMS: Congressman Conyers.
CONYERS: I want to comment, Major Livingston, that your statement has been more helpful in putting this in perspective than any I have heard before or during these hearings so ar, and I am impressed with the insight that you have shown about bringing the American people to a fuller realization that it is more than a matter of relating fatalities and the incidents and so forth and so on. I think this committee, by virtue of its being formed, is trying to raise the level of intelligence of the Congress, of government, and, of course, most importantly, the American people. So I see in your testimony an element of courage, and I think it gives us the encouragement required to honestly view this. We are not dealing really in secret matters that need to be revealed in great detail or that we have to go around pretending that there is a question of fact as to whether or not there are these kinds of things going on in Vietnam, and indeed probably have gone on in all wars.
The real question that this committee poses is to ask ourselves as citizens, as human beings, isn't it time we faced the hell of war, isn't it time we adjust ourselves to the fact that war itself is a crime, and can't we as a people muster the courage to say and ultimately do something about it? It is in that sense that I am deeply grateful for your testimony.
LIVINGSTON: Thank you.
DELLUMS: Cngwmn Mink.
MINK: I have just 1 question. In your description of the physical torture of these Vietnamese, do you know of any instance in which the superior officers made any effort to stop this practice and to restore sanity to the level at which these activities were being conducted?
LIVINGSTON: Yes, sure. In the instance that I cited, when sufficient question was raised with the acting regimental commander who was present at that operation, it was stopped. However, I think it is significant that it was stopped on the basis that it was an unproductive method of interrogation rather than with any sense of it being immoral or inhuman or a violation of the laws of land warfare.
Yes, sure, I think particularly in those instances in which publicity is an issue, that is, if the press are present or if there is any indication that this might get out, there are efforts and there are lots of noise made about treating the civilians humanly. In fact, every American, when he arrives in Vietnam, is given a small card of, I guess, 11 rules on what not to do to Vietnamese and to POW's and so on. What is bizarre is the dichotomy, the difference between our protestations of what we are doing there and what our intentions are as opposed to what is actually being done. This is the thing I found so striking.
So it does no good a say we are there to insure the Vietnamese people the right of self-determination a in act we are killing them in large; numbers and destroying their society and displacing them and so on. The absurdity, for example, of dropping 5 million tons of bombs on a country that we are attempting to defend, I think is so patently obvious that only by an intense denial of what has happened can we be persuaded to live with this. So what I think is so prominent in the alienation of the young people today is, perhaps less accustomed or less indoctrinated in the ways of a technological society, they have looked upon Vietnam and seen not only the moral corruption it represents but its essential absurdity, and so have reacted against it less intellectually than just sort of visually.
I think in doing that they have taught us all a lesson in politics, and also a lesson in ends and means, perhaps, that 1 defends himself not by the ends he promotes but by the means he uses.
I think all this has been illustrated for us in Vietnam, but has direct application to this country, and I would hope we would learn from it.
MINK: Thank you very much.
DELLUMS: Congressman Seiberling.
SEIBERLING: Thank you, Mr Chairman. Have you any evidence, Major, that Colonel Patton's attitude was shared by other officers of similarly high position?
LIVINGSTON: I can say that certainly we were visited regularly by General Abrams. It is very interesting if you are fascinated by military dynasties, it is quite interesting to note that General Abrams was a company commander of General Patton, and Colonel Patton achieved command of the 11th Armored Cavalry Rgmnt, which was the only independently operating regiment in Vietnamthis was a plum -largely through the intercession of General Abrams, who is now his patron. Colonel Patton had his set of patrons, his set of up-andcoming young officers in the unit who reflected his society.
General Abrams was a frequent visitor to the unit. I never heard General Abrams sanction anything that could be described as a war crime, but he certainly complimented the unit frequently on its BC, and he came to award General Patton a Distinguished Service Cross for gallantry.
We were under the operat'l control of the 1st Div, and certainly the div commander came down frequently and complimented the unit on what it was doing.
So, I think that what is important in psychological terms, people perform in a way that is reinforced, and What was reinforced in that unit was a dedication to destruction. So, when I would say to get a helicopter, for example, for, let's say, a young Vietnamese boy with a cleft palate to get him evacuated where that could be treated, you know, the priority with which that mission was treated was I think very strong evidence of what we were really about there. So it is very broad.
SEIBERLING: I would like to get back to my specific question, and maybe I could raise it this way. You see, it is very possible when General Patton sad your job is to keep those POWs alive only long enough to have them interrogated and then let them die, that this is a direct violation of the Army manual which makes the CO responsible for observing the Articles of War and the other obligations to protect civilians and wounded POWs and so forth.
So, that is 1 issue.
But what I am concerned about is not only did it happen in this case, but whether this was the attitude of other COs of similar or higher ranks. It just seems to me this is the crux of this whole hearing. I am interested not in the philosophical overtones of it for purposes of this hearing, although I am interested in them as a legislator, but I am interested in whether or not Patton's attitude was typical and, if so, whether or not you have some other evidence of that.
LIVINGSTON: Well, no, not specifically, except in the sense that--I never heard another officer of equivalent rank make a statement like that about the treatment of POWs, nor did I hear that specifically sanctioned by any of Patton's superior officers, no. But the fact looking operationally at what has happened, it is obvious what the attitude was. but I have no more specific information about that.
SEIBERLING: On these atrocities of POW's and similar atrocities, to what extent were such incidents not made the subject of specific Army inquiry or court-martial? In other words, we have had some testimony about inquiries such as the helicopter pilot who ran down the 2 women. If it was invariably the practice to investigate all such incidents and have an official inquiry and possible court-martial, then to that extent the higher-ups were performing their obligations. But it was not the general policy to do that, then we have dereliction possibly, and I would like to get your feelings as to what the normal policy was on this type of situation.
LIVINGSTON: Well, the normal policy was simply not to investigate. Most of the incidents which would be described as war crimes and so on would occur at a relatively low level. There may or may not be senior officers somewhere in the vicinity flying overhead and so on. But the impulse both to cover up anything that might prove embarrassing, again with career motivations, or perhaps even more strikingly the impulse to ignore or not investigate possible explosive kinds of things like that is very great indeed.
Again, it is characteristic not just of the large US Army, but any large bureaucracy. Obviously, there is no future in a 1st LT reporting that an adjutant unit has committed a war crime. There is nothing in it for him except perhaps a good deal of trouble.
I think if 1 examines the whole history of the exposure of the My Lai incident, 1 sees this thread of covering up running through, which makes some sense in terms of the individuals concerned but very little in terms of the war.
SEIBERLING: So What you are saying is the system itself tends to discourage the assumption of responsibility for preventing this sort of thing?
LIVINGSTON: Yes. In other words, the system is so large and so well organized that even an individual who finds what is happening to be morally repugnant in some way is led to question his own values. This is true of anybody in a pathological association environment. The question always raises, am I crazy or i going on here crazy? when it is so large and so we organized as it is in Vietnam, it is very hard for an individual to assert himself.
SEIBERLING: If you were organizing the Army in the light of what has happened, have you any thoughts as to how we could restructure things and redo directives right down to the rank and the so that we would force incidents of this type to be reported and responsibilities to be assumed to correct this before they get out of hand?
LIVINGSTON: No, because what you are doing there is focusing on things like procedures, you see, or you are focusing on-you know, deal have been some proposals that what we need is more training in the laws of land warfare at West Point or more training in basic training so that people don't do this.
But you accept my hypothesis, which is what we are doing there is in no way different than what we do everywhere, then, obviously, the problem lies much deeper. The problem is not a lecture that you give somebody saying it is wrong to kill civilians. The problem is by the time the young men get to Vietnam, they are well accustomed to dehumanizing other people, and when we step off that plane and hear the civilians referred to as gooks and see how technologically underdeveloped they are and develop a contempt for them and so on, then the problem is not within the organization, it is not an organizat'l issue, the problem is very much within what one might call the consciousness of the people who are participating.
SEIBERLING: but we had an inspector general's organization that was today divorced from command responsibilities and answerable to a separate unit, would this help?
LIVINGSTON: I doubt it. The reason I characterized the participation as being so broad was that it involved not just the situations, as I have told you, but let's say the civilians who were in Vietnam in large number, that is, working for USAID and so on. They themselves were not immune from these same sorts of things. Again, I think the problem does not lie in some sort of reorganization. I think the problem lies very much with changing the conscience of society about this.
DELLUMS: I would like to acknowledge the presence of Congressman Koch of New York.
KOCH: I want to commend those of you who have a worked so hard and have persevered so long in your endeavors to get a public hearing. There are very few people who would have worked as long and as hard as you have and ultimately obtained this hearing. I am also distressed that the armed Services Committee hasn't provided the kind of hearing which would have permitted you to state your positions before a group of members who were not already of the position that the war in Vietnam is immoral and unconstitutional. So in effect, while it is true that in this case you have very sympathetic cgmn listening to you, I think the Armed Services Committee would have rendered a greater service to the country a they had permitted you to tell your stories before them in an atmosphere where there would have been greater examination and cross-examination and subpoena power that we don't have available to us, and it would have provided the country with an insight into a problem that it unfortunately has been shielded from. Notwithstanding the fact that our hearing will not provide the same kind of forum for you and is the kind that they would have done, I am pleased to be a part of the hearing and to be with you today.
MITCHELL: Would the gentleman yield, Mr. Chairman?
KOCH: Of course.
MITCHELL: While I completely agree with you, I would like to point out that in my mind this committee serves as that initial function of getting this testimony together and perhaps moving us to what really ought to be done in the Congress.
KOCH: I agree with you. It may be what we are doing here today will cause the Armed Services Committee to hold hearings so that ultimately they can bring in legislation on this matter.
DELLUMS: Thank you, Congressman Koch. That is precisely 1 of our reasons for being here. We certainly plan to make this testimony available to the Armed Services Committee, and I am hopeful that after some careful scrutiny, they will do precisely that. Dr. Livingston, I think it is rather obvious from the comments and the questions that we deeply appreciate your coming forward this morning and the articulate nature of your presentation. I would like to thank you on behalf of myself and my colleagues for your courage and integrity in the presentation. Thank you very much.
LIVINGSTON: Thank you.
DELLUMS: Our next witness this morning is Captain Robert B. Johnson.
STATEMENT OF ROBERT B JOHNSON Capt, U.S. Army, West Point, Class of 1965.
JOHNSON: Because the 3 men who follow me have specific testimony about war crimes initiated by 2 generals, I shall be very specific and very brief.
In 1965, I was taking a class in West Point on land warfare, even by a major who had returned from Vietnam after being wounded, and he showed us the slides and told us in a joking way how American pilots and other pilots in Vietnam would send each other parts of VC bodies--heads, angers and ears--as jokes, wrapped as Christmas presents.
He also told us a good way to get POWs to talk was to take 2 up in a helicopter and throw 1 out, and the other talked immediately. He said it in a very serious vein. I rec'd no meaningful instruction whatever on the law of land warfare while I was in West Point. I did not know what the law of land warfare was until I returned from Vietnam in 69.
I arrived on 3-1-68 in Vietnam. I became the adviser for the 1st Bn of the 25th Inf Div. We took a POW, 1 of the lead companies, took a POW. He was brought back to the Bn command 1st, which was mobile. He came back beaten very badly already when most of the men in the HQ's Company continued to beat and kick the man almost to death.
When it became time to remove the POW to a regimental command post, I had to take him across the river. In the middle of the river, he was thrown out and shot to death.
The reaction when I talked to my colleagues--I was present while the whole thing went on, I was the senior officer there--the reaction of the people there on the base camp was, we, this thing happens all the time, and after all, Asians know how to treat Asians. Another occasion, about 2 weeks later on a combat operation, about 20 miles south of Danang, we took a number of POW's again, and 1 of the POWs we took was wounded.
Before we left, the Bn commander, Vietnamese Bn Commander in my presence, took out a .45 and shot to death the wounded POW.