Library - Investigations

Supporting Materials for Sir! No Sir!

Dellums Committee Hearings on War Crimes in Vietnam

Testimony of Dr. Gordon Livingston (Major, U.S.Army, West Point, Class of 1960)

back to contents

DELLUMS: Cngwmn Abzug?

ABZUG: I was interested in your statement that you reported to the commanding officer [CO] the existence of this wounded Vietnamese and there was no attention paid to it. What steps did you take with respect to that? Laughlin: I reported to him personally. I reported to him over the telephone that the man needed attention. I reported later that the man needed more than just attention, that he needed to be evacuated. The commander said that they couldn't get a chopper in to evacuate a Vietnamese. So, my medic and myself stayed up with the man and did what we could for him and he lost consciousness early in the morning and died shortly thereafter.

ABZUG: Did you have obvious experiences or other experiences with respect to the handling of wounded civilians or Vietnamese? If you did, would you describe what practice was with respect to there treatment and handling?

LAUGHLIN: All other experiences that I had occurred in a village called Thanh Phu Khan, where our company was in charge of the security. It was supposedly a VC village that had been pacified. We had a great deal of association with the civilians and had built up what 1 might call an affinity. All other experience that I had with civilians had been very favorable, very good. There were a few shrapnel wounds or a stray shot or something like that went on, and it was readily attended to at the time. This was the 1st incident that I thought 1 would call out of the ordinary with my experiences. I didn't mean to go around the question. I just hadn't had any experience up to that time.

DELLUMS: Congressman Mitchell?

MITCHELL: I have a theory that the war crimes have an impact on the lives of Americans, those who committed and participated in or witnessed the war crimes, that it is impactual on their lives once they return. Under my theory it seems to me that we can break some returning veterans into 2 categories.

In the 1 category the veteran who has learned to accept violence, and, therefore, assumes a kind of hatred, disgust, and suspicion of people who are not white Anglo-Saxon partisans, the kind of thing that Calley was reported to have said from the witness stand by telling people and didn't regard them as human beings." that is 1 category.

In the other category it seems to me we would find some veterans who have been so torn, so traumatized by the experience that their own personal value system has been severely disrupted.

I shall ask each witness during these hearings to comment on both of those categories in terms of their own personal lives. What has this done to you, in terms of violence, how you regard other than white Anglo-Saxon partisans?

What has it done to you in terms of your value system?

LAUGHLIN: I find the experience in Vietnam has made me more aware of my value system, number one.? Possibly a lot of people don't think about the questions, never have been asked the questions. I can't say I however been asked the questions quite that way.

But by making myself aware of the value system, I constantly take a harder look at it, and try to setup my priorities based on the experiences to establish a value system that I think would be contributory to society, that would contribute to America as I see it.

What that all means is, A, I don't feel that my opinions toward people of another color or another race really have changed very much from when I went over there; B, I think that my attitude toward violence has changed quite a bit in that I put a stigma on the term violence, whether it is in defense or fighting against Pres Nixon or anything else. I think that violence has the stigma regardless of the truth, the objective that one is seeking.

Finally, I just think that I am more receptive to ideas as a result of my experience, because I felt Vietnam, I a felt it was right. I didn't flinch when people talked about cutting off ears. I didn't flinch at the battle of Prec Loc when people said there were 197 and not 13. So I have to be less quick to judge everybody. On the other hand, I feel that my own set of values, as I mentioned earlier, have been more closely scrutinized.

DELLUMS: Cngwmn Mink.

MINK: Thank you very much, Mr Chairman. During the Calley trial, there was reported in the papers that 1 of the underlying considerations throughout the trial was a so-called unwritten policy established by the military authorities referred to as MGR. Are you familiar with what policy?

LAUGHLIN: I never heard it expressed in that way. I don't feel that I have.

I have heard aspects of it.

MINK: In what way did you hear it expressed?

LAUGHLIN: What does MGR mean?

MINK: Mere Gook Rule.

LAUGHLIN: There were a lot of people over there who felt that people were mere gooks. that is about as ar as I can go. We had incidents where civilians were killed or injured, and there was this hope of apathy.

MINK: In issuing any orders to you and the superiors' issuance of any orders to you, was there any reference to such a policy?




MINK: How do you know then that there was an unexpressed, unwritten understanding of the existence of such notions on the part of the military there in Vietnam?

LAUGHLIN: Talking. I spent 11 months on the line in Vietnam, 1 month in the hospital, and I got to know the people over there pretty well, the Americans.

And that is What I base my comment as to the aspects of the MGR, not based upon any official policy or official word that was passed down. It was based upon my feelings in talking with the people, with the Americans.

MINK: Would you say that such a notion that Vietnamese were not human or something less than human was a general understanding, generally held by most of the military personnel in Vietnam?

LAUGHLIN: It depended a great deal on the unit. the unit that relieved us had just come from the north themselves, and that was the general feeling of that unit. as a matter of fact, the 1st month they were there after they relieved us there were a number of Vietnamese killed as a result of very gross errors.

there was just no consideration to the civilians. However, in our unit, it was a different story. I felt that most of my unit considered the Vietnamese human. On the other hand, there was a marked contrast in the units.

MINK: In describing the attitudes of the unit, were you a live witness to any incidents that would verify your impression of their attitudes?

LAUGHLIN: Yes, I was.

MINK: Would you describe those incidents which you were a live witness to?

LAUGHLIN: there was 1 incident where a man was supposedly clearing his rifle and he put a little boy in his sight and killed him. I was riding by at the time and didn't see the incident. I heard a shot. As a matter of fact, I sat on the court martial and the man I think was given 6 months and he was let off over there, he was fined or something. It was very minor. This was another unit. Another incident, the night we were to leave, they assumed part of the perimeter, and we had become used to the habits pretty much of the city it wasn't a city it was a village - and 1 of the Vietnamese got up in the middle of the night to go use the bathroom or the toilet which is outside over there - only the generals have flush toilets over there--and he was shot down and killed by this other unit, where I think had it been our unit, we would have been used to the people and we knew what was coming off in the village and bad gone to fairly great lengths--this was the result again of our commander. Colonel Kahn I think was an excellent commander and went out of his way to associate with the people. The man was killed and buried a couple of days later and we left the village in the hands of these people, in the hands of this other unit. Regretfully we did.

MINK: Thank you, Mr Chairmen.

DELLUMS: Congressman Seiberling.

SEIBERLING: In this incident about the man who was shot in the back, it isn't quite clear a me whether the COs deliberately declined to call up any chopper to evacuate the man or whether you just don't know what was available.

LAUGHLIN: I don't know where the denial occurred. I wish I did. I wish I would have had the gumption to find out at the time. I can't quote verbatim what he told me except that no chopper was available, and there was some reference to the fact that the man was a Vietnamese, something to the effect that there was no chopper available for a Vietnamese or a civilian or that type of thing.

This seemed to me to be very strange, because we were using a chopper at the time in our operation, and the S-2 at the tune was flopping around above doing something, I don't know what he was doing. but it would not have hurt to drop down and pick up the man and spend 2 minutes a take him to the hospital, and in 2 minutes the S-2 could be back up.

SEIBERLING: What you are saying is, I gather this is why the incident sticks in your mind, to you a chopper could have been made available and there was some sort of at least callousness on the part of the CO?

LAUGHLIN: Yes, sir, no question about that.

SEIBERLING: We are faced with somewhat of a dilemma here, because it seems to me it is important to pinpoint the facts as much as possible and at the same time try to get some impression as to whether there was a general atmosphere of lack of concern about possible crimes against civilians or at least failure to live up to our legal obligations and our moral obligations, and 2dly, whether there was a general knowledge on the part of people at all levels of command as to these conditions that we bring up or we can bring up such lack of concern. To what extent do you feel qualified to generalize; as to the general knowledge among all of the military people that incidents of the kind that you saw and other incidents that you may not have seen were going on?

LAUGHLIN: I certainly don't feel qualified in generalizing. That is 1 of the problems that the Administration is having, probably 1 of the problems that commissions of this type would be having. I hope, as you point out, that we do in this exercise get down to the facts, not be guilty of generalizing, and I hope from my testimony that I was. You can certainly go from my experience and say this is my opinion; on the other hand, this is what I saw.

SEIBERLING: I want to commend you for your courageous statement and your very carefully sticking to the precise facts. That helps us a great deal.

DELLUMS: Thank you, Captain Laughlin. We deeply appreciate your coming forward this morning and aiding us in these hearings. I know I speak for myself and the rest of my colleagues. We appreciate your coming forth.

Our 2d witness is Mr Gordon Livingston, who achieved the rank of major, rgmntal surgeon for the 11th Cavalry Regiment in Southeast Asia.

DR. GORDON LIVINGSTON Major, U.S.Army, West Point, Class of 1960. Baltimore, Maryland DR. LIVINGSTON: Thank you. I think that we ought to take a very broad perspective in terms of what we are trying to do here today, aid in doing so I think that perhaps some generalizations can be drawn from our total experience. In a sense, a of us in this room, in a sense all Americans, are vets of this war and victims of it. Our cities are decaying; our children reject us; and there is violence in the land from both the left ald the right. I think that we who have been in Vietnam can bring you some sense and some of the specifics of what we have seen, but I do think the general conclusions to be drawn are valuable, and I won't hesitate to both draw and defend those here.

1st of all, the question of attitude on the part of Americans toward the Vietnamese people, I think is absolutely critical to any understanding of what we have done, whether we are talking about the war as a whole or individual atrocities.

The attitude of Americans toward the Vietnamese is one of very nearly universal contempt. This is expressed in a variety of ways ranging from the indiscriminate destruction of lives and property to the more casual references to the Vietnamese, friends and enemy alike, as gook or slope or dink, because once the dehumanization necessary to apply terms like that to another human being has occurred, then you are on your way to My Lai. I think there was very little sense, virtually none, expressed on the part of any veterans of that war that I know at the My Lai disclosures in 1969. As some examples in my experience of this dehumanization, they are almost too numerous to list, but I will give you some examples. my unit, as I said, was the 11th Armored Cavalry Rgmnt and commanded by General George S Patton, III. The emphasis in the unit, since it was a professional unit and by military professionals, was obviously heavily weighted toward those things which would advance the professional future of the officers therein, specifically General Patton, and, therefore, placed heavy emphasis on maintaining and exploiting contacts with the enemy and on achieving a high BC.

In all fairness, I think I should say as far as I know the major distortions in the BODY COUNT in our unit consisted of those who were reported killed by air, that is, there were no instances so far as I know in our unit where the BODY COUNT of the unit was distorted. There was great meticulousness to make sure it was accurate, but in the instance, for example, of helicopter pilots engaging people on the ground where it was impossible to count the bodies, particularly at night, the exaggerations were tremendous.

That is, 1 would hear of a company of North Vietnamese being wiped out by a helicopter and there would be a BODY COUNT of 100 or 150 and in the morning there would be no blood trails.

So there was obviously a distortion. but in terms of what this meant, this tremendous dedication to destruction and so on, I think it was never more evident than the night when Colonel Patton, then Colonel Patton, at the nightly briefing, said to his staff and this was at a time when he was getting some publicity in the press and on TV for his dedication to pacification, and in fact was quoted on ABC-TV as saying that pacification is my most important mission. He was able, however, to say to his staff, of which I was a member as the regimental surgeon, he was able to say the current ratio of 10% pacification to 90% killing is just about right.

That was clearly in his career what was being rewarded, and obviously this was going to be a determining factor in his behavior. In terms of the attitude award the Vietnamese, I think I was struck during the time of the Calley trial and during the disclosures that various members of that platoon made by the absence of in will expressed toward the Vietnamese. I think it was striking. In fact, LT Calley himself referred to the atrocity as being no big deal, and used an interesting euphemism for the word killed, which I think showed how nicely he could separate himself from it by using the term waste, we wasted the civilians. One does not waste human beings. one wastes insects, that is, things that are of absolutely no consequence. So what is staling in that attitude and in the attitude of the high majority, above 90% of the Americans with whom I had contact in Vietnam, was just this contempt, and this includes the highest ranking officer with whom I had to deal, in this case being regimental commander. An example of the distinction drawn between American and Vietnamese life, for example, just before I joined the unit, 1 of the helicopter pilots flying what was euphemistically described as a low-level reconnaissance ran down and killed with his helicopter skids 2 Vietnamese women who were riding bicycles on the roads, to give some idea of how low level that reconnaissance was. He was temporarily grounded and I had the opportunity to speak with him about that as the surgeon, and there was complete absence of any feeling other than regret that he was not drawing his flight pay, and interesting in terms of the official action taken was the fact that he was totally exonerated by a board of inquiry and returned to active flight duty. In fact, whether to describe that as intentional murder or as an accident, I think misses the point, that what is expressed there is not any particular murderous intent but just a total lack of caring about whether anything happened or not. It was routine for the pilots flying north across the Danang River, as the phrase goes, to "flat hat" the Vietnamese who were pulling their sampans along the river.

Usually the Vietnamese acted with sufficient alacrity to escape death, but not always. The business of helicopter evacuation that Fred referred to struck a responsive note. I have 2 examples of that in my experience. I was in the village in I Corps visiting with the Marines, and one night 7 Vietnamese were wounded by a grenade. One was killed and the others were wounded. There were 2 who had perforating abdominal wounds and I had virtually no facilities at my disposal to great them. It was then midnight ald I thought it was unlikely that 1 of them would survive until morning, and I requested a helicopter for their evacuation. The only question at the other end was, are there any marines wounded. When we replied in the negative, I was refused on the grounds that it was an insecure landing zone [LZ] and they would not come in.

It was perfectly obvious to me, based on experience, that mission would have been flown for a wounded American. Another example occurred in our regiment outside one of our night defensive positions where there was fire fight, and this was in a village a mile or so away from an American position, and one of the wounded was an American chaplain's asst who, as you all know, is noncombatant who was shot through the chest and somehow the message was mistransmitted so that the helicopter pilot understood that the wounded was VC.

The pilot refused to come into the LZ, and while he was being transported overland to a more secure LZ, he died.

An interesting example, 1 might call it a case of mistaken identity.


© 2005 Displaced Films. All Rights Reserved