According to a 2003 health study, an estimated 3,181 villages in South Vietnam were directly sprayed with toxic chemicals, and another 1,430 were indirectly sprayed, exposing “at least 2.1 million but perhaps as many as 4.8 million people” to the herbicides. The defoliation of South Vietnam’s jungles and forestland resulted in rampant soil erosion, wildfires, floods, malaria and disease epidemics caused by rat infestations, among other serious ecological consequences, some of which still linger a half century later. The heavily defoliated A Luoi Valley once possessed a tropical forest rich in hardwoods and rare species of trees, full of elephants, tigers and monkeys, its rivers teeming with fish. In July 2009, American professor Fred Wilcox found it covered by wild weeds with poor fauna, having only 24 bird species and five mammal species, a fraction of what existed before the war.
As in Laos, the U.S. began to secretly bomb Cambodia in 1965 to order to impede the flow of arms to the NLF-NVA in South Vietnam. In March 1969, President Nixon significantly increased the aerial assaults under the codename MENU, while still keeping the raids secret from the American people, an amazing feat considering that 110,000 tons of bombs were dropped over a fourteen-month period. A Pentagon report, released in 1973, stated that Nixon’s national security adviser, “Henry A. Kissinger approved each of the 3,875 Cambodia bombing raids in 1969 and 1970 as well as the methods for keeping them out of the newspapers.” In March 1970, Cambodia fell into civil war after Defense Minister Lon Nol engineered a coup d’état. The U.S. backed the anticommunist Nol, sending U.S. forces into Cambodia in May and June. U.S. bombing continued until Congress passed legislation forcing the administration to end it in August 1973. All told, the U.S. dropped 2.7 million tons of bombs on Cambodia, an amount that exceeded the tonnage dropped on Laos. According to the diplomatic historian Greg Grandin:
DePuy is quoted in Bernd Greiner, War Without Fronts: The USA in Vietnam (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), p. 55. Westmoreland is quoted in Guenter Lewy, America in Vietnam (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), p. 73.
The Peers Inquiry report, Dept. of the Army, March 14, 1970, notes “a number of Vietnamese sources alleged that on 16 march 1968 approximately 80-90 noncombatants, including women and children, were killed by US soldiers in My Hoi subhamlet of Co Luy Hamlet, a coastal area of Son My village shown on US maps as ‘My Khe’” (page 7-1). Yet no serious investigation took place and no charges were filed. See the full report at . In 2001, Nick Turse, a graduate student researching post-traumatic stress disorder among Vietnam veterans, came upon the secret records of the Pentagon’s Vietnam War Crimes Working Group and later published his account of the records in Kill Anything That Moves (2013).
“The Villagers of My Lai,” ; Robert Jay Lifton, Home from the war: Vietnam Veterans, Neither Victims nor Executioners (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1973), pp. 17-18, 58; “Hugh Thompson, 62, Who Saved Civilians at My Lai, Dies,” New York Times, Jan. 7, 2006; and Christian G. Appy, Working-Class War: American Combat Soldiers and Vietnam (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1993), p. 275.
Veterans courageously addressed the issue of atrocities. From January 31-February 2, 1971, VVAW held a three-day “Winter Soldier Investigation” in Detroit, in which over 100 veterans and sixteen civilians described in detail American atrocities in Vietnam. The VVAW proceedings were entered into the Congressional Record by Senator Mark Hatfield of Oregon, who was elected in 1966 on an antiwar platform. Soon after, Rep. Ron Dellums of Oakland, California, elected in 1970 on an antiwar platform, requested a formal Congressional investigation into American atrocities in Vietnam. House leaders declined. Undaunted, Dellums set up an exhibit in an annex to his office that featured four large posters depicting American atrocities. The posters were provided by the Citizens Commission of Inquiry on U.S. War Crimes in Vietnam.
Within the administration, three of Kissinger’s closest aides, Roger Morris, Anthony Lake, and William Watts, resigned in response to the Cambodian invasion. Laurence Lynn, senior staff member on the National Security Council, resigned after the Kent State killings. Pentagon analyst Daniel Ellsberg, having become convinced that the war was immoral as well as futile, proceeded with copying the Pentagon Papers, a 7,000-page classified study of U.S. involvement in Vietnam from 1940 to 1968, which he would later leak to the New York Times, exposing administration deceptions over the course of four presidencies.
At Trinity Church, where volunteer doctors and medical students treated about 60 victims in a makeshift hospital at the head of Wall Street, the vicar, the Rev. Donald Woodward, locked the gates to prevent worker mobs from entering. The surly crowd ripped down a Red Cross banner and tried to remove the Episcopal Church flag…. Later the workers stormed City Hall several blocks to the north, overwhelming police and forcing officials to raise to full-staff the American flag. It had been ordered to half-staff by Mayor John Lindsay in memory of the four slain Kent State University students. Still later, the workers invaded nearby Pace College, again attacking students.
Taking stock at the end of 1969, activists might have been encouraged by the successes of the antiwar movement. The Moratorium and New Mobilization were the largest antiwar protests in American history up to that time. Participation in antiwar activities had become “normalized” on college campuses. More Vietnam veterans and active duty GIs were connecting with the antiwar movement. The media on the whole was less hostile to the movement and more critical of the administration. Nixon’s secret war plans had been aborted (some suspected this); and U.S. troops were at least being withdrawn rather than added (troop levels declined from 537,000 at the beginning of 1969 to 474,000 at the end of it). Although beset with problems, the antiwar movement was making progress. According to Melvin Small:
As many as two million people in over two hundred cities and towns participated in Moratorium activities. Participants ranged from at least 15 combat soldiers in Vietnam wearing black armbands, to 100,000 listening on the Boston Common to South Dakota senator George McGovern and setting a record for the largest political crowd in the city’s history, to 250,000 in New York who attended rallies in Bryant Park and on Wall Street. Many Broadway shows canceled their matinees that afternoon and Republican Mayor John Lindsay ordered flags to be flown at half-mast on municipal buildings. As many as 90 percent of high school students in New York failed to show up for class that Wednesday. Turnouts were impressive as well in Chicago, Washington, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City, and Pittsburgh, where the city council endorsed the demonstration. Even more impressive were the dignified silent vigils and prayer meetings held in several hundred small towns where antiwar demonstrations had not been very popular.
The VMC raised funds, reached out to every other possible constituency, and generally presented the Moratorium as a legitimate redress of citizen grievances. By October, VMC had 31 full-time staff persons and 7,500 field organizers working to make the event a success. CIA operatives who infiltrated the Moratorium’s headquarters in Washington warned their superiors that the Moratorium was gaining wide support and that “prominent people regarded as loyal Americans have instilled the day with respectability and even patriotism.” These statements were correct. Among the Moratorium’s endorsers were nine members of Congress and the faculty at Harvard, which voted of 391-16 in favor of it. Participation on the day of the Moratorium exceeded expectations. According to Small: