Mike McCarey served as the First Marine Division’s chief prosecutor for most of 1968 when that unit was in Vietnam. McCarey’s office prosecuted all felony cases in the division.
Captain Conners is the main character in American Atrocity (J-ALM Publishing, 288 pp., $13.99, paper; $3.99, Kindle), a military/legal novel. “On a rainy night in January 1968, several days before Tet, a squad of Marines on a mission to gather information is attacked by a large force of North Vietnamese regulars,” the back-cover blurb notes.
“Only six Marines live through the assault. The following day, the half-dazed and exhausted survivors capture three Vietnamese dressed as farmers. The captives are put on ‘trial’ for being the enemy, sentenced to death and executed. One of the captives—a teenage boy—is tortured and hanged.”
The plot brings to mind the real-life story told in Casualties of War, the book and the movie. Many of the same issues are presented and debated in this book. That includes questions such as:
- Is it realistic to expect our soldiers and Marines to follow the rules of war when the enemy does not follow them?
- Are rules for war realistic?
- When fighting an enemy who adheres to only guerrilla war methods, can we beat them if we stick with Geneva Convention rules?
- All war is hell, but when does war become war crimes?
Captain Conners deals with all of the above. Things get complicated when Conners realizes that he had met and spoken to the three murder victims, and he knew for sure they were farmers, not Viet Cong. The six Marines who murdered them, however, did not know that. To them, all Vietnamese were alike, all were the enemy.
This is an engrossing book, with a well-told story. We encounter Bob Hope, people sniffers, a media that is against the war, and Marines being spat upon in airports back home and being baby killers.
Fragging is also featured. The Phoenix Program is mentioned as a defense as it involved murdering civilians whose crime was to be included on a list for perhaps no more serious a reasons than insulting a neighbor.
It is good to read a Vietnam War novel in which the hero spends most of his time behind a desk, not out in the field. It also is good to read a book in which justice is done, although it doesn’t resurrect the dead Vietnamese farmers. They are gone; their hearts and minds are beyond reach.
I highly recommend An American Atrocity to those who who wish to read a nuanced novel about the moral and ethical issues that infantry soldiers deal with.
The author’s website is http://anamericanatrocity.com