QUESTION. Mr. Rottmann, do you have any testimony about the body counts, official MACV policy?
ROTTMANN. Yeah, I do. One of the things that I did as an Information Officer was at the end of each day I turned in a thing called a Sit-Rep--a Situation Report. In this report I gave a sort of a rundown of the total division activities of the day, including the number of VC body count. Now, during my tour, there was a standing policy in MACV that VC losses for any given week for the entire campaign in Vietnam were not to fall below 2,000.
Now, it sometimes was kind of hard because if you reported negative contact for a day, in other words, you never saw an enemy and an enemy never saw you, it's kinda hard to come up with your daily allotment of bodies. I have been called back and ordered to dig up bodies and I have asked units to dig up bodies which they rightly interpreted as finding themselves a graveyard or someplace where they put some bodies before or someplace where they happened to know there were some bodies or some water buffaloes or some children or some elephants.
Bodies are bodies. VC bodies are VC bodies and we never fell below our quota and my division was in a constant race. My division commander had a bet with the division commander of the 1st Infantry Division that during the first three months of 1968 our body count would be higher than his body count.
Now, it turned out that it was a tie, believe it or not, but our body count was higher than his body count, if you count the number of GIs killed. Anybody here on the panel can talk about that body count business.
MODERATOR. Question here.
QUESTION. Yeah, during the past few days, we've heard people give testimony to the fact of increasing the body count by digging up graves. Why was it so necessary to go through the actual effort of digging up graves? Why was not simply the number increased? I mean, why? Because when you dig up graves, you already knew the hoax involved. Why could it not just simply be done by words?
ROTTMANN. It was done in both fashions. It was done much more frequently just by inflating it artificially. Audience? Would you repeat the question? I'm sorry. The question was, "There's a lot of talk about digging up graves for bodies. Why didn't they just add on, double the number you had, and not go to the trouble of finding more bodies?"
It has to do with the chain of command and the fact that things get out of hand. If there's an order comes down to dig up bodies, eventually somebody is going to go out and dig up a body. It's inevitable. As it gets down to the lowest level, a sergeant's going to call in some Pfc. and say, "Hey, listen, go out and dig me up some bodies for the morning report?" He does it!
CRAIG. One actual instance that I was in on. We had a body count of 17 and it was a matter of digging up graves. The idea was to dig up a grave and verify that this particular Vietnamese had been killed in that action and had been hastily buried as the Viet Cong left. But, what we actually did was dug in one grave; it looked very old in this case, it was just an old graveyard. The fellow digging got tired of digging so we didn't even get down to any skeletons but we counted all the graves in the old graveyard. So as far as the report that went to Division Headquarters, we had uncovered graves that were new.
QUESTION. I'd like to ask the question if the black GIs in Vietnam were treated to the degrees of harassment that the white GIs were treated when they were trying to marry Vietnamese girls, and also the type of treatment that the black GIs got in regards to the racial tension between the white GIs and the blacks in Vietnam.
MCCUSKER. I was kicked out of Japan for this. Regarding the marriage of Asian girls was equal for black and white. They got the same harassment. The black man might have gotten a _____ of a lot more harassment, but that was probably essentially because he was black and had to add his portion of harassment to the fact he was going to marry an Asian girl, woman. Actually, the one I was going to marry was a girl. She was seventeen, U.S., eighteen, Vietnamese. But, in Japan during the time, well, you're all familiar with it.
During the time of the Detroit uprising in the summer of '67, I was in Japan. Now, overseas, blacks and whites segregate themselves into different sections of town. Each has its own little entertainment area and there's a line and neither crosses each of those lines. Iwakuni had the same thing.
Because of Detroit and the tensions of the summer stateside, most of the blacks and whites on the base at Iwakuni believed it was inevitable that it was going to explode there. And I went and talked to a _____ of a lot of people. I was the base editor of the newspaper and I talked to both blacks and whites, about, I don't know how many, maybe 200, I'm not sure.
And I wrote an editorial which the colonel gave me direct orders not to publish but which I did publish anyway, resulting in 10 MPs taking me to an airplane. However, what I understand is that it helped quell what was going to happen because my premise was that no matter what was going to happen between the blacks and the whites, the Japanese in the country were going to be the ones that suffered the most.
They were going to be caught in the cross fire. And so, I rather angrily pointed that out. And, from what I gather there was no riot. I don't know about the racial tension in Iwakuni right now, but I'm willing to bet it's essentially the same.
Riding on an airplane here I talked with a little woman Marine, Pfc., and she was telling me about Pendleton (Camp Pendleton, California). She was telling me how hot it is at Pendleton, racially, between blacks and whites. No one walks alone on that base.
They walk in packs. Blacks and whites! The tension is so high it's ready to explode--so you can take it from there.
QUESTION. What was the attitude towards civilians and people in the United States who were getting this misleading information about the state of the war? Did you feel contempt for them being so stupid believing it or what?
CRAIG. At that time it was a rather frustrating experience. You just couldn't fight READERS DIGEST. People read it and believed it.
PRIMM. I felt angry at the press, at the civilian press for not sending out reporters who would really go after the facts. It seemed that the civilian reporters were very docile and would accept what the army told them. I was angry and I still am and I don't think the war has been reported accurately.
ROTTMANN. I want to say just one thing, okay? This thing still continues. I mean, maybe most of us in this room have an understanding of it, but the lady who runs the cigar stand downstairs, all she knows about what's going on up here is what she read in the Detroit News, which said that (now, I'm just telling you what she told me) we were alleged veterans, you know, and that we were just phonies. And she's like where it's at, I think, into a large majority of this country because she said, "Look, I don't want to listen to you 'cause you're a Commie." I said, "How do you know?" She said, "I read it in the News." That's what she told me.
QUESTION. It's a point of fact for most of the people in here that the military information service has distorted the news. However, some pretty serious indictments about the civilian press have been made today and I would like to ask if any of the gentlemen of the press, or ladies of the press, sitting in the front, would dare, or care to, respond to the charges of the prostitution of their profession.
PRESS MEMBER. I was in Vietnam as a civilian reporter and I'd like to know if I could testify to some of the reasons why the civilian press has been brought up.
MODERATOR. Sure, come on up. Would you care to give your name?
PRESS MEMBER. I will, man. My name is Lee Elbinger and I was in Vietnam for the month of December of 1967. I was representing Michigan State University News and I had accreditation with MACV. Now, I would like to explain something about what it was like to be a civilian reporter in Vietnam. I would like to corroborate much of what these gentlemen have said and to elaborate upon it. I noticed one thing when I first got to Vietnam as a reporter. I noticed that the first thing the army tried to do was to buy you off and I got a little list of things that they do to buy you off. First they take you to JUSPAO and they give you a briefing and big manual about what you're supposed to do, etc., as a reporter.
Now, if you're a reporter from the United States, or if you have ARVN accreditation, which I also had, which allowed me to go to the ARVN press briefings, you're treated better than the third country nationals. The third country nationals are anyone in that country who is not United States or Vietnamese. And, they don't get these privileges. Some of the privileges are: access to the officer's open mess in Saigon on top of the Rex Hotel.
Let me tell you a little bit about what it's like to go up to the officer's open mess up there; and this is where all the reporters sit around and get drunk with all the officers. There's 20 slot machines up there; there's a swimming pool; there's a bar and a rock band which goes continually; and every Sunday night they have a $2.00 steak dinner while the people in the streets are starving and these people are up there just swimming around and getting drunk, and eating steak. Now, when I got there, I was told that I could send and receive mail with postage rights from APO San Francisco, which I never did because I didn't really trust them. I was given PX rights. I was allowed to go into the PX and buy any item up to the value of $10,000. I was given my MACV press accreditation which allowed me to fly free on any military airplanes, and we could bump off up to 15 GIs. In other words, the press had priority. They came right after the officers, I guess. I was given a beer ration card, a liquor ration card, and a tobacco ration card, which could be used at the PX. None of which I ever used. The reason reporters never left Saigon was because Saigon was the only place in the country that was really very much like America and it was very comfortable just to sit there and to go to the 4:15. Every day at JUSPAO they had these press conferences at 4:15. We called them the 4:15 Follies, and a friend of mine, a Danish correspondent, told me that the Swedish television crew came one day, filmed the entire 45 minute press conference, and showed it on Swedish television as a comedy. I did take advantage of my free flights around the country. I got to Na Trang. I got to Da Nang, and I was in Hue one month before it was destroyed. I was in the press camp in Na Trang and Da Nang, and you were allowed to stay there for $3.00 a night. It had a bar, and it had hot showers in it, which was, you know, really beautiful compared to what the men were getting there. You were supplied with an interpreter and a chauffeured jeep, but I had a little bit of trouble because every time I got in there they started finding out what I was doing and in this case I went to Na Trang twice to investigate a Special Forces captain who murdered his interpreter.
As soon as I got out there, they started finding out what I was doing, suddenly a lot of those privileges which I was supposed to have, were mysteriously cut off. Speaking on the issue of censorship, when I got out to the Special Forces camp, outside of Na Trang, I think it was the 5th Special Forces, I got out there and I had a tape recorder with me. I had a whole list of questions from some people in Saigon to ask the father of the (Vietnamese) interpreter who was killed--given half a helicopter ride as they call it. He was killed by his captain because apparently there was a squabble; somebody said he was stealing something. But, the point of it is, I wanted to interview one of the key witnesses, who I was told both in Na Trang and in Saigon, could speak English. I got to the Special Forces camp and when they found out that I wanted to talk to this man (I knew he was there because they said he was there) they would not allow me to speak to him. They told me he was a truck driver and he didn't speak English and I didn't want to see him. What they did instead was they piled me into a jeep and they took me over to this place where they were displaying all these dead bodies and I was told that these were VC that had been shot the night before. There were two rows of five each of the dead bodies of some Vietnamese people; young girls, old men and young men as well. And I was told that it was official policy (not of our government, I suppose, but of the ARVN forces) to line these bodies up and to leave them there for one full day. I guess it had a psychological effect of terrorizing the villagers. To keep it very brief, I just want to say one more thing about reporting in Vietnam. When I got over there, I was very keen on being objective. I tried very hard to keep emotionalism out of what I was doing. I admitted in all the things that I wrote that I was prejudiced against the war and I tried to have that discounted by just Franz Fanon's book, Wretched of the Earth, where he talked of colonial wars and he talked about imperialism and that when a reporter says, "I'm just being objective. I'm just reporting the facts," in effect he is hiding on the side of the imperialists. So it's a very difficult thing if you're a newspaper reporter and you're trying to be objective and to be coldly unemotional and not get involved as a human being. Chances are you're not telling the full story because I think healthy people have emotions. I finally just had to discard this whole policy of objectivity and I said at the beginning of all my reports "This is a subjective impression." I started giving just surrealistic, subjective impressions, and I felt that that was the best way to report on this atrocity. Thank you.
MCCUSKER. One point to add to that. Every week in our office, and posted to all the GI correspondents, would be a list of civilian reporters whose accreditations were ripped off for one reason or another. And, generally, anybody that ever reported on anything significant in Vietnam had his accreditation taken away from him.
ROTTMANN. Right. An instance of that that just rings a bell in my head, is a story written by Merton Perry, who is Saigon Bureau Chief of Newsweek magazine. It was written in 1967 and it's called "Their Lions, Our Rabbits." It's an expose of the Vietnamization program. It appeared in Newsweek magazine. Merton Perry had his credentials ripped off; was suspended for a short time, I believe, by his headquarters in New York City, I believe. All issues of that magazine of Newsweek were confiscated in Vietnam, including the issues in the PXs around the American bases. So that's just a specific example. Look, don't get us wrong. There were some really great civilian reporters. Don Webster comes to mind, in my experiences, Merton Perry, Peter Arnett. A lot of names came to mind and we began to sense, after a while, of course, who the guys were who were really straight and they would frequently end-run the information officers, either with our cooperation or without our cooperation and sort of go straight to the field and get the story. Some of the press, let me emphasize, some of the press, and many were killed, are doing really great jobs, but we did have a very big problem with apathetic press. I might mention "JUSPAO Joe _____" from the New York Daily News, who never left the Caravelle Hotel in Saigon and who writes the most fantastic "I was there" battle stories you'll ever want to know.
MODERATOR. I'd like to add one last point about press censorship. After my three years in the army when I got out in '65, having resigned a West Point appointment that I got in Vietnam in '63, I went to work for a newspaper in this country to try to find out why what I had seen going on in Vietnam wasn't being reported here because I knew there were some good reporters over there. So I worked for a major newspaper, which I will not name, because it could be any newspaper in this country. Those stories that came in that were best, that were good, were killed by the editors here, who knew more about Vietnam than those of us that had been there. Not only did they kill these stories when little things came about what Johnson was supposedly doing; going out to Asia and having meetings with Ky. They would stick little headlines on a story that mentioned nothing about peace talks, that would say "Johnson in Peace Parley in the Philippines."
QUESTION. I'd like to say that yesterday I was listening to a CBS news photographer who was sitting up here that I don't see any more. He was sitting up here a little while ago. He said that this stuff isn't anything new, that we've been photographing this all along, right from the beginning, and I'm just wondering why the _____ it wasn't on TV.
Also, I'd like to know, I guess apparently all of you people can be prosecuted and imprisoned and I don't know what else for the testimony you've been giving. I'd like to know, who's making these laws and how they're enforced, and that kind of thing.
MODERATOR. There's two questions. One was, the gentleman said he was a CBS news crew and he talked with them briefly and he heard somebody in the crew say that it was old stuff and that they'd seen it before and they'd filmed it before and his question was why wasn't it on TV. The second question was: Are we liable for prosecution for our testimony and if we are indeed liable, whom are we liable to.
ROTTMANN. Some of us are liable. Those of us who had secret clearance
Updated Thursday, January 28, 1999