I wish I was an award-winning columnist for the Toronto Star!
Destroy the village to save it. That was the American logic during the Vietnam War in burning My Lai and massacring 400 women and children.
Peter Arnett eventually gained fame as the CNN’s chief correspondent during the Gulf War. But back in 1968, Arnett was a young Associated Press reporter, assigned to report on the battle of Ben Tre during the Tet Offensive. For two days, a small American unit had battled the Vietcong, who in turn had killed many villagers.
Arnett entered Ben Tre after it had finally been secured and interviewed army major Phil Cannella.
Cannella “believes he is the officer Arnett was quoting” when he penned his most famous sentence, according to Mona Charen in her book Useful Idiots. However, “he believes his comments were ‘taken out of context.’ He recalls telling Arnett that the Vietcong had destroyed the town and that it was a shame. But Arnett’s report made it seem that American forces had shelled the town and featured an anonymous officer saying, ‘We had to destroy the village in order to save it.”
As historian Victor Davis Hanson explains:
“Arnett never verified, much less produced, his source — and the town was mostly shelled by the Communists anyway. An exhaustive investigation by the Pentagon never found any such official who said anything such thing.”
Having coined a memorable phrase, Arnett, intoxicated by his instant fame, went on to report other “scoops” of dubious veracity, charging (again, without proof, that American soldiers had employed deadly Sarin nerve gas in South Asia.) In 2003, NBC News fired Arnett, after he pronounced America’s invasion of Iraq a “failure” on state-run Iraqi TV.