Synopses & Reviews
In 2005, Deborah Nelson joined forces with military historian Nick Turse to investigate an extraordinary archive: the largest compilation of records on Vietnam-era war crimes ever to surface. The declassified Army papers were erroneously released and have since been pulled from public circulation. Few civilians have seen the documents.
The files contain reports of more than 300 confirmed atrocities, and 500 other cases the Army either couldnt prove or didnt investigate. The archive has letters of complaint to generals and congressmen, as well as reports of Army interviews with hundreds of men who served. Far from being limited to a few bad actors or rogue units, atrocities occurred in every Army division that saw combat in Vietnam. Torture of detainees was routine; so was the random killing of farmers in fields and women and children in villages. Punishment for these acts was either nonexistent or absurdly light. In most cases, no one was prosecuted at all.
In The War Behind Me Deborah Nelson goes beyond the documents and talks with many of those who were involved, both accusers and accused, to uncover their stories and learn how they deal with one of the most awful secrets of the Vietnam War.
“Alarming stories and important lessons for a country ‘hell-bound to repeat’ the same mistakes.”
Lt. General (USA, Ret.) Robert G. Gard, Jr.
“In her well-written and carefully documented report, Deborah Nelson highlights our shocking failure to deal with, and learn lessons from, our extensive commission of war crimes during the Vietnam War. A must read for all who are concerned with restoring the moral credibility of our country.”
Brig. General (USA, Ret.) John H. Johns
“Deborah Nelson has done a superb job in summarizing the problem of atrocities in counterinsurgency operations and has performed a patriotic service by bringing this problem to the attention of the public. Perhaps the most important lesson here is that we should not allow our leaders to commit our military forces to such wars unless it is essential to our vital national interests.”
Stanley Karnow, author of Vietnam: A History
“Young Americans went to Vietnam imbued with a high moral purpose. But the war dehumanized many, as Deborah Nelson vividly illustrates in a book that evokes a shameful chapter in our history.”
Dana Priest, The Washington Post
“Nelson takes readers along with her on an unusually intimate journalistic journey to uncover what the government had hoped to keep secret—war crimes too cold-blooded and routine to fathom. As her riveting book reminds us, war is hell—for everyone involved. A must read for soldiers, scholars, journalists and any one else interested in both courage and cover-up during wartime.”
Seymour Hersh, author of Chain of Command: The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib
“The War Behind Me establishes, sadly, the terrible fear that emerged from the horrors of My Lai—that its easy cover up suggested that deliberate killing of civilians was widespread in heavily contested areas of south Vietnam. Yes, this book says, it did happen, and yes, as at My Lai, many of those GIs who did the killing were as much victims as those they fired upon.”
“Remarkable… Nelson is one of the most experienced, talented investigative journalists alive.”
New York Times Book Review
“Nelson, who wrote a series on war crimes with a military historian when she was at The Los Angeles Times, is a diligent, passionate reporter… An important book”
"In the best tradition of investigative journalism"
History News Network
“‘The War Behind Me’…serves to vindicate once and for all the veterans who courageously spoke out against the injustice of the war and antiwar activists of the era who broadcast the wide scope of atrocities in an appeal to public conscious… Nelson deserves great credit for her legwork, not only in going through the army criminal files but also in interviewing participants and survivors of the atrocities. She provides definitive evidence to counteract the claim of mythologists that the Vietnam War was fought humanely or for a just cause.”
“A former newspaper reporter, Nelson is one of the most experienced, talented investigative journalists alive.… Nelson's book is not exactly patterned after All The President's Men. To some extent, however, the admirable effect is the same… The stonewalling by some veterans and the confessionals by others make for fascinating reading.”
A seasoned journalist uncovers a secret archive of hundreds of war crime investigations, tracks down the people involved, and emerges with a disturbing and revelatory story of what really happened in Vietnam.
About the Author
Deborah Nelson is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist currently at the University of Maryland College of Journalism as the Carnegie Visiting Professor. A former president of Investigative Reporters and Editors, she serves on the board of the Fund for Investigative Journalism and as president of the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma. She lives in Takoma Park, Maryland.