The Straight Dope

Go Back   Straight Dope Message Board > Main > Great Debates

Reply
 
Thread Tools Display Modes
  #1  
Old 03-31-2003, 03:47 PM
Satisfying Andy Licious Satisfying Andy Licious is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Arnett: We had to destroy the village in order to save it?

Correct me if I'm wrong. (Oh, please, please.)
I believe that, during the Vietnam War, Peter Arnett was the journalist who quoted a U.S. soldier saying something like, "We had to destroy the village in order to save it." This quote became famous and was a sort of shorthand for everything wrong with the war. It also cast the military as cynical, delusional and out of touch.
Given Arnett's recent actions, two thoughts come to mind:
1) He made his name by deriding military efforts. It's been very good to him. So he still plays to that audience.
2) The "we had to destroy the village" quote was less than accurate. It's difficult to believe anyone would say something along the lines of "we had to soak the towel in order to dry it." I could believe that someone said "We had to destroy the village to save it from falling into enemy hands" or something along those lines. But I just don't buy that quote in its original form, and I wonder if Arnett didn't misquote someone or simply invent the quote.
Anyone have additional info?
Reply With Quote
Advertisements  
  #2  
Old 03-31-2003, 03:52 PM
Duck Duck Goose Duck Duck Goose is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: May 2000
All the sources I found on Google for the quote all said that it was an unnamed press spokesperson for the military who said it at a press conference, not a soldier.
Reply With Quote
  #3  
Old 03-31-2003, 04:00 PM
Satisfying Andy Licious Satisfying Andy Licious is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Quote:
Originally posted by Duck Duck Goose
All the sources I found on Google for the quote all said that it was an unnamed press spokesperson for the military who said it at a press conference, not a soldier.
Thanks, DDG. I did search for it, but I wasn't sure of the sources and couldn't find one that actually gave the quoted person's name.
I'm finding this quote to be highly suspicious. For one thing, the U.S. military does not insist that its spokesmen be unnamed during press conferences. (It's true that some will give interviews on the condition of anonymity, but that's private interviews, not press conferences.)
The British and Israelis often insist that their officials not be cited by name. Not so the U.S.
So the fact that no source is named, and hence no one can ever say "I never said that," gives me reason to pause. Plus, I'd think that anyone who said this in an official capacity would be yanked from the job, which would be noted. And if it was at a press conference, Arnett should not have been the only one reporting it. Even if he alone picked up on it, there would be others who could verify it, and to my knowledge it has not been verified.
Reply With Quote
  #4  
Old 03-31-2003, 04:49 PM
RandySpears RandySpears is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Hm the internet sources that mention Peter Arnett also attribute the quote to a "US Army captain". I suspect the text of mr Arnetts original story would be enlightening on just what kind of journalist he was back then.
Reply With Quote
  #5  
Old 04-01-2003, 08:13 AM
zigaretten zigaretten is offline
Member
 
Join Date: Oct 2000
Location: Oakland
Posts: 506
I'm away from home (and my sources) at present, so I can't go into too much detail, but in answer to a previous question on this subject (in GQ) I posted the following:

Quote:
Peter Arnett reported it. He claimed that an "unidentified major" stated that "We had to destroy the town to save it" about the city of Ben Tre during the Tet offensive. It became something of an anti-war catchphrase at the time.

He has never, to my knowledge, been willing to identify the major in question. He has claimed that the army launched an investigation into the source of this quote and that indentifying the major would endanger his (the major's) career.

Others have claimed that the army never investigated the matter and quite frankly don't care who said it. It has also been claimed that, in fact, it was the Viet Cong who did the lion's share of the damage to Ben Tre.

Major Phil Cannella, who was the commanding officer at Ben Tre, has stated that he remembers telling Arnett that it was a shame that some of the town was destroyed during it's defense, but denies the well known quote.

For the record, Ben Tre had a population of about 50,000 at the time. It was a city, not a village. And it was far from entirely destroyed, though areas of the city did take heavy damage.
Peter Arnett worked for the Associated Press at the time and his story was dated Feb. 7, 1968. One should be able to find it in just about any major newspaper on or about that date.

About six weeks later the story was largely refuted in an article by William Touhy in the LA Times.

Hope this helps.
Reply With Quote
  #6  
Old 04-01-2003, 09:36 AM
RandySpears RandySpears is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
So, in response to the OP:

Quote:
2) The "we had to destroy the village" quote was less than accurate. It's difficult to believe anyone would say something along the lines of "we had to soak the towel in order to dry it." I could believe that someone said "We had to destroy the village to save it from falling into enemy hands" or something along those lines. But I just don't buy that quote in its original form, and I wonder if Arnett didn't misquote someone or simply invent the quote.
It seems that no one has been able to prove inaccuracy in the quote. In fact, it seems unprovable, as long as Arnett do not want to provide the source. So, it all comes down to whether you believe Arnett.

I do not agree with the opinion that some soldier could not have made such a paradoxical statement, when pressed on the issue. People say the darndest things.
Reply With Quote
  #7  
Old 04-02-2003, 12:40 AM
Satisfying Andy Licious Satisfying Andy Licious is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Quote:
Originally posted by RandySpears
I do not agree with the opinion that some soldier could not have made such a paradoxical statement, when pressed on the issue.
Neither do I.
Let me know if you ever encounter anyone saying such a thing.
Reply With Quote
  #8  
Old 04-02-2003, 01:16 AM
j.c. j.c. is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Mar 2003
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Originally posted by RandySpears
I do not agree with the opinion that some soldier could not have made such a paradoxical statement, when pressed on the issue.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

As a responsble reporter, Arnett should have been presenting what the source intended to say. You can get anyone to say anything, if you talk enough. Think of Homer and the babysitter!
Reply With Quote
  #9  
Old 04-02-2003, 05:14 AM
RandySpears RandySpears is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Well, I do not agree.

There are no journalist ethics that demands or even promotes the journalist to restate a persons opinions in a better way than the person himself is able to.

But I think you guys are missing the point. It seems obvious that Arnett used the quote not as a way of attributing certain opinions to an individual soldier but rather for the purpose of characterization of that event. Indeed no one individual was indicated.

So, was it a fair characterization of the battle for Ben Tre? I am not very familiar with this incident. Zigaretten seem to hint that the Viet Cong should really be held responsible. I wonder how much consensus there is among international observers on this interpretation.

Was it a fair characterization of the Vietnam War? Yes, I would say so. Certainly in regard to incidents like My Lai. And given the historical reality of a country stricken by war for decades and in the end still not "saved" i'd say that "We had to destroy the village in order to save it" is quite appropriate.
Reply With Quote
  #10  
Old 10-06-2003, 11:35 AM
Reuben Reuben is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Dec 2000
Hm, some son-of-a-goit has linked this thread to Slashdot's front page...


"Pedal you hamsters, PEDAL!!!"
Reply With Quote
  #11  
Old 10-06-2003, 04:50 PM
Lemmingcus Meenicus Lemmingcus Meenicus is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Oct 2003
Hey - Stop opressing the Hampsters!
Reply With Quote
  #12  
Old 10-06-2003, 05:00 PM
dinoboy dinoboy is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jul 2003
maybe hampsters need to be oppressed to be freed...
Reply With Quote
  #13  
Old 10-06-2003, 05:53 PM
darkonc darkonc is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Oct 2003
Re: Arnett: We had to destroy the village in order to save it?

Quote:
Originally posted by Duck Duck Goose
... it was an unnamed press spokesperson for the military who said it at a press conference, not a soldier.
My guess is that the original speaker was focusing on the had to imperative rather than the destroy/save oxymoron. -- trying to salvage a sense of 'it was the best we could do for them' out of an essentialy unsalvable situation.

These sorts of situations are the breeding ground for such PR bloopers. My favorite was the French diplomat trying to put the best face on the French nuclear tests in the pacific:
Quote:
It's not a bomb! It's a device that explodes.
Do you seriously think that Eddie Murphy's writers could come up with a better line than that?
__________________
Love may not conquer all, but it's far better than napalm when the wind blows it back in your face.
Reply With Quote
  #14  
Old 10-06-2003, 06:21 PM
elucidator elucidator is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Mar 2000
What I'd like to know is who first reported that "hippie/peaceniks spitting on returning troops in the airport" bullpucky.
Reply With Quote
  #15  
Old 10-06-2003, 07:07 PM
Beagle Beagle is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Aug 2001
Even if it was said in that form, it makes complete sense militarily. Military success means conquering the ground, no matter what shape the ground is in when you are done. No, I did not just say that it is OK to bomb cities filled with babies into oblivion -- that is another issue relating to the laws of war. What I am saying is that flattening buildings is what the military does best, as true today as it was two thousand years ago.
Reply With Quote
  #16  
Old 10-06-2003, 07:13 PM
Dogface Dogface is offline
BANNED
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 3,466
Peter Arnett--aka Saddam Hussein's propaganda mouthpiece. If he were to say that drinking concentrated nitric acid were unhealthy, I'd look for independent verification from three different sources.
Reply With Quote
Reply



Bookmarks

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is Off
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump


All times are GMT -5. The time now is 02:04 AM.


Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2014, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.

Send questions for Cecil Adams to: cecil@chicagoreader.com

Send comments about this website to: webmaster@straightdope.com

Terms of Use / Privacy Policy

Advertise on the Straight Dope!
(Your direct line to thousands of the smartest, hippest people on the planet, plus a few total dipsticks.)

Publishers - interested in subscribing to the Straight Dope?
Write to: sdsubscriptions@chicagoreader.com.

Copyright 2013 Sun-Times Media, LLC.