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?

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.

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. :slight_smile:

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:

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.

So, in response to the OP:

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.

Neither do I.
Let me know if you ever encounter anyone saying such a thing.

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!

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.

Hm, some son-of-a-goit has linked this thread to Slashdot’s front page…
“Pedal you hamsters, PEDAL!!!

Hey - Stop opressing the Hampsters!

maybe hampsters need to be oppressed to be freed…

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:

Do you seriously think that Eddie Murphy’s writers could come up with a better line than that?

What I’d like to know is who first reported that “hippie/peaceniks spitting on returning troops in the airport” bullpucky.

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.

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.