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Tiger Force: A True Story of Men and War by Michael Sallah and Mitch Weiss

December 29, 2017

tiger_force

In 2003, Michael Sallah, then a reporter at the The Blade, a Toledo newspaper, came into possession of confidential documents from recently deceased Henry Tufts, a retired Army Colonel who had headed the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command until the mid-1970s. Within those papers was the documentation of a U.S. Army paratrooper unit called “Tiger Force” created in 1965 to “outguerilla the guerillas.” That led Sallah to further documents unclassified but buried in the National Archives. He and fellow journalist Mitch Weiss conducted interviews with members of Tiger Force and residents of the Song Ve Valley in Vietnam, then published their findings in a series of articles in The Blade in 2003. Their series won numerous awards including the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. This book chronicles their findings. Their findings were brutal.

In short, between May and November of 1967, the men of Tiger Force were allowed to go rogue in the Song Ve Valley of Vietnam. Given the goal of killing 327 (they were part of the 327th Infantry), the unit killed over 1000 Vietnamese, including civilian men, women, children and elderly. They committed dozens of war crimes, including murder, torture and rape of civilians, torture and executions of prisoners. Some members of Tiger Force cut the ears off their victims and wore them in necklaces. At least one soldier scalped his victims. These are among other, even worse atrocities.

I’d encourage everyone to watch the incredible 2017 documentary series The Vietnam War by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick to help give broader context for how we got to this point (that’s how I heard of this case). What’s detailed in this book and the atrocities uncovered by this commendable piece of journalism were the result of a kind of terrible chemistry, a certain type of people, pressure from above, fear, anger, hatred, despair, drugs, depression and desperation. It’s the story of killers turned loose to kill, and the U.S. Government knowing the truth but choosing to do nothing about it. There are no good answers here, but Tiger Force, like the more famous My Lai massacre in Vietnam and Abu Ghraib in Iraq, should serve as a cautionary tale. When we go to war, who are we sending? What are we asking them to do? How are we measuring success? How are we holding them accountable? And the stories the government tells us, how do we know they’re true?

One Comment leave one →
  1. December 30, 2017 1:36 am

    Valid points. ‘Tiger Force’ sounds like an intriguing if disturbing read.

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