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06-Apr-2018 15:50

Some veterans will tell you that you can’t know war if you haven’t served in one, if you haven’t seen combat.It just isn’t the sort of knowledge that’s easy to come by.We know his story because the court martial records of one of his assailants, who was found guilty of and sentenced to prison time, made it to the National Archives where I found the document.But really, we know it because, according to the military judge presiding over the case, Curtis delivered “clear, strong, convincing, not halting, not hesitant, not reluctant, straight-forward, direct, willing, sincere, and not evasive” testimony.There are more than 30,000 books on the Vietnam War in print.There are volumes on the decision-making of Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, grand biographies of Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh, rafts of memoirs by American soldiers — some staggeringly well-written, many not — and plenty of disposable paperbacks about snipers, medics, and field Marines.

(And by the way, it’s no less true for most of the major movies about the war. Me neither.)The reasons for this are many and varied, ranging from racism and ethnocentrism to pure financial calculation.

Such accounts, we’ve been assured, offer a more honest depiction of the horrors of war and the men who nobly bore them. As the narrator of Tim O’Brien’s “How to Tell a True War Story” puts it:“A true war story is never moral. As a first rule of thumb, therefore, you can tell a true war story by its absolute and uncompromising allegiance to obscenity and evil.”Which brings us back to that rape on August 31, 1969.

It does not instruct, nor encourage virtue, nor suggest models of proper human behavior, nor restrain men from doing the things men have always done. If at the end of a war story you feel uplifted, or if you feel that some small bit of rectitude has been salvaged from the larger waste, then you have been made the victim of a very old and terrible lie. Aside from Daniel Lang’s article-turned-book-turned-movie), you’re not likely to encounter the story of the rape of a Vietnamese woman by Americans in “the literature.” And yet the sexual assault of civilians by GIs was far from uncommon, even if you can read thousands of books on the Vietnam War and have little inkling that it ever happened.

Curtis had protested, he’d later say, but this soldier did nothing to intervene.

He was, he later testified, “very scared” of the three attackers.

(And by the way, it’s no less true for most of the major movies about the war. Me neither.)The reasons for this are many and varied, ranging from racism and ethnocentrism to pure financial calculation.Such accounts, we’ve been assured, offer a more honest depiction of the horrors of war and the men who nobly bore them. As the narrator of Tim O’Brien’s “How to Tell a True War Story” puts it:“A true war story is never moral. As a first rule of thumb, therefore, you can tell a true war story by its absolute and uncompromising allegiance to obscenity and evil.”Which brings us back to that rape on August 31, 1969.It does not instruct, nor encourage virtue, nor suggest models of proper human behavior, nor restrain men from doing the things men have always done. If at the end of a war story you feel uplifted, or if you feel that some small bit of rectitude has been salvaged from the larger waste, then you have been made the victim of a very old and terrible lie. Aside from Daniel Lang’s article-turned-book-turned-movie), you’re not likely to encounter the story of the rape of a Vietnamese woman by Americans in “the literature.” And yet the sexual assault of civilians by GIs was far from uncommon, even if you can read thousands of books on the Vietnam War and have little inkling that it ever happened.Curtis had protested, he’d later say, but this soldier did nothing to intervene.He was, he later testified, “very scared” of the three attackers.Then they smeared hand lotion all over his buttocks.