August 10, 2006

Who is Nick Turse?

Author of L.A. Times Vietnam Atrocity Story Is Dedicated Leftist

"(T)he DoA (Doctrine of Atrocity) did not originate during the Vietnam War, but instead was part of a long legacy of the U.S. military's conduct during wars against racial Others over the prior 100 years."

--Nick Turse, Columbia University PhD dissertation: "Kill Anything That Moves: U.S. War Crimes and Atrocities in Vietnam, 1965-1973" (Photo from Mother Jones)

By David Paulin

The Los Angeles Times made quite a splash with its lengthy article detailing how American troops allegedly committed atrocities during the Vietnam War 40 years ago. Left-wing bloggers have been swooning over the Sunday showcase piece, "
Vietnam: The War Crimes Files." And no wonder. The whopping 4,400-word article, describing alleged atrocities as if they happened only yesterday, was not really about Vietnam: It was about Iraq.

Only the most obtuse reader could miss that. The authors slipped "Iraq" into the narrative after 400 words, with mentions of alleged atrocities and prisoner abuse there.

To date, conservative bloggers and readers have paid little attention to “The War Crimes Files.” Presumably, they glanced at it and quickly dismissed it as more agenda-driven reporting aimed at stopping “Bush’s War.”

In their cursory look, however, those readers missed an intriguing element in the story – and perhaps its most important element. The lead author,
Nick Turse, is not a staff writer like co-author Deborah Nelson. He is “a freelance journalist living in New Jersey” who, as an editor’s note mentioned, had uncovered archival material on Vietnam War atrocities “while researching his doctoral dissertation.”

What the editor's note omitted is that Turse also has a long history of supporting radical leftist causes and writing for radical websites and lefty publications such as
Mother Jones and The Village Voice. So extreme is Turse's anti-Americanism that he even praised the Columbine shooters. To him, they were idealistic anti-establishment figures; kids who challenged the "educational system" in the spirit of the 1960s' radicals. Hiring him to research and write a piece on Vietnam War atrocities was comparable to hiring a Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan to pen a major news article on affirmative action and race relations.

Indeed, for a major newspaper to hire a freelancer to research and write a controversial showcase story is highly unusual if not unprecedented. One wonders how Turse pulled it off: whether he made a good impression on some like-minded Times editors, or whether he parlayed his supposed expertise on Vietnam War atrocities into a prestigious freelance gig. Perhaps it was a little of both.

Turse found the old atrocity stories among files in a “once-secret archive,” while researching his doctoral dissertation at the National Archives in College Park, Md., “The War Crimes Files” related. Collected by a Pentagon task force in the early 1970s, the materials “confirmed atrocities by U.S. forces in Vietnam were more extensive than was previously known,” said the story. Atrocities were not limited to “rogue units” but “were uncovered in every Army division that operated in Vietnam.”

Given the U.S. military’s situation in Iraq, these allegations are obviously troubling and politically sensitive. This raises the question of why the Times trusted a freelancer like Turse to take the lead in writing and researching such an important story. He apparently had never written any major news article for the Times or other large mainstream newspapers, according to a Factiva news search.

Who Is Nick Turse?

Lots of newspapers use freelancers, to be sure. But untested freelancers seldom if ever play prominent roles on major stories, with the notable exception of foreign freelancers and stringers – especially all those “local hires” in Iraq who are dying in large numbers.

In light of the disturbing allegations in “The War Crimes Files,” an important question arises: Who is Nick Turse?

It takes only a little Internet sleuthing and Googling to learn of his ties to radical leftist causes and publications, ties that Times editors surely knew about. Knowing about this background explains much about Turse's apparent obsession with atrocity stories – just so long, to be sure, as it's U.S. troops committing atrocities and not North Vietnamese troops and the Viet Cong. Their
terror tactics were widespread, part of official strategy and policy. It's almost certain they killed far more civilians than U.S. forces. The Democracy Project website pointed this out by citing detailed statistics, and it raised questions of its own about Turse and the Times' tendency to focus mainly on U.S. misdeeds.

Ultimately, however, messy details about the enemy's terror tactics are unlikely to trouble Turse, a dedicated leftist in the spirit of the 1960’s radicals he admires. Like so many in today’s left, Turse’s blame-America-first philosophy undoubtedly leaves him unable to put historical events into the proper focus as he portrays American troops as savages. In another era, most newspaper editors would have looked at Turse as problematic, but not today. His seamless move to the Times from radical web sites and lefty magazines says much about mainstream journalism today – and about newspaper editors who, having come of age in the 1960s, now control the levers of power.

"Kill Anything That Moves"

Like many people with such political views, Turse, ironically, appears to live a comfortable and privileged life. As a PhD student at Columbia University’s Center for the History & Ethics of Public Health, the title of Turse’s dissertation in 2005 was appropriate: "
Kill Anything That Moves: U.S. War Crimes and Atrocities in Vietnam, 1965-1973."

Interestingly, the Times' biography of Turse mentioned only that he uncovered details of Vietnam atrocities “while researching his doctoral dissertation." No mention was made of his dissertation’s title, which presumably defined his focus: atrocities committed only by American troops.

Nor did the editor’s note mention two intriguing aspects of Turse's dissertation. One is its obviously false claim that U.S. troops committed atrocities during the entire war as a matter of military “doctrine” – what Turse called a “Doctrine of Atrocity.” Moreover, Turse claimed this atrocity-producing doctrine "was part of a long legacy of the U.S. military's conduct during wars against racial Others over the prior 100 years."

Ultimately, the abstract for “Kill Anything That Moves” reads like it was lifted from any of the angry books and articles of the Vietnam War years, notwithstanding, of course, its obligatory reference to Columbia's late Edward Said and his controversial book “Orientialism,” (1978).

No matter how bad Vietnam was, Iraq is not Vietnam in spite of how much Turse, his fellow travelers, and Times editors want it to be. The pathologies that existed in that war, during some time periods and in some places, are in fact not evident in Iraq among professional and well-trained military forces.

A list of Turse’s academic interests and accomplishments may be seen here. However, he appears to lack credentials in Vietnam studies, observed Democracy Project. The same may be said of his dissertation advisor,
Amy L. Fairchild.

Anti-War Protester

When Turse was not immersed in archives derived from investigations undertaken by the military and nation he despises, he spent some of his time at anti-war demonstrations. At New York’s 2004 Republican National Convention, he writes of being “
illegally arrested” and hauled to a detention center dubbed “Guantanamo on the Hudson.”

However, Turse appears to have spent most of his time outside of academia working as a freelance journalist, a trade he continues to practice. Don't look for any of his work in mainstream publications, however. His only mainstream news piece, according to a Factiva search, was his recent atrocity story in the Times. On the other hand, Turse’s byline regularly pops up on various leftist and antiwar websites and publications. On some of them, his
biography describes his journalistic expertise as the “military-corporate complex, the homeland security state, and various other topics.”

Praised Columbine Shooters

And what might be those “various other topics”? In a truly bizarre article about the massacre at Columbine High School, Turse idealized troubled teenage shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, portraying them as modern-day radicals. No matter that seven years ago, they murdered 12 fellow students, a teacher, and wounded 24 others – before committing suicide.

Americans were horrified, but not Turse. He argued that the teenagers had “good reason” for “fighting the American educational system and, by extension, the so-called American way of life.” His article, "
New Morning, Changing Weather: Radical Youth of the Millennial Age,” was published in the winter 2000 issue of the online academic journal 49th Parallel.

“Approve or disapprove of their methods, vilify them as miscreants, but don’t dare disregard these modern radicals as anything less than the latest incarnation of disaffected insurgents waging the ongoing American Revolution.”

“I propose that kids killing kids may be the radical protest of our age, and that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold may be the Mark Rudd and Abbie Hoffman figures of today.”

Turse concluded that “the struggle in which these boys are engaged may be as fundamentally important as ending the war in Vietnam (or imperialism, or racism, etc.) was to the hippies, Yippies, Diggers, and Panthers of the bygone era.”

Given the foregoing, it’s easy to see why Turse is so intent on rehashing every brutish incident that occurred in the Vietnam War and digging up and publicizing new ones – an endeavor, to be sure, that he’s been able to undertake thanks to the U.S. military’s own investigations. It’s the same military, ironically, that Turse despises.

It’s hard to know what to make of Turse, a young man with some odd contradictions. He’s upset at 40-year-old reports of atrocities allegedly committed by U.S. troops, yet he seems positively gleeful over the Columbine massacre.

Gaining a better understanding of the Vietnam War is clearly important. However, it seems unlikely Turse has the intellectual flexibility and openness to balance the war’s moral complexities and put the role of the U.S. military in an appropriate context. He sees what he wants to see. One wonders how he interpreted archival materials on alleged U.S. atrocities; perhaps co-author Nelson provided some balance.

L.A. Times: Help Wanted

All of which leads to another question: How did Turse convince editors at the Times to hire him as a freelancer? Did he find a kindred spirit in the newsroom, a true believer who shared his political views? Or perhaps he was hired based on the strength of his writing portfolio?

To land a freelance gig or staff position at a newspaper – any newspaper – applicants normally must impress an editor that they can write well, accurately, and in a balanced and intellectually honest fashion. (Well, OK, maybe the last two criteria no longer apply as much, but let’s say they still do for the sake of argument.)

Which one of Turse’s articles might have impressed the Times' editors?Perhaps it was one he wrote for the website “Unknown News”: "
Marine Atrocities in Iraq War Provide Link to Brutal Past.”

Wrote Turse: “Atrocities are...a long-held Marine Corps tradition, as evidenced by the commission of atrocities by U.S. Marines during the Philippines Insurrection, the “Banana War” interventions in Nicaragua, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, in the Pacific theater during World War II and in later conflicts.”

Or maybe Times editors liked an article he co-authored at that compared war-ravaged Iraq to Katrina-ravaged New Orleans, claiming that both are “morphing into a single entity.” They will be “devoured by the same limited set of corporations, let loose and overseen by the same small set of Bush administration officials” asserted the article: "
Corporations of the Whirlwind; The Reconstruction of New Oraq.”

“In George Bush's new world of globalization, first comes the destruction and only then does one sit down at the planetary table to sup.”

In another article Turse accused the U.S. military of brainwashing children by carrying out a “a full-scale occupation of the entertainment industry.”

“Through toys, especially videogames, the military and its partners in academia and the entertainment industry have not only blurred the line between entertainment and war, but created a media culture thoroughly capable of preparing America's children for armed conflict,” Turse wrote in "
Bringing the War Home: “The New Military-Industrial-Entertainment Complex at War and Play,” published by in October, 2003.

Perhaps Turse had some sort of inside track to a Times editor, a possibility given some of the folks who invariably are found at the Times and other major news outlets. One example is
Mary Beth Sheridan, a former Times reporter who now writes for The Washington Post.

Last year, Sheridan told a “first-amendment breakfast” at Columbia University that, as a result of being an imbedded reporter in Iraq, she realized U.S. troops were in fact “
not blood-thirsty maniacs.” They were “really decent people” and even “sweet,” she said. On the other hand, a senior reporter at the Times, who also has visited Iraq, told me in a private conversation that U.S. soldiers were essentially jocks and "killers."

Perhaps Times editors were impressed that Turse was quoted as an expert on Vietnam War-era atrocities in a New York Times article in December, 2003. "
Report on Brutal Vietnam Campaign Stirs Memories.” The article dealt with an investigative series by The Toledo Blade on alleged Vietnam War atrocities. Written in the run-up to the war in Iraq, it provided no new and significant insights about the Vietnam War, yet it won a Pulitzer Prize.

Perhaps one of Turse's writing awards impressed Times editors. In February, 2004, he won the "
Stakhanovite of the Month" prize from "The Voice of the Turtle,” an online journal of leftist politics and culture.

“Comrade Turse,” as the journal called him, was cited for his poetry and other writings.

Having published his Times story on Vietnam War atrocities, Turse has joined the ranks of big-time mainstream journalism. He’ll undoubtedly get another “Stakhanovite” award. His editors at the Times deserve one too. Turse couldn’t have done it without them.

Author's note: “Who is Nick Turse?” was originally published at ModernConservative. This post has a few additional paragraphs dealing with Turse’s PhD dissertation. The Free Republic website provides a rough-and-tumble discussion of the ModCon article. Also, for additional analysis of "The War Crimes Files" see For incisive media criticism of this and other issues, visit Antimedia.


albert deans said...

Scurrilous, Slanderous Character assassination. None of these accusations are supported by sources.

Anonymous said...

On the one side of the question: Nick Turse wrote for the Village Voice.

On the other: 9000 pages of the government documents admitting to atrocities and the coverup of atrocities.

This blog post is not credible.

Rick Perlstein

susan marsh said...

shrill and jingoistic.....quixotic.

antimedia said...

albert deans writes, "Scurrilous, Slanderous Character assassination. None of these accusations are supported by sources."

What exactly do you call sources? David has supplied a plethora of links for you to follow. Did you bother? What is scurrilous or slanderous? He's quoting Terse in some cases, who makes outlandish statements that clearly place him on the periphery of society. Would you call those scurrilous?

I'm afraid I don't see you point.

To Rick Perlstein. What about the blog post is not credible? I see three people throwing insults at David and not one single intelligent argument trying to refute his work. If that's the best you can do, then I think it's safe to assume he hit the nail on the head and you're expressing your outrage at Turse being exposed for what he is.

You can't get much more outrageous than this.

“I propose that kids killing kids may be the radical protest of our age, and that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold may be the Mark Rudd and Abbie Hoffman figures of today.”

Which of you agrees with Turse?

David Paulin said...

To Albert Deans, I would say that the piece is heavily hyperlinked, and those links support my points. I can hardly be blamed for “character assassination” – Nick Turse’s own words undermine his credibility. He has assassinated himself.

To Rick Perlstein, I would say that all we know of those 9,000 pages of documents is what Nick Turse has told us, based on his interpretation of them. Given Turse’s history of writing for radical leftist and antiwar websites, as well as for The Village Voice, I am not confident in Turse’s ability to find the truth, and present it in the proper context. He obviously has an agenda, as does the L.A. Times.

Again, I repeat: Having Turse write and present his findings in the L.A. Times was the equivalent of having a KKK Grand Dragon write about affirmative action and race relations. (Also, I presume this is the same Rick Perlstein who writes for The Village Voice – which I used to read, incidentally, back when I was a lefty Democrat.)

To Susan Marsh, I would say that shrillness in the defense of journalistic integrity is no vice. Also, I don’t agree that it’s shrill. I’m not sure where the jingoism is. I’m all for self-criticism. But I object to the self-loathing that the left has come to embrace. As to the piece being “quixotic,” I’ll have to get back to you on that. I need to go to the dictionary to see what the word means in this context.

To Antimedia, I say thanks for your comments. However, I would disagree with one point. I didn’t regard anything these readers said as being “insulting.” On the contrary, I am pleased that they took the time to write and express their views, which I posted without hesitation, incidentally.

Rough-and-tumble discussions like this are part of our cherished American way of life – or “so-called American way of life” (if I may quote a line from Nick Turse’s article idealizing the Columbine shooters). Those troubled teenager, incidentally, are said to have uttered a racial epithet before killing a cowering African-American student – a detail of the massacre that Turse omitted in his Columbine article, in his eagerness to interpret the slaughter though his own anti-American prism. Presumably, he applied this same type of prism to his interpretation of 9,000 pages of archives from the Vietnam War.

Everett said...

David a very good post. If all the commentors above are so disillusioned with life in this country, why don't they do what any other person who is so dis-satisfied with their country would do and emigrate? Preferably to Iran, Bosnia, Cuba, maybe Russia where they will be welcomed with open arms. If they hate this place so much just leave. But they should try to remember that all those "jocks and killers" are the reason they are able to stand on the street corner and spout their treasonous garbage in the first place. By the way, I am also one of the aforementioned group as I spent 20 years of my life in some god-awful places protecting OUR way of life. Turse is just a new generation of wannabe, unhappy because he was born to late to be a real honest to god hippie. Have heard all this crap before ad nauseum. Everett R Littlefield 70 year old Vet of the USN.

David Paulin said...

Mr. Littlefield: Thank you for writing. One funny thing about these folks is that if push came to shove, they in fact would NOT want to live in Cuba or China or any other workers paradise -- unless, of course, they could live there as a member of the ruling communist elite. Yes, these folks long for the 1960s. Yet times have changed, and they are irrelevant.

According to one recent survey, soldiers now rank among the top 10 most respected jobs. The vast majority of Americans appreciate your service as I do. As you look back on your 20 years of service and enjoy your well deserved retirement, I hope this respect and appreciation is a source of satisfaction to you.

David Paulin said...

On Jan. 14, 2007, I determined that an Internet troll has posted numerous negative comments at The Big Carnival. The troll has posted under phony and anonymous names. The comment here from "Albert Deans" and "Susan Marsh" are two such posts. I identified the troll as Peter Johnson. He lives in the Chicago area. He's a forty-something corporate pilot and flies for NetJets, the Ohio-based fractional jet firm. "Albert Deans" is one of the names he used at the ModernConservative website, where I am a frequent contributor. There, in his "Albert Deans" persona, Johnson identified himself as a "retired FBI agent" to lend weight to his argument. I held one of his reader's comments here because of its vulgar nature. Johnson is banned from posting on this website.

David Paulin said...

Peter Johnson, the Internet troll and left-wing creep, in fact flies for Ohio-based Flight Options. I am happy to clarify this point.

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