Some of the enduring but baseless myths of the Vietnam Conflict alleges that communist prisoners had been thrown out of high-flying helicopters to induce others to speak. In my 21 years as a U.S. Military historian, I’ve by no means seen credible proof that such an occasion occurred or that American navy or civilian personnel participated in such practices.
I’ve examined all related materials on the Nationwide Archives, together with the recordsdata of the Conflict Crimes Working Group, a Pentagon process power established after the 1968 My Lai bloodbath of harmless civilians to research potential warfare crimes dedicated by American personnel. I’ve additionally consulted CIA intelligence analysts who served in Southeast Asia and navy personnel who carried out top-secret operations in Laos and Cambodia as members of Navy Help Command, Vietnam’s Research and Observations Group.
Tales about prisoners being dropped from helicopters have lengthy circulated within the Vietnam veterans group, but virtually with out exception the storyteller says, “I heard that it occurred,” slightly than, “I witnessed it occur.” There may be little motive to consider the handful of people that declare to have seen it occur.
Killing a prisoner of warfare in any method is a warfare crime punishable below the foundations of the Uniform Code of Navy Justice that applies to all U.S. navy personnel. Anybody onboard a helicopter who participated within the act or did not report it could be complicit within the crime. That legal responsibility extends to the bottom crew, the air site visitors controller and members of the intelligence crew who interrogated these prisoners of warfare.
Educated intelligence brokers in Vietnam wouldn’t resort to such crude interrogation strategies. They relied on prolonged debriefing periods in managed environments the place info might be cross-checked. No intelligence analyst I do know would have supported the “helicopter” approach described on this delusion. No member of the MACV intelligence groups that carried out interrogations has ever introduced proof that such a follow occurred.
Even so, it’s unimaginable to show that no communist prisoner died after an involuntary exit from a helicopter. In a match of rage, American navy personnel could have pushed a number of enemy troopers to their deaths on helicopter flights again to base, although I’ve by no means seen proof of that.
There may be extra uncertainty regarding the potential actions of South Vietnamese personnel, who typically used interrogation strategies that had been extra excessive and whose navy information nonetheless reside in locked archives in Vietnam. In a single credible story, a Viet Cong feminine fighter, the daughter of a high-ranking VC official, jumped from a flying helicopter to commit suicide and thus escape the torture she imagined was ready for her.
Briefly, the parable of the “helicopter interrogation” approach merely has no foundation in reality.
Dr. Erik Villard is a Vietnam Conflict specialist on the U.S. Military Heart of Navy Historical past at Fort McNair in Washington D.C.
This text appeared within the December 2021 difficulty of Vietnam journal. For extra tales from Vietnam journal, subscribe and go to us on Fb.