In the U.S. Army's 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, no platoon was more elite than the commando corps dubbed Tiger Force. In 1966, the very first year of its existence, this highly decorated unit received a presidential citation for its Vietnam War bravery. But for seven months beginning in May 1967, Tiger Force paratroopers went on an extended rampage, committing numerous atrocities, including torture, corpse mutilation, and the mass killing of unarmed civilians and prisoners. After the war, the army pursued a four-year investigation of the murders (which numbered in the hundreds) and other crimes, but then quietly dropped it. Toledo Blade journalists Michael Sallah and Mitch Weiss received a Pulitzer Prize for feature articles that exposed the war crimes and the cover-up. Tiger Force tells the ever-timely story of what happens when good soldiers go bad.
To a large extent, the Tiger Force's misconduct mirrored the incapacity of the platoon's officers to control their men's excesses. As the war dragged on without visible signs of progress, morale deteriorated and the atrocities were increasingly symptomatic of their dehumanization. As though to repeat history at its worst, U.S. guards at the Abu Ghraib prison west of Baghdad have been convicted of abusing and sexually humiliating Iraqi inmates. Against this backdrop, Tiger Force adds a graphic, frightening dimension to our knowledge of the Vietnam tragedy, as well as our knowledge of ourselves. It is bound to be read far into the future.
The Washington Post
During the Vietnam War, Tiger Force was the code name of an elite platoon of the 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry. Its pedigree was impeccable. The battalion's executive officer, Maj. David Hackworth, organized the 45-man volunteer force in 1966, and it became one of the war's most highly decorated units, paying for its reputation with heavy casualties. But for seven months beginning in May 1967, Tiger Force descended into a moral abyss. Operating in what was defined as enemy country, the platoon engaged in an orgy of atrocities that ranged from taking ears, scalps and teeth to the mass killing of unarmed civilians. Conservative estimates count victims in the hundreds. From 1971 to 1975, the army mounted an investigation that documented the crimes, but decided "nothing beneficial" could result from prosecuting the platoon members or their leader. And so the story remained the stuff of rumor until Toledo Blade reporters Michael Sallah, Mitch Weiss and John Mahr responded to a tip and started interviewing former Tiger Force members. The resulting newspaper series, "Buried Secrets, Brutal Truths," won a Pulitzer Prize in 2004 and forms the basis of this outstanding book. In the best tradition of investigative journalism, the authors let the story speak for itself, and thus force readers to wonder: was Tiger Force's behavior aberrant or was it part of a half-submerged pattern spanning the entire war? (May) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
In 1967, the Tiger Force platoon of the 101st Airborne went on a seven-month-long rampage through South Vietnam's central highlands that left dead more than 325 civilians, mostly children, women, and old men. Sallah (investigations editor, the Miami Herald) and Weiss (editor, the Charlotte Observer) here expand their 2004 Pulitzer Prize-winning series "Buried Secrets, Brutal Truths," written with John Mahr when they worked at the Toledo Blade. The result is a searing narrative, difficult to read yet difficult to put down, about Tiger Force's descent into a leaderless and ruthless unit, in which, as one of the ex-soldiers puts it to the authors, the objective was to "kill anything that moves." The second part of the book describes the uncompromising investigation into the atrocities, begun five years after the slaughter and led by the army's warrant officer, Gustav Apsey. His work was hampered because the facts had not begun to emerge until the events were several years old. In addition, according to law, many of the worst abusers could not be prosecuted because they had left the military. Those reluctant but willing to talk had questionable credibility, in part because it was evident that they suffered from posttraumatic stress disorder. The authors, who spoke with former soldiers from Tiger Force and with Vietnamese witnesses, seek to understand why the investigation stalled; no one was ever charged in these killings. Sallah and Weiss warn: lessons that could have been learned might have limited recent prisoner abuses, most recently at Abu Ghraib and Guant namo Bay. Highly recommended for all public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 1/06.]-Karl Helicher, Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Journalists Sallah and Weiss expand their Pulitzer Prize-winning account of American atrocities in Vietnam to book length. Tiger Force was a Special Forces-like unit made up of men who had already passed tough paratrooper training. Founded by David Hackworth-reputedly the model for Marlon Brando's character in Apocalypse Now-the unit was intended to "outguerrilla the guerrillas," scrapping the techniques of conventional warfare to take the fight to the enemy in the jungle. Along the way, it also scrapped the rules of war; as Sallah and Weiss show, every soldier received written instructions over what was and was not allowed but just as quickly threw them away. Unlike Special Forces, Tiger Force was made up of a mixed lot, elite only in the fighting sense. Many had done jail time, and many Tiger Force veterans died young, of cancer or cirrhosis or suicide; one of the most violently inclined, an Apache Indian always close at hand at the book's darkest moments, died at 34. But commanders set the tone, and Tiger Force's leaders were close to psychopathic in their hatred for Vietnamese people, no matter what side they were supposed to be on: The most damning passages point to a breakdown of discipline and dangerous, murderous incompetence at the top. In that climate, many of Tiger Force's soldiers took to killing indiscriminately while trying desperately to "minimize the emotions associated with the events"-and thereby justifying their actions, even as some of the soldiers tried to steer their comrades back on course. Said one, "The valley was a shitty place for all of us. But we didn't have to pick on civilians. We were the Tigers. We were above that."It took years of tireless research on thepart of an Army investigator to bring this appalling story to even the barest glimmer of light. Sallah and Weiss do a solid job of unearthing the rest of it.