commander in Vietnam. It was an Army chain, and I had nothing to do with it.""'?*
While nothing as horrendous or on the scale of My Lai, the Marines had their own incidents with the local populace as well. Obviously, when the battlefield was the village or the rice paddy, civilian casualties occurred, wittingly or unwittingly. While cognizant of the difficult circumstances, the Marine command attempted to hold Marine units to the highest standard. General Cushman remembered that while there were a number of atrocities, "we tried them by courtmartial." He related that, in most instances, they usually involved only a few victims and Marines and "we really came down on them . . . ."6t)
From 1965-1973, Marine or Navy court-martials convicted 27 Marines of the murder of noncombatant South Vietnamese. Additionally another 16 were convicted of rape and another 18 of assault "with intent to commit murder, rape, or indecent assault." Another 15 Marines were found guilty of manslaughter and one of attempted murder. The most notorious Marine court-martial of 1968 involved seven men from a squad of the 1st Battalion, 27th Marines. Accused of participating in the execution style murder of five Vietnamese men on 5 and 6 May, the seven were brought to trial and five of them convicted within five months of the incident.61**
Obviously, while convictions provide some basis for judging the effectiveness of the Marine discipline system, as one Marine lawyer/historian, Lieutenant Colonel Gary D. Solis, wrote: "Acquittals can be as revealing as sentences imposed, because acquittals may indicate the reluctance of a court to convict." In an analysis of the 43 Marines brought up on murder charges of South Vietnamese civilians, Solis observed that 16 Marines, or 37 percent, "were acquitted or had their charges judicially dismissed." He compared this favorably with the ratio of homicide case acquittals in U.S. District Courts, which for 1969 was 33 percent. Still, in examining the sentences served by the 27 Marines convicted of murdering South Vietnamese noncombatants, he observed that the average incarceration was less than five years.62***
Despite the best efforts of the Marine command to punish all individuals that may have been guilty of crimes against the local populace, there were deviations. As Lieutenant Colonel Solis would later maintain "there clearly were far fewer prosecutions than there were grave breaches of the law of war." Much depended upon individual unit leadership and command sensitivity to the needs and predicament of the local civilian population. While never condoned and often condemned by the senior Marine command, there emerged among some troops and perhaps some commanders what was called the '"mere gook' rule." For some Marines, this permitted the "killing of Vietnamese-regardless of age, sex, or combatant status- because 'after all they're only gooks,' a derogatory nickname for an Oriental which was carried over from the Korean War." As Major W. Hays Parks, in 1968 the 1st Marine Division Chief Trial Counsel, wrote eight years later, while describing the so-called rule as "an unfair distorted description of military attitudes and conduct . . . [but acknowledged that] it was not altogether false, and was a key factor in most of the serious incidents reported." Lieutenant Colonel Solis in his history of military justice in Vietnam observed that certain Marine defense counsels were aware of this attitude and often tried to use it to their advantage. He described the efforts of one counsel to include senior enlisted men on the court-martial panel, quoting the lawyer to the effect that they "would not be particularly disturbed about the death of another 'gook'. . . . my hypothesis proved correct."63
As Major Parks pointed out the "mere gook rule" was not original with U.S. troops in Vietnam nor for that matter Korea.**** He quotes the American writer Ambrose Bierce writing in the 1860s, "The soldier
*General E. E. Anderson observed that while true that III MAF was out of the administrative chain of command for the My Lai investigation, he was "later questioned by members of the Peers Commission about the subject as I had the responsibility, as Chief of Staff of III MAF, of releasing our nightly operations reports. I pointed out to the questioners that the operations report by the Americal Division for the period when the My Lai incident occurred contained nothing that would trigger any suspicion." E. E. Anderson Comments.
**The Marines later established a Combined Action Platoon in the hamlet where the incident took place. Andrew Lewandowski, who commanded this platoon, recalled that he took over this platoon in November 1968, but "did not learn of this incident until I sat in a doctor's office in Mt. Penn, Pa" the following year and read an account of the atrocity in Look Magazine. According to Lewandowski, if he had known about the situation at the time, he would have altered somewhat his civic action program in the hamlet. Andrew Lewandowski, Comments on draft, dtd 30Nov94 (Vietnam Comment File).
^^Colonel W. Hays Parks, a former Marine lawyer and who has written extensively on the subject, denied, however, "that time served for murder of a Vietnamese was less than time served for a similar crime in the U.S. against a non-Vietnamese victim . . . ." Col W. Hays Parks, Comments on draft, dtd 6Dec94 (Vietnam Comment File).
****According to LtCol Solis, Marines used the term gook in reference to Nicaraguans during the Marine intervention there in the 1920s. Solis, Trial by Fire, p. 138.