A sweep of knives and questions

“This brutality … was a war crime, plain and simple; a war crime witnessed by American officers. A U.S. serviceman standing by while an ally tortures a prisoner is itself an offense punishable under both customary law of war and U.S. military law contained in the Uniform Code of Military Justice. But in the U.S. (military) units in South Vietnam, such acts were not unusual. Generals would deny it, colonels and majors may doubt it, but any captain or lieutenant and any enlisted infantryman who was there will confirm it.”                                                      

Son Thang: An American War Crime. Gary Solis, 1997,  13-14.




Something inside me shattered hard that night. I was 18.


We had walked south all day, stepping with worn and weary boots

through the A Shau Valley: Vietnam, 1969.

About midmorning, I step wide, over a discarded, nationless skull.

We find him later: a North-Viet soldier, near-death and left behind.

We carry him, littered, into the glowering, lowering sun. 

Later—my hands dirty, my nails broken, my body stinking—I sit on the edge

of my hole and watch them stick him beside a bare open grave.

They—Americans and their Vietnamese scouts—sweep sharp

questions and sharp knives across his ebbing body.

Too far away to hear anything spoken—

I watch wide-eyed as Americans torture and murder.


On quiet nights I still feel my heart breaking apart. I am 63.

Copyright Tim Bagwell


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