He Had to Make Up the Quote to Save It!

Salon.Com’s Scott Rosenberg had his usual all-over-the-map weblog post the other day which concluded thusly,

Vietnam bequeathed us the bitter remark, “We had to destroy the village in order to save it.” Every day the Iraq war continues we march a little closer to playing out that paradox on the scale of an entire nation.

Vietnam did not bequeath us this bitter remark. Rather this quote came from a story filed by Peter Arnett who made his career on the back of his Vietnam-era reporting.

But the quote has always had a questionable provenance, with its authenticity only becoming more in question as Arnett has thrown away his career on stories and methods that could charitably be called lousy and uncharitably called fraudulent.

Mona Charen and B.G. Burkett claim that Arnett’s reporting on this remark were wrong on a number of accounts.

First, the village in question that was destroyed — Ben Tre — was destroyed by Viet Cong forces rather than by Americans.

Second, Charen reports that the officer who supposedly made the infamous statement denies ever saying it, adding that he simply remembers telling Arnett, “It was a shame the town was destroyed.”

Given Arnett’s behavior in the Tailwind scandal, and his reporting in both of the Persian Gulf Wars, I think it is the soldier rather than Arnett that deserves the benefit of the doubt.

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