Casualties of War is a 1989 film based on the experiences of Max Eriksson in 1966 Vietnam as a U.S. soldier.
10 out of 10 stars. This is one of those films that’s hard to watch. It’s brutal, but a story that should be told.
In 1969, Daniel Lang published an account in The New Yorker magazine of a young Vietnamese girl being kidnapped, raped, tortured, and killed by a platoon of U.S. soldiers in Vietnam. Max Eriksson was the only man in his platoon who tried to save her and his platoon repeatedly tried killing him when he attempted to report the event. No one in the army wanted to know. So he went public. Then the Army was forced to address the rape, torture, and murder of an innocent child by four U.S. soldiers.
As the film begins, Max Eriksson has only been in Vietnam for three months. He’s a new recruit and knows nothing. Over the past few weeks, the local Vietnamese have been helping the Viet Cong kill U.S. soldiers. That has the soldiers outraged. This particular platoon loses one of their favored members, Brownie, when the Viet Cong shoot him in broad daylight in their own camp. That makes all of them angry, especially Sarge. That night they get ready to go to town to the local brothel. They’re stopped by security and not allowed to leave the base because the Viet Cong are at the brothel. So Sarge tells his platoon they are leaving at 5 am but on their way out, they are going to kidnap a Vietnamese girl and make her their “traveling R&R”. Max assumes it’s a joke and when he discusses it with a member of another platoon, Rowan. Rowan says of course it’s a joke.
At 5 am they walk into the sleeping camp of Vietnamese farmers and kidnap the youngest and prettiest girl. They knock out her teeth, gag her, cut her back, and carry her out of camp while the villagers and Eriksson are helpless to stop them. Over the next twenty-four hours, she is forced to carry a heavy backpack barefoot through the cold and snake-infested swamps. When they finally stop they brutally rape and beat her for hours and threaten to kill Eriksson when he tries stopping them.
When Eriksson finally gets a chance to free the girl while the others are away, she screams and makes so much noise that one of them returns. Then it’s too late. She has a fever and is coughing which inevitably makes Sarge give the order to kill her before the Viet Cong locate their position. Corporal Clark stabs her repeatedly and she still manages to live. So Sarge kills her. Eriksson tries stopping him and is wounded by Sarge and the Viet Cong.
Eriksson wakes inside a hospital tent. All around him are amputees. He finds his friend Rowan and tells him what happened. Then Corporal Clark shows up and threatens him, telling him they’re shipping out in the morning. His platoon plan on killing him. Eriksson reports what happened to Lieutenant Reilly who tells him to forget it. He tells Eriksson that the platoon that raped, tortured, and murdered this girl were on the side of righteousness. So Eriksson tells Rowan they’re going to kill him.
The first chance Eriksson gets, he tells Captain Hill. Hill tells him that Reilly made him aware minutes after Eriksson reported it. Then he tells him to shut up and ship out. He gives Eriksson tunnel duty which will most assuredly get him killed.
Corporal Clark tries killing Eriksson in the barracks by throwing a hand grenade in the latrine while Eriksson is in there. Eriksson only escapes because he hears Hatch say hi to Clark and realizes he’s close by. Eriksson grabs a shovel and hits Clark with it. And he tells Sarge that everyone knows. They just don’t care, so he doesn’t need to keep trying to kill him.
Eriksson ends up getting drunk at the barracks bar and the company chaplain sits next to him. Eriksson tells him everything. Fortunately the chaplain has the ear of a general and he reports it. Eriksson takes them to the girl’s body and the military police investigate and bring charges against Sarge, Clark, Hatch, and Diaz. During questioning, Sarge claims the girl was a Viet Cong prostitute. This was a child.
Diaz is sentenced to 8 years prison hard labor.
Hatch is sentenced to 15 years prison hard labor.
Clark is sentenced to life in prison hard labor.
Sarge is sentenced to 10 years prison hard labor.
I failed to see how the military tribunal could give Sarge only 10 years. He organized the rape, torture, and murder of this girl. And he’s the one who ended her life.
10 out of 10 stars. Worth watching, but don’t watch it alone.