Beating on the Gooks Not All Bad

Everybody at the

Weekly is pretty eager to work at a real newspaper. That's why, in the next week, each of us will use this space to try out for theRegister, the county's largest-circulation daily. (Please note: You can still find our pictures in the adult section of the paper.) We begin with Vu Nguyen, who thinks he's got the shit to replace columnist Gordon Dillow.

After three years of anxiety, the people of Westminster can finally breathe a sigh of relief. A federal jury on July 6 cleared their police department and nine of its officers of gross negligence in the 1998 custody death of Tuan Tang.

Geoffrey Lyon, the family's attorney, argued that the officers used excessive force on the 19-year-old. He said that police kept Tuan at the station too long, delivering him to the hospital only when he was already brain dead.

These allegations have angered many people. And many will find it easy to condemn any cops who were involved. But it's not so easy for me.

Because the hard truth is that I used to beat the crap out of the gooks. In fact, there was a time when I beat the snot out of them without so much as a second thought. I mean, sometimes, time permitting, I would crack open a whole 12-pack of whup-ass and get Cambodian on their asses. Sometimes, especially on moist mornings, my knuckles still ache with the memory.

Three decades ago, I was in the U.S. Army in Vietnam. I was 20 years old when I arrived in country, full of youthful idealism and supportive of the war. I believed I was there to help the South Vietnamese—that I would be respectful toward their culture, that I would never beat the crap out of them.

Those were nice intentions on my part. But within a month, I was beating the hell out of the gooks like everyone else.

There were exceptions. I never beat on Quoc, our platoon's doe-eyed scout with the soft, sweet, lavender skin and the lingering smell of fish sauce, a guy whose framed picture still sits in my home today.

But he was the exception. To me and most GIs, every other Vietnamese was just another gook. The Viet Cong? The North Vietnamese? The soldiers of the South Vietnamese army? The civilians? To us, they were simply punching bags with flip-flops and pointy hats.

The beatings occurred for a number of reasons. Frustration. Anger. Fear. The inevitable conflict between two very different cultures. The inability to distinguish between allies and enemies, friends and foes. Or it could have been just plain boredom. Goddamn if that jungle doesn't get dull and dreary. We kept ourselves busy by playing target practice with local villagers. Those gooks can be wily little suckers.

My Lai was a goddamn vacation-resort town compared to what we'd do to those animals. Do you know what it's like to be stuck in a POW camp, stuck in a six-foot-by-six-foot cage eating roaches and rats for protein? Huh?! Do you?! They had it coming to them. I hated those shady little yellow devils!

Oh! Westminster.

If those cops really beat that kid and left him in a restraint chair until he was virtually brain dead it was, at worst, a lapse of judgment. But it's important to remember that, at most, nine cops were involved. That's nine out of, what, 50 or so?

You know, we've got a saying in Texas: don't take a bath with a Gila monster in the middle of the day. And by that I mean it's also important to consider the context of the beating. Was it in the middle of a chaotic scene of scared people begging police to take their son to a hospital? Were the cops who left Tuan with bruises on his face, neck, hands and back frustrated, fearful and angry? Was Tuan acting up and giving the honorable officers some unjustifiable lip?

If so, we still can't condone it. But maybe we should try to understand it.

I know I can.


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