The files contain reports of more than 300 confirmed atrocities, and 500 other cases the Army either couldn't prove or didn't investigate. The archive has letters of complaint to generals and congressmen, as well as reports of Army interviews with hundreds of men who served. Far from being limited to a few bad actors or rogue units, atrocities occurred in every Army division that saw combat in Vietnam. Torture of detainees was routine; so was the random killing of farmers in fields and women and children in villages. Punishment for these acts was either nonexistent or absurdly light. In most cases, no one was prosecuted at all.
In The War Behind Me Deborah Nelson goes beyond the documents and talks with many of those who were involved, both accusers and accused, to uncover their stories and learn how they deal with one of the most awful secrets of the Vietnam War.
Examining this interchange between poetry and law at its most intense moments of reflection in the 1960s, '70s, and '80s, Deborah Nelson produces a rhetorical analysis of a privacy concept integral to postwar America's self-definition and to bedrock contradictions in Cold War ideology. Nelson argues that the desire to stabilize privacy in a constitutional right and the movement toward confession in postwar American poetry were not simply manifestations of the anxiety about privacy. Supreme Court justices and confessional poets such as Anne Sexton, Robert Lowell, W. D. Snodgrass, and Sylvia Plath were redefining the nature of privacy itself. Close reading of the poetry alongside the Supreme Court's shifting definitions of privacy in landmark decisions reveals a broader and deeper cultural metaphor at work.