Dr. Phillip Jack London is the author of Character, the Ultimate Success Factor, a new self-help book that offers the guidance you need to become a better human being. In addition to pushing his fellow man to be a better person, Phillip is also the executive chairman of CACI International, a defense and surveillance-contracting firm that was implicated in the 2003 abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, the formerly US-run prison in Iraq.
Last week, the Center for Constitutional Rights filed six amicus briefings, including one from the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Méndez, asking the court to reinstate the case. Meanwhile, in September, 56 detainees brought another lawsuit against CACI to the Eastern District Federal Court accusing its employees, among other dastardly things, of forcing one detainee to watch while her mother was tortured and to observe the sexual assault of a male inmate. Another detainee said his tongue was cut with pliers and a string was knotted tightly around his genitals.
Earlier this month, I talked over the phone with the inspirational author about his chipper new book, which he feels will show the world, “how a good character, a good reputation can permit you to achieve your dreams.” Then I grilled him on his role in atrocious war crimes.
VICE: Tell us about your new book? Dr. Phillip Jack London: It’s a philosophical perspective on how to comport yourself, how to get on with life, and how to achieve your ambitions. It’s about how to create and live a life that you’ll be pleased with and at the end of the day you’ll be proud of what you’ve accomplished. One of the main takeaways of this book is that the individual owns his character and his lifestyle.
In addition to being a self-help author, you’re also the executive chairman of a little, nefarious thing called CACI International. How’d you land that gig? What was the trajectory? I have a military background. I was a graduate of the Naval Academy. My family has a long history of patriotic service to our country.
How did I come to the position of being the chief executive and the executive chairman and so on of CACI International? I built it. It wasn’t something that was hanging around and I came in and became the CEO. I joined the company 43 years ago. I was 35. The company had less than a million dollars in sales. There were only a handfull of people. Then I worked, and was very successful. I have devoted myself to this field, to this industry.
It’s amazing to me how many real-life Spinal Tap moments I’ve had. This always leads me to ask myself, “Did that really happen, or was I so fucked up that I just imagined it?” You know, tramping around a backstage construction area with INXS, searching for the stage door for an hour before giving up. Watching a groupie’s face melt after finding out the opening band she’d just gangbanged wasn’t Danzig, the headliner. And my favorite, watching the Ramones demand that me and the staff at Punk magazine cross out, by hand, all reference to them as a punk band in their cover story. They just didn’t think the term was “accurate.”
This month, Black Sabbath released their new record 13, and it shot to number one in the UK after its first week of sales. Now remember, that’s 43 years since “Paranoid” went number one in 1970.
I’m also reminded that some of the dumbest metal moments—some of those Spinal Tap flashes—have landed among the most profound experiences of my life. I had one of those bizarrely significant experiences with Ozzy Osbourne in Nuremberg, Germany, in the same stadium where Leni Riefenstahl made her epic Nazi propaganda film, Triumph of the Will.
I was traveling with Scorpions, a huge heavy metal phenomenon of the 1980s. They were so internationally famous that I had to wonder if the whole world had gone batshit crazy. Not that Scorpions sucked. Far from it—they were a decent band with some great songs, and they put on a fantastic show. It was the ratio of fame to talent that was a bit disproportionate, if not utterly ridiculous.
If you thought you knew all there was to know about the Vietnam war, you’re wrong. For example: Ever heard of the “mere gook rule,” a code of conduct the U.S. military came up with in order to make it easier for soldiers to murder Vietnamese civilians without feeling too bad about it? (“It’s only a mere gook you’re killing!”)
Well, few people knew about this bit of history either until author Nick Turse discovered it in secret U.S. military archives, which he used as the primary sources for his new(ish) book, Kill Everything that Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam. The book is based on Turse’s discovery of theretofore secret internal military investigations of U.S.-perpetrated atrocities alongside extensive reporting in Vietnam and amongst American veterans and it reminds us that the most significant fact about the Vietnam War is its most overlooked: massive and devastating Vietnamese civilian suffering.
The debate over the U.S. war in Vietnam continues to hang over this country’s most recent and techno-futuristic imperial adventures. Nick’s book makes for timely if extraordinarily painful reading, and I sat down with him recently to talk about the ongoing relevance of Vietnam, massacres, and secretly photocopying whole U.S. government archives.
VICE: Your book documents how the American war in Vietnam was a fight systemically waged against the civilian population. How does this account that you documented differ from the Vietnam war as it’s popularly remembered in the United States today?
Nick Turse: We have 30,000 books in print on the Vietnam War, and most of them deal with the American experience. They focus on American soldiers, on strategy, tactics, generals, or diplomacy out of Washington and the war managers there. But I didn’t see any that really attempted to tell the complete story of what I came to see as the signature aspect of the conflict, which was Vietnamese civilian suffering. Millions of Vietnamese were killed wounded, or made refugees by deliberate U.S. policies, like the almost unrestrained bombing and artillery shelling across wide swaths of the countryside. That is, deliberate policies dictated at the highest levels of the U.S. military. But any discussion of Vietnamese civilian suffering is condensed down to a couple pages or paragraphs on the massacre at My Lai.
This isn’t the book that you initially intended to write. Tell me about the War Crimes Working Group and the documents that you found.
I was working on a project on post-traumatic stress disorder among U.S. Vietnam veterans. I would go down to the National Archives and I was trying to find hard data, military documents, to match up to the self-reports that we had from veterans about their experiences during the war. And on one of these trips I hit dead ends at every turn. After two weeks I had nothing to show for my research. I went to an archivist I worked with. I told him I couldn’t go back to my boss empty handed. He thought about it for a second. He asked me, “do you think witnessing war crimes could cause post-traumatic stress?’ I told him, “excellent hypothesis” and asked what he had.
Within an hour I was going through this box, many boxes actually, these reports of massacres, murders, rape, torture, assault, mutilation. Records put together by this Vietnam War Crimes Working Group impaneled in the Army Chief of Staff’s office in the wake of the My Lai massacre, to track any war crimes cases or allegations that bubbled up from the field, to make sure that the Army wasn’t caught flat footed again. And whenever it could it tried to tamp down these allegations.
Today we are proud to present the first bits of The Syria Issue, an entire magazine dedicated to one of the oldest and most important cradles of civilization in the world. It is also a place that has been decimated by brutal internal strife for the past year and a half, following the widespread unrest of the Arab Spring. Just like in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Yemen, etc, the revolt in Syria was sparked by decades of authoritarian rule by a megalomaniac—namely President Bashar al-Assad.
Unlike other revolutions in the region, however, Syria has reached a boiling point that could result in the total collapse of the geopolitical stability of the region. The organized opposition known as the Free Syrian Army—an amalgam of defected Syrian Army soldiers, jihadists, and average citizens who are fed up with oppression—have clashed with Assad’s forces, resulting in an ongoing civil bloodbath inside the capital of Damascus, Aleppo, Homs, and other cities throughout the nation. Following a failed UN-organized peace effort that was deemed a complete failure and dissolved in late August, the situation has only gotten worse.
What’s happening in Syria right now is perhaps one of the most confusing and complex conflicts of our time. So we have created what amounts to a reference book on the subject that attempts to view the strife from a myriad perspectives, and we believe we have succeeded in this regard.
Check back throughout the month of November as we post stories from the new issue every day, and head to one of the locations listed here to obtain a hardcopy of what is undoubtedly one of the most important issues we have ever published. It will begin hitting the streets this week, so you may want to call ahead.
For now we encourage you to gain some historical and cultural perspective on the war and the country where it is taking place by reading our “Road to Ruin" historical timeline illustrated by Jim Krewson, our comprehensive "VICE Guide to Syria,” and a piece about graffiti writing in Syria, which has played an important role in fueling the opposition following the arrest and torture of a group of boys who spray painted anti-regime slogans in Daraa.
You should also watch our ongoing Ground Zero: Syria series shot by photographer and videographer Robert King (who contributed 22 pages to this issue). The first installment, which you can watch below, is very graphic and documents victims of war crimes (including many children) being treated by valiant doctors in a field hospital in al-Qusayr over the summer. Part 2 documents the destruction and burning of an ancient souk (marketplace) in the Old City of Aleppo.