Hot Gas From Time Magazine

This week’s Time magazine alleges that the U.S. used the nerve gas sarin during a 1970 Special Forces raid deep inside Laos. Time reports that the commando sortie, known as Operation Tailwind, was designed to assassinate American defectors who were assisting the enemy. It further quotes eyewitness Robert Van Buskirk, a former platoon leader, as saying that the U.S. twice bombed a Laotian village with sarin during a raid that killed 100 locals and two men thought to be American defectors.

Why Van Buskirk chose to keep his sarin secret for 28 years before spilling his story to Time is one question. Another is why he didn’t bother to disclose the nerve-gas attack in his 1983 memoir, Tailwind, which describes Operation Tailwind in much more modest terms. He writes that the operation’s goal was to “distract the enemy” and “attempt to do serious damage to this main artery and cut off a major supply route.” There is no mention of sarin gas or American defectors in the book.

Tailwind does describe a raid on a Laotian village and a gas attack, but the gas used is “a nauseous kind.” He continues: “I soon found myself wandering among dozens of other vomiting soldiers.” He reports no casualties from the gas.

Tailwind–the book–is only tangentially about the Vietnam War. Van Buskirk devotes most of it to the time he spent in a military stockade and German prisons for accused crimes.

Cyrus Krohn