As veterans who served in the war, and remained very conscious of its history, we have become concerned that the 1978 prediction of Guenter Lewy has proven to be all too accurate. He wrote “Mythology, half-truth and falsehood concerning events in Vietnam abound and, unless corrected, will enter the textbooks for the mis-education of our children.”
Much of the writing about the war was done in academia by professors who were part of the antiwar movement, and had a full set of deeply held biases about those events. As a result, far too much of the literature about the war has been filled with exaggerations, inaccuracies, opinions presented as facts, and sometimes simple falsehoods. In recent years other historians, many of them veterans of the war, have written more accurately about those events, often with information gathered from the records of the communist protagonists. These contributors have been termed “revisionists”, since when you unearth new data and conceive of new interpretations of the events, you are revising the previously accepted history.
However, there has been stiff resistance to the more recent works on the war from the older generation of writers on the war, who are referred to as the “orthodox” historians. Various exchanges and debates have taken place, so this is a lively area of discussion at this time.
The simplified positions of the revisionists can be condensed to just a few major points. These are, first, the involvement of the USA in Viet Nam was a logical extension of the Containment Doctrine, trying to prevent the freedom loving people of the South from being overrun by the forces of the communist North, just as we had previously helped save South Korea from being conquered by the communist North.
Secondly, it was certainly possible to prevent the takeover of the South by use of American forces for enough time for the South to stabilize, improve its own military, and be able to resist by their own power the aggression of the North. US forces fought from 1965 through 1971, but declining in number starting in 1969. Takeover by the South of their defense by their own military was completed before the 1972 very conventional invasion by the North; and that was repulsed with enormous losses of the Northern forces in several months of battles more intense than any that US forces had weathered in previous years.
Finally, with the South able to take care of themselves, and the cities and major highways of the South essentially secure, with the economy prospering, politics in the US Congress ended up cutting the critical military aid to the South to a fraction of what was needed. At the same time, the North, resupplied by enormous volumes of materiel, carefully built up huge bases on RVN’s borders, from which they erupted in 1975 in massive tank columns that swept through the outlying defenses of the South. The undersupplied ARVN forces fell back before these attacks, and some poor choices in how to resist the invasion led to a withdrawal that turned into a military disaster. The aid to the South from US forces that had been so valuable in 1972, as part of the promise that Mr. Nixon had made to always help resist invasions, was disallowed by the US Congress in ’75. The South finally fell to the invaders after some heroic last minute battles.
After the fall of Saigon, the long promised delivery of “peace and justice” to the South saw many thousands executed, over a million sent to “re-education camps”, and hundreds of thousands forced into the jungles in “New Economic Zones”. The economy fell into disaster, with tightly rationed food, marginal nutrition, and a high rate of infant deaths. Today Viet Nam is renowned for tremendous corruption, heavyhanded suppression of all dissent, and violation of human rights on a regular basis.
We know that the only way that the valid lessons of a war are learned is if we can study the accurate history of that war. Our nation has too long been denied access to the factual history of the war, and we are undertaking to defend and publicize that history. This is our duty to the nation, and to our comrades who fell in that war.