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How to Lose A War: The Press and Viet Nam

By Robert Elegant

Reprinted from Encounter (London), vol. LVII, No. 2, August 1981, pp. 73-90

The author has given VVFH permission to reprint here.

IN THE EARLY 1960s, when the Viet Nam War became a big story, most foreign correspondents assigned to cover the story wrote primarily to win the approbation of the crowd, above all their own crowd. As a result, in my view, the self-proving system of reporting they created became ever further detached from political and military realities because it instinctively concentrated on its own self-justification. The American press, naturally dominant in an “American war,” somehow felt obliged to be less objective than partisan, to take sides, for it was inspired by the engagé “investigative” reporting that burgeoned in the United States in these impassioned years. The press was instinctively “agin the government”—and, at least reflexively, for Saigon’s enemies.

During the latter half of the fifteen-year American involvement in Viet Nam, the media became the primary battlefield. Illusory events reported by the press as well as real events within the press corps were more decisive than the clash of arms or the contention of ideologies. For the first time in modern history, the outcome of a war was determined not on the battlefield but on the printed page and, above all, on the television screen. Looking back coolly, I believe it can be said (surprising as it may still sound) that South Vietnamese and American forces actually won the limited military struggle. They virtually crushed the Viet Cong in the South, the “native” guerrillas who were directed, reinforced, and equipped from Hanoi; and thereafter they threw back the invasion by regular North Vietnamese divisions. Nonetheless, the war was finally lost to the invaders after the U.S. disengagement because the political pressures built up by the media had made it quite impossible for Washington to maintain even the minimal material and moral support that would have enabled the Saigon regime to continue effective resistance.

Since I am considering causes rather than effects, the demoralization of the West, particularly the United States, that preceded and followed the fall of South Viet Nam is beyond the scope of this article. It is, however, interesting to wonder whether Angola, Afghanistan, and Iran would have occurred if Saigon had not fallen amid nearly universal odium—that is to say, if the “Viet Nam Syndrome,” for which the press (in my view) was largely responsible, had not afflicted the Carter Administration and paralyzed American will. On the credit side, largely despite the press, the People’s Republic of China would almost certainly not have purged itself of the Maoist doctrine of “worldwide liberation through people’s war” and, later, would not have come to blows with Hanoi if the defense of South Viet Nam had not been maintained for so long.

The Brotherhood

“You could be hard about it and deny that there was a brotherhood working there, but what else could you call it?” This is a question that Michael Herr asked in his Dispatches,1 a personally honest but basically deceptive book.

But . . . all you ever talked about was the war, and they would come to seem like two different wars at the same time. Because who but another correspondent could talk the kind of mythical war you wanted to hear described?

I have added the italics, for in the words “mythical” and “wanted” the essential truth is laid bare. In my own personal experience most correspondents wanted to talk chiefly to other correspondents to confirm their own mythical vision of the war. Even newcomers were precommitted, as the American jargon has it, to the collective position most of their colleagues had already taken. What I can only call surrealistic reporting constantly fed on itself, and did not diminish thereby, but swelled into ever more grotesque shapes. I found the process equally reprehensible for being in no small part unwitting.

John le Carré (whose extravagant encomium adorns the cover of the Pan edition of Dispatches: “The best book I have ever read on men and war in our times”) is, I feel, too clever a writer to believe he painted an even proximately accurate picture of Southeast Asia in The Honourable Schoolboy (1972). But he brilliantly depicted the press corps and the correspondents’ Asia, an encapsulated, self-defining world whirling in its own eccentric orbit. Correspondents, briefly set down in the brutally alienating milieu called Viet Nam, turned to each other for professional sustenance and emotional comfort. After all, there was nowhere else to turn, certainly not to stark reality, which was both elusive and repellent.

Most correspondents were isolated from the Vietnamese by ignorance of their language and culture, as well as by a measure of race estrangement. Most were isolated from the quixotic American Army establishment, itself often as confused as they themselves were, by their moralistic attitudes and their political prejudices. It was inevitable, in the circumstances, that they came to write, in the first instance, for each other.

To be sure, the approbation of his own crowd gave a certain fullness to the correspondent’s life in exile that reached beyond the irksome routine of reporting and writing. The disapprobation of his peers could transform him into a bitterly defensive misanthrope (I think here of one industrious radio and newspaper stringer who was reputed to be the richest correspondent in Viet Nam, except, of course, for the television stars). Even the experienced correspondents, to whom Asia was “home” rather than a hostile temporary environment, formed their own little self-defensive world within the larger world of the newcomers.

It was no wonder that correspondents writing to win the approbation of other correspondents in that insidiously collegial atmosphere produced reporting that was remarkably homogeneous. After each other, correspondents wrote to win the approbation of their editors, who controlled their professional lives and who were closely linked with the intellectual community at home. The consensus of that third circle, the domestic intelligentsia, derived largely from correspondents’ reports and in turn served to determine the nature of those reports. If dispatches did not accord with that consensus, approbation was withheld. Only in the last instance did correspondents address themselves to the general public, the mass of lay readers and viewers.

[Illegible] conclusion, most correspondents were in one respect, very much the ambitious soldiers they derided. A tour in Viet Nam was almost essential to promotion for a U.S. Regular Army officer, and a combat command was the best road to rapid advancement. Covering the biggest continuing story in the world was not absolutely essential to a correspondent’s rise, but it was an invaluable cachet. Quick careers were made by spectacular reporting of the obvious fact that men, women, and children were being killed; fame or at least notoriety rewarded the correspondent who became part of the action—rather than a mere observer—by influencing events directly.

Journalists, particularly those serving in television, were therefore, like soldiers, “rotated” to Viet Nam. Few were given time to develop the knowledge, and indeed the intellectual instincts, necessary to report the war in the round. Only a few remained “in country” for years, though the experienced Far Eastern correspondents visited regularly from Hong Kong, Singapore, and Tokyo. Not surprisingly, one found that most reporting veered farther and farther from the fundamental political, economic, and military realities of the war, for these were usually not spectacular. Reporting Viet Nam became a closed, self-generating system sustained largely by the acclaim the participants lavished on each other in almost equal measure to the opprobrium they heaped on “the Establishment,” a fashionable and very vulnerable target.

The Cloud of Unknowing

For some journalists, perhaps most, a moment of truth through self-examination was never to come. The farther they were from the real conflict, the more smugly self-approving they now remain as commentators who led the public to expect a brave new world when the North Vietnamese finally “liberated” South Viet Nam. Even those correspondents who today gingerly confess to some errors or distortions usually insist that the true fault was not theirs at all, but Washington’s. The enormity of having helped in one way or another to bring tens of millions under grinding totalitarian rule—and having tilted the global balance of power—appears too great to acknowledge. It is easier to absolve one’s self by blaming exclusively Johnson, Nixon, and Kissinger.

I found few American correspondents to be as tough-minded as one Briton I knew who was very close to the action for many years in the employ of an American wire-news service. “I’m ashamed of most of what I wrote in Viet Nam,” he told me recently. “But I was a new boy, and I took my lead from the Americans, who were afire with the crusading spirit of ’60s journalism—the involvement, man, in the good fight. When I look at what’s happened now, I’m ashamed of my ignorance—and what I helped to do to the Vietnamese….”2

As one West German correspondent has confessed (Uwe Siemon-Netto in the International Herald Tribune, reprinted in Encounter, October 1979):

Having covered the Viet Nam war over a period of five years for West German publications, I am now haunted by the role we journalists have played over there.

Those of us who had wanted to find out knew of the evil nature of the Hanoi regime. We knew that, in 1956, close to 50,000 peasants were executed in North Viet Nam. We knew that after the division of the country nearly one million North Vietnamese had fled to the South. Many of us have seen the tortured and carved-up bodies of men, women, and children executed by the Viet Cong in the early phases of the war. And many of us saw, in 1968, the mass graves of Hue, saw the corpses of thousands of civilians still festively dressed for Tet, the Vietnamese New Year.

Why, for heaven’s sake, did we not report about these expressions of deliberate North Vietnamese strategy at least as extensively as of the My Lai massacre and other such isolated incidents that were definitely not part of the U.S. policy in Viet Nam?

What prompted us to make our readers believe that the Communists, once in power in all of Viet Nam, would behave benignly? What made us, first and foremost Anthony Lewis, belittle warnings by U.S. officials that a Communist victory would result in a massacre?

Why did we ignore the fact that the man responsible for the executions of 50,000 peasants, Truong Chinh, was—and still is—one of the most powerful figures in Hanoi. What made us think that he and his comrades would have mercy for the vanquished South Vietnamese? What compelled, for example, Anthony Lewis shortly after the fall of Saigon to pat himself on the shoulder and write, “so much for the talk of a massacre”?

True, no Cambodian-style massacre took place in Viet Nam. It’s just that Hanoi coolly drives its ethnic Chinese and opponents into the sea.

Are we journalists not in part responsible for the death of the tens of thousands who drowned? And are we not in part responsible for the hostile reception accorded to those who survive? Did we not turn public opinion against them, portraying them, as one singularly ignoble cartoon did in the United States, as a bunch of pimps, whores, war profiteers, corrupt generals, or, at best, outright reactionaries?

Considering that today’s Viet Nam tragedy may have a lot to do with the way we reported yesterday’s Viet Nam tragedy, considering that we journalists might have our fair share of guilt for the inhuman way the world treats those who are being expelled by an inhuman regime which some of us had pictured as heroic, I think at least a little humility would be in order for us old Viet Nam hands. . . .

Journalistic institutions are, of course, rarely afflicted by false modesty. They have not disclaimed credit for the outcome of the war, and their representatives have taken public bows for their successful intervention. The multitude of professional prizes bestowed upon the “big-story” coverage of Viet Nam certainly implied approval of the general effort.

However, the media have been rather coy; they have not declared that they played a key role in the conflict. They have not proudly trumpeted Hanoi’s repeated expressions of gratitude to the mass media of the non-Communist world, although Hanoi has indeed affirmed that it could not have won “without the Western press.” The Western press appears either unaware of the direct connection between cause (its reporting) and effect (the Western defeat in Viet Nam), or strangely reluctant to proclaim that the pen and the camera proved decisively mightier than the bayonet and ultra-modern weapons.

Nor have the media dwelt upon the glaring inconsistency between the expectation they raised of peaceful, prosperous development after Saigon’s collapse and the present post-war circumstances in Indochina. Unquestionably, a number of those approvingly characterized by the New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis as “critics of the American war” have protested against brutal repression in Cambodia. Some (including Lewis, and the French journalist Jean Lacouture3) even confessed that their expectations of the consequences of a Communist victory in Cambodia were mistaken. But none, to my knowledge, has suggested that he might have erred fundamentally in his vehement and total opposition to the U.S. role in Indochina. Instead, most partial confessions have concluded with renewed denunciations of American actions.

Jean Lacouture did offer a public mea culpa for having championed the Khmer Rouge. Reviewing a book on “Democratic Kampuchea,” he confessed:

Francois Ponchoud’s Cambodia, Year Zero can be read only with shame by those of us who supported the Khmer Rouge cause. . . . And it will cause distress to those of us journalists who, after the massacre of seventeen of our colleagues in April and May 1971, tried to explain these deaths as part of the hazards of covering a disorganized guerrilla war. In fact, our poor comrades were assassinated—some, we know, clubbed to death—by the valiant guerrillas of Khieu Samphan, the “socialist” Khmer who now bars foreign observers from Cambodian soil. His people remain in terror-stricken confinement, one of his regime’s more rational decisions: for how could it let the outside world see its burying of a civilization in prehistory, its massacres? . . .

An illuminating example is Anthony Lewis, whose horror over abuses of American power apparently led him to the conclusion that similar abuses by America’s opponents were not worth noting. Having earlier found almost as much to praise in Hanoi as to condemn in Saigon, Lewis was belatedly moved to outrage by Lacouture’s observations—Jean Lacouture’s chief qualification was apparently his having been so spectacularly wrong about the consequences of a Khmer Rouge victory.

. . . Those of us who had been critics of the war [Lewis wrote] may have felt skeptical about some of the Cambodian reports because they came from right-wing4 quarters that had been indifferent to the misery inflicted on Cambodia by American bombers. But these explanations wither in the presence of Jean Lacouture. He is a leading French expert on Indochina. And he was a profound critic of the American war.

The reporters—and even the contrite Jean Lacouture—have continued to disregard the testimony regarding earlier North Vietnamese coercion offered by Prince Norodom Sihanouk, Cambodia’s former chief-of-state. Sihanouk complained in 1973 that he had been forced to tolerate North Viet Nam using Cambodia as a supply route, training camp, and proving ground for its forces in South Viet Nam, although he knew the massive incursion was destroying his country. Preoccupied with their condemnation of U.S. intervention in Indochina, the “critics of the American war” have virtually ignored Sihanouk’s indictment of the North Vietnamese just as they have ignored the fact that Sihanouk had, albeit under duress, tolerated American bombing of North Vietnamese strongholds in Cambodia, the “unilateral action” for which those critics still pillory Henry Kissinger.5

The same critics were not outraged at the final conquest of South Viet Nam in 1975 by columns of Russian-built tanks supported by batteries of Russian-made artillery. (That was Hanoi’s second try; the first, in 1972, failed because the Saigon régime was still supported by U.S. air power and was still receiving adequate U.S. war matériel.) These righteous critics have taken little note of the detailed description of that final conquest published by North Viet Nam’s Senior General Van Tien Dung in the spring of 1976. General Dung’s account (128 single-spaced pages in English translation) proudly affirmed that the assault was ordered by the Political Bureau of the Labor (Communist) Party of North Viet Nam, planned by the Labor Party’s Central Military Affairs Committee, commanded by Northern generals, supplied from the North, and mounted by regular divisions of the People’s Army of the Democratic Republic of North Viet Nam.

Even before General Dung’s report, it should have been clear that the remnants of the Viet Cong—the southern “guerrilla force” made up primarily of Northerners—were inherently capable neither of maneuvering 700 tanks in conventional formations nor, for that matter, of building and operating the double pipeline that fueled those tanks with petroleum from the North. Just as they subsequently passed over General Dung’s explicit revelations, the “critics of the American war” ignored such empirical evidence that Saigon fell, not to an indigenous people in arms, but to an external invasion mounted by vanguard cadres who consider themselves ideologically superior to their Southern compatriots.

To take note of these obtrusive facts would have called into question the very nature of the war in Indochina—as it would to have taken note of them during the conflict. Any searching analysis of fundamental premises has remained as unthinkable to “the critics” as it was during the fighting. They have remained committed to the proposition that the American role in Indochina was totally reprehensible and inexcusable, while the North Vietnamese role—and, by extension, the roles of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and the Pathet Lao in Laos—was righteous, magnanimous, and just. Even the growing number who finally deplored the repressive consequences of the totalitarian victory could not bring themselves to re-examine the premises that led them to contribute so decisively to those victories. Thus William Shawcross, before his sententious book, Sideshow,6 wrote of the Communists’ reshaping of Cambodian society: “The process is atrociously brutal.” Although “the Khmer people are suffering horribly under their new rules,” this is how Shawcross unhesitatingly assigned the ultimate blame:

They have suffered every day of the last six years–ever since the beginning of one of the most destructive foreign policies the United States has ever pursued: the “Nixon-Kissinger doctrine” in its purest form. . .

The Eye of the Beholder

Most correspondents on the scene were not quite as vehement. But they were moved by the same conviction of American guilt, which was so fixed that it resisted all the evidence pointing to a much more complex reality. Employed in the service of that crusading fervor was, for the first time, the most emotionally moving medium of all.

Television, its thrusting and simplistic character shaping its message, was most shocking because it was most immediate. The Viet Nam War was a presence in homes throughout the world. Who could seriously doubt the veracity of so plausible and so moving a witness in one’s own living room?

At any given moment, a million images were available to the camera’s lens in Saigon alone—and hundreds of million throughout Indochina. But TV crews naturally preferred the most dramatic. That, after all, was their business—show business. It was not news to film farmers peacefully tilling their rice fields, though it might have been argued that nothing happening was news when the American public had been led to believe that almost every Vietnamese farmer was regularly threatened by the Viet Cong, constantly imperiled by battle, and rarely safe from indiscriminate U.S. bombing.

A few hard, documented instances. A burning village was news, even though it was a deserted village used in a Marine training exercise—even though the television correspondent had handed his Zippo lighter to a non-commissioned officer with the suggestion that he set fire to an abandoned house. American soldiers cutting ears off a Viet Cong corpse was news—even if the cameraman had offered the soldiers his knife and “dared” them to take those grisly souvenirs. (Since the antics of the media were definitely not news, the network refrained from apologizing for the contrived “event” when a special investigation called the facts to its attention.) Cargo-nets full of dead South Vietnamese soldiers being lowered by helicopters were news—even if that image implicitly contradicted the prevailing conviction that the South Vietnamese never fought but invariably threw away their weapons and ran.

The competition in beastliness among the networks was even more intense than the similar competition among the representatives of the print media. Only rarely did television depict peaceful fields in which water buffaloes pulled ploughs for diligent farmers—undisturbed by air-bursts, rockets, infantrymen, or guerrillas. One special report was, however, devoted largely to depicting bucolic scenes and untraveled roads when Prince Norodom Sihanouk invited a television correspondent to tour the border areas of Cambodia to prove that his country was not being used by the North Vietnamese as a base for operations against South Viet Nam. A few years later, Sihanouk of course acknowledged that the North Vietnamese had at the time been—and had remained—intensely active in precisely those areas. But television could “prove” either a negative or a positive proposition—depending on where the camera pointed and upon the correspondent’s inclination.7

In fairness, a number of newspaper correspondents also endorsed Sihanouk’s contention that there were no North Vietnamese soldiers in Cambodia. Since the correspondents had seen no invaders, there were, patently, no invaders to be seen. The assumption of omniscience that lay behind so much of the coverage of Indochina remains awe-inspiring.

One tale involving the aerial jeep of Viet Nam was so magnified that it lost any connection with actual events. That was the story of unwounded Vietnamese soldiers bandaging themselves in order to swarm on to helicopters for evacuation from their raid into Laos in 1971.

That raid on the North Vietnamese installations and supply routes that were called the “Ho Chi Minh Trails” was no great success. But, as I found after two weeks of my own intensive investigation, it was hardly the debacle described by most of the press. South Vietnamese planning for their command’s first major independent military operation was faulty; some units deported themselves badly; but others fought well. Nonetheless, descriptions of a “South Vietnamese rout” were made graphic by repeated reports of soldiers bandaging imaginary wounds.

On close questioning, one Western journalist (a wire-service man), who was shaking with indignation at South Vietnamese pusillanimity, admitted that: (1) he had seen no soldier bandaging unbroken skin; but (2) he had seen soldiers bandaging “mere scratches.” He finally conceded that: (1) he had seen no soldier bandage a scratch and then “swarm aboard a helicopter”; and (2) having never marched through a jungle, he did not know how rapidly untreated “scratches” could become severe infections in that malignant environment. However, his stories of South Vietnamese cowardice had already been widely published, and he, quite naturally, did not wish to provoke his home office by filing a correction. If he had, the correction might have been filed to the wire-service’s world-wide clients. If it had been “moved on the wire,” it might not have been printed widely or conspicuously. What had not happened was simply not news . . . even if it had already been reported as having happened.

Television reports had one distinct advantage. A picture of nothing was, obviously, more convincing than a printed report of nothing.

One of the most persistent “horror stories” was retailed by the Western newspapers and magazines because television could not, obviously, take pictures of torture. Did interrogators ever push an uncommunicative prisoner out of a helicopter to encourage his fellows to talk? No such atrocity has ever been confirmed, despite the swarms of investigative reporters and the many eager informants among officers and diplomats, whose indignation against stupid and inefficient policies was transmuted by the press into indignant protest against the war itself.

One such “incident,” staged with a corpse, was turned up by the meticulous research of Günter Lewy for his book America in Vietnam,8 which should be required reading for all war correspondents. A U.S. soldier acquired a photograph of that grisly incident, and went on to invent an account of how a prisoner was killed by being hurled from a helicopter. The imagined event was given wide coverage.9

Interrogation by macabre example did make a great story, though it probably never happened and, certainly, has never been proved.

The Imaginary General

Such skewed reporting occurred frequently; it was sometimes major and sometimes trivial. Since I am discussing motivations, not drawing up any kind of indictment, a catalogue of such incidents would be superfluous. But a few striking examples may help to make the general point. First, the case of the imaginary general told by a British colleague.

An American correspondent who was later to write a highly praised book on Viet Nam was chuckling over a telegram in the terrace cafe of the Hotel Continental, known to habitués as “the Continental Shelf.” His editors had asked him to confirm that it would be neither libelous nor vexatious to quote the U.S. general who had in the correspondent’s last dispatch been highly critical of the entire American effort—on the Continental Shelf (which generals, by the way, did not frequent).

“Of course,” he told his questioner, “1 cabled them to go ahead and not worry. Why should they? After all, I made that general up.” The imaginary general in the dispatch made a repeat performance in the correspondent’s book.

Sgt. John Ashe (brother of the world-famous tennis player) was a Marine assigned to public relations duties. He delivered a biting indictment of the young wire-service correspondents and the “war freaks” who frequented Da Nang (which was a remote outpost to the media, though not to the military). They would, he recalled, rarely go into the field and never spend the night when they did; would deport themselves as if they had never heard a shot fired with intent to kill before that moment—to their own and the Marines’ peril; and then file stories that “bore little or no relation” to what he—and they—had seen. They didn’t want to know, Ashe added, what was really happening in the First Corps Area, where the Marines had winkled out the Viet Cong by stationing squads in villages.

Instructive on a larger scale is the contrast between the coverage of the American massacre at My Lai and the Viet Cong massacre at Hue. At My Lai, a junior American officer allowed his men to kill dozens of presumably uninvolved farmers in full violation of standing orders. At Hue, the former imperial capital, the Viet Cong killed several thousand community leaders, including a number of Europeans, in accordance with standing orders to “destroy the bourgeoisie.” The U.S. military’s attempt to suppress reports of the My Lai massacre, of course, made it even worse when the story was finally released by the Dispatch News Agency, a curious organization that came into existence in Viet Nam with unknown financial backing and vanished once its purpose of opposing the war had brought Hanoi victory. But the Hue massacre was, somehow, uninteresting. Few correspondents reported that clear signal of the real policies the North Vietnamese would pursue once they had conquered the South.

By the same token, American restraint was not news, even to the experienced correspondents, because it was a “non-event.” Flying in a command helicopter of the Ninth Division over the Mekong Delta, another U.S. correspondent and I heard the brigade commander countermand his battalion commander’s order to the infantry and the helicopter gunships to attack some 100 enemy who were pouring out of a surrounded village, still firing.

“Do not, repeat do not, attack,” the colonel directed. “They’re using women and children as shields.”

Neither my colleague nor myself thought the incident worth reporting; that was a palpable error of judgment induced by the atmosphere in which we were working. If the Ninth Division had killed the civilians, we would have filed copiously.

Equally lamentable was the failure of the Western press to cover with any thoroughness the Army of the Republic of South Viet Nam, which over the long run was doing most of the fighting. Correspondents were reluctant to commit their safety to units whose resolution they distrusted—sometimes for good reason, more often because of a kind of racist contempt—in order to get stories that interested their editors so little. Coverage of Vietnamese politics, as well as social and economic developments, was sporadic—except for military coups and political crises, and those were often misreported.

Examples of misdirected or distorted reporting could be amassed almost indefinitely. The war, after all, lasted some twenty years. A former Washington Post and New York Times correspondent, Peter Braestrup, has published a two-volume study of the coverage of the Tet Offensive of 1968.10 Quite significantly, it attracted little interest compared to, say, William Shawcross’s Sideshow or Michael Herr’s Dispatches.

The Power of Self-Deception

Nowadays, Jean Lacouture, Anthony Lewis, and William Shawcross (among some other “Viet Nam veterans”) clearly feel deceived or even betrayed by the Communists of Indochina; yet surely, they voluntarily adopted the ideological bias that allowed Hanoi to deceive them. The Vietnamese Communists—unlike their Cambodian confreres—had, after all, openly declared their intention of imposing totalitarian rule upon the South. Why, then, were the “critics of the American war” so genuinely surprised by the consequences? More crucially, why did a virtual generation of Western journalists deceive itself so consistently as to the nature of the “liberation” in Indochina? Why did the correspondents want to believe in the good faith of the Communists? Why did they so want to disbelieve the avowed motives of the United States? Why did so much of their presumably factual reporting regularly reflect their ideological bias?

The obvious explanation is not as ingenuous as it may appear: the majority of Western correspondents and commentators adopted their idiosyncratic approach to the Indochina War precisely because other journalists had already adopted that approach. To put it more directly, it was fashionable (this was, after all, the age of Radical Chic) to be “a critic of the American war.”

Decisive in the case of the Americans, who set the tone, was the normally healthy adversary relationship between the U.S. press and the U.S. government. American newspapermen have often felt, with some justification, that if an administration affirmed a controversial fact, that fact—if not prima facie false—was at the least suspect. As the lies of successive administrations regarding Indochina escalated, that conviction became the credo of the press. The psychological process that began with the unfounded optimism of President John F. Kennedy’s ebullient “New Frontiersmen,” who were by and large believed, ended with the disastrous last stand of Richard Nixon’s dour palace guard, who were believed by no one.

The reaction against official mendacity was initially healthy but later became distorted, self-serving, and self-perpetuating. A faulty syllogism was unconsciously accepted: Washington was lying consistently; Hanoi contradicted Washington; therefore Hanoi was telling the truth.

The initial inclination to look upon Hanoi as a fount of pure truth was intelligently fostered by the Communists, who selectively rewarded “critics of the American war” with visas to North Viet Nam. A number of influential journalists and public figures (ranging from former cabinet officers to film actresses) were feted in North Viet Nam. They were flattered not only by the attention and the presumed inside information proffered by the North Vietnamese but by their access to a land closed to most Americans. The favored few—and the aspiring many—helped establish a climate in which it was not only fashionable but, somehow, an act of courage to follow the critical crowd in Saigon and Washington while praising Hanoi. The skeptical correspondent risked ostracism by his peers and conflicts with his editors if he did not run with “the herd of independent minds,” if he did not support the consensus.

The larger reason for the tenacity of the consensus went much deeper. It welled from a new view of this war, which was quite different from the press’s view of other wars—and from a new messianic approach to the role of the press in wartime. The alteration occurred in three stages, beginning with World War II, proceeding through the Korean War, and culminating in Viet Nam.

Three Wars

World War II was generally considered a crusade against evil. Allied and Soviet atrocities normally went unreported, since their publication to the world would have besmirched the anti-Nazi crusade. The bestial aims and deeds of the Nazis, reinforced by the bestial deeds of the Japanese, compelled correspondents and officials to agreement on the nature of the war and, therefore, to substantial agreement on the way it was fought. The press might criticize tactical errors; it might even cavil at certain strategic decisions. But it was bent neither upon revealing every possible error or mis-statement made by the authorities nor upon questioning their fundamental purposes.

The Korean War was not a universal crusade. A few correspondents questioned the wisdom of committing U.S. troops to the peninsula, while many questioned the strategic decisions of General Douglas MacArthur (particularly his dash to the Yalu, which directly challenged the Chinese, whose industrial plexus lay in Manchuria just across that river). The character and administration of President Syngman Rhee of the Republic of Korea were often criticized by those correspondents whose interest extended beyond military hostilities. Nonetheless, a limited consensus did exist. No one—except the Stalinists—doubted seriously that North Korea had attacked South Korea. Aside from those ideologues, no one contended that the Pyongyang régime was an exemplar of virtue simply because it opposed the Seoul régime, whose faults were manifest. Moved neither by basic antagonism towards official aims nor by unthinking commitment to those aims, a surprisingly youthful press corps offered surprisingly objective reports. Aside from a marked weakness in covering internal politics in both the South and the North—a weakness that presaged a disastrous disability in Indochina—Korea was, in my view, the best-covered American war of modern times. Besides, the conflict was, by and large, straightforward and simple to understand.

Indochina was never simple or straightforward but was arcane even before the commitment of U.S. ground forces. Afterwards, it became so complex that it was virtually impossible to understand it in all its ramifications; and, I must add, it was absolutely impossible to convey those ramifications to the public. Today I recall with chagrin my rather condescending amusement when a television producer argued in the mid-1960s: “We shouldn’t be in Indochina because the American people can’t understand the war—and the people won’t support a war they can’t understand.” He was, of course, right (even if the American press helped to prevent any proper understanding).

Though simplistic television coverage accelerated and intensified popular disillusionment, it was not the decisive factor in determining the collective opinion of the press. The television people went along with the fashion; they did not set the fashion or formulate its conventional wisdom. In any event, Viet Nam was covered by a press corps that was bitterly distrustful of Washington and harshly antagonistic towards Saigon. The press consistently magnified the allies’ deficiencies—and displayed almost saintly tolerance of those misdeeds of Hanoi it could neither disregard nor deny.

It is possible that the “Viet Nam Syndrome” will recur; it is not unlikely that Western foreign policy, with the United States as its faltering—or even resurgent—leader, will again be forced to operate in an environment dominated by a hostile press. The personal experience of one journalist is not normally pertinent to such a high political question. However, I was, as a correspondent and commentator, perforce a participant as well as an observer in the Viet Nam imbroglio from 1955 to 1975. When “the media became the war,” everyone associated with the media became part of the war, however reluctantly. An account of my experience, therefore, may illuminate this discussion and help the reader weigh my historical assessments.

From 1955 through 1965 I was opposed to U.S. military intervention despite my personal sympathy for the Indochinese peoples. Having in 1955 sailed from Haiphong in the North to Saigon with several thousand among almost a million refugees from the Democratic Republic, I was moved by their justified fears. Besides, I detested Hanoi’s Stalinist repression. Nevertheless, I felt that Indochina was a strategic backwater that should not be transformed into a vital interest by committing regular American troops to a disadvantageous Asian battlefield. Because of my concern with the effect of events in Indochina upon developments in China and elsewhere in Southeast Asia I did, however. feel that the West should not turn its back on Indochina, though it should avoid entrapment.

Such reservations made me popular neither with official Americans nor with those journalists who urged deeper involvement. Many correspondents and commentators were enthusiastic about the creeping U.S. commitment, while the administration of President Kennedy reacted strongly to my judgment (in Newsweek in late 1961) that President Ngo Dinh Diem could not preserve South Viet Nam. In December 1962, when I was stationed in Europe, a Newsweek cover story concluded that Diem was doing well and that the Kennedy commitment to Indochina was fundamentally sound. That replay of the optimistic Washington view was published over my editorial opposition. (I was, incidentally, not in Indochina during the battles between Diem and the dissident Buddhists, or during the succession of short-lived regimes that followed Diem’s murder.)

When I returned early in 1966, matters were radically altered. The United States had in 1965 brought in major armed units to prevent the South’s collapse under the North’s intensified subversion. Despite the U.S. intervention, that collapse had clearly only been forestalled, not averted. Direct involvement had, moreover, made Indochina an area of primary strategic interest to the United States in the eyes not only of apprehensive allies but of potential enemies as well. The United States was committed to the enterprise that had earlier broken the French will, that is, preventing Communist conquest of Indochina.

China was already launched upon the cataclysmic “Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution,” a virtual civil war fought to determine whether Maoists or moderates would rule the world’s most populous country. Foreign policy was already a major Chinese issue, and the collapse of South Viet Nam would have strengthened the extremists, who advocated internal suppression and China’s diplomatic isolation. While continuing to urge U.S. recognition of the People’s Republic, I felt that American firmness in Indochina had to demonstrate to the Maoists that guerrilla warfare could not prevail. Otherwise, the People’s Republic might espouse a wholly Maoist foreign policy, that is, dedicate herself to “world-wide liberation through people’s [guerrilla] wars.”

Moreover, Peking had just exploded its first “atomic device.” The prospect of a messianically Maoist China brandishing an increasing nuclear arsenal appeared a threat to the survival of civilization.

If Hanoi were blocked in South Viet Nam, I contended, the more cautious moderates would in the long term triumph in Peking, and the threat of a holocaust would recede. After all, Mao believed (as he told Edgar Snow) that a nuclear war would “destroy the world . . . but not us.”

China, of course, worked out well. The danger of nuclear war has receded. Today Peking stands against Soviet expansionism—in good part because what happened in Indochina before 1975 intensified the Sino-Soviet conflict and contributed to the destruction of Mao’s strategic doctrine of “the inevitable victory of people’s war.”

But there was, in 1966, no justification for even guarded optimism regarding South Viet Nam’s prospects, and there was to be no such basis until mid-1968. My first report from Saigon after four years of absence described the shocking confusion—in both purpose and execution—of the already bloated American establishment, as well as its isolation from the realities of both the villages and the ministries of Viet Nam. But Washington had forced its own hand; South Viet Nam, defended by the Americans, had become a major piece on the international chessboard. The United States had, I felt, no choice but to remain until the South Vietnamese could effectively defend themselves—or the global balance of power altered radically.

That attitude was not shared by a new corps of foreign correspondents who were newcomers to Asia, though most experienced correspondents agreed. (It did improve my relations with American officialdom, a boon that made me somewhat uneasy.) Having been called a “Communist sympathizer” for advocating recognition of “Red China” in the early 1950s, I was attacked as a “journalistic storm-trooper” for arguing that we could not simply disengage from Indochina in the late 1960s. (Reverse McCarthyism? Perhaps.)11

The Reasons Why

The main question persists. Why was the press—whether in favor of official policy at the beginning or vehemently against the war at the end—so superficial and so biased?

Chief among many reasons was, I believe, the politicization of correspondents by the constantly intensifying clamor over Viet Nam in Europe and America. Amateur (and professional) propagandists served both sides of the question, but the champions of Hanoi were spectacularly more effective. They created an atmosphere of high pressure that made it exceedingly difficult to be objective.

In Korea, senior officers who were incensed by unfavorable reports would sometimes demand: “Who are you for—the Communists or us?” Most correspondents were detached and could answer honestly: “Personally for the U.N. and the United States, but professionally for neither side. Just trying to tell the true story….” In Viet Nam that response was virtually impossible amid growing Western horror at the “dirty, immoral war.” Correspondents were almost compelled to become partisans, and most became partisans for Hanoi, or, at least, against Saigon and Washington.

Revulsion in Europe and America sprang as much from the nature of the correspondents’ reporting as it did from the belligerents’ direct manipulation of public opinion. Some of my senior colleagues had learned wisdom on a hundred battlefields, having covered World War II, the Chinese Civil War, the Viet Minh campaign against the French, and the Indonesian revolt against the Dutch. I had at least been through Korea, the Malayan “Emergency,” and the fighting between Chinese Nationalists and Chinese Communists for Quemoy. But most correspondents had never seen war before their arrival in Indochina. Many confused the beastliness of all war with the particular war in Indochina, which they unthinkably concluded was unique in human history because it was new to them.

This much must be said: the best of their reporting accurately conveyed the horror of war—all war. Yet it presented the suffering, barbarism, and devastation as somehow peculiar to Indochina. It almost made it appear that other wars had been fought by mailed champions on fields remote from human habitation while in Indochina, for the first time, carnage brutally involved both massed military formations and the civilian populace. Since a guerrilla war is inherently not as destructive as a conventional war, human suffering and material devastation had, in reality, been markedly greater in Korea than in Viet Nam—and much, much greater on both Asian and European fronts in World War II.

Because Viet Nam did not attract many senior correspondents for extended tours, at any given time a majority of the correspondents were new to the complexities of Indochina. Some could not even look after themselves in combat, the sine qua non of a successful—and surviving—war correspondent.

One afternoon in May 1968, when the Viet Cong were attacking the outskirts of Saigon, six young correspondents piled into a single mini-taxi to drive to the shifting “front.” They were startled when advised to take two or three taxis so that they could get out faster if they came under fire. A tall, rotund neophyte wearing a scarlet shirt paraded up and down the road the Viet Cong were attacking. He was dismayed by the pained abhorrence with which South Vietnamese paratroops regarded him, until it was explained that he was drawing rocket fire. The six clustered around a twenty-four-year-old U.S. first lieutenant, just out of the Military Academy at West Point, who was struggling to communicate with the Vietnamese major commanding and, simultaneously, to direct the gunships that swooped low, firing their machine-guns. While shells burst around them, the correspondents tried to interrogate the lieutenant on the morality of the U.S. presence in Indochina.

A Naive Expectation

Many newcomers were shocked to find that American and Vietnamese briefing officers did not always tell them the truth even about a minor tactical situation. Despite their pose of professional skepticism, in their naiveté they expected those officers to tell not merely the truth but the whole truth. Far from feeling the deep mistrust of officialdom they affected, the newcomers were dismayed by the briefing officers’ inability (or unwillingness) to confide in them unreservedly. Older correspondents did not expect candor from briefing officers. They had learned several wars earlier that the interests of the press and the interests of the military did not normally coincide. They also knew that the briefing officers were themselves often uninformed—concerned, perhaps sometimes excessively, for military secrecy—and resentful of correspondents’ badgering.

Nevertheless, the candor of U.S. officers astonished experienced correspondents from other nations. Shortly before he was killed in another war, Nicholas Tomalin of The Sunday Times reported with amazement the reception given several British correspondents who arrived unannounced at an American airfield. Though he obviously wished them a thousand miles away, the U.S. colonel in command not only made them welcome but answered all their questions. If it had been a British airfield, Tomalin observed, the group would not have been allowed to land—and if it had landed would have been bustled off within minutes. No supporter of the U.S. endeavor in Indochina, Tomalin marveled at the openness with which the foolish Americans conducted their wars.

Senior U.S. officers did, of course, lie to make a case or extemporized when they did not know the answers. From those practices sprang the bitterness that corroded relations between the press and officialdom. No one likes to be treated as a fool even in the best of causes (and no one thought Indochina was the best of causes). The military were in turn bitter at the unfairness they attributed to correspondents.

Beyond the unremitting drumfire of mutual criticism, two matters rankled particularly: the “Body Count,” which for the press notoriously symbolized the military’s callousness; and the unavoidably misleading maps delineating the areas under the control of Saigon or the Viet Cong. The military said they released estimates of enemy casualties after each action primarily because correspondents demanded concrete evidence of the progress of a war that was not fought along clearly demarcated battlelines. The officers contended that the maps, which could in no wise accurately depict a hazy, fluid situation, were prepared at the correspondents’ request. Officialdom felt there was too much, rather than too little, openness in Viet Nam.

Oscillating between excessive candor and bald falsification, U.S. public-relations policies made the press and the authorities not merely adversaries but enemies. However paradoxically, some of the most popular officials were the most mendacious. A senior public-affairs officer who always had an answer for the press once offered an eloquent analysis of Hanoi’s weakness based on a captured Viet Cong order. Since his projection of a general Viet Cong retreat seemed askew, even on the basis of that document, I checked with .a number of specialists on North Viet Nam available in Saigon. The official, I found, had consulted no specialist but had offered his own off-hand analysis—presumably to hold his credulous audience. Gratuitous contributions to confusion in Viet Nam itself were much surpassed by the egregiously misleading opinions offered in Washington.

Esoterica like “enemy intentions,” however, did not interest one group of correspondents. They were moved primarily by neither the horror nor the portentousness but by the thrills of Indochina. They were nicknamed “the war freaks,” since they were fascinated by the atmosphere rather than the substance of the war. Cambodia was a favorite resort of theirs. It offered a dangerous little war, abundant opium, marijuana, and heroin, as well as the gracious Royale Hotel, its French cuisine unspoiled by the American incursions that had ruined Saigon’s restaurants. Reflecting the delight of the war freaks, Michael Herr wrote in Dispatches that he never went to bed once in Saigon not “stoned,” and added: “Viet Nam was our substitute for a happy childhood.” One’s first war, the veterans could have told him, is usually an extension of—if not necessarily a substitute for—a happy childhood.

Official deceit was thus exacerbated by incompetent journalism.12 While complaining about the press, many U.S. officials, who knew they were fighting “a media war,” sought to manipulate—rather than inform—correspondents. But they were not skilled at manipulation. While complaining about the government’s duplicity, many editors assigned correspondents who were not qualified to fill a normal foreign post, much less to thread the labyrinthine complexities of the Indochina War. Some editors told their correspondents what they wanted, while many correspondents had made up their own minds before they arrived “in country.” Only a few, I trust, were in the unhappy position of the correspondent of an aggressively liberal U.S. FM-radio station who, as he confided to me, was told: “Not every story has to be anti-war.”

A Crippling Ignorance

Beyond the pressures exerted upon them, most correspondents—serving six-month to two-year tours—were woefully ignorant of the setting of the conflict. Some strove diligently to remedy that crippling deficiency by reading widely and interviewing avidly. Many lacked the time or the inclination to do so—or any real awareness of how crippling their ignorance was to them professionally. Most, as I have noted, knew little about war in general from either experience or study—and less about the theory or practice of guerrilla war. They were untutored not only in the languages but also in the history, culture, ethnography, and economics of Indochina, let alone of China and Asia. Since so many were also untroubled by acquaintance with Marxist theory or practice and were hazy about the international balance of power, they were incapable of covering effectively a conflict involving all those elements.

Not even the “old hands” were necessarily well qualified to cover the conflict—who could have been? Arthur Waley?—but, considering our divergent backgrounds and political convictions, the old hands’ general agreement about the nature of the war was remarkable. Most deplored the ineffectiveness and the corruption of successive South Vietnamese governments, but judged native (i.e., Southern) disaffection incapable of mounting an armed rebellion without direction, reinforcement, and weapons from the North. Most concurred with the thesis Robert Shaplen advanced in The Lost Revolution (1966), agreeing that ineffectual leadership had failed to foster latent nationalistic and reformist enthusiasm in the South, by default ceding those dynamic forces to the North. We did not deceive ourselves that the South enjoyed even marginally good government; but we believed that Northern rule would be much worse for the mass of the people.13 We knew that the North and the South, though not necessarily two separate countries, were distinct entities because of the strong regional feelings of the Vietnamese. Although most of us had opposed major U.S. involvement, we saw no way the United States could withdraw unilaterally.

Needless to say, even we old hands were not always accurate in our reporting or correct in our judgments. Reacting against the spate of negative reports, I myself tended to emphasize the positive aspects, sometimes excessively. No more than the newcomers were the old hands immune to irritation at the duplicity of the American establishment, though we were not as dependent upon press officers. That irritation undoubtedly affected our reporting; so did smoldering anger (which sometimes flared into fury) at the Vietnamese, who were always difficult, often unavailable, regularly evasive, and routinely deceitful. But the old hands knew they had to live and work with the Vietnamese, and they understood the insecurity that haunted Saigon officials. After generations of colonial rule and internal conflict, no Vietnamese really trusted any other Vietnamese except those within his immediate family (and them neither invariably nor wholly). The newcomers either could not or would not understand what moved the Vietnamese or why they so often seemed to be behaving so badly.

The atmosphere “in country” was heavily oppressive, as was our awareness that we were writing for a public that had virtually prejudged the war. My Lai was not reported at the time because the military effectively camouflaged that atrocity. Other allied excesses were reported, while many reverse My Lais were not reported; and Viet Cong atrocities were often discounted. Myths flourished because of the journalists’ bias and the contempt they felt for the Vietnamese.

By innuendo and mis-statement the Army of the Republic of Viet Nam was reduced in the public eye to a corrupt rabble, far, far less effective than the Republic of Korea Army during the earlier war. In reality, the ARVN was strikingly more effective than the ROKA had been; but correspondents were friendly to the ROKA and antagonistic to the ARVN.

That tale of hundreds of Vietnamese soldiers bandaging non-existent wounds in order to be evacuated as casualties was just one example. That graphic and erroneous story reinforced the general impression that the cowardly South Vietnamese were unwilling to fight in defense of their own cause. That misleading conclusion undoubtedly encouraged U.S. reluctance to supply Saigon’s forces adequately after the American withdrawal. That reluctance, which contributed decisively to the final collapse, was then “proved” correct.

Despite their own numerous and grave faults, the South Vietnamese were, first and last, decisively defeated in Washington, New York, London, and Paris. Those media defeats made inevitable their subsequent defeat on the battlefield. Indochina was not perhaps the first major conflict to be won by psychological warfare. But it was probably the first to be lost by psychological warfare conducted at such great physical distance from the actual fields of battle—and so far from the peoples whose fate was determined by the outcome of the conflict.

The “Viet Nam Syndrome”

When I drafted this article, I had not intended to dilate upon the possible consequences in the future of the new role of the press in war. Those consequences seemed too obvious. Besides, I did not wish to arouse contention but to evoke dispassionate consideration. After all, the passage of time should by this time have appreciably cooled the intense emotion that moved both the reluctant supporters and the vehement critics of the “American war.”

I felt, moreover, that I had adequately demonstrated that the press acted—and could well again act—as a multiplier of the prejudices of the Western intelligentsia, whose tender conscience moves it to condemn the actions of its own side while condoning related deeds of enemies who are either “immature” or “feel themselves threatened.” It did not, for example, seem necessary to demonstrate at length that World War II could well have been lost by the Allied powers if the press had wished—and been allowed—to denounce almost all the purposes and virtually the entire conduct of that conflict. (Surely, for example; Churchill would have been prevented from helping Greece—because of Metaxas.) It did not seem necessary to labor the obvious point that no Western power can conduct a foreign policy that, of necessity, relies in part on the threat of military power and, upon occasion, on the exercise of military power if the media reflexively denounce almost any use of armed force. I believed it would suffice to offer the brief warning already stated above: Western foreign policy could again be forced to operate most precariously in an environment dominated by a hostile press. It did not, finally, seem necessary to point out that the effective prohibition of limited, conventional war by an inflamed public opinion could lead to either political surrender or nuclear holocaust.

Since the article was written, events have denied me the luxury of refraining from underlining the obvious. The predicament I suggested was likely has already become a reality. It is exemplified in El Salvador, about which, I must acknowledge, I know nothing directly, and indirectly no more than any other reasonably diligent reader of the press. Nonetheless, the recrudescence of the “Viet Nam Syndrome” in the media is not merely unmistakable, but distressingly blatant.14

“Viet Nam” has become not merely an invidious comparison but a magical incantation. The woolly-minded need only declare vehemently that El Salvador is already—or could become—”another Viet Nam” for the enterprise to be condemned and, probably, blighted. Throughout the Western world, commentators and reporters have invoked the specter of Viet Nam to arouse detestation of a Washington initiative. That rush of the journalistic lemmings includes not only the heavyweights of the media but many cartoonists and, as well, humorists like Art Buchwald and Russell Baker, whose satire is often striking and effective. Prominent among the lemmings are television personalities like Jon Snow of Britain’s ITV, who recently presented one film “report” that continually cut from vaguely delineated political and military developments to heart-rending scenes in a refugee camp. In that and a drum beat of subsequent “reports” the conclusion was not implied but hammered home time and again: U.S. policy was, presumably by direct intention, rendering tens of thousands homeless and killing hundreds of women and children. El Salvador, the viewer could not but conclude, was a deliberate replication of Viet Nam. And “Viet Nam” had become synonymous with absolute evil—practiced, of course, by the United States.

The “Viet Nam Syndrome” is compounded of a variety of symptoms, none unique in itself, but unprecedented in combination and devastating in their totality. Wars have been badly reported in the past. Facts have been mis-stated, and their interpretation has been biased. Emotions have been deliberately inflamed, and reporters have ridden to fame on waves of misrepresentation. But never before Viet Nam had the collective policy of the media—no less stringent term will serve—sought by graphic and unremitting distortion the victory of the enemies of the correspondents’ own side. Television coverage was, of course, new in its intensity and repetitiveness; it was crucial in shifting the emphasis from fact to emotion. And television will play the same role in future conflicts—on the Western side, of course. It will not and cannot expose the crimes of an enemy who is too shrewd to allow the cameras free play.

As long as the “Viet Nam Syndrome” afflicts the media, it seems to me that it will be virtually impossible for the West to conduct an effective foreign policy. It is apparently irrelevant that the expectations of paradise after Hanoi’s victory evoked by “the critics of the American war” became the purgatory the Indochinese people have suffered. Just as many denizens of the antebellum American South did not know that “Damyankee” was really two words, an entire generation in Europe and the United States behaves as if “the dirty, immoral war in Viet Nam” were an irrefutable and inseparable dogma. Merely equate El Salvador (or any other American intervention) to Viet Nam—and not only the American public but all “liberal” Europeans will condemn it without reservation. That is all they need to know. In its final effect—what has over the last decade been called “the paralysis of political will”—it will make it especially difficult for the United States to honor any political commitment anywhere in the world where small and threatened nations may expect American support for their independent existence. Before they fall to an aggressor, they will have been victimized by “the Viet Nam Syndrome.”

It has long appeared to me that the medical and legal professions enjoy one enormous advantage. If they err, doctors and lawyers may be blamed. Yet, except in the most flagrant cases, the client or the patient pays them again for correcting their mistakes—if they can, and if he can. But the media on Viet Nam, it has become blatantly obvious, have enjoyed even greater advantages. Even in the most flagrant cases, they have not been blamed. They have, rather, been acclaimed for their errors. Who can, ultimately, prove it otherwise? The peoples of the non-Communist world have paid dearly for these errors—and may well continue to pay.

Notes

1.          Michael Herr, Dispatches (Pan, 1978).

2           I note in the British press a controversial reconsideration of what the war did to the Americans, especially the GI veterans of the Viet Nam battlefront. In an Associated Television documentary, John Pilger made a damning indictment of the treatment of its returning soldiers by the United States, left to their alcoholism and drug addiction, without pension, perks, and the honors of war memorials, etc. One critic (Philip Purser, Sunday Telegraph, 17 May 1981) called attention to the “whopping irony of Pilger’s whole thesis,” for “no commentator had worked more untiringly to promote that verdict [disgrace and ignominy] than Pilger himself….” John Pilger objected on behalf of “those suffering and betrayed young American patriots.” To which Purser replied:

So they are “American patriots” now. I don’t remember Mr. Pilger regarding them in that light in his despatches and documentaries during the Viet Nam War, or its immediate aftermath. As I said, no commentator worked harder to discredit American involvement in Viet Nam, and foster the attitudes to which the ex-servicemen have fallen victim. My rage was directed solely at this hypocrisy [Sunday Telegraph, 31 May].   The bitter conclusion of one foreign correspondent, the late, Marguerite Higgins, writing from Viet Nam, was: “Reporters here would like to see us lose the war to prove they are right …” (quoted in Philip Knightley’s history of “the War Correspondent as Hero. Propagandist, and Myth Maker” entitled The First Casualty [1975]. p. 380).

3.          See, in Encounter, Jean Lacouture’s “The Revolution that Destroyed Itself” (May 1979).

4.          Note the self defining definition. Those who saw the realities, predicted them and reported them, became a priori “right-wing” because they had been “insufficiently critical” of the American role in Indochina.

5.          Cf. Peter W. Rodman’s “Sideswipe: Kissinger, Shawcross and the Responsibility for Cambodia,” in The American Spectator (March 1981).

6.          William Shawcross, Sideshow (Andre Deutsch, 1979).

7.           Newspaper and wire-service correspondents were the de facto public relations officers of the Buddhist monks who immolated themselves in protest against the Saigon regime in the early 1960s, and television pictures deeply moved decent men and women. Television could, upon occasion, also be a factor on the battlefield itself because of the correspondents’ heady conviction of omnipotence. A minor (but characteristic) incident occurred when a TV correspondent set up his camera on a road beside which a South Vietnamese battalion was dug in against the Viet Cong. The camera’s lens pointed out the battalion’s positions for the enemy’s snipers. The correspondent’s courage there was beyond dispute, but his good sense was open to question.

8.            Gunter Lewy. America in Viet Nam (Oxford University Press, 1979).

9.            “I don’t believe the military could ever have resorted to that practice.” an experienced correspondent pointed out to me. “The helicopter units were always separate, always under their own command, not the ground commander’s. The chopper crews were proud of their record and would never have permitted intelligence officers to indulge in such a brutal interrogation. Besides, it would have been too dangerous. A chopper is a delicate, unstable craft, and the attendant turmoil could have forced a crash. Could it have happened with the CIA, who controlled their own choppers with civilian pilots? But l never had an inkling of such an incident. And, believe me, I was looking hard for a long time. It would have made a great story!”

10.           Peter Braestrup, Big Story (Westview Press, in cooperation with Freedom House, 1977).

11.        Certainly the “liberal” press was no longer interested in my views. When I suggested to an editor of The New Republic that I write on Viet Nam , he replied, “Sorry, but I could never get your position into the magazine.” The Nation had asked me for an article on China, which it duly published. When I suggested a divergent view of Indochina, the editors regretted that they had just run a special issue on Viet Nam. I would hear from them, they wrote, when the opportunity presented itself. I am still waiting.   My new employers, the Los Angeles Times, were tolerant, though one prominent California citizen regularly called upon the publisher to demand that I be fired. In 1970, the Times assigned me to write a thrice-weekly column on world affairs. Shortly thereafter, difficulties arose, mostly centered on Indochina. I won my third Overseas Press Club Award for Best interpretation of Foreign News in early 1972, a distinction then shared only with Walter Lippmann, and I was told by the manager of the Los Angeles Times/Washington Post News Service that my column was “a major selling point.” In June 1972, however, I was reassigned to Hong Kong as a correspondent for an indefinite term. The new editor said I had not shone as a columnist.   The attrition finally forced my disengagement from the Los Angeles Times and, indeed, from regular employment in the newspaper business. Other possible employers expressed polite approbation of my professional ability but doubted that I would “fit into” their organizations. Since several had sought my services a few years earlier, I could not help feeling that my position on Viet Nam had something to do with their decisions.

12.        The insouciance of some correspondents was summed up in a review of my novel Dynasty, which, perhaps characteristically, added almost a decade to my age and, simultaneously, assigned me to a non-existent flat in Saigon while moving my family from New Delhi to Hong Kong:

I first met Bob Elegant more than 21 years ago in Saigon. He was fast becoming an old Asia hand at 35 … working for Newsweek while commuting between an Elegant apartment in Hong Kong and digs off Rue Catinat. He had mastered Cantonese and Mandarin and was fluent in Japanese and Newsweekese. A dedicated scholar-observer, Elegant knew more about the Orient than seemed necessary [Tom Stryce, “Book Score,” The Torrance (California) Breeze, 16 September 1977 (my italics)].

13.             Worse in every way, economically as well as politically, although there were those—from Messrs. Tom Wicker and Seymour Hersh to Mmes. Frances Fitzgerald and Mary McCarthy for the New York Review of Books—whose steadfast ideology led them to believe that Revolutionary Liberation would mean Social Progress. They had a vision of the Viet Cong future, and it would work.
Well, the future is working even worse than the past. According to a report in The Observer (London, 14 June 1981), starvation is now rampant, and the Minister of Health in Saigon said that “a whole generation of Vietnamese is at stake….” The reporter was William Shawcross (and one notes that, for a change, the name of Dr. Henry Kissinger is conspicuous by its absence among the causes of the tragedy):

Food production and distribution has been one of the Government’s greatest failures since 1975 … Floods, typhoons, and droughts have caused serious losses. So has ineffective socialist [sic] management. Recently the Government in Hanoi has admitted planning effort and introduced incentives for private enterprise in both industry and agriculture The collectivization of agriculture in the south has also been stopped. There it a rice surplus in the south but the Government appears unable to transport it to the north and those who need it in the south cannot afford to buy it….

During the Viet Nam decade a whole American generation of journalists and intellectuals unlearned the experience of Stalinist society—its incomparable inefficiency; its thick-headed, dogmatic compounding of error and miscalculation; and, not least (so obvious in Eastern Europe and the U.S.S.R.), its intolerable burden of a costly military machine superimposed on an old-fashioned, hard-pressed, “underdeveloped” economy. As Shawcross notes, with a vague touch of bitterness:

The other principal cause of Viet Nam’s food shortage—and that which most angers potential Western donors—is its diversion of resources to the military. About 47% of the national budget is now said to be spent on defense.

14.         As Richard West has recently written (Spectator, 11 May 1981, p. 11): To those who describe El Salvador as “America’s new Vietnam,” I recommend visiting Viet Nam as I did last year. The war goes on as hard as ever—this time against the neighboring Communist Chinese and Cambodians. The Americans have gone, only to be replaced by hundreds of Russian advisors. The streets of Saigon are loud with old American rock music. The Yankees are loved and missed.

RESPONSE TO L.A. TIMES ATROCITIES SERIES

Readers note: The following was written in 2007 in response to a series of articles in the Los Angeles Times discussing American atrocities in Vietnam.  The author is a founding member of VVFH and a Vietnam Veteran and has given his permission to reproduce the article here.

The article was originally published here and included graphic photos of Viet Cong violence.

By Bill Laurie

           The recent Los Angeles Times article on U.S. Military atrocities in Viet Nam should only be the beginning of a comprehensive investigation of war crimes and unwarranted brutality in Viet Nam, Laos, and Cambodia. This has never been done and is long over due.  Culmination of such a study would produce results not expected by the American public, misinformed as they have been about Viet Nam.

It should be noted as a preface that this Viet Nam veteran neither excuses nor justifies actual war crimes committed by American forces. I would not stand in a long line to argue any American serviceman guilty of murder should not be spending the rest of his life in Leavenworth, breaking rocks. These vile events did happen, and are inexcusable and seen as such by Viet Nam veterans themselves. I have personally heard any number of Viet Nam veterans state forthrightly that they never did or saw anything like My Lai, and that Lt. Calley should be executed as a war criminal.

That said, let’s consider the report the L.A. Times examined. It reports 7 massacres resulting in 137 civilians killed, along with 78 other attacks killing 57 civilians, and 141 instances of torture. A total of 320 incidents are in the Army report, and another 500 alleged atrocities that were either unproven or were otherwise discounted. Altogether, there are 820 cited instances, and at least 194 civilians killed. These exclude My Lai so the total civilian atrocity death toll is presumably about 694. This is far less than the 36,000 Viet Namese assassinated by the communists, and that is an absolute minimum, exclusive of combat fatalities.

During the American involvement there were approximately 900 infantry platoons in Viet Nam at the high point, excluding Naval riverine, combat engineers, artillery, armor, and other units exposed to combat. These infantry platoons, excluding other unit types cited above, spent in the order of 729,000 platoon-days in the field, involving about 22 million man days in the field. In other words, 729,000 daily opportunities for platoons to commit war crimes, and a total of 22 daily million opportunities for an individual to commit an atrocity. The Army report cited by the L.A. Times suggests 820 atrocities occurred and even if these extended over a two-day period, meaning 1,640 “atrocity days,” it would represent 0.22% of total platoon days, or 2 out of 1000. Most vile atrocities, even My Lai, took place in one day, so the ratio is somewhere between 1: 1,000 and 2:1,000. For individuals the incidence is similarly low. Presuming 15 people were involved with each of the 820 atrocities, and these occurred on one day, the individual atrocity-day equals 12,300, or .0006, 6 out of 10,000. If riverine, engineer, artillery and other were included, the “atrocity rate” would plunge even further. No apologies made for what might appear to be obscene McNamarian number-juggling; it is simply a means to show that barbaric behavior, as measured by the report’s own data, was not a common occurrence and these disgusting examples do not come close to representing the whole. It’s also called “analysis,” something reporters are supposed to do, and most often do not. In the interest of honesty and historical integrity, it must be added that atrocities, per se, were not the full extent of the problem. There were simply too many, however much a minority, Americans who behaved with crass rudeness and sometimes drunken-or stoned-grotesque idiocy. The US government is culpable, as is the military, for not properly training troops on Viet Nam’s intricacies(it is doubtful if many in government knew enough to teach anything) and the utmost importance of dignified and civilized behavior in dealings with the people of Viet Nam.

This was and is not a mere rhetorical statement. The Viet Namese people were and are my friends. In two instances of inexcusably rude and disgusting American behavior I physically threatened the American perpetrators with instant violent retribution; they stopped their rancid and utterly intolerable obnoxiousness. I, along with several others, also initiated an investigation of wrong-doing which we knew would destroy the career, deservedly so, of a U.S. Army “lifer” NCO whose actions were a disgrace to the uniform he wore, and to his country.

American forces went on literally thousands of MEDCAPs-Medical Civil Action Projects and DENTCAPs-Dental Civil Action Projects, bringing welcome relief to Viet Namese rural people suffering from disease, infections, broken bones, or decayed teeth. Lives were saved, faces were saved from ravaging skin disease, scalded feet from an upturned caldron of boiling water were saved from possible amputation. Hundreds of schools and maternity clinics were built, a number of which would be burned or destroyed by the VC. This is not to say ALL U.S. forces were involved with such programs, but it is a far greater number than those involved with or committing atrocities.

This writer spent almost three years in Viet Nam. At one time or another I was in 18 of the former RVN’s 44 provinces. VC/NVA war crimes and atrocities were a daily -DAILY- routine occurrence, whether in the form of rocketing civilian areas(a war crime acknowledged by anti-war activist Richard Falk), assassinating civilians, raping women, etc. At Cai Lay district town the NVA put a mortar round into a school yard, killing 23 children and wounding 40 or 50. NVA artillery slaughtered thousands of Viet Namese on QL(Highway) 1 and on QL 13 south of An Loc in 1972; this was deliberate, observed and aimed fire, not accidental carnage.

Allied malfeasance and atrocities were rare exceptions, most due to simple human idiocy rather than policy. Rude behavior was all too common however. Since returning to the U.S., and utterly amazed and disgusted at inability of U.S. public to comprehend the most elemental aspects of the war, I’ve continued the quest for more information. Having talked with and interviewed scores of veterans, having talked with scores of Viet Namese(I speak the language), having read scores of personal memoirs and battlefield accounts, having plodded through reams of operation reports and declassified material, the inescapable conclusion arises: U.S. war crimes, as vile and disgusting and treasonous as they were, simply were not a common occurence. This is not said as a light dismissal, as one war crime is far, far too many, and a vile betrayal of what was arguably honorable cause in Viet Nam, Laos, and Cambodia(and along the Thai border where Hanoi’s war spilled over). To repeat what has been mentioned above: anyone guilty of outright, clearcut murder should have been punished severely by either a multi-decade or life prison sentence, or execution. Those committing war crimes, atrocities, rapes, etc. were providing aid and comfort to the VC/NVA, whose deceitful propaganda was given undue credibility because of the actions of morons and sub-humanoid scum. They shamed and vilified the uniform worn by better people than they. They were traitors.

One point seldom discussed: Under Secretary of Defense McNamara’s “Project 100,000,” almost 300,000 people, who would normally have been rejected for military service by virtue of mental or psychological deficiencies, or sociopathic tendencies, were allowed into the military, against the military’s wishes and preference. Research shows these “Project 100,000” people caused a disproportionate number of problems, sustained higher casualties, and it can be safely assumed were involved in a disproportionate amount of uncivilized behavior if not atrocities and war crimes.

What is the purpose of the L.A. Times expose? What is to be achieved by these revelations? Is it a concern for the people of SE Asia? A concern for justice? When all is considered, there seems to be no purpose beyond the desire to wallow in habitual masochism and national flagellation regarding U.S. involvement in SE Asia. It can’t be a concern for the SE Asian people or justice. A content survey of the L.A. Times internet archives, extending from 1 Jan 1985 to the present, shows the following:

• My Lai-695 entries

• Dak Son Massacre(where 250 Montagnards were killed and burned alive in 1967 by NVA using flamethrowers-NO entries.
http://www.11thcavnam.com/main/dak_son.htm

• VC/NVA Assassinations(over 36,000 South Viet Namese teachers, district chiefs, agricultural extension advisors, civil servants were killed, often in hideously brutal fashion, by the VC. Another 60,000 or so were abducted with only several thousand returning, indicating tens of thousands others were assassinated. The 36,000 figure alone, given Viet Nam’s 17 million population, represents a national mortality proportion that would equal about 420,000 Americans assassinated, exclusive of combat fatalities, of which South Viet Nam’s military sustained 275,000)-NO entries

• Mrs. Nguyen Thi Thu, a Hoa Hoa Buddhist widow who immolated herself in 1999 to protest Hanoi’s religious oppression-NO entries
http://www.pghh.org/news/hot_news/102699_ngthu_en.html

• Mr. Ho Tan Anh, a Buddhist who immolated himself in 2001 to protest Hanoi’s religious oppression- NO entries.
http://www.radicalparty.org/vietnam/imolation_e.htm

• Thich(Venerable) Chan Hy, a Buddhist monk who immolated himself in 2003 to protest Hanoi’s religions oppression-NO entries.
http://www.news14charlotte.com/content/local_news/mecklenburg/?ArID=49737&SecID=3

• The 2004 fatal beating of Buddhist Monk Thich Duc Chinh in a Hanoi prison-NO entries
http://www.queme.net/eng/news_detail.php?numb=640

•  Hue Massacre, 1968, when the VC/NVA systematically executed as many as 5,000 civil servants, teachers, etc. who were systematically rounded up and executed, some buried alive in mass graves, some tied up and shot in the back of the head, around Hue City during 25 day NVA occupation of the city-NO entries.
http://ngothelinh.50megs.com/Hue.html

• Oppression of Montagnards-systematic cultural genocide of the indigenous highland people, resulting in scores dead, scores jailed, scores beaten in past 2-4 years-NO entries
See Montagnard-Foundation.org

• Decimation of Hmong people in Laos by Pathet Lao and North Viet Namese troops
(See factfinding.org and http://www.huntingtonnews.net/national/060708-staff-laos.html)-NO entries

• Recent republication of North Viet Nam dissident poet Nguyen Chi Thien’s book, “Flowers from Hell/Hoa Dia Nguc.” Mr. Thien, dubbed the “Solzhenitsyn of Viet Nam” by author Michael Lind, spent 27 years in Hanoi prisons(12 years in solitary confinement) for writing anti-communist poetry. He recently in Garden Grove and spoke before a crowd of about 600 people-NO entries
http://www.newamerica.net/index.cfm?pg=article&DocID=43

• Egregious Hanoi Human Rights violations, documented by Human Rights Watch(hrw.org), Free Viet Nam Alliance(fva.org), Amnesty International (amnesty.org), Transparency International (transparency.org), Mother Land(queme.net), Global Witness(globalwitness.org), and scores of others.- NO entries.

• Hanoi economist Le Dang Doanh’s revelation that Viet Nam’s per capita income, 80% of Thailand’s in 1950, was only 20% of Thailand’s in 2000, all due to smothering dictatorial communist policies and endemic corruption-NO entries.
http://www.fva.org/2005/03Mar/story02.htm

• Inimical result of communist economic policies producing average infant and maternal mortality rates, for the three communist Indochina countries, twice that of the average for the nearby non-communist countries of Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand(UN and World Bank data for 2002)-NO entries

The pattern is clear and evident: L.A. times stories for the past 21 years dwell disproportionately, and hence dishonestly, with American atrocities, and ignore far more lethal and wretched established behavior patterns, in the form of VC/NVA atrocities committed as a matter of routine. Were the L.A. Times, or readers sanctimoniously gloating over the recent article, even remotely concerned with the well-being of the Viet Namese, Laotian and Cambodian people, these topics would have been discussed, in excruciating detail. They have not been, and the fetish of obsessing over what is demonstrably unrepresentative behavior of U.S. forces must be attributed to a presumed ecstasy of psycho-political masochism and perverted sadistic voyeurism. It also reflects a craven, vile hypocrisy of the worst order. Make no mistake about it, many people ENJOY the fact that hundreds of Viet Namese were murdered at My Lai. It validates their presumed, and quite vicarious, sense of “revolutionary” righteousness. Conversely, it’s not FUN to talk about honorable U.S. and South Viet Namese behavior and performance. This leads to a parallel conclusion: the L.A. Times, and those reading this article with smug righteousness, do not want to hear anything that might nullify their perceptions of virtuous superiority.

They do not want to hear of either admirable U.S. or South Viet Namese or Australian troop performance or squalid VC/NVA atrocities, atrocities routinely committed as a matter of policy, not as a despicable breakdown of leadership as characterizes U.S. atrocities. It is interesting to note that Viet Nam and SE Asia veterans outnumber former “anti-war” people among the ranks of those concerned with human rights in Viet Nam, Laos, and Cambodia.

So, hats off to Nick Turse and Deborah Nelson for for STARTING a thorough examination of the subject of atrocities in Viet Nam(and Laos, Cambodia). Now let’s follow through with a thorough, comprehensive, documented, complete and no-holds-barred look at the entire picture. After all, half the truth, or one-tenth of it, is still a lie. Mr. Turse and Ms. Nelson, or anyone else, can start by examining this data:
http://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/SOD.CHAP6.HTM
and reviewing this brief article:
http://www.asianpacificpost.com/portal2/ff8080810c22f24f010c3f99950c0073.do.html

The completion of such a study will lead to the conclusion that America’s biggest “war crime” was Washington’s refusal to adopt and implement an appropriate strategy(NEVER done), properly train its troops, and then ultimately abandoning the people of Southeast Asia to a bigoted and ignorant collegium of near-medieval thugs who were, in essence, the Taliban of Southeast Asia, responsible for the death of millions for no valid reason. It will reveal that more Indochinese people died violent deaths after 1975, when the war was supposedly over, than during the war. It will discover names of many Viet Namese who once ardently supported Ho Chi Minh, only later to discover to their terror and disgust, that Ho Chi Minh was, as Nguyen Chi Thien called him, “the devil king,” and his followers were ruthless adherents to an ideological cult. Reporters willing to earn their pay will research the lives, and shattered hopes, of Nguyen Chi Thien, Duong Thu Huong, Chan Tin, Hoang Minh Chinh, Phan Khoi, Truong Nhu Tang, Hoang Cam, Doan Van Toai, Nguyen Cong Hoan, Duong Quynh Hoa, and scores of others whose faith in the communist cause was brutally betrayed, and who now denounce the power-hungry goons running Viet Nam. Further research will also show the news media’s abject failure to report the war in comprehensive depth and detail, leaving the American public abysmally mis-reported and under-informed, a deplorable situation that continues today (Of note is fact that former L.A. Times Viet Nam reporter Jacques Leslie admits to sitting around at night in his Saigon apartment, getting loaded on marijuana, hoping to come up with a good idea for a story). Yes, there is much for the voyeuristic sadists to gloat over: American idiocy in Viet Nam contributed to the eventual conquest by even more primitive vengeful idiots, and a total inability of this country to comprehend what took place, how, why, with what effect, and at whose expense. Now, the final question remains: why do some people actually LIKE this?

REASSESSING ARVN

by LEWIS SORLEY Copyright © 2006
—o—
A Lecture Delivered at the Vietnam Center Texas Tech University Lubbock, Texas

No one account could hope to address all the many aspects of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam’s performance in such a long and complex endeavor as the Vietnam War. This morning, then, I would like to speak to selected aspects, and to do so in the form of eight chunks, two sidebars, and a very brief conclusion.

The South Vietnamese government awarded campaign medals to Americans who served in the Vietnam War. Each decoration had affixed to the ribbon a metal scroll inscribed “1960- .“ The closing date was never filled in, for obvious reasons, but for our purposes 1960 will serve as a suitable starting point (one of several that might have been chosen). From that point forward increasing and eventually large-scale American involvement in the Vietnam War provided an excellent vantage point for evaluation and appreciation of the performance rendered by the Army of the Republic of Vietnam during the period 1960-1975.

Some years ago I published an analysis of ARVN’s performance in the 1972 Easter Offensive. I called the piece “Courage and Blood,” and it appeared in Parameters, the journal of the Army War College. The late Douglas Pike commented in a subsequent issue of his periodic Indochina Chronology: “Slowly but steadily the effort goes on to rectify the record and rescue the reputation of the South Vietnamese soldier,” he wrote, “those so casually trashed by the ignorant commercial television reporter and the academic left-winger bent on some ideological mission. Sorley’s writings amount to historical revisionism and he is a sturdy yeoman plowing this particular patch.”1

I have always been grateful for that encouraging assessment, and wish Professor Pike could be with us now to observe how the emerging historical record sustains an increasingly well documented and objective appreciation of the heroic and ultimately successful maturation and performance of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam. Only when the United States defaulted on its commitments to South Vietnam, while North Vietnam’s communist allies continued and indeed greatly increased support to their client state, were our unfortunate sometime allies overwhelmed and defeated.

Thus far there has never been a full-scale evaluation of ARVN’s evolution and performance over the years of its expansion and development that has been based solely on the record broadly considered. In the limited time available here, I hope to provide the beginnings of a corrective to the incomplete, unfair, and ideologically tainted view of ARVN that until now has largely constituted the conventional wisdom.

Americans know very little about the Vietnam War, even though it ended over three decades ago. That is in part because it has been seen by those who opposed the war, or at least opposed their own participation in it, as in their interests to portray every aspect of the long struggle in the worst possible light, and indeed in some cases to falsify what they have had to say about it. James Webb identified the media, academia, and Hollywood as groups that “have a large stake in having the war remembered as both unnecessary and unwinnable.”2 That they also to a large degree dominate the public dialogue helps explain why many have such a distorted view of the war even three decades after the fact.

Such distortions extend from wholesale defamation of the South Vietnamese and their conduct throughout a long and difficult struggle to Jane Fonda’s infamous claim that repatriated American prisoners of war who reported systematic abuse and torture by their captors were “liars” and “hypocrites.”

It is time to move beyond the unrelentingly negative, often slanderous, and overwhelmingly politicized denunciations of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam—the ARVN—that have characterized so much of the dialogue since the war.

* * *
Chunk 1: ARVN in the Earlier Years

This was a period of American dominance in conduct of the war, with the South Vietnamese basically shoved aside, relegated to pacification duty (which was itself a facet of the war pretty much ignored by the American command) and given little in the way of modernized equipment or combat support.

Many people, including some Americans stationed in Vietnam, were critical of South Vietnamese armed forces during this period. But such criticisms seldom took into account a number of factors affecting the performance of those forces. American materiel assistance in these early years consisted largely of providing cast-off World War II American weapons, including the heavy and unwieldy (for a Vietnamese) M-1 rifle. Meanwhile the enemy was being provided the AK-47 assault rifle by his Russian and Chinese patrons.

“In 1964 the enemy had introduced the AK47, a modern, highly effective automatic rifle,” noted Brigadier General James L. Collins, Jr. in a monograph on development of South Vietnam’s armed forces. “In contrast, the South Vietnam forces were still armed with a variety of World War II weapons….” Then: “After 1965 the increasing U.S. buildup slowly pushed Vietnamese armed forces materiel needs into the background.”3

Thus South Vietnamese units continued to be outgunned by the enemy and at a distinct combat disadvantage. General Fred Weyand, finishing up a tour as commanding general of II Field Force, Vietnam, observed in a 1968 debriefing report that “the long delay in furnishing ARVN modern weapons and equipment, at least on a par with that furnished the enemy by Russia and China, has been a major contributing factor to ARVN ineffectiveness.”4

It was not until General Creighton Abrams came to Vietnam as deputy commander of U.S. forces in May 1967 that the South Vietnamese began to get more attention. Soon after taking up his post Abrams cabled Army Chief of Staff General Harold K. Johnson. “It is quite clear to me,” he reported, “that the US Army military here and at home have thought largely in terms of US operations and support of US forces.”

As a consequence, “shortages of essential equipment or supplies in an already austere authorization has not been handled with the urgency and vigor that characterizes what we do for US needs. Yet the responsibility we bear to ARVN is clear.” Abrams acknowledged that “the ground work must begin here. I am working at it.”5

Abrams spent most of his year as the deputy trying to upgrade South Vietnamese forces, including providing them the M-16 rifle. By the time of Tet 1968 he had managed to get some of these weapons into the hands of South Vietnamese airborne and other elite units, but the rank and file were still outgunned by the enemy. Thus Lieutenant General Dong Van Khuyen, South Vietnam’s senior logistician, recalled that “during the enemy Tet offensive of 1968 the crisp, rattling sounds of AK- 47s echoing in Saigon and some other cities seemed to make a mockery of the weaker, single shots of Garands and carbines fired by stupefied friendly troops.”6

Even so, South Vietnamese armed forces performed admirably in repelling the Tet offensive. “To the surprise of many Americans and the consternation of the Communists,” reported Time magazine, “ARVN bore the brunt of the early fighting with bravery and elan, performing better than almost anyone would have expected.”7 Nobody mentioned that the ARVN had achieved these results without modern weapons that could match those of the enemy.

In February 1968 retired Army General Bruce C. Clarke made a trip to Vietnam. Afterward, Clarke wrote up a trip report which, by way of General Earle Wheeler, made its way to President Lyndon Johnson. Clarke stated in the report that “the Vietnamese units are still on a very austere priority for equipment, to include weapons.” That adversely affected both their moral and effectiveness, he observed. “Troops know and feel it when they are poorly equipped.”

After reading the report, LBJ called Clarke to the White House to discuss his findings. Then, recalled Clarke, “within a few days of our visit to the White House a presidential aide called me to say the President had released 100,000 M-16 rifles to ARVN.”8 President Johnson referred to this matter in his dramatic 31 March 1968 speech. “We shall,” he vowed, “accelerate the re-equipment of South Vietnam’s armed forces in order to meet the enemy’s increased firepower.”9 It was about time.

Clarke made another visit to Vietnam in August 1969, when he “found that the ARVN had 713,000 M-16s and other equipment and had made great progress since 1968 Tet.”10 Now ARVN, and the Territorial Forces, were getting not only the most modern rifles, but also M-79 grenade launchers, M-60 machine guns, and AN/PRC-25 radios, equipment the U.S. forces had had all along.

U.S. divisions were not only better armed, but larger than South Vietnam’s, resulting in greater combat capability. While he was serving as deputy U.S. commander, recalled his aide-de-camp, General Abrams “had a study done of comparative combat power of U.S. and South Vietnamese divisions. It turned out to be something like sixteen to one due to the superior firepower possessed by the U.S. units. Abrams used that as a point to try to get more resources into the ARVN divisions.”11

To the further disadvantage of the South Vietnamese, during these early years the U.S. hogged most of the combat support that increased unit effectiveness. This included such things as allocation of B-52 bombing strikes, provision of helicopter and fixed-wing gunship support, artillery, and intra-theater troop transport.

Abrams noted that during the period of the enemy’s “Third Offensive” in August and September 1968 “the ARVN killed more enemy than all other allied forces combined.” In the process, he noted, they also “suffered more KIA, both actual and on the basis of the ratio of enemy to friendly killed in action.” This was a function, he told General Wheeler, of the fact that the South Vietnamese “get relatively less support, both quantitatively and qualitatively, than US forces, i.e., artillery, tactical air support, gunships and helilift.”12

Under these conditions of the earlier years, criticism of South Vietnamese units was a self-fulfilling prophecy. Given little to work with, outgunned by the enemy, and relegated to what were then viewed as secondary roles, South Vietnam’s armed forces missed out for several years on the development and combat experience that would have greatly increased their capabilities.

Later Robert McNamara, who as Defense Secretary had presided over the American war effort in those same years, wrote disparagingly of the Vietnamese, earning a searing rebuke from William Colby. “He should not be contemptuously slandering Vietnamese who gave their lives and efforts to prevent Communist rule,” wrote Colby, “but who saw their great-power protector wash its hands of them because of the costs of McNamara’s failed policies. The cause,” affirmed Colby, “was indeed ‘noble.’ America fought it the wrong way under McNamara, and lost it in good part because of him.”13

* * *
Chunk 2: Tet 1968

The widespread fighting at Tet of 1968 was ARVN’s first great test. To the surprise of many, it turned in a valorous performance. Later, at West Point to receive the Thayer Award, Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker took the opportunity to praise this accomplishment. “The Vietnamese armed forces,” he noted, “though below strength, fought well—as General Abrams said, they fought probably better than they thought they could. There were no uprisings or defections, the government did not fall apart. On the contrary,” recalled Bunker, “it reacted strongly, quickly and decisively. It set about the task of recovery with great energy.”14

The outstanding performance of South Vietnamese forces during the Tet Offensive in 1968 was absolutely crucial to their country’s future. “The result,” observed Ambassador Bunker, “was to set in motion a whole series of developments which contributed significantly to the strengthening of the government, to increasing the confidence of the people in its ability to cope with the enemy, and to a determination by the government to take over more of the burden of the war.”15

John Paul Vann agreed, saying in 1972 that Tet had “precipitated those actions which have now paid off so handsomely in government expansion of control in South Vietnam.” Vann cited full manpower mobilization, permitting expansion of the armed forces as U.S. troops were withdrawn, and emphasized in particular increases in the Territorial Forces which provided for an enduring government presence in the countryside.16

At the time of the enemy’s “Third Offensive” in the autumn of 1968, having by then taken command of U.S. forces in Vietnam, Abrams cabled General Earle Wheeler and Admiral John McCain. “I am led to the conclusion that the cited results,” referring to a recent six-week period during which the ARVN had killed more enemy than all other allied forces combined, “indicate progress in ARVN leadership and aggressiveness.” Abrams also commented on the price the ARVN was paying for these successes. “The lower ratio of enemy to friendly KIA, which I attribute in part to thinner combat support,” he said, “is a further argument for expediting the upgrading of ARVN equipment.”17

When senior American and South Vietnamese officials met on Midway Island in June 1969, a prominent topic was expansion and upgrading of South Vietnam’s armed forces. An initial increase in structure to 820,000—later to expand to 1.1 million as a result of this and subsequent agreements—was approved, “along with projects to equip the RVNAF with new weapons such as the M-16 rifle, M-60 machine gun and LAW rocket,” recalled ARVN Brigadier General Tran Dinh Tho.18 That such weapons as the M-16 were still being negotiated at this late stage shows how long the South Vietnamese had been left to fight underarmed in comparison to the enemy.

* * *
Sidebar: Some Comparisons

Here are some of the things the ARVN did not do:

+ Have as many as fifty men a day desert while under the direct supervision of their commander-in-chief. That was General George Washington’s army at Valley Forge in the winter of 1777-1778.19

+ Have to put artillery into the streets to quell civilian anti-draft riots. That was what President Abraham Lincoln was forced to do in New York City in April 1865 during the American Civil War.

+ Show up for the climactic battle of the war at about half strength because of desertions. That was American General George Meade’s Army of the Potomac at Gettysburg. “He expected to find 160,000 soldiers, but instead found only 85,000 because 75,000 had deserted. During the [American] Civil War, the average Union desertion rate was 33 percent, and for the Confederates, 40 percent.”20

+ Conduct a general strike in which soldiers in half the divisions of the army refused to attack. That was the French Army in 1917, after which 554 soldiers were condemned to death by courts-martial and 49 were actually shot.21

+ Be unique in having some units fail in the face of the enemy. On Bougainville during World War II Company K of the U.S. 25th Infantry “broke and ran.” Commented historian Geoffrey Perret: “There was hardly a division in the Army that didn’t have at least one company that had done the same.”22

+ Have a unit in which its assistant division commander was relieved, four senior staff were fired, two of the original battalion commanders were captured, and the remaining nine were replaced. That was the U.S. 36th Infantry Division at Salerno in World War II.23

+ Conduct an unrelenting campaign of shelling, assassinations, kidnapping, and impressment against innocent civilians. That was the work of the communist enemy throughout the Vietnam War.

+ Commit massacres of friendly civilian elements such as those at Thuy Bo and My Lai. Those were the deeds of American troops in Vietnam during 1967 and 1968.

Additional examples could be amassed almost without limit. The point is that, in comparison to other forces both then and historically, the ARVN during its war conducted itself respectably and loyally, attributes for which it has never gotten the credit it deserves.

Documentation of individual ARVN heroism and professional performance is abundant, although thus far little used by historians and all but ignored by journalists. In the National Archives are the records of thousands and thousands of U.S. awards to South Vietnamese for valor and service.24

Such heroism and devotion to duty are revealed as all the more admirable when it is considered that many South Vietnamese soldiers spent a decade or more at war, in many cases essentially their entire adult (and adolescent) lives. As one insightful American once observed, the South Vietnamese had no DEROS (the “date eligible for return from overseas” of Americans on a one-year tour of duty in Vietnam). Instead, they soldiered on, year after year after year, with incredible devotion and stoicism. Many, after the communist “liberation” of the south, spent another decade or more struggling to survive the ordeal of incarceration by the communists in the murderous so-called re-education camps.25

* * *
Chunk 3: Territorial Forces

Following the enemy’s offensive at the time of Tet 1968, the American command changed. General Creighton Abrams replaced General Westmoreland and brought to bear a much different outlook on the nature of the war and how it should be prosecuted. Abrams stressed “one war” of combat operations, pacification, and upgrading South Vietnam’s armed forces, giving those latter two long-neglected tasks equal importance and priority with military operations.

Those military operations also underwent dramatic change. In place of “search and destroy” there was now “clear and hold,” meaning that when the enemy had been driven from populated areas those areas were then permanently garrisoned by allied forces, not abandoned to be reoccupied by the enemy at some later date. In perhaps the most important development of the entire war, greatly expanded South Vietnamese Territorial Forces took on that security mission.

Major General Nguyen Duy Hinh called “expansion and upgrading of the Regional and Popular Forces” “by far the most important and outstanding among US contributions” to the war effort.26 Lieutenant General Ngo Quang Truong noted that such achievements as hamlets pacified, the number of people living under GVN [Government of Vietnam] control, or the trafficability on key lines of communication were possible largely due to the unsung feats of the RF and PF.”27

When General Abrams arrived in Vietnam in May of 1967, the South Vietnamese armed forces consisted of army, navy, marine and air force elements. Separate and apart were what were called the Territorial Forces, consisting of Regional Forces and Popular Forces. These latter were dedicated to local security, with the Regional Forces under control of province chiefs and the Popular Forces answering to district chiefs.

These Regional Forces and Popular Forces, which remained in place in their home areas, were what put the “hold” in “clear and hold” operations. By 1970 they had grown to some 550,000 men and, integrated at that time into the regular armed forces, constituted more than half the total strength.

By coincidence, last evening Bing West and another guest were on the PBS “News Hour with Jim Lehrer” to talk about the current situation in Iraq. One of them cited “Condeleeza Rice’s concept of ‘clear and hold.’ “ If anyone cared to trace the etymology of that concept they would find a straight shot from the Territorial Forces in South Vietnam to General Creighton Abrams to General Harold K. Johnson and the PROVN Study to Colonel Jasper Wilson.

As early as October 1968 William Colby, newly installed as deputy to General Abrams for pacification support, explained the importance of these elements: “For territorial security, our main focus is on improvement of the Regional and Popular Forces, which are almost half of the army now.” “We started last October. General Abrams had a conference here, identified some thirty steps to take,” including “sending out small military advisor teams to work with the RF companies and PF platoons. We now have some 250 of those five-man teams scattered around the country.”

Three months later Colby noted the rapid buildup of and the improved training and armament being provided the RF and PF: “There’re about 91,000 more of them today than there were a year ago.” About 100,000 now had M16s, which they didn’t have a year ago. And 350 advisory teams were living and working with RF and PF units.

Abrams had, soon after taking command, deliberately channeled the new rifles to these elements. “The RF and PF, a year ago,” he said in August 1969, “received the highest priority of anybody. That’s where the first M16s went, before ARVN.” “They’ve been given, for over a year, the very highest priority. And, to be perfectly frank, it’s like anything else. I mean, you put your money in soldiers’ deposits, you get 10 percent [interest] and so on. Goddamn it, we made an investment here, and there ought to be—. That’s priority, above anybody else in the country, over a year ago!”

As the RF and PF improved in capabilities—and performance— Abrams wanted to see them get credit for what they were accomplishing. “One thing I’ve been chafing under,” he said at the WIEU, “—when we brief visitors, the role of the RF and PF in this war is substantially submerged.

There’s a tendency to talk about the ARVN, and for some time now the RF and PF have borne the brunt of casualties and this sort of thing, and the toll that they’re exacting from the enemy is substantial —I mean, if you just want to deal in that sort of thing. But if we get talking about the security of the people this is a big part of this whole thing. This is where it is.”

About that same time he took a stance prompted by the good performance of these elements: “I don’t know if I would really favor any more rifle companies in the ARVN. If the manpower was available, I think the investment in Territorial Forces would be of greater value.”

At the end of 1969 Abrams, contemplating a chart displaying “the trend in what’s happened the last three or four months in who’s making a contribution—weapons, KIA,” had this to say: “It’s kind of interesting. In terms of results, which is enemy killed, weapons captured, caches, and so on, the ARVN contribution stayed at about the same—26 percent, 27 percent. And U.S. and Free World percent has gone down. And, at least percentage-wise, that slack has been taken up by the Territorial Forces. And this has happened since August.”

Someone: “It’s the nature of the war.”

Abrams: “Yes, that’s right. But it’s also—you know, I was always wondering about what the hell would we get for that investment in those 300,000 M16s—you know, all that? Well, it’s commencing to show.”

They were hanging on to those weapons, too. As Bill Colby pointed out in July 1970, for the Territorial Forces the weapons gained/lost ratio was then about three enemy weapons taken for every friendly weapon lost; five years ago just the opposite had been the case.

Abrams’s comment: “Territorial Forces?” “Ah, these rabbits are coming along good!” And finally, at a Commanders WIEU in October 1971: “One of the things that, and it’s been for a long time, the RF and PF are carrying the major burden of the war.”

Senior Vietnamese officers agreed. “Gradually, in their outlook, deportment, and combat performance,” said Lieutenant General Ngo Quang Truong, “the RF and PF troopers shed their paramilitary origins and increasingly became full-fledged soldiers.” So decidedly was this the case, Truong concluded, that “throughout the major period of the Vietnam conflict” the RF and PF were “aptly regarded as the mainstay of the war machinery.”28

Expanded in numbers and better armed and better trained, the Territorial Forces came into their own, earning the respect of even so tough a critic as Lieutenant General Julian Ewell. “They were the cutting edge of the war,” he said admiringly.

* * *
Chunk 4: Perennial Problems

Three important problems confronted the ARVN throughout the war: insufficient qualified leadership, widespread corruption, and desertions.

Leadership in adequate amounts of sufficient quality continued to be a problem for ARVN throughout the war. Given the continuing expansion of the forces, finally reaching a peak of 1.1 million men, the situation could not have been otherwise. Combat losses, themselves a testimonial to South Vietnam’s small unit leaders, of course further aggravated the shortages caused by expanding the structure.

Strenuous training and recruitment campaigns were undertaken to produce new leaders and move up those proved effective in combat. After Lam Son 719, for example, General Abrams attended a ceremony in Hue. “It really was something,” he later told the staff. “They had a promotion thing, and noncoms got promoted. And noncoms to aspirants. And aspirants that had been noncoms going to first lieutenant. And President Thieu said up there that this was just a token—that there were 5,000 promotions involved, down right in the ranks. And these promotions are real battlefield promotions.”

Abrams liked what he had seen. “They’re what happened in Laos,” he noted. “And I just don’t know of any way to get to a military organization any better than going down and promoting some guys that did a good job.”29 (This approach of developing effective leaders from scratch was also undertaken with respect to elected civilian hamlet and village officials, who were put through a course in the training center at Vung Tau designed to help them develop the management and leadership skills they would need to do their jobs.)

Some of South Vietnam’s most senior leaders were among the least forgiving critics of the leadership. Wrote General Cao Van Vien after the war: “During the decade I served as chairman of the RVNAF Joint General Staff, I had witnessed all the successes and failures of our leadership. Even though this leadership had done its best, it still proved inadequate for this most difficult episode of our nation’s history.”30

Desertions from ARVN divisions also plagued the South Vietnamese throughout the war. Significantly, however, these were not desertions to join the other side, but largely to escape combat or just to go home. They differed radically from the cases of deserters from the Viet Cong and NVA. Ralliers to the government from the enemy side in many cases became part of the allied armed forces. Deserters on the allied side, in contrast, often rejoined their own side at a local level. As Anthony Joes observed, this phenomenon constituted “a shift of manpower from the army to the militia. Among the militia units defending their native villages or provinces,” he noted, “desertion rates were close to zero, despite casualty rates higher than ARVN’s.”31

Corruption was another problem never really solved, although the impact of it on the outcome of the war was never as significant as critics claimed. General Cao Van Vien, however, concluded: “As to corruption, although it was not directly accountable for the collapse of the nation, its effect certainly debilitated professional competency and[,] by extension, the war effort.”32

CIA’s Tom Polgar commented perceptively on the matter, arguing that the country “could have survived with a corrupt South Vietnamese government, just as the Philippines survived with a corrupt Philippine government—or South Korea does—or Thailand—or anywhere. In any country where you do not pay your civil service adequately, you can expect corruption,” said Polgar. “It’s a way of life.” But, he continued, “that was not the trouble. The trouble was that there was just no margin in the resources of that government to cope with a military invasion.”33

Colonel William LeGro, who was there until the last days with the Defense Attaché Office, agreed. “Corruption was not the cause of the collapse,” he stated. “The reduction to almost zero of United States support was the cause.” LeGro added one further observation: “We did a terrible thing to the South Vietnamese.”34

* * *
Sidebar: Nguyen Van Thieu

This sidebar is about the late Nguyen Van Thieu, South Vietnam’s former President and de facto commander-in-chief of its armed forces.

President Thieu led his country during years of exceptional difficulty. While fighting against an external invasion and an internal insurgency, both supported and supplied by China and the Soviet Union, he put in place elected governments from the national level down through villages and hamlets, greatly expanded and—with American materiel and advisory support—improved the armed forces as they progressively took over the entire combat burden from withdrawing U.S. forces, personally led a pacification program which rooted out the covert infrastructure that had through coercion and terror dominated the rural population, instituted genuine land reform which gave 400,000 farmers title to 2.5 million acres of land, and organized four million citizens into a People’s Self-Defense Force armed with 600,000 weapons.

Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker, who headed the American embassy in Saigon for six years, saw a great deal of Nguyen Van Thieu and formed some settled judgments of the man and his performance. “He has handled problems with a very considerable astuteness and skill,” Bunker observed. “He is an individual of very considerable intellectual capacity. He made the decision in the beginning to follow the constitutional road, not to rule with a clique of generals, which many of them expected he would do. He has been acting more and more like a politician [Bunker meant this as a compliment], getting out into the country, following up on pacification, talking to people, seeing what they want.” Bunker approved, and on another occasion compared the President to his principal rival for political leadership. “I thought that Thieu was a wiser, more solid person,” Bunker stated.35

Thieu was also realistic, telling Ambassador Bunker that “unfortunately we do not have many real generals who know how to command more than a division,” a category in which he modestly but accurately included himself.36

Given that most of the administrative ability in his country resided in the military establishment, and most of the political power as well, Thieu was agonizingly constrained in replacing the corrupt and the incompetent in high places, and likewise felt himself obliged to retain some who were loyal, if not all that able. Early in his presidency Thieu explained the situation to a senior American officer who reported the conversation this way: “Judging a wholesale purge of South Vietnamese officers as simply impossible, Thieu warned that each major command change would have to be carefully planned and orchestrated. The army could not be removed from politics overnight. The military establishment had been and still was his major political supporter and the only cohesive force holding the country together.”37

Ambassador Bunker and General Abrams understood this, and were both patient and sympathetic, but they also made very pointed recommendations about senior officers who were not measuring up. Often their advice was accepted, even if some time elapsed while the political groundwork was laid. Over time, then, some major changes took place in South Vietnamese leadership, both civil and military, sometimes forced by battlefield crises. But there was never a wholesale housecleaning, nor could there have been. Not only would political chaos have resulted, but the requisite numbers of more viable replacements were simply not available. Producing them in the necessary abundance would have taken more time than there turned out to be.

The top Americans recognized President Thieu’s importance in, particularly, the pacification campaign. Abrams observed that “he knows more about pacification than any other Vietnamese” and William Colby called him “the number one pacification officer.” A history of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff identified as Thieu’s most important attribute that “he recognized clearly the cardinal importance of the pacification campaign and of the establishment of effective institutions of local government.”38

On a number of occasions Thieu invited Ambassador Bunker to go along on visits to the countryside, where Bunker heard him emphasize restoring local government, holding village and hamlet elections, training local government officials, and land reform. At Vung Tau 1,400 village chiefs, representing about three-quarters of all the villages in South Vietnam, went through training during the first nine months of 1969. President Thieu visited every one of those classes, giving the village chiefs the incomparable cachet of being able to go home and speak about what “President Thieu said to me—.” By late 1969 the situation had improved so dramatically that John Paul Vann, the legendary figure who played a prominent role in the pacification campaign, would tell an audience at Princeton that the “U.S. has won the military war, and is winning the political war via Thieu.”39

In April 1968 President Thieu, against the advice of virtually all his advisors, activated what was called the People’s Self-Defense Force. Thieu argued that “the government had to rest upon the support of the people, and it had little validity if it did not dare to arm them.” Ultimately some four million people, those too old or too young for regular military service, were enrolled in the self-defense force and armed with 600,000 weapons. Establishing conclusively that the Thieu government did have the support of its own people, the self-defense forces used those weapons not against their own government but to fight against communist domination.

In document after document the enemy kept predicting and calling for a “popular uprising” amongst the South Vietnam, but in fact there was never any popular uprising in support of the enemy in South Vietnam. To any objective observer that does not seem too surprising in view of the enemy’s record, year after year, of assassinations, kidnappings, terror bombings, impressments, and indiscriminate shellings of population centers throughout South Vietnam, actions hardly calculated to win the hearts and minds of the victims.

In October of 1971, in the midst of a bitter war, President Thieu ran unopposed for reelection. Many criticized him for that, suggesting that his victory was somehow not legitimate given the absence of opposition. But in that election, despite enemy calls for a boycott and warnings that voters would be targetted, an astounding 87.7 percent of eligible voters went to the polls, and 91.5 percent of them cast their ballots for President Thieu. (Some 5.5 percent handed in invalid ballots.)40 That constituted the largest voter turnout in Vietnamese history. If it didn’t matter (since there was no opposition), or if the people did not approve of Thieu’s leadership, why would they turn out in droves, often at real or potential personal risk, to express their support for his reelection? The answer is that, various critics notwithstanding, a very large majority of his countrymen valued Thieu’s service and wished to see him continue in office.

“The basic fact of life,” said John Paul Vann in January 1972, “and it is an inescapable one, is that the overwhelming majority of the population—somewhere around 95 percent—prefer the government of Vietnam to a communist government or the government that’s being offered by the other side.”41

Sadly, many South Vietnamese today are critical in their outlook on President Thieu. I have spoken about this with many Vietnamese friends now living in America. Recently one man in particular, an intelligent and educated person, shocked me by saying that the Vietnamese think President Thieu lied to them. I asked him in what way. “He knew the Americans were going to abandon us, and he didn’t tell us that,” responded my friend.

I find that a harsh judgment, and a debatable one. Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker recalled personally giving President Thieu three letters from President Nixon in which “he made a commitment” to come to the assistance of South Vietnam “in case of any major violation of the treaties by the other side.” But, observed Bunker, “the Congress…made it impossible to carry out those commitments.” The result? “I think really it was a betrayal of the South Vietnamese,” Bunker stated unequivocally.42 It is difficult for me to understand how President Thieu could be expected to have foreseen such an ignominious course of American action.

Mr. Thieu resigned the presidency a few days before the fall of Saigon, hoping to facilitate a negotiated settlement of the war. In his valedictory, he was understandably bitter about the outcome of the long years of struggle. That performance alone should serve to demonstrate that he was as stunned as any that the sometime American ally would, in a time of such crisis, turn its back on South Vietnam (and on all the sacrifices Americans had made there).

My view is that Nguyen Van Thieu performed heroically over long years of an extremely difficult war, in the process earning—whether he is accorded them or not—the respect and gratitude of all those who wished South Vietnam well.

* * *
Chunk 5: Lam Son 719

Virtually all accounts of Lam Son 719, ARVN’s 1971 incursion into Laos, depict it as a devastating defeat for the South Vietnamese. The reality, however, is quite different. We now know, thanks to the Abrams tapes and other sources, that the North Vietnamese were badly hurt by the operation, further delaying their readiness to mount a major offensive against the South and providing additional time for Vietnamization to succeed.

At the WIEU on 30 January the first indications that the enemy sensed an impending cross-border operation were reported. That was eight days before the operation was scheduled to begin. “COMINT [communications intelligence] reveals the enemy’s concern over anticipated friendly operations in northern MR-1 [Military Region 1] and the contiguous areas of Laos,” reported a briefer. Messages intercepted since 24 January reflected enemy concern that South Vietnamese forces “might strike across the border in an effort to interdict the enemy’s logistic corridor system.” There were other indications that the enemy was concerned about an amphibious invasion of North Vietnam, about an invasion of Laos from carriers standing off the coast, and so on.43

On 8 February ARVN elements crossed the border into Laos, using the east-west axis of Route 9. The attacking force comprised armor, airborne, ranger, marine and infantry units. By the end of the first week some 10,600 ARVN troops were in Laos. At the same time, two other ARVN cross-border operations involving 19,000 troops continued in Cambodia.44

When Admiral McCain, the CINCPAC, came out for a briefing on 19 February, the briefer told him that “in Laos, the ground contacts have remained at a relatively light level, with company-size and smaller contacts reported throughout the AO. Also, attacks by fire have remained at a relatively low level.” As of that date MACV was carrying six enemy regiments committed against ARVN forces in Laos. No American forces were permitted on the ground in Laos, but U.S. elements flying air support had thus far lost 21 helicopters while flying nearly 7,000 sorties. (By the end of the operation, six weeks later, losses would have risen to 108 for a loss rate of 21 per 100,000 sorties.)45

Major General William E. Potts, the MACV J-2, summed up for Admiral McCain: “The real significance of that Lam Son operation is the enemy has everything committed, or en route, that he has, with the exception of the 325th Division and the 9th Regiment out of the 304th. So if they’re hurt, he’s really going to be beat for a long time.” Added General Abrams: “And of course we’re trying to welcome them all, best we can.”46

Still, by 20 February, nearly two weeks into the operation, only six enemy regiments were committed in the Lam Son AO. In fact, stated the briefer at a Commanders WIEU on that date, “the first significant enemy counterattack occurred on the night of 18 February.” Meanwhile ARVN had about an equivalent force, eighteen battalion-size task forces, continuing search and clear operations.47

General Abrams emphasized to the staff and subordinate commanders the importance of giving the South Vietnamese every thing they needed to succeed in this crucial battle. “It’s an opportunity to deal the enemy a blow which probably hasn’t existed before as clearly cut in the war,” he stressed. In a comment that would later prove significant, when certain recriminations were advanced in Washington, Abrams also noted: “The risks in getting it done were all known and understood in the beginning, and it was felt that it was time to take the risks.” Ambassador Bunker then reviewed all the elements taken into account in the course of such an evaluation during his recent visit to Washington.48

By 24 February MACV was still carrying six enemy regiments (a figure increased to seven three days later) in the Lam Son AO and the briefer at an update for General Abrams stated that four enemy battalions, of the eighteen subordinate to the committed regiments, were believed to have been rendered combat ineffective. As of that date enemy KIA were estimated at 2,191, while ARVN had sustained 276 KIA.49

At this point, just over two weeks into the operation, a serious crisis of helicopter availability suddenly arose. Route 9, the east-west highway leading into the area of operations, had turned out to have many deep cuts, some reaching a depth of twenty feet, rendering the road much less useful for resupply than anticipated. In particular the 5,000-gallon fuel tankers proved unable to negotiate the route. Aerial resupply had had to take up the slack, which was in turn putting an extremely heavy burden on the helicopter fleet. Apparently intensive management and maintenance got the situation corrected, for when Lieutenant General Julian Ewell, not noted for an uncritical attitude, later visited, he reported “their OR [operational readiness] rate when I was up there Sunday was 79 percent, which I considered astronomical.”50

Simultaneously a major enemy attack, including tanks, overran Objective 31 and a brigade headquarters of the 1st ARVN Division located there. Subsequently enemy losses in that attack were reported as 250 KIA and 15 tanks destroyed against 13 friendly KIA, 39 WIA, and three armored personnel carriers damaged.51

Another enemy regiment was assessed as committed by 1 March, bringing the total to eight (and of the 24 battalions they constituted the equivalent of six were considered combat ineffective). Observed General Abrams: “It’s still a hell of a struggle.” At an update on 4 March the briefer recalled that the first indications of the enemy’s shifting to an offensive posture had come on 11 February, but that it was not until 18 February that the first major enemy counterattack occurred. Now the enemy was considered to have lost the equivalent of seven maneuver battalions in personnel losses, while his remaining tanks were down to 65-70 from an original 100.52

At this point the enemy was assessed as having approximately 13,000 combat forces in the area of operations, plus 8,000-10,000 rear service personnel. Opposing them ARVN had sixteen maneuver battalions.53

When a prisoner from the 24B Regiment described heavy casualties suffered in fighting along Route 92 north of Ban Dong, MACV J-2 reduced the enemy’s effective strength by two more battalions, for “a total of 10 battalions effectively lost out of the 30 battalions of the 10 regiments committed against ARVN forces in the entire AO.” Said General Abrams, “I’m just more and more convinced that what you’ve got here is maybe the only decisive battle of the war.” Added General Potts: “He’s lost half of his tanks, half of his AAA [anti-aircraft artillery], and 10 of his 30 battalions.”54

At a Commanders WIEU on 20 March Ambassador Bunker described Lam Son 719, then winding down, as “extremely helpful, this whole operation.” General Abrams responded: “It was a hard fight, but its effects for the rest of this year, I think, are going to be substantial. He [the enemy] committed a lot to that Lam Son operation, and it’s getting pretty badly hurt.”55

Just how badly was summarized on 23 March, by which time the enemy had committed an eleventh regiment. The briefer reported that nine of the eleven regiments had received heavy casualties and estimated that the enemy retained the equivalent of only 17 maneuver battalions (of the 33 committed), and that he had also lost some 3,500 rear service elements.56 When this was subsequently briefed at a WIEU, Potts added: “That’s not just ineffective battalions, sir. That’s a complete loss of those battalions.”57

The South Vietnamese also experienced severe losses, including a reported 1,446 KIA and 724 MIA.58 Much equipment was also destroyed or left behind in Laos during a somewhat precipitous final withdrawal. And in his after action assessment Lieutenant General Sutherland noted that “a long-standing shortfall has been the RVNAF staff capability to conduct timely preplanning and coordination of air assets and both air and ground fire support means, but they have learned a great deal on this operation.”59

The South Vietnamese public’s support for the operation turned out to be extraordinary. When Sir Robert Thompson visited in late March, he was briefed on results of a survey just taken in 36 provinces. The results were 92 percent in favor of operations such as Lam Son 719, 3 percent opposed, and the rest no opinion. That represented the highest percentage ever recorded on any question on any of these periodic surveys.60

Altogether ARVN operated for 42 days in Laos. MACV’s modest summary, rendered for the visiting Secretary of the Army Stanley Resor in late April, was that the operation “tested RVNAF against a determined enemy in cross-border operations, and undoubtedly interrupted his [the enemy’s] supply schedule.”61 In the United States the operation was widely proclaimed a disaster for the South Vietnamese. Hanoi’s propagandists were only too glad to agree.

Abrams, however, perceived the results of the operation as decisive in favor of the South Vietnamese. “It’s gone over [beyond] the point,” he observed, “where I think the North Vietnamese can be successful against them. The war won’t stop, but North Vietnam has now got a much tougher problem than they ever had before.”62

* * *
Chunk 6: A War That Was Won

Contrary to what most people seem to believe, the new approach during the Abrams era succeeded remarkably. And, since during these later years American forces were progressively being withdrawn, more and more it was the South Vietnamese who were achieving that success.

As control of more and more territory was seized from the enemy, large numbers of enemy “rallied” to the allied side. This reached a peak of 47,000 in 1969, with another 32,000 crossing over in 1970.63 Given the authorized 8,689 strength of a North Vietnamese Army division,64 this amounted to enemy losses by defection equivalent to about nine divisions in those two years alone.

There came a point at which the war was won. The fighting wasn’t over, but the war was won. The reason it was won was that the South Vietnamese had achieved the capacity to, with promised American support (similar to the support still being rendered to American allies in West Germany and South Korea), maintain their independence and freedom of action.

As early as late 1969 John Paul Vann, a senior official in the pacification program, wrote to former Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge to say that “for the first time in my involvement in Vietnam, I am not interested in visiting either Washington or Paris because all of my previous visits have been with the intention of attempting to influence or change the policies for Vietnam. Now I am satisfied with the policies. In spite of ourselves,” Vann wrote with impressive prescience, “I believe we are accomplishing our objectives, that we will practically eliminate the tragedy of additional US deaths in Vietnam beyond 1972 and that the costs of the war (a war which I think will continue indefinitely) will be drastically reduced and will eventually be manageable by the Vietnamese with our logistical and financial assistance.”65

Besides taking over combat responsibilities from the departing Americans, the South Vietnamese had to deal with multiple changes in policy. General Abrams was clear on how the South Vietnamese were being asked to vault higher and higher hurdles. “We started out in 1968,” he recalled. “We were going to get these people by 1974 where they could whip hell out of the VC—the VC. Then they changed the goal to lick the VC and the NVA—in South Vietnam. Then they compressed it. They’ve compressed it about three times, or four times—acceleration. So what we started out with to be over this kind of time”—indicating with his hands a long time—“is now going to be over this kind of time”—much shorter.

“And if it’s VC, NVA, interdiction, helping Cambodians and so on— that’s what we’re working with. And,” Abrams cautioned, “you have to be careful on a thing like this, or you’ll get the impression you’re being screwed. You mustn’t do that, ‘cause it’ll get you mad.”66 Among the most crucial of the policy changes was dropping longstanding plans for a U.S. residual force to remain in South Vietnam indefinitely in a solution comparable to that adopted in western Europe and South Korea.

After a three-year absence from Vietnam, Thomas J. Barnes returned to work in the pacification program in the autumn of 1971. “I have been struck by three principal improvements,” he told General Fred Weyand, “rural prosperity, the way the Regional and Popular Forces have taken hold, and growing political and economic autonomy in the villages. One of our greatest contributions to pacification has been the re-establishment of the village in its historic Vietnamese role of relative independence and self-sufficiency.”67

Even earlier, in mid-March 1971, it was apparent that it was the South Vietnamese who were carrying the combat load. “The emphasis General Abrams is putting on it now is almost a hundred percent towards pacification and into this saturation campaign,” a briefer told Lieutenant General Ewell. “We’re just about out of business in large U.S. force operations.” 562

Testimony from the enemy side was confirmatory of what the South Vietnamese had achieved. “In Nam Bo,” wrote Luu Van Loi and Nguyen Anh Vu in a book published by Hanoi’s World Publishing House, “by the end of 1968 the strategic hamlets and contested areas had been reoccupied by the Saigon army.” And: “By the end of 1968, we had suffered great losses.” And: “The enemy concentrated its forces to pacify the rural areas, causing great difficulties to us in 1969-1970.” “Since the introduction of U.S. troops into South Vietnam, we had never met with so many difficulties as in these two years. Our bases in the countryside were weakened, our positions shrank. Our main [force] troops were decimated and no longer had footholds in South Vietnam and had to camp in friendly Cambodia.” And finally: “We fell into a critical situation in the years 1969, 1970, 1971. From the second half of 1968 on, the enemy concentrated their attacks against the liberated zone to annihilate and drive away our main forces.”68

In January 1972 Vann told friends that “we are now at the lowest level of fighting the war has ever seen. Today there is an air of prosperity throughout the rural areas of Vietnam, and it cannot be denied. Today the roads are open and the bridges are up, and you run much greater risk traveling any road in Vietnam today from the scurrying, bustling, hustling Hondas and Lambrettas than you do from the VC.” And, added Vann, “this program of Vietnamization has gone kind of literally beyond my wildest dreams of success.”69 Those were South Vietnamese accomplishments.

* * *
Chunk 7: 1972 Easter Offensive

The widespread success of Vietnamization and the pacification program in South Vietnam meant that, by 1972, it had become apparent to the enemy that some alternative approach must be found for conduct of the war. That revised approach was revealed in what came to be known as the Easter Offensive. “No longer,” wrote Douglas Pike, “was it revolutionary war. Rather it became, in General Giap’s eyes, a limited, small-scale, conventional war, more like the Korean War than anything Vietnam had ever seen.”70

In January 1972 John Paul Vann, on a brief leave in the United States, described for an academic audience the situation then pertaining in South Vietnam. “These people now have recourse to their own elected hamlet and village officials, as the economy has improved, as security has improved, as the war has shifted out of South Vietnam and into Cambodia and Laos…the basic fact of life, and an inescapable one, is that the overwhelming majority of the population—somewhere around 95 percent—prefer the government of Vietnam to a communist government or the government that’s being offered by the other side.”71

The PAVN history of the war reveals that “the combat plan for 1972 was approved by the Central Military Party Committee in June 1971.” The stated goal was “to gain decisive victory in 1972, and to force the U.S. imperialists to negotiate an end to the war from a position of defeat.”72

Pike graphically described the offensive as anything but limited from the North Vietnamese perspective, “a maximum strike…in men, weapons and logistics. By mid-summer all 14 PAVN divisions were outside of North Vietnam. PAVN was employing more tanks than in the ARVN inventory. PAVN had more long-range artillery than ARVN and was lavish in expenditure of ordnance.”73

When, in late March of 1972, the enemy mounted a conventional invasion of South Vietnam by the equivalent of twenty divisions, a bloody pitched battle ensued. The enemy’s “well-planned campaign” was defeated, wrote Douglas Pike, “because air power prevented massing of forces and because of stubborn, even heroic, South Vietnamese defense. Terrible punishment was visited on PAVN troops and on the PAVN transportation and communication matrix.” But, most important of all, “ARVN troops and even local forces stood and fought as never before.”74

The North Vietnamese Army suffered more than 100,000 casualties in its attacking force of 200,000—perhaps 40,000 killed—and lost more than half its tanks and heavy artillery. It took three years to recover sufficiently from these losses to mount another major offensive, and in the meantime General Vo Nguyen Giap found himself eased out as NVA commander. By way of contrast, the South Vietnamese lost some 8,000 killed, about three times that many wounded, and nearly 3,500 missing in action.

General Giap had been proceeding on flawed premises and paid a horrific price for his miscalculations. Pike concluded that Giap “underestimated the determination and effective resistance which he would be offered by the South Vietnamese. He underestimated ARVN’s staying power.”75

Later critics said that South Vietnam had thrown back the invaders only because of American air support. Abrams responded vigorously to that. “I doubt the fabric of this thing could have been held together without U.S. air,” he told his commanders. “But the thing that had to happen before that is the Vietnamese, some numbers of them, had to stand and fight. If they didn’t do that, ten times the air we’ve got wouldn’t have stopped them.”76

The critics also disparaged South Vietnam’s armed forces because they had needed American assistance in order to prevail. No one seemed to recall that some 300,000 American troops were stationed in West Germany precisely because the Germans could not stave off Soviet or Warsaw Pact aggression without American help. Nor did anyone mention that in South Korea there were 50,000 American troops positioned specifically to help South Korea deal with any aggression from the north. And no one suggested that, because they needed such American assistance, the armed forces of West Germany or South Korea should be ridiculed or reviled.

Only South Vietnam (which by now was receiving only air support, not ground forces as in Germany and Korea) was singled out for such unfair and mean-spirited treatment.

South Vietnam did, with courage and blood, defeat the enemy’s 1972 Easter Offensive. General Abrams had told President Thieu that it would be “the effectiveness of his field commanders that would determine the outcome,”77 and they had proven equal to the challenge. South Vietnam’s defenders inflicted such casualties on the invaders that it was three years before North Vietnam could mount another major offensive. By then, of course, dramatic changes had taken place in the larger context.

The extent to which the ARVN had become a professional, agile and determined military shield for its country has for long been obscured by negative accounts, amounting to slander, from those who opposed American involvement in the war, or at least their own involvement, or who favored the communist side. Contrary evidence abounds, much of it to be found in the battlefield performance of the late spring and summer of 1972.

* * *
Chunk 8: Abandonment

This chunk deals with the situation after the Paris Accords were signed in January 1973. To induce the South Vietnamese to agree to the terms, viewed by them as fatally flawed in that they allowed the North Vietnamese to retain large forces in the South, President Nixon told President Thieu that if North Vietnam violated the terms of the agreement and resumed its aggression against the South, the United States would intervene militarily to punish them for that. And, said Nixon, if renewed fighting broke out, the United States would replace on a one-for- one basis major combat systems (tanks, artillery pieces, and so on) lost by the South Vietnamese, as was permitted by the Paris Accords. And finally, said Nixon, the United States would continue robust financial support for South Vietnam. In the event, the United States defaulted on all three of these promises.

Meanwhile North Vietnam was receiving unprecedented levels of support from its patrons. From January to September 1973, the nine months following the Paris Accords, said a 1994 history published in Hanoi, the quantity of supplies shipped from North Vietnam to its forces in the South was four times that shipped in the entire previous year.78 Even so that was miniscule compared to what was sent south from the beginning of 1974 until the end of the war in April 1975, a total during those sixteen months, reported the Communists, that was 1.6 times the amount delivered to the various battlefields during the preceding thirteen years.79

If the South Vietnamese had shunned the Paris agreement, it was certain not only that the United States would have settled without them, but also that the U.S. Congress would then have moved swiftly to cut off further aid to South Vietnam. If, on the other hand, the South Vietnamese went along with the agreement, hoping thereby to continue receiving American aid, they would be forced to accept an outcome in which North Vietnamese troops remained menacingly within their borders. With mortal foreboding, the South Vietnamese chose the latter course, only to find—dismayingly—that they soon had the worst of both, NVA forces ensconced in the south and American support cut off.

Former Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird explained the consequences. For two years after signing of the Paris Accords, he wrote, “South Vietnam held its own courageously and respectably against a better-bankrolled enemy. Peace talks continued between the North and the South until the day in 1975 when Congress cut off U.S. funding. The Communists walked out of the talks and never returned. Without U.S. funding, South Vietnam was quickly overrun. We saved a mere $257 million a year and in the process doomed South Vietnam, which had been ably fighting the war without our troops since 1973.”80

Many Americans would not like hearing it said that the totalitarian states of China and the Soviet Union had proven to be better and more faithful allies than the democratic United States, but that was in fact the case. William Tuohy, who covered the war for many years for the Washington Post, wrote that “it is almost unthinkable and surely unforgivable that a great nation should leave these helpless allies to the tender mercies of the North Vietnamese,” but that is what we did.81

Until the progressive and draconian reductions in assistance began to have drastic effects, the South Vietnamese fought valiantly. In the two years after the January 1973 signing of the Paris Accords, South Vietnamese forces suffered more than 59,000 killed in action, more in that brief period than the Americans had lost in over a decade of war. Considering that such losses were inflicted on a population perhaps a tenth the size of America’s,82 it is clear how devastating they must have been, and the intensity of the combat that produced them.

Merle Pribbenow has pointed out that North Vietnam’s account makes it clear that during the 55 days of the final offensive much hard fighting took place. This is a tribute to the South Vietnamese, who had to know at that point what the eventual outcome would inevitably be. Noted PAVN Lieutenant General Le Trong Tan, during the final campaign “our military medical personnel had to collect and treat a rather large number of wounded soldiers (fifteen times as many as were wounded in the 1950 border campaign, 1.5 times as many as were wounded at Dien Bien Phu, and 2.5 times as many as were wounded during the Route 9-Southern Laos campaign in 1971.” Pribbenow calculates that “this would put PAVN wounded at 40,000-50,000 at the very minimum, and possibly considerably higher, not the kind of losses one would expect in the total ARVN ‘collapse’ that most historians say occurred in 1975.”83

Colonel William LeGro served until war’s end with the U.S. Defense Attaché Office in Saigon. From that close-up vantage point he saw precisely what had happened. “The reduction to almost zero of United States support was the cause” of the final collapse, he observed. “We did a terrible thing to the South Vietnamese.”84

Near the end, Tom Polgar, then serving as CIA’s Chief of Station, Saigon, cabled a succinct assessment of the resulting situation. “Ultimate outcome hardly in doubt,” he reported, “because South Vietnam cannot survive without U.S. military aid as long as North Vietnam’s war- making capacity is unimpaired and supported by Soviet Union and China.”85

The aftermath of the war in Vietnam was as grim as had been feared. Seth Mydans writes perceptively and compassionately on Southeast Asian affairs for The New York Times. “More than a million southerners fled the country after the war ended,” he reported. “Some 400,000 were interned in camps for ‘re-education’—many only briefly, but some for as long as seventeen years. Another 1.5 million were forcibly resettled in ‘new economic zones’ in barren areas of southern Vietnam that were ravaged by hunger and extreme poverty.”86

Former Viet Cong Colonel Pham Xuan An later described his immense disillusionment with what a communist victory had meant to Vietnam. “All that talk about ‘liberation’ twenty, thirty, forty years ago,” he lamented, “produced this, this impoverished, broken-down country led by a gang of cruel and paternalistic half-educated theorists.”87

North Vietnamese Army Colonel Bui Tin has been equally candid about the outcome of the war, even for the victors. “It is too late for my generation,” he says, “the generation of war, of victory, and betrayal. We won. We also lost.”88

The price paid by the South Vietnamese in their long struggle to remain free proved grievous indeed. The armed forces lost 275,000 killed in action.89 Another 465,000 civilians lost their lives, many of them assassinated by Viet Cong terrorists or felled by the enemy’s indiscriminate shelling and rocketing of cities, and 935,000 more were wounded.90

Of the million who became boat people an unknown number, feared to be many, lost their lives at sea.91 In Vietnam perhaps 65,000 others were executed by their self-proclaimed liberators. As many as 250,000 more perished in the brutal ‘reeducation’ camps. Two million, driven from their homeland, formed a new Vietnamese diaspora.

No assessment of the ARVN would be complete without some mention of its expatriate veterans, and their families, who have made new lives in America. That is yet another story of heroism, determination, and achievement. Having learned only too well the nature of their supposed “liberators” during long years in which they had systematically murdered, wounded, kidnapped and impressed many thousands of South Vietnamese civilians, the populace fled in large numbers as resistance collapsed

Fortunately many made their way to new lives, and to freedom. America is blessed with perhaps a million expatriate Vietnamese, a rich accretion to our culture and our material well-being. With incredible industry and determination, these new Americans have educated their children, nurtured their families, and made full use of the opportunities this country provides all who are willing to work for them. These are the same people who populated the ranks of the ARVN, and who for year after bloody year fought for freedom in their country of origin. We abandoned them then, and their sacrifices went forfeit, but there may be some measure of atonement in our accepting them here in subsequent years.

* * *
Conclusion

By way of conclusion, I will just state my conviction that the war in Vietnam was a just war fought by the South Vietnamese and their allies for admirable purposes, that those who fought it did so with their mightiest hearts, and that in the process they came very close to succeeding in their purpose of enabling South Vietnam to sustain itself as a free and independent nation. A reporter once remarked that General Creighton Abrams was a man who deserved a better war. I quoted that observation to General Abrams’s eldest son, who immediately responded: “He didn’t see it that way. He thought the Vietnamese were worth it.” So do I.

All told, the balance sheet on ARVN, to include very prominently the Regional and Popular Forces integrated into the army in 1970, is positive. The victory ultimately was not won, but the spirit and dedication and courage and determination of those who sought it have found productive new soil here in America. We are all the better for it.

_____
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lewis Sorley served in Vietnam as executive officer of a tank battalion operating in the Central Highlands. A third-generation graduate of the United States Military Academy, he also holds a Ph.D. from the Johns Hopkins University. During two decades of military service he led tank and armored cavalry units in the United States and Germany as well as Vietnam, served in staff assignments in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Office of the Army Chief of Staff, and was on the faculties at West Point and the Army War College.

He is the author of two biographies, Thunderbolt: General Creighton Abrams and the Army of His Times and Honorable Warrior: General Harold K. Johnson and the Ethics of Command, and a history entitled A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America’s Last Years in Vietnam. He has also transcribed and edited Vietnam Chronicles: The Abrams Tapes, 1968-1972.

1 Douglas Pike, “Bibliography: Periodicals,” Indochina Chronology (April-June 1999), p. 1.
2 James Webb, “History Proves Vietnam Victors Wrong,” Wall Street Journal (28 April 2000).
3 Brigadier General James Lawton Collins, Jr., The Development and Training of the South Vietnamese Army, 1950-1972 (Washington: Department of the Army, 1975), p. 101.
4 Lieutenant General Fred C. Weyand, Senior Officer Debriefing Report, CG II Field Force, Vietnam, 29 March 1966 – 1 August 1968, MHI [U.S. Army Military History Institute] files.
5 Message, Abrams to Johnson, MAC 5307, 040950Z June 1967, CMH [U.S. Army Center of Military History] files.
6 Lieutenant General Duong Van Khuyen, RVNAF Logistics (Washington: U.S. Army Center of Military History, 1980), p. 57.
7 Time, 19 April 1968.
8 Letter, General Bruce C. Clarke to Brigadier General Hal C. Pattison, 29 December 1969, Clarke Papers, MHI.
9 As quoted in Joint Chiefs of Staff, The History of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: The Joint Chiefs of Staff and the War in Vietnam, 1960-1968, Part III (Washington: JCS Historical Division, 1 July 1970), p. 51-7.
10 Letter, General Bruce C. Clarke to Brigadier General Hal C. Pattison, 29 December 1969, Clarke Papers, MHI.
11 Brigadier General Zeb B. Bradford, Jr., Interview, 12 October 1989.
12 Message, Abrams to Wheeler and McCain, MAC 13555, 071007Z October 1968, CMH files.
13 William E. Colby, “Vietnam After McNamara,” The Washington Post (27 April 1995).
14 Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker, Thayer Award Address, West Point, New York, as printed in the Congressional Record (28 May 1970), p. E4732.
15 Ibid.

16 John Paul Vann, Remarks, Lexington, Kentucky, 8 January 1972, Vann Papers, Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce, University of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky.
17 Message, Abrams to Wheeler and McCain, MAC 13555, 071007Z October 1968, CMH. 18 Brigadier General Tran Dinh Tho, The Cambodian Incursion (Washington: U.S. Army Center of Military History, 1979), p. 2.
19 Thomas Fleming, Society of the Cincinnati Lecture, Washington, D.C., 28 October 2005.
20Anthony Joes, Resisting Rebellion (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2004), p. 139. Joes cites as sources Bruce Catton, Glory Road, pp. 102 and 255, and Allan Nevins, The War for the Union: The Organized War to Victory, 1864-1865, p. 131.
21 John Keegan, The First World War (New York: Vintage Books, 2000), pp. 329-331. 22 Geoffrey Perret, There’s a War to Be Won (New York: Ivy Books, 1991), p. 453.
23 Ibid., p. 205.
24 Message, Cliff Snyder, National Archives, to Sorley, 20 May 2002: “We have 123 boxes of Awards to Vietnamese and Free World Military Forces, 1965-1970. We also have 62 boxes under Awards to Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces Personnel, 1971- 1973. Lastly, we have the MACV general orders themselves, 48 boxes for 1964-1973. Each box may contain up to 1,000 pages.”
25 An example is Colonel Cau Le, regimental commander of the 47th ARVN Infantry Regiment, who spent a dozen years in combat and another thirteen years (five of them in solitary confinement) as a prisoner of the communists and was awarded the U.S. Silver Star and Bronze Star Medal for valorous combat leadership. Le and his family established a new life in America after his wife, Kieu Van, had worked as a nurse to support their five children until her husband’s release from captivity. See Robert F. Dorr and Fred L. Borch, “U. S. Medals,” Army Times (13 March 2006), p. 52.
26 General Cao Van Vien et al., The U.S. Adviser (Washington: U.S. Army Center of Military History, 1980), p. 142.
27 Lieutenant General Ngo Quang Truong, Territorial Forces (Washington: U.S. Army Center of Military History, 1978), p. 134.
28 Ibid., p. 34.
29 General Creighton Abrams at Weekly Intelligence Estimate Update, 18 April 1971, in Lewis Sorley, ed., Vietnam Chronicles (Lubbock: Texas Tech University Press, 2004), p. 592.
30 General Cao Van Vien, Leadership (Washington: U.S. Army Center of Military History, 1981), p. 170.
31 Joes, Resisting Rebellion, p. 138.
32 Vien, Leadership, p. 169.
33 Thomas Polgar, as quoted in J. Edward Lee and Toby Haynsworth, ed., White Christmas in April (New York: Peter Lang, 1975), p. 73.
34 Colonel William LeGro, as quoted in Lee and Haynsworth, White Christmas in April, p. 67.
35 Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker, Oral History Interview, Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library, p. I:11.
36 Quoted in Jeffrey J. Clarke, Advice and Support: The Final Years (Washington: U.S. Army Center of Military History, 1988), p. 312.
37 As reported by Major General George I. Forsythe following a 20 January 1968 meeting with President Thieu, quoted in Clarke, Final Years, p. 307.
38 Joint Chiefs of Staff, The History of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, p. 52-43.
39 Notes by Vincent Davis of a telecon during which Vann described his 15 December 1969 presentation at Princeton, Vann Papers, Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce, University of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky.
40 Lester A. Sobel, ed., South Vietnam: U.S.-Communist Confrontation in Southeast Asia, Volume 6: 1971 (New York: Facts on File, 1973), p. 211.
41 Remarks, Lexington, Kentucky, 8 January 1972, Vann Papers.
42 Ellsworth Bunker Interview, Duke University Living History Project, Durham, North Carolina, 2 March 1979.
43 Weekly Intelligence Estimate Update, 30 January 1971, in Sorley, Vietnam Chronicles, p. 525.
44 Ibid., COMUS Update, 16 February 1971, p. 535.
45 Ibid., COMUS Briefing with Admiral McCain, 19 February 1971, and Weekly Intelligence Estimate Update, 27 March 1971, pp. 535, 577. A number of years later Lieutenant General Sidney B. Berry wrote a Letter to the Editor of the Washington Post (18 May 1995) in which he said: “I was privileged to command the American helicopter force that supported Lam Son 719, and I directed the study and analysis of its helicopter support. Herein, I report the correct figures of American helicopters lost to hostile action during that operation.” Berry continued: “The U.S. Army’s after-action analysis shows that 107 helicopters were lost to hostile action during Lam Son 719. These losses occurred during 353,287 sorties and 134,861 flying hours.”
46 Ibid., COMUS Briefing with Admiral McCain, 19 February 1971, p. 537.
47 Ibid., Commanders Weekly Intelligence Estimate Update, 20 February 1971, pp. 538- 539.
48 Ibid., p. 542.
49 Ibid., COMUS Update, 24 February 1971, pp. 543-544.
50 Ibid., Lieutenant General Ewell Update, 16 March 1971, p. 562.
51 Ibid., COMUS Update, 4 March 1971, p. 551.
52 Ibid., COMUS Update, pp. 550-551.
53 Ibid., COMUS Update, p. 551.
54 Ibid., COMUS Update, pp. 557-558.
55 Ibid., Commanders Weekly Intelligence Estimate Update, 20 March 1971, pp. 564- 565.
56 Ibid., COMUS Update, 23 March 1971, p. 566.
57 Ibid., Weekly Intelligence Estimate Update, 27 March 1971, p. 577.
58 Message, Lieutenant General James W. Sutherland to Abrams, QTR 0567, 281140Z March 1971, Special Abrams Papers Collection, Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania.
59 Message, Lieutenant General James W. Sutherland to Abrams, QTR 0446, 211040Z March 1971, Special Abrams Papers Collection.
60 COMUS with Sir Robert Thompson, 25 March 1971, in Sorley, Vietnam Chronicles, p. 569.
61 Ibid., Secretary of the Army Brief, 26 April 1971, p. 608.
62 Ibid., COMUS with Sir Robert Thompson, 25 March 1971, p. 570.
63 Major General Nguyen Duy Hinh, Lam Son 719 (Washington: U.S. Army Center of Military History, 1979), p. 5.
64 Military History Institute of Vietnam, Victory in Vietnam, trans. Merle L. Pribbenow (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2002), p. 29.
65 John P. Vann, Letter to Henry Cabot Lodge, 9 December 1969, Vann Papers.
66 Weekly Intelligence Estimate Update, 30 October 1971, in Sorley, Vietnam Chronicles, p. 686.
67 Message, Barnes to Weyand, PKU 0378, 100736Z March 1972, MHI files.
68 Luu Van Loi and Nguyen Anh Vu, Le Duc Tho-Kissinger Negotiations in Paris (Hanoi: World Publishing House, 1996), pp. 66-67.
69 Remarks, Lexington, Kentucky, 8 January 1972, Vann Papers. Vann suggested that, to put Vietnam in perspective, it was useful to know that during 1971 there were 1,221 U.S. servicemen killed in Vietnam and during the same year 1,647 people were killed in New York City.
70 Douglas Pike, “A Look Back at the Vietnam War: The View from Hanoi,” Paper Written for the Vietnam War Symposium, The Wilson Center, Washington, D.C., 7-8 January 1983, p. 17.
71 John Paul Vann, Remarks, Lexington, Kentucky, 8 January 1972, Vann Papers.
72 Military History Institute of Vietnam, Victory in Vietnam, p. 283.
73 Douglas Pike, “The View from Hanoi,” p. 17.
74 Douglas Pike, PAVN: People’s Army of Vietnam (Novato: Presidio Press, 1986), p. 225. 75 Douglas Pike, “The View from Hanoi,” p.17.
76 Commanders Weekly Intelligence Estimate Update, 22 April 1972, in Sorley, Vietnam Chronicles, p. 826.
77 Message, Abrams to Laird, MAC 04039, 020443Z May 1972, CMH files.
78 Military History Institute of Vietnam, Victory in Vietnam, p. 338.
79 Ibid., p. 350.
80 Melvin R. Laird, “Iraq: Learning the Lessons of Vietnam,” Foreign Affairs (November/December 2005), p. 26.
81 The Washington Post (28 December 1968).
82 James L. Buckley, “Vietnam and Its Aftermath,” in Anthony T. Bouscaren, ed., All Quiet on the Eastern Front (Old Greenwich: Devin-Adair, 1977), p. 84.
83 Merle L. Pribbenow, Message to Sorley, 1 May 2002. The estimates of wounded cited are from Lieutenant General Le Trong Tan, Several Issues in Combat Guidance and Command (Hanoi: People’s Army Publishing House, 1979), p. 353.
84 In Lee and Haynsworth, p. 67.
85 As quoted in Todd, Cruel April, p. 145.
86 Seth Mydans, “A War Story’s Missing Pages,” The New York Times (24 April 2000).
87 Vietnam Magazine (August 1990), p. 6.
88 The Boston Globe (30 April 2000).
89 Colonel Stuart Herrington, “Fall of Saigon,” Discovery Channel, 1 May 1995.
90 Douglas Pike, PAVN, p. 310n5.
91 Australian Minister for Immigration Michael MacKellar was quoted as saying that “about half the boat people perished at sea,” basing this conclusion on “talks with refugees and intelligence sources.” Thus, he said in 1979, “we are looking at a death rate of between 100,000 and 200,000 in the last four years.” The Age Newspaper, The Boat People: An Age Investigation (Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1979), p. 80. According to James Banerian, the International Red Cross estimated that 300,000 boat people perished in their attempts to reach safety. Losers Are Pirates, p. 2.

Ho Chi Minh’s Entreaties to Truman

By Paul Schmehl

Whenever discussing the Vietnam War, one of the topics that comes up is that the OSS worked with Ho during WWII, Ho requested help from the US by sending both letters and telegrams to President Truman and Ho quoted the American Declaration of Independence in his own declaration of independence.

While all these things are true, they often lead to a false conclusion.  It is argued that because the US ignored Ho, he turned to China and Russia for help with his nationalist movement.  Nothing could be further from the truth, but that doesn’t stop people from arguing it.  Ho was a committed communist and skilled deceiver, as our lengthy treatise establishes thoroughly.  He had no intentions of turning Vietnam into an American-like republic.  His assignment, as a member of the Soviet Comintern, was to establish communism in Indochina. To that end, he established the Indochina Communist Party in 1930 and worked assiduously to strengthen it to seize power when the opportunity presented itself.

The vacuum created by the end of World War II provided his opportunity, and he seized it.

It is also claimed that Truman ignored Ho Chi Minh’s entreaties because he wanted the French to re-establish their colony in Indochina.  However, the text of telegrams sent to the consulates in Saigon and Hanoi by the Secretary of State and Acting Secretary of State demonstrate that the Truman administration was not fooled by Ho’s claims of nationalism.  Ho’s entreaties were ignored because they were known to be deceitful.

In February, 1946, the US Secretary of State of the Truman administration sent a telegram to the Ambassador to France asking to be kept up to date on whether “Leclerc the intransigeant and uncompromising colonial-minded and d’Argenlieu the conciliatory and moderate” had the support of the French government. 1

In his response two days later, the US Ambassador indicated that it was his belief that the French government was inclined toward “a liberal and progressive colonial policy in Indo-China” 2

Ten days later, the Assistant Chief of the Division of Southeast Asian Affairs cabled the US Secretary of State and stateed, “It seems certain that Annamese plan desperate resistance to French.” 3

Two weeks later, the Consul of Saigon cabled the Secretary of State that “there were additional incidents last night including sacking of house of one of signers of “motion” calling for Vietnam independence and cessation of hostilities. He himself was severely beaten by military.” 4

On August 9th, the Chief of the Division of Southeast Asian Affairs cabled the Director of the Office of Far Eastern Affairs and informed him that “Recent developments indicate that the French are moving to regain a large measure of their control of Indochina in violation of the spirit of the March 6 convention. The evidence, as set forth below, suggests that the French are attempting to gain their objective by manoeuvres designed to confine and weaken Viet Nam. In the event that Viet Nam decides to resist these encroachments, which is by no means unlikely, widespread hostilities may result.” 5

The March 6 agreement to which he refers is the modus vivendi signed between the French and the Viet Minh government (Ho Chi Minh), and the reason for the rising animus was that the Viet Minh felt that should have the right to Cochinchina, including the Mekong Delta, Saigon and Cholon, and the French disagreed. They were willing to recognize Ho’s government, but did not what to give up the rich, fertile lands of the South.

He closed with this: “In conclusion, it is SEA’s view that the Annamese are faced with the choice of a costly submission to the French or of open resistance, and that the French may be preparing to resort to force in order to secure their position throughout Indochina. It may not be advisable for this Government to take official notice of this situation during the Peace Conference,56 but the Department should be prepared, SEA believes, to express to the French, in view of our interest in peace and orderly development of dependent peoples, our hope that they will abide by the spirit of the March 6 convention.”

So, in 1946, the US was opposed to the French reoccupation of Indochina (at that time Annam, Tonkin, Cochinchina, Cambodia, and Laos.

On September 11, the Ambassador in France cabled the Secretary of State and reported that he had met with Ho Chi Minh, who had requested assistance from the US in his failing negotiations with the French. He wrote, “The principal point on which they failed to reach agreement concerns Cochin China: the French representatives insist that Cochin China be an “independent” entity in an Indochinese federation, while the Viet-Nam representatives insist that one central government in Indochina must dominate the whole country. He said that he and his party aspired to Viet-Nam “independence” in an “Union Franchise”. He said that they would like to receive some “help” from us, but did not specify what he meant by that. He took occasion to say that he was not a communist.” 6 Ho was, of course, a paid Comintern agent at the time and lied to the US Ambassador.

On September 17, the Ambassador reported that Ho had signed a modus vivendi with the French. 7

One of the elements of that agreement was that all fighting in Cochinchina would stop. It did not, of course, and this became the second diplomatic agreement that Ho violated. In point of fact, Ho violated every international agreement he signed. He refused to agree that the armed forces in Cochinchina would disarm.

In October, State cabled Saigon asking for an explanation of Ho’s flag, particularly the use of a gold star in the center of a red field, since that clearly hinted at communism. 8

In December, the Secretary of State cabled various missions abroad informing them that the nature of the government in Vietnam was communist. 9

So, before the end of 1946, the US was already aware that Ho and his government were communist, not nationalist, and US policy proceeded accordingly.

In January 1947, the Secretary of State cabled the Embassy in France asking them to convey US consternation with French attempts to “place US in partisan position” and asked they contact the French Foreign Office and request a retraction. 10

So, even after becoming aware that Ho was a communist and his government was communist, the US still refused to take a partisan position regarding the unrest in Annam, Tonkin and Cochinchina.

On January 15, 1947, the Ambassador cabled the Secretary of State to update him on affairs in Indochina. He wrote regarding Ho’s government, “the small Communist group which now dominates, and which is composed, he says, of a coterie of Moscow-trained young men.” 11

By January 15,1947, the US was well aware that Ho and his government were Soviet-trained communists.

FOREIGN RELATIONS OF THE UNITED STATES – TRUMAN – 1946 100
851G.00/7-746: Telegram
The Acting Secretary of State to the Consul at Saigon (Reed)
SECRET WASHINGTON, September 9, 1946— 2 p.m.
Intelligence reports of uncertain reliability state USSR (a) anxious to see Ho Chi Minh succeed unite three Kys under Viet Nam for possible eventual weapon against National Govt China and (b) has instructed French Communists manoeuvre reliable French Officers to Indochina, for training cadres future Viet Nam army. Keep Dept informed indications subservience to Party line by Ho and other leaders, relative strength Communist and non-Communist elements Viet Nam, and contacts with Communists other countries.
Inform O’Sullivan.Sent Saigon. Repeated
Paris59 for info.
CLAYTON
— — — — — — — — — —
59 As Telegram 4680

FOREIGN RELATIONS OF THE UNITED STATES – TRUMAN – 1946 108
851G.00B/10-946: Airgram
The Acting Secretary of State to the Consul at Saigon (Reed)
SECRET WASHINGTON, October 9, 1946.
A.29 Reference Department’s telegram Number 241 of September 9 and Consulate General’s telegram Number 374 of September 17.
Department would appreciate information on the origins and significance of the use of a gold star in the center of a red field as the Vietnam flag. The flag of the Malayan Peoples Anti-Japanese Union forces in Malaya (an organization undisguisedly controlled by Chinese Communists) was red with three gold stars in the upper right corner. Three stars were used to symbolize the three races in Malaya. Although the MPAJU has been disbanded, the Communist movement in Malaya is still known as the three-star movement. The official Vietnam explanation of the Vietnam flag would be especially interesting in view of Ho Chi Minh’s denial of Communist orientation on the part of his government, since the Vietnam Government must, certainly realize that the use of a gold star on a red field will inevitably lead nationals of other countries to form conclusions which the Vietnam Government would apparently not wish them to form
ACHESON
— — — — — — — — — —

FOREIGN RELATIONS OF THE UNITED STATES – TRUMAN – 1949 54
851G.01/5-1149: Telegram
The Secretary of State to the Consulate at Hanoi1
SECRET WASHINGTON, May 20, 1949— 5 p.m.
Reur informative tel 36:2
In talks Xuan and reps his govt you may take fol line as representing consensus informed Americans: In light Ho’s known background, no other assumption possible but that he outright Commie so long as (1) he fails unequivocally repudiate Moscow connections and Commie doctrine and (2) remains personally singled out for praise by internatl Commie press and receives its support. Moreover, US not impressed by nationalist character red flag with yellow stars. Question whether Ho as much nationalist as Commie is irrelevant. All Stalinists in colonial areas are nationalists. With achievement natl aims (i.e., independence) their objective necessarily becomes subordination state to Commie purposes and ruthless extermination not only opposition groups but all elements suspected even slightest deviation. On basis examples eastern Eur it must be assumed such wld be goal Ho and men his stamp if included Bao Dai Govt. To include them in order achieve reconciliation opposing polit elements and “national unity” wld merely postpone settlement issue whether Vietnam to be independent nation or Commie satellite until circumstances probably even less favorable nationalists than now. It must of course be conceded theoretical possibility exists estab National Communist state on pattern Yugoslavia in any area beyond reach Soviet army. However, US attitude cld take acct such possibility only if every other possible avenue closed to preservation area from Kremlin control. Moreover, while Vietnam out of reach Soviet army it will doubtless be by no means out of reach Chi Commie hatchet men and armed forces.
1 Repeated as 84 to Saigon and 1713 to Paris and in 379, May 24, 5 p.m., to New Delhi, 286 to Bangkok, and 636 to Manila.
2 May 11, p. 25. [0524]

The Rules of Engagement in the 2nd Indochina War

By Paul Schmehl

This is a subject that is little known or discussed among the so-called experts on the war but had a significant impact on its outcome.  While it is well known that Washington micromanaged the war (thus the famous story about LBJ boasting that the military couldn’t bomb an outhouse without his approval 1), the details of what that meant are not as well-known.  When viewed through the lens of military strategy they border on the insane.

The rules of engagement were drawn from three different sources; the President and Secretary of Defense, through the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Commander of the Military Assistance Command and the Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Command. Except if you were operating in Laos. Then the State Department set the rules.2 3 4

There are two primary facets to the rules of engagement; the air war and the ground war.  The following are lawful targets according to the laws of war. 5

  1. Military
    1. complexes
    2. equipment and supplies
  2. Economic
    1. power
    2. industrial (war supporting/import/export)
    3. transportation (equipment/lines of communication/petroleum)
  3. Political
  4. Geographic
  5. Personnel
    1. military
    2. civilians participating in hostilities

The targets that the US military were permitted to attack from the air per Secretary McNamara were

  1. Transportation
  2. Military outside of populated areas

Air War 6

  1. Pilots could not attack targets that were not on the approved list
    1. Hanoi and Haiphong had 30 mile perimeters that were no bombing zones
    2. A 30 mile perimeter on the northern border of North Vietnam prevented pursuit of attacking MIG fighters
    3. Rail yards and switching stations were off-limits
    4. Airfields were off-limits
    5. MIGs could only be shot at if they were airborne, clearly identified and displayed hostile intent
    6. SAM sites could only be attacked if they attacked first
    7. SAM sites and antiaircraft sites could not be attacked while they were under construction
    8. Locks, dams and dikes could never be attacked
    9. Hydroelectric plants could not be attacked
    10. Military targets could not be attacked if they were in protected zones
    11. Trucks in Laos and North Viet Nam could not be attacked unless they were on a road and displayed hostile intent
    12. Military truck parks more than 200 meters from a road could not be attacked
  2. Pilots had to travel routes specified by Washington and would face court-martial if they disobeyed.
    1. The PAVN knew these routes and placed all their antiaircraft defenses on those routes, forcing American pilots to run a gauntlet of enemy fire to complete their missions.
    2. They were forced to fly over targets in weather so bad they could not release their bombs but still had to face the enemy’s radar controlled ground fire.
  3. Pilots in South Viet Nam could not provide air support to ground troops, even if fired upon, unless they got clearance, and they first had to drop leaflets warning possible civilians to clear the area.
  4. The average time in Laos between the discovery of a target and permission to strike was fifteen days!

Senator John Stennis, Chairman of the Preparedness Investigating Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee, stated, in 1967, “That the air campaign has not achieved its objectives to a greater extent cannot be attributed to impotence or inability of air power.  It attests, rather, to the fragmentation of our air might by overly restrictive controls, limitations, and the doctrine of ‘gradualism’ placed on our aviation forces which prevented them from waging the air campaign in the manner and according to the timetable which was best calculated to achieve maximum results.” 7

The Subcommittee found that Secretary of Defense McNamara and President Lyndon Johnson had “discounted the unanimous professional judgment of U.S. commanders and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and substituted civilian judgment in the details of target selection and the timing of strikes.” 8

In 1972, President Nixon authorized all of the targets that the JCS requested with the exception of three.  The results were reported by Admiral Stockdale, who was a prisoner of war in the Hanoi Hilton at the time.

At dawn, the streets of Hanoi were absolutely silent. The usual patriotic wakeup music was missing.  The familiar street sounds, the horns, all gone. In prison, interrogators and guards would inquire about our needs solicitously.  Unprecedented morning coffee was delivered to our cell blocks.  One look at any Vietnamese officer’s face told the whole story. It telegraphed accommodation, hopelessness, remorse, fear.  The shock was there; our enemy’s will was broken.  The sad thing was that we all knew what we were seeing could have been done in any 10-day period in the previous seven years and saved lives of thousands, including most of those 57,000 dead Americans. 9

Ground War 10

  1. Commanders in direct contact with the enemy in uninhabited areas could request direct artillery fire without prior authorization.
  2. Commanders in direct contact with the enemy in inhabited areas could only authorize direct fire if their mission was in jeopardy and the enemy was positively identified and only for defensive purposes.
  3. Indirect fire could only be utilized after approval of the Province Chief for the province where the fire would be directed.
  4. No artillery could be fired in areas where friendly troops were not operating without the prior use of leaflets or loudspeakers, even if enemy fire was received from the area
  5. Direct fire against enemy forces that were not in direct contact in inhabited areas required approval of both the Province Chief and the battalion commander
  6. Indirect fire missions in inhabited areas required the approval of the Province Chief, the battalion commander and the dropping of leaflets or the use of loudspeakers to warn civilians prior to commencement
  7. Cordon and search missions could only be conducted with the approval of the district and village chief as well as the US commander, and RVN advisors must accompany all missions
  8. Attacks in inhabited areas required that the commander explain to the inhabitants why the action was initiated, after the attack was over
  9. Fleeing enemy troops could not be engaged unless they were first ordered to halt and failed to obey.  Then they must be fired upon with the intent to wound only, by firing at the lower extremities.
  10. The much discussed “free fire zones” had to have prior approval from RVN political authorities and were still restricted by all the other rules of engagement.

Senator Barry Goldwater was so appalled by the rules of engagement that he had them entered into the Congressional Record along with this statement.

Mr. GOLDWATER. Mr. President, I ask this because I think it 1s very, very necessary for the Members of this body. the public, the press, and media to understand fully the restrictions that were placed upon aU of our forces in South Vietnam.

It is absolutely unbelievable that any Secretary of Defense would ever place such restrictions on our forces. It Is unbelievable that any President would have allowed this to happen.

I think on the reading of these restrictions, members of this body will begin to understand in a better way just what happened to the American military power in South Vietnam. As I say, it is unbelievable.

I am ashamed of my country for having had people who would have allowed such restrictions to have been placed upon men who were trained to fight, men who were trained to make decisions to win war, and men who were risking their lives. I daresay that these restrictions had as much to do with our casualties as the enemy themselves.

The Rest of the Story

BaSo often the story of Viet Nam is told from a singular point of view.  Only part of the story is told, and that part impacts people’s lives in multiple negative ways because the truth is not known.  One of the most impactful photographs of the 2nd Indochina War is the famous Eddie Adams photograph of Brig. General Nguyen Ngoc Loan executing Bay Lop.

When this photograph hit the front page of the New York Times there was universal outrage.  The brutality of the act repelled people.  The New York Times continued to condemn Loan’s actions after he became a US citizen.  Not once did they ever mention what Bay Lop had done to deserve execution.

However, what the media didn’t report might have completely changed the reaction of people worldwide.  Had they published this picture, the execution of Bay Lop might have been put in a different context and changed the reaction to the photo of his execution.

The caption under the photo explains the scene.  Before Bay Lop was executed, he and his fellow Viet Cong executed an entire family because of the father, Lt. Col. Nguyen Tuan, refused to give them the information they wanted. Lt. Col. Tuan was decapitated, and his wife and six children were murdered with machine guns.

This is a photo of the family’s burial after Tet, including the small coffins of the children.

Bay Lop was the leader of that operation and was captured and executed shortly after for the murders.  Before his capture, he used civilians as a human shield, the second war crime he had committed that day. (The first was the murders of the Tuan family.)

Brig. General Nguyen Ngoc Loan’s execution of Bay Lop, although brutal, was legal under international law.  Assassins in civilian clothes do not enjoy any of the protections of international law and are subject to immediate execution if captured.

This story is a microcosm of what went on in Vietnam.  The communists routinely committed war crimes yet the media seldom reported them.  The legal actions taken by the South Vietnamese and their allies, however, were often described as war crimes and routinely criticized as inhumane.  This perspective affected the way people worldwide thought about the war and the actions of the South Vietnamese and their allies.

Meetings of Antiwar Activists With Communists

Comrades—Meetings 1963-1975

Appendix IA–American “Peace Activist” Meetings[1] with Enemy During War, 1962-1975 by Roger Canfield in Comrades in Arms: How the Americong Won the War in Vietnam Against the Common Enemy-America available http://americong.com

1962

March, Hanoi, Ruth Gage-Colby, Women Strike for Peace, WSP

July, Moscow, Dagmar Wilson, Ruth Gage-Colby, WSP

July, Havana, Brad Lyttle, Fellowship for Reconciliation, FOR

July 29-August 6, Helsinki, Rabinowitz, Myer, Supriano, Frank, Coffin and 445 others, CPUSA etc.

1963

Prague, FOR

Havana, Brad Lyttle, FOR

September, Moscow, Brad Lyttle, FOR

Hanoi, trade unions.

Hanoi, Ralph Schoenman, Russell War Crimes Commission

1964

May, Havana, Dave Dellinger, FOR

June, Hanoi, Phillip Abbot Luce, PLP

June, Prague, Hassler, Jim Forest, Phil Berrigan

Sept, Moscow, Aptheker, Bloice, Goodlett, CPUSA

November, Hanoi, Robt Williams, Rittenberg, Coe, Worthy, Strong

1965

March, Hanoi, Robert Williams

July, Helsinki, Aptheker, John Lewis, Myerson, Koch, Supriano, Ward, CPUSA

May-July, Moscow, Hanoi, Jakarta, Clarke, Gordon, Frances Herring, , Margaret Russell, Phyllis Schmidt Shirley Lens, Bergman, Nanci Gitlin, Bev Axelrod, Mary Lou Packard (Randal), Ruth Gage-Colby WSP

August, Hanoi, Myerson, Koch, Supriano, Ward, CPUSA

October, Toronto, Cora Weiss, Duckles, Taylor, Ayers and 225 others

Prague, Lightfoot, CPUSA

December, Prague, Hanoi, Peking, Moscow, Aptheker, Hayden, Lynd.

1966

February 8, Cambodia,Robert Scheer.

April, Moscow, Morris Childs,

Spring, Hanoi, Ralph Schoenman,

Summer, Geneva Staughton Lynd,

June, July and August 1966, Japan, Howard Zinn, Cynthia Quenton Basset, Kay Boyle, David Dellinger, Donald Duncan, Israel Dresner, Russell Johnson, Donald Keyes, Murray Levin, Floyd McKissick, David Ernest McReynolds, Robert Morris Ockene.

July 27, Phnom Penh, Cambodia Dagmar Wilson, Donald Duncan, Floyd McKissick, Kay Boyle, Rabbi Israel Dresner and Russell Johnson.

October, Hanoi David Dellinger.

December and January, Hanoi, Harrison Salisbury.

December 22, Hanoi, Barbara Deming, Grace Mora Newman, Patricia Griffith and Diane Nash

Late December 1966, Hanoi, AJ Muste, Rabbi Abraham L. Feinberg, Ambrose Reeves, Pastor Friedrich Gustav Emil Martin Niemoller.

1967

April, Puerto Rico Tom Hayden.

May 2-10, Stockholm, Carl Oglesby, Courtland Cox.

Summer, Stockholm, Dave Dellinger, Oglesby, James Baldwin, Stokely Carmichael, Gabriel Kolko.

April 19, Hanoi, Nick Egelson.

July 6-9, Stockholm, Spock, Herbert Aptheker, James Bevel, Amy Swerdlow, Simon Casady, Arlene Eisen Bergman, Bernardine Dohrn, Jeff Shero and 442 other Americans.

Montreal, students.

July 28 – August 5, Havana, SDS, SNCC.

August 29, Hanoi, Stokely Carmichael.

August 1967, Hanoi, David Schoenbrun and wife.

September 2-18, Hanoi, Wilfred Burchett, Dagmar Wilson, Ruth Krause and Mary, WSP.

September 6-13, 1967, BRATISLAVA, CZECHOSLOVAKIA, Hayden and David Dellinger, Robert Allen, Malcolm Boyd, Carol Brightman, John “Jock” Pairman Brown, Bronson Clark, Robert “Stoney” Cooks, Rennie Davis, Dave and Betty Dellinger, Thorne Webb Dreyer, Nicholas Egleson, red diaper baby Richard Flacks, Ross Flanagan, Norman David Fruchter, Tom Gardner, Carol Glassman, Steve Halliwell, Christopher Jencks, Russell Johnson, Carole King, Andrew David Kopkind, Robert Kramer, Carol Cohen McEldowney, Leon Moore, Linda Moore, Raymond Mungo, Douglas Craig Norberg, Vivian Emma LeBurg Rothstein, Steve Schwarzchild, Sol Stern, Dennis Sweeney, John Tillman, Barbara Webster, Eric Weinberger, Hank Werner, John Wilson, Willie Wright, Ron Wright.

September 30- Oct.18, Hanoi, Hayden entourage.

OCTOBER 28, NOVEMBER 4, Hanoi, Tom HAYDEN ON RADIO HANOI.

(November 4-11) Phnom Penh, Hayden.

1968

January 23, Haiphong and Hanoi, Quaker Action Group, AQUAG.

February 28, Japan, deserters.

February 1968, Budapest, 67 Western Hemispheric Communist parties.

November, Stockholm, American Deserters Committee, ADC

February, Havana, Tom Hayden, Carl Davidson, Todd Gitlin, Gerry Long, Susan Sutheim, Ed Jennings, Joe Horton, Paul Hugh Shinoff, and Les Coleman and 40 other Americans.

Moscow, North Korea, two SNCC leaders.

February, Havana, Ted Gold, Mark Rudd and twenty other SDS.

February 9, Vientiane, Laos Daniel Berrigan, Professor Howard Zinn.

February 17, Hanoi,. Berrigan, Zinn.

March, Hanoi Mary McCarthy, Franz Schurmann, Harry Ashmore, William Baggs and Charles Collingwood.

March, Hanoi, Charles Collingwood, Harry Ashmore and William Baggs.

April, Hanoi, Steve Halliwell.

April, Sweden, Ken Cloke.

April 3-6, Paris WSP.

Paris, American contacts.

May 3-17, Hanoi, Robert Greenblatt, Susan Sontag and Andrew Kopkind.

May 15, Hanoi, Naomi Jaffe and three other SDS members.

June 16, July, Paris, Greenblatt and Dellinger.

July, Hanoi, Richard Barnet and Marcus Raskin of IPS.

Prague and to Budapest, Greenblatt.

July 3-6, Paris, Hayden, Stuart Meacham, Vernon Grizzard, and Anne Weills Scheer.

July 17-August 1, Hanoi Hayden, Stuart Meacham, Vernon Grizzard, and Anne Weills Scheer.

July 26, Havana, five SDS and 300 others.

June 16, Prague, Robert Greenblatt and Dellinger.

July, Grenoble William Standard, Carey McWilliams, Richard Falk, Hans Morganthal, and Quincy Wright.

July 28-August 6, Sofia, Bulgaria Howard Jeffrey Melish, Leslie Cagan and some fifty to seventy-one other Americans.

August 11-14, Kyoto, Japan, 23 Americans.

August 25-28, Ljubljana, Yugoslavia, Bernadine Dohrn, Judi Bernsten, Larry Bloom, Jeff Blum, Ruth Chamberlain, Bernardine Dohrn, Bryan Flack, Ruth Glick, Martin Kinner, Ellen and Fred Lessinger, Miles Mogulescu, Paul Schollmen, Mollje Struerer, and Daniel Swinney.

August 26-27, Mexico, Havana, Douglas Bernhardt, Michelle Clark, Ross Danielson, Pam Enriques, Larry Erander, Nancy Figeroa, Nick Freudenberg, Daniel Friedlander, Thomas Good, George Greunthal, Fred Halper, Louise Halper, Mark Hershel, (illegible) Iglesias, Hilda Ignatin, Jim Kulk, Jim Mitchell, Holly Moore, Steve Moore, Thomas Mosher, Mary Nalcoln, Morris Older, Sue Orrin, Mark Shapiro, Helen Shiller, Russell Smith, Jeffrey Swanson, Cliff Taylor, Joseph Webb, Marilyn Webb, and Bill Yates.

summer Cuba, Barbara Stone.

July–October, Cuba, Carol “Kali” Grosberg.

August and September, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Germany and Sweden, Bernadine Dohrn.

September 3, Budapest, Hungary, twenty-eight Americans

September 10- September 23, Paris, John Davis.

Prague Stockholm, John Davis.

September 12-16, Frankfurt, West Germany, Bernardine Dohrn and Bill Ayers.

Late September, Paris Howard Zinn, Jonathan Mirsky, George Kahin of Cornell, Marilyn Young and Douglas Dowd.

October 24-30, Paris and Stockholm Rabbi Balfour Brickner.

November 8, Japan Ernest P. Young,

November 28-December 1, Montreal, Douglas Dowd, Howard Zinn and 500 other Americans.

1969

January 1-10 Havana, Carl Oglesby, Bruce Goldberg, Russ Neufeld and Dan Friedlander.

May 14-16, Stockholm World Peace Council’s Conference on Vietnam, 1969.

April Cuba, East Berlin, Hanoi, new left.

April Prague office of the SDS Bernardine Dohrn and Steve Halliwell.

May 16-18, Stockholm, George Carrano, Donald McDonough, Anatol Rapaport, Noam Chomsky and Gabriel Kolko, John Wilson, Sherman Adams, Amy Swerdlow, Serita Crown, Althea Alexander Noam Chomsky, Joseph Elder, Bob Eaton, Bronson Clark, Joseph Crown, Richard Falk, Stanley Swerdlow, Doris Roberson, Carlton Goodlett, John McAuliff.

June 10-17, Phnom Penh, Hanoi, Joseph Elder

June 5-17, Moscow, Irving Sarnoff, , Barbara Bick, Arnold Samuel Johnson, Charles Fitzpatrick, Barbara Ruth Bick, Rennie Davis, David Tyre Dellinger, William Douthard, Douglas Fitzgerald Dowd, Carlton Benjamin Goodlett, Terrence Tyrone Hallinan, Gersho Phineas Horowitz, Arnold Johnson, Sylvia Kushner, Stewart Meacham, Sidney Peck and Irving Sarnoff

June 21-23, East Berlin, Dick Gregory; Stanley Faulkner, , Valeri Mitchell, Sonia Karose, Estelle Cypher, Susan Borenstein, Karen B. Ackerman, Herbert Aptheker, Barbara Bick, Mary Clarke, Martin Hall, Jarvis Tyner, Irving Sarnoff; Mary Angie Dickerson, Eleanor Ohman, Pauline Rosen and Carlton Goodlett.

July, Stockholm Irving Sarnoff.

July 9-15, July, Havana, Carlos Antonio Aponte, Robert Jay Barano, Christopher Kit Bakke, Thomas Wilson Bell, Edward “Corky” Benedict, Kathie Boudin, Cristina Bristol, Aubrey Brown, Robert Burlingham, George Cavalletto, Peter Clapp, Luis John Cuza, Lucas Daumont, Carl Alfred Davidson, Dianne Donghi, Bernardine Dohrn, Diane Westbrook Faber, Richard Rees Fagen, Ted Gold, Kenneth Alan Hechter, Frank Petras James, Nino Jeronimo, Gregory, Nina, Saul Irwin and Valerie Landau, Sandra Hale Levinson, Gerald “Jerry” William Long, Robert Schenk Love, Beth Susan Lyons, John “Shorty” Marquez, Albert Martinez, Howard Jeff Melish, David Millstone, Robert Edward Norton, Orlando Ortiz, Diana Oughton, Rose Paul, Verna Elinor Richey Pedrin, Jesus Maria Ramirez, Jose Ramirez, Eleanor Raskin, Patricia Ellen Shea, Jane Spielman, Jeronomi Ulpiano, Joanne Washington, Robert Wetzler, Myra Ann Wood, and Mary Woznich

August 4, Hanoi , SDS group

October 10-17, Paris, Rennie Davis and David Dellinger.

October 11-12, Stockholm, Irving Sarnoff and Ron Young.

October 15, Havana, George Cavalletto.

Late November, Havana, Julie Nichamin, Diana Oughton, John Butney (phonetic), Bruce Goldberg, Brian Murphy, Bill Thomas, Bill Drew, Phoebe Hirsch, Jerry Long. Arlene Bergman, Allen Young, Jerry Long; John McAuliff, Al Martinent. Weathermen: : Nichamin, Pierre Joseph Barthel, Neal Birnbaum, Marianne Camp, Sonia Helen Dettman, Linda Sue Evans, Laura Ann Obert, Nicholas Britt Riddle, Sheila Marie Ryan, Jeffrey David Sokolow, Mallorie N. Tolles, Robert Greg Wilfong, and Donna Jean Willmott, Willie Brand and Wendy Yoshimira, Bert Garskof, Sandy Pollack, Leslie Cagan.

December 1969 Hanoi, Cora Weiss, Ethel Taylor and Madeleine Duckles.

1970

January 31, 1970 Quebec, Montreal, Sylvia Kushner Katherine Camp, Arnold Johnson, and Stewart Meacham Stanley Faulkner, Joseph Crown, Pauline Rosen, Rev. Richard Norford

February 7-8, Vancouver, British Columbia, Carlton Goodlett and Irving Sarnoff and 125 others.

March 24- June 10, Hanoi, Stockholm, Moscow, Nancy Kurshan Rubin, Anita Susan Kushner Hoffman, Judith Gumbo Genie Plamondon.

March 28-30, Stockholm Robert Greenblatt, Irving Sarnoff, William Davidon, Doug Dowd, Carlton Goodlett, Sylvia Kushner, Noam Chomsky, Richard Fernandez, Nancy Kurshan Rubin, Anita Hoffman Judith Clavir and 34 other Americans.

February 13-April 28, Havana, Venceremos: Second Contingent, Edith Crichton, David Ira Camp, John De Wind, Nancy Frappier, Vicki Gabriner, Joyce Greenways, Ann Hathaway, Robert Hackman, Marguarita Hope, Lenore Ruth Kalom, Jonathan Lerner, Jeffrey Melish, Jed Proujansky, Daniel Ross Slick, Marguerite “Mini” Smith, Carlie Tanner, “Daren” [Karen] B. Ackerman, David L. Berger, Carol Brightman, Angela Davis, Ellis Jay Goldberg, William Joseph Maher, Karen Beth Nussbaum, Stephen William Shriver, Shari Whitehead.

April 13, Hanoi Noam Chomsky, Douglas Dowd and Rev. Richard Fernandez

April 12-22, Hanoi 1970 Institute for Policy Studies—Charlotte Bunch-Weeks, Gerald Shin, Frank Joyce and Elisabeth Sutherland-Martinez.

late May, Paris, John Kerry and his new wife Julia Thorne.

May 22-24, Toronto, Joseph H. Crown, William Standard, Richard Falk and 97 other U.S. lawyers.

May, Prague, Czechoslovakia, Ann Hathaway, Eleanor Ruth Kalom, Jonathan David Lerner and Carlie Tanner

June 25-July 2, Paris, Adam Schesch and 31 Minnesotans.

July 27, Havana, third Venceremos Brigade, Jon Frederic Frappier, Eda Godell Hallinan, Richard Gutman and others.

August 27, Cuba Robert Greenblatt,, Nancy Kurshan (Rubin), and Judy Clavir, Judy Gumbo)

Continuous, Cuban intelligence, Bernardine Dohrn, Martin Kenner, Mark Rudd, Julie Nichamin, Karen Koonan, Kathy Boudin, Gerry Long, Karen Ashley, Jeff Jones and Jennifer Dohrn.

August 25-27, Helsinki, Dave Dellinger, Bernardine Dohrn and others.

August and early September 1970, USSR, North Korea, North Vietnam, Algeria, and China, Eldridge Cleaver, Robert Scheer, Regina Blumenfeld, Randy Rappaport, Alexander Hing, Janet Austin, Hideko Pat Sumi, Anne Froines Janet Kranzberg Elaine Brown, Judith Clavir Andrew Truskier.

September 18-23, Pyongyang, Eldridge Cleaver and Byron Booth.

Algeria Cleaver.

September 23, Canada, Jane Fonda, Tommy Douglas

October 22-25, New Delhi, India, Moscow, three Americans.

November 9-23, Hanoi, Peter Weiss, William Standard and Morton Stavis.

November 28-30, Stockholm, David Dellinger, Rep. Ron Dellums, William Douthard, Sidney Peck, Jerrie M. Meadows, Willie Jenkins, Janey Hayes, Pauline Rosen, Bruce Beyer, Gerry Condon, Mike Powers, John Woods, Estelle Cypher, Eleanor Fowler, Carlton Goodlett, Gil Green Rev. Thomas Hayes, Stan Faulkner Ron Young Silvia Kushner and 15 other Americans.

December Moscow, Saigon, Paris, Hanoi, Mark Rasenick, Doug Hostetter, Keith Parker, David Ifshin and eight other NSA members. People’s Peace Treaty, Robert Greenblatt, Douglas Hostetter.

December 18-26, Hanoi, Anne M. Bennett, Ron Young, Trudi Young, Mary Luke Tobin

1971

March 3-10, Paris, Gabriel Kolko Rev. William T. Gramley, Allan Brick, Mrs. Allides Christopher, Rev. Richard McCollum, Mrs. Jane Whitney, Elaine Schmitt Urbain, Bud Ogle, Rev. Bruce Pierce Harriet Price and 160 other Americans.

Paris. Jane Fonda, Mark Lane, and Michael Hunter.

April 1-6, Vancouver and Toronto, Canada, 600-1,000 American women.

May 10, Paris, Sidney and Louise Peck, Robert Greenblatt, Carol Kitchen and Jack Davis

May 12-16, Budapest, Hungary, Ruth Gage-Colby, John Rankin Davis, Pauline Rosen and 25 other Americans including VVAW.

June 5, 1971, Stockholm, Larry Levin, Tom Hayden and others

June 20-26, Moscow, Oslo and Paris. VVAW Larry Rottman, John Onda, John Randolph “Randy” Floyd or Ken Campbell

Late June, Paris Cora Weiss, Richard Falk, David Dellinger and Ethel Taylor.

September 11-12, Paris. George McGovern, Frank Mankiewicz, Pierre Salinger

On September 21, Stockholm American Deserters Committee, ADC.

Late October, Hanoi WSP’s Amy Swerdlow and two others.

December 21, Paris, Rev. Richard Fernandez, a COLIFAM courier.

August, Paris, John Kerry

Paris VVAW staff member Joe Urgo’s trip to along with a [redacted] member of the War Resisters League, WRL, and [redacted] of Women’s Strike for Peace, WSP.[2]

Hanoi, David McReynold.

Paris, Al Hubbard.

1972

February 5, Paris, Richard J. Barnet and Peter Weiss of IPS.

late February Hanoi, China, George Wald.

January-March, Paris, Budapest, Moscow, Hanoi, and Japan, Al Hubbard.

Mid-February-March, Hanoi, Al Hubbard, Seymour Hersh and Pete Seeger.

February 11-13, Versailles, France, John Gilman, Elizabeth Moos, Sidney Peck, Evelynne Perry, Pauline Rosen, Irving and Ruth Sarnoff, Abe Weisburd, Bernard Weller, Michael Zagarell, Deborah Bustin, Fred Halstead, Daniel Rosenshine, Rennie Davis, Jane Fonda; Al Hubbard, [Richard?] Joe Bangert, Edward Damato, Robert Greenblatt, Fred Branfman, Delia Alvarez, Ron Ridenour, Margery Tabankin, Howard Zinn.

End of March, Hanoi, David Livingston and other labor leaders.

April 6-8, Paris, Cora Weiss, Bob Levering Marcus Raskin, Sister Mary –Luc (sic, Luke) Tobin, Stoney Cookes and Maria Jolas. .

April 20 Paris, Rep. Bella Abzug, Rep. Patsy Takemoto Mink and Amy] Swerdlow.

May 19-21, Canada, a VVAW member.

Mid-May? Paris, Rennie Davis

On May 25, Hanoi, Robert Lecky, Rev. Paul Mayer; Marge Tabankin, William Zimmerman

Late June Paris, Peter Mahoney, Rich Bangert, John Bochum, Stanley Michelson, Joseph Hirsch, Gary Steger, Forest Lindley, David Baily, John Turner, “Jack” Bronaugh, Willie Sykes, Ronald Sable, Thomas Zangrilli, Sean Newton, Toby Hollander, Paul Richards, Donald Ullrich all sixteen VVAW members

July 5, Cuba, Jean-Pierre Wendell, Leland Lubinsky, Fred Werner, Alan Morris, and Albert Morgafive members of VVAW in Venceremos Brigade.

June 6-10, Paris, Tom Hayden, David Dellinger and Rennie Davis

Most of July 1972 Hanoi, Moscow Jane Fonda.

August 4, Hanoi ,Dr. George Perera and John A. Sullivan.

July 29 to August 12, Hanoi, General Ramsey Clark.

End of August, Paris, David Dellinger and Cora Weiss.

September 11, Hanoi, Mrs. Charles, Mrs. Gartley, Elias, Weiss, Dellinger, Coffin, Mrs. Mary Anne Hamilton and Rev. Harry Bury.

October 4-17, Hanoi, 1972, Drs. Gardner, Simon and Wolf and one other.

In October 1972, Copenhagen, Denmark, CALC, and VVAW member assisting ADC.

During October Hanoi, Jane Hart (nee Senator Philip Hart), Mrs. D. Goodwin, Muriel Rukeyser and Denise Levertov COLIFAM sponsored.

End of October 25, Hanoi, Joseph Crown, Malcolm Monroe, Lawrence Velvel and John Wells.

Late October Paris, Cora Weiss and Richard Barnet.

November 12, Hanoi, Hayden, Howard Zinn, Rev. David Hunter, Fred Branfman, Susan Miller, Carolyn Mugar, Jan Austin.

December 11, Hanoi, Joan Baez; the Episcopal Rev. Michael Allen of Yale Divinity; Barry Romo , Gen. Telford Taylor.

1973

Hayden and Fonda Paris. They marched off to the Vietnamese mission.

January 23-February 3, Hanoi Dorothy R. Steffens,[3] Judy Tzu-Chun Wu, and Marii Hasegawa all WILFP.

February 19-24, Rome, Sidney Peck, John David Musgrave

July 28-August 4, East Berlin, 1973, Robert Diaz, Maria Elena Gaitan, Tony Herman, Maggie Block, Tim Brick, Judy Simmons, Joe Rhodes, Mary Clemons, Jeanne Woods, Linda Weber, Beatrice Siskind Johnson, Karen Ackerman, and some 285 other Americans.

August 2-15, 1973, Tokyo, Gensuiko,

August 8-August 26, Moscow, Kiev, Leningrad, and Odessa, many Americans.

October 20-27, Paris, Hayden, Jane Fonda and others re: Germantown strategy meeting.

October 25-November 2, 1973, Moscow, Brian Adams, Joan Elberg, Andre Souquire, Ann Bailey, John Naveau, Tim Butz, Pete Zastrow, Paul Mayer, Grace Paley, Noam Chomsky, David Dellinger, David McReynolds, Sidney Peck, Noam Chomsky, Father Dan Berrigan and 1805 other Americans.

November 1973, “liberated” South Vietnam, Cora Weiss, Don Luce and professor Sam Noumoff.

Sometime, Hanoi, Karen Nussbaum and six other IPC.

December 8-9, Paris, Barry Romo and Peter Zastrow.

December 1973 Hanoi, professor Gabriel Kolko.

1974

March 29-31, Stockholm, Fred Branfman, Richard A. Falk, William Goodfellow, Gabriel Kolko.

April 1-24, North Vietnam “liberated South Vietnam, Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda.

1975

March, Moscow, Jane Fonda.

March 1975, Hanoi, Professor Gabriel Kolko.

March 13, Cuba, 125-135 Americans in Eighth Venceremos Brigade.

April, Cuba, 200 Americans travel in 9th Venceremos Brigade.

On April 7 Paris, Cora Weiss and Gareth Porter.

April 16-27, Hanoi, Larry Levin

April 29, Hanoi, John McAuliff.

May 17, Vancouver, Arlene Eisen Bergman and 250 other Americans.

Amsterdam, American “peace” organizations.

June 20-22, Stockholm, Cora Weiss, Fred Branfman and Ira Arlook.

1985

April and May, Hanoi, David Dellinger, George Wald, John McAuliff and two others celebrate the 10th anniversary of the conquest of South Vietnam. Invited ,Jane Fonda, Tom Hayden, do not go.

[1] Does not include Radio Hanoi, correspondence, telephone contacts in FBIS broadcasts and NSA intercepts.

Comrades In Arms – An Excerpt

One of our members, Dr. Roger Canfield, has published a massive book detailing all of the associations and actions of the anti-war activists involved in the Vietnam War, demonstrating their close cooperation with worldwide communism.  (The book is over 2,100 pages and more than 6,000 footnotes.)  When I suggested, on an academic discussion list, that Dr. Canfield’s book had merit and should be studied, the response I got was that no reputable scholar would read a book with that title.

So much for the spirit of inquiry.

Father Daniel Joseph Berrigan was a Jesuit priest who became actively involved in the Vietnam War’s anti-war movement.

Comrades—BerriganDanielExcerpts

What you will not see in obituaries for Daniel Berrigan

Excerpts from Roger Canfield’s Comrades in Arms: How the Americong Won the War in Vietnam Against the Common Enemy—America. An e-book at http://americong.com

Catholic Peace Fellowship at Christian Peace Conference in Prague

Fellowship of Reconciliation’s John Heidbrink invited Catholic Worker’s Jim Forest, Father Daniel Berrigan, Herman Evans and James Douglass to, very curiously, the Communist capitol of Prague to formalize the Catholic Peace Fellowship as an affiliate of FOR.[1] Happy coincidence?

Christian Peace Conference, June 1964, Prague

At the end of June 1964 in Prague, Czechoslovakia the Christian Peace Conference, CFC, met. A U.S. based committee recruited Americans to attend the CPC.[2] Alfred Hassler of Fellowship of Reconciliation, FOR, had tasked John Heidbrink to recruit American Catholics into FOR and the peace movement. Though formed in 1963 in the USA by Jim Forest, Marty Corbin and Philip Berrigan,[3] FOR’s John Heidbrink invited Catholic Worker’s Jim Forest, Father Daniel Berrigan, Herman Evans and James Douglass to, very curiously, the Communist capitol of Prague to formalize the Catholic Peace Fellowship as an affiliate of FOR.[4] Could members of the universal Catholic Church become recruits to international Communism? Unfortunately, yes.

Communist controlled East European leadership, (Joseph Hromadka, Alexander Karew, Archbishop Nikodim, Bishop Barta, and Prof. Schmauch) entirely dominated The Christian Peace conference, CPC.[5]

….As LBJ was signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, David Dellinger was leading a protest against the Vietnam War in Lafayette Park across from the White House. Joining Dellinger were A.J. Muste, Joan Baez, Rabbi and Democrat fundraiser[6] Abraham Feinberg, and Catholic priests Daniel and Phillip Berrigan. The protest was to draw attention to a “Declaration of Conscience” against the draft.[7] Meanwhile, Catholics faced the gentle touch of the Vietcong in South Vietnam. July 14, 1964, the Viet Cong executed Pham Thao, chairman of the Catholic Action Committee in Quang Ngai, …

…In 1967 Berrigan had had considerable conflict with superiors in his Jesuit order over his desire to go to Hanoi with the Fellowship of Reconciliation, FOR, to bring medical supplies. Thomas Merton, a Communist while at Columbia University and then a dupe of communist front groups,[8] advised Berrigan to follow his conscience.[9]

…Writers and Editors Tax Protest against “Immoral” Vietnam War

During late 1967 and early 1968 Gerald Walker of the New York Times Sunday Magazine organized a protest against an LBJ proposed 10% tax on telephones and “many of us” opposed “23% of current income to …finance the (‘morally wrong’) Vietnam War. The ad was printed in Ramparts, New York Review of Books, and the New York Post in January and February 1968.

Many had far left, including Communist, credentials and engaged in pro-Hanoi activities. Out of 528 signers the most noteworthy were. M. S. Arnoni[10], Robert B. Avakian, James Baldwin, Irving Beinin, Daniel Berrigan, S. J., Philip Berrigan, …

…Declaration of Conscience

For some it was their last pretense of neutrality before going over to the other side.

The Catholic Worker, the Committee for Nonviolent Action (CNVA), the Student Peace Union (SPU), and the War Resisters League (WRL) published the “Declaration of Conscience Against the War in Vietnam.” Some 6,000 signed including Daniel and Phil Berrigan, ….The Declaration argued that opposing Communist would spread it further. “There is not one shred of credible evidence that the bulk of munitions used by the Vietcong originate in the north.”

… On February 16, 1968, Father Daniel Berrigan and Professor Howard Zinn traveled to Hanoi and met Pham Van Dong. According to Berrigan’s notes, Dong said, in part, “…We have a common front. We are in combat here and you there.”[11] As comrades in arms, they were surely on the same side….

In March 1968, Mary McCarthy, self-described utopian socialist and member of the international literati arrived in Hanoi in the midst of the Tet Offensive and on the heels of the release of three American POWs to Father Daniel Berrigan and Professor Howard Zinn. …

…On tour [in Hanoi] Dellinger saw bombed hospitals. Thereafter the now Hanoi-credentialed Dellinger, like Tom Hayden before him, helped arrange trips to North Vietnam for others such as Diane Nash Bevel, Patricia Griffith, Daniel Berrigan, Howard Zinn and various women and clergy groups.[12] Hayden and Dellinger, joined by Cora Weiss, the three became Hanoi’s major gatekeepers for fellow travelers to Hanoi and Paris.

…The most noteworthy and published American and western contributors to the Bulletin of Committee of Concerned Asian Scholars during the Vietnam War and its immediate aftermath, 1968-1977, were: Iqbal Ahmad, Doug Allen, Frank Baldwin, Dan Berrigan, Committee of Concerned Asian Scholars, CCAS, for the expressed purpose to oppose The “brutal aggression of the United States in Vietnam” and to encourage “anti-imperialist research.” …

It was socialism of the peculiar communist kind. As uncritically Marxist the CCAS promoted Mao’s cultural revolution.[13]

MaoistPoster

CCAS supported several generations of pro-Hanoi historians of the Vietnam War …

…Hanoi POW Releases—Berrigan and Zinn

After a telegrammed request from the Vietnamese Peace Committee citing “a repentant attitude” of several POWs on January 28, 1968 to David Dellinger, on February 17, 1968, Tom Hayden and David Dellinger coordinated[14] a second POW release to Father Daniel Berrigan and professor and secret Communist Howard Zinn. …

Upon arrival in “the destroyed city” of Hanoi, Catholic priest and poet, Daniel Berrigan thought, “the loveliest fact of all was the most elusive and insignificant, we had been received with flowers”[15] also sandals, and the poems of Ho Chi Minh.[16]

…“Feeling of victory in Hanoi during the Viet Cong Tet offensive.”

At the North Vietnamese Embassy in Vientiane, Laos during Tet on February 9 Berrigan says the Hanoi Vietnamese “are too humane to rake over our losses [in Tet]. …Time has gone over to their side, in the night.” They are so courteous and gentle “during a week of humiliation of the Allies.”[17] Zinn said, “there was a lot of feeling of victory in Hanoi during the Viet Cong Tet offensive. …the NLF is a force in its own right.”[18]

… “We wanted badly to wander by ourselves, but the danger was explained to us.”[19]

Instead of going to see what was going on, Zinn and Berrigan listened to a six-hour lecture from Col. Ha Van Lau[20] followed by days filled with an orchestrated tour of bomb debris, damaged hospital, war museums, commune, folk art and a film on the life of Ho.

They were shown the damaged body parts (e.g. “brain and skull and heart and viscera”) in jars of victims of bombings. It all proved America was waging “a monstrous and intentionally genocidal war.”[21] Berrigan believed black ghettos in the USA were also evidence of “genocidal intent.” Berrigan’s hate for America seemed to fuel his love for Hanoi.[22]

Premier Pham Van Dong: “great intelligence…great reserves of compassion.”

On February 16, 1968 Berrigan and Zinn met Premier Pham Van Dong at his French villa and garden behind armored doors.

Berrigan saw in the “face of this man…complexity dwells…life and death…great intelligence, and yet also great reserves of compassion.” (Seven years later in 1975 Dong’s mother saw no such compassion and fled her son’s invasion [of South Vietnam]. …

“We are in combat here, and you there.”

According to Berrigan’s notes, Dong said, in part, “Your visit is of some importance… We ask…that you clarify the meaning of war for your fellow Americans.” Dong said, “public opinion in your country is of the essence.” Further “we have a common front. We are in combat here, and you there.”[23] Comrades in arms, they were on the same side.

POWs: Correct Attitude

The Vietnamese explained to Berrigan and Zinn why they were releasing POW pilots. “We are trying to educate the pilots. …It is not easy to convince these men of a new way; long and patient explanation is requires. …. Is it possible, that (the pilots will)…do something for the antiwar movement in the United States?”[24]

Bratislava comrade Ray Mungo of Liberation News Service, received a Telex, “doubtless written by some of the Vietnamese I’d met in Bratislava, and this from Zinn and Berrigan”:

RELEASE OF THREE AIRMEN IMMINENT.

NORTH VIETNAMESE OUTRAGED AT CONTINUING BOMBARDMENT BUT RETAIN COMPASSION FOR AIRMEN WHO ARE TRAPPED BY WASHINGTON DECISIONS.

HOPE RELEASED AIRMEN NEVER AGAIN BOMB YET AWARE POSSIBILITY THREE RELEASED PILOTS RETURN TO BOMB VIETNAM.

WE ARE MOVED BY NORTH VIETNAMESE STATEMENT “EVEN IF THIS HAPPENS WE RETAIN FAITH IN ULTIMATE DECENCY OF AMERICAN PEOPLE.[25]

No Longer Hostages

There was one hitch in the propaganda driven release.

The prisoners were “escorted as far as Vientiane, where the [POW] officers elected to transfer to US military aircraft.”[26] Instead of Father Berrigan and Professor Zinn, the POWs soon had official U.S. government escorts.[27]

…Berrigan wrote to POW families that the mental and physical condition of the men was good and so was their weight. Berrigan had every reason to believe that the Vietnamese acted “humanely toward prisoners.”[28]

Berrigan believed the North Vietnamese. The POWs were reformed just like the French prisoners before them by “a process of inward change.” And so “without prompting,” the POWs readily told Berrigan how good their food and medical care was.[29]

…POW Escort Berrigan: Jesuit Napalms Draft Cards

Maj. Norris Overly’s escort Daniel Berrigan and eight others –Philip Berrigan, David Darst, John Hogan, Tom Lewis, Marjorie Melville, Thomas Melville, George Mische and Mary Moylan– had earned considerable media notoriety as the Cantonsville Nine.

They staged the napalming of the draft files of 378 persons in wire trashcans before an assembled crowd of reporters at the Catonsville, Maryland draft board. FOR’s Allan Brick characterized it all as a nonviolent act of conscience.[30]

“Their major accomplishment was scaring the hell out of the little old ladies at the office of the Catonsville draft board,” remembers Pat Joyce, an editor at the Baltimore Evening Sun and of several Catholic newspapers.[31] Convicted and sentenced to three years in prison, Berrigan went underground, was captured and served 18 months before being paroled in 1972.  …

…Entertainment Industry for Peace and Justice

In planning for Hollywood celebrations of May Day 1971 and other causes, Jane Fonda, Shirley and Donald Sutherland formed the Entertainment Industry for Peace and Justice, EIPJ,[32] in March 1971. …

Donald Sutherland introduced film excerpts of “Winter Soldier,” which had premiered at Cannes and at the Whitney Museum in New York, focusing on VVAW that war crimes were American policy in Vietnam. Lancaster read a statement from Daniel Berrigan and introduced Fonda who described EIPJ as part of a broad coalition for peace and justice. Only later would Jon Voight describe how he “was surrounded by people were heavily programed Marxist…very, very deep.”[33] He concluded there was “Marxist propaganda underlying the so-called peace movement.” He told Glenn Beck, “I didn’t even realize it at the time…the communists were behind organizing all of these rallies and things.” [34]

CP World Assembly for Peace Versailles, France February 11-13, 1972

“A horde of Communist-controlled agitators”

Soviet controlled fronts, World Peace Council, WPC, and the Stockholm Conference on Vietnam joined by 48 French Communist Party and associated organizations sponsored a World Assembly for Peace in Versailles, France from February 11-13, 1972.

…The plenary session of the Assembly in Versailles then adopted a specific six week antiwar program, virtual instructions, for the U.S. antiwar movement for April and May: April 1 defense of Harrisburg defendants Berrigan et al, Angela Davis; April 15, Tax Resistance Day; and in early May, actions inside military bases.[35]

Protests were to encourage “draft evasions, desertions, resistance, demonstrations which now effect even soldiers.”[36]

…On March 20, 1972 New York Times man, Seymour Hersh, returned from Hanoi to hand off Hanoi’s POW mail to Daniel Berrigan who held a press conference at New York’s Main Post Office at 8th Avenue and 33rd Street announcing he was joining COLIFAM.[37] Berrigan, escort to three POWS, was surely on Hanoi’s approved list since it had selected all of COLIFAM’s members.

Americans Begging to Dissent, Nicely…Please

…In Moscow, a group of Americans—Paul Mayer, Grace Paley, Noam Chomsky, David Dellinger, David McReynolds and Sidney Peck– chose to send a tepid message of support for political dissenters in the Soviet Union. A stronger message was not sent because of differences with “Russian friends.”[38] The American “friends” argued they had “earned a right” to a slight dissent because they were “outspoken critics” of the “monstrous …attacks on Indochina” and, like their friendly hosts, sought “social justice.”

They certainly were not seeking to make any invidious comparisons between the Soviet’s relatively bloodless Warsaw Pact intervention in Czechoslovakia with the truly “hideous loss of life” in Chile. Solidarity with Allende’s Chile was a major program of the CPUSA and its fronts.[39]

…Genuflections complete, the group simply announced, “We support the Soviet dissidents.” Grace Paley, Father Paul Mayer, Noam Chomsky, Dave Dellinger, David McReynolds, Sidney Peck, Father Dan Berrigan and unrecorded others signed the pathetic petition.[40] The whole body of the World Congress of Peace Forces, including over 150 of the 200 American delegates, “disassociated itself from [the] statement.”[41] The “dissent” message appears to have been meant for an American headline, perhaps in the New York Review of Books.

Vietnam: Fulfilling the Obligations of National Security With Restraint

…Acting with restraint unknown to government institutions elsewhere, the FBI, NSA, DIA, ONI, local police and CIA[42] did attempt to discover collaboration with the enemy.

…The FBI was wiretapping the telephones of 17-30 individuals in 1970 out of over 220 million Americans.

…Of 2,370 COINTELPRO operations over 15 years 58% were against the Communist Party.[43]

Again the list of alleged targets is long including Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., AIM leader Leonard Peltier, Black Liberation Army (BLA) Sundiata Acoli, Assata Shakur, Dhoruba Al-Mujahid Bin Wahad (formerly Richard Moore), and the New York 3 (Herman Bell, Anthony “Jalil” Bottom, and Albert “Nuh” Washington), Cesar Chavez, Fathers Daniel and Phillip Berrigan, Rev. Jesse Jackson, David Dellinger.

…As we have seen above many of these individuals and groups were worthy of FBI attention.

…COINTEL operations against the New Left were 8.3% of the total. 91.7% had little or nothing to do with the New Left opposition to the war.

Joan Baez …Open Letter to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam

Co-Signers . Daniel Berrigan, serial supporter of Communist Party USA (CPUSA) fronts, the Socialist Workers party (SWP), traveled to Hanoi in 1968 with secret Communist Howard Zinn to take custody of American POWs, joined Hanoi front COLIFAM[44] exploiting POWs, member of Cantonsville Nine which napalmed local draft files, attended Citizens Conference on Ending the War in Indochina in Paris[45] meeting Vietnamese communists, in March 1971 joined Jane Fonda’s Entertainment Industry for Peace and Justice, EIPJ,[46] and later allied with the Workers World Party (WWP).

Baez remembered, “A campaign was launched to stop me.

…Previous Associates of Hayden-Fonda Left Joined Joan Baez

Despite such pressure, many friends of Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda did sign the Joan Baez ad: Ed Asner, Daniel Berrigan, Pat Brown (not Jerry Brown), David Carliner (ACLU), Caesar Chavez, Benjamin Dreyfus, Douglas Fraser, Allen Ginsberg, Lee Grant, Terence Hallinan, Nat Nentoff, Norman Lear, Staughton Lynd, Mike Nichols, I.F. Stone, William Styron, Lily Tomlin, Peter Yarrow….

[1] Thomas C. Cornell, “Catholic Peace Fellowship Ten years Old,” The National Catholic Reporter, April 25, 1975; Christian Peace Conference 1964-66, correspondence of Jim Forest and John Heidbrick, Catholic Peace Fellowship, CCPF 2/12 Folder, Notre Dame Archives, CPF 002.

[2] United States Committee for the Christian Peace Conference, 1966-1967, Box 11, Records of the Church Peace Mission, 1950-1967, Collection: DG 177, Swarthmore College Peace Collection, Swarthmore, PA.

[3] Relationship of FOR to CPF, Catholic Peace Fellowship Records, University of Notre Dame Archives, CCPF boxes 11-17.

[4] Thomas C. Cornell, “Catholic Peace Fellowship Ten years Old,” The National Catholic Reporter, April 25, 1975; Christian Peace Conference 1964-66, correspondence of Jim Forest and John Heidbrick, Catholic Peace Fellowship, CCPF 2/12 Folder, Notre Dame Archives, CPF 002.

[5] Radio Free Europe June 10, 1964, Open Society Archives, U.S.A.BOX-FOLDER-REPORT: 17-1-95. at http://files.osa.ceu.hu/holdings/300/8/3/text/17-1-95.shtml.

[6] 8/25/1972, FBI, Information Digest, Special Report on VVAW, http://www.wintersoldier.com/staticpages/index.php?page=InfoDigestGuide

[7] Andrew E. Hunt, David Dellinger: The Life and Times of a Nonviolent Revolutionary, New York: NY University Press, 2006, 135 cites James Tracy, Direct Action: Radical Pacifism from the Union Eight to the Chicago Seven, Chicago; Chicago University Press, 1996, 128 and New York Times July 4, 1964; Nancy Zaroulis and Gerald Sullivan, Who Spoke Up: American Protest Against the War in Vietnam 1963-1975, New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1984, 20.

[8] Paul Kengor, Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century, Wilmington: ISI Books, 2010, 86, n29 528.

[9] Berrigan, Daniel. Night Flight to Hanoi: War Diary with 11 Poems. New York: Macmillan, 1968.

[10] M.S. Arnoni was the publisher of Minority of One which printed many Soviet propaganda articles according to Oleg Kalugin, Arnoni’s control officer. Kalugin also had KGB-written and funded ads placed in the New York Times and the Nation.

[11] Daniel Berrigan, Night Flight to Hanoi, New York: Macmillan, 1968, 128.

[12] James W. Clinton interview of David Dellinger, January 23, 1991 and November 16, 1990 in James W. Clinton, The Loyal Opposition: Americans in North Vietnam, 1965-1972, Niwot: University Press of Colorado, 1995, 47-51.

[13] Richard Baum, China and The American Dream: a Moral Inquiry, Seattle: University of Washington, 2010, 236-9.

[14] FBI, FOIA, Howard Zinn.

[15] Daniel Berrigan, Night Flight to Hanoi, 38, 134 cited in Paul Hollander, Political Pilgrims, 356.

[16] Daniel Berrigan, Night Flight to Hanoi, XIV, cited in Paul Hollander, Political Pilgrims, 371.

[17] Daniel Berrigan, Night Flight to Hanoi, New York: Macmillan, 1968, 31.

[18] FBI, FOIA, Howard Zinn, BS 100-35505

[19] Daniel Berrigan, Night Flight to Hanoi, New York: Macmillan, 1968, 41.

[20] Daniel Berrigan, Night Flight to Hanoi, New York: Macmillan, 1968, 50-6.

[21] Daniel Berrigan, Night Flight to Hanoi, New York: Macmillan, 1968, 65.

[22] Daniel Berrigan, Night Flight to Hanoi, New York: Macmillan, 1968, 55; Daniel Berrigan, Night Flight to Hanoi, 78-9, 86, 111 cited in Paul Hollander, Political Pilgrims, 201.

[23] Daniel Berrigan, Night Flight to Hanoi, New York: Macmillan, 1968, 128.

[24] Daniel Berrigan, Night Flight to Hanoi, New York: Macmillan, 1968, 42-3.

[25] Ray Mungo, Famous Long Ago: My Life And Hard Times With Liberation News Service, Citadel Press, 1970, 28. http://www.sunrisedancer.com/radicalreader/library/famouslongago.pdf

[26] CIA, FOIA, case number EO11978-00207, “International Connections of US Peace Groups—III,” 2-3.

[27] Tom Hayden, “Impasse …” Ramparts, Aug. 24, 1968, 18.

[28] (Rev)Daniel Berrigan to Dear Friends, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, March 3, 1968.

[29] Daniel Berrigan, Night Flight to Hanoi, 78-9, 86, 111 cited in Paul Hollander, Political Pilgrims,353.

[30] Allan Brick, Report on the Cantonsville Nine: What is Nonviolence Today? Pamphlet at Political Pamphlet Collection, University of Missouri Special Collection; Marion Mollin, Radical Pacifism in Modern America: Egalitarianism and Protest, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006.

[31] Joyce to author.

[32] Contemporary flyer announcing event in possession of author.

[33] Glenn Beck show, Fox News, June 11, 2009.

[34] Jon Voight, op ed. Washington Times, July 28, 2008, http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2008/jul/28/voight/

[35] FBI, Denver, Memo, “VVAW National Steering Committee Meeting, Denver, Colo, February 18-21, 1972, Internal Security-new Left,” March 17, 1972, 31-33.

[36] [Unsigned, likely John Dougherty and or Bernard Wells], Intelligence Evaluation Group Committee and Staff, “Foreign Support for Activities Planned to Disrupt or Harass the Republican National Convention,” 21 March, 1972, CIA, FOIA, Family Jewels,553-4.

[37] Daily World, March 21, 1972; FBI, SAC New York to Director, COLIFAM IS-New Left AIRTEL, March 21, 1972;

[38] Ray Ellis, “The World Congress of Peace Forces,” Political Affairs, Journal of Marxist Thought and Analysis, January. 1974, 14.

[39] e.g. National Conference in Solidarity with Chile, February 8-9, 1975 at Concordian Teachers College in River Forest outside of Chicago. CPUSA fronts as Trade Unionists for Action and Democracy, TUAD; the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, NAARPR, National Lawyers Guild, NLG; Emma Lazarus Clubs; Venceremos Brigade; CPUSA-controlled or influenced International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union — ILWU; Local 1199 of the Drug and Hospital Workers; United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers; Amalgamated Meatcutters; Marxist organizations Puerto Rican Socialist Party, People’s Party, New American Movement, and Socialist Party.

[40] “American Dissent in Moscow,” The New York Review of Books, Volume 20, Number 20, December 13, 1973. nybooks.com/articles/9657.

[41] Thulani Davis, “Remembering Grace Paley (1922-2007),” Alternet.org, August 25, 2007. http://www.alternet.org/story/60693/; also Grace Paley 1922-2007: Acclaimed Poet and Writer Dies at 84, Democracy Now, August 24th, 2007 http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=07/08/24/1322211

[42] Much is made of CIA involvement in domestic affairs.

The CIA did assist the Washington Metropolitan Police Department during the 1969-1971 anti-Vietnam War demonstrations. It provided a radio receiver and several automobiles equipped with radios and manned by two Field Office Agents. See: CIA, FOIA, “CIA support to Washington metropolitan police department during anti-Vietnam War demonstrations 1969-1971 described,” reference: 1983-000131, 1.

[43] Ray Wannall, The Real J. Edgar Hoover: For the Record, Paducah: Turner Publishing Company, 2000,77.

[44] Daily World, March 21, 1972; FBI, SAC New York to Director, COLIFAM IS-New Left AIRTEL, March 21, 1972;

[45] FBI, Memo, “Travel of U.S. Citizens to Paris, France, sponsored by Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam, American Friends Service Committee, and Fellowship of Reconciliation, March 3-10, 1971,” March 23, 1971 File No. 100-11392 at FBI, FOIA, A, AFSC.

[46] Contemporary flyer announcing event in possession of author.

The 1956 Vietnam Unification Elections

This past week the University of Texas at Austin held the Vietnam War Summit.  It was another disappointing attempt to analyze the war without the input of Vietnamese participants (other than the communist ambassador from Vietnam) and without views opposing the accepted wisdom of the anti-war scholars who dominate Vietnam War “scholarship”.

Particularly irritating was a session that included the inputs of communist sympathizers Tom Hayden and Marilyn Young without so much as a single opposing view.  Our own Dr. Robert Turner could have added much to the discussion, since he was personally involved in debating anti-war activists during the conflict.

The conference was discussed on Twitter under the hashtag #VietnamWarSummit, and that resurfaced some of the enduring myths of the war.

This is an old canard repeated by opponents of the Vietnam War to “prove” that Ngo Dinh Diem was never a popular leader.  Here’s the quote:

I am convinced that the French could not win the war because the internal political situation in Vietnam, weak and confused, badly weakened their military position. I have never talked or corresponded with a person knowledgeable in Indochinese affairs who did not agree that had elections been held as of the time of the fighting, possibly 80 per cent of the population would have voted for the Communist Ho Chi Minh as their leader rather than Chief of State Bao Dai. Indeed, the lack of leadership and drive on the part of Bao Dai was a factor in the feeling prevalent among Vietnamese that they had nothing to fight for. As one Frenchman said to me, “What Vietnam needs is another Syngman Rhee, regardless of all the difficulties the presence of such a personality would entail.”

Those who use the quote often elide the fact that Eisenhower referred to Vietnamese Emperor Bao Dai and not South Vietnamese Premier Ngo Dinh Diem.  They also ignore the fact that the quote dates to 1954 before the Geneva Accords were signed and referred to “the time of the fighting” rather than the brief peace that followed.

The claim is often tied to a related one.

The elections referred to are the ones recorded in a supplement to the Geneva Accords that was not signed by any state and would have taken place in 1956.  Neither the US nor South Vietnam were signatories to the accords and therefore neither agreed nor disagreed regarding elections at that time (although South Vietnam protested the talks since they were excluded).

While it is true that the US opposed the 1956 elections (as did Diem), the reason for doing so had nothing to do with Ho winning an election.  The objection was due to the Russian refusal to allow elections monitored by the UN.  By 1956 Ho was struggling with the disastrous results of his land reform program that killed tens of thousands of North Vietnamese landowners for the “crime” of being landowners.  At the same time Diem was being hailed as a “miracle worker” by the New York Times.

Rather than oppose elections, the US supported them until they realized that Diem was adamantly opposed unless they could be made free.

The U.S. did not–as is often alleged–connive with Diem to ignore the elections. U.S. State Department records indicate that Diem’s refusal to be bound by the Geneva Accords and his opposition to pre-election consultations were at his own initiative. However, the U.S., which had expected elections to be held, and up until May 1955 had fully supported them, shifted its position in the face of Diem’s opposition, and of the evidence then accumulated about the oppressive nature of the regime in North Vietnam.

In the US Secretary Dulles explained the US position and indicated that there was no fear of a Ho election victory if free elections were held:

Neither the United States Government nor the Government of Viet-Nam is, of course, a party to the Geneva armistice agreements. We did not sign them, and the Government of Viet-Nam did not sign them and, indeed, protested against them. On the other hand, the United States believes, broadly speaking, in the unification of countries which have a historic unity, where the people are akin. We also believe that, if there are conditions of really free elections, there is no serious risk that the Communists would win…..

However, opponents of the war continue to insist that not only was Eisenhower admitting that Ho would have defeated Diem in an election but that the US actively worked to prevent the elections from occurring.  Neither claim is even remotely supportable by the evidence.

WHY NO KHMER ROUGE TRIAL FOR THE HANOI COMMUNISTS?

This article is posted at the request and with the permission of its author.

The Khmer Rouge trial grinds on slowly on the outskirts of Phnom Penh largely ignored by the world and the citizens of Cambodia. As a Vietnam Veteran listening to testimony in February of 2015 describing the Maoist-inspired genocide that killed two million Cambodians, I was suddenly struck by the obvious- that the Vietnamese communists in Hanoi were just as guilty as the Khmer Rouge; after all, Ho Chi Minh and the Hanoi communists created the Khmer Rouge. And Hanoi should also be held responsible for the war crimes they committed against their own people after the fall of Saigon in 1975. Not only did the Hanoi Stalinists kill as many innocent people as the Khmer Rouge, but they are still doing it in the Central Highlands of Vietnam and the World gives them a free pass on it.

The Hanoi inspired Stalinists also forced masses of their population into 150 concentration/slave labor camps similar to what the Khmer Rouge did after April of 1975. According to R.J. Rummel in his statistics on democide, the number that Hanoi killed of their own people, and to include the Hmong in Laos and the Montagnards in Vietnam could have reached over two million from 1975 through 1987.

On a lesser scale, the communists are still doing it in Vietnam, incarcerating the Buddhist, Christian, Hoa Hao , and the Cao Dai religious leaders who still languish in prison if they don’t submit to the thought control policies of the State. And they still aggressively perpetrate an under-the -radar genocide in the Central Highlands against the Montagnard nation that had fought with the Americans in the Vietnam War. So how does Hanoi escape the scrutiny that is now applied to the five former leaders of the Khmer Rouge on trial? The answer is that they were much more clever and devious about killing large numbers of people and in a direct way, they control the outcome of the Khmer Rouge trial in Phnom Penh because they are the power behind the scenes in Cambodia and Southeast Asia.

The first Khmer Rouge to be found guilty since the trial began in 2006 was Comrade Duch, the chief torturer of the notorious S-21 detention center in Phnom Penh. When the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia in 1979 and their forces entered Phnom Penh, they found the Toul Slung prison where Duch and his henchman first tortured, then obtained signed confessions from the 14,000 suspected spies and traitors who were then murdered. In the eyes of” Brother Number One”, Pol Pot, they were all guilty of being CIA agents, or were tainted and under the influence of the Hanoi-trained Khmer Rouge. Under the Orwellian nightmare the Khmer Rouge created, all the inmates were guilty because they had confessed their sins, albeit under torture, and signed their confessions under the direction of Duch.

The Hanoi Stalinists did exactly the same thing in their 150 Gulags. In 1981, Amnesty International wrote a protest letter to the Hanoi crowd demanding they release the hundreds of thousands they still held in their prison camps. Hanoi responded in Khmer Rouge fashion with a written response. “In all cases of people being sent to reeducation camps, the competent authorities have established files recording the criminal acts committed by the people concerned.”

To those they trusted, the Hanoi communists boasted in private about their bloodletting. Nguyen Cong Hoan, a member of the Buddhist antiwar opposition in the old South Vietnam and member of the National Assembly until he defected, has said, “The party leaders have told me they are very proud of their talent for deceiving world opinion. We’re worse than Pol Pot they joke, but the outside world knows nothing.”

There are many peculiarities connected to the trial that outside observers are unaware. Yes, a Khmer Rouge trial in a country governed by a former Khmer Rouge Commander put into power by the Vietnamese when they invaded Cambodia in 1979. Prime Minister Hen Sen is still in power after 40 years assisted by many former Khmer Rouge leaders and soldiers who run the country today serving in the Army and Police that run the dictatorship there. He is assisted by Vietnamese “advisors” who can be found at every level of the Cambodian government. Hun Sen controls the trial and he has limited the prosecutions to only five former Khmer Rouge leaders, one of whom has died, Ieng Sary, former Deputy Prime Minister, and his wife, Ieng Thirith, former Minister of Social Affairs, whose case has been dismissed because she suffers from dementia. Many believe that if any more Khmer Rouge leaders are put on trial they will rat out Hun Sen and leaders of The Cambodian Communist Party and tell of their role in the genocide in Cambodia.

Most citizens of Cambodia have lost interest in the trial because they believe it is a whitewash of the Chinese and Vietnamese involvement behind the scenes in the killing of two million Cambodians after 1975. Says Youk Chhang, survivor of the genocide and executive director of the documentation center at Toul Slung Prison, “China was there with the prison guards and all the way to the top leaders. “ Cambodians today refer to Prime Minister Hun Sen as a man with a Cambodian body with a Vietnamese mind.

After years of negotiation with the United Nations, Hun Sen allowed the establishment of a new Cambodian court that included international judges and staff. The trial is a hybrid concoction of international judges controlled by a majority of Cambodian judges of questionable judicial skills appointed by Hun Sen to try only the five former leaders and not go beyond that.

So now there are only two old leaders of the Pol Pot Khmer Rouge left, Nuan Chea, former Deputy of the Communist party, and Khieu Samphan, former head of state for Democratic Kampuchea, both who face life behind bars without parole. Samphan and Chea, both in their 80’s, face additional charges of crimes against humanity. What the five former leaders have in common, is that they were trained in France by the French communist party (co-founded by Ho Chi Minh) in the 1950s before going back to start the revolution in Cambodia. What is lesser known, and this is what the defense lawyers are trying to bring out at the trial, is that there was a 4000- member Vietnamese faction of the Khmer Rouge trained in Hanoi and that a civil war broke out between the two factions, causing many of the Cambodian deaths. The Vietnamese faction of the Khmer Rouge run Cambodia today, countering the argument that the domino theory was a US concocted theory.

During the Vietnam War, Ho Chi Minh, masquerading as patriotic nationalist, but whose first allegiance was to international communism and the communist party, on orders from Moscow set up a powerful and highly secret organization in Cambodia staffed by Vietnamese to run revolutionary affairs in Laos and Cambodia. The North Vietnamese Army hiding in Ratanakiri Province in the Eastern Cambodia on the Ho Chi Trail, helped train Khmer Rouge guerillas and in actuality fought many of their battles against the American- backed Lon Nol regime. Hanoi trained and maintained three divisions (the 5th, 7th and 9th), often referred to as the Vietnamese Khmer Rouge divisions, fighting Cambodian government forces in the Eastern Zone of Cambodia. After the American congress ignobly abandoned their South Vietnamese allies in April of 1975, the iron lid of communism clamped down on Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia and the killing began in all three countries out of sight and out of mind.

To insure that Khmer Nationalism would not override Vietnamese interest in Cambodia, Le Duc Tho, the North Vietnamese communist party official who refused the Nobel Prize, was sent south to set up an organization to control Hanoi’s trained agents in Cambodia. In January 1979, a Vietnamese army of one hundred thousand troops with a token Cambodian force overthrew the Khmer Rouge and installed their carefully groomed former Khmer Rouge officer, Hun Sen who is still in power today. Hun Sen had fled from Eastern Cambodia to Vietnam, along with a number of other junior leaders of the Khmer Rouge and their soldiers, rather than be killed by the Pol Pot faction.

In November of 1978, Tho invited Hun Sen to Saigon, along with 7 other former junior leaders to prep them for the overthrow of Cambodia. After the fall of Phnom Penh in early 1979, this group was flown to Phnom Penh on a captured American DC -3 along with Tho to set up the new government.

The Vietnamese invasion army with the token Cambodian force was trained at a former American army base at Xuan Loc just across the border in Vietnam. Le Duc Tho and Col Bui Tin, an information specialist who was rewarded by Hanoi by being allowed to retire in the West, spent several years in Cambodia to insure that the Vietnamese communists dominated all levels of the new Cambodian government from top to bottom. Russian KGB and Eastern German Stasi personnel provided them direction on how to set up and control a government in police state fashion, just as they did in Vietnam, which holds true today.

In the handout literature to visitors at the trial, it is stated that one of the goals is to build a culture that will prevent the recurrence of such crimes as genocide occurring elsewhere. While the trial was in session in February of 2015, over a hundred Montagnards escaped into Cambodia from the Central Highlands of Vietnam fleeing ethnic genocide by their Vietnamese oppressors. Their goal was to meet with UNHCR representatives so they could present their cases as legitimate refugees fleeing religious/ethnic persecution.

Apparently the governments of Cambodia and Vietnam have ignored the lessons of the War Crimes trial because the current Cambodian government has tried to block the UNHCR representative, Wan-Hea Lee from meeting the Montagnards who were hiding in the jungle in Ratanakiri Province. She was able to rescue 13 of them for the UNHCR before being blocked by Cambodian police/military, preventing them from rescuing any more. This is in direct defiance of the United Nations International refugee law which both countries have pledged to honor. The Montagnards fear for their lives if they are captured and sent back to Vietnam where they will disappear in a prison gulag specially designed for Montagnards who choose to practice their Christian religion in their own homes.,

While this writer was in Ban Lung , Ratanakiri, in February, the Cambodian Police/Military used hunting dogs to track down the Montagnards hiding in the jungle in O’Yadow district. One Jarai villager reported, “The Montagnards told me they fled from Vietnam because the authorities threatened to kill them because they were practicing Christianity. They begged me to help them because they told me they would be killed if I refused.”

One Jarai acquaintance told this writer that to frighten the local Jarai Montagnards, the Cambodian police threatened local villagers that they would kill the Vietnam Montagnards if they found them and they would kill the UN if they showed their cowardly faces.” It is against Cambodian law to give food and shelter to the fleeing refugees from Vietnam. The Hun Sen regime has refused to allow UNHCR to meet with escaping Montagnards hiding in the forests.

What’s it like in the Central Highlands today where the Montagnards have suffered since the fall of Saigon in 1975? Their rich land has been taken from them by the Northern communist conquerors, those who resisted were either killed or imprisoned, former military leaders and public officials were executed right after the war, just like the Khmer Rouge did to the former Lon Nol soldiers, and the oppression continues to this very moment.

The secret police in the Highlands, deny all access to outside visitors, even the UNHCR last year. UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Heiner Bielefeldt reported after his visit to Vietnam in July of 2014, “The rights and freedom of religion are grossly violated in the face of constant surveillance, intimidation, harassment, and persecution. “ Mr. Bielefeldt was closely monitored by “undeclared security or police agents” to prevent him from traveling in the Central Highlands where the Montagnards call their traditional homeland. He said he was “outraged” by the intimidation, police interrogations and even physical injuries of some of his interlocutors during and after his visit.

According to human rights advocate Mike Benge, former POW, he received a dated list of 344 Montgnard political prisoners from the Jarai tribal group in Gia Lai province who are languishing in prisons and jails under horrendous conditions. (The list does not contain the names of hundreds of others from the numerous Montagnard tribes that have also imprisoned for their Christian beliefs.) The Khmer Rouge are being prosecuted for such war crimes of genocide against the Muslin Cham population and the world is outraged but the Hanoi monsters get a free pass from the World media and Western governments.

In conversation recently with a former Montagnard interpreter who spent 7 years in a prison camp after the war, he describes a large prison camp in the middle of Gia Lai province south of Pleku where Montagnard Christians are taken to “disappear” never to be heard from again. Their crimes are minor offenses such as using the internet, owning a cell phone, or attending a house church.

The US State Department secretly ordered their people in Vietnam to ignore and play down the human rights abuses so Vietnam could be taken off the Religious of Particular Concern List that allowed them to become a member of the world trade association. But a Wikileaks document released several years later caught the US State Department in their despicable actions against the Montagnards who had helped the Americans fight the Vietnam War. Holding hands also with the communist liars and perpetrators of War Crimes was Ellen Sauerbrey , State Department Official responsible for refugees and migration, who in 2007 said she believed the communist officials in Hanoi when they told her the Montagnards enjoyed religious freedom, were not being persecuted and could travel freely to the US Consulate in Saigon and to the United States.

The Khmer Rouge trial of the five old leaders can be viewed as a smoke screen to cover the past and ongoing human rights abuses in the three Indochina countries of Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia-all currently controlled and ruled by sleight of hand by the Hanoi communist party. The perpetrators of the Indochina genocide skate free in Vietnam as well as China who had their advisors with the Khmer Rouge at all levels. Pol Pot visited his allies in Beijing at the height of the cultural revolutions where cities and educated people were viewed as evil. He also learned the importance of purges from his close association with the Chinese leaders who designed the Cultural Revolution for Mao that killed 35 million people.

Other war crimes charged against the Khmer Rouge were the establishment of people’s courts where thousands were executed without trial and the forced removal from the cities of hundreds of thousands of people into labor camps where they were worked unmercifully with little food and medical care where 2 million Cambodians died. The educated Cambodians, the doctors, civilian officials, former soldiers were executed and all else who couldn’t work like an animal in the killing fields.

The Hanoi thugs did just the same thing. After their takeover of the South, the front line peasant soldiers in the North Vietnamese Army discovered their masters had lied to them in the North when they discovered their Southern Vietnamese brothers had been living in luxury compared to the peasants back home. Hastily contrived people’s courts exacted their revenge by executing 100,000 former South Vietnamese government officials and military officers.

The Hanoi conquerors then imprisoned over a million South Vietnamese in 150 prison camps which they euphemistically called “reeducation camps.” Those Vietnamese on the wrong side in the war went there to discover the error of their ways and to learn silly Marxist doctrine taught to them by barely literate cadre in exact parallel to what the Khmer Rouge were doing at that time. A trick the communists used to hide the death count was to let the families of those prisoners close to death come to take them home where they would die out of sight denying they caused their death with their inhuman brutality.

In an interview with famous South Vietnamese General Le Minh Dao in 2005, he stated that there were more than a million South Vietnamese in concentration camps after the war where 250,000 died of starvation, forced labor, with no access to even the most basic health care. One of the real heroes of the Vietnam War and for all Vietnamese to emulate, Dao spent 17 years in one of these camps, ten of the years locked in a cage. The Hanoi oppressors knew how to collect their blood debt.

One Western journalist, Jean Lacouture, an apologist for the communists and against the American war effort in South Vietnam, changed his mind when he was allowed a visit back in Vietnam in 1976. He traveled by car from Hanoi to Saigon. “I visited a new economic zone”, he said. “It was a prefabricated hell-a place one comes to only if the alternative would be death.”

What Lacouture described was the exact replica of the Khmer Rouge slave labor camps that starved and killed two million people which the prosecutors have charged the Khmer Rouge with for their War Crimes trial. A reeducation camp was where prisoners moved huge mounds of dirt in baskets on starvation diets with no access to any type of medical care that caused the death of millions of people. That’s what the communists brought to Southeast Asia, destroying their own cultures following the doctrines of Stalin and Mao Ts Tung.

Yet the Vietnamese communists still cling to these old doctrines to control the people of Southeast Asia. If one visits their war museums, the ones near the border at Loc Ninh where their B 2 headquarters was located, and also the one next to the COSVN headquarters northeast of Tay Ninh, there are no pictures of Vietnamese nationalists there. The walls of the museums are covered with large framed photos of Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Castro, Che Guevara, East German communist leaders, but no Vietnamese nationalists because they were viewed as enemies of the State purged by the international communist, Ho Chi Minh.

South Vietnamese President Thieu in 1972, speaking not far from where these two museums were to be located after 1975, issued the following statement praising the heroic soldiers of the South who had won the famous Battle of An Loc in 1972, “The Binh Long victory is not a victory of South Vietnam over Communist North Vietnam only, the BInh Long victory is also a victory of the Free World over the theory of people’s war and the revolutionary war of world Communism.”

The Khmer Rouge old men are also being charged with genocide against the Muslim Cham population where their leaders were hunted down and whole villages of people executed suspected as being enemies of the revolution. In like fashion, the Hanoi communists from the North who trained the Pathet Lao army force- marched 350,000 Laotians who were former soldiers, civilian officials, and especially the ethnic Hmong race that fought with the Americans into prison camps. The prisoners were overworked with little food or medical supplies, and the forced relocation of people into these prison camps fall within the definition of crimes against humanity as described by the Geneva Convention of 1949. The guards and prison officials at these camps were comprised of 60,000 North Vietnamese soldiers.

In Eastern Laos, the traditional homeland of the Hmong, those who couldn’t escaped to Thailand and wouldn’t come down from their mountain homes as they were ordered, had chemical weapons dropped on them by the North Vietnamese Army. These war crimes are described in Jane Hamilton -Meritt’s book, “Tragic Mountains”. Over 100,000 died in the Laos killing fields hidden from the world.

Thousands more Hmong were hunted down and killed in their jungle homes as the North Vietnam oppressors basically annexed eastern Laos for their economic exploitation. . French photographer, Yves Michel Dumont, captured during the heroic battle of An Loc where the South Vietnamese fought valiantly and eventually defeated the North Vietnamese army, went to Laos in the early 1990’s to document the killing of the innocent Hmong, but to his amazement he discovered that the World Media was not interested in atrocities committed by the Vietnamese communists. Read to the end to find out why the World turned a blind eye to the Vietnamese communist holocaust.

Estimates range between 250,000 to 500,000 Vietnamese boat people died fleeing the workers’ paradise created by the communists. The international Vietnamese community who fled to freedom in the West, have seen the work of the Hanoi oppressors up close and describe it in exact words, “The Khmer Rouge communists kill openly and display their results openly. The Vietnamese kill silently and slowly and hide their results.”

So why is there no outrage in the world about the Vietnamese holocaust the Vietnamese communists perpetrated against their own people? The first reason as has been discussed is that they were much more clever and devious about how they killed their citizens to extract revenge and maintain control.

The second reason they have escaped War Crimes recognition is that those who opposed the American war effort to back the South Vietnamese in the Vietnam War, and that includes the dominant media culture at that time and most of all academia in the world, supported a communist victory during the Vietnam War. The anti-war crowd in America has a blind spot about examining the killing fields in Vietnam and Laos. A close examination of the war reporting at the time one would discover very little attention to Communist policy in South Vietnam of terror, torture, and murder that the Viet Cong used on a daily basis to control the peasants, and an obsession by such reporters as Neil Sheehan and David Halberstam in magnifying every shortcoming of the old South Vietnamese army and government. After the fall of Saigon, it was discovered that these two famous reporters had been heavily influenced by the high- level North Vietnamese spy Pham Xuan An, who put on his Colonel’s uniform after the War.

An honest examination of the Vietnam War would depict how the Left in America and the World failed to distinguish between the authoritarian regime of old South Vietnam, and the Stalinist inspired North Vietnam that unleashed a hell on earth to the peasants and those left behind that included torture, executions, and mass murder.

The world view of the Left, which still rests comfortably in the halls of academia, is that the indifference to the spread of communism is perfectly acceptable from a moral and political point of view. The naïve leftists living the comfortable life in the tenured halls of academia, pictured themselves as the champions of the peasant by cheer leading for the anti-war movement in America. But they have forgotten to ask the Vietnamese and Cambodian peasants how they felt about their communist liberators who enslaved them and murdered their family members. This simply proves that every refugee who escaped from the Indochina countries with his/her life is smarter than the Western intellectual.

The left would just as soon the world not remember their support of the Khmer Rouge and the Ho Chi Minh communists during the Vietnam War. It is clear that the Ho Chi Minh crowd chanting “Let’s give peace a chance”, share much of the blame for the killing of all those innocent people in South East Asia. They were putting into practice the end results of communist revolutionary warfare just like the Khmer Rouge.

Another famous Vietnamese General, Ly Tong Ba, the hero of Kontum, who spent 13 years in a prison camp, tells the truth about what happened after the fall. “Who did the communists liberate when they conquered the South? They enslaved the people and operated revenge camps for years. Today their policies would be called terrorism because they murdered our teachers and killed our village chiefs. They ruled by torture to control the peasants.”

Generals Ba and Dao, are the real heroes and leaders of the Vietnamese people, but they have been written out of the history books and the cemeteries of their soldiers have been bull dozed out of existence by the Hanoi conquerors.

One is struck by the anomaly that Hanoi’s leaders following the policies of communism killed more of their own people after the end of the Vietnam War in 1975 than were North Vietnamese/Viet Cong and South Vietnamese soldiers killed during the entire Vietnam War. One never hears at the Khmer Rouge trial, that it was the doctrines of communism that the Khmer Rouge were following, and that the Vietnamese communists are still following today to suppress their people.

And who was fighting against this evil and the enemies of mankind? It was the South Vietnamese and American soldiers, the real heroes in the South East Asian holocaust, forgotten for their valiant sacrifice and never once mentioned at the Khmer Rouge trial. If the Khmer Rouge were monsters, created and trained by the North Vietnamese soldiers, then wouldn’t those fighting them be viewed as the forces for good against evil?

There was more freedom in the old South Vietnam than there is in the communist controlled Vietnam today. There were independent newspapers and radio stations, and writers were given the freedom to express their thoughts openly. That’s all forgotten today where all citizens who speak their mind and advocate for human rights in Vietnam finds themselves silenced with a long prison term.

What the world needs is a War Crimes trial for the Vietnamese communists who murdered all those innocent people in Vietnam and Laos, just like their former comrades in arms, the Khmer Rouge. Those who escaped with their lives from the Vietnamese holocaust know the real horror created there which was met by complete silence by communist fellow travelers in the West, who had supported them and rooted for their victory.

The Khmer Rouge trial is a show trial for the world, and to be effective, it has to be taken out of the hands of the communist masters who control it by establishing an outside location. But why no mention of a trial for their partners in crimes against humanity, the Hanoi communists, who still enslave their own Vietnamese people and get a free pass on the crime of genocide?

The Co Van,

Rich Webster
MACV/CORDS
Advisor with the Regional Forces/Popular Forces, 1968/1969 April, 2015