Category Archives: Myth vs. Fact

Articles addressing the myths of the war and its aftermath

The Domino Theory

Paul Schmehl, Independent Researcher
Apr 19, 2015

The Domino Theory got its name from President Eisenhower, but he was not the inventor of the concept. When World War II ended, the Soviet Union began to extend its influence over Asia and Eastern Europe. This development prompted Winston Churchill to remark in 1946, in a speech at Westminster College in Fulton Missouri, that

“From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an ‘iron curtain’ has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Prague, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia; all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere, and all are subject, in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and in some cases increasing measure of control from Moscow.” 1

The British Empire reached its zenith at the start of World War I. Subsequent to that war its influence began to wane. After World War II, Britain was devastated economically and on the verge of bankruptcy. Therefore, Britain granted many of its colonies independence and its influence as a world power subsided. The United States, which had become increasingly more important in world affairs due to its role in World War II, assumed the mantle of a world power.

Beginning in 1919, with the founding of the Soviet Comintern, first Lenin and then Stalin advocated for a worldwide revolution to promote communism. It was Stalin’s belief that the revolution would proceed through Asia and eventually become worldwide. By the end of World War II, there was great deal of instability worldwide, especially in third world countries. The Russians saw that instability as an opportunity to spread communism far and wide.

As the leader of a rising world power, the Truman administration felt the need to articulate a policy to address what Churchill called “the iron curtain”, the disturbing rise of Soviet communism and influence in the world. The Truman administration believed that the growth of communism was a threat to international peace as well as the security of the United States.

In order to resist the growth of communism, a policy of “containment” was devised. Rather than directly confront the Soviet Union (and perhaps provoke World War III), the United States would come to the aid of any country threatened by communist movements. This aid would often be monetary but potentially could involve US military assistance as well. The policy became known as the Truman doctrine.

In a speech before Congress in 1947, Truman articulated this new doctrine.

” I believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.

I believe that we must assist free peoples to work out their own destinies in their own way.

I believe that our help should be primarily through economic and financial aid, which is essential to economic stability and orderly political processes.”2

This policy, though well intentioned, would lead America into some strange alliances, supporting dictators and totalitarian regimes in an effort to stem “the red tide”. It would also lead to the flawed effort often known as the Vietnam War, or, as we prefer to call it, the 2nd Indochina War, because it involved not only Vietnam but Cambodia and Laos as well.

The question for historians is, was Truman correct? If he was, then his policy would make sense. Unchecked, communism might have taken over much of the world, isolating the United States and perhaps eventually even defeating it. To determine whether there was any merit to the belief, one need only look at the words of the Marxists.

Karl Marx articulated the concept of world domination at the close of his Communist Manifesto, published in 1848.

“The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. WORKING MEN OF ALL COUNTRIES, UNITE! “3

One might ask, in a practical sense, what did Marx mean by this? Marx explained it clearly and concisely.

“You are horrified at our intending to do away with private property. But in your existing society private property is already done away with for nine-tenths of the population; its existence for the few is solely due to its non-existence in the hands of those nine-tenths. You reproach us, therefore, with intending to do away with a form of property, the necessary condition for whose existence is the non-existence of any property for the immense majority of society.

In one word, you reproach us with intending to do away with your property. Precisely so: that is just what we intend.” 4

How did Marx thing private property could be abolished? Through the only means thought possible to do so – armed revolution to overthrow the existing order.

“In depicting the most general phases of the development of the proletariat, we traced the more or less veiled civil war, raging within existing society, up to the point where that war breaks out into open revolution, and where the violent overthrow of the bourgeoisie lays the foundation for the sway of the proletariat.”5

It’s not difficult to see why an American might be troubled by these declarations. After all, the rights of private property have been held in very high esteem in America. In fact America was founded because its people did not take kindly to the government confiscating their property. Furthermore, the idea that the existing society would be overthrown through a violent civil war reminded Americans of their own painful experience in their Civil War.

As others sought to put Marx’s theory into practice, they actively sought the overthrow of weak regimes and worked to undermine the political nature of healthy regimes. In 1901, Vladimir Lenin expressed it thus:

“History has now confronted us with an immediate task which is the most revolutionary of all the immediate tasks confronting the proletariat of any country. The fulfilment of this task, the destruction of the most powerful bulwark, not only of European, but (it may now be said) of Asiatic reaction, would make the Russian proletariat the vanguard of the international revolutionary proletariat. And we have the right to count upon acquiring this honourable title, already earned by our predecessors, the revolutionaries of the seventies, if we succeed in inspiring our movement, which is a thousand times broader and deeper, with the same devoted determination and vigour.”6

In 1920 Russia annexed Armenia and Kazakhstan, and two years later eastern Belarus, Georgia and Azerbaijan. In 1924 Russia annexed Moldavia and Mongolia. Recovering from World War I, the world took little notice. In 1944, while World War II was ongoing, Albania became a communist state.7 The Soviet Union was on the march, expanding into more and more territories.

In 1946 Stalin stated that the primary purpose of his Five Year Plan was “to assure the increasing defensive capacity of the U.S.S.R., and to equip the armed forces of the Soviet Union with the most up-to-date military techniques.”8 Since World War II had recently ended world leaders wondered what the Soviet Union was preparing to defend itself against. Victor Kravchenko, a recent defector from Soviet communism, stated that Stalin was planning on conquering the world.

Another defector, former KGB agent Anatoly Golitsyn, said he defected to

“warn the American Government about the adoption of the current grand strategy for Communism and the political role of the KGB and the use of disinformation and controlled political opposition which the strategy entailed, and…help the West neutralise KGB penetration of their governments.”9

A few years later General Jan Sejna of Czechoslovakia defected. Before his death under suspicious circumstances he testified before a US House committee.

“To understand the events of interest today, it is essential to understand that back then the main mission of all organizations in the Soviet empire was to destroy democracy and bring people everywhere under the yoke of communism.

Two wars dominated our planning.

First, there was the General nuclear war, which was the responsibility of the military. Even civilian construction projects had to be approved by the Defense Council to make certain they all contributed to the war effort.

Second, there was the political and intelligence wars, the world revolutionary war, as it was originally called. This war was also waged according to a very detailed and complex strategic plan. This war involved infiltration of the government and press, sabotage, subversion, deception, narcotics trafficking, organized crime, terrorism, compromise of political and business leaders, and many other activities, all designed to destroy competing social systems. The primary targets were all industrialized countries and the most important enemy was the United States.

I want to point out that in these and other activities, the Soviets ruled their empire with an iron hand. All directions and controls came from Moscow. People undertook independent actions at their own risk, and the penalties were without any regard for human rights or dignity.

I know, because I was there.”10

Is it any wonder then that American political leaders might seek a policy to combat a political philosophy so counter to the one on which our nation was founded?

The seeds for rebellion and communism in Southeast Asia had been planted centuries before by European colonization of several Southeast Asian countries; the British in Malaysia, Burma and Hong Kong, the Dutch in Indonesia, the Spaniards (and later America) in the Philippines and the French in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. By the outbreak of World War II, the communists had already been organizing in Southeast Asia for more than a decade.

As the Japanese swept through the area, communist organizers took advantage of the Japanese occupation to organize armies of resistance, convincing the fighters that they were fighting for their own independence. Behind the scenes they worked assiduously to eliminate, by cooption, subterfuge and assassination, the true nationalist leaders in each country.

At the beginning of World War II Russia annexed, by agreement with Germany, several Eastern European countries, including eastern Poland, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, part of Finland and part of Romania. Shortly after the war the rest of Poland, the rest of Romania, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Belarus and eastern Germany all fell to communism and became part of the U.S.S.R. Russia wasn’t done, however. She began fomenting revolutions in Africa, South America and Southeast Asia.

After World War II the new American policy of containment would be severely tested. In 1945 a communist rebellion in the Philippines was put down, only to flare up again in 1971. It is still ongoing today. Around the same time war between the French and the Vietnamese broke out, led by the communist Viet Minh. In 1948 the British faced a communist rebellion in Malaysia that wasn’t put down until 1960, and the US had to create the Berlin Airlift to keep Berlin free from takeover by the Soviet backed East Germans. In 1949 China fell to the communists.

Two of the world’s largest nations were now firmly in the grip of Marx’s utopia and the Soviet sphere of influence was expanding rapidly. A year later, with the full support of China and the Soviet Union, North Korea invaded South Korea. Meanwhile communist “revolutions” were popping up all over, including Southeast Asia.

In 1953 the Cuban revolution broke out. By 1959 Cuba, just 90 miles from the US, was a communist country. In Southeast Asia, communism was on the march in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand. The future of Southeast Asia hung in the balance.

Dwight Eisenhower, the victorious Supreme Allied Commander of World War II, was elected in 1953, as the Korean War was nearing its end. Trouble was brewing all over the world, but particularly in Southeast Asia. In a press conference in 1954, shortly before the fall of Dien Bien Phu, which marked the end of French rule in Cochinchina, Eisenhower spoke of his concerns regarding communism. He was asked, at a press conference, to comment on the strategic importance of Indochina to America.

“You have, of course, both the specific and the general when you talk about such things. First of all, you have the specific value of a locality in its production of materials that the world needs.

Then you have the possibility that many human beings pass under a dictatorship that is inimical to the free world.

Finally, you have broader considerations that might follow what you would call the “falling domino” principle. You have a row of dominoes set up, you knock over the first one, and what will happen to the last one is the certainty that it will go over very quickly. So you could have a beginning of a disintegration that would have the most profound influences.”11

What became known as the domino theory was nothing more than a strategic description of the consequences of not implementing the Truman Doctrine. In other words, if we don’t employ the policy of containment, communism will spread throughout Southeast Asia. This policy would later become the subject of intense ridicule by the antiwar movement, parroting the Marxist propaganda line that communism presented no threat whatsoever, and those who thought it did were delusional or paranoid.

This, of course, was what the communists wanted the world to believe about them. It was not, however, what they themselves believed. Che Quevara, writing at a conference in Havana in 1967, stated:

“Let us sum up our hopes for victory: total destruction of imperialism by eliminating its firmest bulwark: the oppression exercized by the United States of America. To carry out, as a tactical method, the peoples gradual liberation, one by one or in groups: driving the enemy into a difficult fight away from its own territory; dismantling all its sustenance bases, that is, its dependent territories.

This means a long war. And, once more we repeat it, a cruel war. Let no one fool himself at the outstart and let no one hesitate to start out for fear of the consequences it may bring to his people. It is almost our sole hope for victory. We cannot elude the call of this hour. Vietnam is pointing it out with its endless lesson of heroism, its tragic and everyday lesson of struggle and death for the attainment of final victory.

There, the imperialist soldiers endure the discomforts [sic] of those who, used to enjoying the U.S. standard of living, have to live in a hostile land with the insecurity of being unable to move without being aware of walking on enemy territory: death to those who dare take a step out of their fortified encampment. The permanent hostility of the entire population. All this has internal repercussion in the United States; propitiates the resurgence of an element which is being minimized in spite of its vigor by all imperialist forces: class struggle even within its own territory.”12

Referring specifically to Vietnam he wrote:

“How close and bright would the future appear if two, three, many Vietnams flowered on the face of the globe, with their quota of death and their immense tragedies, with their daily heroism, with their repeated blows against imperialism, forcing it to disperse its forces under the lash of the growing hatred of the peoples of the world!”

In 1962, while Vietnam was drawing more and more of the Kennedy Administration’s attention, the Cuban Missile Crisis occurred. School children all over America were being taught to duck under their desks to avoid a nuclear blast, and the world was breathless with anticipation of a nuclear confrontation between Russia and the US.

With all of these events taking place, and the communists talking of a worldwide revolution, it was hardly inconceivable that the next shoes to drop would be in Southeast Asia. Only a fool would have thought otherwise, and only a communist would argue that it was a ridiculous policy. All of Southeast Asia looked to the US to see how they would react to the threat. Yet just a few years later, the antiwar movement in America would claim that the domino theory was silly, just as the communists wanted them to.

The argument made today is that “the dominos didn’t fall, therefore the theory was wrong”. Very few ever seem to ask the question, why didn’t the dominos fall?

Had Ho succeeded, in 1954, in turning Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos into communist countries (as he did twenty years later), Thailand would have been surrounded by communist countries on its northern and eastern borders as well as part of its southern border. Had the British not succeeded in putting down the communist “revolution” in Malaysia, she would have been completely surrounded on her southern border as well. Had the Philippines fallen, ocean access to all of Southeast Asia would have been in the hands of the communists.

This reality was not lost on the Thais. They asked for, and received, US help. Military and CIA advisors were sent to Thailand to shore up the regime and train the Thai troops. In 1965 fighting broke out in Thailand between communists and the state. However, the communists couldn’t commit the necessary forces to defeat Thailand because they were still needed elsewhere – in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam – and they were defeated.

The Thai government formed two groups to combat the communists, the Communist Suppression Operation Command (CSOC) under command of Gen. Saiyud Kherdpol and the Police Aerial Reinforcement Units (PARUs). The CIA worked closely with both, providing training and support as they staved off an invasion of North Vietnamese troops supporting local “guerillas”.13

About the same time the communists in Indonesia attempted a coup. Their attempt was put down by the Indonesian military. An estimated 500,000 people were killed, and the Indonesian Communist Party was effectively destroyed. Had the US not entered Vietnam, these events might have turned out quite differently. In 1965, South Vietnam was on the verge of collapse, thanks in no small part to the foolhardy US support of the Diem coup.

Had Thailand fallen, there would have been nothing to stop the advance of communism throughout Southeast Asia. Had Indonesia also fallen, water access to the Straits of Malacca would have been unavailable to allied forces. However, rather than reinforce the fighting in Thailand or support the coup attempt in Indonesia, the bulk of communist forces were tied up in Vietnam. South Vietnam, with the assistance of her allies, successfully tied up the North Vietnamese sufficiently to buy time for the rest of Southeast Asia to establish stable non-communist governments. Americans, both military and CIA worked in all of these countries assisting to stave off the many communist invasions.

When interviewed by the Washington Post, 14 the Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tunku Abdul Rahman, said, “If the Communists get South Vietnam, there will be no security for other countries in Southeast Asia.”

Indonesia’s longtime Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, wrote in his book, From Third World to First:

“Although American intervention failed in Vietnam, it bought time for the rest of Southeast Asia. In 1965, when the US military moved massively into South Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines faced internal threats from armed communist insurgents and the communist underground was still active in Singapore. Indonesia, in the throes of a failed communist coup, was waging konfrontasi, an undeclared war against Singapore. The Philippines was claiming Sabah in East Malaysia. Standards of living were low and economic growth slow.”15

“America’s action enabled non-communist Southeast Asia to put their own houses in order. By 1975 (when the Vietnam war ended) they were in better shape to stand up to the communists. Had there been no US intervention, the will of these countries to resist them would have melted and Southeast Asia would have most likely gone communist. The prosperous emerging market economies of Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) were nurtured during the Vietnam War years.”16

The evidence shows that not only was the domino theory valid, but that America’s intervention in Vietnam bought the time necessary for democracy to plant seeds in Southeast Asia, effectively stemming the tide of communism with the tragic loss of three countries and millions of lives. Many, many lives were saved due to the failure of communism to spread past Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.

None of this excuses America’s shameful abandonment of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos to the communist butchers. Had America lived up to her promises, perhaps no dominos would have fallen. (In Cambodia alone, the communists murdered 1.7 million people.17 In Vietnam, an estimated 1 million died as a result of communist suppression after the war. In Russia and China, almost 100 million have died due to communism. Scholars will argue about the precise numbers, but there is no disputing the fact that communism has caused millions and millions of deaths.)18

D. Gareth Porter’s Deceptions on the Hue Massacre

Paul Schmehl, Independent Researcher

Feb 1, 2015

In academics it’s considered bad form to be directly critical of a fellow academe. Rather than criticize the scholar, criticism should be confined to his or her work. This convention works well when scholars have honest disagreements or differ over the meaning of the evidence.

However, when a scholar chooses deliberately to lie to further an agenda, the convention should no longer apply. Unless scholarship is based on evidence that is made freely available to other scholars, it’s impossible for an independent observer to know the truth. That’s why a scholar’s reputation for open and impartial handling of data is so crucial. The public depends upon it.

When a scholar is dishonest, the consequences can be far-reaching. In the case of the Hue Massacre, D. Gareth Porter successfully hid a major massacre from the American public and by doing so may have changed the course of the war. Had the news of the massacre, in its full depth, been made common public knowledge, the American people may have rallied behind the effort to maintain a free South Vietnam rather than becoming disheartened and willing to abandon our ally. (Had the media accurately reported the massacre with fervor akin to that with which they reported on My Lai – that occurred two months after the Hue massacre, the same might be true. Porter gave them the out they needed to ignore it.)

There are some hints that point to the reasons for Porter’s deceit. While attending college pursuing graduate work, Porter joined a group named The Committee of Concerned Asian Scholars. He eventually became its Chairman. The Committee of Concerned Asian Scholars was a communist front group that was formed for the express purpose of opposing the brutal aggression of the United States in Vietnam” and to encourage “anti-imperialist research.”1 It’s successor organization, Critical Asian Studies has made plain its admiration for socialism – “the historical tradition of socialist thought remains a source of inspiration for some of us…”2

By 1972 Porter was the Chairman of CCAS3 and had been actively involved in its anti-war activities for four years. His admiration and advocacy for communism would eventually lead to his embarrassment when he was forced to admit that he was wrong about the Cambodian holocaust.4 He still adamantly insists that he was right about Vietnam, however, despite manifest evidence that he was wrong.5 (This article will focus on his “errors” regarding the Hue Massacre. A future article will deal with his handling of the North Vietnam land reform.)

In 1972 a problem confronted the communists. American officials, in order to promote support for South Vietnam (after America began withdrawing its combat troops), began pointing out the disastrous consequences that would befall South Vietnam if the communists won. A bloodbath was predicted. It was said that millions of lives would be lost. The administration cited the North Vietnam land reform and the Hue massacre as evidence of an impending bloodbath if the communists won. (In the end, that’s exactly what happened, but that was irrelevant to the communists. They had to win the propaganda war in order to further weaken the already dissolving American support for South Vietnam.)

To combat the warnings of a bloodbath, the communists needed an American champion to grant them plausible deniability. D. Gareth Porter rose to the occasion, penning articles and letters to the editor and testifying before Congress. It wasn’t long before he was being widely quoted6 by the American media and some members of Congress. The fact that he was an anti-war activist and pro-communist was conveniently left out of his bio. (To be sure, Porter was not the only tool of the communists.7 Marilyn Young and Noam Chomsky were two of the more notable ones.)

Some of Porter’s writings dealt with the North Vietnamese land reform, a program that was hotly debated. Some claimed deaths in the millions. Others claimed as few as 5000. Porter stated that “800 to 2500 executions” would be a “reasonable estimate”.

To understand the depth of Porter’s deceptions, it is necessary to understand what happened in Hue during Tet in 1968. An in depth examination has already been done8, so a summary here should suffice.

The Tet offensive in Hue began January 30, 1968 and ended February 26, 1968. During the offensive the communists maintained complete control of some areas of Hue. Within hours of the attack’s beginning, communists began executing civilians. By the time they were driven out the death toll of executions surpassed 5000.

Porter first wrote (to my knowledge) about Hue in a Christian Century article co-authored with Len Ackland entitled “Vietnam: The Bloodbath Argument”.9 In the article, Porter relied on Ackland’s firsthand knowledge of the situation in Hue. Ackland traveled to Hue and interviewed Vietnamese there. However, his account departs dramatically from the known facts.

The story of Gia Hoi’s occupation reveals that the mass executions perpetrated there were not the result of a policy on the part of a victorious government but rather the revenge of an army in retreat.

Note how Porter admits here that there were mass executions, a claim he would later state was false. In fact, he later called the Hue massacre a “myth”. His lies about what happened in Hue developed over time as his arguments became more accepted by the media.

In contrast to this account, Buddhist priests who were in Gia Hoi during the siege reported hearing pistol and automatic weapon fire and the screams of victims every day and every night.10 The reporter’s account also includes details that refute Ackland’s claim.

Many of the victims whose bound and mutilated bodies this writer saw exhumed from the field and from the nearby school yard had been sentenced to death by communists people’s courts because they worked for the local government.

Others received the death penalty because the communists consider them “social negatives” – their influence and standing in the community regarded as a potential threat to communist domination.

Still others were picked at random and sentenced to death on flimsy charges. The Hue city files are filled with the names of people “convicted” of such crimes as having a brother or son in the South Vietnamese Army, refusing to surrender a radio, hiding away to avoid impressment into the liberation forces, failure to attend a political re-education meeting, protesting when a family member or friend was arrested or simply showing a bad attitude.

Extensive documentation of the deliberate nature of the communist executions is also provided in my previous article, The Hue Massacre: A Study of Communist Policy and Tactics. Suffice it to say that Len Ackland’s account and the evidence do not agree at all. Whether Porter was inclined to believe Ackland because of his bias or was well aware of Ackland’s inaccuracy but found it useful is an unanswered question.

Porter’s next article on Hue was a monograph entitled “The Administration’s Bloodbath Argument”. Co-authored with Porter’s academic advisor, George Kahin, the monograph was published in July, 1970.11 Here Porter began to attack Douglas Pike’s account of the massacre in Hue.12 He began as he often did, by insinuating that Pike’s account was biased because he was a US government employee. (Denigration of his opponents is a common theme in Porter’s work.)

He then referred to Ackland’s account to claim that nothing Pike had reported could possibly be true. Having recounted the basics of Ackland’s account, he went on the offensive against Pike.

The U.S.I.A. “hypothesis” betrays ignorance of the military and political situation which existed in Hue at that time.

Accusing the foremost scholar on Vietnam of ignorance reveals an aspect of Porter’s personality. As he himself later admitted, he suffers from, “intellectual arrogance”.13 Once Porter sinks his teeth into an opponent, he continues to savage them.

The assertion that the Front wished to “eliminate” religious and intellectual leaders in order to “reconstruct the social order” is absurd.

Never mind that Pike documented this absurdity in detail from captured communist documents. In Porter’s mind, it’s an absurdity. This is another aspect of Porter’s work – ridicule the opponent’s evidence as if it’s not even worthy to be addressed.

Porter summarized his argument with this.

United States officials have recently publicized a statement by Tran Van Dac, a former Colonel in the People’s Liberation Army, who defected to the Saigon Government in 1968, to the effect that there are “three million South vietnamese on the Communist blood debt list.” But while Dac made this vague and sweeping statement in a Saigon-sponsored press conference in 1969, in an earlier private interview with U.S. officials the previous year,
he had given a very different account of the Communist plan for dealing with former enemies. Asked what would happen to officials of the Saigon government if the Communists succeeded in South Vietnam, Dac’s answer in May 1968 was, “They would imprison them,
send them to concentration camps under this or that pretext …. to reeducate them…so that they can adapt themselves better to the new social order …. former high Officers, educated people, land- lords, or property owners … are carefully watched.” He made no suggestion that there would be a “bloodbath.”* If “reeducation” seems harsh as a postwar policy, it should be borne in mind that it represents an effort to consolidate power without a liquidation of former enemies.

No definitive study has ever been done regarding deaths of South Vietnamese after the communist takeover. Estimates have ranged from a few thousand to several hundred thousand. The words of Col Dac, however, came true; many were imprisoned or sent to re-education camps, some for twenty years or more and many are still “carefully watched” even now, forty years later. Porter’s minimizing of the impact on human lives from this sort of totalitarian treatment is disgusting.

It is also part and parcel of his articles. Those things he can’t wave away with the sweep of his hand he deals with by minimizing their impact and claiming inconsistencies that do not exist.

There is no conflict between Dac’s “blood debt list” and his earlier statements regarding the details of what would happen to those on the list. Porter seeks to imply a difference with his “very different account” statement, another of his favorite tactics. At this point, Porter was just getting warmed up.

His next article “The 1968 ‘Hue Massacre’” was published in the June 24, 1974 edition of the Indochina Chronicle. In this article Porter begins by calling the massacre a myth.

Six years after the stunning communist Tet Offensive of 1968, one of the enduring myths of the Second Indochina War remains essentially unchallenged: the communist “massacre” at Hue.

By this time Porter had assembled what appeared to be hard evidence of the “myth”.

“The elusiveness of Saigon’s figures is significant in the view of the testimony of Alje Vennema, a doctor working for a Canadian medical team at Quang Ngai hospital, who happened to be in the Hue province hospital during the Tet Offensive and who made his own investigation of the grave sites.12 (Note 12 reads Alje Vennema, “The Tragedy of Hue,” unpublished manuscript, 1968, pp. 19-23. )

Vennema agreed that there were 14 graves at Gia Hoi High School but said there was a total of only 20 bodies in those graves. Vennema also stated that the other two sites in Gia Hoi district of Hue held only 19 bodies rather than the 77 claimed by the government, and that those in the area of the imperial tombs southwest of Hue contained only 29 bodies rather than 201 as claimed in the official report.

According to Vennema, therefore, the total number of bodies at the four major sites discovered immediately after Tet was 68, instead of the officially claimed total of 477. Then, too, while he did not claim that none of these bodies was the victim of NLF execution, he said that the evidence indicated most of them were victims of fighting in the area, rather than of political killings. In the case of the sites in the imperial tombs area, he stated that most of the bodies were clothed in the threads of uniforms. He reported having talked with nearby villagers who said that from February 21 to 26 there had been heavy bombing, shelling and strafing in the immediate area. And, in contrast to the government claims that many victims had been buried alive there, Vennema said all the bodies showed wounds.

The circumstances of the official version — its political warfare origins, the refusal to allow confirmation by the press from first-hand observation, the questionable statistics — and the conflicting testimony of a medical doctor who was present at the time all point to misrepresentation of the truth by the Saigon government in its April 1968 report. In fact, the evidence suggests that the Political Warfare Battalion may have inflated the number of actual executions by the NLF by a factor of ten or more.”

The falsity of Porter’s statements is breathtaking. He departs completely from reality and makes up numbers and draws conclusions from those falsehoods that have no relation to what took place in Hue. (Since he is citing Vennema’s unpublished manuscript, perhaps he thought it would never be published and therefore his lies would never be uncovered.)

On page 129 of his book, The Vietcong Massacre at Hue,14 Vennema wrote, “At the front of the school there were fourteen trenches containing 101 bodies.” (Not 20!) However, Vennema also wrote of bodies in graves beside and behind the school. Although he does not state how many graves there were, he places the total bodies (front and back) at 203, more than ten times the number Porter claims he wrote! Apparently what Porter did was take Vennema’s numbers and divide them by ten.

The first site to be discovered was in the city district of Gia Hoi at the Gia Hoi Secondary School, located on the edge of the populous district. The people who lived near here were aware of its existence for they had heard shots, and had known of the existence of the tribunal’s holding court. Some had even managed to hide after their first appearance at the tribunal and subsequently survived. Others had escaped across the river. At the front of the school there were fourteen trenches containing 101 bodies. During the ensuing three days, however, other bodies were found in front, to the side, and behind the school. The whole school site eventually yielded 203 bodies of young men, older men, and women. Among the younger men were eighteen students, a number of whom had joined the Front after the anti-government struggle and had retreated to the mountains. This time they had returned and were joined by other students forced to participate by the Front. When the Front prepared to leave, the students were given the choice of returning with the Front to the mountains or staying behind. Those who chose to stay behind were shot and buried in the yard. Other students from Gia Hoi, not associated with the Front suffered a similar fate. Some graves were two, some three weeks old; others were fresh. It fell to South Vietnamese marines to uncover the first bodies on February 26, 1968.

In toto Vennema accounts for 2397 bodies, well over a number that would bespeak of a myth. In fact, Vennema’s account essentially agrees with Pike’s, a man Porter excoriates as “ignorant” and a “media manipulator par excellence”. In the first three of the four phases of discovery, Pike lists 2152 bodies, but he inexplicably “loses” 285 bodies in the first phase. If those were added to his 2152, his total would be 2437, just 40 more than Vennema’s.

Vennema left Vietnam before the fourth phase of discoveries, which took place in November of 1969. Porter, writing of these later finds (like Da Mai Creek), dismissed them as battle deaths.

An eyewitness told a different story.15

A repulsive odor in the sea breeze could be smelled miles away. The group walks towards the mass grave, at a distance of 500 meters, a horrific view appeared. It was visibly an evil painting found in fiction stories. Along the shore were the dead people. They were dead standing, where bamboo stick pierced from the butt through the throat. Around 40 groups, each group comprises 5 to 10 cadaves. Beneath them were other’s bodies. The head chopped off, their legs hacked, and their tummy slashed, ..

Underneath the sand dunes, sipping wet (it was raining for the whole month), were those buried alive. Both hands tied tightly at their back, their faces faced to each other just like they were chatting. Some still had their hat on. Another with a cigarette butt stuck to the cap. All bodies turned dark purple, dripping and oozing with yellowish, horrendously smelt. Lastly found shallow graves, all shallowly covered with sand. Legs and hands sticking out. There were 4 to 5 dead people in each grave. Their hands were pierced with barbed wire. Victims seemed being bludgeoned to death. The faces were smashed; all decomposing badly, it’s hard to identify.

These could hardly be described as battle deaths. Nor could the 500 who died at Dai Mai Creek. Eventually 428 were identified, yet Porter claims there were 250 and that they were killed by American bombs. The eyewitnesses who escaped disagree with him.16

They tied our hands at the back with telephone lines, one by one. Then 20 persons were chained up together to make a group. There were more than 25 groups, I counted. One local went around looking at each of us then said to them (VCs): “Can’t find Trong He and Phu Ro”. Trong, Mr. He’s son, and Phu were 2 young men at Phu Cam, well trained in martial art and being looked-up by the bad guys (trouble makers) around Hue. Trong and Phu followed the popular soldiers retreated when the cathedral was invaded by these VC forces.

All the detainees were innocent civilians.

They ordered us to go through the road, left of Dan Nam Giao, round Thien An monastery, to Khai Dinh’s tomb, around the back of Nam Hoa district office, out to the river Ta Trach, the up stream of Perfume river. When reaching the river bank, VC asked us to cut down the bamboos making rafts to cross the river, to gather again near by King Gia Long’s tomb, in the Dinh Mon and Kim Ngoc range. From there, we started to get deep into the jungle. Night falls. It’ s very cold, … climbing up, going down hill, wading across creeks, … Taking us were about 30 VC cadres, they used torches to lead the way, we walked through thick and dense jungle of bamboo and old trees.

By mid night, the communist soldiers made us stop, for a rest. Each of us was given a handful of rice. We guessed that we had traveled for over 10 kms. Coiled up, head down, under the rain, we tried to get some sleep to have energy to continue. Suddenly, I overheard two VC cadres talking to each other:
”In 15, 20 minutes, we’ll kill them all”

I was trembling. Reaching close to my friend sitting right in front of me:
”Try to get loose and escape! In 15 minutes we’ll all be shot dead!
It rains. The wire was slippery, after a while, we managed to free ourselves but stayed still, scared of being found out. I whispered:
”When I tap gently on your back, let’s run!”

The VC woke us up, in a loud voice to make all of us heard, one of them said: “We are arriving to the reform camp. Those who have jewellery, money, watches, cigarette lighters, … give them all to us, you are not allowed to keep them. You will have them back once you have been reformed and completed the learning.”

So they robbed us of everything and put all into the knapsacks. The one who stood close to me had on him a dozen of radios taken from those in the city (down town). The rifle on one hand, things taken on the other, he slowed down, walked behind the others by a distance. When we started going down hill, hearing the running water, I tapped gently on the shoulder of my friend. Both of us, pulled out our hands, threw ourselves out of the line. I gave the communist cadre (carrying the radios) a hell kick. He tumbled over! We hurled into the jungle …

It was dark, in the middle of the jungle; the VC did not chase us.

Once the group had gone away for a while, we crawled out, walked back to the other direction. In about 15 to 20 minutes, we heard from the creek down below the resounding of AK gun fire, explosions of grenades, which were thundering, flaring up a corner of the jungle. Crying, screaming and howling voice were heard from far away … horrible!

It was around midnight or half past 12, on the 8th day of Tet.

The eighth day of Tet would be February 6th. The communists fought in Hue for three more weeks after that. Claiming, as Ackland did, that these deaths occurred at the end by retreating Viet Cong exacting revenge defies logic.

One could quibble over the numbers. The extant records are imprecise and lacking in detail. But one cannot quibble that mass executions at the hands of the communists took place, that those executions were planned in advance or that they included many people whose only crime was being a southerner.

Porter did not quibble. He doubled down. He next wrote The Myth of the Hue Massacre.17 Porter began by calling the story of the Hue massacre the “triumph of propaganda over journalistic professionalism”. He had turned the story on its head. Truth was now propaganda and propaganda was now journalism.

Porter then attacks what he claims is the evidence.

The basic documentation supporting the myth consists of a report issued by the Saigon government in April 1968, a captured document made public by the U.S. Mission in November 1969, and a long analysis published in 1970 by USIS employee Douglas Pike.

Like Porter’s other claims, this one doesn’t withstand scrutiny either. In addition to the documents Porter cites, there are the following:

  1. A 3500-page document issued on Jan 26th, 1968 by the Tri-Thien-Hue Political Directorate (cited in Pike’s study).
  2. A directive issued by the provincial administration on 2/1/68 (cited by Vennema)
  3. A liberation radio announcement released the same day (cited by Vennema)
  4. A Radio Hanoi announcement released the same day (cited in Pike’s study)
  5. The testimony of a VC commander in June 1969 about the Da Mai Creek massacre (cited in Pike’s study)
  6. A statement by the Thua Thien-Hue People’s Revolutionary Committee issued on Feb 14th (cited by Vennema)
  7. A captured communist document dated Feb 22nd (cited by Pike)
  8. A captured communist document dated Feb 25th (cited by Pike)
  9. A report written by a political officer of the People’s Revolutionary Party immediately after the battle (cited by Pike)
  10. A document written by a senior political officer and marked “ABSOLUTE SECRET” (cited by Pike)
  11. A March 68 book released by the official Hanoi press (cited by Vennema)
  12. A captured communist document dated Mar 13th (cited by Pike)
  13. A report written by the commander of the 6th Regiment on March 30 (cited by Stephen Hosmer in a Rand report)
  14. An Apr 68 liberation radio broadcast (cited by Vennema)
  15. A Dec 68 report issued by the Hue City People’s Revolutionary Party Central Committee (cited by Pike)
  16. An April 69 Radio Hanoi broadcast (cited by Vennema)
  17. A communist diary captured by US Army troops (cited by Hosmer)

With this much evidence, it is necessary to employ sophism to hide the truth. Porter does it quite well, citing unnamed people who supposedly told some third party something that supports his claims and ridiculing everyone who disagrees with him.

Porter also cites Vennema again, making the following claim:

according to Vennema most of the bodies were clothed in military uniforms and had wounds suggesting that they were victims of the fighting.

Vennema says nothing of the kind.  For example:

Her body was found with legs and hands tied, a rag stuffed into her mouth; she had no obvious wounds. (p.129)

His body was found, arms tied, shot through the head, in a trench with seven others at the pagoda. (p. 131)

Some of the corpses had wounds, some had their arms tied behind their backs with barbed wire, and some had their mouths stuffed with rags. (p. 132)

All had their hands tied. (p. 133)

It contained 25 bodies; all had been shot in the head, hands tied behind the back, and were noted when a hand was sticking halfway out of the ground. (p. 133)

His hands were tied, as stated by South Vietnamese villagers who uncovered the corpse, there were no wounds to his body, hence it was supposed that he had been buried alive. (p. 134)

The fact that no graves of women and children were found in the area would substantiate the allegation that the victims were killed in cold blood and not during military activity. If they had been caught during a shelling, strafing, or bombing raid some would have been wounded and had survived; others would have been dismembered. (p. 135)

His body showed no sign of injury; his hands were tied behind his back. (p. 135)

Some of the bodies were of uniformed men, but four were definitely civilians, one of whom was a student. (p. 136)

His body was found on March 1st; his hands were tied, and he had a bullet wound through his neck which had come out through the mouth. Of the many others, most had been shot and tied; there were several women among them, but no children. (p. 136)

Here lay the bodies of their loved ones; their hands had been tied behind the back, and they had been shot through the head with the bullet having exited at the mouth. (p. 136)

At this site 110 bodies were uncovered; again most had their hands tied and rags stuffed into their mouths. All were men, among them fifteen students, several military men, and civil servants, young and old. (p. 137)

Among them were civil servants and uniformed personnel with bullet wounds of head and neck. Most bodies were of the male sex. There were a few women and children, and a few exhibited more than one type of wound. Others included were those of Vietnamese Catholic priests, brothers, and novices of the surrounding villages missing for over twenty months since the events of February, 1968. (p. 138)

Over seventy bodies were found, most of them beyond recognition, mostly males with some women and children. Identification showed that they came from the surrounding villages and that some had died presumably during warfare as they had various types of wounds and dismemberments; others exhibited a single wound to the head and neck, the victims of execution. (p. 139)

This brief exposition of the many vivid descriptions in Vennema’s book should prove conclusively that Porter lied about what Vennema wrote. A cynical person might ask Porter how a victim of warfare would end up with their hands and feet tied or with a rag stuffed in their mouth and no visible wounds. I’m certain Porter would explain it as an anomaly and ignore the fact that over 5000 people dead this way is no anomaly.

As Porter is closing his argument, he writes this:

Not only the warmakers, but many other leaders and intellectuals want the Communists to be nefarious,

This smacks of the childish complaints of a youngster who has been caught with his hand in the cookie jar. No one wants the communists to be nefarious. They just are. It’s incredible that a man as educated as Porter can dismiss, with a wave of his hand, the deaths of 1.7 million in Cambodia, 20 million in the Soviet Union and 40 million in China as if they were of little consequence. Is it any wonder he can dismiss a mere 5000 in Hue?

Download a Word 2011 copy of this article.

The Hue Massacre: A Study of Communist Policies and Tactics in Vietnam

tiPaul Schmehl, Independent Researcher
Jan 24, 2015

One of the most persistent myths about the Vietnam War is that PAVN (People’s Army of Viet Nam) and PLAF (People’s Liberation Armed Forces) troops were Vietnamese patriots fighting for their independence. While there is no doubt that some of those who fought on the North Vietnamese side believed that wholeheartedly, that was never the goal of their leadership. The goal of the North from the very beginning was a communist tyranny.1 They pursued that goal to the exclusion of all else.

PAVN troops were North Vietnamese regulars (known as NVA by American troops). Many were conscripts. Some were chained to their weapons2 3 to force them to fight.4 Perhaps as many as 20% of them succumbed to disease on the Ho Chi Minh trail before they ever fired a shot.

PLAF troops were South Vietnamese “Viet Cong” regulars and National Liberation Front irregulars. Many were volunteers, but some were conscripted. Both forces were under the direct command and control of North Vietnam throughout the war. They followed the policies, strategies and tactics provided to them by the communist leadership.

A massacre occurred in Hue that never received the attention it should have in the US media or in academia. It involved both PAVN and PLAF troops. Unlike the My Lai massacre, which was front-page news for months and is still talked about today,5 the massacre in Hue, which was ten times larger than My Lai, was covered briefly, inaccurately and then promptly ignored.6 More to the point, the Hue massacre was symptomatic of a much larger problem that was ignored by the US media.

Apologists for the Vietnamese communists7 have exploited this silence to argue that a massacre did not occur, that there was no communist policy to murder thousands of people and that what murders did occur were the result of revenge attacks and the passions of battle. Frances Fitzgerald, the author of the Pulitzer Prize winning study of the Vietnam war, Fire in the Lake, wrote, “Nothing like this reverse My Lai ever occurred in the recorded history of the war.”8

Once the graves were unearthed in Hue the evidence was irrefutable. Many of the bodies had their hands, and sometimes legs, tied. More than a few had been buried alive and had no wounds at all. Many had been bludgeoned to death or shot in the back of the head. A few were beheaded. Rather than battle damage, the bodies provided incontrovertible proof that a massacre had occurred.

This didn’t stop the apologists, however. They worked hard to minimize the evidence. They argued that the dead civilians were the result of allied bombings, napalm attacks and the heavy shelling that they claimed was excessive. They misrepresented and lied about the evidence in an effort to “prove” that the RVN was lying about the massacre.9 Eventually, the public was led to believe that the bulk of the civilian casualties in Hue were due to Allied bombings and artillery10 and Hue was forgotten.11

The purpose of this article is to examine the orders, the after action reports and the results of the attack by PAVN and PLAF troops in Hue during the Tet offensive to determine whether the massacre was the result of official communist policy or not and what the magnitude of the massacre was.

The information contained in this article comes from a number of sources. Primarily four were used; a book on the Massacre written by Alje Vennema, a Dutch-Canadian doctor who lived in Hue and witnessed the battle and the massacres and interviewed a number of victims’ relatives, a report written by Douglas Pike for US AID, a report compiled by the Government of South Vietnam and a US press release that included map coordinates as well as grave and body counts.

Vennema is an interesting case. D. Gareth Porter cites him (falsely)12 in his articles claiming the massacre is a myth. Vennema was opposed to the war and believed the communists were the answer to Vietnam’s struggles.13

“By 1967 after spending five years in South Vietnam as a medical volunteer running a provincial hospital, I had become so appalled by the war and the American involvement that I longed for its end with ever-increasing speed. To that end I became involved in the war’s controversies. At that time I felt that the National Liberation Front offered the only solution to the corruption and incessant warfare.”

Despite his favorable feelings toward the Viet Cong, Vennema could not get the thoughts of what happened out of his head.14

“After leaving Vietnam in April 1968, I was caught up by the anti-war fever, gave public speeches, and was asked question about the city of Hue, as to what exactly happened. When asked to write an article on the city of Hue by the New York Review of Books disclaiming allegations of the South Vietnamese government that an efficient slaughter had taken place, I started to reflect, and more and more incidents and names of friends came to mind. The obsession to find out what really had happened would not let me go, and as a result I returned to Hue several times, again and again looking, searching, tracing contacts, visiting villages and families of the bereaved. Bit by bit I became aware of the real impact of the tragedy that had taken place and felt that the truth about the city of Hue should be made known, to be inscribed in the annals of history alongside the names of Lidice, Putte and Warsaw.”

Vennema’s article was never published. Apparently the truth was of no interest to the New York Review of Books. Vennema was forced to self-publish in order to get his story told. Today the book is hard to find, only available in a few libraries, out of print and unavailable for sale anywhere.

The value of Vennema’s book cannot be overestimated. It is a clear admission against interest, as he admits in his Preface. There is no more valuable evidence of the truth of a matter. Yet, contra Porter’s claims, Vennema’s book supports not only Pike’s study (which Porter concludes “must be judged unworthy of serious consideration”15) but the other studies in many respects as well.16

The Orders

The battle of Hue lasted from Jan 31st, 1968 to Feb 25th, 1968. The PAVN and PLAF had several missions;17 Conduct a general attack and uprising, overthrow the governmental apparatus in the City of Hue and the Province of Thua Thien, establish a revolutionary administration and continue to pursue and counterattack ARVN and Allied forces to protect the gains that they had made.

These missions were described in tremendous detail in a 3500-page document issued on Jan 26th, 1968 by the Tri-Thien-Hue Political Directorate.18 The political cadres’ job was spelled out as follows:

‘Operating in close support of the regular military and guerrilla
elements, the political cadre were to:
— destroy and disorganize the Republic of Viet-Nam’s (RVN) administrative machinery “from province and district levels to the city wards, streets, and wharves;”
— motivate the people of Hue to take up arms, pursue the enemy, seize power, and establish a revolutionary government;
— motivate (recruit) local citizens for military and “security” forces .. transportation and supply activities, and to serve wounded soldiers . . . ;”
“pursue to the end (and) punish “spies, reactionaries, and “tyrants” — i. e . , government administrators, civil servants, police, and others employed by or notable adherents of the Republic of Viet-Nam; and
— “maintain order and security in the city” — i. e . , control the population’

This mission for one area of the city, the Phu Ninh ward, included the following instructions:19

“Annihilate all spies, reactionaries, and foreign teachers (such as Americans and Germans) in the area. Break open prisons. Investigate cadre, soldiers and receptive civilians imprisoned by the enemy. Search for tyrants and reactionaries who are receiving treatment in hospitals.

The orders for Target Area 2 (“the Phu Vinh ward”) were similar;

“Annihilate the enemy in the area…Rally the Buddhist force to advance the isolation of reactionaries who exploit the Catholics of Phu Cam”. The orders for Target Area 3 (“the wharves along the An Cuu River and from Truong Sung to the Kho Ren Bridge”) followed the same pattern; “Search for and pursue spies, tyrants and reactionaries hiding near the wharf…Motivate the people in the areas along the River to annihilate the enemy.” For Target Area 4 (the district including Phu Cam and the Binh Anh, Truong Giang, Truong Cuu and An Lang sections) the orders were; “Search for and pursue spies and reactionaries in the area…Destroy the power and influence of reactionary leaders…” For Area 1, Cell 3 was assigned the job of “Annihilation of tyrants and the elimination of traitors.”

Similar “security” cells would fan out throughout Hue tracking down “spies” and “reactionaries” and “tyrants”. The daughter of the deputy district chief of Trieu Phong in Quang Tri province reported that communist troops first came looking for her father at 2:00 AM on the morning of Feb 1st, mere hours after they had entered Hue. Three days later he was gone, taken away for “10 days of re-education”. His body was never found.20

Some Top Secret PAVN documents were captured in June 1968 by US 1st Cav troops operating in the mountains west of Hue. Among the documents was a communist directive written two days before the battle began. It read21,

“For the purpose of a lengthy occupation of Hue, we should immediately liberate the rural areas and annihilate the wicked GVN administrative personnel.

Specific Mission …. We must attack the enemy key agencies, economic installations, and lines of communications. We must also annihilate the enemy mobile troops, reactionary elements and tyrants.”

On Feb 1st, the provincial administration, having taken control of Hue, issued a directive that ordered the troops, in part22,

“To wipe out all puppet administrative organs of the puppet Thieu-Ky (President Thieu, Vice President Ky) clique at all levels in the province, city and town down to every single hamlet.”

On the same day, the Liberation Front radio announced23,

“We tell our compatriots that we are determined to topple the regime of the traitorous Thieu-Ky clique and to punish and annihilate those who have been massacring and oppressing our compatriots…we ask our compatriots to…help us arrest all the U.S.-puppet cruel henchmen.”

A VC commander who defected in June 1969 and revealed the massacre of 500 people at Da Mai Creek stated that24

“the Viet Cong district chief told him the mass murder was specifically authorized by the South Vietnamese Communist command on grounds that the victims had been traitors to the revolution.”

It is clear from their orders and the careful planning that went into their attack that along with a military victory, the High Command in Hanoi also expected the PAVN and PALF to “annihilate” and “punish” the city leadership, civil servants and anyone else who supported the RVN. Precisely what that meant in practical terms would be revealed over the next 19 months.

The After Action Reports

On Feb 4th, Radio Hanoi announced25,

“After one hour’s fighting the Revolutionary Armed Forces occupied the residence of the puppet provincial Governor (in Hue), the prison and the offices of the puppet administration . . . . The Revolutionary Armed Forces punished most cruel agents of the enemy and seized control of the streets . . . rounded up and punished dozens of cruel agents and caused the enemy organs of control and oppression to crumble.”

Communist troops, in concert with the local communists, roamed through the city with lists of people who were to be eliminated. A 70-year-old man was summarily executed in the street simply for refusing to obey the troops.26 Some were executed in front of their families and left lying on the lawn for the family to bury. In some cases the entire family was murdered.27

On Feb 14th, the Thua Thien-Hue People’s Revolutionary Committee issued a statement that read in part28,

“Concerned over the country’s survival and their own fate, on 31 January 1968, the Thua Thien-Hue people rose up holding weapons in their hands, smashed the puppet ruling apparatus from the provincial to the village and hamlet levels, and completely liberated the rural areas and the city of Hue. The enemy has suffered disastrous defeats. A number of ringleaders of the puppet administration have surrendered to the people or have been arrested and have been detained by the revolutionary forces. Except for some localities and scattered guard posts which have not yet been liquidated, the Thua Thien-Hue puppet administration has basically disintegrated.”

An entry in a captured communist document dated Feb 22nd stated29,

“Troop proselyting by the VC/NVA forces was not successful because the troops had to devote themselves to combat missions. Moreover, they were afraid of being discovered by the enemy. It was very difficult for them to handle POW’s so they executed the policy of “catch and kill.”

A February 25th captured communist document detailed some of the successes of the Special Action Company of the NVA 6th Regiment.30

“We captured and exterminated thousands of people of the revolutionary network. From province to village we broke the enemy’s administrative grip for the people to rise.”

A report written immediately after the battle by a political officer of the People’s Revolutionary Party listed 2,826

“administrative personnel, nationalist political party members, ‘tyrants’ and policemen that were killed by their troops.”31

That would turn out to be less than 50% of the total murdered, abducted and missing. 4062 civilians murdered or abducted were identified32, some as young as 1-year-old and others as old as 90-years-old. Approximately 1800 disappeared and were never found. Many bodies were never identified.

Another document, undated but written by a senior political officer and marked “ABSOLUTE SECRET” 33 34 reported on the results of the political operation.

“Huong Thuy District: …We also killed one member of the Dai Viet Party Committee, one senator of South Vietnam, 50 Quoc Dan Dang Party members, six Dai Viet Party members, 13 Can Lao Nhan Vi Party members, three captains, four first lieutenants, and liberated 35 hamlets with 32,000 people.… Phu Vang District…We eliminated 1,892 administrative personnel, 38 policemen, 790 tyrants, six captains, two first lieutenants, 20 second lieutenants, and many NCOs.”35

The same document contained a passage that read:36

“The people joined our soldiers in their search for tyrants, reactionaries and spies. For instance, Mrs. Xuan followed our soldiers to show the houses of the tyrants she knew, although she had only six days before giving birth to a child.”

In March 1968, in the official Hanoi press, the North reported,37

“Actively combining their efforts with those of the People’s Liberation Armed Forces and population, other self-defense and armed units of the city of Hue arrested and called to surrender the surviving functionaries of the puppet administration and officers and men of the puppet army who were skulking. Die-hard cruel agents were punished.”

A March 13th, 1968 entry in captured documents reviewed the successes of the attack on Hue.38

“Enormous victory: We annihilated more than 3,000 tyrannical puppet army and government administrative personnel, including the Deputy Province Chief of Thua Thien.”

A report written by the commander of the 6th Regiment on March 30 stated that they had captured thousands of:39

“local administrative personnel, puppet troops, and cruel tyrants” and successfully “annihilated members of various reactionary political parties, henchmen, and wicked tyrants.”

It also stated that they had “killed 1,000 local administrative personnel, spies and cruel tyrants.”

On April 26, 1968, Hanoi, reacting to the discovery of mass graves in Hue, announced that the people murdered by their troops were,40

“hooligan lackeys who had incurred blood debts of the Hue compatriots and who were annihilated by the Front’s Armed Forces in the early spring of 1968.”

This is an official admission by the government of North Vietnam that their troops committed murders in Hue under orders from High Command. In other words, it was the official policy of the communists to murder people.

On April 27, 1969, Radio Hanoi criticized authorities in Hue and South Vietnam, stating,41

“In order to cover up their cruel acts, the puppet administration in Hue recently played the farce of setting up a so-called committee for the search for burial sites of the hooligan lackeys who had owed blood debts to the Tri-Thien-Hue compatriots and who were annihilated by the Southern Armed Forces and people in early Mau Than spring.”

Here the communist command, probably realizing that they had implicated themselves in the murders, attempted to cover up their crimes by blaming them on “the Southern Armed Forces and the people”. The subterfuge wouldn’t work, however, because it was well known that Hanoi had complete command and control of all Southern forces.

A cadre diary captured by 1st US Air Cavalry Division troops contained an entry that read:42

“The entire puppet administrative system from hamlet to province was destroyed or disintegrated. More than 3,000 persons were killed. The enemy could never reorganize or make up for his failure. Although he could immediately use inexperienced elements as replacements, they were good for nothing.”

In December 1968 the Hue City People’s Revolutionary Party Central Committee released a summary of the Party’s accomplishments during Tet. The summary included the following statement:43

“Thousands of tyrants were killed. Many reactionary factions and organizations were exterminated.”

That same month, Don Oberdorfer reported in the Washington Post,44

“Ho Ty was arrested by the government police on Sept. 4 this year. At the time of his arrest, he was party secretary for a section of Hue city…Ho Ty reported that the part of the plan from higher headquarters was to destroy the government machinery of Hue and the people who made it work…..He said the killings were planned and executed by a separate group in charge of security.”

In January 1970, NLF Liberation Radio, referring to the events in Hue two years previous announced: “The people of Hue dealt the enemy proper punishing blows, and wicked agents paid for their sins. Many of them were tried by people’s courts.” The broadcast also criticized the Hue authorities for “opening up the graves of the wicked agents punished by our people during the Mau Than Tet.”45

In 1987, at a Hanoi conference to discuss the history of the Tet offensive, Colonel General Tran Van Quang, one of the commanders for the Hue operation, assessed the strengths and weaknesses of his forces, citing as one of their strengths:46

We resolutely carried out the orders and fulfilled the requirements set out for us by the High Command. We motivated our cadre, soldiers, and the civilian population through the use of the slogans, ‘Tri-Thien fights for Tri-Thien and for the entire nation,’ and ‘Heroically and resolutely conduct attacks and uprisings.’”

In February 1988 Vietnamese Communist leaders admitted “mistakes” were made in Hue. Col Nguyen Quoc Khanh, commander of part of the forces that took over Hue stated that “There was no case of killing civilians purposefully…..Those civilians who were killed were killed accidentally, in cross fire.” But he admitted, “some rank and file soldiers may have committed individual mistakes.”47

It’s doubtful that the Vietnamese Communist leaders will ever admit to the crimes they committed in Hue, but the evidence shows that they not only knew about it, they planned and ordered it and proudly reported it afterwards.

Given the consistent nature of the orders that they were given, the enthusiastic reports of murders contained in the after action reports and the statement from a commander that they fulfilled the requirements set out for them by the High Command, it’s hard to come to any other conclusion than that the PAVN and PLAF troops in Hue were doing exactly what they had been ordered to do by Hanoi; murder thousands of civilians.

The Results

As the manifest evidence shows, eliminating “puppet administrative organs”, “reactionary elements”, “cruel agents” and “tyrants” was one of the missions of the PAVN and PLAF troops in Hue. They carried it out with discipline and precision. Bernard Weinraub, reporting in the New York Times on March 1st, wrote that 25% of the civil servants had shown up for work. Many of the others would be found in graves.48

On Feb 5th, Stephen Miller, a 27-year-old American Quaker serving with the US civil affairs office, was marched to a Catholic seminary at gunpoint and savagely beaten to death along with 4 Vietnamese civilians.49 Catholic priests buried their bodies in the seminary yard. Six of his co-workers were also killed, and three were abducted. The body of one of them, Thomas W. Ragsdale, was found in a shallow grave in the Au Shau valley more than a year later.50 The bodies of the other two abductees were never found.

That same day, three German professors from the medical mission of the University of Hue and one of the professor’s wives were abducted by communist troops. Their bodies were found in a shallow grave on Apr 2nd. All four bodies had their hands tied behind their backs with barbed wire and a single gunshot wound to the back of the head.51

On February 8th Le Van Phu, a 47-year-old policeman was arrested at his home. His wife and children pleaded with the troops to no avail. He was shot in the head. Ngo Thong, a 66-year-old retired civil servant was arrested as well. He was found in a trench with 10 other victims. Some of them had been buried alive.52

On February 9th troops entered the house of Major Tu Ton Khan, Chief of the Rural Development Service in Hue. When his wife wouldn’t tell the troops where he was they threatened to burn the house down. The Major came out of hiding and was marched out of the house. His body, hands tied behind the back and riddled with bullets, was found on Feb 28th.53

On February 17th Nguyen Van Dong, a 42-year-old policeman was rounded up. He was buried alive.54

On February 22nd troops came for Hoang Thi Tam Tuy, a 26-year-old market vendor and took her away for “re-education”. Her body was found with legs and arms tied, a rag in her mouth and no wounds. She had been buried alive.

In one documented case55,

“…a squad with a death order entered the home of a prominent community leader and shot him, his wife, his married son and daughter-in-law, his young unmarried daughter, a male and female servant and their baby. The family cat was strangled; the family dog was clubbed to death; the goldfish scooped out of the fishbowl and tossed on the floor. When the Communists left, no life remained in the house.”

In response to a recent inquiry regarding military eyewitnesses of the massacre, LTC Ronald Bower AUS (ret) told me the following56:

We found another grave not long after the May 5th attack, of four Marines who had been in the City and were playing cards in a house when they were captured by the VC. They had their hands tied behind their backs and had each been shot in the head and buried in a grave not far from this one.”

The area LTC Bower refers to is in the Phu Thu district where about a thousand bodies were found. No record that I have access to refers to the murder of these four Marines. It should not be a surprise, then, to find discrepancies between accounts. It’s doubtful that every grave was found or every body uncovered or every person accounted for. It’s equally doubtful that any one account would report every grave found, unless it was an official governmental record.

These grisly scenes would be repeated over and over again hundreds of times every day. Once the battle was over, the civilian government of Hue reported that 1214 civilians were determined to be battle casualties; their locations and wounds testified to the fact that artillery shells, bombs, napalm or bullets killed them. 1260 were hospitalized and survived.57 They also estimated that 5800 civilians were missing.58 59

Numerous eyewitness accounts testified to the brutal efficiency and deliberate planning of the murders. Four eyewitnesses escaped from certain death to tell their stories, two of them from the Da Mai creek slaughter.60 Their story is chilling.

Suddenly, I overheard two VC cadres talking to each other:
“In 15, 20 minutes, we’ll kill them all”

I was trembling. Reaching close to my friend sitting right in front of me:
“Try to get loose and escape! In 15 minutes we’ll all be shot dead!

It rains. The wire was slippery, after a while, we managed to free ourselves but stayed still, scared of being found out. I whispered:
“When I tap gently on your back, let’s run!”

The VC woke us up, in a loud voice to make all of us heard, one of them said: “We are arriving to the reform camp. Those who have jewelry, money, watches, cigarette lighters, … give them all to us, you are not allowed to keep them. You will have them back once you have been reformed and completed the learning.”

So they robbed us of everything and put all into the knapsacks. The one who stood close to me had on him a dozen of radios taken from those in the city (downtown). The rifle on one hand, things taken on the other, he slowed down, walked behind the others by a distance. When we started going down hill, hearing the running water, I tapped gently on the shoulder of my friend. Both of us, pulled out our hands, threw ourselves out of the line. I gave the communist cadre (carrying the radios) a hell kick. He tumbled over! We hurled into the jungle … It was dark, in the middle of the jungle; the VC did not chase us.

Once the group had gone away for a while, we crawled out, walked back to the other direction. In about 15 to 20 minutes, we heard from the creek down below the resounding of AK gunfire, explosions of grenades, which were thundering, flaring up a corner of the jungle. Crying, screaming and howling voices were heard from far away … horrible! It was around midnight or half past 12, on the 8th day of Tet.

More than 500 skulls were found at Da Mai Creek. 428 of the victims were identified.

Another eyewitness escapee recounted the following story61:

Nguyen Tan Chau, of the South Vietnamese Armed Medical Corps, was in Hue visiting his family during the Tet holidays when the Communists attacked. He was captured and held with 30 other prisoners. They were started South, bound together in three groups of ten.

He told South Vietnamese investigators later that when the column halted for a rest, he freed his hands and slipped away in the darkness. From a hiding place he witnessed the following scene: “The larger prisoners were separated into pairs, tied together back to back and shot. The others were shot singly. All were dumped into two shallow graves, including those who had been wounded but were not dead,”

Another escapee, hamlet official Phan Duy, got away at the last possible moment. As his grave was being dug (for himself and nine other men), he managed to slip from his bonds and run away, with one of the guards firing at him as he ran.62

“I ran about 300 meters, and I saw a pool. I fell into the water and covered myself with the reeds.”

Asked to recount his experience of being held captive in a house for seven days, Duy responded,

“I remember on the second day I was held in prison in that house, other people from my hamlet told me the Vietcong had entered my home and killed my mother. When I returned I found her body still in the house. I was her only son.”

Several captured enemy identified grave locations that were unknown at the time, including the horrible slaughter at Da Mai Creek where 500 innocent civilians lost their lives.

Unfortunately no precise forensic analysis of the statistics of the murders is extant, to my knowledge. We are left with eyewitness accounts as well as government sponsored reports, news articles and historians’ accounts that attempt to provide varying levels of detail regarding the massacre. The reports are disjointed and imprecise, the dates of production vary greatly, the names of locations of graves don’t always match, and the actual numbers of bodies discovered are difficult to discern at times. I have attempted to sort them out by matching accounts, as much as possible, on a spreadsheet.63

The results show that, at a minimum, about 2,802 bodies were uncovered,64 possibly as many as 3,500. Since the communists boasted of killing 3000 or more, it seems that would be an appropriate bottom number. The maximum would be the entire 5,800 that were determined to be missing. It’s likely that at least a few ended up in prisons in the north, but it’s impossible to know with any precision exactly how many were murdered.

It’s doubtful that all the graves were ever found. The government identified, by name and place of residence, 4062 individuals who were either murdered or abducted.65 1800 were never found, but some of them are almost certainly part of the 4062 that were identified. A significant number of the bodies recovered were unidentifiable due to decomposition or facial damage caused by shots to the head or bludgeoning.

The true extent of the slaughter wasn’t known for more than 18 months, as graves filled with bodies continued to be discovered purely by accident. In one case a farmer found a wire sticking up in his field. When he pulled on it, a hand popped out of the ground.66 In another case, a soldier sitting down for lunch reached for his C-rations and grabbed a foot instead. That’s when he realized he was sitting on a gravesite.67

An ARVN solider on patrol south of Hue noticed a wire sticking out of the ground. Thinking it was a booby trap, he very carefully worked to uncover it. He discovered the body of an old man, his hands tied together with the wire. Two days later 130 bodies had been uncovered.68

In each of the graves victims were found who had been shot in the back of the head, others who had been buried alive and still others who had been beaten to death. A few may have been battle deaths or dead PAVN or PLAF troops, but most of them were obviously murdered. Some were beheaded. Some were tied up to the Citadel gate and left there to be killed by artillery or bombing and strafing runs.69

Some have tried to argue that the murders were few in number, that they were committed by rogue troops or that they were understandable given the circumstances. All these arguments fail in the light of the evidence. (A more comprehensive study of the lies told by apologists will be forthcoming.)

Given the numerous eyewitness accounts, the bodies uncovered with hands tied, shot through the head or buried alive, the communist orders issued and the gloating after action reports, the idea that there was not a massacre in Hue of thousands of people defies logic and is soundly refuted by the preponderance of evidence.

The only question that remains is how many were killed. We will never know a specific number, but it seems the minimum must be the 4062 that have been identified plus the more than 800 bodies that were found but never identified.70 Whether the remaining 1000 were among the unidentified bodies, were murdered, died during the arduous journey through the jungles to North Vietnam or died in prison seems a moot point. They disappeared and were never seen again.71

South Vietnamese Reprisals?

The Italian journalist, Oriana Fallaci, visited Hue in February before the battle was over. In fact, she was shot at by retreating communist troops. She reported that a priest, whom she did not identify, told her that72:

“After the ‘Liberation,’ at least 200 who were suspected of being Vietcong or of having collaborated with the Vietcong were killed by the South Vietnamese. Without even a summary trial, without any exact accusation. Some machine gun bursts and that was that. The massacre began as soon as the Marines had taken the Imperial Palace, and it’s only the corpses of those 200 that have been recovered.. Altogether, there have been 1,100 killed. Mostly students, university teachers, priests. Intellectuals and religious people at Hue have never hidden there sympathy fro the NLF.”

The Fallaci story is confusingly worded, it conflates the communist executions with the purported revenge executions, and I found no corroborating news reports. It also makes an impossible claim – that the supposed assassination began several days after authorities had announced that there would be no executions. Furthermore, there were no Catholic priests in Hue who supported the communists. The communists killed four of them and shot two others while they were in Hue.73

More importantly, the Marines never took the Imperial Palace as the “priest” claims. It had been decided that the South Vietnamese should do that. The 2nd Battalion 3rd Armored Regiment ARVN took the palace on the 24th of February.74 By that time the media had already reported that 200 collaborators were in custody, that there would be no executions without trials and that military tribunals would be held to determine guilt or innocence.

Eyewitnesses testified that people were taken away and never seen again within the first few days, long before U.S. Marines were even able to cross the river. Many of those bodies were later disinterred and identified at the Gia Hoi School and the Tang Quang Tu Pagoda. A Buddhist monk stated that he and his fellow monks “listened nightly to the screams for mercy and the sound of pistol and automatic rifle fire as people were executed in a plowed field behind the pagoda.”75 The bodies were identified as those of students, university teachers and priests (among others) as the priest states, but they were killed by the communists, not by revenge squads.

The Fallaci story was apparently the genesis of a rumor that South Vietnamese hit squads were rounding up civilians who had sided with the communists and executing them. Don Oberdorfer, Stanley Karnow and Marilyn Young all reported the executions.

The first to repeat the story was Don Oberdorfer in Tet!. He wrote76:

It was reliably reported that a South Vietnamese intelligence unit employed the confusion to send out “black teams” of assassins to eliminate some of those believed to have aided the enemy. Some of the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong suspects who were brought into Hue in those days mysteriously disappeared, with no record available of what happened to them.

This is an odd report. First he states that the “black teams” were searching for those who “aided the enemy”. Then he writes about communist military people who supposedly disappeared without a trace. Those were the enemy, not those who aided them. Who were the supposed assassins eliminating? Collaborators? Or the enemy? Why would they need to eliminate the enemy? Wouldn’t they already be fighting the enemy and trying to eliminate them?

Oberdorfer, however, adds something not found in the Fallaci report.

On March 14 more than twenty prisoners, including three women and some schoolboys, were brought into provincial military headquarters in the devastated city with burlap bags covering their heads and their hands tightly wired behind their backs. Guards began beating some of the captives with sticks and fists. After one man confessed he had been an economic and finance cadre for the Viet Cong, two guards beat him senseless, one kicking him brutally and the other standing on his face. An American who was present was affected particularly by one of the prisoners, who under the burlap bag was a very pretty girl with long, silky black hair and clear complexion. She was described as a Viet Cong nurse.
The prisoners were taken into a stone building which served as a temporary house of detention and, according to general belief, a place of execution. There was no trace of them in the morning.

Oberdorfer provides no source for the information in the first paragraph, nor does he indicate that he personally investigated the story. It appears that he’s referring to Fallaci’s report (“reliably reported”), but he doesn’t state that. The following paragraph appears to be original reporting and likely reports the facts as he was able to ascertain them.

In Stanley Karnow’s Vietnam A History he wrote77:

“Clandestine South Vietnamese teams slipped into Hue after the Communist occupation to assassinate suspected enemy collaborators; they threw many of the bodies into common graves with the Vietcong’s victims.”

Eight years later, Marilyn Young included a similar account in her book, The Vietnam Wars 1945-1990.78

“At the same time, in the last days of the NLF occupation of Hue, teams of Saigon government assassins fanned out through the city with their own list of targets, underground NLF supporters who had revealed themselves in the course of occupying the city.”

Neither writer provides any attribution for the source of the aside. Both likely trace their genesis to the Fallaci story and the unnamed priest. (I was not able to find any news accounts other than Fallaci’s that related the story.)

Scott Laderman included it in his book, Tours of Vietnam: War, Travel Guides and Memory where he cited Fallaci, Karnow (citing the wrong page) and Young but no other sources.79

I reached out through contacts for accounts from anyone who was in Hue during that time. A source that would have reason to know if the ARVN had any assassination squads executing VC in Hue sent me this account:

The only enemy we captured were VC/NVA snipers firing from the roof of a refugee building (former school house) when someone gave us this information. We captured them and sent them to the Provincial Interrogation Center (PIC).

The only atrocities I learned of were those committed by the VC/NVA. Along with a Marine Captain assigned to us by III MAF to assist the RDC Program, we dug up a common grave based upon reports the VC had executed an American at the Catholic Church. We located the body… which we later identified as Steve Miller, a career State Department officer who was visiting Hue. Steve spoke fluent Vietnamese. He had been tortured with his arms tied behind him with barbed wire and shot in the back of his head while on his knees.

According to secret reports from personnel in Hue, approximately 5,000 soldiers and civilians were murdered by the VC/NVA while they occupied the city. These reports cite the victims as both male and female, adult and children. Most were civilians and included teachers, civil servants, police, religious leaders, politicians, Hoi Chanhs – and the families of these people. They were all killed without a trial or any attempt to justify their murder. Several US civilians were also killed, as were several Germans. These reports are still classified, unfortunately.

Given the slaughter the communists committed, it’s certainly possible (and believable) that the South Vietnamese troops would have wanted to take revenge. Contemporaneous reports, however, indicate that they did not, with the exception of the March 14 report by Oberdorfer.

On February 21, while the battle still raged, the Mayor of Hue, Lt. Col. Phan Van Khoa ordered that looters should be shot on sight and announced that there would be “public executions within two days of some Communist agents arrested recently.”80

The next day the New York Times reported81 that a military tribunal was planned to try the collaborators, that authorities were holding 200 prisoners and that 30 of them were believed to be high-ranking communists. It also reported that

“…on the basis of an order from General Lam, that there would be no executions in the city without military trials. He said yesterday that public executions would be necessary to restore order.”

So while summary executions had been planned and announced by the Mayor of Hue, a higher-ranking official countermanded the order. The following day the Times reported that:82

“…sources said he [Brig. Gen. Nguyen Ngoc Loan, Chief of South Vietnam Police] would interrogate a former Hue police chief, who is alleged to be one of the leaders of a Vietcong attack on the city, and politicians and militant Buddhists suspected of aiding or sympathizing with the Vietcong.”

In late March, Stewart Harris, a London Times correspondent writing in the New York Times discussed the current situation.83

According to the police chief, Doan Cong Lap, the Government has 477 Vietcong and North Vietnamese soldiers in custody.
“What about suspects?” he was asked. “What about officials and civilians who should have supported the Government and either went over to the enemy or went into hiding until they saw the Government would win? How many of these have you taken?”
After three visits to the police chief and one to the new provincial chief, Colonel Than, the figure was given: “Nearly 300.”
They also said that none of these people had been executed and that none had been brought to trial. Colonel Khoa, the provincial chief until two weeks ago, had been given temporary power to execute summarily any traitor holding a senior position. Moreover, six weeks ago the South Vietnamese promised to set up immediately a military tribunal in Hue. Yet no one has been tried.

It’s difficult to imagine how 200 to 1100 prisoners would have been executed by hit squads yet 200 or “nearly 300” would be arrested and detained. Why wouldn’t they have killed them all? And why would 30 high-ranking communists be spared? Why were there no other news reports? Given Col. Than’s obvious desire to kill some of the prisoners, why weren’t some of them publicly executed?

There are several possible explanations for the Fallaci report. Perhaps there was a language barrier between Fallaci and the priest that caused her to write this confusing account. The priest could have been mistaken, basing his belief on the Mayor’s Feb. 21 announcement and then embellishing his account. The priest could have been a communist propagandist. Or the story could be true. If it’s true, there is no evidence supporting it, and there were no other news reports confirming it. It certainly seems there would have been, had it been true.

It seems clear that all the later reports with the exception of Oberdorfer’s account of March 14 relied on Fallaci’s report, but that report has issues that make it questionable at best. The report is at odds with all the other known evidence and, in my opinion, can be discounted as false. The March 14 account appears to be true and may indicate that more than those twenty were executed. Without more evidence, it’s difficult to say how many that could have been. It’s doubtful the number rose to 200 much less 1,100.

Conclusions

The idea that there was no massacre in Hue doesn’t withstand a careful examination of the facts.

1. There were detailed orders given pre-battle that included eliminating pro-RVN people with detailed lists provided.
2. Multiple captured after action reports listed the numbers of people killed, in some cases even who they were by position and stated that the orders had been followed correctly.
3. The numerous eyewitness accounts, both local Vietnamese and journalists, confirm that many people were executed. The manner of their deaths corresponds to the manner of death of the found bodies. Many of the dead also match the captured communist reports of who was killed.
4. Finally, the detailed reports of graves uncovered and bodies counted, corroborated by Pike’s report, the US News release, the GVN report and Vennema’s account confirm that a massacre did take place and provide evidence of its size.

In comparing accounts in Appendix A, it’s clear that at least 3,000 bodies were found. The number of graves and gravesites is less clear for several reasons. Pike’s report is in the form of a summary rather than providing needed detail. Vennema’s account is incomplete, having concluded before all the bodies had been found. The GVN report varies significantly from the others in some sites yet matches others closely. It’s difficult to know if it is more precise or inflated.

For example, in the Gia Hoi area, Vennema reports 203 bodies, Pike 170, the US News Release 200 and the GVN 425. Either the GVN number is incorrect or more bodies were discovered, but the report lists 22 graves, which matches the US News Release. I think it’s likely the number was somewhere around 200. The GVN report may have conflated two different sites.

At the Tang Quang Tu Pagoda, Vennema has 43 bodies, Pike and the US report agree on 77 and the GVN report has 299. Given the other numbers the 299 is probably too high.

However, the GVN report agrees with every other report regarding the Imperial Tombs; 201 bodies were found (Vennema lists 203.) The reports also agree on the number of bodies at the Van Chi School (9) and the Cho Thuong marketplace (100).

Strangely, at ApDong Gi Tay, Vennema reports 110, Pike reports 100 and the GVN report has 75.

Given the numbers in these reports, it’s impossible to say much with any certainty except in certain locations. The totals for each report do display an agreement that indicates that about 3,000 bodies were found.

Vennema has 2397 but is missing the November 1969 finds. Those would increase his total to at least 2637 and perhaps 3047. Pike has 2802 but there’s a problem with his report. He states that 1200 bodies were found in the first phase (Feb-Apr) yet his total is only 915. (The US News Release that only covers the first phase has 1143.) Somehow Pike failed to account for about 240 bodies. Adding those to his total would push his total to 3047, agreeing with Vennema almost exactly on the first three phases (2397 vs 2392). The GVN report has 3373, just 1.4 times higher than Vennama’s lowest possible number (2397 + 240 for the 4th phase — 2637).

Porter’s claim that Vennema’s report “found that the number of victims in the grave sites he examined were inflated in the U.S.-Saigon count by over seven-fold” is obviously false.84 The greatest variance is the GVN report, and the others essentially agree with Vennema in the finds they list.

In the final analysis, it appears that about 5,000 people were murdered; about 3,000 bodies were found and about 2000 of those were identified. The rest were never found. 4,062 of the victims were eventually identified, and about another 1,000 disappeared into history without a trace.

Atrocities are a part of war.  Every nation commits them.  However, there is something decidedly perverse about elevating the My Lai story to a heightened level while ignoring the massacre in Tet, which was at least ten times as large.  If My Lai was a massacre (and it certainly was), then Tet was a mega-massacre.  Yet the media ignored it and so have historians.

Documents Related to this Article

Word 2011 Article
Appendix A: Spreadsheet of Graves
PDF map showing gravesites
PDF combining all three docs

The Vietnam War: Realities, Myths and Misconceptions

The General Andrew J. Goodpaster Lecture
Presented at the Meeting of the American Veterans’ Institute
Army-Navy Club
Washington, DC
3 June 2014

John F. Guilmartin, Jr.

Conventional wisdom holds the Vietnam War to be the most divisive and controversial war in our history, second only to the Civil War. That view enjoys support from all points of the political compass and all segments of the body politic, from the intelligentsia and media pundits to military veterans and everything between. For once conventional wisdom is right… except that there is no consensus on why conventional wisdom is right. Indeed, within the political and ideological spectrum just outlined there are starkly different interpretations of why the war was fought, how, and to what effect. That, I submit, is important, for if we are to draw meaningful lessons from the Vietnam War we must first understand it.

From whence comes understanding? The answer is history, and there we encounter immediate difficulty for the history of the Vietnam War is fraught with divisiveness, controversy and incoherence that rivals that of the war itself. The cause lies in the manner in which the history was written.

The first drafts of the histories of our previous wars were written by historians based on official records, supplemented by memoirs of senior leaders and intelligence on enemy capabilities and intentions that came to hand during and immediately after the war. The result—call it the orthodox interpretation—generally followed government policy. Then, as sources surfaced that were unavailable to the first wave of historians, new interpretations emerged. Call the resultant interpretations revisionist. Historians tested revisionist insights, and if they were valid incorporated them into their work and the quality of the history improved. That, at least, is how it worked in the past.

In contrast, the first draft of the history of the Vietnam War was written by journalists during the early stages of our military involvement. Moreover, the journalists in question were not detached observers, but were engaged in turning American public opinion against South Vietnam’s President Ngo Dinh Diem. Far from accepting the validity of our government’s policy, the authors of the first daft rejected it, beginning with support of the Diem regime, as they labeled it… and I should explain at this point the difference between a regime and a government: A government is a regime of which the writer approves. A regime is a government of which the writer does not approve.

Preeminent among the journalists in question were Malcolm Browne of The Associated Press; Neill Sheehan of United Press International; David Halberstam of The New York Times; Peter Arnett of Associated Press; and Stanley Karnow who reported for Time, Life, The Saturday Evening Post, The Washington Post and NBC News.

The journalists’ campaign against Diem bore fruit, turning the Kennedy administration against him, leading to his overthrow and murder in a November 1963 coup implicitly endorsed by President Kennedy. Contrary to the journalists’ expectations, Diem’s removal did not lead to an improvement in the political and military situation. Instead, political chaos and military incoherence ensued, leading to the near collapse of South Vietnam in 1964 and massive American military intervention from the spring of 1965.

By then, the journalists’ revisionist interpretation had become orthodoxy, turning the usual process on its head. The new orthodoxy was well entrenched by the time of Diem’s fall and had been embraced by the bulk of the intelligentsia and the nascent but growing anti-war movement. It has showed remarkable staying power, the more so as it informed two popular television histories: The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation series, Vietnam: The Ten Thousand Day War, for which Peter Arnett was Chief Correspondent; and the Public Broadcasting Service series, Vietnam: A Television History, for which Stanley Karnow was Chief Correspondent. Both debuted in 1983, as did Karnow’s book Vietnam: A History, based on research for the PBS series. To the best of my knowledge, that book remains the most published and widely-read work on the subject in English and, together with the two television series, effectively forms the basis of what most Americans know—or think they know—about the war.

The underlying narrative in all these works holds that America’s military engagement in Vietnam was unjust, unnecessary and unwinnable. I am painting in the broadest of strokes and some orthodox works are more nuanced, but I am confident that my generalization is accurately descriptive of main stream orthodoxy. Beyond rejecting the validity of American policy, the orthodox interpretation is America-centric, holding that everything of consequence that happened did so as a result of American initiative. By contrast, Vietnamese are portrayed as stereotypes: passive peasant-victims; doughty Viet Cong; well-motivated and disciplined North Vietnamese regulars; brutal and corrupt ARVN (soldiers of the Army of [South] Vietnam); and so on. As is usually the case, there are elements of truth in these stereotypes, but there is much more to it than that.

Let me begin with the circumstances in 1960-1963 during which the orthodox interpretation was forged. The journalists who gave it birth had little if any previous experience in Vietnam. Much of their information concerning South Vietnamese society and politics came from Vietnamese journalist Pham Xuan An, a Reuters stringer who later became chief of Time magazine’s Saigon bureau. As we now know, An was a communist agent of influence. We can be sure that he spoon-fed his interpretations of the Diem government’s crackdown on Theravada Buddhist demonstrations to his American colleagues: Karnow and Halberstam were particularly dependent on him.[1] It was, of course, reportage of the crackdown that led to the Kennedy administration’s decision to support Diem’s overthrow. American media coverage of the self-immolation of Buddhist monks as an act of protest—coverage that was orchestrated by the communists, Buddhists, or both—was the tipping point.

News of An’s role as an agent of influence did not emerge until after the fall of South Vietnam in 1975, by which time the orthodox interpretation had gained general acceptance within academia and the mainstream news media. In the meantime, the imbedded notion that our military policy—citing a more extreme anti-war characterization—was one of atrocity, had gained legitimacy if not universal acceptance. In a gentler interpretation, we were doing more harm to the people of Vietnam (Cambodia was seldom mentioned and Laos largely ignored) with unrestrained firepower than would result from communist victory.

But what if Diem had been unjustly pilloried? What if his policies had, on the whole, been well-suited for the circumstances? What if our military policies, from beginning to end, were more humane than those of the enemy? If that were the case, then our failure to prosecute the war more aggressively after Diem’s overthrow and our abandonment to communist rule of the peoples of formerly-French Indochina was itself a crime. That was—and is—a difficult pill for exponents of the orthodox interpretation to swallow, hence the historiographical impasse.

To be sure, there were revisionist rebuttals, notably Guenter Lewy’s America in Vietnam published in 1978. More recently, Mark Moyer’s Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954-1965, a strong but not uncritical defense of Diem and his policies, appeared in 2006. Both works accuse the orthodox interpretation of being dead wrong on every matter of substance and have, predictably, been greeted more with derision than rebuttal.

In addition, a handful of authors writing in English approached the war from non-American perspectives. Douglas Pike, the only American scholar to write about the war during the war using Vietnamese sources, published extensively on the Vietnamese communist party and its military arm, producing Viet Cong (1969) and PAVN: People’s Army of Vietnam (1986) in addition to numerous journal articles.[2] He dismissed the orthodox interpretation as irrelevant and was ignored by its exponents. Peter Dunn, The First Vietnam War (1985) addressed the earliest stages of the conflict in southern Vietnam from the British perspective. Bernard Fall, Austrian by birth, French by upbringing and American by higher education wrote prolifically on Vietnam from a French perspective. His Street Without Joy and Hell in a Very Small Place, dealing respectively with the French phase of the war and the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, are classics. Both appeared during the American phase of the war and the second, 1964, edition of Street Without Joy covered the American experience to date. Though Fall had a great deal to say about the American conduct of the war prior to his death in 1967 he was thinly reviewed in American scholarly journals[3], no doubt because his interpretations didn’t fit the orthodox mold. A staunch anti-communist, he criticized American policy not on the basis of its supposed immorality, but its ineffectiveness. I would add as an afterthought that the French have done a better job of documenting and analyzing their phase of the war than we Americans have done for ours.

How do we sort this out?

Turning first to realities, the Vietnam War was a major episode in world history. French defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 marked the end of Western colonial empires. To be sure, we had agreed to give ours up, promising before World War II to grant the Philippines independence in 1946. The British gave up India in 1947 and Indonesia threw off Dutch rule to become an independent nation that same year. The Portuguese—remarkably—hung on until 1974, but Dien Bien Phu marked the beginning of the end.

American failure in Vietnam, marked by the fall of Saigon in 1975, saw the waning of the pax Americanus that had prevailed since the end of World War II. America would soldier on as the World’s policeman, but with diminished authority and credibility. Of arguably equal importance, our experience in Vietnam changed the way in which we Americans view our government, with trust giving way to eternal suspicion. Finally, the Vietnam War was a major campaign in the Cold War, though to what effect is a matter of debate. Did Soviet expenditures in support of North Vietnam—which were considerable—start the Soviet economy down the slope to collapse? This old soldier would like to think so, but the matter is up for grabs.

Now for myths and misconceptions. The orthodox interpretation holds that the underlying cause of the war was Vietnamese abhorrence of foreign domination, beginning with the thousand year struggle to throw off Chinese rule, followed by a renewed struggle for independence fueled by hatred of French colonialism, indeed, hatred of all foreign domination including American. After repeated failures to overthrow the French, this nationalist motivation found its opportunity in 1940 in the aftermath of France’s defeat by Germany and its direction in the leadership of Ho Chi Minh, portrayed as a nationalist first and a communist second. A pivotal factor in these developments, one glossed over in the orthodox interpretation, was Japanese intervention, beginning with military occupation of strategic points in French Indochina in September 1940, an occupation that first undermined the colonial regime’s credibility and then destroyed the regime itself.

Fueled by the peasantry’s acceptance of communist policy—land redistribution was the key issue—and given teeth by Vo Nguyen Giap’s training program and communist discipline, the anti-French resistance morphed into the militarily formidable Vietminh, a nationalist front organization with communist leadership at the top, and progressed from guerrilla resistance in 1941-45 to victory at Dien Bien Phu in 1954.

In fact, the thousand year struggle was real, but consisted almost entirely of Vietnamese civil wars with one side accepting Chinese rule and the other opposing it. Significantly, when the anti-Chinese faction won, the victorious leader invariably petitioned the Chinese emperor for recognition.

Resentment of French rule, though by no means universal, was deep and real. So, too, was communist skill at forging guerrilla resistance and—the critical point—at determining when to engage in open revolt. That point, however, was determined not by the Vietnamese communists but by the Japanese Army in a March 1945 coup de main that disarmed and incarcerated the French security forces and colonial army. That gave the Vietminh, hard pressed by the French up to that point, breathing room and released from prison a thousand or so trained and indoctrinated communist cadres who went quickly to work organizing—and intimidating—the rural masses. To their credit, the communists moved swiftly to exploit the opportunity presented them by the Japanese, but it was the Japanese who created the opportunity, a point on which the orthodox interpretation is silent.

During this interval Ho Chi Minh and his group moved their base of operations from China into Vietnam and from April 1945 obtained American backing in money, materiel, and, in mid-July, the OSS equivalent of a Special Forces A team parachuted into the wilds of northwestern Tonkin.

Ho portrayed his organization as anti-Japanese to secure American support, but Vietminh operations against the Japanese were minimal. In fact the Japanese Army, in anticipation of defeat, had thrown its support to the Vietminh, meaning—as the Japanese surely knew—the communists. An American officer who parachuted into Ho’s base in midJune stated that the Vietminh were backed by the Japanese, who supplied them with arms and ammunition from captured French stocks.[4]

When World War II was brought to an abrupt and unexpected end by the atomic bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Communists were ready to act, pulling the Vietminh in their wake. With remarkable prescience, Ho had earlier called for a Communist Party Congress that convened at his headquarters on 13 August, only four days after the Nagasaki bomb. It was followed by a Vietminh Congress from the 16th through the 18th. At Ho’s bequest, the Congresses declared Vietnam independent and declared war on Japan… ironically in that the Japanese had already notified American authorities of their willingness to surrender.

Meanwhile, the Communist Party’s Committee for Hanoi, meeting in secret and acting independently of Ho and the Party leadership, had decided that the moment for insurrection was near at hand. The moment came on August 17th when an armed propaganda team hijacked a mass rally of the Civil Servants Commission called to support independence under the Japanese-installed government of Emperor Bao Dai. Taking over the podium, the communists called for total independence and led a mass march on the Governor General’s palace. In the wake of the hijacking, the Communist leadership called for a general uprising. It went down on the 19th with columns marching on the Governor General’s Palace and the barracks of the Garde Indochinoise, the Bao Dai government’s army, where they took control of stores of arms and ammunition. Precisely how that transpired is unclear—Peter Dunn’s sources say it was by pre-arrangement with the Japanese—but it is apparent on the face of it that the Japanese backed the coup that gave the Vietminh control of Hanoi.[5] It was a major communist victory, the first of the war, and essential to all that followed.

Nor did Japanese support for the Vietminh end there. Japanese Army “deserters” joined the Vietminh in significant numbers, including a military advisory group of 4,000 to 1,500 men—the numbers are in dispute—under a Lieutenant Colonel Mukayama.[6]

Ho Chi Minh’s famous proclamation of Vietnamese independence on September 2nd, using words that drew liberally from the American Declaration of Independence, formalized what had already transpired. The presence on stage behind the podium of members of a newly-arrived OSS team under Major Archimedes Patti reinforced the impression of American support.

There is considerable irony in the fact that Ho and the communists—who were not yet in full control of the Vietminh—had gained their first, essential, victory with American aid, more apparent than real, and Japanese aid, more real than apparent.

A persistent myth holds that Ho Chi Minh was a nationalist who turned to the communists when the United States failed to recognize and support his government. In fact, it is clear from a cursory review of his résumé that Ho was a dedicated Marxist-Leninist revolutionary from the start.[7] Any doubts on this score can be seen in his March 1953 initiation of an “Identification of Class Enemies” campaign, a land redistribution program modeled after Stalin’s kulak (rich peasant) purges of the 1930s. Based on the dubious notion that there were significant class differences among the Vietnamese peasantry in the north, it empowered local tribunals that identified “rich peasants”, “reactionaries” and landowners, many of whom were summarily executed and their land seized [8] At its peak, the program took on the aspects of a witch hunt, sparking open rebellion in Nghe Anh Province in the autumn of 1956, over a year after French defeat and the separation of Vietnam into North and South. It is noteworthy that the uprising took place in that part of Vietnam that had been under communist control the longest. The uprising was put down by the People’s Army of Vietnam with considerable bloodshed.

The Identification of Class Enemies program was called off and Ho Chi Minh publicly apologized for its excesses on national radio. There followed a “Rectification of Errors” campaign accompanied by a wave of bitter recrimination as unjustly accused survivors were released from prison.

In the ensuing chaos, the Party recalled Le Duan from the south, where he was orchestrating resistance to the Diem government, and installed him as Party Secretary in which post he became North Vietnam’s leader, reducing Ho to a largely ceremonial role. This episode is significant for revealing the actual attitudes of Vietnamese peasants toward land redistribution and collectivation. It is also important for placing in power Le Duan, who used aggressive prosecution of the war in South Vietnam as a rallying point for political unity, a point for which we are indebted to recent work by historian Lien-Hang Nguyen.[9]

A byproduct of Le Duan’s consolidation of power was the elimination of any serious possibility of a negotiated settlement to the American phase of the war, for he was adamantly opposed to accepting anything less than a unified Vietnam under communist control. That is Hang Nguyen’s conclusion and I believe correct.

 

More myths and misconceptions with an emphasis on the American phase of the war:

Myth: It was a guerrilla war, a central tenant of the orthodox interpretation. Sometimes it was and sometimes it wasn’t. While it is true that guerrilla warfare—revolutionary war is a more accurate characterization, for propagandization and coercion were at least as important to communist theory and practice as small war tactics—went far to bleed French resources and exhaust American patience, the communists repeatedly turned to large-scale conventional operations as the key to victory as communist doctrine said they must. That was true of the French phase of the war where the Vietminh mounted four major conventional offensives, two of them abject failures, before victory in thoroughly conventional battle at Dien Bien Phu.[10] During the American phase, the communists mounted massive conventional offensives during the 1965 Pleiku Campaign, the 1968 Tet Offensive and the 1972 Easter Offensive, the first producing an equivocal outcome and the second two unequivocal communist defeats.[11]

Next in our list of myths, “The sorry little bastards won’t fight”—meaning the soldiers of the Army of the Republic of South Vietnam, or ARVN—is one of the most pernicious. It has its origins in the reaction of the first wave of American military advisors to what they perceived as a lack of aggressiveness among their Vietnamese charges. From their perspective, that was no doubt true. Heirs of a tradition of willingness to accept casualties in return for immediate tactical gain, they found themselves dealing with an army that was in it for the long haul in a war in which clear cut tactical victories were rare.[12] Their complaints were echoed by politicians of hawkish and dovish persuasion alike: “Why should American boys die for Vietnam when Vietnamese boys won’t die for Vietnam?” was the cry. In fact Vietnamese boys did die for their country, and in huge numbers.

The official ARVN casualty toll for the American phase of the war—not counting the final year for which records were not kept—was 1,394,000 including 224,000 killed in action.[13] Given South Vietnam’s population of about fourteen million, an equivalent share of America’s populace of some two-hundred million would have been 3,200,000 killed-in-action. Nor is the myth vitiated by mere numbers. The quality of leadership at corps and division level deteriorated in the chaos following the widespread purge of loyalist officers following Diem’s overthrow and the ARVN had its share of marginal units, but by and large elite units—Airborne, Marines, Ranger battalions and, later, the 1st Division—put in exemplary performances and ordinary units fought well more often than not. That includes elements of the oft-derided Regional Forces/Popular Forces (local militia, the so-called “Ruff-Puffs”), right up to the bitter end. To be sure, some units dissolved in the chaos of the final, overwhelming, 1975 invasion, undercut by drastic cutoffs in ammunition allowances and the reduction of South Vietnamese air power’s effectiveness by Soviet-provided surface-to-air missiles, but the ARVN put in some of the finest combat performances in the annals of warfare during the awful spring of 1975. A case in point is the 9-20 April Battle of Xuan Loc on the eastern approaches to Saigon, where the ARVN 18th Division reinforced by the remains of the Airborne Brigade fought a reinforced North Vietnamese corps with massive armor support to a bloody standstill despite artillery inferiority.[14] Another case in point is the last stand on Tan Son Nhut Airfield of the 81st Airborne Ranger Group, who fought on after the departure of the last Americans, taking out T-55 tanks with unguided, shoulder-fired anti-tank rockets until they ran out of ammunition.

Myth: Our bombing of North Vietnam and the Ho Chi Minh Trail was unnecessary at best and inhumane at worst. This myth is closely linked to the “It was a guerrilla war” myth. If it were, in fact, a guerilla war, then the logistical requirements of communist forces in the South would have been satisfied by locally-obtained food and captured arms and munitions and little external supply would have been needed. This belief at times bled over into American intelligence estimates. A May 1966 appraisal endorsed by Secretary of Defense McNamara held that the external re-supply requirements of communist forces in the south could be met by seven 21/2 ton trucks a day.[15] That, of course, was utterly untrue. In fact, the supposed insurgency in the south was dependent on arms, supplies and reinforcement from the North from the beginning, unequivocally from 1959 (the opening of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the overland route through Laos) and preemptively so from 1964.

The critical importance of the Ho Chi Minh Trail to the communist war effort is emphasized in Victory in Vietnam: The Official History of the People’s Army of Vietnam, 1954-1975, published in 1994 and released in English translation in 2002[16], a significant embarrassment to exponents of the orthodox interpretation. Selected passages underline the critical importance of maintaining the flow of men and materiel from China and the port of Haiphong through North Vietnam and down the Trail to the South. They also underline the impressive scale of resources devoted to maintaining the flow.[17] Nor were those resources limited to surface-to-air missile batteries, an air defense radar net, MiG jet fighters, anti-aircraft guns, road repair crews, earth-moving equipment and the maintenance of a large truck fleet. “Peace feelers”, advanced in exchange for bombing halts, were an integral and successful element of communist strategy. So were attempts to influence US media coverage of our bombing.

The latter focused on our bombing of targets in North Vietnam, and had the dual purpose of making our bombing appear inhumane on the one hand and ineffective on the other. Perhaps the most egregious example involves December 1966 reportage from Hanoi by New York Times assistant managing editor Harrison Salisbury in which he stated that we were “dropping an enormous weight of explosives on purely civilian targets.” He further stated that “on-the-spot inspection indicates that American bombing has been inflicting considerable civilian casualties in Hanoi and its environs for some time.”regious example involves December 1966 reportage from Hanoi by New York Times assistant managing editor Harrison Salisbury in which he stated that we were “dropping an enormous weight of explosives on purely civilian targets.” He further stated that “on-the-spot inspection indicates that American bombing has been inflicting considerable civilian casualties in Hanoi and its envions for some time past”,[18] In fact, contrary to his representations, Salisbury was not an eye-witness. Moreover, much of his copy was written by Australian communist Wilfred Burchett, Salisbury’s “facilitator” during his visit to North Vietnam, and copied from official North Vietnamese press releases.[19]

Another telling example can be found in the New York Times lead editorial for Sunday, February 4th 1968. Written four days after the start of the communist 1968 Tet Offensive, the editorial proclaimed that if the “spectacularly successful Tet offensive had proved anything it was that the bombing of North Vietnam had failed to reduce either the enemy’s will or capacity to fight.”[20] As we now know and as some journalists realized at the time, the offensive was a military disaster for the communists. The prominence given to discrediting the bombing as opposed, for example, to excoriating the misguided and politically-motivated optimism in LBJ’s, McNamara’s and Westmoreland’s public statements in the months before the Tet Offensive or extolling the fighting spirit of the Viet Cong and NVA suggests an eagerness to influence our policy in a way most likely to be helpful to the communist cause.

Next on our parade of myths: The news media did not lose the war. This myth reflects the belief that waning support for our war effort by the American public, and ultimately by our political leadership, was based on an accurate appraisal of military failure and the immorality of our policies rather than on biased and negative media coverage. Belief in this myth was and is a staple of the orthodox interpretation and an article of faith to the bulk of the intelligentsia, to mainstream media pundits and among the anti-war faithful. In a neat bit of intellectual ju-jitsu, exponents of the orthodox interpretation reverse the polarity, portraying as a myth revisionist arguments that the news media did play a central role in losing the war.

The data relevant to supporting or debunking this myth is enormous, and I turn to my own observations to condense the argument. I enrolled as a graduate student in history at Princeton University under Air Force sponsorship in the autumn of 1967. I had returned from my first Southeast Asia combat tour in the summer of 1966 and had spent the intervening year as a flight instructor at the Air Rescue Service Combat Crew Training School where I kept track of current intelligence. As soon as my fellow graduate students recovered from the shock of having a combat veteran in their midst, they asked me what I thought about the debate about the war, very much a hot topic on campus. I responded that I would be happy to tell them about the war on the ground in Southeast Asia, but that they would not learn about it from coverage in what we have come to call the mainstream media, meaning in context the New York Times, the AP and UPI wire services and ABC, CBS and NBC television news. “The debate,” I said, “is not about the war at all. It’s about who should run the country based on what foreign policy assumptions.” Today, over forty-five years later, I stand by that characterization.

To hold my own in the ensuing discussions, for the next two and a half years I tracked on a daily basis relevant coverage in the New York Times and watched the ABC, CBS and NBC evening news roundups (in those days, they were only thirty minutes long and aired in sequence). Coverage of the war on the ground in Southeast Asia was short on operational and strategic context and long on details that called into question the morality and effectiveness of our commitment. The adverse effects of American firepower on the civilian populace were highlighted. Communist atrocities were downplayed or ignored. The classic example of the latter, and a telling one, is the contrast between the extensive coverage given to the My Lai massacre and the sketchy coverage accorded the Hue massacres, where communist forces during the 1968 Têt Offensive rounded up and executed some six thousand civilians.

It seemed clear at the time, and is clearer in retrospect, that the mainstream media were unwilling to publicize unsavory aspects of communist policy. An example from February 1968 makes the point: Viewing the disinterment of a mass grave containing victims of the Hue massacre, West German journalist Uwe Siemon-Netto in company with American journalist Peter Braestrup encountered an American television crew standing idly by. It was clear from the condition of the corpses that many of the victims had been buried alive. “Why?” asked Braestrup, “don’t you film this?” “We are not here to film anti-Communist propaganda” said the camera man [21], a small, but telling detail.

I should add that Braestrup, Saigon Bureau Chief of the Washington Post at the time, broke ranks with his mainstream colleagues by publishing a thorough, critical account of media coverage of the 1968 Têt Offensive, The Big Story (1977).[22] It is worth noting that Braestrup, in contrast to his media colleagues, was a combat veteran, having served as a Marine infantry officer in Korea.

Braestrup’s critique applies to media coverage of the entire war, both because the deficiencies in reportage and interpretation in coverage of the 1968 Têt Offensive were representative of coverage of the war as a whole, and because coverage of the 1968 Têt offensive played a major role in turning public opinion against support of our military effort in Vietnam. The attack on the US Embassy by Viet Cong sappers was portrayed as representative of the success of the entire offensive while the rapid reassertion of government control throughout South Vietnam was essentially ignored.[23] The battle for Hue—the only significant communist success in the first wave attacks, though in the end a communist defeat—was hardly typical of the fighting in general, but received extensive coverage… and here I would dispel another myth: that “television brought the war into our living rooms.”

There is an element of truth in this myth in that discussion of the war was ubiquitous in television news coverage. That having been said, coverage of the war on the ground was minimal. The period of my survey saw considerable footage of stretchers being loaded on to and off of helicopters, typically with an audio gunfire background (in my judgment mostly dubbed in), and early morning interviews of dazed survivors of nearly-overrun fire bases by freshly helicoptered-in reporters, but little to no actual combat footage. Tellingly, the US media all but ignored the ARVN.

In fact, Têt 1968 was a massive defeat for the communist forces, whose few and ephemeral successes in the first phase (January through early March) were overshadowed in operational reality by staggering losses, particularly in the second and third phases (May and August), and particularly among the Viet Cong, who were effectively eliminated as a military factor in the war. That was not the impression conveyed by mainstream media coverage.

The turning point came on 27 February when CBS television anchor man Walter Cronkite, just having returned from a whirlwind tour of South Vietnam, during which he witnessed evidence of the Hue massacres, pronounced on the evening news that

It now seems more certain than ever that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate. This summer’s almost certain standoff will either end in real give-and-take negotiations or terrible escalation: and for every means we have to escalate the enemy can match us.[24]

He went on to add that “the only rational way out will be to negotiate, not as victors but as an honorable people.” President Lyndon Johnson, watching the broadcast, famously commented to Press Secretary George Christian, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost middle America.”[25] Whatever the verdict on Johnson as a war leader, his political instincts with regard to voter sentiment were keen, amounting in this case to an accurate prophecy… albeit a self-fulfilling one that Johnson made good by announcing on 31 March a bombing halt against targets in northern North Vietnam, his decision to enter into negotiations with the North Vietnamese and his decision not to run for reelection. By that time, our political leadership had overwhelmingly endorsed the media interpretation and the rest is history.

I will conclude with a final myth, one derived from those discussed above and revealing in its content: that the outcome of the war was not so horrible for the peoples of Indochina. Though rarely stated so baldly, this myth was embraced in the bulk of the immediate post-war media coverage. Eventually, promulgation of this myth was suppressed by overwhelming evidence to the contrary, but only after extended delay.

The mainstream media covered the exodus of the Vietnamese boat people (though not the reasons for it), but they had little to say about Vietnam’s “reeducation camps” and for four years turned a blind eye to the horrors of Khymer Rouge rule in Cambodia. This despite the fact that the realities of the Killing Fields and The Year Zero were amply reported in Thailand and thus known to the international community including media representatives. I was stationed in Thailand at the time, and my specific reference is to coverage in the Bangkok Post, a first-rate English language newspaper which I read on a daily basis from the spring of 1975 until late December.

To appreciate the extent of the American media’s blind eye to events in Cambodia some background is in order. The area of western Cambodia contiguous to Thailand, the Battembang Rice Triangle, had never been under communist guerrilla influence and there was considerable cross-border commerce. In addition, Buddhist shrines to the north of the triangle attracted a steady flow of Thai pilgrims. When Phnom Penh fell to the communists on 17 April, considerable numbers of Thais were caught inside Cambodia. Through the spring and into the fall, survivors worked their way out, bringing with them eyewitness accounts of the horrors of Khymer Rouge rule: forced relocation of urban dwellers to “new economic zones”, executions of the educated, of Buddhist monks, of eyeglass wearers and so on. Their accounts were credible and well-reported in the Thai-language press as well as the Post.[26] Beyond the ability to assign numerical estimates to the Khymer Rouge death toll, I have learned nothing about the Year Zero and Killing Fields since. Coverage by the mainstream media—perhaps I should say recognition—began only after the escape from Cambodia in October of 1979 of New York Times reporter Sydney Schamberg’s Khymer cameraman Dith Pran.

Might a reluctance to admit that they played a major role in prompting American withdrawal from the war leading to the terrible carnage that followed help to explain media silence on the issues in question? I leave it to you, the reader, to decide.

What are we to make of our catalogue of realities and myths?

Returning to my opening comments, if we are to learn from history, we must get it right. In conslusion, I ask you, the reader, to reflect on the number of major foreign policy decisions by our government in the post-Vietnam era—not all with happy consequences—that appear to have been driven by acceptance of the lessons of the orthodox interpretation of the Vietnam War.

 

John F. Guilmartin, Jr.

Columbus, Ohio

[1] An was not the only such agent, though far and away the most influential one. Members of the Saigon intelligentsia, who loathed Diem and assiduously courted American journalists, contributed as well. Another was ARVN officer Albert Pham Ngoc Thao who served in various senior positions including province chief and head of the Strategic Hamlet Program. As a province chief, he appears as a source in Malcolm Browne, The New Face of War (Indianapolis and New York, 1965), the first of the journalist-historians’ work published between hard covers.

[2] Pike, a Foreign Service Officer, first attracted public notice with his analysis of the massacre of civilians by communist forces in Hue during the 1968 Tet Offensive.

[3] A student in my summer 1998 graduate seminar on the history of the Vietnam War at Ohio State University did a literature search for reviews of Street Without Joy and Hell in a Very Small Place in the standard scholarly journals, e.g. American Historical Review and Journal of American History, and came up with remarkably few reviews—from memory no more than half a dozen—and those were tepid.

[4] Peter Dunn, First Vietnam War, 412. The officer was almost certainly Major Dan Phelan of the China-based 14th Air Force AGAS (Air Ground Aid Service) who worked with Charles Fenn, the OSS agent responsible for arranging OSS support for Ho and the Vietminh. See also Dixee BartholomewFeis, The OSS and Ho Chi Minh: Unexpected Allies in the War Against Japan, 220221, photos from the National Archives, Green Belt, Maryland, of the arrival in August 1945 of the first armed Vietminh in Hanoi. Vietminh in the photos whose weapons can be identified are armed with French 7.5 mm rifles, specifically the Mousqueton d’Artillerie Modèle 1892 and the Fusil des Tirallieurs Indo-Chinois Modèle 1902. The one soldier with an automatic weapon is carrying a Chateralleault Fusil Mitrailleur; Ian Hogg and John Weeks, Military Small Arms of the Twentieth Century (Chicago, 1973), 3.053.06; Hogg and Weeks, The Encyclopedia of Infantry Weapons of World War II (New York, 1977), 101.

[5] Archimedes Patti, Why Viet Nam? 16667, Dunn, First Vietnam War, 17.

[6] James Dunnigan and Albert Nofi, Dirty Little Secrets of the Vietnam War (New York, 1999), 3839, cited in James S. Corum and Wray R. Johnson, Airpower In Small Wars: Fighting Insurgents and Terrorists (Lawrence, Kansas: 2003), 43.

[7] See Sophie Quinn-Judge, Ho Chi Minh: the Missing Years, 1919-1941 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002). Based on extensive research in Soviet and French Archives including files of the Comintern and Sûreté, Quinn-Judge thoroughly documents Ho’s ideological background and proclivities.

[8] Fall, Two Viet Nams, 155. A case can be made for class differences among the Vietnamese peasantry in the south, where a small class of relatively well-to-do landlords and a large body of landless peasants existed, but that was most assuredly not the case in the north where the vast majority of peasants—Fall says 98%—owned the land they worked.

[9] Le Duan’s role as a power behind the scenes and exponent of a hard line on the war in the South was long suspected, but not the extent to which he became effective dictator. Lien-Hang Nguyen, Hanoi’s War: An International History of the War for Peace in Vietnam (2012).

[10] These were a major failed offensive in the south in August 1950, the destruction of French forces along the Chinese border in October 1950; the failed attempt to break into the Red River Delta in January-June 1951; and the 1952-1953 Winter-Spring offensive into Laos. To this we can add the conventional response to the November 1951-February 1952 French Hoa Binh offensive in the north.

[11] The October-November 1965 Pleiku Campaign, chronicled in Hal Moore and Joe Galloway’s, We Were Soldiers Once and Young and in the Mel Gibson move We Were Soldiers Once culminated in American defensive victory at LZ X-Ray and defeat at LZ Albany (not addressed in the Gibson movie). The campaign’s outcome was equivocal in that both the US and North Vietnamese abandoned overtly aggressive orientations in its aftermath.

[12] We do not ordinarily think of American military commanders as prone to accept heavy casualties, but it is a matter of record. In World War II American commanders were routinely willing to accept casualties that their British colleagues considered unacceptable. The same contrast applied to American and Australian forces in Vietnam.

[13] John F. Guilmartin, “Casualties”, Stanley I. Kutler, ed., Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War (New York, 1996), 103-105.

[14] George J. Veith and Merle Pribbenow, “‘Fighting Is an Art”: The Army of the Republic of Vietnam’s Defense of Xuan Loc, 9-21 April 1975”, Journal of Military History, Vol. 68, No. 1 (January 2004), 163-213.

[15] Mark Clodfelter, The Limits of Air Power: The American Bombing of North Vietnam (New York, 1989), 134-35.

[16] (Merle L. Pribbenow, tr. (Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas), originally published in Vietnamese as History of the People’s Army of Vietnam (Hanoi, Vietnamese Ministry of Defense Military History Institute).

[17] Victory in Vietnam, 52-54, 168-69, 225-26, 242 and 261-68.

[18] New York Times, December 25 and 27, 1966, quoted in Wayne Thompson, To Hanoi and Back: The U.S. Air Force and North Vietnam, 1966-1973 (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2000), 45.

[19] Robert Manne, Agent of Influence: The Life and Times of Wilfred Burchett, Mackinzie Paper No. 13 (Toronto, 1989), 48-50. Burchett was involved in exploiting American POWs in communist hands in Korea and Vietnam and played a major role in actress Jane Fonda’s notorious 1972 visit to North Vietnam.

[20] Paraphrased in Wayne Thompson, To Hanoi and Back: The U.S. Air Force and North Vietnam, 1966-1973 (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2000), 123.

[21] Uwe Siemon-Netto, Duc: A Reporter’s Love for the Wounded People of Vietnam (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (July 10, 2013), 211-13.

[22] The Big Story: How the American Press and Television Reported and Interpreted the Crisis of Tet 1968 in Vietnam and Washington, 2 vols. (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1977).

[23] See Donald M. Bishop’ review of The Big Story, “The Press and the TET Offensive: A Flawed Institution Under Stress”, Air University Review (November-December 1978).

[24] Quoted in Henry Kissinger, Ending the Vietnam War (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2003), 47.

[25] Quoted in Philip Davidson, Vietnam at War, The History, 1945-1975 (Novato, California: Presidio Press, 1988), 486.

[26] Speaking only minimal Thai and reading it not at all, I was kept informed by Captain Daniel Jacobowitz, USAF, and his wife Saifon, a native Thai speaker.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Vietnam War: Realities, Myths and Misconceptions
The General Andrew J. Goodpaster Lecture

Presented at the Meeting of the American Veterans’ Institute
Army-Navy Club

Washington, DC

3 June 2014

 

 

John F. Guilmartin, Jr.

 

 

 

 

Conventional wisdom holds the Vietnam War to be the most divisive and controversial war in our history, second only to the Civil War. That view enjoys support from all points of the political compass and all segments of the body politic, from the intelligentsia and media pundits to military veterans and everything between. For once conventional wisdom is right… except that there is no consensus on why conventional wisdom is right. Indeed, within the political and ideological spectrum just outlined there are starkly different interpretations of why the war was fought, how, and to what effect. That, I submit, is important, for if we are to draw meaningful lessons from the Vietnam War we must first understand it.

From whence comes understanding? The answer is history, and there we encounter immediate difficulty for the history of the Vietnam War is fraught with divisiveness, controversy and incoherence that rivals that of the war itself. The cause lies in the manner in which the history was written.

The first drafts of the histories of our previous wars were written by historians based on official records, supplemented by memoirs of senior leaders and intelligence on enemy capabilities and intentions that came to hand during and immediately after the war. The result—call it the orthodox interpretation—generally followed government policy. Then, as sources surfaced that were unavailable to the first wave of historians, new interpretations emerged. Call the resultant interpretations revisionist. Historians tested revisionist insights, and if they were valid incorporated them into their work and the quality of the history improved. That, at least, is how it worked in the past.

In contrast, the first draft of the history of the Vietnam War was written by journalists during the early stages of our military involvement. Moreover, the journalists in question were not detached observers, but were engaged in turning American public opinion against South Vietnam’s President Ngo Dinh Diem. Far from accepting the validity of our government’s policy, the authors of the first daft rejected it, beginning with support of the Diem regime, as they labeled it… and I should explain at this point the difference between a regime and a government: A government is a regime of which the writer approves. A regime is a government of which the writer does not approve.

Preeminent among the journalists in question were Malcolm Browne of The Associated Press; Neill Sheehan of United Press International; David Halberstam of The New York Times; Peter Arnett of Associated Press; and Stanley Karnow who reported for Time, Life, The Saturday Evening Post, The Washington Post and NBC News.

The journalists’ campaign against Diem bore fruit, turning the Kennedy administration against him, leading to his overthrow and murder in a November 1963 coup implicitly endorsed by President Kennedy. Contrary to the journalists’ expectations, Diem’s removal did not lead to an improvement in the political and military situation. Instead, political chaos and military incoherence ensued, leading to the near collapse of South Vietnam in 1964 and massive American military intervention from the spring of 1965.

By then, the journalists’ revisionist interpretation had become orthodoxy, turning the usual process on its head. The new orthodoxy was well entrenched by the time of Diem’s fall and had been embraced by the bulk of the intelligentsia and the nascent but growing anti-war movement. It has showed remarkable staying power, the more so as it informed two popular television histories: The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation series, Vietnam: The Ten Thousand Day War, for which Peter Arnett was Chief Correspondent; and the Public Broadcasting Service series, Vietnam: A Television History, for which Stanley Karnow was Chief Correspondent. Both debuted in 1983, as did Karnow’s book Vietnam: A History, based on research for the PBS series. To the best of my knowledge, that book remains the most published and widely-read work on the subject in English and, together with the two television series, effectively forms the basis of what most Americans know—or think they know—about the war.

The underlying narrative in all these works holds that America’s military engagement in Vietnam was unjust, unnecessary and unwinnable. I am painting in the broadest of strokes and some orthodox works are more nuanced, but I am confident that my generalization is accurately descriptive of main stream orthodoxy. Beyond rejecting the validity of American policy, the orthodox interpretation is America-centric, holding that everything of consequence that happened did so as a result of American initiative. By contrast, Vietnamese are portrayed as stereotypes: passive peasant-victims; doughty Viet Cong; well-motivated and disciplined North Vietnamese regulars; brutal and corrupt ARVN (soldiers of the Army of [South] Vietnam); and so on. As is usually the case, there are elements of truth in these stereotypes, but there is much more to it than that.

 

Let me begin with the circumstances in 1960-1963 during which the orthodox interpretation was forged. The journalists who gave it birth had little if any previous experience in Vietnam. Much of their information concerning South Vietnamese society and politics came from Vietnamese journalist Pham Xuan An, a Reuters stringer who later became chief of Time magazine’s Saigon bureau. As we now know, An was a communist agent of influence. We can be sure that he spoon-fed his interpretations of the Diem government’s crackdown on Theravada Buddhist demonstrations to his American colleagues: Karnow and Halberstam were particularly dependent on him.[1] It was, of course, reportage of the crackdown that led to the Kennedy administration’s decision to support Diem’s overthrow. American media coverage of the self-immolation of Buddhist monks as an act of protest—coverage that was orchestrated by the communists, Buddhists, or both—was the tipping point.

News of An’s role as an agent of influence did not emerge until after the fall of South Vietnam in 1975, by which time the orthodox interpretation had gained general acceptance within academia and the mainstream news media. In the meantime, the imbedded notion that our military policy—citing a more extreme anti-war characterization—was one of atrocity, had gained legitimacy if not universal acceptance. In a gentler interpretation, we were doing more harm to the people of Vietnam (Cambodia was seldom mentioned and Laos largely ignored) with unrestrained firepower than would result from communist victory.

But what if Diem had been unjustly pilloried? What if his policies had, on the whole, been well-suited for the circumstances? What if our military policies, from beginning to end, were more humane than those of the enemy? If that were the case, then our failure to prosecute the war more aggressively after Diem’s overthrow and our abandonment to communist rule of the peoples of formerly-French Indochina was itself a crime. That was—and is—a difficult pill for exponents of the orthodox interpretation to swallow, hence the historiographical impasse.

To be sure, there were revisionist rebuttals, notably Guenter Lewy’s America in Vietnam published in 1978. More recently, Mark Moyer’s Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954-1965, a strong but not uncritical defense of Diem and his policies, appeared in 2006. Both works accuse the orthodox interpretation of being dead wrong on every matter of substance and have, predictably, been greeted more with derision than rebuttal.

In addition, a handful of authors writing in English approached the war from non-American perspectives. Douglas Pike, the only American scholar to write about the war during the war using Vietnamese sources, published extensively on the Vietnamese communist party and its military arm, producing Viet Cong (1969) and PAVN: People’s Army of Vietnam (1986) in addition to numerous journal articles.[2] He dismissed the orthodox interpretation as irrelevant and was ignored by its exponents. Peter Dunn, The First Vietnam War (1985) addressed the earliest stages of the conflict in southern Vietnam from the British perspective. Bernard Fall, Austrian by birth, French by upbringing and American by higher education wrote prolifically on Vietnam from a French perspective. His Street Without Joy and Hell in a Very Small Place, dealing respectively with the French phase of the war and the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, are classics. Both appeared during the American phase of the war and the second, 1964, edition of Street Without Joy covered the American experience to date. Though Fall had a great deal to say about the American conduct of the war prior to his death in 1967 he was thinly reviewed in American scholarly journals[3], no doubt because his interpretations didn’t fit the orthodox mold. A staunch anti-communist, he criticized American policy not on the basis of its supposed immorality, but its ineffectiveness. I would add as an afterthought that the French have done a better job of documenting and analyzing their phase of the war than we Americans have done for ours.

How do we sort this out?

Turning first to realities, the Vietnam War was a major episode in world history. French defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 marked the end of Western colonial empires. To be sure, we had agreed to give ours up, promising before World War II to grant the Philippines independence in 1946. The British gave up India in 1947 and Indonesia threw off Dutch rule to become an independent nation that same year. The Portuguese—remarkably—hung on until 1974, but Dien Bien Phu marked the beginning of the end.

American failure in Vietnam, marked by the fall of Saigon in 1975, saw the waning of the pax Americanus that had prevailed since the end of World War II. America would soldier on as the World’s policeman, but with diminished authority and credibility. Of arguably equal importance, our experience in Vietnam changed the way in which we Americans view our government, with trust giving way to eternal suspicion. Finally, the Vietnam War was a major campaign in the Cold War, though to what effect is a matter of debate. Did Soviet expenditures in support of North Vietnam—which were considerable—start the Soviet economy down the slope to collapse? This old soldier would like to think so, but the matter is up for grabs.

Now for myths and misconceptions. The orthodox interpretation holds that the underlying cause of the war was Vietnamese abhorrence of foreign domination, beginning with the thousand year struggle to throw off Chinese rule, followed by a renewed struggle for independence fueled by hatred of French colonialism, indeed, hatred of all foreign domination including American. After repeated failures to overthrow the French, this nationalist motivation found its opportunity in 1940 in the aftermath of France’s defeat by Germany and its direction in the leadership of Ho Chi Minh, portrayed as a nationalist first and a communist second. A pivotal factor in these developments, one glossed over in the orthodox interpretation, was Japanese intervention, beginning with military occupation of strategic points in French Indochina in September 1940, an occupation that first undermined the colonial regime’s credibility and then destroyed the regime itself.

Fueled by the peasantry’s acceptance of communist policy—land redistribution was the key issue—and given teeth by Vo Nguyen Giap’s training program and communist discipline, the anti-French resistance morphed into the militarily formidable Vietminh, a nationalist front organization with communist leadership at the top, and progressed from guerrilla resistance in 1941-45 to victory at Dien Bien Phu in 1954.

In fact, the thousand year struggle was real, but consisted almost entirely of Vietnamese civil wars with one side accepting Chinese rule and the other opposing it. Significantly, when the anti-Chinese faction won, the victorious leader invariably petitioned the Chinese emperor for recognition.

Resentment of French rule, though by no means universal, was deep and real. So, too, was communist skill at forging guerrilla resistance and—the critical point—at determining when to engage in open revolt. That point, however, was determined not by the Vietnamese communists but by the Japanese Army in a March 1945 coup de main that disarmed and incarcerated the French security forces and colonial army. That gave the Vietminh, hard pressed by the French up to that point, breathing room and released from prison a thousand or so trained and indoctrinated communist cadres who went quickly to work organizing—and intimidating—the rural masses. To their credit, the communists moved swiftly to exploit the opportunity presented them by the Japanese, but it was the Japanese who created the opportunity, a point on which the orthodox interpretation is silent.

During this interval Ho Chi Minh and his group moved their base of operations from China into Vietnam and from April 1945 obtained American backing in money, materiel, and, in mid-July, the OSS equivalent of a Special Forces A team parachuted into the wilds of northwestern Tonkin.

Ho portrayed his organization as anti-Japanese to secure American support, but Vietminh operations against the Japanese were minimal. In fact the Japanese Army, in anticipation of defeat, had thrown its support to the Vietminh, meaning—as the Japanese surely knew—the communists. An American officer who parachuted into Ho’s base in midJune stated that the Vietminh were backed by the Japanese, who supplied them with arms and ammunition from captured French stocks.[4]

When World War II was brought to an abrupt and unexpected end by the atomic bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Communists were ready to act, pulling the Vietminh in their wake. With remarkable prescience, Ho had earlier called for a Communist Party Congress that convened at his headquarters on 13 August, only four days after the Nagasaki bomb. It was followed by a Vietminh Congress from the 16th through the 18th. At Ho’s bequest, the Congresses declared Vietnam independent and declared war on Japan… ironically in that the Japanese had already notified American authorities of their willingness to surrender.

Meanwhile, the Communist Party’s Committee for Hanoi, meeting in secret and acting independently of Ho and the Party leadership, had decided that the moment for insurrection was near at hand. The moment came on August 17th when an armed propaganda team hijacked a mass rally of the Civil Servants Commission called to support independence under the Japanese-installed government of Emperor Bao Dai. Taking over the podium, the communists called for total independence and led a mass march on the Governor General’s palace. In the wake of the hijacking, the Communist leadership called for a general uprising. It went down on the 19th with columns marching on the Governor General’s Palace and the barracks of the Garde Indochinoise, the Bao Dai government’s army, where they took control of stores of arms and ammunition. Precisely how that transpired is unclear—Peter Dunn’s sources say it was by pre-arrangement with the Japanese—but it is apparent on the face of it that the Japanese backed the coup that gave the Vietminh control of Hanoi.[5] It was a major communist victory, the first of the war, and essential to all that followed.

Nor did Japanese support for the Vietminh end there. Japanese Army “deserters” joined the Vietminh in significant numbers, including a military advisory group of 4,000 to 1,500 men—the numbers are in dispute—under a Lieutenant Colonel Mukayama.[6]

Ho Chi Minh’s famous proclamation of Vietnamese independence on September 2nd, using words that drew liberally from the American Declaration of Independence, formalized what had already transpired. The presence on stage behind the podium of members of a newly-arrived OSS team under Major Archimedes Patti reinforced the impression of American support.

There is considerable irony in the fact that Ho and the communists—who were not yet in full control of the Vietminh—had gained their first, essential, victory with American aid, more apparent than real, and Japanese aid, more real than apparent.

A persistent myth holds that Ho Chi Minh was a nationalist who turned to the communists when the United States failed to recognize and support his government. In fact, it is clear from a cursory review of his résumé that Ho was a dedicated Marxist-Leninist revolutionary from the start.[7] Any doubts on this score can be seen in his March 1953 initiation of an “Identification of Class Enemies” campaign, a land redistribution program modeled after Stalin’s kulak (rich peasant) purges of the 1930s. Based on the dubious notion that there were significant class differences among the Vietnamese peasantry in the north, it empowered local tribunals that identified “rich peasants”, “reactionaries” and landowners, many of whom were summarily executed and their land seized [8] At its peak, the program took on the aspects of a witch hunt, sparking open rebellion in Nghe Anh Province in the autumn of 1956, over a year after French defeat and the separation of Vietnam into North and South. It is noteworthy that the uprising took place in that part of Vietnam that had been under communist control the longest. The uprising was put down by the People’s Army of Vietnam with considerable bloodshed.

The Identification of Class Enemies program was called off and Ho Chi Minh publicly apologized for its excesses on national radio. There followed a “Rectification of Errors” campaign accompanied by a wave of bitter recrimination as unjustly accused survivors were released from prison.

In the ensuing chaos, the Party recalled Le Duan from the south, where he was orchestrating resistance to the Diem government, and installed him as Party Secretary in which post he became North Vietnam’s leader, reducing Ho to a largely ceremonial role. This episode is significant for revealing the actual attitudes of Vietnamese peasants toward land redistribution and collectivation. It is also important for placing in power Le Duan, who used aggressive prosecution of the war in South Vietnam as a rallying point for political unity, a point for which we are indebted to recent work by historian Lien-Hang Nguyen.[9]

A byproduct of Le Duan’s consolidation of power was the elimination of any serious possibility of a negotiated settlement to the American phase of the war, for he was adamantly opposed to accepting anything less than a unified Vietnam under communist control. That is Hang Nguyen’s conclusion and I believe correct.

 

More myths and misconceptions with an emphasis on the American phase of the war:

Myth: It was a guerrilla war, a central tenant of the orthodox interpretation. Sometimes it was and sometimes it wasn’t. While it is true that guerrilla warfare—revolutionary war is a more accurate characterization, for propagandization and coercion were at least as important to communist theory and practice as small war tactics—went far to bleed French resources and exhaust American patience, the communists repeatedly turned to large-scale conventional operations as the key to victory as communist doctrine said they must. That was true of the French phase of the war where the Vietminh mounted four major conventional offensives, two of them abject failures, before victory in thoroughly conventional battle at Dien Bien Phu.[10] During the American phase, the communists mounted massive conventional offensives during the 1965 Pleiku Campaign, the 1968 Tet Offensive and the 1972 Easter Offensive, the first producing an equivocal outcome and the second two unequivocal communist defeats.[11]

Next in our list of myths, “The sorry little bastards won’t fight”—meaning the soldiers of the Army of the Republic of South Vietnam, or ARVN—is one of the most pernicious. It has its origins in the reaction of the first wave of American military advisors to what they perceived as a lack of aggressiveness among their Vietnamese charges. From their perspective, that was no doubt true. Heirs of a tradition of willingness to accept casualties in return for immediate tactical gain, they found themselves dealing with an army that was in it for the long haul in a war in which clear cut tactical victories were rare.[12] Their complaints were echoed by politicians of hawkish and dovish persuasion alike: “Why should American boys die for Vietnam when Vietnamese boys won’t die for Vietnam?” was the cry. In fact Vietnamese boys did die for their country, and in huge numbers.

The official ARVN casualty toll for the American phase of the war—not counting the final year for which records were not kept—was 1,394,000 including 224,000 killed in action.[13] Given South Vietnam’s population of about fourteen million, an equivalent share of America’s populace of some two-hundred million would have been 3,200,000 killed-in-action. Nor is the myth vitiated by mere numbers. The quality of leadership at corps and division level deteriorated in the chaos following the widespread purge of loyalist officers following Diem’s overthrow and the ARVN had its share of marginal units, but by and large elite units—Airborne, Marines, Ranger battalions and, later, the 1st Division—put in exemplary performances and ordinary units fought well more often than not. That includes elements of the oft-derided Regional Forces/Popular Forces (local militia, the so-called “Ruff-Puffs”), right up to the bitter end. To be sure, some units dissolved in the chaos of the final, overwhelming, 1975 invasion, undercut by drastic cutoffs in ammunition allowances and the reduction of South Vietnamese air power’s effectiveness by Soviet-provided surface-to-air missiles, but the ARVN put in some of the finest combat performances in the annals of warfare during the awful spring of 1975. A case in point is the 9-20 April Battle of Xuan Loc on the eastern approaches to Saigon, where the ARVN 18th Division reinforced by the remains of the Airborne Brigade fought a reinforced North Vietnamese corps with massive armor support to a bloody standstill despite artillery inferiority.[14] Another case in point is the last stand on Tan Son Nhut Airfield of the 81st Airborne Ranger Group, who fought on after the departure of the last Americans, taking out T-55 tanks with unguided, shoulder-fired anti-tank rockets until they ran out of ammunition.

Myth: Our bombing of North Vietnam and the Ho Chi Minh Trail was unnecessary at best and inhumane at worst. This myth is closely linked to the “It was a guerrilla war” myth. If it were, in fact, a guerilla war, then the logistical requirements of communist forces in the South would have been satisfied by locally-obtained food and captured arms and munitions and little external supply would have been needed. This belief at times bled over into American intelligence estimates. A May 1966 appraisal endorsed by Secretary of Defense McNamara held that the external re-supply requirements of communist forces in the south could be met by seven 21/2 ton trucks a day.[15] That, of course, was utterly untrue. In fact, the supposed insurgency in the south was dependent on arms, supplies and reinforcement from the North from the beginning, unequivocally from 1959 (the opening of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the overland route through Laos) and preemptively so from 1964.

The critical importance of the Ho Chi Minh Trail to the communist war effort is emphasized in Victory in Vietnam: The Official History of the People’s Army of Vietnam, 1954-1975, published in 1994 and released in English translation in 2002[16], a significant embarrassment to exponents of the orthodox interpretation. Selected passages underline the critical importance of maintaining the flow of men and materiel from China and the port of Haiphong through North Vietnam and down the Trail to the South. They also underline the impressive scale of resources devoted to maintaining the flow.[17] Nor were those resources limited to surface-to-air missile batteries, an air defense radar net, MiG jet fighters, anti-aircraft guns, road repair crews, earth-moving equipment and the maintenance of a large truck fleet. “Peace feelers”, advanced in exchange for bombing halts, were an integral and successful element of communist strategy. So were attempts to influence US media coverage of our bombing.

The latter focused on our bombing of targets in North Vietnam, and had the dual purpose of making our bombing appear inhumane on the one hand and ineffective on the other. Perhaps the most egregious example involves December 1966 reportage from Hanoi by New York Times assistant managing editor Harrison Salisbury in which he stated that we were “dropping an enormous weight of explosives on purely civilian targets.” He further stated that “on-the-spot inspection indicates that American bombing has been inflicting considerable civilian casualties in Hanoi and its environs for some time.”regious example involves December 1966 reportage from Hanoi by New York Times assistant managing editor Harrison Salisbury in which he stated that we were “dropping an enormous weight of explosives on purely civilian targets.” He further stated that “on-the-spot inspection indicates that American bombing has been inflicting considerable civilian casualties in Hanoi and its envions for some time past”,[18] In fact, contrary to his representations, Salisbury was not an eye-witness. Moreover, much of his copy was written by Australian communist Wilfred Burchett, Salisbury’s “facilitator” during his visit to North Vietnam, and copied from official North Vietnamese press releases.[19]

Another telling example can be found in the New York Times lead editorial for Sunday, February 4th 1968. Written four days after the start of the communist 1968 Tet Offensive, the editorial proclaimed that if the “spectacularly successful Tet offensive had proved anything it was that the bombing of North Vietnam had failed to reduce either the enemy’s will or capacity to fight.”[20] As we now know and as some journalists realized at the time, the offensive was a military disaster for the communists. The prominence given to discrediting the bombing as opposed, for example, to excoriating the misguided and politically-motivated optimism in LBJ’s, McNamara’s and Westmoreland’s public statements in the months before the Tet Offensive or extolling the fighting spirit of the Viet Cong and NVA suggests an eagerness to influence our policy in a way most likely to be helpful to the communist cause.

Next on our parade of myths: The news media did not lose the war. This myth reflects the belief that waning support for our war effort by the American public, and ultimately by our political leadership, was based on an accurate appraisal of military failure and the immorality of our policies rather than on biased and negative media coverage. Belief in this myth was and is a staple of the orthodox interpretation and an article of faith to the bulk of the intelligentsia, to mainstream media pundits and among the anti-war faithful. In a neat bit of intellectual ju-jitsu, exponents of the orthodox interpretation reverse the polarity, portraying as a myth revisionist arguments that the news media did play a central role in losing the war.

The data relevant to supporting or debunking this myth is enormous, and I turn to my own observations to condense the argument. I enrolled as a graduate student in history at Princeton University under Air Force sponsorship in the autumn of 1967. I had returned from my first Southeast Asia combat tour in the summer of 1966 and had spent the intervening year as a flight instructor at the Air Rescue Service Combat Crew Training School where I kept track of current intelligence. As soon as my fellow graduate students recovered from the shock of having a combat veteran in their midst, they asked me what I thought about the debate about the war, very much a hot topic on campus. I responded that I would be happy to tell them about the war on the ground in Southeast Asia, but that they would not learn about it from coverage in what we have come to call the mainstream media, meaning in context the New York Times, the AP and UPI wire services and ABC, CBS and NBC television news. “The debate,” I said, “is not about the war at all. It’s about who should run the country based on what foreign policy assumptions.” Today, over forty-five years later, I stand by that characterization.

To hold my own in the ensuing discussions, for the next two and a half years I tracked on a daily basis relevant coverage in the New York Times and watched the ABC, CBS and NBC evening news roundups (in those days, they were only thirty minutes long and aired in sequence). Coverage of the war on the ground in Southeast Asia was short on operational and strategic context and long on details that called into question the morality and effectiveness of our commitment. The adverse effects of American firepower on the civilian populace were highlighted. Communist atrocities were downplayed or ignored. The classic example of the latter, and a telling one, is the contrast between the extensive coverage given to the My Lai massacre and the sketchy coverage accorded the Hue massacres, where communist forces during the 1968 Têt Offensive rounded up and executed some six thousand civilians.

It seemed clear at the time, and is clearer in retrospect, that the mainstream media were unwilling to publicize unsavory aspects of communist policy. An example from February 1968 makes the point: Viewing the disinterment of a mass grave containing victims of the Hue massacre, West German journalist Uwe Siemon-Netto in company with American journalist Peter Braestrup encountered an American television crew standing idly by. It was clear from the condition of the corpses that many of the victims had been buried alive. “Why?” asked Braestrup, “don’t you film this?” “We are not here to film anti-Communist propaganda” said the camera man [21], a small, but telling detail.

I should add that Braestrup, Saigon Bureau Chief of the Washington Post at the time, broke ranks with his mainstream colleagues by publishing a thorough, critical account of media coverage of the 1968 Têt Offensive, The Big Story (1977).[22] It is worth noting that Braestrup, in contrast to his media colleagues, was a combat veteran, having served as a Marine infantry officer in Korea.

Braestrup’s critique applies to media coverage of the entire war, both because the deficiencies in reportage and interpretation in coverage of the 1968 Têt Offensive were representative of coverage of the war as a whole, and because coverage of the 1968 Têt offensive played a major role in turning public opinion against support of our military effort in Vietnam. The attack on the US Embassy by Viet Cong sappers was portrayed as representative of the success of the entire offensive while the rapid reassertion of government control throughout South Vietnam was essentially ignored.[23] The battle for Hue—the only significant communist success in the first wave attacks, though in the end a communist defeat—was hardly typical of the fighting in general, but received extensive coverage… and here I would dispel another myth: that “television brought the war into our living rooms.”

There is an element of truth in this myth in that discussion of the war was ubiquitous in television news coverage. That having been said, coverage of the war on the ground was minimal. The period of my survey saw considerable footage of stretchers being loaded on to and off of helicopters, typically with an audio gunfire background (in my judgment mostly dubbed in), and early morning interviews of dazed survivors of nearly-overrun fire bases by freshly helicoptered-in reporters, but little to no actual combat footage. Tellingly, the US media all but ignored the ARVN.

In fact, Têt 1968 was a massive defeat for the communist forces, whose few and ephemeral successes in the first phase (January through early March) were overshadowed in operational reality by staggering losses, particularly in the second and third phases (May and August), and particularly among the Viet Cong, who were effectively eliminated as a military factor in the war. That was not the impression conveyed by mainstream media coverage.

The turning point came on 27 February when CBS television anchor man Walter Cronkite, just having returned from a whirlwind tour of South Vietnam, during which he witnessed evidence of the Hue massacres, pronounced on the evening news that

It now seems more certain than ever that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate. This summer’s almost certain standoff will either end in real give-and-take negotiations or terrible escalation: and for every means we have to escalate the enemy can match us.[24]

He went on to add that “the only rational way out will be to negotiate, not as victors but as an honorable people.” President Lyndon Johnson, watching the broadcast, famously commented to Press Secretary George Christian, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost middle America.”[25] Whatever the verdict on Johnson as a war leader, his political instincts with regard to voter sentiment were keen, amounting in this case to an accurate prophecy… albeit a self-fulfilling one that Johnson made good by announcing on 31 March a bombing halt against targets in northern North Vietnam, his decision to enter into negotiations with the North Vietnamese and his decision not to run for reelection. By that time, our political leadership had overwhelmingly endorsed the media interpretation and the rest is history.

I will conclude with a final myth, one derived from those discussed above and revealing in its content: that the outcome of the war was not so horrible for the peoples of Indochina. Though rarely stated so baldly, this myth was embraced in the bulk of the immediate post-war media coverage. Eventually, promulgation of this myth was suppressed by overwhelming evidence to the contrary, but only after extended delay.

The mainstream media covered the exodus of the Vietnamese boat people (though not the reasons for it), but they had little to say about Vietnam’s “reeducation camps” and for four years turned a blind eye to the horrors of Khymer Rouge rule in Cambodia. This despite the fact that the realities of the Killing Fields and The Year Zero were amply reported in Thailand and thus known to the international community including media representatives. I was stationed in Thailand at the time, and my specific reference is to coverage in the Bangkok Post, a first-rate English language newspaper which I read on a daily basis from the spring of 1975 until late December.

To appreciate the extent of the American media’s blind eye to events in Cambodia some background is in order. The area of western Cambodia contiguous to Thailand, the Battembang Rice Triangle, had never been under communist guerrilla influence and there was considerable cross-border commerce. In addition, Buddhist shrines to the north of the triangle attracted a steady flow of Thai pilgrims. When Phnom Penh fell to the communists on 17 April, considerable numbers of Thais were caught inside Cambodia. Through the spring and into the fall, survivors worked their way out, bringing with them eyewitness accounts of the horrors of Khymer Rouge rule: forced relocation of urban dwellers to “new economic zones”, executions of the educated, of Buddhist monks, of eyeglass wearers and so on. Their accounts were credible and well-reported in the Thai-language press as well as the Post.[26] Beyond the ability to assign numerical estimates to the Khymer Rouge death toll, I have learned nothing about the Year Zero and Killing Fields since. Coverage by the mainstream media—perhaps I should say recognition—began only after the escape from Cambodia in October of 1979 of New York Times reporter Sydney Schamberg’s Khymer cameraman Dith Pran.

Might a reluctance to admit that they played a major role in prompting American withdrawal from the war leading to the terrible carnage that followed help to explain media silence on the issues in question? I leave it to you, the reader, to decide.

What are we to make of our catalogue of realities and myths?

Returning to my opening comments, if we are to learn from history, we must get it right. In conslusion, I ask you, the reader, to reflect on the number of major foreign policy decisions by our government in the post-Vietnam era—not all with happy consequences—that appear to have been driven by acceptance of the lessons of the orthodox interpretation of the Vietnam War.

 

John F. Guilmartin, Jr.

Columbus, Ohio

[1] An was not the only such agent, though far and away the most influential one. Members of the Saigon intelligentsia, who loathed Diem and assiduously courted American journalists, contributed as well. Another was ARVN officer Albert Pham Ngoc Thao who served in various senior positions including province chief and head of the Strategic Hamlet Program. As a province chief, he appears as a source in Malcolm Browne, The New Face of War (Indianapolis and New York, 1965), the first of the journalist-historians’ work published between hard covers.

[2] Pike, a Foreign Service Officer, first attracted public notice with his analysis of the massacre of civilians by communist forces in Hue during the 1968 Tet Offensive.

[3] A student in my summer 1998 graduate seminar on the history of the Vietnam War at Ohio State University did a literature search for reviews of Street Without Joy and Hell in a Very Small Place in the standard scholarly journals, e.g. American Historical Review and Journal of American History, and came up with remarkably few reviews—from memory no more than half a dozen—and those were tepid.

[4] Peter Dunn, First Vietnam War, 412. The officer was almost certainly Major Dan Phelan of the China-based 14th Air Force AGAS (Air Ground Aid Service) who worked with Charles Fenn, the OSS agent responsible for arranging OSS support for Ho and the Vietminh. See also Dixee BartholomewFeis, The OSS and Ho Chi Minh: Unexpected Allies in the War Against Japan, 220221, photos from the National Archives, Green Belt, Maryland, of the arrival in August 1945 of the first armed Vietminh in Hanoi. Vietminh in the photos whose weapons can be identified are armed with French 7.5 mm rifles, specifically the Mousqueton d’Artillerie Modèle 1892 and the Fusil des Tirallieurs Indo-Chinois Modèle 1902. The one soldier with an automatic weapon is carrying a Chateralleault Fusil Mitrailleur; Ian Hogg and John Weeks, Military Small Arms of the Twentieth Century (Chicago, 1973), 3.053.06; Hogg and Weeks, The Encyclopedia of Infantry Weapons of World War II (New York, 1977), 101.

[5] Archimedes Patti, Why Viet Nam? 16667, Dunn, First Vietnam War, 17.

[6] James Dunnigan and Albert Nofi, Dirty Little Secrets of the Vietnam War (New York, 1999), 3839, cited in James S. Corum and Wray R. Johnson, Airpower In Small Wars: Fighting Insurgents and Terrorists (Lawrence, Kansas: 2003), 43.

[7] See Sophie Quinn-Judge, Ho Chi Minh: the Missing Years, 1919-1941 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002). Based on extensive research in Soviet and French Archives including files of the Comintern and Sûreté, Quinn-Judge thoroughly documents Ho’s ideological background and proclivities.

[8] Fall, Two Viet Nams, 155. A case can be made for class differences among the Vietnamese peasantry in the south, where a small class of relatively well-to-do landlords and a large body of landless peasants existed, but that was most assuredly not the case in the north where the vast majority of peasants—Fall says 98%—owned the land they worked.

[9] Le Duan’s role as a power behind the scenes and exponent of a hard line on the war in the South was long suspected, but not the extent to which he became effective dictator. Lien-Hang Nguyen, Hanoi’s War: An International History of the War for Peace in Vietnam (2012).

[10] These were a major failed offensive in the south in August 1950, the destruction of French forces along the Chinese border in October 1950; the failed attempt to break into the Red River Delta in January-June 1951; and the 1952-1953 Winter-Spring offensive into Laos. To this we can add the conventional response to the November 1951-February 1952 French Hoa Binh offensive in the north.

[11] The October-November 1965 Pleiku Campaign, chronicled in Hal Moore and Joe Galloway’s, We Were Soldiers Once and Young and in the Mel Gibson move We Were Soldiers Once culminated in American defensive victory at LZ X-Ray and defeat at LZ Albany (not addressed in the Gibson movie). The campaign’s outcome was equivocal in that both the US and North Vietnamese abandoned overtly aggressive orientations in its aftermath.

[12] We do not ordinarily think of American military commanders as prone to accept heavy casualties, but it is a matter of record. In World War II American commanders were routinely willing to accept casualties that their British colleagues considered unacceptable. The same contrast applied to American and Australian forces in Vietnam.

[13] John F. Guilmartin, “Casualties”, Stanley I. Kutler, ed., Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War (New York, 1996), 103-105.

[14] George J. Veith and Merle Pribbenow, “‘Fighting Is an Art”: The Army of the Republic of Vietnam’s Defense of Xuan Loc, 9-21 April 1975”, Journal of Military History, Vol. 68, No. 1 (January 2004), 163-213.

[15] Mark Clodfelter, The Limits of Air Power: The American Bombing of North Vietnam (New York, 1989), 134-35.

[16] (Merle L. Pribbenow, tr. (Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas), originally published in Vietnamese as History of the People’s Army of Vietnam (Hanoi, Vietnamese Ministry of Defense Military History Institute).

[17] Victory in Vietnam, 52-54, 168-69, 225-26, 242 and 261-68.

[18] New York Times, December 25 and 27, 1966, quoted in Wayne Thompson, To Hanoi and Back: The U.S. Air Force and North Vietnam, 1966-1973 (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2000), 45.

[19] Robert Manne, Agent of Influence: The Life and Times of Wilfred Burchett, Mackinzie Paper No. 13 (Toronto, 1989), 48-50. Burchett was involved in exploiting American POWs in communist hands in Korea and Vietnam and played a major role in actress Jane Fonda’s notorious 1972 visit to North Vietnam.

[20] Paraphrased in Wayne Thompson, To Hanoi and Back: The U.S. Air Force and North Vietnam, 1966-1973 (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2000), 123.

[21] Uwe Siemon-Netto, Duc: A Reporter’s Love for the Wounded People of Vietnam (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (July 10, 2013), 211-13.

[22] The Big Story: How the American Press and Television Reported and Interpreted the Crisis of Tet 1968 in Vietnam and Washington, 2 vols. (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1977).

[23] See Donald M. Bishop’ review of The Big Story, “The Press and the TET Offensive: A Flawed Institution Under Stress”, Air University Review (November-December 1978).

[24] Quoted in Henry Kissinger, Ending the Vietnam War (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2003), 47.

[25] Quoted in Philip Davidson, Vietnam at War, The History, 1945-1975 (Novato, California: Presidio Press, 1988), 486.

[26] Speaking only minimal Thai and reading it not at all, I was kept informed by Captain Daniel Jacobowitz, USAF, and his wife Saifon, a native Thai speaker.

The Vietnam War/Leftist Fly-Paper by Captain Phillip Jennings

A recent letter to Lt. General “Mick” Kicklighter, head of the government funded Vietnam War 50th Commemoration Program, demands recognition for the “peace-activists” who supported the North Vietnamese communist victory over South Vietnam. (One awaits a letter to the Holocaust Museum from the Nazis claiming there could be no Holocaust Museum if not for their efforts in slaughtering six million Jews). Given the popularity of America-bashing among leftists today, no doubt Kicklighter will attempt to appease and ask forgiveness for the oversight in recognizing the usual suspects—Tom Hayden, Bill Ayers, Marilyn Young, Rennie Davis et al as freedom loving patriots, ignoring the cruel irony of honoring people whose efforts assisted the loss of an American ally to a brutal communist tyrannical dictatorship—freedom not being among the largess it provides its servants. The leftist’s efforts are organized in the Vietnam Peace Commemoration Committee (VPCC–Why do communist/leftist organizations always call themselves committees? )

American leftists are drawn to the Vietnam War like silverfish to the bottom of the flower pot. The assumption, supported by the facts of the war, is that they are horribly afraid that those facts will be self-evident in any commemoration of the war and cause them to die in the shame they so richly deserve. The light of truth causes them to scurry around blindly. Some unassailable facts:

North Vietnam in 1959 was a communist nation (whose mentors and suppliers had murdered and caused the death of 75 to 100 million people around the world up to that date) which decreed in the 15th Plenary their intent to conquer the nation of South Vietnam.

South Vietnam existed as a struggling democracy with a central government about as popular as the Obama administration. (Take either side).

America chose to lend support (favored by Truman, Eisenhower, JFK, LBJ and Nixon) to the South Vietnamese battle against the North Vietnamese-supported Viet Cong guerillas. When the depth of support, including the building of a major road system to transport troops and ammunition from the communist north to the free south, revealed a greater threat, America jumped in with both feet. (It was SEATO, not the Gulf of Tonkin which authorized our involvement).

The Russians and Chinese, global leaders in exporting communism, poured tons of armament and billions of rubles/yuan into the bunkers and coffers of the communist north.

And the majority of the signers of the letter demanding recognition of their anti-war efforts chose the Communist Side in the conflict. Vocally supporting the enemy killing American and South Vietnamese soldiers and innocent civilians in South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. It bears repeating—Fonda, Hayden (Mr. Jane Fonda), Ayers, and the rest supported the defeat of America and her allies in South Vietnam.

A few of their ramblings on behalf of the murdering invasion forces of North Vietnam:

Fred Branfman (visiting Hanoi with Zinn and Hayden) “……..if the war continues we hope you will grow up and become valiant combatants and will be able to down U.S. planes.”

Rennie Davis met with the North Vietnamese in Paris where “The Vietnamese….stated they would be interested in having any information…concerning development of new weapons by the US…Such information would be especially helpful…before such weapons were used on the battlefield.”

Bernadine Dohrn (wife of Bill Ayers) bragged of talks with the NLF in Budapest (NLF were the Viet Cong).

Daniel Ellsberg said “We (the U.S.) weren’t on the wrong side. We are the wrong side.”

Jane Fonda once actually proffered that (In Hanoi) if you knew what communism was, you would get down on your knees and pray you were a communist.

Todd Gitlin wrote a “freedom song” which included “And before I’ll be fenced in, I’ll vote for Ho Chi Minh, or go back to the North and be free.”

Which brings up another fact about the American left—none of them went back to Vietnam to live, work or teach their drivel after their efforts “helped bring the war to an end” with the communist North invading and conquering South Vietnam. Maybe the fact that there was more killing after the ‘war was ended’ than during the ten years of American involvement deferred their travel plans. Or maybe their racist tendencies (Democracy is fine for Caucasians, but the people of Vietnam are not sophisticated sufficiently to know it and want it—many leftists of the era wrote this sentiment) kept them safely on American land enjoying the fruits of others labor.

And the hero of the Vietnam Peace Commemoration Committee—you guessed it, John Kerry. The man who spent about three hours in combat, collected three purple hearts for scratches one might get going over a barbed wire fence, and lit out for the U.S. to testify about his moral superiority to his former ship mates in front of Congress. If you follow Kerry’s “Vietnam War” history, you won’t need to know anything else about the VPCC platform and agenda.

The request to be honored in the program honoring the veterans of the Vietnam War indicates the paucity of honor (and common sense) among them. The American left did NOTHING to stop the war in Vietnam. They contributed only to the final slaughter and internment of countless Southeast Asians by supporting communism and the liberal U.S. congress decision to abandon our allies. They contributed directly to the horror of the hundreds of thousands of South Vietnamese boat people fleeing the brutal communist invaders.

It is an obscenity only the liberal/left could conceive—a request to be honored and remembered alongside the Americans who fought and died with their Vietnamese brothers-in-arms to prevent the very thing the Haydens and Fondas, the Ayers and Dohrns demanded and supported with violence and hatred of the American way. The recognition they deserve is that of communist supporters and useful idiots. Let us hope they receive it.

 

[For a near complete list of the anti-war left’s more inane and insane comments and proclamations, see Roger Canfield’s “Comrades in Arms—How the Americong Won the War in Vietnam Against the Common Enemy—America.”]

Phillip Jennings is a Vietnam combat veteran and the author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Vietnam War.

Who Was Ho Chi Minh? A Deceitful Mass Murderer.

Millions of words have been written about Ho Chi Minh.  He has been called the George Washington of Vietnam,1 a devoted nationalist who loved his country,2 a brilliant leader who fought for independence with a ragtag army of sandal-clad peasants and defeated the greatest power in the world.3

It all sounds very romantic, but it is also completely false.  Ho Chi Minh was a dedicated communist,4 a member of the inner circle of the Soviet Comintern and a protégé of Dmitry Manuilsky, the right hand man of both Lenin and Stalin.5  His supposedly ragtag army of peasants was trained by the Mao’s Red Chinese Army6 and armed with modern weapons by the Red Chinese and Russians.7

After all this time, why do we still argue about the Vietnam War?  About who Ho Chi Minh was?  As William Duiker wrote,8 “The question of Ho Chi Minh’s character and inner motivations lies at the heart of the debate in the United States over the morality of the conflict in Vietnam.”

As a young man, Nguyen Tat Thanh was a Vietnamese patriot from a patriotic family agitating for independence for their country.  His father refused positions with the government because he disagreed with their policies.  His brother and sister were both imprisoned by the French for supporting Phan Boi Chau’s revolutionary movement.9

Thanh seems to have been a follower of the non-violent Phan Chau Trinh.10  In 1911 he left Vietnam searching for a way to help his countrymen gain their independence.  For a while he lived and worked in France with Phan Chau Trinh.  Eventually they parted, as Ho became an increasingly more militant communist.

When he returned to Vietnam as Ho Chi Minh 30 years later, the patriot was no more.  In his place was a brutal murderer dedicated to spreading communism throughout Asia.  Before he and his followers were done, millions of people were dead in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.11

As the man responsible for the spread of communism in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, Ho Chi Minh is directly and indirectly responsible for the lives of 1.7 million Cambodians,12 2 million Vietnamese and possibly 230,000 in Laos.13  These are not war dead, but people murdered, starved to death and “reeducated” to death.  In 1995 Vietnam revealed that they lost 1.1 million military dead14 during the war.  As a percentage of their populations, Ho is responsible for as many deaths in Indochina as Mao Tse-tung was in China.

To grasp the enormity of the slaughter, one would have to execute more than 26 million Americans to equal the percentage of the populations slaughtered by Ho and his henchmen.  Documenting these deaths is outside the scope of this article.  I encourage readers to survey the literature themselves for the evidence.

Who was Ho Chi Minh?  Ho Chi Minh was a chameleon.  He was a master at appearing to be whatever his interlocutor of the moment was expecting or hoping for (or not expecting at all).  On the inside, where it counted, he never changed after his conversion to communism.  He was a devoted communist whose only goal was the worldwide victory of communism, especially in Indochina,15 no matter how many people he had to kill to achieve it.

Much of Ho Chi Minh’s life was an enigma until recently.16  His birthdate was unknown for many years after his death.  It was variously claimed to be 1890,17 1891,18 1892,19 189420 and 1895.21  His birth name was Nguyen Sinh Cong.22  He was named Nguyen Tat Thanh,23 following Vietnamese tradition, when he achieved adolescence.  He was the son of Nguyen Sinh Sac (Huy).24  He was born in a small village named Kim Lien in the district of Nam Dan, part of the province of Nghe-An, in southern North Vietnam, about half way between Hanoi and Hue.

Concerning the confusion surrounding the details of Ho’s life, Robert Turner wrote, in a footnote in Vietnamese Communism: Its Origins and Development:25

There is considerable confusion as to the date and place of Ho’s birth and even to his given names.  Two versions of the “official” biography prepared by the Committee for the Study of the History of the Viet Nam Workers Party in 1970 gave conflicting information on his native village.   A Vietnamese-language version in Nanh Dan (Hanoi), 17 May 1970, asserted that Ho was born in Kim Lien village “the native village of his maternal grandfather.” An English-language version which otherwise appears to be identical stated that Ho was born in Hoang Tru, the village native to his mother. DRV, Our President Ho Chi Minh (Hanoi: Foreign Languages Publishing House. 1970), p. 59.   A biography by Truong Chinh identified Kim Lien as a hamlet in Nam Lien village.  President Ho Chi Minh, Beloved Leader of the Vietnamese People (Hanoi: Foreign Languages Publishing House,  1966). p. 9.  David Halberstam asserts that “Ho came from the province of Nghe Thinh [sic] ….. Ho (New York: Random House. 1971). p. 17. Nghe Tinh is a region rather than a province: it consists of the provinces Nghe An and Ha Tinh and is well known for having produced many of Vietnam’s revolutionary figures.

Several writers assert that Ho’s first name was actually Nguyen Sinh Cung (or Coong) and that he was ten years old before he became Nguyen Tat Thanh. See Jean Lacouture. Ho Chi Minh: A Politcal Biography (New York: Random House. 19(8). p. 13: Marr. Vietnamese Anticolonialism, p. 153: and N. Khach Huyen. Vision Accompllished? The Enigma of Ho Chi Minh (New York: Collier Books. 1971). pp. 4-5. 

Even the year of Ho’s birth is the subject of some dispute. Both Ellen Hammer and Bernard Fall state that Ho Chi Minh was born in 1892. Ellen Hammer. The Struggle for Indochina 1940-1955 (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press. 1966, p. 75; Bernard B. Fall. The Viet-Minh Regime, Government and Administration in the Democratic Republic of Viet-Nam. rev. and enl. ed. (New York: Institute of Pacific Relations. 1956). p. 21, n. 2. In a later book Fall acknowledged that most Communist sources give 1890 as the year of Ho’s birth. The Two Viet-Nams. p. 83.

Ho used several pseudonyms throughout his life (possibly as many as 75),26 at least two of which he appropriated from true Vietnamese patriots, Nguyen Ai Quoc27 and Ho Chi Minh.  Researchers have identified 9 names that he used from official communist documents alone.

Ho has variously been known as Nguyen Sinh Cong, Nguyen Tat Thanh28 (often mistakenly identified as his birth name), Ahn Ba29 (used when he was a kitchen boy aboard ship), Nguyen Ai Quoc (Nguyen the Patriot, which he “stole” from Phan Van Truong30 31), Tran Van Tien,32 T. Lan,33 Lee Swei,34 Lin,35 Sung Man-cho and T. V. Wong,36 Ly Thuy and Vuong Son Nhi37 and finally Ho Chi Minh (which he “stole” from the Vietnamese patriot, Ho Hoc Lam38).  (Throughout this document I will use the name Ho, since it is the name most closely associated with him, except where other names make sense in the context.)

His words were often as fictitious as his names.  He lied about his place of birth.39  He lied about his date of birth.40  He lied about where he lived41 and what he did42 throughout his life.  He lied about who he was and what he believed.  He lied to create mystery, to hide the truth, to confuse authorities and most of all to further the cause of communism.

His life was so filled with deceit and deception that even now, more than 40 years after his death, historians can’t agree who he really was or about some of the details of his life.

As a child, Ho attended the Lycee Quoc Hoc in Hue (but never graduated).  Ngo Dinh Diem’s father, Ngo Dinh Kha, founded the school, and Ngo Dinh Diem (later to become his enemy), Pham Van Dong (later to become his premier) and Vo Nguyen Giap (later to become his military leader) also attended the school.

His father was friends with Pham Boi Chau and earned his pho bang degree the same year as Phan Chu Trinh.  They were the two most prominent patriots of his time, and young Ho was exposed to both of them through his father.

The mood in Vietnam at the time was one of rising anger, a growing desire to shed the yoke of French mastery and forge a new destiny.  Ho, as a young student, was an active part of it, participating in protests and working to stir up the people to oppose the French.  The French colonial police took notice and kept an eye on the young activist student.

In 1911, pursuing his desire to see the world and to escape the watchful eyes of the French colonial police, Ho boarded a French merchant ship,43 using the name Ba,44 and worked as a kitchen boy aboard the ship.  Some accounts claim he lived in London for a while, and even in America, but there is little solid evidence to corroborate residence in either place.45  (The British authorities, at the request of the French searched fruitlessly for Nguyen Tat Thanh in London for several years.)

What he did for the six years from 1911 to 1917 is not known with any certainty.  It’s entirely possible that he was working aboard vessels of Compagnie des Chargeurs Re’unis the entire time, visiting ports all over the world.  That would explain his familiarity with the United States and Britain as well as post cards stamped in those cities.  Both were ports of call, and the young Thanh was eager to disembark and explore the local cultures of each port where they docked.

In 1917, he settled in France and began attending socialist meetings.  He was an avid learner and soaked up everything he could about socialism and activism.  He was also a frequent visitor to the Sorbonne as well as the Bibliotheque Nationale where he is said to have been a “voracious reader”.46

He first showed up in police files in France in 1919, after he had moved in with Phan Chu Trinh and Phan Van Truong and took a job with Trinh retouching photographs.47  Their apartment was the center of activity for a small group of dedicated Vietnamese nationalists known as the Five Dragons48 who met frequently, had animated discussions about Vietnam and published articles advocating for Vietnamese independence.  One of the frequent attendees was also a police informant.

During the Treaty of Versailles conference, Trinh, Truong and Ho worked on a document to present to the conferees advocating for independence for Indochina.  Since the Surete´ was watching them closely, they published the document using a pseudonym, Nguyen Ai Quoc (Nguyen the patriot).  The document was conceived by Ho and written by Truong.

The name Nguyen Ai Quoc had appeared before in articles published in France,49 before Ho is known to have written anything and well before he was capable of writing in French.  The author was most likely Phan Van Truong50 according to French police notes51 since he was a lawyer and spoke and wrote French fluently.  Ho admitted in his biography that he couldn’t write French and depended upon Truong to write the Versailles document for him.52

After Versailles, rumors flew for three months about who Nguyen Ai Quoc might be.  The French investigated, trying to determine who the writer was.  In September, Ho “admitted” he was Quoc during a newspaper interview, stealing the pseudonym so he could appropriate to himself all the previous work done under that name.53  Thus he gained the credentials of a true Vietnamese nationalist that still fools people today.

Ho continued attending political meetings and learning about communism.  His change from a concerned nationalist to a committed communist appeared to happen rapidly.  In less than a year, he changed from begging for help for his Asian brothers54 to promoting Asia as the fulcrum for a worldwide communist revolution.

He wrote55 “…on the day when millions of oppressed Asians wake up, they will form a colossal force capable of overthrowing imperialism, and they will aid their brothers of the West in the task of total emancipation from capitalist exploitation.  Asia would play an active role in carrying out the world revolution.”

One year later he was on his way to Moscow, all expenses paid by the Comintern, to attend the Fourth Congress of the Comintern and enroll in intensive training.56  He had become a committed communist, preparing to bring revolution to Indochina and misery and death to many of his fellow countrymen.

In 1924, fully trained and eager to begin his revolution, Ho traveled to Hong Kong as an agent of the Comintern.  He was now a Comintern insider, dedicated to the worldwide overthrow of capitalism and prepared to do whatever the Comintern asked of him.

He met with Phan Boi Chau in Hong Kong and began working with him to build a revolutionary movement (later named Viet Nam Thanh Nien Cach Mang Dong Chi Hoi [Young Revolutionary Comrades Association]).57

Phan Boi Chau was a popular nationalist who had a large following (the Viet Nam Quang Phuc Ho) and extensive international contacts.58  He had united Vietnamese nationalists of all religions in the early twentieth century, arguing that the traditional anti-Catholicism was counterproductive and that all nationalists should unite in a common cause – to expel the French.59

Chau represented a serious threat to Ho’s dreams of a communist Indochina as well as a rich resource of followers that Ho might tap once Chau was out of the way.  Less than a year after meeting him, Ho facilitated Phan Boi Chau’s arrest by the French60 in exchange for money so that he could fill the vacuum left when Chau was arrested.61  (Although there is some controversy regarding who actually betrayed Chau, there is little question that Ho was involved.)62

He didn’t hesitate to exploit the resource as soon as Chau was arrested.  Those Phan Boi Chau followers who accepted communism were welcomed into Ho’s movement.  Those that did not were betrayed to the French by Ho’s henchman, Nguyen Cong Vien, for money.  Thus Phan Boi Chau’s movement was both destroyed and subsumed through deceit and treachery.63

Consistent with his previous behavior, he stole the name Ho Chi Minh from Ho Hoc Lam, whom he met in China in 1924 when meeting with Phan Boi Chau.64  The name would inure to him the benefits of the real Ho Chi Minh’s legacy.  For the many Vietnamese revolutionaries who came from the Nghe Tinh region, the name would evoke patriotism and nationalism.   His plan was taking shape.  He would use the name Ho when the time was right.

There was a much darker side to Ho than his deceit and treachery however.

In 1930 and 1931, his Indochinese Communist Party conducted an assassination program against competitors, landowners and officials, that was so sweeping it prompted a rebuke from the Comintern.65  It was a harbinger of things to come.  Before he died, the bodies would pile up in a steady stream as he eliminated anyone who appeared to be a threat or simply didn’t agree with him completely.

Through the 1930’s and 40’s, as the ICP worked to gain complete control of Vietnam, thousands of patriotic Vietnamese fell to the sword, were turned over to the French for money or fled to Japan and China to escape the terror.  When it suited Ho’s purpose, some would serve in his government; when it no longer did, they would die or flee the country.

Once he obtained power in North Vietnam, he began systematically eliminating his competition.  He formed alliances with nationalist groups and then proceeded to eliminate their leaders all the while touting his nationalist credentials.

Moderate reformers like Bui Quang Chieu were assassinated as a matter of course,66 to “purify” the Vietnamese people so communism could succeed.  Even personal friends, like Ta Thu Thau, were murdered in his zeal to eliminate all but the most fervent of followers67 and destroy anyone who might challenge his leadership.  Those who were fortunate either escaped to other countries or to South Vietnam, where their luck would run out two decades later.  The rest died.

Ho, when asked about the murder of Ta Thu Thau by a reporter, answered  matter-of-factly, “Anyone who does not follow the line determined by me will be smashed.”68

The last to go were the Viet Nam Quoc Dan Dang, a nationalist organization that had risen up against the French in 1930 in Yen-Bai.  (This was the same year Ho created the Indochina Communist Party in Hong Kong and 11 years before he returned to Vietnam after a 30-year absence.)  Ho eliminated them through military action against the areas they controlled as well as arrests of the leadership and confiscation of their assets.69  By the end of 1946 there was no one left to contest Ho for leadership of North Vietnam.

The peasants soon discovered his true nature as well in the brutal land reforms.  Ostensibly they were designed to benefit the peasants.  In reality, they pitted the peasants against the middle class and wealthy and even against each other and resulted in at least 50,000 murders and 450,000 “other” deaths70.

The land reform was so brutal that the peasants revolted.  To maintain order Ho called in an entire division and slaughtered Vietnamese indiscriminately until the revolt was put down.71

It’s no wonder then that many American leaders predicted a bloodbath should the communists take over South Vietnam.72  Nor is it surprising that apologists for the communists insisted that the predictions were wrong.73 74

A bloodbath was exactly what they got.  Research revealed between 84,000 and 240,000 political executions75 in South Vietnam after the communists took over.  Given the ratio of executions to deaths in North Vietnam’s land reform, it’s not unreasonable to postulate a minimum of 840,000 deaths and a maximum of 2.4 million deaths76 in the South.

Ho’s lack of conscience and end justifies the means philosophy was manifested in the international agreements that he made as well.  He never honored agreements that he signed considering them simply a temporary appeasement of his enemies while he strengthened his position.

He signed agreements with the French in 1946 and just eight months later he attacked them.  He signed peace agreements in Geneva in 1954 and 1962, both of which he abrogated before the ink was dry.  (Of course his government followed in his footsteps and abrogated the peace treaty they signed with the US in 1973.)

He infiltrated (and later invaded) South Vietnam in violation of the Geneva Accords in order to destroy the ability of the South Vietnamese government to build confidence and safety among its citizens.  He maintained the fiction that the NLF was an independent organization in order to “negotiate” with the U.S. and South Vietnam from a stronger position.  (Of course he never had any intention of abiding by any accords that were signed.)

He quoted the American Declaration of Independence and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen to trick many Americans and the international community into thinking he believed in republican politics.  He did the same to Vietnamese nationalists, lulling them into the false sense of security that was shattered as soon as he could exercise his extreme brutality against his “enemies”.

Referring to the betrayal of Phan Boi Chau, the British scholar P.J. Honey wrote77:

Some of Ho’s followers subsequently reported that he had given them the following reasons for his act of treachery:

(1) Chau was too old to be of any further use to the revolution.

(2) The upsurge of patriotism that would inevitably follow Chau’s trial and condemnation, would create a favorable revolutionary climate in Vietnam.

(3) The reward money would help to finance the training of new recruits

The first of these reasons is an obvious attempt to minimize Ho’s guilt, but the second and third reasons provide a revealing insight into the callous pragmatism that was to become the hallmark of Ho’s later political activities. The ruthlessness, the total disregard for human life and suffering, were always present in Ho’s actions, though he frequently disguised these characteristics behind gentle words and a benign exterior.

Hammond Rolph sums up the contradictions of Ho in one sentence.78

To the Vietnamese people he has presented himself as a figure of avuncular benignity, while his political life has been a model of ruthless and militant dedication to the fulfillment of the national and social goals he has set for the Vietnamese Revolution.”

One of Ho’s favorite slogans can still be seen on billboards all over Vietnam today.  “Nothing is more precious than independence and freedom.”79  Yet in Ho’s lifetime, he had the power to provide that independence and freedom to the people of North Vietnam and never did.

The people of South Vietnam had independence and freedom within the context of an ongoing war.  All the arguments about the corruption, the autocratic nature of the South Vietnamese government or suppression of some press outlets can’t obscure the fact that they had freedom of the press, open elections, opposition parties and open strident political criticism so long as it didn’t promote the Communist version of the truth.  North Vietnam had none of that.  When the North defeated the South, Ho’s mantra of independence and freedom, a reality in South Vietnam, was swept away in a brutal repression of all opposition to Communist rule.

The key to understanding Ho is presentation versus behavior.  A man can appear to be many things, but his actions define who he is.  Ho’s actions define him as a dedicated communist who never swerved from his goal.  Every move he made, every word he spoke was calculated to further that goal.  Millions died because of it.

In the pantheon of dictators who slaughtered millions of their own people, Ho stands proudly beside Lenin, Stalin, Mao and Hitler.  His record speaks for itself.

A pdf copy of this paper is available for download here.

This Is What We Fight Against

Copied below is an excerpt from Power Systems: Conversations on Global Democratic Uprisings and the New Challenges to U.S. Empire by Noam Chomsky.  This brief excerpt is filled with falsehoods and false assertions as is typical of Chomsky, yet Chomsky is still praised 1 in the media 2 for his supposedly astute observations on foreign policy, particularly with regard to the Vietnam War.  Chomsky’s list of interviews 3 would make any vainglorious egoist salivate.

The famous American intellectual, historian and Pulitzer Prize winner, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., once wrote of Chomsky, Chomsky, it soon becomes evident, does not understand the rudiments of political analysis.  Indeed, despite occasional pretenses of reasoned discussion, he is not much interested in the analytical process” 4

The prominent linguist, Paul Postal, once wrote of Chomsky, “After many years, I came to the conclusion that everything he says is false. He will lie just for the fun of it. Every one of his arguments was tinged and coded with falseness and pretense. It was like playing chess with extra pieces. It was all fake.” 5

The problem with dealing with the Chomskys of the world is that they can make false statement after false statement, but those who seek to correct their lies are forced to provide voluminous documentation to support their refutations.  Otherwise the argument becomes a rather childish “he said, she said” back and forth that resolves nothing.

Each endnote in this article explains the factual basis for refuting Chomsky’s claims and provides links to supporting documentation that the reader may access.  However, readers should not be misled.  Although Chomsky is clearly on the fringes of far left ideology, the basics of his arguments are echoed in the arguments of many on the left in what is called the “orthodox” view of the Vietnam War.

What happened in Vietnam in the early 1960s is gone from history. 6 It was barely discussed at the time 7, and it’s essentially disappeared 8. In 1954, there was a peace settlement between the United States and Vietnam 9. The United States regarded it as a disaster 10, refused to permit it to go forward 11, and established a client state in the South, which was a typical client state, carrying out torture, brutality, murders 12. By about 1960, the South Vietnamese government had probably killed seventy or eighty thousand people. 13 The repression was so harsh that it stimulated an internal rebellion, which was not what the North Vietnamese wanted. 14 They wanted some time to develop their own society. But they were sort of coerced by the southern resistance into at least giving it verbal support. 15

 By the time John F. Kennedy became involved in 1961 16, the situation was out of control 17. In 1962, he sent the U.S. Air Force to start bombing South Vietnam, using planes with South Vietnamese markings 18. Kennedy authorized the use of napalm, chemical warfare, to destroy the ground cover and crops 19. He started the process of driving the rural population into what were called “strategic hamlets,” essentially concentration camps 20, where people were surrounded by barbed wire, supposedly to protect them from the guerillas who the U.S. government knew perfectly well they supported. 21 This “pacification” ultimately drove millions of people out of the countryside while destroying large parts of it. 22 Kennedy also began operations against North Vietnam on a small scale. 23 That was 1962.

 In 1963, the Kennedy administration got wind of the fact that the government of Ngo Dinh Diem it had installed in South Vietnam 24 was trying to arrange negotiations with the North. Diem and his brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu, were trying to negotiate a peace settlement. So the Kennedy liberals determined that they had to be thrown out. 25 The Kennedy administration organized a coup in which the two brothers were killed and they put in their own guy, meanwhile escalating the war 26. Then came the assassination of President Kennedy. Contrary to a lot of mythology, Kennedy was one of the hawks in the administration to the very last minute. 27 He did agree to proposals for withdrawal from Vietnam, because he knew the war was very unpopular here 28, but always with the condition of withdrawal after victory. 29 Once we get victory, we can withdraw and let the client regime go. 30