Category Archives: The Lessons of War

Critique of the Ken Burns Vietnam Program

Panel Remarks

Critique of the Ken Burns Vietnam Program

Institute of World Politics

Washington, DC

22 January 2017

Lewis Sorley

From my perspective the Burns production had one objective, to reinforce the standard anti-war narrative that the Vietnam war was unwinnable, illegal, immoral, and ineptly conducted by the allies from start to finish.

It went about making this case by—contrary to the claims of Burns and his associates that theirs was a historically respectable and unbiased account—skewed and unrepresentative content and commentators, lack of context, and crucial omissions.

Omissions

Crucial omissions are a damaging flaw in the Burns opus. The great heroes of the war, in the view of almost all who fought there (on our side), were the Dustoff pilots and the nurses. We don’t see much of them. Instead we see repeatedly poor Mogie Crocker, who we know right away is destined to get whacked. We see over and over again the clueless General Westmoreland, but learn nothing of his refusal to provide modern weaponry to the South Vietnamese or his disdain for pacification. We see precious little of his able successor, General Abrams. We see (and hear) almost nothing of William Colby and his brilliant work on pacification. And so on. These are serious failings in a film that bills itself as “a landmark documentary event.”

Burns and Company as Historians

Ken Burns and his associates appeared at a large number of preview events. I attended one such session at the Newseum here in Washington (billed by them as an “influencer event”) and was impressed by their self-regard and self-satisfaction. They apparently now view themselves as the premier historians of the Vietnam War. And they are candid in stating their most basic conclusions. “You can find no overtly redeeming qualities of the Vietnam War,” Burns told us. I hope I may be forgiven for stating my own conviction that he is in that profoundly wrong, as he was in referring disparagingly to what he called Americans’ “puffed-up sense of exceptionalism.” Clearly Burns does not much like America, an outlook that permeates his work.

In that same discussion he was surprisingly candid in describing his objective in making the Vietnam film and his methods in realizing it. They had not been interested in dry facts, he told us, “but in an emotional reality.”

And, claiming objectivity, Burns said that in making the film they had not, as he put it, had their “thumb on the scale.” But only moments later he stated his conviction that: “We need to remind people of the cost of war.”

Perhaps some day there will be a sequel reminding people of the cost of losing a war.

Lack of Context

The series opens in Episode 1 with, my strongest impression, a lot of noise. Helicopters roar around, explosions abound, small arms and artillery provide the prevailing atmosphere. This serves very well to underpin Burns’s contention that “war is hell,” and his statement at the Newseum preview that “We need to remind people of the cost of war.”

It does not, however, do a lot to establish Burns and company as the historians he maintains they are. Most historians, at least in my judgment, would have begun a series on the war by providing some context, and some background, on how and why the war began, and how and why the United States became a party to it, and what impelled a succession of U.S. administrations to view it as in America’s interests to do so. But instead we got noise.

Research

What of the research? We are told the Burns team spent ten years on this project, and that in the course of it they interviewed more than 80 people. I know writers, working alone, who have interviewed several hundred people for a single book. The Burns team averaged 8 interviews a year, an interview every month and a half, over the decade. Not impressive, at least to me, certainly not comprehensive.

General McPeak

At that same preview I met General Merrill McPeak, United States Air Force, Retired, a former Air Force Chief of Staff. He was giddy with excitement over the role he had played in making the series, describing how he had made repeated trips from his home in Oregon to the Burns studio in New Hampshire to help with the production, and how he had seen the finished product “several times” and was immensely pleased with it.

We (the rank and file of preview attendees) had, of course, not seen any of the product yet. When we did, we saw that same imbecilic General McPeak proclaiming his view that in Vietnam the United States was fighting on the wrong side. (We should have been helping the Communists defeat the South Vietnamese.)

Later, it is said, McPeak got so much negative feedback that he “withdrew” the comment, as though such a thing might in some mystical manner even be possible. But instead he is, forever, on record as having not only lent himself wholeheartedly to the creation of this terribly flawed version of the war, but having gone the last mile in endorsing its anti-war bias. Sorry, General, too late to back out now. Too late to rescue even a shred of integrity or reputation. You are a Burns man forever.

My email to him was brief: “You are, sir,” I stated, “a fool.” End of message. I’m sure his response will be along one day soon.

Dependence on Sponsors

Outcome Not Inevitable

Nowhere is it explained that both sides in the war, North Vietnam and South Vietnam, are wholly dependent on outside sources for their means of making war. The North obtained its weapons, fuel, and so on from Communist China and the Soviet Union. South Vietnam, of course, obtained like support from the United States. Until it did not.

Nowhere it is shown how valiantly, and effectively, the South Vietnamese continued to fight for their freedom, even after the United States had withdrawn all its forces, and even after the Congress of the United States had dishonorably slashed U.S financial and materiel assistance to them.

While you would never know it if you relied on Burns and Novick for your knowledge of the war, it did not have to end as it did. The Congress of the United States decided that it should and, depriving our ill-fated South Vietnamese allies of the means of continuing to fight (while the Communists received greatly increased support from their backers), made it be so.

Veterans

Burns is deeply interested in My Lai and any other instances of misbehavior by American troops, but he has next to nothing to say of the many, many heroic actions by medevac pilots, nurses, forward observers, the ordinary infantryman, or advisors. He’d rather focus, at great length, on Mogie Crocker and his pathetic destiny.

The real Vietnam veterans—two-thirds of them volunteers, in dramatic contrast to the “greatest generation” of World War II, two-thirds of whom were draftees—said after the fact that overwhelmingly (91%) they were glad they had served. And an amazing two-thirds (67%) said they would serve again, even knowing the outcome of the war. Burns could not find time in his allotted 18 hours to mention that outlook.

Westmoreland

Burns portrays General Westmoreland, whose mindless war of attrition squandered four years of support by the American people, the Congress, and even much of the media, as a hero he never was.

The film describes Westmoreland as “a decorated hero from World War II.” In fact, Westmoreland was a battalion commander in North Africa and Sicily, but a division staff officer through the rest of the war. In three wars he never received a single decoration for valor or bravery.

The film goes on to (falsely) laud what Burns calls Westmoreland’s “impressive record,” adding that “the men he led in Normandy called him Superman.” Westmoreland led no men in Normandy. He was by then a division staff officer.

[9th Infantry Division at Normandy: Utah Beach D+4]

Burns’ Advisors on the Film

Chief Advisor was one Thomas Vallely, a member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War. During the latter stages of the war US forces were progressively withdrawn in 14 increments over three years, turning more and more of the combat responsibility to the South Vietnamese, who acquitted themselves gallantly. Yet Vallely is portrayed characterizing that highly professional sequence anti-historically: “As we finally came lurching out of Vietnam….”

Other advisors included the imbecilic US Air Force General Merrill McPeak, who delivers himself of his view that the United States was fighting on the wrong side. And the pathetic Mai Elliott, who uttered, regarding the fall of Saigon and conquest of the South by the invading communists, the most inane comment in the entire 18 hours: “I didn’t care which side won, because they could now live normally.” Then came the bloodbath, but that wasn’t mentioned.

South Vietnamese Accomplishments

NVN General Tran Van Tra: By the time of the cease-fire “our cadres and men were exhausted. All our units were in disarray, and we were suffering from a lack of manpower and a shortage of food and ammunition. So it was hard to stand up under enemy attacks. Sometimes we had to withdraw to let the enemy retake control of the population.”

Burns’ Intent

Someone wrote about the production that Burns somehow missed his chance to tell the true and accurate story of the war. I don’t think that is right. I think Burns did exactly what he set out to do, reinforce with all the might of his vaunted film-making skills the standard anti-war narrative.

Effects of US Involvement in Vietnam

Burns and Novick Version

In a New York Times op-ed piece entitled “Vietnam’s Unhealed Wounds” and with a shared by line, Burns and Novick lecture us on how what they call “the troubles that trouble us today” are the result of, they claim, “seeds…sown during the Vietnam War.” They catalogue those troubles as “alienation, resentment and cynicism; mistrust of our government and one another; breakdown of civil discourse and civic institutions; conflicts over ethnicity and class; [and] lack of accountability in powerful institutions.” It is apparently their view that, had we not been involved in the Vietnam War, those troubles would not be afflicting us today.

Aftermath

When we get to the end of this long sad story, with South Vietnam in the iron grip of its supposed “liberators,” and looming the blood bath that Mai Elliott and others cannot see or will not acknowledge, and all of Vietnam now being run by “xx,” as xx described them, there lies ahead this half century (so far) of Vietnam as one of the most backward, repressive, and corrupt societies in the world. Burns says nothing of all that. It does not accord with his narrative of choice.

Any competent historian, it seems to me, would have found room to emphasize, at some crucial points along the way, that it was armed aggression by the North Vietnamese that led to all this bloodshed and agony. Burns does not.

The North Vietnamese aggressors are treated with respect, even admiration. Nowhere is it admitted that the communist way of war deliberately featured bombs in schoolyards and pagodas, murder of schoolteachers and village officials, kidnapping and impressment of civilians, indiscriminate rocketing of cities.

The “boat people” and other émigrés now living in America and elsewhere in the free world have with great courage and industry made new lives for themselves and their families. They get no credit from Burns, who also does not deign to explain their determination not to live under the repressive communist regime that has seized control of their country.

Truth Defined by Burns

Burns repeats in all the materials he distributes the mantra “There Is No Single Truth in War.” But there is such a thing as objective truth, elusive though it may be. What we have here is preferred “truth” as seen through the Burns prism.

Reconciliation

Finally, the idea that this deeply flawed version of the war and those who fought it might somehow facilitate “recon-ciliation,” as claimed by Burns, can only be viewed as fatuous. There is no middle ground, and the Burns film demonstrates, if nothing else, how deep and unbridgeable the divide remains.

Conclusion

The Washington Post on a good day, Editorial of 17 September 1996: “The American role in the Vietnam War, for all its stumbles, was no accident. It arose from the deepest sources—the deepest and most legitimate sources—of the American desire to affirm freedom in the world.” You would not gather that from the Burns film, and that is how it is most profoundly and fundamentally wrong.

The Wrong Side Won

By Uwe Siemon-Netto

At the height of the Vietnam War, Ralph White tried to join the U.S. Marine Corps but was turned down because of an eye injury he had sustained playing tennis. As the fighting drew to a tumultuous close in April 1975, however, 27-year-old White was in Saigon, acting true to the leatherneck motto “Semper fidelis” – only by civilian means.

By cajoling, twisting arms and cleverly bypassing red tape, White found an ingenious way to rescue 112 Vietnamese employees of Chase National Bank and their family members: he simply adopted all of them in the presence of U.S. justices of the peace on emergency duty at Saigon’s Tan Son Nhat Airport. In the face of an impending defeat of the United States’ South Vietnamese ally, this American civilian who had wanted to be a Marine achieved a small but remarkable victory.

Four days later, on April 30, Soviet-made T-54 tanks completed the communist conquest of South Vietnam by bursting through the gate of the presidential palace in Saigon. Inside, newly appointed South Vietnamese President Duong Van “Big” Minh offered to transfer power. North Vietnamese Col. Bui Tin replied, “There is no question of your transferring power … You cannot give up what you don’t have.”

To me, a German, these words sounded identical to the terms the Allies imposed on my country in 1945 when I was still a child: unconditional surrender. The irony was that while at the end of World War II a manifestly evil government was forced to surrender this way, the opposite was true 30 years later in Saigon: a totalitarian regime with deeply inhumane features bullied a much more humane – though faulty – opponent into capitulating unconditionally, and the world cheered.

Having covered Vietnam for West Germany’s largest publishing house over a period of five years, I concluded that the wrong side had won. There was no reason to rejoice. Yet when President Gerald Ford proclaimed at Tulane University in New Orleans that the Vietnam War “is finished as far as America is concerned,” one week before South Vietnam was finally crushed, he received a standing ovation.

The reaction should have been more muted given the grim fate to which vast numbers of South Vietnamese had been delivered. For them, the real Calvary only started with the communist victory. Between 200,000 and 400,000 drowned while fleeing their country on fishing boats and makeshift vessels, according to the U.N. High Commission for Refugees. Some 65,000 were executed. One million ended up in concentration camps, where 165,000 were tortured or starved to death. Among those killed were 30,000 whose names had been on lists of CIA informants left behind at the embassy, National Review reported.

Proportionately speaking, Ralph White outperformed the U.S. government: he got all his people out, just as he intended to when he volunteered to be sent from Bangkok to Saigon as acting general manager of Chase’s Vietnam branch two weeks before Saigon fell. In his report to his boss at Chase, he later wrote that “maintaining an American liaison between bank and embassy to ensure maximum coordination with evacuation planning” was the “sole purpose” of his assignment.

“Reading my report makes me pretty proud of that 27-year-old man,” says White, who is now a writer in Litchfield, Conn.

Almost four decades after the collapse of South Vietnam, I came across another moving story about an American civilian acting as bravely and faithfully to her values as any good soldier. Patricia Palermo was a blonde Pan Am stewardess from Nebraska who volunteered to serve as a purser on shuttle flights from Guam to Saigon, flying “fresh-faced, rosy-cheeked and high-spirited young men” to the war zone, as she recalled in a recent interview. “When I saw them again 12 months later, they looked like 50-year-old men. Many were wounded and crippled, some drugged out. They were not allowed to board until after the other ‘returnees’ had been loaded in the cargo bay – those in zinc coffins.”

Palermo, who now lives in New York, said in a telephone interview that she was so emotionally shaken by these flights that she blocked them out of her mind until 1980, when she watched on television a live report of the first parade honoring Vietnam veterans. “I immediately rushed out of my house and joined in,” she recalled.

The most dramatic part of her flying career came during the last days of the war, when Pan Am took at least 2,000 babies, mostly Asian-Americans due for adoption in the United States out of Saigon. “We weren’t allowed to leave the aircraft because of enemy fire, but we could see how some desperate mothers threw their children over the fence at Tan Son Nhat to be brought to safety by our crews. I remember someone handing me two babies hidden in a basket. Once I counted more than 400 babies on our Boeing 747. They were everywhere, even in the luggage racks above the seats, and they were so still, always so still ….”

I watched the fall of Saigon on television in my apartment in Paris with mounting grief and anger. I marveled at the beautiful execution of Operation Frequent Wind, which evacuated the last 1,373 Americans, plus 5,595 Vietnamese and other nationals, in helicopters primarily from a landing pad on top of the U.S. military attache’s office at the U.S. Embassy April 29-30. I had been there seven years earlier during the Tet Offensive and watched from across the street as the communists’ attack on the embassy was defeated. Now they were about to triumph; hence my grief.

My anger, though, was directed primarily at the students and intellectuals cheering the communist victory as an act of liberation. They were doing this everywhere: across the River Seine on the Left Bank; in my own country, West Germany; and in the United States. Watching a sea of red-and-blue Viet Cong flags on TV made me feel nauseated, because to me these colors stood for the heinous massacres I had witnessed in Vietnam.

One night in the Central Highlands, for example, I happened upon the mutilated corpses of a village chief, his wife and their 12 children, all tortured by communist henchmen. As the villagers told me, the family was killed because the chief had stayed loyal to the Saigon government. That was in 1965. In 1967, an election year, the Viet Cong committed at least 100,000 such acts of terror against civilians to prevent them from going to the polls.

When French newscasters announced the end of South Vietnam, I instinctively reached for a book that had lain on my bedside table in the Continental Palace hotel in Saigon and accompanied me to Paris: “The Two Vietnams.” I had met its author, French political scientist Bernard B. Fall, many times in Saigon and Washington before he was killed by a Viet Cong mine. He was, to me, one of the world’s most astute experts on Indochina. One passage in his book has haunted me ever since. Fall quotes North Vietnam’s chief strategist, Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap, who died Oct. 4 at the age of 102, as telling the political commissars of one of his divisions: “The enemy (meaning the West) … does not possess … the psychological and political means to fight a long-drawn-out war.”

Giap never doubted America’s military capabilities but believed he had found democracy’s Achilles’ heel, as Fall explained: “In all likelihood, Giap concludes, public opinion in the democracy will demand an end to the ‘useless bloodshed,’ or its legislature will insist on knowing for how long it will have to vote astronomical credits without a clear-cut victory in sight. This is what eternally compels the military leaders of democratic armies to promise a quick end to the war – to ‘bring the boys home by Christmas’ – or forces the democratic politicians to agree to almost any kind of humiliating compromise rather than to accept the idea of a semi-permanent anti-guerrilla operation.”

Was this dire analysis borne out by Washington’s failure to respond, as promised, “with decisive military force” to any North Vietnamese violation of the 1973 Paris accords, I wondered? The accords had allowed Hanoi to keep 80,000 regular troops in the South, but nothing happened when that number increased to 200,000. As the Vietnam drama unfolded so calamitously, I also wondered how we in the media, including the overwhelming majority of us not overtly or tacitly siding with the Viet Cong, failed to make our readers recognize the most incontrovertible evidence that most South Vietnamese never favored the communists: from the start we correspondents had watched them flee the Viet Cong.

They fled neither across the Ben Hai River into North Vietnam nor into the so-called liberated zones – “liberated” by the communists. Until the very end, the refugees gravitated to the shrinking parts of the country controlled by Saigon; 2 million poured into Da Nang. The roads to Saigon were so clogged with fleeing families that they slowed down the North Vietnamese advance, and when it was over, “boat people” not only sailed away from the south in huge numbers but from northern ports as well. Never before in Vietnamese history has there been such a mass exodus from that country – not in Chinese, French or American days. And this was supposed to be liberation? Somehow, I suspected then, and am convinced now, that logic was one of the casualties of the Vietnam War. And so was intellectual honesty.

One image flashing across my TV screen in Paris stayed with me for decades because it punctuated these reflections. It showed South Vietnamese Vice President Nguyen Cao Ky at the controls of an UH-1A (Huey) helicopter landing on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Midway. I had known Ky well and liked him. True, he was a flashy Vietnam Air Force general, a peacock like many a military man throughout history. But he was not the crooked clown he was so often made out to be.

Six years earlier, in May 1969, Ky and I had traveled together to Saigon from Paris, where I had been covering the Vietnam peace talks and he headed Saigon’s delegation. Our conversation was unusually awkward, probably because both of us knew that things were not going well in Paris for his side; it was evident that a flawed perception in the United States and elsewhere of the 1968 Tet Offensive had broken America’s will to bring this conflict to a victorious conclusion.

“But we won Tet!” Ky fumed. “Why do Americans think otherwise?”

“I know, General, I was in Hue when you won,” I answered. “But the public in the United States and in Europe received a different message.”

In Hue I had stood at the rim of a mass grave containing the bodies of at least 1,000 men, women and children murdered by the communists. A U.S. television team wandered about the scene aimlessly. “Why don’t you film this?” my colleague Peter Braestrup of The Washington Post asked them. Their cameraman replied, “We are not here to spread anti-communist propaganda.”

I told Ky this, and he did not comment. He knew that I knew that the military victory of the Americans and South Vietnamese at Tet was turned into a political defeat when Walter Cronkite declared the war unwinnable on CBS in a statement after a brief post-Tet visit. This flew in the face of what many of us combat correspondents had witnessed and reported from Hue. “If I‘ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America,” President Lyndon B. Johnson is reported to have said. I shared his sense of loss and have never forgiven the iconic Cronkite for his act of journalistic malpractice.

Ky kept staring at the door leading to the cockpit of the Air France airliner.

“Why do you keep looking there?” I asked him.

“All I want is to be a pilot again,” he said quietly.

His escape to Midway at the controls of a Huey marked the end of his flying career.

A few years ago, I taught an advanced journalism class at Concordia University Irvine in California. We focused on the large and successful Vietnamese refugee community in Orange County. Student Kellie Kotraba, now a successful journalist in Missouri, came across a study by a group of eight renowned researchers headed by Harvard psychiatrist Richard F. Mollica, titled “Brain Structural Abnormalities and Mental Health Sequelae in South Vietnamese Ex-Political Detainees Who Survived Traumatic Head Injury and Torture.”

The study, published by the American Medical Association, showed that thousands of former political detainees now living in the United States still suffer severely from the aftereffects of torture inflicted on them during their captivity decades ago. “There must be over 100,000 of them,” Mollica told Kotraba, who then asked the Vietnamese Embassy in Washington for a comment. She received a denial in the form of an email from the embassy’s press attache, Tung Pham, which read, “Information saying that inmates of reeducation camp (sic) was (sic) tortured is totally untrue.”

This was to be expected. More surprising was the fact that the Mollica study received little attention in the U.S. media when it came out in 2009, and when I offered Kotraba’s fascinating stories to several publications their editors weren’t interested.

Why did U.S. editors ignore information about suffering at such a massive scale in their midst as a consequence of the Vietnam War, I wondered? There exists a strong analogy between what happened in some of the 300 communist gulags in Vietnam and the concentration camps in Nazi-occupied Europe. I just finished reading a French translation of the account by Father Andrew Nguyen Huu Le, a Catholic priest now living in New Zealand, of his 13 years in communist captivity, 2,020 days of which he spent in leg irons – causing festering wounds where maggots bred.

In “Je dois vivre” (“I must live”), Le describes in gruesome detail how his friend Dang Van Tiep, a former South Vietnamese Army major and member of Parliament, was killed to the merriment of a crowd of communist functionaries and their wives screaming with delight. He was made to drink large amounts of water. Then prison trusty Bui Thi Dinh, the most sadistic official in the Thanh Cam penal camp, jumped on Tiep’s abdomen until it burst and his intestines spilled out. Tiep died.
Dinh had been a captain in the South Vietnamese Army. The captives at Thanh Cam referred to him as “Kapo,” a term used for trusties in Nazi concentration camps. Like some former Nazi Kapos, he made it to the United States. He was discovered in Garden Grove, Calif., arrested and ordered deported. At last report, he lived in the Marshall Islands.

In his book, Le describes his frequent flashbacks, which include severe abdominal pains. Flashbacks are a condition many U.S. veterans know all too well. When I worked as a chaplain intern among these men at the VA medical center in St. Cloud, Minn., I met a baker from St. Paul who had a recurring nightmare. Every day he dreamed of an incident near Da Nang. He was riding shotgun at the back of a military truck and saw a little boy pull the pin of a hand grenade, ready to lob it onto the truck where it would probably have killed an entire platoon.

The soldier killed the child. But then, night after night, he saw the distorted face of the dying boy. “He was about 8 years old,” said the veteran, “and now I have twins and in my dreams his face takes on their features.” This was one of the saddest stories I heard during my internship that was part of the theological education I began mid-career, probably in response to my experiences as a reporter in Vietnam.

But there was something worse I found among those former Vietnam warriors: almost every member of the three pastoral care groups I led together with a psychologist had been called a baby killer within the first 24 hours of his return from the war. One was even asked not to return to his church until his hair had grown again, and would he please turn up in civilian clothes.

Most men in my groups believed in God but thought he had deserted them in Vietnam. So they had “flipped God off,” as they called it. I wrote a theology for Vietnam veterans titled “The Acquittal of God,” reminding them of the insight by the martyred German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who said that man is called to “suffer with God in a godless world,” which in their case implied that God is suffering with them and was always with them in their suffering – both in Vietnam and after their return. Therefore, God was not a deserter but their fellow sufferer. Many of the patients found this thought compelling.

To this day, I hear Vietnam veterans ask, “Was our sacrifice in vain?” As an old war correspondent, I am unable to respond to this question intelligently. But as a theologian I do have an answer. In his famous treatise “Whether Soldiers, Too, Can Be Saved,” Martin Luther compared the vocation of a warrior with that of a surgeon who might have to amputate a patient’s limb in order to save the rest of his body. Often patients die in the days or months after surgery. But does this mean that the operation was futile?

As a war correspondent, I saw the vast majority of GIs and South Vietnamese soldiers faithfully act out their vocation in the service of others. The wrong side won; this is true. As a theologian,

I must add: humans are not the lords of history, and history is always open to the future. It might take many more decades until we see the soldiers’ sacrifice in Vietnam bear fruit and the communist regime vanish, just as other tyrannies have disappeared in the past. Perhaps then the world will discover that the blood Americans and their allies shed in Vietnam has been the seed of a victory much more profound than the one they were denied April 30, 1975. 

The Insurgent Communist Huks in the Philippines

By Michael Benge

Flag of the communist Hukbalahap

The communist Hukbong Laban sa Hapon (Anti-Japanese Army) or simply Huks, comprised mainly of disenfranchised peasant tenant-farmers of Central Luzon, was only one of several guerrilla groups resisting the Japanese invasion and occupation of the Philippines. The Huks were well received by the villagers and were seen as their protector from the abuses of the Japanese. There were many motivations for people to join: nationalism, empathy, survival, and revenge. Those who could not join the guerrilla army joined the underground government via its “secretly converted neighborhood associations”, called Barrio United Defense Corps. The Huks also tried to recruit beyond Central Luzon but were not as successful.

On March 29, 1942, the communist Hukbong Laban sa Hapon (Huks) was incorporated into a broad-based united front of guerrillas named the — Hukbong Bayan Laban sa mga Hapon (Hukbalahap) — “The Nation’s Army Against the Japanese”). Soon after, its representatives met with USAFFE (United States Army Forces in the Far East) representative Colonel Thorpe at Camp Sanchez in the spring of 1942, and under this umbrella, the conferees agreed to cooperate, share equipment and supplies, with the Americans providing trainers under USAFFE’s overall command.

Although the communist Huks fought the Japanese, at times, they also fought other guerrilla units under USAFFE as well as killed, pillaged and plundered other Filipino nationalists. Their methods were often portrayed by other guerrilla leaders as terrorists; for example, “Ray C. Hunt, an American who led his own band of 3000 guerrillas, said his experiences with the communist Huks were always unpleasant, they were much better assassins than soldiers.” Tightly disciplined and led by fanatics, they murdered Filipino landlords and drove others off to the comparative safety of Manila. They were not above plundering and torturing ordinary Filipinos, and they were treacherous enemies of all other guerrillas on Luzon. The initial force of 500 armed Huks was organized into five squadrons and “by late summer 1943, Huk leadership claimed to have a fully armed guerrilla force of 5,000 to 20,000 active men and women military fighters and 50,000 more in reserve. By August 1948, the Huks became a trained and experienced force, well-equipped and well-prepared for its guerrilla warfare. Their weaponry was obtained primarily by stealing it from battlefields and downed planes left behind by the Japanese, Filipinos, and Americans. The Huks also created a training school where they taught political theory and military tactics based on Marxist ideas. In areas that the group controlled, they set up local governments and instituted land reforms, dividing up the largest estates equally among the peasants and often killing the landlords.” Among the group’s leaders were figurehead Luis Taruccommunist party Secretary General Jesus Lava, and Commander Hizon (Benjamin Cunanan) who aimed to lead the Philippines toward Marxist ideals and communist revolution.

After the surrender of Japan in WWII and the withdrawal of its forces from the Philippines, most of the guerrilla groups disbanded and went home, or were absorbed into the Philippine Constabulary (civilian police) or the Army. The aftermath of the liberation from Japan was characterized by chaos. The paternal relationship of the large landowners toward the tenant farmers had been virtually destroyed during the war, and life was economically unsustainable for the peasants who had joined the Huks. Moreover, the poor harvest between late 1945 to early 1946 period not only exacerbated the plight of the Huks, it also further intensified the gap between the tenants and the landlords. Added to this, the Huks being a communist-led group were considered to be disloyal and were not accorded U.S. recognition or benefits at the end of the war. Their hardships were aggravated by the hostility they experienced when the Philippine Government, following orders from the United States of America, disarmed and arrested the communist Huks. Harassment and abuses against peasant activists became common. Largely consisting of peasant farmers, the Huks feared for their lives as the USAFFE and the Philippine Constabulary (civilian police) hunted them down. In September 1946, the Huks retreated to the Sierra Madre Mountains and their guerrilla lifestyle as a response to supposed maltreatment by the government and renamed themselves Hukbong Magpapalaya ng Bayan (HMB) or People’s Liberation Army.

Although the communist Huks were only one of a plethora of guerrilla groups in the umbrella organization Hukbong Bayan Laban sa mga Hapon (Hukbalahap) — “The Nation’s Army Against the Japanese”), originally formed to fight the Japanese. However, in 1946 in what became known as the Hukbalahap Rebellion, the communist Huks extended their fight into a rebellion against the Philippine Government and usurped the Hukbalahap name in an attempt to play off on its patriotic reputation and create a charade of legitimacy among the peasants. Adding to this deception, the Huks claimed that it had extended its guerrilla warfare campaign merely in search of recognition as World War II freedom fighters and former American and Filipino allies who deserved a share of war reparations. In reality, the communist Huks insurrection was but an attempt to take over the entire Philippines. The rebellion lasted for years, with huge civilian casualties.

In 1949, the Huks ambushed and murdered Aurora Quezon, Chairman of the Philippine Red Cross and widow of the Philippines’ second president Manuel L. Quezon, as she was in route to her hometown for the dedication of the Quezon Memorial Hospital.  Several others were also killed, including her eldest daughter and son-in-law. This attack brought worldwide condemnation of the Hukbalahap, who claimed that the attack was done by “renegade” members.

The continuing condemnation and new post-war causes of the movement forced the Communist Party of the Philippines (PKP) in 1950 to reconstitute the organization as the armed wing of a revolutionary party and change the official name to Hukbong Mapagpalaya ng Bayan (HMB) or “Peoples’ Liberation Army”; likely changing it in emulation of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. Notwithstanding this name change, the HMB continued to be popularly known as the Hukbalahap, and the English-speaking press and the U.S. Army command continued to refer to it and its members, interchangeably, as “The Huks” during the whole period between 1945 and 1952, and commentators have continued to do so since then.

The start of the 1950s saw the beginning of the rebellion’s decline. There was general weariness among the people from years of fighting.  Many prominent Huk leaders either had died or were too old to fight, and those that remained were few. To make things worse, the villagers of Central Luzon showed signs of becoming weary of supporting them or just saw them as irrelevant. Public sympathies for the movement began waning due to their postwar attacks. The Huks carried out a campaign of raids, holdups, robbery, ambushes, murder, rape, massacre of small villages, kidnapping, and intimidation. The Huks confiscated funds and property to sustain their movement and relied on small village organizers for political and material support. Nevertheless, from Central Luzon, the Huk movement had spread to the central provinces of Nueva Ecija, Pampanga, Tarlac, Bulacan, and in Nueva Vizcaya, Pangasinan, Laguna, Bataan, and Quezon.

In June 1950, American alarm over the Huk rebellion during the cold war prompted President Truman to approve special military assistance that included military advice, sale at cost of military equipment to the Philippines and financial aid under the Joint United States Military Advisory Group (JUSMAG). Soon after, Major Ed Lansdale, an experienced covert intelligence operator who cut his teeth in the OSS (Office of Strategic Services) during WWII, was appointed Chief of the Intelligence Division in the Philippines.  Elpidio Quirino, the president of the Philippines, immediately requested Lansdale’s help in his fight against the communist insurrection taking place in his country. Allen Dulles, also a former OSS officer who headed the CIA, then gave Lansdale $5-million to finance CIA operations against the Huks. Among others, Lansdale’s main task was to rebuild the country’s security services. Prior to being assigned to the Philippines, Lansdale had met Senator Ramon Magsaysay who was on a study tour in Washington, DC, and judged him to be very intelligent and nationalistic; Lansdale quickly developed a close friendship with him. In September, Magsaysay was appointed as Minister of National Defense on American advice. The following month, Magsaysay captured the Secretariat of the Peoples’ Liberation Army including the general secretary Jose Lava, following the earlier capture of the Politburo in Manila. Magsaysay felt that the Philippine Army’s first priority should be devoted to the well-being and protection of the rural population.

Rather than being an advisor per se, Landsdale’s modus operandi was to invite Magsaysay and his staff to informal, friendly get-togethers, usually coffee klatches or over lunch, and in Madison Avenue advertising agency-style brainstorming sessions, he would skillfully start discussion to mull over problems, obstacles, ideas or pose questions, and under Ramon Magsaysay‘s leadership together the Filipinos would come up with suggestions for solutions.

Lansdale wielded a wide array of counterinsurgency and psywar (psychological warfare) tactics; Psywar and civic-action were favorites of Lansdale, thus you can see the result of his style of friendly persuasion and even perhaps a faint imprint of a velvet glove on many of the actions taken Magsaysay and his staff. He firmly believed that you had to flip the communist’s propaganda against them and drain the water in which Mao’s fish swam. Examples include:

  • The Army and the Philippine Constabulary (PC, i.e., civilian police) was purged of corrupt and inefficient officials and the abuses of the peasants and others were stopped. Both the Army and the PC received civic-action training received the wherewithal to conduct actions in both rural and urban areas.
  • Psywar teams were created and trained and embedded in all military units and set into action before, during and after all military operations including those areas where the Huks had hit-and-run.   Landsdale conducted research into local superstitions and his psywar advice was innovative and it became apparent in some of the psywar activities of the teams embedded with Battalion Combat Teams (BCT). The villagers’ belief in vampires, and in ghosts of the dead was exploited, such as playing upon the popular dread of an asuangs, or vampires. When a Huk patrol came along the trail, the ambushers silently snatched the last man of the patrol. They then punctured his neck with two holes, vampire-fashion, held the body up by the heels, drained it of blood, and put the corpse back on the trail. When the Huks returned to look for the missing man and found their bloodless comrade, every member of the patrol believed that the asuang had got him and that one of them would be next. In the ‘Eye of God’ campaign, suspected guerrillas living in a village were targets of psywar teams that surreptitiously painted a menacing eye on a wall facing the suspect’s hut. Lansdale noted that such tactics were remarkably effective.”
  • Magsaysay set up a Complaint and Action Commission (CAC) whereby any citizen had the right to send a telegram free of charge to CAC of any local injustices and abuses of power. Investigators were immediately sent out on surprise inspection trips in response to legitimate complaints to investigate and resolve the complaint; reports of abuses by the Army had first priority. With these reforms, the Philippine peasants no longer saw the need for “Huk justice”.

·      The Economic Development Corps (EDCOR) program was set up to lure disenfranchised peasants away from the Huks. Those who voluntarily surrendered were resettled in new settlements far removed from their operational bases, given land, provided with agricultural extension services and credit to ensure a productive new start. (A similar Chieu Hoi program was launched in 1963 in Vietnam.)

Major military offensives were launched and the army became innovative in pursuing the Huks in the mountains.  An important movement in the campaign against the Huks was the deployment of hunter-killer counter-guerrilla special units; the “Nenita” unit commanded by Major Napoleon Valeriano was the first of such Special Forces whose main mission was to eliminate the Huks’ infrastructure (a somewhat similar operation, the Phoenix program, was in operation in Vietnam between 1965 and 1972). In July 1950, Major Valeriano assumed command of the elite 7th BCT that developed a reputation toward employing a more comprehensive unconventional counter-insurgency strategy thus reducing collateral damage from operations.

American assistance allowed Magsaysay to create more BCTs, bringing the total to twenty-six by 1951 and army strength had increased by 60 percent over the previous year. Thus the army was able to vastly increase the use of mobile strike forces in offensive campaigns against the Huks. By 1954, Valeriano was promoted to Colonel and had developed the tactic of employing psywar through combat intelligence and infiltration that relied on secrecy in planning, training, and execution of attack by the mobile striking forces.

With the all-out anti-dissidence campaigns against the Huks, they numbered less than 2,000 by 1954 and without the protection and support of locals, active Huk resistance no longer presented a serious threat to Philippine security. From February to mid-September 1954, the largest anti-Huk operation, “Operation Thunder-Lightning” was conducted and resulted in the surrender of Luis Taruc on May 17. Further cleanup operations of guerillas remaining lasted throughout 1955 diminishing its number to less than 1,000 by year’s end.

Magsaysay’s leadership and actions combined with Lansdale’s application of advertising principles and media manipulation that led to the honest election of Ramon Magsaysay as president in 1953; Ramon del Fierro Magsaysay is considered the best president that the Philippines ever had.

From his experiences in the Philippines, Lansdale framed his basic theory that Communist revolution was best confronted by democratic revolution. He came to advocate a four-sided campaign of social, economic and political aspects combined with military actions. 

Viet Nam: The Great White Hope

Because of Lansdale’s success in aiding in the defeat of the communist Huks in the Philippines, he was tapped by President John F. Kennedy to see if he could once again pull a magical rabbit from Viet Nam’s hat as he had in the Philippines. Lansdale had developed a close personal relationship with the dynamic Ramon Magsaysay, first in Washington, D.C. when Magsaysay was serving as Chairman of the Committee on Guerrilla Affairs for the Philippine House of Representatives, then as the Philippine Secretary of Defense and later as President. Magsaysay and his staff willingly worked with Lansdale to implement the necessary reforms to defeat the Huks. In the Philippines, Lansdale had carte blanche – complete operational freedom, full support of the important politicians in Washington, D.C., and no interference from the other Americans, civilian or military, who were stationed in the Philippines. However, Viet Nam was a horse of a different color, a nation with a myriad of almost insurmountable problems.

Governance in Viet Nam was a family affair. President Ngô Đình Diệm was held in high esteem by the Vietnamese people; some thought he had a mandate from heaven. However, he had an albatross around his neck — his powerful and devious brother and principal advisor Ngô Đình Nhu, who was the personification of evil, and his wife with a venom-glazed tongue and scalding temper – the de facto First Lady – aka the Dragon Lady.

Viet Nam was a daunting task, and although Lansdale had developed an amicable relationship with President Ngô Đình Diệm in the early days of the establishment of the Republic of South Viet Nam, it wasn’t long before he found out that he lacked the necessary unbridled support from U.S. politicians as he had enjoyed in the Philippines. Instead, he faced high-level government bureaucrats and military brass both in Washington and Saigon who continuously marked and fiercely defended their perceived territories in lieu of providing positive contributions to Viet Nam. This was compounded by an endless stream of advisors offering inaccurate advice, political tourists, and members of the misleading media. The environment was hugely competitive and rife with backstabbing. The prevalent attitude among the diplomats and military brass was, “What is good for General Bull Moose is good for everybody.”*

All this culminated in the U.S.-generated military coup d’état against the Diệms. After the leading Vietnamese general had been promised safe passage for President Diệm via an American aircraft, Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge welched on the promise and refused to provide the plane – ringing the death knell for the unfortunate President Diệm and perhaps Viet Nam.

The magical rabbit was dead upon arrival preventing any chance for the counter-insurgency tactics used so effectively by Lansdale in the Philippines to succeed.

*The bombastic General Bashington T. Bullmoose was a character created by Al Capp for his satirical comic strip Li’l Abner.

 

PBS Responds

PBS has responded to VVFH’s demand that they correct the errors in the Burns/Novick documentary, The Vietnam War. Here is what they wrote.

November 28, 2017
R.J. DelVecchio
Executive Secretary
Vietnam Veterans for Factual History

Dear Mr; De! Vecchio;

Paula Kerger asked me to respond to your November 7, 2017 letter regarding the recent broadcast of Ken Bums and Lynn Novick’s film, THE VIETNAM WAR.

As you know, the film generated a tremendous amount of attention, from the public, members of the military community and veterans, nearly all of which praised the film’s respect for our soldiers and its balance. Maybe more poignantly, not a day goes by when I do not hear from veterans of the war about how thankful they are for the film, helping them speak about their experience with family and friends, something they had rarely done before.

Ken and Lynn went to great lengths to include diverse voices in the film. We did the same in our outreach across the country, meeting with veterans’ groups, Vietnamese-Americans and those who opposed the war, as well as with a wide-range of historians and military experts. The film was extremely well received at the Air Force and Naval Academies, the Army Command and General Staff College, as well as at the Pentagon.

Nearly 34 million people watched some portion of the film. And all ten episodes of the series have been streamed more than 8 million times (over 600,000 times in Vietnam), a record for streaming on PBS.

Much of what is covered in the film is of course unsettled history and I appreciate that there may be. areas: where you disagree with the filmmaker’s emphasis, and aspects of the narrative that you think deserved more attention. We appreciate your feedback and believe ‘The Vietnam War’ has provided a timely opportunity to continue the discussion around this important topic.

Sincerely,

Jennifer R. Byrne
Vice President, Corporate Communications’

Do you believe that “nearly all” of the veteran community “praised the film”? If not, why not consider joining us in our efforts to correct the record.

Nothing Provides More Clarity Than the Passing of Time

These are some selected quotes from intelligent people, leaders of our country.

On Cambodia:

Some will find the whole bloodbath debate unreal. What future possibility could be more terrible than the reality of what is happening to Cambodia now? Anthony Lewis “Avoiding A Bloodbath” New York Times March 17, 1975

If we really want to help the people of Cambodia and the people of South Vietnam, is it not wiser to end the killing? Since most credited analysts of foreign policy admit that the Lon Nol regime cannot survive, won’t the granting of further aid only prolong the fighting and, with it, the killing? Representative Bob Carr Congressional Record March 13, 1975

It is hard to predict in an exact sense what would happen if the United States reduced its commitment to Lon Nol. . . . There is a possibility that more moderate politicians would take over in Phnom Penh, and that the insurgents would be content to negotiate with these peo-ple. An actual insurgent attack and takeover of Phnom Penh is far from a certainty, as an assault on a city requires large expenditures of resources which the Khmer Rouge would not be likely to want to make. Michael Harrington “Limiting Aid to Cambodia” Congressional Record August 12, 1974

I say that calling the Lon Nol regime an ally is to debase the meaning of the word as it applies to our true allies. . . . The greatest gift our country can give to the Cambo-dian people is not guns but peace. And the best way to accomplish that goal is by ending military aid now. Representative Chris Dodd Congressional Record March 12, 1975

It is time that we allow the peaceful people of Cam-bodia to rebuild their nation . . . (T)he Administration has warned that if we leave there will be a “bloodbath.” But to warn of a new bloodbath is no justification for extending the current bloodbath. Representative Tom Downey Congressional Record March 13, 1975

When the Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia, they slaughtered 21% of the entire population.1 To save bullets, they grabbed children by the legs and bashed them against trees. None of the perpetrators have ever been brought to justice.

On Vietnam:

The CBU-55 [cluster bomb] joins herbicides, defoliation, and napalm as part of the American Indochinese legacy. . . . Recognition of their massive deployment betrays the ugly hypocrisy behind the Kissinger-Ford pose of righteousness over real or fabricated reports of post-war Indochinese killings, so casually labeled “blood bath” and so directly a consequence of American policy and tactics. “Blood Bath from the Skies” The Nation, editorial May 24, 1975

. . . the evidence is that in Cambodia the much-heralded bloodbath that was supposed to follow the fall of Phnom Penh has not taken place. As for Vietnam, reports from Saigon indicate exemplary behavior, considering the situation. . . . The most authoritative information thus far received leads to the conclusion that the American people were propagandized about the menace of unrestrained slaughter in Indochina. . . . The revolutionaries in both countries seem to have acted responsibly, perhaps more so in Vietnam because their revolution is a mature one, its leaders seasoned by experience and historical perspective. “Blood-Bath Talk” The Nation, editorial June 14, 1975

In sum, all of the evidence indicates that the decision to disperse the population of Phnom Penh and other cities to the countryside was grounded in urgent and practical considerations—and more than anything it was a question of feeding the population. . . . For a study of the available evidence shows that the evacuation was ordered in response to certain urgent and fundamental needs of the Cambodian population, and that it was carried out only after careful planning for provision of food, water, rest, and medical care. . . . The evacuation of Phnom Penh, so condemned by the U.S. government and media, undoubtedly saved the lives of tens of thousands of people. . . . . . . the food problem in Cambodia has in fact been solved. . . . . . . Despite U.S. predictions, Cambodia has not suffered mass starvation during the summer of 1975 and will not do so in 1976 either. . . . Cambodia, then, has completed one of the most thor-oughgoing agrarian revolutions in history, rebuilt much of the basic infrastructure necessary to a developing economy, and rather quickly resumed industrial production in the short period since the war’s end. Gareth Porter and G.C. Hildebrand The Politics of Food: Starvation and Agricultural Revolution in Cambodia Indochina Resource Center, Washington, D.C. September 1975

. . . for 25 . . . years our might has been deployed to frustrate an indigenous political and social revolution in Vietnam. . . . But the excruciating agony suffered by Vietnam and Cambodia is largely of our making. “On the Disaster” The New Republic, editorial May 3, 1975

Now, in contrast, the Communists are focusing primarily on the restoration of law and order and on providing such essentials as food, water, lodgings, and electricity, and, both their own propaganda and refugee accounts agree, they are relying on persuasive rather than coercive methods to attract popular sympathies. . . . A few South Vietnamese police and army officers are said to have been publicly executed in Tuy Hoa, but the Communists generally appear at this stage to be working to win “hearts and minds.” . . . Although the Communists are closer to Saigon than they have ever been and can probably strangle the capital in the weeks ahead, my own guess is that they would opt for a negotiated end to the war if they could get it. . . . Even so my own view is that they may be less drastic than their rhetoric indicates . . . Moreover they cannot massacre every Vietnamese with past American or Saigon regime connections unless they are prepared to liquidate a million people . . . But the Vietnamese face extraordinarily hard times ahead, and their only consolation may be that the rigor of life under Communism is preferable to a war that has meant death and destruction for so many years. Stanley Karnow “Avoiding Bloodshed in Saigon—Hanoi’s Design” The New Republic April 26, 1975

We are the last who should speak of a bloodbath. Rarely has there been such an example of a moral disaster resulting from radically flawed political premises. . . . In this respect Vietnam should teach us an important lesson. On the one hand Hanoi is one of several among the poorest nations in the world that have tried or will try to create a collectivist society, based on principles that are repugnant to us, yet likely to produce greater welfare and security for its people than any local alternative ever offered, at a cost in freedom that affects a small elite. Stanley Hoffman “The Sulking Giant” The New Republic May 3, 1975

But if a South Vietnamese surrender seems shocking, particularly to those who cannot accept the notion of Communists taking over a country, the alternatives could even be worse. One can contemplate, in a struggle to the finish, the sacrifice of thousands of innocent Vietnamese in a bloodbath far more devastating than the systematic crackdown against alleged “enemies of the people” that the Communists can be expected to carry on after they seize power. . . . Perhaps one day in the future hawkish Republicans will return from visits to a Communist Vietnam to announce that, after all, the Vietnamese are better off than they were during the war that might have dragged on endlessly had the U.S. continued to assist the Saigon regime. “Without Thieu” The New Republic, editorial April 19, 1975

A few “bloodbaths” would help their [right-wing politicians] public relations efforts, and they need not wait for verifiable instances: Ambassador Martin’s comments and dispatches will suffice. A suggestion of what may be anticipated can be found in Ronald Reagan’s demagogic statements of recent weeks. “Vietnam in 1976” The Nation, editorial May 3, 1975

When the guns of the Vietnam War have at last fallen silent, the peace that follows will be a new and in many respects strange experience for a whole generation of Vietnamese. Gerald Hickey “Peace: A New Experience” The New Republic May 3, 1975

INDOCHINA WITHOUT AMERICANS FOR MOST, A BETTER LIFE New York Times headline April 13, 1975 Adam Wolfson Richard Fisher

After the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975, more Vietnamese died than during the entire thirty years of war from 1945 to 1975. Perhaps as many as one million were sent to reeducation camps and at least 165,000 of those died. Two or three million tried to escape by sea, and as many as 500,000 of those died in the attempt. Today, Vietnam is listed as one of the worst nations in the world in terms of human rights abuses.

This is the legacy of fools who fancy themselves to be wise yet ignore the evidence that stares them in the face. Today, these same fools insist they were right, despite the proof that they were not. They cannot face the fact that they doomed so many people to poverty, slavery and death.

Human Rights in Vietnam

This is the Congressional testimony of a Jesuit Priest who lived in Vietnam for nineteen years and remained after the communist takeover for fifteen months. Judge for yourself whether the communist takeover was good for the people who were unable to escape.

HEARINGS BEFOEB THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS OF THE COMMITTEE ON INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES NINETY-FIFTH CONGEESS FIRST SESSION JUNE 16, 21, AND JULY 26, 1977

STATEMENT OP REV. ANDRE GELINAS, JESUIT PRIEST, PAR EASTERN PROVINCE OE THE JESUIT ORDER

Father Gelinas. First, a word of introduction on my sources of information for the facts that I am about to describe.

I am a Canadian, a Jesuit Priest, as has already been stated. I came to Vietnam in 1957 as a professor of Chinese history at the University of Saigon. Starting in 1963, and for 13 years without interruption, I was on the staff of the Alexander-de-Rhodes Student Center, which has been for all these years the largest and most influential center of activities for Vietnamese University students.

After the Communist takeover, I stayed on at the center for 15 more months, moving around freely within the borders of Gia Dinh Province. My information on conditions outside of Gia Dinh Province comes from these hundreds of Vietnamese students and families that I dealt with daily.

I might add here that most of these were Buddhists and Confucians, only one-third being Christians.

Now, the facts. Let me start with the most obvious, the expected: the complete suppression of the freedom of speech, press, and information. Before the Communist victory. South Vietnam published 27 daily newspapers, 22 in Vietnamese, 3 in Chinese, 1 in French, and 1 in English. It also produced some 200 scholarly journals, scholarly, technical, or literary, and a number of popular magazines. It had three TV channels and some 2 dozen radio stations.

In May 1975, every single one of these newspapers, serials, and stations were suppressed. Back issues of magazines, books, records, and cassettes were confiscated from homes and from libraries and burned in the streets in huge bonfires. From then on, our only source of in-formation was one TV channel owned by the Government, on the air for 2 hours only, from 7:30 to 9:30, and concerned exclusively with propaganda.

Also, two radio stations and three dailies providing the same propaganda, the same editorials, and the same selection of biased news items dictated by the unique party-controlled news agency.

No one was allowed to listen to short-wave radio, and any person aware of this crime in his neighborhood and failing to report it could be deported to the work camps with his entire family.

It was also the duty of every citizen to report ali private conversations deemed contrary to the spirit of the revolution. I hurry to add, however, that at least in Saigon this often repeated threat failed to curb the curiosity of the people. News items from the daily bulletins of the BBC and of the VOA were eagerly sought after, and spread through the population like brushfire.

Another basic human right which has been wiped out by the Communist victor is the freedom of movement. Without a special pass from the police, no one is allowed to go from place to place, not even to the next village or suburb. These official passes are not always easy to obtain, and often they can be had only through bribery.

It goes without saying that permission to travel abroad is restricted to official envoys of the Government. Thousands of Vietnamese Americans can testify to this who are hopelessly separated from their wives, children, and parents.

Another basic right ignored in Vietnam is the right for a court of law, or at least for a hearing before condemnation. Some 300,000 men have been imprisoned in reeducation camps for over 2 years now, and not one of them has ever been judged, condemned, or even accused of any. crime.

In Saigon, someone disappears nearly every day, and note that I am not talking on hearsay. Many of my friends have seen their daughter, their son, their husband fail to come home for supper. After frustrating inquiries from one police station to another, they were invariably told that if they want to stay out of trouble, they should mind their own business, or that the police does not know where this person is, but if he or she was not a criminal, he would surely be home by now.

Arrests are usually made in one of the following four ways, all of which I have personally witnessed. First, the person is called to report to the police station, and is never heard of since. Many priests have disappeared in this way. Second, the person is quietly kidnaped by the police patrol car while walking back home on the street or walking to work or walking to the market. This seems the most often-used method.

To list only the big names, Father Minh, Father Loc, Father Thanh were arrested in this way.

Third, the house is raided, usually at dawn. All the occupants are ordered out, and a search conducted without witness by a swarm of troops invariably produces some damning evidence, guns, documents, U.S. dollars, and so on.

Fourth, the house is searched at night, and the person is carried away during curfew hours. It is impossible to know how many persons are presently in jail. All I know is that all jails are crowded, that at least two large new ones have been built near Saigon, and that almost all U.S. BOQ’s and BEQ’s are now used as houses of detention, as many as 26 persons occupying the average GI single bedroom. I know this from the report of prisoners who have come back to tell me.

Now, not everyone is sent to jail, and only men with a high school education are kept in reeducation camps, but every single South Vietnamese, young or old, man or woman, is submitted to the triweekly sessions of political brainwashing, which often drag on from 7 o’clock to midnight. Everyone has to show his contrition for past crimes, his hatred for Americans who, among other crimes, used to cook and eat Vietnamese babies, so it is said, and his love for the Marxist-Leninist society.

Everyone is threatened with deportation to the work camps if he does not join in the campaign of denunciation against his neighbor, if he clings too hard to religious convictions or if, in any way, he fails to cooperate fully with the new regime. The right to one’s own convictions is another one that has been banished from Communist Vietnam.

The list could go on and on, but I think my time is over, and I may say more under the questions.

This is the fate America left to its allies, a people who trusted us to help them defend their country from communist takeover.

The Vietnam War Through Red Lenses

The Last Days in Vietnam is an Oscar-nominated documentary covering the very end of South Vietnam, in April, 1975. Rory Kennedy’s dramatically sad and horrific documentary is both difficult (for a Vietnam Veteran at least) to watch and a chronicle of American compassion and angst. The fall of a democratic society to Communist tyranny should be lamented by Americans, who sacrificed greatly in their defense. It is a film of pathos, frustrating and yet strongly uplifting at times as American soldiers, diplomats and newsmen risk their careers and their lives to save Vietnamese friends from the invading North Vietnamese Army.

Uplifting, unless you’re Associate Professor Christoph Giebel of the University of Washington, Seattle. In a review of the film posted to the website of Vietnam Scholars Group (sic) by Professor Giebel, the film is “dangerously simplistic,” and “much more of a commentary on current US culture—steeped in nationalistic discourses of exceptionalism, thoroughly militarized, and narcissistic—than a reflection of its actual quality.” In fact, the film “is the worst attempt at documenting the war (he) has seen in a long time.”

Aside from the obvious fact that the film is not attempting to document the war but the final American evacuation from the war, Professor Giebel’s statement that the first twenty five minutes of the documentary “quickly abandon all pretense of historical accuracy or balance” quite adequately describes his own (following) rant about the Vietnam War.

[Background: In the spring of 1975, two years after U.S. combat units had left Vietnam, twelve divisions of the North Vietnamese Army invaded South Vietnam. The U.S. Congress refused to re-enter the war, although it had pledged to do so in the event of massive violations of the Paris Peace Agreements. Although many South Vietnamese units fought valiantly and brilliantly, they were no match for the Russian-armed North Vietnamese troops and heavy weapons. In April, 1975, the North Vietnamese overran Saigon and took over the country. The Americans were slow to evacuate thousands of South Vietnamese who had worked with them and who were in mortal danger from the Communists. Panic and anger overtook the final days of the war.]

Giebel posts six “main issues” with the documentary:

1. “US centrism and exceptionalism”

Of course the “notion” of the U.S. aid cut is anything but debunked. The U.S. congressional records are replete with discussions, debates and resolutions concerning the aid cut. A history professor teaching anything contrary is irrefutably wrong. Giebel’s use of the term “trotted out” also indicates a disdain for historical documentation which, easily accessed, refutes his position.

2. “Complex US debates reduced to literal “abandonment” “

Giebel’s “issue” here is illusory but seems to be that America did not abandon the South Vietnamese —it was more complex than that and not just the result of anti-war protestors and a liberal/Democrat US Congress. Which, of course, was exactly what it was. His final statement is “Congressional sons- of-bitches and the anti-war protestors did not and (sic) cold-heartedly stabbed ‘South Viet Nam’ in the back.” Which, of course, they did.

Giebel goes on to muse, “I will not speak to the adventurous notion that Congressional appropriation (not assembling, shipping, delivering, distributing), on April 17, of emergency military aid, in violation of the Paris Agreement, would have made a lick of difference before April 30.” He would have been better off to stick with his gut feeling. By that comment he makes it known to all that he has scant knowledge of America’s military might or system (he thought we would get on the phone and order bullets? Rush delivery, I suppose) or the ability of an American air force to obliterate a Communist army strung along miles of South Vietnam highways, with no air cover and little mobile anti-aircraft weaponry. Every military pilot in the U.S. would have volunteered for those missions. Giebel is just childish in his belief that the North Vietnamese Army was somehow immune to this fate in the face of air and naval gunfire attacks. (Yet he was more than likely a voice of screaming rage when the Americans bombed Hanoi into submission and a peace treaty in December of 1973.) In every engagement in the course of the war when Hanoi gathered massive weaponry and soldiers, they were wiped off the map.

3. “False and manipulative framing along US propagandistic, Cold War rhetoric:”

And what is this manipulative US propaganda? Giebel says: There never was a South Vietnam and therefore there was never an invasion of South Vietnam by North Vietnam.

His statement, breathtaking in its ignorance, can only be viewed in light of the Communist (for which Giebel, at the very least, is a first class apologist) methodology of erasing history which does not support their actions and propaganda. Giebel goes far beyond the oft “trotted out” claim that the war was a Civil War, ignoring the Communist North Vietnam bloody and brutal conquest of vast areas of Laos and Cambodia (as if the Confederate Army had invaded Mexico and Canada during the US civil war).

Under Giebel’s view of the world, there was/is no South Korea. In reality, the only difference between South Vietnam and South Korea is that the U.N. forces did not abandon South Korea after stopping the Communist attempts to take over the southern half of the Korean peninsula. Existing as a struggling democratic country in 1973, with U.N. and Peace Treaty defined borders, South Vietnam had a democratically elected government, and the individual freedoms known only in Western societies, facts Giebel simply ignores.

4. “One-sided misrepresentation of the Paris Agreement (sic)”

Just when one would think Giebel could not posit a more blatant untruth about the war, he does. He cites the violations of the 1973 peace accord and the “much more aggressive violations of the ceasefire by the ARVN (South Vietnamese).” Of course, fairness being a Communist apologist’s prime concern, he allows that the “revolutionary (North Vietnamese) side violated the Peace Agreement as well, albeit initially in a reactive manner.” The statement is so stupid—there is no other word for it— that a rebuttal is superfluous. Suffice it to say that the ARVN never perpetrated an attack onto North Vietnamese soil. Period.

5. “One-sided representation of war-time violence.”

Is there a need to even respond? Communists slaughtered an estimated 50,000 of their own people within weeks of taking control of the country after defeating the French in 1954. Proportionately, their slaughter of village leaders in South Vietnam during the war would be the equivalent slaughter of 20,000 mayors and council members of U.S. towns. The disagreement about the Communists burying men, women children alive during their occupation of HUE after Tet ’68, is over the number, not the act. Most Western accounts put the number at 3,000 to 4,000. The Communists say they buried alive less than a thousand. Giebel’s statement in his review is that the West, primarily the U.S and their South Vietnamese ally, claim to “have perpetrated no violence, no one else suffered.” The statement is ridiculous and worthy of inclusion in no review above the sophomore year in high school level. Of course. there was never such a claim.

6. Finally, “Racist/orientalist reductionism of the Vietnamese actions, motivations, and feelings.”

Giebel believes that the West has “long-standing racist notions…that ‘the natives’ are easily swayed by, and can be kept under control through, fear, ‘shock and awe’ and the threat of violence.” That our view was one of “the superstitious, emotional, child-like Little Brown ‘commie.’

It is, in fact, a basic foundation of the apologists for the Communist takeover of South Vietnam that the people of South Vietnam were too uneducated, too unsophisticated, to understand the difference between a Communist regime and one based on democratic principles, that the one million South Vietnamese military casualties were the result of American propaganda and coercion. That given the open choice, the South Vietnamese would have chosen to live under the already exhibited brutal Communist government from the North. That they preferred thought police, restriction of movement and expression, labor camps, and the oppression of government bureaucracy to a chance for freedom and choice. But with the invasion North Vietnamese forces and the abandonment of our ally by the Democrat U.S. Congress, they got the Communists.

It is ludicrous to believe they freely chose their own enslavement.

Giebel has written at least one other “apology” for the Vietnamese communists. Entitled “Imagined Ancestries of Vietnamese Communism,” the first two chapters of the book are devoted to explaining and justifying the lies and misrepresentations Ton Duc Thang, North Vietnam’s second president, made in order to become a national hero and Communist leader. Communists and their apologists have no compunction to base power or truth, or history, on fact. It is a dubious, at best, requisite for a professor of history at an American University.

I once visited Professor Giebel’s class to freshman at the university. On the board was written—“The greatest danger to world peace is American hegemony.” It was no surprise, at a later date, to find he was a signed-up supporter of Bill Ayers—probably the most dangerous and traitorous of the anti- Vietnam War protestors.

Professor Giebel teaches history at a major American university. In my opinion, he shouldn’t. (On a campus which once refused to allow a memorial to Pappy Boyington, one of the greatest Marine Corps aces in World War II, perhaps there is no surprise.) Perhaps there is a place for teaching a European leftist (Giebel was born in Germany) view of American history. But it should be called what it is.

I invite Professor Giebel to debate a real Viet Nam War scholar and will gladly volunteer to arrange a public forum for that event. Taxpayers should be made aware of what their children are being taught.

Phillip Jennings is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran of the Viet Nam War and the author of two books on the war.

Roadmap to Betrayal

 

Former POW/MIA Affairs Chief Gave Congress Outline of U.S. Government’s Road Map To Betrayal Of America’s POW/MIA

The following article is taken from a statement by Bill Bell (pictured right) which he gave before the Vietnam Subcommittee on Trade of the Committee on Ways and Means in the U.S. House of Representatives on June 18, 1998.

Prior to 1989 our government’s most important issue concerning Vietnam was the achievement of a viable settlement in war torn Cambodia.

Subsequent to the withdrawal of a politically acceptable number of Vietnamese forces from that country our focus shifted to the accounting for our missing and dead from the Vietnam War.

At that time the policy of the Bush Administration dictated that the recovery of missing American servicemen was a matter of the “highest national priority.”

This high priority supported a strategy of strict reciprocity at the national level, and a high quality investigative effort on the ground in Vietnam. This proactive, yet cautious approach to addressing the important POW/MIA issue precipitated Vietnam’s realization that no matter how difficult the effort, our persistence and perseverance would not diminish and only genuine cooperation would be acceptable by our government.

These factors enabled our personnel on the ground in Vietnam to make considerable progress without large expenditures of government funds. Trade and commercial ties were never a matter of consideration, because we were determined not to fall in the same expensive and ultimately futile rut left by the French [Despite the substantial political and economic concessions the French have made to Hanoi since 1954, France has never received a full accounting for its missing and dead.].

This strategy meshed well with our long term goal of a full accounting for our servicemen because Vietnam did not have financial incentive to retard progress on this important national issue.

Moreover, due to the coincidental collapse of the Soviet Union, Vietnam also realized that significant economic assistance from its wartime allies would not be forthcoming. These conditions served to create a rare window of opportunity for our negotiators to elicit cooperation from Vietnam in not only accounting for our missing men, but the important human rights aspect as well.

But Vietnamese Communists are well known for several attributes, not the least of which are cunning, tenacity and a high threshold for pain.

During the war years although the Vietnam Communist Party (VCP) constantly spouted rhetoric concerning freedom and democracy, its primary goal was reunification of the country under totalitarian control by the Communist Party.

After accomplishing its initial objective Hanoi’s Politburo even changed the name of the country from a “democratic” to a “socialist” republic. The word for democracy “dan chu” quickly disappeared from letterheads of all official government and party correspondence. Dictionaries printed by the government did not even include the word “da dang” (multi-party).

After reunification Hanoi’s design changed to development of the economy under the continued totalitarian control of the VCP. In assessing the outlook for reconstruction and development Hanoi’s strategists came to the realization that although genuine cooperation on POW/MIA accounting would hasten the pace of relations and significant progress on human rights would bring economic benefits, such cooperation would inherently lead to a weakening of totalitarian control by (VCP).

Faced with this dilemma, Hanoi’s leadership turned to its highest-level decision-making body with responsibility for military affairs, intelligence, counterintelligence, foreign policy, economics, industry and strategic deception, the National Defense Council (NDC), for salvation.

The NDC of Vietnam is modeled on similar organizations of the People’s Republic of China and the former Soviet Union. I believe that those responsible for safeguarding missile and satellite technology will not find that thought comforting.

In planning and implementing strategic deception, the most important organ in the communist system is the Proselytizing Department, which operates under the authority of the NDC.

This department is a very secretive and subtle organization, and for the U.S. intelligence community, it is perhaps the least understood element of the Communist apparatus. The basic mission of the organization is penetration and subversion.

During the war years the Proselytizing Department enjoyed considerable success in exploiting the anti-war movement in the U.S. and other countries around the world. Wartime Communist leaders have since expressed the opinion that the proselytizing effort, both in America and on an international scale, made the most important contribution toward winning the war.

The concept by which the Proselytizing Department operates is quite simple: Obtain the active participation of a small segment of the population in order to gain the passive acceptance of the population as a whole. At the local level active participation can be obtained through intimidation.

For example, during wartime years when armed propaganda teams were employed, if a member of a village chief’s family were abducted, one of his ears would be sent to the family. Unless the village chief performed the deed requested of him by the communist forces, the head of the family member would soon follow.

In dealing with foreign populations, however, active participation is more often achieved by subtle means. This includes playing on the emotions of a family whose loved one is being held prisoner-of-war, or by exploiting character defects, especially monetary greed, or what in intelligence terms is called “a penchant for wealth.”

The Proselytizing Department is also responsible for both agitation-propaganda and the exploitation of U.S. POWs. This includes the remains and personal effects of American servicemen killed during the performance of their duties.

By the time of the 1986 Party Congress, Hanoi’s National Defense Council had outlined a plan for development of the economy while feigning cooperation on POW/MIA and human rights. This plan was veiled as “an opening to the West” and “renovation,” what the Vietnamese call “doi moi.”

In order to implement this plan, seasoned cadre from the Proselytizing Department were gradually transferred to positions dealing with individuals and organizations in the U.S. involved in commerce, human rights and veterans affairs.

For example, Senior Proselytizing cadre Nguyen Chinh was transferred from Region 5 in Central Vietnam to Hanoi where he was assigned as the Deputy Director of Religious Affairs dealing with U.S. officials concerned with human rights.

Cadre Nguyen Hung Tri, who had been one of numerous cadre responsible for the interrogation and exploitation of American prisoners in the South, was reassigned as Director of the Export Section of the National Petroleum Import-Export Department.

LTG Tran Van Quang, the former Chief of the Proselytizing Department, was reassigned as head of the National Veterans Organization dealing with so-called “Veterans Initiatives” of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA).

Cadre Dang Thuan Hoa, who was also responsible for the interrogation and exploitation of American prisoners in southern Vietnam during the war, was reassigned to the Commercial Affairs Office in Ho Chi Minh City dealing with American businessmen seeking to invest in projects there.

Members of the Proselytizing Department’s office in Central Vietnam were transferred to the State Petroleum Organization and shortly thereafter a plan to build an oil refinery in that area was announced.

Ultimately, hundreds of cadre from Vietnam’s Proselytizing Department were reassigned to positions placing them in direct contact with Americans in the targeted “influence groups.”

After sufficient proselytizing cadre were in place, Vietnam still faced one major obstacle, hard currency to finance the overall operation.

Hanoi’s strategists then devised a plan whereby large sums of hard currency could be collected. By forcing hundreds of thousands of its citizens to flee the country Hanoi was able to quickly establish a large community of overseas Vietnamese. Most of those departing under this program were required to transfer all personal and real property, as well as cash assets, to communist control.

To manage this potential source of future revenue, Hanoi reassigned its former UN Ambassador in New York and Vice Foreign Minister, Ho Liem (aka Hoang Bich Son) as Chairman of the Committee for Overseas Vietnamese.

Overseas Vietnamese then began to send money home to support relatives remaining in Vietnam. Hard currency mailed from the U.S., Canada, France, England, Australia and other countries back to Vietnam was intercepted by the Communist Party and converted into Vietnamese “dong” at a very unfavorable rate.

Overseas Vietnamese seeking to return home for visitation, including emergency situations, were required to pay exorbitant visa issuance fees in hard currency to the relevant Vietnamese Embassy prior to commencement of travel.

Unfortunately for the Vietnamese people at home, however, visa fees are not a problem because they cannot even acquire a passport to temporarily travel abroad. As a basis for comparison, in America and other democratic countries, it is far more simple to file for social security disability than for a Vietnamese citizen to obtain a passport.

In much the same manner as the French experience on POW/MIA accounting, to develop yet another source of revenue Hanoi used its Proselytizing Department to create an illusion of profitable business opportunities, a “last frontier” if you will, in Vietnam.

This skillful deception, which included what appeared to be very lucrative contracts to be implemented as soon as the Trade Embargo was lifted, resulted in increased pressure from the business community on U.S. politicians to rapidly remove the POW/MIA issue as an obstacle to the development of trade ties, regardless of the actual rate of progress in accounting for our men.

To accomplish this feat, the Proselytizing Department worked hand-in-hand with key members of the U.S. business community, some members of Congress and veterans organizations to convince our military leaders that the best way to resolve the issue was a rapid expansion of our POW/MIA accounting effort in the field.

This expansion consisted primarily of so-called “activities,” which included field cursory investigations and excavations of crash sites. These “activities” resulted in the rental of Russian supplied helicopters, real property rentals, the payment of salaries for cadre of the Proselytizing Department participating in the endeavor, drivers, laborers, organization fees, landing fees, damages caused by excavations and a host of other charges. I believe that by simultaneously exploiting emigration and the accounting for missing American servicemen Hanoi has managed to accumulate a considerable amount of hard currency.

Such revenue gathering practices continue today as these hearings are being held, and quite frankly I believe they generate far more funds than what Export-Import Bank financing could provide.

In 1991 the U.S. Senate established the Senate Select Committee for POW/MIA Affairs. The Chairman of this Committee, Senator John Kerry appointed his Legislative Assistant, Ms Francis Zwenig, as the Chief of Staff for the Committee.

During the life of the Committee Senator Kerry worked most closely with Representative Douglas “Pete” Peterson to authorize funding for the new, expanded effort to account for missing American servicemen in Vietnam.

As a result of these joint efforts, in January 1992 the Joint Task Force-Full Accounting was formed by the U.S. Pacific Command. In order to gain acceptance of the new plan in Vietnam Senator Kerry also coordinated his efforts with fellow committee member, Senator John McCain (R- AZ).

In implementing Senator Kerry and Representative Peterson’s plan, Ms Zwenig worked closely with Ms. Virginia Foote, the President of the U.S./Vietnam Trade Council, Allen “Gunner” Kent, former Commander-in-Chief of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), and Mr Kenneth Steadman, at that time the Director of National Security of the VFW.

As the Committee moved toward adjournment it became increasingly obvious that rather than account for missing American servicemen, the primary goal of the Committee was to remove the POW/MIA issue from the path of U.S./Vietnam relations.

Members of the Committee pledged to continue to monitor the issue, but in reality only Senator Bob Smith[R-NH] kept his promise to the MIA family members and veterans here at home.

During the time that key members of the POW/MIA Select Committee maneuvered to remove the Trade Embargo, large scale investors in Asia, who would ultimately become large scale campaign contributors in America began to support the activities of members of the Committee designed to create investment opportunities in Vietnam.

In 1992, with a one-on-one limousine ride, Presidential candidate Bill Clinton began his relationship with Mr James Riady, a citizen of Indonesia and resident alien of the United States. Mr Riady is the son of Mochtar Riady who heads the multi-billion dollar Lippo Group.

Acting on behalf of the Lippo Group Mr Riady formed a partnership with Mr Jackson Stephens, Chairman of Stephens Investment Inc., in order to purchase the Worthen Bank in Little Rock, AR. Mr Riady was subsequently installed as the director of the bank. Mr Riady then used his position to contribute or loan some $700,000.00 to President Clinton’s campaign.

Family friends and business partners of the Riadys, Ariel and Soraya Wiriadinata, also contributed $425,000.00 to the Clinton campaign. Rather than explain the source of these monies by testifying in congressional hearings, the Wiriadinatas have since returned to Jakarta, Indonesia.

The Worthen Bank in Little Rock also owned the Hong Kong Chinese Bank where Mr John Huang was employed. Mr Huang was later transferred from Hong Kong to Los Angeles where he became head of Lippo’s affiliate there.

Records since made available to investigating committees of Congress indicate that in conjunction with his transfer to the U.S. Mr Huang was awarded a $700,000.00 bonus by the Lippo Group. Considering the position held by Mr Huang and the circumstances of his employment, the alleged bonus has raised questions regarding the intended purpose of the relatively large amount of cash, and whether or not it was properly declared for entry into the U.S.

Moreover, in November 1992, China Resources Holding Company, a front organization for the Intelligence and Security Services of the Communist Party of China, purchased a controlling interest in the Hong Kong Chinese Bank. This transaction made available an even larger amount of money to Mr Huang in the U.S.

During his election campaign President Clinton pledged to the American people that if elected he “would not normalize relations with any country that is at all suspected of withholding information” on missing Americans.

After the election of President Clinton Mr John Huang was appointed as a Deputy Assistant Secretary under Commerce Secretary Ron Brown in a “Top Secret” trade post. When Mr Huang assumed his new position at the Commerce Department the very first meeting he held in his new office was oriented toward developing increased commercial relations with the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

Hearings held by the Senate Committee investigating campaign financing revealed that during the time he worked in the Commerce Department under Ron Brown, John Huang maintained steady contact with Mr A. Vernon Weaver, the Vice-President of Stephens Investment in Washington, D.C.

In fact, Mr Huang was provided a cost-free office with telephone, facsimile and photocopy machine in the Stephens Building across the street from the Commerce Department. During the same time frame, Secretary Brown became the subject of a Justice Department investigation concerning allegations he accepted a $700,000.00 bribe for his assistance in lobbying President Clinton to lift the Trade Embargo against Vietnam.

The reports indicating that Mr Riady loaned the Clinton campaign $700,000.00, that John Huang received a $700,000.00 bonus from the Lippo Group, and that former Commerce Secretary Brown received a $700,000.00 bribe may be coincidental, but considering the positions of those involved and their relationship to each other, I seriously doubt that this is the case.

After repeated denials to the press, Secretary Brown did admit to having three meetings with Mr Nguyen Van Hao, a Vietnamese who was actively lobbying on behalf of Vietnam to have the Trade Embargo lifted. Mr A. Vernon Weaver was subsequently appointed as the U.S. Representative to the European Economic Union. The investigation of Mr Brown was terminated when he died on April 4, 1996 in an airplane crash while on an economic mission to Europe.

After expanded accounting efforts were initiated in Vietnam senior U.S. officials first began praising Vietnam for its cooperation in accounting for our missing men during January 1994 when Admiral Charles Larson, at that time the Commander-in-Chief of Pacific Forces, returned from an inspection trip to Vietnam.

It was Admiral Larson who first stated publicly that Vietnamese cooperation in accounting for missing Americans was “excellent across all fronts.” Admiral Larson was a four star Admiral at the time and pending retirement because there were no four star slots available in the U.S. Navy.

Based on Admiral Larson’s assessment, in February 1994 President Clinton lifted the trade embargo against Vietnam.

Amazingly, between the time that President Clinton made his pledge that he would not normalize relations with Vietnam until there was a full accounting and the time he lifted the Trade Embargo only two Americans had been accounted for in Vietnam.

Lifting the embargo opened the door for the multi-billion dollar corporation, Lippo Group with American business partners, such as Stephens Investment of Little Rock, AR to conduct business in Vietnam. Mr A. Vernon Weaver, at that time the Vice-President for Operations in the Pacific Rim of Stephens Investment and a member of the Board of Visitors at the U.S. Naval Academy was instrumental in arranging an upgrade of the position of Commandant of the U.S. Naval Academy from two stars to four stars.

Former U.S. Navy officers, Senators John Kerry and John McCain supported this reorganization. Rather than the planned retirement, Admiral Larson was quickly transferred to begin a four year tour at the Naval Academy.

President Clinton then appointed VFW Commander-in-Chief, Allen “Gunner” Kent of the VFW to a senior position in the Veterans Administration (VA).

After working on the transition team of former Secretary Ron Brown at the Commerce Department, Ms Francis Zwenig was appointed as Vice-President of the U.S. Vietnam Trade Council.

Shortly thereafter, the Council took control of the Mekong Digest, formerly the Vietnam Forum of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War. A friend of both President Clinton and Senator John Kerry and fellow anti-war activist from Georgia, Mr Charles Searcy, was appointed as a humanitarian aid representative for Vietnam, on a project jointly funded by the U.S. Government and the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation headed by Mr Robert Muller, also a well-known anti-war activist. Vietnam then announced that it would issue its first real estate license to Senator John Kerry’s cousin, Mr Stuart Forbes, CEO of the Boston-based Colliers International.

Representative “Pete” Peterson was appointed by President Clinton as Ambassador to Vietnam.

Senator John McCain became Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee.

Mr John Huang, was ultimately appointed as Vice-Chairman of the national fund-raising committee of the Democratic Party. Mr Huang’s fund raising efforts included a visit by Vice President Gore to a Buddhist Temple in California headed by Vietnamese born Summa Ching Hai, a long time associate of both Huang and Little Rock, AR restaurant owner Charlie Trii.

Highly classified documents of the Vietnam Communist Party (VCP), recently declassified in the National Archives, indicate that the Religious Proselytizing Department of the VCP, code named V.417, successfully infiltrated cadre into the Buddhist Sect in the former Republic of Vietnam during the 1960’s.

According to the Chairman of the Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia Vietnamese Association, some of the cadre mentioned in the documents have since arrived in the U.S. as refugees. These same cadre, currently in leadership positions in the Buddhist Sect in California, now profess to be staunch anti-communists.

Testimony from members of the staff at the temple involved in the fund-raising, as well as numerous others involved, indicate that those participating in the scheme of Huang were well aware that the sole purpose of the visit by the Vice President was to raise money for the Clinton-Gore campaign.

In fact, the only person involved who has publicly claimed to be unaware that the event was a fund raiser is Vice President Gore himself.

Although considerable questions remain unanswered some of the key people involved, Mr John Huang, Admiral Larson, Ms Virginia Foote, Ms Francis Zwenig or Mr A. Vernon Weaver have never testified in Congress.

More recently the Justice Department has authorized the appointment of an additional Special Counsel to investigate allegations of illegal business transactions between Labor Secretary Alexis Herman and Vanessa Weaver.

Hopefully, this investigation will uncover additional leads for Congressional Committees to follow in the days ahead.

Contrary to the glowing assessments by the Clinton Administration, MIA family member organizations have maintained that Vietnam could rapidly account for many more missing servicemen if it made the political decision to do so.

I believe that there is ample evidence in U.S. files that Vietnam does possess this capability.

Against opposition by MIA family member organizations and major veterans organizations, including the American Legion, Vietnam Veterans of America, the National Vietnam Veterans Coalition, American Veterans, and the Disabled American Veterans, President Clinton recently waived the Jackson-Vanik Act in order to provide monetary benefits to Vietnam.

Such benefits include Export-Import Bank financing and Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) insurance.

Obviously, both important steps are directed at obtaining Most Favored Nation (MFN) trading status for Vietnam.

During my tour as Chief of the U.S. Office for POW/MIA Affairs in Hanoi I was constantly mindful of the French experience in Vietnam.

I was also painfully aware of the plight of some 70 million Vietnamese citizens regarding basic human rights. Relying on a wealth of information contained in U.S. Government files and based on my own experiences in dealing with Vietnam over many years I carefully evaluated the actual level of cooperation rendered by Vietnam on a routine basis.

I truthfully and accurately reported those assessments to my superiors. At times, my candidness during congressional hearings here in Washington, D.C. resulted in my being denied a re-entry visa to return Vietnam from those hearings, and it was only intervention by your prestigious body that enabled me to resume my duties in Hanoi.

Today I do not have to be concerned about how my remarks will be received by my superiors here in the U.S. Government, or by the Communist Party in Hanoi.

Hopefully, I have provided some insight concerning how our political process can be manipulated by foreign entities. I am optimistic that this information, as well as information to be provided by witnesses involved in other aspects of the U.S.-Vietnam relationship, will help your Committee convince our leadership that profit must not come before principle in the development of commercial ties with the Vietnam.

Organizations lobbying for increased financial benefits to Vietnam, especially Overseas Private Investment Corporation insurance are well aware that the Communist Party of Vietnam, not the government of Vietnam runs that country.

They are clamoring for your Committee to move ahead in U.S.-Vietnam relations.

They are telling the families of the missing men that they should trust the Communist Party to provide an honest accounting.

They are telling the Vietnamese people that they should trust the Communist Party in future progress for human rights.

Mr Chairman, if these lobbyists have so much trust in the Communist Party of Vietnam, then why do they need government sponsored insurance such as OPIC to protect their investments?

You may recall that during the Proselytizing Department’s campaign to rapidly normalize relations while feigning improvement on POW/MIA accounting and human rights glib statements such as “it’s the economy stupid,” and “Vietnam is not a war, it’s a country” were often attributed to a number of government officials and members of Congress returning from fact finding missions to Vietnam.

I hope your Committee will agree that statements such as “it’s the missing servicemen and human rights stupid,” and “Vietnam is not a war, it’s a socialist republic” are far more appropriate statements to make.

That concludes my testimony, I greatly appreciate the opportunity to testify before your distinguished Committee.

Garnett ‘Bill’ Bell is a native of Texas and a retired GM-14, DoD. In 1960 Bill entered military service on his 17th birthday. Bill was initially assigned to the 101st Airborne Division and after U.S. Air Force Captain Gary Powers was shot down in the famous U-2 incident Bill was deployed with the 327th Airborne Battle Group to Wheelus Field located in the desert near Tripoli, Libya. Bill participated in an airborne operation in which he and other members of the 101st Airborne were inserted by parachute on the border between Russia and Turkey. Although the Soviets had threatened to execute Captain Powers as a spy, due to the display of resolve by the 101st Airborne, Captain Powers was “swapped” for a Soviet KGB Colonel who had been arrested while on a spying mission to Washington, D.C.

During the so-called “Bay of Pigs” operation Bill was deployed to Hurlbert Field in Florida. This operation, planned for Cuba, was canceled at the very last instant. In 1962, Bill was deployed to the University of Mississippi at Oxford in order to relieve beleaguered federal and state law enforcement personnel during violent protests and rioting due to the enrollment of the Mr. James Meredith, the first black student to be enrolled at the university.

After three years of active duty, Bill was transferred to reserve status and employed as a Civil Aircraft Operations Agent with Southern Air Inc. Bill went to Vietnam as an infantryman in 1965 and served four tours there. Bill was awarded some 20 individual decorations and numerous unit awards. During the 1968 Tet Offensive Bill was stationed with the 101st Airborne at Bien Hoa, Vietnam. After two years with the 6th Special Forces Group Bill was assigned as an instructor in the Department of Exploitation and Counterintelligence, U.S. Army Intelligence Center and School.

During his career Bill served in the 327th Airborne Battle Group (Above the Rest) and the 2/506th Parachute Infantry Regiment (Currahee) of the 101st Airborne Division, the 1/35th Infantry Regiment (Cacti) of the 25th Infantry Division, the 101st MI Company, the 525th Military Intelligence Group, the Defense Language Institute, the 6th Special Forces Group, the Joint Casualty Resolution Center (JCRC), the Four Party Joint Military Team (FPJMT) and the Joint Task Force Full-Accounting (JTFFA).

Bill’s wife and son were killed and a daughter critically injured in April 1975, when the families of U.S. officials assigned to the American Embassy in Saigon, Vietnam were evacuated in conjunction with the ‘Operation Babylift’ program. After being evacuated by helicopter from the roof of the American Embassy on the final day of the Republic of Vietnam (RVN) (30 April 1975), Bill returned to postwar Vietnam as the first official U.S. representative after the war ended when he was assigned as the Chief of the U.S. Office for POW/MIA Affairs in Hanoi. He served more than 12 years on the POW/MIA Search and recovery efforts. During his assignments on POW/MIA some 359 Americans were recovered, identified and repatriated to their families. At the time of his retirement Bill was assigned as a Special Assistant in the American Embassy, Bangkok, Thailand.

An Airborne-Ranger, certified SCUBA diver and Jumpmaster, Bill eventually became a member of the Congressional Staff, U.S. House of Representatives. Fluent in Vietnamese, Thai and Laotian, Bill is a graduate of Chaminade University, Honolulu, HI, and the author of ‘Leave No Man Behind.’ Bill is a life member of the VVA, DAV, VFW, Combat Infantrymen’s Association (CIA) and the Military Order of the Purple Heart (MOPH). Bill is also a member of the 35th Infantry Regiment association (Cacti).

Bill, I received your book today, and, already, I can’t put it down. Of course, that could be considered as good news, in some ways. Thank you for writing it.
Dan
.

“There is much more to the POW/MIA issue than riding around on a bike, wearing black leather and shouting “Bring ‘em home”! Bill Bell’s book “Leave No Man Behind” is the “first step” any American should take in fully understanding the nuances, the heretofore hidden incidents and complex situations of the long American War in Vietnam, and the plight of thousands of America’s still-unreturned veterans. There are many books available but this is the first priority for vets. Read it and pass it on to as many other vets as possible in order to lay bare the facts and let the facts speak for themselves. How we got there in the first place, why we stayed so long and whether or not we vets were able to accomplish our mission. Do yourself a favor, order this great book. You will soon agree that having done so is one of the wisest moves you ever made. For researchers, this book should be considered “PTSD 101”. Concerning research in compiling this great book you will be amazed when you visit the Vietnam Center Archives, Texas Tech University, Bill Bell Collection. (www.vietnam.ttu.edu/virtualarchive). This is one of the nation’s premier collections on the American War in Vietnam and graciously donated by Bill”.Mike DePaulo, Vietnam vet, USMC, National Service Officer, Rolling Thunder Inc.

5.0 out of 5 stars Americans in Vietnam

This review is from: Leave No Man Behind: Bill Bell and the Search for American POW/MIAs from the Vietnam 5.0 out of 5 stars absolutely necessary.

By joefieldsalaska
This
review is from: Leave No Man Behind: Bill Bell and the Search for American POW/MIAs from the Vietnam War (Semihardback)

Very simply, if you have not read this book, even if you spent years in Vietnam as I did, you don’t know anything about the Vietnam War. Buy it, read it, give it to everyone you know who gives a damn about truth. Should be required reading for every college and university.
JNFIII

Bill,

Just took a week off to Thailand and finished your book on the beach. Sorry it took so long. Great read, amazing book, even more amazing story, truly one for the ages… Thanks so much for all you did and gave to the country and the missing. Your service is truly humbling… Just seeing all the work you guys were doing, your grasp of the situation on the ground, the games the communists were playing, how you were able to give it back to them and how they let it all unravel, the hash house harrier incident, the “fun” comment, the shredding of those files… I wanted to cry… I was on the flight back last night literally almost jumping out of me seat I was so hopping mad. It looks as though not much has changed unfortunately. I hear the same things about them when in Cambodia and elsewhere doing stories. I have more stuff in the works. I’d love to chat with you about it all sometime. Again, thanks so much for reaching out to me all those months ago and sending me your book. You filled in a lot of blanks for me and I feel like I “get it” now. I am going to Vietnam later this year. I feel a lot more prepared. Thanks so much Bill, for everything. Much respect.

Matt

Matthew M. Burke

Staff Writer

Stars and Stripes

Sasebo and Iwakuni (Japan) Bureau

Bill,

I have began reading your book. It is amazing. I thought I’d read enough to be kind of proficient in the POW/MIA issue, but in just reading the first couple of chapters I realize I don’t know jack. But I have talked to the parents of several of those still unaccounted, and looked into their eyes. And I do know one thing – I will do what I can to give them some type of closure, and let them know that they are not alone in missing their loved ones!

Your book is very educational, maybe a little to technical for the casual reader but should be required reading for anyone interested in this issue.

I thank you for the book, and I especially thank you for all you do and have done. You are a true American hero in my eyes! THANK YOU BILL!!!

In Brotherhood,

Greg Beck

President, VVA Texarkana, TX;

Bill:

It amazes me the attention to detail and the “recall” of names, incidents, etc that you have. This book is sure eye-opening for the lay person!

My hubby has mentioned several skirmishes from the war, but not in the detail you’ve outlined in your book! I hate putting it down!

S/F
Gypsy (Betsy)

On Monday, January 20, 2014 8:55 AM, zippo smith <majorzippo@yahoo.com> wrote:   There is no American on earth who knows the official side of the POW/MIA issue better than Bill Bell.

In the eyes of those who use the POW issue for political advantage and then cast it aside like some old campaign placard Bill committed an unforgivable bureaucratic sin much to their horror; HE TOLD THE TRUTH!!!!

Read Bill Bell’s book and heed his words on how  great nation can undermine it’s moral underpinnings by assigning the least of warriors to decide life and death and unobserved,the mental/physical state, of those suffering in enemy hands,from an air-conditioned office in the USA.

LEAVE THE FATE OF AMERICAN FIGHTING-MEN IN THE HANDS OF THE WARRIOR AND NOT THE SHOE-CLERK.

Major Mark A. Smith,USA,Retired RPW,Vietnam/Cambodia

Link to the Amazon sale page that is priced at $10: (Copy and paste in browser)

http://www.amazon.com/Leave-No-Man-Behind-American/dp/0964766345/ref=aag_m_pw_dp?ie=UTF8&m=A11WQVNRY0EIDW

 

 

 

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How to Lose A War: The Press and Viet Nam

By Robert Elegant

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

The author has given VVFH permission to reprint here.

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

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

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

The Brotherhood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Cloud of Unknowing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Eye of the Beholder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Imaginary General

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Power of Self-Deception

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three Wars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Reasons Why

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Naive Expectation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Crippling Ignorance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The “Viet Nam Syndrome”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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